It takes a Village in Africa

it takes a Village in Africa

 

It takes a Village in Africa

I got out of my four-wheel drive Toyota and walked toward the Sunset Hotel. It had been a long and exhausting drive from Kampala, the border crossing took two hours in spite of some bribes and I just wanted to sit on the balcony, drink a cold Tusker's Beer and view the glorious sunset over Lake Victoria and the ensuing thunderstorms  over the lake.It Takes a Village in Africa

As I walked across the lobby I was greeted by a friend of mine, Charles.  He was smiling from ear to ear, and shouted "come and meet my new wife."  Hmm, I had met his old wife, so what was this all about? 

As I sat down with him and his new wife, Charles told me that his brother had died and he had inherited this new wife of his.  It was a Luo custom, and before one rejects such a concept based on Western values one should take a closer look.  In Africa, a widow would have a hard time trying to make ends meet, so in the wisdom of tribal elders, there came the concept of wife inheritance.  Not only in this tribe but in many others as well.  (The negative side today is that often the former husband died of AIDS, his wife is also infected and now it is passed on to the brother and his current wife.)  The thought and wisdom is that it is the responsibility of the family, of the clan, the tribe, the village to take careof those who have a deep need.  We in the West can look at such a practice and call this or that without realizing that the real reason for it, is an act of compassion and commitment to vows made to other family members and meeting the need at hand.

Some years ago I heard the a song performed by some Ugandan children entitled "In Africa - it takes a village to raise a child."  Life in Africa as I have seen it does involve the village, the tribe, the clan, the family. Over and over have I seen individuals and families demonstrate this spirit in every part of life.  Charles in Kisumu is only one example of this.  As I sit here typing away I can think of many others who have shown that a string of wool alone cannot accomplish it, but weave them together and you have a tapestry of unity and togetherness of a village working together in the spirit of the Swahili word, Harambee.   

Rose lived just down the lane from me in Makindye, a neighborhood in Kampala.  She lived in a house without electricity, no water, and other facilities we take for granted.  Her husband had died of AIDS some years earlier he had contracted in an affair.  Yet, in spite of it all, Rose did not live alone.  She was surrounded by about 10 AIDS orphans, children she had taken on from her extended family.  She told me it was her duty as their mother.  She was not their physical mother, but in her society even if the real mother was alive as an aunt  she would be called that by her children.

I have also seen this spirit with people who were not related by family but because they were living in the same village.  There is a sacred duty of caring for those who cannot help themselves.  No matter what tribe, no matter what country in East Africa, the same spirit exists.

If you meet an African here in the United States or another country in the West, you might find out, that this person sends home on regular basis money so that nieces and nephews can go to school, that other family members back home might share in the prosperity that this person in the West is enjoying, no matter what kind of job they might hold.

I have written about this woman before.  She lives in a town called Lira in Northern Uganda.  She has seen her husband die, her oldest son die in a governmental overthrow, she has lost home and property and yet she is a woman proud of her inheritance.  The inheritance being her family, her status as a matriarchal leader in the village.  This was something I saw readily when I arrived to her home, and all kinds of people came to call on her, I had brought some gifts, which she immediately shared with others in the village.

Weddings in Africa, like everywhere are expensive, and yet there is a grand celebration even if there are not many financial resources.  Before the wedding the families and friends, neighbors from the village or neighborhood come together for a dinner, at which time they commit themselves and resources they might have to make the wedding successful.

Funerals happen often in countries like Uganda.  Drive along Entebbe road in Kampala and you will see countless of shops with wooden caskets, many of them for children.  You will see families come and buy one and take it home on their bicycle.  Attend the funeral and you will see the whole family coming together, the village standing as one with them in this time of grief.

In the West we can live alone, not know our neighbors, we can live in a town, have an address but not know or be known by the village.  In Africa the village is the soul of life.  This does not change in the town, the neighborhoods simply become mini villages where people come together in the evening drinking their homebrew and share their dreams, hopes, sad stories, dance and rejoice that they know others with whom they might share and are known.

You can see this spirit when one of their own graduates from University, the village turns up at graduation and rejoices with those who rejoice.  You can see it at the airport when someone from the village returns or leaves.  The whole village turns out to say goodbye or hello.

We all need that village, in our society in the West, the village often takes the form of the government but there is the absence of the spirit of the village, the absence of a soul that is alive and breathing, not just an institution that functions by legislation.

I have asked countless of children in Africa, what they wanted to do in their lives.  Their answers have been very similar.  "I want to be a lawyer or  a doctor, a businessman to help my family, to bring water to my village, to help my grandmother, all answers with the realization burned into the African soul, "It does take a village."  Ask any child in Africa...jon.

Westerners have aggressive problem-solving minds -  Africans experience people.
      - attributed to Kenneth Kaunda

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