I just read Paul Theroux's Dark Star (a travel narrative chronicling the author's journey from Cairo to Cape Town overland). Now I am 40 pages in to Peter Godwin's When A Crocodile Eats the Sun (a white Zimbabwean's memoir).
The two remind me that my scant contact with the African continent (6 weeks in Ghana over two visits) had a profound enough impact that my memory remains crowded with red earth, baobabs and the sound of women pounding fufu.
There is a branch of my father's family that extends deep into Namibia. It is odd, unsettling, to read memoirs like Godwin's and feel myself at one remove from white Africa. Only one remove for it is Uncle Harry and his family (my cousins) who reside over there.
Reading about Africa (Theroux) and about the wives/ mothers in remote African locations (Godwin . . . and also Alexandra Fuller of Don't Let's Go the Dogs Tonight and Scribbling the Cat) also makes me wish I was mothering in a remote African location in which simply surviving, and simply trying to keep your children alive, is recognized as a mammoth task. Survival is not guaranteed in the third world. A good mother feeds her children and tries to prevent them from catching guinea worm.
In the first world, survival is still not guaranteed (children die, children fall and break bones), but keeping your children alive is taken for granted. Of course they will live. You have to make sure they live, and here in the first world it is so easy, comparatively.
But here in the first world you must also ensure that your children are:
enrolled in character-building sports
knowledgeable about art and art history
good community citizens
athletic and bookish
outdoorsy and diligent about completing their homework
bonded well and fairly to both parents
deeply connected with extended family
confident but not arrogant
and above all, and again, happy
It would be easier, so much easier, if this list could be reduced to "You must ensure your children are: alive (circumstances permitting)."