Meeting a Very Old Lady

Catherine Lahka December 2012

During my visit to Cameron in December 2012, we visited the bishop of Kumbo who happens to be a relative of my wife. During our stay, we where introduced to Catherine Lahka, the mother of Cardinal Tumi. At the time of our visit, she was 115 years old. I took this photograph of her on that day. I recently learned that she has died on June 8th, at the age of 118. At the time of her death, she might have been the oldest living person on earth.

I remember the astonishingly firm grip of her hand when she greeted me. She was sitting in a wheelchair in the yard of her compound, where some children and two other old ladies, wearing tattoos from a lost time, were keeping her company. Speaking to us in her native Lamnso’ language, translated by the priest who had come with us, she told us about the time when she was young, living for some time in the Jos area (now in Nigeria) but later returning. Her foot nails where painted with nail polish and she told us that the little girls in the compound had done that while she was sleeping, to everybody’s amusement. It was strange to see my 15 years old daughter sitting next to this woman who was a full 100 years older.

The next day, Cardinal Tumi, her son, an interesting old man with a good sense of humor, came to visit the Bishop, so we had the opportunity to get to know him. He is known for criticizing the government openly. During breakfast, he told us he was not afraid of them. If they wanted to kill him, they could do so, then he would not have a problem but they would have a problem. Since he had passed the age of 70, he said, he was living on bonus anyway.

He told us that he hoped his mother would die before him; he wanted to spare her the pain of having to bury him. He was 82 years old, still quite strong.

I heard that the old ladie’s funeral will take place this week. May she rest in peace.

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