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.   

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