Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Women’s Power is in motherhood

Research confirms that women are more powerful than they know. However, what they fail to mention is that women’s power is intrinsically tied to their role as mothers.  Women’s empowerment is not confined to the school buildings or high end offices. Their power lies in the most basic form…taking their role as mothers seriously and actually mothering, raising and caring for their boy children as they do for their girls. The slogan to free and empower women tomorrow can only be realized if women raise their boys today.
Homeschooling has taught me a lot. And what I recently learned is that when parents provide their children with the time and energy to raise them, your children will become exactly what you raised. If you put time and energy in providing materials for your children, they will grow to become people who value materials. It’s that simple. All the ancients said it. An African proverb states “kasava leaves cannot grow from the plantain tree.” This means that your children cannot bear fruits which you did not plant and nurture within them. Women cannot be free tomorrow if no one is making sure not to create potential tormentors today.
The old adage that women are their worst enemies is true in this context. We can either raise children who will respect and listen to us tomorrow, or leave them to persecute us tomorrow. By not raising our boys, we endanger the lives of other women around the world. Rape is the most common form of violence against women during turbulence.
It might seem anti modern or Western for a woman to applaud motherhood above a career, but this framework obviously has not helped the world. Let’s take a look at all the violence we are seeing: young boys ganging up to rape young girls on trains in India, boys beating and killing elders in their communities in Congo and other parts of Africa. And the list goes on.  Who raised those boys? What seeds were planted in those boys? I know from personal experience that no seeds were nurtured in my brothers. This is why they are all one bad move away from a prison sentence today. But they are not alone, that is why from America to Zimbabwe, the topic of boys causing violence is gaining attention. But the solution is not in providing them employment and getting them off the streets. The solution is in mothering.
Women, as mothers hold the key to not only transforming the future, but the people who make up our futures. In the hands of mothers, children learn how to be human beings. They learn how to treat others, how to be independent and the rules of right and wrong. However, Ghanaian women, like many women around the world, have been misled into believing that motherhood can be done by a Creche, a school or society. That they are not as pivotal as the Ancients stated. That women are mere carriers and not king makers. Let’s take a cue from the Asantehemaa. The king she chooses is the one who will listen, respect and always remember who made him. We are having children but not raising them to remember from where they came. No one is teaching our boys how to be human beings.
Who is raising the boys? Who teach them how to be independent? Who teach them right from wrong? Or how to live with others? Apparently no one is. We know this because during the time of every election in Ghana, politicians feel the need to talk to “boys” about not causing riots and violence. Why are they only speaking to the boys and not girls? Because they know, as we know, that boys are left to raise themselves. They are left to basically kill themselves and others if need be.
Women need to take back motherhood. We need to take it seriously. It’s the greatest job we have. To raise children who will become responsible and decent global citizens tomorrow. We do this by providing our children time to be with us. To watch us and to learn from us. But we need to realize that we have a valuable job. We need to know that our job today shapes the world tomorrow. For each child who is left to be raised by “society” we can add another potential rapist, murderer, or criminal to the list.
Children cannot be left to be raised by others. We know that. The lesson we are learning is that no one is raising our boys so they are causing havoc. It’s a cry for help like all tantrums.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013


 It was over 200 years ago that my ancestors united to secure their freedom and that of other Africans in Haiti. The fighting started from capture in West Africa. The struggle was not just political.
The revolution started in 1791. And even before freedom was won, Africans made known that their future freedom was going to be wholistic. That freedom had to include right to healthy food. As slaves, Africans were not allowed to eat certain foods deemed “reserved” for French and other Europeans. Some of these foods were corn, beans and squash, all first harvested by the Native Indian population. The diet of slaves, of course, consisted of foods thrown away by their masters. Foods such as tripe, intestines and other garbage that was not fit for Europeans to eat. Although Africans balanced their diet by growing small gardens, that was not suffice; especially considering the kind of labor they had to perform on a daily basis. Europeans were also masters of the food.
But on Dec. 31, 1803, a day before our complete independence from the French was inaugurated, Marie-Claire Heureusse Felicite (later Empress and wife of Dessalines) made squash soup. She made it to commemorate the history that these soldiers had shared while fighting; having claimed victory over eating the banned foods.  She chose squash because there was a history the soldiers all shared with this vegetable.  Some African soldiers had taken great pride in “pilfering” this vegetable from white gardens. We know this history was important to forming a new nation. It was a way to keep the memories of that period alive. And it was a story that further marked out freedom and break from French slavery.
This soup was also a slap to the French who used it as stuffing in pigs, turkeys and other birds. Turning squash into a soup was further upsetting to the French. This was because African cuisine, as slaves, was mostly soup style. Cooking in one pot meant everything went into that pot and turned out into a soup eventually. So soup or “all boil” foods was considered as African food. Felicite had now claimed squash as African food (over 70% of the Haitian population was African born at the time of slavery.) Her choice had let the French know, way before Steven Biko, that we “eat what we like.” And that we were no longer limited by their laws to eat foods they considered garbage.
Felicite became the mother of Haitian cuisine. Haitian cuisine was born out of politics. The Africans rejected the sorts of foods limited to them during slavery and began adopting foods that defined them as free and independent peoples. Not all of these foods were borrowed by the French considering how much pork was preferred by the French, but is only an occasional dish in Haiti. Fufu became a staple for Southerners.  As a Southerner, Felicite grew up eating Fufu, similar to the way the Akans eat it. But Fufu is a luxury food during a war. It takes time to prepare Fufu. Fighting a war means you need foods that cook quick and are easy to get. Okra, Chaka, mai Moulin, bouyon, swas pwa, Pwa Kongo, Pitimi, legumes all came to form Haitian national dishes. There are well over 10 national, and that’s a conservative estimate.
Choosing to use squash at this moment, and making into a soup tells us a bit about Felicite. We know she was bold. She was a risk taker. She did not hide behind authority nor did she believe the French her superior. She is one of the most understudied and most misunderstood women in Haitian history. After her divorce from Dessalines her named was “soiled” (by his friends and later by white historians trying to create an anti Dessalines bias in their books) as having protected whites from the Massacre.  There is no historical proof to that. She was “constructed” into his antithesis. But this is the same woman who had fed and nursed the revolutionaries. She kept her dignity and refused to pardon Dessalines for this breech even after his death. She preferred to live and die in poverty than take money for having been solely the wife of Dessalines.
Squash soup is eaten by all Haitians mostly on January 1, to honor our ancestors and to celebrate our independence. It is one of our national dishes, but eaten only once a year.
A Haitian new year starts off with soup on Independence Day. It brings good luck and a reminder of what we fought so much for...freedom!