Friday, December 16, 2011

Baby gadgets

Preparing for a new baby – even the second time around - it’s easy to get simultaneously seduced and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff you’re made to think you need.   There’s all the gear that you know from friends and experience can become a lifesaver with a new born: the babywrap that’s both soothing to baby and comfortable to wear, the vibrating bouncy seat that works to lull the little crier when nothing else will, the mobile designed by developmental psychologists to hold attention of a newborn, the white noise machine – that godsend of a sleep inducer.  

I remember thinking it was ergonomically impossible to nurse without a boppy and l seriously entertained the thought I might be housebound unless my stroller had a cup holder.    With Caleb all of these gadgets seemed absolutely essential.  

And then there’s just the stuff made to appeal to new moms who want to “mother in style.”  Couture diaper bags, brightly colored nursery decals, clever and shape flattering nursing tops.  And that stuff is just like candy.  You don’t mind indulging in a little something purely for the aesthetic joy it brings because, hell, you just endured months of heartburn and backaches followed by nerve-destroying sleep deprivation.  

And don’t get me started on all the eco-options you feel you need to have. Cloth or (if you have to do disposable) chlorine and dye-free diapers, organic cotton clothes from sustainably-raised grass-fed sheep, baby food  you puree yourself from vegetables you grow yourself, chemical-free just about everything.  If you don’t buy these things, you are helping to destroy the planet and the new life you just introduced it to.  You’re evil.

At the end of the day it’s a bacchanal of consumerism cleverly engineered to feed on all your new mom insecurities.  But it’s disturbingly seductive all the same when you are surrounded by it.  

This time around, all of this is off the table.  It’s not available, and none of our friends and neighbors have any of it.  In so many ways, it’s liberating.  We’re forced to think of what is absolutely essential and taught, by looking at our Kenyan neighbors, that pretty much none of it is. What is essential is a cloth for carrying the baby, diapers (or cloth) for changing the baby and a boob for feeding the baby.  

Well, and lots of hands to help with the baby seem pretty vital too. Maybe that’s what all those gadgets are really replacing -- the ready supply of friends and neighbors to interact with and soothe your baby, so you can do things like bathe and feed yourself are replaced by sound and light show mobiles and vibrating bouncy seats.  

The problem is that we are somewhere between the two extremes.  We don’t live near extended families or have lifelong neighbors and friends who can be counted on to help, but we live in a culture where you can trust strangers who offer to hold your baby.  We are no longer in a culture of parent-helping gadgets, but have the means to obtain the ones we think are most indispensable.  Hopefully we’ll be able to strike some kind of happy balance. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Toddler art imitates life

Taking inspiration from his environment.

Caleb often sees images like this:

And this:

And this:

And so I shouldn't have been all that surprised when he built this:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Executive Sleeping

When we think of parasitic worms (and who doesn't regularly think of parasitic worms?), those of us from wealthy countries see images of bloated bellies and and think of slimy creatures living in our gut.  Something awful, rare and requiring immediate medical attention.

However, in most parts of the world, they are considered a "symptom" of childhood, and the rates of infection in many areas are over 70% -  seventy percent! - causing pain, discomfort, inability to concentrate and, in some cases, even warranting surgery.  

The good news is that there are safe, effective and cheap deworming tablets available.  The bad news is that they are not getting to the kids (the kids are the ones who suffer the most with worms) who need them most. 

So, I've been in Nigeria helping to implement a school-based deworming program for the past week.  The key here is "school-based."  Because the drugs are harmless even if a child does not have worms, inexpensive drugs are safely administered to entire schools in areas where intestinal worms are endemic.

Subsequent to deworming, attendance goes up, children are healthier and better able to learn and entire communities reap the benefit of a reduction in worm loads since a good proportion of these critters actually live in children's bellies.  So, getting rid of them where they are living cuts the transmission cycle, and even neighbors who are not dewormed are less likely to be infected as a result of this campaign.  What's not to love about that?. 

A major part of the program is training the hundreds of teachers who will administer pills to thousands of children.  The training is relatively simple.  1-2 teachers per school show up for classes and then spread the information to other teachers in their school who subsequently administer the drugs.  So, one teacher training class for 30 schools can reach thousands of kids. 

But that's not why I'm writing this post.  I had a funny anecdote about the teacher training class, but I see now that the introduction it warranted is longer (possibly more interesting?) than the actual anecdote.  You still want to hear it, right?  OK.

So, at the start of each training session the trainers lay ground rules.  Things like turning off your cell phone and paying attention.  The standard stuff.  But I was looking at the chalkboard of one session I attended and one of the ground rules stuck out to me.

See if you can find it:

OK.  "No chorus answers" is a pretty appealing choice (and not sure why that should be discouraged, but anyway...), as you may have guessed from my title, the one that had me chuckling was "no executive sleeping."

The training I went to prior to this one had on it's list of rules what I thought read "no excessive dosing," which had me wondering if there was an acceptable level of dosing.  But, no, it's "executive" sleeping or dosing.

What is this? Some kind of prohibition against professional sleeping?  No sleeping while wear ties? What?

But, no.  As you probably have guessed it's the kind of clandenstine sleeping "executives" do when they are stuck in endlessly boring meetings.  They maintain the posture of listening but gently close their eyes and take a snooze.

I think this term is hilarious and my Nigerian colleagues found my reaction and questions equally hilarious.  One of them insisted I take a picture of someone demonstrating the phenomenon.  Here it is:

I guess fighting sleep and attempting to hide it in long meetings is one of those universal struggles that ties all humanity together as brethren.  Yes, it's that deep. I love it.

Asking for trouble?

I have taken a long hiatus from this blog because I keep getting in trouble. I wrote - what I thought - was a pretty even handed critique of a development project in the neighbohood, but as the Country Director's wife, I quickly learned criticizing a possible partner publicly was a bonehead move, no matter how convincing my arguments. I had to take the post down and make my blog private.  

Then I wrote, on another satirical blog - Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like - what I thought was a funny piece about the zeal among expats to claim enthusiasm for tasteless local staples in order to demonstrate their "insider field cred" to fellow expats.  Struck a cord with many, but was read (mis-read?) by some Kenyans who took great offense at my calling ugali tasteless.

Taking some amount of pride in my global-mindedness, it hurt me to the core to be accused of cultural insensitivity.  (But, then again, come on, pasta and rice are tasteless too. That's why everyone adds sauce to these things! So, I figured ugali was fair ground.)  Yet, again, the damange control team was deployed and my offensive post was removed.

So, is this the universe telling me to just keep my inane observations to myself.  But what's the risk or fun in that?  I'm pretty much keeping them to myself anyway given the two to three people who even read this.  Hi mom!

But I do miss writing, and there's plenty of blog fodder to choose from living and clumsily navigating another culture. Plus, I'm trying to be a better keeper-in-toucher, especially with a new baby on the way  So, I'm resurrecting this site.