Evelina & Tando
When I first arrived in South Africa and I saw a black woman with a blanket wrapped around her waist covering her legs, I thought she was cold. Now I think there must be a baby around and start looking for the little darling.

Women of all ages carry babies of all ages on their back here, using a blanket to secure them. I’ve seen it at the mall, at the crèche (nursery), at the soup kitchen, in Lesotho when I was on the mission trip, on the side of the highway as the mother waits for a ride, and sadly, even on the beggar at the corner of Mandela and Bethal.

The police have arrested the beggar several times for child endangerment, but apparently for her the risk is worth the amount of money she collects. In the Witbank News there have been articles about her, and the police have even asked people to stop giving her money, but a seemingly poor woman with a baby on her back is hard to ignore.

The babies appear to enjoy the ride, and when they begin to fuss the women shake their torsos up and down to quiet them. The little heads swivel all around so they can take in the world. And they see the same world as their mothers. They’re there as the dishes get washed and the vacuum gets run; as the food is cooked and served; as the groceries and other necessities are purchased; they’re there as their mama chats with her friends. They see and hear and smell everything – they don’t need Fisher-Price toys to keep them stimulated! It’s certainly better than lying in a playpen for hours each day.

There are obvious benefits for the mothers, too. They have two hands free, they know where and how the baby is (no monitor needed!), they experience physical as well as emotional bonding, and they always have someone to talk to!

I've always been curious (and a little concerned) as to how the women were assured the blankets wouldn’t come off and the baby fall out. One lady told me they start practicing with dolls when they’re 10 years old, and start carrying their siblings and cousins soon after that. My friend and domestic worker, Evelina, brought her beautiful 9 month old grandson Tando to our house last week and I saw how she loaded him up. It was quite a relief to me to see that she used a large pin to keep the top of the blanket secure. Otherwise, she did it pretty much the way it’s shown in this video I found on youtube.

Evelina had the blanket tied around her waist, hanging down toward her feet. Then she bent forward at the waist, put Tando on her back, and kept her hand on him as she raised the blanket up over him. At 9 months, he’s been through this enough times to know to grab ahold of her shirt and lean into her quietly. She secured the blanket around her chest, then she pulled his feet around her waist and I could see them sticking out of the blanket. He laid his head on her back and went with her through her day as she did her work.
Evelina put Tando in many different positions throughout the day: sitting up in a nest of pillows, lying on his belly, and he took his nap lying down, but I’ve seen little babies sleeping on their Mama’s backs. These women must have strong backs! There is some concern regarding health issues if the child spends the majority of time being carried this way. Depending on how large the woman is, the child’s hips and legs are always spread wide. Because the baby rests his head on the woman’s back rather than holding it up, his neck muscles may not get strong early on. And because the child is always facing left or right, rather than straight on, some people fear peripheral vision is sacrificed.

I had the opportunity to chat this morning with a doctor from Nigeria who carried both her daughters on her back. She listened to the above list of concerns and shook her head through the whole litany. "No," she said, "keeping your baby close has no harmful effects; unless the cloth comes apart and the baby falls." Myself, I believe the doctor. Surely if these issues were widespread enough, babies wouldn’t still be carried the way they have been for generations.

That’s how their little worlds get expanded!
When my grandson Eli would get too agitated, my daughter Sarah would ask her friend & domestic worker Sarah to carry him on her back. It calmed him down.
Basotho women receiving clothing on mission trip to Lesotho. Babies everywhere!
Can you guess which issues are in Afrikaans?
I subscribe to the idea that every home should have many, many magazines around all the time. The articles are a quick read and oftentimes offer a new outlook on an old idea. Before we left the US, I transferred my subscriptions to Southern Living, Cooking Light, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Woman’s Day, and Reader’s Digest to a variety of family members for their reading pleasure. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I took advantage of the free tablet edition (on my Android) with a print subscription (sent to a family member).

When we got here, my darling daughter Sarah handed me a bag full of magazines she had been saving for me to peruse and get a taste of South Africa. She had all the Good Housekeeping issues since they started selling it here in January 2012. I limit myself to reading only the appropriate month's issue, a year later.

It didn’t take me long to hit the magazine stands in the local grocery stores. What a selection! It rivals Barnes & Nobles! What caught my eye, though, was the fact that there seemed to be two of each issue. A closer inspection revealed that one issue was English, and one was Afrikaans. The other thing that caught my eye was that the magazines were often in a clear wrapper. I was delighted to discover the reason – presents!

The magazines aren’t expensive, either. They cost between R25 ($2.50) and R35 ($3.50), which is a little less than I recall magazines costing in the US – and there are no presents there. So about the 25th of the month, I go magazine shopping: Good Housekeeping, Reader’s Digest, Ideas, Joy!, Country Life, Getaway, and Food & Home.  I also grab the proprietary issues from the grocery stores PickNPay (Fresh Living) and Woolworths (Taste). They sell Oprah here, too, but since I didn't enjoy it in the US, I can't imagine I would enjoy it here.

I’m not too keen on decorating or gardening magazines, because I don’t get to do that here. Travel magazines I like, and we get good ideas of where places are and what to expect for what price. Food magazines we both like. Because the seasons are opposite here, the recipes are seasonal for South Africa and they use the appropriate (though different from my lexicon) words for ingredients. Also, recipes are in metric measurements, and the temperatures are in Celsius to match the oven. Ideas is a craft magazine full of good ideas that I'm convinced I'll do someday. Of course I was very excited to find Reader’s Digest, because of the great jokes I can listen to Adrien read out loud.

My loot from magazines includes a bracelet, cookbooks, a sample of coffee, samples of women’s hygiene products, and a Tinkerbell cake decoration! How cool is that?
As I started reading the articles in the Reader’s Digest and Good Housekeeping, I realized I had already read some of them! It makes sense that winter articles in the US could be recycled for winter articles in SA. Some of the articles contain content new to me, because it’s pertinent to this country. Some of the jokes in the Reader’s Digest are funny, and I’ve seen them before but they still make me laugh. And some of the jokes don’t even earn a grin – I guess you have to develop a taste for South African humor (or humour, as it’s spelled here).

For instance, from the April 2013 SA RD: A woman walked with her young child to school. When she got there, she heard the teacher whisper to another, “That child looks like a dog!” Outraged, the woman told the teacher she was going to report her to the headmaster. As the woman and her child entered his office, he said, “Sorry, ma’am. Did you not notice the sign outside saying “No pets allowed’?”

In Good Housekeeping, the fashion pages match the fashions displayed at the mall. As I said, the recipes are seasonal, so those ingredients can generally be found in the grocery stores. And there are some editorial articles that just open my eyes to the way things are done here, or thought about, and it makes me say “Ah ha! Now I get it!”

So I guess I subscribe to the idea that the reason many, many magazines should be laying all around the house is to open a window on this new little corner of my world.
Last Thursday, July 18, Nelson Mandela turned 95. His birthday is a big deal in South Africa, not just because of the people’s affection for him, but because of International Nelson Mandela Day.

According to the website www.mandeladay.com: “Following the success of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations in London’s Hyde Park in June 2008, it was decided that there could be nothing more fitting than to celebrate Mr Mandela’s birthday each year with a day dedicated to his life’s work and that of his charitable organisations, and to ensure his legacy continues forever.

Mr Mandela gave 67 years of his life fighting for the rights of humanity. All we are asking is that everyone gives 67 minutes of their time, whether it’s supporting your chosen charity or serving your local community.

Mandela Day is a call to action for individuals – for people everywhere – to take responsibility for changing the world into a better place, one small step at a time, just as Mr Mandela did.”

Wednesday I went, as usual, with New Life Missions Church to serve at the soup kitchen in Klarinet township, then over to the crèche (nursery) to give the little ones oranges, soup and rolls. The people I interacted with were bristling with excitement: “Tomorrow is Mandela Day!” They knew from past experience that meant people would be coming by truckloads to do kind deeds in their neighborhoods.

All the radio stations were encouraging people to do something to celebrate, and they were offering all kinds of suggestions: Join hands with your co-workers to participate in the Hands Across South Africa project; help elderly neighbors with yard work; spend an hour purging your closet of unworn clothing and donate it; donate & serve food to those less fortunate; bring a cup of coffee to a worker….

One of the ladies who also serves at the soup kitchen told me about her plans for Mandela Day. She lives in a township near Middelburg (the next town over) and there’s only one chemist (pharmacy) to serve a great number of people; there are always lines. Susan is multilingual, so she went to the chemist to do what she could to assist, by helping people fill out paperwork or find the medications they were seeking, whatever. She shared her Mandela Day story from last year: She was at one of the municipal offices waiting to take care of private business first thing in the morning. A bakkie (pick-up) pulled up, and some people began serving coffee, tea, cake and even sandwiches to everyone who was waiting.  She said “I’m really glad I was there at 8 o’clock when the office opened, because at 9:07 when people went to the bakkie for a treat, the people said ‘Sorry! Sixty-seven minutes!’ and they put everything away and drove off!”

I don’t think that’s exactly what the organizers had in mind. I think the idea is that you discover just how easy it is to help others, and how good it feels when you do that. There are so many large and small opportunities to help your neighbor, whoever that may be, EVERY day of the year. I hope that some of the organizations that planned a charitable activity this year will find a way to continue serving where they’re needed.

I also think the organizers were trying to help everyone realize that they could do something for someone else. When I asked Evelina (our domestic worker) & Collins (our gardener) what they were doing for Mandela Day, they just shrugged. Apparently there is a widespread belief that it is some people’s duty on Mandela Day to be available for others to bless! I’m not trying to disparage my friends; I know from conversations we’ve had that both Evelina & Collins help their neighbors and families in a variety of ways, whether it’s Mandela Day or not.

The people here think Mandela Day is as big a deal everywhere as it is here. The UN declared it an international day of service, but I’d never heard of it before. There was a tweet from the US Embassy in South Africa that the US was pleased to honor Nelson Mandela with a contribution of some large sum of money. And it appears that South African embassies around the globe were doing good deeds for their neighbors.

I like this year’s mantra: “Take Action; Inspire Change; Make Every Day a Mandela Day.” I won’t be waiting 365 days to spend 67 minutes being kind; I’ll be looking for large and small opportunities every day. Won’t you join me?