My Ramadan Diary: The milk of human kindness of African mothers

26

With Rohey Samba

The figure of my soon to be eleven year old son, Matin, looming over my iPad, and laughing out loud while watching a viral video on YouTube captioned, “white moms versus black moms,” symbolises this year’s Ramadan for me. I was cooking ndorgou, the meal for breaking the fast; and all my kids were around me in the kitchen. My jovial question, intended to prick his conscience was dodged coyly.

All that concerns Matin at this stage in his life is whether he is able to tease his siblings or provoke my hilarity. The jolt of masked amusement, as I react on cue to his jeering makes him visibly happy. Unbeknown to him, I love it when he seemingly outwits me. They say that every parent wish only their child to outperform them. Matin does that with ease sometimes, even though I pretend to let him.
Growing concerned by his persistence, I asked the simple question when he made the comment, ‘I wish my mum was white!’ To which my daughter by the way, said, ‘No way. I will never replace my mom for anyone’.

Trust Aja for always vying for me!
Less you don’t know, I am your typical African mom. Cursing, impatient and extremely loving mom, who is sometimes fun to be with. When mad, I can throw over any cooking utensil in hand on the offender’s way, be it a ladle, a pestle, whatever. Over the years of my parenting journey, and with each kid, I have developed a personal mission based on various methods of human influence.
Unlike my religious commitments as a Muslim woman, such as praying, offering charity and fasting, which are based mainly on my own personal convictions and moral suasions, my attitude towards parenting is excessively terre-a-terre.

On a scale of ten, I would say I am 2 on the tolerance scale, 3.5 on the patience category and 8 on the authoritarian gauge. This does not discount each of my own kids’ assessment of me of course. I am sure every one of their grading’s will be different from the other. And this is certainly a mission on fairness amid my despotism. Yet, in an openness of spirit, I will generously accede to the fact that how we were raised affects us all differently.

Fact of the matter is, that lovey-dovey method of parenting, where parents bend down on their knees, literary, to be at the same level with their young ones so that they wouldn’t feel intimidated by them just isn’t for me. This is the stuff for parents in Scandinavia where this method is full proof. I say so because I have been a living witness to this technique for the two years I spent in Malmo, Sweden, from 2010 to 2012.

Abiding by it would be a monumental disturbance on my familiar method. After all, effective parenting echoes the soundboard of our own experiences. Gracefully accepting that my nature is coded into my DNA enshrines my passivity. Scientific knowledge and mercifully, technology of recent times such as YouTube, puts a stamp to it. I mean, endorses my way. I realise that I may be some kind of a ‘mother’, but I am not extreme like the Nigerian kind… or at least, that’s my own charade of support. Some sort of consolation it is too.

Bored on an authentic Gambia Day, with the sun shimmering over drab quiet in the middle of Ramadan, I was going through some old records I kept in my Cloud drive, way back in 2013, when I came upon some notes I had scribbled about determinism. Yes, jotting notes of new words, vocabulary, interesting ideas and lovely lines I have read about in the past have greatly influenced my writing over the years. I still maintain a log of texts to this day, and I encourage my kids to do the same. Whoever said that imitation is the best form of innovation was so right.

Or did I just make this up?
So I was reading about determinism, which comprised genetic, psychic and environmental causes. Genetic determinism on one hand explains that our personality traits are inherited from our grandparents and by extension our parents, whereas, psychic determinism says that our upbringing determines our personal tendencies. Environmental determinism at the other end states that factors in our present environment, namely our relatives, the national economy etc. are responsible for our situation.

Whether determinism is a valid concept or not, I know very well that I cannot be what I am not. I tried to be when I suggested to my kids that we come up with a family constitution together, make rules and regulations for the household and allocate points based on best behaviour and general comportment. The carrot and stick policy was thus, do your chores get one point, failing which you lose one point. Each point represented D1.00.
Reward would be given for another D1.00 to anyone for doing something exceptional like going all out to be kind to one another. Anyone with four kids would tell you how difficult it is to get them to get along. So this was the trick I had up my sleeve.

Okay. Everyone was game, including myself. It was quite interesting coming up with something so full-fledged as a constitution with kids. But it was one of the finest milestones of my motherly role. They all contributed to outline a basic constitution, sometimes making sense and sometimes just blabbering for effect.
I was trying to teach them consensus and open them to ways of adulthood. In all, we agreed that I would not win D1.00 for a point but I could gain by taking D1.00 from a lawbreaker, which I would lose by the way, for committing an offense. This idea was suggested by the critical thinker, Aja, who is barely eight years old. Thus I released a D100 revolving fund to be won on points during the course of the week. Needless to say, the kids were their best selves for most of that one week. Their enthusiasm knew no bounds.

One of our rules was no cursing. As a Banjulian, raised in Soldier Town in my early childhood, this one was hard to comply with much to my hubby’s chagrin. He hates it when I swear for no apparent cause or purpose. Call it usage, but I always use swearwords as a measure of my frustration thus the ruse…
In all, my daughters were blunt. My son was testy. I was embarrassed every time I lost a point. But they also lost and gained some points and were very competitive towards each other.

Competing against one another to see who would gain points to buy the D5.00 ice cream sold by the bicycle honking Mr. Ice-cream at 5pm became the hallmark of the day at the beginning of implementing the Household Rules. This not only reduced my spending on ice cream at Icey Wonderland, it saved me the time I needed to drive all the way to get there every other day.

Yet after a month or so, I reneged on my duties of allocating points. The points were a pleasant disturbance of familiar routine. I got tired of the constant bickering over points and my four-year-old daughter’s mood swings, especially after she lost a point. I am an African mother. You sanction your kids to do chores because they are supposed to. They have no entitlements whatsoever beyond accomplishing one’s instructions.

So I made the unilateral decision to close that chapter. I feared lest they got used to doing favors in order to gain something in return. This is not how I was raised. I did not wish to create individuals other than I am. I feared the societal repercussions if my children were different. I wanted them to do favors, go the extra length for each other and the rest of humanity without feeling entitled to a reward.

Coming back to Matin. It’s definitely preposterous of my son to even suggest ‘I be like the white mom on YouTube, Abe’, my fellow Nigerian mom would say. In fact, the real determiner of laudable motherhood lies beyond the viral videos we share. In us, are the will, the strength and the fortitude to mother our kids in the best ways we know how. The manufactured mouthpiece, that is You Tube, is a pleasant distraction. We rather allow our natures to do it for us. We, African mothers.

Sucking my angst and frustration, and not venting it, in order to calm or pacify unruly children, including my own, through their unwarranted tantrums just wouldn’t work for me. It is not in my nature. I just was not raised that way. It would require a generational re-wiring of my brain to get to that level of parenting. So I make do with what I have. Namely my apparent lack of taught parenting skills to parent my own kids. Perhaps my son has begun to notice this existential flaw…

So I pointedly ask him, “Would you rather I was white or would you prefer a better mom than I altogether?” He stalled. My eldest son just enjoys teasing me. Plain and simple!
Getting to it, I really wanted to write about my recollections of Ramadan in Europe for this article. But how can I when there is so much to say about events that have transpired in the past week, namely France’s Spiderman and the passing of Ali Banat, the young millionaire who was “Gifted with Cancer,” may his soul rest in perfect peace.

Ramadan exigencies indulged, Mamoudu Gassama, France’s Spiderman, exemplifies how African mothers raise their sons in the context of the African society. In fact, the proliferation of brazen, unfathomable acts of bravery by African men caught on social media, thanks to handy smartphones that facilitate transmission throughout the world in a matter of a few seconds, depending on one’s internet connectivity of course, milks on the human kindness of African mothers, who raise their sons and daughters solely.

To most Europeans, any foreigner is an unfamiliar sight. Mamoudu Gassama, an undocumented, illegal immigrant who had been harshly treated in Libya ‘like a slave’ would have done the same act without thinking twice, even in Libya where he was mistreated, because that is how he was raised in empathy and kindness. This is what our mothers taught us. And this is what we African mothers replicate, in our harsh tones, swear words and exaggerated mannerisms as we waddle to raise our heads above our inherent lack of ‘tender’ parenting skills.

But above all, what we lack for in tenderness, we make up for in spontaneity and pluck. Now that is what the world needs. Not the cosmetics of restrained anger or frustration. At least, that is what I told my son after watching France’s Spiderman together on CNN last week.

And now I tell you too…