Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here. This is Zikoko’s What She Said.
The subject of today’s What She Said is an 18-year-old firstborn who has already raised three children. She talks about spending her childhood raising her siblings, her dad’s obvious favouritism towards her brothers, and how she wishes her parents were more involved in raising their children.
Can you tell me the earliest memory of your childhood?
How bad we had it financially. We had so little that whenever I saw something new in the house, I’d ask them who gave us. Eventually, things started moving up slowly. My mum’s brother gave her a car that she gave to my dad. Her reason for giving it to my dad was that she didn’t know anything about cars and couldn’t drive. She also finally got a job in the civil service.
Before the job, she would drop me off at the neighbour’s, then carry my younger sister on her back to go sell crayfish.
Why did she not drop both of you?
My sister cried a lot. If she wasn’t with my mum, she’d cry for the entire day till my mum got back. Because of that, the neighbours didn’t want her around.
So you were the chosen one.
Yes, I was. At one point, my mum stopped selling crayfish and started selling doughnuts. She’d give my sister and I doughnuts to take to school. The doughnuts were big and fat and all my classmates were jealous of me. They didn’t know that the doughnuts were all my parents could afford at the time.
There was a time she sold iced fish and we went around telling people. It was fun sharing the flyers and helping her scout for customers.
What about your dad?
He was a junior civil servant and wasn’t earning a lot. Funny story on how he got the job. They didn’t want to give him at first because they knew he was Igbo.
When they referred my dad for the job, the woman conducting the interview was shouting to her subordinate in Yoruba that why would they hire an Igbo man, but they didn’t know my dad speaks fluent Yoruba. In the midst of her shouting, he stood up to leave and thanked them in Yoruba. They called him back and offered him the job because they didn’t know if he was sent by the government or something.
Nepotism nepotisming. Now about your sister…
I was just about to clock two when my parents had my younger sister. My mum told me I didn’t like her and was always asking her to take my sister back to wherever they got her from.
I grew up with very little, but it was worse for my sister. When I was born, my parents tried to do the best they could because there was still ginger. My sister, however, came after me so got a lot of hand me downs. I ate cerelac; she had akamu and crayfish.
Even with the new job?
Yes. Things started moving up and small small money started entering the account with my parents’ jobs, but things didn’t really change until 2009. My first brother was born in 2007, and he felt some of the poverty. But my youngest brother, the fourth child, was born in 2009 after things had gotten way better for my family financially. My dad got a promotion and they made him a senior officer. So before my brother was born, we had changed the furniture and retiled the house and also fixed the car. That’s why he’s a soft baby boy. My neighbours once said that the reason they know we’re eating in the house is because our last born just keeps getting fatter and rounder. He doesn’t know suffering.
Must be nice for him o. How did things get better for you?
School. Uni changed everything. When I’m in school, it’s just me and myself. I don’t have to think about what person A will eat or if person C has done assignments or washed uniforms. I love it.
Sounds great. And how are things at home?
My dad and sister are the ones doing most of the work in the house. Some days, my dad calls to ask how to make some kinds of soup. He’d end the call with how he can’t wait for me to come back so he can stop doing all the work.
Wait, but you have three siblings…?
This is why I feel like a second mum. I never had a chance to be a child. Everything that concerned my siblings was done by me. If they made any mistakes, I got the blame. They tell me I’m supposed to know better because I’m older. I have no space to myself.
I started cooking for my siblings when I was eight. I couldn’t make soups, but I was making sauces, potatoes, yam, etc. They still expect that from me.
At 8? Omo I don’t even cook now at 20.
It was so stressful. I’d have to cook for my siblings and then pack what they’d take to school or daycare for lunch. I remember praying to God that I hoped my mum was done having children because I was tired.
As I grew older, the tasks increased. My younger sister is a bit more persuasive than I am. She also started asserting her independence earlier so they don’t stress her as much. My brothers? They’re spoiled. When my mum had them, my dad forgot my sister and I existed. It was like he’d been waiting for sons.
There was a time on my birthday, my dad gave me money to buy myself something. I went to buy cheese balls, and when I got home, my dad was holding my younger brother in his arms. My brother pointed at the cheese balls, and my dad just collected it from me with the change and gave it to him.
ON YOUR BIRTHDAY?
On my birthday o. It’s worse because my birthday is in January, and everyone is usually broke because of Christmas festivities. The cheese balls were my only source of joy and happiness. I was so sad.
Blood would have flown o.
What could I have done? Once, I sent my brother to buy milk. Not only did he buy the wrong milk, but he opened it and started licking it. He also lost my change. Would you believe my parents blamed me?
My parents showed obvious favouritism. They didn’t try to hide it.
When I was 14, I went to pay my school fees. It took way longer at the bank than I thought it would, so I came home around 4 p.m. My parents had called at the time and when I didn’t pick up, they called my neighbours. My neighbours told them I wasn’t at home so when they came back, they started shouting at me so much. They asked me how I could leave my brothers all alone. I was shocked because the older one was 10. Ten! At that time, I was taking care of everyone else.
Now he’s 14 and still can’t do anything in the kitchen. When my sister isn’t around, my dad is the one that does the cooking because “do you want your brothers to burn down the house.” My sister is always complaining because she does everything alone and nobody helps her out.
Omo, so what’ll happen when you go back home?
It means I’d resume the cooking and cleaning all over again. Sometimes when my dad calls, he tells me he can’t wait for me to return home so I can continue the work. It’s one of the reasons I avoid the house during holidays.
My brother goes out to play games and football and nobody says anything. As I am, I can’t just go to my friend’s house unannounced, but my brother disappears for hours and my mum just lightly tells him not to do it again, but he does it again!
If you could change anything, what would it be?
I’d wish my parents were more involved in raising their children. It felt like they just dumped all the children on me to raise. I also wish they spaced the children more. Maybe it would have given me a chance to actually be a child.
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