Saturday, July 14, 2007

Collective Parenting

On Monday, equipped with my power suit and high heel shoes, I walked along the uneven roads of Swetes Village and up Roman Hill to wait across the street from All Saints Roman Catholic Church for a bus to take me to town where I was to begin my work at the Directorate of Gender Affairs. There, at the bus stop, stood two older ladies. Being a good Antiguan, I said, “Good Morning” so that they could see that I have manners. If not, I probably would not have heard the end of it. “Good Morning,” they replied in unison in the Antiguan sing-song I have missed. “Oh, she so pretty and nice,” one of the ladies said to the other. I smiled humbly after hearing the compliment.

Then, the same lady turned to me and said out of nowhere, “Listen, you pretty, and dem men dem gon follow after you. Don’t let dem a spoil you. All dem a want is sex, and then when dem a get it, dem a turn dem back pon you.” I smiled and nodded at her advice, saying that I was focused on my studies, not on men. Soon, afterwards, the bus arrived and I wished my two new friends a lovely day as I closed the bus’s door shut. When I got into the bus, praying that it was going to take me to where I was trying to go, I started to reflect on what the nice older lady had said me.

Of course, I have heard that very same thing from my Antiguan mother—let your man wait because after he gets sex, he’ll leave you. Believe me, that idea has been engrained in my head. However, what I enjoyed most about the women’s schooling me on the ways of men was that it seemed that in Antigua, raising children is everyone’s job. Even on Thursday when I was taking the bus home from town, the lady next me kindly told me, “You musn’t bite your nails.” I replied, “You’re right. It’s a bad habit. Thank you.” Her comment and the one of my older lady friends caused me to think about my students in the Bronx, who would never want to hear anything from anyone else because “that ain’t they mother to be telling them what to do.”

Unfortunately, in the United States, everything is so individualistic. No one likes to be told what to do. No one wants to hear how she should raise her children. No one wants to get involved in any one else’s business. In contrast, in Antigua, everyone is in your business. The island is small, and the villages are even smaller. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone has a role in raising all children. The idea of a collective parent evokes the African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child,” and indeed it does.

Parenting should be collective. Children are our present and our future, and for us to only care about our own children and not our neighbor’s children is to do a disservice to our society, as we would probably all like productive individuals living among us. When issues of education and public health and of abuse and discrimination against children come up, we should all get involved. We should all fight the fight because we would want the best for our children and thus should want the best for other children no matter which part of the world they reside.

Did I plan to come to Antigua? Did I plan to go to Dominican Republic, for that matter? No, I did not, but something moved me to these destinations. In fact, I had a conversation with a friend this week and told her that it was the need for humanity that moved me, that brought me to these places away from family and friends. It was the injustice, the inequality, and the poverty that made me come here and go to Santo Domingo. I felt that little me could do something, could make some sort of difference, but as a collective unit, we could all make a bigger difference. We should all be walking activists, fighting for all children as we would fight for our very own.

17 Comments:

Anonymous catharine wright said...

Dena,

This is tremendously inspiring, both in terms of what you say about collective parenting, and also in terms of your calling to travel abroad in response to a need. You captured the voices of the women and the scene at the bus stop so beautifully--you in your power suit off to your new government job--they in the midst of their everyday lives, taking the time to share their concerns with a young woman. Thank you so much for sharing these powerful stories--the voices, the scene, as well as your reflections on them.

Catharine

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