Please, I Want a Boy

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— By Rebecca from Burundi

It was in June, the city of Gitega was very cold and snowy. The birds were singing to announce the birth of a new day. Mwajuma, a farmer woman of five girls lives in Magarama quarter. Every day, from Monday to Thursday, she goes a long way to reach her farm lands located at Songa. It was a Wednesday and Mwajuma woke up early, like every morning. She took a cup, a white dent and a tooth brush from the cupboard, walked towards the back yard, sat in her armchair and brushed her teeth.  A short time after, she went back in the house, tried to be as quiet as possible so that the two youngest children wouldn’t wake up, went to the room of her two older girls and said “Beloved daughters, wake up! It is about time you go to school! Come! Get out of your bed! Remember to take the tea in the cupboard. My daughters have a happy and lucky day. See you in the evening.” Mwajuma then went in her room, picked up the basket and her hoe, and left the house.

Halfway through her commute, she passed by her friends to see if they wanted to share the way with her. Since she woke up Mwajuma was feeling very tired; she had a bit of a headache, nausea and muscular pain but was neglecting all of them. She continued her commute. At that time, Mwajuma was also almost nine months pregnant but was thinking she still had time before her due date. In fact, the doctor had already told her the date, but it made little sense to her; Mwajuma was illiterate. Little by little along the way the pain was growing stronger, as for the muscular pain, the headache, the nausea and the weakness feeling. At some point Mwajuma failed to keep walking and asked for help. Three people; a man and two women, who were passing by, stopped.

Madam, what is wrong?” they asked.

Oaps! Uuuuhhmm! Oath!!! Ouch, my goodness, I feel bad comrade” said Mwajuma.

What shall we do?” said the man.

Okay, right now, let’s take her to the Central Hospital of Gitega” said one of the women.

Mwajuma was brought to the hospital. The two women asked the nurse to help them find a gynecologist doctor. “Wait a moment” said the nurse. Ten minutes after, they learned that she had to be transferred at another hospital, where, she was going to get surgery. The ambulance came and picked them to Mutoyi Hospital. It was going to be Mwajuma’s sixth child. The two women accompanied her to the hospital where they were received by a kind-hearted Italian nurse. Half an hour later, the poor Mwajuma was in the operation room…

Mwajuma opened her eyes and, for a moment, wondered where she was. Then she remembered and a moan escaped through her lips. The Italian doctor hurried over.

Don’t you worry now” she said, “You’ll be fine and the baby is all right”.

Then Mwajuma asked the big question: “Is it a boy or a girl?

A girl” replied the doctor with happiness. “A beautiful, active, five kilograms girl!” she added.

May God send blessing to you” replied Mwajuma.

She was having another girl! What a problem she immediately thought! What would happen to her next? She had mothered five girls already, five girls in nine years of marriage. She felt tears running down her checks, and she remembered how proud and happy she had been when her mother had told her she was enough mature to get married.

Mwajuma had seen her husband Omar, twice. The first time was at her cousin’s house when he arrived there unexpectedly. The second time was when he came with his father to ask for her hand in marriage. It was the houseboy who revealed to Mwajuma the purpose of this meeting. She remembered looking at Omar and his father through the window, drinking wine in small glasses and being congratulated by all the men in the family. They embraced and rubbed noses, with big smiles on everyone’s faces. Mwajuma also remembered her wedding day; the noises, the movements, the old women’s whispers about what will happen during the night following the ceremonies. She eventually found herself alone with this stranger, who had a very good heart, was gentle and considerate.

Well, she knew that right now there would be no happiness and celebration for this newborn girl. God, why couldn’t she have a boy? Just one, that is all she wanted, just one little baby boy. Truth is, she had a boy once, but she had a miscarriage. The only one in nine years and she had to go and lose it… It was her fault too she thought. She had no business climbing a tree at six months of pregnancy, right? She was seeking for firewood and slipped and fell down… After that she had five more girls and now a sixth one. Would Omar divorce her? Would he take a second wife? His old brothers, sisters and parents had been speaking to him about this, even encouraging him to take a second wife urgently so that he can have boys. Omar loved his daughters and her wife, but it didn’t really matter at the end of the day. He needed to have a boy to whom he will inherit. He had all that money and the social and political status and no boy to leave it to.

Her mother came to the hospital to visit her, and then her sisters-in-law arrived. Each one kissed her and congratulated her, but Mwajuma could see they were not really happy. Her mother was especially fearful for her daughter’s future and felt that some disgrace had fallen on her and on the family. The sisters-in-law were secretly very happy, for themselves, because they had boys; with no son in sight, Omar’s social status and half of his fortune would be given to their sons. Of course he was still young and he and Mwajuma might try again. But for the moment the in-laws felt reassured and falsely sympathized with Mwajuma on her bad luck. In Burundian culture, a family with no male child cannot be respected. A woman herself cannot inherit from her parents, only men can. ”Well, it is God’s will”, murmured the sister-in-laws, smiling under their masks and veils. Their mouths were sad, but Mwajuma could see the happiness in their eyes. “God’s will be done”.

After the family, friends started coming as well. They kissed Mwajuma and said, “Congratulations! Cheers!” then sat on the floor, cross-legged. Arranging their robes around them, they drank coffee, ate fruits, paste, and ndagala. Her cousin Sifa, known as “Mama Khadija” came too. She wore a long velvet dress, decorated with flowers, to boast her belly. Mama Khadija was six month pregnant and looked very happy.

Mwajuma thought bitterly “She already has two daughters and three sons. What does she need another baby for? She is not even that young anymore…”

As if she had read her thoughts, Mama Khadija said “This is my last baby. It will be a baby for my old age. The others are married or away at school all day. An empty house is a sad house. You know you need many sons and daughters to keep your husband happy. You are still young, Mwajuma. God has given you six daughters, maybe the next four will be boys, please do not feel tired of giving birth! Remember your husband still want a boy. You need a boy to make you honorable. If it does not happen, I am afraid he will divorce you. So, keep hope. God’s will be done”.

As God wills it, so it will be”, whispered the other women with self-determination and satisfaction.

After a moment, Omar, her husband came in and the ladies all stood up with polite respect and left the room. Omar looked at his wife, tried to smile and searched for something nice to say. He  thought that she must be tired, disappointed, rejected, ashamed of having failed him one more time and afraid of being rejected by him. He sat down near the bed and said “My beloved, mother of my children, we will just have to try again for the next chance, which may be the last, won’t we? I am afraid I will die and then my name will perish, to whom am I going to inherit my fortune? The last chance is nearing, I need a boy!”

Mwajuma suddenly began to cry of sorrow, shame and relief.

Don’t cry” he said angrily. ”the important thing is that you and your girl are in good health” he added, seeming to be humble. “For I still have time, we will try again. Let’s expect good luck for next time, eh?” Mwajuma blushed under the mosquito net and pulled her veil around her face. Omar stood up, heated her hand, got up and left the room with a bit of sadness in his eyes. The ladies came in hurry, rushing back in like a flock of birds, excited to know the news, whether good or bad.

Mwajuma’s mother asked “What did he say, my daughter?

He said may it be, better luck next time, mum…” said Mwajuma while crying.

The mother let out a sign of relief and said “They have another year of sadness…

The women congratulated Mwajuma and left the Hospital to spread the news, just the bad luck of Mwajuma, while she sank back on her pillow and fell asleep…

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Lessons from my Mandela Washington Fellowship Experience

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— By Edem from Nigeria

I think the first impression which struck me was that there were no boundary walls separating the Arizona State University (ASU) campus from the rest of the community. Right behind the law building stood the very cosmopolitan Sheraton Hotel, next to the impressive Walter Cronkite school of Journalism stood the grand Arizona Science Centre. Also a few blocks from the University student centre stood tall glass offices of Goldman Sachs and McKinsey. I had never encountered a University without walls or borders and so I had been in the ASU Downtown Campus in Phoenix, Arizona, for well over 10 minutes without realising. It wasn’t until we got to the front of an attractive student dormitory building called Taylor Place, which would be my home for the next 6 weeks that I suddenly understood. At that point I looked at the cab driver and escort with a look of surprise and asked “when did we go through the university gates?”

I would later discover during the course of an intense 6 weeks Fellowship experience that the absence of walls bordering ASU Downtown campus was a manifest expression of the system’s belief in the fluidity of interaction between knowledge and transforming human societies. For 6 weeks I was immersed in a progressive style of learning. During academic sessions we engaged in rich discussions and team work which yielded simple solutions. During community service we visited schools, community centres, Native American tribes, non-profits, city bureaus and offices. We also helped build houses, plant green spaces, distribute food at shelters and food banks and paint school walls. As part of our cultural exchange we ate American hot dogs, went on hiking trips, watched 4D movies, attended a 4th of July baseball game and gazed at fireworks whilst making sure that we left behind in all the places we visited the reverberating sounds of our beautiful African philosophies, songs, drum beats and rhythms.

I gained many valuable lessons during my Fellowship experience and I would like to share 3 of these lessons with other youths who might be reading this:

  1. All over the world, there is no perfect society and no, the United States of America is not perfect. The Country has its issues and the citizens confront problems as well. However there are strong societies. Such societies reflect deeply entrenched values, a keen investment in knowledge and research, transparent and effective systems of governance and robust working economies. As is to be expected, such societies deliver a high standard of basic comfort to average citizens, making their borders attractive to people around the world. A lesson I gained during the Fellowship is that such societies are built and sustained through vision, effort and sacrifice. This is clear from the attitude of both the leaders and the citizens of America to work, education and innovation, governance, community service, and the deep rooted values of freedom and opportunity. Contrary to the opinion of many, Nigeria will thrive if we imbibe the many lessons of our past as well as lessons presented by strong nations like the United States. As young people we must first believe in the possibility and then we must strive to attain it through effort and sacrifice.
  1. There is value in networking and building relationships. Our value as individuals is not limited to our personal skills or potential alone but encompasses the collective strengths of everyone who forms part of our relationship circle. The more relationships we build the more value we can claim or leverage and vice-versa. Americans are big on networking because they realise the importance of social integrative power. Through networking and relationship building we can easily share resources, discover opportunities, reduce costs, enjoy mentoring or peer review and accountability amongst other important benefits. As youths, we are currently the largest demographic on the African Continent and this is an opportunity. The more connected we are, the more resourceful we become. This implies that we can travel much farther today than any previous generation in Africa ever could.
  1. The real value of an education is in the solutions we are able to create. We are not relevant merely because we have a university degree or we graduated with first class or second class upper honours, as many often boast. Those credits are simply presumptive labels indicating to the world what we are capable of contributing. The world will not be transformed just because we are literate or have a brilliant mind. The world will only be transformed when we take our brilliant minds and use them to create useful solutions that address current issues the world is grappling with. If we are to improve our communities and our nation we have to move beyond the current obsession with tagging ourselves as “literate”, “graduate” or “first class holder” to creating real valuable solutions. As I witnessed during my Fellowship experience, having a college degree or a fancy one at that, isn’t nearly as important as the innovative skills and critical mindset you bring to the table and how relevant those skills are to present day challenges.

Written by:        Edem Dorothy Ossai (2016 Mandela Washington Fellow),                                                                   Founder of MAYEIN: www.mayein.com 

 

Dance of the Dead

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— By Sebastiane from Nigeria

My people have a saying that sleep is a kin and brother to death. As a child, I often battled with comprehending such proverbs; ‘why would anyone liken sleep to death?’ would I often say to myself. But then I saw him (again) today, and it all made perfect sense.

For a moment I wished he was truly as asleep as he looked like he was, and that he would jump up the next second to answer his name… ‘Oh Ade’ was all everyone could mutter in dripping tears and silent cries. The priest had said earlier that ‘no one should shed a tear but rather rejoice, for our brother (and friend) who had gone to meet with the lord!’ Either no one listened or they didn’t believe him!

As I looked into the coffin from a distance, behind the swamp of other friends and relatives who stood there to catch a last glimpse of him, I recalled all the wonderful times we spent together , the happy and not too happy times (No, I shouldn’t be remembering that part!).

Was he smiling or was that how his face has always been? Is he happy? If he were given a second chance, what would he have done differently? We have been friends for as long as I can remember; he was my best friend and brother. As I looked at his firmly shut eyes, a story my grand dad told me many years ago came to mind. It is a story about what happens in the spirit world after a person dies.

Grand pa said when a person dies, he goes to meet his friends and family who have died before him and they throw a big party in his honor where they eat, drink and dance, laughing as he tells them tales and all that have happened on earth and within their families after their demise.

Was he really with the lord as the preacher had told us earlier or was he engaged in the big banquet prepared to welcome him into the spirit world? Somehow, grand pa’s version stayed. I stood there imagining my lost friend happy and celebrating with all those who have died before him and are long gone, great grandparents and ancestors.

Was this true? I imagined my friend looking down at the whole of us mourning and crying. Could he be partaking in a dance of the dead right now with a calabash of palm wine in his palm and kola nut in his mouth, celebrating his passage to the other side while we all cry and mourn here?

‘I know he is happy wherever he is’, came a voice from behind. I turned to see an elderly woman smiling at me as if she could read my thoughts and hear my questions. Without looking back in the coffin, I walked out of the room. Was the woman a messenger from the other side and could she really see through me into my thoughts? It was all becoming too scary!

Oh Ade… But could he really be partaking in a dance of the dead while we mourn?