Friday, August 31, 2012

ukusunga umwana

I recently had a conversations with our friend Arthur that left me with my mouth a bit agape. I’ll share it with you, not for the shock and awe value, but because these are things that I am trying to work through with people for the purpose of refining all of our worldviews. I’ll let you eaves drop on our conversation so that nothing gets lost.

Arthur: How old is Wynnie?

Bethany: Almost five months.

A: So have you and Mr. Jeremy met yet.

B: Met?

A: I’m not sure what instructions they give you in America after a baby is born. Have you had intercourse.

B: (Answering without really answering the question) Oh, the midwives in America just say after six weeks or whenever the woman is ready.

A: Because here you know by four months you have to ukusunga umwana. Do you know ukusunga umwana?

B: I’m thinking I probably don’t.

A: By the time the child is four months old you have to meet together with the husband, have sexual intercourse and then when you are finished, the father should take his penis and drag it around the baby’s waist leaving that liquid there. Or some people they even do the same but use the penis like a wand to make like the form of a cross on the baby’s head.

B: Oh. Ok. Yeah, no. We haven’t done that.

A: You go and ask Bana Connie (Arthur’s wife) she’ll teach about ukusunga umwana.

Don’t you totally wish you were a fly on my wall? I should include here that we absolutely love Arthur. He’s one of our best friends and advisors. He’s a good man who we believe genuinely loves the Lord. He’s also extremely comfortable with all kinds of topics. I took his advice and saught out further information. Bana Connie was not available so I talked to our other neighbor lady, Bana Chiti who I think was a little caught off guard that I was asking her about sexual rituals performed with her husband/child. After a moment of blushing, she opened up and said that yes, they had done this with their children and she explained the reason why. Tradition dictates that if you don’t ukusunga umwana then if the husband sleeps with another woman, your child will die. If you have ritually christened the baby with this penile blessing, even if the husband sleeps with another woman, the baby will be safe.
Bana Chiti and I both know that her hubby is a bit of a wanderer, and so if what she told me is true, then it makes perfect sense that they would have insisted on following this tradition. Furthermore, most women who do this have plenty of examples of how this has worked – they know families in which the husband has cheated and the child who was not christened has died and families in which the husband has cheated and the child who was not christened has not died. The rule seems to hold true.  

Jeremy wondered whether this tradition explains some of the sexual bondage that seems to exist in the village. Its possible. I’m still discussing with some of our church leaders about world-view and how to talk to people about adherence to a theistic world view instead of an animistic world view. Would husbands cease to stray if they knew that their child's health was not contingent on a ritual, and that marital fidelity should exist for no reason other than displaying Christ's intimate relationship and commitment to his church? I pray so!!!

Be praying for us as we engage people on this extremely personal level. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

These are a few of my favorite things...

Somewhere, out of the blue, I imagine, my baby became a big girl! 
There are a lot of things I love about Bronwyn, but two of her more recent developments have the ability to melt my heart every time.

When she laughs, its the greatest thing ever.
Jeremy and I would do anything to extract those precious giggles out of her.

Secondly, she has started lifting her arms up to her mommy when I walk by.
Every time she looks at me with those big blue eyes and raises up her chunky little arms, I think to myself, "Forty five hours of labor - totally worth it."

I understand that there is nothing particularly unique about either of these things, and nothing that indicates the uniqueness of them happening in Africa, but hey, what good is a mommy blog if I can't include the gratuitous cuteness of my daughter, right? 

Thanks for humoring me, ya'll.

five months - oh my!

precious little one. we love you!

Friday, August 24, 2012

somebody's baby

Someone recently came to tell us that there was a boy up the road who needed to come to the clinic. We were planning to head that direction to collect some grass for our roof so we made a program to go and pick the boy up. When we reached his house, I was completely unprepared to see this child in such a terrible condition. A boy of about 12 years old, his face was half swollen, half sunken. His knees looked to be two to three times the size of his thighs. His legs had sores all over them and the skin on his feet was flapping in the wind. At first our fellow Home Based Care volunteer Innocent brought him to the front passenger side seat and put him there and shut the door. The boy, with no strength or muscle tension he just sort of rolled and flopped there. There was no way he was going to make it down the clinic road without falling off the seat. That and his open wounds had gone septic – the smell was almost unbearable and with his limbs flailing, the oozing from the wounds was getting on the stick shift, the steering wheel, everywhere. Had we known how infected this child was, Jeremy probably would have gone alone and left Bronwyn and I at home. But here we were, with this tragically ill child. For the boy’s sake and ours, we put him in the bed of the Landrover and prepared to leave. I took a few minutes to explain to his grandmother (both parents have passed away) that the boy would not be coming home today. He needed to go to the hospital in town and would likely be there for several weeks. The grandmother seemed completely ignorant that her grandson was on his deathbed. The more I talked to the people who had gathered around the vehicle, the more I realized that no one was taking responsibility for this child. “He’s not mine.” I heard over and over. “I can’t stay with him in the hospital, what will I eat?” I felt my skin getting hot and tears coming to my eyes. I held it together while I said my final words to the small crowd that was now encircling me. “It doesn’t matter that he’s not your child. He’s God’s child and you people who call yourselves Christians should feel ashamed for keeping this boy here in this condition.” The onlookers nodded and said “True, true, the words of Christ are with you.” Great, so who is taking care of this boy… The grandmother had agreed that she would accompany the boy to the hospital and have someone send her food, so we started off. With the smell of this boys rotting flesh still lingering in the cab, my tears started to flow. How could his extended family not have known that this boy is dying? I looked to my left at my baby, a picture of perfect health, sitting unaware in her secure carseat. Then I looked back at the boy, draped limply over his grandmothers lap, the skin flaps exposing his rotting flesh collecting dirt from the bed of the truck. This boy is somebody’s baby, I kept thinking. I wonder if his mother, before she died, prayed that someone would take care of her baby. I wonder if she would weep, just as I do, to see what has happened to him. I can’t make him better – I can only take him to a place where he has a chance to heal. 

Oh Lord we pray for all those children out there without earthly parents to care for them and cry for them when they are hurt. Please take care of this boy, heal his wounds and heal his heart I pray. And if his physical body is beyond repair, don’t let him suffer, Lord, take him to be with you. Amen  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Doing it all???

Jeremy told me today, “Bethany, when we have number two, I think you need to not try to do any programs and just focus on taking care of the kids.”

Oh the dilemma that every “working mom” faces. To work OR care for children OR multi-task and pray to God it all works out… these are the choices… and the difficulty. While I was still in the states, I talked about how it would be so nice to just be able to take my baby along with me to work, never missing a beat. Oh ignorant first time mother. It’s a true statement that bringing Bronwyn with me to meetings and workshops and whatnot IS fairly easy. People love holding her and I can stand in the front and talk and nurse at the same time and no one thinks that’s weird. Where the multi-tasking-working-mother difficulty comes in is more in the prep-work that aught to consume much of my time. I may only have scheduled programs a few mornings and a few afternoons a week, but the rest really should be spent in preparation. Flip charts need to be made and notes need to be written and research done and proposals drawn up… and one totally loveable, huggable, kissable, NEEDY little munchkin cared for. I do not AT ALL resent Bronwyn for needing me so much. I love that she needs me, and I love being there for her. I’m merely confessing that I feel a huge amount of pressure to try to make it all work. To try to me super mom, super missionary, super wife… all at once. And I don’t think I’m doing a very good job. Someone, (usually Jeremy, bless his heart) is always getting short changed. I can hear the voices of older, wiser women lovingly exhorting me, “Bethany, you can’t do it all…” Gaaaaahhhh!!!!!!! But I’m trying!!!!! 

updating the home based care register

writing pre-school curriculum

keeping Michael from falling off the seat
 - caring for other kids is work too!

Friday, August 17, 2012

the culture of motherhood: fat babies

Culture of motherhood: Fat babies
Every month, mothers take their babies to a growth monitoring clinic. The Ministry of Health in Zambia, in conjunction with the World Health Organization, recognizes that malnutrition in children under the age of five is a serious problem, and that if you can get a child past her fifth birthday, her survival rate greatly improves. So all kids under five are weighed every month in the hopes of helping the clinic staff identify underweight children before the problem becomes too severe.
Unfortunately, many children slip through the cracks. I had a mother come find me a while back who wanted me to tell her what was wrong with her sick child. This two year old had never spoken, hardly ever cried, could not sit up on his own and was generally lifeless. Exhibiting all of the signs of Kwashiorkor and Marasmus, two common malnutrition conditions characterized by spindly arms and legs, distended bellies and reddish hair, I asked the mother what the baby was eating. She explained that all they had planted was cassava, so the child, for two years, had only ever eaten cassava nshima and cassava leaves. I gently, but truthfully explained that the child was dying of malnutrition and that it was up to the mother and father to make a plan for how to nourish, and thereby heal, the child. He had not been witched, or cursed or unlucky.  He was starving to death. We added the boy to our Home Based Care client list making him eligible for nutrition supplements from our farm in the form of vegetables and eggs. Despite the improvement of diet, the little boy, unfortunately, still died a few weeks later.

Its kids like this that growth monitoring is supposed to save. Every child is given a card that has a graph on it. The different lines indicate various standard deviations above and below the mean. (whether that's an international or zambia specific mean, I'm not sure)

Its rather technical, actually, but all a mother need know is that the little dots charting her child’s weight should continue in an upward trajectory and stay above the lower red line.  Flat-lining, sloping down for more than two consecutive months, or dropping below that lower red line indicates a serious problem. I’ve helped with these clinics for years, being the weigher, the grapher and the one who makes babies cry by putting them in that terrifying, dangling swing.

We have a scale of our own at home and have no reason really to take Bronwyn to these clinics. They are long, hot and full of wailing. But we know how many babies suffer from parental neglect, and we want to set a good example. So, monthly, we too march our way up to the clinic and stand in line, waiting for our turn to put Bronwyn in the hanging scale. Last week she weighed 7.1kg and I was so proud. Look at my little chunk.

I think I told everyone between the clinic and home how fat she is. Everyone cheered. Big babies = healthy babies and healthy babies are what we all want. We sincerely pray that our concern for the health of our child will challenge and encourage others think the same towards their little bundles of joy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

the culture of motherhood: feeding

My absolute favorite thing about mothering in Africa is the freedom women have here to nurse anytime, anywhere. America is a stressful place to be a nursing mother. From Target employees to Time Magazine writers, everyone seems to have an opinion. Wherever I went I was always asking permission or trying to guess the proper etiquette for a group of potential onlookers or trying to time things just right o that I could get back to a “safe” place in time to feed. Stressful. And then we moved back to Zambia. Oh sweet freedom! I had been a little worried that the stark white color of my goods would attract unwanted attention, but no one has blinked twice. I have been offered all kinds of hands on help (as in, women grabbing my ladies to demonstrate breast compression – and then pulling their ladies out of their shirt to demonstrate on themselves as well!) In church, a regular part of the announcements is, (and this is a quote, not a paraphrase) “Ladies, if your babies are making noise, please put a breast in their mouth. Thank you.” There is an expectation that the first peep out of a baby’s mouth will prompt swift action on the part of the mother of putting her child to the breast. This is actually the only thing that can be a little stressful – namely, I don’t always move fast enough and people look at me like I skipped day one of parenting class. But all in all, I very much appreciate the attitude of “our babies have a need, we can meet that need, and we shall do so promptly and without shame.” No exiting the room or hiding in a corner, no shawls or capes or blankets. It’s wonderful. And since Bronwyn and I are found looking like this like, 3/4ths of every day:

(Yes – the girl has a serious appetite!) I’m abundantly thankful for this freedom.

I understand that it’s the sexualization of women’s breasts in the USA that accounts for this particular cultural difference. I get it. If we are ever back in the states with a nursing baby, I probably won’t bust out African style all over the place. I can respect people’s wishes. But I will always be thankful for this time in my nursing mother life – a time of great bonding with my daughter without anxiety, complication or embarrassment.  So to my nursing neighbors all around me, the best lactation consultants, the ultimate La Leche League, to you I simply say, thank you.  
Bana Kazembe awesomely tandem feeding her twins, Kapya and Impundu

doublemint twins

Every single person we pass by tells me that my daughter looks just like her father. I’ve come to accept that my precious-little-pink-wearing-girl-to-the core child looks like a 31 year old man. As she ages, I’m sure she’ll look more feminine and in the mean time I’ll drown her in as much girly-ness as I can.
It occurs to me that this is really a gift to her father. Bronwyn is a bit of a mama’s girl – the excessive breastfeeding has kind of bonded us together and we obviously share something special. The fact that his little girl is his TWIN should be a very special thing to Jeremy… except for the fact that HE DOESN’T SEE THE RESEMBLENCE! Seriously? I’m about to go buy this man a mirror, cuz obviously he’s forgotten what he looks like. Look at these two! It’s like seeing double, right?!?!

Silly Daddy. I love you. AND your spitting image. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

pray for this sweet baby!

A woman came to find me the other week and said, "Ba Bethany, I have something to show you." I was not prepared for what I would see next as she began to undress her baby and reveal two tiny little legs wrapped in thick white casts. I could see no feet and my first thought was, "Oh Lord does this baby just have stubs?" Tears started to come to my eyes as I imagined Bronwyn's perfect frame.  I soon came to find out that this two week old child, Beatrice, was born with clubbed feet and had been put in casts to straighten her feet out. We talked about what she needed and decided on a plan to take her into the hospital once per week to see the Orthopedist who just came to Mansa. (I actually met this man - he is Zambia, in his 60's and has worked in Germany and New York. Before he came, there were no options for a child born with any kind of physical deformity.)
Our first trip into the hospital with Beatrice and her mother was sad. =( She cried so hard as the doctors pulled on her feet to put them where they wanted them and then apply the casts. Newborn baby cries are so heart wrenching. I asked Bana Beatrice if I could take her baby's picture to ask friends in America to pray for her baby. She was very glad to receive the prayer.

Its hard for me to understand why some are blessed with perfect health and others must path through such great trials. All I can think to say to myself and others are the words of john 9:3:
"but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."

May it be so, Lord. May it be so. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

take me out to the (net) ball game!

This past weekend the ladies of Center took on Malamba in a netball match. The Center netball team was started as a way to promote the Learning Resource Center. Their field is right in front of the LRC and the hope was that the excitement of the netball games would attract onlookers who might not normally pass by the LRC, and grab their attention. "Ooh, netball! And the LRC! Books! Learning! Yeah!  
Anyway, so we are the "sponsors" of this netball team and we take them to neighboring villages for matches. (They haven't lost yet, actually. We are very proud.) 
Jeremy spent time engaging the little people in ways that he is awesome at, while Bronwyn and I stayed out of the sun. She was still super excited by all of the hubbub around her!

Jeremy and Chiti playing ball

so fun! so fun!
The ladies played an awesome match. They were especially excited to wear their new uniforms that we brought them back from Lusaka - we are the ones in blue.

After a while, I noticed that all of the kids were standing by the land rover looking at Bronwyn - not watching the game at all. We finally stepped into the sun for a bit to give them a better view.

Its interesting how this "mizungu baby" attracts so much attention. People are absolutely fascinated by her. I am constantly getting requests from random people to hold her. They always get big smiles on their face and just say over and over, "I've never held a white baby, I've never held a white baby! Hey look at me! I'm holding a white baby!" Bronwyn is totally non-plussed by all of the attention. Apparently nobody has told her that she's different. I hope she alway stays this way. 

4 months!

Oh  my goodness I can’t believe how big my baby is getting! I’m really enjoying these comparison shots, but they are getting harder and harder. Putting Bronwyn on her back automatically signals to her that she’s supposed to roll over, eat the chitenge, play with her feet and not cooperate in general. The “kids and pets” setting on my little camera does a pretty good job capturing her face ‘mid-flail’ but it still takes about 30 failed attempts before we get anything close to useable. Even still I didn't actually get her whole body in this one I see. HaHa. I love you baby girl!

look mom, I rolled over!

this goes in my mouth, i'm sure

roll with me people!