In urban areas of Johannesburg, pushchairs (strollers or buggies) are often impractical. They probably would not be welcome on precarious mini-bus taxi rides, neither are they suited to some of the non-existent pavements or uneven roadside verges. I also imagine that for many, the cost of pushchairs is prohibitive (if you had to choose between buying a pushchair or putting dinner on the table, which would it be?). Then you would have the issue of storage. Accommodation for many is compact and crowded. All this means that seeing ladies with babies or toddlers tied to their backs is a very regular, normal occurrence. They also manage to make it look rather easy.
I’m also always impressed when I see a person balancing a large item on their head. A basket of fruit or a bucket of water. My understanding is that carrying a load centrally like that spreads the weight across the body and its joints and reduces the risk of injury. It’s logical and more practical than trying to hand carry. Practical, but a difficult skill to learn?
The lady in the above photo simultaneously manages her Baby Back Pack and bulky head-luggage with apparent ease. It got me thinking. Expat mothers are often ‘doomed’ to fly solo with children, it struck me looking at this picture that, hypothetically, this might be a far more sensible way for them to travel through airports.
For example, my first solo flight with a 3 month-old Sweetpea was all going fairly swimmingly. I was fully loaded with nappies, formula, spare clothes, books and toys ready to fly home for Christmas. Baby was in pushchair, hand luggage was attached to pushchair. Apart from being a bit hot and sweaty from the humidity we arrived at the bag scanner without major issue.
Then I was asked to put my pushchair through the bag scanner. I removed my hand luggage from the pushchair. So far so good. Lifted Sweetpea out – no problem. Then it got a bit tricky. Cradling my tiny, yet very squirmy infant who was absolutely not interested in being handed to a stranger, (neither were any strangers very interested in handling her), I had to remove the car seat from the pushchair frame (a two-handed job), then collapse the frame, a very fiddly two-handed job. I have no idea how I managed, but I must have done.
It immediately became apparent that the frame was too wide to go through the scanner, so I had to work out how to remove the two rear wheels, with a tutting, foot-tapping queue growing behind us.
I think in those days I was allowed to keep my shoes on and didn’t have to sample the baby bottles to prove there was nothing more untoward than water in them. Of course, what is disassembled must be reassembled at the other side of the scanner, but flinging it all back together was easier to do one-handed.
On the other hand, pushchairs are great for hanging things on or putting babies in if you need to spend a penny, so I’m not totally sold on trying out my theory for real and won’t start practising carrying my suitcase on my head just yet.
Regardless of whether or not this has inspired any of you to replace you pushchair with more traditional methods of transporting babies and luggage, ladies with baby bundles and packages on their heads are one of the many little things you see here daily, traditional Africa rubbing along beautifully in the modern world.