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It's Not Just the Atmit

January 11 , 2020
By Kidist Yidnekachew ( Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at )

My husband and I often admire and rejoice at the fact that in Ethiopia the community is strong. We often debate weather communal values still hold that sacred place in Ethiopians' hearts. We often find ourselves in agreement that although communal values in Ethiopia were once strong and that no man had to endure hardship alone, kinship has taken a diminished role in society in the 21st century.

One phenomenon that has severely affected Addis Abeba is the condominium housing scheme.

People that have been living in a certain neighbourhood for the majority of their lives were suddenly displaced and shipped to condominiums. If they used to gather together and drink coffee before, they now had little choice but to go to their homes and lock their doors. They are forced into the same neighbourhood and thus find it hard to form connections and make new friends.

Amidst all of this, the sense of community has not died. It is hurting, but its heart is beating. People still find the time to make an appearance in the few important occasions we have, including funerals, weddings, graduations and the birth of a new child.

My husband and I recently welcomed our baby boy into the world. We have been overcome by gratitude and joy. Our family, friends and loved ones have showered us with love, support and, of course, lots of diapers. Bearing gifts, they have been visiting us often and lending a hand in looking after the baby. For weeks on end, phone calls have been blaring from loved ones inquiring what we need and what everyone could do to help.

Raising a newborn for first-time parents can be challenging and sometimes nerve-wracking. Things that seem easy at face value, like changing a diaper or wrapping a baby, can become quite distressful. This is where family, friends and beloved ones come in and communal values are in motion.

This culture of caring for couples that have welcomed a baby goes deep to the point that the woman is sent to her families’ or in-laws’ house right after giving birth. This has to do with the belief that family members are better tasked at taking care of the woman than their husbands.

In such times, male partners are believed to lack the skills needed to take care of their better halves. This includes the skills to make that magical fluid we call Atmitor its closest Western cousin oat and grain soup and Genfo, a false banana porridge, all of which are meant to help women heal, regain their strength and recover from labour.

The other reason behind sending women with newborns to a family house is that male partners are usually the breadwinners of the family and have regular nine-to-eleven jobs that they cannot take the time off to look after their female partners. It should also not be forgotten that some husbands, despite having the capacity, choose not to get involved. Fortunately, not every male partner is like that. They provide for their families and still make the time to look after their better-halves, sometimes single-handedly.

This is in stark contrast to the West, which usually ends with gifts during baby showers to the expecting couple. Our Ethiopian values go far beyond though. It is not a mere cultural norm but deep sympathy and caring for one's kin. This is why the popularity of baby showers in Addis Abeba nowadays is saddening given our inclination to chuck out our values for Western ones without properly understanding the latter.

In Ethiopia, it takes a village to raise a child. With the high cost of living, it is hard to make ends meet and raise children. We manage to do as such from the help we get from family and loved ones. From the moment it is learnt that there is a baby on the way and continuing long after that baby is born, family and friends constantly throw tips at us on how to get through pregnancy and parenthood.

There may be a time when these comments become too much to bear. Some are old wive's tales. Because we tend to care too much for the newborns and the mother who just gave birth, we as a community try to build a shield to protect these two and put them in a bubble.

Women are advised against leaving the house before at least a month unless they have to go to a hospital. We also have to keep ourselves warm, wear socks at all times and are strictly warned of open windows because of the probability of a draft harming the baby.

Medical professionals do warn women who just gave birth to take adequate rest and give extra attention to the needs of newborns, but the family and relatives tend to take these precautions to the next level. There is more superstition in there than provable medical advice. But since most new parents are generally clueless about the whole process, they usually comply with the advice.

Even if the nit-picking can become too much sometimes, our culture of helping each other out is appreciable. On the contrary, it is the glue that binds us together. While globalisation is unavoidable, we should not throw away our cultural practices in the name of achieving modernisation.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 11,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1028]

Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at

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