When I see a child in a buggy in a Kurdish city, I know its parents have lived in the West. Any time I checked it, I was right. And I was told how impossible the Kurdish pavements are for a pram.
Most Kurdish mums and dads carry their children in their arms, from soon after their birth till they can walk. It is not just a habit; there is no other way. Kurdistan hardly has pavements, and if they exist they are impossible to mitigate by pram or buggy because of the holes, the bumps, the trees planted in the middle, the sudden endings and the high steps unto them.
When an expat friend put her new born in a special child carrier, she caught a lot of attention. Carrying your child to your heart, and having two hands free – that is something others wanted too.
I often feel sorry for new parents in Kurdistan. When you have a buggy, it also has space for those bottles and blankets the child needs. When you carry the baby around, where do you keep all those?
The way little children are cared for is very different in the West. In my country it is normal to let a child cry for a bit; picking it up all the time will spoil it. But in Kurdistan children that cry will be silenced immediately with attention, pacifiers and sweets.
In my country, children go to bed early. That is good for the development of their brain, as children are proven to need as much sleep as possible. In Kurdistan they are kept up late; family and friends who pass by at night demand to see the baby.
Babies are everybody’s favourite in Kurdistan. They go from lap to lap, getting hugs and kisses. And the poor mothers get advice from everyone; if they do not adapt to Kurdish habits they are frowned upon or even scolded openly.
In my country, parents are autonomous, and they will listen to advice from doctors, nurses and books on how to care for a baby. No way will a baby be handed around; only if the parent offers you to hold it, you may do so. Nor will a parent by openly criticized, advice can be offered in a non-committal way.
Do we love our babies less? No, we just view them differently. They are a new life that we are responsible for, and that we try to raise as good as possible. Keeping them away from harm, like lack of sleep, bacteria and viruses that strangers can pass onto them.
In Kurdistan I often am reminded of how Westerners handle kittens and puppies. They are adored, hugged and passed around as a favourite toy. That seems to be what babies are in Kurdistan: everybody’s favourite toy.
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