Monday, February 2, 2009

A Ghanaian friend told me the other day that Ghanaians have flattened noses because as babies they are carried around with their faces pressed against their Maame’s back. There are other more scientifically viable reasons for our variation in nose shape, but I kept my mouth shut when he was talking about this. He was telling me a lot about motherhood here, where a baby is carried in a sling against it mother back all day long. On the streets of New York a stroller being pushed or a child swung on a playground swing might make us think of motherhood. A lot of the babies on the street are with nannies though. Here the street life is a lot more central to people’s lives and maybe for that reason images of motherhood are more prominent in Ghana. Motherhood is the chubby arms and legs that cling to a woman’s back as she leans forward tying a cloth around herself and her baby. Motherhood is the two tiny feet that stick out from beneath a market woman’s arms. Motherhood is a baby’s shaved head, face buried into his mother’s back, peeking out at those around him, or slumped awkwardly back in sleep. Motherhood is stained fabric on a mother’s shirt from her baby dribbling milk out of a plastic bag. Motherhood is the strength of a woman who can carry a baby strapped to her back, balance a heavy tray of oranges or bread on her head and bend up and down all day selling what she is carrying. The lullabies mothers sing are familiar, but while Ghanaian mother’s sing they dance and bounce their babies on their backs. A Ghanaian baby is constantly in movement, carried through busy market allies or streets, rocked to the rhythm of their mother walking. In one Psych class last semester, I read that Africans have the highest percentage of securely attached babies in the world. It isn’t surprising that they form such strong bonds considering that babies are constantly physically attached to their mothers throughout their first years. Even after birth, mother and child remain almost one entity. These are some of the most intimate, natural images of motherhood their I’ve seen. Motherhood in the US gets me thinking of so many different factors of parenting, with education systems, doctors checkups, college funds, sports teams, play dates, coordinating who can take care of the baby when the parents are busy. There is nothing wrong with the complexity and involvement of this type of parenting, but at the same time there is something beautiful about the simplicity and devotion of Ghanaian motherhood.

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