How much of history should be passed on?

Most immigrants to the UK have to take a Life in The UK test at some point. I  have often heard about the experience of the other 3 nations leading to the forced marriage called the United Kingdom. The test study material is slightly  “cleaned up” and leaves a lot unsaid about how much the nations suffered before surrendering to the English but still is a difficult read. The surprising thing is that the test questions cannot be spontaneously answered by a lot of indigenous British citizens.

My mum sometimes tells me stories of the Biafran war in Nigeria. She was a child herself but she has vague recollections of how much the Ibos suffered. They were killed, starved and held captive in their quest for secession.

Schools in England get a dampened version of the British role in colonialism and slavery. How many are aware that not only was mass kidnapping once legal, when it was abolished, the slave owners were paid a compensation for their loss! Who paid? Tax payers. It was a scheme championed by the British empire called Compensated emancipation. It’s interesting to note that the slaves were not compensated and slave owners were never punished…well, as said above, they were “compensated” for the inconvenience of letting their human goods go.

The problem with experiences like these is that the anguish and resentment is passed on by the sufferers who are determined that their sacrifices and loss must not be forgotten. They would often attempt to pass on to their descendants, the passion with which the fought for the cause and the pain that accompanied their defeat or triumph

How much do the other tribes in Nigeria know about the Biafran war? Is it being taught in schools? Is there a war museum?
How much of Britain’s role in colonialism is taught in schools?

The problem with a cleaned up version is that it does a disservice to the sufferers’ pain. Choosing what aspect of the story to pass on to the next generation runs the risk of deleting aspects of history considered vital by the oppressed and their descendants.

We often complain about the depths of emotion expressed by the victims.
Why are they always so angry? We cannot connect or understand their emotions. The watered down version we have been served does not sound so bad afterall. So what’s their problem?

Racism, slavery, colonialism etc. These are all subjects that we would rather not discuss. They are difficult topics.
However, despite the accompanying feelings of indigestion, these topics must be discussed. It should be taught on both sides that have emerged if they are to get rid of the big dark shadow cast upon their relationship by history.

So when you wonder why a certain group keep pushing for a referendum or secession, pause and do some reading. Find a reliable library and get educated about their journey. You don’t have to agree with their fight but at least seek to understand it.

-Written in Toronto on this fine day 08/10/21 while Nana keeps Nabil entertained- both drunkenly in love.

My dear white friend

How do discussions around racism make you feel? Do you believe it’s an overflogged issue and wish people- especially black people- would please give it a rest already? Does it make you feel like leaving the room? You might be happy to know that you are not alone.

It’s quite common for people to find discussions of oppression and crime uncomfortable especially when they share similarities with the oppressor or criminal. For example, most muslims might hate for 9/11 to be brought up as they are scared it might end up in a hate speech about Muslims. Males get antsy when the rape of females is being talked about.

I think the reason is because it makes them feel personally attacked. It almost feels like an accusation. You are left feeling confused about what to say or do. If you keep quiet, are you endorsing the greatest mass kidnap in the human history and its residual effects (racism/slave trade)?

Since you are scared of being thought to be endorsing the crime or oppression that is being discussed, your first thoughts are to put up a defence urgently. You want to put ut out there that you are one of the good ones. So, you blurt out the first defence that comes to mind.

Typically, the defence is a less-than-clever one. ‘I went to Kenya with my family last year’. ‘My neighbour is African. Our kids are good friends’. ‘I wore braids for 2 weeks last month’. This adds to the awkwardness and ruins your chance to actually express what your stance is.

I urge you to calm down and listen to the discussion. It might just be someone expressing their frustration about personal and genuine or perceived encounters of racism. It’s unlikely to be directed at you specifically. Don’t rush to put up a defence or dismiss their concerns or opinions.

If history is brought up, remember it is useful to discuss these things that tbey may never happen again.

Many faces

Humans typically adopt different persona depending on the circumstances they are in. This is why your firm, no-nonsense, rigid boss might be putty in his wife’s hand. You might catch him dressed up as a fairy because his 2 year old daughter asked him to.

We often define people based on the aspects of their character that our involvements with them expose us to. What we fail to understand is that humans have many faces. We often “wear the face” that the situation calls for. So a honest little look inwards will confirm that there are ways you act at work that you don’t at home.

This extends into relationships as well. If you have a friend, you might be surprised by some things their spouse could tell you about them. Who they are as a wife or husband might bear little to no similarities to who they are as your friend.

My sister-in-law and I talk a lot. My brother is a good husband and a responsible and attentive father. Occasionally, she tells me things about my brother that leave me quite surprised. She’s his wife. She lives with him. I haven’t fully lived with him since I turned 22. How then can I argue with her? I can vouch for his character as a person but he, like everyone else, has his little idiosyncrasies which only one exposed to living with daily would know. So I hold myself in check and refrain from being too defensive. In the same way, I am sure there are things about my character as a wife that could shock my work colleagues and vice versa.

So what am I saying today? Be careful about who you vouch for. Especially if it isn’t in a role that you are familiar with. Even your amazing dad may be a very difficult boss at work. When your sister-in-law tells you things about your brother, listen carefully before you jump to his defence. You will never get to experience what life is like as his wife. When you hear that your boss is having marital problems, don’t assume his wife must be the problem. He is allowed to be a good boss and a crappy husband at the same time.

Motherhood

I grew up with a mum who loves fiercely and loyally. Her love surrounded and continues to envelop us wherever we may be. Protectively. Warmly. Firmly. Unwaveringly. I have no words to describe how incredible she is. The sacrifices she has made and continues to make selflessly. I call her my life’s first gift. Being her daughter has been one of life’s greatest privileges.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As a child, she absolutely terrified me. She raised me until my early teens in the typical Nigerian mum manner. With an iron fist. She held me to almost impossibly high standards. With sometimes unrealistic expectations. Giving little room for mediocrity. I was expected to study hard, learn to cook and do chores. Instructions were given with no explanations and debate was not expected.

In my late teens, her style of motherhood completely changed and I credit our beautiful relationship today to that evolution. As we became adults, she became more understanding and gave more room for dialogue and friendship. It is an evolution that I am thankful for. It’s the reason why I have no secrets from her. Her counsel is always sound and truthful. With our best interests at it’s core. She showed us the concept of accountability. I often see adults who are unable to question parents’ obviously bad behaviour and I find it so disappointing. I can always tell her when I think she has acted wrongly without fear. It’s a lesson I hope to apply in my own relationship with my children.

As a mum now, motherhood scares me. It took a lot of effort for me to become a mother. It was a journey through tears, heartbreaks and uncertainty. I am grateful for being chosen to guide them through this journey of life. I do not take it for granted. I pray daily that I do not mess this mission up. I am very deliberate about motherhood. I hope to create an enabling environment for them to soar.

I hope to be a parent my children will not keep secrets from. I hope to be a mum whose love a child trusts… Whose love keeps them secure… Whose wise counsel they seek in times of uncertainty… Whose home is a safe haven… A place where they are not afraid to cry… In whose presence they can be vulnerable

I hope to teach them to ask questions when they need clarity… To be fearless… To reject physical or mental shackles which society might attempt to put them in …. To never look at their colour, roots or faith as a hindrance… To demonstrate and expect accountability … That word is bond… That they are good enough and deserving of great things

Do you have a partner?

In the past 4 years, writing/blogging has had to take the considerable back seat in my chaotic life. I had to prioritize finishing a hectic training program and exams designed to destroy the faint-at-heart. Failing was a luxury I could not afford because I have 2 young children. It would have meant prolonging the program and getting double the torture.

In my local residency group of about 30, only a few of us did the program full time. I was the only married person who finished the program full time. To achieve this, it meant the home front made a great deal of sacrifices. I was not known in the children’s school. I did not pack school lunches and I hardly attended any school meetings. I was out of the house first and arrived last.

Today my emphasis is on having a partner that understands your dreams, and partners with you to get to your destination. Partners who give you a boost. Partners who tell you to spread your wings and soar!

My husband is a Nigerian man who comes from a fairly comfortable background and the privileges that come with it. He grew up the youngest son, with servants around. He was not taught to lift a finger or have designated chores. When I arrived in Canada, his mum was still doing his laundry and coming over to clean his flat.

In the years of my residency training, he stepped up in a manner his upbringing did not prepare him for. He played a predominant role in childcare and parenting. We paid for a cleaner but he mostly took care of school runs, football matches and other clubs as well as school meetings.

We were lucky because his job as a software engineer means his career was more flexible than mine. We were lucky because he focused on the bigger picture. A progressive thinking man. Not some man who thinks his destiny is tied to eating fresh stew everyday. Not some fragile-ego’d man who believes it’s beneath him to put his own dish in the sink after eating.

While I might make jokes about being the one who actually raised him, I am aware that I struck luck. I can brag about being uncompromising about the need for us to both participate in house chores (which I was), but I am equally aware of how much harder life would have been for us both and for our children if he had proven unreasonable. Weekends found us- and continues to find us- dividing and conquering tasks.

Since finishing, I now work part time. We are in a much better place financially as a result of those sacrifices. We had a weekly cleaner during my training which we have kept. I am able to do school runs twice a week. I know our teachers. I am more actively involved in activities.

So do you have a partner? Are you a partner? A partner focuses on the bigger picture. A partner understands that the end justifies the means. A partner is a destiny builder. A partner focuses on what will get the family to a better place. Not what people think. Sacrifices can be physical or financial.

Your testicles won’t vanish if you bathe your own kids, feed them or put them to bed. You won’t become a woman because you cook or wash dishes. If you are a wife and you are privileged to be able to provide financial support to help your husband, do so. Pay no mind to what family or society thinks as long as you have a partner who isn’t trying to take advantage of you.

So do you have a dream? Ask yourself, do you have a partner? That’s half the job done.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Talk

I was 20 years old the first time my mum was forced to confront my sexuality. I met my then boyfriend when I was 14 and we began dating when I was 19. On that particular day, my mum came to the flat I shared with 2 other friends. She came -as she often did- to visit and bring me some home-cooked meal. I was in my 4th year of medical school and she would often come at about 6 a.m before I had to get ready for classes.

On this particular visit, my boyfriend had visited and spent the night at my place. I wasn’t expecting her and we were both shocked when she knocked on my window (she often did that to avoid waking up my flat mates). Now my mum raised us military style as kids but mellowed considerably as we grew older. Despite that fact, sex was not something we discussed. She knew my boyfriend but each time i mentioned visiting him, she would ask that i invite him over instead. So he visited our family home a lot. I knew why mum didn’t want me visiting him. She didn’t put it in words but i understood. However, we had found a  way around her supervision.

I contemplated hiding him but we had clothes strewn all over the floor. So with my heart in my mouth, I opened the door for her. She was shocked to see him. I watched her face as comprehension descended upon her. I would have bet anything she would raise hell. Anyone who knows my mum would have bet she would. She did not. She stared at us both, dropped my food and left. I instantly called my younger brother. I have always tried to be the perfect child. I was the good child. He never bothered. He made regular dates with trouble and didn’t bother to hide it. He told me when next i went home to act guiltless. He said I shouldn’t cower and just try to act normal.

Anyway, that marked the beginning of a new era with my mum. The fact that she didn’t make  a scene or disgrace me came as a huge surprise and i can say that has played a big role in strengthening the trust I have for her. We never discussed it but she looked at me differently afterwards. I ended up marrying that gorgeous boyfriend who i was so besotted with (still am) and I guess she forgave me for not being as ‘perfect’ as she thought. She has a relationship with my husband that even I envy.

I think most Nigerian parents are escapists. They know but act like they don’t. I don’t have any friends whose parents had the ‘talk’ with. I think this is something that needs to change. I hope to instill strong principles in my daughter like my mum did. I will teach her to respect her body and demand that it be respected. I however hope to be realistic when the time comes. If she is dating, I will accept the possibility of her being sexually active. I will be realistic in my expectations and hope to empower her too. What a world of difference it would make if young girls knew as much about contraception and STIs as they should.

So if you have a teenager or young adult, make friends with them. Let them be comfortable enough to discuss their relationships with you. Teach them. Empower them to make safe decisions. Let them know what their options are and guide them to make the best decisions for their lives. After all, from experience, i know once that ‘boat’ has sailed, there is no going back.

Respect..or is it?

I stepped into the office. It was the first day of my observership in a family physician’s office. An observership is strongly recommended as part of the process of getting a practicing license to work in Canada. I was to discover later that it didn’t make much of a difference. I digress.

I said ‘Good morning, sir’ to the doctor. His secretary was in the room. They turned to look at me and stared strangely at me as if i walked in naked. It took them a while to respond. I am quite awkward with first encounters generally and they made me feel even more self-conscious.

He showed me around the various rooms in the office and explained what i would be required to do. I responded ‘yes sir’, ‘ok sir’ as he talked. Eventually, the poor guy couldn’t take it anymore and told me. ‘I am not a lord. Please don’t address me as sir’. I was shocked but at least i finally understood why i had gotten the strange stares earlier.

It took a while but i finally learnt how little importance they attached to these things. They didn’t even consider it a show of respect. Sometimes you wonder if Nigerians remember their own names. No one wants to be called by their name. You addressed them by anything but their name…Mrs X, mummy X, aunty X…etc. Age is such a big deal. Everyone wants to know who they are older than and force some ‘respect’ out of them. The younger is excluded from calling the older by name.

I still don’t know if all these truly show respect. I call my consultants by name. It took me a while to get used to it but it’s the way of life here. I respect them just as much as I would have if i were still back in Nigeria. I have learned that when i make mistakes, they don’t need to humiliate me to correct me. When a consultant tells me ‘I think you probably shouldn’t have done XYZ’, i know he/she is basically saying i made a poor decision. When a consultant tells me ‘Could you please do XYZ?’, I know he/she isn’t asking me a question, he is giving me an order.

I guess the lines are just getting a bit too blurry for me. I just think we focus too much on ‘respect’ and perhaps use it as a shield to avoid accountability. Everyone is guilty of this as far as I am concerned. The husband who refuses to be accountable to his wife…the parents who yell ‘I am not your mate’ when corrected, the teacher who flogs the students for correcting him, the politicians…everyone plays this card from time to time when necessary.

I think it isn’t respect in the true sense of the word. It’s just an armour.

Order

The bus was running late on a cold and snowy winter evening . Quite a decent crowd had gathered as a result. We didn’t have a car at the time but generally didn’t let this stop us from going  out to explore the city.

A month before I left Nigeria, I was working in a densely populated area of the country called Sango-Otta. Decorum was neither expected nor needed. Traffic was heavy and the town never went to sleep. At 1 a.m, you could still find people going about as if it was daylight. The buses only slowed down for passengers to alight or board. They rarely ever fully stopped. You had to shove and push through to get on to the bus. I hated this way of life initially as i had grown up in a more laid back city where life was a bit slower. However, with time, i adapted, thrived and even grew to love it.

Now back to my snowy evening. A few minutes later, the bus arrived and we all clustered around the entrance. My Nigerian ‘fight instincts’ kicked in and I started to shove my way through to the front. My husband figured out what i was up to a little too late. Everyone simply stepped aside for me and where i had expected resistance, I saw everyone giving me a look i would come to understand over the years meant ‘crazy black woman’. In a very slow and orderly manner, the rest of the crowd filed in. My husband of course was one of the last to come in. Thoroughly embarrassed i must say by his crazy wife.

So I learnt. In these lands, order exists. Queues are not jumped. No one enforces people to abide. They just do. They offer their seats to the elderly, the little children(yes! kids do not vacate seats for adults as we do in Nigeria), the pregnant women and the disabled. Decorum is the watchword.

After all these years, I still itch to shove and push when i see 30 people ahead of me on a queue anywhere. I still itch to run across the road instead of using the traffic light but I have learnt to control that itch.

Pay your share

A week after i arrived, my husband’s family decided everyone should meet in a restaurant. We all gathered at an Italian restaurant. I hate meeting people. I am very shy with people i do not know and as a result i often come across as quite stiff. This wasn’t any different. I knew my in-laws but there were spouses i hadn’t met. The gathering was a bit formal seeing as we all had to sit at a table. I totally felt like a fish out of water. We were a total of 4 couples in all. My husband parents included. I needn’t worry about being shy. The culture shock i soon experienced provided adequate distraction.

A member of the family announced a pregnancy. I had never attended a pregnancy announcement before. I had no idea such things even happened at all. In Nigeria, in most cases, we all just await a bulging tummy or sickness as proof of pregnancy. No one expects to be told. If you decide to tell or not, no one cares. So i was later to realize-from personal experience- that in this new society, people expect pregnancy should be announced. In fact, they take offence if they are not informed.

We finished eating and the bill was brought. I was shocked to see it passed round and a small math was done to figure out how much each person had to pay. I couldn’t believe my eyes as i saw all the men gathered round digging into their pockets to produce their share of the bill. Now, any Nigerian reading this would understand how much different this is from our culture back home where someone foots all the bill. I can only imagine a son-in-law in Nigeria going to a restaurant with his wife’s parents/siblings and then splitting the bill with his father-in-law. They all acted normally (even my father-in-law), brought forward their shares and paid the total and we left the restaurant.

Now many years later, i still struggle with splitting bills with people but i have become accustomed to this way of life. I even understand it. Why should one person have to bear the cost of a get together? Besides even back home i remember some people who never took a turn to pay for others. Takers. I just learn to switch when i am with my Nigerian friends and we take turns paying when we go out.

I’m leaving on a jet plane…

I took my first step on the flat escalator and slipped. Attracting the attention of other travelers in the crowded Murtala Muhammed airport. It brought a bit of smile to my lips. My first since I left my sweet mum crying. I am often clumsy and on occasion, socially awkward. I am cursed with my mum’s genes. I had made my peace with it over the years and as a result rather than get embarrassed,  I laugh at my own self when I make mistakes in public or fail to catch up quickly on some elegant social skill. A few minutes earlier, my mum and I had held each other and wept as if I was never going to be back. We had thoroughly embarrassed my brother who (bless him) had inherited both my father’s looks and ability to blend in anywhere he found himself. If he dined Chinese, he used chopsticks while I politely ask for a fork. My mum and I are quite different however.

I left Nigeria on November 8th. Prior to this, I had never been on a plane. I generally lack any adventurous spirit. I simply didn’t have the gene for it. I had visited just about 6 of the 36 states in my country. I loved home and familiar things. I rarely explored. Whenever I spent a night at my mum’s, I not only shared a room with her, I begged to share a bed. How I was going to go a month without seeing my brother and mum I still didn’t know yet.

Every one asked for money. The customs, the security…it was ‘sister, anything for us?’ everywhere I turned. The airport was also filled to the brim. I was almost wishing I had flown through Abuja. I had made this trip to the airport several times to see my husband off as he returned to Canada. Abuja was always calmer and less crowded. I was advised to split my luggage and before I could turn around, a lady handed me a Ghana-must-go bag for 1000 naira. My mum didn’t take it too well. Why was it 5 times the normal price, she accused the poor lady. I got through customs still crying and looking back to wave again and again to my crying mum and brother until I couldn’t see them anymore. She complained often that I was a bit clingy but I knew she would miss me. We were more like best friends/sisters.

I hadn’t seen my husband in the past 11 months. He had refused to make any more trips to Nigeria. The marriage was starting to tremble a bit. So I just had to go. We had been friends since I was 14 and dated from when I was 19. We loved each other deeply, our bodies spoke the same language…our love story was beautiful but the distance was taking a heavy toll.

I slipped on the ascending escalator despite carefully watching others get on. A kind professor from the university of Lagos steadied me and showed me how to get on the next one. I held the railings with both hands desperately. While waiting to board, I went to the washroom and saw some fellow passengers holding hands and praying loudly to arrive safely. I wondered if I should be scared of flying because they were still intensely praying when I finished. I asked the man beside me to show me how to buckle my seat belt and he did.

As the plane took off, I felt uncertainty creep into my mind. I was leaving life as I knew it. My birth home and country. Loyal friends, family…job prospects. Certainty. What waited at the other side? What would it be like? The only certainty was my husband. Nothing else. My ticket was a return for 6 months. So I told myself I would be back in 6 months. Little did I know I wasn’t to visit my country again for a long, long time.

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