Adebimpe George is not a wallflower. She comes from a lineage of strong Nigerian women and has made future strong women. To call a Nigerian woman strong is not a decision taken lightly; after all, Nigerian women are renowned for their resilience and the passion with which they fight for their loved ones; but Adebimpe, or Ade, as everyone calls her here, is strong. Despite all the difficulties she has faced since moving to Ashburton, she is still here, she hasn’t backed down and she has thrived.
Ade reluctantly accepted to participate in this project. She was working as a care- giver at the time and simultaneously juggled being a mother of three while studying for her third degree, this time in nursing and done in a second language, in a foreign country. She is also a woman; and women feel. We feel things intensely, the pain, the exhaustion, ‘crashing’ as she calls it, the anxiety, the judgement; but we take it upon ourselves to continue to care while these feelings overwhelm us. The most striking thing about Ade however, is that she can feel everything and still distance herself from it. It seems like this is a quality she has cultivated through everything that she has gone through; both good and bad.
There is no doubt that Ade misses Nigeria. She talks about her motherland with the faintest smile which I suspect is a manifestation of what she feels when she remembers life there, and her voice becomes just a little bit more high-pitched when she talks about ‘home’. She recalls how Nigerians love to socialise and how there is always an event to look forward to and dress up for at the end of the week. Nigerian dress culture is truly unique and a major aspect of Nigerian social life. Head wraps in particular are a a deeply traditional aspect of local culture and encapsulate much of how Nigerians express their identity. Ade tells us that the parties she went to in Nigeria were not centered around food but around fashion and self-expression through dress. When we were at her house interviewing her, she brought out a suitcase full of silk dresses, Ankara head wraps and ceremonial dress. I imagine her looking absolutely amazing in those! Oh how wonderful it would be to see her dressed in ethnic attire here in New Zealand! This distinct sense of aesthetic is also reflected in the way she talks about Nigerian food. She emphasizes the colors and textures of the fruit and vegetables she ate back home and contrasts them with the brown hues of most food here.
Ade says that she is not particularly enticed by the idea of going out to buy a coffee here, because it is a hot brown drink whereas she grew up on fresh colorful drinks. This may sound insignificant but as human beings; so much of our identity and belonging is built around our senses. When confronted to the unfamiliar, our senses are the first to be confused, but under that layer of unfamiliarity, it is our very sense of self that is most certainly similarly affected. For migrants, it takes months, sometimes years, for our senses to become accustomed to our new environments. Moreover, the transition is sometimes incredibly difficult. For instance, many migrants who come from warmer climates become severely depressed during New Zealand winters. Some find it difficult to cope, difficult to be productive and proactive. Something so simple as the way the physical self reacts to the environment that is around it, can determine so much of life in a foreign place. This is an experience shared by all migrants.
Ade talks freely about the struggles that she went through and the breakthroughs that she had while she was finding herself as a young woman in Nigeria and then after she migrated to New Zealand. She has assimilated the impact of every story intensely within herself. Ade battled depression after she uprooted herself from her beloved Nigeria and settled in Ashburton. It affected her both physically and emotionally. There were many challenges associated with starting from scratch in New Zealand. One of the biggest ones was employment. She had to give up her career as a toxicologist and environmentalist and reinvent herself, as her qualifications were not recognised in New Zealand in spite of having accumulated years of experience in the field and as a teacher. Yet she dusted herself off and decided to learn the ropes of being a care-giver. This change of career also came with its challenges. Being a care-giver of African descent in a predominantly white industry in rural New Zealand created the space for stigma and she sometimes faced prejudice for her skin color as a result.
Yet, Ade never stopped fighting, and she never stopped winning. She would be up at 4am reading before getting the girls ready for school, so that she would have time to study for her evening classes towards her degree, which she received as we were shooting the documentary for this project. There is no bitterness nor a sense of entitlement in her voice. Rather, she has managed to find her equilibrium in every challenge and every success.
This is Deirdre. She is my children’s kiwi grandma and the pillar that makes my foundations strong. I owe so much to her! She was really open to us from the beginning and never judged us. She took the time to get to know us and understand our culture. She is probably the reason why we are still here in Ashburton. I call her the engine that keeps us going. She represents my mom here in New Zealand. I think she is the best thing that ever happened to me since I came here. I wish I could do more for her. One day I will…
Oladeinde George, the Lagos boy!
I wish I had a photo of my husband and I. I am very grateful for him. Although we have had our differences, he is very supportive of everything I do. He worked through my postgraduate and through my nursing degree as well. When I started working as a carer, I had to learn about caring for people from here. I had to educate myself about how to read the physical symptoms of fair-skinned patients. In Nigeria, men look after men and women look after women so my husband was against me caring for men but he set aside his cultural values so that I could gain experience and look after my patients better. I couldn’t have achieved everything I have without him. He was for me and I couldn’t imagine having married someone else.
Quality time with the girls
I took my kids to the Race Relations afternoon tea at the Ashburton Domain which took place in March. I wanted them to experience a cultural event and meet different people. I think I was also hoping to see someone else from the African continent; someone I could relate to. There was food, dancing and singing and my daughters really enjoyed themselves. Their best friend is in this photo. They met the little boy on that day and made friends with him straightaway.
Anu is my first child. Her full name in Yoruba means “the mercy of the lord is abundant”. I see myself a lot in her. We took this photo during one of our outings to the Ashburton Domain. With my new job I now have to plan the time to be with my girls. When I have it I really cherish it. My mother invested so much in me when I was growing up. Thats what I want to do for my girls. I want to teach them that being female doesn’t stop you from doing or being anything. I think that the way I have educated my girls; they will grow up to be very strong women! I want to make sure that when I am gone; they will be okay.
Education is very important in Nigeria so I felt very proud to graduate again this year. This is my 3rd degree! Studying nursing was a huge financial burden and while we had some support, it’s not the same. This is a sacrifice I knew I had to make for the family. This is a tool that is going to allow me to support myself, my kids, my husband and my family back home as well. When I was a toxicologist and environmentalist, I loved teaching people but the world is constantly moving so you have to learn with it too.
Photo of the family
I love my family. They are my motivation. No matter how strong you are, you can crash; especially when you are in a foreign country without the support of your family. When that happens, I remind myself that I am doing this for my girls and for Oladeinde. We have raised our children as Africans. As a mother, I try to balance out my perspective as an African woman with kiwi culture. There is a large community of Nigerians in Christchurch but unfortunately not in Ashburton so we try to celebrate our culture at home. We eat mostly cultural food and my daughters can understand Yoruba, even though they can’t speak it as it is a very complex language. They know that they are in big trouble when we speak to them in Yoruba!