The Grit And The Grain of My Grandmother’s Gari

by pronounced "ahhh" like a sigh

I wrote about my grandmother, my mother’s mother, in the poem, Homeward. I spoke about the challenges we faced attempting to communicate. She spoke no English, barely even pidgin and I had lost my Yakuur tongue at the age of 4. Still, we spoke in love. My grandmother loved me like no other human being. Even if she didn’t say it, even if she couldn’t say it. I felt it. I knew it. The first time I saw her after being away from Nigerian for 7 years, my grandmother, this tiny 4’9, skinny woman, grabbed me and lifted me off the ground. She was so strong. I remember watching her those days carrying bundles on her head. In the States, most women her age would be in nursing homes or glued to their easy chairs and television shows. Not my grandmother, she trekked to her small plot of  farm every day, tending to her prize winning yams and other vegetation. She was so proud of that garden. She won award after award for her produce. It was her only thing. My mother lived in a dirt floor, thatched roof, one room house. It’s what she wanted. We wanted to build her a house some place she could live in grand style. She would shrug us off tell us she was happy where she was. She was happy with her room and the tin pots that lined the walls. She was happy tending to her farm. It was that farm that had her refusing time and time again to even visit the United States. She knew where home was and she wanted to stay there.

My grandmother has that face. The one my sister and I have. The one my mother has. In fact, she has the exact same face as my mother, only hers is etched with time. We share the same hands. Small but strong. She was a stubborn old woman. Like my mother. Like me. In the poem, I talk about how it breaks my heart that I can only love her in English. I wish I would have tried harder to love her in a language she understood. Life in America is too easy. For immigrants to this nation, those of us born home but raised here, we have a tie to this land that created us but have settled comfortably in the country that owns us. I don’t want to speak about regrets. I want to speak about her. My grandmother. This powerhouse of a woman. This sharp tongued quick witted woman. This strong willed, determined woman. This woman that raised me from almost birth to the age of 4 when my mother, done with nursing school,  took me to join my father in The United States. I barely remember waving to her as she said her good byes. Every time she saw me after, she would cup my face, then take my hands in hers and blow three times. This was a blessing. I didn’t know my grandmother very well. I know she lived a hard life. I know she tried. I know she did the best she could. I know she raised three women, all with her face. All stubborn. All determined. All heavy with burdens I will never know or understand but that woman, she did the best she could.

And a lot of what I’ve done was to make her proud. Even if she didn’t understand a word. She saw videos. She saw my pictures in magazines. She was told of my writing and she was so proud. I was her “mmabassey” and she was one of the women who shaped the woman I have become.

My grandmother passed away yesterday. I’m heartbroken not only for myself but for my mother who is carrying silence right now. I’m sad. Deeply, deeply saddened. but a few years ago, she broke her hip and was confined to a wheelchair. She was unable to tend to her farm. She was unhappy. I was told she’d lost the fire I’d remember her possessing. I’m glad she’s at peace. I’m glad she is where she needs to be, tending to her farm, cultivating her yams, carrying bundles bigger than her tiny body. I’m not sure if I believe in heaven but if there is one, I know my grandmother is there. I Jesus needs some pounded yam. My grandmother will bring it to him.