By Chief K. Masimba Biriwasha | iZivisoMag.com
Time took on wings – as it always does – between the birth of my son, Tadana, and when he turned three. What woke me up with a jolt to this truth was my son’s new-found sense for self-independence, particularly in the sartorial department.
At first, I thought it was some passing childhood fascination at being able to dress self but Tadana grew more insistent every passing day to have his way with clothes.
So I found myself capitulating to his every whim even if it meant that he picked on the same clothes that suited his taste for days in a row. Trying to convince him otherwise elicited readily packaged loud bowls, scowls, shrugs etc.
Truth be told, I was caught unawares most days and Tadana’s sartorial sensibility seemed to grow as fiery as his temper. I soon discovered that dressing a three-year old requires not only patience and skill but an understanding of cartoon characters.
Tadana was quite picky about what he wanted to wear. He even knew what he wanted his mum to buy for him. A cartoon character called Ben 10 made the headlines in our household thanks to Tadana. I swear it dominated half of our conversations for a season. I daresay, Ben 10, infiltrated every part of Tadana’s little imagination that he even imitated the character’s actions such as beating on an invisible watch on his wrist to invoke magic. Ben 10 is of course a 10 year old American boy cartoon character who acquires a watch-like alien device called the Omnitrix (later the Ultimatrix) attached to his wrist that allows him to turn into alien creatures.
As an African father, I felt ashamed somewhat at the lack of locally relevant, magical characters to fire up my child’s imagination. At first, I reacted to my son’s love for Ben 10 with disdain but, of course, I must admit Tadan’s fit of tantrums every time we encountered the character on a shopping errand won the day.
It didn’t help that his little friend at crèche was also a Ben 10 fanatic so my wife and I reluctantly began purchasing the Ben 10 articles much to Tadana’s glee. While Tadana was happy to flaunt his Ben 10 wear and accessories, I could not help but feel the rankle which continued to rise inside me at the dearth of African based characters to excite my child’s imagination.
As my interest in Ben 10 suddenly grew without me even noticing it, I discovered that there was a whole world of clothes, toys and accessories stocked up in toy shops for this character. From satchels to t-shirts, rulers, pencils to bags – of course made in China – the world of Ben 10 was quite real. I could see why my son was so affected. Ben 10 was driven by a commercial machine but more than that he was a cool character doing all sorts of fancy things that excited a child’s imagination.
Not that I was aversive to Ben 10 – I do appreciate that Tadana is growing up in an connected, highly wired universe and will inevitably be influenced by many things from other parts of the world which are always in his face at literally the click of a button. What worries me though is that he will step onto the stage of the globe without anything that gives him a solid grip of his world.
He is growing up without characters that he can he can celebrate which are influenced by his day-to-day African Zeitgeist. My son’s fascination with Ben 10’s got me thinking that I seriously need to write some highly imaginative, creative children’s book or animated character that is so Africa it will enrapture his universe. What the storyline is I’m yet to find out though.