Saturday, February 5, 2011

Life as I Knew it

Prejudice - What does it mean?

“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all” Romans 10:12

Awudi came to live with us when I was about three months old. We lived in Joinkrama at the time. She was a new convert to Christianity. In choosing her Lord, Awudi truly gave up everything.

Before becoming a Christian, she was married with three young children. But when she accepted Jesus as her savior, her husband issued an ultimatum. She had to either renounce her faith or he would divorce her. In those days, a Nigerian woman gave up everything if she divorced. There were no divorce courts or lawyers to help her - women held no power or authority. Her husband simply declared them divorced and sent her away. Because Awudi would not renounce her faith, she lost everything. She lost her home, her husband, her children, and she was never allowed to return again. She was banished!

And so she came to live with us. While both of my parents worked at the hospital, Awudi stayed at our home with the children. She was like a second mother to me. All of my first memories are filled with Awodi’s presence. She bathed me and my siblings, dressed us, fed us, and loved on us. For her part, she was happy to be around children again. It made the loss of her children a little easier to bear. She poured her love on all of us, but she had a special place in her heart for me, because I was a newborn when she came to our family. She called me her baby. When I grew, she changed it to “big baby”. I can still hear her saying in her broken (or Pigeon) English, “You ah ma Beeg Bebe!”

After a few years in Joinkrama, the mission moved my family, first to Oyo for language school and after that to Ogbomosho. Most of my childhood was spent in Ogbomosho.

When I was ten, the Biafran war broke out. This was a difficult time for everyone in Nigeria. The Eastern part of Nigeria where Joinkrama was waged war against the rest of the country in a futile attempt to gain its independence. At its core, it was a tribal war. The Igbo tribe living in the East was at odds with the other tribes. The conflict hit home at our house because Awudi was Inguini (a small tribe which was closely related to the Igbos and supportive of their cause). At the time we lived in Ogbomosho which was Yoruba land (where the Yoruba tribe lived).

Fearing for Awudi’s life, my parents arranged for her to travel back to her region(the part that was trying to become Biafra). This was a wise and gracious move on the part of my parents and God blessed it. Awudi made a safe journey back and lived many more years among her own people. But it was devastating to me!

I could not understand it! My parents tried to explain to me that Awudi would be in danger if she remained among the Yorubas. They tried their best to help me understand the term prejudice. But I had never experienced it before and just could not wrap my brain around the idea that someone might harm another just because of the tribe he belonged to (or the color of his skin, or all the other equally absurd reasons people have for hating one another). I begged my parents to let Awudi stay! She was the embodiment of love to me and I simply could not understand why anyone would want to hurt her.

You know, to this day I do not fully understand prejudice. I was a white minority child in an African world and knew only love from those around me. To this day, I do not fully understand how people can hate others they do not know. I hope I never outgrow this aspect of my childhood.

1 comment:

  1. Great lesson, but not many have the opportunity you had to learn from your earliest days. Important blog.
    Some of my lessons came as an adult teaching a class of older adults in rural Cameroon. To begin with, they teased and tested me a little ... try this: these black, Cameroonian men said, "You know, you white people all look the same to us." Soon in many ways we would joke about race, but there was also a serious current under the humor.