For My Birthday: In Praise of the Women Who Have Fed Me

I have a lot of thanks to give the women who have contributed to who I am today. On my birthday, I write to honour these women.

Mary Annor Okyere

My biological mother was the uniting force of our family. My younger sibling and I lived and schooled at Tai and Sheila Solarin’s Mayflower School, Ikenne-Remo, several miles from where my Dad lived and had his business in Lagos.

So, when it came to my upbringing in general, Mum was the point of call—and if she had not inculcated in me the spirit of kindness, respect, humility, contentment, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Indeed, my religious foundation began with her and she continued to encourage me to persevere in the Lord when bad times often shook us.

But on one such day, 18 December 2009, she wouldn’t be there to encourage me. She would leave us at the age of 47 to be with the Lord. But the legacy she left us remains and even though she is not here to see who I have become, she knew that this was going to be—because she never stopped believing in me.

On this day, I honour the memory of the best mother.

Comfort Ababio (Cee Connie)

I call her Cee Connie. She is one of my very senior cousins but a year older than my mom. When our mom departed, I was 23, a first-born, and just three months into my National Service. My three siblings—Mark, Akos, and Junior—were 21, 16 and 12 respectively, and they were all in school. My dad had not fully recovered from a severe stroke that had struck him a decade earlier. In fact, we were all dependent on my mom’s meagre income until she died. So when our family met, one of the key topics for discussion was who would take care of us—or at least my siblings—for though I was not really employed, I was done with school and the understanding was that I would be able to find my way around life.

The question was put before family members and it was Cee Connie who offered herself and took on the responsibility of continuing in my mother’s role, and she has proved to be a good mother. No two humans can be the same—so Cee couldn’t have done exactly what our mom did for us, but she has done what every good woman taking over someone’s role will do, so that we only strongly remember the vacuum left by our mom during occasions such as funerals, Mother’s Days and death anniversaries.

On this day, I honour her.

Esther Annor

Born in 1921, Esther Annor became the woman who taught me about being industrious and persevering. She was my grandmother. But for her, I wouldn’t have attended secondary school.

I had received my BECE results but my enrolment in a senior secondary school was very bleak. At the time in 2001, the full fees for a day student was 500,000 old Ghana cedis, but it was impossible for my parents to raise that amount. We went to family members, but most said they were not in the position to help. Those who promised couldn’t keep their word. By this time my dad was contemplating getting me apprenticed to a mechanic or a tailor when one distant family member loaned my mother 100,000 old Ghana cedis.

But as a new entrant, the school required full fee payment. It took the intervention of a step-uncle for the school administration to agree to an initial payment of 200,000 old Ghana cedis. It was my grandmother who donated the remaining 100,000 old Ghana cedis.

Without that kind gesture, I wouldn’t be here.

But that’s not the end. I lived with her for fourteen good years, received all the home training because as the only ones (with my brother) living with her, we had to do all the chores that traditionally were expected of a woman. That training helped a lot in my relationship with women in general and gave me an outlook of life that approached even the most insignificant thing with humility, respect and gratitude. She departed in 2013 at the age of 92.

On this day, I honour her memory.

Professor Folake Onayemi

I have already written about Professor Onayemi in one of my blog posts. But I will give a summary here.

When we lost our mom, my family assumed that since I was already doing my national service, things would go fine with me. But that was not to be the case; I would rather live in the most abject of conditions, often depending on my friends. In fact, if you wanted to see hunger live and coloured, you would see it by looking at me. I even fainted on one occasion.

When Professor Onayemi heard of my plight, she was so sorry and offered to provide a stipend of 50 Ghana cedis each month. It turned out there were other numerous persons she was supporting too.

It was also professor Onayemi who encouraged me at the time I was doing my national service to resit two Latin papers, which I passed successfully, and encouraged me to publish the results of my undergraduate long essay in a refereed journal.

On this day, I honour her.

Gladys Setordzie

Auntie Gladys, as I affectionately call her, is a Clinical Psychologist. I met her as an undergraduate student and she has been a mentor and a counsellor to me since then. She took me like her son and showed keen interest in my progress.

In my moments of indecision, in my moments of heartbreaks, in my moments of joy, Auntie Gladys has been there to share in them and to provide the most loving words of hope and encouragement, and provided direction for taking concrete decisions about my life, particularly my marriage and career. Indeed, her counsel proved very strong in my final decision of a spouse.

On this day, I honour her.

Mama Mintah

Though I was brought up in a Christian home, my point of decision to live for the Lord came when I was 18. It was through the ministration of Mama Mintah and her husband, Rev Seth Nana Mintah.

By their hands, I got discipled and spent my free time having conversations about scriptures with them, for we lived a stone’s throw away. It was she who introduced me to the deliverance ministry and groomed me to keep faith in God even in the most difficult times. Mama Mintah became my ‘spiritual mother’. To this day, though she is domiciled in Kumasi, she has never stopped checking up on my progress and providing spiritual guidance.

On this day, I honour her.

Nelly Adu and Edith Agyapomaa

When I was posted for my national service, these were the women I worked with. Since 2009, they have been an encouragement to me—from providing words of advice to supporting me in times of need.

It was during my MPhil that I received the greatest support from these women. I have written somewhere about the challenges of taking care of immediate family while schooling. In those moments, their words of encouragement, their desire to see me succeed, their motherly advice, kept me on my toes. Where it became necessary, they put in word for me for my shortcomings and my weaknesses. For nothing at all, my career progress is partly thanks to these administrative secretaries at the time.

On this day, I honour them.

Bernice Adamson, Irene Quansah, Margaret Momo Laryea, Precious Larbi, Rhodalyn Obeng Gyasi, Lily Omane Boateng, Afua Darfour, Janet Boatemaa Yeboah, Juliet Asabea

When the path through life became rocky, these were the ladies who provided for me—food, clothing, money, company, friendship, conversations. They were those friends who did not consider my background or the challenges in which I was drowned. Instead of shunning away from me like others did, these ladies exhibited true friendship—selfless individuals, expecting nothing in return.

For the many years I went hungry and was impoverished, if I have survived to this day, it’s partly thanks to them. Without their provisions, I wouldn’t have the strength to do whatever activities have contributed to where I am today. Whenever I look back, I know it was God working in my life.

On this day, I honour them.

My exes

In some respects, they taught me a few positive lessons, and I am grateful that they left me in the way. If they had not, I may not have been where I am today.

On this day, I honour them.

Araba Nunoo

She calls me ‘Obolo’ (fat man) for a reason. When I talk about reflecting hunger throughout my national service and MPhil days, you will understand why I earned that name from Araba. You know Araba can be very funny—she meant the opposite. I was so thin that you could literally see my ribs (I can show you a picture if you want).

Araba knows my story very well, and she became one of those few people who constantly nudged me with encouragement not to give up. She knew the story about my mom’s demise, my dad’s stroke, my having three dependants, and all the challenges I went through getting my MPhil done. If there is one friend who has followed keenly my progress, it is Araba.

On this day, I honour her.

Theophilia Lartey and Angela Azumah Alu

This duo is the most encouraging pair of personalities I have ever met. From our very first meeting in 2009 at a career development seminar (Angela’s case) and at Jubilee Hall (Theo’s case) at the University of Ghana, they have consistently proved to be excellent friends—people with whom I can confidently share my failures, aspirations, and successes.

But there is just one more thing—implementing our plans to build business partnerships. I know they would smile at this.

On this day, I honour them.

And finally,

Patience Okyere Asante

Filled with a warm personality and a smile that turns darkness to light, Patience became the burning sunset in my life. The circumstances surrounding our first meeting in 2008 and our marriage some seven years later can only be told fully in a book.

On this day, I honour the most precious woman in my life.

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Professor Folake Onayemi: An Angel in A Life

Today I celebrate not just a university professor, but a wonderful woman of God, philanthropist, mother, mentor and inspirer, Professor Folake Onayemi, of the Department of Classics at the University of Ibadan.

I first met her in 2009 when I was assigned to pick her up at the airport. She was visiting our Department of Classics at the University of Ghana as a scholar for the academic year. Her stay was going to open new opportunities in my life as well as influence my crossroad stage.

In the second semester of 2008/2009 academic year, I had failed two Latin papers and performed poorly in my remaining papers (the details will be a subject for another time). Due to this I could not graduate. I had to wait until the following academic year to write the papers. I was a young man with so many challenges. I had lost my mum the same year of 2009 (she was 47); my dad had had a stroke since 1998 and wasn’t in a position to work; and I was the first of four children.

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With Prof Onayemi during my MPhil graduation, November 2013

You can imagine the burden of responsibility I now had to manage. Even when my mum was alive, and in spite of being on financial aid, I had to take a SSNIT loan and send it home for their upkeep. Now, I was out of school, a national service person, with no aid or loan but with three siblings and a father to support. It was a challenging period.

 

Professor Onayemi had already taken me as her son, but when she learned of my situation, she made it her responsibility to provide me with a monthly stipend out of her salary. It turned out I wasn’t the only one on her budget. There were several such people both in and outside Ghana. But one other thing she used to push me was her words. She never ceased encouraging me to clear the Latin papers; she never ceased encouraging my faith in God; and she never ceased monitoring my progress.

In 2010 my financial situation had worsened. I had worked for six months without pay. It was a trying moment. In my quest to get something into my pocket, I enrolled for a malaria vaccine trial, but on one of my visits to the lab, I collapsed. I was starving, depressed, and overburdened. I cried often in my room. I wept bitterly at the thought of my late mum. I sacrificed to make ends meet for my dad and siblings.

But Professor Onayemi always had a word of encouragement to lift me up. God used her to make me see light at the end of the tunnel. There are so many things I can say about her. By all means they will feature in the book I have been working on for the future.

Let me end by saying that her influence has contributed to my spiritual and professional growth and my current position. She continues to monitor my progress and still calls me “Angel”. In future, when I am delivering my inaugural address, she will surely be acknowledged, and I pray that she will live to see that day. Congratulations mum on your inaugural.

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Prof Folake Onayemi during her inaugural, June 2016