Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Children belong to the father...or do they? Part 2

Before sundown that day, the dust-covered minivan carrying Hawah pulled into a swarming auto station in the town of Kani, toward the northern edge of Cote d'Ivoire. She climbed down and hung her luggage straps to her shoulder. It was a single satchel containing all she now owned in this world, two sets of clean clothes, an additional pair of shoes, her national identity card and a CFA 500 francs bill safely tucked in the folds of a weathered clutch. In the clutch, she also carried a folded envelop, a letter from her in-laws - ex in-laws - to her parents.

She walked the three mile distance to her parents' home where her unexpected arrival sparked a joyous clamor quickly followed by concerns. She showered, ate and remained in the room she once shared with her sisters. It now served as a storage and occasional guests room. Right after sunset prayer her father sent for her. She reached for the letter in her clutch and inserted it into her bras. 

Outside, a small assembly had already formed. Her mother and her sister wife - her father's other wife - sat side by side, a similarly afflicted demeanor on both their faces. Beside them, Madinah, one of Hawah's aunts mouthed a greeting and invited her to the stool near hers. Her paternal uncle was present along with another man from the community. 

"I invited you people here today as family and also as witnesses because I think something grave has happened," Sirima, Hawah's father began. 
"May God protect us," his brother replied. 
"Hawah has arrived here earlier today. I haven't heard from our in-laws ahead of time and none of us has called for her. So something is going on." Sirima paused and turning to his daughter, he asked, "Hawah, did they commission you with a message?"
"Yes," Hawah mouthed. Slowly, she reached for her camisole and pulled the envelop out.
"You are the literate one, so read it!" her uncle said.  

Hawah's arm folded reluctantly back toward her. Her trembling fingers fumbled and scrunched the paper until it finally opened. She cleared her throat, planted her elbows into her lap to gain control over her tremors, then she began. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Children belong to the father...or do they?

Note: The following is a short story I'll deliver in a couple of short posts. It needs no special foreword only that I'm interested in your comments and your opinion on who children belong to should it come to picking one parent over the other. How is this matter decided in your culture? Stay tuned!

"I'm prepared to leave but I need my son," Hawah murmured.
"Who? Your son? Sedi is going nowhere," Bakoro, her mother-in-law cried out.
"But I can't leave him behind."
"Oh, you sure will. You're being divorced. Sedi is staying with his family."
"But I'm his mother, Bakoro."
"My son is his father." Bakaro's words fell, blunt like the open palm she raised and dropped down like a hatchet.
Hawah's eyes puddled with tears. From the wooden stool she crouched on, she had a profile view of her husband, Manda, languid as always. Never spoken up for himself since she'd known him. He sat there without a word even at his own divorce hearing. He was the epitome of the submissive child, now submissive man. He grew up in his parents shadow, especially his mother's. He toed the line even when she blinked. She decided what he needed and obeyed. He was debilitated by his self abandon to her that most people thought he was mentally handicapped. So when his parents found him a wife, he went along. Hawah showed up, tall, light skinned with a finely sculpted facial structure, freshly pull out of school by parents who believed that the dignity of a woman was in marriage. He was so intimidated that he always acted clumsily with her but somehow he managed to have a son by her, throwing one more being under Bakoro's rule. His hunched back remained of stone as his mother ranted on.
"My grandson isn't budging. Did you bring a child with you when you came?"
"Bakaro, please, calm down." The man who spoke was one of three elders who came to settle the divorce. They shared the divan with Hawah's uncle. Across from them, sitting beside his father on a bench, Manda still gawked at the ground beneath his feet. "Ndeh, my daughter, everything has an end but Almighty God's reign. It is the conclusion of this assembly that it is the end of your marriage to Manda. You'll have to return to your parents' house. The boy will stay here," the man added, caressing his short salt-and-pepper beard. His words were calm and serious.
"Eh, Bah, please beg them not to do this to me," Hawah wailed.
"Ndeh, children belong to their father. That's our custom," he said - his voice slightly cracking in the face of her pain.
Hawah slid to the ground. She moaned the sound of a wounded soul. Her pleading eyes ran to Bakaro sitting by the living room exit. This woman she had cooked and cleaned for day and night sat, lips curved in despise. Beyond her, she could see other women in the midst of their usual conjectures by the well outside in the courtyard. Her world was crumbling around her. She crawled toward her mother-in-law.
"Ndeh, there is no point in this. God's will is greater. You need to accept it," another one of the elders said. "Get ready, a taxi will transport you to the bus station."


Being strong is having one's feet firmly planted in the soil beneath us, our values, mores and customs. Hence, the sky becomes the limit.
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Sunday, November 27, 2011


The above was the prompt in our class a few weeks ago. My piece went like this:

At the end of the street was a narrow alleyway. We were not allowed there as children. Most adults didn't go there and none wanted to be seen in the vicinities. Some did venture behind the formerly white cement wall now rendered ochre by the flying dust from the unpaved road nearby.

They were men. Oftentimes, they went there at night but sometimes they did in bright daylight. They all acted the same way. They'd appear to wander past the compound, with no mind to the dusty walls and what bellies behind it. But you could always tell by the way they casted furtive glances to their surroundings. Then they'd suddenly turn into the gateless courtyard through a small entrance.

I knew it. I saw them. Like most children I watched the comings and goings of those men and I giggled. My mom hated them. She said that they needed to learn to control their pants. I wasn't sure what she meant but I think I knew. The mini skirts behind the mysterious dusty wall were telling.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Male Ear Piercing in Africa

A woman without ear piercing doesn't exist in my culture. Perhaps I need to be less categorical. Members of my ethnic group, the Soninke, have spread to far reaching corners of the world. I have cousins in Szechuan China, Sydney Australia and God knows where. I heard of a relative in Norway. I wonder how he survives; our roots are in the sweltering Sahel Desert and it's hard enough for me to survive the "play-winter" in North Carolina.

Back to our subject, ear piercing is a must for women in my culture. By their seventh day of life, every little girl takes a trip to the mean lady who runs needles through their fleshy lobes  and the ones of rare little boys too.

So yes, I lied to fend off repeated request from one of my sons. I told him piercings are forbidden for boys in our culture. He knows the truth now and understands it. Boys' piercings have special meanings and are generally a single hole to one ear. They do not wear a ring in it.

The only pierced man in my family was my father's oldest brother. Sometime during early childhood, he was said to have been struck by a deadly disease. His ear was pierced as a ritual to cast maleficent spirits away. He lived well into his eighties sporting a pierced right lobe envied by the males in our family's younger generations.

Male piercing for most ethnic groups in West Africa is a sort of talisman performed only in critical situations to avert evil and sometimes to attract good fortune. It's never for looks!!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On The Other Side

On the other side was my writing prompt from yesterday. I had arrived late to class and had no option but to write something brief and hopefully make sense. Here is what my pen laid on paper.

ON THE OTHER SIDE, freedom. She was married off at age thirteen. Her first baby showed up sixteen months later. Not even forty days after that, he tore through her and laid his seeds; two this time. Nine months later, twin boys arrived. She didn't love them, neither did she love the daughter before them, all fruits of his loins.

For seven painfull years, she squirmed under his sweaty body every night. Early on, she'd learned to retrieve behind the curtains of her mind from the first thrust up her belly. She would go the market, cook and clean, all in her head to forget his panting visage over hers. For her, he had remained a stranger, a stranger her parents had shacked her to, till death and death was were she was headed, for freedom on the other side.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Boss

The Boss was a prompt I was given in one of my writing classes. Here is what I came up with.

He's not the boss of me. He thinks he is. Parading his beer belly in the usual overstretched Saharan shirt, the buttons of which threatened to fly off with every chuckle, he patted a space beside him on the sofa.
"Sit down," he said. His breathing menaced to choke him.
He had money from here to Monaco and back, and two beautiful wives at home but still chased after countless young women like me. I know it but I don't care.
God has created only one of my dad's kind of men. The rest is an ignominious bunch of pigs. The neighbor who tucked his hand under my pretty flowered shirt when I was five, maybe six.
My uncle who once tried to wrestle me to his bed when I was just giving him a peck on the cheek. What about my father's own friend who lured us to his house when his berry trees bent under the weigh of their ripened fruits. And oh, my fourth grade teacher who touched my nascent breasts. They all must pay.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


I walked into my writting class a couple of Mondays ago where my instructor handed out the following prompt: Legitimate Praise
When I put pen to paper, I instantly free fell into the pain I felt for a long time after my father's passing. Needless to say, I never got to the "praise" part of the assignment but here is what I penned that day.

Just fresh dirt, a mound of dark red, pebble riddled dirt. Underneath my father. No headstone, not flowers, nothing. There he was shrouded from my eyes forever. My father, the man who unknowingly gave me the best gift in the world. He gave me the the gift of education, in a culture where the white men's school was taboo, the way straight to hell even for a male child, left alone a girl.

I wanted to be here. My mothers had attempted to dissuade me.
"Women don't got to grave sites," they said.
"I'm going," I responded. It was the first time I had ever raised my voice to them. They took notice.
"Well, then wear a pair of pants under your Jelbab. The deads should not see under your clothes when you step over their graves."

This is where the timer stopped the fifteen minute prompt writing. It was painful for me and still is, as I'm copying my work to this post. Too painful to edit, too painful to finish. I will someday but for now here it is. To a father who was really one...

Saturday, July 9, 2011

OSUSU, A Traditional Way Of Saving In Africa

Growing up, I knew it as tontine - the adapted french word or parri  a local word for this age old practice on the African continent. A friend told me it  was called Osusu in Nigeria. I immediately liked how the word sounded, hence the title of this post.

For generations, women in Africa have assembled in clubs - small or large - once a week, once every two weeks or once a month. It's an opportunity to socialize over good food and music, more importantly to collect contributions for members.

The contribution amounts are set and equal for everyone. They are generally nominal - 500, 1000, 2000 CFA - amounts reflecting the financial means of the women in the club, roughly 1 to 4 US dollars. They can be much substantial for women of more capable means. Some clubs collect wax print fabric instead. All the collection for one meeting is remitted to the person in line on a predetermined order tracked by the administrator and president.

Parri, as I've known it since childhoold, is a traditional mean of saving for African women. Women use the monies or fabrics collected to begin businesses, clothe their children and themselves, and save for the future of their families. Nowadays, the system has expanded to include some men clubs and has developped in big business in many African countries.

If you have knowledge of such associations in other countries, I'd like to hear from you. Please, share they appelation you have for it and how it works. Our world is amazing. It's always a joy to hear about the way other cultures live their daily lives.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I'm BACK!!!!

Dear readers,

I had to pull back and consecrate more time to finishing my first novel. It's done! SAFFRON HAPPY is completed. I'm delighted to share a summary of it with you. It goes as follows:

When his motorbike repair shop shuts down, a husband takes the controversial decision to join his wife at her roadside doughnut stand from which she was financially supporting the family for months. Illiterates and a minority in a mostly polygamous society, this one husband and one wife team maneuver their way through rigid social norms, interesting interpersonal relations and the desire to provide their children with opportunities they themselves never had. My novel is set in the Ivory Coast and takes the reader on a journey through the joys and tribulations of daily lives, cultural beliefs and practices, and family dynamics common to many countries in West Africa.
I look forward to have it published and share the exciting story with all of you.
Thank you for your support!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The African Head Wrap

The head wrap - with it's varying colors and shapes - often times is an essential clothing item that inject a zing in an African woman's accoutrement. However, it is more than just another garment in most countries in Africa. In Muslim areas, it is a requirement for all females, young or old, in addition to or in lieu of the flowing scarf head cover.

Moreover, just like the red dot sported by women in India and a couple other East Asian countries, the scarf is sign of marital status. Women in several west African countries are required to wear a head wrap at all times -except in their own room or within the familial house - once they get married. Still widely respected, this practice nevertheless is being less and less observed by the younger generations. A great number of women sport head wraps not because of the cultural or religious requirement but simply as a fashion statement. They come up with creative ways to tie exceptionally gorgeous fabric pieces into amazing head gears.

Link to head wrap images below


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Debate About Makeup For Tweens

When the news broke about Geogirl, a new Walmart makeup line for girls eight to twelve years of age, beyond the heated debate about the appropriateness of cosmetics at an age range considered young by most, I was thrusted into my past as a young girl growing up in Africa.

Most African babies' experience with makeup begins when they are just a few days old. Mothers will bathed their babies and regardless of their gender, they would line their bottom eyelids with hand mashed kohl liner. The practice will go on until the baby starts walking. For baby boys, generally that is the end of it but for girls, persistent mothers will continue embellishing their eyes on a daily basis. For the wide majority of mothers, the practice will become only occasional.

The girls will be re-introduced to eyeliners and even subtle lipstick for some, right around twelve or thirteen. For most of them in today's date, this is a rehearsal for their life as women. In more traditional communities, mothers train their daughter to make themselves up to attract the attention of prospective husbands.

Makeup for young girls is not considered outrageous for tweens in Africa unless it is shockingly colorful. Traditional African makeup is characterised by its subtlety.