Stepping down, I enter a very dimly lit, very small house. There’s a particularly strong smoky goat smell (if you will), overwhelming my senses. I am being led by Kichua, one of the men of this boma. I have asked to see his newborn baby who, after my visit with my National Geographic Student Expeditions group, was named “Ian” after my co-leader. (Co-leader) Ian has asked me to try and get a picture of (baby) Ian now that I am back in the boma with the Putney Student Travel group. I will, upon leaving the house, learn that babies are not allowed outside for the first three months of their lives (which is why said picture is a little dark and blurry).
The whole house is probably less than 10 feet in width, maybe 15 in length. I am led to the room on my left, where Kichua’s wife holds her child on their bed. Their bed, mind you, being made of various overlapping sticks to make a frame and a stretched cow hide for the mattress equivalent. I get the hand motion invitations to sit down next to his wife, who immediately hands me her child, now three weeks old.
I have never held a baby this young. Hell, I’ve hardly ever held a baby. I’m sure I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve held babies – and it might not even take my whole hand. Two of my cousins have babies but, to my regret, I don’t get to see them very often. And indeed, the practice of giving your baby to a complete stranger whose language you don’t speak is not a common one in the U.S., but that’s where I find myself here at this moment. My face is covered in an ear-to-ear grin. This moment. This moment. I feel like there’s another me floating above in the room, watching all of this in awe. This is why I travel, why I explore.
My attention is completely on the baby (Don’t drop it! Make sure to support its head! Don’t let her see you have no idea what you’re doing!), yet I notice that an animal has started to lick and chew at my knee and the kanga I’m wearing. I guess that it’s a goat, never really giving it a good look. Kichua has commandeered my camera (how fortunate it was already on a tripod facing me and the baby!) and is taking some shots of us. It’s hardly light enough to see with my own eyes in here, but I smile at the camera anyway.
After about five minutes, I give the baby back. I need to get back outside and photograph the students (which is, after all, what I was supposed to be doing all along). I look down and realize that the animal that has been enjoying my kanga/knee is a baby cow – the youngest I have ever seen (hence the mix up with the goat). I think of Billy Crystal and Norman, the baby cow in “City Slickers.”