I live in Westchester County, near New York City. It is classic commuter belt territory, where there are many families with children. So when I meet someone new, the question “do you have children?” often comes up. When I answer “no, just a dog” the conversation usually comes to an end. People are too polite to ask why I have no children, perhaps thinking it wasn’t possible for me to have any, so I often say “I chose not to have children”, just so they don’t feel uncomfortable.
In rural Tanzania (and most rural parts of Africa) a related but slightly different question comes up: “how many children do you have?”. My answer is also slightly different. I just say “none” and smile broadly because I know that the next question will be “why not?”, accompanied by a horrified expression. When I say I chose not to have children I get exactly the same response again, “why not”, still accompanied by a horrified expression. Then I have to explain how different my life is and, frequently, the women I am speaking to will offer to give me a child. I’m never quite sure how serious they are but I’ve noticed that they always offer me a young girl, never a boy, because boys are considered more valuable (that is whole other blog post in its own right). We all laugh but I know that they now have serious questions about my sanity!
Anna Flam, an intern at the African People & Wildlife Fund was with me during one of these conversations, and she has written a great post for APW about this issue and about an inspirational Maasai woman, Joyce, APW’s Conservation Enterprise Development Officer. You can read the full post here and see why I describe Joyce as inspirational:
Until next time…