The world has been, for the span of fingers' click, celebrating women's rights. I wish for us women, it was not just a day, but a lifestyle. It can be more than a Woman's right in front of the world. It can be also our rights to give what laws or money cannot buy: Hope.
A few days ago, as we were studying the Principles of integrity, our local Leadership Institute speaker of the day said “Each and everyone of us is influencing someone, at some level. No matter who you are, you are influencing, either positively, or negatively. It might be here, at church, when you come for service, someone sees you, they might not even know you or speak to you, but there is something about you, that touches them.”
“A child will see you walking by and say Oh, this aunty, I like her style, and she always walks with different men”, and she will start too early dating boys. It might be this person in your neighbourhood, across the street, at your workplace. Integrity is also a matter of the positive influence you can have not only on those you know, but also those you do not know”.
As I heard these words, I remembered the days of my tender childhood, this woman-friend of my mother. She was one of the first influences of my life. A colleague of Mum, she would often come home to chat. I might have identified with her because she was the only woman in my parents’ circle whose skin looked like mine. I would gaze at her flawless hair, her long and polished nails, and her beautiful dresses.
She always dressed with an effortless, cannot-compare-with utter elegance that brought light into my day every time I saw her. A delicate, black high-ruffle neck bouffante silk blouse worn over a long skirt, pointy stilettos hiding skin-smooth feet, were my private catwalk. Most importantly, since I could hear pieces of her conversations with Mum, she was full of dignity and honesty. One day, she came with a floaty red dress, with long trumpet sleeves and a matching foulard, that made her look like a blossoming red rose freshly bathed by the morning dew. Usually, I would just stand next to her –and I think she was amused-, but this time, I just went “Ohhh I love this outfit!” A few days later, she brought it for me in a bag. This was exactly 24 years ago. Up until today, I remember how valued and appreciated I felt.
Of course, my mother was my mentor, my protector, my dear. But in the process of becoming a woman, it was important for me to also recognize and acknowledge something positive out of another woman’s life, with positive traits. Her sense of style deeply influenced me, and even helped during the many years I worked for the Fashion industry.
This reminds me of my muse Maya Angelou’s, own inspiration, Mrs Bertha Flowers. In “ I know why the caged bird sings”, Maya tells how, abused when she was only 8, she became mute after being raped. Her grandmother did not know what to do to open the little girl back to joy, and introduced her to this worthy of praise, intellectual and elegant woman. Maya did not talk much to the lady, but looked at her and admired her. Mrs Flowers gave her the love of poetry, and became one of the powerful influences behind the writer’s unique gift for writing.
She writes it beautifully:
“Mrs Flowers was the aristocrat of Black Stamps. She had the grace of control to appear warm in the coldest weather, and on the Arkansas summer days it seemed she had a private breeze which swirled around, cooling her. Her skin was rich black, no one would have thought of getting close enough to Mrs Flowers to ruffle her dress. She wore gloves too(...). When she chose to smile on me, I always wanted to thank her. . She was one of the few gentlewomen I have ever known, and has remained throughout my life the measure of what a human being can be. It would be safe to say she made me proud to be Negro, just by being herself. My name was beautiful when she said it."
One day, little Maya goes to her house, sent by her grandmother. Mrs Bertha speaks to her: “Now no one is going to make you talk, possibly no one can (...). Words mean more than what is set on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with the shades of deeper meaning (...) ". "The odours in her house surprised me. The sweat scent of vanilla." " I made tea cookies this morning. You see, I had planned to invite you." As I ate, she began the first of what I later called “my lessons in living”. (Then she) brought a thick, small book, she opened the first page and I heard poetry for the first time of my life. Tears of love filled my eyes. On that first day, I ran down the hill and into the road. I was liked, and what a difference it made.”
I reminds me of this little girl, in Port-Gentil. She often comes to me at the end of service, her eyes glowing with admiration. She approaches hesitantly, very intimidated, and I am humbled by it. Last Sunday, she came and gave me a small bottle of water. I was indeed thirsty. I do not know her name, or her parents, and must promptly oblige. All I do when she comes to me, I open my arms, and welcome her. When I embrace that little ebony doll, I just tell her with my heart that I value her as a treasure. I can feel that she is happy, comforted.
You see, we as adults do not value these insignificant-appearing moments. But these are the very same moments that make the world a better place. The very same seconds that get you into eternity.
You might have thought the article would give you mentoring figures to follow, but these few words want to ask you this: who do you give "Lessons in Living?" Who do you choose to love?
Know who inspired you, so you can inspire too, bring a gaze of joy and a smile of happiness onto another woman’s life!
I am thankful for these women who inspired me. For Mrs Bertha Flowers.
For Maya Angelou.
For Eleanore Roosevelt and Harriet Tubman.
For Katherine Switzer. For Saran Kaba Jones and Aung San Suu Kyi. For Madam C.J Walker. For Saddie Tanner Mossell and Folorunsho Alakija.
For Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Helen Keller. For Marie Curie and egyptian ruler Hatsepsut . For Queen Esther and of course, the queenest of all, my mother.
Happy Women’s day to all. Let me hear us roar!