But on this blessed day, I wanted to pay tribute to the most important woman in my life: my mother. This Congolese woman is a symbol of the resilience of the human race, and our (humans) potential worthiness to inherit the Earth. My mother was born in colonial Belgian Congo, in a very traditional village in Bas-Congo province, without electricity, running water, or awareness of the existence of either. She got meningitis at 3 weeks, thus starting life on the brink of death, and weakening her immune system for the rest of her life. It also gave her a moderate scoliosis that has been a source of psychological and physical pain. As she was growing up as a sickly child, my grand-father had the foresight to press her to be an assiduous student, as he knew that she would not survive the hard agricultural life of the village.
And she did just that. She went to her village's school, set up by Western missionaries, and she became the best. See in Congo, they rank the students in each class. Throughout her elementary and middle school, she was 1st in her class, despite being often too sick to attend school. Then she went to a bigger missionary high school, one of the best in the country, in Kimpese. Here, she was the only girl in her class. All the other girls tended to be encouraged to go to homemaking school, where they learned to be "good wives". With a bio-chemistry major, Mum continued to be the first in her class there, at the dismay of the boys, and the very conservative and hypocritical anti "over-intelligence in blacks" missionaries. Through the unfair punishments, the very problematic gender separation (when you are the only girl, how do you do group studying, if study groups are separated by gender), her multiple health issues, and the harassment by some of the boys (though she says none of it was sexual harassment)... she made it through, and graduated cum laude, in the 2nd ever session of the State High School Examination. We are now in independent Congo. Her health is not getting any better. Against her will, she accepts a scholarship to come study to the United States. This is an opportunity to get better treatment.
In 1968 USA, she faced racism and discrimination, as well as more positive times at Miami University of Ohio. She also underwent a surgery on her back, to reduce the scoliosis which was becoming life threatening. She stayed in a cast for 9 months, lying on a bed in a quasi-full body cast for 6 of those months. That year she still managed to get straight A's, from her hospital bed. Did I mention she had to learn English - that is all of English - for exactly 6 months before going to College? She graduated with honors with a BS in Biology-Chemistry, and went on to become a Doctor from Howard University in DC, and a Pediatrician from Kings County Medical Center, in New York. That is also where she met my father.
After all this, she decided to go back to serve her country. First working for a USAID project, she then entered the Health Department, where she climbed to become the National Head of the whole Children's disease and Malaria division. As a woman, she always had to work twice as hard at her job, just to be recognized. She had to develop a very high - sometimes overbearing - sense of ethics, and moral rectitude. In a corrupt country, that uncompromising professionalism, and her unwillingness to join in the looting effort in the country, eventually cost her her job. For almost a year, she had to hide from people trying to have her arrested on trumped-up charges, or killed. Eventually, she managed to get the Mobutu regime people off her back, and she was able to join the United Nations - more precisely the World Health Organization - where she is an international civil servant, an International Health Expert. Here she forged herself a reputation as somewhat of an "iron lady", for her intransigence in her requirement for all to thrive for excellence, and nothing less. Sometimes, I was faced with her iron side, and yes, it feels very intimidating and overwhelming at times.
But through all these experiences, she was able to give birth to me, give me a sense of patriotism, of love and care for my family, my culture, my country, the continent of Africa, and the planet. She was able to teach me - directly and indirectly - that all human beings are equal, and ultimately part of the same core race, and that skin color, tribes, ethnicities, and all the other artificial divisions that humans found ways to multiply, were the dumbest criteria to judge someone's character. She taught me that being open to others, and to the world will always make me a better person. Even when - every once and a while - that openness lands me in difficult situations, I always rise again, with a greater understanding of the people around me; and that attitude, I owe it to my mother. She also taught me that I had to stand up for myself, my rights, and for the principles I believe in, but also try to be open to other opinions. She taught me that human rights are inalienable for all humans, that murder was the worst wrong, peace the ideal, integrity the mark of great person, and serenity the goal to strive for. She taught me to honor God, revere our ancestors, respect my elders, all this without losing my sense of self, and my discerning abilities. As a strong, beautiful and wonderful woman, she gave me the tools to strive to be a better man. And for that, Mum, I will never thank you enough. You were hard on me - sometimes too hard. You sometimes had expectations of me that were simply out my reach. But you also gave the opportunities that allowed me to surprise you, positively, in many other ways. All that I believe in today, even the things when I disagree with you, I somehow learned from you. You are a great woman, a great mother, a great survivor, and a great leader.
I love you Mum, toma mfiaukidi kibeni. Honor, glory, praises and health always be shed upon you, Mum, and on the Congolese Women, African Women, and all the Women of the World.