So my name is Aisha A Joda and I am the 2nd in my family of the name. I was named after my grandmother Mammie who died 11 years and 2 months ago. She was taken too soon but at the same time, she lives on in her children, us the grandchildren and now her first great-grandchild. Of our generation, the only people that remember her clearly are my sister (the 1st grandchild), me (the 2nd), Michelle (a.k.a Aisha the 3rd), Jeff (a.k.a Ahmed the 1st of our generation), Ahmad a.k.a Baby A (the 2nd grandson Ahmad) and maybe to a degree Huwaida (a.k.a Aisha the 4th) who was only 3 when she died.
As I have 18 years of memories to share, I don’t know where to begin with Mammie’s story from my perspective. I will start from the last time I spent with her. She came to visit in London and unfortunately had a last minute conference or board meeting she had to attend so she had to leave us together for 4 or 5 days and nights. In all my life, I could not recall ever it being just me and her. For the first time, it was just the 2 of us…Aisha Joda, the first and second. I remember worrying about what to cook for her and what we would talk about and whether she would be difficult to please. I had nothing to worry about. She was as sweet as sugar and warmer than a loaf of fresh bread just taken out of the oven. All she asked from me was help to bring down a mattress so she could sit on the floor when she was watching TV and then taking it up stairs each night when we went to bed. And she wanted 2 hot water bottles because she could not get warm enough despite the fact it was only October and it was a fairly mild autumn. Being a teenager, I remember being uncharitable enough to think she was just being difficult asking for the hot water bottles but still, she was my mama’s mother and so I did as she requested every night and I even took them up into her bed as she seemed to struggle going up the stairs. Every night, she would say thank you and I would think ‘what for? I haven’t done much’. She would hop on the bus every day for some shopping and come back with some lunch because she didn’t want me to bother cooking as I was going to college (A2 year). We talked as we never had and she told me stories that made her laugh so had her shoulders would shake and she would clutch her bosom.
On the 3rd day, she came to me and said she would run out of her oral hypoglycaemics (medication for her type 2 diabetes) the next day and she didn’t want to go all the way into central London to see her private doctor for a prescription. Looking back, her unwillingness was probably because she was feeling unwell. Perhaps from her rheumatoid arthritis. Anyway, I took matters into my hands by going to my GP and telling them I was home alone with my grandmother and she needed a repeat prescription urgently. I didn’t even know but OAPs in England, even non-residents were entitled to free emergency drugs and this situation qualified her for it. Within minutes, we left the GP surgery clutching a prescription and headed straight for a pharmacy. I will never forget the look on her face as she thanked me for sorting it out for her. I protested that she didn’t have to thank me; she would have done the same for me. But she said ‘I thank you anyway. You saved my life’ and I could have sworn she had a tear in her eye. Crazy Mammie I thought although secretly I was pleased I could sort it out for her and that she was so happy over the little I did. Also secretly I was ashamed that I had grumbled in my heart for one second that she wanted hot water bottles when it was such an easy thing to do. The other 2 nights, I did her hot water bottles extra hot and took them 15 minutes earlier than bed time so that the bed was toasty warm when she made it up the stairs. I also put on the heaters for longer because I figured my mama would rather her mum was warm than save on the bill. One memory I will never forget is of her standing by the living room radiator that I had just switched off before bed and pressing the backs of her legs and hands on the warm metal to get a final warm blast before we headed upstairs.
She was to go back on the Thursday morning on a 5am flight and my mama came back the night before. I remember waking up despite loving my sleep those days and watching my mama and her mum get ready for the airport. She was wearing a black abaya that last morning I saw her and it had little crystals on the neck and sleeves with a matching scarf. I remember saying how beautiful she looked and teasing her about wanting to look good for our husband, my granddad (long story about the our husband thing). She laughed and said she wasn’t going to see him for another couple of weeks as she was going to Kaduna via Lagos and he was in Abuja for a work thing. I hugged her as she left and said safe journey. I watched them head out the door, never thinking that was the last time I would see her or hear her. My mama later said she had got Mammie special assistance so that she would be driven on those airport buggies because the walk was too long and she didn’t want Mammie to get too tired. That was the last sight she had of Mammie I am sure…Mammie on a buggy/transporter thingy, facing my mum as they drove her to fast track check in.
My love of Disney movies comes from Mammie. She had the whole collection of videos back in the day and whenever she went to the US to visit her 2nd daughter (my only aunty), she would come back with all the latest and we would go over to her every day for a video until we had watched them all then we would go back to our old favourites. She had watched them so many times that she knew every scene and every time one of her favourite scenes would come up, she would recite the lines and laugh with them. She also always had a large box of Thornton’s chocolates and would allow us to choose one every night after dinner. Of course being children, 1 was never enough so we usually stole an extra one sometime before dinner. We thought then we were clever and she wouldn’t know but I know now that she must have known but she never said. And somehow she always had another fresh box waiting when the current box was empty. Dinner in Yola was always in the formal dining room until I was 11 or 12 years old. Before that, the table was always set with proper china and silver cutlery with a fresh linen table cloth and matching napkins. My granddad sat in the centre chair by the window and she always sat opposite him. Then my sister and I would sit next to our husband and tease her for not being next to him as we were. Despite the air-conditioning and the closed door, there would inevitably be one fly in the dining room and Mammie hated flies with a passion. She would spend half of dinner flicking unsuccessfully as this sole fly that seemed to want to play. She was a very slow eater anyway and it was made much worse by her fly obsession so by the time we were done with dessert, she would be just be finishing her mains. She would take her dessert (which tended to be fruits) into the parlour (sitting room to you) and eat it as the children watched TV and she and the grownups had a good old natter.
I think she went through the menopause when I was about 4-5 years old. I remember saying to my mama and sister that she was always grumpy and I know I always wondered why she was always complaining of being hot despite it being about 20 degrees in her parlour with the A/C on. She would fan herself on and off all day and mutter about how hot it was. And sometimes she was short-tempered with the house servants and occasionally us. Oh and she had house-clothes that she would wear when she was indoors for comfort. It was obviously clean but in my young mind, I just thought it was a little unhygienic and eccentric since she had wardrobes full of beautiful clothes. Talking about her fashion sense, it was impeccable. Her hair was always neatly plaited and looking at her pictures of her in her 30s and 40s, she used to have all the latest fros and perms. She loved her shoes too and had 2 large shelves of shoes in her dressing room. My fit used to fit into her shoes and I would spend hours trying them on when she was in the kitchen supervising dinner or talking to adults. Sadly, I outgrew her size 3.5 feet when I was 11. Her makeup was always Clinique and her latest perfume Estee Lauder.
Being Fulani with our pulaku culture, public displays of affection in adults isn’t the done thing but being a little girl, I cared not one bit for that societal norm. we spent a lot of time in the holidays in my grandparents’ home and my mum would join us after work with or without my stepdad. I would happily hang with Mammie and play with my sister Charo and their dogs and tortoises and run from the geese. However, as soon as my mum arrived, that would all cease. I would run to her and hug her like I hadn’t seen her in a whole year and not 8 hours and cling to her for the next few hours until we went home. My grandmother would look on in amazement and several times she would ask me ‘aren’t you embarrassed’. Meaning wasn’t I embarrassed to show such a blatant preference for my mama over everyone else. Being precocious, I would look her straight in the eye (another thing children don’t do) and say ‘no!’ as if it should be obvious that I love my mama above anyone else. She would shake her head in amusement and give me a playful nudge as I sat as close to my mum as humanly possible.
Another memory that stands out is when my mum had travelled and we were staying with our grandparents. Mammie realised we were bored and decided to brave the heat and take us out for a drive. My sister was feeling helpful so she took the keys from her handbag to open the car and let the heat out before Mammie was ready. Of course Mammie had no idea and came out the entrance hall where her bag was and opened her bag for the keys. She didn’t find it and looked high and low for it, never thinking it would be in the car. My sister and I got bored of waiting by the car and came back to see what was keeping her. The memory of the sight still makes my sister and I roll about in laughter. It was a proper lol and lmao moment. We watched as she frantically rifled through her bag and started to shake onto the rug in frustration and we realised she was after the keys we had taken. Woops. We were beside ourselves with laughter at the frantic way she searched and at the same time, our hearts raced as we thought of how we would tell her that her search was fruitless because we had the keys. I don’t remember who told her but one of us did and she was relieved and exasperated all at once. We managed to control our laughter but for days after, every time we were alone we would mimic her search and fall about laughing. We still laugh at the comical image. You’d have to see it to understand just how funny the image was. LOL.
Mammie never forgot a birthday or anniversary. She was like a walking calendar and she not only remembered her children and grandchildren’s birthdays, she remember all her friends and their anniversaries and she had a card for every birthday and for the grandchildren she always had a present to go with it. To this day, a lot of my jewellery is from Mammie and I am still reluctant to buy anything precious because most of my precious stuff was Mammie related. I am having my Yola wedding celebrations in the coming month and the intention is to wear of Mammie’s many sets of jewellery as my way of including her in the day. Because she also loved to celebrate occasions and would have been dressed to the 9s and sprayed us all with her mint notes, squirrelled away in case an occasion necessitating money to be sprayed.
The call came on the 6th of October at around 7am. I was fast asleep as it was a Sunday, the day of lie-ins in my house. I suddenly snapped awake and looked around in confusion. I got up to go to the bathroom thinking maybe I was woken up because I needed the loo. I sat on the loo and nothing happened. As I went to get up, my mother’s mobile rang and I stood by her door to listen, curious why someone would call so early. All I heard was a stifled cry and then nothing. I felt my heart sink as I stood frozen by her door and I assumed my granddad had died. After about a minute, I pushed open her door and she looked at me with eyes brimming with tears and choked out a word ‘Mammie’. I remember holding her as we both wept and not knowing what to say or do. We must have been there for maybe 30 minutes, eyes dry and staring blindly into space. We were awoken by the phone ringing. The first of dozens of phone calls from her brothers and sisters, cousins, aunties, uncles and friends. Our doorbell was soon ringing too.
I won’t dwell too much on the aftermath of Mammie’s death but I will say I am so glad I got that last few days with her. My name is from Mammie. My looks are from Mammie. I eat slowly like Mammie. I love Disney Animation movies like Mammie. I am heat-intolerant like Mammie. I can find a bargain like Mammie. I love to laugh like Mammie. I think one of the biggest compliments that someone has paid me in the recent years was to say that I am like Mammie because I love family and I make the time to go see everyone when I get a chance to visit Nigeria (that is called Zumunci in the lingo). I hope that I can continue to carry on some of the greatness of the original Aisha Joda and I hope that if Mammie is able to hear or see me, that she is proud of the woman I have become as she was always proud of us all. In fact I know she would have been proud that I am who I am today. Aisha Joda, Mammie, my grandmother. You may be gone but you will never be forgotten!