Monday, June 11, 2007

To work or not to work?

Just read an article about how by the age of 3 children from disadvantaged (is that now the polite way of saying poor?) backgrounds are a year behind those from middle-class (and mostly white) families in terms of language and other pre-school development. Sad, if not very surprising. But what is especially noteworthy is the following:

72% of children with a single mother (of 15,500 children) are living below the poverty line (under 60% average national income). And, both children from Scotland and middle-class children are doing better than their peers and in both groups they are more likely to have working mothers, and therefore have more out-of-home care.

It is quite clear then that families with single mothers need extra help on several fronts, as 72% poverty is shockingly high. But also, I have to re-assess my opinion of the pressure put on single mums to go out and work. I always thought that perhaps this was not in the child’s best interest, that it might be better to have mum at home spending more time with them then out working and the kids at nursery. Apparently not.

Also nice for once to read something that doesn’t make working mothers feel guilty but in fact suggests we are doing the right thing for our children. Unless of course you remember the research that says children who spend more time in nursery are more disruptive at primary school. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.


Friday, June 08, 2007

World Oceans Day

I’m feeling a bit restless today, with a strange feeling of nervous excitement, as if I had something big planned for later today or the week-end. The truth is I have nothing planned for either. I’m beginning to suspect that my coffee this morning was particularly strong and that this is just a caffeine buzz. It’s making it difficult for me to concentrate on work (hence this post) but has put me in a strangely elated mood.

We are coming to the end of the World Environment Week. Today is World Oceans Day (unofficial, in that it is not recognised as such by the UN, but has been celebrated by various organisations and institutes around the world as such for 12 years). So here are some ocean-related thoughts.

Hundreds of thousands of plastic bags are floating around the world’s oceans. Not only are they ugly and extremely unpleasant when they wrap themselves around you whilst out swimming (you, not them), they also look a fair bit like jellyfish, with the unfortunate consequence that they a) give you a bit of a scare and b) get eaten by sea turtles, who love nothing more than a bit of jellyfish sushi. This obviously kills the turtle. Turtles are amongst the world’s most endangered wildlife and have enough to worry about, what with long-liners, drift-nets and turtle shell nick-knacks, without adding plastic bags into the equation. Another good reason to make an effort to replace them (plastic bags, not turtles) with baskets, string bags, re-usable shopping bags of whatever variety, pockets, rucksacks, saddlebags or whatever fashion statement you choose. Go on, it’s easy and it makes you feel virtuous. I’m feeling evangelical, as I have recently made an effort to stop accepting the many plastic bags proffered to me on a daily basis. I have bought two large baskets and two large re-usable plastic bags and am making good progress. Plastic bags here are particularly flimsy and often don’t even last until I get home, so there is no excuse. The Mozambicans think I’m slightly odd, but I’ve got used to that, as so did the Portuguese and the Ugandans before them.

Coral reefs are not only perhaps the most diverse ecosystems in the world, they also are an extremely effective defence for coastlines around the world. One of the most important factors that determined which places were wiped out by the SE Asian tsunami and which weren’t was the condition of their coral reefs. Coral is killed by global warming. Do your bit: change your light bulbs, experiment with not using your car when possible, insulate your loft, double-glaze your windows, consider food miles when shopping, turn down your heating 1 degree or do whatever else you find easy and cost-effective and actually meaningful.

Cod is delicious. It’s also going extinct. Choose another white fish instead. (One for me there, as I confess to occasionally eating bacalhau, Portuguese salt cod, wonderful stuff.)

OK, enough environmental proselytising for one post. I think I may celebrate today by sloping off a bit early and taking Joaquim and Sebastian to the beach to build sandcastles, eat ice-cream and appreciate the incredible good fortune we have to be living on the shores of the fantastically beautiful, warm, bio-diverse Mozambican Indian Ocean. Go on, hug a wave. Or a fish.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Weaning troubles

Sorry to keep banging on about this, but I could do with some advice. Here’s the situation. I need to wean Sebastian. I’ll be honest: I love breastfeeding my children (I love those quiet, intimate moments of cuddles and comfort), and I could happily breastfeed him for several more months (he’s only just over a year old). But I have several good reasons for wanting to wean Sebastian.

Firstly, he still wakes up every night wanting a feed, and it is absolutely wearing me out. I think that if I wean him this may improve or at the very least we may be able to achieve what we did with Joaquim until about 18 months, which was give him a bottle at night, which takes up all of 2 minutes: wake up, mix powdered milk into bottle, give to child, go back to sleep. Sebastian is not wild about bottles, but he’s getting there.

Secondly, I am going on holiday in mid-July. I would like to be able to drink more than a glass of wine (I’m very strict with myself when breastfeeding), especially at my sister’s book launch, and even maybe leave Sebastian overnight with a willing grandparent knowing that he won’t scream for lack of a maternal boob.

Thirdly, it’s getting increasingly difficult to work in the field with Sebastian in tow. He needs proper meals, someone to play with, and he’s heavy. I need to be able to leave him behind in Pemba for a few days at a time in order to do my work properly.

So, although my heart is not in it, I know I must wean him. The problem is that he is ADDICTED to the boob. Whenever he sees me naked he points at them and makes sucking noises (yes, it is very funny), then clings at my legs and tries to climb me! At the slightest opportunity he pulls at my clothing to get to them. When, as increasingly has been the case, I refuse him access, he has an absolute fit. He screams, goes rigid, throws himself to the floor or struggles and fights to get at them. Occasionally he can be distracted with water or juice. Often not. So, how do I do it? It was so easy with Joaquim, just a gradual transition from breast to bottle and no fuss at all. Answers on a postcard to the usual address please.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Nampula part 2

And this is what actually happened. Sebastian had a reasonable night and accepted my absence with tolerable grace. I had an exhausting day of very successful shopping with my friend who joined in at the last minute (and made it much more fun) but nonetheless enjoyed 36 hours without being mum. My boobs exploded. Well, not quite, but it felt like that's the way they were heading. For the first time ever I was delighted when Sebastian woke me up last night at 2am, as I finally managed to unload some excess baggage and sleep comfortably. No guilt though, which was good.

Happy International Children's Day to all people young enough to want to be included in that category. I think they're having a disco at Jaoquim's nursery, we were asked to bring in some Portuguese kiddies' music they could dance to. J will love it.

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I have been jolted into action by speaking to an old friend, who lives in the closest large town to here, Nampula (only 450km away, that’s close by Mozambican standards) who tells me she reads my blog. I am always surprised to hear that someone is reading my blog as I tend to assume that my readership is limited to about half a dozen friends and relations. So for all of you out there who read in total anonymity, hello! Good to have you on board.

It seems that almost nothing has been going on since I last posted, but as my life is hardly a whirlwind of excitement and action adventure at any time, there’s surely enough to ramble on about for a bit. (Doing quite well so far, after all.)

In no particular order:

I went to Ibo. I tried out the eco-loo. It is a dual-vaulted dry-composting latrine. Google that and you’ll get all the info you need (and more). I’m glad to report that it seems to work perfectly, especially the tricky urine-diverting pedestal which I had my doubts about. (Google it, I tell you, if you really want to understand.) Underwhelming as this may sound to most of you, it’s actually quite exciting for me as a) it is the first of its kind in the Park and b) if it really works it could be an excellent solution to a serious public health problem on Ibo and elsewhere and c) I found out about it and I had it made. If you want to experience it for yourself, you must request Marta’s house in the Ibo homestay programme.

Joaquim drew a picture of a crocodile. It was actually recognisable. This is noteworthy because his drawings have not been representative until now. Except for one excellent self portrait: we are talking a circle, legs of sort, some kind of features and tufts of hair over his ears which we had pointed out to him after he went to have his hair cut but refused to let the barber clip around his ears (he HATES having his hair cut, shivers and cries, poor thing, but then recovers immediately).

Continuing the theme, I cut Sebastian’s fringe because it was getting into his eyes. He fidgeted, I snipped carefully but decisively, we got an entirely deliberate (ahem) trendy asymmetrical look. Fortunately at this age it doesn’t matter as he is absolutely gorgeous anyway, but I have made a mental note not to cut his hair beyond his second birthday if I don’t want him to hate me for life.

Paulo has started exercising regularly. This shames me (I can’t, I won’t, if I don’t have time to sleep when am I supposed to go running?!), so I tease him that it’s a knock-on from his 38th birthday. None the less it’s entirely admirable. Joaquim likes to copy some of the exercises. Which is entirely hilarious.

Our house grows. Door and window frames going in, roof beams being raised, walls soon to be plastered. Still a huge way to go, though. I am travelling to Nampula to buy pipes, bathroom fittings, light switches, tiles and the kitchen sink (those paying attention will now know how far you need to go to buy decent construction material in Pemba) this evening. I am flying down and driving back up tomorrow. I am not taking Sebastian as it will be much easier to do all this without him. This momentous decision may have several unfortunate consequences. If he has a bad night and does not find a ready boob to comfort him, Paulo will have a truly horrendous time of it. I foresee wailing and screaming and possibly waking up Joaquim. I may suffer from distressingly engorged breasts, from missing a night-time and a morning feed. It may sound funny but anyone who has ever breastfed will be able to tell you how painful it is. And not a Savoy cabbage in sight. And then I may suffer from guilt, for having made Sebastian wail and scream and for having made Paulo spend half the night trying to soothe him and for having disturbed Joaquim’s sleep and for, what else? Guilt is an intrinsic part of parenthood, and as I do quite well in smothering it most of the time this is a perfect opportunity for it to get its own back.

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