Africa Speaks: Life Stories 1



Tree and guinea fowl at the Niger river, near Namaro, Niger, 1992

CONTENTS:. . . Mother . . . Father . . . When Mother Was Young . . .  home page


Mother

Souleymane Saydou Dan Malam 5/11/92

I was two years old when my mother died. Her  mother, my grandmother, was still alive. My grandmother told me a story about how my mother lived.

Grandmother said Mother was a beautiful girl before being married. She was a friendly woman. She liked to make others laugh and enjoyed chatting with boys. She was given in marriage to my father at the age of seventeen. As he was her cousin she had no choice and accepted him. That was their first meeting.

Father told me about how she worked at home, how each day she was taking care of me. I suspect that she loved me very much because I was her first son. She had been living with my father for over five years when I was born.

My father showed me the wedding photograph that hangs in the hallway of his house. The occasion was serious, I realized. I felt frustrated. In stature she was tall like me. I looked up from her photo and realized that she looked like Grandmother.

Today I'm still unsatisfied that Mother is not with me. Now that I have heard about her life the fact she is not alive is all the more astonishing. From the stories I recorded I felt infinite sorrow and regret.

Copyright © 1998 Souleymane Saydou Dan Malam

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Gold mine near Sirba river, Niger, 1992

Father

Abba Soumaila Saidou 3/16/92

My father was an old man of about seventy. Before he retired he had worked for a company as a night watchman, and his monthly income was quite sufficient for the family of five members: my father, mother, and three sons.

My mother was his first wife, and she too did some minor trading, which consisted of selling bean cakes in order to help supply our needs. We, as children, were doing our best at school in order to improve our family living and social status.

But the troubles with my father started a couple of months after he retired. He took a young girl of twenty as his second wife, because he said my mother was old and she could no longer bear children.

Since his second wedding, the old man did not take care of us, neither did he provide food for the family. He even left the family compound to stay with his second wife.

The small pension he got from his company could hardly cover the primary needs of the newly enlarged family. Three months later, his second wife ran away, as she realized that the old man could not really provide her with the necessary comfort, I mean give her love and security, and also satisfy her needs as a woman.

So the trouble with my father was his endless desire for wives and children. He sought every opportunity to marry, and marry again.

Then one day, in my anger, I told him to his face that he was starting troubles for others, that his conduct was not that of an honorable, wise, respectful old man. Since then, the tower I had built around him collapsed. I had perceived him as a conscientious, pious Muslim, and a good father, and also a reliable man who was fighting to end the apparent misery we were living in, and who was trying to provide a better future for his offspring.

Since his failure to take a second wife, my father's personality turned into its opposite, a delinquent old man. A few weeks before his death, the old man plunged into heavy alcohol drinking and gambling. Whenever he got his allowance, he would not come home for days. He strolled from bar to bar drinking and playing jackpot until he ran out of money.

Even now, I still bear the stripes of my father's misconduct, and whenever I think of him, a voice arises from my depths telling me that I am the son of a failure. But I struggle hard to avoid anything the old man was associated with during his lifetime.

Copyright © 1998 Abba Soumaila Saidou

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Market woman at Niger river ferry, [toward Tera], Niger, 1992

When Mother was Young

Dan-Rani Hajaratou 3/17/92

In most African families grownup people do not have time to talk with younger ones. The younger ones have no opportunity to ask questions like the ones the child asks his parents in "My Mother's Stories" (in New Worlds of Literature text). This is a problem that I am fighting against in my own family, and I am assured many other young people are doing likewise.

I succeeded nevertheless in learning something about my mother's experiences: when she was a girl, and after her marriage. But never about her dates, her engagement with my father, or her marriage to him. The stories she agreed to tell about were when she got to school and how. She told it without any fancy words.

When missionaries opened a school in Doutchi, people from the village and the surrounding area were urged and sometimes obliged to enroll their children in school. A friend of my grandfather who seemed to know the importance of school and education urged him to bring one of his children to the missionaries. He even proposed to my grandfather to enroll his first-born child. He insisted on the matter, so finally my grandfather agreed.

But instead of enrolling his first-born child, he brought his daughter, my mother, who is the third child in the family. He wanted his son to remain at home in order supervise the household one day. So my mother was sent to Doutchi, about 3Km from her own village. She didn't comment on her trip, nor on her emotions when she was going.

She told me a little about the school. It was a boarding school. The bell's ringing governed their everyday activities. Early in the morning they woke up for prayer time. After the prayer time they got prepared for school. They had many classes each day: sewing, cooking, reading and writing classes. She was not able to finish, or to go far in her schooling, because she caught an illness, malaria. She suffered so much that her mother refused to let her go back to school.

I asked Mother why she did not protest. She answered with a noticeable inch of regret that as a young person she had no voice in affairs, even affairs that were related to her.

But the missionaries did not give up the battle. They proposed to my grandparents to let her go to Guesheme, a village near to Doutchi, where missionaries had constructed a clinic, and there to learn nursing. Mother told me that even now she doesn't understand how the missionaries came to convince my grandparents.

They accepted, and Mother was sent away again. At Guesheme, she met my father, how and when I do not know for she refuses to tell about it. And as for asking my father, I dare not. They were both already converted [to Christianity] when they met. They got married in Guesheme, but unfortunately she refused to let me see the event through her telling.

One incident she told me about was when she was already married, and still working as a nurse. Her mother-in-law wanted her to remain at home and do all the household work like all women. But my father decided that she would continue to work at the clinic. One day after the day's work at the clinic, my mother came back home. During the night she dreamed about a child who had died at the clinic during the evening. In the morning she told my grandmother the dream, without any suspicion about what might happen. But my grandmother clung to this, and decided that my mother would never return to work. The dream was foretelling the future, she said.

My parents were Christians so they did not believe in her saying. My father explained to her that it was only superstition, but his mother couldn't understand. She felt humiliated for her child had disobeyed her. Meanwhile my father got a scholarship for Bible school in Benin. When they told my grandmother of their departure, she felt more and more rejected.

I pointed out that my grandfather (her father-in-law, my father's father) was not mentioned and asked about him. "He was a timid person, he spoke little," said my mother.

Copyright © 1998 Dan-Rani Hajaratou

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Niger river ferry, [toward Tera], Niger, 1992

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