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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Womanhood vs. Culture

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— By Rebecca from Burundi

Moving from childhood to adulthood is not always easy, especially for women. For ages, Burundian society has gathered some prejudices and fallacies to be taught to girls once they are heading to adulthood. My life as a girl has always been difficult; I have faced many hardships related to my gender. There are some experiences which might be small enough for others to forget but big enough to reveal the prime purpose of someone’s life – trajectory. Being a girl has sometimes prevented me from being the real person I want to be and made me missed many opportunities.

I have realized that the natural and simple fact that we are created women can be seen as a sin, especially when it comes to menstruation. So, are periods a curse or a gift? This is a much discussed subject in my community. It all goes with prejudices and fallacies which end up undermining females.

When I was about thirteen, I was probably only on my fourth or fifth cycle back then but I already knew the code of conduct that was expected from me while on my period:
“Don’t use the sofa and the bed…”
“Don’t touch anything in the kitchen…”
“DO NOT GO near temple…forget about entering it!”
“Are you a fool? How can you dance during ‘those days’?”
“Keep your used utensils outside of the washing unit, not with our utensils!”

Being a teenager at the time, all these practices barely bothered me and, I have to say, they still don’t bother me much today. I had my cell phone, washroom, utensils, and my food. Who could care less about the stupid outside world?

However, I remember that day of June 2013. I was sitting in my room, reading my favorite novel when I heard my mum: “Rebecca! Get your utensils. A house girl will wash it!” Since I was in my own world; I had unknowingly kept my utensils with everybody else’s. That wasn’t acceptable at all for my mum. Meanwhile I had no idea what was the fuss was all about. You can’t scold a girl in front of her entire family when she is on her period and expect her to not be moody about it.

Obviously I lost my cool.

“What did I do wrong!? Anyway these stupid practices of yours have NO logic, do they?” I said. My mum answered “Rebecca, it is well known in our culture and Burundian community and so you have to follow them and that’s it.” That day shook me. Until that day, I had lived with the perception of being born into a supposedly modern, educated and peri-urban family…

In the same month, my school teacher surprised me too! He asked for help to clean the chalkboard so I stood up to help. Accidently, I slept and almost fell. The classmates burst into laughing and the teacher asked me what was wrong with me.”I am having a great headache” I told the teacher. I did not know that I had stained my skirt with my period and that he could see it. The teacher took me outside the class and asked me what I may have colored my skirt with. I simply told him that I was on my period. Can you guess what happened next? The teacher chased me and told me that I had brought curse into the classroom and that I should not have attended classes during that moment! Then he said ”Rebecca, You will come back after seven days and make sure you return into my class with super cleaning soap and spray to clean that bench!” Godness! What?!

It was on that day that I promised myself to always stand up for what is wrong and the way I saw it and this situation certainly was wrong. These practices seemed fine in the past, considering the fact that no hygiene facilities existed back then. In today’s scenario however, I feel that they are simply hindrances. We expect everything to evolve with time – people’s ways of living, the clothes they wear, the food they eat, and the government they are ruled by. But this? Oh no! Evolution in this area is an absolute sin!

I always wanted to be something more than a doctor, engineer, CA or collector. On that day, I knew had found my goal;I have a dream to start an NGO working against such wrong doings. But don’t misunderstand my words, I don’t think that our Burundian culture and traditions are wrong, oh no! They are one of the most beautiful principles and values IF interpreted, preached and imparted properly. Following these menstrual rituals for instance is a personal choice and shouldn’t be imposed to people and make them feel less confident about themselves. In the 21st century, it’s time to think about what needs to be changed and what shouldn’t.