Life throws into our path many things: the good, the bad and the ugly. However, the way we take in, reflect on, and make something out of these ups and downs makes them transformative learning experiences that can impact our lives as well as the lives of other people.
Our experiences of everyday living rub off on people around us, because we do not live for ourselves alone, but for others too. The communal living I experienced growing up in our village taught me that no one person owns a child; a child born in the community is the responsibility of everyone.
So, as a child, I grew up to know that I owed respect and love not only to my family, but to everyone in the community. This was emphasized even more as I grew into a young woman.
I was very conscious of the way I dressed, spoke and behaved, since my mother's friends could report on my misbehavior or good behavior to my mum. This was based on the belief that as a young woman, you are a reflection of your mother.
My mum is a hard worker, so I grew up being one. Consequently, most young people in my family and my village looked up to me as their mentor in being hard-working, respectful and caring, with an always-cheerful disposition — someone they could turn to for guidance and advice.
Of course, I took these characteristics into religious life. As a religious, I have always taken seriously any ministry or task that I have been assigned to do. (Certainly part of my nature that I inherited from my sweet mother!)
But little did I know that my rosy notion of being the best at everything could be threatened so seriously as to make me doubt my giftedness. The reality of being out of school for almost 20 years before going back to get a master's degree, coupled with being in a new environment, almost proved to be too much.
I had worked as the headmistress in a good Catholic school for seven years, and was very successful at administrative work. I loved teaching the little ones at the kindergarten section in the school. I was loved by my students, teachers and parents; I loved my work. And I missed them when I left for studies, but knew I had to move on with my life.
In 2015, I got the opportunity to study at a prestigious university in South Africa. Though the program available was not what I wanted, I decided to give it a try. I worked very hard at my studies but my heart was not in it. I read; I worked hard; I tried to succeed.
Later reflections on what really led to my "downfall" have given me some insights. I had enjoyed my comforts too long: As the headmistress, I had a car, I gave my secretary most of the office typing to do, and except for leisure activities or watching my favorite program on TV, I hardly ever stayed up late to work.
I prayed earnestly to God to show me the way out of the mess I had dabbled into. I had come all the way to the south to study. Even though I never failed any test, was doing well, and my supervisors were very happy with my progress — I wasn't happy.
I decided to throw in the towel and go back to my country and return to my ministry, even if it meant being a classroom teacher. Like the proverbial ostrich, I sought a place I could hide my head.
However, when I returned, things were no longer the same; my zest for teaching was gone. I found no joy in things around me. I was practically depressed!
I had some counseling and spiritual direction, and read spiritual books to get me started again, but each day seemed like a tug of war. I felt I was a failure and had disappointed my superiors and those who looked up to me. I didn't know God had greater plans for me.
Providentially, one morning I got a phone call from my mum asking me to come and see her, because she heard I had suddenly come back to Nigeria. So, I took time off and traveled to my village in Enugu State to spend some time at home with my mum.
During the first week of visiting home, I didn't tell my mum about my problems. In the second week, I told her I was on holiday! I guess she knew I wasn't telling the truth, because she knows me very well.
Early one morning, my mum woke me up and asked me what I was still doing in the village after three weeks. I started weeping and shared my story with my mum.
She said to me: "My daughter, I know you! I know what you can do, I trust you ... The daughter of a tigress can only be a tigress. Get up and go back to school because I know you, Ama, you can do it. Just give it a try, go for the program you have a passion for ... Don't sit here saying you can't. Go for it, go for it for I know you can do it, my daughter."
Until this day, I have been so grateful to God for making me believe in my mother. My mum knew me through and through! She encouraged me to go back to my studies again after my long chat with her.
I am currently completing a master's program in educational administration, and received a postgraduate award for a research project. It is so amazing what God can do through my faith in him ... and in my mum. Truly, the daughter of a tigress can only be a tigress!
[Clarence N. Uzogara is a member of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. She is currently studying educational administration at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.]