Last Friday, I had the pleasure of spending some time with the amazing kids at Narnia Daycare. I was genuinely impressed to say the least. Personally, I think Ariana Oluwole of Narnia is changing the trend when it comes to daycare and early learning in Sierra Leone. Plus the kids were so much fun! I told them the story about a young boy who shared his five loaves of bread and two fishes with Jesus so Jesus could feed all the hungry people that had spent the day listening to his teaching. I enjoyed it so much so that it brought a flood of memories of my own childhood.
Ladies and gents, A Tale Of Three Sisters.
I got my first early lessons on sharing during my formative years. Being one of three girls born into a family where everything was in short supply, I learned at an early age the concept and importance of sharing. My sisters and I shared everything. Food. Sleeping space. Hairpieces. Toys. Games. And The Chair. The Chair was the only sofa (settee as we called it) in the house and was understandably our favorite. It was really the only chair that was big enough to hold our frames in horizontal form. The other chairs, due to their sizes, required us to curl up into a ball to be able to sleep in them. On those days when we had late night visitors or were knackered from the activities of the day, one of us would catch a few winks in it while we waited for the visitor to leave. Naturally, it was always a race to see who got there first and it was the most rewarding feeling to get that much coveted chair. On days when I did, my two sisters would sit on the other two separate chairs with envy exuding from their eyes, hoping and praying that our mom would summon me or ask me to do something. I silently counter-prayed that nothing would disrupt my sweet victory neither bathroom promptings nor one of those random calls from my mom to just ask a question (ugh, African parents).
That arrangement did not always work out well as one person would end up staying too long on the sofa. And so to discourage us from monopolizing things, my mom instituted a rule that we take turns with things that we had in limited supply. We took turns to play with a certain toy/game, lie on the settee etc. And that’s how the fights started – when one of us just didn’t feel like sharing. The fights were frequent as they were nonsensical. On many days, food was #1 culprit.
The food was never enough; eating was in itself a struggle for existence and only the strongest devoured much. As a rule, we all ate from the same container…every time there was food, that is. Economically, it made sense for us to eat from the same container; the food wasn’t much and dishing it out into it several containers would have exposed its insufficiency. Besides, my mom strongly believed that sharing a meal/eating together strengthens the bond of unity in a family. Even though I didn’t quite believe it at the time, I’ve come to realize that she was right. While this arrangement (of eating together) may have worked for my mom, it didn’t quite go down well with me. See I was that child, the bigyai one, the one that was always worried that she won’t have enough. Poverty does that to you sometimes. I worried about my sisters out-eating me even though we all had the same spoons and their hands were no bigger. Back then, the main goal when eating was to have as many spoonfuls as possible; hoping to be full was a mission impossible, a set up for disappointment. Consequently, I ate hurriedly without fully masticating the food. Who has time to chew when the race to see who had the most spoonfuls was on? My older sister evidently was not impressed and devised a strategy to rid me of this bad habit. She would divide the rice into three mounds and ask each person to secure their lot. She then proceeded to give instructions as to who should eat first. I was almost always the first to eat my share, followed by younger sister and then my older sister. I made sure I did justice to my lot, not leaving a single seed of rice un-devoured .
Despite the benefits, eating together was not without its challenges. I remember on one occasion – around the end of a certain month (month done), my dad had received his salary and we had managed to cook a whole meal – my dad had saved us some leftover rice and sauce (col res ) for breakfast. Our mom had gone out that morning on an errand and had heated up the rice before she left. As was customary, my older sister had divided the food into three mounds. My younger sister, a picky eater, asked that we both eat our shares first and that she would eat last, an arrangement that was fine by us. We were halfway through eating when out of nowhere the young lass snatched the pot from under our unsuspecting eyes and took off at high speed. We were dumbstruck! It took about a few seconds for my older sister and I to fully assess and understand the situation before we finally decided to take her down. And so we broke into a chase. My younger sister could have been an athlete for all we know for she made a dash for the end of the yard (it was a big yard), my sister and I in tow. As we were closing in, the young lady decided to make a run for the street, still with pot in hand. She had managed to get a few spoonfuls into her mouth while we were trying to catch up. Once she stepped into the streets (we lived right next to the local market, imagine the scene), my sister and I decided to call off the chase. She will eventually come home, won’t she? We reasoned. Well she eventually did but by then she had licked the pot squeaky clean and was still chewing the last bit of the food as she approached us. I was enraged. My older sister was fuming. How could she?! The nerve! But my younger sister was far from penitent; she was prepared to battle, probably because she knew that nothing would have softened our hearts at that moment.
The fight was on.
As was usual during our fights, our ultimate goal was to knock out our younger sister within the shortest possible time by getting her back on the floor. It was the ultimate sign of victory. But it was not an easy feat. My younger sister was and is still one resilient female! After several rounds of fighting and much pulling, pinching, biting (yes, biting) and punching, we finally knocked her out but not without the timely intervention of our long-time neighbour, Nenneh Kaday. Thank God! We were tired, my older sister and I. Neneh (as we fondly called her) broke up the fight and removed the victim/perpetrator from the scene, which was my younger sister in this case, and had her stay over at her place (which was literally a door away) until our mom returned.
Our mom returned not too long after and the much dreaded hearing session started during which my mom asked each side ‘what happened?’ Our mom was the judge…an overly just judge. She listened keenly to all three of us and then did the unthinkable… cane all three of us. The punishment meted out was proportional to our roles in the ‘crime.’ Our younger sister received about 9 strokes for being selfish, making a scene and causing embarrassment to our family by circling the compound and the street with the pot. My older sister and I were given 6 strokes each because we could have and should have known better. We were all caned because we fought. As we sobbed uncontrollably with snot running in all directions (my mom was a good whipper), my mom gave us her signature lecture on unity, you are not cats and dogs, you are sisters; you must and will be united.
And united we are.
…a cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecc 4:12
Daughter of the King