It will be one year on May 29 since Kemi Olasewere last saw her daughter. She never thought she would entrust her six month- old baby Aalia to anyone. But, in order for Olasewere and Aalia to have a better future, Olasewere traveled to St. Louis from Lagos, Nigeria, leaving her baby behind.
Olasewere, 30, is the graduate assistant to the Multicultural Center and International Student Association. She’s also pursuing a master’s degree in early childhood education. Every day, her sister Tanwa emails photos of Aalia to Olasewere. Aalia is now one year and three months old. Olaswere uses Skype to see her daughter move and listens to noises she makes.
“I never thought I would survive,” Olasewere said. “I cry at times. You know, there will be times when I call home and I hear her cry. And maybe it’s just because she wants to eat or something, but I think ‘oh my goodness’ and just get off the phone. It’s torturing. I know I can’t do more than what my parents are doing and I thank God for them.”
Aalia’s vocabulary is small, but one simple word that Olasewere yearns to hear is “mama.”
“Sometimes I hear her say mama,” Olasewere said. “I don’t know if she’s calling the nanny mama, or if she’s calling my sister mama, because, it’s just that I don’t want to sound angered or anything, but I don’t think I would be happy to hear her call someone else mama.” Aalia’s father planned to come to the U.S. with Olasewere and pursue a master’s degree as well. It didn’t work out.
“He moved on and I moved on,” Olasewere said. “I became depressed, but after a while I came out of it and sat down and thought about what I was going to do next.”
She and her parents all agreed it was time she move forward with her, life and pursue a masters degree. Olasewere asked them if she could take Aalia back home for a few months and then give her into their care.
“My parents were delighted and were like, ‘you’re going to leave her with us?’ I said of course, you guys raised me so I can trust my child with you,” Olasewere said. Olasewere knew it was the right choice to make a better a life for herself and her daughter.
In August 2009, Olasewere moved in with her brother in Chesterfield. She stayed until she gave birth to Aalia in November 2009. After her birth, Olasewere said that she developed postpartum depression.
“It was my first baby,” Olasewere said. “The dad (Aalia’s father) and I were on good terms, and then he just stopped calling completely. I thought to myself, “What am I doing wrong?”
In May 2010, she took Aalia home to Lagos. In late May, she journeyed back to Webster alone.
“I wasn’t eating, and in the depression I almost went crazy,” Olasewere said. “I really felt I was going crazy.”
Olasewere said that she can’t put into words how much she misses Aalia.
“I miss her so much, but it’s enough to keep me going and focused on what I came here for,” Olasewere said.
She said meeting new people, like Ibrahim Wali, the previous graduate assistant to the MCISA, helped her adjust to her life at Webster.
“Immediately after I came back to Webster after leaving Lagos, I met Ibrahim and I think he was the first contact I made that really made me feel comfortable here at Webster,” Olasewere said.
Wali and Olasewere became close friends quickly.
“I was happy to have another Nigerian and African on campus,” Wali said. “She’s someone I could relate to from where I come from. I felt I had to make her laugh to feel welcomed and not alone. And it worked.”
Looking back to her first experience at Webster, Olasewere said she took on the role trying to make students feel at home.
“I didn’t want anyone to go through what I went through,” Olasewere said. “At least to the best of my ability. I love helping people. I think the first contact is very important. If you have a horrible first week like I did, it’s good to have some kind of support.”
Olasewere said she is looking forward to going back to see Aalia. She said she hopes they will still have a bond and Aalia will know who she is.
Olasewere said she would like to raise Aalia in St. Louis, considering the extra-curricular activities offered to children here.
“They do have a lot more creative things here than back home,” Olasewere said. “These things (ballet, swimming) really help mold their personalities. Whether or not I raise her here is a very big question. I would have to be married and have a lot of money.”
Regardless of her trials, Olasewere is surrounded by good friends here in St. Louis, and looks forward to the day she can hold the baby she sees on the computer screen every day.