One only has to be in a village or in a meeting with mothers to see how beloved babies are in traditional Kenyan culture. At Mentor University, we have two young mothers with babies — Damaris from Mt. Kulal with baby Anon (nine months) and Judy from Kargi with baby Brian (five months). While the training session is being conducted, the babies are nursed or they sleep in their mothers laps. There is no equipment to “handle” the baby — no jolly jumpers, no scooters, no playpens.
When the babies are awake, they are passed from person to person. They are hugged, cuddled and kissed by men and women alike. When the baby becomes too much of a distraction, we pass Brian and Anon to our appointed BOMA nannies — Maina, our mechanic and driver, and Semeji, our AK47-toting security guard. They walk with the babies, rock them and sing them songs.
My personal observation of the Northern Kenyan culture is that love and charitable acts are practiced in the extreme. Family members are expected to care for their extended family as well as their neighbors. Unlike Western culture, where traditionally a man is expected to care for his wife and children, in this culture a man has the significant burden of caring not only for his immediate family but also for his parents, his siblings and his wife’s parents and siblings. When visitors show up at your home, you are expected to provide a place to sleep and food to eat.
Within families, it is sometimes expected that a man care for at least one of his wife’s siblings, which may include sponsoring them to the highest level of education. In theory, this encourages development in both families, but this responsibility can become a significant burden for men.
So today in the training session, we are an extended family and the babies in our midst are lovingly tended. Semeji’s joyful manner attracts babies and children of all ages and it is especially poignant to see him surrounded by children, when he still has none of his own. I hope he will soon be blessed with a baby that will join this extended family.