It’s raining.Big, proper, black, noisy rain – like in Africa. The sky is a shroud and the thunder is rumbling crossly beneath it. We have had – according to the news, and in this region at any rate – the heaviest rainfall in a single day in over thirty years. I love that statistics such as heavy rain are recorded and filed in weather archives to be hauled out the next time the rain comes down in a big way.
It felt like the UK’s equivalent to a Monsoon, and it was, apparently: ‘the return of the Westerlies’. And it made me feel at home.
Between showers, Amelia and I went shopping. For clothes. In the shops that weren’t ‘closed due to flooding’.
‘Oooh, I love this shop’, exclaimed Amelia in every single store we entered, none of which she had ever been into in her life before. And ‘oooh, I love this top’, at almost every rail she visited. She wouldn’t let me go far when she went into the fitting rooms and kept hollering over the door, ‘Mum … Mum! … Mum?’ to make sure I hadn’t gone far. She got her hangers in a tangle and felt nervous approaching the till to pay. I don’t suppose there are many thirteen year old girls like that here. I am warmed by her naivete as much as I worry about it; am I preserving her childhood, her ‘innocence’, in Africa or preventing her from growing up like her Western peers?
As much as I enjoy the media whilst I am here – the papers, the magazines, GMTV – I can’t help noticing that Amelia is suddenly made aware of things I’d rather she remained oblivious of: stick insects with inflatable boobs masquerading as models (‘aren’t they beautiful, mum’ she whispers in tones of quiet reverence, ‘no darling, they look sick and tired and pale’) and Americans who tout books with literary titles like ‘Skinny Bitch’, a book the sales of which have soared since Victoria Beckham was spotted clutching a copy. Sorry. But I don’t want to look like Mrs B. And I especially don’t want my daughter to look like her.
But I think – for all the anxiety I feel at cosseting my daughter – the lessons she has received on skinny so far, courtesy of her African upbringing, are – paradoxically – healthier ones: as far as she knows, and long, oh please, long may it last, skinny equates to poverty and hunger and not having a choice. So perhaps I ought worry less. In African culture voluptuousness is celebrated. If you asked your friend, ‘does my bum look big in this?’ you’d want her to respond with a resounding, ‘yes’ not a disappointed ‘what bum?’.