My Date With A Mama Kanda


I am always anxious when meeting people, yeah the moment it becomes, we need to meet my mind goes on overdrive, what will we talk about and all that stuff. You know all those articles about introverts and how we are not good at small talk yes that is me, and awkward silence during a conversation doesn’t work so well for me. So when I planned to meet Saumu, I wrote all my questions even before I looked for her number to ask her for a meeting.

I got her number and called her immediately before I chickened out and on the 4th ring she picked, being from the coast, I was caught between talking Kiswahili and English and she just laughed and told me unaweza ongea yoyote ile. So with my English and Kiswahili all mixed up but with a slight touch of coastarian accent, I asked her if she could meet with me because I had a couple of question to ask about motherhood and the Giriama culture. She was thrilled to help and asked when we could meet. Again to ensure I didn’t chicken out, I asked her if we could meet in the afternoon, saa nane leo? Ndio, leo ni sawa, sina mteja hivo twaweza patana leo, wapi lakini? We settled on Java at Adams as she was coming from Rongai.

I was finally going to have a date with a Mama Kanda, after hearing so many stories and so many recommendations from mums who had gotten their post pregnancy massage and their bodies had gone back to normal almost immediately, you want to look at those magic hands.

I have been intrigued by motherhood and how our grandmothers handled it, seeing as technology has come to make things easier and more complicated at the same time for us. My grandmother before she died used to be a pregnancy masseuse, I remember sitting at a salon one day and a pregnant woman walking in and says how my grandma had just given her massage to help turn the baby, because the baby was still in transverse and she was due anytime, I was in awe of my grandma, given this woman did not even know who I was but she sang her praise to Grandma Nusu.

I got to Java 30 minutes before our meeting time and when she walked in, her smile and laughter put me at ease immediately. We started off on why she choose to do post pregnancy massage. I will henceforth translate her perfect Swahili into English, which is a massacre to the Swahili expressions she used.

If you had a normal birth, the preparation to have your body go back to normal for the Giriama starts immediately, and if you had a C-section, then you have to wait for a week. On getting home from the hospital, there are a host of women ready to take care of you. Your Kungwi (god mother) if she is still alive, your mother in law, mother, aunts all take over caring for you and your new baby.

Hot water is prepared to kaanga your body before they can kanda (massage) you. Thanks to your womb still cleaning up after giving birth, you are bleeding and so hot water with salt is used to care for the wound in case you got an episiotomy. Legs raise, they clean Miss V, about 3 jags of hot salty water. You do not sit on a salt bath, the dirt and bacteria are mixed up in the same water you are sitting in and it makes no difference. The water needs to flow if you want clean results. “maji lazima yawe moto, inasaidia muscles zirudi vile zilivokua, mume wako atafurahia sana” The water has to be hot, your husband will forever sing praise about your tight muscles, thanks to the hot water.

After Miss V has received her royal treatment, they move on to the body, head to toe with hot water. Saumu poses from her animated explanation and tells me “Maji lazima yawe moto, wasichana wa Nairobi maji moto wayaogopa warm water doesn’t help.” The water just has to be hot, not scalding hot, you have to be able to touch the water without it burning you, the plan is not to treat burns after the massage.

Your scalp is oiled and with hot water, your hair is washed and massaged, keen to make sure that the hot water works on your head and scalp without scalding you.

The stomach is the next area of concentration, hot salty water on a towel is used to kaanga the tummy. Eventually when the washing process is done, a proper head to toe massage. The aim of the massage is to relax your muscles and mind. After the massage, the stomach is tied with a leso. Yes they have been tying their stomach from time immemorial. The logic behind the tying has been, you need to help your stomach know where to go back to, and since it has too much space all over a sudden after being squished by the growing baby, if left untied, you feel the need to fill it all up with food. So tying helps you still consume little portions a couple of times a day, instead of huge meals.

You can actually feel the physical difference after that treatment, including better breast milk supply, “mwili unakua mwepesi kabisa, maziwa yanatoka kweli kweli.”

All I could say as she explained the process was eh! What? Mmm.

For the next 40 days, the routine is all the same twice a day. Oil, wash Miss V, Bath, Massage, tie the stomach.

What about the baby?

The routine for the baby is also pretty much the same, just that the baby is washed with warm water without salt. After a warm bath, the baby is placed on the laps and given a proper massage, you take your sweet time and make sure that all the part of the body are massage.

Saumu: Lakini mtoto yuwahudumiwa na mtu mmoja peke yake. However, only one person is allowed to massage the baby

Me: Kwanini? why

Saumu: Wajua Chira? Do you know Chira

Me: Huh? Chira ni nani?

Saumu: Ukitembea huko nje, walala lala na watu, ukija ushike mtoto ngozi yake hunyauka, akawa kama mzee. When you sleep around and carry a baby, their skin becomes like that of an old person.

Me: Oh, is this true or a myth?

Saumu: Ukweli kabisa. Pure truth

After a deep massage, the baby will breastfeed and blackout, most of the time, they have to wake the baby up to feed them, the massage is their secret ingredient to sleep training their babies. At this point I remember my neighbour from Mombasa who gave me this massage tip when I had just given birth to Mugi, his day naps were a myth and he would sleep for 20, 30 minutes instead of 2-3 hours. She said to sit at the balcony and massage him in the sun with pure coconut oil, it worked.

For those 40 days, the only thing the new mom does is feed the baby, nothing else. She is not allowed to do any kind of work, which helps with healing and restoring her body back to normal. Food is brought to her bedside, she is washed, oiled, clothed; she needs to be fit to produce milk for her new baby. This is the one thing that we have lost when it comes to urbanization; the new mother is often left to care for herself and her baby.

Another ritual that is practiced to ensure hygiene for the new mom is sitting on smoking incense. Udi, as they refer to it, is placed on hot coal and placed under a traditional stool- the traditional stool has an opening in the middle and the mother sits with her legs wide open and she is covered with a leso. The smoke leaves her and her miss V scented and well tightened. This they also do soon after your periods to ensure that you so not walk around smelling.

Does this massage work? Do you really lose your pregnancy tummy? Yes it does, within 14 and 21 days you are back to normal. “Wasichana wa Nairobi hawataki kukaa siku 40, minimum days we take care of them is 14 days,” she adds with a hearty laughter.

Happy Parenting

Edit: Getting lots of emails asking for her number Saumu- +254 703905962


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