“It takes a village to raise a child”
I love this African saying and its practice in the community has huge benefits to a child’s formative years and indeed all the way into adulthood. But like everything in life there are disadvantages.
Everyone in the community contributes in whatever way they can to the child’s upbringing, from looking after the child for a few hours while the parents are away; Collective admonishment when the child misbehaves, then pleading for the child when punishment (flogging) is about to be meted out by its parent; To giving advice on and approving choice of schools and career path and so on.
However there is payback. Which in itself is not a bad thing, as you are giving back to the community that helped raise you, except that it may come at the price of your privacy. The village network is so extensive that anyone remotely related to anyone who helped the child cross a busy road, feels entitled to know how said child is faring in life even forty years on. They want need to know your business.
Most times this is alright for the child who grows up being straight, but not so for one who turns out gay in an inherently homophobic community. The child as a grown adult goes to extreme lengths, sometimes using thinly veiled threats, to guard its privacy.
Back in the day when cowries were used as a medium of exchange in commerce and the term “mixed race” meant your parents were from different continents not neighbouring villages, this practice of collective responsibility for a child was pertinent. But times have changed and (rightly or wrongly) the concept of the “village”as a large caring community in this context, has dwindled from an extensive network of “Aunts” and “Uncles” to just consist of the immediate nuclear family. A concept I had to help one such “Uncle” come to terms with a few days ago.
So there I was minding my own business after a horrendous day at work, finding comfort in a plate of highly calorific deep fried ripe plantain and egg stew infused with hot scotch bonnet pepper, while at the same time watching a Personal Trainer on Youtube working out topless, showing off his shredded body and I was wondering when my body would look like his, I got the following Whatsapp message:
“Kewe, I am Uncle Cajetan Umunnakwe Nwamadi Tobechukwu, your uncle. Are you aware that you are in your forties . Do something about a wife, biko!!”
Aside from the audacious intrusion into my private life, there are two issues I have with this message…
- Even though this Uncle is not a blood relative, but as someone seemingly concerned about my welfare you’d think he would know how to spell my name. Predictive text perhaps?
- I could be wrong but this Uncle may have a complex of sorts. Coming from the east of Nigeria, where every chicken has a Chieftaincy title and everyone must hear, it would appear Uncle missed the boat and feels unaccomplished. I mean why tag the title ”Uncle” to his name like it was some kind of official title? And then to drive his status home, he reminded me again at the end of his names that he is my uncle. And why he had to list all his given names in an informal communication, is beyond me.
One of the things I was taught by the village is to respect my elders. So I responded as politely according him all due respect, but yet as firmly as possible.
“Good evening my Uncle, Uncle Cajetan Umunnakwe Nwamadi Tobechukwu, how are you? I am fully aware I am in my forties and I appreciate your concern about my marital status. With all due respect, I’d appreciate it if we do not discuss this topic as I am not interested in getting married to a woman”.
Duly satisfied that I had dispatched with Uncle, I returned to my comfort food. But my phone went off almost immediately and against my better judgement I checked it and Uncle had responded. I read the message hoping that he would change the topic and talk about this year’s New yam harvest, but alas no. Instead like an FBI director determined on killing a presidential ambition and eventually shooting himself in the foot, Uncle persisted.
“Please Kewe, for your parent’s (sic) sake marry and please them and also us. My concern is that I was there in Aba, when your mother gave birth to you after a painful experience. Remember if you were having this thought then you wouldn’t have been born in the first place. Pls we are behind you when you are ready.”
Another lesson I learned growing up and which I still make use of today is, if someone offends you take a deep breath, count to ten and leave them with Jesus. But what with all the current world issues – Brexit; N. Korea; Premature Best Picture Oscar acceptance speeches; The imminent arrival of Beyonce’s twins and the ruckus thereafter; Trump’s toupee and Tweets; The Paris Climate Change Accord; etc, I figured Jesus didn’t need the distraction.
So I took one breath and I replied:
“First Uncle, my name is spelt “K-E-R-E”.
Second. Give me one good reason why I should displease myself and live a lifetime of unhappiness just to please you and my parents ? What about me and my feelings? How about how I want to live my life?
Third. Thanks for reminding me of my mother’s painful experience while birthing me. I know it was a difficult birth for my mother on account of my big head and hence my childhood nickname, “Onyeishi” (Head of state). I am sure whatever prayers and good thoughts you had during that difficult period were gratefully appreciated by my family, but that wouldn’t change the way I feel about getting married.
Fourth. Can you explain what you mean by “remember if you were having this thought then you wouldn’t have been born in the first place”?
Fifth. I thought my disinterest with marriage was implied, when 10 years ago I did not respond to your letter in which you tried to introduce me to a young lady who was in her final year in University, as a potential bride. I did not take your letter seriously because, even though you spoke highly of the girl and her family and how you expected me to finance her dreams of obtaining Post graduate degree in a London University you referred to her picture in the letter, but yet one was not enclosed. Uncle I don’t do blind dates.
Sixth. From an economic standpoint, if I were to get married today it would be difficult for me to continue to contribute financially towards Chikandu’s (your 8th child born outside wedlock) University education. Which reminds me, when is he expected to complete his 4 year university degree program? He is in his 6th year now!!
Finally, I find your reasoning for marriage quite selfish and I am not going out of my way to do something I don’t want to do just to please you. I live my life privately and I don’t interfere in anyone’s personal business regardless of whether they are family or not. It is not my destiny to get married , and I have embraced it wholly and I would appreciate it if you respect my decision and stay out of my personal life.”
I finished my comfort food. And while I lay semi-comatose on the sofa watching yet another panel of plaudits on CNN, tearing Trump apart on everything from his inane rhetoric down to the knot and colour of his tie, Uncle sent another message:
“Thanks and I am very very sorry for my wrongful thoughts in this regard , I will never and never again say anything like this to you Kere .Once more sorry for intruding into your personal life Kere. Bye”
Finally he spelt my name right.