The day I have been waiting for after so many years finally arrived; the day that once seemed so far away; it finally came. It was the 12th January 2020 and my grandma, Muriel Davies a.k.a. Nana Kunle, turned 100 years old, she made it. Hallelujah! Not in the health and strength that we had all hoped for but she made it indeed. Family members and friends travelled from the UK, Canada and USA to witness this momentous event.
I was fortunate enough to combine this trip with Christmas 2019, so I had time to help with the birthday preparations where possible. During this time, I also bonded with my grandma and showed her my new-born son, Tyrone Nelson. So weird to see a 6-month-old baby lying next to a 100-year-old lady and visualising the popular saying “once a man, twice a child”. Both needing help with changing, feeding and moving around. The difference was that my grandma, a living legend with a century of wisdom passed on from generation to generation; she understood everything that was going on around her, she chose when she wanted to speak. My son on the other hand, has his whole life ahead of him, a life I hope and pray will be just as significant as his great grandma’s. Whether he understood much of what’s happening around him, that’s up for debate.
In early December 2018, our beloved Nana fell ill, a simple tummy ache that led to her getting admitted in hospital for more than a week. In my 99th birthday tribute, I mentioned that we should pray for her wellbeing and our prayers helped keep her alive and stable to this wonderful day. Unfortunately, despite being stable, she is not as she once was. She is now in a wheelchair and hardly speaks. That light that used to radiate from her seems to have gone and it breaks my heart as my love for this woman is unimaginable.
Nana Kunle isn’t one of those grandma’s who think their way is always the best and you must follow their way or take the highway. Until the age of 98, she was always happy with me around; she was ready to adapt to the change with the times and wanted to learn new things. She loved to tell us about how her husband, Lieutenant Christopher Davies who was in the RAF during the 2nd World War and his exploits. At that time she didn’t realise she was going to survive another war, the Sierra Leone Civil war which started in 1991 and ended in 2002. In her early years, she was a member of Innerwheel Club, the women is charity equivalent of Rotary and was once the President of the Sierra Leone chapter. This group funded the project that constructed a building in Connaught hospital (main teaching hospital in Sierra Leone) combining children’s playroom and a classroom. This was meant for assistance of not only the hospitalised children, but to especially benefit those children with lengthy illnesses to continue with their schooling, so she further arranged a teacher for the school to ensure these children were not unduly disadvantaged in their educational journey.
As a woman with so much love to share, she adopted about 12 children over the course of the years, with the last child adopted when she was already 90 years old. She became the main caregiver for these children, ensuring they got the necessary education and training they required. Of course, as a home economics teacher, she ensured that all of them knew how to make those delicious dishes which she later shared with the rest of the world in her cookbook. A cookbook full of delectable recipes ranging from the traditional dishes to snacks, all for you to try. No matter how old she was, it was impossible to get her out of the kitchen, especially on Saturdays. Until she fell ill at 98years, she was, without fail, in the kitchen to oversee proceedings as the main Saturday meal, usually Bitter Leaf soup or Crain Crain was being prepared, to ensure it met her approval.
I was also very lucky to have this experience when Nana Kunle visited me in the United Kingdom and I loved the time spent with her as she walked me through cooking bitters and cassava leaves. This was the time we built a strong bond and started working on the new release of her cookbook which we launched when she was 97years.
So it was finally Sunday 12th January 2020, and it was the day to celebrate this joyous event. Thanks to God for blessing her and for enriching each of our lives with her presence and wisdom. My mum and I went to communion on that day at St. George’s Cathedral Church (my grandma’s church) as I knew she would have wanted us to be there if she had the strength. The celebrations were held at her house so that Nana could fully participate and retire to her bedroom for a rest whenever she chooses. The house was beautifully decorated and transformed with lovely decorations in the living room such as a flower arrangement in the shape of 100 and pictures of my grandma at a young age. In the front parking area, there was a large banner that announced the occasion to passers-by, a marque with decorated long tables and chairs for guests.
It was 13:00GMT and it was time to start the celebrations and Nana’s outfit was a lovely blue dress. The pastor, Canon Emerson Thomas, from Cathedral Church led a short service with close family and friends. By the end of the service, the house was full of family and guests, young and old, who wanted to be part of this celebration; the delicious aroma of freshly prepared food started wafting through the house as lunch was served. For the first course, guests were served traditional beans, and this was followed by a wide range of food such as Jollof rice, chicken, oleleh, roast beef, smoked tongue and so forth. As Nana Kunle is a lady from a home economics background for over 20years, it was only fitting that there were numerous dishes prepared to honour this day; the food was delicious, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the food on their plate.
As Nana had previously taught at Annie Walsh School for 21years, it was only fitting that the Annie Walsh Old Girls Association (AWOGA) should make their entry to present their gift and congratulations by singing the Annie Walsh School song. All those who knew the words joined in and the room was filled with joyful singing and above all, to everyone’s excitement and surprise, we saw Nana singing along as well. This was followed by the presentation of a collection of gifts nicely wrapped in cellophane in a gift basket.
Following this, Nana had a surprise visit from a representative of the City Council (on behalf of the Mayor) who officially recognised her as a centenarian senior citizen of Sierra Leone. He then presented her with gifts and offered to give her Le100,000 every month going forward. In her bedroom, surrounded by her closest relatives and friends, we all cheered as this presentation is made. Nana was like a superstar as everyone recorded the several events with their mobile phone. Although she didn’t speak during the proceedings, she conveyed her approval by smiling a lot.
After Nana had taken a short, much deserved rest from all the festivities, she returned to the celebrations in time for the speeches and the cutting of her centenarian birthday cake. A member of the Davies family proposed a toast to the celebrant, which was followed by a statement made by Mrs Janet Lisk on behalf of Nana’s children. A statement on behalf of the grandchildren was made by me, Mrs Rotimi Nelson and lastly, one was made on behalf of the great grand children by Kelcie and Kiera McCormack, ensuring that all generations were amply represented!
I felt honoured that I was asked to talk about my grandmother on this significant day. My speech was as follows:
Muriel Emekunle Davies. AKA. Nana Kunle.
You are 100 years old! 36,500 days on this earth is one heck of a milestone.
We rejoice with you as you celebrate your birthday today.
I’m so excited and fortunate to witness your special day celebration.
You are one in a million—a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, guiding light, true role model and great inspiration. For us grandchildren in this digital world, it’s an honour to know someone who was born before toaster, blender, microwave, TV remote and mobile phone was invented, things we refer to as necessities. However, right up to the age of 98, Nana was ready to keep up with this new digital world. She was willing to change her cookbook instructions from “grain using mortar and pencil” to “blend thoroughly”. She even learnt how to use a mobile phone and sending text messages.
I am very honoured to have worked with Nana over the past 10 years to re-publish her cookbook. Even at the age of 98, she continued to send me new recipes for the cookbook’s website. Your cookbook will be one of your legacy which I promise to keep promoting.You are priceless, and your life is a blessing. A lady full of wisdom accumulated over 10 decades. Your wealth of experience has impacted us, your grandchildren, positively in so many ways. We are very grateful for you.
We (your grandchildren) promise to hold on to the profound life lessons that you have taught us. Thank you for being such a caring and wonderful person.
You are loved beyond words.
After all the speeches it was now time to cut her two cakes. The first was the official cake from the children and made by Sugarcraft Design. It was a two-tiered cake in turquoise blue and gold to represent the celebrant’s love of all things blue, with edible lace applique and a trailing bouquet of edible flowers cascading to the side of the cake to incorporate Nana’s love of flowers. On the top, was a 100 cake topper displayed majestically on the cake leaving no one in doubt of the unique milestone age being celebrated. The second cake was a gift from a relative was also two-tiered and coloured in light blue and peach with flowers on the top.
The day’s festivities was brought to a close by Mrs. Daphne Nicole who gave the vote of thanks and subsequently opened the dance floor to the guests to dance the night away as my grandma retired back to her bedroom for a well earned rest.
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