Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Third World Green Daddy Part 1: Introduction and Manifesto

This is the first in a series of pieces I plan to post about preparing for a new baby in as sustainable a way as possible, while living in a developing country. I call the series "Third World Green Daddy".

Third World refers to our living in a developing country, Colombia. The term "Third World" has taken on a negative connotation in the past decades, implying poverty and backwardness, but it wasn't always that way. "Third World" was coined by a French thinker in the 1950s to describe the world's poor countries that remained unaligned, tying themselves to neither the capitalist West nor the Communist East. The term was then appropriated by the countries that met at the 1955 Bandung conference in Indonesia, who eventually conformed the Non-Aligned Movement. So for me "Third World" stands for the idea that developing countries can pursue a better future through sovereignty and solidarity. That's why I continue to use the term "Third World" as opposed to the more politically-correct "developing world" or "Global South", which I think are patronizing and inaccurate, respectively.

I define "green" broadly, taking into account both environmental and social concerns (perhaps the latter even more than the former). In our daily life, which includes our preparations for our upcoming baby, my wife and I try to live responsibly. We prefer making our own stuff to buying it, and buying it from the producer to buying it from large retailers. We avoid toxic compounds in the things we eat, drink, wear, and apply to our bodies. We try to use natural fibers over synthetic fibers, and things made here in Colombia as opposed to made abroad. We believe in supporting our country's economic base, and feel that workers enjoy more rights here than in many other countries we might import from. We have friends in Colombia that spend lots of money buying things "from the US", but given that the US's manufacturing base is pretty meager these days, most of this supposedly high-quality stuff is cheap junk made in China, potentially laden with toxins, and costing many times more what their Colombian-made equivalents cost!

Our motivation for living the way we do comes both from our desire to have a better life, and a desire to make life better for our neighbors, in Colombia and the world. We aren't trying to assure the wellbeing of ourselves and our baby without caring what it means for the rest of the world. For instance, we will have our baby at our town's local public hospital instead of an exclusive private hospital or in our home with an expensive alternative doctor. This is in part because we believe in supporting public institutions, and we loathe the exclusionary, ugly attitude of many Colombians that get everything from the private sector and strive to discredit, impoverish, and beleager the public sector. We are Colombians, loyal to our country and demanding of our rights. This is different from a relationship with a private company.

On top of this, we have found that public institutions are usually better than private ones. The public hospital is endowed with the most qualified doctors and the best equipment. The few times we've gone to private hospitals we've endured a lack of staff, rude treatment, equipment problems, and interminable waiting times. In their efforts to maximize profits, private health providers seem to skimp on everything, which stresses out doctors and adds up to horrid service. Another benefit of using the public health care system is it's cheap or free, and we avoid unpleasant, uppity rich people because they avoid the public sector!

We had been concerned about my getting to accompany my wife during labor. Here in Colombia childbirth seems set up like it was in the US decades ago. The mother bears in a room with other laboring mothers, while the father waits outside, pacing and worrying. I wanted to be able to accompany my wife during labor, so when it seemed like the hospital wouldn't let me, we had considered delivering our baby at home. However, this turned out to be more difficult than we'd expected. My sister-in-law had given birth at home with a pool and all sorts of New Age stuff, but that was in Bogota, where the abundance of wealthy people allows for such special treatment. Here in our small town, there are no medically-certified midwives we know of, and our doctor was worried he'd be disbarred for unethical behavior if he attended a home birth without fetal monitors etc. We didn't want any fancy Bohemian birth, we just wanted for me to be able to assist my wife, and we thought a home birth would be the way to achieve that.

But we looked into the matter, and found that it was just the horrid private hospital we'd gone to that treated birthing mothers and their families like cattle. In the public hospital, I will be able to be with my wife during labor, and perhaps even during the birth itself, in a special delivery room. We have assured this by talking with the hospital administration and getting a note from them. This way, if the doctors give me any problems, we don't have to argue with them--we just show them the note. They haven't let me accompany my wife in all her doctor's appointments, but I'm happy as long as we can be together while she's in labor.

In general we've found that preparing for a baby in a green, sustainable way is in some ways easier in Colombia than it would be elsewhere, and in some ways harder. If we want something specially made a given way or in a given type of material, we can easily make it ourselves, or find someone to make it for us to our specifications. Such special orders are cheap here in Colombia, while in the US they'd be either impossible or impossibly expensive.

On the other hand, it's often difficult to find manufactured specialty goods here in Colombia. In the US, for a given consumer product you can usually find green versions, organic, glass, recycled, fair trade, BPA-free, or whatever else occurs to you. Here in Colombia, you're often stuck with the cheapest, often most toxic version of bottles or diapers or pillows, because our poor population can't support all the other specialty markets.

For us though, this state of affairs is pretty suitable. We are short on cash and long on skills and time, so Colombia is a good environment for us. We can make or have made most things that we need. And for those few things that it's impossible to make artisanally (baby bottles, for example), my connections to the US allow us to obtain them cheaply, and to have friends or family bring them to us.

So with that I end this introductory post in my Third World Green Daddy series. In the future I'll be posting about clothes, gifts, cribs, diapers, and all our other travails as we try to live and raise our child responsibly. And unlike this post, there'll be plenty of photos!


  1. Greg - congrats on the upcoming baby! I wish you two the best. -Jawad

  2. Dear Greg and Carolina, all my love and happy wishes to you and your growing family. Your Mom is so excited to be with you at this special time. Have a joyous Christmas and happy New Year. Martha Truty

  3. Greg,

    I didn't know you guys were expecting a kid! Congratulations! I just about a new Sao Paulo-Bogota direct flight... so hopefully I will make it to Colombia soon (although, I too am short on cash at the moment). Ate mais, amigao!


  4. Muchas felicidades a los padres "verdes" por esta nueva etapa y por el bebé que esperan. El escrito es fantástico Greg, me parece muy loable ese esfuerzo por resistir y perdurar una forma de vida que increiblemente teníamos hace 20 o 30 años atrás. Me quedé pensando, de donde vendría el concepto de "development" suena como algo que se desarrolla, que tiene un crecimiento, que llega a un fin, pero en la realidad los países que estan en desarrollo parecen estáticos y si sufren transformaciones son precisamente en contra de aquello que un padre verde quisiera para su bebe. Hay cierta paradoxa irritante en ello. En todo caso, me da mucho gusto leer escritos interesantes como los que posteas. Tan pronto tenga algo personal, lo compartiré a tu mail.
    Un saludo para ustedes