Families – Day 16

Posted on March 18, 2012


(NB: I’ve been trying for the last hour to upload pictures of Isaac and Herbert, but the internet is not playing ball…..AAGGGHHHHHH!!!! So once I get back to Kampala and eventually London I will be uploading more pictures. Sorry there’s only copy for this post.)

I’ve always been a keen traveller. I love exploring different countries; meeting the locals and learning about new cultures. But sadly as a career girl I have never taken a trip that’s lasted more than 17 days due to work constraints. I left Blighty on March 1st and today is March 18th (I started blogging two days after landing). It’s the longest time I’ve been away from home and I feel like giving myself a huge pat on the back. It doesn’t feel that long as the days have zipped past, especially with a timetable like mine. Although I still can’t believe it’s taken me until the age of 36 to get off my backside and do something extraordinary; but I am so pleased I have. I’m even more delighted that I have the wholehearted support and encouragement of both The Notherner and my wonderful parents.

Last night Isaac and Herbert asked me why I haven’t got any children. Time and money are among the factors but there are also other reasons, which I am not going to go into. As in Asian families, I am an anomaly here in Africa. I should have had a huge brood by now, at least 6 to 8 kids tugging at my skirt, a house with land and a husband taking care of me. Isaac (28 years old) has seven siblings, an older brother and six sisters, the youngest is 16. I asked whether the reason for such large families was to do with infant mortality rates. He said no, it’s cultural. He added: “The more children you have the bigger your clan. The bigger your clan, the more security you have for your land and the more help you will have to manage your land. Africans like to have many children because as parents get older they also need to be cared for by their children. We look after our parents, we don’t put them in homes. Also for women it ensures their men stays with them.”

“But there’s no guarantee that a man will stay with you whether it’s here or in the UK. What happens if he leaves in the middle of night?” I argued.

“Impossible. With that many children, his family would pressurise him to stay and face his responsibility. Plus he cannot disappear to another part of Uganda, because people would ask questions where he is from. His accent, the way he looks would tell people which tribe he is from and the area. If he does not tell people then he would be treated badly as a “slave” given the worst jobs and poorly paid. So he has to stay with his family.”

I’m not entirely convinced, as Nancy was left alone, but then she wasn’t married; and her dad wasn’t around to exert some fatherly pressure too.

“Also poverty is an issue,” Herbert chipped in.

“Sorry I don’t understand“ I said. “Surely if you’re struggling you shouldn’t have so many children because you can’t afford to look after them.”

Herbert concluded: “Poverty in Africa means people can’t afford many things. So sex is the only joy we have.”

At which point we all burst out laughing as he delivered his statement so seriously.

Then Herbert quizzed me why I was not married. Again time and money factors were an issue I said, but also I feel a sort of duty to respect my father’s wishes as to the type of wedding I should have – especially as I am his only daughter. He would want a typical Indian wedding. You’re talking about a huge expense with hundreds of people possible 300 or more. I find the idea of spending that sort of money on one day very uncomfortable. But the more lavish, the better in the eyes of Asian people, I guess it signifies wealth and prosperity. It’s the complete opposite to what I would want. If I had my way it would be a small registry, our parents and siblings and maybe three close friends each followed by a dinner somewhere. More importantly The Notherner and I take our relationship very seriously, even if no-one else does. We live as a married couple that’s what counts, the only thing missing is a certificate.

Isaac told me most people in Africa get married in their 20’s. Herbert said his family can’t understand why he is doing a Masters when he should be looking for a wife. They are not considered to be men until they start a family. But here the financial pressure for the groom is immense.

In Asian culture the groom’s side expects a dowry from the bride’s family. This usually consists of money; they pick up the bill for the wedding and buy gifts for the in-laws such as Saris and gold jewelry. The reason is because traditionally the bride moves in with her new husband and his parents. The money is supposed to off-set the burden she brings by being an extra mouth to feed. Although in some cases in India the poor bride is made to work like a slave for her in-laws and her marriage is more like a jail sentence. In Africa it’s the opposite. The bride’s family receives the dowry from the groom because it shows he is capable of taking care of this new bride. And in a continent where poverty is rife the dowry is not cheap……around £13,000 (20 million Ugandan Shillings). The average wage is about £130 a month. Depending on the tribe, the contents of a dowry can vary. Herbert says in his clan he has to give 6 cows; 16 sheep; chickens; as well as paying for the wedding. Needless to say he is no rush to find a wife, the poor boy can’t even afford to buy a modem to connect to the internet as a struggling student, let alone cough up that amount of cash. Interestingly he told me he’s looking for a Muzungu (foreigner) because people treat mixed couples with more respect and the African men are given better opportunities. It’s a shame that he sees foreigners as a way to better his existence in Uganda, but I empathise, even if I don’t approve of his reasons.

Isaac tells me more and more young people are co-habiting because getting married is so expensive and people are now getting married later in life, in their 30s. It’s not acceptable to bypass a traditional African wedding, so couples are waiting until they get good jobs before tying the knot.

I hope the boys will find happiness with whoever they decide to share their lives with. They are both intelligent, caring and fun young men who I have no doubt will make good fathers too.