I wrote this in 2012 and posted on another site. Reposting here to celebrate my sweet mother on her birthday today.
Happy birthday Mummy Mi.
I believe my Mom deserves a whole book written about her. There is no way I can do justice to her essence with one blog post but I will try.
I definitely can’t remember the start of our relationship, which I guess would have began the moment I was conceived, neither can I remember the day we eventually met because I am of course not capable of such memories but my first memory of her was of being in the crook of her arm on a dark evening, there must have been no light because my memory of the night is that it was very dark. I vaguely remember mats spread on a cemented floor in a courtyard and different families lying out there talking about only God knows what.
My mum once told me that my delivery was the easiest among all four of us as I was very small; she said I weighed less than 3kg. I have heard stories of how people asked her where she saw the sickly child she carried around. I seemed to be incapable of holding any food substance down, I had this tendency to expel food as soon as it enters my body so of course I was thin and practically lived on Seven Seas tablets. I was also the one with a constant runny nose and a cough that never seemed to go away. I was told someone even joked that some funny spirits must have entered her stomach and replaced the original child placed there by God probably during her one of her sujourns to the neighborhood swamp.
By the time we moved to another house few yards away from where I was born, I was still very young probably just five, I already understood what it meant to be born without a silver spoon (although reading Eddie Iroh’s without a silver spoon in Primary three made me understand the phrase better). Things were definitely not easy in our house but my Mom gives meaning to the word – resourceful, I remember she raised Rabbits and Chickens; she also grew pepper, tomatoes, leafy vegetables, garden egg e.t.c in the Garden behind the house. She and Dad grew yam, cassava and every other staple food on the family farm some kilometers away from the house. Mum also had a Rice farm in a Swamp close to home, the same Swamp where I (a supposed forest spirit) jumped into her stomach. They farmed so we won’t have to spend money on buying food, everything we ate was what we grew, Rice from her farm, Yam from the family farm, Garri processed by Mum from the Cassava on our farm and the meat was the Rabbits and the Chickens.
My mum should have been a teacher then if only she got a teaching job (unemployment issues didn’t start today). She was a graduate of a college of education but as she couldn’t get a job, not for want of trying, rather than sit at home and depend on my father’s civil servant salary, she turned to self help. Every Monday morning she was at Sabo market in Ilesha selling her goods that ranged from melon seed, dry pepper, to Beans e.t.c She would travel as far as Nupe land, Zaria and the rest just to buy goods, in later years I understood how that must have been when I see truck load of women sandwiched with their goods at the back of a truck, that was the way my mother got the goods she sold. She would get back from these trips, sell her goods at the Monday market and resume on her farms on Tuesday eking out a living for us. We could have still lived howbeit comfortably on my Dad’s salary if they didn’t feel the need to give us a very sound foundation in education.
My parents made sure we attended the best nursery school there was back then. Their friends and some family members laughed at them, they wondered how they would be able to sustain school fees payment at such an expensive school. My elder sister and I attended a school which was without any argument the best around then. Some of our classmates were children of Car merchants, Monarchs, Cocoa Merchants, children with parents abroad and in short Rich kids, most of these lived in the boarding house but we could only be day students. This school as far back as 1984 was teaching the Montessori Method of education in and from what I know today they were doing the real thing. We did all the things children in the best nursery schools in Lagos do these days. My parents made sure we didn’t feel inferior to anybody in school, and so they would even buy lunch tickets for us although it would have been easier on them financially to let us carry food from home.
For a very long time my mother never owned more than two pair of shoes at a time; she and my Dad were ready to wear rags just so we could have a solid and secure future. My Dad belongs to a club that till today organizes Christmas parties for their children. Members come all the way from Lagos, Ibadan to spend Christmas in Ilesha and the essence of these parties was so the families could interact. The party was usually held at Atlanta hotel, which was like the biggest hotel in Ilesha back then. The wives of my father’s friends were always adorned in the latest lace materials with shoes and bags to match. My mother was that woman who usually wore the same lace material she wore the previous year along with the same shoe and bag (sometimes no bag). We on the other hand were always well dressed in new dresses and shoes. They would have bought our Christmas wears around September and she would hang it in her room. She made sure we always looked our best for this party. Mum was also the one who never attended occasions because she didn’t have anything to wear. She never felt sad about it. It just wasn’t a priority for her.
I remember following her to her Rice farm, sitting under a shade chewing on sugar canes she cut for me while watching her tend her rice farm or watering her vegetables. She will later harvest these vegetables and take them to the market for sale. Despite the lack in our household, my parents never allowed us to perform much manual labour; my dad wanted his girls to have supple hands and skins free of bruises. Whenever I followed them to the major farm, I sat there in a make shift shade prepared by my Dad eating roasted yam, these were moments I treasure till today, I thought it was fun being there amidst Yam plants, Maize stalks, Cassava plants and the rest.
Mum would harvest her Rice, parboil it all by herself, and dry it on the concrete floor of our compound. She would then carry it to the mill where they process the rice- by mechanically removing the husks from the grain. This was the rice people refer to as Ofada Rice; the same Rice that has now been rebranded si much that low income families can no longer afford it. This was what served as our everyday rice, I remember my mum will only cook stews with pepper grinded on a milling stone. She will only make Egusi soup with the Egusi and pepper grinded on a milling stone. Everything we ate was fresh, our vegetables were picked in our garden just before usage, the meat was from a Rabbit or Chicken she killed herself, our Egusi seed was separated from the melon fruit and not bought in the market, I remember even our Fufu was not bought but prepared by Mum herself from raw Cassava; Mum took every opportunity there was to save money, there was school fees to be paid, textbooks to be bought, uniforms to be sown and so on and so on. She reasoned that the less we had to buy, the more money she can save towards the well being of her children.( Looking on the bright side, I think all that fresh food was a very good thing and I actually miss those days).
I remember Mum’s emergency ‘’obe’’, (that was what she called it- a soup she could prepare within five minutes) we never cooked a standard pot of soup that was eaten for days on end, there was no money for that, instead we lived day to day. My mum could cook an amazing pot of soup with just 50 naira or at no cost at all, she would gather everything she needed most of which she already had in her garden anyway, she will sometimes buy fish, for thirty of forty naira, it was the type that was dipped in flour or Elubo (I strongly suspected our customer used the latter back then) and sold in units of N1, N2 and N5. By the time this pot of soup was ready, it was fit for even a king, she would have added snails (gotten from her farm of course), kere (a type of periwinkle), freshly killed Rabbit or Chicken with fresh Ugu or Water leaf to complete the Egusi soup and we were ready to eat. This most times went with pounded yam. My mum makes the meanest Efo riro in the world, with fresh vegetables (hand grinded), dried fish, snails, Kere…and so on. The amazing thing was she did it all at little or no cost at all. Another great economy soup she made was obe ila alasepo. I never knew until much later that we were not eating those soups by choice but because we didn’t have enough money; my parents somehow completely insulated us from their struggles, they never made us feel like we didn’t have enough.
The first story book I owned was bought by my Mum, she saw I loved reading books and thought that I was too young for the kind of books I was reading, my mum bought me a complete set of Jola readers (don’t know if they still exist; publishers of books like Lagos boy, the money doublers e.t.c) and when I decided to fashion out my own library right there in our sitting room, both her and my Dad allowed me. Her joy was seeing her sacrifices on our education pay off; she was always excited when people commend me and my siblings on our depth of knowledge. It gave her joy when she saw that neighbours and cousins who were already in secondary schools consulted us to help them with their homework. She loved hearing people say;
Awon omo yen mowe, Olatunde ni won’lo.
She was especially proud when while my elder sister and I were in secondary school, we represented our school in state wide competitions, my sister for the senior class and I for junior class. She beamed whenever we brought our prizes home, I will never forget the day I checked my WASSCE result, I had 9 distinctions, I was on my way home when I met my mum along the bush path that led to our house, I told her the news there and then, her eyes misted and I could see the joy plainly on her face. These things were enough for my mother.
Even after my elder sister and I entered the university, my mother was still actively involved in her farming, she was still growing cassava, and processing it; she would fry her own Gaari herself, and sell it in the market. There was a time she started processing groundnuts, she would buy groundnuts, take it for grinding at the mill and start the painstaking and energy sapping process of extracting the oil with her bare hands, after getting the oil, she would then fry the paste to produce what people call kuli-kuli (groundnut-cake), this she sold along with the groundnut oil extracted. At the same time, she would go to a cold room every morning to buy slabs of fish (Panla) which she fried and sold at home. People were confused about what names exactly to call my mum, some called her iya onikuli, some others iya Eleja, others iya Elefo, she was just into so many things all so we could have a smooth journey in life. She is tireless!
I never lacked throughout my school days, I attended a fee paying secondary school and not the public schools that were offering free education. I was in the boarding house as it was a quite some distance from home, my parents made sure I had everything I needed, I was never broke, you would never have been able to guess my background if you knew me. In my university days, I could call my parents for money as many times as I wished after collecting my standard allowance for the month, they made sure we had everything that we needed while they had almost nothing personally.
Getting our mum to stop these strength sapping jobs was a very hard task, we assured her she didn’t have to do all those things, this was when we were already in university, my elder sister and I, our two younger ones were still in secondary school at this time, my mum refused saying she couldn’t let the whole family depend on my dad’s salary alone. By this time we were already living in our own house, my dad had a good car which was like the best he ever owned in his life as at that time, things were definitely a lot better, we wanted her to stop the stressful jobs but she refused.
My mum eventually got a job with the Osun state government in 2005; more than 20 years after leaving school. She was very happy and we were excited for her, the pay was definitely small, her school mates were already head mistresses and she was only just starting as a junior teacher. For a lesser woman this would have been unacceptable, but my mum knew her worth and she still went ahead to work in a school where she had to say “yes Ma” to her mates. She of course didn’t need the money to survive anymore but she was still excited about an opportunity to teach and this she has also excelled at, she uses our old nursery school notebooks and textbooks in teaching her primary one students, she also uses writing workbooks to teach them how to write well, her students definitely turned out differently and even her fellow teachers fought among themselves to get students she has groomed promoted to their classes.
She would tell anyone that cares to listen that she doesn’t feel inferior to anybody, her mates might have advanced in career than she did but her reward is in her children, while her peers still struggle with getting children through endless WAEC and UME exams, her own children have all gone beyond that, today she finally has more shoes than she can wear, she now drives her own car something she never thought she could ever do. Her peers respect her, her husband and children call her blessed. We love her so much, our dear mother, she is more than a mother and on her birthday I say happy birthday my sweet mother, in my next life I still want to come through you and Dad.