Friday, July 8, 2016

Maudlyne Ihejirika: My mom is my hero

We go along.
We live our lives, day to day.
We know our stories and often take them for granted.
We tend to focus on the here and now and prepare for the future.
We often put in the back of our minds what is so incredible about our experiences, our history, where we’ve come from.

Maudlyne Ihejirika does not take her history--nor her life--for granted.

Maudlyne, with her mother Angelina Ihejirika, has just published their family memoir, Escape from Nigeria: A Memoir of Faith, Love and War.

Seems my journalism colleague, neighbor and friend—whose name I’ve only recently learned to pronounce correctly, E-hedge-eh-ricka—is a refugee of the Nigerian-Biafran War.

The war broke out in July 1967. It cut communication between Angelina and Maudlyne’s father, Christopher, who was studying abroad first in Sierra Leone and then in Evanston at Northwestern and Kellogg School of Management. For more than two years Angelina and Christopher didn’t know if the other was alive or dead.

In Biafra, an Irish missionary nun set off a chain of miracles for Angelina to locate her husband. In Evanston, an instructor at Kellogg, and his wife, with four other North Shore couples, performed their own miracles for Christopher to find Angelina and his six kids amidst the raging war.

Ordinary and extraordinary people, two U.S. congressmen, the leader of Biafra itself, churches and synagogues got involved in the Ihejirikas' plight. Funds were raised to pay for exit visas and seats on a rare missionary flight, the last out of Biafra before the airport was bombed.

The Nigerian-Biafran War is considered the first time starvation was used as a tool of war. Before the surrender of the short-lived Biafran nation in January 1970, blockades led to mass starvation and deaths of at least 2 million Biafrans, primarily Igbos. This genocide ranks fifth on the list of the worst crimes against humanity of the 20th century, behind the Nazi's atrocities during the WWII holocaust in Europe, the Ukrainian famine in the Soviet Union, the slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, and the Khmer Rouge massacre of the Cambodians.

From this horror, the Ihejirikas emerged. On June 9, 1969, Angelina and 5-year-old Maudlyne with her 5 siblings landed at O'Hare with only the clothes on their backs.

Currently living in Evanston, Maudlyne works for the Chicago Sun-Times as its urban affairs reporter.

The Ihejirika's memoir is available at Bookends and Beginnings and online.

I appreciate how this labor of love helps me know more about my friend and her family and a slice of history I'd known nothing about. This book puts into valuable perspective the current global refugee crisis triggered by the largest number of forcibly displaced people worldwide since World War II, as well as the current anti-immigrant/anti-refugee sentiments in the United States and other countries.


If you'd like to meet Maudlyne and have her sign a book for you this weekend, she'll be at the Author's Tent on Sunday, July 10, at DuSable Museum of African American History's Arts & Crafts Festival.

The first public reception and book reading/signing to include Angelina will be Wednesday, July 13, 6-9 p.m. at the M Lounge in Angelina's current neighborhood, the South Loop.

In May, the Ihejirikas hosted a private party for the Nigerian community at the
DuSable Museum of African American History to celebrate Angelina's life and the publication of their
family's memoir. Lucky me captured some lovely moments at this heartfelt event.
If you peek at the other image I made and wonder why Angelina
was showered with money, don't ask me. I'm guessing it is like
other customs that are meant to wish a loved one prosperity.


  1. I wish I could be there to honor my old Sun-Times colleague Maudlyne (still one of the paper's diamonds) and her mother. Classy, classy women!

    1. There will be other events. You don't like crowds anyway.