My father told me to learn sewing while he saved for my brothers’ education —Nigerian-born Retird US nurse
Mr. Sunday and Mrs. Evelyn Enogieru are a Florida, United States-based couple, who went to America from Nigeria in the late 70s and have accomplished dreams and goals that seemed almost impossible. Born in 1957 to the Edokpayi family of the Uwelu town in Edo State, Nigeria, Evelyn Osadebamwen Enogieru tells a story of how she emerged from a background where women had little or no chance of reaching their educational peak and bagged a degree in her dream profession – nursing — and worked at the highest levels of her cadre for 31 years before retiring, while Mr. Sunday Eghosa Enogieru, who nursed educational excellence in Civil Engineering in a small city of Urhonigbe Town, Edo State, shares how his resilience and passion survived the challenges of coming to another country as a foreign student, working as a black man and raising a family. In this interview by NEWTON RAY-UKWUOMA, in Florida, the couple also share their love story – a romance of a purely innocent sort.
Why did you decide to become a nurse?
Evelyn: Growing up as a young person in Nigeria there was a time my mother was diagnosed of hypertension; but there was nobody to explain to us what hypertension was. I had a neighbor who was always losing her children. We knew that the children were always very sick before they died, but nobody could explain to us what caused it. There was also another tenant of ours whose sister was pregnant and bled to death during delivery. All these cases troubled me. I wanted to know what caused sicknesses and why these people died like that. Not knowing why these people died, adults blamed the death on enemies or some wicked witch somewhere. But I was very curious and wanted to find out what was behind the sickness and death. This was why I decided to study Nursing. I took an exam called Tedro at that time – it’s a Nursing School Entrance exam. I passed the exam in flying colors, but I didn’t make a credit in English in my Senior School Certificate Examination. So I had to repeat my classes. And I sat for General Certificate Examination (GCE) again.
How would you describe how women were treated in terms of education during your day?
Evelyn: In my day there were some women who like their male counterparts strove to go to school, but most of them were asked to learn sewing, a trade or some skilled work after primary school. I remember when I finished primary school my father told me to go and learn sewing as he was saving his money for my brothers’ education. But my grandma insisted that I most go to school. It was my grandmother that paid my school fees for higher school. It was after she had paid up to class four that my dad decided to pay her back.
Was your grandma educated?
Evelyn: She wasn’t educated at all. She was a merchant of gold, pot and other products.
You received your AA in Nursing in 1985 and bagged a BSN in Nursing from Florida International University in 1987 and has worked in the top two hospitals in the state of Florida for 31 years. Looking back to the day you were almost denied education what would you say?
Evelyn: My honest gratitude goes to God Almighty who gave me an exceptional parents and grandparents. If my grandmother didn’t have such faith in me I would have been another woman in the street sowing clothes and probably frustrated about life. I am also grateful for the kind of husband God gave me whose support and patience, efforts and endurance had preserved my low and high moments and well as my four beautiful children who endured times mama was in the working night and day. I am grateful for the person God has made me. My sister and I were raised to remember that actions have consequences. By working hard and doing your best, the result would be positive and amazing.
As a young lady in a conservative environment, what were the things parents told young girls about men?
Evelyn: They will tell you, don’t let them touch you. They will not use the right words. Now, I will tell my children this is how it is – don’t do this and if you must do this, this is what you can do to prevent unwanted pregnancy or STD. I am very open with these things, but in my day as a young girl my parents did not use the words.
How did it shape your mindset towards men?
Evelyn: I was very scared of boys at that time. When we meet at school inter-house sports or any of those outdoor events I give them wrong address. My parents told me I will bring shame to the family and I didn’t want to bring shame to family that was why I was afraid of boys. I get letters, I don’t reply. But he [Sunday] just keep coming and I felt he was going to make everybody feel that I was doing something bad, that made me to start visiting him instead of allowing him to come to my house.
How did you meet your wife?
Sunday: After High School in 1974 I got a job as a teacher in Benin. That summer a friend of mine came to town, he wanted to see another friends of ours in another town. They were on vacation. I followed him and that was where I saw her for the first time.
Do you believe in love at first sight?
Sunday: Love at first sight is an individual thing. There are certain moments that capture your attention. I believe if it is love the first time you are likely to remember it forever because that moment will not leave your mind.
What was the experience the first time you met your husband?
Evelyn: When he and his friend came to visit my cousin, I saw that he was looking into my eyes. I felt shamed. I had to take my eyes off him, but he kept looking at me. Then my mind started going around. So, after that incident there was an event going in the next street. It was a dancing band. My cousin wanted us to go for the event. So, I dressed up and went with him. When we got there that was when he started talking to me. After we talked I thought that was it. But he continued to come to the house, sneaking in through every corner to see me. At that time there was no phone and people began to notice his frequent visit to the house.
When did you propose?
Sunday: In 1976 I was employed by the then Bendel State Water Resources as a technician. I was making a decent living at the time. On one occasion a young man who was our family friend visited me and was like, “Brother, you know you are making some money now, it is time to propose to that girl”. He knew my wife then. He asked if there was any reason I didn’t want to propose to her. I said there was no reason. At that time I didn’t know I was coming to America. I was thinking of going to the university in Nigeria. I had admission in both Auchi Polytechnic and University of Ife. But the words of that young man continued to ring strong in my mind. So, one day I came to her and said, “I think you are the one that will have my children. I want to marry you”.
Was there a ring? Did you kneel down?
Sunday: There was no grand plan. Some people plan as to how they do things. I don’t see her frequently so when I saw her I took advantage of the moment. We were together when I announced it to her that I was really serious and I that I wanted to marry her. She said she will get back to me. Well, I told her not to keep me waiting for too long.
Did you have a dream of how someone should propose to you? Where you romantic about this sort of thing?
Evelyn: I didn’t know anything about how that was done at that time. My parents never talked to me about it. Yes, they told me about how they married, which was like the traditional way. I think kneeling down with ring and all is an English way, and not African.
When he proposed to you did you have any concern for which you wanted to settle before accepting?
Evelyn: In Benin before you propose to marry somebody they also want to know the family that the man or woman came from. I asked, “You are proposing to me, have you told your parents about me so that they can do some background check?” He said, “No”. I asked him to inform his parents before we get too deep. After he did, I accepted the proposal and I told him, “Yes, I will marry you, but you must go back to school because I want to go to the university to get a degree”. He said, he was going to go back to school.
And after you eventually accepted his proposal were there challenges from family?
Evelyn: Yes, my cousin that brought him to our house did not know when I started going to out with him. When he found out he was very upset. He was afraid that I was going to get pregnant and will not finish school. So, he got angry with him and while they were exchanging words they got into a fight. He was the one that told my mom. My mom was shocked. I was in class four at the time. And she did something very surprising to me. She went to his house on her own, I wasn’t even aware of it. She went to tell him not to get me pregnant and that if I got pregnant I was going to be sent to the farm. She told him that I needed to finish school before marriage among other things. My husband agreed. When she told me he visited with him I was so ashamed, I felt so bad and hurt.
How did you receive what she told you?
Sunday: The mother talking to me was very educative and enlightening. She did not come to insult me. I got into a fight with her cousin because I felt disrespected. But the mother was very gracious in the way she spoke to me and because of that I had to respect her wishes.
What values made her exceptional?
Sunday: Family in my own sense has always been a very strong cooperation and compromise between husband and wife. My mother helped my father to raise us. When I was looking for a wife, I was looking for a woman that was strong minded, knew what she wanted. She must also be beautiful. She also had to have a very strong cultural knowledge. When she told me I needed to let my parents know before I propose to her, that made all the difference. When you marry a woman, you marry a family, in my culture. Anyone who does not see beyond the person they are marrying eventually get surprises. Some people get to develop that relationship with the family. I really loved the fact that she was particular about family, my family. She wanted to get along with my mother and when my sister saw her she loved her. I was able to convince her that my sister had seen her and that although my mother was far in the town she has approved of her. A woman’s strength is important to build any family.
What has made your marriage span over 38 years?
Sunday: Planning as a family is very important. Every day if I want to make a decision it would have to be made from a collective goal of the family not just my own. Even from the beginning, there was the notion that when one gets to America one will change one’s mind and marry another person. But since I had made a commitment to her, I had to honor it by waiting for her to join me. And when she got here she wanted to go to school I had to re-arrange my planning to enable her to achieve that. I had my school to go to and she had hers to go. So, we had to make it work together. We had to plan everyday so we could take care of the children and everything else that mattered to both of us. People plan and execute individually, for example they are looking for a job and never cared to consider their partner. This can raise issues in the home. There is a saying in Benin that a man should not remember the disagreement of yesterday. The idea of forgetting the disagreement of yesterday is to be able to move forward today without being bitter about it.That statement stuck with me. I am culturally grounded and I take proverbs seriously.
What family values do you think have held your marriage union together?
Evelyn: Number one to me is honesty. That was how I was raised. My father wanted us to be honest no matter what you do — whether it is a shameful thing or not. He would want you to admit and not lie. Growing up if you admitted you did something wrong my father will not lash you. I am fair in what I do — wrong is wrong and right is right. It does not matter who it is. It is good to be honest.
One year before you advised him to further his education he came to the United States. How was that moment for you? Did you think you might have lost him?
Evelyn: I was thrilled. Somehow it never crossed my mind that he will disappear. There was someone who told me a story of how her boyfriend who was in England got married to another woman after proposing to her. But something always told me my husband would not disappoint me.
How would you describe your growing up?
Sunday: In my day, young men and women had the goal and drive to be the best they could be. We all strove to be first in class. If you were second or third you were not happy and you would do everything to be better. That drive from elementary school stayed with us till higher school. When I got to Western Boys, the boys there were highly competitive. It was an era of being the best. We grew up with that spirit even today we also hold onto that drive. Most of my friends are Professors, Doctors of Philosphy, lawyers, captains of industries among other things. I should say that there was a built-in drive in the generation that I grew up with that is not in this day. When I applied to the University of Ife (now, Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1977 before I left for the USA, all I was thinking was how to go to the campus and work hard to pay my way through.
Who was your role model growing up?
Sunday: It would be my elder brother. That I didn’t get into trouble, that I stayed focus and motivated to finish school was because of him. He was a major part of my discipline. My parents were also involved in my life. They encouraged me to associate with good people. I learnt early in life that if you want to be good, you should make friends with good people. With my brother, right from Nigeria, my life was centered around excelling in academics and profession.
Were you distracted sometimes?
Sunday: The distractions I would think of were those that stood in the ways of many young people striving for academic excellent in my day. One of them was lack of funds. For instance, I saw myself through school by tapping rubber. I would sell it to pay my school fees. I also helped my parents in the farm. I still remember that as early as Class One I would ride my bicycle very fast when crossing my school area because I didn’t want my class mates to see me caring farm produce. You know, my school was at the main road across our farm at the time. Those were basic obstacles to every ambitious young man during my day.
Would you consider your family poor?
Sunday: No, however, I would not consider my family rich either. We were respected in the community because of my elder brother who was a school teacher. To have an educated person in your family was a thing of honour and respect during my day. The community respected my family because of my elder brother’s education. But my parents were farmers.
Part of the celebration is your work as a civil engineer as a young Nigerian student? How did you feel coming to America?
Sunday: Most things go back to your upbringing. Growing up, my father would always tell us that the way you serve your parents is the way you will serve yourself. Therefore, whatever you do, do it to your very best. I learnt early in life to put in my 100 per cent in everything. When I came here to study and was later employed I knew that whatever assignment I am given I was going to ensure I produce the result expected of me. When I started work it was challenging. I don’t look at any work as fun. And the reward for every work you do is the paycheck. When you can take care of your family and extended family you are grateful for the job you have. Sometimes I worked weekends, overtime and all that. I was equally grateful that I had a woman who had a professional and understanding mind so that when I tell her that I will be late today because I wanted to finish some work, I didn’t have to explain too much when I came home late. That understanding has helped us to both stay on our jobs and to do our best and to be able to successfully reach our peak.
Do you think you are a fulfilled person after working for the United States for 35 years?
Sunday: I had a dream to become an engineer. I initially thought that I would finish education in Nigeria, but upon getting the scholarship to come to Florida, United States to study, my dream was expanded. I attended Miami-Dade Community College, then transferred to Florida International University bagging a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in 1981. I love Civil Engineering and I knew the profession is widespread including Water Resources which was what I was doing in Nigeria. But after I finished with my Master’s degree in Civil Engineering I got so excited about Building Construction that I branched into it and with the help of other contractors I was able to achieve the state of Florida’s General Contractor license which enabled me to build houses beside roadway. And I worked as a designer in the Design Department of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) as an Engineering Technician from 1983. Retiring now after 35 years of service, accomplishing my dream and wishes in the highest level, I would say I am a fulfilled man and I thank God for that.
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