Tuesday, June 15, 2010

She said I was a bad father...

The other day my friend Joyce asked for me to take my oldest daughter Dominique to her house for a play date with her daughter Thandiwe. Since Joyce lives only 5 minutes walk away, I decided to send the girl on a boda boda. When the girl arrived, I expected gratitude; instead I got a lecture about my parenting. Apparently it is unsafe to send a 4 year old girl child on a boda ridden by a man. She said I was a bad parent.

When I was growing up my best friend lived 20 minutes walk from my house and there were no mobile phones and we did not even have that landline. Child sacrifice existed even then. I am sure many of you remember the story of the large ship that was said to be docked at the Indian Ocean trying to collect 1000 kids’ heads. But my parents let me walk to my best friend’s house everyday. And even today I still see kids younger than my Dominique walking to schools that are further away than 20 minutes.

So what is wrong with these so called corporates of today? If there is no wall fence, they will not live there. And yet Museveni brought peace and stability. Nowadays that sound in the night is fireworks not bullets. But back in the insecure days when we were being so badly governed that Museveni was compelled to go to the bush to rescue us, fences were organic and could be used as Christmas trees. I so feel sorry for my Dominique. Now she has one friend outside school and she only sees her on pre-arranged play dates. As a child growing up in Nsambya estate, I had a gang of friends. We made up a football team with subs and reserves. The same was true when we moved to Kamwokya. But now, not only do you have play dates, but if you want to play outside, you also have to pay for the venue where you play. Dominique only recently started riding her bicycle in our small compound. At her age I used to push my wire car all over Nsambya and Kabalagala. But that has become mentally impossible now. I say mentally because the problem is in our heads. I still see kids doing what I was doing growing up, but probably their parents are not middle class like me. Back then my parents were middle class and I still pushed wire cars all over Kampala.

I remember my parents chose the school we went to based on the efficiency of the school run. The idea was to have all the kids in one school. So when my elder sister only passed the interview at Buganda Road, it became the school of choice for the rest of us. Now schools are chosen based on how many 4s they get. If it is not 4s then it is class size. Most of my classes in Buganda Road had over 100 pupils. Granted I did not get 4 and neither did any of my sisters or even my wife, but we still learnt enough to be middle class today. Besides in a global crowded world, should we not be teaching our kids how to elbow their way through the crowd. But also when I look around at all the people who got 4s in my year, only one of them is rich enough for me to envy. Mostly they are doctors who after work in a hospital, head off to some clinic or the other to top up. Plus they also work on the weekend. The few that earn a decent salary are not even practicing medicine anymore. I do not want that for my kids. But when I remember those who did so poorly that they were told they would drop out in S4, I see many of them driving big cars; I even met one at the airport going on holiday to Barbados, while I was trying to show off with my work trip to Dar es Salaam. I want all that for my kids.

For this reason I have decided that it is not important how many 4s a school gets. Who is to say that my Dominique and her siblings will not be one of the few 4s in whatever school they go to? And even if they do not get 4, they will have avoided a life of poverty as a doctor in Uganda. My kids should go to a school that is close to my work, so that we optimize the school run. I stay in Kiwatule and work in Mulago and so I will not even have to pay extra on transport if they get into Kitante primary school. In her second term there, I will expect Dominique to walk over to my work place after school and wait for me, so that I do not have to get out of the taxi at Kitante to pick her up. She will be only 6 years old and I expect Joyce to withdraw her friendship in protest at this.

Since I cannot force my neighbors to tear down their wall fences, I have also decided that we shall only live in enclosures with several families with kids. I have friends who live in flats and their son is doing it like we used to. He regularly returns home with bruises and scrapes. They did not know that he was able to ride a bicycle without stabilizers. My parents did not even know that I could ride a bicycle from age 4; only finding out when I was in P7. My sister discovered her young daughter could walk when the maid found her in the neighbor’s banana plantation. Another friend of mine living in Bugolobi was shocked to find that his son’s gang had adopted a mongrel puppy. Now that is a childhood I want for my Dominique and her siblings.