My Mother- The Feminist

Let me start this with a disclaimer… The feminist referred to here has nothing to do with a bitter, angry woman, or someone who hates men. Rather, it refers to someone who believes that women should be heard and not just seen.

Someone who believes that a woman is relevant, the girl child is important, the girl child should have as much education as she desires and she should be given equal opportunities as men.

She encapsulated this with one word – Nwanyibuife – an Igbo word which when translated literally meant that a woman is valuable.

The above might seem trivial or regular to someone but she grew up in an era when a male child was everything (still is in most places today). In homes where educating the boy was valued above educating the girl, where a girl child would be stopped from going to school if there was a new baby while the boys where undisturbed or unperturbed. In days when women were talked down on, looked down on, mistreated and not expected to fight back, and generally considered as properties.

My Mum gave birth to six girls. She had the same dreams for us as her two boys. She told all of us to study hard to become someone in life. She said that we would never lack jobs and declared that we would work in the “highest offices.”

She was never of the opinion that her female children would be totally dependent on their husbands for their upkeep. She emphatically told us to make our money, and stated that a woman who was too dependent on her husband would open up herself to insults and mistreatments. Nwoke akpalia gi; the man would insult you!

My Mum taught us about self respect; Mmadu na-adi nma I kwanyelu onwe ya ugwu; it is good for one to respect oneself. She taught us to carry ourselves well and comport ourselves like ladies both in speech and general disposition.

In the house where I grew up, each flat had two verandahs. The compound facing our back verandah was owned by a man who had lots of sons and male apprentices. As children, we played on both verandahs but as we grew into teenagers, my Mum would not let us spend long periods of time standing or idling away on the verandahs except we were maybe doing chores. She taught us to value ourselves as women, “nwanyi na-adi nma e zobe nata onwe ya” inferring that it was only ladies of easy virtues that displayed themselves like items on the roads or verandahs.

She spoke up and showed us that our voices could be heard. She taught us to fight and take a stand for ourselves, not to be intimidated because we were women whether by society or by anybody.

She had class, she had style, she had poise, she was in tune with her environment, knew the trends and constantly strove to achieve her dreams and improve on herself. She loved books and would read as much as she could in both English and Igbo.

Being a feminist doesn’t mean that one doesn’t have respect for men, my Mum did. She both respected, helped and treated them well, she was peaceful but never one to be trampled on.

One day, on my way back from University on a quick trip home, I boarded a bus with friends. We were the first to arrive, so I chose to sit in the front outer seat by the window (a place usually reserved for men for reasons best known to the drivers and their male cohorts). When the bus had almost filled up and we had paid our fares, I was asked to shift to the inner seat so the man who had just arrived would sit on my seat. I refused to move and insisted that I either sit there or the bus would not move. The bus driver and his cohorts gathered and started talking, most of their speech derogatory, I ignored them and when they got tired, the man entered, sat on the inner seat and we moved!

Humility they say is great power under control. My sisters and I would always have a voice and one fundamental reason is because we were raised by a woman who had one and used it. #UmuBene

In Ever Loving Memory of our Mother
Lady Benedette Ugwunwa Ezeanya
Fashion Mazi o!
4th April, 1959 - 29th June, 2019

The Storytela

Stories of My Mother- Saint Benedette…

Left behind?! Oh no!

My Mum had kept to her word and actually drove off to Church without us. Lol.

Mum & my brother Ifeanyi at Church

I can’t count the number of times this happened but as we got older, she stopped allowing us delay her and would drive off on Sunday mornings if we weren’t ready, leaving us to find our way to Church.

We grew up seeing our mother participate actively in Church.

Cleaning the Church was something the women did and it was allocated according to groups, my Mum rarely missed hers, except she was maybe under the weather.

She was an active part of the dance group and also sang in the choir for a long while before she finally stopped. She led in different capacities and mentored several younger Christian women.

She solemnly observed all the “no work” days and would make sure that we don’t cook with meat on the days the Church forbade eating of meat, telling us “Uka mabii anu taa”.

Like most Catholic Mothers, she ensured we were up to date on our sacraments and that we regularly attended the block rosary crusades. We never quite got around to attending the early morning masses but that was something she tried not to miss.

The Catholic Church was a big deal to her, she loved the ceremonial way the Mass was performed and actively contributed to Church administration as a lay member and they formed part of her community. After Mass, she would take time to greet her friends, exchanging short stories with some while smiling and waving at others, “ka anyi na nu”, she would say again and again, a kind of parting greeting indicating that she was heading home.

She couldn’t understand why we would leave the Catholic Church for “Uka warehouse” and “Uka Okpulu decking” (an unpopular way of referring to the Pentecostal Churches back in the 90s, when they didn’t have fancy Cathedrals or Church Venues like the Orthodox Churches).

She would lead us in praying the Rosary, something she did religiously, and also in reciting the prayers relevant for the time period. She had some songs that she would sing during such prayers;

Chukwu oma ka I bu,

Ife oma ka e ji malu gi.

Chukwu oma ka I bu,

Ife oma ka e ji malu gi, Chukwu o!

And we would sing after her, extolling the goodness of God and declaring that he was known for good things. Another one was like a chant;

Omelu ife nyilu mmadu omume,

Omelu ife nyilu mmadu omume…

Declaring that God did that which was impossible for man to do. I think it’s a song from the adoration ground in our village Uke, run by the popular Holy Ghost Priest; Ebube Muo Nso.

I remember it was during one of such prayer sessions that she found out I wasn’t a Catholic anymore. Her brilliant mind put two and two together when I didn’t say the “Hail Mary” after her or the other Catholic prayers.

I had just come back from University the previous day and she called for prayers that morning. She simply asked me after the prayers if I still attended the Catholic Church and I said “no”, not knowing what to expect. She was really disappointed as I had been a very devout Catholic and she blamed my elder sisters who had left before me.

I remember when she joined the Faith Alive prayer group, a group of women intercessors at the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity. It was something she was excited about and we would often chorus their greetings; Faith Alive, I’m alive in the Lord! They referred to her as Sis. Bene.

My Mum is a huge reason my siblings and I are committed to the body of Christ, her unwavering devotion, which mirrored that of her father, was an outstanding example we just had to follow.

I remember coming back home on a Sunday morning and seeing her seated in her nightie, I immediately figured something was wrong because she always went to Church. When I asked her how come she didn’t go that morning, she waved aside my question, smiling and saying she would attend evening Mass. I would find out some moments later that her Mum, my grandma had gone to be with the Lord in the early hours of that Sunday morning.

It was a beauty to behold how the Church honored her after she passed. Her burial was beautiful with the array of Priests that celebrated the burial mass. Her beloved nephew, also a Revered Father, was one of them. We all talked about how happy she would have been and I could imagine her smiling and looking on proudly.

Cross section of Catholic Priests at my Mum’s burial

In Ever Loving Memory of my Mother,
Lady Benedette Ugwunwa Ezeanya
April 4,1959 – June 29,2019

The Storytela

My Mum; A Three Pots of Soup Story.

She would have been 62 years today; my Mum and today, I choose to reflect on her memories with joy rather than sadness.

Today also being Easter, I remember clearly my Mum’s kitchen activities, not just during the festive period but when she has to do major food preparations. Like most women in her generation, my Mum had a large kitchen, not only in size but in operations, sometimes catering to about 15 people or more on a daily basis.

“A luo m ofu uzo olu”, she would usually exclaim after a hard days work in the kitchen or maybe when she’s done some major clean up in the house.

My Mum paid great attention to the ingredients that went into her food, making sure they were sourced from the best, she paid even greater attention to the cooking process. When she’s in the kitchen, her theatrics could be major, especially on those days she would be cooking three different pots of soup at once; “Uzo ofe ito”. A pot of Egusi soup on one gas burner, a pot of Bitter leaf soup on the other burner and then we would be lined up somewhere slicing Okro for the upcoming Okro soup, my Mum was an “uchu!”; a term referring to someone working really hard at something.

Vegetables were hallowed things in my Mum’s kitchen. We were made to wash the Ugu or Spinach countless times just to make sure that there was not a tiny bit of the tiniest grain logged in somewhere.

“Gbanye mmili, gbanye mmili” she would say with every sense of seriousness instructing you to add enough water to the veggies. “tinye e nnu”; would follow, a reminder that you should add salt. And if she perceived you weren’t washing them hard enough, she would intervene, saying “chee ka m bia”, and take over the washing, shaking the leaves with her two hands in the water with the instructions to observe her “na ene m anya”.

It was clear to us that having sand in the soup was a taboo. I grew up imagining what it would be like to have the dreaded “sand in the soup” experience. Any movement in the kitchen at key points when my Mum cooked her numerous delicacies would probably be met with hushed exclamations of “Aja!”, Sand! as though mentioning it loudly might actually introduce the sand into the soup. If someone was pounding in the mortar and another person walked past; she would caution against sand “Aja! Aja!”

Mum displaying food at a catering practical

If cut vegetables or other prepared foodstuff queued up for addition to the soup, were placed on the work surface and you probably opened an overhead cupboard; my Mum would go like; “Hey! Aja oooo!!!” Till date, I inwardly duck when I open my overhead kitchen cupboard if there’s cut foodstuff on my work surface with thoughts of “Aja!” on my mind.

Then the process of washing dried fish; you had to first soak them in brine to extract the first layer of dirt/sand, then wash them delicately with a soft sponge to extract the remaining and then rinse them as many times as it would take to get all the sand out.

What do we now say to the washing of offals? The cow intestine also known as afo anu or roundabout, the rough part of the meat which we called “towel anu” but known as shaki in Lagos. Truth is, I rarely eat roundabout meat outside home and I can’t remember the last time I cooked with it either. You see, my Mum would sit down and strip that meat of every interior fat and dirt irrespective of the quantity she cooked, leaving it very clean and that’s the taste I’m used to, sometimes in ordering outside food, that care is not taken because it’s a time consuming process.

It is said that repetition is the law of deep and lasting impression and that’s how my Mum taught us to make some complicated Igbo soups in addition to the observation process. She would chant the steps over and over again so that it would sink in your mind and if you were at a loss on the next step to take, just repeat the chant. For Bitter leaf soup, she would go;

“I tinye ede, ede ghee, i tinye mmanu, mmanu suo, i tinye ogili, ogili ghee, i kwako nyi e ife nni”.

“Put the cocoyam, when it’s done, add the palm oil, when it boils, add the locust bean, when it’s done, then add the spices.”

While we loved to cook with Mum in the kitchen (did i really?) It was always great when my Aunties visited because they simply hung out in the kitchen with her and took over whatever it was we were doing in a very casual but firm manner and who are we to say no to such marvelous help?

The passing on of a Mum is something you never really get used to, some of my friends lost their Mother’s recently and I can just imagine the many memories flooding there hearts on a daily. We are grateful for the hope of the resurrection that Easter brings and we look forward to the rapture morning when the dead in Christ will rise up first and we’ll all ascend to meet the Lord.

Keep resting Fashion Mazi o, till we meet again.

The Storytela

In Ever Loving Memory of Lady Benedette Ugwunwa Ezeanya (4th April 1959-29th June 2019)

My Mum: A Biafra Story.

As a child, the story of the Biafra war never struck me as a tragedy or a very sad tale.

I guess my mind was never able to grasp the full import of the war or what really happened in Biafra.

My Mum was rather young when the war was fought; 8 years when it started and 11 years when it ended but she was old enough to have experienced the terribleness and would always say: agha ajoka, wars are bad.

She would describe the bombings, imitating the sounds of the planes called “fighter na bomber” gbum gbum gbum gbum.

She also talked about Bunkers, the underground escape houses where they usually ran in to hide when the bombings started.

The houses were like wells, dug into the ground and the top covered with palms branches scattered all over such that it looked like a farm. My maternal grandpa had one of those in his house.

But the best part of her stories was the song, the song they sang during the war. It captured a bit of the sufferings of the people while conveying a bit of their sentiments at that time.

The first four lines of the song talks about eating stockfish and corn meal, while asking that cassava leaves be included in the soup to help prevent Kwashiorkor; a protein deficiency disease prevalent during the war. The Nigerian soldiers had blocked the food supplies of the Biafrans hence a lot of the children had protruded bellies, big heads and very skinny bodies, all signs of the illness.

The 5th line was a cry against Red Cross, the society was said to have worked with Nigeria against Biafra during the war, though they were treating Biafran wounded soldiers.

The sixth line referred to the long trips to Aba to bring food items like Garri. I remember stories of my Dad trekking from Anambra to Nsukka, a journey of several thousand miles to get beans and then resell.

The 7th, 8th & 9th lines convey prophetic doom on the Hausa soldiers from Nigeria, Gowon and his wife, declaring solemnly that she would get pregnant from Kwashiorkor and give birth to Fighter and Bomber jets that would be used to destroy Nigeria.

Unu elisigo Okporoko

Unu elisigo corn mealu

Welu abuba akpu sielu anyi ofe

Maka Kwashiorkor emee tu anyi o!

Red Cross gbakwa oku

K’anyi jee n’Aba bute nni garri bunye ndi Kwashiorkor

Ogbunigwe chuba ndi Hausa, Gowon agba kpuo na Bunker

Bunker zedo Gowon

Nwunye Gowon atua ime Kwashiorkor

Ife o ga amu fighter na bomber

A ga-eji tugbu ndi Nigeria

Aha ya anti-kwashiokor

Not the kind of song you would want to sing but this showed the predominant thoughts of the oppressed Biafrans during the war and beyond and I’m certain that anyone who lived through or heard stories of that Civil war or any war at that would not desire another.

May peace reign in our country Nigeria, Amen.

The Storytela

#LadyBeneLivesOn

#InEverLovingMemory

My Mum – An Omugwo Story

Mummy with Kobby, my nephew on his first birthday
Mummy with Kobby, my nephew on his first birthday

Don’t ask me the meaning of what I’m about to write next. Truth is, I don’t know. They must be some carefully stringed Onomatoepic words passed from one generation to the next but then, it must have stopped with my Grandma, because I never heard my Mum use them.

Or maybe, my Grandma composed them entirely, in the ingenuity of women going for Omugwo; the compulsory duty of African mothers or mothers-in-law as the case may be when their daughter gives birth to a new born.

The images are still very clear, GrandMa sitting in a corner in my Mum’s room, the door was left open so we would watch from the dining room. She would sit with her legs spread aside and the baby’s bath tub inbetween them and when she was done bathing the baby, she would throw him or her up singing;

“Ti ngwe ngwe, ti ti gwe ngwe

Ti ngwe ngwe, ti ti gwe ngwe

Änd we would just sing along and giggle. We never asked for the meaning or origin of the songs. For the most part of the omugwo period Grandma would have this powder plastered across her forehead, the baby’s powder. Then she would meticulously hand out Cabin biscuits or Anyara na Ose Oji – Garden egg and local peanut butter, the staple snacks for every Omugwo visitor. This was usually accompanied by a bottle of Fanta or any other soft drink. It must have been an unspoken taboo to serve alcohol around a new born. LOL

We generally enjoyed Grandma’s visit and we were always sad to see her leave at the end of every Omugwo.  My Mum took over the bathing of the baby and she would sing her own songs. Again, some parts of it were just onomatoepic while some others celebrated the baby and some actual milestones. When she was done bathing the baby, she would hold him or her up and sing:

Kworokwo kwo kwoto

Kworokwo kwo kwoto

A na-agba agu mgba?

A na-agba agu mgba?

The last two lines were rhetorical questions asking if someone can wrestle with a Lion. The babies loved the songs and would usually laugh as she sang.

When a baby was about to reach the standing milestone, that would be accompanied by a song;

O kwulu, O kwulu, O kwulu

Ka m na-enene

The song was more of a chant acknowledging that the baby is now standing “for the person to watch/admire” and sometimes all of us would gather to see the baby hitting that milestone.

My Mum’s youngest sister, Aunty Rita took the music for babies to another level. She virtually composed a hit single for my cousin Kosisochukwu when he was born and he created his own dance steps to it, it was pure joy to watch. Again, the music was mostly chants with some onomatoepic words and a few lines acknowledging God as the giver of children.

Koko gbam gbam Koko (2ce)

Ina bem bem ina (2ce)

Ami mi koko

So nwa so Chukuw na-enye

Nwa Chukwu nyere m Kosi

Ina bem bem ina

Ina bem bem so nwa

Then came my marriage and pregnancy and first baby. I simply adopted a song from the bible for Ikem, LOL. No time to start composing like the people before me. My Mum didn’t do much theatrics either, she just kept thanking God for the baby. Chukwu aluka! Then she would pronounce his name in a sing-song voice: Ike mu si na chi o for about four times, forming it into a kind of chant.

Then the numerous phone calls to her friends, telling them why she was away;

“A no m Lagos, nwa m muu nwa” (I’m at Lagos, my child had a baby)

Then, in response to the person’s questions on which of her kids, she would explain further;

“Mba, nwa m nke ise, nke na-eje Eziowelle” (no, my fifth child, the one being married at Eziowelle).

O lite nwa nwoke, Chukwu aluka (She had a baby boy, God has done us well) (She would say the same if it was a baby girl)

The person might then remind her of one meeting or the other from one of her numerous Church associations and she would scream and ask the person to kindly take permission for her “biko naalu m order” and let them know that she went for Omugwo.

She would manage to stay for like one month but by the end of 3 weeks, she would start announcing her departure with goodnews;

“Obiamaka, aru di gi, aru di nwa gi. Ife m nwee ime eme ka nku” Obiamaka, you’re healthy and your child is healthy too, I have a lot of things to do [at home].

She would repeat this for many more days and also to people calling her on the phone just to prepare your mind for her departure before she would finally announce her departure date.

I remember our many quarrels, one of which was my insistence on exclusively breastfeeding my first son. She felt it was too tedious being that I had him via Ceasarean section. She believed I should do both breast and bottle feeding (she rasied eight kids that way!) and couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t just hand her the baby, hand her the bottles and baby milk plus the full sterilizing unit and enjoy my omugwo while she did that work.  By the time she came for the second omugwo, she didn’t bother. Amaka a da ekwe-ekwe; Amaka would not agree, she would say while explaining to another person.

We always fed fat during omugwo, it usually took extra work to loose the weight. Mum made sure of that; the specially cooked soup with carefully dried Chicken or smoked fish bought from the best vendors in Onitsha. She always arrived in grand style with enough food supply to last beyond her departure. I remember her complaining about “Ji ndi Lagos”, the quality of the Lagos yam to her elder sister who in turn asked her if Lagosians cultivate yam, implying that most yams in Lagos were brought in from outside Lagos. LOL. Mum was that particular about foodstuffs.

“So therefore, what I’m trying to say is that”; another of my Mum’s lines as she passionately explained a point to my husband, probably on Anambra politics. And I’ll round up this story by saying that it’s nearly two years on and we still miss her like it was yesterday.

#LadyBeneLivesOn

#ForeverInOurHearts

#GoneToBeWithTheLord