The valiant one has come to stem the flow of sorrow. My brother’s name means that because he was born after all our grandparents died.
We grew up listening to stories about how great our grandparents were. How they used to discipline our Mum and her brothers, how Dad’s father pioneered education in his family. I just used to lament not getting the fabled boiled sweets that seemed to litter the stock image of grandparents in English Literature. But I never really mourned them – how could I, I never knew them.
Yet there is something, in my experience, of a pan-African culture whereby family, unity and community are foundational and incomparable. Everyone is your Aunty, everyone is your Uncle, and they can all and will all beat you just as much as your parents if you even so much as toe the line.
Perhaps prone to morbid fantasies, I have imagined what it would be like if my own parents died. They’re quite old but certainly don’t look it, and I am soberly aware that they may never see my children – although I fervently pray they will. Yet I could not imagine the pain, the heartbreak and the frustration to see my parents, as ‘old’ as they are, unable to recognize my face, my voice, my laugh. Unable to chastise me – or at least threaten to. How does one deal with a sensation such as that, with a reality such as that?
Sometimes I torment myself with the fear that my children might never meet my Father. Might never be subjected to one of his infamous after dinner lectures, or be coerced into listening to a dictation in order to watch his new DVD. They may never have my Mum waking them up with songs, before slapping a wet flannel over their bellies when they still refuse to wake up. They might never be witness to their wisdom, their stories; my Father’s attempt to tell a funny story which always ends in a nonsensical rasping choke as he wheezes out laughter instead of lucidly communicating his humor ( a trait I am proud to also portray.).
Yet there is something within the pan-African culture whereby family, unity and community are paramount. There is, when the opportunity is available, an unsettling respect for the elderly. Unsettling in comparison to the absolute lack of respect I know is shown back home to all those who bear freedom passes and often blue rinse their hair.
The fervent, fierce and proud love that I saw in my last weekend before I set off to help ‘build community’ and express compassion and empathy, bore a tiny hole deep into the valves of my heart. It taught me about the reverent respect I was also encouraged to show to my parents, yet my peers where pleaded too. I saw a love, which though it couldn’t be tangibly reciprocated, within the fractured mind of a half forgotten dream was deeply appreciated.
There is something within the pan-African culture whereby family, unity and community are respected – and it is only in that vein that a progressive vision for that continent might prosper.