It takes a village to raise a child
It takes a whole village to raise a child, or so they say.
This is probably one of the most wide spread and well known African proverbs out there. But what does it really mean? Of course we know that parents as primary guardians can only influence our world view to a certain extent. Social environment and our cultural surrounding equally shape our character and mind set but I think there is more to it. Most commonly in a village, every one knows everyone. Furthermore, due to its small population probably most people living in villages have a closer relation to their extended family and grow up with more relatives compared to residents of urban dwellings. Now what happens to people who move from city to city as a “modern” global citizen? Will you even have a single relative in your surrounding? What about our parents or grandparents who left their country of origin many years ago?
As a small kid I always wished my mother could have been Turkish instead of Zambian. Don’t get me wrong, I was always proud to be Zambian and I always enjoyed the little access to Zambian culture we had in Berlin but seeing how easy it was for the Turkish community to live their culture was something I really envied. Being in Berlin you find Turkish culture EVERYWHERE!! Turkish communities in Berlin have access to Turkish food, restaurants, music, movies, language school, bilingual schools and kindergarten…even just the tickets to dash over for a long weekend are almost nothing compared to €900 return ticket fare that are the average price to fly from Berlin to Lusaka and we don’t even a direct flight line. (The last direct fight line was shut down in the 80’s.) For many Turkish descendant families it is common to grow up with their cousins and aunties and uncles and all types of relations and relatives. I always wanted that but Zambians….our community is so small that the food closest to our own is in Afro shops filled with West African foods. Within my immediate surrounding I only know of two Zambian families where Grandparents, parents, aunties and uncles, and grandchildren live in the same city. Two!! In all of Berlin. And mine is one of them, although in this constellation I am the aunt. I am not the one who has an aunt and that is something so vital in many African cultures. That network and geographical family set up is the village they refer to.
Many African cultures share a similarity in the importance of extended family as in Zambia. Many cultural and traditional teachings and details are passed on through the siblings of parents rather than directly between parents and their children. Your parents’ siblings are set equal to your parents and your cousins are set equal to your siblings. In the events of an untimely death, integrating into a “new” family set up is not as difficult, because technically, you already have a “spare set” of parents and siblings. Nonetheless, families find different ways to strengthen that bond. One of my grandmothers for example made sure that each school holiday all the children and grandchildren were shuffled around and would stay with different cousins and aunties or uncles. Unfortunately I was never part of that shuffle because I lived in Germany and by the time I lived in Zambia, I was shuffling between my friends’ houses because I lived in rural Zambia and as a young restless teen I obviously wanted to enjoy the thrills of night clubs, parties and the social lifestyle of Lusaka aka LSK. So I was clearly way too busy living "la vida" to start hoping from family farm to family farm. So I still kind of fell half way into the pit of not having my extended family completely integrated within my immediate surrounding and I certainly notice the gaps in hindsight.
Looking back, it was probably any topic regarding intimate subjects, including waist beads that was way too awkward for my mom to seek a conversation before I became an adult. By now we are very close and don’t have many barriers regarding diverse topics but when I was a teen…oh man… we were both pretty awkward I guess. But I also didn’t have an aunty or older cousin who sat me down and just explained things or checked in with me, at least not any sensible ones. Eventually, I picked up a few things my mother didn’t adress directly here and there from friends and cousins or even those aunties who are not even your relatives but they are still like a sister to your mom and mother to you…you know the ones I mean right?
It is only now in my adult phase of live where I could see the importance and also the repercussions resulting from this lack of family infrastructure surrounding me. It really made me wonder, what more those who have African parents but never set foot in their parents' countries of origin? Those that have never even met their parents’ siblings or cousins? What about those of us whose have parents who have no contact to their own relatives for whatever reason and it’s literally impossible to create any type of relationship? Who fills the void of educating or passing down tradition? I think that is exactly where so many things get lost. Because it is intrinsic to many African cultures that traditions are passed on by people other than your parents, but if your parents leave their home country alone and have no other relatives supporting them or taking on the role they would typically be assigned to…no wonder there is such a discrepancy between us "diaspora kids" and our parents and such a vast misunderstanding. The village that would usually raise us is not around us.
Now the question is how do we fill that gap with what we have available? Obviously nobody has the type of money to start getting every one of our relatives to come here plus foreign policy and just the whole immigration debate between the western world and any African country is just…pssshhhh…let’s not even go there! So we came up with a concept of how we could emulate these conversations, at least regarding waistbeads and started our IGTV explorer series where we hop from country to country and try to explore the meanings or waist beads in various African traditions. So far we have covered topics regarding waist beads in Zambia, Gambia, Kenya, Ghana and Angola. Obviously there are still many more countries we will cover and even within each country many more communities we wish to explore but at least it is a start. It is us empowering ourselves by creating platforms that give us “diaspora kids” access to this type of knowledge. It helps us discover similarities and differences, it allows us to connect amongst our selves but also with our history and traditions. It allows us to find out more about our heritage no matter how many generations ago, how far away or how long ago our ancestors left. It gives us tools to raise ourselves and our own children….even when don't have the village immediately surrounding us.