9 May 2012

On Hunger: The size of your stomach, the meat on your bones.

Mama Youyou's been coming to our house on the weekends so she can work on her bridesmaids dresses project. We never know when she's coming, but we can predict with 100% certainty that she will show up when both babies are naked, screaming and covered in dirt. And then the moment she walks in the door, one inevitably hits the other and the screaming intensifies. So she swoops them up while simultaneously giving us that look she does so well (a little like Charlotte's look in the pic below). She will never pop in when Adam has both girls sitting calmly on the rug singing along as he plays guitar. This we know for sure.

At least they're dressed.

Last weekend she walked in to the screaming scene and the first thing she said was, "Ani! Look at your stomach! Is no one feeding you?" Now, of course we had fed her (I think). But it made me realize how I have never once used the size of my child's stomach to determine if they're hungry. I use the clock.

It goes without saying that there's a lot of hunger here. It took me a long time to get that a skinny person was usually skinny because they weren't eating, not because they're made that way. Take this from a New York Times article printed around election time:

A Kinshasa family ritual almost as common here as corrugated metal roofs and dirt streets: the “power cut,” as residents in this capital of some 10 million have ironically christened it. On some days, some children eat, others do not. On other days, all the children eat, and the adults do not. Or vice versa.


We're the only country in the world where the food situation dropped from “alarming” to “extremely alarming,” last year. Half the country is considered undernourished.

So yeah. People are tuned-in to the size of your stomach and the meat on your bones.

Twice last week I overheard Congolese conversations about families having many children. The commentary is always, "How are they going to feed all those kids!?" Stateside wouldn't our first thought be, "How are they going to put all those kids through college!?" Talk about perspective.

Last year the neighborhood Mamas staged an intervention to let me know they thought Charlotte was too skinny. Granted, Charlotte is at the low end of that percentile chart (but we've all seen her cheeks, right?). And they were comparing her to the only other white baby they knew who was at the opposite end of the percentile chart. So they worried.

I wasn't offended. I think these types of village your-kid-isn't-eating-enough interventions are quite common and helpful. But the poor dears thought it might actually be possible for my very American, very entitled baby to be malnourished. I felt so included. And kind of touched to be on the receiving end of everyone's concern. Thankfully Lou showed up this year and she's keeping Charlotte company on the "petite white girl" end of the percentile chart.

Ani, however, is frequently subject to, "Boy, what a fat baby! She could make it through a few illnesses..." (...without dying thanks to her fat reserves. No one finishes this sentence, but that's what they mean. Infant mortality: Another uplifting post coming your way!)

So I've learned to notice the meat on the bones. For example, when Mamicho first started working for us, she was skinny. I didn't think anything of it. Then her body started to change and I got scared she was pregnant (scared because as a single mom of 3, she's said she can't possibly feed another mouth). But turns out, she was just eating properly. Which means not only is she feeding her children, but there's enough left over for her to eat too. And that makes me pretty happy.

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