Print   |   Back
December 10, 2013
African Voice
Life under the Weather
by Imo Eshiet

Having lived over 95% of my life in a country that sits astride the equator, I have been conditioned by the furnace blast to be winter-unfriendly. Although we were physically skinny, we gave the impression of being large because of the layers of clothing we put on.

When we visited Guilford County Health Department at 1100 East Wendover Avenue for shots, the medics were amazed the way we peeled off shirt after shirt just so they could get to our skin to administer the shots we needed. Our folks who had been in the country long before us warned that we ran the risk of contracting pneumonia if we exposed ourselves to colds, and we took their counsel religiously.

One day I went for a ride with a friend. Though the temperature was about 60 degrees, I showed up in a sweater. Not one to fail to notice and comment on anything that looks unusual, my friend asked if I was freezing.

I answered that since the weather was unstable I simply was not taking chances as it was better to feel slight discomfort that to pick up hospital bills if I caught a chill.

Every winter, winter blues make me feel like going back to Africa in spite of all her unsightly open sores and insecurities. To my American friends who joke about the way I dress at winter, I retort they would die of heat stroke if they lived in Africa!

Often they tell me it’s all in the mind. Maybe they are right, but I’m not so sure given the way I feel when the sun withdraws and the skies dump snow and pelt us with sleet and black ice.

In weather like this if my nose is not blocked, it drips and runs. As my drug record at Walgreens can attest, I often queue up for Sudafed while my demand for vitamin C spikes. I showed up once to buy Sudafed and left my driving license in the car. It turned out I had to show my license before I could get the drug. If I was not hard-pressed I would not have given up the warmth in the pharmacy to get the license.

So it was last Sunday. I was in bed with cramps and though determined not to miss sacrament meeting, that morning I was not quite decided to brave the cold and keep my commitment. As I lay stretching and rolling over under an electric blanket, my phone rang. If I had listened to my feelings I wouldn’t have picked it up.

At the other end was John Furler. His wife, he said, was indisposed and so could not teach a Primary class that morning. He apologized for asking me at short notice, but would I please stand in for her? I was about saying I was just as indisposed myself, but what jumped out of my mouth was, “Sure, I’d be glad to. Can you send me the link to the lesson?”

It baffled me how sometimes I mean to say one thing but end up saying the very opposite. Having promised I would, I couldn’t back out of it, not after I had received a heartfelt thank you!

When I managed to drag myself out of bed and searched out the lesson, I realized I was not really doing the Furlers a favor but myself. That morning my mood was as downcast as a low-hanging cloud. As I prepared to teach the lesson, I felt that that early morning phone call was a message of hope, and gateway out of my doldrums.

Titled “Hand Cart Companies Come to Salt Lake Valley,” its purpose was designed to inspire class members “to be like the hand cart pioneers and endure valiantly to the end.”

The lesson was something I could readily connect with. As I read, it poignantly brought back to mind a 1961 interview in which late James Baldwin, a famous African American writer, remarked, "You read something which you thought only happened to you, and you discover that it happened 100 years ago to Dostoyevsky. This is a very great liberation for the suffering, struggling person, who always thinks that he is alone.”

The lesson dealt with the daunting challenges the Willie and Martin Hand Cart Companies faced in their migration to the Salt Lake valley and their fortitude as they fought their way through horrendous storms and frigid weather. These were ordinary folks who tied their happiness to a purposeful goal. Resolute in commitment to remain true to their core values no matter what the vagaries of the weather threw at them, they migrants forged on with faith in every footstep.

Even as many succumbed to death by hunger, frostbite and fatigue, yet they sustained their leaders.

Those who survived the exacting thousand miles trek and endured to the end left behind models of unbending faith. While investigating the Church 19 years ago, I was swept off my feet by the iron-clad determination of the suffering migrants not to turn back on their faith.

I found their action compelling because I lived in a country where the failure of leadership woefully failed to tap the undoubted talents and abundant resources of the land and thereby encouraged drift and irresolution.

As I re-read the story of the migrants, of volunteers like Ephraim Hanks and the three youth who braved all odds to serve others, something resonated and validated my family’s decision to join the Church. The entire story of the migrants apart, what I found most engaging is the testimony of one of those who survived the trek.

Sitting in a Sunday school class where someone in a thoughtless moment criticized leaders who ordered the journey, the old pioneer had this to say:

I was in that company and my wife was in it. … We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church, because everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities [difficulties].

I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it. … I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.

Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company (quoted in David O. McKay, “Pioneer Women,” p. 8; emphasis in original).

Substituting for Sister Furler that Sunday reinforced my gratitude to belong with a heritage this old man spoke of. I too have had my “cart” pulled by unseen and unknown hands. I have encountered and felt the unqualified love of many Ephraim Hanks have received with humility but profound gratitude the uncommon intelligence that faith in the savior and in his restored Church indeed moves mountains and make the desert to flourish in a very literal and practical sense.

Copyright © 2024 by Imo Eshiet Printed from