She stood there with glazed eyes
As the elders all came to wish me goodbye.
Go with God, they said.
Then came my father's brother's wives
And my father's brother's children
And umu-nna, kith and kin,
Pumping my hands in manly handshakes,
Bearhugs, pats or kisses.
She stood through it all,
The interminable ritual of an African goodbye,
Her eyes glazed with unshed tears.
Tears of love for the parting that was soon to be.
Tears of pride for the achievement of a college admission.
Tears of premonition that we may never watch the sun set
over the plains of River Orie
Together as we used to.
What could be going through her knowing mind
As she stood in the background that fateful morning
I know not. But as I stood there, surrounded by all the
warmth and love of
An African extended family,
A warmth that only one who has had many fathers and
mothers at the same time knows,
Our eyes met across the sea of faces.
Like the bee drawn to its honeycomb
I move over to her, my soulmate
My teacher. She who caressed my youth with the wisdom
Of her age.
Nne-Nne, grandmother, it is time for me to go.
Slowly, unhurriedly, with the dignity of the royal python
She took my palms in her quivering hands. Facing my
She looked upwards, as if to draw strength from above.
Then glancing downwards, she spit lightly into
Her spittle fell like scattered dewdrops on a famished land,
So lightly did it fall.
Then came her words:
Ugom, my love as you depart to acquire the white
- man's learning
Chukwu, the Great God, shall protect you. Our
illustrious ancestors shall guide you.
Your feet shall not trip on stones,
Nor shall the wind gale blow you off your chosen path.
I smear you with the invisible, protective Okro - you
shall be slippery to all evil.
Now remember, be kind to all that you meet.
The house of a kind man does not break down completely
That of the unkind does not break down incompletely.
Your are the Ikenga, the pride of my heart.
As a circle merges with its beginning to form a perfect
As every worthy river merges with the sea thereby
returning to its source
As the migratory birds of Nkwoala return home swifter
So shall you return, more complete, more noble.
Go with God!
Whenever the waves of adversity threaten to
Wash me over to the deep hungry sea
Whenever I step on Ajuala, the wicked serpent
And it threatens to snuff me out with its poisonous fangs
Whenever carnivorous predators threaten to turn me into instant
fast food, I see the benevolent face of Nne-Nne.
I feel once more the loving warm spittle in my palms
I remember a mother's blessing and her words:
Go with God
And I know I shall be safe!