Every eight weeks or so, I get a barrage of emails about raising small children in Freetown. I suspect that it’s closely linked to how often Freetown shows up on A-100 bid lists. In any case, I brought Freetown’s youngest baby since kids were allowed to come back in 2010. Jasmine came over at 10 weeks, and we haven’t regretted it for a moment.
Just remember that I write this from the perspective of a baby wearing, cloth diapering, make my own baby food hippy. Bertrand and I are pretty crunchy, from an American perspective.
5 rants about bringing a baby to Freetown
We are at least 24 hours from real medical care. Of course, we were planning on raising Jasmine in Cotonou anyway, so moving here wasn’t the end of the world for us. She’s healthy, doesn’t have any serious allergies, and hasn’t yet been mobile enough to be accident prone. But there’s only one flight to Europe a day from Freetown, and it takes hours to get to the airport.
Getting to the airport with a car seat and a stroller is a real hassle. The airport is on the other side of a 9-mile wide estuary. To get there from Freetown, you have to cross the water in a speedboat. It’s actually a lot of fun, except for having to carry all of Jasmine’s stuff onto the pier and then onto the taxi. I usually end up just wearing Jasmine on my chest, handing all my stuff to the taxi staff, and tipping like mad.
No baby food. No diapers. Which is fine for us, because I make Jasmine’s food, and we cloth diaper. Otherwise, we’d have to have put all of her food in the UAB/HHE and good lord, we’d be pouching in two years worth of diapers. Babies are a real ecological disaster. For my recent R&R, Bertrand and I spent an entire day scouring grocery stores looking for baby food and disposable diapers to take on the plane with me. We finally found some, but it was gone from the shelves by the time I returned.
Low bandwidth means it’s really hard to share pictures with family. My husband uploads low resolution photos to Facebook several times a week, but I can’t upload anything nice enough for my family in the States to print. We’ve been shuttling 4GB SD cards back and forth. Ugh.
There aren’t a ton of other accessible-to-us babies around. There are a few, and there are now two (two!) playgroups that Jasmine’s part of, which helps. There are also a couple of daycares with good reputations that accept babies who aren’t potty trained yet, but it occasionally bothers me that she’s not socializing as much as she could be.
5 raves about bringing a baby to Freetown
Household help is dirt cheap. OMG. It’s summer transfer season, the end of the fiscal year, and time to move folks into new houses, all at once. I’m working long hours. My husband is working long hours. And we can do it because we have two wonderful ladies who spend all day at home with our baby. And cleaning. And taking care of the little things in our house so that when we get home, we can do what’s important—hang out with Jasmine.
It takes a village. We desperately wanted to come back to West Africa for the first few years of our daughter’s life. One of the things I missed about Benin while we were in the States was the sense of community. My child is everyone’s child, and everyone’s children are mine. If someone else’s kid is misbehaving, it’s everyone’s job to let him or her know. And if my child is being bratty (or sweet!), it’s also the responsibility of many people besides just Bertrand and I. I like that. I miss it.
The Mission community is awesome about babies. I get it. Not everyone likes babies. Wants babies. Wants to be around babies. But the community here has been incredibly welcoming and understanding of the fact that I’m a baby wearing hippy, and where I go, Jasmine goes. Folks welcome her to evening and weekend social events, and she’s often explicitly included on the invitation.
Everyone’s a baby wearing hippy. It love that it’s not weird that Jasmine spends a lot of time on my back. It’s not weird that we feed her regular food off our plates. It’s not weird that we expect her to behave in public (yes, at 8 months!). It’s not weird that we coslept. The Americans think we’re nuts, of course, but as our parenting style is heavily influenced by my husband’s culture and my time in Cotonou, the Sierra Leoneans think we’re pretty normal.
There’s really nothing to consume here. Jasmine gets the clothes and toys she came with. And that’s pretty much it. I’m a big enough snob that I’m not going to buy cheap Chinese plastics in the market, which means that we either pouch stuff in for her, or she doesn’t get it at all. She’s going to spend the first few years of her life happy with what she’s got.
Freetown is awesome. Jasmine is awesome. I don’t regret for a moment our decision to bring our newborn with us. Freetown could be a nightmare for infants, and it’s not, largely because the Mission has made it a real priority to make Post friendlier to families. There are things we could do better, but change only comes with time. I’m sure that as Freetown gets more and more accustomed to having young children around, it will only get easier.