7 February 2013

Uganda: Boys to Men - When Do You Cross the Rubicon?

I am sure you have ever asked yourself, either in anger or disgust: "When will this guy be a man?"

I know I have said this about some annoying characters that act like junior citizens yet they have beards, deep voices and, for some, bald heads. But what is that moment when we all feel like our rite of passage is here, and we are boys no more, but men?

And since our culture is evolving, we have few cultural rites of passage and it is generally an individual journey. Pastor Wilson Bugembe of Light the World Church, Nansana, found his rite of passage in a difficult situation.

In August 2011, four children drowned at a beach party organised by his church. He was attacked by angry parents, sensational media reports and the police.

"Everyone knows me for many stories and experiences, but this was the turning point in my life," the soft-spoken pastor says.

"I felt hell was breaking loose. I did not know where to begin because everyone had an opinion - alleging sacrifice. But this is when I had to face it like a man, with courage."

He, therefore, feels that that situation made him realise he was a man.

All 27-year-old Bugembe could do was lean on God and face the situation as "a man". Yet other guys become "men" when they are technically, still boys.

John Matovu, for example, became a "man" at 15 after losing his parents. He assumed the responsibility of caring for his three young sisters and brother.

"I had never imagined waking up to see my siblings look up to me for food, school fees and general care, and relatives were not helpful at all," he recalls.

Matovu, now 24, has grown into a strong and daring man, who has kept his siblings in school and secured the family property. Even then, some think it is an automatic switch to manhood when one turns 18.

The circumstances, events or acts in our lives that make us realise we are men are so varied; a first job, car, house, getting married or even as flimsy as a first kiss. Truthfully, there is no distinct line to cross into manhood.

For instance, Buganda Information Minister Charles P. Mayiga felt he had become man on his eighteenth birthday, only later to learn that this was just a teenage myth. His moment soon came at 25 - the day he was accepted at his wife's home.

"Marriage meant that my life was now headed for responsibility. I was going to have children and take care of them. I was now a man."

And Dr Eugene Kinyanda, a psychiatrist at the Uganda Virus Research Institute, concurs with Mayiga. He says he became a man on his wedding day.

Expert's take

Dr Paul Nyende, a psychologist at Makerere University, says the word "man" generally connotes responsibility and it varies with culture and family. Nyende says depending on the upbringing, some boys can become men as early as at 10 years and others as old as 40 years, or even never.

"If a child is exposed to responsibility early in life like running home errands and taking others to school, then they mature very quickly," Nyende says.

He contrasts this child to others without responsibility, saying, 'these take longer to mature into men because they can't make independent decisions".

Nyende says slow developers later on face challenges in life.

"Even when they marry, they would want to either rent or stay in their father's house; they don't want to pay school fees and are always running away from responsibility."

Nyende, therefore, notes that the earlier the better, because early developers have the chance to work hard and establish themselves within the right time.

"The only disadvantage is that their childhood is taken away from them, which may affect them in their old age," he adds.

Although the psychologist says there is no set age, he believes that by 20 every man should know their obligations as a "real man".

Nyende also shares Mayiga's idea that cultural rites such as the Gishu's imbalu (circumcision) are just initiation ceremonies that do not necessarily mean that a boy has become a man.

"It may have a psychological influence, but I don't think one needs physical pain to learn endurance," says Nyende.

Peter Pan mentality

Yet some men like John Kato, live with the fear of growing up to be a man and prefer to act like boys.

"When I grew a beard, I always had a clean shave to look young. I also invested in some good shirts and stylish blazers - not the office drone garb," says Kato, an electronics importer.

Time caught up with Kato when he had children and had to accept his world had changed. He could not hold onto being a boy forever like Peter Pan of Neverland, a fairytale by Scottish novelist and playwright JM Barrie.

"I imagined my daughter looking at me the way I used to look at my own father, and think: 'How am I ever going to become that?'" he says. "Then I knew that I was now a man."

And some men, even in their 20s, are yet to cross to manhood. Privat Pasiansi, a marketer in Tanzania, is not even sure he is a man.

"I have never thought of it," says the 24-year-old.

The 'little man'

Prince Henry Kiweewa, however, had no line to cross because he grew up too fast to enjoy boyhood.

"I started working at seven and started [having] sex at nine years. For the past 40 years therefore, I have acted like a man," he says.

And just like Kiweewa, 33-year-old Nelson Okware's moment came too soon. At 12, Okware had garnered the guts to tell a girl that he loved her, and convinced her to sleep with him, which made him a "man".

Despite having different experiences, all men agree that to become a true man is that point when one is not only aware that their actions have consequences, but when they are prepared to accept those consequences.

So, do some soul-searching this weekend and ask yourself: "Am I a man?"

The answer may help you find answers to some problems you are facing, be they emotional, social or career-related.

Isaac Lugudde, D-Mark Power basketball player

I became a man when I actually understood my nature and path from God. "Man" comes from the ancient Sanskrit word "Manas" meaning mind.

My mind has been fashioned by the creator - the supreme reality. So, everything that I have accomplished and not accomplished, from an adolescent to now, has shaped me to make me the man that will in one way or another manifest God's divine will: a man striving for righteousness.

Prince Henry Kayima, Royal Electronics boss

Though I am a prince from the royal family, life then was not conducive for royalty. I was only three years when the Mengo palace was attacked in 1966 and we relocated to Mityana.

As I helped my mother in her small shop, I would see Indians buying doodo from the market. We had it in our garden and I started selling it to them. They gave me Shs 4, which was a lot then. That was a turning point in my life. I learnt that a man had to have financial independence and I have used that principle to date.

Bernard Luyiga, KCCA councillor

My moment came in 2006 when I was jailed at Central Police Station (CPS) and then Luzira for a week, for holding a demonstration. I had been in office for three months after leaving campus. I was about 24 then.

This isolation from peers and family made me realise that sometimes in life, I will be alone. It made me courageous and I learnt that no situation is permanent. That time of turbulence made me know that I had become man.

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