Like most Nigerian parents who are immigrants, my parents are hard working and have worked too hard. I was talking to a Naija friend and she expressed my frustration best: “They are too old to be working this hard, and they have worked hard for long enough.”
While their oyinbo counterparts are thinking of retiring, or buying new cars or a cottage to go to on weekends, my parents are labouring hard, knowing that retirement will only happen when they are forced into it by the government (providing their health is good). They have only been home owners for nine years and with the average length of a mortgage being somewhere around 25 years, they have a fair way to go in paying it off.
What is it about Naija parents that makes them so tireless? When I’m ready to go to bed because I’m sleepy, my mother, who has also worked a full day, on her feet (while my full time job is a desk job), will still be up cleaning and cooking, anything to make sure there’s fresh obe for us for the next day. She really is the woman that the song Sweet Mother was written about:
I no go forget you
For the suffer wey you suffer for me
And my father! Even though his youngest child is nearly 20, his desire for us all to be self sufficient and successful for ourselves is tireless. He tries to talk to us every week about what we’re doing in our various careers and educational stages, and offer advice and information that can help us. I worry about him because he’s obsessed with making sure we get all the advantages that come with being born and raised in
What our parents did must have been difficult: leaving their family, their parents thousands of miles away. Coming to a new land. Dealing with the culture shock, dealing with the fact that even after over 20 years of living abroad, people will look down on you because you have an accent. Dealing with racism. Hearing news that people you grew up with, family members and friends, have passed away and being unable to afford a plane ticket to attend the funeral. Not being able to see their own parents grow old and not being there to take care of them physically. Working to save money to send home. Doing the best for your siblings who are back home and having them shun you, tell you that you aren’t doing enough and ask for more when you manage to visit. Doing without for your children who think you’re a terrible parent because you can’t keep them in name brand clothing. Giving, giving, but feeling like it’s never enough.
I often wonder what keeps my parents going. The answer is simple: us. Their children. Their desire to be a good example, to make sure we don’t have it that hard when we get to their age.
I can’t deny that I sometimes wonder if I’ll have that same strength of character, the same ability to put my all into providing the best for my children. I hope I do. And I know it will be easier for me because of the work that my parents have already done.