I once asked my mother why she named me Ruth. She simply said, ‘Because you were not meant to live. But you miraculously survived the most painful labor.’ In other words, my parents chose the biblical name, Ruth, because she ceased to be a Moabite for love, as she chose to follow Naomi to Israel. Her story is not so different from my birth story. My mother still wonders thirty years after, how she survived the labor. According to her, the baby in her womb had died and she was simply wriggling to death.
She could barely hear the women who surrounded her that day, not even when they suggested that the new pastor is called to pray for her. My mother also told me that when Nwokooma, the pastor’s son arrived, the baby in her womb suddenly kicked and moved severally. On her part, when the pastor’s son prayed, an awesome strength overtook her so that she had the energy to deliver the baby girl. My poor self.
The miracle brought my father closer to God. He never used to believe in God. But from that day, he feared God. Though till date, he is not the church person. Mother has been an ardent Christian. But she was not allowed to go to church by my father before the incident. My birth became a gateway for my mother being allowed to go to church.
My native name, Oluchukwu, is symbolic. It means ‘The work of the Almighty God’. It was even my father who christened me such a name.
Nwokooma left for college in the city after my birth. It was his father who dedicated me to God because my mother, after three months of my being born, took me to the village church where Pastor Igwe was presiding. I was told the church got filled to capacity that day, and many villagers from that day onward became members of the church.
The Igwes stayed in Zamchi for seven years before they were transferred. Within that period, Nwokooma and I were like father and daughter. On returning from college for the holidays, he normally brought me biscuits and clothes. We were so close, elders began to say I would become his wife. Pastor Igwe and his wife would laugh hard at such remarks.
It was before the Igwes’ transfer from Zamchi, that Nwokooma left for England on scholarship, to study at the famous Cambridge. We lost touch. I was in primary two when he traveled, and to make things worse, his family eventually left Zamchi. Though they left, it was in the body, not in spirit. Though Nwokooma was in faraway England, our spirits were inseparable.
On finishing at Zamchi Elementary School, the government, like it was just woken from slumber, suddenly remembered Zamchi and situated a secondary school in our forgotten region of the world. I was a pioneer student of the new college. Did I tell you that Zamchi comprises of seven villages? Mine is Obodoukwu, the most senior of the villages ancestrally. The college was built in my village, some five hundred meters from Umudike where the Igwes had pastored for seven years.
I rounded off my college studies at seventeen. By then, my parents had hosted over twenty prospective suitors who came asking for my hand. My parents kept telling them they wanted me to finish my college before marriage. And so these suitors waited in a long queue for a balloting over my hand in marriage.
My destiny, however, was in another one-man queue for me. I did well in my certificate examination. And I had no further vision in academics. There was no money. But on a valedictory day, being the first set of the college, it was thick. The government, through its representative, made a promise that the best student of the young college would receive a scholarship to study abroad. The rest is history.
At eighteen, I found myself in Oxford, England, where I studied history. I later had a master in International Relations from Cambridge.
The day I was flying to England, I was like a golden fish which could not swim. I could not believe it. All eyes were on me. But in me was this boldness that being a rustic Zamchian, was inbuilt in us. It is in our blood to be the best we could.
The Eastern Region that gave me the scholarships had expected me to return to be a technocrat in the region. I kept to the agreement and returned at the age of twenty-four to join the civil service. Even though I was eminently qualified, my being a female was my albatross. I was the youngest and those I worked with loved me for I tried to respect all. I did not allow my meteoric rise enter my head. I was conscious of my parental background. I was conscious of my dreams in life. I was conscious of the tenets according to the bible, that constitutes a pious life. They said I am a pretty lady, but to me, I was an ordinary young woman whom the hand of God had lifted so greatly.
At Zamchi, I was the first female to travel abroad. I never thought such a feat possible. My parents were stunned. My so-called suitors were disappointed. All the same, they hoped that someday the fish would return to the river of Zamchi for their catch.
Let me not talk about my racial experiences in Europe. It was unique. I should simply say. My Christian upbringing did not help matters. Every Dick and Tom wanted to get involved with me intimately. I said no. so I was a case study on the campus of a big girl who refused to be involved with men sexually, as though sleeping around was a virtue.
What I escaped in school, I now suffered outside the school; in the most unsuspecting place. In my poem, I recounted how I came to this sightlessness. I entitled it, ‘The loss of my beauty’. I can recite it offhand:
Landing proudly to my fatherland,
I dreamt of raising the land,
To an enviable height,
But my flight,
Was punctured by hands,
Whose hearts were full of evil plans.
Because I did not agree to be sexually corrupt,
My sight was punctured by the corrupt,
He-goats who scampered for my skirt,
My reserved skirt of honor,
My God-given honor.
They could not force me into submitting my virginity,
So they conspired to pluck my eyes of dignity.
How did it happen? I know not,
Who am I suspecting, I know not,
But I know something
They raped my eyes for something
That I could not compromise
That I could not promise
That they could not purchase
That they would always not purchase.
I was twenty-five when the dastardly incident took place. I paid a price for my stubbornness. That stubbornness today is my pride. I did the right thing before God, before my conscience, before womanhood, before sensibility. The media was swift. Their swiftness is my comfort today. My love ironically began to flourish by the actions of my notorious ‘lovers’, thanks to the media. I was a correspondent with my country’s national newspaper on diaspora and foreign affairs. That afforded me the opportunity to travel often outside the country. I was at the foreign missions and frequently, at the United Nations in New York. It was outside the UN office that my eyes were stolen.
But I have refused to be blind since that fateful day on February 12, 1990. I was born in 1965. I am thirty now. So, I have been blind for five years. Blind, to those who raped my life. I am not blind to those who see life differently.