Monday, February 23, 2015

Life as I knew It

This post was originally posted on 2/5/11

Prejudice–What does that word 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. Before becoming a Christian, she was married to a man who beat her often. She bore him three children. One day she fled his beatings and in so doing, she lost her home and her children and she was never allowed to see them again. She was banished!

So she came to live with us. While both of my parents worked at the hospital, Awudi stayed at our home with us children. She was like a second mother to me. All of my first memories are filled with Awodi’s presence. She bathed us, 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. I was a newborn when she came to our family. She called me her baby. As I grew, she changed it to her “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 Ogbomoso, the home to most of my childhood memories.

When I was ten, the Biafran war broke out. This was a difficult time for everyone in Nigeria. The Eastern part of Nigeria which included Joinkrama waged war against the rest of the country in a futile attempt to gain its independence. At its core, this 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 closely related to the Igbos and supportive of their cause).  But Ogbomoso was Yoruba land, home to the Yoruba tribe.

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 was in danger if she remained among the Yorubas. They tried their best to help me understand the term prejudice, a word I had never heard before. But I had never experienced it and simply could not wrap my brain around the idea that a person might harm another just because of the tribe they belonged to (or the color of their skin, or all the other equally absurd reasons people have for hating one another). I begged my parents to let Awodi 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.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Awudi and the Unspoken Language

This post was written by my sister, Alisa Smith. It is about a person who was so special to our family. In a couple more weeks, I will post a story about Awudi that I wrote.     

Awudi was a member of my family from the time I have any memory of such a thing as family. She was as much a part of my family as my brothers or sisters and a far greater part of my family than the grandparents or relatives that lived across the ocean in a land that I had never seen. She took care of me and my siblings while my parents saw patients at the hospital or the Leprosy Settlement, Blind Center, and Kersey Children’s’ Home, a home for motherless babies whose population grew the longer the Biafrian War raged. It was as if I had two mothers a white one and a black one. Two mothers who loved me and two mothers that I loved.
Awudi was there when my sister tried at age three to dive head first into the bath tub from on top of the toilet and split her head open. It was Awudi who wrapped a towel around her bleeding head and made sure my mother did not run out of the house naked in her efforts to get Marianne to the hospital. After my mother and Marianne left, it was Awudi who gathered me and my frightened siblings close in her arms and sang softly in a language we did not understand, stopping only to kiss us on our heads. The reason we did not understand her song was that she spoke neither English nor Yoruba. She spoke Ingeni, the language of her tribe in Igbo land near the Niger River Delta.

When I grew older I was told Awudi’s story. How she once had four children of her own and how her husband beat her repeatedly. How she knew that her children were considered the property of her husband and that if she left him she would lose them. So she endured the beatings for many years, until one day her husband nearly killed her. She became convinced that he would eventually beat her to death and so she left, her heart crying for her lost children. I believe that is why she loved us so much. We became her children and we returned her love.
It is strange for me to realize how little actual English she spoke to us. She could say No of course, and Yes.  But the rest of the time she showed us what she needed us to do, to hurry, to bathe, to dress, or to pick up our plates. And of course no words were needed when we skinned our knees or cut our feet, only her arms to wipe away the tears. She had comforting down to an art. There was no one else we would rather snuggle into when we were frightened or whose shoulders we would rather lay our heads on when we were sleepy.

I have a vivid memory of watching her get dressed once when I was eleven years old. We were traveling on a trip to see another missionary family and I had left my room to go to where Awudi was sleeping. I am not sure why I went there, maybe because I was in a strange place and she was comfort personified. It was early and she was humming softly and putting powder on her arms and face. She laughingly dabbed a little bit on my face and I laughed. We did not speak a word. I just sat there feeling happy watching the sun streaming in through the window while Awudi softly sang. I realize now that we were speaking our very own language, a language that does not need words…..the language of love.