Once upon a time, I went on an Alaskan Carnival cruise with none other than the target clientele of an Alaskan Carnival Cruise- my grandparents. During the flight there, I remember little else aside from my older brother barfing in the airplane bathroom the whole entire time, and a boy around the age of eight bellyaching and screaming his face off as he violently kicked my seat. Now I wouldn’t consider myself an especially physically abusive twelve-year old, and Dexter wouldn’t be cooked up for at least another seven years, yet here I sat plotting the ways I could do in this child using the few resources I had left after TSA had swooped my lighter and 2+ ounce bottle of shampoo. And then, eight-year old boy’s mother- who was breastfeeding a much, much younger son- suddenly realized that her every attempt to appease him had failed and resorted to the final possible course of action. Much younger son was thrust into daddy’s arms and the newly vacant nipple thrust in a very similar manner into eight-year old son’s mouth, successfully bringing an end to the uproar.
This entry was inspired by a four day Family Health Workshop led by fellow Volunteers that I just attended, in which we spent a good amount of time discussing amamantando (breastfeeding). At one point, one of the facilitators asked the women in the audience who were mothers for how long they breastfed their kids. A few women said six months, another said nine, other responses were thrown out. Then Doña Eladia, an adorable, spunky Lenca woman missing several front teeth and measuring in at about 4’8”, proudly proclaimed, “siete años y medio” (seven and a half years). In addition to giving my ribs a good tickle, it provoked a flashback to a plane ride I took over a decade ago and had forgotten about until this moment. Who would’ve thought that my very first taste of everyday life in Honduras would be in American Airlines vessel, hovering somewhere around 37,000 feet, eleven years earlier?
In Honduras, as you may have imagined, babies run (/crawl) rampant. This is due to many factors, among them the machismo attitude that ties impregnating a woman to ‘being a man’, the high Catholic population teamed with the absolutely silly standpoint of the Catholic Church on condom use, the lack of a sexual education program in schools, and the fact that there isn’t much else to do in a town of 4,000 odd people aside from play soccer, watch novelas, and engage in the action(s) that can sometimes end in the creation of a baby. Moving on. Lots of babies mean lots of hungry babies. When women breastfeed here, contrary to the situation in the United States, there is no ducking out into the nearest restroom to do the deed, no pulling out a bottle of freshly pumped breast milk or formula you prepared knowing that your child would need to eat while you were in the presence of other human beings, not even a blanket tossed over her head while she dines. Instead, the mother pulls down her shirt (most likely some misspelled rip off of Hollister) and baby goes to town; be it in the middle of a training, front row at a cabildo abierto (town meeting), on a bus, waiting in line at the bank- you name it. Yet for some reason, when these breasts are out and about for any and all to see, those men who in any other moment would be tirando piropos (catcalling) and asking said woman which juguetería (toy store) she came from instead avert their eyes and say nothing. It is an anomaly I doubt I will ever understand. And finally, since many women here seem to be perpetually pregnant and pumping out babies, it is not uncommon to see a child who is capable of walking, talking and reciting the Periodic Table of Elements off the top of his head still tomando el chichi, much like that little monster from the plane.
Let it be said that I am not hating on overtly breastfeeding in public spaces. As a matter of fact, it is one of the things that I like best about this culture. Why should you be embarrassed or self-conscious about what is perhaps the most natural mammalian act that exists? Whip out that nipple while you bag the vegetables I have yet to pay for, girl… if you like it, I love it. It’s just one of those things that never ever fails to remind me that I, Dorothy, am no longer in Kansas.