of a frail seventy-eight year old grandma enrolling at an elementary
school in Kenya triggered fond memories of my mother. At an old age,
she too registered for an adult education program. For a community
leader so old, it was a scandal to many, yet she was undeterred.
mother of eight, holding advanced college degrees, her decision
confounded villagers. Some said her demons were in overdrive. Those
who could not keep their opinions to themselves tried dissuading her.
reasoned that having labored all her life to see her children through
school, she ought to sit back and watch her children and
grandchildren bring her the laurels she coveted. Their efforts were
like wasting salt on a porcupine’s chitterlings which no matter
how one seasoned it, always tasted bitter. Like the cat from which
she took her nickname, Mom always landed on her feet. She brushed
aside critics, retorting that darkness, ignorance and superstition
were no good substitutes for knowledge!
the determined old woman needed no encouragement, I supported her
with uniforms and books. Since she was a widow, I reckoned school
activities could help her deal with her situation. I also knew her
actions were the result of a severe trauma in her early childhood.
came from a big family whose members died rapidly. Some had smallpox.
Her mother was murdered over claims to her dead husband’s
property. She obstinately refused Grandpa’s folks the
traditional right to annex his lands, and worse, resisted their
advances and so was ambushed and gruesomely murdered.
brother’s death too almost drove her out of her mind. The day
he died was also the day his high school result was released and he
had made distinction. Devastated, Mother mourned him all her life.
by these deaths, she dropped out of school, got married and raised a
the odds were against her, she committed to see her children get what
fate denied her even if that meant selling herself into slavery.
Through them, she hoped her brother and his dreams would live again.
when she was done seeing her kids through school, her restless spirit
gave her no respite. She often listened with rapt attention as we
shared with her developments in science and technology. She was
stunned when the US landed man on the moon! Not satisfied to hear of
events secondhand, she got back to school to learn all she could
about the Whiteman’s magic.
example encouraged others, especially when teachers stopped pestering
the students for bribes once they knew her children could make
trouble for them. She was a bulwark in the struggle for women’s
rights in the village. She wore trousers, painted her nails, and wore
makeup. She spoke out openly against wife battery and repudiated the
culture of female genital mutilation and child marriage.
these sourly outraged the community. She believed her daughters would
achieve dignity and financial independence and save themselves from
spousal abuse if they got education. So, she raised goats for sale,
took part in palm produce trade, and joined thrift societies. When
these were not enough to supplement Dad’s meager income, she
hired herself out as a plantation hand. When its management embezzled
workers’ salaries and owed them endlessly, she raised vegetable
and tubers for sale.
planned for us to attend school in relays. I stayed out of school for
four years so that my first two sisters could get done with theirs.
uncle who assumed answers to the agonizing downdrafts of our poverty
decided to act on his novel ideas. To him educating girls was sheer
wasted resource. The smart thing to do was to marry them off. So, he
searched out suitors for my sisters.
day he arrived with an old man he introduced as his friend. With jaws
agape like the backside of a refuse truck, the lethargic man cut a
sorry sight. When he grinned, his teeth were the decaying brown of
goat droppings while his face wrinkled like a viciously wrung kitchen
towel. Bent over by age, he tottered and staggered like a baby
learning to walk. He so reeked of stale alcohol, a deer could pick
him out miles away.
the drunk managed to sit down, my uncle broached the purpose of their
visit, declaring he brought his friend to marry any of my sisters he
fancied. Such matters in my culture are usually discussed in
proverbs, and my uncle layered it on. “When a tree dies does it
not leave its roots behind,” he said with rhetorical flourish.
“Wood already touched by fire isn't hard to set alight,”
he added, suggesting my sisters were nubile enough for the half-dead
appalling feelings against the old reprobate, he said, “Dogs
don't love people; they love the place where they are fed.”
in Mother’s countenance suggested the event would not end well.
Only a twitching nerve on her temple hinted at trouble. That Uncle
had the nerve to act so debasingly was to Mom, a stunning craven
abuse of her hopes for her daughters. She was rankled he sought to
rob her of hope and frustrate her dreams and ambitions for her
daughters. She excused herself as if she were going to get some
snacks for her guests.
she returned, she looked like one possessed. Her eyes were like
shafts and hard as stone. In her right hand was a pestle that she
swung with savage force at the miserable bottle of alcohol the guests
had brought. The bottle flew out the door before it exploded midair
with its contents into a shower of shard. This caused quite a stir
among the fowls that were feasting on grasshoppers frolicking in the
sun. One bird, a crow, lay as if taking cover the way we used to when
bombed and strafed during the civil war. Shrapnel sank into its
breast and it would fly no more.
then turned on Uncle and his friend, who were so frozen in fear it
was a wonder they did not wet their pants. She pointed the pestle to
the door and the men got the message. I had no idea old men could be
so fleet-footed. Getting on their bicycle, they pedaled as if fleeing
a tigress. Later in a biology class I learned about adrenalin and
felt thankful it helped Uncle and his friend escape murder from
her daughters did her proud. One became a supervisor of district
schools and the other a professor of nursing, raised four daughters,
among them a doctor, pharmacist, attorney and magazine editor. Her
children done with school, the professor went back to medical school
to become a doctor herself. She thus proved the old saying right that
educating a woman was educating a nation.
Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at
several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a
detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from
childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the
University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.
Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North