150 naira Gospel…

I arranged my bags on my lap and opened my handbag to bring out the exact fare for the trip. As a veteran of public transport in Lagos, it is rare for me to be without naira notes of all denominations, I even have 16 naira in coins somewhere – thanks to Shoprite. One of the most shocking experiences of my entire life was watching a woman hand the Keke driver a 1000 naira note for a 70 naira journey at Asaba.

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First of All…

I found a book at work (new job) and it was a book I’d heard about for years, had seen it in several stores and with several people but had never deigned to read it. During my interview, my boss handed it to one of the interns. The plan was for them to have a copy of the book to read. Seeing this piqued my interest, but I forgot about it. When I resumed work and was looking for a certain item, I found the book and I decided to read it. 

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Sunday is for Rice: Part 1

Children are born with plastic ears, not one comes with ears that work. It is the mother who fashions ears of flesh for the child. The change of ears is done with shouts and pulling the ears and forgetting her open palm on their chubby faces. With time the plastic loosens for the flesh to emerge, when the child needs no words to know his mother’s heartbeat and when he can feel her ‘look’ even though she is ten thousand miles away.

I cannot remember what age I was when I lost my plastic ears, perhaps I never had them because it is inconceivable for a child of my mother to have ears that weren’t attuned to her innermost thoughts. But my children are adults and they all have ears of concrete.

There is a memory I try to suppress, an event I wish to take back. It is of me in our tiny sitting room in Calabar and David running into the little flat with a letter in his hand.
“I made it,” he crowed as he attempted a little dance in the centre of the parlour.
“No! we made it my darling. You and I are leaving this place in two weeks.” He sang.

I barely had time to wonder at his madness before he thrust the paper at me.
“Read it! I am finally saying goodbye to those motherfuc…”
“Don’t say such dirty words in front of the baby,”
I cut in as I rubbed my belly to protect my child’s budding ears from uncouth language.

The letter said he had gotten a role at some university overseas where he could complete his PhD. Yes, the PhD he started nearly a decade earlier and thousands of grey hair later, he was no closer to finishing it than when he began.
“What of visas and everything? What if they refuse you at the embassy?”
” his breath hot against my nape.

“Read it to the end. I don’t need a visa because I am going as an exchange scholar, and I am entitled to bring my family.”
“Just think of it Eka, our baby will not be born on Nigerian soil. He will be a foreign baby.”
I answered automatically while my head whirled from the implications. What would happen to my job, my shop? Could I survive life without okporoko?

Because enemies and friends and family are often the same people, we didn’t tell anyone we were leaving. I told my mother though, I tell my mother everything.

We brought our son to the wooden walled tiny flat campus housing allotted to us, David made paper signs around the house to welcome us. I hated how fragile the walls seemed, how you could hear your neighbour breathing, and I especially hated all the whites and greys. Not a splash of colour for rows and rows of house, not one balcony to spy on the next compound and judge them, no smell of browning dodo or okporoko bubbling in a soup pot from a kitchen three houses down the street. I wept for days, while David cared for the boy. One morning, he told me to stop calling him Bomboy. He lifted the boy to the ceiling and told him his name was Josh.

What kind of name is Josh?

David finished his PhD before Josh grew his first tooth. He would get tenure in a year or two, the future is bright he declared. But my heart shrunk a little because I had more years of greyness ahead. So, I went to the hardware store and bought red paint, green paint and yellow paint and pink paint and blue paint and a dozen brushes, rollers and ladders and I began to paint.

Jessica was born in our second year abroad, her feet pressed against my pelvis just before they slashed my skin to bring her out, as she had turned around my womb several times before she was born. When she won her first juniors medal for gymnastics at six, I wondered why it had taken so long.

When they started preschool, I found a job while I began business classes at David’s college. I sat in a room at the back and sorted inventory, I had started at the shop floor but we soon discovered that I had too much melanin for the customers’ comfort. At least I didn’t have to deal with snooty customers anymore. I consoled myself with that even as I wondered who the bagger would have been to keep me in the backroom of a store in Calabar.

When a child starts to crawl, her mother buys a cane that is appropriate for her size but there are no stores to find canes here. David said the police would take the children from us if we caned them. I wondered who the bagger would have been to take my children from me because I flogged my children in Calabar.

David still said he would get tenure within a year, even though it was now six years since he finished his PhD and we had four children. His voice was still as firm when he said it but his eyes weren’t quite as bright.

The third pregnancy was arduous and scary, I told the doctor to tie my tubes after she brought out the second baby. Two sons and two daughters were enough even though David wanted a basketball team and some players on the bench.

“You’re not the boss of me,” Josh had taken to saying that when I asked him to do simple tasks around the house.
“He’s just a kid,” David said when I fumed.
“How can a child grow straight if there is no cane to lead on the right path? I can’t guide this child without a few well-aimed knocks.” I said once out of frustration but David’s look quelled my words.

“You might think yourself as one of them David, with your golf clubs and refusal to handle these children. But your nyash will always be black.” I said to him that night as he turned off the nightlamp and slid into bed.
“Well, I have to get a bleaching cream just for my arse then,” he intoned and I smiled. It was his biggest flaw and the best thing about living with him. He never took words seriously.

I know I will have three mansions in heaven just for mothering Jane and Jerry without offering them as a sacrifice to any god wanting human sacrifice. They did things in the house and said things to me that I wouldn’t have imagined as a child even if I was delirious. David asked me to be calm while I seethed at the injustice. Why was my story different? Why was I enduring things from my children which my sisters couldn’t even dream about from theirs?

Josh got a full ride to study drama at the premier academy hundreds of miles away. He was glad to get away from our university town as David’s school didn’t have a drama programme.

The boy made excellent grades and could have studied medicine or engineering or law but he said he wanted to be an actor, and David thought it was cool. A brilliant Nigerian child wasting his gifts and his father is ok with it. By the gods! I don’t know who I offended.

“I wish we hadn’t left Nigeria,” I said to David one night as he rubbed the kinks out of my shoulder muscles. He had finally gotten tenure, his job was secure, and I was a regional supervisor at the store now. David’s advice to get an MBA had worked brilliantly.

“You’d rather I stayed at that university pursuing my PhD for two more decades while begging my sister for hard currency like your brothers do, right?”

We slept with our backs facing each other and I went to work without seeing him or his children.

I came back to find Officer Kyle waiting for me with a crestfallen Jerry by his side, Jane his twin had begged me not to get mad when she opened the door.

“I’m here because David was my favourite professor and I don’t want his son’s life ruined so I’m letting him off with a private warning.” Officer Kyle said as he let himself out after telling me he caught Jerry with a few hundred grams of marijuana.

“Mom! It’s just grass. I’m not using, I sell, the money’s good.” Jerry said as I sat fixed in the living room long after the officer left.

I sat there without moving or talking until David came home. The twins were already red-eyed from crying and their older siblings at college had called a dozen times to speak with me. Even David was at loss when he came home. Even he couldn’t find words, there was nothing in his pouch of tricks.

We hugged each other to sleep, the terror of what could have been binding us together. A brown boy with brown dust and the wrong officer would cut his chances at a good life before he had a chance to start.


What is heavier than a child?

  I was watching this week’s episode of Bob Hearts Abishola and a plot arc caught my attention. The titular character Abishola has decided to go to medical school and she’s preparing for the MCAT exams. While ‘studying’ with her friend the crazy Kemi, her only other friend in the entire hospital and her direct senior officer walked in on them and she supplied a mnemonic to help Abishola remember all the bones of the hand.

It turned out that Gloria – the charge nurse, had studied for the MCAT but Abishola didn’t wait to listen to the whole story before concluding that Gloria (who is African American) didn’t stay the course because AAs are lazy while Nigerians are hardworking and tough… Expectedly, Gloria was offended by her assumptions and cut her off.

Before the end of the episode, Gloria gets to tell Abishola her story and she not only got into medical school but finished at the top of her class. Her story ended in the struggle for getting a residency spot and while that proved elusive and with a young family to raise, she became a nurse and a damn good one at that.

The episode reminded me of two things, the first is the resentment that African Americans feel about Nigerians who strut about with a superior attitude because they are getting a juicier piece of the American pie. In a way, the Nigerians forget that it is the best and brightest that get to emigrate in the first place and they already have a better chance than the mixed population of AAs.

Countries like the US actively covet the cream of the crop from underdeveloped countries via scholarships and special immigration initiatives. Recently, I was looking at the CRS points calculator with a friend who has a bachelor’s degree only.

 I was suprised to discover just how much an advanced degree boosts one’s score in two different ways (just an extra diploma gives 33points extra while a master’s degree gives 40 pts and a PHD gives 55 pts) and as I was writing this I checked again and found that a high IELTS score of CLB 9 and up also boosts one’s score in two different ways (apart from the IELTS score part, it also boosts the applicant’s score by 25 points in the skill transferability section).

So, like I said… the cream of the crop.

“Give me your tired, your poor,

 Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

 The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

 Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

 I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

That quote up there is part of the text on the Statue of Liberty (a symbol of hope and the United States) but these days, ain’t nobody got time for that. If you must come to these lands of opportunities, you must come correct.

Yet the ‘lucky ones’ do not see how having advanced degrees, a chest of money in thousands of dollars, and a superior command of the English language gives us a huge head start over the everyday Joe who also happens to be Black or their advantages over their siblings back home trying to make a living and a life in Buhari’s Nigeria.

The second thing the post reminded me about was just how unappreciative we tend to be about our freedoms and privileges because we do not know how hard others had to fight to pave the way.

If Abishola (who truly has the sensitivity of a brick wall) had been a little intuitive, she would have understood just how tough it would have been for Gloria to attempt entry into medical school in the 1970s and 1980s.

Back when it had taken two acts of national legislation – Civil Rights Act of 1964 which ‘ended’ discrimination based on race, colour and nationality.   Then the Title IX act of 1972 came along which ended sex-based discrimination in public schools, they both had to happen for Gloria to even get the chance to get into medical school in the first place.

 And as we all know, just because the law says a thing doesn’t even mean that it applies that way in real life. After all, we can find a poster with the words “Bail is Free” on the wall of nearly every police station in Nigeria. So also is the slogan “Police is your Friend”. Although Nnamdi Atupulazi said on his show once that the correct statement is “The Police are your friends.”

Who wants the police as friends though?

So even though Gloria and other black women were taking up space, it was an even tougher battle to fight the prejudice and disdain of those who refused to judge them for the content of their brains rather than the colour of their skin. A problem Abishola would have to a lesser degree because Gloria had gone ahead.

But this disregard for the sacrifices that paved the way for others isn’t just a problem of the self-important Nigerian in diaspora, it is a problem that afflicts mankind. Bugsy Okocha made a post about the cost of raising a child and compared it with the cost of building a three-bedroom apartment. I think it is a conservative estimate especially when you monetise the time spent in childcare.

For most parents, their children are not only their pride and joy, they are also their investments. I can bet that most of us reading this post have had our parents tell us that we are their silver and gold and lands and luxury cars. In this day and age though, is it worthwhile to invest in a child?

Before you come for my head, stay with me a little.

With the rising rate of unemployment, our failing economy and the general ‘anyhowness’ of the country, financial security is becoming a mirage for many Nigerians. Heck, even the essentials of steady employment/source of income, decent housing, and access to quality healthcare are out of reach for many people under the age of forty. Most people are simply getting by, barely threading above water and it is directly responsible for three things.

The rise of the prosperity gospel in our land

The reason some smart alecs have tied all health conditions to Staphylococcus aureus and sell dubious portions by the truckload because people would rather buy Dr Igodo special cleanser for 2k than go to the hospital.

The outrage that always follows any attempt to peg a minimum figure for marriage/starting a family.

I’m pretty sure you can even list several more things if you think about it.

So, a pensioner has four children who are graduates of higher institutions and not one of them has a job/source of income that guarantees them 200k monthly due to no fault of theirs. After all, we saw the story of the First Class degree holder in mathematics who had to go back to the farm after all efforts to find a job failed before grace found him.

The pensioner also has a variety of debilitating health conditions which are only getting worse because the money to get medication is not available and government hasn’t paid pensions in over a year. The children can barely lend a hand as they do not have enough for their basic needs.

This is a story you can find in nearly every street or village in Nigeria.

But our parents even had it better as it was easier to get steady jobs that offered pensions eventually. While I know that there are various businesses and sectors we can tap into especially with the expanded market available online, the business environment in Nigeria can swallow up even the tough and the brave. There is a reason most businesses involving buying and selling of non-essential commodities in Nigeria do not coast by the five-year mark.

If the standard wisdom is to have children so they would take care of one in old age and the children are incapable of doing that due to their circumstances, is that wisdom still valid?

Ironically, even in ‘wealthy’ societies, parents aren’t particularly better off. Japan is facing several problems even though it scores high on most economic and liveability indices.

People are living longer lives due to improved healthcare, a great diet and of course their genes. Yet, they are not living the full lives they expect because their children are too busy with work and building their careers, their young people aren’t even pursuing romantic relationships for several reasons beyond the scope of this post.

Sadly, we are trapped in the same rat race with little to show for it. No sector doesn’t demand more time from participants than it did twenty years ago. Even civil servants have to spend extra hours at work these days, a near abomination in the recent past.

Time is a resource even more precious than it used to be and how many things are more draining of time than caring for a child who isn’t able to care for himself yet? While there are labour-saving devices available, taking care of a child cannot be done by a machine and the extended family and housemaid systems of the past are not as available to today’s parents.

As a first child and a person who also bears the name Ulonwadi, I know the joy a child brings to a home. I also know that it is entirely possible to want children for the sheer joy of having them, watching them grow and loving them. If only that was the only reason we have children.

On a post, I saw on a group. A young mother admonished her contemporaries to get ready for a life where having a baby meant they instantly acquire two babies. The helpless baby who is dependent on his mother and the helpless husband who cannot deign to fix himself a meal even when his wife is caring for their child.

We can pretend this is not the reality for many women and say things like ‘where una dey see these men?’, but the truth lurks in the shadows. For wives and mothers who have the bulk of domestic activities and childcare stacked on them, career growth comes at an excessively high cost.

What’s the point of going through that hard road to have children (pregnancy and labour stories are the stuff of horror movies) who would then announce on social media and even to their parents’ faces that they are not retirement plans and they didn’t ask to be born. Their parents should have fixed up and prepared for old age instead of burdening them with demands.

As we get more self-centred as a people and success comes at an even greater cost, the propagation of the species should be done with even more deliberation and careful thought. The methods of guilt-tripping which parents passed down for generations don’t work anymore and that child you poured blood and water on his/her head would ask you if they sent you to have them.

Yep, a child is no longer a sure investment. I’m not sure what is anymore.

Away and Away!

Perhaps I had to travel this far to find someone who likes Rora by Reekado Banks like me. I think the song is magic, who ever made the beat can take all the money in my back accounts – except my piggyvest money sha.

The man at the park at Umuahia sang the song with the gusto most of us reserve for our bathrooms, he also couldn’t speak a word of Yoruba and it showed in the way he mangled the Yoruba words, but did he care kwanu?

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A Matter of the Mind.

I’ve always been struck by the phrase mind over matter even though I didn’t really know what it meant. It came to me again as I typed the title of this post on the Word document which I copied and pasted here to the blog. In my early days of blogging, I typed my posts on the WordPress app on my tablet. After losing several documents, most painful of all – a 2,000+ word post, I finally learned to type on a note app first before transferring to WordPress.

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