For a woman who rose to the heights of being the wife of a diplomat, she never expected to return to the streets to sell ‘koko’ (porridge).
But life, as unpredictable as it could be, took a different turn and things began to crumble.
Felicia Edem Attipoe, Ghana’s first female aircraft marshaller on Wednesday, May 11, shared an emotional story of how she fell from “grace to grass” on the first edition of the “My Story series” on the Strong and Sassy show.
She broke down in tears as she recounted how she tasted “Heaven on Earth” in her marriage to an Ambassador but her life changed completely after the marriage hit the rocks.
Detailing the events, she indicated that it all began at the age of 28 after she had secured a job at the Kotoka International Airport.
Life before the divorce
“I met this man who gave me Heaven on Earth. He was a politician and we got married when I was 28 years old and that was the best thing that ever happened. He became an ambassador and he exposed me to riches. I didn’t know which car I would use. Today you see me in a car the next day I’m in another one.
“I had a seamstress who sew for me alone, all it took me was a phone call, and then she would give me something to wear. I had a wardrobe full of jewellery, cloth – you can’t look me in the eyes twice,” she recounted.
In fact, Felicia was drowned in riches and royalty.
“I visited countries. I don’t know which country I haven’t been to apart from hell. I met with queens and kings and dined with them. I sat in a car with a flag and that was me coming because I was a big man’s wife. I received dignitaries – that was my grace.
“I have a diplomatic passport. I come to work today, the next three days, I’m in the US. The next week I’m in the UK. I traveled with the First lady. I’m a madam. I had a cook and a butler. I wear a wig once and I don’t wear it again. When you see my wardrobe it’s full of Kente, different colours, different kinds my gold jewellery to go with it. I had someone who does the gold jewellery for me, brings them and I buy them. People rushed to me with their items for me to purchase and that was the kind of life I lived,” she recalled.
Then about eight years later, Felicia lost her marriage. She lost the honour and the life of privilege and things became tough.
Life after the divorce
“The marriage didn’t work. I enjoyed it [the luxurious life] but I wasn’t happy. I walked out of the marriage because the emotional abuse was too much and I needed to be alive for my son,” she said.
“My husband was my world I didn’t plan for the future. Then everything crashed down just like that, within a twinkle of an eye, I lost everything – my home, the cars – I walked away with nothing. I was on the street. I lost the cars and I had to now take ‘trotro.’ When I sit in trotro I bow down as if someone knew me and would be able to recognize me,” she recalled.
She was hungry, because, she walked away with nothing. She was also no longer working at the airport. Left with nothing and no choice since she didn’t prepare [saved] for a rainy day, she went to live with her cousin with her son.
“I had to come to Ghana because my marriage had broken down so we moved in with my cousin. She had a two-bedroom apartment – she slept in one room and her kids in the other so I had to sleep in the hall with my son.”
Later, Felicia gathered some money and rented an apartment. Then the next thing on her mind was to get a job to be able to raise some money to cater for her needs and that of her son.
“I managed to get a two-bedroom apartment at Tema and that is where I started life again. Life there wasn’t easy. I didn’t have my job then so I was trying to plead with them to take me back, but I had to wait for a while. Along the line, I was very hungry [because] I didn’t plan for a rainy day when I got married and that was a mistake I made. I decided to do business and I decided to sell ‘koko’ [porridge].”
She went back to her former workplace. This time, not as an aviation worker but, a koko seller.
“I didn’t have my job. So I was trying to plead with them to take me back but I had to wait for a while. Then I was hungry. I didn’t plan. All the money I had I never saved. I was married to a big man and he was giving me everything so I never saved. It was my brother who gave me ₵ 200 then I started the business and I was selling it to my colleagues at the airport.”
Going back to her colleagues seemed like a nightmare. Fears of being mocked by her colleagues began to torment her “what would I tell them, that I lost my marriage? Ei!” However, this would not deter her from pursuing her new trade, after all, she needed to survive. So she faced her fears and decided to start the business.
“My friends used to send me to buy porridge for them each time I visited to check on my letter to return to work, then I thought: ‘why not prepare the porridge and come and sell to them instead?’ So I made koko, tom brown, and other breakfast meals to sell to them. They were astonished to see me. Everyone was wondering where my car was. I always told them it was at the workshop. Others teased: ‘a diplomat’s wife selling porridge,” but I just carried on.”
Felicia was finding her feet once again with her new trade at the airport but one day, hell broke loose. She broke down in tears as she recounted this moment.
“You know at the airport, you can’t be selling at the premises, so I sometimes gave the men [task force] at post some of the porridge so they would permit me to continue with my trade. And one day, I went to sell there and the task force person in charge seized everything. So I went to my former boss who suggested I take it to the terminal.
“Then another day I got there and our HR Manager who was a Reverend came in. Right in front of everyone, he humiliated me. He embarrassed me, yelling at me to the point where I broke down and cried. To date, I haven’t been able to forget about it. I just broke down and cried. I was screaming,” she said.
“So I decided to go back to the Head of the HR and narrated all that had happened and that was when I was given an assurance of getting my job back.”
The suicide moments
Eventually, she got back her job but that was not the end of her woes. Felicia still had to deal with many challenges till she contemplated suicide “because there was no window. There was no hope for me so I wanted to end it all,” but her son was just in time to save her.
“I got my job back, but I was going through a divorce and going to school at the same time. I had to shuffle between my job, schooling, and taking care of my son. Early in the morning, I prepared the porridge, tom brown, etc. and sold it before I sent my son to school. After that, I came to work from then to school. At a point the classroom was my bedroom. That’s where I slept. I couldn’t learn. Then one day, all of a sudden I broke down. I was depressed. I just got to the balcony and stripped naked and I was just about to jump because I had had enough of the struggle.
“Then I heard my son calling “mummy where are you?” he approached me and asked why I wasn’t in anything then I told him I was just taking fresh air. Then he asked me to come inside and sleep. It was terrible,” she said.
“There were days I stayed deep in the night at the beach because I was hoping that ‘maame water [the sea goddess/a mermaid]’ would just come and disappear with me and end it all but that never happened.”
The confrontation that changed her life completely
“I was depressed, I had suicidal thoughts but what gave me the strength to go on was my kids and I felt that I could do something for myself.
“One day my son confronted me angrily and started blaming me for everything and saying all sorts of things to me. So I sat him down and said ‘Nana, two things: do you prefer that you go to school one day and your friends laugh at you that your mother is mad, or do you prefer you be in this state and I work so hard for us to be comfortable? Tell me which one you prefer and I would gladly give it to you. You know, he chose the latter and that was what gave me the strength that from now on, we are going to make it.
“I changed my mind and then things started changing. We started life again. We started making ourselves happy. Sometimes when I get money, we would go and buy chicken and enjoy ourselves. We take a walk to the beach and go and swim then I started having a life.
This was followed by a desire to venture into politics.
“Then I decided to venture into politics, after all, I was married to a politician. Then it started and we were happy. My 40th birthday I bought myself a rickety car. I went for a loan and bought chairs, and a TV set just to make sure my son was happy. I realised that I had to make myself, my son, and everyone around me happy. Life got better. At a point, I got the chance to travel and shop for my kids and life started getting better. So I realised it was me and not the problems. Now I have an NGO, I’m doing politics, I’m empowering women and you know I’m the first female aircraft marshaller.
“I’m back stronger and better,” she said.