Living in limbo [Archives:2006/989/Community]

October 12 2006

By: Najwan Al-Junaid, Canada
In Yemen, it seems that having children is an aesthetic obligation for the married. For many Yemeni parents, the child is neither a product of love and commitment nor a fulfillment of a sacred vow. I look at many Yemeni families and I only see careless mothers and passive fathers. I see selfish parents, immersed in their own indulgences, from qat parties to superfluous social activities.

Almost everyday in the afternoon, a semi-tornado storms Yemeni households. Qat time approaches and both parents perform their rituals preparing for qat parties.

Lunch is rushed, phones run off the hook, qat bundles are majestically washed and dried, and people pace in and out of the house almost like an emergency room. By 3 pm, the father is gone for his little gathering. If he is one of those forced-to-marriage Don Juans, he might meet his friends in Tahrir and 26 Street for a habitual women harassment ritual, also known as flirting. The mother needs two more hours to beautify herself, look gorgeous for 200+ women and prepare her qat bag with all the necessary equipment. And if she is lucky enough, the maid prepares the magic bag so the Lady can have more beauty time.

Where are the children in this equation?

By 3 pm, the children are neither the responsibility of the mother nor the father. It is fun time. The children are either pushed outside to play in streets or taken care of by maids. If they are lucky, they play at the neighbors' house under the supervision of another maid. Briefly, the children have no parental supervision for almost six or seven hours. The mother probably returns by eight at night and she still wants to enjoy few moments by herself and to let the qat effect sink. The maid carelessly provides dinner for the children and puts them to bed. And the father shows up at ten or so. Assuming both parents go out everyday and keeping in mind the children are in school until one in the afternoon, the children basically spend almost an hour with their parents per day.

The ramifications of leaving children for long hours are huge. What do the children learn in these six hours? Who do they interact with? What dangers are they exposed to? Sick predators are possibly around a corner and maids will never be like a mother, though there are exceptions. But children are like dough. They can be molded to any shape and form and they easily pick habits and behaviors from their surrounding environment.

Everyone has a potential. I am a firm believer that everyone is a genius in something. With enough nurture and support, children would probably grow to that potential and may exceed it. But nowadays, the majority of Yemeni parents, especially the young, well-off and new breed parents, are in a limbo of minor indulgences and social events. Simply put, many Yemeni mothers and fathers do not know what it means to be a parent.

Childbirth is not an event that begins with consummation and ends at the hospital or at the hands of a midwife. It is a lifelong process that requires parents to nurture a child for growth through each phase of life. And as they say, it is easy to become a father or a mother, but it takes someone special to be a Dad or a Mum.

Najwan Al-Junaid is a team-member of Shabab Yemeni.

For information about Shabab Yemeni visit