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Teaching through our traditions

I think about development and culture quite a bit as I get to travel across countries that have all types of cultures while considered to have been on one side of the other of development. Regardless of how “developed” the country may be there are human experiences that happen in all of these places around which culture has been formed. These common experiences range from child rearing to funerals and everything in between.

As a few of my close friends and family have been preparing to welcome their little ones, I have been learning about their preparations as well as the role of the partner and their families as their babies arrive. I am particularly interested in this because pregnancy and birthing is not exactly the easiest process for women mentally and physically. Furthermore, the arrival of a whole new being, i.e. the baby, is a terrifying new parenting process for both fathers and mothers. In this instance, social support is crucial. However with development and growing individualism, I notice that the experiences that my friends who are from the west have are very different experience from the ones who live in different parts of Africa.

One of the things that are not discussed, at least from what I have experienced so far, is post partum depression. This is a depression that affects women who have given birth to infants. Typically the condition develops 4 to 6 weeks to appear but also can take a few months. It is a condition that takes many forms and was recognized as a serious condition affecting many mothers in the 1980s. Although rarely mentioned, this condition affects the majority of new mothers, who at the very minimum experience the baby-blues.

One of the practices I have grown to appreciate is our process of “metaresse” in Ethiopia. This is a process whereby a new mother is taken care of for the first couple of weeks post-birth. This is usually done by the new-mother’s mother, but it can also be done by women who are very close to her. This process helps usher the new parents into their new role who would have otherwise been overwhelmed with tasks and suffering from lack of sleep while having to feed the baby, themselves, clean up and do life things etc…

This is a process that I have seen to have completely be lacking in the west, Europe and the US. I was talking to new moms, working moms who have had to go through this whole process on their own or with a partner, and spoke of how the exhaustion from that experience will never leave their bodies. However, Korea seems to have a very similar practice called Sanhujori. Once a woman gives birth, she is not allowed to receive guests for a few weeks. This is her time to heal, connect with her baby. She is also fed a lot of seaweed soup which is rich in iodine, an essential component of thyroid hormones, which helps the mother’s post-natal recovery physically and also mentally by regulating the hormones. This is usually for 40 days post birth, interestingly similar number of days as in Ethiopia.

The interesting thing I came across in my discussion with my friends is with regards to carrying the child. As we say in Ethiopia, “mazel” which is a process that mothers tie up their baby on their back with a gabi or a big scarf. This allows them to carry the child and do some work simultaneously. This has become a big practice in the US and Europe with commercialized products that are clothes with directions showing you how to tie your baby around your back or front. Interesting the patent of that design is owned by a lady named Ann Moore, who as a peace corps volunteer, traveled across Morocco and lived in Togo. When she came back to the US from living in Togo, she wanted to tie her baby the same way the women in Togo did, but she couldn’t. Now, she then decided to not only figure out how to do it but also patented it and starting selling it under that name Weego and Snugli.

Although the Weego and Snugli experience is the extreme where a cultural practice is stolen and appropriated,  I think it would be of huge value for women and the society as a whole if, developed countries took a few lessons how to treat their new moms from the not so developed world. We too, have a few lessons to teach.

Contributed by Leyou Tameru
Contributed by Leyou Tameru