Saturday afternoon. A “maquis” in Yopougon. No, not the rough terrains occupied by the Resistance during World War II but open-air bars/eateries which can be found in nearly every city in Côte d’Ivoire, but especially in this neighbourhood of Abidjan, the capital city of Côte d’Ivoire and the most populous neighbourhood of Côte d’Ivoire.
A group of men and women are listening to the loud coupé-décalé while knocking back a few beers. One of the women is visibly pregnant. “Six months gone,” she says as she brings the glass of beer to her lips.
Meanwhile, in the western world, conflicting reports are coming out thick and fast, one after the other. “Light drinking, qualified as up to two units of alcohol per week does not cause any harm to the unborn child,” one report says. Other reports however are categorical. No drinking, none whatsoever.
“There is no known safe amount, no safe time, and no safe type of alcohol to drink during pregnancy; it’s just not worth the risk,” says Cheryl Tan, the author of the report from the Centres for Disease Control & Prevention.
So that’s that then, even if many women in the Western world might carry the conversation on social media or other online groups. But what about that pregnant woman enjoying her beer with no care for any report, or the conflicting messages contained in those reports, which her “sisters” in other parts of the world are debating on?
Obviously, Côte d’Ivoire, as a country is big – 322,462 square kilometre – with some 20 million inhabitants with as many different social backgrounds. Even in the capital city of Abidjan. Especially in the capital city.
There are those who can afford the expensive clinics of Cocody or Plateau, who are highly educated and who will see the Cheryl Tan report. They might even engage their obstetrician in a conversation about the veracity of such report and then take a decision after having gathered all the evidence. And then, there are the others, who are drinking alcohol, and especially beer, in the misguided belief that it gives the child a better skin tone.
“What about alcohol foetal syndrome?”
That question was met with a shrug. Perhaps she might ask her midwife, if she has one, who will probably tell her to be more interested in her baby instead of asking such stupid questions.
Whether it is lack of (much) education where the pregnant women are concerned, or whether there is a culture of accepting the word of the authority as gospel truth, many Ivorian women will not ask their midwives any questions. Nor would there be specialised units advising the women on what to eat, the correct weight to gain, let alone whether or not to drink alcohol during pregnancy.
For the most part, the women hope for an easy birth with no complications – their lives and that of their child safe. The rest can be dealt with afterwards.