The kids on our compound are really adorable. Much more so than most kids. They do have their disgusting moments - the runny noses, the peeing on my lap, the grubby little hands trying to shove gnawed-on biscuits into my mouth - but they're funny and affectionate and they listen when I tell them that I'm busy and they have to go play somewhere else. They're also healthy. My host dad once worked as a community health worker and one of my host sisters is training to be a matrone, which is a kind of birth attendant/women's health worker, and I think that helps. It also helps that he's the traditional village chief and the family has enough corn and rice to go around.
Fatou just turned one, she's walking (and dancing, in her wobbly little way), and is quite a bit taller and bigger than a lot of two-year-olds in town. People are always saying that she's "all cheeks" because she has such a chubby little baby face, which is exactly how toddlers are supposed to look. In an area where it's not uncommon to see little kids with the brittle, orange-tinged hair that signals chronic malnutrition, she has dark, thick hair that's already long enough to braid. As a Health PCV I could do a thousand talks about proper nutrition and healthy weaning foods and the importance of vaccinations and still not make as convincing of a case for improved nutrition and preventative care and Fatou and her chubby cheeks do simply by existing.
Some people in our area have some pretty unsettling ideas about maternal health, such as the all-too-common misconception that pregnant women shouldn't eat too many vegetables and fruits because vitamins will make the baby fat and cause a difficult birth. Very few women go to all four of the recommended pre-natal visits and many don't make it to any at all. Thankfully, while she was pregnant my host sister made a point of going to all her appointments, of drinking lots of milk, and of eating as well as is possible in our area. She practiced exclusive breastfeeding during those early months (which is particularly important in areas with unreliably potable drinking water), made really nutritious weaning/supplementation porridges, and ensured that Fatou, her daughter, got all her vaccinations on time. And it shows. It really, really shows.
|Afternoon snack for Fatou and Sajou|