‘Kete Kete, Kete Kete, Kete Kete…….’. We all stood there staring in fascination as Mama Adeniyi gracefully danced and mimicked some of our seniors who had been caught holding an unauthorized birthday party in the boarding house. Mama had found them dancing to Ebenezer Obey’s famous song about The Horse, The Man and His Son, the one with the chorus ‘Do your best and leave the rest’. The culprits were rounded up and put on display at the daily school assembly, an occasion for morning prayers, announcements and parading the occasional flouters of school rules. The guilty seniors (and the unlucky juniors who had probably just been serving the refreshments because we dared not party with our seniors) would have cursed their luck – if you were going to be caught doing something wrong, did you have to be found out by Mama Adeniyi? The problem was that Mama Adeniyi was always everywhere. So here they were on full display as cautionary tales for those who might be thinking of planning something similar, with Mama Adeniyi dancing away to mock them in order to drive home the point. With Mama Adeniyi, we always got the point.
Bishop Jonathan Soremi Adeniyi and his wife, Mrs Clementina Ojuolape Adeniyi loomed largely in our lives back then at Abeokuta Girls Grammar School (AGGS). I attended AGGS 1973-1978. Mama Adeniyi was our Mathematics teacher when I was in Form One. She was also our Needlework teacher. This meant I was in trouble with her a lot because I hated both subjects. When it was time for Mama’s classes, I would try to run away and hide, I just wasn’t interested, especially in Needlework. We all had chores we had to carry out in the boarding house. When I was in the Junior Boarding House in Form One, I was chosen to serve the teachers tea in the staff room. Mama would see me in the staff room and proclaim, Adeleye, Adeleye, I don’t know what to make of you. All the teachers say you are a good girl, you are brilliant. English Language, it is Adeleye, Literature, it is Adeleye, but Needlework and Mathematics nko? You can’t do. Is she a good girl? Is she a bad girl?, she would turn around, asking her colleagues rhetorically. They would all attest to the fact that I was bright and a good girl. When I joined the school choir that Mama also coordinated, she was pleased with my performance in the choir, and that seemed to make up for my lack of interest in Mathematics and Needlework. To have Mama bestow a smile on you was enough to make your day.
When I was in Form Two, I was moved to the other boarding house used by AGGS known as St Paul’s. The buildings were all owned by the Egba Egbado Anglican Diocese. In my first year at St Paul’s, my dormitory was the building right next to Bishop’s Court where Baba Bishop and Mama lived. This meant we always had to behave ourselves otherwise Mama, who was also our House Mistress, would descend on us to dispense swift discipline. There was a time Mama observed that we were not waking up early enough to take our baths, say morning prayers, have breakfast and head out to school. To accomplish all this, we had to be up at 5 am but we slept on till 6 am even 6.30. One morning there was a loud bang on the door of our dorm and before we knew what was happening, there was Mama in her nightgown, with a whip in her hand hitting at all the sleeping bodies on the beds, mine included. We all jumped out of bed and scurried out of the way of her descending whip. Of course, from that day on we dutifully woke up at 5 am.
You did not mess with Mama Adeniyi. The cost of getting on Mama’s wrong side was fetching a minimum of twelve pails of water from a brook that was thirty minutes away. What we quickly found out though was that for a Mathematics teacher, Mama was not good at keeping track of the returns on her punishment, so if you only managed to deliver four out of the twelve pails, Mama was never the wiser. Or perhaps she did know, and the pronouncement of the twelve pails as punishment was enough to drive terror into our young hearts, whether we delivered the actual number or not. Whatever the reasons for not checking to make sure that the terms of our punishment were being fulfilled, we got the message and tried our best to stay out of trouble.
If Mama Adeniyi caught any of us chewing gum, she would remove the gum from your mouth, spread it over your hair, and put you out in the sun to dry. I never chewed gum back then and I do not chew it now. We loved and respected Mama because we knew she was kind and fair. Our very strict Mama also had the most generous heart. At the end of term, any girl who did not have enough money for transport home could go to Mama Adeniyi and she would lend you the fare home, ‘loans’ she never bothered to take back, just like the pails of water she rarely bothered to count.
Today, thousands of young girls who passed through Mama’s hands are leaders and professionals around the world. They too have gone on to rear generations of their own. The values of discipline, hard work, sacrifice, dedication, service and so many life-skills too numerous to count, that we learnt from Mama, have lasted us a life-time. I will forever be grateful to Mama Adeniyi for her love and the many lessons I learnt from her. In December 2018, my set the Class of 1978 organised a reunion ceremony at AGGS. Mama Adeniyi insisted on attending in spite of her age. When Mama was led into the hall, you could hear our cheers for miles, and there was not a dry eye in the audience. We even put on brief drama skits portraying Mama as our teacher and house mistress.
Rest in Peace Mama. You have earned your rest. All there is to say now is Thank you Mama. You did your best and much more. Thank you for a blessed life that you shared with so many. May your great legacy of service continue to endure. To all my seniors, peers and juniors at AGGS, let us keep marching forward as we do our best and leave the rest.
•Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a gender specialist, social entrepreneur and writer. She is the founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She is the First Lady of Ekiti State and can be reached at [email protected]