Before our Samuel was finally born, we had to do a number of last-minute preparations. We had to visit the hospital, pack a baby suitcase, and get ready for my mother's arrival to Colombia for Christmas. And there were a few presents I had to get before Christ's birth and Samuel's birth.
First was our hospital visit. I wish I could have taken pictures, but the security guards at the door didn't let me bring my camera into the hospital. I think it's ridiculous that the public hospital in our small city has security guards. I am originally from Chicago, one of the most violent cities in the United States, and no hospital I've ever been to there has security guards behind barred doors that interrogate you and eye you suspiciously before even letting you in! What is the hospital afraid of? Are there really many people who try to enter hospitals that shouldn't be there? And even if there are, wouldn't it be easier and more in line with the mission of a public hospital just to have a lobby and a sign-in sheet at the entrance?
Anyway, the security guards said that it's forbidden to take photos in the hospital. Not only did this policy clash with the generally welcoming mood of all the nurses and hospital administrators we'd been talking to for the past few weeks, but it went explicitly against their requests that we take lots of photos and videos when Samuel was born.
That was the only unpleasant point of our special hospital tour. The rest was really cool. The head maternity nurse took us around the ward, and showed us the labor room, the delivery room, and the baby processing room. She explained that when the baby is born, they'd place him against my wife's belly for a while (while they cut the umbilical cord and such) so as to lessen the shock of leaving the womb. On his mother's belly, the baby would be able to hear her heartbeat and feel her warmth, just as he had been doing for the past nine months. In the same vein, after a few minutes with Mom, I would take the baby under my surgical gown, against my skin, to the processing room, where he'd be weighed, measured, vaccinated, and dressed, all under a warm lamp. As soon as that was done, I'd take him back to my wife to breastfeed. The nurse was really wonderful and warm, and explained to us the general philosophy of the hospital's maternity ward. They want to keep things as natural as possible (ie not injecting the mother with oxytocin or any other drugs unless absolutely necessary), and are really adamant about promoting breastfeeding. In the halls of the maternity ward there are even a series of posters describing the hospital's commitments as a "child-friendly hospital". A number of the posters proclaim in no uncertain terms that it is forbidden for hospital staff to recommend using infant formula, and even to receive samples of infant formula from companies. The strong language of these posters is an attempt to counter past campaigns of companies like Nestle to promote infant formula in the Third World.
With our hospital visit done, we were pretty much ready to welcome Samuel to the world. We packed our suitcase for the big day, aided by a list they gave us at the hospital (on horrible faded mimeographed paper--my wife said we should make a donation so they can print up new ones!). Here's the suitcase, complete with my multiple changes of surgical scrubs.
We also had to get ready for my mother. She was to arrive on December 14th, to stay a month for Christmas and to help us out as we adjusted to life with a newborn. Aside from picking her up from her flight, I also installed her bed in a spare room in our apartment.
Beds in Colombia usually have a frame, lots of wood boards laid across, and then a mattress. There are no box springs. I like this, and in fact I always wondered as a child what the hell the point of box springs was. They're heavy and hard, and if what you're looking for is just a hard surface under the mattress, it seems to me that the Colombian wooden boards are the easiest solution.
My mother brought a suitcase full of stuff for our baby. There were dozens of cloth diapers that I'd had sent to her house in Chicago (I'll write about the diapers in another post),
a Cubs outfit for Sam from a Chicago friend,
a puzzle of mine from when I was a baby
two quilts my cousin made
and a mug made by a friend of my mother's.
It has our baby's name, Samuel Mays, with an ear of corn. The Mays part comes from the Latin name for corn, Zea mays. Since in both the Midwest (my homeland) and central Colombia (my wife's), corn is so central to our life, livelihood, and culture, we thought this was an appropriate name (though too weird for a first name). If the baby had been a girl, she'd be Zea.
We also had to get some gifts for the upcoming Christmas and birthing season. I got the obligatory cigars to hand out after our baby was born.
I'm not a smoker--in fact I find the habit repulsive. But tradition is tradition, and it's even more important when you're living outside of your country of origin. I don't know exactly where the cigar-gifting came from, or what it means. Maybe it's a phallic fertility symbol. Anyway, I got 25 Colombian cigars, made in Santander, a state of Colombia a few hours north of us. I thought it would be a cool way of announcing Samuel's birth.
Apart from the cigars, we had our Christmas shopping to do. As has been our custom for the past few years, we got all our gifts at Expoartesanias, the artisan fair held every December in Bogota. Artisans from all over Colombia and even some international ones come and present their wares. Our favorite things are always in the indigenous and AfroColombian pavilion, and the toys pavilion. Obviously my wife didn't feel like making the trip to Bogota, but I went with my mother after picking her up at the airport, and got presents for thirteen special kids in my wife's and my life. Here's what we got.
Some paintable jigsaw puzzles:
These puzzles, like many of the toys at the fair, are made in Bogota and environs. I always like to spread the wealth a little farther afield, to the other provinces of Colombia, but the people making these toys are small craftsmen with a quality product, so it's good to support them even if they're concentrated around the capital.
Another stand had assemble-yourself mechanical wood toys, that move when you turn a crank. We got three--boats that bob on the waves, airplanes that circle around, and a wiggly caterpillar.
Here's a gift for Samuel when he's born. We weren't planning on getting him anything (except our undying love), but I couldn't pass this one up.
It's the Muisca king of the town of Hunza, today's Tunja in central Colombia. He's called Nemequene. The guy that makes these marionettes has like 50 designs of different historical figures. There are medieval friars, valkyries, Inca and Aztec warriors, Colombian historical peoples, Genghis Khan, Roman centurions, Alaric the Visigoth, and all sorts of other characters.
There was also this little mouse made from a gourd and some tree seeds.
You pull a cord, and then he darts along the ground!
For a difficult-to-please teenager, we got a wooden three-dimensional puzzle.
And finally for our three nieces we got some dolls.
I didn't want to reinforce gender roles by getting the girls dolls, but all of our baby relatives are girls, and dolls seem the most appropriate gift for a baby. They're very multicultural though (like our nieces!), and only one is definitively a girl.
On the left is a doll in Jaguar regalia, made by the Amazonian Tikuna people. Apparently these people classify themselves into clans. There's the toucan clan, the macaws, the jaguar, the monkey clan, and so forth. People from within the same clan cannot marry, and children inherit clan affiliation from their father. Occasionally the Tikuna dress up according to their clans and dance around. The doll is made from tree bark fiber, just like the real costumes. I learned this all from the Tikuna craftsman selling the dolls and other masks and such. He was uncharacteristically talkative and open for an indigenous person in Colombia. Often at the artisan fairs the indigenous people don't talk much, I imagine out of a combination of not speaking much Spanish, and their historical loathing of the mestizo Colombians that have taken all their land!
The other two dolls are from some Bogota craftspeople. One is an Arhuaco man, and the other is just a regular modern girl.
With our hospital tour, Mom's bed, gifts, and even cigars out of the way, we were finally ready to have Samuel!