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HAWA - Creating Stories out of my multicultural experience

When it comes to African couple immigrating in USA, from what I have personally seen myself, about seven couples out of ten ended up breaking apart after a few years living in America. It appears there are many reasons possibly explaining that but a common denominator would be that change often requires a transformation of inner values system, holding to some and getting rid of others, and not everyone is ready for this.

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A typical example is that back in Africa, husband and wife barely show outward expressions of tenderness or open emotions with each other, particularly outside of their bedroom. Coming here, you are limit expected to show those exterior signs of relationship to your loved ones or one might be read as cold and distant. Here is a joke about that: “ It is 10:30 pm. The husband in UK says to his wife: Sleep tight my love! The husband in France to his wife: Sweet dreams sweet heart! In America: Good night honey! In Africa: Did you double check the doors are locked?”

Obviously, my parents and the community I grew up in impacted me, but my cultural background comes also from my exposure to communities of people and most importantly, me, boldly seeking to create my own world. So coming back to expressiveness and tenderness in marriage, I believe it is a necessary ingredient to keep a couple together. A mutual caring love that expresses itself brings the warmth that ignites husband and wife desire to keep the couple alive.

However, it seems that from where I come from, things are better implied, assumed. Particularly in the villages where people are not as exposed to the west as it is in the cities, husband and wife would never walk hand in hand in the street nor hug. In fact, there is always a certain distance between them. The husband would be hurrying ten feet in front of his wife. The wife would find her place in the corner of the house and let her husband talk etc. Not necessarily that she does not have a voice or does not count, but because she knows when and where she would be better heard. We sometimes call it respect, sometimes submission, but for her it is natural, it is her culture.

Within the multiple stories I have heard or witnessed myself, what is sad to me is that couples come here looking for a better life but end up breaking apart. Instead of a strengthened marriage we see strengthened individualism. As the ones rise from silence, the others fall in silence. In most cases, women seem to be the ones craving to break free and relax the stranglehold around their neck, whatever that means.

But even though they are getting new privileges while their husbands are losing theirs, for African women both in public and at home, not all change make her turn into full completeness and potential. Motherhood for example remains a crucial element. A woman who hasn’t given birth to a child in marriage is set to carry a heavy reproach in society and within the family. Add to this the fact that in such situation she has nothing to eventually distract her from a boring marital relationship.

On the other hand, a husband who used to be a true king, with a wife always there to serve, finds himself learning how to serve himself instead of being served. I have heard men confess having been forbidden, their entire childhood, the kitchen area for example, because it was supposed to be the women territory. Now in USA, when the wife goes to work, he has to cook himself, wash the kids himself etc. Not all men are ready to do such transformation. All these every day behavioral change do not stop there. It goes into the bedroom.

The stereotype of the African man being “cold” or in other words, inexpressive when it comes to sensibility or emotion seems to be another area of change. Men who used to careless about some sort of intimacy with their spouse can no more walk out without taking the risk to see their wives look outside for what they are lacking inside.

However, both husband and wife were grown a certain way, and both wore masks that hid their emotions, they end up looking at each other like perfect stranger, waiting for the other to do the first step. My point is, sometimes a wife would complain about not receiving any tenderness from her spouse doesn’t know herself, how to give or to be tender. A frustration that could find its origins from the conventional and religiously inspired idea that sex is a marital duty in which case, one could assimilate it to another sign of subordination of females to males. We can easily agree with Rachel Spronk[1] that “Sex make you feel good, happy , alive, in love, sexy, loved, strong” , yet the first scene in my movie HAWA shows us the exact opposite. It is cold and passionless, ruthless selfishness on one side, tasteless submission on the other.

All these thoughts, reflections, concerns triggered in me, the choice to concentrate on a movie that touches all these questions, without the intention to give answers, rather start an interrogation cycle on that which I became aware of as a result of my own experiences.

Arzouma Kompaore - From the mind to the screen.

[1] Rachel Spronk: Sexuality in africa Vol4 issue 3 Beyond pain toward pleasure.

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