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African mothers on strollers *article*

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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
Replies (31-33):
Hyman
by on Apr. 16, 2012 at 9:18 AM
For the first 8 months of my sons life he has always been worn on me in a papoose. I have the fancy stroller that I wish I would have been gifted in cash ... But it served well as my bag holder :D

Now that he's 8 months and I would like to jog, I have fallen in love with my Bob jogger ... And I do not feel bad if I'm jogging with him in it. He actually loves it even though he hated our orbit. He can take naps in it all stretched out too while we're out and I'm doing something like getting a manicure. I get some space and therefor I'm happy and can give him my other 23 hrs in the day all to him :D
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cemcnair
by Courtney on Apr. 16, 2012 at 10:51 AM
I bought a stroller. We've used it twice in 20 months and we were carrying ds by the end of the trip while the stroller held all our junk. I'm just not comfortable with him being so removed from me (now he walks), but I always preferred my sling!!!
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JoJoBean8
by Group Mod on Apr. 16, 2012 at 11:35 AM

I wear Christian 90% of the time. I use a stroller when we go on walks around the neighborhood.

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