If you want to survive the Nigerian Education System, you need more than personal resilience, hard work, diligence and determination. You need more than the extra mile we’re so often encouraged to go. You need more than money and a comfortable crib. You need friends.
And God really did bless me I found people like me- imperfect, but thirsty for more. People talented in everything. I had Ken Ogueji who was is awesome bassist, Ope Owotumi the amazing songwriter, Valentine Nwakamma, the wickedest Tenor I personally know. There’s Tolu Ogunrinde the comic keyboardist, Elijah Akefe the silent academic, Michael the star singer, Ugochi Mbakwe (of blessed memory) the cook who made me enjoy Egusi for almost the first time in my life. Almost every week, I have a great person to celebrate. And this week, It is Grateful Ojurere Gommy Itiowe.
Grateful Itiowe is…a mother. That’s funny to say about someone who’s younger than you. Grateful literally mothered us throughout school. The times when we were broke, grateful would lend you money that you probably would never pay back. I remember keeping the tab in my brain (I owed her about 9, 700 naira) until I liquidated it this year.
And grateful was a cook. I have talked about the eba incident, when me, ope and a third person (everyone now says it wasn’t valentine so it has to be Michael) were hungry after lectures. When Grateful said “wait for me, I’m coming” we thought she was being sarcastic, but about an hour later she called and said “come and collect it at SUG”. When she gave us the bag, we were wondering what it was she cooked. When we opened the flask, behold it was okro soup (my personal favourite). That okro soup was filled with several “obstacles” like kpomo chopped into it just the way I like it these days. Maybe it’s my imagination but there was dried fish and stock fish. The eba was heavenly: till today that was my best eba EVER. I pestered her till she taught me how it was done (she soaked the garri in hot water so it ended up very soft and TASTY).
Grateful was always the convener of LGC meetings- even if we were only 2 grateful was the constant attendee. All those evenings when we would sit in love garden- study, sing, talk, buy kush-and-dush. I’m sure I cannot count how much of Mama-G’s money went in.
Perhaps I should stop talking so much about food. Grateful was a leader, forever carrying people’s burdens on her shoulder. From morning till night grateful would be in a meeting or the other, talk with someone or the other. She served in her fellowship’s executive committee, and she helped other fellowships when they had problems. She was a wonderful decorator- she founded and runs Crystal Ventures and they do such good work. She started a prayer meeting for ladies, well I never attended for obvious reasons. Okay, well there was THAT once when they needed instrumentalists and I had to attend. Oh did I mention she plays the drums too? Every time our band went on stage, now that I think of it- grateful WAS there! That’s an amazing record, because I know closer friends who weren’t that fortunate 😀
There were so many things that happened and I learned from grateful. There was the time we were walking from Aluta gate to SUG and at a dark spot, a drunk guy walked up and started talking trash. She told him off but she was pissed at me- “Peter are you really gonna just stand there and do NOTHING?” when I protested that he was bigger than me, she said “I’m a lady. even if you can’t do anything, it’d be more comforting to know you’re there for me. And it’d make the guy think twice about doing anything stupid”.Well then, I learned THAT- make some noise even if you cannot do anything.
Grateful was resourceful- any event you’re planning you could put it in her hands and go to sleep knowing that it’d be done. And she did deliver when I was planning a small party for my birthday- I gave her money to make peppered meat kebabs. She and ugochi turned up later with meat kebabs, eba and egusi to feed 40 people. And after the event, we chatted while cleaning up the apartment!
The story didn’t end there- I had the singular opportunity to buy her lunch while we were filling out our registrations. It was a great time to talk without the stress of lectures, meetings and all that we experienced as undergraduates. It was then I began to notice other things I never took notice of- like she looked beautiful when she smiled; and that her corporate dressing would sell in the outside world.
And those times when I was suffering from a violent crush on a certain pretty somebody from Kogi- grateful gave me advice that I wish I listened to on time. She told me I was different from other boys on campus, and I did not need a girlfriend to validate my awesomeness. But my heart had slipped far enough and I proceeded on a disastrous joyride. I’m older, I’m wiser and I’m a better man because I (eventually) listened.
Grateful was a source of encouragement and if you know her, I need not mention more. But there was the very rare time that she needed encouragement. While I was celebrating my mum’s birthday, I received a text that grateful lost her mum and sister. It was a dark period and I couldn’t bring myself to say anything so I just sent a text. I called later and I was surprised at how calm she sounded. She held herself together and was even comforting ME!
Now, the storms have calmed. I was opportune to spend about a week with her this year. I’ve played the bass at her church for a weekend (and I got to meet the legendary Voice of The Cross. I even played with them and I was ecstatic to see myself on TV!). I got to meet her wonderful family- Gladden of the adorable curiosity (reminds me of myself when I was her age), and goodness the sweet, quiet one. Tolu and I crashed at her place whenever we needed a place in Enugu (I think I have a room to myself in that house these days).
One day when I’d stayed for 3 days on end (with Tolu Ogunrinde), I asked “how come we don’t feel like leaving?” and mamaG told us “this is HOME. You’re supposed to want to be here all the time”. That whole weekend mamaG had been so busy she didn’t notice Tolu and I much- working from 5am to 1am! She had to step into the mother role in assisting her dad to plan their church’s 17thAnniversary/Dedication.
Academics? Grateful although a very busy person often pulled all-nighters. In FCS secretariat, I’d often leave her there especially towards exams. And God was faithful to her- she’d call us and tell us where to read from and you could be sure that it WOULD come out in the exams. Even during our externship, I remember we squeezed time between the busy schedules to practice MCQs (forcing her to read aloud so she wouldn’t doze off).
In everything she did you’d see Diligence, resilience, hardwork and the extra mile. In one person! I’m sure I didn’t adequately capture all the moments I hoped to (I’ve been planning this piece since June), but if you’ve met grateful you can tell that she is a woman of value. A virtuous woman who I’d recommend to any man of equal substance. I know she will continue to shine and shine, till the picture God had in mind when he made her, is perfectly formed.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY OJURERE
Oya kneel down let us pray for you!
Curiously, grateful’s been sporting a new smile these days; now she has some hush-hush conversation with a contact named “sweet heart”. And she’s promised that if I come to Enugu for this year’s conference she may tell me who it is.
I’m so going to be in Enugu!