Saturday, 19 January 2013

Women: Different Clime, Different Style

Sometimes late last year I went to the international airport to welcome a friend who was visiting Nigeria from Kenya. In the course of our discussion, we delved into the life of renowned Kenyan woman, late Professor Matthai Wangari whose voice championed the survival of thousands of trees in Kenya. Matthai Wangari was well respected in Africa and outside the continent. She won the noble peace prize for her outstanding contributions towards a green world devoid of pollution.

I was compelled to ask my guest John, “whether Professor Wangari’s activism was responsible for her marriage collapse?” He answered in the affirmative and added that who would want to marry another man, when he is not gay?" I was shocked to get such a response about a woman I so much admired.
John explained to me that men were getting tired of the level of activism among African women that is beginning to change their perception about marriage and family life.

"Women these days want to be in the forefront of everything. They fight for their right outside the home and still come home to fight for their right with you. We want more wives, mothers, ladies and not activists or women who act as macho-men".
"They want to share everything with you even in paying the bills. When I was a child I was taught and knew that the man was the head of the family and he provides for the home. But these days’, women tell you they are partners with you mean co-share, co-worker, co-everything. They drag and argue about everything just to prove a point, that they are educated and civilized. See what these has done to the so called western-civilized societies, divorce in marriage is like sleeping and waking up. Marriage is meant to be a lifetime decision but civilisation has changed the concept of marriage among our women", John concluded with a mild bitterness on his face.

That was an African brother's view of gender, activism, civilization and marriage. But it was a different story when I sampled the same opinion among some Africans in the United States.

"Women are helpmates and they support the home" said Chima Okolie who is married to a Hispanic lady. "Your wife is not your slave but your partner in progress. Where there is love and understanding the concept of marriage would be intresting to you", he delightfully said.

Imagine Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State and there are rumours that she might contest as President of the United States in the next election. But that is a near impossible dream in Africa. Africa has two female presidents, in Liberia and Malawi. If we position our women and give them a chance to contribute to national development, we will stop seeing them as competitors, slaves, rather as partners in progress."Women have more rights than men in America, oh! Don’t mess around a woman anyhow in this country, if you don’t want to go to jail" Chima stressed.

There is no limit nor discrimination to the level a woman attain in America. Women do all manner of jobs. For example, the shuttle bus that took me from Logan Airport in Boston to Massachusetts was driven by a woman. Can you imagine a woman driving something like the “BRT/LAGBUS” in Lagos? Or women repairing your car and fixing your plumbing jobs in your house? As John Lennon sang, imagine there is no country; also imagine a world where women had no barriers to the level they want to achieve. That would mean the eradication of Millennium Development Goal MDG three to five.

Greener Pastures

Some years ago, a particular music was very popular in Port Harcourt one of Nigeria's oil cities. The song was titled landlord travel and see which talked about how other landlords in other parts of Nigeria were building and developing their houses.

I decided to use this as an intro to this story because most times people are swayed about the illusive idea of leaving Nigeria to settle somewhere else. This has brought about circumstances where people see traveling out of the country as a career path or ambition. While growing up and schooling in the South-East of Nigeria, it was very common to have one person in a family/clan making effort to check out. Then Cameroun/Gabon was the popular destination for most Mbaise people as hundreds of young men/teenagers who left the shores of Nigeria for their dream future.

Revelations have it that they went through deadly paths; like over-loaded boats, ship and even the Sahara desert to enter these countries. I can remember vividly how my classmate in secondary school was said to have lost her dad in a ship mishap off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Then buying and selling was the common occupation of the Mbaise people who travelled to these countries. At festive periods families and relatives would wait patiently for the return of their loved ones who would come home only to dazzle everyone with gifts, cars and new building projects. At times some of these people marry women from these foreign places as I can remember, I have some of my distant relatives who had names like Chantal, Chuchu, Mimi amongst others, all symbolizing mixed local and foreign parentage.

Apart from those that I witnessed at my secondary school days, there were also ladies who were swept off their feet by these men who lived in places like South Africa, America, and Europe etc. In my university days, there was this slogan “onwu onye ame , south or o na gba china”, meaning the guy lives in America, South Africa or China. Many ladies were easily married to these guys.

I spoke with a long-lost friend in my university days, Oluchi Ezike who schooled in Abia State University ABSU, but now lived in Italy with her husband and daughter. I chatted with Oluchi via Skype for over an hour and she told me how, many Nigerians always want to travel abroad without that knowing life there is not easy getting a job. According to her, Italians would first offer jobs to their citizens before considering other applicants. She described an average Italian as a racist who doesn’t give a damn. When most Nigerians want to return home they go to the bank to borrow money because visiting Naija is like a project. They borrow as much as ten thousand Euros’. This money Oluchi explained is used to come and show off but this does not depict there true state of living in Europe. She described Italy, Spain and Greece as dream killing overseas nations. In her words it is very hard for foreigners to succeed in these countries because their own economy is dying gradually. I can’t wait to relocate to another country she told me. "If you earn #150,000 in Nigeria monthly, you don’t need to travel abroad" Oluchi advised. Things are not easy down here, the only thing may be because the countries are developed and have good basic amenities like roads, electricity, healthcare facilities, and schools. But apart from these, there is nowhere like Naija she declared.

In the United States recently, I spoke also with some Nigerians who were filled with mixed reactions. Some expressed emotion about home but they say the absence of basic amenities is making life unbearable for Nigerians at the moment. According to them healthcare facilities are better called no-care. Bad roads continue to snuff lives out of Nigerians. Epileptic power supply continues to frustrate many out of business and insecurity is on the high side. "I was scared of returning home because of the level of violence and insecurity" said Desmond who has lived in America for about a decade. Though live is not really easy here but the Nigerian factors are more discouraging. Imagine my home Naija is now a country where people throw bombs like fire crackers. It pains our heart when we hear all what is happening back home. Do you know Nigerians do very well when they live abroad but back home it is as though they can’t do anything right?

For Mama Cynthia, a mother of two who also resides in the States “we work hard here in America because we get value for our money. You work and you are paid hourly not as in Nigeria where workers’ salaries goes unpaid for months. How do you expect them to survive? In the States you are expected to work an average of eight hours per day but at times we do two jobs and run sixteen – twenty four hours shift. My Dear it is worth the stress, when you see your pay cheque, you smile even though you have bills to pay, you are still able to save some money to take back home”.

Amaka Onyeabor a nurse also told me that after some while she would relocate to Nigeria to contribute her quota to national development. You can’t live all your live outside your country. There is the pride and satisfaction to return home. As an Ibo woman I can’t allow anybody to bury me in this strange land. I will want to rest finally at home with my people. In a bid to survive and have legal document many foreigners after which if the love is still there they continue in the marriage, if not the men either return home to marry proper Naija women.
Uzo Nkwocha who has lived in different countries in his search for greener pastures explained that the culture in this place is quite different from home. Your child is not really you child but the property of the government. You can’t beat your child, if not, child welfare could take the child from you or you go to jail. The way kids are brought up here is in sharp contrast with our home culture. That is why many Nigerians always send their kids back home on holidays for them to appreciate our culture and norms. If not, your own child can put you in trouble with the law in all these developed societies. My advice for anybody thinking of leaving Nigeria in search of greener pastures is what are you coming to do here? What skills/knowledge, academic qualification do you possess?

I believe Nigeria will change and I am planning to return home to settle, he told me. Reports have it that many Nigerian immigrants leave there countries with false hope and are surprised to find out that life outside their country is not what they thought. This has led to poor living and working condition of immigrants in foreign countries when they are under paid in bad working condition. Some of these immigrants resort to crime, prostitution, and drugs to survive.

How green is that pasture you are about seeking outside the shores of your country even though the bible said he made me to lie down in green pastures, can you lie down and prosper in that green pasture?