Our friend, Tumelo, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on December 14. Her name is Melissa Rethabile Nkwe. We got to see her when she was 1 week old. This is very unusual in Botswana.
Botswana tradition dictates that, after giving birth, the mother goes into seclusion for 3 months. She is attended by female relatives. Even the father is not allowed to visit. Typically a big party is held when mom and baby are ready to come out of seclusion. Tumelo is not following this tradition and allowed us to visit yesterday.
While there are probably good reasons for this practice just as many traditions are rooted in what was once common sense (no pork for Jews and Muslims for instance ), times change and cultures change. There is nothing inherently wrong with giving a new mother time to rest, recover and bond with her child. However, we now accept the importance of the father in bonding and child rearing as well .
In public hospitals in Botswana the father is not allowed to be present at his child’s birth. This is really a logistical issue- there is simply no room on the wards for a bunch of expectant fathers. In private hospitals, fathers can be present.
Another big change is that the law now allows the father’s name on the birth certificate if the parents are not married, but only if he agrees to such. While not perfect it is better than the past when his name could not appear.
Getting married in Botswana is no easy feat. If you do not have a traditional wedding many families do not recognize the wedding. A traditional wedding is expensive as lebola must be paid (usually 8 cows or their value- about P2000 each (US$200 ) and a lavish party with food for the entire village and many related gifts from one family to the other. Many simply cannot afford to get married.