Fanta is so used to shouting in the house that when I heard her shout on this day, I pretended not to have heard her. But on this particular occasion, there was something different about her shouting. Her voice reminds me of the pain in the voice of the mothers I grew up around; it is the typical sound of a woman in agony over an issue she has no control over; the inevitable; death.
I jumped up from the sofa, hurried down stairs and I realized she held both hands over her head as we do in Africa when we cry and mourn the death of someone. I was in utter shock. There were tears in her eyes. She couldn’t get her words out clearly all I could here was ‘Mamy Cameroun’s Son Junior’. ‘What’s wrong with them?’ I asked. ‘He’s dead’ she said. ‘The poor boy was stabbed,’ she added in sobs. ‘Oh God, poor woman,’ I lamented. Fanta explained how she had received several missed calls from the boy’s mom, only for her to return the call and learnt that the boy, a teenager had been stabbed by two other teenagers; a boy and a girl.
When tragedies like this happen mostly it is the mothers who are left in pain and sometimes traumatized. I have lived in the same council estate of the boy killed. Mamy Cameroun is a single parent whose husband; a wife beater who also used very unfriendly words to his wife and kids was asked to leave the family by the social service for the safety of the children. Mamy Cameroun tried her very best to bring up her children in the way she understands best.
Despite the support coming from government’s benefits, financially it was still not enough for her and the boys. On several occasions she has had other relationships with men, none of which proved helpful. One of the men was blunt enough to say to her that he cannot bring up another man’s child, so if she was looking for a carer he was the wrong man.
On several instances, she came down to our flat to express her frustrations. ‘Sometimes I feel like going back to Africa or maybe I should send the boys to Africa. It’s so difficult for me. School issue, it’s me, feeding, after school club and so on. Aah, this world is a pain!’ she would say and cried like a baby. She was not highly educated and wished to go to college when the kids are all grown. She couldn’t take a job because she had a baby boy to look after.
In this part of the world, it is very difficult for a woman with kids to have a partner. Most women from ethnic minority backgrounds find it excruciatingly difficult to cope with their kids with the absence of a husband. It is just a cultural thing for most- a culture that believes a man is a security for the family. But this has not been successful for most families in London, once described as the divorce capital of the world. Single parenthood is widespread among ethnic minority groups. Mostly, it is the women who carry the blame for trying to be too westernized. Most men desire to keep the status quo in their country of origin. This rarely works here. As a result, women are left alone to care for their families. Some would refuse to work so that they don’t have to pay child care.
Apparently, some women would rather stay with a man who doesn’t fit the bill just to have that ‘protective’ figure around. I know of few families were the husbands are mere liabilities to their wives.
A Ghanaian lady once told me that she cannot take any action against her husband who is not being supportive to her and the kids, simply because her children love their father. ‘They would hate me, if I send him away,’ she said.
Africans and other ethnic minority have carried their culture with them to the west, the culture of silence. A lot of women are going through hell in their relationships/marriages but do not feel strong enough to come out and speak about their problems. Even where counselling services are available, it is not the culture of the African mother to go to a counsellor and speak ‘evil’ truth about their husbands, it is a taboo.
Drugs and the lack of opportunities for minority ethnic population are destroying families. On my first winter in London, I experienced a fire incident, these boys were celebrating Halloween and in the course sent through our window what I believed was some sort of fireworks stuff. The fire was put out before it caused any serious damage. Two weeks after, one of the boys who lived at one of the top most flat of the building was killed by a gun battle in his flat. I learnt later he was murdered by rival gang members. The next day, his Mom came yelling and shouting looking at his dead son as the paramedics came to do their investigations.
Issues regarding the well being and safety of children, especially youths cannot be dealt with haphazardly. There is a need to infiltrate ethnic minority communities to get these issues discussed and dealt with holistically. Understandably, it is very difficult to get women from these communities at community meetings as it is done at their countries of origin. Here, long hours of hard work would not permit such meetings. However, a house to house meeting with these women or reaching them through churches, mosques and other religious places could be of significant help. Even though they are very hard to reach because of the nature of things here, they desperately need the support of other women.
Such help could have saved the life of Mamy Cameroun’s Son and the children of many other single parents, who toil really hard to put a smile on their children’s faces but lost their children to bad friends and gangs.