On February 18th I lost my grand aunt-my grandmother really (English limitations) because in my culture a sister of my grandmother is my grandmother. Both have almost equal roles and space in your life.
This incredible woman, May Kyomugasho Katebaka left us at the age of 97. We last met in 2014 when I visited her. She’s a fierce woman. Fierce in her religion but also fierce in her knowledge of what she wanted from the world. And that is what moves me. Moves every time one claims feminism is foreign and for the educated, un-african. She always came to mind when I met such arguments. I would tell myself that if only they could hear half her life story, then they would understand why I am such a rebellion.
Grandma May, always made it a point to tell us she got ‘saved/born again’ in 1949. Religion was at the centre of her life. She always told us had it not been for her selfless service in the church, she would have ended up like most women of her time. She was one of the few among millions of women at the time who could read. And that came through the colonial state where knowledge of the bible accorded one certain privileges.
Her life is an inspiration. She was married, briefly, and quickly figured out that married life wasn’t for her so she dedicated herself to serving the church. Where she was married and even when she didn’t have children of her own, she is known to have treated the kids she found in the home like her own. Of course this is something many women are required of by society and the conditions are often not on their side- women should have choices- but the love between her and her step children remained even when she was longer part of their family. That love was demonstrated till the end.
In my culture and many in Uganda still, to be unmarried childless and woman are scorned upon but Grand mother May commanded a certain respect above all these. She managed to weave her life story, with a church as her shelter, to be who she wanted to be. Of course many would say she should ‘have had a child at least’ and god knows what other pressures she faced. All these little narrow definitions of what a woman’s life should be according to society wouldn’t dwindle her.
I loved her and she lived an exceptional life and didn’t matter who accepted it. She was beautiful too and a deep deep soul. In many ways she was still traditional like I remember her asking me to always wear long t-shirts over my jeans- you know – not to show ‘secret body parts’ like we call it in my Runyankole. I usually laughed these off.
She is inspiration and the fact that her life in itself- some aspects probably weren’t intentional- but she never followed the crowd. And that’s enough to get me through this life. I thought in the spirit of women’s history month, Grandma May fully represents the people in my life that shattered those expectations. To understand where we are going we must always look back for a lesson, inspiration and sometimes caution.