LOUD WHISPERS: Hanging Out With ‘Seenagers’.

Last week I was in Liberia for four days, to attend some events put together to bid farewell to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. I was initially reluctant to go to Liberia, because I had just returned from the US and was looking forward to getting some work done. The emails and WhatsApp messages kept coming from my senior friend Ms. Banke Akerele-King, one of President Sirleaf’s closest friends, who had served as her Foreign Minister and Minister for Commerce. Apart from chasing me up to send in my responses to the questionnaire they had sent out to review President Sirleaf’s tenure, Ms. Akerele-King insisted that I had to come to Liberia for the valedictory activities. I tried my best to evade her, but that Auntie is relentless. She sent an email that implied that the President would feel disappointed that her old friends in the African women’s movement were unresponsive. That did it for me. I did not want President Sirleaf to feel we were not concerned since her tenure as President had come to an end.  I recalled the excitement and euphoria that was so thick in the air in 2006 at her inauguration and in 2012 when she was sworn in for a second time, and I felt a pang of guilt. I was there in 2006 and 2012 and I was certainly going to be there for her in 2018.

I was on the same flight to Monrovia with another senior friend who I have known for many years, Dr Regina Amadi-Njoku, former Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Director for Africa, International Labour Organisation (ILO), and Mrs Turrie Akerele-Ismail, the first female Solicitor-General in Nigeria. We were received by protocol officers in Monrovia, and as we waited for our luggage in the lounge, we began talking about our mission in the country and our various experiences with Liberia. Dr Amadi-Njoku told us about a project she has been working on with retired United Nations staff, diplomats and academics in Nigeria, most of them in their sixties and above, who call themselves ‘Seenagers’. This group of people have ‘seen’ things. They have seen success, career heights, fame, acclaim and all the things that come with living an accomplished life. They have also endured loss, crises and unexpected transitions. All their experiences, positive and negative are ploughed into how they approach the next phase of their lives as ‘Seenagers’ who have seen a lot of things, but who know that there are more possibilities for them on the horizon. They are highly educated, well-travelled, cultured, and come from traditions of hard work and diligence. I had never heard the term before and the framing intrigued me a great deal.

As we spoke, the two women teased me about being their ‘baby’, and when I protested, they told me that I was a ‘Midager’ (middle-aged person) who was still a baby as far was they were concerned. It was so funny to find myself being the youngest person in a group. During our time together, helped them with their bags, aided them up the stairs, and also sorted out their internet issues. When we got to the hotel in Monrovia, we were joined by Dr Mary Chinery-Hesse from Ghana, former Deputy Director of ILO and currently Chair of the Board of Directors Zenith Bank Ghana, amongst many other things. I have always known Auntie Mary because she is the mother-in law of a friend of mine, Sadia Chinery-Hesse. I have however not spent time with her before. I enjoyed listening to the three ‘Seenagers’ as they shared their experiences at work and their personal lives. We asked each other all kinds of questions and spent most of our time together laughing. This is a summary of our conversations and some of my observations:

  1. Seenagers spend all their lives working and building their careers. Even though they try their best to be there for their children, it is when they have grandchildren that they can really enjoy or regain some of the time they felt they sacrificed when their children were growing. All of my Seenagers are grandmothers, and they were very emphatic about the roles they wanted to play in the lives of their grandchildren. We should therefore encourage our children to spend time with their grandparents, it gives them so much joy.
  1. Many Seenagers are lonely and bored. Life can be difficult for those whose children live outside the country and who are left on their own with the odd relative to stay with them. They occupy themselves with church activities, charity work, politics, anything to keep their minds going. It reminded me of what my father used to say about retiring without anything to do. He would say it was a recipe for an early death. For those planning to retire, they should consider it as a new chapter opening up for them in which they can still do so many things other than just waiting to die. My three Seenagers have all found fulfilling things to occupy themselves with and these endeavors make them feel happy and useful.
  1. For people who are of a certain age, health is a serious challenge. My Seenagers were all very meticulous about what they ate or drank. They woke up early and they took walks every day to ensure they got enough exercise. Watching them, I reminded myself that there was no point running around all day long for years on end, only for your body parts to start giving up on you in your later years. If you take care of yourself when you are young, you will reap the benefits when you are older.
  1. I noted that none of my Seenagers had written their memoirs. Two of them said they were in the process, one has not started at all. I challenged them to write their stories because there is a dearth of documentation about the role many African women have played in our local history and in the field of development over the past forty years when these women held sway. They have achieved many things and they have played a role in many events in our countries over the years, but they will remain unsung if people do not know about them.
  1. I noticed that all the Seenagers were very elegant. They wore nice Kaftans and Ankara designs and they looked great. They had their hair and nails nicely done, and one of the afternoons, they spent looking for MAC make-up in one of the malls in Monrovia. I remembered the early years of the Western Feminist movement when a lot of energy was expended on women trying their best to repudiate the commercialization of women’s looks and bodies. As African feminists started to frame their own positions on dealing with patriarchal institutions, looking shabby or unfeminine was certainly not one of the weapons they needed in their struggles. I thought about our current ‘Slay Mamas’ on Instagram and Facebook and I looked at these wonderful, elegant women and I sighed. No basis for comparison.
  1. Financial security is a priority for Seenagers. For those who have had the opportunity to work for institutions such as the United Nations, there are decent pensions in place. For the vast majority who do not have such a privilege, other arrangements have to be in place to avoid depending on children who will very quickly start seeing their parents as a burden. The thought of being dependent on anyone made my heart beat faster than normal. I made a mental note, ‘dependence is not an option’.

 

I enjoyed all the time I spent with these Seenagers in Monrovia. I had to leave them behind to get back to Nigeria for other events. As I hugged them all, I thought about what I had learnt from them and how they have influenced how I perceive myself as a ‘Midager’ who will be a ‘Seenager’ someday. I want to be a bold, beautiful, creative, audacious, prosperous and healthy ‘Seenager’. Just like my three friends. A toast, to good health, wisdom and prosperity – to the ‘Seenagers’!

 

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

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22 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: Hanging Out With ‘Seenagers’.

  1. Femi Diipo January 22, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    Wonderful!!! Learning from those who have seen it all in life is always a wonderful experience. They’ve seen the highs and the lows, different time, government and Era and yet they remain strong and relevant. Kudos to these wonderful women

    Reply
  2. Dom Dom January 22, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    I’m sure you’d be a great Seenager and we the younger generation will always have one or two things to learn from achievers like you. Thanks for sharing these experience

    Reply
  3. DSEED January 24, 2018 at 7:34 am

    Those that has good plans and also prepared well for this stage of life enjoyed it must. These are lessons to us all. It is the best to know the task ahead of us. And for we that has old once these is the time they need our attention must. We shouldn’t ignore them. We are all hoping to reach the stage.

    Reply
  4. Bisi Alawode January 25, 2018 at 8:02 am

    That moment when one feels like a child amongst adults. I have learnt something very vital from you ma, and that is taking notes everytime. You pick lessons from the minutest things.

    Reply
  5. Nneka January 25, 2018 at 8:03 am

    I have to start taking care of myself and planning ahead to fit into that life o. Indeed, the beauty of the oldies is nothing compared to what is have now. Chemical has spoilt us.

    Reply
  6. Victor Udoh January 25, 2018 at 8:05 am

    I have always told myself this, I don’t want to be dependent in my old age. I want to be a source to many beyond my kids and this what this story has buttressed for me. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  7. veronica Imaseun January 25, 2018 at 8:07 am

    I sincerely love the fact that you encouraged them to write a memoir. They need to write it and have their stories shared. we lag behind in African Women Exploits and we must breach that gap by constantly educating and encouraging great women to write something about what they have been through and upload their pics on google too. We need to see them. Thanks for sharing ma.

    Reply
  8. Laura Dameson January 25, 2018 at 8:09 am

    What a lesson to plan ahead. If those women can take exercise seriously, I have to be serious about my life. Thank you for sharing ma.

    Reply
  9. Sharon Miller January 25, 2018 at 8:11 am

    Woe. I smiled all through reading this story. The lessons there are core and if there is something you exude effortlessly, It’s Humility. I am learning that hugely. Thank you for all you are.

    Reply
  10. Solomon Nkechi January 25, 2018 at 8:13 am

    @sharon, I thought I was the only one who noticed it too, You just said my mind. She is a very humble woman and humility is not something you feign it is effortless. Thanks for being a true woman of virtue.

    Reply
  11. Victoria E January 27, 2018 at 4:41 am

    I love this, at every stage we are reminded of the period of rest. The place of rest is important and that is what the ”seenager” stage is. So, as we work now, we should take care of ourselves so we can really rest indeed.

    Reply
  12. omilola Adeleke. January 27, 2018 at 4:43 am

    It’s been a while I came here. I lost my phone but I am back to read from my favourite website. This is such an inspiring story to make us work on ourselves and our health and most importantly, to build character! I don’t know if anyone notices this but this woman is a woman of character and you are really training women to have it all.

    Reply
  13. colette idris January 27, 2018 at 4:44 am

    What a wonderful story and kudos to President Sirleaf for not sticking to power like those men would have done.

    Reply
  14. Chioma George January 27, 2018 at 4:46 am

    I am blessed to have read this. This story portrays the team spirit of women, women of power, women of hard work, women whose beauty emanates from within. I hope we young women will take a clue from these women. Slaying is more than pictures it is your worth on the global space!

    Reply
  15. Bisola Cole January 27, 2018 at 4:47 am

    what a great, inspiring story @Chioma George, you nailed it with your comment!

    Reply
  16. Buchi January 27, 2018 at 4:49 am

    Who else read this story more than once and smiled all the way? God bless you ma’am. Live Long!

    Reply
  17. Olakunle Olajide January 27, 2018 at 5:06 pm

    Wow! I had to ask my friend what the meaning of Seenager immediately i saw the topic.
    I love this piece and i have taken some points.
    Since we have the Seenager, midager and teenager, is there a new name we can give the 20s, 30s and 40s?

    Reply
  18. Ogungbaibi Omowunmi January 28, 2018 at 5:58 pm

    Always something new to learn, i pray that we would all be alive in health and in wealth to see you as a “Seenager”….. rich and beautiful experiences.

    Reply
  19. Dauda Lawal January 28, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    Great lessons learnt here. Adventures mixed with grilled reality.

    Reply
  20. Abimbola oni January 29, 2018 at 8:12 am

    Very nice write up Am about joining the ‘Seenager’ group. After reading this am more determined to continue to forever stay young by taking very good care of myself particularly my health Age is in the mind

    Reply
  21. Yemi January 29, 2018 at 4:21 pm

    This is really educative and I aspiring. Thank you madam .

    Reply
  22. Eric Onuoha February 1, 2018 at 11:28 am

    What a lesson from the Seenagers. Indeed they have worked and seen things as my late Dad would say. A toast to them

    Reply

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