When my name came out for NYSC, the Reverend in my family church asked the graduates whose names were shortlisted for service to come out for prayers during service.
We were just two of us in the church – a boy and I.
We came to the altar and knelt down for prayers. The Reverend placed his hand on the boy and prayed for him. May the land he was going to favour him. May he get a great job and take care of his family as the first son. May he blossom and attract wealth and greatness in the state he’s going to serve. May he meet with people who would connect him to his destiny helpers and may his service year become a stepping stone in his success story.
The guy and the congregation said Amen.
The priest then came to me. His prayer for me was: May I find favour in the state and find a husband there before I come home.
That was it.
I refused to say Amen. He eyeballed me. I eyeballed him back.
He told the congregation, “Ijeoma has refused to say Amen. Ijeoma, why did you not say Amen?”
I wanted to tell him I didn’t say Amen because I vehemently rejected that prayer. How could you heap such blessings on my male counterpart and all you said to me was to go and find husband in my service year?
So I don’t deserve a great job as well? I don’t deserve to make my parents proud as their first child? Will onugbo sellers die if you prayed for me to equally attract wealth and greatness in the state I am posted? Is success a male preserve?
This was not about my vacillating views on marriage. It was about the fact that he could have equally repeated the same prayers he said for the guy for me. But no. All he did was ask me to go and serve and get married. Like that was all I could and should aspire to. Like I do not deserve the same prayers because I am female.
He asked me why I didn’t say Amen, and seeing as I didn’t want to embarrass my parents who were in the church, I said nothing. He repeated the same prayer the second time. I still refused to say Amen.
One of my father’s favourite proverbs is: “Ejila anya ihere loo aguwa.” It literally translates to: “Do not swallow a razor out of timidity.”
I knew the Reverend meant well, but no, I was not going to accept that prayer that had no blessing for me or my folks. A si onye kwe, chi ya ekwe. In this case, ekweghi m.
The Reverend then told the church, “Since Ijeoma has refused to say Amen, let us say Amen in her place.” And the over-enthusiastic members gave a thunderous Amen.
My lips did not move. I rejected that prayer. The boy and I returned to our seats. After the church service, I went home with my parents. They did not mention what happened at all because they were on my side. Not just because they know my stance on marriage but because they have bigger dreams for my service year than for me to run away and get married.
Days later, my mum reminded me of the incident and we laughed over it. I have seen her frown at prophets and pastors who saw “vision” of marriage for me. Is that all – marriage? That’s all the future holds for my daughter? Nothing else?
Of course my mother wants me to eventually get married later on, but nke ifuzi ya n’uzo. She is more likely to hold your prophecy to heart if you have something more tangible to say. You don’t get to tell that young man that you see him running a big company in the future and then tell her daughter you see her getting married.
Do not miniaturize the girl child. Do not make us aspire to mediocrity. Do not set lower standards for us by saying, “Let the boys hustle, let the girls marry.”
Imbue in us the spirit of hard work too. That same drive and expectation you have for a male child should be for the female child too. Stop encouraging our laziness.
And for you, girl child, dare to be stubborn. Dare to dream. My parents tell my sister and me: “We don’t want you to be called wife of governor or wife of President or wife of a billionaire. We want you to be the governor, the president, the billionaire.”
Little wonder I rejected that prayer because ndi Igbo siri na onye nna ya zigara oshi, n’eji ukwu agbawa uzo – which means that he who is sent by his father to steal, confidently breaks the door with his leg.
Written by Ijeoma Chinonyerem