Monday, 30 November 2009

Getting used to insects, spiders, Other Things.

It's hard to get your children to maintain an open mind about things in life that they have never seen before when you yourself scream when you see THIS swimming in your pool one morning. 

Can anyone tell me what it is?  The Malagasy have a word for it but don't know what the translation is in French or English.  I'm not even sure that it's an insect.  It might be a small animal.  Yikes!

On another note, I took this photo just outside the Jumbo grocery store.  The photo doesn't really do them justice.  Trust me.  They are HUGE.  We are talking the size of my hand.  I don't think I have ever seen spiders this size before.  I haven't shown them to the Bambina yet!

The cockroaches are also the size of the palm of my hand but in my earnest bid to get rid of them from my kitchen as soon as f-ing possible, I didn't bother taking a picture.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Nestlé's new way of harming African babies

This globetrotter parent has noticed that if there is one thing that pervades the world, it's the Nestlé brand.  And if there is one thing that Nestlé like to sell, it's infant formula.

Nestlé and other infant formula manufacturers have, or so they say, committed themselves not to market their infant formula for babies under the age of six months.  Now, in my opinion, if they really wanted to adhere to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, they wouldn't market their infant formula at all (including the formula for babies 6 months and up) and it would be available exclusively in pharmacies and not in grocery stores.  But I digress. 

Knowing full well that they are unable to advertise their infant formula for younger babies, Nestlé advertise other products instead.  Here in Tananarive, they advertise their powdered whole milk, called Nido.  Note that "Nido" means "nest" in Italian and is very close to the French word for nest as well ("nid"). So not surprisingly, the Malagasy people (most of whom speak French) tend to think of Nido as milk that is meant for babies

But it's not.  Nestle Nido is just plain old whole milk in powder form with some vitamins added to it.  It has not been adapted for babies.

Yet the other day, I asked our driver, as we passed by a huge wall ad for Nido, "Is Nido milk for babies?"

"Yes", he replied.  "You give it to babies if you can't breastfeed."

Then I asked our cook, "Do the Malagasy give Nestlé Nido to their babies when breastmilk is not available?"

"yes, yes", she replied.
I explained to her that Nestlé Nido was, in fact, whole milk, and not infant formula.  She was very surprised and kept asking, "Are you sure?".

Then I said to our nanny, "Would you give Nestlé Nido to a baby?"  She gave me an unequivocal yes and was also surprised when I told her that Nido was not infant formula.

Nestlé don't appear to be doing much to correct this mistaken belief about their product.  They of course do not expressly state anywhere in their advertising that Nido is for babies and to their credit, their advertising portrays a glass of milk on it, not a baby bottle.  BUT (1) a can of Nestlé Nido looks just like a can of infant formula for babies (same 400 gram metal can with plastic top), (2) the name "NIDO" is suggestive of babies and (3) they don't say anywhere on the packaging or in their advertising that it is NOT for babies, except in the FAQ of Nestlé Nido's internet site

Worse, in the shops here in Tana, Nestlé Nido is placed on the shelf right alongside infant formulas.**

And as the Nido whole milk powder also happens to be cheaper than real infant formula (in the shop where this photo was taken, the Nido cost 14000 Ariary whereas the Nestle Guigoz 2ème age cost 18,000 Ariary), people have no hesitation in buying Nestlé Nido for their infant.

One final anecdote from my friend Natasha, an American here in Tana who has a nine-month old baby.  One day, Natasha was telling someone that before arriving here in Tana, she had purchased a year's worth of infant formula in Switzerland and had it shipped here.  She didn't want to be stuck purchasing infant formula in Madagascar, as she had no idea where the formula that is sold here might have been manufactured (much of it comes from Kenya or China, I am told). 

The person responded, "Oh well, if you ever run out, you can always buy some Nido."  Dooooooh!

** Funnily enough, in the large grocery stores in Tana such as Jumbo and Leader Price, where Europeans tend to do their grocery shopping, Nestlé Nido can be found in a separate aisle from the infant formula, alongside other whole milk powders.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Exploring nature in Madagascar

Madagascar is a great place to give children an appreciation for nature.  It has a unique ecosystem.  There are species here that exist nowhere else in the world, not even in continental Africa.  Lemurs, for example, only exist because the island of Madagascar broke off from the African continent a few million years ago and none of the lemurs' prey ended up on the island with them.  Madagscar has no venomous snakes for the same reason - none of the snakes' prey ended up on the island with them.

 We visited Lemurs' Park, just outside Tananarive,  a couple of months ago and while the Bambina was a little hesitant at first about getting near the lemurs (they are wild animals, after all), by the end of our visit, she was practically playing with them. 

We also saw plant species that you don't find elsewhere, like the vanilla plant (yum!), a "crown of Christ" and yellow bamboo trees.

Next, we visited a crocodile farm. 

Bet you have never seen so many crocodiles all together where you live...

Friday, 6 November 2009

Globetrotter Parent says no! to cultural vacations with small children

When people find out that I have this blog, they sometimes ask me for travel advice.  In particular, they like to ask me what kinds of trips they can take their small children on that will expose their under-six years old children to "culture" and "history".  After all, the mind of a small child is like a sponge, so their child should be able to absorb all that knowledge easily, no?

Actually, funnily enough, we don't travel a whole lot, except to move residence.  And when we do, it's usually to head to a beach.  My advice on how to give small children a cultural experience: wait as long as you can.  Wait until they're older and for the time being, stick to places where there is a pool and / or a beach.

You may be surprised that a Globetrotter Parent such as myself would give such advice but seriously, how much is a four-year old going to really get out of the Roman forum (heck, without a guide explaining to me what all those broken stones are supposed to be - I don't get much out of the forum) or even the Colosseum?  We lived in Rome for three years and my daughter still has no inkling as to what the Colosseum was for.  I do not regret not having explained Roman history to my completely uninterested three-year old.

Your eight or nine year old will appreciate the Parthenon in Greece and the Pyramids in Egypt much more than your four-year old.  Your twelve and thirteen year old even more so.  Trying to stuff culture and history into a mind whose preoccupation is with getting fed, running around, and playing in water is an uphill battle.  Leave it be for now.

"But my five year old will love the Eiffel tower!" I hear you say.  Yes, and your nine-year old will love it even more.

That doesn't mean it's not worth taking your child to Egypt on vacation.  But how about taking them for some swimming and snorkeling and leaving the scubadiving - and the pyramids - until they are old enough to think the activity worth the effort?

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Online Language Learning for your Teen (or maybe even you)

Is your teenager interested in improving her skills in speaking a foreign language but somehow can't get beyond the tedious classroom grammar lessons?  You might introduce her to Livemocha, an interactive online community that includes lessons, chat and motivational tools to keep you (or your older kid) on track in learning a language or two. It's aim is "to build confidence, comprehension and conversational skills."   Livemocha allows you to test your knowledge of a language, take online lessons and best of all, talk with native speakers.  It's focus seems to be on conversational skills, which is precisely what most foreign language lessons in school fail to provide.

You have to  be at least 13 years old to participate and no, it's not free.