I grew up in the 1980s with the Igbo tribe in the village of Umudihe in Orlu, Imo, in Nigeria. I am certain I would be nothing more than a local market woman by now if I had not been able to escape from Umudihe.
The City of Orlu has a population of about 420,000 and is well known to humanitarian relief agencies because of its status as headquarters for relief agencies during the Nigerian War.
Umudihe is a very small village of about three hundred people. There is no way to compare it to even the poorest ghetto in America. There are no luxuries. Water had to be carried from about ten miles down hill for some families. Electricity required a substantial outlay of money just to get a power line to one’s house and some families didn’t have electricity in their homes. However, people were content and happy. Perhaps they just didn’t know any better.
Umudihe is a Christian village; Nigeria is evenly split between Christians and Muslims, and most of the Christians are Catholic. The church is a cathedral with a bishop in residence and serves as the center of Catholicism for the district. The church means a lot to me. It has a huge influence on the development of my character and integrity. There is an African proverb that says, “When you follow in the path of your elders, you learn to walk like them.”
I was born in the lowest of houses in the poorest village contained in a deprived district of one of the poorest countries on earth. We had no electricity and no running water in our home. It was a mud house, and that can cause problems when it rained. Our little family barely had enough money for food.
They say anything is good when you don’t know any better. But I knew in my heart and soul that there must be better things for me and my family. Although I didn’t even knew then what my wish would be, I knew I had it in me to reach for whatever I dreamt about, and if I put my mind to it. I can make it! I will persevere!
I was born out of wedlock, at a time when there was a huge cultural stigma attached to illegitimacy. When a woman had a child outside of wedlock in my culture, the child was raised by the mother and the father had no legal responsibilities towards the child. Mother faced the daunting task of raising my sister and me without any support.
Never having had a father only contributed to my independence and resilience. In a way, this disadvantage may have pushed me forward and upward. I was determined not to live this way for all my life.