By tradition, when a woman gives birth she goes to live with her mother for the first three months whilst she learns the stock in trade of motherhood. During this period, the mother teaches her daughter how to bath, clothe and nurse the newborn baby. The mother is likely to get on the daughter’s nerves with criticisms when she fumbles with a seemingly simple task. She’ll probably be quick to criticize when the daughter doesn’t whip out her breast fast enough to feed the starving baby (whom was fed less than an hour ago), or can’t seem to master the simple task of cradling the baby in the crook of one arm whilst standing behind the stove, stirring a pot of light-soup with the other hand. It can be a very trying period for the new mother if her mother is one of those critical perfectionists who don’t make mistakes. On the other hand, if the daughter has a good relationship with her mother, it makes them closer, as she appreciates on a different level what her mother went through for her.
For my mother, it was a mix between the two. She and my grandma were close and had a good relationship until she went married that ‘Hausa nuŋ’. Since they were oceans apart, the antipathy wasn’t very pronounced because there is a limited amount of displeasure that can be communicated via an occasional phone call. When in her fifth month of pregnancy, Ayorkor told her mother the news, naturally she was overjoyed. She became even happier when she was asked to come over and help her when she had the baby. She went straight to the market and announced that she was going to ‘abrokyire’ (abroad), to look after her grandbaby. Her contemporaries all gathered around her, offering their best wishes (for the impending birth of her grandchild). A grandchild is regarded as one of the ultimate blessings.
Auntie Dede was seething inside whilst offering her congrats; she had five children and no grandchild. To add insult to the injury, two of her daughters were even older and had been married longer than Ayorkor. She had conveniently forgotten about a trip to a shrine near the Korle Lagoon about twenty years ago and the retribution demanded for the favour she asked. That evening she balanced her tomatoes on her head, wrapped her money in a piece of cloth and nestled it in her bra, before trudging off to the tsofatsє’s (medicine man) residence.
Auntie Dede, being the quarrelsome troublemaker she is, had gotten into a fight with a fellow trader a couple of months ago; she accused the woman of being a witch and spiritually stealing her money. The accused maintained her innocence and suggested consulting the shrine for the truth. Whilst the tsofatsє was performing the consultation rites, the accuser and the accused started hurling verbal and physical blows at each other. In the process, they accidentally pushed him into the fire he’d made for the ritual. He was taken to the hospital and treated for second degree burns on his right leg. Upon his discharge, he issued a standing order that under no circumstances did he want to see ‘that woman’. Auntie Dede was thus turned away when she reached the compound gates of the tsofatsє’s residence. She left in a huff, threatening to be back.
A few weeks after my brother Jalal was born, Grandma boarded a plane for the first time and came to the UK to look after her grandson. Though they had spoken on the phone, this was the first time Daddy and Grandma actually met. My mother had to take Jalal for his inoculations so was unable to make the trip to Heathrow to pick Grandma up. So Daddy went alone. During his secondary school days, he learned how to speak Ga from his Ga classmates so he was able to converse with his mother-in-law during the three-hour drive back to London. Grandma, being extremely pleased to be abroad and excited about seeing her daughter and grandchild, was in a benevolent mood and decided not to hold his ancestry against him. Besides, Daddy was a charmer, and he and Grandma had become fast friends by the time they reached the outskirts of the city.
Grandma stayed for six months before going back home. During this time she and her daughter disagreed on a number of things, but overall got on well. They are both headstrong opinionated women, who felt they knew best. She and her son-in-law got along famously, she’ll often cook his favourite dish of tuo zaafi for him and they’ll sit around and play Ludo when he came home from work. She went back home with a reformed perspective on my father and Hausa people in general.