Being the eldest of eight siblings meant Abdur-Razaaq Jardien (20) learnt some invaluable life skills growing up and he credits his siblings with giving him a unique perspective on life.
“I was born in Cape Town and grew up in Bo-Kaap. It was my grandfather's house that we lived in at the time. I stayed with my parents, three siblings, grandmother, grandfather, two aunts and three uncles who didn’t have children. It was a big house that my grandfather had built. Looking back, some of my fondest memories are from that time. As a family we were close. Everybody helped everybody. I loved climbing trees and often got into trouble for that.”
When Abdur-Razaaq was in Grade Two, his parents and siblings moved into their own place in Woodstock.
“When we lived there, sister number three was born. At that point, we were three girls and two boys. It was a small house which only had two bedrooms. My parents had their room and we siblings shared the other room.”
“We only stayed there for a year, before moving back to my grandfather’s house because things were getting a bit cramped.”
Abdur-Razaaq’s parents worked 9 to 5 jobs. His father is a carpenter and his mother worked in a restaurant at the V&A Waterfront for many years. Being part of such a big family has offered Abdur-Razaaq a unique take on life, though he admits that at times it was challenging for his parents to give all their children their attention.
“We used to fight a lot when we were younger, so there were lots of arguments. I remember that it could get quite hectic because one moment one set of siblings would be fighting and then another set of siblings would also start to fight. But at the same time, it was wonderful having people to talk to. Growing up we mainly played with each other which made us very close to one another.”
When Abdur-Razaaq was 12 years old, sibling number 7 was born.
“I often refer to my siblings according to the number that describes the position of our birth. I’m number one because I am the eldest. At the time when I was 10 years old, my sister was 9, another sister was 5, I have a brother who was 4, a sister who was 2, another sister who was 1, and then we had a new baby brother.”
After a few years, Abdur-Razaaq’s parents divorced.
“One day we were supposed to go to a family gathering when my parents had a massive fight. My mom packed up and left. I was scared because they were shouting loudly. I didn’t anticipate that they were going to separate. That night my father told me that they were going to get divorced.”
“It was a big shock. I’m not sure that my younger siblings really understood what was happening at the time. I remember crying a lot, it was very scary. I remember my chest would hurt when I thought about it and I would break down and cry randomly. From that day, my mother never came back. She would come over to visit us but she never came back to live with us.”
“From then on, we would visit my mom on the weekends and school holidays. It was weird getting used to that. I’d always thought my parents had been in a good relationship. I can’t honestly remember my parents arguing before that day, so that’s why the divorce caught me off guard.”
The change in the family dynamics meant that the siblings had to rely on each other and self-organise since their father was mostly working. Abdur-Razaaq and his eldest sister were now in high school and they had their parents big shoes to fill when it came to managing the rest of their siblings.
“At home, we were still living with two aunties and my grandparents. Everyone else had moved out after getting married. Both aunties helped when they could, but both worked in order to assist the household financially. My grandparents were by now old and ill, but when she could my granny would assist with the cooking. So, it was mainly up to us siblings to work things out during the day.”
“Before school, Number 2 and I would get up and make the school lunches for everybody. It's interesting, we actually separated into four groups according to age without really planning for it. In that way, the groups would organise and take care of each other. Number 5 we call Mommy Amara because she was only 5 years old at the time but she would make up the beds, clean the rooms and get the little one’s dressed in the morning before school. There were still squabbles but we managed.”
“I had to walk the little ones to creche. After school, I would come home and then at 5pm I would pick up the little ones from creche. We needed to work together and help each other, which relieved some of the stress. We had an unspoken system, where each one of us had a specific task to do. Sometimes we would switch it up. I’d be the one to discipline if they got out of hand or if anyone was hungry then my eldest sister and I would deal with it. If things really got out of hand then, I let Number 2 deal with it.”
“No one really supervised homework. Mostly, it was up to you to do your homework and take care of yourself, until my sister and I began to manage that. Number 2 and I would come home from high school every day and help our siblings with homework. Between the two of us, we divided the subjects and we’d help the others on their subjects. I actually didn’t notice this at the time, it was something that happened naturally. Reflecting back I can see how we actually organized ourselves and implemented a system to lighten the workload and spread it out so that individually we didn’t feel pressured.”
“When we played outside, the older siblings had to keep an eye on the younger siblings. We got used to it and it became fun watching them play.”
The siblings also provided each other with support and counselled each other when their parents divorced.
“We couldn’t tell our parents everything that we were going through, so we discussed matters between ourselves, like how we were feeling about the divorce. At the time of the divorce, we all dealt with it differently. Number 4 acted out and became naughty while Number 5 stepped up and just took care of things. The younger siblings don't really recall having both parents around so their reality was of our parents not being together and being cared for by their siblings.”
“We also checked in with each other about our day and family things. We were each other's outlet and didn’t have to worry about judgement. My support network is my siblings.”
When Abdur-Razaaq’s mother moved out of their home she moved in with her mother who lived in the same street. He recalls that whenever they missed her, all seven siblings would walk down the street to visit her - “the whole army of us!”
Over the years Abdur-Razaaq has become accustomed to the responses he receives from people when he shares that he is the eldest of 7 siblings. Basically, people ask questions like; ‘Is it nice having a lot of siblings?’
“We get that a lot and people say things like, ‘Seven! Wow!”
I really don’t know how to answer those questions because it's what I know. I can’t really relate to people who don’t have siblings. For example, like being a single child. I had a friend who was a single child but I couldn't really understand some of the things he was going through. For me, my reality is living with many siblings.”
While he felt supported by his siblings, Abdur-Razaaq personally found it difficult to deal with the divorce. He recalls burying himself in books and just reading.
“At first my grades started slipping. But during that time, I read and I read. I threw myself into books. I started reading different genres. As long as I had a book I would read. In order to forget everything else, I would read. In Grade 9, I made it a goal to finish all the Harry Potter books in a week, but I finished them in five days. That was my coping mechanism during that time.”
While in Grade 11, Abdur-Razaaq’s mother remarried.
“I gave her my blessings despite me not wanting her to get married. I couldn’t really see her with anyone else besides my dad. It was a bit upsetting for me but she was so happy.”
Last year, his mother gave birth to a girl and Abdur-Razaaq welcomed another sibling into his life, Number 8.
“She was born with down syndrome. She has a heart problem and she has a nasal issue. Her nose is always blocked and she has to go for surgery to fix that. We had expected slight complications because of my mom’s age.”
When Abdur-Razaaq finished high school he didn’t know what to do next and ended up taking a gap year when COVID happened. He lived between his home and his mother’s home but generally spent a lot more time with his mother.
“We spoke a lot, bonding a lot during COVID. During that time, while I was chatting to an Indonesian friend online an opportunity to help him with his English came up. He recommended some of his friends to me. His friends reached out to me to help edit their submissions, like their thesis and paid me for the work. It caught me off guard but I made a job of it and I still do it now.”
When Abdur-Razaaq reflects back on his life and the unique experience of being part of a large family he believes collaboration is one of the main personal skills he has acquired.
“You can do a lot of things by yourself but doing things with others takes you so much further. No man is an island. When you feel hurt or alone, find people you can relate to and in this way, the burden becomes less. When you realise you are not alone in life and seek the help of those you trust, you can overcome struggles together instead of bottling things up which has the potential to drag you down.”
“I think a lot of people take family for granted. Stick together, embrace each other despite your differences. You are cut from the same cloth. Find support in one another. Together with my siblings, I have learned about interdependence, teamwork and organisation and those are things that help me in life. My siblings make me smile, their quirks are unique. They are and they will always be my best friends.”
Abdur-Razaaq is a Life Choices Academy student