By Taryn Galbreath
Starvation, diseases, and genocidal massacres claimed the lives of millions during the Nigerian-Biafran War.
Yet one young mother, with six small children, survived through a series of miracles, to reunite in the U.S. with a husband who for more than three years did not know if his family was alive or dead.
“It was like a dream, but then it was true. When Nigeria brought the war to Biafra, they were bombing us everyday. My husband had been studying in the U.S. when the war broke out, severing all outside communication,” Mrs. Angelina Ihejirika, 89-year-old mother of veteran Chicago Sun-Times reporter Maudlyne Ihejirika, says in an interview 50 years later.
“Every morning I would first of all get the children, and put them in the bunker that I dug, then go in search of food. I didn’t know how long we were going to live.”
Mrs. Ihejirika’s harrowing tale of surviving the brutal war that claimed the lives of at least two million Biafrans — a war ranked fifth on the list of the worst crimes against humanity of the 20th century — is recounted in her daughter’s recently published first book, “Escape From Nigeria: A Memoir of Faith, Love and War.”
After more than two years into that war, an Irish missionary nun set off a chain of miracles by helping Angelina smuggle a letter through two European countries, back into Sierra Leone where she believed her husband, Christopher, was studying, only to find he’d accepted a scholarship to Northwestern University in the U.S.
The letter would journey halfway around the world, until it found Christopher in Evanston, IL, where five American couples would band together in a Herculean effort to locate the family amidst a raging war, and smuggle them to the U.S. on the very last missionary flight out of Biafra. They arrived as refugees on June 9, 1969.
Mother and daughter will share their story at 3 p.m. Nov. 13, in a Book Talk sponsored by the Park Forest Public Library, 400 Lakewood Blvd, in Park Forest. Hosted by NBC5-Chicago’s Pam Oliver, the event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served. For more information, call the library at 708-748-3731. The book is available at voiceofawoman.info