Look for Congo on any list ranking quality of life, poverty rate, violence per square meter, etc. and we don’t fare well. Great place to raise a kid, right?
Well, actually, for us, yes.
My friend Jill is my neighbor, co-worker and blogging partner on our blog Mama Congo. We raise our children, along with our husbands, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What we lack in first world standards, we make up for in mamas. Our children call at least 6 women “mama.” Maybe more depending on the day.
In the Congo every woman is called “Mama So-and-So.” I’m Mama Sarah, she’s Mama Jill, and the women who come to our homes everyday and help us raise our children are Mama Youyou, Mamicho, Mama Vida and Mama Nounou. That’s a lot of mamas between our two households.
My husband Adam and I moved to the Congo five years ago and Jill and her husband Johan moved in next door a little while later. Our children all run around together getting bit by mosquitoes while we call for them to return to their respective houses. It’s a great life; made possible mostly by our mamas.
Jill and I are about to travel back to the States to visit our families for the summer. We’ll spend time with the grandparents, show off the new tricks our kids can do, and indulge in all the food we can’t find in Congo. But sometimes it’s hard to leave our little “village” of women raising our children with us.
Sure we’ll miss their help, but what we mostly miss is how totally fun and wacky and sometimes completely puzzling it is to raise your kids with a Congolese woman by your side. For example, sometimes we’ll find the mamas up in a tree throwing fruit down to our kids. They yell in French, “Look out below!” As star fruit or bunches of bananas rain down.
Every now and then from my office window I’ll see them toting our children on their backs when their little legs are too tired to walk home from the playground. Even the smallest baby cries, “Au dos. Au dos,” (on your back) when she wants to hitch a ride.
I know that if my daughter hasn’t eaten enough of her breakfast, I’ll get an earful when Mama Youyou shows up. She examines the size of her belly, determines it’s not properly filled, and then coaxes her into eating more. Next she reminds me I need to keep my kids nice and fat so that if they get sick they’ll be okay.
When the kids do inevitably get sick, the mamas are the biggest worriers. I get that. Where we’re from in the States, children get sick and then they get better. Here in Congo, that’s not a guarantee. So everyone hovers and shakes their heads and carries them au dos all day while rotating cold washcloths on their foreheads. It’s a major production. And the children love it.
Sometimes people ask us if it’s hard to share that title of “mama” with others. It isn’t. It really isn’t! We feel like the luckiest mamas because our children are being raised in such a different and loving way. Sure, it took some time for everyone to adjust and learn their place in the household, but we’ve all got into a rhythm now. I hold this end, you hold that end as we wrestle their filthy bodies in the tub.
I think every mother can agree that raising your children with a lot of help, mixed in with doses of advice, and sprinkled with good old fashioned judgment to keep you on your toes, is a great way to be a mama.
Do your children have other “mamas” where you live? Who are they, and how do they help you?
Photo credit to the authors.