Co-learning, Number Two

Afterwords:  Helen’s Book Project and the Research Trip to Onitsha in 1992


Aside from her ongoing work at BARA, Helen continued considering a return to Onitsha, now intending to explore the contemporary lives of Ndi-Onicha women.  When our Onitsha relative Nneka Umunna told us she wanted to go there in order to perform the Ikwa-Ozu (“Second Burial”, “Lamentation”) of her mother’s mother Nne-Si, we decided that now was our time to return:  with Nneka’s help we could organize meetings for Helen with important people who could further her efforts, as well as observing and recording the funeral.

Nkisi Aroli Street; Helen fell further down this hill

Our Nkisi-Aroli house. Note the large drainage ditches; Helen fell uphill from here

The story of this journey belongs elsewhere1.  Let it suffice here to observe:  the research process began very well, but ended abruptly in our second night in Onitsha when Helen, escorting a group of women from our house in deep darkness,  fell into a large drainage ditch and broke her ankle.  The patterns of our entire stay were drastically transformed, and Helen’s book plan completely disrupted (though we continued making efforts relating to it into the early 2000s).

Helen lands in the “Bishop’s Room”! With Nneka, Nneka’s sister, and Frank Omekam

The Ndi-Igbo doctors at St. Charles Borromeo hospital were excellent. Helen was very well treated here.

Helen escapes her confinement. Everyone remarked about her cheerfulness throughout this experience.
















C says: he worked in Matlock’s office ’79-83 – thinks Helen was there the same time; it was closed down for “suspicious reasons” – remember


Matlock’s foreign lover who refused to go away, and the Big Boss who said ‘Whaaaaaaaaat?”

latches on to Carlos Velez and BARA.

The person who had written a dissertation – ritual roles of women (in the past, the reconstructed past – a focus on what once had been) —

became the one who talked about this: women’s present lack of power despite their greater contributions to many economies. (interview with Bourque)

1984 Helen speaks before the US senate committee on foreign relations

(1980s: Helen and Claire exercise together)

Helen seeks tenure – has a great Fall

1992: return to Onitsha: plan to research Nne-Ci funeral, etc this was intended to be the basis for her forthcoming book: notes indicate her work —

personal disaster for her; social triumph for me…

Sometime before 1995: “On the one hand I wonder if writing the book is worth doing   and if it will be criticized when its done but on the other I know that I am frightened and feel inadequate   and that I don’t want to to be licked by this. And I need the book for tenure.”

But she changes direction: quick publication route….

Check with Daniela; Judy?

1995: Gender & Ag Develop: Surveying the Field. Edited by Helen Kreider Henderson with Ellen Hansen. University of Arizona Press.   Helen gets tenure.

regarding this distant past-immersion; Daniela Soleri said, “Jeez, this was long ago…” and by golly, it tends to seem so part of the time (at others, like yesterday, maybe this morning)…. Catherine Besteman just said, “I also remember how, at BARA, she sometimes used to put scotch tape over her mouth to keep herself from talking when someone else was trying to tell a story. She knew it was hard for her not to interject comments, and with that self-awareness she would grab the tape to silence herself long enough for her interlocutor to finish his or her commentary.” Did you witness that? I don’t remember hearing about it, but sure wish I could have been there to see her doing it “live” — which reminds me that I’ve been realizing that she was treating her BABA friends to the kind of stand-up comedy that we now see on the national-international scene being done by people like Samantha Bee and Amy Schumer…. Significant feature, I think…. Many of us take it seriously now.


To Beverly:  So I keep realizing that your work with Helen might well also have gone in another direction, and with even more explosive results: imagine your movie displaying Helen acting out her situations in the BARA scene — anyway she was doing the try-outs for that one all the time she was there. (What was the name of that TIna Fey series?) And for the witnesses these “goofy” behaviors — that’s how Ellen Hansen repeatedly describes them, that metaphor clearly arises when she remembers Helen — were stand-up within particular participating audiences (mainly among BARA females I suppose), but they bore into the behavioral memories of those who witnessed them: clear models for one’s own world-view and action. So I re-think, in a sense, my comment in my last broadcast to the crew that we shouldn’t devote “too much time” to P-I-M-P; I can see now how a discussion including these kinds of lines will be quite useful.

1996: with Hobens, she collapses; (dehydration); 1997 obvious self-repetition in Iceand;

2000: trip to Jacksonville/Atlanta – to see Nneka


A Death in a Cracked-open Society/Culture

Early last November, when we knew Helen was fast-fading, we closest family-and-friends looked forward to telling her that Hillary Clinton had truly broken that great glass ceiling of American politics – we were certain her eyes would still light up in response to that news. Not being able to tell her ANYTHING about a national election outcome was I suppose a minor blow in comparison to the major personal crises each of us experienced during that aftermath, but it still hurts a bit.

To paraphrase the words of that restless soul Joni Mitchell: we must look at gender from all sides now, recognize that enormous problems face us here on a global as well as local level, and do something to change them; otherwise we are “going down the tubes”, to put it bluntly.

Below: saved items, perhaps for reference later:

But this sensual disposition if “un-harnessed” can become an addiction, and that was an ongoing problem for me. (It persists as a disposition even now, though not as anything requiring any effort to resist –infusions of male hormone, as you once said; I occasionally feel a faint twinge.) So the rest of this co-biography I’m writing is woven through with the ongoing relevance of this aspect (burden), which was greatly reinforced by the social and cultural contexts in which we moved: not so much in our research in Onitsha, though some asensual MCP aggressiveness did emerge there (1j960-62); it hovered when I was writing my dissertation (1962-63); then my cushy job at Yale, where she became a diminished “faculty housewife” while I became an object of positive interest to females now present at Yale (acid and marijuana fed this, but also made what were crucial — for me — changes in consciousness); and this pattern continued at UA starting in 1972 until i came to my senses, both regarding the sexuality and the drugs, and confessed my misdeeds to Helen in 1975 (she must have sensed problems previously, but she was definitely “in denial” until I spoke); I promised to reform, and in fact I did, and from that time both of us became Feminists in something very different from a sensual way. For me, it was harder to recognize that these two different perspectives are significantly in contradiction in most social contexts, but my behavior towards women decisively changed. I started quite actively supporting her work

Helen and I were a team, in the full cooperative sense of that word for about 45 years, so the evolution of our “feminisms” was in part a joint effort. Our team nearly dissolved only once, and that too was a “feminist learning experience” for each of us.

  1. see the Aftermaths Chapter in AmightyTree, where the story is outlined but not yet developed. [Return ↩]