Friday, August 30, 2013

Material Baby!

A friend in our village(a mom with several kids) was recently urging me to hurry up and have a baby. I hear this from people all the time. Most Gambians are horrified to hear that the Peace Corps does not allow their married volunteers to procreate during their service. My friend pointed out that caring for a baby in The Gambia is not expensive, like it is in the U.S., so there should be no problem. You don’t need anything for the first month, she assured me. Just some old faanoos (wrap skirts) to wrap the baby in and replace with clean ones if the baby makes a mess. Later on, some used clothes might be nice. I didn’t even want to try to explain to her the massive amount of equipment some parents in the U.S. tote around on a daily basis!
When you have a baby in The Gambia, people generally give you things like money, soap and fabric – not crazy plastic contraptions. Granted, people in the Gambia are not inundated with the marketing of baby products like we are in the U.S. If these products were available and people had the money to buy them, they might. It’s human nature to like new, shiny products. And for many Gambians, having Western material goods is a big status things…so who knows. Maybe I will someday be visiting a more developed Gambia of the future, where people are pushing name brand baby joggers down village streets and sterilizing baby bottles in their electric dishwashers.
So, here is my top ten list of the West African way vs. the American way
(United States prices are estimates based on searches – I know they are not completely accurate!)
1. sport stroller for jogging(150 - 600 $ USD ) , regular stroller for general use (40- 400 $ USD), expensive baby backpack contraption and/or front-carrier contraption and/or store-bought baby sling (15 – 150 $ USD) , stroller base for car seat infant carrier (100 $ USD)
vs. wrap skirt (“faanoo”) (2 meters of fabric)  for riding on mom’s back (1 - 2 $ USD)
2. expensive child safety seat for automobile travel (80 – 300 $ USD)
vs. potential death in accidents involving baby riding unprotected in mom’s lap on public bus/donkey cart/taxi (0 $ USD) (I don’t even want to think about it!)
3. breastfeeding (0 $ USD) (In the U.S. A.: 49%  at 6 months, 27% at one year, says the CDC) or formula (20 $ USD)
vs. exclusive breastfeeding (0 $ USD) – anytime, anywhere…and no one cares or complains that it is obscene (in The Gambia: pretty close to 100%, barring a few exceptional situations, says me with no scientific proof)
4. disposable diapers (20 $ for 75) or cloth diapers (1 $ USD each) with intricate snap pants in cool design (12 $ USD)
vs. semi-reusable triangle of plastic (0.05 $ USD)  and an old, not especially absorbant rag OR nothing (0 $ USD – though you need soap and water for cleanup)
5. baby wipes (13 $ USD for 350 “all natural” wipes), baby wipe warming device (25 $ USD)
vs. plastic kettle (“tasaloo”) of water (1 - 2 $ USD) (I also recommend soap for proper handwashing)
6. play pen (50 – 100 $ USD)
Vs. mat on the ground (3 $ USD)
7. baby bathtub (25 $ USD), baby bath chair (20 $ USD)
vs. plastic basin (4 $ USD)
8. crib (150 – 300 $ USD), crib mattress (60 $ USD),  apnea alarm mat (100 $ USD)
vs. old fabric (0 $ USD), sheet of old plastic (0 $ USD), mom’s foam mattress (25 $ USD)
9. Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Click N’ Learn Remote (12 $ USD), Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Smart Screen Laptop (16.25 $ USD), Baby Einstein World of Rhythm DVD (10 $ USD)
vs. mom’s cell phone (20 $ USD), large, not-so-sharp knife (3 $ USD), sticks (0$ USD), goat poop (0$ USD)
10. Bouncer swing with IPAD  plug (200 $ USD)
vs.   Riding on mom’s back while she does work (0 $ USD)

No one can argue that West Africa is a safer place for babies than the U.S. – the discrepancy in access to health care is just too large. Malaria, diarrhea and respiratory infections take many infants’ lives here…and countless more die for reasons no one investigates. In the U.S. we have access to clean water, medicine and amazing emergency services. We have eradicated malaria, successfully vaccinated our population against many deadly childhood diseases, educated the public on many child safety issues and found ingenious ways to make traffic accidents less deadly for kids. But we Americans also spend a lot of time, money and energy on things that have no discernable benefit to our childrens’ health and well-being.

1 comment:

  1. Good morning how are you?

    My name is Emilio, I am a Spanish boy and I live in a town near to Madrid. I am a very interested person in knowing things so different as the culture, the way of life of the inhabitants of our planet, the fauna, the flora, and the landscapes of all the countries of the world etc. in summary, I am a person that enjoys traveling, learning and respecting people's diversity from all over the world.

    I would love to travel and meet in person all the aspects above mentioned, but unfortunately as this is very expensive and my purchasing power is quite small, so I devised a way to travel with the imagination in every corner of our planet. A few years ago I started a collection of used stamps because trough them, you can see pictures about fauna, flora, monuments, landscapes etc. from all the countries. As every day is more and more difficult to get stamps, some years ago I started a new collection in order to get traditional letters addressed to me in which my goal was to get at least 1 letter from each country in the world. This modest goal is feasible to reach in the most part of countries, but unfortunately it’s impossible to achieve in other various territories for several reasons, either because they are countries at war, either because they are countries with extreme poverty or because for whatever reason the postal system is not functioning properly.

    For all this I would ask you one small favor:
    Would you be so kind as to send me a letter by traditional mail from The Gambia? I understand perfectly that you think that your blog is not the appropriate place to ask this, and even, is very probably that you ignore my letter, but I would call your attention to the difficulty involved in getting a letter from that country, and also I don’t know anyone neither where to write in The Gambia in order to increase my collection. a letter for me is like a little souvenir, like if I have had visited that territory with my imagination and at same time, the arrival of the letters from a country is a sign of peace and normality and an original way to promote a country in the world. My postal address is the following one:

    Emilio Fernandez Esteban
    Avenida Juan de la Cierva, 44
    28902 Getafe (Madrid)

    If you wish, you can visit my blog where you can see the pictures of all the letters that I have received from whole World.

    Finally I would like to thank the attention given to this letter, and whether you can help me or not, I send my best wishes for peace, health and happiness for you, your family and all your dear beings.

    Yours Sincerely

    Emilio Fernandez