Lovette Jallow’s Grandmother: Exploring Resilient Motherhood, Sacrifice, Legacy, and Family Dynamics

What becomes of the mother who must be resilient at all times, the one who became a bride at 12? That resilient Black mother… who wore that mantle until her last breath? My grandmother, a woman, a politician, a feminist, an advocate, the iron lady, and the one resilience finally took away.

Written by
Lovette Jallow

Published on

Back to articlesAdvice
Lovettes Grandmother Ya Ajie Safie Gaye

A Cost of Resilient Motherhood

What becomes of the mother who became a mother at 12? The resilient Black mother… who wore that mantle until death? My grandmother, the child bride. My post on Twitter went viral, where I was told my grandmother should have taught me not to write like a spastic. Well, I retorted to tell them my grandmother invested in my education, and she was illiterate when married off to my grandfather. But she lovingly invested in my education with multiple tutors in my childhood. Wanting for education was not something I lacked. In fact, I am an educator today, possibly because of her. I shared so many memories; I still smile.

But who was she? That wonderful woman. That 12-year-old bride. On this Mother’s Day, let me share more. My first memory was standing on a chair in our big living room, shouting at her brother Pa as he and all her siblings packed up to leave our home in Gambia after suing her in Gambian courts to take over and sell the family compound her parents left in her name. They all wanted to sell it for profit, and she wanted everyone to remain living there, a heritage their parents left behind, both now dead. They dragged the case; them together, her alone.

Family Dynamics: Well, she was the eldest in a gang of siblings, the only one denied education, married off to a man cruel and old enough to be her father. Her first two children, daughters, passed in childhood. She would remember their childhoods fondly to her last days. My grandmother, like me, can be very black and white in her thinking. The family home is for all, and that would remain; courts would not change that stance, not then and not even after her death in her will.

Lovette Jallows grandmother at her political journeys in Gambia 1970.Resilience and Sacrifice:

She would live her life knowing always she had herself and no one else. She would teach all her female grandchildren this. You cry, you dry those tears and put on your best face and survive. You fall, you get up and try again; failure is never an option. And when you stand, you look below and pull the next people up. But who pulls you up? No one; you pay experts for their time. Nothing is free. Everyone will collect their dues, so accept nothing for free.

A complex woman. Every day, I unearth a new enigma in her. Today, I focus on that resilience in her. The part everyone spoke of, “Safie never falls,” she fell in private. When she left my grandfather, he kept her kids for a while. What cost did that have on her? Being separated again from the living ones, as she rebuilt because she cannot fail? As she hustled to build business and a name and recognition so she could be free from patriarchy and be at the mercy of a man again?

I wish she was a man. To be free, but she was a man stuck in a woman’s little body. So she sacrificed like many of us in her lineage learn to sacrifice as if it’s noble. Their well-being, their happiness. Romantic Love and disappointment she also had to sacrifice when she finally had the chance. She told him, “I want to learn to run businesses.” He said yes and called her the iron lady and they listened to Jim Reeves and he taught her to build businesses like a man. He would pass just after she did, decades later. Loving and respecting her from afar, continents afar. She was to be admired but come too close and she will burn you.

Her businesses grew, her parents passed, her siblings turned again on her; she turned on them too because while my grandmother was very small in body and smiled so sweetly when you push and harm her she can also disable you when underestimated. When they lost after the legal battle and smearing her countrywide and still failed. Now there was no one left but her children and now a new generation was birthed and I was there.

But now the family left was to be run like the military, everyone had wounds too. And I am now first of the next generation: precocious, autistic, analyzing, and loving her like no other. My mom, the rebel. I loved her equally as much, but she is a rebel. She isn’t like my grandmother, or maybe she is, but she was determined make her own way in life. Her own name, she can’t be contained. I was in the middle, Lovette, the love between gran and mom.

Personal Reflection:

My grandmother started softening up; she started learning to read and write as I did. She already spoke conversationally multiple languages, what the academics call polyglot. She couldn’t write it but many indigenous African languages weren’t written down in so she just spoke it. She was traveling with the president to villages within Gambia, Casamance, and Senegal and Mauritania. When she spoke Sarahule or Mandinka or Fula you would think she was one of the ethnic group. When I arrived despite not being initially enthusiastic as my mom was supposed to be her star and be educated and excel so my birth ruined those plans when she finally realized I was there to stay, the snuggles and hugs ensued, she got to be a mom again. Her children perhaps alive again in me. But she was ravenous as a grandmother; she deprived my mother of love and motherhood as she consumed me with her love. She gave me all she wanted to give her kids but couldn’t afford as a poor child bride.

Family Dynamics:

Rifts created again, my aunts envious, my mother feeling a way. Me, a child just consuming love. Decades later, the cost would come. But right then, no one knew just the ones who felt it. As a child, I am taking in the language, the knowledge, the life, the strength of the women. The interactions, the intrigues, and my backbone is forming as I learn to navigate the terrain of life in a household of 4 strong women. One thing is emerging: no matter who is around me, family or friend, I will tell the truth. I will snitch and tell on everyone.

 That’s how she lived. She refused help; she built all by herself; she never owed, but on the other hand, she gave and gave and gave.

Free education for others kids, adoptions, visitations to the ill, safe homes for abused women, free homes, help starting others’ businesses. And then, in privacy, she could lament being betrayed. Inevitable because takers take when you give, but we also play a part in our suffering when we are primed for that from childhood. Knowing when to say no and who to safely ask for help is a tool all should know.

Her death:

Later, in the end of her life, and I am fast forwarding here because my grandmother so complicated if I speak and retell I will have a 500-page book. She would be ill and told she had diabetes. This would come after I stopped speaking to her for a year in an argument we had. I called her after nearly dying in 2011. We cried, we spoke, and she sounded different. She told me she had diabetes but it was something else. I was struggling in England in an abusive relationship; I couldn’t tell anyone. My grandmother was never ill, no matter how hard I seek my memories and they are great even when she broke her leg she would be up for morning prayers and do her rounds at the compound with the security guard at our home. Many a security guards were fired because Grandma caught them asleep and her awake doing their rounds. She didn’t believe in illness but illness sure misses no one and in fact, lack of rest and constant hypervigilance increases the risks of it. I had a Strained relationship with my mom and was isolated from the rest of the family even aunts. She consoled me, but in that period of her life, showing empathy was becoming increasingly difficult for her. She was deep in her “wipe it off and stand up straight we are JALLOWS” phase of life. Her hugs no longer deep grandmother’s hugs that take you to the depths of the ocean and wash your sadness away, i remembered from my youth. They were now hugs where she held you and could pull you back. The politician hug she taught me to maintain my space when approached in public spaces.

Personal Legacy:

I learned my grandmother’s tone of voice so we could communicate silently in public. So she was sick. She was resilient, remember… but she even sent me money. My grandmother was filthy rich, but she said no one in her family would get money from her bank accounts; we must ensure we built our own. After that call she sent me a sum so I could rest. She too heard my tiredness. I had moved from Sweden to England and was doing great and never asked for anything. So if she heard my tone she must have known or maybe the end of life was near for her and she realized doing for others and not for family is just not… Maybe she knew if I, the apple of her eye who built everything I have on my own, sounded hurt and couldn’t dry tears anymore then sending that was the only way she could hug? Because a lifetime of building, that’s now the only way she could reach and touch? I too no longer wanted hugs… in fact, so beaten I feared touch. She was sick. But she remained in her tower, the ten-bedroom house; no one saw her but she used the phone to do all her transactions. No one could hear any difference in her voice which still instilled fear in the hearts of those who would try her.

In secrecy, she planned her impending death. The wrapping of her corpse. Who would wash the body before delivery to the mosque, she sketched and drew how her grave would be dug, and even purchased the bucketsthat would carry the water, and place where she would  be placed and washed  No one would decide any of that for her. Everyone who spoke to her on the phone would never know she had late-stage cancer. That young girl, early teen who endured married before her body and mind was ready, who buried her children that kept her company at her unhappy marriage, who divorced that beast, gave up parts of her children’s childhoods to build a legacy, lost parts of herself, sacrificed love, built empires, made so many detours in life, recaptured so many lost moments like education, and should be down in history for so many endeavors still couldn’t leave anything to chance in her last breath in life. But mostly her biggest burden as a woman, and her worst as mother crime was allowing resilience and not rest to define her. But could she? She knew the cost of the alternative in her time that she lived. That I still live in.

A mother before being allowed childhood, my Ya boye (Mother in wolof), because she was mother to many. I am still understanding you, loving you 7/10 days. Honoring the best and softest parts of you. You were an iron lady many struggle to humanise but I am honoring you by deferring my motherhood perhaps into eternity because it doesn’t define me or any woman. Mothering my inner child daily because she is the one I owe the most to. I honor you in every “no” I utter. I honor you when I speak your story and let shame die because you were shamed in speaking of the atrocities you had to endure in the name of family “honor” that never honored your heart and innocence. The gambian culture of sutura (culture of silence and secrecy) and maslaha ( Arabic word meaning “public interest” because again religion begs us to forgive those who transgress us like your first husband my grandfather who I wont forgive). I honour you by healing and knowing that before we pour out, we ensure we have enough for ourselves and our home. The people you left behind, even the ones you also hurt by your resilience and through proximity of your raging fire that kept me warm at times. Those who I love, and who love me back, I shall ensure I give them my best parts and not just my broken pieces.

May she rest now with her two babies Ida and Marie, their names she uttered on her death bed, their personalities she never forgot. They shall keep her company again in the ancestral plane until we meet again and another chance at motherhood she shall get should she wish.

In a society devoid of support, rest, or healing, the journey of motherhood is far from perfect.

When we continue to speak someone’s name & share their stories, we ensure that their memory lives on. Even if they may no longer be physically here, their essence & impact endure through the recollection of their experiences, achievements, the connections they shared with others.Lovette Jallow standing in front of an image of her grandmother at Swedish Tv SVT1



A heads-up: I’m dipping back into writing on my own medium. Despite my proficiency in seven languages, English isn’t one I respect the most nor follow rules of since I type as I speak. Semicolons be damned to the human colon. While my editor handles my books, they don’t edit neither my tweets or blogs. Additionally, my lawyer and the writers union I’m part of safeguard all my writing and work, so requests for citations are welcome. Anything stemming from my intellect and memories is fiercely protected – both in my lifetime and beyond, earmarked for my niece. So, take heed: I’m my grandmother’s first grandchild, and her fiery spirit lives on in me. Though I may offer sweet smiles, don’t mistake my kindness for weakness; I’m staunchly committed to legal protection. I’m a work in progress, always healing but never fully “healed.”