‘A person is like a farmer who takes a basket of goods to the market; whatever that farmer presents to other people when she gets there is exactly what they will buy from her’ — Paulina Inyang Simon (my late grandmother)

Life as you want it — it all begins with knowing YOU.

Many years ago, I took part in a women’s empowerment workshop in Nigeria. Women from all walks of life attended: from the powerful and high-income earners (obvious to see from the way they were dressed) to those from humbler backgrounds — also evident from their appearance.

The Speaker commenced the workshop by asking everyone to introduce themselves and state what they did for a living. Some were public figures and known on sight; the influential women quickly did so with evident pride. One after another, the women stood up and introduced themselves in a loud and clear voice: until it was the turn of a woman in a green loose-fitting flowing gown known as Bubu in West Africa. This woman, sitting on the last row at the back of the hall, stood up, mumbled something quickly and sat back down just as quickly.

‘Sister, we didn’t hear you; please stand up and introduce yourself again…a bit louder this time, please, the Speaker said. The woman stood up reluctantly and repeated her name. As she made to sit back down, the Speaker spoke up again, ‘You didn’t tell us what you do for a living.’ By now, every neck was craning backwards, and all eyes were on the woman. The Bubu woman stood up and said, ‘I am not doing anything now; I am just a housewife.’ Her tone was apologetic, and she seemed embarrassed.

‘I see,’ the Speaker said. And that should have been that except that she began to ask the Bubu woman more questions. At first, the woman’s voice was defensive, and her face took on an expression that clearly said that she wasn’t pleased to be put on display in such a manner. But the Speaker’s voice was gentle and respectful. Within minutes, the woman’s body began to relax, and her expression slowly lost its guardedness.

‘Sister, do you have children?’ the Speaker had continued when she noticed this. The woman nodded, yes. ‘How many?’

‘Three,’ the woman answered; ‘well, four soon,’ she pointed at her stomach and gave a nervous laugh.

As the conversation progressed, everyone learned that the woman was a seamstress and that she was supplementing the family’s income with the money her husband was bringing home from his job as a mechanic. They also learned that the Bubu woman was not just a ‘cut and join’ tailor but also an excellent dressmaker. By the end of the seminar, the services of the Bubu woman had been sought by most of the women present, and she walked away with thousands of Naira worth of business. But, much more than the financial gains she walked away with, the Bubu woman’s face had radiated new confidence, which everyone could see resulted from knowing that she had something of worth — something that earned her respect before even the rich and powerful.

Despite external influences, the self itself is the one that can determine the worth of itself!

Because she was in the presence of women she thought were better than her, she had not accorded her true worth what it deserved; for the same reason, the woman had not viewed the contribution she was making to her home with the sense of pride it rightly deserved. But the right word at the right time by the right person and in the right setting had changed all that in a twinkle of an eye.

Sometimes the right word spoken by the right person at the right time and in the right setting can do more good than a purse full of cash!

For the remainder of the seminar, the Bubu woman had laughed easily and loudly to jokes, moved around and communicated with other women (the well-heeled and humble alike), took part in the games played, and even laughed, unashamedly, when she made mistakes or got some answers wrong. Her demeanour was a far cry from that exhibited at the start of the meeting. And it had all started when the woman realized that she was worth much more than she knew, much more than she had given herself credit.

‘Knowing who you give you a feeling of worth no matter where you are or with whom you find yourself!’

Anyway, as I watched the Bubu lady moved from one woman to another that day, engaging, conversing and contributing, I’d wondered at the origin of the fear that had held her so bound for so long and about the many possibilities she must have lost because she hadn’t believed being a dressmaker was as worthy of being celebrated as being a doctor, a lawyer or a banker. Most importantly, I’d wondered who had caused her to adopt that belief in the first place — a family member, friends, her society, herself?



FROM FEARFUL TO FIERCE: the true-life story of a woman who was abused, bullied and told she would never amount to anything of worth.

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Sarah Udoh-Grossfurthner

FROM FEARFUL TO FIERCE: the true-life story of a woman who was abused, bullied and told she would never amount to anything of worth.