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Learning not to be Angry

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Thursday, February 11th, 2016

This article was originally a rant on my Facebook wall but several sisters reached out to ask if I could elaborate on some of the issues I raised affecting all of us in one way or another. If you were lucky enough to have read the original piece, do just pretend you are seeing this one for the first time. My generation of sisters use Facebook more than other social mediums, so it  is where we go to for all sorts of discussions.

In December 2015, my father-in-law died, he was 79 years old, a full fledged Knight of the Catholic Church; well-loved retired teacher, Customary Court judge and what we call Oyinbo (in Nigeria), Obroni (in Ghana) or Wazungu (in East Africa) would say “a thoroughly a decent chap”. He was old school, straight forward and to the point. When he first  met me, he asked me “are you here to stay” and that was all. No drama. He was fair and had a temper to match. I was the go-between between his son and himself. I secretly loved being the go between. If I attached emotions to it, it made me feel a little warm and fuzzy inside, as if my views mattered.

It has taken me three weeks to articulate my experiences and hopefully ask the uncomfortable questions we need to be ask ourselves as Nigerian men and women in relationships – read marriages. How do we change the discourse on funerals, in-laws, marriage, daughter-in-laws, expectations, sibling relationships and all the madness that gets in the way of making things work? How do we have this discourse in a non-academic way, out of the feminist books of Audre Lourde or Amina Mama?

My father-in-law was buried January 14th 2016 and I repeat again, thanks for all the messages of support in kind including the outpouring of kindness and love that one can never quantify. With so much happening in our lives, I was amazed at the out pouring of love.

The funeral Mass itself was beautiful and well attended. My sisters –in –law  as always not perfect but well behaved women in their own marriages, and allowed me the courtesy of just getting on with engaging and conducting myself as the only daughter-in-law. This in itself has so much protocol and expectation. It’s best not to dwell too much on expectations but do your best and leave the rest to God. At no point did they give me any cause for concern. Trust me there are six sisters. Not one misbehaved. Not one.

My mother-in-law married to her friend, lover and husband for 51 years grieving but standing well. Very much dignified given the circumstances of the situation and knowing that she’s now on her own with just her memories, children and grand-children.

This is where it gets interesting: what happens when you have a rather mean brother-in-law, wearing the clothes of a respectable vocation but with no duty to be accountable? How do you respond without being seen as hateful, disrespectful, distracted or plainly dysfunctional? How do you as a lone female outsider, even with a most supportive spouse you could ask for in the circumstances, engage the inward-looking dynamics of family? The dynamics of outsiders for males married to sisters is, of course, different for women married to brothers.

I seriously have more questions than answers because it has taken me three weeks to attempt to articulate my recent experiences. Whilst the arrangements for the funeral were taking place this sibling with messiah tendencies and in an otherwise respectable vocation demonstrated levels of sectarian, ethnic, and sexist intolerance that was staggering. Even now, so many weeks later, as I write this, I cannot bring myself to describe the details of what he said and did without feeling ashamed for him and convinced that he let down my father-in-law. Could I have done things differently? How?

In the midst of all the drama with this one brother-in-law, my feminist teachings allowed my head to be rational to think through my actions and have an understanding of what was happening, but it still hurt. It hurt, that I had no control over what was happening and could not voice my concerns in the circumstances like I would have wished to so that I did not engage in any public displays of aggression. This resulted in me internalizing the pain, getting sick and having a succession of debilitating asthma attacks at the most in-opportune time, that nearly got life-endangering.

What can you do? As women in these fragile relationships with in-laws how do we negotiate the space constructively with each side recognizing the relevance and ultimate power of the union of marriage for those that have chosen it?.

Why do siblings on either side now ignore such bad behaviour but think it is okay for YOU the outsider to tolerate it – as an outsider it could be you the wife or husband? Everybody is pretending this sibling is not badly behaved because it is happening to YOU. Now, if you respond to the antics, the discourse changes and it becomes, you are a bad woman and they should not have married you, but why was no one saying anything when the situation was escalating. I wonder.

More seriously, as women in these complex family situations how do we keep our health and sanity when dealing with sibling in-laws on a war path you often times have no idea about. This is still a work in progress. I am still healing but I am learning how not to be angry.


Iheoma Obibi is an African feminist writer, human rights activist and entrepreneur. She is the Creative Director of ‘Intimate Pleasures, Desires of the Heart’.

3 Responses

  1. Iheoma, first and foremost let me say condolences, sorry for your loss (Ndo o!).

    Then I immediately must congratulate you on your courage to speak up. Any person of colour or culture knows that in law matter is very sensitive and you speak on it at your peril (that is part of the problem).

    However, you need to look at this thing with some perspective and employ a glass half full attitude. Six sisters and no drama!? You know that is reason enough to thank God!

    I am sure just writing about your experiences and feelings in itself must be cathartic. You have refused to be silenced on the matter. You and I know that in itself is a coup. You already have surpassed the expectations of untold numbers of women in the same predicament who would never dare to speak as you have. You might need to just accept and be comforted in the knowledge that you have spoken for many. This is not something that you may ever get the answers you crave or even arrive at any understanding of the machinations involved.

    You said you have a supportive partner(that’s a blessing), you have a sound inquiring mind(that’s a blessing), you said you received lots of support from friends(that’s a blessing), Sounds like you have a loving mother in law(that’s a blessing), you are NOT married to your brother in law(THAT’S A BLESSING!)

    Gurrl, see all ya blessings?….Let it go

  2. To be honest aunty Iheoma as silenced as you were at the time, taking it and pushing it down, getting sick and stressed you still are better than millions of us.
    For us Muslims it’s a whole different ball game, marriage in the west is about the couple and Christianity to a large extent advocates this. In Islam, the position of parents is after God, so as the wife you are truly on your own and at the mercy ofGod because it’s an unwinable battle. When religion has told your husband you come after his parents and children where do you start?
    This conversation needs to get started, unfortunately I don’t know if it will lead to the end we hope for.

  3. The in-law saga in Africa. I really praise you for opening up ma. It’s a process to healing and a process of learning especially to the unmarried.

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