Mrs. Dinah Iwuala recently clocked 75 years. She is married to Engr. D.O.C. Iwuala from Irete in Owerri West L.G.A of Imo State. In this interview with Advocate Abiegbe, she speaks on life as she sees it.
How was your childhood ?
I grew up without really knowing my parents. My father died when I was three years. My mother died six months later. She said she couldn’t live without my father because they were so much in love. My younger sister was six months old when our mother died. I had four older siblings. I am the fifth child. My uncle and his wife had to take care of us until my eldest brother came of age and took over our responsibilities. My elder sister had to marry early in order to assist us.
Immediately after my mother’s death, more attention was given to my younger sister since she was a baby and I felt somehow neglected. My eldest brother could not further his education because there was no money to send him to school, so he had to learn a trade. But in all, my uncle and my elder siblings were there for us that we didn’t really miss our parents much. By God’s grace, today, I am what I am, and that my younger sister is a matron at the Federal Medical Centre in Owerri. Today, she has two hospitals in Owerri, all her children are graduates and she is doing well.
Tell us about your educational background
I went to Irete Primary School back in the village. I was very brilliant in school. I took the first or second positions in class. From there, I was transferred to Orogwe Primary School to continue from Primary 4.
I didn’t finish before my elder brother came and took me to Lagos. I completed my primary education at Princess Primary School where I wrote the entrance examination and gained admission to Methodist Girls High School, Yaba. Somehow my academic performance dropped. At this time, my elder brother was married and the wife was having children almost every year.
I was always busy with domestic work that I didn’t have time to do my school assignments. My principal observed this and recommended that I be sent to another christian school, St. Annes Secondary School, Ibadan which was a boarding School. So I went there. Three of late Obafemi Awolowo’s daughters were there. Their father used to come on visiting days and all of us would run around him.
After completing my secondary education, I returned to Lagos and went to the School of Arts and Science. It was an evening School. I was preparing to study Medicine. At the same time, I took up a job as a Clerical Assistant with the Ministry of External Affairs. It was by this time my husband came and said I should come and continue my studies abroad.
How and when did you meet your husband?
I met him in my brother’s house. Our Town Union organized a send-forth party for him in my brother’s house in Lagos. He used to live in Zaria but he had to come for the send-forth party on his way to the U.K for studies. I never knew at that time that he took interest in me.
He travelled by ship and from there, he wrote to me by post card and I replied. We continued like that for a period of about three years until he said I should come over and continue my education abroad. At the time we started corresponding, I was at St. Annes Ibadan. In 1965, his father brought wine to my brother at home and my traditional marriage was done in absentia. I had to travel and meet him in London. There, we did our church wedding on the 28th of August 1965.
I told him we would not start raising children until after our studies. He was of the opinion that we should have at least one and get foster parents that would take care of the child while we continued with our studies. I immediately took in and had a set of twins (males) in 1966. Back then in London, when a woman delivered, whether she was strong or not, she must stay at least ten days in the hospital before she was discharged. After delivery, I was very sick.
They said I had what they called post-natal depression. I thought I was going to have a baby girl but two boys came forth. I was very unhappy. At the same time, we were hearing stories that there was war or rumours of war back home in Nigeria and that added to my depression.
At the expiration of ten days when my husband came to take me home, I was not in the maternity ward. The hospital authorities had taken me to the psychiatric department. They then advised my husband that I should be sterilized from having more children, because child-bearing was the main reason for the ailment.
My husband objected. The sickness now prevented me from the studies I had always dreamt of. They then advised me to think of something I enjoy doing. I had to register with the South East London School of Education where I studied Dress Making (Fashion Designing). I was given drugs to take care of my ailment. I didn’t have children again until eight years later after we returned to Nigeria.
So what were you doing when you returned?
On returning, I opened a school of dress making at Onibore Street in Ikate, Surulere. I had students in uniform that I was teaching. I had tailors sewing for me. Indeed, business was booming. I was making wedding gowns.
There was a time when the work load became so much that I didn’t have enough time to sleep and then the sickness came again. My husband had to advise me to do something less stressful. I had to give up the fashion school because I couldn’t teach them again and there was nobody to show them what to do. I ended up taking a job as a teacher at Our Lords School in Surulere near the fire service station at Ojuelegba.
How did your husband react to all these?
My husband has been a very lovely man. He was always there for me. At the time I was sick, he took care of the children, even feeding them at night. He has been very wonderful. He told me what he was earning was more than enough to take care of me and the children but I just didn’t want to be idle. Before I married, I prayed to God for a man that would love me no matter what.
And God gave me such a man. My husband has remained loving and caring till date. Most times he helps me with domestic chores. You know what we call each other? We call each other sweetheart; but we don’t even call it in full, we just say SWEE. Presently, we’ve been married for 48 years and our love still glows!
As a young girl, what was it about your husband that made you fall in love with him?
As a young girl, I didn’t want to be far away from my home. I wanted to be close to my brother because I loved him so much. I wanted somebody that attends the same Anglican Church with me because I was not prepared to leave the Anglican Church. I hated a situation where couples attended different Churches. I wanted a man in whose village there was a stream where one can get water easily.
There are certain villages where one has to trek a very long distance before you get water. I never wanted that. There were many suitors coming. When I made enquiries and they did not fall into my criteria, I eliminated such a suitor. When my husband came, he met my criteria and that was it. My brother had an electrical engineering company after he was able to train himself at Yaba Tech. When I realized that my husband was going to study electrical engineering abroad, I became the more interested because he was in the same line with my brother’s profession. When we returned to Nigeria after his studies, he even worked in my brother’s company, since his expatriate workers left during the war.
My husband later became one of the directors. Somehow, I said in my heart I didn’t want a man whose mother was still alive. Fortunately for me, my husband lost his mother when he was a boy. The father remarried. My step-mother-in-law now happened to be a very nice woman. She was so good to me, I now thought within me, if this woman is this good, perharps my mother-in-law would have been better!
I then regretted that I wished for a man whose mother was dead. His entire family has been good to me. We took many of them into our house and trained them to be graduates. Today, one of his step-sisters is married to an Anglican priest and they are doing well.
Today you are a grandmother. How is your relationship with your daughters-in-law?
My relationship with them is very cordial. God blessed me with very lovely daughters-in-law . You know I was looking for daughters and I didn’t get them in time. I have three boys and a girl. I’m very happy with the daughters-in-law God gave to me.
They don’t joke with me at all. Imagine this! One of them lost the mother; she brought her own share of her mother’s clothes to me saying I’m now the only mother she has that I should take them. That was so touching. The other is a gynaecologist and she is wonderful.
The rate of divorce among couples these days is on the increase. What is it that has kept your marriage?
I can confidently say, God has magnetised us together and nothing but death can separate us. Both of us prayed before we got married. The fear and love of God has kept us together. There is a hymn I requested for on my wedding day. “Love divine, all loves excelling”. Till date, we always sing this hymn together.
Can you share some of your good times and bad times?
To me, everyday is a good day as long as I am alive. God has been very gracious to me and my family.There was something that happened on my wedding day, (she went for her wedding album) look at this picture. Here we were only pretending to be cutting this cake.
This cake was supposed to be three steps. But here you are seeing only two steps. We have already eaten the 3rd step which was the base. The photographer disappeared after the Church service. We never knew he had another function to cover. It was after we had almost finished the reception that he came and then asked us to pose for this photograph. I was very angry but in this picture, we are pretending to be smiling.
Your most memorable day
Mmmh……This is a difficult one. Okay after I had our last child (a daughter), my husband was not in town. On the day he returned, we made an unforgettable love that was different from the others we’ve ever had. I cannot forget that day.
Looking back, how would you say life has been?
Life has been sweet and bitter. But I can say that the sweet part is more than the bitter part. We’ve known what it is to live in adversity and in plenty; in season and out of season. God has blessed me with a man who is there for me in sickness and in health. God has given me wonderful children and in-laws who are all graduates. He has blessed us with landed property. I have been able to win some souls for the Lord. In all, I give thanks to God.
What is your advice to young women who are about to get married and those whose marriages are already shaking?
I will advise them to pray and allow God to lead them in their choice of life partner. Women should learn how to search the scriptures and live by it.
They should attend fellowships and be closer to God. If Abigail in the Bible (1st Sam 25) could put up with the horrible and bad tempered and mean Nabal until he died and she remarried, women should learn to cope in their marriages and not to see divorce as an option.