A universal of impending or newly acquired parenthood, is that it is a magnet for advice, stories, anecdotes, smiles from loved ones and strangers a like. You’ve all heard the stories of pregnant women being approached in grocery stores by a passerby who wants to share their experiences. There is something humanizing and compelling about these early days. Instead of simply being an anonymous face passing down the aisle, you become a person with a family. Even if the questions are the same and the responses don’t change no matter your answer, there is automatically a connection.
This is also true in Karamoja. I have now become known as the white woman with the baby. I enjoy the squeals of shock and excitement from strangers when they realize it is a child I’m carrying wrapped to my front as we pass each other on the path. They always want to know the child’s name and smile delightedly when I answer with her Karimojong name, Moru. An elderly woman from church who didn’t remember my name the entire previous 14 months we spent here, despite seeing her every Sunday, now joyously greets me as the mother of Moru. Many of these well wishers also abide by the long-honored tradition of giving advice to the less experienced mother. Here are a few that I have received.
- Always carry a thick blanket – even though it was in the 90-100’s the first Sunday we were in Uganda, I was chastised for bringing Carmel to church in only a light onesie and diaper. No matter the heat or how much they sweat, it is imperative to always have something to wrap them up in. Not to mention the requisite socks and hat since, “The cold enters through the head”.
- Never refuse someone who wants to hold your child – apparently should someone see your baby and want to hold her, you have to say yes otherwise the child will begin to cry and not stop for days. This is especially important when traveling since you might meet someone nefarious along the way, but you won’t be able to refuse them. Therefore, it is important to cover the child and hold them tightly while traveling.
- Put the child on your back at 2 weeks/3 months/4 months/5 months/when they can sit – mothers here carry their babies on their back wrapped tightly with a blanket over one shoulder. This allows them to walk, haul, and work all with baby in tow. However, when the child is first born they have a special carrier that straps on the front. It is quietly disputed when the perfect time to transition from front to back is. All agree that it must happen.
- Spitting in the face is a blessing – One Sunday when greeting the aforementioned elderly woman at church, she greeted Carmel in the classically high voice and then spit gently in her face. I had to quell my initial reaction to pull Carmel away and automatically wipe away the spittle. This is a special blessing for health and growth that only the elderly can bestow, aspects of life that are not taken for granted here.
Despite the fact that I surreptitiously did wipe away the spit and smiled indulgingly at the advice to keep her in layers no matter the temperature, I’m realizing that I have much to learn from these mothers of five or ten children. May I have the eyes to discern wisdom even amidst cultural differences!