If it was your choice to emigrate, I bet that you weighed all options and consequences and thought you were prepared for the gains and losses of immigration. Yet, how soon did you realize that the cost of being physically separated from those who raised you was incalculable?
Living away from where we grew up, our early life lessons become the well we draw from in the quest to survive or thrive in the new and unfamiliar environment. We cultivate an identity that is shaped primarily by what we have inside of us, the lessons of our childhood. By passing this wisdom to our children and those in our care in the diaspora, we transfer a part of our identity and culture, a unique part of who we are, to the next generation.
“Gūtirī mūthenya ūkīaga tongī” is the lesson I take with me everywhere. Loosely translated to “There is no day that dawns like another”, you could count on my mother to say this at least once a day to any one of my siblings. It’s a nuanced, layered idiom whose full meaning I only grasped when I got older. My mother, who raised us by herself, used the phrase to motivate, encourage, caution, deter, and above all to reassure us that circumstances can and do change, for everyone. That you should be thankful, share what you have, show respect and be considerate of others. Remain humble, and be careful about how you spend. As much as possible, put in your best and take it easy if things are tough. “Tomorrow will dawn differently.”
To honour our fierce mothers on this Mother’s Day, Wakenya Canada sent a question to some of our diaspora women readers: “What is the one lesson learned from your mother that you ensure to pass on to the children you’re raising abroad, and why that lesson? Here are their responses:
A lesson that I learned from my mother that I ensure to pass to my children raised abroad is to impart and maintain family values and beliefs which are the structure and well-being of the family. Family values and beliefs are always important when crisis arise. My mother established values in my life and they became the foundation for my family. We have been able to stand strong on our views despite other people’s efforts to break through with opposing beliefs. Additionally, if any of my family member feels weak from the cold outside world, they always know they can come home into their family for a warmth comforting connection. I miss you mom! It will be 25 years since you left us. May you continue resting in peace. – Lydia Mathu
“Enkera ai iyanyita ake iyie pooki tungani ata olemeeta toki amu keeta Enkai olekoisiayio lee pooki ng’ae.” My lovely mother taught us to respect and help people, never despise anyone no matter their background. That God has a wonderful plan for us all. – Hellen P.
I have learned many lessons from mine, I will give you two:
1) Never leave the house without applying some lip gloss/Vaseline on your lips, that way people will never discuss whether you slept hungry or feasted on nyama. In short people will never be aware of your problems or riches because you are not inviting them to know you that way. 2) Everyone is always welcome to sit at her table regardless of societal status. Chief or janitor she will serve you from the same tea service, you never know who will give you a hand in life. – Mercy G
Trusting God in and out of season. Being there for one another and cleanliness. Peninah M.
When I look at the life my mother and both my grandmothers have led, I’m filled with motivation to be a success in this life. Though the road is often tough, I’m comforted by the fact that the blood of these mighty women/heroes runs in my veins, and if they overcame, I can too. I’m also reminded how much my life and how I live it will affect decisions made by my children and generations after me. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is resilience. You see, this woman my mother, and those before her endured emotional pain from their marriages, betrayal, physical, emotional and financial abuse. Yet in all this, they were the skeleton that held the family together. They didn’t allow themselves to crumble. They steered their families in the direction they wanted them to go. It’s because of their resilience, their faith and the desire to do the right thing, that their homes are a success today. I want my children to learn this worthy character. The ability to bounce back through struggles in life, to source inner strength and most importantly divine strength to conquer through situations. It is this character that allows one to say later on in their years that “it’s not been easy but I wouldn’t change a thing”. To me that’s success. – Faith K.
Be there for each other. “If someone does something to your sister, they are doing it to you”, my mom would say. So always have each other’s back. This one I give it to my sons. They take care of each other like crazy. It makes me calm when they are outside on their own to always know they have each other. They have a unique bond. But I guess this comes with being twins. – Cecilia P
One very valuable lesson that my mum taught me was ‘be satisfied with what you have and don’t covet, envy or borrow your neighbour’s property’. If your friend or neighbour has a nice car that you would want to drive one day, work hard and one day God willing, you will get your own. You get more satisfaction from achieving something you’ve worked hard for rather than being given. – Judy T
There are many lessons and is definitely hard to narrow down. However, my mom has taught me to put God first, be resilient and to take pride in what you do. She worked as a registered nurse in Kenya, she came here, upgraded to Canadian standards and worked as an RN until her retirement. My mother uses a cane and she would have easily qualified to depend on disability benefits, but instead, she stood proud to depend on the work of her hands. Our family values include integrity, ethics, resilience and pride in what you do. In all things, I have learnt to put God first. – Lorraine M
Embrace and share your rich African heritage. – Elizabeth K
The biggest lesson is that everything has it’s time or season. My mom says: “o ūndū, na ihinda rīaguo”. With this lesson, I have learnt to experience every moment as it comes. I am able to tell my girls that it is time to face whatever we are facing. For them it can be exams, a bad boss, a relationship. I tell them to make the best if it and understand it is a season. Good things too. Graduations, a good job. It is a certain time in our lives and it brings a different purpose. This quote is actually found in Ecclesiastes. When I told my mom that I would not visit her in March because of COVID-19, she said: “o ūndū, na ihinda rīaguo”. When the travel restrictions are removed, I will visit. As simple as that. We don’t have to stress too much if something cannot happen right now. It is not the right moment. Jane K
My mom always says.. don’t forget to pray for family and friends ….don’t forget to enjoy yourself and have good fun! – Carol M.
My mother was a strict African mother raising seven children but she never took her eyes off any of us. The best lesson that I took from my mother is that if you are humble nothing will touch you. You will not desire praise nor experience disgrace because you know what you are. With humility comes true knowledge which really is the fact that you know nothing therefore you must actively listen to others and treat everyone with respect regardless of their circumstances. This has informed the foundation of raising up my children with an undeniable firm belief that humility is an asset of personal development. – Catherine M
My mama instilled in us a lot of advice but my favourite is; “Ciakorire wacū mūgūnda”. With this proverb she explained that if something is yours no matter where you are even in ‘mūgūnda’ (farm) it shall always find the rightful owner. You blessing shall always be yours. Always work hard, be humble and remember the less fortunate. I’ve tried to twist it for my kids by saying if you want change to happen, you have to be present when a decision is being made for it to be effective. Caroline O.
Generosity, sharing our resources with those who need it most and treating everyone like family. Because kindness goes along way is fostering hope. – Florence J
My mom taught (and continues to teach) me to be generous. She always had an extra unga for the neighbor or relative who was struggling, dinner for the “unexpected” guests who had lost a job, work for the single lady who could not feed her kids and much more. She was creative on the ways she helped different people to ensure they maintained their integrity during their tough times. The lesson that stuck with me was when she gave 50K shillings to help our church do some activity (don’t recall the actually work). I remember seeing her stand during the service when the pastor asked for support… this was during my high school years and I could not help but think she was making a huge mistake. Fast forward 10 years when I got full time work, my first offer was $— you guessed it! God taught me a lesson that day at church. I was where I was because of mom’s generosity; she had been sowing into my (and my siblings and our children’s) future. – Catherine M
My Lesson from mum is to be generous and share with folk. She actually just did it and we learnt. Now as an adult, I see much grace come my way I am sure is due to this. She shared everything she had and visitors to our house were known to leave laden with goodies from the farm and extra food. It’s not like she had so much, but whatever she has till today, she shares. Catherine K.
Happy Mother’s Day to our beautiful, courageous, resilient mothers, whether still with us or in heaven. We surely stand on the shoulders of these African sheroes. Go on, leave a legacy, pass that lesson along.