LIKE FLYING A KITE
Rumaysah sucked the sour blood out of her bruised lips as she approached the school gate. She suddenly became extra conscious of her battered self, wishing that a fairy godmother would come take away the intense pain she felt and the ugly appearance she wore. It was almost eight o clock and the students were filing through the walkway to the assembly ground. Her eyes became heavy as her vision was blurred by the tears that trickled down her dimmed eyes. She tried to prevent the scenario she had envisaged but as the tick tock on her wrist watch brought reality closer to her, she realized just how many people she was going to be answerable to on that very bad Monday morning.
Some twenty four hours before, the fourteen year old Rumaysah had been given a stern warning by her father who not only scolded her but also threatened to show her hell if she refused to memorize the morning adhkar which her family recited on a daily basis immediately after the fajr prayer. Not wanting to face the wrath of her father, Rumaysah had spent the whole day trying to commit the very rhythmic words of dhikr to memory. She employed various strategies such as singing it as a song and reciting it while using her skipping rope. Before going to bed that very night, she was confident that even if she wasn’t going to get a compliment for the job well done, she wasn’t going to see the red eyes of her father.
Immediately after the fajr prayer on that fateful Monday morning, Rumaysah was singled out by her father to recite the morning adhkar. With a broad smile on her confident looking face, she knelt in front of her father and began the recitation:
“Subhanaka, Wa bihamdika, Wa tabaaraka ismuka, Wa Ta’ala Jadduka, Wa jala Thana’uka, Wa Laailaha Ghayruka, Allahu Akbar.”
Immediately after the recitation, Rumaysah’s father seized her by the arm and dragged her into his room. He gave her a cruel order to strip herself naked while he brought out a fan belt from inside his cabinet. He vehemently beat her black and blue, not minding what part of her body got bruised. What was her offence? She had said “Subhanaka” instead of “Subhanak Allahuma.” No more, No less.
Zahra, a thirteen year old junior school student walked into her mother’s office on a very sunny afternoon, She was looking very tired and worn out. The drama club had drained the energy out of her, making her rehearse her part over and over again. As the main character in a proposed drama, high expectations were placed on her and she worked very hard not to let them down. She had exchanged teslim with her mother and in her usual tradition, she narrated how her day went. She then remembered that she had not gotten some of the costumes for her drama presentation and immediately, she summoned the COURAGE to remind her mum.
“What is it?” Her mum retorted
“I want to remind you that…”
“The costumes I told you about.”
“Will you shut your trash hole, you idiot. How much have you earned today? There is no food for a lazy girl you imbecile. If you want money for your costumes, come with me to the poultry this evening and fill all the water drums. No work No money.”
Depressed and sad, Zahra in her tired body, had reluctantly gone to the poultry farm with her mother to fill all the drums with water which she fetched from a stream quite far from the site of the poultry, just to get enough money to buy her costumes. By the time she got home, she was too weak to do anything, not even her school assignments. She fell into a deep sleep immediately.
Six years later, Rumaysah and Zahra relate their teenage experiences to yours sincerely and how horrible it was for them. I recall one of them telling me that those days were the most detested days of her life. It wasn’t actually surprising to me because back then also, I so much hated to hear that daddy hit me hard because he loves me and mummy threw heavy tantrums at me because she wants the best for me. I was a victim of teenage depression and every day of that period found me wallowing in deep psychological pain.
Rumaysah is now a graduate of accounting and is now pursuing a professional course at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria. Zahra is still in medical school, doing very fine and battling with her seven year hurdle race to being a qualified pediatrician. Masha Allah, I’m done with my five year degree course in law and still awaiting admission at the Nigerian Law School. Don’t get me twisted. I’m not saying that every victim of teenage depression finds their right foot at the very end. In fact, the case with our trio is just one in a million as many teenagers end up treading the evil road to destruction.
Here in West Africa, many teenagers, especially girls find it very hard to cope in this most delicate stage of their lives. Little wonder why most of us see the university life as a narrow escape from hell. The untold stories of many teenage girls remain a frightening mystery as many parents become monsters to their children during the second decade of the latters’ lives. I remember with startling clarity my years in senior school, when I totally lost my self-esteem. Finding my place in the midst of my classmates became a rather hard nut to crack and home was not a place of respite for me. I was made to believe I could never do anything right and that was the orientation I grew up with. Each mistake I made attracted vulgar tantrums and hot slaps on my chubby cheeks as I lived a life devoid of compliments and “well done” remarks. My father made use of cable wires and fan belts to beat us hard that I almost began to ask myself if criminals received as much torture as we did. Millions of teenagers experience not less than I did and only a few do not get caught up in this horrible web.
Two years ago, I picked up the June issue of Sisters Magazine and two articles caught my eye; the first being “FOR THE LOVE OF LEARNING” by Juli Herman and the second being the review of Amy Chua’s book “BATTLE HYMN OF THE TIGER MOTHER” also by Juli Herman. I was inspired by these two articles, especially the latter as they opened my eyes to a lot of realities. The mere fact that even the Prophet (SAW) treated each child with a with a level of personal closeness that must have required time, effort and energy, made me begin to resent the mode employed by parents in West Africa in bringing up their children, especially the teenagers.
West African Parents have a keen focus on respect, hard work and total excellence. They pressurize their children on a daily basis and never fail to remind them not to fall short of expectation. Specifically, in Nigeria, parents assume the role of dictators and do not give their children the breathing space to discover who they really are. They choose everything for their children including the latter’s future ambition and sometimes, marriage partner. Little wonder why professional courses like medicine, law, engineering, accountancy and the likes are highly valued and imposed on children. In achieving this, they tend to compare their children with other children around, failing to take note of the fact that children are different in their abilities and inclinations. They demand 100% perfection and anything short of this amount to Zero. They dislike highlighting their children’s areas of strength and complimenting them because according to them “It gets into their heads”. They therefore prefer the method of criticism so that the children will have a feeling that they’re always not getting it right. This in their opinion gears the children up to buckle up their belts and improve. To crown it all, they adopt different terrible ways of correcting their erring children. These include, torture by beating the children hard, vulgar abuse, starving and unnecessary labour. Some parents even go as far as cutting their children’s skin with blade or any other sharp instrument, to leave a scar. They believe that the scar will be a reminder to such child never to do any wrongful act again.
The answer to the questions “Why so many African teenagers become juvenile delinquents?” and “Why the alarming increase in the rate of crimes?” is thus not far-fetched as the method of upbringing is faulty and is also not compatible with the teachings of Islam and the example laid down by the Prophet (SAW). Teenagers in West Africa abscond from home, which appears to them as hot as hell. They therefore get exposed to a lot of danger such as drugs, prostitution, robbery and many other menaces which not only destroy their present, but also mar their future. Their situation can thus be likened to being between the devil and the deep blue sea. A parent should be a guide, a mentor, a friend, a counsellor, a teacher, a coach and every other thing but a dictator and a tyrant. In the end, I totally agree with what Juli Herman said about child upbringing. “Parenting is like flying a kite. You have to continuously gauge when to pull and when to let go. Pull too hard, the string will break. Let go, the kite will fly away”.
Wardah Abbas is a Law student at the University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria. She is a great lover of Islam, an aficionado of the natural environment, a passionate Muslimah and writer who believes in intellectualism as a prerequisite to change. You can read more of her writings on therosespen.wordpress.com
20th Shaban 1434/28th July 2013