Compliment vs Insult

A Facebook post reminded me of my project defense.


My undergraduate project had been an ethnobotanical survey of plants used in the management of hypertension in a selected area in Edo state, there were four of us under the same supervisor and between us four we had to map out most of Edo state – the largest state in Southern Nigeria.


I have to thank my dear friend Ms. Google at this point, you cannot write a report on an ethnobotanical survey in Uniben without her. How would you even know what ethnobotany was, when the textbooks at pharmacy library and John Harris Library didn’t have it listed on their pages?


Three gbosas to Aunty Google, abeg!


I was assigned Ovia North-East and Ovia South-West local government and I had to get fifty respondents who were full-time herbalists. The story of that search is definitely not for today, I saw things! One time, I found myself exceedingly drawn to one ‘native doctor’ who had a ring on every toe and red cloth covering most of his ‘reception’ area and there were weird drawings everywhere. I should have taken pictures.


Luckily, I went with Arinze and an older man from the community –  who passed on shortly after, sadly. I shudder to think of what might have happened if I had gone alone. I might have happily been a sixth wife with four or five children in a tiny village around NIFOR by now. All thoughts of my Pharm D. degree forgotten.


But that man was fine! His very dark skin glittered in the sunlight and his eyes were piercing balls of fire.


Anyway, I collated my data and wrote my project. I typed every word of it myself, I wrote it directly on Arinze’s computer. I never write anything important longhand, because I type way faster than I write.


After several back and forth sessions with my supervisor, it was time to submit and defend the project. Our external supervisor was a professor of Pharmacognosy from Uniuyo, or was it Unical? The copy of the project submitted had just our matriculation number, surname and initials to prevent any appearance of favouritism.


When I walked in, wearing the grey suit Amarachi bought me. The man looked at me, tilted his head to see me properly before looking at the copy of the project he had in front of him.

“Are you Ezenwa A.C?” he asked when I sat down, I nodded – I was nervous.

He repeated the question and I croaked yes.

He asked the question again, I quoted my mat number and I told him I was Ezenwa Adaeze Chinanuekpere, just in case he wanted to be sure I knew my own name.


We began the session, he asked so many questions that I became very worried. The man knew my project nearly as well as me, he made me repeat points and explain things that were already very clear in the work. We were there for a very long time.


He gave his comments last, after the lecturers in the department had given theirs. They were supportive, thank God! Anyone who read pharmacy in Uniben would instantly understand why I am still thanking God for their support several years later. Some things are rarely certain.


He said he had been shocked when he saw me – yes, shocked. He was shocked to find that I was a woman. According to him, women didn’t report science with clarity and this was easily the clearest undergraduate and possibly even post-graduate project he had ever read in all his years of reading projects in Pharmacognosy.


Was I responsible for writing everything or did I give a professional writer to brush it up? he asked.


I told him I wrote it myself and he looked at me and said “writing will claim you eventually, that’s what your gift does in the end.” I have never forgotten those words. Sometimes they scare me, other times they make me keep writing despite laziness calling me loudly.


I said thank you and walked away. I wasn’t interested in writing at the time, I just wanted the two degrees I had spent the previous six years toiling for in Benin-city.


In the years that have passed, that incident still worries me. While it is perhaps the most meaningful praise I have ever gotten for my writing because of the circumstance by which it came, it annoys me that someone thinks women do not write clearly when most of my writing heroes are women.


I still wonder though, was it a compliment or an insult? Or both.





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