The holy hands and soiled hearts.
The bitterness, flanked by envy and jealousy on each side.
We were whitewashed tombs. So focused on serving God the HOLY way, we didn’t even use deodorant. It was considered defiling to the body, God’s temple. Gold or gold-plated watches would only breed sin of pride and haughtiness, just like attractive designs or outfits designed with beads. Lycra outfits could tempt members of the opposite sex to thoughts and acts of fornication or adultery.
The sisters were the worst hit with these doctrines. No part of the body should ever be exposed. As our body was described as an object of sin, we couldn’t help but hide them, in order to protect the opposite sex from sin, because they are susceptible to what they see. So, we were martyred. What I never understood was why the male folk in the church were not taught to defend themselves from the wiles of the “devil” in female form.
Since my father did his best to keep everybody in check – using methods from suspension to other method s of bondage – we, his kids had no choice than to fall in place. We were never treated with a slack hand. No hair was to be left loose from the turban, no skirt higher than the ankle. We were to be prim and perfect replicas of our parents. Pray perfect, smile perfect, dance perfect, even cry perfect.
They even chose our friends for us; not guided our choices, they actually chose.
“Ada, if the usher reports to me again that you sat close to Selina in service today …” my mother said, one day.
“I’m sorry ma’am,” I replied, feeling a blend of stupid and sorry.
“I’ll flog you and warn her seriously to stay away from you. C’mon leave this room now,” she ordered angrily. “You don’t know evil communication corrupts good manners,” she shouted, as I departed.
If she could, to this day, my mother would still buy us clothes and style us as she deems ‘holy’. Tightening our turbans, straightening the kinks of our pleated skirts, pulling the neck of our blouses upwards, whenever her path collided with those of my sisters and I.
Two years ago, the news of how another pastors daughter “embarrassed” her father, by adorning herself on her wedding day, was everywhere. We discussed it at lunch and I remember asking my father, “Daddy, what if I adorned myself for my own wedding?” I laughed, as I asked this question, so that it wouldn’t sound serious.
“I’ll just get a gun and shoot your leg. Who do you want to embarrass ehn? Biko kwa!” he replied in a way that got me thinking the reply wasn’t a joke.
There was just monochrome; either black or white. No in-betweens or shades of grey. On some days, the guilt was overwhelming. I would sing to the girl out there to repent, while I indulged in sex and did the other so-called sinful activities. It became a chore.
Yet, I wasn’t allowed to take stock of myself.
“Can I just lay in bed and enjoy my company?” I would ask.
“No you cant, you’re not a hermit. Why don’t you love being with your family ehnn? You’re the ADA oo!” would be the reply.
“Can I skip choir meeting today? I want to pack for school, since I’m leaving early tomorrow morning,” I would request.
“No biko, you want people to start talking abi? You’ll pack when you come back from the meeting!” would be the reply.
I never understood who these people were … these people whose opinions mattered so much to my father, that they greatly influenced the away we were raised. I have never understood, not even after twenty-something years of trying, of never being good enough, of constantly trying to please …
A. Rebelle is a 20-something year-old African lady and these are her adventures.