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Pregnant Women in Kenya Craving for... Stones

A woman sells odowa stones at a roadside market in Nairobi, Kenya (R. Ombuor/VOA).

A woman sells odowa stones at a roadside market in Nairobi, Kenya (R. Ombuor/VOA).

Some pregnant women can develop a strong, even urgent desire for something tasty to eat. This craving is not at all like normal hunger. It could be for baked goods, sweets like chocolate, or even something with an acidic taste.

In Kenya, it is not uncommon to see pregnant women satisfying a craving by eating stones. The stones are known locally as Odowa. They come from quarries and are traditionally sold at roadside stands.

Although doctors advise against eating stones, many pregnant women continue to do so. Odowa are increasingly finding their way into Kenyan stores and markets.

Joyce Navtutu is a 29-year-old mother of two children. She says she could not resist a craving for odowa during both of her pregnancies. All of a sudden, she had a natural desire to eat the stones.

“While I was pregnant, especially this last pregnancy, there is a time I just woke up and felt like ‘let me try this, when you pour some water on soil, or something like that, you feel there is a smell. So that smell is what I felt was smelling nice, so I felt like eating. I started eating, eating, eating and then I could not stop.”

The craving and eating of things other than food is common in Kenya among pregnant women. Some women claimed they ate clay, dirt or sand while they were pregnant.

Eating of the stones has spread to many towns. They are sold along the sides of the roads, in small markets and even some shopping centers in cities.

Leah Adhiambo is a supplier of odowa. She supplies most of the stones to high-end stores. She says the custom has become increasingly popular and supermarkets have now agreed to sell them.

Ms. Adhiambo says the demand is high among pregnant women of all ages and economic classes. She says she sells them in packages so they may look interesting to women who cannot go looking for the stones in a traditional market.

Leah Admiambo is quick to admit that odowa are selling and it is becoming a profitable business.

“We stock the shelves almost every week, which means that the stones are selling.”

Experts say the craving to eat odowa results mainly from a lack of important minerals, like calcium, in the body during pregnancy. This may be evidence of a serious medical condition.

Jane Mwangi is a doctor at the Miliki Afya health center in Nairobi. She says pregnant women want odowa because the stones contain minerals.

“So most of the time they go to look for those minerals in the stones instead of coming to the hospitals to be given the supplements they need.”

Ms. Mwangi says the stones may cause infections or other health problems.

A study also suggests that eating stones during pregnancy can affect children’s health and their ability to learn. The African Council for the Gifted and Talented reported the findings.

So while the behavior may become more popular, doctors say the health risks are probably greater than the benefits.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Rael Ombuor reported on this story from Nairobi. Triwik Kurniasari adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

craving n. very strong, intense desire for something

quarries n. places where stones or other materials are dug out of the ground

clay n. a fine natural rock or soil material

high-end adj. relating to products of the highest price

package(s) n. containers, such as boxes or bags

stock v. to have a supply

benefit(s)n. the good effect

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