Thursday, 29 August 2013

No Country for…err…Babies?

No Country for Babies...picture borrowed from http://blog.marshotelonline.com/2008/11/13/if-wise/

Okay, for those of you guys who have never had kids, let me disambiguate the experience for you. Yes, babies are cute, sometimes. Babies are annoying, most of the time. Babies devour any semblance of a personal life you may have, all the time. Babies all but destroy your sex life, proven fact.

Don’t let the mothers fool you. They have a completely different experience from fathers. I mean c’mon, evolution and biology have structured it all in a way to ensure that the bond between mother and offspring is strong. If you’ve ever had the pleasure/displeasure (depending on your ‘ick’ tolerance) of witnessing the birth of the child, you’ll notice that immediately after the child is delivered, it is placed on the mother’s bare skin (skin to skin contact). It’s easy to see why you’d think that this was simply a nice gesture but the practice is actually rooted in some sound science. You see, there’s something called oxytocin…blah blah blah (click here if you’re really interested).

Let’s put the science of mother/baby bonding aside for a second. Let’s also put aside the ‘I don’t know what the f*ck is about to happen to me’ cluelessness of the new dad. Let’s instead turn to some of the cultural practices, ranging from the ‘Huh?’ through ‘What the F*ck?’ to the ‘Holy Sh*t!’ that our society inflicts on its new-borns. 

Could that be any hotter?
According to many ‘old’ and apparently ‘wise’ Ghanaian memes, a baby is born incomplete. I could agree with this sentiment if by ‘incomplete’ they meant that for instance, at the time of birth a baby does not have enough mental and physical capacity to be able to fend for itself in the most basic of ways. I could maybe buy into that. But no! That’s not what they mean. According to my mom, nanny and every over 50 year old woman, when the baby is born, there are several sores (ulcers) that haven’t completely healed (of course this is bullsh*t but let’s play along). To aid the process of healing these said ulcers, they employ the use of hot; actually scratch that, STEAMING water!

The first of these ‘ulcers’ is in the head. Yeah, you read that right, In the kid’s friggin’ head. One treats this effectively by massaging the baby’s head with a towel, soaked in ‘I’m about to pluck the feathers off a chicken’ steaming hot water. This is done at least twice a day much to the displeasure of the usually helpless mother. I’ll simply not describe the emotional state of the baby during this treatment.

The second of these ‘ulcers’ is in the…wait for it people…anus. Yes, one of the most sacred and in some cases, revered effusive passages. To treat this (at least the flavour of it I saw, and there are many), you get a small plastic cup and punch a nail-sized hole through the bottom. After bathing the child, turn him/her over, spread his/her about-to-be-thermally-abused butt cheeks, fill the cup with hot water and let it slowly drip from the bottom of said perforated cup directly onto child’s anus. This ‘remedy’ is apparently good for treating the non-visible and most possibly non-existent anal ulcer that every Ghanaian baby is unfortunately born with.

I won't even talk about the location of the third ulcer, too gruesome to tell.

Cover me, I’m cold!
Another consequence of being born Ghanaian and incomplete is the fact that Ghanaian babies are almost always cold. Always! I remember once taking a stroll with my baby boy in the front yard of our house. The idea was the give the little chap a whiff of Ghana’s characteristically humid and dusty but fresh air, as he tended to spend most of his days indoors. I’d even cracked out one of baby boy’s new Mothercare onesies, a cute little sleeveless and legless number. I mean c’mon, how was I supposed to know that if he wasn't swaddled and thermal insulated Eskimo style ‘the air’, and I quote ‘will pass through the soles of his feet and make him catch pneumonia…’ leading ultimately to a certain emphysema & pneumonia related death.

Did I mention the need for a hat? No? Well, apparently that’s a must in humid 28°ish weather for Ghanaian new-borns. Otherwise, just like you guessed, ‘the air will pass through the soft part of the head…catch pneumonia.’ leading ultimately to a certain emphysema & pneumonia related death.

The head covering stupidity goes even further. Shockingly, for Ghanaian babies, God and evolution together decided that two nostrils weren't enough to breathe through. Therefore the fontanel (soft part of a baby’s head) is yet another mechanism by which the Ghanaian baby breathes. Baby got a blocked nose? Rub some eucalyptus or better still, some ‘Chinese Robb’ on the fontanel and see that blockage disappear. But here’s what happens to that idiocy when it’s put to the test; if a baby breathes through the fontanel (even partially) why are we so intent on covering it with headgear all the time? Wouldn't that be like an adult stuffing a piece of scrunched-up toilet roll up a nostril?

Seriously folks, this ‘the baby will die from cold’ thing goes even deeper, both figuratively and literally. Okay, so my wife is on a video shoot with her crew and a major client. She is pregnant and luckily, unlike other women who crave weird and sometimes harmful or unhealthy things during pregnancy, she just wants ice. That’s it, ICE! Being the resourceful person she is, and the boss, she manages to procure a cup of ice chippings in the middle of rural Ghana to satisfy her not-so-weird craving. There is a little old lady present when she starts chomping down the ice. Cue #unwantedadvice

  • Little old lady (look of disapproval): ‘Young lady, you shouldn't do that, it’s not good’
  • Wife (completely bemused): ‘Why?’
  • Little old lady: ‘The baby will catch a cold…’ There was more to that statement but by this time my wife’s anti-idiotic speech filter had kicked in, so even though the little old lady’s mouth was moving all my wife heard was radio static ‘shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh’.  

The ‘weight’ of starch
This one is my current personal favourites, even if it’s because of the sheer stupidity of it all. Now mummy dearest is a smart person, usually. She has good insights and lots of #unwantedadvice to share about raising a child. Her most recent exploit was to edit the diet of my newest baby boy to exclude starch(es). I say starch but what she actually meant was exclusion of cassava and all related cassava products; gari, tapioca, eba etc. This advice had been slowly building up but finally came to a head when at 13 months, my very boisterous and healthy baby boy was still not fully walking but well on his way.

Apparently, starch isn't good for children since it’s too ‘heavy’ and makes them feel lethargic. But not all types of starch do this. For instance maize is fine, so is rice, so is yam, so is potato, so is millet, so is sorghum, so is wheat…the only exclusion seems to be cassava. Go figure! Needless to say that this gem of sage information/advice has been shelved in the same area of my brain as Big-foot and alien abductions.

Alas, I’ve got one more kid to go and I’m pretty certain that we’re going to have HIM here in Ghana. That means 2 or 3 more years of logic defying idiocy from people who should simply know better. If you’re experiencing, or have already experienced some of what I’ve said (and I’ve only just scratched the proverbial surface), why don’t you join me in this resistance of all things stupid and getting the word out to potential parents of Ghanaian babies…’if at all in doubt, ask your doctor/midwife.

4 comments:

  1. Yeah, I always couldnt quite understand the Ghanaian need to rub their babies' heads with hot towels. I was explained by some childless people, that it is to shape their heads round, so that when boys or girls are shaved at school, they would have perfectly round heads! I thought that is realllly backwards.


    While, ofcourse, a lot of it is bullshit and crazy, there are also great things about most, including Ghana, African cultures when it comes to baby rising.

    One of which is the carrying baby close to mom, especially at an early age. It is how humans have evolved for thousands of years, and strollers are really a rich British inventions, mainly something than came out of aristocrat boredom, kind of like small horse carriages for kids. And clearly now - the world is dominated with child-rising advices that are mainly to make parents' lives easy, not to help the little human develop.

    A few weeks back I read your post about the nurse's comment right before birth in GH hospital...and just a few weeks latter, I read a very similar blog post by a lady here in Latvia about a similar case here, supposedly EU country.

    I am trying to think if other European countries have evil traditions like Ghanaian grannies, and other than the Jewish and Arab circumcision tradition, nothing quite comes to my mind. I think the worse thing here is, the absolute desire and rush for moving away from everything natural [ thou some hippies try to bring it all back ], putting kids in strollers, leaving them to nannies, feeding formulas and assuring their ass sweats in a diaper full with chemicals 24/7 for 2 years...

    good luck with the third. maybe by then you too will have developed the same radio frequency as your wife - shhhssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss

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    1. Hello Ediite...I know I can always count on you for some interesting European comparisons. I've thought long and hard about this too. No particular practice jumps out at me and I've done some research into the matter.

      The massaging/moulding of the head thing in Ghana also struck me as very weird indeed. I don't really know where the idea came from but it's widely practised, more-so in the suburbs and villages than the cities.

      I can't objectively comment on the circumcision thing because I and both my boys are circumcised. Having witnessed it first-hand, I must admit that it is quite a barbaric and horribly painful procedure. I rationalize it's necessity by telling myself that a circumcised peepee is cleaner, less prone to infection and more aesthetically pleasing than a non-circumcised one. But I'm certain that's a cultural thing. - See more at: http://eoseipoku.blogspot.com/2013/08/no-country-forerrbabies.html?showComment=1377855529860#sthash.b23qrMdU.dpuf

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  2. Osei, I wonder sometimes how we made it into adulthood ... The kinda crap we go through as babies! God help us

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    1. Hello Kojo, first of all thanks for reading.
      I suppose we were lucky to have more knowledgeable parents than most. However, having said that, the infant mortality rate in Ghana is still moderately high;
      Total - 40.9 deaths/1,000 live births

      Source: http://www.indexmundi.com/ghana/infant_mortality_rate.html

      I can't help but think that some of these deaths are as a result of these practices.

      Out of 220 countries, Ghana ranks 49th in terms of infant mortality, ahead of countries like Sudan, Senegal, Cambodia etc.
      Check out some interesting facts here;

      Source: http://www.indexmundi.com/g/r.aspx?c=gh&v=29 - See more at: http://eoseipoku.blogspot.com/2013/08/no-country-forerrbabies.html?showComment=1377856100205#c2588237533057517453

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