Friday, 16 November 2012

A baby in a ‘bar’
Two nights ago, I got an invitation for drinks from a friend, which I happily accepted because I did need a break from the multiple things I had been doing. He gave me directions of where I should meet him and I got there at about 7.20pm.

In a classic bar, you give an order to the bar tender over the counter and he whips up a drink for you or serves you a bottle. In my country, when we say “bar”, it is not in the classic sense of the word. It is more crowded, nobody mixes drinks, there is no over the counter service, the music is so loud you can’t hear yourself talk and the smoke from cigarettes just floats around in the air. I seldom go to “bars” but somehow found myself in this one.

My friend came out to meet me when I got there and took me to his table where he already had a friend sitting. And then I saw it. There was a young lady sitting across from us with a baby. That baby could not have been more than two and a half months old (I have three nephews and a niece so I would know). I was overcome with a mixture of reactions. I was shocked, overwhelmed, mortified, a little annoyed and then sorry. Shocked because children below 18 years old are not generally allowed into places like this, overwhelmed because a nursing mother and her baby were actually sitting there, mortified because they were allowed in, angry at the mother for exposing a child to the multiple things happening in a bar and then sorry. Sorry, first, for the mother because she obviously didn’t know better and probably had nobody to school her. Sorry too for the child, the beautiful innocent baby who is born into such a situation.

I told my friend how uncomfortable I was because of the baby. He told me he is “used to it” because it was not an unusual sight. He likes to explore and has been to more than a few bars so it was not the first time and would certainly not be the last. Later on, when I shared this experience with other friends, they told me of other cases they themselves had seen. One of my friends said she had seen a one year old in the bar whose mother gaily stated that her son seemed to like ‘Guinness’ (an alcoholic beverage). I was more than a little disturbed since this incident. I still am. The question which has been hunting me since then is why would anybody allow a baby in a bar?

A baby in a bar to me is a strong indication of social decadence. It may not be a defined criminal offense around here but some things should not be allowed to happen. The deterioration of social values in my country is alarming. Multiple reasons could explain such social decadence. It could be as a result of dying cultural values. Worth mentioning is the fact that my country has multiple cultures (Cameroon has more than two hundred tribes). More obvious however, is the cultural difference between the English and French speaking Cameroonians. Today, people are more liberal in their approach towards life. Three to four decades ago, a young girl being pregnant out of marriage would have been so much of a disgrace to the family that the family might be tempted to hide the baby. Young girls were relegated to the domestic sphere (which is what we women are against today) but then, they were properly schooled on the dangers of unprotected sex and on how to take care of and bring up a baby. There are cultural traditional practices (like female genital mutilation, inheritance laws that leave a widow with no property, prohibition of women from acquiring and owning property etc.) which are very wrong and dehumanizing.
But not all cultural practices are bad. What we need to do is to preserve and promote those cultural practices which are healthy like the formal and informal education of the girl child.

By Doris Gweh

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