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Do I Have Children?

The status of motherhood will follow a woman to her grave.

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A key text among the reading in a course I took for Human Rights in 2017 had a catchy title, Are Women Human? It’s not an Academic Question.” At first, I thought it was a Socratic irony, only to feel disoriented by the time I finished reading it because it poked holes into my sense of femininity, womanhood and humanity. 

Now, I know I am a human to some extent: born and raised in the city with university degrees, and I have had a job from which the government claimed taxes. Now, even my femininity and womanhood are questionable because these two notions are tied to motherhood.

I am in my mid-30s. In a pleasant and friendly Tanzanian context, the question slowly shifts from “Do you have children?” to “How many children do you have?” I would respond to total strangers on the bus, “Yes!” I don’t know how I came up with the number two, but my children are a boy and a girl. 

To someone whom I am likely to continue meeting, I tend to say I do not yet have biological children. Many friendly people instantly remark, “Don’t worry; they will come when they come.” I wholeheartedly receive their blessing with an Amen! Then there are eyebrow movers who ask, “You don’t have children?” as if they have just found out I am surviving without a liver. 

READ MORE: Human Rights Report Raises Concerns About the Trend of Men Abandoning Their Families in Tanzania

I would sigh and readily start explaining the technicality of my motherhood without biological children. Here we go …

Extended siblings

Where my parents come from, Kagera (I am from Dar es Salaam), there are no such relations as cousins within the clans. In my mother’s clan, every child born to any male is my maternal uncle or mother. Children born from female members of her clan are my brothers and sisters. 

The logic, as I understand it, is that these are my mother’s siblings of different generations. Therefore, even when they may be younger, these ‘extended siblings’, for lack of a better term, command respect from me. Similarly, in my own clan, children born from my father’s sisters are my children because their mothers are my sisters of a generation above me. 

Therefore, my paternal aunts’ husbands are my brothers-in-law, and we keep joking relationships. In the past, I was told if a paternal aunt couldn’t have children, she would go home and bring her brother’s daughter to have children because the husband married into the clan, not to her as a person. 

I have hypothetically fantasized about which brothers-in-law I want to marry. But I could also imagine the hardship if your aunt didn’t marry into a lovely family or an unpleasant character. I take delight in greeting my little maternal uncles and aunties. 

The confusion of the social orientation of the young when greeting the elders only lasts for a short time before they expect me to greet them slowly and with a calm voice, to which, like the seniors, they can respond with one word. With my children, I enjoy the respect of my sons and daughters-in-law. 

READ MORE: Why Intimate Partner Violence Is Not a Family Issue 

So far, I only terrorize a son close to my age when there is a Simba and Yanga match because his wife and I are fans of the same team. So, if my departure date was tomorrow, I would leave behind children, grandchildren, and a few great-grandchildren, of course, with no assets.

My neighbourhood

There is another aspect of my life from which I was mothered and am now slowly turning into a mother myself: my neighbourhood. We live in what were intended to be single, working-class government employees’ low-cost flats, which have become generations of families within the same housing space. 

Between going to a boarding secondary school, university and work, I have continued to live on and off at Keko Flats, Chang’ombe Road. Growing up, we were children of many mothers, but every child had their father – present or not– because most mothers stayed at home while our fathers went to work. Just like the mothers, those older than us were sure to discipline and entertain us. 

I remember our many weddings with mosquito nets or kanga supplied by the elder ones. We once even had a cake made of grapes. Kaka James would host a whole TV channel on the nights that electricity went out, from news to a movie. He cut the TV and characters from boxes and made the screen using oiled paper. Then, a candle would be his projector.

Over time, the brothers who made it left the flats, and our sisters mainly left through marriage. Some families moved into their houses, but some of us are still there, growing roots. So when a sister gets pregnant, we start pampering races to heed their cravings. 

READ MORE: Is My Gender a Scary Thing to Make Me Die? 

When the children are born, we are the family they know. We take our parenting duties seriously, but times have changed. I have had to see a child grow into a teen with limited contact even when we live in less than a square kilometre area because I scolded him as a toddler. 

His mother, my sister, insulted my then-secondary education and myself because I didn’t know the pinch of giving birth. The same sister for whom I would weekly be sent to Kariakoo market to get beetroots and the same toddler only I could feed when he was sick. 

Luckily, he has turned out fine. I see him listening to hip-hop when he washes clothes, and he is going to high school soon. So now, depending on the parents of some children, I am a constant in their lives, while to others, I will pretend not to see when they are mischievous.

Sexual education

I have survived being in higher learning institutions without having a baby. But every time I have a class to tutor, I take it upon myself to make time to talk about love, sex and babies. On Fridays, at the beginning and end of semesters, we would discuss these issues because I have yet to see sex education and awareness programs on campus. 

Only recently have I heard that the University of Dar es Salaam offers counselling services, which means only those already vulnerable may be reached. In my undergraduate years, our male colleagues at Mabibo hostels, UDSM, were given condoms, and I never once saw someone knock and give us any education or contraceptives.  

READ MORE: Tanzania Must Undertake Legal Reforms to Safeguard Women’s Reproductive Rights 

I continue feeling a sense of responsibility towards the young adults in the university, especially females because conception could be the beginning of their end, from unsafe abortions to mothering. I have also enjoyed the advice, musing and encouragement from older women lecturers on how the university at the same time can absorb and be spiteful of women’s labour.

This status of motherhood will follow a woman to her grave. If I get biological children, their perceived success and failure will reflect on my character. 

If I adopt children, I can imagine the uproar, yet not even two generations ago, relatives were giving their newborn babies and toddlers to childless couples. If I decide to be a single mother, I will always have to answer why I didn’t marry one of the fathers. 

 If I decide to raise a relative’s child, I will have the financial responsibility with limited moral authority. If I biologically become childless… Allah knows best!

Diana Kamara identifies herself as a daughter of Adria Kokulengya. She can be reached at The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chanzo. If you are interested in publishing in this space, please get in touch with our editors at

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3 Responses

  1. Hongera sana. Ni uandishi wa kifalsafa-jamii unaoeleza kwa ustadi mkubwa dhana pana ya “maana ya familia” kwa Waafrika na uhusiano baina ya ndugu wa rika tofauti kwa upande mmoja na “Ujinsike” kwa upande mwingine.
    Asante sana.
    Inaweza kutumika kuchochea mjadala mzuri katika darasa la Masomo ya Kiafrika

  2. Our African life cycle in most families by 1980s to the 2000’s almost reflects the same on the community ties. I am grateful for Diana’s pen that attributes the reality.

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