We called her "Madam" or "Mama Mojekwu". She was our secondary school principal.
When the news of her untimely death eventually reached me, she had been gone for a number of years. In addition to the sadness and pain, I had regrets. Time stood still as I became a teenager again. I had gone back to the school to pick up my final year result. I was required to obtain the principal's signature on the slip. When I went in to see her, she was happy about my result, and so, in addition to signing that paper, mama Mojekwu gave me a Letter of Recommendation. She said that if, for any reason, I was unable to secure a university admission that year, I should take that letter to the state college of education and simply tell them that she sent me. I ended up not needing the letter but I never forgot that gesture.
The next time I saw her was at a function some months later. I went over to greet her and she was very happy to hear the progress I had made so far. She asked me to stay in touch.
I have regrets beacuse I never did stay in touch with her, not because I did not want to. Looking back now, I would attribute it to the immaturity of youth. I had a brand new life ahead of me: college, new teachers, new friends, new aspirations. I was caught up in the frenzy of a whole new life unfolding before my eyes that I forgot to look back. Time, they say, is a thief.
We considered her a very strict disciplinarian. Students would run at the mere sight of her car coming through the school gate. She often told us that we ran out of guilt because there was no reason to run if we were doing the right thing. To students, like myself, who lived in the boarding house from the first day of our first year in school, she was a mother-away-from-home. Technically, in any given year, we spent more days at school that we did at home with our parents. Mama Mojekwu made sure that, in addition to academic enrichment, we got the proper home-training needed to mold us into capable young ladies, and, eventually, mothers. Of course, we did not know this at that time and so, we ultimately felt that she was very strict with us. We would come up with ridiculous reasons to go home during weekends but she saw through most of our tricks. Mothers have a way of knowing these things.
I decided to publish this article because there are things that I would have loved to say to Mama Mojekwu were she still on this side of the divide. I hope that someone that knows this remarkable woman will get to read this and know just how much she impacted the life a little girl that was placed under her tutelage. As I get older, it is becoming more and more obvious to me that she contributed immensely to the things that make up the core of the person that I am today.
Top on my list of things to say to her is "Thank you for your time." She went above and beyond the call of duty. She was fully involved.
Mama Mojekwu believed that parents should step up to their role and not cower before their children. On occasions when students would pull a stunt serious enough to be addressed during Morning Assembly, she would remind us that she is not interested in pampering and spoiling us the way some of our parents had before bringing us to her. She said that some parents would come to her claiming that their daughter's behavior has gone out of control and that they are helpless. They would ask her to bring the unruly girl to order. She would chip in her usual Igbo saying "nwa m akalia m bu aghugho" (In other words, the parents are merely shirking their responsibilities by saying that their children have grown beyond them). She would remind us that she is not a masquerade that chases people about and that she would not tolerate any more of our foolishness. We usually buckled up after that because we knew the consequencies.
Today, as I am raising my own children, I have, at the back of my mind, the understanding that 'nwa m akalia m bu aghugho".
Madam Mojekwu authorized the kitchen staff to spend every Sunday with their families while we, the students did our own cooking. Through the process of a bed count, ten or twelve students would be charged with the responsibilities of cooking the breakfast, lunch and dinner for that day. Talk about "too many cooks spoil the broth"! Each person had an idea of how her mother did what, and what food ingredient went into the pot before the other. Eventually, we would reach a consensus and finish cooking without any incident. We did not only learn how to cook for a large group, we learned to work together as a team. We managed to remain in one piece, and we did not burn down the school.
However, one particular incident remain fresh in my memory. Our principal arrived at the school one glorious Monday morning to witness the dumpster overflowing with food from the previous day. It was obvious that something had caused the crayfish to take another shape. So, she summoned all of us to the Assembly hall. It happened that the group of students responsible for the previous day's cooking had used the sugar meant for the morning tea to also cook the stew and the soup. They had mistaken it for salt. After giving us a long lecture on how to be more appreciative of the kitchen staff, she taught us how to tell salt from sugar without necessarily having to taste them.
There was an incident in the city that reached the vicinity of our school. All the students were scared and wanted to go home that evening. Mama Mojekwu addressed the students, and among the many things she said to us was that we should learn not to run away from our problems. We were motivated enough to stay. We were able to face our fears because we knew that she believed in us.
As I grow older, life continues to throw some of its many challenges my way, but I know not to run away. That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.
For some of the schools around us, the morning assembly on the last day of school marked the beginning of vacation. It was not so for us. We would spend the day sweeping the school compound, stacking the desks and cleaning the rooms. Parents would be waiting at the gate with their children that they had picked up from other schools, but it would appear like our school would not be closing on that day. The school bell would ring, summoning us. We would all shout and skip to the Assembly Hall. Mama Mojekwu would emerge from her office and announce that she would not be dismissing us until she was satisfied with the cleanliness of the school. We would argue that it made no sense doing all that cleaning when there would be nobody there the following day. We reasoned that the compound would end up getting dirty again. We missed the core message she was passing to us. She told us that when we grow up and have our own homes, we must make sure that our house is in order before embarking on any journey. She taught us that if you leave your mess behind, it will be waiting for you when you return. Now, I think that she meant it in more ways than one.
Today, cleaning the house is the last thing we do if we have to travel. My children do not understand the logic, but they will...with time.
There is so much I can say about this great teacher and mother. She saw to it that home training was a continous process for us. She loved to sing. One of her favorite songs, a nursery rhyme, goes like this:
All things shall perish from under the sky.
Music alone shall live(3x)
Never to die.
Mrs. Edith Mojekwu may be gone, but the music that is her life lives on.