WHO WILL MARRY ME?

The night was deliciously cold as usual in Kampala and as always, it reminded me of my hometown, Jos, but I couldn’t savor the feeling because I had made a grievous mistake. Little did I know, the oncoming morning would bring me to a philosophical stand still about an issue i thought I was decided on but you have to get to the end of this post to fully understand what I mean. I wish I could tell you the story directly but unfortunately all stories are a series of events and one must come before the other; starting with that night.

My nephew AT was up and running amok because I had mistakenly allowed him to fall asleep, exactly at that window of time that you do not allow kids fall asleep. If you are a parent or have been around kids, you would know what I mean. If they aren’t given a regimented sleep schedule then they would probably be up all night when they should be sleeping; as my nephew was.

What had happened was, I was packing because I was leaving Uganda for Nigeria in the a.m of the next day. so I was a bit distracted. AT was running in and out of my room asking a billion questions like normal two year old’s do and I guess he stopped coming in at some point. But as someone who lives in her head constantly having monologues and dialogues in different accents and tones, the conversations did not stop so I didn’t notice the difference.

Alas when night came and I thought to catch some sleep before we left for the airport around 3 a.m ( or so), AT was up and active and my brother basically said, “deal with it”. So I did, besides I was leaving and going to miss the little bugger a lot, so I made the most of our little quality time. And I think I overdid it..

By the time I had gone through all the airport rigors, boarded the plane and sat on my seat; I was wiped out. So I did what normal people do, fall deeply asleep. Well that’s what normal people do but I can’t really sleep deeply. I was mostly aware of what was going on around me. I thought I heard the captain say, “Flight attendants, prepare for landing please.” and also, “Cabin crew, please take your seats for landing.” or maybe not. My last thought however, before I woke up in a panic was, “How can we be landing when it seems like we are heading up?”

My panic when I woke up was that the plane had landed, everyone had gone out and I was probably on my way to another country because I slept through it all. My bewildered eyes saw a full plane and almost everyone was standing and walking in a file towards the back of the plane. The guy seating next to me, tapped me and stared with a sort of crazed look. Then he said in his thick Ugandan accent, “How could you have slept through that when we almost died?”

Huh?

I found out from him that the people weren’t filling to the back of the plane to find their seats; they were all heading to use the bathroom to relieve themselves of their fear induced pee.

There had been a volcanic ash cloud that grounded planes in Europe and nobody thought the phenomena would come all the way to Africa. Our pilot couldn’t properly see the runway in Nairobi and almost crashed but was able to promptly lift us back up to safety.

So here I was on the runway in Mombasa, staring a disgruntled and disappointed Ugandan in the face as his disappointment turned to disgust and he said for the second time, “I can’t believe you slept through all that when we almost died.”

Well Sir, the high pitched and erratic voice in my head responded, forgive me for not trying to be awake for my possible death. I wrestled all night with an energetic two year old and lived to tell the tale (no pun intended to our current situation). And if I can survive that, what makes you think I can’t survive your judgmental (for no reason) stare?

I mean, as if anyone wants to willingly be present and involved in their own death. Am I suppose to be awake to say to death, “here let me give you a hand.” or wait, maybe I am suppose to shout it away. I scream ‘Noooooooooooooo!!!’ and then it cowers and runs away frightened. The nerve of the man to be disappointed. I think he was just jealous at my possible peace and tranquility in the face of death.

That understanding made the voice in my head switch to one that sounded like it was coming for a calm and sophisticated British lady of the eighteenth century, most likely a royal and it said, “Well Sir, I hope I am warmly tucked in bed, old and exhausted after living purposefully and making all my dreams come true. when death comes for me… err especially after a hot and deliciously calming cup of chamomile tea.”

Instead of saying what was on my mind to him, i just turned my face and went back to sleep. We were to wait on the tarmac till the volcanic ash cleared a bit.

Two hours later was when the thing happened that made me question my philosophical stand point which frankly is the entire point of this post. But like I said, series of events.

Naturally because we were in Mobassa, waiting for the ash cloud to clear, we missed all our connecting flights in Nairobi. The airline gave us hotel accommodations for a day to stay in Nairobi and then connect to new flights the next day. While I was waiting for the bus to come take us to our hotels, I saw my fellow Nigerian sister trying to buy a sim card. She still looked agitated and frazzled. I remembered her from the line to get off the plane so I walked over to talk to her with the aim of calming her down. In the process I curiously asked for the details of the near crash. She looked confused and couldn’t understand how I didn’t know the details and I told her it was because I was asleep.

Bam! I was hit again with the crazed, disgruntled, disappointed look. This girl literally yelled at me, ” How could you be asleep when we almost died?!”

I yelled back, in my head of course, “there was a two year old involved, can I live? Can I live Charlie, Bitrus, Zebbrudiah?* Can. I. Live?

I tried to smile to sort of calm her down but then she said in a more subdued voice, “I mean we almost died, how could you be asleep?” then she said more to herself,  “Now imagine if I had died, then who will marry me?”

I busted out laughing. Honestly, I thought she was joking but she looked at me with the saddest eyes that said, ‘I dared to laugh at life’s most important and profound question’.

Like crap is how I instantly felt. Have we been so traumatized with the importance of marriage that even in the face of death it is all we can think of? I looked at this beautiful girl and she was very pretty, and thought of the millions of things I could say to her but I was speechless.

Gosh, she had figured out the entire sum of her life and there I was just happy and giddy to be in a new country with a free visa stamp on my passport. And I wondered for a second who was the better of the both of us; the one who aspired to marriage or the one who could care less. And in that moment of honesty, I couldn’t tell and that really made me sad.

*By the way Charlie, Bitrus and Zebbrudiah is my name for the anonymous ‘them or the people’. If you are Nigeria born and/or raised , you were always told not to do certain things so that ‘they or the people’ shouldn’t talk.

WITH ALL OUR SENSES: A way to survive and hopefully thrive as a woman in a patriarchal society.

Common sense is defined as normal or good sense in practical matters or the natural intelligence that is believed to be available to all rational people. Simple right?

Wikipedia’s definition is my best by far. It states, common sense, is the ability to perceive, understand and judge things which should be shared by all people without any need for debate. This is a priceless understanding of the word that I think everyone should retain and carry along with them all- the-time and I will tell you why.

a) It will help you choose your battles wisely. There will be no need to waste time, reasoning, emotions and energy on certain people and their views. The moment they open their mouths, you will be able to immediately note that they lack something this basic so no need to dialogue with them. And please don’t think you can convince them.

b) It will also help you know who to ally with in your daily interactions. Trust me, something this basic, and it is necessary to keep calling it that, reveals a lot about people.

Patriarchy on the other hand, for those who do not know, is a social system in which males hold primary power, predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property; in the domain of the family, fathers or father-figures hold authority over women and children. This is also a definition straight from Wikipedia.

This has however not always been the world view. Anthropological evidence shows that the world was not originally patriarchal but in the Hunter-Gatherer prehistoric times, it was more egalitarian, This was the trend of thought that favored equality for all people.

So how did this patriarchy come about?

Some people believe it was when the concept of fatherhood was introduced, others think it was innovations like agriculture that brought it on. This means that when farming became a way to sustain life instead going out with the hopes of gathering whatever you come across; then roles had to be introduced. The men will go out and work to be providers while the women will stay home with the kids and domestic duties.

It is amazing to observe and note that in my village as in most Plateau villages, as the sun is rising, what you mainly see is droves of women heading to the farm. Most of the men incidentally take their time before showing up to “their roles”. I wonder when this exchange took place and why it hasn’t changed the view that the man is still in charge. Anyway this is a side observation, let’s not get distracted.

One of the most important theories of why patriarchy came about for me, is the one that some people believe migration must have caused it. This is because people moved from place to place and took with them their ways and philosophies of life. This could also possibly either mean the prehistoric world was not totally egalitarian or some people moved away, adopted new ways and then for the lack of a better word, infected the rest of us with it. So generally, new thinking and new life philosophies might have been the cause of patriarchy.

Let’s look into that a bit.

This is because every time we talk about equality and some of the ridiculous societal rules imposed on women, we say it is local, village, uneducated, unrefined, archaic thinking that brought these rules on. This has been i believe one of our grave mistakes. I will put it to you that a lot of these thinking came to pass because of two things I have observed,

a) The hierarchies we have placed in society.

b) Our unquestioning acceptance of those within the hierarchies.

Confused? Let me break it down.

When I was in secondary school, in junior class, our social studies teacher taught us how to identify ourselves within the greater scheme of things; one way was by something called Social Stratification. This is defined as the ranking or grading of individuals into layers of importance. This definition, almost 20 years later was pulled with ease from the memory bank of my brain. This is because after hearing that definition, I was genuinely disturbed by my education and so I never forgot it.

The next disturbing thing he taught us was our physical classification; the Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s way. We belonged to the Negro race because this well educated, well researched and well traveled man said so. This classification is something I have come to understand has no scientific basis or verification whatsoever. Blumenbach believed the Caucasian race was supreme simply because all human skulls are white. So this essentially means that our original form was white. However, environmental degradation and poor nutrition cause the breakdown that made us to become different races. He believed and I underline believed for emphasis, that it was the sun that basically boiled our blood and darkened our skins. No biological, scientific or laboratory proof, no vision or voice from the sky just good old belief. I wonder if in his travels he ever saw a pale light skinned Igbo person.

But not only were his ‘findings’ published, it was taught for a really long time as some kind of truth. Why do you think that is? Let me tell you why. Because we ranked and graded individuals into layers of importance and the ones up there are the educated/educators, the explorers and seekers of knowledge (philosophers), and the rich and well placed. This is the top tier of the hierarchy.

Don’t believe me, let’s look at some else who is well known. Aristotle.

Aristotle

Aristotle

Aristotle, one of the men whom through his thinking and writings shaped western philosophy; had some dangerous input into the view of women. In his works, he portrayed women as morally, physically and intellectually inferior to men and he saw women as property of men. Because of his high rank in his education; he was a student of Plato who was a student of the great Socrates, who do you think believed him without question? I am bold to say 99% of all who heard him, especially since he had contributed so many important things to Physics, Biology, Zoology, Poetry, Logic, Linguistics, Music and rhetoric. I doubt he was doubted. This guy basically sanctioned, even thought it might not have been intentionally, rape, abuse and violence towards women, after all to treat them as equals means to acknowledge them as fellow human beings but if Aristotle says they are inferior then…

Do you still doubt the effect of intelligent thinking and high ranking people in shaping the world?

Let me give another example.

Ancient Egypt is considered as the cradle of civilization; so this wasn’t a backward place as we like to think is the place that contains patriarchal thinking. And we are sort of right because Herodotus, the Greek father of History when he visited ancient Egypt for the first time…’left a record of his shock at the contrast between the roles of Egyptian women and the women of Athens. He observed that Egyptian women attended market and were employed in trade. In ancient Egypt a middle-class woman might sit on a local tribunal, engage in real estate transactions, and inherit or bequeath property. Women also secured loans and witnessed legal documents.’ – the source of this is Wikipedia.

Father of History

Herodotus

But this all changed with the influence of Greece when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt. Guess who educated Alexander the Great, yep, Aristotle. This is not undermining the work of Aristotle but some of his philosophies were truly damaging.

And why was he believed again? Think about it. Think about this also, Aristotle also wrote in his book, Metrologica, that Africa was a land rich in resources of gold, ivory and cinnamon but it was also inhabited by dangerous monsters scorched black by the sun. That’s us in case you are wondering. But this is the best part, he had never been to Africa at the time he wrote this.

My point at the end of the day is, if you are thinking some of these things came about because of backward thinking, stop. Intelligent, convincing and highly placed people have brought us to this place and we have to acknowledge that.

What to do next?

As Einstein said, you cannot solve a problem at the same level of thinking that it was created; so essentially we have to step up our intelligence game. How do we do this?

  1. This is my main life philosophy; question everything! I do not waste my time being angry or bitter over what has been, instead I explore why it has been and if it should continue to be. So question it all. As women, one of the most dangerous things we can do is assign the role of victim or helpless participator to ourselves. Culture as far I am concerned is someone’s creation and we don’t have to imbibe all of it especially the crippling and damaging parts.

For our society, Culture seems and mostly presents itself as a beautiful communal open invitation participation lifestyle but really some aspects are a suffocating choke hold. This is why we must I repeat question everything.

For example, some ‘Elders’ told me that women are not allowed to inherit property from their fathers. It was presented as we are not worthy or inadequate or something. Guess what? it didn’t take too many why’s to discover the truth of the law. it was initially created to protect women. Patriarchy was having a foothold and they realized a lot of women were loosing out on things that rightly belonged to them when they got married. These women will take their property to the husbands house and when the men divorced them for some reason or the other, they would keep the original property that belonged to the women.  So a new law was created. The women were meant to keep what belonged to them for safe keeping in their father’s house and if anything went wrong in the marriage, they still had their property to come back to. Now time and the evil in the hearts of men have perverted something that was originally a beautiful idea into oppression. So ask!

2) Along with common sense, use all your other senses in judging things. By this I mean your sight, hearing, smell, taste and feeling.

Wikipedia, my good friend defines Sense as a physiological capacity of organisms that provides data for perception. This is a freaking good definition because it tells me that our perceptions of ourselves and others is/should be based on the data literally given to us by ourselves. So we have to wake up and use this inherent awesome ability to guide our lives moving forward,

For example in my practice of using my senses, I used my eyes to observe three set of twins between the ages of 1-5 yrs. Each set has a male and female twin. I noticed in all three of them, the female twin was the strong, confident and independent of the two. The male twin was clingy, cried easily and was basically glued to his mom’s side. This blew my mind!

I immediately started asking people if they knew of any male and female twins. Without telling them what I had observed, I asked of their dominant character traits. I found three people and they all reported the same characteristics in the twins they know. Bear in mind, now I only know of 6 set of twins, this hasn’t proven anything but I plan on getting this number up to 1000 set of twins ages 1-5, across geographical locations, cultures and religion to observe how they behave. I know that after age 5, they will begin to be educated on what it means to be a man and a woman.

3) a) Love yourself enough to boldly speak your mind, speak against injustice and defend your choices. b) Love other women who are boldly loving themselves, speaking against injustice and defending their choices.

We are so quick to throw other women under the bus because we haven’t developed the thick skin that comes with the understanding that we do not need the approval of all the men in the world. This is mostly because, if we are honest, we want to make ourselves marriageable if we are single. Then the married ones do not want any hindrances in the progress their marital status gives them; a tiny reward by society.

Most women are of the same mind when it comes to equality but 90% will speak loudly and denounce the women who speak up. Because in the larger scheme of things between equality and being married, we will pick being married.

4) Share what you know, what you suspect, what you have observed, share your theories and analysis because this: a) opens up rooms for discussions and b) provides some kind of awareness to people who have never thought about their actions or reaction; both male and female.

5) Most importantly, do not be afraid of the word FACT. we are told some of these rules are as a matter of fact, so we do not doubt them.

Well, as a matter of fact, we had 1 (one) moon up until 2012.  Now thanks to a super computer, simulations and such, we now have 18000 (eighteen thousand) moons orbiting the earth. I wonder what 2030 will bring. This is one example of what happens to facts.

In medical school, students are taught that there is such a thing as the half-life of a fact. I don’t think you need to be a student of science to understand what this means. But basically whatever these future doctors have been thought as fact, ten to twenty years down the road, part of it or the entire thing might be proven false. Just something to think about.

As women, we have to take individual responsibility for our lives but this patriarchal battle is for all of us. Let’s wake up and start engaging the world and be active participants in how it should be shaped.

By the way, if you know of young male and female twins and can help with my study, let me know.

Happy questioning, thinking, analyzing and philosophizing!

Dear God, You just may end up alone in that your house.

My Father, which art in heaven,

Before I begin my complain or statements or possible accusations; because frankly with how I am feeling, I do not know the tone this letter will take, let me remind you of what Nana from Pankshin said.

You remember how Nana was very staunch and tied to her traditional ways and beliefs. You know she didn’t want to accept you. The preacher however through the help of your word and spirit, pierced through her zealous heart and changed her mind and ways. And what happened next? Trials and tribulations of all magnitude came her way but Nana held fast. Her zeal, a character trait you put in her could not be shaken, her mind was made up. Until that day.

It was either bible study or some regular evening service she went for, I forget which one but I know you know. Nana was joyfully singing one of the hymns she had been taught and that was the last thing she remembered. When she came to, she was on the other side of the road and in her line of sight, at the spot she was previously standing was a cow. The people that surrounded her said, the cow had charged towards her, lifted her up and flung her across the street. I mean was the cow aiming to throw her up to heaven? Was it some Elijah on the chariot with the horses parody gone wrong? You don’t make mistakes so I know it wasn’t so. But till we all get to heaven, we will just remain with our speculations.

Nana was hurt and humiliated not because of the cow incident but because not too far from where she had been standing was a beer palour with some drunkards laughing merrily at her expense. After she dusted herself and made sure she could walk, what did she tell you? I know you remember it clearly. Nana shook her little finger at you, oh how I wish I could write this with the weight it carries in the Ngas language. She said, “these are the kinds of things you do that will make no one follow you. So you allowed that cow to leave those men drinking in the bar and come and hit me that just left church. Don’t worry, keep doing it and you will end up alone in that your house”.

Father… I am almost at the point of lifting and pointing my little finger.

You know Nana isn’t the only person that has questioned you on these your ways. Didn’t King David ask you, who you wanted to praise you if you didn’t deliver your people? Weren’t his questions valid enough to be recorded in the book of Psalms?

Eternal optimism is one of the character traits you have given me but I am human and sometimes we take a break. Even if it is not for too long. So I will end this letter by borrowing and cling on to some of Brother Paul’s words:

“We are often troubled but not crushed,

Sometimes in doubt but never in despair,

There are many enemies, but we are never without a friend,

And though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed”.

This is what I will say… for now.

Eagerly awaiting your reply,

Your daughter,

Ulan ‘do something new in my life’ Matta.