Monday, November 24, 2008

My Ideal World

Ideal World

A world without suffering.
A world without pain.
A world without guilt.
A world without war.
A world without hunger.
This would be my ideal world.

A world without greed.
A world without selfishness.
A world without fear.
A world without hate.
A world without strife.
This would be my ideal world.

A world without crime.
A world without tears.
A world without sorrow.
A world without disappointment.
A world without sickness.
A world without prejudice.
This would be my ideal world.

A world without jealousy.
A world without divorce.
A world without lust.
A world without poverty.
A world without unforgiveness.
This would be my ideal world.

A world without famine.
A world without drought.
A world without conflict.
A world without division.
A world without disasters.
This would be my ideal world.

A world with peace.
A world with love.
A world with joy.
A world with laughter.
A world with honesty.
A world with acceptance.
A world with forgiveness.
This would be my ideal world.

(Oh and one more thing. A world without taxes would be my ideal world!)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Wilderness Experience

I've been MIA from blogville a bit in the last few weeks. Usual reasons would be because I've been busy. But it would be untrue for me to claim that. In fact I've just had my least productive month ever. It's a long story and I don't even know if everything really makes sense to me at the moment.

Has anyone ever had a "wilderness experience"? Have you ever felt so disappointed and disillusioned with yourself and with God? Have you ever gotten tired of the Christian race? Do you feel sometimes like you are losing your faith and God seems far away? I have been feeling like that for some time. Towards the end of September, I hit a brick wall in some areas of my life. At first I was angry with God for a really annoying weekend that hubby and I had. Then everything went downhill from there. The anger slowly disappeared but was replaced by a feeling of gloom that nothing could shake. It felt like there was a huge dark cloud hanging over my head. Probably because by that time I was so far away from God that I couldn't even function properly.

So of course what happened next? I developed a severe case of writer's block and my brain went into meltdown. I lost the motivation to do most things I usually enjoy, even reading a good book. I felt like I couldn't do anything useful with myself. I couldn't pray and I couldn't write. When I wrote that "Totally Random" post, I was trying to force myself to do something I normally enjoy but it wasn't the same. So I just scrambled the words together and gave up. I began to operate on auto-pilot because it was like something had sucked out all my joy and enthusiasm for life. The funny thing was that all this was an internal battle and I seemed perfectly fine on the outside. Even when I was in church I would sing, clap, smile and do everything else, but inside I felt like a fraud.

About ten days ago, I actually started to get tired and fed up with feeling this way. In church last Sunday, the speaker said that sometimes he too got tired of the Christian race and felt like he had no strength to go on. I totally understood what he meant and I hoped that I would finally regain some hope, faith and strength. During the week I told a good friend of mine how I had been feeling. She really encouraged me with her words:

Our Lord is so loving that He won't let you go. He is faithful and even though it looks like nothing seems to be working out, there is no question He loves us. Keep reminding yourself that. Lord knows we may go through times like this and ...... He never forgets that we are human, we grow tired, weary and frustrated with issues.
Gradually I was able to draw some hope and strength from her and finally I was able to get on my knees again and talk to my heavenly Father. I actually read my bible and devotional again after ignoring them for more than a month. One of the readings even said that when God brings you out of a wilderness experience, it's because He is preparing you for the next level. I really hope so! I'm glad to report that I'm feeling much better now. Actually the fact that I'm able to type this is a good sign. Last week I couldn't have strung words together that made sense.

I'm still not sure what God is trying to teach me through this experience though. Sometimes we may get the full picture and sometimes we may never know why God takes us through some situations. I guess it's a test of faith or endurance and I failed woefully. Hmmm.

One thing I now appreciate more, is the joy and blessing of having a good Christian friend around. And I have to thank you too, Believer.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

On Life: Waiting

Waiting is so hard.I've been waiting for something for so long. I have prayed and fasted, yet it seems God doesn't hear me. I have waited patiently, and sometimes impatiently. Sometimes I am encouraged, and sometimes I am discouraged. Sometimes it feels like the answer is near. Sometimes it feel like the answer is far away. Sometimes I feel that God wants me to have this thing, sometimes I'm not so sure. Sometimes it's easy to smile and keep hope alive. But sometimes it's hard to stay hopeful. Sometimes I can cheer myself up, and sometimes I feel like crying.

I had been feeling discouraged. But then I remembered: God had been good to me thus far. He has been faithful to me. He has never failed me when I needed Him most. And I have no other person to turn to. I shouldn't let my problem take me away from God. I should draw nearer to God in times of trouble. Only Him can meet my deepest needs. Only Him can hear my most earnest prayer. Only Him can give me complete peace of mind.

Yes it is very hard waiting. But God can use me in that time. And develop the gift of patience in me while I wait.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Book Reading Event

Last week I attended a book reading in London and it was a book written by Halima Bashir and Damien Lewis titled Tears of the Desert. The organisers had claimed that it was one of the very rare memoirs of a woman born and raised in the conflict-torn area of Darfur in Sudan, so my curiosity was piqued. The reading was quite an eye-opener. Prior to this, I'm ashamed to say, I knew very little about the conflict in Darfur. I just read little bits of information in the newspaper and on the TV without really registering what's going on. The book goes into detail about this young woman's life, how she grew up in a small, peaceful and happy village until the conflict started and tore her community apart. After the reading there was an interview with the writers, and there were questions asked for her to explain things on a clearer level. There was also a discussion on how people in the West can help to alleviate the suffering of countless thousands of people, refugees in their own country. At the end of the event, I bought the book and I have just started reading it and it's so powerful, yet full of hope. I would urge anyone who cares about the state of the world we live in to buy the book and educate themselves. And safe to say that I prefer knowledge to ignorance of what's happening in Darfur.

Well I hope the good weather lasts, it makes such a difference. I have some fun plans for the weekend - a high school reunion and a friend's birthday party so I'm looking forward to them. In the meantime, hope you enjoy the rest of your week.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Short Story - My Dilemma

I was bored and listless at work. It was Monday morning, and I was back in the office after a lovely weekend. The office felt quite empty because three of my colleagues had taken the day off. I didn't blame them one bit. It was a lovely day, the sun was shining brightly outside and the last thing anybody wanted was to be stuck in front of a computer screen on the sixth floor in the City. I tried to concentrate on the row of figures on my spreadsheet, but it was proving too difficult. I shook my head and wished I had requested the day off too. I looked at the time in the corner of my screen and saw it was only 10.22 am meaning the day was still far from over. I sighed, looked out of my window and recalled all the fun happenings of the past weekend and that had just passed.

My good friend Titi had organised a lovely weekend for five of her closest friends to celebrate her birthday. All of us had been excited when she told us the plan, especially me. I had been having a stressful time at work in the last month. A fun weekend was exactly what I needed to chill out and shake off the stress. As soon as it was five o'clock last Friday, I had dashed out of the office, gone home to change, picked up my overnight bag and head to Titi's place. She lived in a lovely 2-bed house in a nice part of North London, with a huge kitchen and garden and she often invited us to hang out there. She’s a lucky girl, while the rest of us were still living in matchboxes and paying inflated rents to landlords, her dad had helped her with a huge deposit and she was able to buy her own place four years ago.

By the time I arrived, my friends were already waiting for me: Dolapo, Funmi, Maureen and Temmy. We were all friends from our undergraduate university days and thanks to Funmi and Titi, we remained a close-knit group. They kept us in touch with each other. After the usual round of hugs, gist swaps and a light meal, we went out to have a good time. First we saw a movie - a hot new chick-flick. Afterwards, we went clubbing and had a groovy time. I had forgotten how much fun it was to just let my hair down and dance the night away with my girls. When it was around 2am, we decided to call it a night, so we all piled into a taxi, fuelled by alcohol and excitement, talking nineteen to the dozen and laughing at the silliest thing throughout the journey back to Titi's place.

On Saturday morning, we woke up early - well if you call 10.30 am early- because Titi was having a party later that evening and she wanted to cook and get her house ready. One by one we stumbled out of bed, cleaned our teeth, washed our faces and trooped into Titi's kitchen to find something to eat for breakfast. Maureen decided she wanted oats and we all agreed with that, so she got to work preparing some. Titi brought out her list and started sharing out the tasks for the day. I offered to help with cooking the jollof rice, Funmi was doing chicken and beef the way we all loved it at her party last summer, Temmy was making salad, plantain and gizzard stew, Maureen was making puff-puff and pancakes, Titi was going to pick up her birthday cake and a few more supplies from the supermarket while Dolapo said she might make moin-moin if there was time, but she would rearrange Titi’s living room and sort out the music. Then I noticed that Titi had forgotten to plan for something.

"Titi, you forgot to mention drinks" I said, looking in her fridge for the milk. "Who is going to get them?"
She turned round and said, "Oh drinks have been taken care of"
"Where are they?" Maureen asked. "Let's put them in the fridge now so that we won't forget"
"Oh, they are not here, somebody is bringing them in the afternoon".
At that point we all looked up and turned to face her.
"Who?" five of us asked at the same time.
"Somebody, a friend of mine is bringing the drinks..." Titi said coyly.
"Who IS that?" I piped up. "Does he or she have a name?"
Titi started blushing and then she finally told us that it was a guy she had just started seeing and he was the most wonderful guy a girl could ever hope to meet. Of course we all wanted the low down on the gist of this guy.
"Hmmm, na wa o Titi" Funmi said. "When did you become under-g like this?"
"I'm not! I only just started seeing him two months ago"
"Eh, is that why you shenked me the last time I asked you to come to the new bar with me, you said you were going somewhere else?" Maureen asked.
Titi said nothing.
"See, she is guilty" Temmy said.
"You guys let's leave her for now" I said "We'll meet the guy today and deal with Titi later"
“So you won’t even give us any bit of information?” Dolapo asked.
“Alright, alright” Titi finally said. “I met him at a conference, I noticed him right away because he was the only black guy there. Throughout the conference our eyes kept meeting and afterwards, he came to say hello to me and we got talking. That’s it really”
“What’s his name?”
“His name is Dayo”
“Hmmm, and what does he do?” Maureen asked.
“He’s a lawyer too, it was a legal conference”
“Cool” Dolapo said. “So why the secrecy now?”
“Well since you guys will see him today, I might as well tell you now” Titi paused for effect. “He’s much older than me”
“How much older?” Temmy asked.
“He’s 35” Titi replied. “So he’s like eight years older than me”
“Wow!” Maureen exclaimed, almost dropping the spoon she was holding.
“I know”, Titi said, looking a bit downcast. “That’s the only problem”
“Actually I don’t see why that is a problem” Funmi said thoughtfully. “Eight years is not that bad.”
“I don’t see a problem either” I added. “When you said much older I was already assuming like fifteen years older”
Everyone laughed and Titi said “Ah! Fifteen years ke, chill abeg Lola. He doesn’t even look that old”
Maureen said, “Okay maybe it’s not so bad. At the very least he should be more mature than guys our age”
“Tell me about it” Dolapo said. “I could do with a mature guy right now”
“Yeah call him and tell him to bring his single friends along this evening” Temmy said.
“Eh Temmy!” Titi said and we all burst into laughter again. Temmy was the only one among us in a long-term relationship.

Later that afternoon, we were almost through with our cooking, Titi’s living room was set-up and she was in the bathroom blow-drying her hair having just had a shower, when the guy arrived. Temmy opened the door for him and he stepped in. We all introduced ourselves.
“Hello, nice to meet you” he said. “Titi has told me about all of you”
“Would you like something to eat or drink?” I offered.
“No thank you, I’m in a hurry” he said politely. “I just came to drop the drinks and give Titi her birthday present. I have to go somewhere but I’ll be back for the party”
He dropped a parcel on the table and turned to leave. “I’ll see you all later. Bye”
“Byeeeee” we chorused and Dolapo locked the door after him.
“Hmmm, he seemed nice” she said, as she came back into the living room.
“Yeah Titi was right, he doesn’t look that old” Funmi said.
I ran upstairs to the bathroom and could hear Titi talking on the phone. She hung up just as I popped my head around the door.
“That was Dayo” she said, looking up. “He said he’s dropped my birthday present and he’ll be back around eight”
“Great. I’m dying to know what he got you so come and open your present”
“I’ll be down shortly, or wait, come and help me with my hair to make it faster”
When we got downstairs, Titi asked, “So what did you guys think of him?”
“He is good looking” Maureen said. “And he dressed nicely”
“He seems nice and laid-back” Funmi said.
“I think he looked cool and confident, like a successful person who doesn’t need to show off”
“Yeah he’s not trying too hard” I said. “He’s comfortable with himself”
“Na wah o, all that analysis in one brief meeting!” Titi exclaimed. “But seriously, I’m glad you guys said that because that’s exactly what I see in him too”
“Then don’t let the age thing bother you” Funmi said.
“Yeah if he likes you and you like him too, just relax see what happens. You might really enjoy his company in spite of the difference in age.” Dolapo said.
“Yeah go for it babe” I said.
Titi smiled and looked relieved. “Thanks girls. I was worried you guys would think it was weird or something.”
“Not at all” Maureen said. “Now let’s go and get ready, your guests would start arriving soon”.

My office telephone rang shrilly, jolting me out of my thoughts. I looked around guiltily, hoping nobody had noticed that my mind had been far away. I picked up the call and it was my boss reminding me that we had a meeting later in the afternoon after lunch. I glanced at the time; it was now ten minutes to eleven. I hung up and decided to get my work up to scratch before lunch time. Time went quickly and before I knew it, it was one o’clock. I decided to take a break so I popped out quickly to get something to eat. I got back to my desk and remembered I wanted to check if Titi had uploaded the photos we took over the weekend. The party had been so much fun; I had danced most of the evening with a guy who had the potential to progress to boyfriend level. But first things first….

I logged on to Facebook and scrolled down the news feed. I noticed a friend had been tagged in an album so out of curiosity I clicked on the photo to check it out. She was a bridesmaid at a wedding and since I loved viewing wedding albums I clicked on. I was thinking:

".... hmmm, I like the bride’s make-up….." "Wow, her jewellery is lovely….." "Although I'm not too sure about her dress ......." when I landed on a photo that nearly made me choke on my chicken sandwich. I stared at my computer screen in shock. Was it…? Yes, the groom in the album was Dayo, the same guy that Titi was dating! My friend is getting involved with a married man! My heart sank.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Orange Prize: Winners

Rose Tremain was announced as the winner of the 2008 Orange Prize for her novel "The Road Home". It's a story of Lev, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, who travels to Britain to seek work. He is grieving the passing of his wife, while he leaves his land and everything to come to a new strange land. He wants to get a good job so that he can send money back home to support his mother and daughter.

Joanna Kavenna was awarded the Orange Broadband Award for New Writers for her book "Inglorious" which is about a character, Rosa who goes through a break down after the death of her mother. She quits her good job, her boyfriend breaks up with her and gets engaged to her friend, her debts begin to pile up and her bank is not helping matters.

I was at the readings for both awards and I actually bought the book "Inglorious" afterwards. I've started reading it and I'm intrigued to see what happens to the character as the story unfolds. I'll probably buy "The Road Home" as well because it sounds interesting. Mainly because I want to see how the writer portrayed English people through the eyes of an immigrant.

Hope you all had a great weekend and are looking forward to a wonderful week!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

On Life: Our Shared Values as Nigerians

Recently in the UK, the media have been talking about the idea of teaching young people about "shared British values" such as tolerance and respect. These are the principles we have ingrained in our culture and in our attitudes. They are the values that our grandparents passed down to our parents, who passed them down to us. I thought to myself , if the British have core values that make them who they are, what are my values as a Nigerian then?

As a Nigerian living outside the country, I am very much aware that we have acquired a bad reputation in the international community. This is due to widespread corruption, fraud and 419 activities committed by many desperate Nigerians. Some of our leaders are not much better, as a few have been caught with wealth from dubious sources. But for every Nigerian criminal that commits a crime, there are thousands more out there who are decent, honest and hardworking people. There are Nigerians living, studying and working in almost every country I can think of causing no trouble. So how would our host nations describe us? What adjectives would I use to describe my fellow country folks?

For one thing, I could describe us as having pride. Most Nigerians I know are very proud of their identity. Sometimes to the extent that we are wary of non-Nigerians claiming to be from Nigeria. Most Nigerians are proud of where they come from. Whichever country we are based in abroad, we usually identify with other Nigerians we meet and we build social networks because of our common background. (Even on blogspot, we have built a strong virtual Naija community!). We are also very proud of our achievements and possessions. Whatever we have, we are proud to show it off. Wealthy and really humble Nigerians are quite rare actually. Sometimes this is good, but sometimes we use it to 'impress' or 'oppress' other people. And then we create a competitive situation. Everybody tries to 'keep up with the neighbours' because they want what the other person has.

Another value I think we have is respect. Growing up in Nigeria, one of the things hammered into my head over and over again was respect. As a child, you are taught to respect all your elders, you must greet everybody you see politely, you must not talk back to your elders, you shouldn't interrupt when an elder is speaking, etc. I used to think it was all a big bother. But now that I'm older, I see it reflects back on me if people perceive me as polite and good mannered or rude and ill-mannered. And I'm glad that I don't have to worry about it because being polite and respectful is already part of who I am.

Nigerians are also (usually) very hardworking. Most of us were brought up with the idea that failure is a disgrace, so were pushed and pushed till we succeed. Parents go all out to ensure that their children achieve their goals. And even if we fail, we don't accept it as the end. No, we must find a way to pick ourselves up and keep trying. (I used to think this was normal until I met people who gave up trying after the first hurdle, and parents who couldn't be bothered about their children's success). This leads me to the next value: we don't take no for an answer. How many Nigerians do you know that have been to the UK or US embassy 20 times? Each time they are turned away, and soon they are back there to try again. We don't give up even when the going gets tough!

I can mention a few more things common to many Nigerians that I know: we are adaptable, we take risks, we love enjoying ourselves, we are quite religious, we are optimistic, etc etc. However, there are some funny things that only Nigerians do. For example, only a Nigerian would have 6 mobile phones, why, because he just can't have one. Only a Nigerian would attempt to take a 45kg suitcase onto a plane when the luggage allowance is 32kg. Still, we are a unique group of people, as diverse as can be, but having many shared values. Yes I'm a Nigerian and I'm proud of it! If you are a Nigerian, please add your ideas of our shared values.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Orange Broadband Prize 2008

The Orange Prize celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in international women’s writing. As we all know, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the prize last year and brought a lot of recognition to Nigeria and Nigerian writers. The events for 2008 are upon us and this evening, I attended the readings of the books shortlisted. This year's entries are quite different from last year's but no less interesting. I enjoyed listening to the writers reading out their work and I'm finding it hard to judge which one will go on to become the eventual winner. The shortlisted writers are as follows:

Nancy Huston - Fault Lines more

Sadie Jones - The Outcast more

Charlotte Mendelson - When We Were Bad more

Heather O’Neill - Lullabies for Little Criminals more

Rose Tremain - The Road Home more

Patricia Wood - Lottery more

For more information, visit the Orange Prize website

I plan to attend the further discussions with the authors tomorrow evening, then I'll decide which of the books I'm going to buy. Hopefully I'll pick the winner! Let me know what you think about the books and the authors.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

On Life: Asa's Concert (Review)

On Monday evening, I went to see Asa play at the Carling Academy in London. Her gig was amazing! I knew I would enjoy her show because I love all the songs on her album, but she definitely exceeded my expectations.

I went with two of my friends, one of them had only heard three of her songs and he was so captured by her that he wanted to see her play live. And we were not disappointed. We got to the venue early and since I had bought our tickets ages ago, so we didn't have to join the long queue. We got in at 7.30pm and got a space right at the front of the venue (it was standing only) and we waited for the show to begin. The hall filled up quickly, most of the people in the audience were Nigerians, but there were also some French people and other nationalities there.

The show began with the opening act, Ben Onono. He sang four songs, one of them called Badagry Beach, another called Blue Moon, and he also played the piano brilliantly. After he finished, the audience clapped and cheered, and we waited expectantly for the main performer to come on.

Ben Onono

Some people in the audience started chanting "Asa, Asa, Asa". One by one, her band members came on the stage, took a bow and began playing their instruments. The crowd started cheering and then her back-up singer came on, smiling at us like she knew we were waiting for Asa herself to come on. Then we heard the beginnings of her song "360" and the crowd went wild. Asa came on stage singing the song and the audience joined in, singing all the words and screaming.

She was brilliant - in one word. She was dressed simply with minimum fuss and make up, but she had amazing stage presence and we were all mesmerized. She interacted with the audience, performed like the star she is, and brought all her songs to life. During a performance by the band, she danced and the girl can move! For most of the show, the audience sang along and she seemed pleased by the response she got. At some point, her back-up singer was staring at the crowd in surprise and amusement because we had taken over her job!

After the first song, she sang "Subway" and then before she started singing "Bibanke" she told us the gist about the song. It was deep. Next came a new song that is not on her album, something like "Iro Ko Da". She then asked a member of the audience to come and join her to sing on stage. So many people screamed and jostled for her attention, it was funny. She called two girls up to the stage and they sang beautifully. "Fire on the Mountain" followed and of course we sang along, cheered, clapped and whooped when the song came to an end.

She chatted a bit and then started telling us the story behind the "Awe" song, teasing us with the enticing bits about the young man, his aunt and his lover. I enjoyed that and I thought it was really good, because I love the song and I know what the words mean, but I hadn't really gotten the gist of it before. When she sang it all the words came to life and you could almost imagine the people that were in the situation she described.

The next song she performed was "Peace" which we all enjoyed. When she started "Jailer" and invited the audience to sing along with her, we all went crazy, jumping up and down, waving our arms, screaming the song at the top of our lungs, and it was great! We definitely rocked that venue!

Then she sang "Beautiful", but before then, she told us that the song was dedicated to all beautiful ladies in the crowd, and she tried to engage us to "sing" along with her, teasing us by saying we should sing very softly so that the guys in the audience would "feel" it. We cleared our throats and tried our best to copy her but most of us just descended into giggles. Then she sang the song and gave it so much depth and meaning, doing a nice dance in the middle, to the beat of the drums.

She said the next song "No One Knows Tomorrow" was going to be the last song. So we savoured it and when the song came to an end, she thanked the audience, took a bow and went off stage. Some people started to leave, but most people in the audience decided to hang around and started chanting "Asa! More, More!" Then she and the band came back on stage! She said they stopped the music because she is shy and when she mentioned her name, we did not encourage her. So we screamed ourselves hoarse and then she decided to perform a few more songs for us.

She sang "Eye Adaba" wonderfully well, then she also performed two songs: one by Nina Simone and another by Bob Marley. Lastly, she did a mixed medley of three of her songs and then the show came to an end. We cheered, clapped and screamed and she said we were making her miss home, so when next she comes to London she would love to see us again, and stop by our house for some egusi soup :-) She introduced us to her excellent band: there was Janet, her back-up singer, Jeff played the drums, Nicola played the Guitar, Rodi played Bass and Didier played the key boards. They all took a bow, while we all clapped and cheered for them.

In all, it was a great show and a really good performance by Asa. I think I'm now her biggest fan! Her band was great too, so the quality of the music was excellent. I wish she could do another show in London before the end of the year, I'll definitely be there. The only downside was that it started late and it was a Monday so most people had to leave immediately the show ended to get home.
Here are some of my amateur photos of the gig:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Short Story - Family Turns

I woke up to the sound of my mother calling my name. She was shouting my name with a sense of urgency. I wiped the sleep from my eyes, trying to imagine what could have riled her so early in the morning. In my short fourteen years, I have learnt to identify the tone of my mother’s voice. I could tell that she was getting more impatient as she called my name a second and third time. I also sensed she was displeased about something. I would have to get up otherwise she would come into my room and drag me up herself. Then she would pull my ears and our confrontation would be much worse. I scrambled out of bed, put my feet into my slippers and tied a wrapper around myself to cover my nightgown. Three months ago, my mother had warned me not to step out of my room without covering up. I slipped out of the room and closed the door quietly without waking my younger sister.

I walked through the corridor separating my room from the kitchen towards the sound of mother’s voice. Immediately I walked past our living room, I knew why she sounded agitated. We had some early morning visitors. Three of our relatives had come from the village. They must have left the village the day before and arrived in Lagos with the overnight bus. I wondered what they had come for this time. Visitors from the village never brought good news. The last time we had unwelcome guests from the village, they came to tell us our grandfather was dying, and father had to foot a huge hospital bill. They stayed for three days eating everything in sight. And when they were leaving, father had to give them back their transport fare. I didn’t understand why our custom dictated that we should entertain unwelcome visitors and give them money for their transportation. After all, we hadn’t invited them.

Mother was stirring something on the cooker when I stepped into the kitchen. She looked to me like she had lost more weight in the past week. Her once plump cheeks were gone and in their place were just her high cheekbones. She had stopped smiling or laughing a long time ago. Her long hair was tied back and hidden under a black scarf. She had been wearing that scarf for more than three months now. I imagined the scarf was tired of being tied around her head. She turned to me as I greeted her.
“Good morning ma.”
“Ah Tope, you are awake. Your father’s relatives are here. Go and greet them and come back to help me with breakfast.”

This was what I got for being the first child and daughter in the family, I mused as I walked back into the living room. My sister was still asleep even though she went to bed earlier than I did. I had more responsibilities in the house than she did. She was three years younger me and everyone’s pet.

I entered the living room to greet the visitors. There was my uncle who was my father’s elder brother. He sat in the big armchair. My father’s aunt and another elderly woman I didn’t recognise were seated on the long sofa. There were three well-worn travel bags near the entrance to the living room as well as a bag full of foodstuff, suggesting to me that they planned to spend more than one afternoon. I tried to imagine how many days they would stay with the amount of luggage they had brought with them. I greeted them quickly but as I turned to leave, my uncle called out to me.
“Don’t you know how to greet your elders? You children of nowadays, because you are born in the city, you have forgotten our traditions and customs. Come back here and greet us properly!”

I hesitated for a second before turning back and going on my knees. I crawled round the room, greeting each of them in turn. My father’s aunt looked as if she was about to make a comment, but she changed her mind. After I had greeted the last person, I got up and waited for them to speak.
My father’s aunt spoke first. “Tope, come closer. You are too thin.”
I shook my head. “I’m okay ma.”
The elderly woman I didn’t recognise cleared her throat. “Tope, don’t you know me?”
I looked at her face intensely for a second before I spoke.
“No ma.”
She looked shocked. “Tope? You don’t know who I am?”
My uncle spoke up. “You don’t know your father’s relatives anymore, you this girl. Go and call your mother for me.”
Then he spoke to the others in our native language as I left the room.

I walked back to the kitchen to call mother, wondering why relatives always seemed to make a big deal out of everything. All she had to do was tell me who she was. In the last three months, my sister and I had met many people claiming to be related to our father in one way or the other. We couldn’t keep up with all the names and faces after a while so we just smiled and greeted them politely.

Mother was cutting up a tuber of yam when I went back to the kitchen. “Mummy, uncle wants to speak with you.”
She frowned. “Is everything alright?”
I recounted what had happened in the living room to her. She shook her head sadly.“Please chop the onion and the tomatoes for me. Let me hear what they have to say now.”
She dropped the knife and the yam she was cutting. It looked to me like she had tears forming in her eyes again. I watched her as she wiped her hands on her wrapper and went to the living room. I picked up the knife, rinsed it in the sink and started cutting the onions and tomatoes. I did the tomatoes first because they were easier on my eyes. Then I cut the onions. They made my eyes water and I sniffed. I didn’t want to cry again. I knew I had to be strong for my mother and my sister’s sake. As I worked, my mind went back to the events that had been happening in our family since eight months ago.

I remembered mother coming home from work one evening, looking very happy and excited. She told me and my sister that she had important news to share during dinner when father got home. I hadn’t taken much notice at first, until my sister tried to guess what it was. We argued about what it could be and we narrowed it to two things: she had gotten the promotion she deserved at work or her brother had finally gotten his visa to the United States. When father came home, we told him about mother’s surprise news and our guesses. We were all taken by surprise when she announced at dinner that she was expecting a baby! We had stared at her with complete surprise, looking at mother’s face to see if she was joking or pulling our legs. But she wasn’t, she showed us a note from the hospital confirming her pregnancy and her next appointment. Father’s face displayed several emotions at the same time: there was shock, then joy, then pride. He got up and hugged mother tightly, something I had only seen him do once before. After we all calmed down, mother had told us that she knew that this baby would be a boy, that he would be a wonderful brother to us girls, and he would have dad’s nose and her eyes. We all laughed at this at the dinner table and as we lay in our beds that night, my sister and I had talked and imagined having a little brother. She grumbled a little about giving up her position as the baby of the family. But I knew that deep down, she was excited about the news and she was looking forward to having a younger person to fuss over.

My mind was brought back to the present when mother came back into the kitchen. She looked sad, with downcast eyes; lips pressed tight together and a stressed expression on her drawn face.
“Your father’s relatives say I’m a bad mother,” she said half to me and half to herself. “They think I’m not raising my children properly. When will I ever do anything right?” she leaned heavily against a wall.
I rinsed my hands and went to hug her. We seemed to be having this strange role-reversal scenarios a lot lately.
“Mother, please don’t get upset.”
“They said I don’t feed you well because you are thin. They said you are spoilt because you don’t know how to greet your elders,” she was crying softly now and her shoulders were shaking. “They said I am turning you against their family.”
“Mother, please stop crying. We know you are not turning us against them and we know you are not a bad mother.”
She stopped crying after a few minutes and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. I could feel a headache coming. I was tired of crying and I knew mother was tired of crying too. I went back to the stew I was making, stirring it slowly as I added the tomatoes and onions into the mixture.

I remembered mother coming back from her second appointment at the clinic to tell us that the doctor said he thought she was carrying twins. It was still a bit early to tell, but he booked her for a scan in three weeks time. She was excited as we all were. I had touched mother’s stomach in wonder, thinking of how big it was going to grow if it was true that she had two babies in there. Three weeks couldn’t come quickly enough. Father was especially excited. The day before mother had the scan, he decided he was going to take her to the hospital himself. Indeed, the scan had confirmed that mother was carrying twins and they were two boys! Father had been so proud of her. He had gone out and bought her two dresses the very next day. He commanded me and my sister to help out more with the chores in the house. He began to pay more attention to mother, asking her if she was hot, cold, tired, hungry or thirsty almost every ten minutes, much to the amusement of my sister. She had remarked that they looked like newly-weds the way dad was looking after her.

Mother’s voice brought me out of my reverie. “Please pay attention to what you are doing Tope. Don’t let the stew get burnt”.
“Yes ma.”
We finished making the meal of boiled yams and fish stew and served it. While mother set the table for the guests, I went to wake my sister up. I peered into the living room as I walked past. My father’s aunt and the other woman were whispering together and pointing at something in the corner of our living room.

My sister was still sleeping soundly when I entered the bedroom.
“Bola wake up.” I said as I shook her.
She turned to me sleepily.“It’s early Tope, why are you disturbing me?”
“Daddy’s relatives are here again.”
She sat up when she heard that. “What do they want? Do they have any news?”
“I don’t know. Mum says you should get ready and come out for breakfast with them.”
“I won’t go out to see them.”
“Look, you must go out.”
She folded her arms and refused to move. I pulled her nightdress.“Do you not hear me? They have already made mother cry this morning.”
“They said she is not raising us well.”
“Stop asking me foolish questions. Just go to the living room, and make sure you kneel down to greet them properly.”
She looked at me and without speaking, it dawned on her that I had been given a hard time about kneeling down that morning already. She hurriedly put on her dressing gown, and we went to the bathroom to brush our teeth.

When we got into the living room, our visitors were seated at the dining table. I noticed that my uncle had taken father’s usual seat at the head of the table. The unknown woman sat next to him on his right, while my father’s aunt sat on his left. Mother served the meal and sat down next to father’s aunt. I sat between my mother and my sister. From where I sat, I could look outside the front window. I watched three of our neighbours leave their houses dressed up to begin their day. The parents were going to drop the children off at school, before going to work. I tried not to think of school. My classmates would be wondering why I wasn’t back in class since the beginning of the term.

Father’s aunt took a bite of the food and made a face.
“There is no pepper in this stew.” she said.
Mother got up to get some dried pepper for her from the kitchen. The rest of the meal passed slowly in silence. The only sound at the table was the sound of the cutlery against the plates. I thought about how different this setting was from what we used to have when father was around. We used to discuss and laugh during our meals. Mother used to tell us funny stories about work and her staff members, Bola and I would talk about school, father would tell us about the politics going on at his office. Now that seemed like a lifetime away.

When breakfast was over, my uncle announced he wanted to have a talk with mother. Bola and I cleared the table and went to the kitchen to do the dishes. We spoke in low tones while trying to listen to the conversation the adults were having in the living room.
“Why have they come again?” Bola asked me.
“I wish I knew,” I replied. “They came with luggage so that means they plan to stay for a while this time.”
“Where are they going to stay? We have only one guest room.”
“I hope mum doesn’t tell us to give up our room for those women or something like that.”
“I hope not! Do you know who that other woman is?” Bola said, piling the dishes into the sink “She looked like she’s older than uncle.”
“She asked me if I knew who she was, but she didn’t tell.”
“I don’t like her. She kept eyeing me during breakfast. I’m worried about this visit.”
“Well I’m not delighted either. I’m worried about mother.”
“Me too. Father used to protect her from his family members.”
“But father’s not here…” I trailed off, scrubbing one plate with too much vigour.
“When do you think we can go back to school?”
“Mother says she needs to sort some finances out before we can resume. Help me get the glasses from the table.”
Bola went to the living room to collect the glasses and came back to the kitchen in a flutter.
“I heard them talking about father!” Bola whispered. “Shhh… let’s listen.”

We moved close to the kitchen door and leaned on the wall separating us from the living room. We heard mother speaking:
“That’s easy for you to say. My children and I still believe he is alive.”
Another voice said: “We have to assume that he’s dead.”
“No! I can’t believe that.” That was mother’s voice again.
“Well the elders in the family have decided to begin the funeral arrangements.”
“How can you start arrangements for a burial when we have no body to bury? And….”
“Look, our wife, he’s been missing for more than three months” a voice that sounded like the unknown woman spoke up.
“I can’t give up on him just like that.”
“You have to move on. We all believe he’s dead now” That was the voice of my father’s aunt. “Since he disappeared, nobody knows his whereabouts and we have not heard from him. If he was still alive we would have heard from him by now.”
“The children and I believe he is still alive.” mother repeated.
My elderly uncle spoke up. “For how long will you continue to live like this? He’s dead, let his family bury him and …..”
Suddenly mother raised her voice and shouted:“I know what you are trying to do! You want to bury him so you can take our house and everything he has!”

My sister and I ran into the living room when we heard this. Mother turned to us and pulled us close to her.
Father’s aunt stood up, clutching her wrapper, and shouted back. “How dare you accuse us of trying to take our son’s possessions?”
“Why else would you declare him dead? What would you have to gain from his death?”
“We only want what belongs to our family.”
“But we are his family! I am his wife and these are his children!”
My uncle stood up and pointed at us. “You call yourselves his family? My brother has no heir.”
“What do you mean he has no heir?” mother was getting agitated now. “If he is dead, everything he has worked for will go to his children! I won’t let you take away my children’s inheritance!”
“Listen woman,” my uncle said. “You have no claim to my brother’s wealth. You did not produce a male child for our family.”

Mother froze in shock. My mouth was agape. I could not believe what I was hearing. My sister and I looked at each other and then at mother.
Then I heard Bola’s voice.“How can you say that? Are we not considered daddy’s children because we are girls?”
I wanted to speak but I couldn’t. Mother regained her voice and her composure after a few seconds. Then she spoke calmly and quietly.
“Please pack your bags and leave our home. You are not welcome here any more.”
“Are you chasing us away? From our son’s house?” my father’s aunt asked.
“Yes I am.” mother replied. “This is still my home and I can throw you out if I want to.”
“How dare you? You can’t send us out! This house is our son’s house!”

My father’s aunt and the other woman started shouting. They called mother some ugly names and threatened to deal with her. My uncle shook his head and started packing the bags. He spoke quickly in our language to the two elderly women and they hissed. Eventually he calmed them down enough and they turned to leave.

Father’s aunt said “We are going to have a burial soon whether you like it or not. We have already started making arrangements. And you won’t get away with the way you have treated us today.’’
“We’ll be back very soon,” the unknown woman said with another hiss and a snap of her fingers. “You will all leave this house by the time we finish with you.”
Mother held on to me and my sister. “I won’t let you ruin our lives even more. Please leave and never come back here.”
Uncle said, “You’ll soon hear from us again.”

They eventually left, talking loudly and heaving their bags as they left the compound. We watched them hail a taxi outside our gates. I turned to mother and looked at her face. She was breathing rapidly and she looked like she was shaking as she sat down on the long sofa. It was the first time I had seen her like this. In the past, my paternal uncles and aunties had been covertly horrible to my mother but she hadn’t reacted to their bullying for peace sake. Previously father’s presence stopped them from being openly nasty to her. Now father was gone, they probably felt that mother had nobody to defend her. I felt proud of her for standing up to my father’s relatives.

Bola sat down on the sofa and put her head on mother’s shoulder. I sat on the floor with my knees drawn up to my chin, and my back resting on the sofa. We stayed in that position for a long time, each person with their own thoughts. Everywhere was quiet until mother started speaking softly.

“Everything started going wrong after I had the miscarriage,” she said. “That was the turning point wasn’t it?”
I looked up at her and shook my head for her to stop speaking but she continued anyway.
“That was when he changed; he started to withdraw into himself. He stopped talking to me, he stopped caring about anything. He didn’t even notice that I was going through my own grief. I had dashed his hopes for a son.”

I knew what she was talking about even though I didn’t want to hear it again. Everything had happened so fast. One day I had been looking at mother’s rapidly growing belly and asking her if the babies were already kicking. The next evening, she had complained of slight stomach pains. By the morning, the pains in her belly had increased and father had rushed her to the hospital where she was admitted immediately. He had stayed by her side the whole time she was there; he only came home once to get some things to make her comfortable. Mother was discharged after two days and father brought her home. They told us mother had lost both babies, and the doctor said she needed plenty of rest. Bola and I were very sad to hear it, and we had cried for a long time.

Then about two weeks later, father disappeared. He just went to work one day and didn’t come back. We had prepared dinner and waited for him to arrive, but he didn’t come back home at his usual time. By the time it was eleven pm, we knew something was wrong. Father had never stayed out late after work before because we always had dinner together as a family. Mother and I had kept a look-out for him throughout the night. Bola stayed up until one am but she eventually fell asleep.

The next morning we didn’t know what to do, so we went to the police station to report him missing. After three days, we were getting more worried about what could have happened to him. Thoughts of attack by a group of armed robbers kept crossing my mind. We had waited for three weeks before telling our families about his disappearance. The situation worsened after that. Father’s family members had accused mother of so many things. They suspected she sent father away by making life unbearable for him, they speculated that he had gone to live with another woman since mother wasn’t making him happy or perhaps mother had even killed him herself! Mother had made herself sick with worry and all the trouble that she had been re-admitted into hospital again for another three days. She was on compassionate leave from work for a month and the doctor had reiterated that she needed to rest.

And now this: the family members threatening to take our house from us. It did not bear thinking. What would happen to us? Where would we live?

“Tunde where are you? Why did you leave us alone like this? Why is this happening?” mother sobbed. “Where will I go with my children? What will I do now?”
“Mummy please don’t cry any more.” Bola and I put our arms around mother’s shoulders even though tears were running down our faces too.
“Isn’t there anything we can do?”I asked her.
“I don’t know who I can run to. My own parents are dead, my brother depends on me for his own food and my aunt lives in the village. Who can I turn to?”
I hated seeing mother feeling so helpless. I started thinking about any possible solution to our situation. There had to be other people we could ask for assistance apart from family.
I asked her, “Mummy can’t we go to the police?”
“The police wouldn’t want to get involved because they will classify this as a family matter.”
I got up from the floor and sat down beside her.
“What about a lawyer?” I continued.
“Lawyers are so expensive,” mother answered. “I don’t know if I can afford one.”
“But we can’t just give up like this!” I wanted mother to think about solutions, not just the problems.
“Okay.” mother sighed and the room was silent for another moment.
Then she sat up and stopped crying.
“Listen girls,” she said. “You both witnessed what happened. Your father’s relatives want to strip us of our home.”
“What can we do?” I asked.
“Who can help us?” Bola asked.
“Let me think,” mother replied. “Maybe I should go and see my friend, Mrs Ajani. She is a lawyer and she can advise us.”
“Can we come with you?” we asked.
“I should call her office first to get an appointment,” mother replied. “It would be good if we could all go together.”
“Ok ma.” we replied.
While mother went to make the telephone call, Bola and I went to our bedroom to talk. “I pray we can get this lawyer to help us,” I said. “Otherwise….”
“What will happen to us then?” Bola said, looking confused.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Maybe we’ll have to stay with one of our relatives on mummy’s side in the village.”
“I don’t want to move to the village! How will we go to school?”

Just then, mother came into our room.
“Don’t worry girls; I have just spoken to the lawyer and there is hope.”
“What did she say?” I asked her.
“She said there has to be a way to protect us from being evicted from our home, in the event of your father’s death. She also asked me if your father had made a will.”
“What’s a will?” Bola asked.
“It’s a document that a person writes before they die, that explains how they want their wealth to be shared.”
“Did daddy leave a will?”
“I’m not sure. But the lawyer suggested that even if he didn’t leave a will, his wealth should go to his wife and children as immediate beneficiaries.”
“So she can help us?”
“Yes,” mother sighed with relief. “She said she’s busy today, but we can come and see her tomorrow.”
“Thank God!” Bola and I said.
“What I need to do now is to look through all your father’s documents and keep anything that looks important. Come with me and we’ll go through your dad’s files.”
“Yes ma.”

For the rest of the afternoon, we sifted through father’s files, searching for any documents that would help our case with the lawyer. Mother found a lot of useful documents including their marriage certificate, father’s bank statements, contract letters, house deeds and employment records. She put them all in a file and set it aside to take with her to the lawyer’s office the next day.

Later in the evening, after we finished having dinner, mother went to the living room to watch the news on the television. I went to the kitchen to do the dishes, while Bola got out the broom to sweep the dining room. About three quarters of an hour later, we heard mother scream loudly. In a panic, I dropped my work and rushed into the living room to see mother clutching at her chest and half-kneeling on the floor staring at the television. I looked at it and caught the announcement. They were announcing my father’s obituary on the news.

I was in a daze. Mother was still screaming and Bola was too shocked to say anything. We all stared at the television until the announcement came to an end. Then we looked at each other. “Look at what your father’s relatives have done!” mother was about to start crying again. “Just look at that! They are really going to bury your father so they can carry out their wicked plans.”
“Don’t worry mummy” I said quickly. “We will go and see the lawyer tomorrow and we’ll explain everything to her.”
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hands.
“You know, I’m already tired of this,” she shook her head. “I just wish your father never left. I just wish I didn’t have to deal with all of this…”
Bola and I hugged our mother. “It’s going to be alright mummy; let’s go to bed now.”
We half pulled her into the room she used to share with father and sat her down on their bed. She was still mumbling to herself when we crept out of the room. We both finished our chores in silence each of us trying not to show our emotions. Afterwards we turned off the television and the lights leading to our bedroom and got into our beds. I stayed awake for a while thinking about everything that had happened. It had been a long, emotional and confusing day.

Early the next morning, we were jolted out of our sleep by the bell at the gate. I rushed out first and Bola followed close behind. We stopped in our tracks when we got close enough to gate to look out. Father was at the door, looking thinner than I remembered.

(c) TP 2007

Saturday, April 19, 2008

On Life: If......

If I knew what I know now at 15, would I make different choices ?
If I could rewind and freeze time, would I stay in the past?
If I could rule the world for one week, what decisions would I make?
If I knew how many days I had to live on earth, how will I live them?
If I don't try to conform with the world around me, would I run out of excuses?
If I had a choice before birth, would I have chosen to be me?
If I had the vision of me in 20 years' time, what would I advise my current self to do?
If I hold the key to happiness, would I share it with others?
If I never procrastinated or broke my promises, how much of a better person would I be?
If I never put in 100% effort, I would never know what I am capable of.
If I don't dream it, I would never achieve it.
If I can make a difference in the world around me, I should
If I have never truly grasped the meaning of love, I haven't lived
If I smiled at one stranger everyday, I would have even more friends.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

On Life: Having a Dream

A dream makes life worth living
A dream gives you purpose
A dream gives you focus
A dream gives you ideas
A dream gives you inspiration
A dream gives you determination
A dream gives you tenacity
A dream gives you passion
A dream gives you vision
A dream makes you see possibilities
A dream helps you overcome challenges
A dream broadens your horizons
A dream gives you fulfilment
A dream gives you abilities
A dream gives you ambitions

Some notable quotes:

"To me, there is only one form of human depravity - the man without a purpose." --Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it." --Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

"It's never too late to be who you might have been." --George Elliot

"The tragedy in life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach." --Benjamin Mays

"By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be. Put your future in good hands — your own." --Mark Victor Hansen