Growing up African

I suppose the old proverb, “It takes a whole village to raise a child,” still rings very true in most societies today. Certainly when I was growing up I sometimes felt like I WAS the child in the adage, especially when adults in our neighbourhood seemed to make my life their business.

I first experienced the brunt of the proverb when I was in the first grade of primary school. One day, when I arrived home from school, my mother asked me where I had put the sweater I had been wearing that morning. I looked about my body and was certain that I had not been wearing a sweater that morning as I obviously did not have it on me. Drawing upon this conclusion, I was ready to brush the matter aside, telling my mother that I had not been wearing one. She then showed me the sweater which she had concealed with one arm behind her back, presenting it right before my face – it was my mine alright, the evidence spoke for itself.

Apparently I had taken it off at some point and accidently dropped it. It was then picked up by one of the house-wives who lived close to us. She promptly went to report to my mother that I had dropped a perfectly brand new sweater that could have been picked up by anybody and lost forever. My mother gave me a scolding and from that moment on I labelled the woman who had found my sweater as meddlesome. Why did she have to involve my mother in the whole matter when she could have just returned the sweater to me? I suppose it was all part of being raised by a whole village. Little did I know that the sweater incident would not be the last time that other adults, apart from my own parents, would be looking out for me, or nosing about in my business as I saw it.

Growing up African, at times ‘discipline’ was instantaneous by adults and there was no need to first consult with the child’s parents. In my store of memories is one such instance when this adjudication of discipline was remitted on the spot. I must have been about six or seven years old, when one afternoon I linked up with two other children and us three proceeded to a fourth child’s house. As we played around outside, our friend’s grandmother asked us to play more quietly as she was going indoors to take a nap. We lowered our voices a little bit, but as in the typical fashion of kids we soon forgot about the granny’s nap and carried on as before. After some time, our friend informed us that it was time for her to take a bath and invited us inside to wait for her. We all trooped indoors, carrying on loudly as we went with her to her to the bathroom.

Suddenly the door to her granny’s bedroom flew open and she reprimanded us for not being quiet while she was trying to rest. We promptly lowered our voices to whispers. We quietly waited for the bathtub to fill so our friend could take her bath and we could go outside once again and play more freely. Stripped down to her panties, our friend decided to wee before getting into the tub. After she was done, she could not flush the toilet as the handle malfunctioned. It seemed she had encountered the problem before as she told us that she knew what to do as she took down the lid to the toilet’s tank. Now that was a part of the toilet we never saw regularly. We gathered around our friend, who informed us that all she needed to do was press down on something and the toilet would flush. We all started giggling as our friend looked comical in her knickers, standing on tiptoes with her arm reaching into the mysterious toilet tank. Soon our giggles turned to loud fits laughter.

Suddenly the scene changed from comedy to sheer terror when all at once the bathroom door swung open and the granny flew at us with a nice, long, slim switch from the weeping willow that grew outside in the front yard. “I told you all to be quiet!” she yelled at us. The switch landed briefly on the back of my legs and we all screamed as we scampered out of the bathroom and ran for it. After that, we naturally stayed away from that particular friend’s house until her grandmother left.

Looking back, I see now that this was all just a part of growing up in Africa!

© Mwanja Ng’anjo #BeingAfricanInAfrica