Fathers need to be sensitive to the kids of their ex-wives. It could be miserable homes for them.
Whenever some of the sweet-mom children run back downtown to mom, they are taken back. Some of the stories these children tell their mothers may be exaggerated, it includes beating by their step mother, neglect while half-brothers or sister are cuddled or spoilt with more toys and clothing. What is clear is that even when their mothers could only provide less or same toys and cloth, the fact that half-siblings got more from dad got them sad. Their stories can be touching.
Sweet mom is the best, no matter where she lives, even in the slum. No one can underestimate the umbilical cord between mother and children. The man that competes with a woman for the love of most children inside or outside the same house is wasting his time. GRA, Government Reservation Areas, strictly residential, used to be for colonial officers. They were dry, quiet and the few African officers’ kids there, could hardly find anything to buy unless they go downtown.
Unfortunately, children’s priority have changed. These days, most children want to live in areas where the middle class or the rich live. Their home address matters so much that some girls would not date anyone outside these “exalted” addresses. Other boys or girls even put on their best attire with just enough money for transport and a drink where they could hook up with guys that live in highbrow part of the city. If they do not “catch” any, they go home hungry.
Suburb and slum are relative depending on the country you live in and when. In the 50s, 60s and 70s most of us in African countries live in towns and cities that are more or less the same except for those living in the GRA that is designated as for senior government officers, mostly white colonial officers. Cities and towns where most of the fun were for children; were better.
The planners of GRA in those days were daft. There were hardly playgrounds for soccer and no mom and pop stores where you could even get candies. There was Adelabu, the very popular politician from Ibadan. Whenever he was in Ikoyi, Lagos; he would bring his drummer with him. Since most of the GRA residents were full of those white government officers, Adelabu would tell them to go back to their countries if they did not like the loud sound of talking drums.
It is different in the developed countries where ghettos are desolate, some areas are prone to crimes and underserved schools. In Canada though, there is hardly any place that fits definition of a ghetto as in the United States and all the schools in Canada regardless of where you live are well provided for with more amenities than one would find in the USA ghettos.
Back to Africa where divorce was rare in those days but still happened, children were either with their mothers or their fathers. Poverty is so rampant these days; a kid would be crazy to choose to live with a parent in the ghetto or slum when he could have a better life with the parent in the suburb or GRA of those days. But then, most women would not leave their kids with estranged husband and another wife or woman, only to turn their kids into house help.
The point here are those children that chose to live with their mother, no matter what. The bond between mother and child can never be undervalued. This writer can still remember his first time in the boarding school in another city. One day he got so sick, he had to be sent home. As soon as he saw his mother, he got well, only to be sent back to school immediately!
So those places that look like ghetto or slum to some folks were paradise. In any case, children loved the towns as much as their mothers and fathers. But there is also the umbilical cord tying mother and child together. No matter where the area is, rich or poor, children of those days would rather stay with their mother. The same may not be true today since courts always give custody of the children to the parent that is better able to provide them a “rich” environment.
This may be so in such cities as Nairobi, Accra or Lagos. What is surprising and even confound planners is why some successful blacks refused to leave and few return to ghetto. Indeed, some of them refused to leave the project despite the fact that they have to pay more or about the same as private apartment in a better area. So, it has little to do with money because they have good jobs with nice salary to escape the ghetto. But it is the only place they feel comfortable.
Another way one can understand this in African cities, is when people are asked to move to new development outside their own so that their homes could be demolished for new modern projects. In Lagos Nigeria, people refused to move to Surulere with good facilities like flower garden in front and vegetable garden at the back, indoor bathroom with septic tank compared to ancient “shalanga” where “outsiders” were employed to rid waste once or twice weekly.
If we are so attached to our environment, it could provide social planners and social workers the reasons children go back to their mothers in a less desirable housing after common sense or court order agreed that children are well provided for in a rich environment. By this we usually mean housing, good schools and other social amenities. As much as some of the mothers love their children, they know they may not be able to provide as much as their ex-husbands can.
Even Surulere, the New Lagos of those days, it is now seen as a ghetto by the children of those that used to live there. The only real problem with Surulere in those days were mosquitoes and too far from action. The schools and playgrounds were nearby. A cousin decided to show her children where she used to live and they shouted: mummy you used to live in the ghetto!
The areas in old African cities like Monrovia and Freetown may look like ghettos now, they were the place we were very happy. We had soccer fields close by and where there was none, we created ours on the streets. When cars came, we made way for them and as soon as they drove away, we resumed our game. Today, with so many people, you cannot even see Lagos roads, full of people. Cars make their way through like a divided sea that closes as cars move away.
We played marble and station, seeds from “agbalumo” on the sidewalk. We knew where to buy tuwo, rice and beans, akara, mosa, ewa-Ghana and even kenki. There is this attachment not only to our mothers and fathers but also to our neighborhood. If parents separated, those with custody of children of their ex- must watch out for kids’ depression. May not complain to dads.
Written by Farouk Martins Aresa