People ask me about making friends all the time and I say that it’s hard to do. We’re not in a village where I can make friends by collecting water with other women as we watch our children together. We’re in a town and pretty much any woman has a full time job, but especially if they’re educated. The concept of being a stay at home mum just isn’t here in the same way so things like mums groups and play groups just don’t exist.
That also means that our little Elliot doesn’t see many other kids, and that’s one reason we started thinking about putting him into some kind of daycare for two mornings a week. As we started looking around, we discovered that daycare as we know it also doesn’t really exist here. There are ‘nursery schools’ that take kids as young as 2, but they’re a precursor to primary school, with a uniform, a classroom with desks, and rote learning of the alphabet, numbers, basic grammar, body parts, and songs.
Of course, daycare in Australia is largely an extension of the home. At least those of us who are middle class have an expectation of stimulating, educating and nurturing our kids, either through the influence of the Stay At Home Mum, or at daycare. Woe betide the daycare or the working class mum that isn’t also about ‘early childhood education’! As a society, we’ve done a lot of thinking about that, and about how play is a primary way that kids learn, fostering characteristics that we so treasure in the west, like individuality and creativity.
Yet this is largely a recent mindset. I listened to a podcast the other day that noted how women’s roles changed with the invention of the washing machine and the vacuum cleaner. Prior to that, she was her husband’s housekeeper; it was only with the time freed up by these new appliances that her attention turned to nurturing the children. Motherhood became the focus of the woman at home. Recent attempts to give this role dignity by calling motherhood a ‘job’ or a ‘calling’ have reinforced the early educative needs of young children.
Tanzania, with its different history, simply doesn’t have the same hangups. Women have always worked in Tanzania. Even though cooking and housework are ‘women’s work’, women also work in the shamba (family farm) and/or run a business and/or have a job. Having househelp to do your washing may free women up, but it frees them up for a job.
Because women have not been confined to the home in the same way in Tanzania as they have been in the west, Tanzanians have not felt the same impetus to develop the SAHM role. Of course mothers still nurture their children and teach them stuff about life, but the expectation is not that a child must be stimulated and educated from the earliest time.
If you do want your child to be educated at an early age, the site for that is school, not home — I tried to explain homeschooling to someone the other day and it was completely incomprehensible to her! So anything for children outside the home is set up like a primary school; that’s why you have little 2 year olds sitting at desks.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.