For about four years, in a land not-so-far away, I ran a business. I had registered a media and communications consultancy which I considered a success. All my clients were happy with my work and I managed to pay the bills. My rent was paid on time and so was my child’s fees. I even had money left over to treat myself and my child to the occasional movie, brunch or dinner out every month. When I took stock of my life I thought I was doing pretty well for a single-mother and a foreigner in a foreign land. And for a woman working for herself, and paving her own path.
It was a rude awakening during a visit back home when my parents told me quite matter-of-factly that I actually have nothing. I hadn’t bought a house, or a plot of land that I was developing. For all my education and experience I had nothing to show for it. When something like that comes from a parent, you can’t help but believe it’s true. Prior to their revelation of what I failure I was, I had considered myself something of a success. True, my bank balance at the middle of the month was no indication of just how well I was doing in my field, but that’s not how I had learned to measure my success. They went on about how Shaka would have nothing to inherit from me, and I would be going against the rule of nature that our children should do better than their parents. They said that ‘in their day’ with far less education and even less resources they had done a lot more than I have to date. I am 29.
I had to agree with the premise that our children should indeed have better lives than we had. They should have more opportunities than we had and wider options than were presented to us. But how do we measure this progress? Have I failed my child because I don’t yet own a shamba for my child to inherit? Have I failed as a person because I am still a tenant and not yet a house owner? What was my measure of success? After wallowing in self-pity for a few days, I decided to list my achievements, one by one, according to how I defined what my success is. It was a long list, and did not include a shamba or any property owned. Was I happy? Check. Was I independent? Check. Was I published? Check? Was I useful to my community? Check. Was I raising a happy, healthy, well-adjusted child single-handedly? Check. Surely I am not that big a failure. For all the things that I hadn’t done-there was a lot that I had.
Well what about my child’s inheritance? I realized that while people seem to get so fixated on raising children in better environments with better things, very often we forget to try and raise them to be better people. We think that the more our children have, the better people they will be. This is not the case.
A long with the shamba and the ten cows, our children inherit our mistakes, our anger, our frustrations. We don’t always intentionally pass these unwanted gifts on-but we do anyway. Our children inherit tons of emotional baggage that we inherited from our own parents. And the letting go of this baggage, is my inheritance for my child. All the stored away anger and disappointment that I collected while growing up will not be his inheritance. It stops with me. My child will have to create its own psychological identity, hopefully free of my own flaws and inheritances. My child inherits an open mind-one that asks how I can support dreams to become a painter. My child inherits a free spirit, that lives each day to the fullest and appreciates the smaller things in life. My child inherits a relationship based on love, trust, and respect, not fear and trepidation. My child inherits a home, a humble one, but one where my child is always welcome and where success is measured by how happy we is, and how much our community is benefitting from our gifts and talents.
It’s indeed a different kind of inheritance-but worth more to my child’s spirit than a shamba ever will be. I’m still working on getting the house and the farm, and counting my many mini-successes along the way.
Shamba*-farm in Kiswahili