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July 07, 2015
African Voice
Reliving My Childhood through My Daughter
by Imo Eshiet

Every Tuesday, I drive Tina to her gymnastics class at 6 p.m. One hour after, we drive over to the church at Pinetop Drive for The Book of Mormon class for investigators and members alike.

On Wednesday, we are back again at church at 7 p.m. for Activity Day Girls, where girls her age socialize and are groomed in homemaking. On Mondays, I pick her after school at Jesse Wharton Elementary where she takes afterschool lessons in Spanish.

Soon as she’s back from school each day, I go over her assignments — especially in English and some science I understand. Her mother takes care of her math for I am simply a blithering dullard with numbers.

Part of parenting here means you virtually have to take classes with your wards and volunteer hours at their school. I find this pretty exciting. It is like taking refresher courses to constantly update my knowledge.

While all this can be daunting, I have no lack of incentives. For one, working with her enables me to live vicariously in the future with all the higher standard of living technology confers. While the ravages of age deny me the ability to cavort with her at Little Gym, her gymnastics theater, yet they do not rob me of the imagination to relive my early childhood when I frolicked like a butterfly in sunny Africa.

Tina jumps about excitedly indoors, but open spaces in the village were my stage. I danced and twirled like a yo yo at village ceremonies and festivals. I escaped from home, donned a raffia costume and mask and sang until my throat was sore and my voice hoarse like a croaking toad.

At night I sneaked back home to my scandalized parents. Powerful river currents limbered me up as I swarm against them often. I climbed towering trees and gathered fruits that Tina would likely call exotic if she were to see and taste them.

Occasionally I limped home with broken bones and cracked ribs sticking out, to the horror of my mother. Once local bone-setters got me back in shape I was out again monkeying with heights and splashing in the river.

The treetops and the river were difficult to resist. One extended my vision. The other cooled my skin. In our climate the sun burns with such lively drama that one could be cooked without a soothing shade or refreshing bathe. Recalling these activities as I watch Tina cartwheeling and tumbling flushes me with adrenalin I hardly knew I still have. Seeing her prance, my childhood no longer seems a distant imagining.

But that is not all the excitement I get from running with Tina. I feel so gratified when she comes home bragging about the A she makes at school.

As a kid, I was not one for competitive sports. Since my knees knocked treacherously against each other, I often fell when I played soccer or took part in track events. The mockery of fellow competitors and the ready laughter of spectators easily dissuaded me from persisting in making a fool of myself.

That and my parents’ strict emphasis on education drove me to bookworming where my misshapen knees could not stand in the way. Making good grades brought as much recognition as medals or trophies in sports. Everyone took pride in “passing with flying colors.” It was not immodest to brag about honors at school.

If sportsmen and women could show off their laurels to provoke admiration, why couldn’t students also do the same?

So happy were folks with bright kids that a common praise name for such kids was “fire.” The future of such kids, it was agreed, was assuredly blazing.

In the course of my journeys, I found that in other societies people do not wear their honor on their sleeves. That humbled me quite some.

That was why I felt embarrassed recently when my soon-to-turn-nine daughter flaunted her grades. After one of our several outings, she asked to be taken to a Chick-fil-A restaurant. At the intercom, the voice at the other end recognized it was a kid doing the ordering and started a playful banter before asking me to drive up to the window.

The conversation between my daughter and the weather-beaten African American lady at the service window continued thus:

“Hey, Sweetie.”

“Hey Ma’am.”

“How was school today?”

“Pretty good.”

“That’s cool, real cool.”


“What grade are you in?”


“That’s sweet. Be sure you get all the education you can get, baby.”

“I’m trying. I make straight A’s, you know?”

“That’s so sweet and you’re so adorable

“You too (giggles).”

“And you make sure you stay that. Never mind men. That will come and if there ain’t, no man a mansion for sure.”

She handed Tina the food and I thanked her for her kind remarks. As I eased my car forward, what she said powerfully reminded me of the encouragements my mother used in nudging me along school so I could one day move from a hovel to a mansion.

But that reverie was broken when Tina asked, “What’s a mansion?” I was somewhat surprised she didn’t know — for like most kids now, she seems to know so much that I hardly take the trouble to check on my goggle app when I am with her.

Knowing her as I do I shouldn’t have been surprised, for she pops questions that drop my jaws. Picking her up from school one day, we passed by a church cemetery with many tombstones. It was our normal route. But that day she seemed to notice the stones and asked what they were. I explained but more questions followed.

“How do the dead eat when they are hungry?” Not expecting that, I mumbled that they just wake up, go home, eat, and then returned to their graves. Because I laughed, she knew I was kidding. Ignoring my teasing, she heckled, “How do they get those stones off their backs in order to get out?”

This time I was quiet, for I realized how different her reality was from mine. At half her age in Africa, I already was familiar with the meanness of death. Many cousins passed and grief was so pervading sorrow stuck its wrenching head out of many hearts.

From the mood and the spine-chilling wailing of many parents, I knew death hurts. Because freshly dug graves littered the land like confetti, I skipped over them on my way to school.

Then at nine or so, a three-year civil war literally plucked out my eyes with horrors so gruesome they broke even the stoniest the hearts. But even as the morbid scenes which gave my childhood a kiss of death flashed through my mind, I found something to be grateful for.

I had parents who scrimped through life, so Tina and I could live free from killer diseases, senseless wars, and privations that wizen kids before their time.

While writing this piece and listening to Tina sleeping peacefully in her room, I blessed her that she may sense the wisdom of the Chick-fil-A associate and seek out the many opportunities in this land, so she too could transmit the education to the next generation.

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