Sunday, October 27, 2013


I’m so excited about the new addition to our property, I just had to share it with you all. Look at my fantastic new insaka! What’s an insaka, you ask? This thing. I’ve never been able to figure out its official translation – gazebo-ish thing, short walled cooking shelter, small circular structure. Now that you've seen it, I'll let you describe it in your own words. Most people have insaka-s. They are primarily used for cooking as people prefer to keep their homes free of smoke, especially if they are using firewood. Entrenched in our American-ness when it comes to food prep, we have a room inside our house dedicated to food storage, supplies and cooking prep, and so a cooking insaka has never really been our thing. 

But insaka-s can also be used as meeting spaces. I’ve had a dream in my heart ever since becoming pregnant with Bronwyn that I would like an insaka near our well in order to meet with women and provide mothering/friendly/spiritual support to them. After attending MOPS at our church in Ithaca while on maternity leave, I was all the more inspired – African MOPS, I wondered, could I possibly get that to translate to this place and these ladies?  I talked about it a lot with Jeremy. He spurred more thinking. I picked out a name – tulelya bwino – we are eating well –  and I solidified my idea of meeting regularly to learn one cooking tip and one Godly-parenting principle. The theme I wanted to weave throughout was – “Man does not live by nshima alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” 

I’ve been talking for months. Let’s make this happen, I’d say! So start, Jeremy would say! But the picture in my mind always had us gathering in a nice big insaka in our front yard, close to the well, in a relaxed, community based environment. For months I’ve been ragging on dear husband to put the insaka at the top of the project list and yet there was always something “more important” that took priority. And yes, we got in some fights about it. But because the man loves me and loves to see my visions come to pass, ALL OF A SUDDEN he organized the stuffs and the peoples and voila – look at the beaut.

Steven and Mwaba requested specifically to be my models. Such studs.

All of a sudden I was very excited... and very scared. This dream of mine just got real, and now I had to make it happen. A bazillion fears ran through my mind, “what if no one wants to come or what if I’m boring or too intellectual or not funny or, or, or.” And I kept coaching myself. Don’t punk out because you are scared Bethany. Remember angels in the outfield? Build it and they will come? Here’s your insaka. Just try. And try I did. I so badly, from the bottom of my gut, wanted this idea to take off and see mothers transformed and children thrive and communities renewed and, and, and. Still, I need to leave all the results based “stuff” in God’s hands and simply invite. Cook the soy beans, gather some paper and crayons, and do life with the mamas. Because that’s what the insaka culture is all about – this is where life happens – bodily nourishment and soul nourishment. 

So two weeks ago, I jumped in feet first. I advertised, I made signs. I prepared a lesson and I watched my clock with in butterflies in my stomach, waiting for the thing to start. 

As ladies arrived, we started with learning how to make roasted soy beans and soy flour. We talked about the nutritional benefits of soy and the benefits of snacking on soy beans and increasing protein content of nshima with the flour. And then after eating the food, we transitioned to eating the real food. We read scripture and talked about the good life and why every word from the mouth of God is necessary to be truly satisfied. 

And because women's ministry seems to be synonymous with craftiness, we drew pictures. (as a side note - I do not understand WHAT. SO. EVER. why women's min and diy are one in the same. Maybe I'm missing a key feminine ingredient because I have zero interest in artsy anything... but, I can function outside my comfort zone, so we were artsy anyhow.***see endnote***) We drew pictures to help ourselves remember what we had learned and to help us pass those truths on to little ones in our households. 

And you know what - it was fun. It was special and beautiful and everyone is excited to do it again soon. And - my heart is happy. You see, I get really nervous when it comes to starting things. Jeremy is the initiator in the family - he will try anything and start anything and just go for it without fear of failure. Its a part of his wiring, and honestly, it sometimes drives me nuts how good he is at it. I on the other hand prefer to be the sustainer. Once the hard work of starting is already complete, I rock at coming along side the slow moving ball and helping it gain momentum until it thrives on its own. This is one of the few things that I have taken ownership of since its inception. My borders are enlarging and I feel outside of my realm of expertise and I'm in that uncomfortable space where personal growth happens. 

My one prayer is, may this gig last as long as the Lord desires it to, and for however long that is, may the ladies who gather know Jesus better as a result of having come. 

And now for my end note. *** Because I am missing the crafty/DIY/women's min gene, I'm asking for help from my sisters out there. If anyone has ideas or suggestions for creative ways to link simple Bible stories or simple Bible principles with super-low-resource-craftyness, PLEASE TEACH ME YOUR WAYS. Or, to broaden it even more, if you are a MOPS mom or a women's min guru and have figured out ways to speak to women's heart's via this craftycraft avenue, again, PLEASE SHARE YOUR WISDOM. I'm willing to learn. And my neighbor ladies deserve the best - and I have a feeling, some of ya'll truly are the best! So don't me shy, TALK TO ME! I have hunch we can't just color pictures of nshima and crosses forever. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ba C

Not long ago our church in the village started doing this thing called "Ba C" which runs kind of like a "secret friend" operation. From the get-go, it has been so fun, and honestly comical, to watch this program unfold. First of all, there is really nothing random about it. We drew numbers out of a bucket to determine who our secret friend should be, but the organizers sort of rearranged all the names to match up people they thought were a good fit for one another. Second, there is nothing secret about it. Person A's secret friend is person B and person B's secret friend is person A. (ie, if you know who you have, you also know who has you.) Third, the gifts that are given are almost entirely kitchen-y things, but to make sure that each person gets something useful, each of the secret friends sends a representative to the other secret friend to ask them what they want. "Uh, tell Bana Robert to buy me a basket," I told my secret friend's husband. 

So knowing who your secret friend is and what they are getting you seems like it would be sort of lame, but I have to tell you, I have never seen such excitement and enthusiasm erupt amongst the women of the village as when the Ba C gift exchange went down. There was singing, and dancing and hugging and crying and all sorts of good feelings - and it was precious. 

It finally started to make sense to me after watching each pair of women dance up to the front, arms linked and bodies swaying back and forth, why this seemingly silly, not so secret gift exchange was actually very significant: Its all about the message - "lady, you are swell, and with this plastic bucket and set of knives, I'm telling you that you are special to me and many others. thank you for who you are."

Words and actions conveying womanly affirmation are few and far between in the village setting. There is no mothers day. Husbands don't come home with flowers for his wife "just because"... or ever.   Women are expected to labor and serve and sacrifice in a thankless environment because that's what women do. But the Ba C gift exchange changes the sound track of their lives if even for a a single afternoon. And that makes it both meaningful and worthwhile.

You've got a friend in me. 
You've got a friend in me. 
When the road looks rough ahead, 
just remember what your [Ba C] said,
You've got a friend in me.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

a serious shout-out to some seriously-wonderful women

I recently encountered THIS article discussing research published earlier this year by a research team at Notre Dame University studying modern American parenting practices and their effects on child development. Read the original article to get the full flavor of their research, but I’ll paste in the meat of the article below:

“Ill-advised practices and beliefs have become commonplace in our culture, such as the use of infant formula, the isolation of infants in their own rooms or the belief that responding too quickly to a fussing baby will ‘spoil’ it,” Narvaez says.
This new research links certain early, nurturing parenting practices — the kind common in foraging hunter-gatherer societies — to specific, healthy emotional outcomes in adulthood, and has many experts rethinking some of our modern, cultural child-rearing “norms.”
“Breast-feeding infants, responsiveness to crying, almost constant touch and having multiple adult caregivers are some of the nurturing ancestral parenting practices that are shown to positively impact the developing brain, which not only shapes personality, but also helps physical health and moral development,” says Narvaez.
Studies show that responding to a baby’s needs (not letting a baby “cry it out”) has been shown to influence the development of conscience; positive touch affects stress reactivity, impulse control and empathy; free play in nature influences social capacities and aggression; and a set of supportive caregivers (beyond the mother alone) predicts IQ and ego resilience as well as empathy.

As soon as my eyes crossed these words – ‘nurturing parenting practices – the kind common in foraging hunter-gatherer societies’ – I started pumping my fist in the air – “BANA CHITI! BANA ROBERT! BANA MAPALO! Where are you ladies! They’re writing about you!”

I’m not such a fan of the word choice “foraging-hunter-gatherer” but whatever, the scientific community and a top research institution has publically announced that smarty-pants America is (on average) getting it wrong and my neighbor ladies are (on the whole!) GETTING IT RIGHT. This is BIG!

Many of the women I know are easily intimidated by the well educated, western world that is forever sending “experts” to come and teach them how to run their lives. I’ve seen them sit meekly under authoritative teaching about everything topic imaginable; and while a lot of change is needed, I just feel like its high time someone shouts it out that these ladies have something teach their western counterparts. You’re in the game, ladies! Don’t call this a comeback, you’ve been here for years!

I long to be a cheerleader to these moms, to tell them that their normal, natural everyday methods have been proven to produce smart, resilient, empathetic children. I wish I could give them an earpiece to hear the murmuring of American parents debating this and that and everything… and then give them the chance to school us all in how to be attachment parents with nothing but grace, strength and fluidity. Ladies, hats off to you. If I could put you all on a plane and fly you to Indiana to speak at a research convention, I would. Because I think you’re awesome and you have taught me so much. Thank you.  

Saturday, October 5, 2013

the missing ingredient in American attachment parenting

Ever since our dear friends the Huddles put a copy of Sears and Sears’ The Baby Book in our hands, we’ve been fairly consistent, traditional attachment parents. Since beginning down this road almost two years ago now, I’ve read everything I can find about attachment parenting, its debates and support. Spurred by media attention from TIME magazine, the Huffington Post and about a few gazillion mommy bloggers, moms from all corners of the parenting spectrum are throwing in their two cents. One sentiment that I’ve heard/read over and over again has to do with the “demanding” nature of attachment parenting. Mothers have blogged and tweeted and submitted letters to the editor many times over, effectively saying, “OK so maybe I’m NOT mom enough. I can’t just sit and nurse my child 24/7. I have a job and a home and husband and a dog to attend to. There is not enough room in our bed. I can’t stand carrying this pumpkin all day. All hail those who are strong enough to hack it, but please don’t make me feel guilty for not being able to make it work.” 

Well dear “Attachment-parenting-feels-like-a-crushing-weight-more-than-a-joyful-task” mother, my Zambian lady friends understand where you are coming from, and they have something to share that may encourage you.

Rural Zambian mothers are 100% attachment parents, 100% of the time. There is no debate or discussion about it. This “style” of parenting does not have a special name, its not considered demanding, and not a single woman resents the “choice” she has made. And I’m here to tell you that these women are just like you. They are busy. They have multiple children that need to be bathed and fed and put to sleep. They have jobs and meetings and life-business. They do not posses an extra measure of strength (wait, I take that back, thanks to hauling water and swinging hoes, these women are way buffer than you are…) But apart from freakishly strong biceps, these women really are just like you. The only difference is that they live and raise their children in the context of community.

All Zambian mothers are attachment mothers, but not a one is an attachment mother in isolation. Any time the baby does not really need Mom, she is strapped to the back of another girl or boy or neighborMom and sent off to play. Entertainment, even naptime parenting is often delegated to someone other than bioMom. When the baby cries for food, she is brought to bioMom immediately. The emotional and psychological attachment never skips a beat. But otherwise, mom is free to cook, attend a meeting or bathe without the “demands” of being literally “attached” to baby every second of every day.

I’ve gotten the impression that Americans assume that to be a successful attachment parent, the mother is required to be the one to hold, feed, sleep with, entertain cuddle and play with her babe all day every day until the kiddo goes off to kindergarten. I get tired just thinking about it, and I’m sure Zambian women would too if their understanding of attachment involved such an incredible one woman show.

There is no mistaking that Mom is Mom – an irreplaceable, all-important figure for a well connected child. My Zambian mama friends have learned so well to read the cues of their child to know when they need closeness to Mom or just closeness to someone. Sending the two and four year olds off with the six and eight year olds lets the newborn sleep peacefully while Mom relaxes a while. Letting little ones explore the world with other children keeps their minds stimulated and prevents them from crying and clinging to mom out of boredom.

It is lamentable that America is really not set up with community structures that would be able to support this kind of network. Most American mothers do not have a dozen ready and willing baby sitters milling around outside their door waiting to take a baby and play for a while. American kids who are 12 and under have not been caring for babies since they were 5 and are generally not considered appropriate caretakers of other small children. Neighborhoods are, for the most part, not set up in such a way that all women are looking after all children at all times, and all children are free to play at any house or in any yard at all times. Truly, America’s isolationist culture has serious ramifications when it comes what’s feasible in the realm of child rearing.

this is "Pharaoh Pharaoh" happening in our back yard. in case you were wondering

I’ve mentioned to Jeremy before that I sincerely hope we are not called out of Zambia before the last of our children is done nursing. I don’t know what I would do without Bana Chiti offering to take Bronwyn on walks around the village; how I would make fires and cook meals without the 3rd grade girls who fight over who gets to take Bronwyn home with them after school; how I would have quiet times, be with my husband or write things without the built in entertainment system that is THE VILLAGE. I don’t know what would become of my work if I couldn’t take Bronwyn to meetings without total assurance that playmates would appear out of no where, ready and willing to entertain my girl while I focused on the agenda. I have a feeling that if my current life were transposed into an American, no-community context, somebody would have to cry, somebody would get stuck in the pack and play, somebody would just have to deal, and that would be oh so sad for me.

mom's in there talking about important stuff like an HIV/AIDS pandemic...
and I'm playing with Mambwe and Mwewa. awesome.
I don’t have any practical, useful advice for struggling attachment parents in America short of changing the way the entire country does community. But since that is not overly likely, I guess all I can say is, I hear you. I understand why it’s hard. You are not lacking anything, but your culture is. Keep doing your best. Or just move next door to me. The village Mayo’s and I will be waiting.