I was in Marshalls today, and while I always scrounge through the tablecloth section, I didn’t expect to find a wrap in bath linens. But the store had a limited stock of peshtemels come in – something I’d only read about – so I snatched one up for 15 bucks and took it to the lake.
A peshtemel/peshtemal is a Turkish towel – no, not the handwoven company, though they got they got their start with these. It’s a lightweight, smooth, thin-but-still-bottomweight fabric, usually 100% cotton, that’s traditionally used in Turkish spas. Generally peshtemels come in a diamond or plain weave, with a few stripes on the ends, and fringed ends, about 95cm x 170 cm (37″ x 71″, for those who eschew the wonders of the metric system). They are not traditionally a baby carrier. I don’t know how Turkish women carry their babies, but it ain’t in a spa towel. Despite that, peshtemels make perfect kangas.
So what’s a kanga? In much of Africa, children are worn on their mother’s back from a tender age (I once had a Nigerian priest tell me, baffled, that I was doing it wrong: babies go on the back, not the front!). Mamas use a piece of cloth called a kanga (or kitenge or leso), about 40″ x 60″ to secure babies in a safe, tight torso carry: something that often gives Western mamas a heart attack. Imagine you’ve never seen a baby worn. Then watch this:
I do this all the time. Perfect for hot weather – one layer! – it’s a super quick, easy carry at the beach, or when you’re running out the door and need extra hands. And yes, the tuck-and-twist is safe. Generally, the carry needs adjusted every so often (usually the top roll), but African women expect that. Do not think that it’ll be better if you knot instead. Yes, your carry won’t require adjustment. But you’ll mash your boobs and clog a duct in ten minutes. I’m serious. Tuck-and-twist, or tuck-and-tuck.
While I have a kanga, I prefer the peshtemel. I like the extra length a lot; the slightly thicker fabric holds a roll better, and therefore needs less adjustment. Also: a peshtemel makes a killer skirt, and the fringe looks cute. They only get softer with washing, too.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQ6h64S-oto Notice she’s actually using a towel.
If you try this at the pool, people will freak the f^&* out, and it’s super hilarious. Yes, it’s secure, nosy lady who ask-demands to help me. Millions of babies agree.
See? You can do this.
This is my favorite, because the mama really spends a lot of time showing you how to get a good seat. For the record, my seat-popping baby always gets and keeps a good knees-above-bum, wide seat in a kanga carry. Something about the way it’s secured, as opposed to a rebozo, gives you a really deep, secure seat. Lower than the German-style woven carries we’re familiar with, this carry will therefore work different muscles! This is a wonderful way to wear a giant toddler without killing your shoulders. I’d caution against a newborn on your back, simply because their heads flop: wait until baby has good trunk control, at about 4-5 months, and that are comfortable putting baby on your back, blah blah blah.
Western mamas might think it looks terrifying. But it’s a perfect carry for work that requires lots of bending over: baby doesn’t fall up your neck the way he would in a higher back carry. If you’re gardening, leaning over to switch laundry, or bending down a bunch, a kanga carry rules. I use it when I’m trying to drag kids and bags and car keys and a cell phone out the door without letting the dog out, forgetting anything, or spilling tea all over myself.
Terrified of a back carry? Try it on your front. This is a kanga modified for a front carry (towards the end of the video):
Yep, it’s that awesome. Typical legal warning: you are responsible for your baby’s safety. I cannot guarantee the integrity of any fabric on earth, above the earth, or under the earth, so help me God. Don’t back carry a newborn if you don’t know how to wrap. Torso can be advanced carries, since we don’t grow up doing them, so please be careful and don’t drop your baby, okay?
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