Frankie Hirsch

Chronicles of an African Baby: Installment 1

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Africa is a highly patriarchal country.  Men exert broad control over the lives of women who are less educated and have severely limited access to health and social services.  Women work far longer hours than men and are virtually responsible for all housework and child care, as well as hours of income-earning work, especially farming.  Clothing symbolizes religious affiliation, wealth, and social standing.  Diets vary regionally and between the city and the villages.  In the northern region grain-based dishes such as tuwo da meya, a thick sorghum porridge are eaten with spicy, vegetable-based sauces.  Root crops such as pounded yam and gari (a granular product made from cassava) is eaten in the southern region.  Africans are avid sports fans and participants, especially the youth, in their much loved game of soccer (known as football).  Pidgin English is used as a method of communication by people whose native languages are different and is a mixture of languages.  English as a “lingua franca” (ELF) involves the teaching, learning, and use of the English language as a common means of communication for speakers of different national languages. 


The capital city of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is Abuja, with a population of 177.5 million.  Nigeria became independent of British control October, 1, 1960.  The first, elected civilian government was in May, 1999, following fifteen years of military rule.  Nigeria consists of 36 administrative divisions (states) and one federal capital territory.  It is located in Western Africa, bordering the Gulf of Guinea, between Benin and Cameroon.  Terrain ranges from the southern coastal swamps to tropical rain forests, open woodlands, grasslands, and semi-desert in the far north.  There are 374 pure ethnic stocks: Hausa-Fulani, Lago and Yoruba are the largest.  English is the official language.  Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba are also spoken along with other languages.  The literacy rate is 39 percent to 51 percent. 


The belief system, values, practices, and customs of a culture can only evolve through the education, healthcare, economic and social stability of children’s young minds.  Tragically, these children are often the collateral damage before change can get a foot hold.

Frankie Hirsch


The author became inspired to write this work while interviewing African women regarding how they came to the United States, their motivation, their hopes and dreams, how they have managed to survive, as well as the quality of their survival.  From these accounts, the author has written a fictional account of one African woman based on the details gathered in the interviews so that the work reflects an accurate and true picture of the realities in Africa and in particular, Nigeria.  The author’s passion and mission to promote global rights for women arose from the courageous stories of these women who freely shared their journeys of survival and the atrocities thrust upon them.  The poignancy of their stories demanded their voices be heard and acknowledged, thereby imploring the world to take decisive action.  Chronicles is the embodiment of all women globally who have or continue to suffer due to antiquated cultures, belief systems, and practices, providing the truth as to the urgency and necessity to educate the world. 


The work is both haunting and inspiring.
-- The Editors of Africa Connect

Prologue – In the moment

The plush, luxurious red carpet has been rolled out and anxiously waits to receive its guests as the atmosphere thickens with anticipation and excitement.  My gown is slinky and sexy, following the curves of my body.  My hair is braided with colorful extensions and my make-up is Hollywood glamorous.  I struggle to maintain my balance on sparkling platform shoes, raising me into the clouds, while grasping my earthly microphone as I blow kisses into the lens of my videographer to my audience who love and adore me…

I was so afraid.  The life I knew was gone.  They put me in chains, my legs and hands joined to my waist.  I did not understand the language they spoke.  They put me in a van, the only girl, and took us from the airport to the detention center.

The festivities are about to commence.  I need to intercept the famous actress from Nigeria, hosting the pageant.  She seems friendly as I approach her and ask for an interview.  There is also the Liberian Ambassador, one of the judges.  Footage of him would be impressive.

They put me in a small room to “cleanse” me.  They took away all my things.  I no longer have a name.  I am number K-6.  They take me to K dorm.  You have to stay there seven days without seeing any other people before they let you out of the room.

The pageant has begun.  The contestants are from all over Africa – Nigeria, Liberia, Congo, South Africa…Some speak of the death and atrocities they and their families have witnessed and endured, other speak of strength and accepting no less than freedom.
  • Freedom to be whom they want to be
  • Freedom to the shepherd of their own lives
  • Freedom from abuse and fear
  • Freedom to be human beings and not property
  • Freedom to live
  • Freedom to change the world even if it means starting over in a totally, new, unfamiliar country.

I remember nothing my first night of K dorm.  I think I slept for two days.  I remember waking up…

A child is what you put into her, African proverb

Daily Life

I remember waking up in my father’s house to the sun streaming over my eyes, coming through the framed wood openings of our red mud house as I laid on my red mud bed.   Our house was sparse, but filled with laughter, tears, and daily living.  There was a wooden chair in the “family room,” the only other room in our house.  I wanted to continue to lay in bed and watch the streams of sunlight bounce about, but I needed to start my chores.  My first chore of the day if it was “bed” day was to freshen my bed with new red mud. I did this every other day to make it smooth with no rough spots.  The second chore was to sweep the earthen floor clean.  My father would check the grass roof to determine if any repairs were needed if we had had high winds the night before.  My older sister would start getting ready to go to work in the city, about two hours away.  I don’t remember how old she was but it was a lot older.   My father and sister would sleep wherever they wished in our home but I preferred my red mud bed.  I don’t remember anything about my mother and no one ever talked about her.  But I loved my village aunties.

I went outside to the kitchen to warm food from the night before for breakfast.  The bamboo roof kept the early morning droplets off my head and the low burning fire chased away the early morning chill.  I put water on to boil in a large pot, held above the fire by three very large stones.  Food was served in mental cups and on wooden plates.  My fingers were my utensils.  I took care of my personal needs by rubbing my teeth with bark from a tree, washing my face with collected rain water in a large basin, and eliminating bodily fluids in a three sided bamboo enclosure containing a deep hole in the ground and using water and leaves to get all dirt and waste off my body.  I dressed for school using clothes given to us by people in the city or bought from people who came to our marketplace to sell their goods.  My walk to school was usually uneventful.  There were a lot of kids who were divided into three or four rooms with one teacher for all of us.  I arrived at about 9 o’clock in the morning and went home about 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  I don’t remember going to school much beyond 3rd grade when my father could no longer afford to pay for me to go to school.

When I needed a bath, my sister would bathe me when she came home from work.  This too, was a three sided bamboo structure but had a “door” of long leaves.  She poured buckets, filled with water over me.  A treat was to use the water from the boiled rice to bathe and inhale the soothing scent.

My father was a farmer, so the rest of the day’s chores consisted of tending to the garden and weeding.  Water also had to be brought from the well in large cans carried on my head.  If a big market was coming, we would make a grain product to sell.  It would take me two to three days to make.  I would buy food at the market and carry it home in a basket on top of my head.

When I stopped going to school, I rose before dawn to start my chores on the farm.  I played with the other children and with one in particular who didn’t seem to belong to any adult.  My father fed her and eventually took her into our household to protect and take care of her.  That was my father’s way.  She became my little sister.

Special Times and Delights

I remember specific days, times and events being “special.”  When we heard a motor in the distance and thought a plane was going to fly overhead, we (the children) ran towards the sound, straining our eyes to spot the plane so we could wave at the pilot, hoping gifts would drop from the sky.  We would chant, over and over “Airplane, airplane, buy me shoes, when you coming back? On Saturday!”  When the sky grew dark and a rain storm was brewing, we ran into the fields with our mouths open to catch the fresh raindrops and to get relief from the heat.  I went to church with my “stepsister,” a girl the same age as my older sister.  Sunday dinner was a special occasion because it was the only day of the week we had chicken for a meal.  The most special time was Christmas.  Christmas dinner consisted of chicken and rice and one can of soda to be shared among all of us.  It had to be Coke, Fanta, Sprite, or 7-Up to be saved and savored for days.  We allowed ourselves one sip a night each and hung the can from the roof overnight to be chilled the next day.  If a family managed to procure a television with a VCR player, the village children would gather outside an opening in the home where we could see the television screen.  We watched American movies and imitated the actors in the movies, pretending to speak “English” and mimicking their mannerisms.  We developed our version of pigeon English assigning phrases our own meanings that had absolutely nothing to do with their real meanings.  But we completely understood one another.  We must have been quite the sight to the adults.  We had our daydreams too.  I imagined myself as a “first lady” living a fine life where I could do whatever I wanted to.  If I could daydream becoming a “fine lady” I would have to be the daughter of such a lady.

I envisioned my mother as a woman of medium stature, but whom appeared much taller because of the way she carried herself.  She would have always held her head high with her long black tightly curled hair (my father insisted women were supposed to have long hair) pulled away from her face to expose her high, beautiful cheek bones and skin the tone of copper.  I imagine my older sister might have resembled her to some degree.  My mother would have had a womanly figure, not too round or too thin, but curvy in all the right places.  She would have loved bright, colorful clothes with matching turbans and necklaces made of shells and shiny stones strung together with thin vines from the fine garden she would have kept.  She would have smelled sweet like the flowers she would have so carefully tended to.  Her hands would have been smooth from rubbing the aloe of plants on them every night.  Her voice would have been soft and melodic and incredibly soothing as she sang her children to sleep.  Her touch would have been just as soothing as she rubbed the backs of her children to relax and reassure them.  But best of all would have been her hugs, pulling her children to her breast as she rocked them back and forth…

Lessons Learned

My father believed in “experience” as a teaching tool.   He knew I was stubborn and would go ahead and do things I was warned about.  One time I fell out of a tree, but managed to avoid any serious injuries.  He told me he now knew I would not do that again.  My father also believed in his children and encouraged them, even if female, something very unusual for African men.  He believed I was destined to do great things.   At the time, I was clueless what that would mean for me.  My mother was a mystery, but it was special to take my father’s worn clothing and make clothes for myself.  Although well worn, the material was soft and comforting to me.  I did not realize my talent in sewing.  I just knew how to cut the material and put it together.  I could look at any piece of clothing and copy it.  I didn’t know others could not do the same.

Secrets, Pain, Faith – Days of Reckoning

There was a Sunday when my older sister showered me before leaving for work.  I was to go to church as usual with my “stepsister.”  There was a specific location where people going to the city waited to get the bus.  As my sister walked to the location, she kept looking back, calling my name, and saying good-bye, several times.  It was as though she knew what was coming.

There was a bus accident that day.  There was one fatality.  My father would never speak about it.  He was never the same and kept to himself even more after my sister’s death.  My “little” sister became my responsibility.  I don’t remember how old I was or know how old she was.  I do remember her being shorter than I was.  My older sister may have been about 20 when she died.  My little sister started having strange episodes where she would fall to the ground and her body would convulse in jerky movements.  She did not know or remember what happened to her and would need to rest a long time afterwards.  There was a medicine women in the village who gave her a broth to drink made of ingredients she had gathered from nature.  This seemed to help and eventually these episodes stopped.  I did not know at the time about epileptic seizures.  I found out, much later that my older sister was supposed to be getting married although I never saw or heard about a “boyfriend.”
Frankie Hirsch