The Problem with Being an Igbo Woman

by Rosie R.

It was supposed to be a working lunch. At least that was what he told me. As soon as I walked into the Lodge Restaurant and Bar, I felt my chest muscles tighten. This physiological reaction was not new to me. In fact, it meant something unpleasant was about to take place. I spied my boss at his regular table. He was already working on his favorite “What’s the Big Dill” soup.

“Donald….” I nodded as a way of greeting. I sat down and picked up the menu. Not that I needed it, I was going to have a salad. I always had a salad for lunch or a sandwich on days I needed more energy for work.

“Hey Roseline, you made it,” he replied.

My boss Donald is a jolly rotund fellow. He looks like a Santa Claus that partied a little too much.I pulled out the Golf Scramble fundraiser folder from my carryall bag and placed it on the table.

“So far, we have 242 participants signed up for the scramble, with twelve more donor pledges. Hole-sponsors are not coming out of the woodworks yet, but I have Clarissa working 24/7 on that.We will meet our quota.”I opened the folder and thumbed through the pages, pointing at numbers as I talked.

“Rosie, the scramble can wait. We need to talk about you,” he said.

“Me? What about me?” I asked feigning ignorance. I knew the talk was coming. I just didn’t know it would be today. My shoulders sagged as I waited for the worst.

“Well, maybe you have not noticed but all of us at the office have, especially me.You have been at this emotional coaster for quite a while and I think it’s time you did something about it.”

“Well, I …” I began to respond but the waitress approached the table.I was thankful for the distraction. I took my time ordering my salad. Donald had the Western Burger, all big chunks of greasy meat sitting between two slices of thick bread.Ugh! I eyed his big frame and shook my head. I could never find room for all that food.Not that I had any appetite these days.

“Whatever problems you have, it is time to find someone help you fix it,” Donald continued as if he never stopped talking.

“Is it affecting my work?” I asked.

“No, not really. But it is affecting those of us that work with you and we care about you.”

He put his hand in his shirt pocket and took out a card. He handed it to me.

Heritage Consulting
Shirley Peterson, PhD
Clinical Psychologist

“I don’t get it,” I said to him.

“I want you to see someone who will at least help you make sense of things,” Donald said.

Donald is a good boss. He made it a point to know what was going on in everyone’s life. He could be fatherly when he wanted to be.Now, he was being pushy and I wondered if it would be wise to say so.

“I don’t need a shrink,” I said.

“Maybe not, but it won’t help to talk to one. You won’t talk to any of us. You just go around with that constipated look on your face and don’t tell me everything is okay because it is not. I have known you long enough.”

“Donald, my people don’t see shrinks. It is unheard of,” I replied.

“No one has to know about it. Believe me, you will feel so much better.”

The food arrived. We ate in silence.I kept my mind blank. It was not necessary at this point to re-hash everything that was going on in my head.

“Fine,” I gave in.”I will see this woman, but only to get you off my back.”

Donald nodded absently. He was already moving on to the desert menu.

I lay on my couch at the end of the day, like I did every day with a bottle of Alice White from down under. It was part of my self conscious decision to move away from hard liquor.White wine gives enough buzz without the morning nausea. The phone rang. I did not bother to pick it up. I wanted quiet and silence, except for Brian McKnight and his soulful voice from his CD, Gemini. The phone rang again. I checked the caller ID. It was my younger sister Patricia.

“Hey sis,” I said.

“Roseline, I have been worried about you. Why have you not returned my calls?”

“I was busy … work stuff.I was going to return your calls.”

“Have you spoken to mother again?” Patricia asked.


“I don’t want you to talk to her for a while, until you get yourself back together.”

“Patty, she does not affect me the way you think, she is just trying to be a good mother.”

“Bullshit, she is! You always end up in this dark place after one of you mother-to-daughter chats. It has to end. Either you tell her or I will get father to tell her.”

I smiled. Since childhood, she had always been the one to protect me. I don’t think I got over the fact that though I was two years older, she was half a foot taller than I was. She was always determined to do everything bigger and better than me. After a while, the sibling rivalry gave way to mutual respect.

“Promise me you will not talk to mother for at least two weeks.”

“I promise.”

She hung up and I reached for my glass, drinking up all at once.What is it about family that makes one so vulnerable? My mother was the most important thing in the world to me. That was why I was so angry and confused at her comments the week before.

“Rosie, my dear, I just want you to settle down. All your younger cousins are married; your little sister Patricia just did her igba-nkwu.What worries me is that you don’t even seem to be trying,” mother had said to me on that Sunday afternoon. I could tell she had probably bumped into a few nosy church friends who inquired about me, my health and my marital status.

“Mama, I have done everything I set out to do in America. I have contributed to the wellbeing of this family. Isn’t that more important than finding a husband?

“Nne, you are absolutely right.You have been a joy to this family, but you are nobody until somebody marries you.”

I did the unthinkable. I hung up on my mother. Not that she would notice. She would probably blame a bad connection. The most important person in my life had just informed me my life amounted to nothing unless I attached myself to a man. I thought of the countless days and nights I worked to put myself through school. The sacrifices I made, going without, so my family could get their needs met. All that meant nothing. I felt like my head was about to explode. Sometimes, I feel like that was the reason I swallowed all those pills, to get rid of the pounding in my head. But it did not stop, so I took more and more and more. The ringing phone brought me back to my senses. It was my best friend Helena.

“Rosie, you sound awful what is wrong?”

“Helena, I don’t feel too good, I think I just overdosed but I can’t be too sure…”

“Hold on, I am calling 911.”

A month later, firmly disguised with a scarf around my head and dark glasses big enough to capsize a small fishing boat, I walked into Dr. Peterson’s office. My first impression as she led me into her consultation room was that she was not multi-cultural. She was as Caucasian as a Caucasian could be. What on earth could this white woman know about African culture and the problems people like me faced here. But she came highly recommended, so I was willing to give her a chance. She brushed her saloon-styled shoulder length brunette hair away from her face.Her hands shook slightly. She was a little nervous.She picked up a pen and pad and

motioned for me to sit down.

I sat across the room, as far away as possible. There were a few chairs, a couple of couches and a Victorian-era loveseat that looked as comfortable as a bed of pine needles. I chose a Louise XVI-styled chair, close to the floor-to-ceiling window, which groaned with heavy earth-tone drapes. This woman knew her décor very well. It was a well furnished room with an underlying sense of wealth. I wondered how many clients it took to pay for this. I mentally calculated how much this was going to cost me, probably as much as a down payment on a house.

After giving her a once-over, I concluded she was not an Ivy Leaguer, just someone who wanted to project a sense of being a blue-blood. I guessed she went to one of those schools in the East. I looked at her wall, her degrees read, Vanderbilt, Reed and Carnegie Mellon.Interesting…southern and Midwestern schools …who would have thunk it?

“So, Miss Aw-faw-di-li.” she began.

“Call me Rosie, everyone does.”There was no need for her to butcher my last name.

“Rosie. Right. So, Rosie, what seems to be the problem?”

“I am a single Nigerian woman. Successful in my field, everyone says I’m smart – though I really question that logic – but I am still single at 31.”

“Rosie, how is that a problem.Many women stay single for so much longer. I don’t see why this is something a woman as accomplished as you are should bow to pressure to be married at a certain age.”

Dr. Peterson concluded her short sermon with an arch of her perfect eyebrows.

“Dr. Peterson, it’s bad enough to have to see – someone – about something I think is none of their business, but it becomes increasingly difficult when this – someone – I have to see over-simplifies my problem,” I replied with a calm voice, though I was getting a tad pissed.

She paused for a moment then she sighed.

“I apologize. Let’s start over. Tell me how being single affects your ability to be just happy with your life?” She leaned forward at an attempt to be an eager listener. She had better be. I was paying her $200 an hour to tell me why I attempted to swallow a whole bottle of prescription medication.

“Like I said, my problem is that I am a 31-year-old single Nigerian woman, Igbo to be specific,” I said.

“Yes, continue.”

“You see doctor, for an Igbo woman, no matter how successful or smart, you are nobody unless someone marries you.”

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okolo n. c May 21, 2007 - 11:46 am

Life is a paradox, what will be, will be.

Tosin September 9, 2006 - 10:28 pm

Dear Rosie,

Thanks for sharing. It is not only in Ibo culture. Yorubas are worse. They run it in your body like cream and frustrate many women to become second wives or marry the wrongperson just to be Mrs — I made a personal decision that anybody that will not respect me because I am not married will be severely dealt with any way I know because it is non of their business. After all all these so called married women do rubbish outside their matrimonial homes.

Lady G September 9, 2006 - 12:36 pm

Wow… Rosie, I have been there. I believe many Nigerian women in america have been there too. We have to endure the lectures about our ticking biological clock…. phone calls when someone else gets married….and don't forget the relationships that change as our friends get married one by one. It is more than enough to send one into depression.

Well I was there… and one thing kept me through those hard times. A comment from a friend. He said… Lady G, single people want to be married and married people want to be single. The grass is not always greener on the other side.

Anonymous August 24, 2006 - 8:21 am

hey roseline

pls my sisther done worried about not been marride now,belive me your time is comin very soom,and i do want you to be angry we ur mom,life is an opportuniy

Godwin August 23, 2006 - 5:18 pm

Rosies dilemma reminds me of a soccer coach in England who admonished one of his best team members to go find a wife and settle down, as his experience has shown that being married increases a players sense of responsibility.

The reasons why people tend to postpone issue of marriage are various. Some do wait until they have been able to accomplish some milestones. While some will like to wait until they are psychologically ready, unfortunately some are in such situation for lack of suitable partners.

However I have come to discover that people who are unmarried at a certain age in most cultures are regarded as queer especially by the conservatives in their community, one may not know it, but those who are around you are taking note of things you could have done better if you have the benefit of a partner.

The paradox of this situation is that everyone believes it is the easiest task in this world because we have willing partners everywhere around us while we still lack.

I think the greatest hindrance to achieving the foregoing is a mind that is inclined to dwell more on inadequacies of others while looking out for features in partners that resembles the standards that same mind has created.

afwa August 23, 2006 - 1:31 pm

nice one, what happened next???

Anonymous August 23, 2006 - 11:45 am

Nice one.


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