Birthing Babies, Bugs and Books Abroad


Book Door

by Susan Kellerman

High:  Baby

One of my closest friends here came back to school last August with the surprise news that she was pregnant. There have been several pregnancies here at school over the past year, but this was different as it was someone who I was close to and would have an ‘inside scoop’ on the pregnancy, birth, and early life of her new little one. And right away I knew that it would be a learning experience for me, going through the miracle of life in an area of the world where many women still give birth at home in the village.

The day of the birth was incredible and one that I will never forget, as it was one of those moments that clarified just how distinct each human culture is. Rather than have the baby in Nairobi (an 8 hour drive away) where hospitals are cleaner, more western, and staff is arguably more knowledgeable, she decided to give birth at the local hospital right across the street from where we live. It is was close to home, a short drive with no chance of having the baby in the car on the way, and where the mother of some of our students is a doctor (albeit a neurologist, but down here, a doctor is a doctor – you know something about everything because it’s a necessity).

Aside from some of the understandable differences one could imagine knowing that you’re giving birth in a third world country (not having your own birthing room, having to bring your own supplies to the hospital with you, no NICU), what struck me most was the accepted practice with visiting the new mom and baby. I was at the hospital within an hour after the birth, but that’s just because I had the extra key to her house and knew where to find the much-needed ice packs for some soothing relief (yup – you even have to provide your own ice packs). I was surprised, though, when a group of three co-workers were right behind me in visiting her, and ones that she really isn’t that close to. I mean, she wasn’t even out of the delivery room and all of these women were going to visit her. It seemed odd, as I was used to just family and close friends being the ones who are welcomed into the hospital straight away.

This visit came up in conversation the next day with one of those colleagues, as I has sent out a Google Doc for people to sign up to take meals over for her (again, another typical American custom) and she was asking me about it. This woman, who is Kenyan, said that in their culture, they visit at the hospital, straight away, when they are in the safe care of doctors, with clean sheets to keep them modest, etc. (What I saw in the delivery room would SO not be considered modest by western standards, but it likely was for Tanzanian standards.) When the mother goes home, that is the time when they leave her be, to recover in her own way, get settled into her home and have time to bond with her baby. I found it fascinating that we as westerners think, in a way, opposite of this; let the mom heal up and recover in the hospital, then when life gets back to normal at home and she’s left to do it on her own, help out, visit, bring meals, check in. I was glad we had that conversation, as I was a bit taken aback by their behavior and I didn’t like feeling that way. Knowing that it was cultural made all the more sense. And, in the end, it didn’t matter as it was just so great to be a part of the day and welcoming a new little one into the world.

Low:  Bugs

When I took the teaching position down here, I knew that there were a lot of things I would have to withstand that normally I would choose not to: regular power outages, warm weather for the entire year, no fresh buffalo mozzarella and basil (although now I can get fresh basil. SCORE!) The one thing that I was most concerned about, and it turns out rightfully so, was the bugs. From a young age I’ve hated bugs and the idea of bugs. Period. I don’t like things crawling on my skin, even if they are harmless. It’s just a feeling I prefer not to experience. But, I have matured a bit since my younger years of weeding the flower gardens at my parents’ house, and so I thought that I could handle it for just these two years. How bad could it be, right?

I was wrong.

I am at my wits end with bugs. If it’s not the *&$£#* mosquitos that are out at all times of the day and looooove my skin, then it’s the tiny ants that have taken over my kitchen, or the termites that are burrowing through my windowsill, or the giant furry spiders that somehow make their way into my living room, or the crickets that make their way into my bedroom and start chirping at the top of their lungs just when I’m going to sleep. I have tried to be at peace with it all and realize that I am in their territory, not the other way around (similar to how I’ve tried to deal with the monkeys), but it’s just not happening. My lovely little gecko housemates aren’t doing their job well enough and there are still uninvited guests all over my house and it drives me bonkers. Daily.

I have taken to being attached at the hip to my can of Doom (yes, that’s the name of the bug spray here), but then I have this guilt hanging over me when I see the big fat ants wriggling around on the floor. I shouldn’t be killing another living creature. I shouldn’t be playing God.

It doesn’t last long, though. I get over pretty darn quick as soon as a small speed-racer spider runs right in front of me. Out comes the Doom again.

Glitter:  Book door

We celebrated International Book Week here at school at the end of February. One of the ways we do that is by getting each homeroom to choose a book and re-create its cover on the door to a room. Last year, it was a complete disaster with my homeroom (then freshman, now sophomores). They just couldn’t get it together and all that came out of Harry Potter was a black background…and perhaps a yellow lightning bolt? I choose to not remember, as it was so embarrassing. A minimalist would have called that finished, but there are no minimalists at our school.

So this year, I was so pleasantly surprised when we actually made a group decision on a book, then one person volunteered to create a design within a day and agreed to be the master artist. The kids were making progress, but started slowing down and there was a point where I didn’t believe they would finish it by the deadline. However, randomly one day, their Life Skills teacher gave them a free period so about seven students came in to work together and finish the door. I had a free period, so had no trouble having them around while I was getting work done. We put on some music, they cut, colored, pasted…I did some planning…it really was a lovely thirty minutes. And, I must say, that I’m so proud of the work they did and the fact that they made it a priority to finish. We didn’t win the competition, but we didn’t care. This is the first door that anyone sees when they walk on campus, and I think it’s a great one.

Susan KellermanBorn, raised and educated in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Susan Kellerman decided to spend all her life savings during her senior year of high school and take a Spring Break trip to Spain with her Spanish teacher and fellow students. This was a watershed event, as it sparked her life-long interest in travel and a desire to one day live in Madrid. Fourteen years later, Susan was able to combine her career in music education with her desire to improve her Spanish speaking skills by accepting a job at the American School of Madrid. Currently, she is the music teacher and program coordinator at the International School of Moshi, in Tanzania and enjoying having Mt. Kilimanjaro as her backyard buddy.

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