Growing up, I was surrounded by men; The only girl in my family and 1/3 of female grandchildren out of a total of 15. With my mum constantly travelling for work, I was left under the care of my father and older brother. It therefore came as no surprise that I developed some behaviours that normally would be associated with the male species. I was very competitive and at times violent (Possibly due to the wrestling we’d watch together). My behaviour was very similar to those of my brothers from mode of dress to eating habits to what I considered fun…like jumping out of a moving car
However, I did not always ‘fit in with the boys’ considering the fact that I grew up in an African country. Family functions would always serve to remind me of my place in society… the kitchen, or serving men. It always happened that after arriving at the event and greeting the early guests, I was sent into the kitchen to ‘find some duties to do’ (yet most times my aunties would send me out of the kitchen), while my brothers and cousins sat down and socialised or even began eating whatever food was ready. I was always caught between the two sides but I could never let frustration get the better of me least I risked embarrassing my father’s name and so most times I would end up washing the hands of the guests which I actually did not mind since most came up with interesting stories most about my dad as a teenager.
Further division took place with the actual meal. According to tradition, there are specific parts of a goat reserved for either gender for example the back part is for men who are required to eat it clean and then pierce it. For women, the kidneys. My father’s younger brother, Uncle Kimani, never failed to bring me the kidneys of the goat that had lost its life to satisfy the tongues of the clan. As I sit here writing this, I can hear him shout for me from the grill where all men stood tasting the meat as it was being prepared ‘Wambui! come!’ (sometimes he’d track me down wherever I was). I always expected it and he never failed regardless of the location woe unto me if more than one goat had been slaughtered.
Don’t get me wrong, culture is a beautiful thing, it is what determines our perception of reality and hence it differs across regions, countries and continents. I love certain aspects of my culture, the ruracio ceremony, the clothes, the language.. its all simple amazing but not perfect. This has been said before my the strong women in society but what harm does it do to ask it again? How can a culture so beautiful have so much disregard for women? Why is it that we are only noticed when labour is required, men are hungry or want to please themselves? It is a known fact that African culture bends over backwards in favour of the man child and despite there being changes in society, this characteristic is inherent in us so much so that should my brothers happen to make a mess in the house, I will be called from wherever I am to clean it up because I am a woman.
I used to be a firm believer in culture and the methods my parents used to raise us. I knew that when I did, by God’s grace, get the chance to raise my own family it would be in the same manner albeit with some modifications. Can you blame me though? I was ignorant having grown up and educated in an institution that is so close-minded that it teaches young girls to carry themselves in a way that avoid temptation of men and that exposing your shoulders regardless of the weather is not right in the eye’s of God. An institution that makes you believe you should stick it out with your husband even when things are bad and that women should not play football. On the other hand, men are taught that they are providers for the family and that they should protect and guard their family name. They are taught that women should be submissive to them and that is where the problem lies. It creates this ‘whatever I say goes’ mentality in their head from which stem a lot of problems. It makes them disregard the feelings of the women in society unless of course its their mother, sister, daughter or close relative (and this isn’t even always the case) and worse blind them to the fact that women are people as well.
Now all this may have worked pre-colonial era its all that they knew and it kept the society in harmony, but it cannot work now. The internet, International Business and cultural exchange have led to globalisation. We have and are increasingly becoming a global village, people are more educated and we are no longer (for the most part) embracing collectivism. So in as much as increased interaction with foreign cultures might make us cling harder to our own own, we must accept the fact that certain aspects of it must be left with our ancestors. Continuation of this culture can be through the languages, the food, the stories, the rites and rituals (some of them).
Having had the chance to experience more than one foreign culture has taught me one fundamental lesson; change will happen whether you like it or not, that does not mean we strive to fit in with everyone else. Instead, we should accept the change as it happens and adjust accordingly.
I am still fundraising for Wezesha Binti to keep 100 young girls in school in Busia County, Kenya. To read more follow the link: FUNDRAISING FOR WEZESHA BINTI
GoFundMe Page: Empower Girls through Wezesha Binti
M-Changa (for M-Pesa/ Airtel money) donations: Empower Girls through Wezesha Binti