By Olabisi Olaleye
Steph Mekwuye, a UK-based ex-Nigerian international catwalk model and a first class graduate of law is a perfect example of an African lady, not just by her natural beauty and personal confidence, but also by her thoughts, ideas and ideals.
The love she has for her homeland knows no bound and the special connection she has with her people explains her interest in whatever has to do with her heritage. Recently, she lost her grandparents; the deaths stimulated the memory of her growing-up in south-south Nigeria. Here, she speaks about her early life and pays tributes to the deceased.
Steph, the kid
Growing up was great. I had a splendid time with my grandparents; they were the next closed persons to me. I can remember vividly life was as simple as possible. On a good day, as a four-year-old tiny, winy girl, while I went to bed after some tales by moonlight at the feet of my Babahkani, it was also normal that I would wake up at the sound of the cockcrow, and a nudge from my Nnemkani. This was my daily routine. I was privileged to know my grandparents, Babahkani and Nnemkani. They meant everything to me.
Memories of my grandparents
Today, in far away England, a trip to my local garden centre reminds me of my love for nature, my heritage; the importance of these inherited magic fingers and the beauty of growing your own. The red hibiscus throws me right off balance it brings memories, memories of a childhood, so beautiful memories which made me to feel fulfilled today. I am no farmer, but my grandparents on retirement farmed and cultivated what they ate all by themselves. My memories travel to these beautiful bountiful times. I remember my grandmother’s beautiful voice, ensuring that I was awake!
I can never forget the privilege of walking with her to farm on a Saturday dawn, planting corn, waiting for the harvest and hauling baskets of harvested corns, for my favourite Ukpo Oka. If I had the opportunity, I will do it again and again for the love of Ukpo.
How could I also forget grandpa’s Ulor Ugo, made of tree barks, tree trunks and palm fronds? My thoughts now wonder to roasted yams and palm oil. I always feel like having them now. I remember clearly Uden Akun! Palm kernel oil, which Nnemkani produced from harvested palm fruit. Whenever I look out of my window in the city of London, I feel like seeing Nsha Ogi (black soup), a special delicacy made from palm kernel. Grandma was so incredible; she would make palm oil, body oil, and soup; broom and mat among others. Her resourcefulness was endless. I was richly blessed to watch my grandma singlehandedly produced as well as successfully managed a home where dogs, goats, and chickens also lived in harmony. She was the most resilient, resourceful and witty woman I had ever come across.
Love made in heaven
I was curious though, what was their love story? What is the story behind these hardworking resilient, resourceful people and lovebirds? My grandfather was born Clifford Iwelunmo Okoh. He became an orphan at a very young age, raised by his uncle; he later joined the army and fought with the British in the World War 2. He fought alongside the troupes at Burma. On coming back, he was introduced to Ejime, the younger of a twin. She was young, beautiful, resourceful, kind, charming, nurturing and very caring. She was also very calm, yet witty with a whole dose of swag. Her words were not much except they were blessings; she was very discerning and wise. Her actions spoke louder. Trust her to be sharp as a button regardless, crossing her path gave you a humour filled befitting nickname, which would become a family inside phrase to last you a lifetime.
My grandfather was very well read, a medical professional who later became a war veteran. He was smart and seasoned. He could still read at age 111. His memory was intact as well as his integrity. To him spade has no other name; wrong was wrong and right was right. He didn’t mix his words. He, however, had kind stories to tell, from the war and some made-up folktales. His tales by moonlight were unforgettable!
He opted for the medical profession, setting up a pharmacy to treat village patients, which turned out to be most times for free, he also kept farms and grew his own food, food he gave to his children, grand children and great grand children. Grandpa made sure that every person visiting left his home with food. They were both great givers.
She was perpetually beside him. They raised their children together. She was the manager of the home as well as the eye of the family. She ran the farm produce business. Her resilience and resourcefulness came into play in cultivating, producing, harvesting and selling her products. She made cooking oil, body oil, soap, soup, condiments, brooms, mat, and baskets amongst other things. She was the most resourceful woman I had ever seen. One thing is for sure; she gave as much as she had. They had a giving nature in common. They were hardworking couple, who lived a very humble life, rich in morals and standards. They were married and lived together in a very lovely and astoundingly peaceful atmosphere for over 70 years.
Before grandpa died, he was given the title of the Okparan of Agbor Alindinma. He died at the age of 111 years while my grandmother was aged 90, before she joined him a few weeks later.
What I miss
Today, I hear the noise, the hustling and bustling of the cosmopolitan cities. Amidst it all, I suddenly miss the quietness of the African countryside, the farms, the peace, and the village, as we knew it. I miss my grandparents’ home, the loving, hardworking people’s home, and a home which was a hub for villagers to assemble. And I miss the tenderness of nature, the sincerity of people and the selflessness of the community. It seems all is gone and life has become everyone to him or herself.
However, an escape to the British countryside is ideal. With its lush green valleys, calm lakes, snaking rivers, rolling farmland and forests teeming with life.