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Baby Food
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Yesterday's entry reminds me of another change my village adopted--notice so far that it is the women making the changes.

Baby food:

Infants are nursed for their first year of life (approximately). Those who survive the first few days of life then flourish on their mothers’ milk, growing chubby and happy and bright-eyed. All is well (barring a cholera epidemic or some such disaster).

Then comes the weaning process. Babies are weaned on adult food, and if you’ve ever eaten Indian food, you know how hot it is. Many of them get severe, life-threatening diarrhea and sores on their bottoms and quite a few die. The food is just too strong.

Or they are weaned on rice water. That is the water left over when rice is boiled. The babies weaned on rice water become thin and weak; the nutritional deficiencies are unimaginable to us. Rice water has nothing but a little starch; even the B vitamins are destroyed by the long exposure to hot water.

The innovation in my village happened almost by accident. Kamala brought me her year-old son, her first. She was already pregnant with her second child and was trying to wean her one-year-old before she had to start nursing the newborn. The child was pale and thin and listless; when I held him, he seemed semi-conscious. When I asked her what she was feeding him, I was shocked. Adult food? Rice water!

We went back to her hut and I had her mash up some cooked rice, mash up some boiled but not yet seasoned vegetables (from the kitchen garden she had been growing), and we started feeding him the mixture. He sucked it off my fingers and swallowed a little.

Over the next few days, he came back to life and was officially named Pradeep, which means light or shine. (Children aren't officially named until they are a year old.) In a couple of months we could see him turning the corner for good.

Remember, nothing is secret or private in a village. Every mother watched us; every mother’s fear being that her own infant would not survive weaning. Kamala’s success, Pradeep’s obvious good health, were all the advertising for rice/vegetable baby food I needed. By the time I left India, villages all around mine had mothers feeding the “new” baby food to their weanlings.

Pradeep must be a grown man with children of his own by now. I think of him every time I sing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

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