If you live in the Western world, you have seen many Hollywood romantic movies and read romantic novels, you probably believe one thing: the best way to express love and romantic feelings is through flowers, kisses, and especially a romantic dinner by candle light. You might also believe that love and romance may not exist in other non-Western cultures. After all, aren’t marriages in these non-Western cultures miserable and practically between strangers since they are arranged? Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only do single young men and women have choices, romantic love often blooms. The only exception might be that the romantic love starts and is expressed differently from the West.
In the Western society love in the context of the family is expressed in form of verbal gestures such as “I love you son,” or hugs, kisses and presents. Parental and family love are also expressed differently in many non-Western cultures. For example, among the Tumbuka people of Eastern Zambia in Southern Africa, parents and siblings rarely show affection by hugging, kissing, or loud statements of: “I love you”. But their love is often as deep as ever. Romantic love in the West is cherished and publicly celebrated.
The type of enduring love that the Tumbuka truly cherish though is the one between couples and their children within marriage and the family. Many years ago I was having a conversation with a woman acquintance and we were swapping stories about our childhood family experiences. Both of us were in our thirties at the time and she was just getting over a divorce. I told her how pleasant and warm my memories were of my family. But she said her memories were of sheer hell since all she recalled were the constant fights between her parents and threats by both that they would leave. They eventually divorced. She said she was insecure and has always had anxiety in her life. A bell rung in my head at the time. It occurred to me then that my parents created such a loving environment by example. Since I did not want to rub it in, I did not share with her what I am going to tell you.
My parents are peasants in a village in Zambia who raised nine kids with my father’s elementary teacher’s pittance of a pay and my mother working hard on the land to provide and supplement meals every day. Everyone chipped in the chores of the house. Some of the best times were during evening meals. Sometimes we would eat meals by a flickering yellow light of the hurricane kerosene lamp or in the summer by the bright moonlight outside. We would have sweet conversation and laughter after the meals before we went to bed.
When my mom and dad had their conversation, it was always in low gentle tones as they caught up on each other’s day. Sometimes they would tease each other and laugh and would feign asking each one of the kids to take their sides. My mother is the most humorous person I know. We kids were often amused and used to hearing loud laughter from our parents’ bedroom.
My parents had their fights and disagreements of course. But they were never the “mother” of all fights that degenerated into loud threats that either one was going to leave or those contemptuous remarks meant to hurt and demean the other especially in front of the children. They always respected each other. Over the years, three siblings died. My mother always said wistfully that we could have been twelve kids. Once in a long while, we will talk about the deceased siblings as if they were alive just yesterday. My parents provided the love, stability and warmth that every child should have and take for granted; that is to know that just as the sun surely rises and sets every day, your parents are going to be always there every day and forever to protect, nurture, and feed you. What my parents gave us nine kids is not just the biological gift of life but the icing on the cake is the ability to truly enjoy life and experience joy in the truest sense of the word.