13 Surprising Things About Parenting in Congo

For our Motherhood Around the World series, our third interview features Sarah (top) and Jill (bottom), two American friends who live in the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa with their husbands and kids. Here are 13 things that have surprised them about motherhood in Congo…

Jill’s and Sarah’s backgrounds:

Jill, 31, and Sarah, 30, are both teachers, originally from Virginia. “We’ve known each other since we were 15,” says Jill.

Sarah and her husband moved to Congo six years ago, driven by a sense of adventure. “We had been living in Egypt for a few years and wanted to experience something different,” Sarah says. “We moved to Congo and had both our baby girls while living here.”

Meanwhile, Jill and her husband were living in Virginia with their young son and daughter. “Sarah and I were emailing about what it was like to live in Congo, one thing led to another…and now we’re all raising our kids here.”

Sarah, Jill and both their husbands work at The American School of Kinshasa. The two women chronicle their experiences in the hilarious and eye-opening blog, Mama Congo.

“According to Save the Children’s annual rankings, Congo is currently ‘the worst place in the world to be a mother,’ ” says Sarah. [These rankings are based on infant and maternal mortality rates, education and income for women as well as other factors.] “But still, we feel so fortunate to live in such a tight-knit community of the kindest, most caring people imaginable. We love that our kids are raised by a ‘village’ and are exposed to a completely different world than the one they see when we visit the States. Next year will be our sixth year here, and if and when we do leave, we hope to stay in French-speaking Africa.”

On hiring nannies and housekeepers: Jill: We had never hired people to work in our homes before moving to Congo. But it’s expected here for families who are relatively well off to use some of that income to provide work for others.

Even Congolese families who aren’t well off often hire or ask someone to help with a new baby. For the first three months, babies’ necks are too weak to be carried on their mother’s backs. However, work still must get done, so someone—often a young relative—comes to carry that baby around while the mother works. Then, at three months (usually, on the dot!), babies are tied on their mothers’ backs, where they stay most of every day until age two or so.

On “Mamas”: Jill: Our kids are super lucky. They have two biological parents, but also Mama Vida, Mama NouNou, Mama Youyou, and Mamitsho to look out for them, wipe their crusty noses, say “Sorry, sorry” when they fall down, and laugh adoringly when they say something cute. These “mamas” are the Congolese women who help us care for our kids and our homes. Mama Vida is our nanny, who comes every weekday to take care of Loulou while we are at work. Mama NouNou cleans our house three times a week, but her passion is food, and we love it when she makes us a dish to try.

In Congo, all women are called “Mama So-and-So” out of respect, whether you’re a mother or not. I thought I would be uncomfortable sharing my mama title, but I’m not. It’s a strange relationship—that of nanny and parent and child—but one that is less threatening and more loving than I expected. Now it’s hard to imagine raising children without so many mamas.

Sarah: Mamitsho showed up at our house when we first brought newborn Charlotte home. She’s worked with us ever since. Later, I did an exhaustive, Mary Poppins-esque search through word of mouth and the classifieds in the U.S. Embassy’s Newsletter to find Mama Youyou. She has not only been a “mama” to our girls, but also a role model for me. When in doubt, I think ‘What would Mama Youyou do?’”

On breastfeeding: Sarah: When your baby makes the slightest cry in public, Congolese women come out of the woodwork to insist that you nurse immediately. I’ve had mamas nearly reach down my shirt to get me to give my baby what she wants. Most moms nurse their babies anytime anywhere, and I’ve wholeheartedly adopted this cultural norm.

Another expat friend and her husband went to the grocery store here in Kinshasa with their three-week-old in a front baby carrier on her father. The baby began to cry. Three or four Congolese women rushed over and admonished both parents for having the baby so far away from the breast: “She must eat! She shouldn’t cry! The mother must carry her!” Mama NouNou told me that in her experience, if there is a baby crying on the bus, all the women on the bus shout, “Feed the baby! Give it the breast!” She explained it as, “Everyone wants the mama to know that she should feel comfortable feeding her baby—no matter where she is.”

On breast milk: Sarah: No one thinks twice here about sharing breastmilk. Why let something so valuable go to waste? Not long after my second daughter was born, I went on a work trip to Kenya. I pumped the whole time I was there and couldn’t bear to throw away my breast milk, nor imagine the nightmare scenario of leakage in my luggage. So I saved it all up in the hotel fridge in Ziploc bags. On the day I left, I took all the little bags to the local market and said, “All right, ladies. Who’s got babies and wants breast milk?!” Not a single Kenyan woman at the market thought twice about taking a random white woman’s breast milk. My driver even heard I was handing out milk and asked if I could pump some extra to take home to his new baby.

On weaning: Sarah: I’m still nursing Annaïs, my nearly two-year-old, and every time our nannies see her they say (in French) “Oh, Ani! You’re not a baby anymore. Have you no shame?!” At first I was confused because, come-on, this is the world of no-rules-nursing. But then I realized that if she were a true Congolese baby, by this age she should be learning to carry things on her head and helping to fetch the water.

On preschool: Sarah: This photo shows Charlotte and Loulou’s pré-maternelle (preschool). It was the first day of school when all the students were finding their classrooms. The man playing guitar is Monsieur Papy. He comes around to all the classrooms EVERY morning and sings cute little songs with the students.

Our girls’ favorite song:
Escargot! Escargot!
Montre moi tes cornes
Ou sinon, je te mets
Dans la casserole

The translation:
Snail, snail.
Show me your horns.
Or I’ll put you
In the pot.” (To be cooked, one presumes!)

On baby slings: Jill: Even though she’s three, my daughter LouLou will still ask to go au dos when she is very tired or sick. Au dos means “on the back”—where, around here, it’s understood that every baby belongs. It’s a cozy and easy place to be. And in Congo, it doesn’t require any fancy equipment, buckles or straps. A simple, six-foot piece of pagne (amazingly useful cloth that everyone uses and wears) is enough. Many women wear one piece of pagne as a wrap-around skirt and another around their waist or draped over their shoulder just in case a baby needs a ride. It’s simple, cheap and practical.

On REAL gripe water: Sarah: When I gave birth to our daughter Charlotte, a South African nurse, told me about being a nanny for a colicky baby. “Never slept. Always cried,” she said. “But it was fine, we just Gripe Watered it out of that baba.” I remember thinking, ‘I have no idea what that sentence means.’ I would soon learn.

Gripe Water, sold in Congolese drugstores, promises to “Comfort Babies with Gripes.” It’s a mix of sodium bicarbonate, dill seed oil, sugar…oh wait, and alcohol. 4.4% alcohol! You may have seen “Gripe Water” in an American drugstore, but it’s not the same at all. The U.S. version has no alcohol and thus doesn’t really do the job. So I bring back a bottle or two for American friends with new babies and simply say: Use it. Thank me later. Really, for humans of any age, is there nothing a little sugar and alcohol can’t fix?

On food: Sarah: Both of our girls have lived in Congo since they were three weeks old and will eat anything. And when I say anything, I mean goat, snails and all manner of exotic vegetables. We don’t have the luxury of chicken nuggets or Goldfish crackers. Food is expensive and precious, so there’s really nothing worse than your children wasting food. When we visit the States we secretly love to watch them go nuts over graham crackers, popsicles and fresh milk! They try to get in as much of this as they can because before too long we’re headed back to the place where a “treat” is a piece of bread topped with Laughing Cow cheese.

Sarah: The photo above shows Papa Mathieu, a local gardener who agreed to cook the girls some escargot. There are snails the size of kittens all over Congo, but only people from certain areas of the country like to eat them. Mathieu boiled them till they came out of their shells and then cooked them with tomato, onion and peanut butter!

On weight: Jill: There’s no need to step on a scale on the continent of Africa. I know I’m gaining weight when I start getting compliments on my appearance. More specifically, my butt. I’ve been told, with great kindness, that I looked “nice and fat” after returning from a vacation. The tailor who recently made me a dress looked at my lackluster curves and reassured me that she could figure out how to add in boobs and a butt via some magical seams.

Sarah: Recently I took some photos of some of the Mamas in my children’s lives, and Mama Youyou gently brought me Mamitsho’s photo (above) saying, “Madame, umm, hmm, well…Have you seen this photo of Mamitsho? Well, hmm, has she seen it? Is she okay with this?” I told her I thought it was a lovely picture of Mamitsho, and in fact everyone who has seen it comments on how nice she looks. (In retrospect, I guess it was only Americans giving the compliments.)

“Well, Madame, it’s not a good photo,” said Mama Youyou. “She looks skinny. It must be embarrassing for her. You can see her”—and then she yell-whispered—”collarbone!” Body fat is a precious thing here; a sign of nutrition, comfort and a good life.

Jill: The different perspectives on bodies and beauty are something that comes up fairly often. I just read an article in a local magazine about tia foin, the dangerous trend of women using prescription medications to fatten up a bit. It’s the same discussion as we might see in the pages of Marie Claire or Elle about weight-loss drug use among women, but with a completely different spin.

On birth: Jill: Neither Sarah nor I actually gave birth in Congo, which is fairly typical of expats. I had both my children in the U.S., and Sarah had hers in a modern hospital in South Africa. I’m trained as a labor and delivery nurse, though, so I’ve spent a lot of time learning about the birth options here, and I’ve volunteered at a local charity clinic. Birth is a huge, huge issue. The DR Congo has some of the worst infant and maternal mortality statistics around. It’s difficult to even compare the birth experience here and in the United States, because where does one start?

For a woman who gives birth in one of the many tiny maternity clinics around the city, the result of not paying the bill is often hospital lockdown—for mom, baby or both. You can’t leave until the bill is paid. Each additional day adds to the total, which usually starts out around $200 to $300 for an uncomplicated, vaginal delivery. Since most jobs don’t include health insurance, most folks struggle to pay this fee, which is equal to around a month’s salary. For some, the fear of not being able to pay means that they never receive prenatal care and may give birth at home without a skilled attendant. A woman who can afford to have her baby at a clinic (where a doctor with some or a lot of training will be present for the delivery) is among the lucky. We visited a friend’s charity clinic where women can receive care for no fee, but most American women would be shocked by the conditions. We wrote about them here.

If you’d like to help, Every Mother Counts accepts donations to help with the issue of safe motherhood around the world.

Thank you so much, Jill and Sarah!

P.S. Motherhood in Norway and Japan, and why French kids eat everything. And babies sleeping outside in Denmark.

(Thank you to my fantastic friend and writer Lina Perl for help reporting and interviewing)

  1. Great series!
    We’re just back from our second long term trip out of the county and are seriously considering moving. I love the encouragement found here!

  2. hahaha this is so funny and accurate! ive spent time in eastern DRC and my husband is from there. anytime our baby boy lets out any sort of cry, my husband says- give him the boob please!

  3. This was a fascinating read- thank you so much for sharing!!

  4. I find it interesting how these kids are willing to eat anything. Mostly because I’ve seen some picky eaters here who will fuss over not wanting a peanut butter sandwich. Even I as a grown up will not try snail or goat. Good for these kids though. I would love to be that way.


  5. This series is such an eye opener.It’s a beautiful insight into another culture and even though I’m Indian and not a mother it is a lovely read.

  6. Amazing. I love this series so much even though I am not a mother or will be a mother. It is fascinating to see how different cultures do everyday life. Thanks! Denise – Chez Us

  7. I am concerned about the Gripe Water. The product has had the alcohol removed in the West because research showed that it was a health risk to babies. That the same company has not altered this product for the third world market is a concern. Yes it works – but it is also dangerous. I think it is unconscionable and morally reprehensible for this company to exploit this market where alcohol has not been identified as a risk to infants and there is obviously no legislation in place around the issue.

  8. I love this series! So interesting to read. I think it’s great to catch glimpse of how moms live all over the world. Hope you included The Netherlands!

    XO Joan

  9. I am the nth person it seems that is LOVING this series. Wonderful stuff. It is so interesting and refreshing to hear that the “right way” to raise a child can be so different in all parts of the world.

  10. I loved this post! My brother and his family are teaching at the American International School in Dhaka Bangladesh. Their stories are so moving and their two boys have grown so respectful and mature with an amazing world view. I hope in a few years when my boys are a bit older our family will do something similar. We have just one life and one small planet we should be able to explore and learn about it with our kids. Thanks Joanna!

  11. The series are amazing, Joanna. I reading them like a thriller :) Great job!

  12. Fantastic!! I actually had a nanny until recently from Ivory Coast working with me and she taught me to use the wrap and that is how I carry my nine month old baby around the house! It is so calming for them and so practical for me as I have my arms free!! I am loving reading this series! thank you

  13. Just wanted to say how much I LOVE this series!! Thank you for sharing these wonderful and insightful stories!

  14. Thanks to everyone for the interest and comments. It is at one time joyous, beautiful, complicated, and confusing to live in the Congo. We are honored to live here with our families and happy to have the chance to share our perspective with so many.

    We hope you’ll check out Mama Congo – especially those of you who have asked important questions!

  15. This is a fantastic series – very much enjoying it!

  16. Really enjoying this series!!

  17. Me says...

    I love this series! I am about to move to Japan for the second time and even though I am not a mother yet, I love the exploration of cultural interface in various aspects of people’s lives. Thanks!

  18. I’m a Togolese living in France, and this pictures sent me so so far away… The nannies, palm trees, wax clothes…

    I don’t know in which place in the world life would bring me next but would love to raise my children in Africa as soon as I found the future daddy ;)

    BTW, Joanna, I love your blog
    xxx to all your family

  19. This series is hands-down one of the best I have seen on a blog! I am throughly enjoying every piece! Please keep them coming!

    On a side note, while there are clearly major differences between the way expats and locals live, and raise their children, in developing countries, the same could be said about well-to-do and impoverished mothers in the US (I acknowledge that the difference is more drastic in developing countries). I am of the opinion that an exposure to mothering techniques in other countries is of value. It is only through dialogue and conversation that we are able to learn from, relate to, empathize with, and understand other cultures and motherhood practices.

  20. I LOVE this series! I found this one especially interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Jo!!!

    I grew up in Congo. My parents, three sisters, brother and myself lived there from 1986-1990. We stayed in a little village close to the river Kwilu.

    Reading this blog entry was incredible, since it all sounds so familiar!
    My favourite song that I used to sing at the age of 2 until 6 was ‘Escargot’!!!

    I am sending this straight away to my family!

    Thank you :)


  22. i never want this series to end!!! i would love to know more and more about all these mamas you are featuring.

  23. I love this series! And I’m surprising myself with which countries seem more attractive to live in. Thanks for sharing.

  24. I’m with you, Camille. I’ve worked in Kinshasa myself, and the socioeconomic divide between the locals and the expats there on missions/contracted assignments is outrageous. I understand readers’ interests in sharing multicultural approaches to parenting, but this one seems particularly shallow, disconnected from reality, and just a false portrayal of life in DRC.

  25. How incredibly inspiring! Thank you so much for sharing this heartfelt story. I am indebted to my mom for all her help with the kids, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t use more mamas! It really does take a village, so kudos to Sarah and Jill for providing just that.

  26. N says...

    Those little girls with their babies “au dos” are way too cute! Great series! Natalie

  27. I wonder if Jill and Sarah know about Falling Whistles, a non-profit organization campaigning for peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

  28. My friend linked this on her blog FB page and I’m hooked reading the other entries in the series. We’re US expats in the Netherlands with my 2 year old twins and 4 year old- the concept of parenting outside of what we see as our ‘safe zone’ –ie where we’re from- is challenging me as a mother and a woman. Thank you for this! I think there is so much we can learn from all over- and make it uniquely ours.

  29. Im loving this series. Thank you!

  30. your best posts ever! Thank you!

  31. Unbelievably fascinating!

  32. Hi Joanna, thank you So much for this serie! I am from belgium and my man is congolese. We live in belgium.
    Before reading i was wondering if alcohol issue would be tackle.
    I have never heared about the grippe water but at the maternity my mother in law brough me somme beer to stimulate milk production (which was by the way not necessary). I was not confortable with that. And any time my daughter was crying i was told that it was because my milk wasn t heavy enough because i didnt drink the beer ! :-)
    Oh but my mother in law is an amazing Cook and she gets my daughter to eat kidneys !

  33. Amazing piece!! I lived in Ghana for all of 2012 and always admired the strength and beauty of African Mamas. What a refreshing glimpse into the unique differences of living/raising children in Africa, rather than the typical fear-mongering associated with the continent. Love it!

  34. LOVING this series! I agree with the comment above–this would make such a neat coffee table book. Can’t wait for more! xo

  35. I love this piece, it is so interesting to get perspective on what is considered “normal” in terms of child-rearing or just living life. Out of the 3 places you have featured so far, the Congo has the most unexpected norms, to my ears. Would love to see more of these. Ariella, Jerusalem, Israel

  36. Thank you so much for creating this series Joanna! It’s amazing to see how women live around the world. As an American living in France and hoping to have a family soon, it can be difficult to come to terms with the differences in culture and how we would expect to do things in the states but it is comforting to know that many different paths and practices lead to the same end – happy healthy children.

  37. Thank you thank you for sharing these posts! I love this series! I was just thinking I would LOVE to have it as a coffee table book… it brings life into perspective :]

  38. Joanna, i am in LOVE with this series. i look forward to it the entire week. Just wondering if you have anyone from India lined up. It would be interesting to read to what people from a developed country deel about raising kids in a developing one like India!

  39. Well done Jill & Sarah.

  40. I really love this series, like many others, and was especially pleased that somewhere like DRC was chosen- what an interesting insight into life in a very different place! and to echo the comment above, it was heartening to see a post focusing on life in a place which normally receives only negative attention.

  41. This series is perfect!!
    I was reading last week’s one to my younger sister and she is the one who reminds me that its Monday to see the new one.
    Being a Nigerian Greek, raised partly in Nigeria and Europe, I love reading this post.
    Its show the similarities of DRC and Nigeria in so many ways and the perfect luxury of being raised in such beauty and the real essence of a community. I am now a 25 years old adult that still misses my childhood and hope I can raise my children in a such an environment when the time comes.
    Thank you so much Jo for reflecting a better side of Africa, than the corrupted and violent one the media want to project.
    In response to some comment above, In Africa nobody care if your colour, whether black or white.
    We are all one as long as we are human beings, I went to an American School in Nigerian and most of my friends were from America and different part of Europe, just like these little girls above.
    Can’t wait for next Monday’s post.

  42. Can’t wait more of these posts. Very fascinating!

  43. Wow! This is fascinating. Makes me want to raise my future kiddos in different places.

  44. Very interesting glimpse into motherhood in Congo. Just curious, what do the fathers do here?

  45. I have to say my favorite part? About her ghastly collarbone showing! I love it! This series is so interesting, thank you Joanna!

  46. love this series so much!

  47. This was awesome. Perhaps because it is such an interesting and starkly contrasted way of life to that accepted in Australia.

  48. As the Momma of twins from Congo, I absolutely LOVED this article. It made me smile, and made me cry as I think about my own kids and their original culture. Thank you so much for this, I was very surprised to see Congo and I hope it spurs people on to research the country and what if faces and hopefully they will become involved somehow.

  49. This series is so interesting and inspiring – I’m not a mother, but why not try a life in another country, something I’ve been considering for years?

    I lived in South Africa for awhile, and traveled a bit in Subsaharan Africa. To see Congo in the title was a delightful surprise! Thank you!

  50. I have no children but these articles are amazing.. Keep on writting!

  51. you make this wanderlusting suburban SAHM actually look forward to mondays. Sunday night, I think, “ooooo! where are we going tomorrow?!?!” thanks for the series. it’s amazing.

  52. This was super awesome to read!
    Thanks for sharing this, Joanna.

    Manda from Eat Cake

  53. Best post yet in this series!!

  54. I do not even have children (yet) but I am FASCINATED by this series! One of, if not the best, you have done. Keep them coming!

  55. Though I am not a mother, I find these posts fascinating… especially this one! Its so refreshing to hear of a culture so different from ours and where breastfeeding (and milk :) is valued and supported by the whole community. Plus, caring the baby all the time seems very natural… and have to love the fact that being full figured is a good thing!

  56. Wonderful post! Thank you, loved the pictures of the girls carrying their dolls.

  57. So interesting! Thank you for sharing their experiences.

  58. This series is pretty amazing, but I think this post is the best one yet – incredibly fascinating. I don’t have children (yet) but I always wonder about living abroad and raising children abroad. Congo seems like rather dangerous place to raise children – let alone visit – but this shed some great light on living in a place very different from the US. It is really cool to see how people live and raise their children around the world. Thanks for sharing!

  59. Fascinating! LOVE LOVE LOVE this series. The women in this post are incredible. I love how they have fully embraced the culture and adapted their lives to fit the place. Congo looks and sounds incredible. I am very impressed and inspired.

  60. I seriously check this blog every hour on Monday just to read more about this series. So much love and passion behind them all, it’s completely fascinating.

    I agree with what someone said above, this would be a truly truly fascinating book.

  61. DO says...

    Amazing series ! Love this story in particular, as a Nigerian American living in Nigeria I was initially concerned about reading yet another negative depiction of Africa. But this story was very positive and reaffirming. I especially LOVED the pictures of the 2 little girls with the dolls on their back TOO cute. Keep it up Jo and congrats on your bundle of joy.

  62. This comment has been removed by the author.

  63. Beautiful. I simply love this series.

  64. my favorite one so far!

    I have to wonder, are home births not an option in Congo? seems like an obvious alternative in a place where other ancient traditions are evidently going strong…

    • That is exactly what I was thinking too!

    • For the Congolese or for expats? As an American living in East Africa, I know women who have had home births here, hospital births here, and gone to other countries to birth (their own or a closer one with better medical resources than available here). The main issue for giving birth in many developing countries, for nationals and expats, is access to well-trained attendants and the availability of basic life-saving equipment. Due to the lack of resources (even within hospitals here), were something to go wrong, my husband and I have always known I’d be returning to the U.S. for any deliveries; in a little over six weeks I head home for the birth of our second child!

  65. Hi! I’ve followed your blog for a few years now. I’ve got to say that this is one of the most captivating and informative series I’ve read online. Thank you for researching and posting!

  66. I love this series! My friend and her husband (a U.S. Diplomat) are living in Congo and it was funny to think I have never spoken to her about many of these things because she is not yet a mother and neither am I. So fascinating, thank you!

    • Wonderful Bird, I might know them as well. Until recently my husband and I were also US Diplomats. We served in Ethiopia but have friends in Congo. I encourage you to visit Africa while they are there, it is a wonderful place.

  67. It was so interesting and enlightening to hear these stories! What an experience for them and their families to have. The women of COngo all sound like such nurturing, supportive people!

  68. I love this so much; every single part of it.

  69. I am really enjoying this series! I love the different social norms around the world.

  70. hello Jo,

    I found your article very interesting. I lived in Ghana and West Africa and there, kids start to walk very early, like 9 or 10 months. I was always impressed to see that the whole community takes care of it.

    have a great day!

  71. hello Jo,

    I found your article very interesting. I lived in Ghana and West Africa and there, kids start to walk very early, like 9 or 10 months. I was always impressed to see that the whole community takes care of it.

    have a great day!

  72. Joanna,

    This is such a wonderful post! Thank you ladies for sharing.
    I am from Indonesia, was raised with such “luxury” of eating a lot of fresh seafood, exotic fruit, fresh vegetables, playing at the rice field or the beach on a daily basis, and having maid 24/7 who cleaned our house, cooked our breakfast-lunch-dinner, and took care of me and my little sister while our parents were at work. It was a wonderful childhood I could ever ask for!
    Now, raising my daughter in USA in a completely different way, I’m still adjusting ;)

    Thank you for this fabulous series, I truly love love love it and HOPEFULLY this will change my husband’s mindset about living overseas :)


  73. Thanks Sarah and Jill for sharing – so interesting! And thanks Joanna for featuring this series. I am not a mom yet but it is so fascinating to learn that American motherhood is so different from how children are raised overseas.

  74. Just incredible. This is the best series!!

  75. This post reminds me of my favorite college professor’s story of when he and his pregnant wife decided to leave the States and raise their family in Botswana in the 1970s. His response to concerned friends and family was spot on: “Women have been birthing children on the continent of Africa for hundreds of thousands of years.”

    Anyway, this series is fantastic. Thank you for sharing such unique and interesting perspectives!

  76. This series is now my new favorite Monday read. I’m hooked! ;)

  77. Wow, this is fascinating. Have loved all in the series but so far this is my favorite. Thanks for sharing!

  78. this series keeps on getting better and better -so fascinating! i’d also be curious to know how these mothers feel about safety issues. i’d be so nervous raising little kids in a third world country (that’s probably just me being naive seeing as there are lots of ex-pats doing it :)

  79. Love, love, love this series! So fascinating to learn about how different cultures view children, women, and motherhood. Thanks for doing this!

  80. This is a great series, thank you.

  81. I’m really moved by this series. I love the way the girls wear their toy babies on their backs too. So cute. ;)

  82. I LOVE this series! Thank you so much for such good content. It is so refreshing!

  83. This series had been amazing so far! Can’t wait for next interviews!

  84. Joanna – you need to turn this into a book!!!

  85. incredible ! i love this ! i’m ready to drop my picky little lady off in Congo for a few months to improve her eating habits !!

    what an incredible experience for these families.

  86. i can’t get over the snails! Amazing that kids would eat that, and I mean, why not? I loved this post!

  87. Wow, I love this series so much. This story especially was truly amazing. It really opens your eyes to how other mama’s live around the world. It all kinds of puts things into perspective when you learn mama’s in Africa struggle so much with the most important thing – delivering their child and surviving.

  88. I’m absolutely loving this series! The breast milk sharing struck a chord w me. A friend of mine gave birth to a son w a rare genetic condition. Because of it, he cannot latch on to the breast or digest formula properly. My friend’s milk supply started to suffer a few weeks after giving birth. A group of us decided to donate our own milk to her son. At first it was a bit strange, but it’s really been such a beautiful experience. I love that I can nourish my son and my friend’s child with my milk. She calls us her son’s, “Milk Mamas” hahaha. Thank you for this lovely post!


      See this article from the National Institutes of Health, in developing countries it is actually better for hiv+ mothers to nurse exclusively while taking antiretroviral drugs—the benefit of breastfeeding significantly outweighs the risks—more risky is lack of access to clean water, access and affordability of formula (they live on less than $1.50 per day in most developing countries) and the overall nutritional impact of breastmilk in comparison to alternatives available. The CDC recommendations are specifically for hiv+ mothers living in the US where formula and safe water are readily available.

  89. I love this series! Thank you so much for organising the interviews and letting us have a share of other peoples’ motherhood!

  90. Loved this! I live in Dakar, Senegal (Francophone West Africa) and used to work at the American school here as well. This article highlights so many similarities between the Congo and Senegal. Fascinating about the bearded women, that was new even to me! I wonder if the same is true here in Senegal. After living here a few years, I see how much easier {for expats} it would be to raise young children in a setting with access to childcare, community values, outspoken support of women and mothers.

  91. This is a great series Joanna. I look forward to it every Monday. I’m originally from Nigeria and there are so many similarities; especially the clothing and carrying the babies on the back. It’s so convenient and you can just carry on doing whatever you need to do.

  92. That was so very interesting!! I am loving this series!!

  93. This was fascinating – thanks so much and can’t wait for more!

  94. Fascinating. I think this is the best series on the blog (although I love then all). Thanks for writing these.

  95. Wow. So, so fascinating!

  96. This was really interesting, but the DRC is known for being war-torn and not particularly safe. I’d be curious to learn more about how the two families address security. Perhaps it’s not as bad is I have heard?

    • Most of the active violence is in the east, and the north (where there is a high concentration of mineral deposits). Kinshasa is almost as far west as you can get in the DRC and is fairly safe – it mainly sees tumult (in the form of protests/riots etc, similar to what you’d see in various western countries)in the run-up to elections.

  97. Amazing!!! I, along with my three siblings were raised in Congo for five years. Such familiar pictures!!

  98. This is fascinating! I am moving to Africa indefinitely next month and I loved hearing what its like to raise a family there.

    • Moving to Africa? Which country? They are so different…

    • I like you Aisha :) Hopefully a post like this will help to educate others that Africa is a huge and vastly different CONTINENT.

  99. How these women find the courage to make this life changing move with no regrets is amazing! This series is fascinating, keep them coming. I think of myself as a person/wife/mother who would do such a brave and adventurous move but fear of the unknown (and leaving family/friends behind) keeps me grounded to US soil. Someday maybe, until then, love hearing about other Mothers who can and do!

  100. Love this! So interesting.

  101. This is by far the best blog series I have ever read! I love seeing how different cultures operate in regards to birth and children. For some reason, the fact that everyone so willingly grabbed her extra breastmilk in Kenya nearly made me tear up. Such a community feel!

  102. Fascinating! I love daring people raising their children in unexpected places.

  103. I’m currently an Expat living in Rwanda, its nice to see postive stories coing out of DRC, as so much of what we see is about the hardship of living there. I have one concern though regarding the ‘gripe water’ with alcohol content—as a person trained and working in Public Health, I have to say there are very good reasons that Western countries have discontinued the use of alcohol in such products—IT IS DANGEROUS FOR BABIES AND CHILDREN—honestly given their body mass and the effect alcohol has on the developing brain, I would certainly think twice about using it to soothe (basically intoxicate) babies.

    • I was wondering how far into the comments I’d have to read before someone addressed this. That does seem rather dangerous.

    • Completely agree – I spent several years doing child protection law and frankly if I was giving advice based on a parent giving their child alcohol to “help” them sleep or “calm” them, I would be very concerned about it.

    • I grew up in Scotland and was given a whiskey, hot water and sugar concoction to help me sleep, get over aches and pains etc and I have to say it’s caused me no problems at all. Brain fully functioning and everything! I think it’s great how much scientific research has progressed and can point us in the right direction, but I also think a lot of mothers are second-guessing themselves as a result of so much ‘expert’ advice and losing confidence in the natural common sense that often comes with motherhood and that older generations relied on. Certainly my mother did many things that are now deemed harmful and yet had 4 robust and intelligent children. Sometimes it’s a case of finding the right balance and if a wee dram forms part of that balance I, as a Scot, am all for it!

  104. I’m loving this series!!!

  105. Having raised my own children in Zambia and Malawi, I am always nervous to read others’ portrayals of raising children in cultures that are so near and dear to my heart. Although Congo is a different country, the warmth, joy, community and spirit that I, too, felt is communicated clearly here. It was a joy to read this. Thank you.

  106. This was terrific! It may be the first time I’ve read something about life in Kinshasha without numerous references to violence and crime. I’m curious if the parents will be comfortable raising their children in this city as they get older; no matter how you look at it, Kinshasha is one of the least safe cities in the world. However, it was nice to be able to look past that fact and read about their wonderful culture.

    • Thank Alison. You’re right about reports on Kinshasa being full of doom and gloom. And often, rightly so. For now we’re just looking at the best of things.

    • I am a Congolese having lived in the UK for over 15 years. It’s been 2 years since I returned to Congo and I honestly feel in terms of security, Kinshasa is far safer than Manchester, London and Birmingham. I have a UK residency and I can return to live there but if the level of violence and crime are to be taken as the prime criteria, I would definitely pick Kinshasa. From my experience, the violence, crime and insecurity in Kinshasa is not worse than Western cities.

  107. I’m in LOVE with this series Joanna. It’s so interesting to read.

  108. Thank you! I had a marvelous childhood in Businga, Congo, and I still miss it. Now I (technically a U.S.American) am raising my son in Mexico City. I can’t imagine parenting without an international perspective.

  109. this is a wonderful interview. i spent two months living in ghana, and i became completely fascinated with women and motherhood in the country. the way women carry their babies on their backs is so intimate and beautiful. in ghana, women can get their children vaccinated for free. i spent time in a maternity clinic and women would get dressed up in their best attire to come bring their babies in for their shots. the whole trip was an incredible experience.

  110. I can totally relate to this post. I had my children in South AFrica, and the women there have a similar philosophy on childrearing, which is refreshing! All three of my children grew up on the backs of their nanny! Thanks for sharing.

  111. Absolutely fascinating. I wish we had such an attitude to breast-feeding in the UK. Wonderful!

  112. This is fabulous….best series ever. I am now late for my Monday morning stuff but couldn’t wait to read it!

  113. My husband was born in Gabon to his 20-year old German mother who’d just married his French father — who was out of town for the birth! I can’t even imagine how scary that must’ve been for her. My husband claims he doesn’t like “skinny” women because of his time there, though I doubt he had time to form that opinion since they only lived there a year! But it works for me ;)

  114. Wow, what an amazing post! I’ve heard about Mama Congo before, but I’ll definitely be checking it out now. These women seem incredible (and have adorable families too!).

  115. Wow – what brave and adventurous families! I spent some time living in South Africa, but didn’t have the opportunity to visit the Congo; although I did make friends from there. I love the whole “village” mentality, there’s something so beautiful about that.

  116. This IS extremely fascinating. I come from a very traditional background- my mom stayed home and my dad ran his own company. Therefore, my mom kind of expects me to live a traditional lifestyle despite my wanderlust. I’ve already lived and worked in both France and Italy. Stories like this are a true testament to adaptability. This is just another article I will have her read. Thank you!

  117. This series is brilliant and inspiring on so many levels. Seeing how other people live — no judgement, just stories — is one of my favourite things in the world, and all too rare.

  118. This is such a great series and I love it. Thank you!

  119. This is just amazing…I am currently living in Budapest with my husband and 2-year-old and adjusting to life here was not very easy for me so I admire these women so much for being able to step out of their comfort zone, and embrace life in a completely different environment! Truly inspiring!

  120. This is so fascinating! Thanks so much for posting this series Joanna. I love getting a little glimpse into daily life for women around the world. I feel like it opens things up and gives me such great perspective!

  121. I hadn’t read any of your posts in this series yet, but like the commenters above, I found this incredibly fascinating! The most interesting read all day, for sure…I can’t wait to check out their blog.


  122. I think this one was the most surprising that you’ve done so far – especially with the breast milk (not gonna lie, I don’t know if I could ever share breast milk) and the bearded women! It’s just so SO different from the USA.. How fascinating. I think I’m going to check out their blog.

  123. Wow, I am completely blown away. I couldn’t imagine moving there just for the adventure of it all. What an incredible difference from our North American way of life!

  124. Fascinating! And this is my favorite one yet. Thank you for this series. :)

  125. I am not a mother, but this series fascinates me. It reminds me of a Anthropology of Women class I took in college that was taught by a Nurse and an Anthropologist and we studied birth and motherhood in different cultures.

  126. I love these women. I’d love to hear more about what it is like to be white in Africa and whether they think about the neo-colonial implications of that?

    • Yes, that would be really interesting!

    • I am a white South African, born in “Africa” (please remember Africa is a continent and not a country!) and love MY country. Neo-colonialism is a pretentious term used by those who know nothing about South Africa/Africa or it’s people and culture. It’s far more complex and beautiful than white people trying to take over a country/continent their ancestors where not born in.

      PS if you ever have any questions on what it’s really like to be a white African, I’d be happy to help :)

    • I think their blog Mama Congo explores some of those issues.

  127. I am LOVING this series, so wonderful to get some insight into global mothers’ lives!

  128. This was such a good read! And I couldn’t help but notice the Tusker in the fridge (: It tastes exactly like my local beer, so drinking it gave me a nice home-away-from-home feeling when I was in Central Africa.

  129. Love this article – and this series, super fascinating – I look forward to it each Monday! As a mother living in a foreign country – however different they all are – we feel united/bonded with each other in our experiences and making the choice to raise your family away from the ‘comfort’ of family/own culture.

    simplystylishmom – Australian/Canadian Mom in Denmark

  130. Having lived 2 years in Gabon (a neighbour of DRC) I see so many commonalities which I suppose, isn’t surprising due to their proximity and both being French speaking countries.

    A friend of mine was really quite offended when her housekeeper told her she looked fat after vacation – that is something we’re certainly not used to hearing as a compliment in North America!

  131. This series is brilliant. Just one thing here, you might want to revisit the juxtaposition of the word “hilarious,” wrt the blog, and the next sentences about infant and maternal mortality etc. It startled me, and took a while to get back into the post.

  132. These are some of my favorite posts! I love reading about how different cultures parent and live. Thank you for sharing and turning me on to a wonderful new blog to follow as well!

  133. I’m loving this series, Joanna. This one in particular blew me away.

  134. Wow that was really interesting to read. Thank you for doing this series! :)

  135. K says...

    This is truly my dream. TRULY. I know a few women who raise their kids in West-Central Africa — I was in Peace Corps in Cameroon. My husband has never been. How in the heck do you take that leap?

    • I assume you just do what you need to do. My brother and I were raised in Cameroon our entire childhoods. In fact, my brother was born there. Now that I have my own children, I have tremendous respect for my mother, especially.

  136. This is amazing. Especially concerning the breast-feeding bit. Thank you for this wonderful series, Jo :)