My late grandmother, Madam Elizabeth Emeaghalu was my first encounter with a strong woman.
When we were still tiny tots, visiting the village for the holidays, every time we arrived the village, we knew that by the next morning, the sound of a Vespa revving into our compound would wake us up.
She would zoom in, circle the compound and park her Vespa. Then come down and envelope each and every one of us in her warm, pillowy hug.
Then she would open her purse and out of it would tumble out small small delicacies for us. She would have stopped at Ugwu Orie, and bought spicy hot akara balls, then there would be “ogbaraotui” – spicy, smoked egusi balls from the basket she hung above her fireplace in the kitchen, maybe a ripe udara or two.
As we stuffed our cheeks with goodies, she would invite us over to her compound for the weekend and we would gleefully pack our bags and count down until we could escape to her place.
My paternal grandmother was strict and protective.
My maternal grandmother was permissive and indulgent.
As soon as we arrived her compound, she would send off for a carton of malt and send one of our aunties to go and catch the goat that she had bought in the last year’s bazaar, and had been keeping for her grandchildren.
The goat would be slaughtered, and from her, we learnt how silly gizzard fights were.
My elder sister, my mother’s ada would get the entire waist of the goat, while my brothers would get the tail, the scrotum, funny funny bits and pieces.
Of course, it was all symbolic, everything would go back into the kitchen and be diced up and for the period we spent in her home, we could eat and drink whatever we liked.
As soon as our parents’ backs were turned, she would permit all of us, even the tiniest, to go to the stream. Go and watch masquerade shows. Whatever, just go and have fun and enjoy your time in the village.
Then at night, we would gather round her on the verandah of her apartment, and she would tell us fairy tales and stories where mbe nwaniga the tortoise outsmarted or was outsmarted by man and his fellow inhabitants of the animal kingdom.
But mama was not just a housewife enjoying retirement in the village, she was also a businesswoman, overseeing vast palm nut plantations; the community women leader; head of the Christian Mothers; and a church warden.
All these she combined with ease, her Vespa zipping past people on the village streets as she rushed from one appointment to the other, was a regular sight.
She commanded a lot of respect and attention and most times, there was a steady stream of women passing through her house (and eventually ours), attending finishing sessions before going off to their husband’s homes; or seeking her intervention in all sorts of issues.
It broke her when my father died and she saw her daughter widowed, she took time off her hectic schedule and relocated to Kaduna with my mum after her widowhood rites were completed, just to comfort her.
Several times, her timely counsel helped my mother snap out of grief and pay keener attention to what was going on around her. She was able therefore to put her foot down and prevent issues that were detrimental to her well-being and that of her children.
All Mama’s daughters were encouraged to get a proper education and pursue a career first and foremost. Any husband that would interrupt that process was strongly discouraged. And so, it was also easy for her to put her foot down strongly and back my mother in insisting that however rough the road may be, her daughters would get the benefit of a good education before anything else.
Even though Mama was a staunch Catholic, there were a few things she did not understand about us born again Christians: shouting at God, and closing our eyes to pray.
One day in the midst of morning devotion, while she observed all of us and wondering what brand of madness would make us close our eyes for that length of time, a scorpion scurried out from one corner of the room and headed towards one of us.
Moving swiftly, Mama crushed the scorpion, then tapped on my mother to get her attention. “Keep your eyes open when you are praying, and make it brief. If I had closed my eyes like all of you, this scorpion would have stung one of you and we will start running helter-skelter again.”
Mama passed on a couple of decades ago, but her memories and the seeds she planted in the hearts and lives of people continue to grow and spread.
She was a phenomenal woman, my grandmother.
And there are many of them, unsung sheroes, in our lives.
Today, the International Women’s Day 2017, I choose to celebrate all the unsung sheroes in our lives. Those who without much ado, stood up and stood out for change, creating impacts that span generations.
I know so many of them, I am sure you do too.
Please feel free to share stories of your #UnsungShero in the comments section.
Cowritten with Victoria Nwogu