1:29pm

Fri August 5, 2011
Culture And Traditions

In Bolivia, Strollers Compete With Baby Slings

In the U.S., fabric baby slings that carry an infant close to a mother's body are increasingly popular.

Indigenous Bolivian women have been using the technique for centuries — and many embrace it as a connection to their past.

But today, some young women in Bolivia have mixed feelings about the bundles, known as aguayos, and sometimes they cause tension between mothers and daughters.

A Desire To Be 'Western'

When Lourdes Condori, 25, found out she was pregnant with her son, Kevin, she decided she didn't want to carry him in an aguayo — the colorful Andean weaving that indigenous Bolivians use to carry everything from groceries and clothing, to babies.

"For young people, going out in the street with an aguayo on your back is looked down on," she says. "Even now, a lot of people prefer to put their baby in a stroller, because it's better received than an aguayo."

That's because in La Paz, carrying an aguayo marks people as indigenous — and Condori wants to be considered more Western, more "modern."

Condori proudly shows off the stroller — a secondhand blue canvas one. But the surrounding neighborhood is full of puddles and potholes, no sidewalks, and a lot of stray dogs — not good terrain for a stroller.

It takes almost 10 minutes just to get it out of Condori's house, with lots of lifting and some three-point-turns.

Condori's mother, Patricia, thinks strollers are ridiculous.

"My daughter tries to tell me she could bring the stroller to the market. But I've told her no," she says. "I said, 'What are you going to do? Are you going to deal with the stroller or carry bags? It's so much better to use an aguayo.' "

Patricia has spent most of her life working as a maid, and she believes it's more practical to carry a baby on your back.

Still, Condori is stuck with the stroller, for a while. Not only was it more modern — she felt it was safer, too.

"I had my baby via cesarean," she says. "Carrying him around a lot made the scar hurt."

But eventually her baby, Kevin, started to crawl. It became impossible for Condori to do housework while keeping track of him. So, she tried out the aguayo.

"I was afraid to use the aguayo, I didn't know how," she says. "The first time I tried, he ended up facing down, with his feet where his head should've been. But my mother has been helping me learn, and it's gotten better."

Not Just For Babies

Patricia boils water for tea. She believes shunning the aguayo would be like ignoring the family's indigenous roots.

She tries to explain why by attempting to show how the intricate aguayos are woven, using a scrap of yellow string and a spoon. According to Patricia, the finished aguayo will become a part of family life.

Then Patricia gives up on weaving, and insists on watching one of her favorite movies.

The family, including the kids, crowd into Patricia's bedroom. The bedroom has a low ceiling and is made of concrete. It's full of mattresses and blankets and aguayos everywhere — and a heavy old TV.

The movie tells the story of how a young indigenous couple fall in love. And it culminates in a huge wedding. In the film, almost every woman is carrying an aguayo. It's not just used for babies.

"Inside the aguayo, you carry coca leaves, food, something to drink," Patricia says. "The aguayo is always nearby."

After the movie, Condori explains that while she's not willing to give up the stroller, she believes she can carry her baby in an aguayo and also be modern.

"The stroller isn't as comfortable as the aguayo, but the stroller can be good for going around the block, " she says. "I use both."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Today, for our series Beginnings, we turn to baby gear. Fabric slings used to carry infants close to the body have become popular here in the U.S. Indigenous Bolivians have been using them for centuries. Many there consider the bundles, known as aguayos, to be an important connection to their culture and to the past. In fact, the slings have been so widespread for so long that many young Bolivians now have mixed feelings about them.

And as Annie Murphy reports, that is causing some tension between mothers and daughters.

ANNIE MURPHY: When 25-year-old Lourdes Condori found out she was pregnant with her son, Kevin, she decided she didn't want to carry him in an aguayo, the colorful Andean weaving indigenous Bolivians use to carry everything, from groceries and clothing, to babies.

LOURDES CONDORI: (Foreign language spoken)

MURPHY: Lourdes says: For young people, going out in the street with an aguayo on your back is looked down on. Even now, a lot of people prefer to put their baby in a stroller, she says, because it's better received. That's because in La Paz, carrying an aguayo marks people as indigenous. And Lourdes wants to be considered more Western, more modern.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

MURPHY: Lourdes proudly shows me the stroller, a blue canvas one, secondhand. But the surrounding neighborhood is full of puddles and potholes, no sidewalks, and a lot of stray dogs, not good terrain for a stroller.

It takes almost 10 minutes just to get the stroller out of the house, with lots of lifting and some three-point-turns.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)

MURPHY: Lourdes' mother, Patricia, thinks strollers are ridiculous.

PATRICIA: (Through translator) My daughter tries to tell me she could bring the stroller to the market. But I've told her no. I said: What are you going to do, are you going to deal with the stroller or carry bags? It's so much better to use an aguayo.

MURPHY: Patricia cleans houses for a living and believes it's more practical for women to carry babies on their backs while they work. But Lourdes stuck with the stroller for a while. Not only was it more modern, she felt it was safer, too.

CONDORI: (Speaking foreign language)

MURPHY: I had my baby via cesarean, she says. Carrying him around a lot made the scar hurt. But eventually her baby, Kevin, started to crawl. It became impossible for Lourdes to do housework while keeping track of him. So, she tried out the aguayo.

CONDORI: (Foreign language spoken)

MURPHY: Lourdes says, I was afraid to use the aguayo, I didn't know how. The first time I tried, he ended up facing down, with his feet where his head should have been. But my mother has been helping me learn, she says, and it's gotten better.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOILING WATER)

MURPHY: Patricia boils water for tea. For her, shunning the aguayo would be like ignoring the family's indigenous roots.

PATRICIA: (Foreign language spoken)

MURPHY: She tries to tell me why, explaining how the intricate aguayos get woven, using some yellow string and a spoon to demonstrate. According to Patricia, once finished, an aguayo becomes part of family life. But she gives up on weaving and insists that to get the point, we need to watch one of her favorite movies.

We crowd into Patricia's bedroom, along with the rest of the family. The bedroom is low-ceilinged and made of concrete. It's full of mattresses and blankets and aguayos everywhere and a heavy old TV.

The movie tells the story of how a young indigenous couple falls in love and culminates in a huge wedding. What Patricia wants me to see is that almost every woman in the film is carrying an aguayo and it's not just used for babies.

PATRICIA: (Through translator) Inside the aguayo, you carry coca leaves, food, something to drink. Now you'll see the aguayo is always nearby.

MURPHY: As for Lourdes, after the movie, she explains that while she's not willing to give up the stroller, she believes she can be modern and carry her baby in an aguayo.

CONDORI: (Speaking foreign language)

MURPHY: The stroller isn't as comfortable as the aguayo, but the stroller can be good for going around the block, she says. I use both.

For NPR News, I'm Annie Murphy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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