My gran had my mom at fourteen.
She was sold off to my granddad at thirteen.
Perhaps the more respectful things to say would be: She was “married” at thirteen. But alas I can’t. She was given no choice in the matter.
I’m told she went kicking and screaming. Those that tell her story tell me that all she wanted to do was finish school. She never did.
But perhaps I should not judge what caused her parents to send her off so young – perhaps they needed the money – or perhaps they thought she would have a life far better than they could ever provide with my well-to-do granddad. Who knows?
All I know is it was never her choice to marry so young.
She died in a car accident. Her beautiful body lay next to her tambourine – the rainbow ribbons fastened to it lay strewn in the dirt. Her white Salvation Army uniform browned with the dirt that clung to it – She died on a Sunday – on her way to church.
All I have left of her is a pretty blue and white milk jug my granddad bought for her in one of his travels abroad. And of course the strength that held her together all her life. And oh yes – I remember her face. I could never forget her face.
She had nine children. She lost one to polio. As a mother myself now I get how insane and utterly unjust it is for a parent to bury their child.
I speak of my gran because this week I had a conversation with friends I’ve had so many times in different settings, with different people: The poverty that has become synonymous with Africa.
The world has so changed since my gran was forced into marriage.
Today, for the most part, women in Africa have choices.
I sometimes think of what my gran’s life might have been like had she finished school.
She was such a fighter.
I never ever saw my gran feel sorry for herself even though she had plenty reason to.
She seemed to pick up every card life threw at her and she played.
And she wasn’t the kind of woman people messed with either.
My mom tells me of an incident when she was beaten in class by her teacher.
My gran marched to the teacher’s house and demanded she come out so she could give her a whipping she would never forget!
The teacher hid in her house and peeped through the window – terrified for her life!
“You can’t stay in there forever!” My gran yelled. “You’ll have to come out some time. It might not be today – it might not be tomorrow – but the day will come and you’ll see!”
I’m sure it was that promise ringing in her head that compelled my mom’s teacher to beg for a transfer to another province!
Yeah my gran was a fighter!
She raised her kids as though she were preparing them for battle. Often she’s reported to have said her kids would survive without her. She’d talk about how she was raising them to care for themselves and were it to happen that others should raise them in her absence– they would find favour with their new families because my gran raised hardworking children.
None of my gran’s children are lazy. Each was raised with an innate ability to survive. I believe that was her inheritance to them.
I believe if my gran had had her way – she would have finished school.
My gran was a giver. She wasn’t much for being on the receiving end.
I believe if she’d pursued her dreams – she would have left her kids more than what she did.
I think of all the choices available to me – choices my gran never had. I think of opportunities open to me that were shut from gran and I ask myself: What will I leave my children?
My gran taught her kids survival because that’s all she had to give them.
My life is different. I can give my children more. I have that choice.
I hope to teach my children survival but also how to access abundance.
The conversation I had with my friends this week pretty much culminated to this: Africa’s dependency. Governments depend on outside funding and individuals depend on government.
I think of people like my gran who never had a choice- Dependency: Is that really the best we can do in world where we have the choice to do better?
My gran would sooner have starved than see her kids live a life less than what she had been dealt with. And yet so often I come across parents who are willing to trade their children’s futures for comfort right now.
A mom who waits for her children’s grants so she can do her hair (true story) – Really? – In a world where there is opportunity for us to do better for our children?
Parents who live high on debt – with each purchase trading their children’s futures for momentary luxuries.
Parents who demand their kids splurge on them-
Families that demand huge sums for their daughters – sums that often compel young couples to remain unmarried so they can fulfil the demands of the girl’s family.
Is it really more important to receive money or gifts for your daughter instead of giving her the freedom to build a new life with the man who loves her?
Is it really fair that we have created generations of children who are growing up with parents who are not married so “tradition’ can be filled?
What message are we sending our children?
I know I’m opening a barrel of worms that could get me a lot of hate mail. Hate on! Some tradition must be challenged!
It’s a sick way of thinking that has Africa still steeped in rot while the rest of the world grows from strength to strength.
It’s the constant denial that perhaps the problem lies with us.
It’s the constant belief that we have to depend on someone else to make our lives better. And yet we have the choice.
Who, Oh Parent, told you that you are “owed” for doing what parents are supposed to do? And that’s raise your children the best you can – giving them the best you can – with NO expectation of recompense someday.
Isn’t it quite something that when you read The Scriptures you find that even in their old age it was the parents who looked after the children. And the parents left an inheritance to their children.
When did things change? Who made it that now parents inherit from their children?
We talk of Africa as this abstract issue – but the way we see our governments behave – self-enrichment etc… far too many families operate this way: Parents depending on their children to build them fancy lives when their kids can barely manage to take care of their own lives.
We have the choice to do better.
When it comes to the legacy we’re building for our kids are we making better choices? Or are we starving them, limiting their futures and leaving them with less than what we had?