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In Bolivia, Strollers Compete With Baby Slings

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In Bolivia, Strollers Compete With Baby Slings

In Bolivia, Strollers Compete With Baby Slings

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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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.


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.


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.


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.

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