Mma Ladi never set foot in the classroom. Born to illiterate parents who were farmers, she had no option but to help on the farm. At a tender age of 17, she was married off to Abubakari Musah who himself was an illiterate farmer and a hunter. They settled in Ntotroso in the Ahafo Region to serve as labourers on farms so they may own their own farm one day.
The Journey To Kumasi
Life was difficult at Ntotroso. With three children and no reliable income the couple were forced to engage in local businesses that were against every belief they stood for; palm wine tapping and weed farming.
The arrest of her husband triggered a wild thought. “Let’s move to Kumasi,” she said. With no family resident in Kumasi, this idea sounded impossible. Abu the hunter liked the idea hence had to apply his hunting skills to make it possible.
He came to Offinso where he had some friends from the past. He then obtained information that one of their old friends also called Abu is now resident in Moshi Zongo Kumasi. He followed his trail till he met him. Abu had good memories of his old namesake.
He, therefore, offered him a storage room in the house to be converted into a single room.
Mma Ladi and her husband Abu relocated to Kumasi with no plan. But they had one thing, their strength and will power. They both started off by being head porters (kayaye) in Kejetia.
Mr Abu got wind of recruitment at a timber firm Logs and Limber so he went there and was lucky to be picked as a labourer. Mma Ladi had no skill hence carrying was her only option.
The Lotto Doctor
Her third-born; Yusif and only son at the time was just five years old but sickly. He had a strange cough that no hospital they could afford was able to treat. “I can’t let my son die” was her anthem.
The couple travelled to villages and towns around seeking help but to no avail. It worsened their financial situation. The family finally decided to relocate back to the village.
Mma Ladi went to Kejetia for one last job to get lorry fare to Ntotroso. Characteristic of Kejetia market, there was a whole crowd of people gathered around this “magician” who was giving out lotto numbers whilst entertaining the people with some magic tricks.
Tired Mma Ladi with her pan on her head decided to relax whilst watching this entertainer. “Hey, you! come forward” a deep voice echoed in her ears. She was absent-minded though present at the show.
Someone tapped her that the magician is calling her to come for lotto number. Shy and a believer, she refused to go. The man walked towards her. “Woman, I’m calling you because of your sick son. Come forward”. Her heart skipped many beats.
“How does this man know about my son?”. She stepped forward. The man brought out a herb and gave her directions to use. That she should return after two weeks if her son’s cough has not gone yet. Mma Ladi followed the instructions and in three days the boy was completely healed. No more coughs. She went with her husband to thank the man but he was gone. No one knew who he was.
That day was the only day he came to perform in the market. Many who took his lotto numbers came to testify that they won but couldn’t find him to say thank you.
Kwein Kwein: The Local Rice
Her son was fine now. They can rebuild. The decision to relocated back to the village has been shelved. Back to carrying load. She visited her auntie who was not happy about her physical condition.
She came up with an idea. Mma Ladi was a very good cook growing up. Why not start selling food instead of being a kayaye.
She took the idea seriously and started saving towards it. Few months later, she got a cooking pot and enough to start. The business was an instant hit. She carried her local rice from house to house shouting “Ɛmoo wura no aba ooo” (the rice seller has come).
This gave her the popular name Ɛmoo Wura (Rice Seller) in Moshi Zongo. Her delicious rice resonates with many people till date who wonder why she stopped.
Mma Lad now has five children. Fati and Musah have joined Sahara, Amina and Yusif who were brought to Moshi Zongo from Ntotroso. Not the full capacity single room could stop the poor couple from having more children.
To them, children were gifts from Allah so when He gives you, you accept them happily. They also had no source of entertainment. She was pregnant with a sixth baby. About seven months into the pregnancy she was still carrying her rice.
That business had become the most reliable source of income for the family since her husband’s wage as a labourer could barely transport he himself to and fro work every day.
On a sunny Friday afternoon Mma Ladi carried her rice to go out. Her legs were not strong as they used to. But her family must survive. Just few minutes from the house she was crossing a gutter. She slipped badly. With her load on her head she landed straight on her belly.
In the gutter she laid prostrate. No one saw her come to her rescue. She crawled herself up from the gutter and quietly returned into her room. Bleeding profusely she blacked out. Yusif had just returned from school. Entered the room and stepped straight into a pool of blood. With screams calling for help, the house was full within seconds. She was rushed to the hospital where she was admitted for about a week. Doctors did what they could. But it wasn’t enough.
She had to lose the baby or they both won’t make it. That decision came with more conditions, she cannot carry heavy loads again since the fall had badly damaged her. So she must stop selling the rice or only sell it at one location. That was not how the kwein kwein business worked at the time. You must go house to house. So she had to let go of both her baby and her livelihood.
No more carrying or rice. “This cannot be the end of life. I will start something else”. The ever-positive Mma Ladi decided to start selling TZ and Banku in front of her house. Many discouraged her because these were local delicacies that people prepare in their homes every day. It won’t sell. But she was determined.
That business marked the turning point of her family’s journey. Her special recipes made her food the preferred choice of many in the community. Like wildfire her food got the attention of the local community. Every area had their own name for it: Ɛde Ɛfo (tasty but affordable), Kusasi Paga (Kusasi Woman), Mma Ladi, Diehuo and many other names. Now her family was stable.
Brilliant Little Abubakars
Mma Ladi appeared strange to many in the community. She swore on her last drop of blood to ensure every single child of hers goes to school to at least senior secondary school. Not even the harsh realities of the community including men impregnating young girls could deter her. No matter what, every child of hers must finish secondary school. She was discouraged and called names.
Many said she was pushing her children from Islam. That they should attend an Arabic school just like all the other children. But for some reason she insisted she is training them on the path of Islam, they have evening Arabic classes so they should rather go through the normal education system.
Fortunately for her, from Sahara to Musah, every single child of hers was among the top 3 in their class. Strangely brainy Children. Without any support at home to do their home works or extra tuition, they came first in their classes most of the time. This encouraged Mma Ladi to keep pushing them. To realize this dream, she couldn’t do it alone.
At this point, her husband had been struck down by severe diabetes. Many doubted he would make it. His new company laid him off without any significant compensation. It was therefore all hands on deck.
She bought shoe shine boxes for Yusif, got plates for Sahara and Amina to start trading. The children will join her to the market at 4 am every dawn where they’ll sell polythene bags, kenkey, fruits etc whilst she buys ingredients for the preparation of her food. By 7 am, she brings them home to bath and go to school. This continued for many years to help pay their fees and buy their books.
Mma Ladi was called many names by her peers but what got to her mostly was being called dirty. Yet that was the commonest insult she heard over and over. She never wore the best garments or shoes. She never slept on a comfortable bed. She agreed to be poor but not dirty. She always said I’m sacrificing so my children can go to school.
It’s not that I can’t afford. We felt her sorrow anytime she comes home talking about someone calling her dirty and not knowing how to dress up. The worst was when someone compared her to a Vulture for always being on the ground going through things to get something worthy of selling.
With an incapacitated husband for over 20years, Mma Ladi managed to bring up A professional Administrator in Saratu Abubakar, A professional caterer in Amina, A professional Banker in Yusif, A professional Lawyer in Fatimatu Abubakar and professional Nurse in Baba Musah Kosovo.
I asked her a question two days ago, “where is that woman who used to spit anytime she sees you? The one who called you Kyiki baa gooyo(giving birth and taking care of your own self)?” Mma Ladi didn’t answer. She just smiled. A smile which said a thousand words, a smile which sends shivers down our spines, a smile which brings tears to our eyes.
She is an illiterate but her sweat has been through University, done masters, completed many professional courses and achieved what many said was impossible.
God bless you Mma Ladi.