I was about 14 years old when my father concretized the lesson on family bonds. It happened during the long holidays in Cameroon when students spend over three months at home, from June to September. True to my teenage self, I decided to sew a stylish pair of shorts that July. I bought a nice piece of cream colored “material” a.k.a fabric which I took to a local tailor. I told the tailor what I wanted. My description was vivid. I remember I wanted two “inner pockets” with frills on the outside of each. He told me he would be done in about a week. After making a couple of trips there, one week stretched to two weeks. Eventually, I got the shorts, but I was so disappointed. He had sewn what looked like plain male shorts, the kind used by primary school boys. There were no frills. The shorts were also a little big for me. It almost felt as if the male tailor had actually sewn the shorts for himself hoping I would get upset and abandon them.
However, I took the shorts home and decided to give any of the big boys in our house who desired it. That evening we were on the veranda behind the house chatting and telling stories when I announced that I do not want the shorts and was willing to give it to anyone who wanted it. Immediately, my brother and one of my male cousins who lived with us declared their interest. I listened to each one of them express their interest in getting the pair of shorts.
What I did not realize was that my father was following our discussion closely from the living room nearby. After listening to my brother and cousin express their desire to get the pair of shorts, I was ready to make the big pronouncement on who was going to get it.
Even in those days I was a confident student of English, so I began my announcement with a proverb I thought I understood well. In my very authoritative 14-year-old voice I began, “You know, blood is thicker than water…” Before I could finish, my father pushed the door to the veranda open and confronted me. With a sly smile on his face he asked me in Kenyang, our ethnic language, “Hati meh, aha chi water, aha chi blood fah?” Translation: Tell me, who is water and who is blood here?’” The whole house erupted in laughter at my expense. My father did not laugh but he did not look angry either. He wore his expectant teacher face. He was still waiting for my answer. He knew from my using that proverb that I was trying to give the shorts to my brother without realizing that my cousin is also “blood” which made my use of the proverb faulty.
It was a brief moment that felt like eternity. I quickly realized my mistake and joined sheepishly in the laughter. Without saying anything more, Papa went back into the living room. It was another teaching moment in the G.T. Ashuntantang household. Under his roof, we were all the same. The blood that bound us as an enlarged family was sacred and sacrosanct! He had been teaching that lesson in many ways by taking us on frequent trips to the village so we could interact with our extended family as well as enthusiastically welcoming those who visited our home. Nevertheless, he could not miss the moment to drive the lesson home concretely. I learnt the lesson exceptionally well, and today I am very territorial when it comes to my enlarged family, but I have gone beyond this. I now know blood is thicker whenever and wherever human beings relate to each other in ways that are humane and uphold our collective human dignity.
Interestingly my siblings still enjoy a good laugh at my expense every now and then when they recall the incident. You can join them. The next time you see me, feel free to ask, “Hati meh, aha chi water, aha achi blood fah?” that is sure to make me burst into laughter!
(Picture above shows Papa in front of our house in Rocky Valley, Buea where this story took place)