Sunday, May 13, 2018
[email protected]
Harrisburg, PA, USA

rom time to time, I get this nostalgic feeling that takes me down memory lane, to my boyhood days at the St. Mary's Cathedral church, Nnewi in Anambra State in Nigeria. One of the occasions I remember very vividly is the Mothers' day Sunday service.

On this Sunday, the whole service is dedicated to mothers. They read the bible lessons, sing endearing songs about mothers and practically conduct the service. The highlight of the service is when one of the mothers rises to address the church. While the congregation listens attentively, she catalogs the selfless roles that mothers play in every family. She talks about how mothers struggle under thick and thin to fulfill their God-given roles in the lives of every human. The long and short of it all is that mothers are God's greatest gift to mankind.

During the church service, the mothers sing special songs that eulogize them. One of the songs goes thus: "Onwa itenani, k’osiso solu nnem, nne nne, nne oma." This translates to: "for nine months, my mother endured profuse perspiration, my mother, my mother, sweet mother." This was a metaphorical depiction of the agony, suffering and pain mothers undergo for the entire nine months they have babies in their womb. The suffering reaches its height as labor pains set in on the delivery day, when the baby is actually born. Another song goes this way: "Nathy Obienu, Nne mulu ya, Chukwu kelu uwa, dalu, onye ebube". This translates to: "Nathy Obienu was born by a woman, thanks be to God, the creator of the earth". Nathy Obienu was one of the pillars of the church at the time and a successful business man in my town. The song depicts the fact that in spite of the success of Mr. Nathy Obienu, he still came forth from the womb of a woman. This assertion could be extrapolated to include some famous people that have graced the face of the earth: Great Zik of Africa, Dr Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, President Bill Clinton, Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Golda Meir, Tony Blair, Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, Barack Obama and even our Lord Jesus Christ. As great as all these people were, they came forth from the womb of women.

The women of St Mary's church would sing other songs emphasizing that a mother's duty to a child does not end with labor and delivery. After delivery, then begins the long journey of cuddling, nurturing, caring for and molding the child. The task is enormous, challenging and daunting but mothers live up to it.

So as mothers' day in the United States rolls in this Sunday, May 12, 2018, I dedicate this piece to my late mother and all mothers for their patience, understanding, perseverance, kindness and most of all their unconditional love towards their children. I will ever remain thankful to my own mother - Mrs. Lillian Uzoma Uzokwe, for all she did for me and my siblings. I thank her for allowing me to be me, for believing in me and for giving me the opportunity and encouragement to be the best I could. Most of all, for putting up with all my childish effusions and exuberance. With utmost humility, I thank the Almighty God for giving her a wonderful 88 years of very eventful existence on earth. Happy Mother’s Day to her in the great beyond and to all mothers - living and deceased.

Winston Churchill, in all his glory, once said: "my mother shone for me like the evening Star. I loved her dearly". President Barrack Obama quipped that his mother was the most dominant figure in his formative years. He further stated that the values she taught him continue to be the touchstone when it came to how he went about the world of politics. Of course, we all know what those values fetched President Obama. Not bad! In the song, "I want a girl", William Dillon sings: "I want a girl just like the girl that married dear old dad". This is a very common sentiment amongst men regarding their mothers. In general, it is rare to find someone that does not have some form of glowing things to say about their mother. At the least, they appreciate the greatest gift their mother has given them - the gift of life.

I would like to borrow a few lines from Prince Nico Mbarga's African chart-bursting song of the 70s in Nigeria called "Sweet Mother". He sang, "Sweet mother, I no go forget you, for the suffer wey you suffer for me. When I no eat, my mother no go eat, when I no sleep, my mother no go sleep. She no go tire -o, sweet mother, I no go forget the suffer wey you suffer for me yeah yeah". In the same song, Prince Mbarga crooned: "When I no well, my mother go cry, cry, cry, she go say instead when I go die, make she die-o, she go cover me cloth, say God help me, God help me, my pikin-o-o". This song was very popular when it first burst into the musical scene in the 70s in Nigeria. It is still exceedingly popular amongst Africans today in spite of the fact that the artist has long passed on. To gauge the popularity of the song, all one needs to do is to play it during a Nigerian party. The dancing floor would fill up quickly with most singing along. This is because the song echoes, in the minds of many, a sentiment they all share and believe in. It reminds us all why we love our mothers so dearly and so we sing along as if speaking directly to them. Many years ago, I observed tears in the eyes of a young lady dancing next to me when this song was played at a Nigerian event here in Harrisburg Pennsylvania. She was singing the song as loud as she could but still had tears rolling down her cheeks as she danced. I later found out that her own mother had passed on just a few years earlier and the song brought back memories.

Talking about the suffer wey mama suffer for me, I remember my childhood days in Lagos, Nigeria. As a domiciliary nurse, my mother would toil from house to house all over Lagos to perform her midwifery duties. By the time she got home at the end of the day, you could tell that she was very exhausted and deserved a long rest. But for her, rest was out of the question. She would instead begin immediately attending to other responsibilities at home, wash our clothes, cook, attend to every one's myriad of wants. At the time, I never recognized the extent of sacrifice she was making. I felt that it was her job. I thought that as a mother, she was supposed to be superhuman. It never occurred to me, as I made my unending demands, that this woman may need some rest.

I saw the same thing in my immediate household as my children were growing up. As a nurse, my wife would work all night and come back to get some sleep at home. Whenever children need something, they would quickly run to the room, wake her up and make their demands, oblivious of the fact that they just deprived her of a well-deserved rest. The most intriguing thing is that she would calmly get up, attend to what they asked for without any tinge of bitterness. Most of my children are adults in their own rights now and many are out of the house. But my wife has not relinquished her maternal oversight of them. It reminds me of my own mother. When my mother was still alive, as a middle aged old man, every time we visited Nigeria, in spite of her age, every morning, she would have me come to her room, pray for me and every one of my children and wife. She would be the first to ask if I had eaten; she would be the first to notice that I had lost some weight and needed to eat a little more even if the weight loss was deliberate. She would be the first to notice a new pimple on my face and ask if I applied any medication on it. Back in the United States, every time I called her on the phone, she would be the first to ask why my voice sounded a little hoarse and would wonder if I had a cold and advise that I take some medication for it. This is what mothers do and so even when I am tempted to say to my wife that our children are old enough to handle certain things themselves, I pull back remembering that I got the same attention from my own mother. Maternal love knows no age and that is how it was meant to be.

When my kids were younger, I sometimes had to drive them to extracurricular activities like softball, chorus, drama and the likes right after work and make the rounds again to pick them all up later. Sometimes I have to stay for some of the activities. I get so exhausted after driving them around that sometimes once I step into the house, I fall asleep on the couch. But my wife would do all that and yet come back and start on another chore. Mothers are just like the energizer bunny - "they keep going and going and going and…"We owe them a debt of gratitude.

In the past, I frequently had to travel out of town on business assignment. In such situations, my wife would take care of the kids by herself. When I come back looking for any signs of exhaustion in her, it is never there, yet she accomplishes every single activity needed for the day to day upkeep of the children and attend to all their needs with equanimity. Only mothers can do all that without complaints. They work wonders and bring the needed balance to any family. God Bless mothers.

Mothers have been described in very many ways, all pointing to the fact that they nurture, care and guide. Phrases like "the love of a mother"; mother nature; motherly care; as gentle as a mother's love; motherland and mother tongue all point to the significance of the word mother. Even the main circuit board in a computer is referred to as "motherboard!".

During the Biafra war in Nigeria and in the face of the gradual annihilation of her relatives in Asaba by the Federal troops, my mother had to deal with the agony of the concurrent loss of her father, uncles, brother and other relatives in the Asaba massacre. Through all these trials and tribulation, she summoned enough inner strength to continue to discharge her motherly duties to us all. She cried endlessly, grieved endlessly (something that broke my heart so much to behold as a child) but she never let up on the quality of care she rendered to us. In the many uncertain days we awaited news of the fate of my two brothers that went to war to fight for Biafra, my mother never wavered in the discharge of her maternal duties towards me and my remaining siblings.

She attended to all our needs in the day and stayed up all night crying and by morning, we would wonder why mama's eyes were red and swollen but she would only offer reassuring words to insulate us from the agony she was enduring. Her main focus was to ensure we were not traumatized by that experience. After that traumatic experience, she developed the resolve that since the war had deprived her of her father and many of her relatives, she was going to give her best to her kids and give her best she did.

During the campaign, President George W. Bush never ceased to let anyone know how much influence his mother had in his life. He would often say "even though I have my father's eyes, I have my mother's mouth." When Barbara Bush died some weeks ago, her children all gave her all the credit for their successes. They described her as the glue that held them together and gave them the impetus to be the best they could.

Listen to Ruth Bader Ginsburg - United States Supreme Court Justice in her nomination acceptance speech in 1994: "I have a last thank you. It is to my mother Celia Amster Bader, the bravest and strongest person I have known". Justice Ginsburg echoed a sentiment that most of us have about our mothers. I certainly see my own mother as the bravest and boldest woman the world ever knew. She never wavered nor flinched in her support for my other siblings and me in our times of need, in our times in trouble. She is always there to support us. Her love is unconditional.

Many years ago, when I was just a teenager, the authorities in my secondary school (high school) decided to reduce the number of black eye peas cake (akara) we were served for breakfast. They reduced it from the traditional four balls to three. The news was devastating for many of us that had healthy appetites for that delicacy which was almost all the students. I therefore joined in a minor protest in my school to protest that fact. I even made a speech to other students urging them to refrain from eating the three akara balls we were served as a protest. Unbeknownst to us, the principal had a "mole" amongst our ranks. The "mole" subsequently sent the names of those he referred to as the "ring leaders" to the principal. Not long after that, the "ring leaders" were suspended from school. The news hit me like a devastating punch on the solar plexus! I was unsure how to face my parents about the suspension. Suddenly moving from being a bright student with a bright future, to a suspended student would not be my father's idea of progress. Knowing that if my father heard the news first, the roof of our house would probably come crashing down with his understandable anger, I decided to confide in my mother first. I walked into her office with tears in my eyes and once she saw me, she excused herself for a couple of minutes from the patients waiting to be attended to. She took me to a private room and then gently asked "what is wrong Obiora?" I took time and explained to her what had transpired.

When I finished my story, instead of immediate rebuke and expression of disappointment at how I had become a renegade, I got the most reassuring and soothing words. My mother was even concerned that going from four balls of akara to three was the wrong thing for the school to do. She believed that students should be properly fed. Placing her hand on my shoulder, she said, "You are not a bad boy, Obiora. I will talk to your father and he will go and see your principal about this". My mother's action, even when I was expecting a dress down, was very instructive. That lesson still stays with me to this day. Often times, parents judge children too harshly for "putting the family name in disrepute" rather than take time to understand the issue well and act accordingly. The lesson I learned is: DO NOT CONDEMN YOUR CHILD UNTIL YOU HAVE HEARD THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY. She could have chosen to pounce on me once she heard the word suspension, but she calmly listened. She made true her promise and my father went to see the principal. This is the greatest role that mothers play in the house- the role of mediators. They put their children at ease; they listen to them and they don't rush to judgment.

I will end this piece with an observation. Part of my definition of motherhood is a person that brings forth life to earth. I find it coincidental, if not serendipitous, that the woman that I dedicated this piece to exceeded my definition of motherhood. She did not just bring forth my siblings and me to earth, but through her nursing and midwifery career that spanned more than 60 years and took her through Asaba, Ogwashiuku, Jos, Lagos, Enugu and finally Uzoma Maternity, Nnewi, she took delivery of more than 30,000 babies. They are of different ages, of different professions and scattered all over the globe now. Some of them are regular readers of my writings. From time to time, after reading my commentaries, I get inquiries from some as to whether I was related to Lilian Uzoma Uzokwe. From my perspective, it is one of the greatest honors an unassuming mother could get.

For all the mothers near and dear to my heart, Anthonia, Ijeoma, Uche, Edith, Ije Jr, Felicia, Maria and to the many mothers I have come to know in the Nzuko Ndigbo of Central Pennsylvania, I say, Happy Mothers’ Day.

Author of the books- 1. Nigeria: Contemporary Commentaries and Essays

2. Surviving in Biafra: The Story of the Nigerian Civil War