Today is March 8th but more importantly today is International Women’s Day.
International Women’s Day is celebrated worldwide to remember the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women, as well as a call to action for gender equality.
This past Christmas break, I had the opportunity to travel to Owrri, Imo State, Nigeria with my boyfriend and his family. It was a life changing experience, and I was able to see some things that I never thought I would never see.
After spending one day in Nigeria’s capital Lagos — what I would consider a little NYC — we flew an hour to Owerri, a place completely different from this little NYC. This is where I spent the rest of my trip, because it is where my boyfriend’s grandmother lives and where his dad grew up. Their home is extremely beautiful on an amazing property, but outside of that, I had a feeling of sadness seeing what some of the local people had to live in. Little homes on dirt roads with countless pot holes and no electricity or running water anywhere, almost like little shacks with their clothes hanging to dry and their kids being bathed outside.
While in Nigeria it seemed apparent that women aren’t really involved in political and professional areas; however, they do play a big role in the economy. Women are often expected to earn a portion of the income for the families. Women are in control of taking care of themselves and their children. Most of the time, women and children will stand on the streets or at the market and sell homemade products or fruits and vegetables that they grew to feed and clothe their families.
While I was there, we pretty much ate the same thing every day, and it was only prepared by the women. Alongside rice they eat something called a goosey soup, basically a soup made with a meat of your choice; chicken, beef or goat with added vegetables with a side of pounded yams. It is eaten with only your hands. Since most people don’t have electricity or running water it is the women’s job to wake up each and every morning to go to the market to get fresh food so they can feed themselves and their family for that day.
Fruits are a big product there — papaya, pineapples, avocado, coconuts, mangos and bananas were the main fruits that we ate for breakfast. They were always fresh and extremely sweet. These were the items that are sold on the side of the streets by women and children daily.
Another thing that is really big there is fashion! It is typical to go to the market and get fabrics that you like. A tailor then comes and measures you and makes you the traditional attire of your choice. When I was there I got two different dresses made by a tailor and it made me wish that this was the norm in the United States so we wouldn’t have the problem with the clothing we buy being to big or small.
Typical clothing in Nigeria really showcases a woman’s beauty. It is typical to go overboard and wear very colorful and different outfits.
In Nigeria, it was apparent that the bond between a mother and child is very strong. For the first few years of the child’s life, he or she is by the mom’s side all the times. Since women have the roles of cooking or selling food, they have to take their children with them wherever they go while they perform their daily tasks or even work in the fields. They carry their children on their backs secured by a cloth that is tired around the mother and the baby.
When I was in there I realized how little I knew about Nigeria, and it made me really think how little of the rest of the world knows about Nigeria.
The media always seems to focus on the corruption, violence, poverty and the bad things that are going on. No, I am not denying that these things do exist; however I met some amazing women while I was there that made me realize how great a country Nigeria is and the many positive aspects that the media often neglects to cover.
Not only the women that I stayed with but the women around town and the villages always made sure that I was comfortable, that I always had everything that I needed and that I was content in whatever I was doing. Whenever they saw me they would scream out “A-no-cha” which in Ebo, their language means white women. They would run up to me, welcome me and shake my hand. Whenever I went somewhere there wasn’t a time that I didn’t feel welcomed or loved! Isn’t this the very spirit we want to promote for all women?