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African mothers on strollers *article*

Posted by on Apr. 14, 2012 at 10:52 AM
  • 33 Replies
1 mom liked this

African mothers see baby strollers as abhorrent fad

Tradition of carrying children upheld; 'they can't sit like lumps'

(05-20) 04:00 PDT Nairobi , Kenya -- Irene Wambui can't imagine why anyone would buy a baby stroller. She says she sees it as a cold cage filled with useless rattles, cup holders and mirrored headlights. Imagine children being stuffed into such a contraption and pushed around town like some kind of pet.

Yet here she is in the middle-class Westlands shopping district, trying to sell her store's newest merchandise, the four-wheeled plastic and metal tool of modern motherhood. But so far, strollers have been a flop in Nairobi, an affront to tradition.

Across Africa, women can be seen carrying sleeping or sometimes giggly babies on their backs, swathed in cloth. The babies move to the sway of their mothers' hips, synchronized throughout the day, bending with them as they collect water or sweep the floor and rising again when the women stop to rest. They hang on as their mothers sell food in the market or pray at a church or mosque.

The introduction of strollers and baby carriages, both known here by the British word "pram," horrifies traditionalists, even someone such as Wambui, who sells them. The stroller is appearing in major cities around Africa, but so far it has not been a hit.

"It's not so wonderful. In Africa, we just carry our children or let them roam. They can't sit like lumps," said Wambui, 24. "Besides, our roads aren't even good enough for these devices. If everyone had a pram, it would cause jam- ups in traffic. Then we would be bad to our children and bad to our roads."

Wambui's boss and manager, Zara Esmail, was pacing back and forth in front of the strollers one recent day. She said the store had sold only one baby stroller in two months, and that was to a visiting U.N. worker from Britain who complained later that she had been disappointed by the small selection.

"In general, I thought they would sell far better," Esmail said. Perhaps, she added, it's a question of directing more advertising toward middle-class, working moms. "We thought these modern ones would be a hit."

The stroller has sparked debate among African pediatricians who think the device -- first crafted as a labor-saving tool for the European middle class -- may damage the relationship between a mother and a child.

"The pram is the ultimate in pushing the baby away from you," said Frank Njenga, a child psychiatrist in Nairobi, Kenya's bustling capital. "The baby on the back is actually following the mother in warmth and comfort. The baby feels safer, and safer people are happier people."

In the United States and Europe, strollers have long been controversial. Recently, some doctors and child psychologists have blamed them for everything from pediatric obesity to low self-esteem later in life.

Jane Clark, professor of kinesiology at the University of Maryland, said there was concern that Americans were overusing strollers for older children, causing toddlers to be less physically active. A growing movement among child advocates promotes the idea of carrying babies more and getting them out of their strollers.

At the same time, Web sites and magazines in the United States and Europe dedicate a lot of space to the subject of choosing a style of stroller or carriage -- front-to-back or side-by-side, a jogger or a sleeper, with or without a lightweight titanium frame, pneumatic tires, rear suspension, mud flaps and/or battery-operated blinkers. Some European-made antique carriages are status symbols for celebrities such as Madonna and Celine Dion, who spent $2,600 on the classic Balmoral Pram, described by some Web reviewers as a tiny Humvee.

Africans consider the traditional method of toting their children the only true version of day care. When it's time for feeding, the food is right there as a mother shifts her child to the front of her body, nestling the infant to her breast. The baby stroller could change all of that. But many people in Nairobi said they thought the devices would be just another instance of Africans adopting the worst habits of industrialization.

"There are customs from a hundred years ago that are not relevant today for Africans," said Carol Mandi, managing editor of EVE, an East African women's magazine. "Our challenge is to pick the good from the bad. But carrying on your back, well, that is just a wonderful custom that keeps the baby emotionally stable and lets the mother feel bonded. We can't stop being African women just because we are suddenly thrust into the modern world. What next? They will tell us to stop breast feeding in public? No way."

Washington Post Special Correspondent Candice Miranda contributed to this report.

by on Apr. 14, 2012 at 10:52 AM
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Replies (1-10):
thundersky
by on Apr. 14, 2012 at 12:32 PM

that is really cool i got a stroller and have hardly used it. we end up carring our DD or just walking slower so she can keep up.

jconney80
by Group Mod on Apr. 14, 2012 at 12:44 PM
1 mom liked this

I LOVE this!! We do have strollers but they mostly serve as a way to carry all of our stuff around....water jug, diaper bag, cooler, & potty bag. Gracie gets worn all of the time & Markus walks. lol It is nice to have at the zoo, museum, or theme park that involves us to have more stuff with us. Other than that we don't use them!

FebPenguins
by on Apr. 14, 2012 at 12:52 PM

INTERESTING! Thanks for sharing!!


MamaKalila
by on Apr. 14, 2012 at 1:10 PM

LOVE this post... not so much because I dislike strollers (is true I do, but I use one occasionally too lol) but because I've been to Tanzania (right under Kenya) and the thought of women using a stroller there is just mind boggling lol. I love reading this prospective on it. 

jconney80
by Group Mod on Apr. 14, 2012 at 1:43 PM
I think if I lived in a place like that I'd be angry if they started selling things like strollers. My sister moved to Africa, well an island off of Africa, and said there is no way you can use strollers there. Good thing I talked her into buying a Boba before going! She also said that the restaurants don't have high chairs and its really strange LOL
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MommaGreenhalge
by Member on Apr. 14, 2012 at 2:38 PM
I kinda love that last paragraph. And I have nothing against strollers (I kinda wish I had one right now, actually). But they aren't nearly as practical or convenient in most situations as babywearing.
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Naegore
by on Apr. 14, 2012 at 3:43 PM
6 moms liked this
I enjoyed this article very much. I have been thinking a lot lately about the fact that our society believes that children should learn to be independent from birth. They spend their first nine months snuggled deep with in mommy and in an instant are forced to get use to being alone: in a crib, in a swing, in a stroller. Always with music or videos to comfort them. I no longer wonder why American kids are the way they are; why they don't behave and want more and more material things to make then happy. They are taught to take comfort in "things" rather than their families. I'll step off my soap box now.
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tabi_cat1023
by Group Mod - Tabitha on Apr. 14, 2012 at 7:21 PM
Love this and agree


Quoting Naegore:

I enjoyed this article very much. I have been thinking a lot lately about the fact that our society believes that children should learn to be independent from birth. They spend their first nine months snuggled deep with in mommy and in an instant are forced to get use to being alone: in a crib, in a swing, in a stroller. Always with music or videos to comfort them. I no longer wonder why American kids are the way they are; why they don't behave and want more and more material things to make then happy. They are taught to take comfort in "things" rather than their families. I'll step off my soap box now.

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JazzysWifey
by on Apr. 14, 2012 at 7:29 PM
Such an interesting read! Thanks for sharing!
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TrentsMom84
by Silver Member on Apr. 14, 2012 at 7:40 PM

YES!!! Agreed times 1000!!!  It's like if you don't have them completely self sufficient by the time their 1 then you'll never get them out of the house at 18.  Considering how many Americans in their mid twenties are still having their lives subsidized by their parents I'd guess that's not the answer. 

My SIL that stays at home once bragged to me that she didn't pick her 6 month old up all day unless it was to feed her.  I guess she thought I'd be impressed by her daughter's independence but all it made me think was that she was lazy and neglectful.

Quoting Naegore:

I enjoyed this article very much. I have been thinking a lot lately about the fact that our society believes that children should learn to be independent from birth. They spend their first nine months snuggled deep with in mommy and in an instant are forced to get use to being alone: in a crib, in a swing, in a stroller. Always with music or videos to comfort them. I no longer wonder why American kids are the way they are; why they don't behave and want more and more material things to make then happy. They are taught to take comfort in "things" rather than their families. I'll step off my soap box now.


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