Mother’s milk

Click to see photograph “Woman begging while breastfeeding, New Delhi, India.” Copyright © Bonnie Gruenberg.

At noon, on an April day in New Delhi, the weather was like a fever, hot on Rebecca’s brow, where pearls of sweat glistened and remained, because the air itself was so pregnant with its own sweat. Rebecca was sitting on an airport bus with her 18 month old on her breast, her husband next to her. The boy was thirsty, and restless after the long night flight from Johannesburg. They were traveling to another terminal so that they could board their connecting flight to Chennai.

Rebecca’s first image of India was through the smudged and scratched window of that bus. What she saw would remain more lucid in her memory than any photograph could ever capture. A thin young woman, poor, but nevertheless beautiful in her vibrant and colourful sari, held her baby in one arm, whilst it suckled, and at the same time she walked, holding her other arm out to beg. She approached anybody that she could, but most of them did not give her anything.

The sultry sun, the lack of sleep, did not hinder Rebecca’s mind from reflecting on what she was seeing. Her own life, she thought, was easy in comparison, but in its easiness it was hard. She was reminded of the times when her little boy was a baby and how she used to get up at the deadest hours of night, because she had not gotten it right to lie down and breastfeed him in bed. To while these quiet hours she used to watch documentary films on television.

On one of these nights an image of India would become indelibly etched in Rebecca’s mind. The documentary film in particular featured women in India working in a stone quarry. There was a woman, also thin, young, and poor, bashing stones with one hand, while the other hand held her baby, which was suckling as the mother toiled; hard physical labour. Rebecca was seeing this from an armchair with a cushion here and a cushion there, all arranged just so; so that she could get the geometry for breastfeeding just right. Success was the suckling sounds of her baby snug at her breast. And from this vantage point Rebecca watched a woman in poverty, who knew how to do it, this breastfeeding, and who was getting on with her work, with life, with no cushions, no maternity leave, and no time to catch up lost sleep. The most important thing, Rebecca thought then, and now—is for richer or for poorer, that a baby should be in its mother’s arms and drinking mother’s milk.

Copyright © Quirina Roode-Gutzmer 2012. All rights reserved.

This is a completely true story, where Rebecca is me, and the little boy is my eldest son, who is now 12 years old.


A taste of Siberia

The polar winds have brought us a taste of the Siberian tundra. The snow glistens and glitters on the rolling Saxon hills, looking like dunes in the desert. We move across one of the fields, the smallest two children being pulled on the sleigh and the oldest child learning to cross-country ski for the first time. Every now and then he lies in the snow with his legs and skis crossed. There is a happy din in the silent snow. We, the parents, trudge through the thick snow. The sun bathes us in its golden light and warms us, even threatens to burn us. The sky is blue and the landscape is picturesque all the way to the distant horizon in Bohemia. To play in a morsel of Siberia, together, to us a mirthful moment, but it is not enjoyed without considering the hardship of those who live and toil in the real Siberia.


(This story has been translated into Czech by Sylva Ficová and can be read here.)

At the town’s lower market, my eldest son walks to the building where he will shortly practice the martial art karate. It does not make sense to drive home to the countryside, if I have to fetch him again in an hour’s time. My younger son winces and moans that he wants to go home. I ignore the whining and spontaneously decide to enter a student-managed restaurant. My younger son keeps his jacket on, because he complains of being cold. But he orders ice-cream. So does my daughter. Vanilla ice-cream. A tiny perfectly shaped portion with mint leaves on top. They each order something to drink. I order a glass of rosé. I have no cash so I ask the waitress if I may pay with the card. No. I leave my children to enjoy their delectable ice-cream. Younger son is quite happy now not to be at home. Due to technical problems the nearest cash machine refuses to give me cash. On my way out I meet my eldest son. He says there is no karate. How strange. He might have spent an hour outside at -10 ° C had we not met at this moment. I find out later that there was karate training, but that my son had not waited long enough. I point out the restaurant to him and tell him to join the other two, while I go and find another cash machine. I eventually come back with cash. Now I can relax. There is no hurry to go anywhere and I have all my children with me. The glass of rosé to me is like the acorn to Scrat. It is like drinking a flower rose. Its colour would soon tinge my cheeks and flush my veins. Much later of course, Darjeeling first flush would see us getting home safely. My eldest orders nachos with mountain cheese dip (he found the “mountain” part particularly intriguing). I order potato wedges and am glad that there is something on the menu I am able to eat. We are all at peace, chilled in the moment, relaxed, happy. My daughter, who is four years old, puts some sugar onto the table. She loves things sweet. She takes the straw from her glass and uses it to suck up the sugar crystals from the table surface, making patterns and then slowly sucking up all the patterns. I look at this and wonder if she has any idea how this looks like to the rest of the world. How different it is, and how the same it actually is. Don’t we all want something sweet.

Copyright © Quirina Roode-Gutzmer 2012. Al rights reserved.