By Wana Udobang
The walls of my mother’s living room are littered with photographs, photographs of all of us five children and my niece Ellie. One photograph in particular I find intriguing that it still has a space on the wall. It is a portrait of my family, including my mother and father. In the image, my mother’s left hand is placed firmly across her thighs. Her wedding and engagement rings gleam into the shot owning as much presence as every other individual in the frame.
A few years after that particular portrait was taken, my parents’ marriage fell apart. It’s been almost 16 years since the volatile separation and I was curious as why my mother would have a photograph of a man she had unfavourable experiences with, decorate her wall. So I ask her, wondering if she still feels some emotional connection towards him or perhaps was overwhelmed with a hint of nostalgia when she moved to this apartment.
She tells me that the reason she has the image up, is so that people do not say to her in our language, “ama yum idep ke isong” — that she was impregnated by the earth.
I didn’t quite understand the expression “to be impregnated by the earth.” So she explains that she didn’t want people deducing that her children were either from different men or didn’t have a father, just because there was no man in the house.
When I went into her bedroom, I noticed a wedding band and an engagement ring on the table. I knew they weren’t the same as those in the family portrait because those had been taken from her during a robbery attack on a Christmas Day. These were replacements. So again I asked why she went through the stress of getting replacement rings even though she wasn’t married anymore. She responded again explaining that she didn’t want people showing signs of disrespect towards her because she didn’t have a husband.
Though I found it all amusing, I understood my mother’s quandary because despite the paradigm shift and generational progression, in these parts some cultural norms are unshakable.
Since moving back to Lagos after 10 years in Britain, I have met a lot of people who tell me without much subtlety that all that is left for my life to be complete is to be married and have children.
Whilst at work hosting the drive time show, I receive frequent prayers from the listening audience bestowing on me a miraculous husband and a December wedding in ostentatious Nigerian style. The need for the debauched soiree is to celebrate my passage and complete crossover into womanhood. Because without that husband, every piece of hard work and achievement is deemed irrelevant, in fact the supposed reason for my achievements, are to create a better appeal for a highest bidder and depending on how fast my biological clock is ticking, any bidder at all would do. Essentially, getting a husband would be my only notable accomplishment. It will take me from child to adult, girl to woman.
On a certain day, standing in for one of my colleagues on his program, the topic for discussion circled around the need for fathers to get actively involved in their children’s lives as opposed to the traditional segregated roles of mothers as nurturers and primary care givers and fathers relegated to the vault of providers or ATM machines as some insinuated. At the end of the program, I received a text message stating: “Please stop talking like an authority figure since you are not married, but keep up the good work anyway”
It wasn’t the first time I had received such messages, and these sort of comments had made me start to streamline the kinds of subjects I put out to be discussed, consequently affecting the creative aspects of my job.
On my birthdays, my mother calls me at 6 a.m. She prays for me and tells me how proud she is of all my accomplishments. But last year on my 26th birthday, she called at 2 a.m. This time she didn’t pray, she gave a long piece of rhetoric about how it was time for me to get married and settle down. She added that she was tired of people implying that there was something wrong with my sister and I, as the marriage cards didn’t seem to fall within our horizon yet, and we were running out of time. So my mother’s birthday phone call was a plea to release myself, to anyone who was interested in acquiring me as his wife.
Though we barely have any federal statistics on marriages and divorces, largely based on observation, divorce rates are on the rise in Nigeria like a lot of other first world countries. A lot of conservative and traditionalist Nigerians seem to blame it on the importation of Western culture and the more cosmopolitan generation but fail to acknowledge the dangers of imposing traditional beliefs and cultural marriage philosophies on an evolving society. There is also a strong disregard for individuality forcing a lot of young people into situations that they are either ill equipped for, or shouldn’t get involved with in the first place.
Though my personal thoughts shift towards the credence that not every woman will be married, and not every woman should, and the same applies to having children. But all I tell my mother is when the right bidder comes along, she will be the first to be informed and that keeps her shut, at least for now.
This article was originally published in the Huffington Post