A few days ago, on the day of Epiphany, my mother was baking enjera (Eritrean traditional soft bread) for the holiday and I had to bake the qcha (traditional bread). Qcha is often baked after enjera because they say if you bake qcha first, the enjera comes out bad. So, I waited for my mother to make enjera before it was my turn to bake qcha.
That day, we happened to have a lady guest at home from a village in Gash Barka. Generally, women from rural areas, or even small towns, are well versed in doing household chores, especially cooking, and tend to look down on girls in cities like Asmara. That was probably why when she saw me making the bread, she ran right to where I was and said, “Wait, wait, wait, I’ll do it myself; you’ll make it bad.”
Both my mother and I were surprised by her reaction. “No, I can do it myself, what is wrong?” I asked.
“Have you done this before? You girls in cities are mamma’s girls, how would you know to do this right?” she said looking at me from the corner of her eyes.
I was annoyed, but she is an elderly woman. My mother, who just stood there and observed took charge and started explaining to her. It was too long for me to pay attention to, but I still caught one of her saying, “Gual baeley kgebro besero, gual gberyo wehale”. The translation goes something like “the daughter of a woman who says ‘I’ll do it’ is a maladroit, and the daughter of a woman who says ‘do it yourself’ is a deft.” that is why, even if she complains and gets annoyed, I make her do as many chores as she can handle, especially cooking and making enjera and qcha,” explained my mother. It was a good saying but something was bothering me about it. Why only females? I asked. While the woman was making faces and telling me off saying how I dared to want men to cook and bake enjera, my mother gave me a good point, point to think and relate with us, modern city girls.
The trends that girls are adopting nowadays are indeed worrying. Among many reasons that encourages these trends is the wrong understanding of equality. In the name of equality, young girls deny most of their duties as females, and when the need to live on your own, make a family and provide for it arises, it becomes a problem.
It is true that being a woman is not easy, especially from the point of view of the women in rural areas. In the traditional Eritrean society, a girl is given a bunch of duties assigned to her by the family. Mothers naturally pass their whole package of house work to their daughters while fathers pass their farming skills to their sons. The father would come home after an exhausting day at the farm and the wife and the daughters of the family get ready to give them relief from their fatigue. The women cook, clean the house and tend to everything there is to do in the house before the husband comes home. When the men arrive, the females wash their legs, serve them siwa (traditional Eritrean drink) or water and food. At specific times of the year, especially during the farming season, women also do farming work. They go out to help their husbands in addition to the work they do at home. Even if the men have time and ability to help women at home, they do not want to for fear of being called etonay/ sebeytay (womanish).
This is a destructive principle that emanated from the traditional cultures and beliefs that a woman was made to serve the man at any cost. Thank God, we are over those times…
When women joined the armed struggle, however, many things began to change. One of the major changes was the notion of women empowerment. This has made clear to the society that the role of women could be much more than cooking, cleaning and giving birth. The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) has been working hard on the idea of equality.
NUEW succeeded in ripping the culture of women detraction in most urban areas. This has, however, brought its own side effects. It seems like young girls nowadays do not understand the true meaning of gender equality. Gender equality means that women and men and girls and boys should enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities and protection. It does not require that girls and boys, or women and men, be the same, or be treated exactly alike. The word might be equality, but the essence of gender equality is harmonizing our roles. A woman has a natural responsibility of giving birth and being the mother of her children. When a child is born, the first person he/she gets closest to is the mother. It is inborn for babies to seek more from their mother than from their father, at least until they grow up. This is inevitable unless a girl plans to never have kids. Some women admire the Western life style of women saying “they are lucky”. But hey, they do their roles as women, too, all it takes is a good plan.
Every family has its own cultural recipes. I love my mother’s food ; we all do , don’t we? It is what I crave the most, especially after I have been away for some time. Back in Sawa and even in college, we used to miss our mothers’ homemade foods the most and it was the first thing we wanted to have the moment we set foot in the house. It is one of the vital things that make a house a home. That is one of the reasons a girl should know to cook well, because eventually she will be a mother whose food is loved by her babies and husband.
Many young males complain about the female understanding of equality. I once heard a drunken man screaming at every woman that passed by saying, “You, women, have lost your minds. You say equality, eh?! It has made you lose your course.” I thought, “he has a point”. Modern young girls, including myself, should not be proud of not being able to do what their mothers can.
When I am asked, “Ruth, do you know how to make enjera?” I prouldly say “Noooo! Mummy makes it for us”. Poor mummy!!! And poor me for I shall be in her place later on. I keep on saying enjera because that is the easiest to make of all the Eritrean foods.
Equality should not be forced; it should be embraced equally by both genders. It is simply a state where access to rights and opportunities is not discriminated based on gender. No more, no less.
Mothers are big role players in helping young girls to understand gender equality and live up on it. It is a balance of humanity, not of activity. That is why males should know females are as human as they are. That says it all. If we believe that, it will not be about gender but about humanity and playing roles. If as a woman you know this, then you should be proud of your role in the family. You should be proud that you know how to make things that not every girl knows how to, and be proud of the future when you will turn a house into a home for your family and of the fact that you shall be most loved and respected by your family not because you are a female that serves the family but one that loves and plays her role in her family.