Pain. Put simply, it is physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury. Fortunately for us, we have our brain, that protects us from injury or illness through our central nervous system. It warns us through reflex reactions and physical discomfort. I remember when I was just a kid, I’d come home everyday with bruises on my knees after playing with my friends. At one point, my mother got visibly tired of consistently mustering up concern for my bleeding knees. Bruises, cuts, tears and breaks: those are the easier ones to notice. What of the emotional injuries that we get from day to day? Do we feel the emotional pain that lets us know something is wrong? Do our parents notice them and bandage them up when we get home? Yes, really, what about emotional pain?
Although I hate generalizing “growing up in an African home”, or even “growing up in a Zimbabwean home,” there are definitely some common threads that tie those experiences together, mostly conservative threads. These are the threads that make it a cardinal sin to break any of your mother’s special china or talk back to your parents or elders even when you are justifiably angry (especially then) or slack off on doing household chores. The theory behind these conservative principles is that they breed well-mannered, respectable and hardworking children who have a solid foundation for life. This is theory is true, except for when it isn’t. There are significant tradeoffs that come with it, chief among them, limitation of self-expression. Children, by nature, will break the rules, or at least bend them as far as they can go. The same can even be said about people in general, from a different vantage point. Are the trade offs worth it? Do we even know what they are?
I grew up in a Christian and conservative Zimbabwean household. If you had asked me anytime when I was young if I felt that I had the freedom to self-express at home, my answer probably would have been a yes. The definition of freedom of expression is often very subjective and therefore, very deceptive.
I have been living in the United States for 2 years now. In that 2 years, I have not only had the freedom of living on my own as a young adult but I have also been exposed to the vastly different American culture. The culture here promotes self-expression and freedom of speech, even for children living with their parents/guardians. This experience led me to review my own upbringing in retrospect, with slightly liberal lenses. What I saw was astonishing; suppressed pain, lots of it, everywhere.
In this series (Pain), I will explore the complexities of my childhood, the trade offs of conservative family values, mental health and the taboos around expressing pain in African Tradition Culture.
Pain is real…
This series will be my most emotional and personal yet. This introduction took me over 2 weeks to finish, from draft to publishing. Churning out the different parts of this series will no doubt be the toughest of all of my literary endeavors, but a necessary exercise nonetheless. Stay tuned for the next entry in this series, “Pain… Chapter One – Who is Alvin?”
– Alvin Chitena (firstname.lastname@example.org)