How come I’m a grandmother?

A funny story I wanted to share with you. And a precious moment that holds in it the beauty and depth of African tribal cultures.
Me and a three year old in a pre school class in Karatu Tanzania

Here’s a funny story I wanted to share with you.
But the thing is, you see, it requires explanations. You need to understand a few things about African cultures in order to get it…

Well let’s give it a try:

A few days ago I was meeting with a Tanzanian contact about a certain matter…

He greeted me warmly and with a big smile:

Oh, I thought I was coming to meet a young girl (according to your voice on the phone), but you’re a bibi (grandmother), he announces cheerfully!

 

How old are you?

52 , I answered.

Oh, I’m 48. You’re my big sister then!

 

And in this one sentence of beaming good heartedness, the difference between our painful Western perception of life, and the tribal one, was summed up.

Here I’m a grandmother, and there is no negative or embarrassing feeling associated with the word. It is spoken as a sign of respect, and I’m absolutely delighted every time I’m called bibi.

Naturally, it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m not an actual grandmother. I’m no longer a young woman, and that’s that- I receive the respect that comes with age in tribal societies.

And before we even sat down and talked, I’ve been given a place in this big family, which consists of all of us in the tribal way. I’m his older sister.

So that’s the story I wanted to share.
This moment, in which I’m filled with happiness, greening with satisfaction.

Because I’m bibi and it’s a good thing!

Because I’m a part the big tribal family, and it doesn’t matter I’m a stranger in this country.

Because he doesn’t know about the piles of baggage Western women carry on her heads regarding their age (just like the physical baggage that African women carry on their heads so gracefully).

If he knew, he’d be afraid to call a western woman old.

I can’t tell you how happy I was to be in that moment, listening to him simply and happily say he expected to meet a young woman (I’m always told I sound like a little girl on the phone), and here I am- bibi!

And really, isn’t it better to live like that?

I’m 52 years old, and proud of every day and every month and every year of my life. And I give thanks every day that I’m getting older. I don’t want the alternative thank you. Yes, think about this last sentence for a minute.

Getting to know the African tribal cultures changed a lot in my life and luckily my first journey to East Africa was over 20 years ago.

The way I see it, just knowing that there’s a continent where women are happy to be called grandma, and men are happy to be called grandpa or old man, can change how we see old age, and give us more peace of heart and mind.

It’s always possible to choose to live differently than what we were taught in the young and confused Western culture.

I do it, and I’m happier for it.

Here, girls and boys are taught from very early childhood, at home and later on at school, to respect their elders. They are also taught why that’s so essential to any human society.

We lost that knowledge, but I’m here to re-learn it, and pass it forward to any of you who stop to listen…

Ella

Ella

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About Me

Hi, I’m the Wandering Goddess.

My life in a nutshell – B.A. in anthropology, a life changing one year journey in East Africa at 26, followed by Shamanic initiation, tribal wisdom & femininity studies, then, giving in-depth workshops for women and girls, tribal storytelling to children… And at 50, coming back to my Mama Africa to bring you more inspiration on our original way of life.

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