Mama Africa – much pain, little gain?
Before we went to Africa I had a feeling that in many places of this continent the matriarchal system dominated the life of numerous local tribes and that female role remains important. As the ordinary travellers who change the destinations quickly and don’t have a good command of any local language and no idea about customs and tradition, we could barely rely on what we have seen. However, the pictures from our travel were changing with certain regularity showing the same patterns.
African women seem to do the hardest jobs including bringing water, crushing grains, pushing wheelbarrows full of bricks or feed, carrying plenty of stuff on their heads, cleaning, doing laundry, watering the gardens, weeding, cooking, sewing, selling goods etc. Well-built, muscular bodies attired in airy clothes, strong shoulders and masculine-looking hands were shaped in this endless process of crushing millet or carrying brothers on the back since the early teens.
That’s it: one of the most common African pictures presents a working woman who carries a little baby on her back. Taking care of children is almost without exception a woman’s job. A mom is supported by the daughters who look after their younger brothers. We asked ourselves how it was possible for a woman to fetch a container of water and then work in the garden, constantly moving the body with a sleepy little one wrapped in a scarf and attached to her back. So, where are the men, one would ask?
I don’t know about the night, but in many cases world of men and women doesn’t seem to meet during the day. The gender roles are separated and the border between them remains clear. As male travellers from Europe, we noticed that we were – especially in the countries with strong Muslim traditions – almost always entertained by the men who were our guides, always ready to show us around. We partied with them and travelled exclusively in male company.
Lots of men – at least in Arabic-speaking countries – seem to be clever, open-minded, eloquent and talented at languages. Well, no wonder, considering how much time daily they spend on reading or discussing and how little they dedicate on household or taking care of children. We even started thinking that some men we met must have been confirmed bachelors, still having wives and bunches of kids. “O dear, those guys have almost no duties, no obligations” we would say. Maybe we exaggerated at that point. Most of the men do one kind of job or another, many of them are very skilled but the amount of time they spend on drinking tea every morning or gossiping with their male neighbours holding each other firmly by the hand is astonishing. Cheers!