Conversations with an African Grandmother

JulietGrandmother: Adaugo! Adaugo!

Adaugo (In a very sleepy voice): Eh nnem, I am coming o…
Grandmother: Nwam, I hope you had a good night’s sleep? Hurry up, have your bath, eat breakfast fast and accompany me to visit mama Ikenna

Adaugo: Nnem, isn’t a bit too early to be visiting anyone?

Grandmother: You know mama Ikenna and her theatrics. Her son Ike, came this morning before the sound of the first cock crow, to rouse me from sleep. Your grandfather did not find it amusing at all and even warned Ike severely. First, he asked him if anyone was at the point of death? When Ike replied in the negative, my Batram gave him a tongue lashing and lecture on how young men of today don’t respect the sacred hours that the body needs…

Adaugo (Smiling broadly): Nnem, everyone knows grandpapa doesn’t like anyone disturbing your sleep. He’s always complaining to mama and uncle Jaja that the townspeople bring all their problems to your doorstep.

Grandmother (Laughing cheekily): Woman to woman, you know a man is fully awake and standing early in the morning. Ike’s loud knocking came at a most unfortunate time for your grandfather. I pity the poor young man.
Leave that aside, get ready, let us go across and see what mama Ike is worrying about today. Just yesterday, we finished rejoicing that her daughter Olihe had recently put to birth, a bouncing, baby boy. I pity that poor child Olihe. Each time she comes homes, she’s disappearing more and more into shadow of herself. I hope all her constant quarrels with her husband will finally cease.

Adaugo: Nnem, I’m sure it will be a short visit. Let me just brush my teeth and splash some water. I can bathe fully when we get back.

Grandmother: Okay, hurry up. I still have to finish up my story to your sister, Adaku. I can tell that Ekwunife’s talk hurt her deeply, no matter how she pretends. I know she’s still crazy about that isi coconut she married.

(Loud knocking at the door) Kpom! Kpom! Kpom!
Onye kwa? All these early morning callers! Polycap, Polycap, hurry and see who’s at the gate.

Adaugo: Nnem, let me go and open the gate. I don’t think he’s at home. Polyp said he would be going to Onitsha very early in the morning to buy some plumbing materials to fix his bathroom.

Grandmother: Oh yes, he did mention that to me yesterday. See how my memory fails me, old age is finally here to stay.

Adaugo: Nnem, you’re still the sharpest and smartest woman I know. Let me go and open the door.


 

(Adaugo comes back into the room, followed closely by Mama Ikenna)

Grandmother: My dear neighbour, how are you and your husband? We were about to come to your house. I hope all is well.

Mama Ikenna (Turning to her son and Adaugo): Both of you children, biko wait for me outside the room. Let me speak with my mama Jaja over something very important. (The children exchanged amused looks, with Adaugo rolling her eyes as they both stepped out of the room).

Grandmother: Ngwa, mama Ike, my dear sister and neighbour, o gini? Did anyone die?

Mama Ikenna: No

Grandmother: Is anyone sick? Is Olihe’s baby okay? Is she fine?

Mama Ikenna: No! It’s none of that. (Bursting into tears): It is Olihe’s husband o. Chiedozie has started his madness again. My poor, beautiful daughter, Olihedinma, what kind of bad luck is this? My enemies are after my happiness, they will never succeed. I will bind all of them with the blood…

Grandmother (Interrupting her): Please, biko I beg of you before you start cursing your enemies and binding people up and down, let us unbound your story. Biko, may you please tell me what the actual problem is?

Mama Ikenna: Mama Jaja, ndo. My apologies, it is just that my heart is very heavy today. After I left you yesterday, I went to St Anthony of Padua prayer meeting as we agreed. I had not even announced the good news, before Olihe’s neighbour, Mr Okoro, that very helpful man who lost his wife at the beginning of the year, came to find me and he shared some very disturbing news. Do you know that just barely 24 hours after my daughter Olihe put to birth, her husband raised a hand on her again! What have we done to Chiedozie eh? Why does he keep using Olihe as a punching bag?

Before, I thought it was because she had given him only 3 girls but now that she has a son, he still beats my daughter. Why is this happening to my daughter? Why is this happening to our family. First, her father beat me for years, until he had his stroke and now my own daughter is going through the same thing again! Chukwu nna, o gini ka any melu?

(She breaks down into loud, agonized crying)

Grandmother: Mama Ike, biko I’m sorry but I have nothing to say to you. You already have the answers you seek. The first time Chiedozie beat up your daughter, our beautiful, shy and quiet Olihe, what did I tell you? Did you not ignore me? What do you want me to do now? Tell your daughter to wait till her husband has a stroke or till he kills her, i nu go? Do you hear me?

Mama Ikenna: Mama Jaja, my dear friend and neighbour, please forgive me. I know you’re still angry with me. I should have listened to you before. You know that years ago, when Olihe came back crying and complaining that she didn’t want to be married to Chiedozie any longer, I was the one who told her to shut up and go back to her husband’s house. I thought it was because she had not had a baby boy and so her husband was angry at her. I remember you told me to call a meeting of ndi umuada and umunna so that they could admonish Chiedozie and his family. Yes, you even suggested that she stays home with me and wait till her husband comes for her.

Grandmother: Exactly! Your daughter comes to you in her pain and instead of you to be a tigress and fight for her, you shame her into believing she is less than and unworthy of love. What has having a male or female child got to do with anything? Are all children not gifts from God? You were afraid of what people will say. You fear the tongues wagging. You did not want her to rock the proverbial boat. Okay, ngwa nu, the boat has capsized, do you want to teach her how to swim to safety or are you still living in denial? Call Adaugo and your son Ikenna to come in. This is part of your problem. Why are you hiding these things from the children? How will your son learn to be a better man if you don’t show him the pain caused by his father and now, your son-in-law?

(Mama Ike goes outside and brings in Adaugo and Ike)

Grandmother: Adaugo, Ike, sit down and listen carefully. Ngwa, my sister, tell them about Olihe’s situation.
(After a few minutes of narration, Ikenna rises up in anger).

Ikenna: Mama, I remember when sister Olihe came home crying, a few years after she got married. Obinna and I were very young but I’ll never forget how sister cried and cried and begged you and papa to let her stay. When we woke up in the morning, she was already gone. I remember asking you why she was crying and you dismissed my questions, saying she was being childish. I tried asking more questions but you slapped me and told me to mind my business. Mama, the reason why I never forgot sister Olihe’s cries was that it reminded me so much of yours…

Grandmother: Mama Ike, my sister, you see? The things we think we hide in the dark, the children see with their light. The mother’s pain is sucked by the baby through her breastmilk. You did your daughter and your sons a great injustice. And now you must correct it.

Mama Ikenna: What are we to do? Should we call a family meeting and contact Chiedozie’s family?

Grandmother: Mba, that is the second stage. The first thing is to get your daughter to safety. Ikenna, nwam, go and call your brother Obinna and also all your male cousins. The 4 sons of your father’s brother, nnanyi Ezeugo and your father’s half-brother, okechukwu are enough. All seven of you must come back here, lets plan a visit to ‘strong man’ Chiedozie.

Adaugo: Nnem, biko, I hope you’re not planning what I think you are? This sounds like our family’s famed method alias ‘The Uncle JAJA approach’

Mama Ikenna: My sister, what is this ‘The Uncle JAJA approach?

(Adaugo and Grandmother burst into simultaneous laughter)

Adaugo: Nnem, you will have to tell this story. I was too young when it happened….

Grandmother: My dear sister, mama Ike, its a simple and short story. Hmmmnnn, a long time ago, my hothead of a son, Jaja, the famed writer, came back from obodo oyibo with his wife, Kego. You know Zinachukwudi, Jaja’s wife. She’s our friend, Uzoaku’s daughter. That quiet, respectful and intelligent girl, I was so thrilled that he met and married the daughter of someone I have loved like a sister for years.

Well, just after the wedding they had a quarrel and in the process, my dear Jaja raised his fist against this beautiful daughter-in-law that God blessed our family with. The worst part was that she was pregnant at the time. Alu! Can you imagine the shame and pain? I have never seen a woman love someone like my Zina loved Jaja nwam.

Mama Ikenna: Unbelievable! Jaja dotes on his wife. They are always celebrated on television and in those big, big city magazines. In fact, everyone says he’s like Nna anyi Batram….

Grandmother: My dear, it wasn’t always like that. I know my son has always been hot-tempered, coupled with his mood swings whenever he’s writing those his fat, fat university text books and novels….Anyway, Zina came running to Batram and I to report Jaja’s actions to us. To say we were shocked was an understatement. Where did this boy learn such behaviour? It broke Batram’s heart to see that a son he’d raised would treat a woman so. I was in such a terrible shock. That is the thing with children, they will always surprise you!

So Batram had a lengthy and heavy talks with him for some days and also send him to the Reverend Father’s classes, as he put it ‘so he would learn some more about being a husband and a real man’. Batram even insisted that Zina go back home to her family and stay there for a few weeks while Jaja finishes his ‘manhood’ classes as he termed them.

Jaja was of course shattered by all of this, he apologized over and over again to his lovely wife. In fact, Zina started getting angry at all the hoops that Batram was making her husband jump. The day she was to go to her family, she woke up and suddenly announced to my beloved and I, that she had forgiven her hubby and was ready to get back together with him.

My Batram almost fell for her pleas. But I was adamant. You know the problem with you young ladies of nowadays…

Adaugo interrupting, with mirth: Too much book sense and not enough common sense!

Grandmother: Exactly! Love nwantiti was shacking my dear daughter-in-law. So I called her quietly into my bedroom and had a heart to heart with her. Basically, I told her that unconditional love is a beautiful thing but it also needs sweet conditioning oils of respect and honour, if not it will turn bitter very quickly. I also told her that she must go back to her parents and wait for Jaja and the clan to come and beg her people.

It was important that Jaja also go before ndi umuada and umunna to tell them how he used his wife as a punching bag and disgraced the clan. He would also explain the steps he had taken to understand his triggers and deal with his self-control issues. Of course Zina thought all these were too much for her beloved. She expressed her displeasure that we were giving him such a hard time. But I did not relent and so she went to her people.

Well, the next thing I did was call his male cousins, Bernard’s sons and Zina’s two elder brotherss, they were 7 young men in total. And I instructed them to give my Jaja the beating of his life. Gentle enough not to seriously hurt him but firm enough that he would remember and feel the pain! And thereafter, we happily and proudly accompanied him to plead for his wife, Zina’s hand. And the rest they say is history…

Mama Ikenna: I don’t understand, so why did you have his seven cousins beat him up?
Adaugo: Aunty, that is the same question we all asked when we heard this story. And to this day, we tease uncle Jaja about that beating, albeit to his chagrin.

And it always makes aunty Zina so happy. She always tells anyone who cares to listen with pride: “When my soulmate Jay, made the mistake of beating me, he got the beating of his life, went for manhood classes and came to re-ask for my hand in marriage, with a pledge to my people never to do that again…because I am his queen.”

To which uncle Jaja would always reply by planting a big kiss on her lips and bowing in an exaggerated way to her, saying with aplomb, ‘Indeed, you are my queen.’ Then he would remind us all that his wife loved him so much that she actually begged his parents to forgive him. And that she didn’t want to go back to her own parents…..

Grandmother: Mama Ike, my dear sister, in our tradition, seven is the number of completion and it is important that we always complete the cycle of our stories in order that forgiveness happens.

Mama Ikenna: I still don’t understand, what has that got to do with having Jaja beaten up.

Adaugo: (Laughing) Biko, don’t bother to even listen to grandmama about this her number 7 nonsense. She tries to justify her actions. Truth is, she’s a fierce advocate against violence of any kind and worst of all against women. We all secretly think she beat up Jaja to score a personal point.

Grandmother (laughing heartily): Adaugo nwam, there’s no secret about it. Imagine the shock of my own son raising a finger against his woman, and a pregnant wife at that! Abomination. Which ear will hear this and not be in shock? It is very simple. Jaja beat up his wife. If all he did was apologize and she took him back, that is such a disempowering story for her. And you know how I hate incomplete stories. (Chuckling loudly and mischievously). The complete story today is that he beat up Zina and then 5 of his own cousins and 2 of Zina’s brothers beat him up too. Then, he had to go for a course and come to her people to beg. That is a kind of love story that is sweet for years to come.

It is important that a woman (or man) never settles for a resolution that in years to come will bring up resentment. Plus, every man in the clan now knows that to raise your hand against any woman is not something we do. So, let Ikenna and Obinna gather their cousins, because Chiedozie is about to learn that Olihedinma has mad people in her family too. Sometimes, you have to shake up a bad pattern loose. And if he does not change, mama ike, it is better you settle to accept and love a single daughter who’s alive and well, than a married daughter whose spirit is already dead. She who has ears, let them hear!

Adaugo, eh he, before I forget, remember to ask me about the story of Mama Ezinne’s daughter, Azuka. Her father, Azikiwe, refused to go for her 7th child’s naming ceremony. Azikiwe really impressed me o. There are so many lessons for all of us women in their story. But first, let us implement the JAJA treatment on isi okpukpu Chiedozie.

Adaugo: Nnem!!

Grandmother: Why are you calling me? Since Chiedozie has shown that he has fighting prowess, let us give him 7 of his age mates to practice with, Olihedinma is not the correct match for him, ….(To be continued)

Culled from the super new book written by the amazing Juliet ‘Kego Ume-Onyido of the Whole Woman Network. Available December 2015. We can’t wait to get the whole book and see what happens to chiedozie 🙂

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