Aurelia was her name. Her words are still engraved on my mind. I can recall them all, verbatim. She, a daughter of Africa, had just arrived from Europe where she had gone to pursue her doctorate degree. She had come back convinced that things had to change. I can still picture her radiant face as she addressed us on that sunny afternoon in the university auditorium, her cadent voice echoing through the entire room…
“Several years ago,” she began, “it was unheard of for a woman to stand up and address a crowd, let alone one in which men were present. Her place was confined to the kitchen, to the garden, to fetching water in the river.”
As she spoke these words, the image of my late mother came to mind. In her entire marriage, she had never dared raise her voice against my father’s. We were six boys in my family, no girls. Our mother prepared our meals, washed our clothes, worked in the shamba, heated our bathing water… but she was never allowed to give her opinion on any matters, even those that concerned her.
“But today,” Aurelia continued, “things are different. Women are now recognized as an essential component of any society. The roles they play in the development of a society are sublime. No man can carry them out to the same level of perfection. If a society overlooks them, the feminine touch that holds its fabric together will slowly start to crumble and soon be no more.”
My mind slowly wandered away. I remembered the neglect my family fell into when my mother went to meet her Creator: my father drinking himself to oblivion; my brothers and I walking around in tattered clothes because there was no one to mend them; the bitterness etched on our faces because there was no one to show us affection…
Her voice brought me back to reality. “There are some characteristics which only a woman can bring to a society: her gentle warmth, her untiring generosity, her love for detail, her intuition, her simple and deep piety…These are the tools with which she imparts change on the society. These marks of true femininity are what keep the wheels of a society moving. Their absence is followed by stagnation in all its facets.”
Once again, her voice faded to the background. The happy images of my peers flashed through my comatose mind. They, well dressed while I in tatters; they, growing up while I never looking like I would reach maturity; they, pursuing their dreams, while I on the verge of becoming a vagabond…
As she spoke I finally realised what was missing in my life: a mother figure. There and then, in my swoon, I resolved to make my mother proud.
“To paraphrase the words of the late Pope John Paul II,” the sweet voice woke me up again, “we have to learn to give thanks for all the women who watch over the family, which is a fundamental sign of the human community; for the women who work professionally and are at times burdened by a great social responsibility; for all the women in all the richness of their femininity as they assume a responsibility for the destiny of humanity. Thank you.”
I was still deeply wrapped up in my thoughts when she finished. The roaring applause jolted me back to reality. Slowly, I walked out of the auditorium, hands in my trouser pockets, bag full of books slung over my left shoulder, the shadow of my mother leading the way.