Sosua, Dominican Republic- I often go for walk into the countryside outside of Sosua, in the Dominican Republic, with my six month old baby, Petra. The sun shines perennially here, it is a little hot. Thus being, the local people occasionally show concern for Petra when out on our hikes.
It is good hearted, honest concern, and it makes me smile to know that the people around — most complete strangers — care enough to provide me with advice and words of warning.
Petra is alright out walking in the sun and heat: she wears sun block and a sun hat that protects her face. She smiles a lot and seems to enjoy hiking. I know she is alright and explain it to the people who voice their concern.
Though I am interested to see how these types of interactions will play themselves out as we travel, as we have closer contact with the people in the countries that we visit.
One of the aspects of traveling internationally with a baby that I predict could come to potentially rough patches is when my methods of raising my child do not blend in well with that of the culture I am traveling through. More specifically, people thinking that I am not properly caring for my child because I do not do so along the lines of the way they do it.
The cultural lines when it comes to raising a child anywhere in the world are thick. Everybody who has ever had a child seems to think they know the best way to do everything for it. The annoying part is that they often do not hesitate to tell you so. Even in the USA, our home country, we received so much contradictory, though strongly stated, advice in child rearing that I have no idea how any person with their first baby could think that they are not killing the damn thing daily.
Every parent seems to think that every other parent lacks their own parental flourish, and needs to be instructed otherwise.
This is OK to handle in the USA — a country whose cultural traditions are scattered and individualized to the near point of incontiguity. But in other regions of the planet, the places where similar cultural practices extend across entire villages, regions, and countries — the places where people have been raising children the same way for multiple generations — how will people in these places react to our style of parenting?
How will they react if we are in their homes caring for Petra in a way different from how they raise their child?How will they react when they see us out with Petra doing something that they would not do with their baby?
We will soon find out. The deeper we get into traveling with our baby, the thicker the vegetation on both sides of the path closes in — the more interesting travel becomes.
In the Dominican Republic babies seem to be kept in doors whenever possible. We have rarely seen babies out in the streets just hanging out, they are either in hasty transport, or in a home. We have met many babies — many around Petra’s age — in the doorways of people’s homes, we have not met many babies in the streets out seeing the world.
Except for Petra. Petra likes to walk, she gets pissed off if cooped up in a room for too long — she begins to squeal and squirm until somebody takes her outside. She likes to rip leaves off of trees, play on the beach, stick her feet in the surf, and laugh like a miniature lunatic whenever she sees an animal. She would be one angry baby if we were to stick her indoors, where the Dominican babies seem to be kept.
We were talking to a family on a street corner of Sosua a few days ago. They were an adult couple with a twenty something year old daughter. I have seen their daughter around places, and we now got to meet her parents. They held Petra and laughed and talked to her in the standard high pitched voices reserved for babies all over the world.
Petra reached for one of their ice cream cones. The ladies took this as an indication that she was thirsty and needed to drink some water. They were insistent.
“Your baby is thirsty, she needs water.”
My wife felt a little trampled upon by this otherwise genuinely good natured advice, she felt as though the women thought that she was not being a good mother.
We don’t give Petra water. She just breastfeeds when thirsty. This is how we do it in our culture — this is apparently different than in the Dominican Republic.
I was walking down the road past a convenient store in the outskirts of Sosua. I said hello to the young men sitting out in front of the store hanging out. They smiled at Petra.
I was around a half kilometer away from the store when I heard footsteps approaching behind me. They were moving at a faster pace than I was, so I glance behind me. It was a boy around 9 years old. I stepped off to the side to allow him to pass. He stopped walking too.
He stared for a moment at Petra.
Petra stared at him.
He poked her in the side.
What the f’ck?
I pulled Petra away.
He produced a bag of drinking water and held it up toward Petra. She reached out and grabbed it. The boy smiled at her for a moment, and then ran away.
Today I was out wandering in a similar area with Petra. There are some small farming plots, banana trees, and cows out this way, and not too many people walking. It is not a deserted area, there is just a little more space than in town.
A ragged looking man crosses over to my side of the road. He is walking very slow, dragging his feet. His clothes are dirty, he is very unkempt. His skin appeared even darker for all the crud that was on it, and his fuzzy hair had bits of stuff stuck in it. I think his fly was down. He was around his mid thirties and seemed a little hung over. I approach him from behind, and he turns around to look at me. He begins to speak.
But his words were not those of a derelict, they were those of concern. He was worried that the sun was too hot for Petra. He pointed up at the sun and said that it was not good for the baby.
I assured him otherwise.
In travel, sometimes I need to adjust my behavior to fit between the parameters of my surroundings. Sometimes I need to do things a little differently than I normally would to ease my way through the tight turns of a culture. This is part of the challenge of traveling — it is what makes moving about the planet so interesting: not everybody is the same as I am.
This is good — I need to identify myself, identify others, and try to figure out how to make our differences run flush together.
I am not talking about trying to exchange my culture for that of another, but finding strategies for blending my culture in with that of the country I am traveling in so that the path ahead is not full of jagged stones and brick walls.
Usually, all you need is a standard set of manners.
But when it comes to caring for a baby, something that is at the heart of every culture, I foresee bumps on the road ahead. The closer contact I have with a culture, the more I need to adapt my ways to fit the parameters of my circumstance, with a baby does this mean altering my parenting style?
On the one hand:
I don’t want to budge when it comes to caring for Petra.
Petra is an American baby born to American parents. We are going to raise her under the auspices of our upbringing. This is what we know, this approach is no different than for anybody else in this world.
On the other hand:
It would be interesting to really learn about how other people raise their children, to blend their ways in with our own, to learn about what works and what doesn’t. To try new strategies, tactics, and figure out how other people raise their children, using my own child as the medium for instruction.
The solution will probably flow between both of these extremes.
Read more on traveling with a baby
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