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LESSONS FROM MAMA KAGORO

After recently celebrating mothers’ day in the UK, I have spent some time thinking about my maternal grandmother, who sadly passed away when I was only eight years old. She lived with her husband in a town called Kagoro, in Kaduna State of Nigeria, which is why we used to call her ‘Mama Kagoro’. I remember my mother telling me about her happy childhood with parents who valued faith, family, education and hard work. Mama Kagoro did not get much education herself in those days, but her husband was a teacher who worked closely with the English missionaries. I was surprised to hear that they tried for about nineteen years of their marriage before having children of their own. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for a woman like her, in the days when having children was thought to be the main aim of marriage and womanhood. My mother told me how her parents selflessly cared for ‘adopted’ children, until God blessed them with seven children of their own. I say seven, because that is how many I know of. There were sadly many stillbirths and child deaths in those days, due to complications and  infections we avoid or treat so easily today. I would be surprised if Mama did not lose any babies herself, and even though they belonged to a royal clan, I do not imagine that there would have been formal counselling available to women in those days. You just had to choose to be strong and hopeful, even in tough times. These days when I use satellite navigation to drive, pick up my children from nursery and use my nice electric cooker to make dinner, I wonder how much harder parenting must have been without dishwashers, washing machines and easy internet access. I know there are people who live without ‘basic’ amenities today, but thinking about Mama Kagoro makes me remember to be grateful and make the most of what I have, because one day, my own grandchildren will wonder how we survived without their latest technology, and hopefully appreciate us for what we accomplished. Even though things change, we can always pass on timeless values and wisdom to future generations. A precious memory I have is of Mama Kagoro letting me ‘teach’ her English alphabets. Now I know that she only pretended not to know the alphabets, so that I would feel confident in my own knowledge and ability as a child. She believed very much in the younger generations, and I can testify to how much that positive nature has been passed on as encouragement to me through relatives throughout my childhood, giving me the confidence to pursue my dreams. Visiting my grandparents’ house was always exciting, because my grandparents loved nature and knew how to relax. We would often hear African tales or go for long walks to the hills. Mama had well-cared-for plants and animals in her house. There was always healthy, tasty food, even if it was nothing fancy. She encouraged us to eat fruits and vegetables, long before we knew about ‘5-a-day’. My mother and aunties always talk about how hardworking and resourceful Mama was. She did not believe in “being idle”, even when other women felt that being wives and/or mothers was enough work for them. Looking back now, I think of how little they had, compared to us, and how well she managed her home and resources. It makes me realise that perspective and principles are important in any setting. If we choose to be contented and grateful, whether in a small village or a big city, we can find happiness in managing our resources properly and doing our best with the opportunities we have. The same principles of investment, saving, giving, sowing and reaping also apply everywhere. I remember how my mother’s eldest sister bought all the grandchildren gifts from Mama’s little savings after she died. Mine was a small purse, which I can still see in my mind’s eye, to remind me that she did not just leave a legacy of good values and a good name, but was able to save from the little she had to leave an inheritance for her grandchildren, no matter how small. I recently heard that Professor Stephen Hawking, who was told that he had only two years to live, after a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease (MND), was motivated to do all the amazing work he did for science because of his realisation that he might not have long to live. He ended up living for another 52 years and achieving more than anyone expected, despite his physical disabilities. Mama Kagoro was in her sixties when she died, and despite all the medical and social advances giving us  longer life expectancy today, no one knows for sure how long they will live. Mama’s life has taught me that we must do our best everyday with whatever we have, to contribute to society and make a lasting difference. I am grateful to have a mother and mother-in-law who also appreciate and exemplify the value of hard work, virtue and the important role of women in shaping the future. Whether we are rich, educated, glamorous, skilled, royal or not, we can choose to start wherever we are and develop habits, virtues and principles that will touch lives long after we are gone.

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