Since I’ve been here I’ve been amazed at how many babies there just are. I'm also amazed how quiet and still they are. They are always in their mothers papoose from the time they are born until about age 2 or 3. If twins, the mother carries one in front and one in back. Babies are either in the papoose or breastfeeding. These papooses look terribly uncomfortable to me, but the babies appear very peaceful and content. Are they? I talked to some people along the way about why the babies are so quiet. Here….it's rare that you hear a baby cry, and they are usually sleeping or just quietly looking around. One Health Peace Corps Volunteer gave me her opinion. She said she thought that an awful lot of them are sick, and that’s why they are so quiet and sleeping all the time. She also told me she had heard that they give babies Sodebe (the local liquor). I wonder? They are wrapped up like cozy cocoons for the first two years. They remind me of baby kangaroos, with just their little heads popping up, looking all around. My favorite scene is to see a woman approaching me and I can see two tiny feet sticking out in front. I see that all the time….two little feet at a woman’s waist. You would have no idea walking towards a woman that she is carrying a baby, except for the feet.
I wonder and worry everytime I see a woman strapping the baby on her back….or readjusting it, as they often do throughout the day. They untie the pagne they have wrapped around their waist…hoist the baby to their back…pull the pagne under her little bottom, and tie a knot in the front. Architecturally once the pagne is tied, she’s secure….but getting the baby in place always makes me cringe. No one else has any worries about it. I don’t know how that baby keeps from falling off. Especially with the little girls who carry babies around. All the time! I’ve seen some of the tiniest little girls, carrying a baby in a papoose; probably a sister, or a neighbor. They have the process down pat…it’s like innate.
There is one tiny problem with the papooses…aside from the fact that we have no idea how many babies do perilously slip out. The other problem is that almost all of the children are bow-legged. Just as bow-legged as the most bow-legged cowboy you can think of. Well of course they are. From the day they were born, their legs have been stretched to fit around their mothers waist. So there’s all these little kids running around as bow-legged as can be. But alas!!! I’ve also purposely observed that the vast majority of the teens and adults are not bow-legged, so somewhere along the line that problem must work itself out.
I’ve often thought of Hillary Clintons book, It Takes a Village. I understand how that concept works here. Everyone seems to take care of everyone else, young and old. Old women will take a fussy baby away from a mother with ease, and strap the baby on her own back. I know that mothers breasts and milk is shared easily and often. They think nothing of offering their breast to another woman’s child.
I rarely hear a baby cry. And there’s a lot of babies!! All these babies…so many… too many, but that’s another story. This story is just about the phenomena of the quiet babies.