Mary Beth Meehan

Omowunmi – Providence, RI

Omowunmi – Providence, RI

Omowunmi is a soldier, a mechanic in the U.S. Army. Her specialty is “light-weight vehicles”: trucks, trailers, Humvees. She has been stationed at Fort Campbell and Fort Bragg, and was deployed twice to the war in Iraq. It was there that an accident injured her hand and ended her military career.

She told me all this inside the sweet yellow bungalow she shares with her husband, off Mount Pleasant Avenue. She’d invited me there to tell me her story. When I first arrived, we stood in the entryway talking – “Where are my manners?” she suddenly said, and took me into her living room. While we talked she served fried fish and fruit, and cold drinks.

I had first met Omowunmi at the Chapel of Peace, a small church on Potters Avenue; I’d been attracted to it by the name. Her husband, whom she had met and married in their native Nigeria, is the chapel’s pastor. She had wanted to marry a man of God, and had dreamt of him almost ten years before she met him. There were others who wanted to marry her, but she knew that he was the one.

Before coming to the United States, Omowunmi was trying to make a living in her country, selling bottled soda and bread on the roadside, when her uncle told her she’d won “the lottery.” He was in Providence, and had entered her name for a green card. She was selected.

Soon after she arrived here, almost twenty years ago, she bought a used car, for $800. It turned out to be a lemon, and cost more than that to be fixed. So that this would never happen again, she decided to learn to be a mechanic.

Omowunmi’s father was a Nigerian soldier in World War II, and she adored him. He died when she was eight. From then on she’s wanted to honor him, by living a life of discipline and service – first as a soldier, now as a wife and a teacher of Sunday school, and then in whatever callings might follow.

Last year Omowunmi got her bachelor’s degree at the University of Rhode Island in health-care services, and now works at a veterans’ hospital. Her nickname is Peace. She’s thinking about changing her name permanently. It’s easier for Americans to pronounce, but, more important, she loves the word. “I love the meaning of that name.”