By Francis Ewherido
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. While many of us were celebrating and getting busy with our spouses, some others did not for reasons ranging from separation to widowhood. However, my focus today is on grass widowhood (spouses temporarily living apart). Grass widowhood is a phenomenon that has been with us but has changed in nomenclature.
In the 80s, as our economy took a downturn, one of the spouses travelled abroad to seek the proverbial greener pastures and remitted money home for the family. Not all of these adventures went according to plan: Some of the men ended up marrying foreigners to regularise their stay, while some wives saw the “better life” abroad and made their temporary sojourn permanent. Either way their marriages and families were the main casualties.
A new trend has emerged; a lot of Nigerians have relocated their families to America, Canada, the United Kingdom and other places while the men who may or may not be financially stable remain in Nigeria. There are varying reasons for the new trend but the bottom line is that some of these people have somehow lost faith in the Nigerian project.
One reason is the collapse of our school system. Initially parents sent their children abroad to acquire education but soon realised that leaving their teenage children alone in those societies without regular parental guidance has downsides. Some of these children spend years doing everything else except studying: while some end up in jail, others end up as drug addicts.
Some have picked up tendencies and orientations that have brought so much pain and sorrow to their families. Consequently couples make the tough decision of setting up two homes so that the mother, most times, relocates to be with the children. For the marriage, that is a heavy price to pay, and for Nigeria a deadly drain of much needed resources.
Another reason for grass widowhood is the harrowing experience holders of Nigerian passports go through at foreign immigration points, though the situation has improved. So what our people do is either send their wives to countries of choice to have their babies and get citizenship or relocate their families to foreign countries until they are eligible for citizenship.
In truth you cannot help but envy them when they go through foreign immigration points like a hot knife going through butter while you (Nigerian passport holder) have been pronounced guilty until you prove your innocence. Meanwhile we are all Naija, just that they are carrying European, American or Canadian passports.
Couples living apart are in the best position to know the implications of this arrangement. But in running the home and bringing up children both parents have a role to play; doesn’t the absence, albeit temporary, of one parent have a negative effect on the formation of the children? This is an argument I do not want to stretch too far because our people say that if children whose parents went to the farm are crying, what is expected of children whose parents are dead? Moreover, even in homes where both parents are present some have abdicated their parental duties to their spouses. You also have situations of single parenthood as a result of separation, divorce or death. I feel the surviving or resident parent just needs to step up to fill the void.
But another issue: are these couples not robbed of the tolerance and accommodation that living together under one roof daily must necessarily engender in couples? Some time ago a friend’s husband who has been living abroad came back. Responding to my enquiries about her husband a few weeks later, she said in exasperation: “Francis, we have been quarrelling and fighting. John still sees me as that little girl she left behind years back. For Christ sake, I have been all alone in this Lagos these years sorting out myself and my children. I am no longer a baby.” For them, expectations and perceptions have definitely changed within the intervening years.
Also, while these couples live apart, do they remain faithful to their spouses or they find temporary partners? Some of the couples who are rich have a wonderful arrangement where they are reunited regularly, but for some others the story can be pathetic. I heard of a case recently where the couple has not seen each other in the last 10 years.
The unemployed husband who is based in Nigeria prefers the wife, the bread winner, to send every kobo rather than come home. Why she consented to this strange arrangement is a mystery to me. For me, there is no marriage any more but a business relationship. Thankfully advancement in technology (Skype, Instagram, Facebook and internet) has ameliorated the situation for couples living apart.
Grass widowhood though has its advantages: They are bringing up their children in saner, safer, orderly and more benevolent climes; the quality of education is higher and no disruption through strikes; health care and quality of life there are much better. There is also something about those societies that helps children to realise their potentials faster. In all fairness to these couples, there are times when they make those of us who gave birth to our children in Nigeria and are raising them here look like reckless gamblers, but for varying reasons, that is the lot of majority of Nigerians.
I respect these couples for their choices and hold the faithful ones among them in awe, because it is a massive marital sacrifice some of us cannot handle. Ultimately, whatever arrangement you subscribe to, efforts must be made to protect the sanctity of marriage and family; they are some of the bedrocks of a stable society.