Friday, 25 February 2011

Breast-feeding in the US and in Ghana

Those interested in Michelle Obama, US politics, or breastfeeding in general (I'm guessing that'll be Mum-folk) will know that Michelle Obama is calling for barriers to women nursing at work to be removed. Heck, she even took Sasha to a job interview, so that if she needed to be breastfed, she would be right there with her!

This - I love!

Skipping from the US to Ghana...but sticking with the issue of breastfeeding..there appeared to be some real benefits for Mums who take their children to work with them - on their backs I mean. I've no idea what happens with women who don't carry their kids this way. 

I've not included a picture of a baby, or a breast, or even a breast-feeding woman here because I'm sure we can use our imaginations... : )
Anyway, a working Mum that I met, was sitting by the roadside selling roasted plantain. We were at a busy bank across the road and I spotted the plantain and thought 'I need some of that!'. She prepared two pieces for me, and get this - she was breastfeeding at the same time! When we went to hand me my change, her breast slipped from the baby's mouth and before giving me the change, she placed her breast straight back in her baby's mouth and continued - as though it was perfectly normal. I asked our hosts about this. I wondered if she was just a bold woman or if in fact in Ghana it was perfectly normal to do that if you work with your child. I was told

'If the child needs to eat, what should come before that?'

Now I don't know if this was the opinion of our host or if its more widespread than that BUT I know one thing - I liked that idea.

'If the child needs to eat, what should come before that?'. It has such a sweet ring to it, I wish I could bottle it and just give it out as a freebie!
It also got me thinking of how I used to cover up with a muslin cloth, or wear a special blouse, so that I could discretely breastfeed. I'm sure that even though I didn't make a song and dance about it - pretty much anyone within 2 metres of me would have known that I was breast-feeding. And, even with the cover-ups, I still wouldn't have felt comfortable to sit at the side of the road, opposite a major bank, with constant flows of traffic and just flip out my breast like that - much less with a complete stranger standing in my face.

At home, depending on who was visiting that day (and you just can't underestimate the flow of visitors when you have a baby!), I sometimes 'excused myself' to another room - all to avoid having to get my mahoosive jugglies out in front of people who I didn't think needed to be seeing my jugglies! I was worried about embarassing them! I myself wasn't that embarassed about the issue. 

I'm not entirely sure why I was so affected by this random incident, and it's not as though I've never seen anyone breastfeed in a public place before, it's just that she was doing it as though it was THE most natural thing in the world. And you know what - it probably was one of THE most natural things in the world - and it was simply beautiful.

Mrs O

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Ghanaian Working Mum - through my eyes...

On cruising the warm streets of Accra in our air conditioned, less than a year old car, I was extremely comfortable and could have been anywhere in the world. So, I decided to sit back and watch. I was watching EVERYTHING, like a child..asking questions, trying to understand...essentially being an undercover, unpaid, anthropologist... I was observing.

One thing that struck me was the two kinds of working Mum that I observed. They were worlds apart but living right next to one another...

The majority of working Mums that I noticed were selling various goods by the roadside or in markets. They carried on their heads everything from bags of water and meat pies, to socks and wooden artefacts. They worked enthusiastically under the scorching midday sun, often near another working Mum, chatting and laughing as they tried to sell their items. 

How did I know they were working Mums? 

It was easy, they had their kids strapped to their backs, like this:

Fine, these women may have been looking after other people's babies, but that would be a lot of childminders carrying kids on their backs. From a few women that I spoke to, these little kids were clearly their own. I had warm memories when I saw these woman, and reminisced about 'carrying' my dolls on my back as a young child. I used to play 'African girl' and carry a laundry basket with a few socks in it on top of my head. I'd use a scarf to tie the dolls to my back and would parade up and down the house. This was me playing 'house' I guess. It was so humbling to see grown women doing the same - except they weren't playing.

At one point, I saw a woman with a HUGE bowl on her head, and a little girl on her back. She also had 2 other smalls child walking with her. She saw the tro-tro (like a bus - except you really wouldn't want to ride it) and started to run - with the bowl balanced on her head and the little girl slipping from her back. I watched eagerly, just waiting to see if she'd catch the tro-tro, and how she'd hustle 3 kids onto what was already a jam packed ride. 

She caught the tro-tro, she caught the little girl before she slipped, swung her onto the ground, handed the bowl from her head to the 'mate' (that's like the conductor) and she jumped onto the tro-tro. All three of the kids followed her. 

I wondered if she was going home, or to another spot to sell or what. Like I said, I was very curious about everything I saw... : ) I wondered if what I saw was a typical occurrence? Was it an unusual thing that I saw?

Either way, I was impressed. I made a little note of the incident (the bones for this post) and I plan to keep a mental note of this, so that on days when I find being a working Mum difficult, I can remind myself that if that lady and her 3 kids could catch the tro-tro, I sure can meet the challenges that I faced too.

So what about the other type of working Mum?

The other type was the high-society working Mum, who doesn't need to bathe her child if she doesn't want to (there is home-help for this). This working Mum doesn't have to cook, clean or drive their child to nursery (again, there is home-help for this). The only time that this kind of Mum has to spend with her child is 'quality time' - seeing sites, going on trips, playing etc. All the home-related tasks are taken care of for her. All her energy goes into working and whatever spark of energy is left is for playing with her child - she doesn't have to split her non-working time between her child and chores.  

I was as shocked by this experience as I was the last one... of course there are times when I would LOVE home-help! I mean, I would LOVE to have someone else plan meals and cook, so that when I get home from work, I can devote all my time to just playing with Little Miss O....I would love it if I could go to bed and the plates wash themselves...if the clothes would wash themselves. Now, call me selfish but I wouldn't want to share so much of my child with someone else. I want to be the one to kiss the boo boos, I want to be the one to read bedtime stories. In fact Mr O and I fight over who gets to collect Little Miss O from nursery and see her big grin when we arrive. These things I love.

Seeing these two completely contrasting versions of 'working motherhood' was just another example of how life can be sooooo different for people, so different for women, living just metres from one another...

Mrs O

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Driving in Ghana - not for the faint-hearted!

Driving in Accra and Cape Coast (the two cities I visited) was nothing like driving here in the UK or anywhere else I have ever been - including the autobahn! The rules appeared to be:

'there are rules, but not everybody knows what the rules are'
'if you know the rules, it doesn't really matter if you don't follow them'

At one point, as I sat nervously in the back of the car I asked ' this a 2-lane or 3-lane road?'. The response: 

'this is Ghana, the road is whatever you want it to be!'

With the same driver on a different day, I witnessed something that could either have left me in hysterical laughter or hysterical fear! My body chose laughter, but believe me, my mind did not! Through my hysterical laughter (seriously the fear manifested as uncontrollable laughter), I just had to comment - 'No way! Are you serious?! You just overtook 5 vehicles, and there are a couple of lorries amongst them! You couldn't even see the road ahead!'. The response:

'ahahaahahatehehehahahaa, we told you! This is Ghana - everything is possible!'

Goodness me! These comments were not lies! Just when I thought I had seen the worst of Ghana driving, we did an emergency stop at a level crossing. I don't understand why it called for an emergency stop?! The red lights were flashing from some distance away and the sirens were quite clear. Even I knew it was a level crossing, that a train was coming and we needed to stop. The Ghanaian pedestrians knew this, but didn't seem to care! They approached the level crossing, took a super-quick-can-barely-be-called-a-glance look at how far away the train was, and then skipped nonchalantly across the train tracks! A LEVEL CROSSING, lights flashing, sirens blarring and people crossing it!! I couldn't believe my eyes, so I just closed them. 

I closed my eyes - this was serious for me. I'm the same girl who didn't even want to sleep, for fear of missing exciting events in Ghana! The truth is, I just didn't want to witness any tragedy on a level crossing on my holiday! When I opened my eyes, there was a guy on a moped who had stopped next to us. He appeared to be waiting for the train. WRONG! 

He ducked his head and rode UNDERNEATH the barrier! The ironic thing is that he was wearing a helmet!

Again, go figure?!

Mrs O

Monday, 21 February 2011

Excess Baggage

The title of this post could mean so many things...excess weight, excess relationship 'ish...but in this case, I am seriously talking about excess baggage - as in Africans travelling to Ghana!

I remember as a child taking relatives to the airport at crazy-o'clock, and being forced to put (heavy) items in my backpack - temporarily. These items would then be transferred to the travellers hand luggage once everything had been weighed at check-in. There was never anything dodgey involved - other than people trying to hustle a few extra kilos here and few pounds there...

Fast forward about 15 years and I'm standing in the lounge ready to leave and my Mum asks 
'where is your hand luggage?'
'this is my hand luggage!' I replied cheekily, holding my large handbag, which I considered to be an appropriate size for hand luggage.
'THAT is not hand luggage, that is your handbag. You need a hand luggage and a handbag' my Mum literally barked at me! As though I was doing something wrong, like smuggling cannabis in my handbag!
'What for? I am trying to be compact!'
'Never mind, you will go like this, and when you get the airport you will see people with hand luggage... you will leave British and return as an African' 

Wow - my Mum was really taking this issue seriously - and even forced us to take an extra suitcase - just in case. I mean really...would be need an entire extra suitcase?

Here's me doing my 'I'm going to Ghana' dance

We got to the airport, and can you imagine that we were in fact overweight - the cases I mean, not us (actually we probably are too, but no-one cared)! The extra suitcase came in very handy and we were sent away from the check-in desk to 'readjust' our weight. Mother really does know best, eh! We checked the fourth suitcase in and I kept my large handbag as my hand luggage.

As we queued to get on the shuttle bus to our plane, I overheard a concerned member of the BA staff saying 'yes, there's too much...everyone...' I figured from the sheer number of, what can only be described as suitcases, I had seen been paraded through duty-free, that she was talking about excess baggage!

We got on the plane and watched people struggle to lift their 'hand luggage' into the overhead lockers. I was a bit worried myself, as a bit of turbulence and one of those pieces of 'hand luggage' could turn into a serious incident! The lockers were rammed full with 'hand luggage' and when one white passenger went to store his reasonably sized piece of hand luggage in the overhead locker - there was no room. He just glared at all the passengers sitting within a 1 metre radius of his seat and then started shouting for the stewardess. At that moment I was sure he wasn't British. The culture would be to quietly complain, or to say nothing at all!

For this guy, standing amid a sea of African faces, it was on! Him against BA!

The guilty passengers started shifting in their seats. I was just watching and laughing to myself. Oh how my Mum knows her African people. Everyone, except Mr O and I and the few white people on the plane had brought a suitcase into the  cabin itself! I mean everyone! 

The guy was seriously annoyed, I mean, oooh he was mad! Ooooh people were looking scared - as though they thought they'd be thrown off the plane mid-flight along with their luggage.

In the end, the stewardess removed the most offensive cases from the lockers and asked for the owners! It was like some sort of assembly - everyone prayed that they did not have to admit to smuggling on a suitcase!

It was H.I.L.A.R.I.O.U.S!

The largest suitcases were removed from the cabin and then sent to join the rest of the big baggage! There was one particularly large red suitcase that the owner couldn't even lift out by herself - I mean really! If you can't even lift it, it simply is not hand luggage people!

So, in the end, all of this chaos delayed us by 30-odd minutes...sigh...

So maybe this offers some sort of explanation for the saying 'black people are always late' - go figure...

Mrs O

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Akwaaba - a warm welcome from Ghana

...whenever I meet anyone who happens to have met a Ghanaian before, the first thing they tell me is how welcoming, warm and friendly their friend/cousin/colleague is. More or less, this has also been my experience so far... 

When we arrived at the airport, just after collecting our baggage (which is a story on its own!), we were met with the following sign:

I saw the sign, sniggered and took out my camera.  Beside it, stood a policeman who said 'do you like it?' I wasn't really sure if I should say yes or no - I mean he looked very serious! I chose 'yes' and then he smiled...and I scurried on my way! It was the start of an extremely interesting trip - full of irony, laughter and unexpected surprises along the way. 

It's been SUCH an amazing experience and I'm gonna write some posts about it, before the details get lost somewhere in the depths of my memory.

Ghana is one different place...I can't wait to go back - soon!

Mrs O

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Ghana 2011

Yesterday, we arrived back from my first time in Ghana...WHAT an experience....SO many stories, SO many laughs...SO much learnt, SO much to miss and SO much to tell .... now, to find the time to share! : )

Mrs O

Friday, 4 February 2011

Things I love about being a Mummy

- I am learning about love on a whole new level... love changes e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g

- I am actually far less highly strung than I was before being a Mummy... I mean once you spend 30 minutes getting ready to leave the house, only to be covered in a posit after an hour, you learn not to take yourself too seriously.

- I am less judgemental of other Mums. Back in the day, I would recite the mantra of the childless --- 'I would never let my child eat McDonalds  [pah, what harm did one happy meal ever do?]..I would never let my child sit and watch TV for so long..[my, isn't cbeebies educational]...basically, I love that I've realised there's always a reason for people's just don't know it, and you don't have to like it, but there's always a reason.

- I feel much more resourceful now, for example, I know what a 'babyccino' is and I know to ask for a sprinkle of cocoa powder on the top, AND I know that Little Miss O thinks this is hot chocolate. : ) 

-I've learnt the true meaning of 'everything in moderation'

- I am much more creative now. Kitchen staples like pasta, rice and flour used be for cooking...not anymore, they are for gluing, painting, mixing with food colouring and water and making playdough from!

- On a similar note, I LOVE that I get to buy glue, paint, glitter, glitter pens, collect leaves from the park and make collages with Little Miss O. 

- I realise just how much I LOVE to do colouring. I mean seriously, it's usually me that suggests we do colouring and when I got Little Miss O a bumper Christmas colouring book, I just COULD NOT RESIST... in fact this book had all the family became a competition.. I LOVE THIS! 

- Speaking of Family, Little Miss O has brought an entirely new level of love to mine and Mr O's relationship and every moment alone with Mr O counts for double what it did before...

- I laugh multiple times E.V.E.R.Y S.I.N.G.L.E D.A.Y. I've always been a bit of giggler, but being a Mummy has brought a new laughter to my life.. the kind of BURST OUT LOUD, ROLLING ON THE FLOOR, BEING TICKLED BY MINIATURE HANDS type of laughter, randomly burst into a fit of laughter in the middle of the street type of laughter. Basically, our house is full of noise - and we like it!

- I can be silly in public and no-one really cares and best of all, neither do I. Once, we were at the airport with Little Miss O and she was getting restless in her buggy (we had been waiting for HOURS!), so I decided to dance for her. My aunt who was with us, said 'you know when you're ready to be a Mum, when you can act like that a crazy person in public and not care!'

So, maybe that's the answer to my friend's question about being ready.... 

Mrs O

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Things to consider BEFORE starting a family (Part 3 - Working Motherhood)

Part Three of my mini-feature on 'things to consider BEFORE starting a family'...(apologies for the time gaps between these posts - Mummy duties called!). So, last time, I posted about being a Stay-at-Home Mum, and this time I thought I'd add a bit about being a Working Mum... are you ready? First off - I have got to reiterate that I think being a Stay-at-Home Mum is work in itself, but I'm talking about the kind of work that you can't take your kiddie to.

Are you ready to be a ‘Working Mum’? This is my take on working motherhood...correct me if I am wrong, or tell me if its much easier for you, cos a job-change is never out of the question! : )

From what I understand of working motherhood, if you work full-time, you'll have half a million things to do before arriving to an intray full of 'must dos'; you'll complete those ‘must dos’ whilst thinking about the other half a million things you need to do when you get home. If you work 'part-time', you'll end up doing the same work with less time and with less pay - FACT! (OK, I don't know if it's a ‘fact’, but it's my observation - and I'm mighty observant!)... : )

Onto Daycare fees

If you do want/need to return to work within 4-5 years of your child's birth, are you prepared for daycare fees? If you are planning close age gaps (again, that's another post in itself!), are you prepared for doubling or tripling the fee cost? Do you know someone who can look after your child for you for free - like a Grandparent or someone who lives locally?

The cost of daycare was something that shock-horrored us to the core back in 2008. We were so focussed on 'the pregnancy' and what kind of 'parents' we wanted to be that we didn't really have time to think about the practicalities... naive – yes! With average full-time daycare costing between £600-£1000 per month, it's a good idea to think about these costs beforehand. Can you afford such fees? Do you want to pay such fees? I know a young mummy of 2 who said to me 'there's no point in going to work for less than double what you pay for childcare'. Of course it depends how much going to work is 'worth' to you, but that was a really good starting point for me.

Of course there are also waiting lists for the highly sought after nurseries to think about! 2 year waiting lists - what do the kids play with? Gold bars?

Anyway, these are just a few more things to think about BEFORE starting a family.

I think I'm gonna keep these posts to show Little Miss O in about 10+ years time! : )
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