In traditional Africa, how grounded you are as a woman is measured by a myriad of factors with domestication at the forefront of the pageant. More interesting is it that you do not have the luxury of choosing what chore interests you and therefore what you will and will not do. You are given ‘what you ought to cater to’ which is determined by whatever standards are prevalent in the household and if there is a handful of “Africanness” in your home, be rest assured that you’ll get it done anyway.
I have always thought picking beans to be a hard, cumbersome chore because well, you literally pick the bean seeds one at a time. Millions of bean seeds are poured into a tray jumbled with a crowd of impurities, dirt etc. that render the food unworthy of being eaten in that present state. These beans are then painstakingly picked one after the other – breaking some out of their jackets and transferring whole ones to another container in readiness for cooking. Most young home-grown African girls are pros at this one. It is tedious is you ask me but we all agree it’s way better than chewing on stones while eating. That’s just not a romantic idea.
The universality of adolescence and the turbulence that drives it must be recognized for its beauty – the kind of beauty hinged to emotions and the whirlpool of humanity that continually serves us the hope of becoming. This common story became my experience and it was then that I learned one of the deepest lessons that still holds the reins of my sanity.
My teenage years were fiery with drama especially in my relationship with my mum. We fought a lot things just like you would expect an adolescent girl and her mother to, and being the expressive sanguine that she is, she would erupt with words like a long suppressed volcano and all that red-hot lava would crystallize in my mind as offenses. I would over-analyze these verbal exchanges and wallow in hurt and self-righteousness until I was full. The book that I was, was filled with things that I could not get myself to erase with ease and so I slammed the pages shut – there would be no more of this writing.
This time, I just turned deaf ears. It was easier to shut out all the altercations coupled with whatever were values tucked within them rather than let my emotions rage each time this drama blossomed. However, the downside was that I was thick with experiences and still learned no lessons. This was the tragedy.
This is the tragedy that a lot of us are becoming across diverse facets of life. Life happens to us every day and rather than refine our experiences to yield lessons that we can apply to create value for ourselves and the society, we over-analyze details from a position of self-righteousness or stubborn will to stick to what we know – tradition, a business plan, relationships etc. that we do not necessarily have to abide by.
In my case, this realization dawned on me and I began to seek how to make the best out of these encounters instead of throwing the bath water away with the baby. It was then that I stumbled upon the idea of picking beans. Like with the chore, you had to pick what was good and whole and discard the rest. And so, when anyone threw words at me, I’d simply pick beans.
Amidst the hurt and pulsating emotions dancing wildly like a billowing flag within a sandstorm, I would simply envisage myself sitting with a tray of grains, taking away whole bean seeds – lessons – and discarding hurtful words like chaff. This was healing for me and has remained so. This was for me a medium for guarding my heart and granting myself an escape from gathering offense and fighting the scars they imprinted upon me.
In Gbolahan Fagbure’s book “Working on a Dream”, he raises the question of how much more peaceful our dealings with people across our professional and personal lives if we could consider the excesses of people as we do those of kids. When children cry, are irritable or throw tantrums, we do not go about thinking that they do all that out of spite. Instead we consider the facts that they may be experiencing discomfort, hunger or pain. By exploring this dimension of the situation, we treat them with more concern and arrive at more wholesome outcomes. This too, is a great alternative to the picking beans analogy.
Remember that wear and tear are outcomes of usage. This applies to us as individuals; we burn out as well. Hence, we must set limits to how we utilize ourselves especially when the resources are internally generated and sustained. As an individual, taking everything that comes your way so seriously especially when they can culminate to negative experiences, is a luxury that you should not be able to afford. Not every event that occurs should crystallize into your life experience and this is a function of how you interpret those events and thus, allow them into your reality.
Ever since, I have equated this chore to a metaphor that holds the magic to a world of rest in a world that throws me an unfiltered mix of experiences. The best part of this chore, for me, has always been towards the end when the tray has more chaff and stones than bean seeds such that it becomes difficult to pick the seeds individually. Here music is born as the contents are spread within the tray in a side-to-side movement of the tray that births a kra-kra sound. Then with the nimble hands of a juggler, the beans are thrown up in a motion that sends the contents of the tray into the air and the beans somersaulting backwards onto the tray in a manner that leaves the impurities in front. The whole beans land at the back of the tray in a victorious ‘krainch’ sound, affording you the privilege of blowing the chaff into the air and out of your care.
This acrobatic display of hands, trays, beans and air can be replicated in your life with you holding onto your values and lessons and letting go of negativity in all dimensions of your life experiences. I am sure you’ve already noticed that in this journey into and through adulthood, you are being tossed unexpected pieces of a mix of both hard and soft stuff and here is a recipe to ease the overwhelm. Not everything that comes to you is for your consumption and you must build a system to filter what you let into yourself or else you will most definitely bear the burden of either getting it out or leaving with the consequences of harboring it.
Adulthood and perhaps life itself were not made to break you! However, it is your responsibility not to let yourself get broken.