Ever since I was pregnant, I was hovering about the fact, that I cannot be pregnant either as a Czech woman nor a Zambian one, because of the differences of both countries in approaching the pregnancy, the pregnant women and the antenatal care. My son was born in the Czech Republic and we returned to Zambia when he was three months. My feeling of being continues and it has both ups and downs. The truth is, every advantage can be also a disadvantage and vice versa.
Community and free time
I really miss the vast amount of opportunities mothers in the Czech Republic get. Swimming, baby yoga, arts, mums get together, name it and you will get it. In Zambia, this is almost non-existent, and we live in a second largest city with more than half million inhabitants! It improves a bit with opportunities for children, but for babies and toddlers, the opportunities near zero.
You would think, Africa must have lots of nature to go to. Well, yes and no. Not the kind of nature we are used to and would be suitable for babies: with nice trails, stalls with foods and drinks or places to rest. You wouldn’t want to go to bush with no trails in the heat of the African sun, with the possibility of meeting a snake and not knowing where the path you found lead. Taking a stroll with a pram is also ruled out, as there are no pavements for pedestrians, the quieter roads are full of holes and again, you don’t want to take your baby on a stroll on a busy road with lots of cars. The possibility of packing the baby into stroll and walking (or riding a public bus) to a town is not possible here. Either you drive, join a crowded public bus with no chances of your stroller getting the ride too or you stay at home.
What you can do is to take a walk with the baby in his carrier early in the morning or before sunset, drive to the town and have a stroll at the mall or have a coffee and cake in one of the few baby friendly cafes with some nature in it (mind you, no children corners in the cafes and restaurants here, with an exception of few). The last option is to go to the football pitch, which at least as some grass, trees and shade. We do that every Sunday morning.
On the other hand, this makes you think of alternatives. Personally, the desire to go out with my son and meet other people forced me to try to get out of my comfort zone. I reached out to the women I did not know and asked them to have coffee with me. Slowly, I am creating my own community, even if it is hard.
I appreciate this because it makes me grow as a person. If we don’t miss anything, we will hardly improve, learn or expand our horizons. Perhaps this is a heritage of my humanitarian and development carrier, when you often opt for things you wouldn’t try out if you had a choice. For example me taking Salsa classes in Mongolia, acting in a drama play in Uganda, learning French in a refugee camp or going to the gym in remote town of Zambia.
Even if it is much more difficult to create programmes which are baby-friendly, one thing i have to mention is the interaction with people. I consider this huge advantage for my baby’s development. In Czech Republic it is rare when a stranger starts talking to you. Here, 98% of people seeing me with my baby hanging out in front of our yard, talk to me, greet us or wave at my son. This friendliness, openness and accessibility of people were always one of the things I loved about Zambia.
I was so overwhelmed with people providing, often unsolicited, advice about the way you should bring up your child, measure his milestones and make sure he is on the track. When he should start eating, crawling or sitting. Constant questions if he sleeps at night, if he is sitting already or if I feed him. I believe every child will do things in his own time and no need to push him so we can show off to our girlfriends that our child is fast-learner, exceptional and smart as if it was a competition.
I never got this kind of pressure from Zambians and I am so grateful for this. The Zambian way of bringing up children gives you another perspective and you realize, that the “Czech way” is only one of the many ways, not an ultimate correct guidance to bring up a genius. In Zambia, babies eat salt. Mothers put them to sit. They sleep together in a bed. Babies can taste ice-cream or peek on TV. And you know what? Most of the babies both in Czech and Zambia just turn out to be fine! Following all the instruction as it was a Bible will not help you to bring up super smart mastermind. We all do the best we can.
On the negative side, I cannot deny that the health care here is not the same standard as in Europe. No universal insurance for children as we have in Czech Republic, no dedicated paediatrician who knows your baby since he was born and no the latest modern equipment in case of emergencies. And you cannot think that if you call ambulance it will arrive within 5 minutes, I am very sceptical that it would arrive at all. This scares me sometimes, but it is one of the things you have to deal with if you live in Africa. This is daily reality of millions of people. We take it for granted, but in fact, we are rather lucky for having such a good health care in the Czech Republic. Moreover, with every mosquito you chase you have to think of malaria, constantly tucking in a mosquito net on your bed and you can never avoid all the mosquito bites.
The third advantage is all about experiencing different cultures, learning languages and in general getting used to different people: in terms of colour, origin, religion, opinions. But also knowing various foods, clothes and perspectives about things.
Our baby is still young, however we would love him to learn all his three languages. Czech from my side, Bemba from his father side and English, which we use when home and it is official language of Zambia. That is three languages for free! How I wished I didn’t have to struggle to learn English when I was at school and knew it as my mother tongue!
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We are in touch with people from different countries: Zambians, Czechs, Americans, Lebanese, Peruvian, Mexican or Serbian. With Christians, Muslims, atheists or Hindus. We love eating Indian food, Chinese, Zambian, Italian and Czech. We interact with people who are businessmen, farmers, repair shoes in the main square, sell vegetables, run Cuban restaurant, organize book clubs or teach at universities.
I think we would not have such a diversity living in Czech Republic (unless in Prague) and I consider this one of the best advantages for my child. He will learn that there is not only white, black, rich, poor, Christian, Hindu or Muslim. He will have been in touch with all sorts of people and that can only help him to expand his views, opinions and form him as a tolerant, compassionate and understanding person.
Not typical for an African family, we are not surrounded by my partner’s family and relatives. It is just three of us. My family being in the Czech Republic, I am sorry that my son cannot see his only grandparents and his Czech auntie more often as it would be if we lived over there. When he grows, he will be able to spend more time with them going on holidays during summer, but for now, WhatsApp and Skype must suffice most of the time. And I dread the trip from Zambia to Czech, as it takes three flights of total of about 12 hours and almost two days with all the layovers and travels to and from the airports Adding one baby and about 50 kg of luggage, travelling alone, imagine the nightmare! I and my partner did not go out since our son arrived, because we don’t have the luxury of grandparents watching him over for an evening or during the weekend. And I am not ready to leave him with his nanny all alone.
And as usual, the bright side of living in Africa is the affordability of having a nanny. That allows me to work from home, when she is with my baby. The luxurious two to four years maternity leave we have in Czech Republic is unique and I am not sure if anywhere it is the same. The average is usually about six months. As I am not entitled for maternity support, I had to start considering my options of work knowing I could not do the same job as before my pregnancy. I am lucky to work part-time and thanks to the Corona virus the shift towards home offices made that even easier. And it is not only about money, I found out that if I have some time during the day to work, write articles or build my blog, I feel much more accomplished and happy. I admire the moms who spend 100% of their time taking care of their little ones. However in my case, doing various activities saves my sanity and allows me to enjoy the motherhood even more.
Lastly, the availability of good quality baby products is very limited here. Good reusable nappies, strollers, bottles, 100% cotton clothes, toys from safe materials, bio cosmetics. And I am not even thinking about baby care “hacks” such as stand for his bathtub, breastfeeding pillows, holders for socks (yes! I had no idea these even existed), safety cushions for baby’s crib, washing powder for babies or alternative, homeopathic medicines. When I travel to Czech, I usually buy some of the things which are not available here, but you can carry only limited amount of luggage and I always fight with my luggage limits!
This actually made me realize how many of these things so common (and recommended) in Czech are not needed. And if you have bit of imagination, you can manage with what you have. I don’t need safety cushions for his bed, I can put a thick blanket on the sides. I don’t need a bathtub if we bath together. As for the fancy toys, our sons loves to play with things which are not his toys anyway, such as remote controls, plastic bags with air in it, spoons from my coffee cup, cooking sticks and pots, thermos or plastic wine cups. I remember lots of people complaining that once after having children, their apartments get crowded with stuff. Well, this is one way how to reduce it, reconsidering if you really need it. Because most of the times you don’t. Hopefully our smaller consumption of baby stuff will balance our terrible ecological track generated by long haul flights.
Here, I don’t see so much of a bright side, just hassle. Perhaps only appreciation of the luxury we have in Europe. I am talking of constant electricity and (hot) water. Zambia relies on hydropower generated by the biggest man-made dam around the world, Kariba. However most of the year there is heavy load shedding (rationing electricity). Right now, we have no electricity approximately 9 hours a day (either from early morning to afternoon, or from lunch time up to 10 pm), and we consider ourselves lucky having one full day of electricity a week! That is why we have a spare gas cooker, but other things such as charging laptops, phone, internet or water are on stand-by. When it is dark we use candles and our phones flashlight.
Similarly, water is not granted 24/7. We used to have no water at night and sometime full day in our previous house, but where we live now it is better. Thinking of water I realized there are four levels of (not) having water, and I have experienced them all. The lowest level is no tap water in the house. You have to get water from a water tank outside of your house (if you are lucky) or from a public well. I lived like this almost year and half in a refugee camp in Zambia. Bathing in a bucket and so on. Washing plates in a bucket. Now, this is hard, yet reality for many people. Second level is having only cold tap water. Now, this is better. It is a hassle to shower in cold water or to warm water on a gas, but it is doable, but painful if you have a baby. I did this two years in Uganda. Thirdly, tap water with geyser. Works only when there is electricity, but it is almost a luxury! The only problem is the low pressure of water which takes us to the ultimate level which is rare here and I came to really appreciate when I have it: hot water and strong pressure. We are now lucky to have this in our current home, but still with geyser. I have not yet seen here the centralized hot water system which is normal in Europe.
What is your experience living abroad and bringing up your children in two, three or more cultures? Let me know via social media below!