By Maria Dombaxi
I recently got back home for the summer vacation, and had to go around greeting all my aunties, who may not be blood relations but I love them dearly. The usual conversation starter whenever I get back home is school, health and the duration of my trip. But this year they all decided to mention the unmentionable, marriage.
Although I’m not in a hurry to being sold off to the next brave African man that ventures into my hectic life, I have to admit that it has crossed my mind a few times in the past year. I’m not getting any younger and by the time I’m finished with school and start a career I will have no time to babysit anyone but my lonesome self. Unlike African women, most women from the Western world are not pressured into marriage, they have children at a later stage and they have more advantages, child care wise. It’s not common in the various African cultures for a woman to leave her children with complete strangers, or to give birth and return to work, and it is especially not common to find an African woman who does not to cook for her husband. My father says that in his culture a man that walks into the kitchen is a thief; he is there to steal food from the pan. In most families you will find women chasing men out of their kitchen, reasserting the belief that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. If that is the case, then too bad for my future husband because I will have absolutely no time for that.
Traditions are sacred and should not be questioned or opposed. And tradition stipulated that girls must do all the chores at home, no questions asked. This has now become our identity and our duty as African women. It’s what we are supposed to do but if I adapt to the western way of thinking will that make me less African? Women are famous for their ability to multitask, but can we truly handle the personal, work and home stress? Are we able to have it all, career, children, and marriage without going crazy or losing our identity? And if so, will African men agree to come home to empty pots? We all know that they love their mothers and that they want to marry a woman who can cook like them and attend to their every need but how do I explain to my eh… husband that I am not his mother without sounding selfish or un-African or worst be categorised as a bad wife?
Compromise, that’s the word I have learned living in Europe. Whoever gets home first, has to cook, right? So is it okay to break tradition? Should I not put my career ahead of my “duty” as an African woman? But is it not our duty to be the support system of our household, and if so, is it possible to continue being that same support system, despite the ongoing economical crisis experienced every year?
The thing I loved best when I was a child was coming home from school at lunch time and finding a table laid with mom’s delicious food. It saddens me that my children won’t be as lucky to experience the joy I felt of having a home cooked meal, made with love every day by mother. Stay at home moms are probably the best support system there is, they’re always aware of everything and make it easier for their children to grow up in a loving home. But I also think it’s unfair to spend half a lifetime in school to stay at home. I did the time so I’m most definitely going to use it. But will choosing my career over staying at home make me a bad “traditional” African woman? Then again, what is a traditional African woman?
Although my parents don’t pressure me to get married, society has a way of making one question oneself. Most of my friends are in a relationship, others are even getting married but the only thing I have in mind is my work. I eat, sleep, breath work, I’m always thinking about my next subject or my journalism career , I have never imagined myself married with kids and it worries me that following my goal will keep me from having a family life. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying I will not get married and not have kids. I can’t just stand there and wait for Mr.Right to show up so I can stop depending on father and start depending on him. I am not handicapped so I should be able to depend on myself. I can’t control finding the man of my life but I can control my life and where I choose to go with it. If Mr.Right showed up today and asked me to drop everything and concentrate on building a relationship with him, I will without a doubt choose my career (if he asks you to choose he probably wasn’t right for you to begin with). Love is blind, not stupid. I plan on getting married as soon as I can provide for myself without having to run to father for some extra change. There is nothing wrong with a man being the provider, I do not disagree with the African natural order of things, but when the natural order of things contrasts with the progress of African women should I still follow through with my duty? I see nothing wrong with a woman providing for herself, her husband and her kids as well. It shouldn’t hurt his pride it should strengthen the marriage, shouldn’t it? It’s not being career obsessed, if you are planning for a better future and staying focused, I would love to climb the ladder of success and get married at the same time, but it’s not possible. I can only concentrate on one thing at a time and I choose to concentrate on getting on top first, delaying having kids and getting married does not make me selfish it just makes me ambitious.
No, my ambition will not give me kids or feed my husband but why should that be the only important thing in my life? Why should I stick with traditions and waste an expensive education on dishes? Everybody should have the freedom to choose to be whoever they want to be, I’m not any better by choosing to continue on the path my education leads me to, than the ladies who decide to rely on their partners for their needs. But it is however the 21st century, I’m not saying we should get rid of our traditions (although some should seriously be reconsidered) nonetheless, we should maybe think about adapting new ones.
African women have always been hard workers, they’ve always gone to the market as early as 3 am. After walking for miles to sell things in order to feed their children, others go to the field and work till late, I have even come across women who walked up and down mountains to fetch firewood and sell it, is it any different from the modern African women who thrive with their minds and their heels? As the years have changed, our contribution to society have also changed, we are now going to school, we’re getting jobs and we’re working just as hard in offices in order to feed ourselves (and families).
When I decide to settle down, it will be because I’m ready to and not because my culture thinks I’m getting too old. I will cook for my husband when I have time, I will have children when I’m ready to have them and that does not make me less of an African woman as my stay at home married friend.