A friend is a hand that is always holding yours, no matter how close or far apart you may be. A friend is someone who is always there and will always, always care. A friend is a feeling of forever in the heart. – African Proverb
He who learns, teaches. ~ Ethiopian proverb
An essential foundation of African culture is the vital role of aunties (mums, spiritual mothers, and older close friends). Under normal circumstances, an aunty will never try to replace a young girl’s mother or grandmother. However, her role as an aunty is significant all the same. Aunties can sometimes be pointedly outspoken when it comes to matters of the heart, relationships, your future, and the all too familiar fashion advice. “You should always dress for your shape and never show too much of your body in public,” our younger selves never wanted to hear. Aunties often speak about traditional and religious values, morals and principles, respect for elders, education, your role as a wife and mother, and of course, men. And they provide much-needed cooking lessons. They tend to mitigate the problems one faces in life. They quietly encourage positive behavior graceful movements, and to speak in soft tones around men. But sternly instruct us to work hard, complete our education, save our money, build/buy a house or two, and to love, pray, and care for our children. These, most often unsolicited, but well-meaning discussions/life lessons usually take place under a Karité Tree (aka, tree of life).
Hold a true friend with both hands. ~ Nigerian proverb
Being independent and on my own, since I was 18 years old, I was known for being idealistic. However, I would say I was cavalier in my pursuit of adventure, happiness, and professional success. For a 20-something, I also would like to believe I was a good decision-maker. Mainly since I somehow avoided many distressful situations young women experience in their 20s and 30s, in their pursuit of happiness and success. However, after moving 9,000 miles away from the comforts of family, friends, and the familiarity, God knew I needed a support system in Africa since I NEVER planned on returning to America, other than for short visits, of course. So He brought several aunties in my life. My aunties who accepted me without conditions and each held me with both hands to help navigate me on a steadier path. Especially since life became less idealistic and more realistic – in other words, tougher. From time to time, unsteady footing solicited my aunties calling me under the Karité Tree to speak about the meaning of events and uncomfortable circumstances, to help me clarify my ideas and actions, and what the consequences of my decisions would be. Although some of my aunties are no longer with us, or they are far away from me now, I will always remember them and be grateful for their friendship, love, and support they gave to me while living and raising young Adeleke, my Yoruba prince in Africa.
If anyone finds themselves making a similar move to the Continent, I highly recommend making a connection with aunties and uncles. They can be your moral compass and help you avoid pitfalls, and stay on track to living your best life in Africa.
Let me introduce you to my Pillars of Strength:
Aunty Yemi, our Peace Corps nurse from Nigeria, was gentle and kind. Aunty Yemi, the Caregiver, was skilled at calming volunteers when we would overreact whenever we experienced an unknown ailment. She always cared for us back to good health. Aunty Yemi was also a woman of faith, who loved her family. I will never forget her as being a good listener who had an exceptional skill at allowing me to find my solutions to my problems.
Aunty Rebecca Muluhya, Strength of Faith. My loving, humble, nurturing, generous, and faithful spiritual mother, who never tired of not only praying for her amazing daughters Sally and Edith and husband baba Sally, she never hesitated to pray for others, including me. It seemed aunty Rebecca’s line to God was more direct than the rest of ours. Rebecca’s line to God was most beneficial for me when I had emergency back surgery in Nairobi. Although I didn’t know aunty very well at the time, she knew I was in Kenya all alone, and she and her youngest daughter Edith came to visit me at Aga Khan Hospital. Their visit was unexpected, and their prayers were comforting. From that moment, aunty Rebecca always had time for me. She never hesitated to pray for me or invite me into her homes in Kigali, Arusha, Nairobi, and Kakamega, where after retirement from the United Nations, she continues to serve God by helping orphans and widowers (Founder of the Rescue An Orphan Trust, in Kakamega, Kenya). Aunty Rebecca is loving and kind-hearted. I saw first-hand how meaningful and impactful her work for the empowerment of orphans and widowers are. I am so grateful for aunty Rebecca’s patience with me. Best believe, when there was a need, aunty Rebecca never hesitated to call me under the Karité Tree.
Mum Olamide Adedeji was the epitome of an African woman. When she walked into a room, she commanded respect by her sheer presence. She had a solid spiritual foundation, was persuasive, elegant, graceful, nurturing, and resourceful. She was also a woman with class and style. Mum also had a ‘matter of fact’ quality about her when needed. I am sure this quality was helpful during her role as Head of Office for the UN Mission in DR Congo. When she had a meeting with Presidents Kabila (DRC), Museveni (Uganda), and Kamage (Rwanda) to encourage these three presidents to have meaningful dialogue that would help bring peace and stability to the Great Lakes Region.
Mum was a loving person who loved her family and friends with a passion. Dede, Lanre, and Ade (Gabriel) had an extraordinary place in her heart. I remember assisting mum when she was the Administrative Officer for the ICTR in Kigali. Every morning, after settling at her desk, she would call each of her children, no matter their time zone (8:30 AM in Kigali, meant 3:30 AM in London 😊), to pray and spend devotional time with them.
Having an exceptional quality about her, mum Adedeji embraced and ‘adopted’ other children, young and older, as her own. She mentored and motivated so many of us – giving us advice (and instructions), love, and support.
Known as mum’s American daughter, I will continue to hold precious memories of the times we spent together, whether we were in Kigali, Kinshasa, Kampala, Nigeria or the US, mum always invited me to spend time with her. And yes, for gentle correction and guidance, mum, too, called me under the Karité Tree now and again to help navigate me through some of life’s challenges or keep me from making more less-than-smart decisions.
Mamita Olga Simpson, Cultured and Educated, had a pure and kind heart. There was not a day that I remember ever seeing Mamita without a warm smile on her face. She was loving and patient and never hesitated to meet with anyone in need of non-judgemental ears. Another woman of incredible faith, Mamita was the mother of four beautiful and accomplished daughters – Fifi, Dupe, Bayode, and Finayon, and by the reflections in her eyes every time she spoke about them, we felt her love for her girls.
I am thankful for all the moments Mamita and I shared fasting and praying during the Lenten seasons. The social functions we attended together in Kigali and the US. The stories about Mamita’s childhood, her accomplished family, her love of art and culture, and African history she generously shared as we ate delicious West African meals together. My siblings and I will always be thankful for the friendship my mother Olivia and Mamita had, and the times they spent together in Kigali and the US. And I am happy that my aunts, cousins, and friends in the US had an opportunity to meet Mamita as well. There were times Mamita called me under the Karité Tree.
Aunty Binta Sall, the Madame! Tall, elegant, stylish, kind, and a straight-shooter – honest and forthright with a fun spirit that even has the younger generation laughing with her. Aunty Binta, a woman of faith who is thoughtful and always willing to share her culture, family, and enchanting stories about her upbringing with me. She often uses humorous anecdotes that make us break out in laughter. At the office, I recall watching aunty from a distance as she greeted others with animation and a bright smile. Aunty Binta is cultured, and an accommodating host with fantastic hospitality – my siblings and I will always be grateful for the kindness she showed my mom during mom’s time in Kigali as well. And I will never forget the fun time I had when she selflessly hosted me in Senegal – arranging an incredible itinerary and scrumptious thieboudienne – my favorite dish.
Dear aunties, how blessed I have been to have had you as encouraging Pillars of Strength. Your listening ears when life was unkind, your faith in me that I would be fruitful in the various career choices I pursued, and your friendships that supported me when I needed that extra boost to face realities of life. Thoughts of you all and the fun times we shared continue to bring warmth into my heart and a smile on my face. I am thankful for all the experiences and your light.
Alyson is the creator and founder of Expatise. Read more about Alyson’s personal story as an expat and desire to connect with like-minded people who share her love for Africa, passion for service, and need for travel escapes.