I’ve never really spoken much about my husband on here, which is a bit odd as he is a massive part of River’s story. So what better time to introduce him to you, and tell you a bit about him than on Father’s day?
Reagan is Tanzanian. Actually his father was Tanzanian and his mother Kenyan, but he was born and raised here in Tanzania. I met him 9 years ago when I came to Africa to volunteer and bought a painting from him on the street. That’s what he did back then, he was an artist who sold his works to tourists on the streets of Moshi. A street seller as they say. Well he was a very charming street seller, as 9 years, a marriage, two children and a successful African art business later and I’m still here.
My husband is a good man, a really good man. I said that to someone once and they told me that obviously I thought that as I wouldn’t have married him otherwise. Total rubbish, as a lot of women out there know exactly what type or arsehole they married! Reagan’s not an arsehole. Well, only sometimes. Mostly he is kind, loyal, hardworking, intelligent and the most humble man I have ever known. I genuinely think his childhood as played a massive part in how much of a good man he has turned out to be, and his history makes me realize how lucky I was in my British childhood.
Reagan was in a relatively well off family in his early years, not rich but they had their own family home and a nice car. In their village, that was wealthy! Then when he was 12 his father died in an accident, leaving them with a huge amount of business debt that nobody knew existed. His mother Celina was a strong woman, with a fierce loyalty to her 5 children and she struggled and fought to support them. I know we would have got on and wish I could have met her. Unfortunately, when Reagan was 16 his mother tragically died from Malaria and as he was the eldest son all responsibility fell to him. He’s lost his mum and dad, was shunned by all remaining relatives and was left caring for 3 sisters and his 2 year old brother all on his own.
Now this is where I get to brag about him and how amazing he really is as a person. It’s also where I remind myself that leaving clothes right next to the washing basket or not knowing where the mugs are kept does not make him useless! Reagan did raise his siblings and he made sure they were safe. He had no wage coming in, hunted for and grew food, and yet still he managed to finish his studies and provide for 4 other children. He was just a child himself. At 16 my main worry was who was going to buy my bottle of white lightening cider to go and drink with my mates!
When he finished school he turned to art as he knew it was something he could make money in, and also he was good at it. So he learnt to paint, make jewellery and sandals and travelled between Tanzania and Nairobi selling them at the markets. Believe me when I say Reagan is the hardest working man I know, he works at least 70 hour weeks every single week and is determined to be successful. Luckily for me, the year I travelled to Moshi is the same year that he moved there to. Hearing it was an up and coming tourist town he relocated there to sell his art, and the rest as they say is history. And his siblings are doing great to! His one sister is an amazing primary school teacher and his other two sisters and young brother work for us.
In Tanzania it is so difficult to be born with a disability, especially Down syndrome. Due to lack of education families hide away their children in shame, feeling embarrassed and believing they have been cursed by witchcraft or punished by God. Men leave their wives, communities shun families and in some cases hospitals even refuse to touch or treat children born with Downs syndrome. Here people don’t even know what Ds is, communities have no name for it and people who have it are assumed to be ‘crazy’.
It’s since learning this that I realize just how lucky I am to have Reagan as my partner. He is a Tanzanian man and like others he could have been embarrassed to have made a son that others won’t see as perfect. He could have felt ashamed, and although I know he loved River he still could have felt that h wasn’t a ‘normal’ child. That’s just the way it is here, it’s lack of knowledge and education and although hopefully it is going to change, right now people with disabilities are not seen as people. But Reagan didn’t feel shame, not for one single second. In fact, he was my rock when River was diagnosed at 6 months old and immediately made me see that it wasn’t the end of the world. He reminded me that our son was still exactly the same, a test result didn’t change the baby that he was in the 6 months prior. We knew River, we knew he was going to be ok, he was exactly the same baby we had adored since birth and would continue to be so. I believe that that difficulties he had faced in his life have made him realize that River’s diagnosis really isn’t a tragedy at all. Easy? No. But tragic? Again, no.
I remember that he didn’t even know what Down syndrome was, and he was picturing all sorts of terrifying situations. So I Googled ‘down syndrome babies’ (yes I know, but we were all uneducated once remember) and loads of beautiful babies came up with features just like River. He looked at them and I saw his face light up, he actually smiled. He told me that he had been imagining so much worse and that he did know what Ds was now that he’d seen these children, and it didn’t frighten him or make him sad at all. The pictures of those beautiful babies brought him comfort and relief and it’s like he says, if Down syndrome is the worst thing to happen in our lives, then we really haven’t got it bad at all.
And that is Reagan, my husband and Skyler and River’s Baba. Both of them are so lucky to have a father who believes in them and doesn’t doubt for one second that they are both capable of great things. And while I’m worrying about whether River will do well in school, have friends, be independent, have a career and be happy, Reagans main concern is whether he will drive a car and climb Mt Kilimanjaro!!!
Of course he will!