Monthly Archives: August 2014

Moo!

The cow is an amazing animal. For some (Indian Hindus) it symbolises God. For some, it is a tool for agriculture, for ploughing the fields and for fertilising the soil. For some, it is a means of transport. For others, it is a source of nourishment – providing beef, milk, cheese, butter and leather. I think most people would see a cow as wealth.

As a Fulani girl, I certainly have much love for the cow. As you may have read from my earlier blogs, my infancy/toddlerhood was spent on my granddad’s farm (Benue Valley Farm, Fufore). Although the horses are up there with all the great things in life, I always had a special soft spot for the nursing cows and their calves. The bulls to be honest just scared the hell out of me so I always stayed well away from them but not so the calves. We Nigerians believe that when bulls see red, they charge (I am not sure if this is a wider belief) – because of that whenever I forgot to check my clothes before heading to the farm, I would sit in the car in fear of being gored to death. So the bulls get a bit less love from me although I do admire their huge humps from a safe distance.

I remember the joy when we got to the farm after some time away to find a fresh crop of calves all soft and wobbly on their legs, sticking as close to their mums as they physically can. It was fascinating watching them breastfeed and I remember feeling sorry for the poor mums as the calves violently suckled on their udders. If we went early enough, we would catch the milking and the milkers (they were men!) would squirt warm milk straight into our mouths as we danced around in joy. I loved watching as over the days the calves grew in confidence and started to stray away from their mums in little groups. And it was one of those magic moments to see them run for the first time, venturing out into the big bad world without their mum by their side. I must confess I am not sure if calves run but I don’t think they gallop or do they?

There was one particular cow in the herd that was people-friendly and liked to be petted. Now most fully-grown cows are quite aloof and stately so being petted is not something you would do. The calves are usually quite skittish too so cow-love must normally be from a distance. Not this heifer. The herdsmen would call to her using a strange sound that was neither word nor whistling but a cross between. We would scan the herd excitedly, hundreds of cows milling about soon after coming back from grazing into the pen. Then eventually a dark brown cow would emerge from the group and head straight for us. She would poke her head down and through the wooden slats of the fence to the little people waiting expectantly and we would stroke her warm hide and feel the way her skin vibrated and rippled. That is what stays with me; the warm leathery feel and her large eyes looking at us as if with fondness. She was so patient too. She stayed for as long as our attention was fixed on her and we would stay with her for as long as our mama or granddad would let us.

My other main interaction with cows came around slaughter times. My mum, being from a farm and daughter of a Fulani man, preferred to slaughter a cow when we needed meat and then freeze carefully packaged parcels of meat to use daily over time until we went through it all. Just before we ran out of beef, we would get delivery of a bull and he would be tethered to the tree in the back garden and fed some grass. I am not sure why he was kept for days before he was slaughtered but I would hang about the back door, half afraid and half wanting to make friends. I would take a pace back when he mooed and stared at me. Eventually, I would make my way to within a metre of him and talk to him. I would bring fresh water and grass and watch him eat and drink. I would inevitably ask my mama if I could name him but I was forbidden to do so. My mama explained that if I named him, I would start seeing him as a pet and then it would be haram (i.e. forbidden Islamically) for me to eat his meat. So I would refrain from naming him but nevertheless, I would be his friend for the rest  of his life.

I watched the slaughter every time despite the sadness it caused me. I would stand inside the parlour (sitting room) and stare out the window as the men tussled with the cow to get him to lie down. They would tie his legs together and dig a hole beside his neck. Next would come the sound of metal on metal as the knife was sharpened as per halal slaughter tradition. I would whisper prayers for a swift death at this point. Then his neck would be extended and with a prayer, the cut in one swift motion. The smell of fresh hot blood spurting into the waiting hole is an ingrained memory. The bit that followed was the worst bit for me…it was chaotic with blood on hands and the volume of the work to do to clean, parcel and tuck it all away into the meat freezer. My main job was to help braid the intestines which we would cook with liver and kidneys to make the most delicious sauces. Much as I had mixed feelings about those days, I learnt much from them. Not least where my meat comes from and facing the fact that an animal has to die for me to enjoy some meat. So I have the utmost respect for meat.

From a Fulani point of view, a cow is more than just a source of meat, dairy products or manure. To us, the cow is the symbol of wealth and I suspect respectability to some extent. Every Fulani person that can afford it has a cow or 2 somewhere back home. I used to have a herd that started from a heifer bought for me when I was a baby (this herd has been lost in time). A couple years ago, my mama felt guilty about my loss so she got me another heifer and I am proud to say I also have a calf that is about 6 months old today. Beautiful calf too – light brown with intelligent eyes. I feel an inordinate amount of pride for my cows and I know many a Fulani woman (or man) feels the same. Of course cows are a source of security because they do fetch a mint in the market so should you need a lump sum, you have it banked. Also we love our milk, yoghurt and man-shanu (which is like ghee) and in the old days, we controlled the supply of those. Around our parts, there is no better treasure to give to your wife when you marry her than the gift of a young heifer. It warmed my cockles when Roger Federer (the greatest tennis player ever!) was rewarded with a cow when he won the Wimbledon trophy for the first time. Now those Swiss know how to appreciate talent!

It is widely known in Nigeria that the Fulanis have a love affair with their cows. We are proud cow people. The saying goes that a Fulani man would let you steal his wife but touch his cows and you are a dead man. You may have heard of the skirmishes in North-central Nigeria around the Jos area which lead to a lot of deaths (of Fulanis and Josites alike) peaking about 4 years ago. Rumours are that at the centre of this bloodshed was the killing of herds of Fulani’s cows in protest of the Fulani herdsmen letting their cows graze on private lands. Suffice it to say, in a place like Yola which is Fulani central, no one dares steal or harm a cow because we all know how true the fears are. Heads will certainly roll should you mess with this Fulani woman’s cow (in a non-violent way of course because yours truly does not sanction violence). Also cows have free reign to roam in many Northern towns and cities and when they cross roads, we all have to sit patiently in our cars and wait until they stroll off the road before the journey can continue. That is major in Nigeria because as most people know, we are not big on patience.

My husband and I on the face of it have not got that much in common and when people ask me I struggle to come up with more than a couple of reasons. However, last year I realised probably the biggest unifier between us is the cow. He is Zulu you see and they too are cow people. So when I comment on how gorgeous cows are and take pictures as they stroll past my car or graze in fields, he totally gets it. I found an art gallery (Whitewall Galleries on Colmore Row, Birmingham) when in town with my husband last summer and although we disagreed about many paintings on display, we totally fell in love with one. A picture of a smiling cow by a fabulously talented local artist. I still have my eye on it and now that we have bought the house, it is next on the shopping list.

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A Frenchie Couple of Days

Ebola is easy [to catch]. In the 1990s scientists in America put an [Ebola] infected monkey in a cage on one side of a room and a healthy monkey in a cage on the other. Two weeks later, the healthy monkey was dead. Following a spate of Hollywood films, most people believe the human race is at greatest risk of annihilation from a giant meteorite or some kind of religious nuclear war. But if Ebola ever gets on a plane, experts say that 90 per cent of us will be dead within six months. It is known in America, where they are good at names, as a ‘slate wiper.’

I am quoting directly from Jeremy Clarkson’s ‘The World According to Clarkson’. I have been trying not to lotl (laugh out too loud) as he brilliantly ridicules everything from the Lottery’s Heritage fund to the British Government’s then PM His royal Tonyness to the fact that Germans actually rule the world. Of course, the Ebola bit is not in the least bit funny. It is kinda scary in this period when Ebola has taken nearly 1000 lives in Africa. Having read half of Clarkson’s book so far and finding myself agreeing with him on things I never thought we would have in common, I came across this quote on Ebola and it prompted me to put the book down and write this blog. I am currently sitting in Charles De Gaulle Airport (Paris) and trying not to be suspicious of everyone that passes by me. I am especially trying not to be racist against my own race since majority of known infected patients are from West Africa like me. I am to my shame eating my first Mackey D’s meal in 5 years because it was a choice between a McDonald’s, something piggy or a dry bit of chicken for the price of venison in a Michelin-starred restaurant in England. In the end, it was an easy choice, if a little disappointing.

This is one of my main gripes with Paris. On British telly, all the chefs are always saying how all food French is simply amazing and many a guidebook or review will agree with that. Well, that’s a lot of kaka I tell you. The first time I went to Paris, I innocently believed in these chefs’ believes so imagine my horreur when I asked for a bit of authentic French fod (onion soup) and when it came it tasted like dirty boots with no salt and the texture was not much better. Now I am one of those people who once I make a choice to have a meal, I can usually eat a fair bit of it and remain positive even it is not the best meal I have tasted. With this soup, the crushing disappointment combined with the disgusting taste and I couldn’t manage more than a couple of spoon fulls. I had to resort to sharing my mama’s salad which thankfully was more palatable. Then on my 2nd trip this time with my mama and dear sister, we were on the Avenue de Champs Elysee when hunger struck and we decided to chance the overpriced restaurants there. What we got was edible this time but my good God! It really wasn’t worth paying an arm and a leg for. I mean my sister enjoyed her frogs’ legs but my badly done chips were not worth the plate they were served on. The best food I have had in Paris was either from a fast-food joint (mostly crepes) or from the home of a family friend who lives in the suburbs. Maybe the reviews should specify this salient fact. You can get good food in Paris if you like baguettes or crepes or if you happen to know any Parisians who would cook for you.

My 2nd gripe is related and is about how expensive everything is. A can of pop in England ranges anywhere from 50p to 80p. In Paris, and not in a posh area, I have just paid 1 euro. I walked past a plastics shop and a cheap tatty toilet brush would have set me back by 6.90 euros and a single croissant in the land of croissants was 90 cents or 1 euro. What a scam! My ‘cheap’ McD meal is 7.70 euros (compared to something like £4 in England). A single to the airport, their equivalent to Heathrow is just under a tenner. A simple phone charger was 25 euros and a £100 mobile phone costs 200 euros. Don’t even get me started on their ‘fashion’…the simplest vest top would buy me a lovely dress in H&M England. To be fair, my cousin dragged me into their H&M and I realised that H&M is amazing even in Paris and it has French fashion to boot so I know where I will be going for my ‘French fashion’ the next time I visit Paris.

My biggest gripe is the stench. Don’t get offended if you are Parisian and reading this but man alive! I stepped off the plane and 100m away from the first restrooms, I could smell the stale urine. I declined to use the ladies at this juncture because I thought this is because they are the first restrooms after getting off the plane so maybe that why they are so smelly. Not so! Just before immigration, I spotted a seemingly isolated Ladies and off I went. The stale urine smell was pervasive even though the floor looked clean and dry. As I really did need to go by then, I inhaled and ran in to do my business. I came out and joined the ‘queue’ for immigration. I use the term queue loosely because apparently people here do not know the term. After 2 families squeezed in front of me in the queue and I was forced to endure the body odour coming off them, I cottoned on to the technique and pushed and shoved with the best of them. By the time I got to immigration, I was sick to the gills with all the smelly people around me and hacked off by their disorderliness. I almost forgot I was there because my one supportive uncle had invited me to come and spend a bit of time with him and his family as they holiday in Europe for the summer. And over the past 48 hours, the only bathroom I went without the stench was in a mall at La Defense so if you have to use a public restroom in Paris, I suggest you hold it until you get to this oasis of true hygiene.

There are numerous other things I do not love about Paris but I shan’t go into them all for fear someone labels me an anti-Frenchie and tries to stab me to death. What I will point out is that there were not even cute babies and young children to soften the disappointment and lighten the heart. So where are all the pretty Parisian kids in their designer clothes, enjoying frogs’ legs and foie gras? Maybe they all go to the French Riviera in the summer and are not due to return until the school term is about to start. I did have a good laugh at some of the fashion though. Lots of uncool ‘edgy’ fashionistas on show but the one that made me pinch myself so I would not lotl was a middle-aged lady in knee high cream pop socks tied up using wisps of netty material worn with open sandals and a long flowing black coat of shiny pseudo-suede material. OMG! Give me our English goths and emos anytime. I did clock a cute white baby who might be Parisian in the airport but doesn’t matter, plenty of mixed race and African babies going through Charles De Gaulle to brighten up my day. So now I understand the comments of some of my friends who greeted the news that I was going to Paris with a look of bewilderment and quite a bit of amazement that I had been to Paris twice already and was willing to go for a third time. Je suis une ‘silly’ saucisson! Hehehe.

Girly Man

I listen to Ed & Rachel on Heart FM on my daily drive in to work (as I always do because it is the best programme on radio!). Yesterday’s morning’s phone-in was about celebrating the ‘girly’ things that our men do that we think are great. So that got me thinking and this blog was born. Before I do that, let me just say I do not actually think these things are girly. I think the things I will praise below are just nice, lovely, sensitive traits that are brilliant regardless of gender. It is just that because men have the wrong idea about what it is to be a man, these nice things are now feminised. So to the men in my life whose traits I will be praising, I want to reassure you that I am in no way questioning your manhood or masculinity. I am celebrating you in all you glory!

My granddad, he of the military ways, is the only man I know who always has lip balm with him and applies liberally. Also, he moisturises daily and I know this is still true because last time I went home, I decided not to take any moisturiser with me and the only place I could find some was in my granddad’s bathroom. He had several bottles of lovely stuff and my skin was happy throughout the holiday. More importantly, he has lovely moisturised skin, his diabetic feet are the most beautiful I have ever seen and he has none of the skin complications associated with diabetes and hypertension. Well done Baba!

My teenage cousin (Baby A if you have read my blog) is a very creative boy and one of his ‘hobbies’ is cooking. He can cook a 3 course meal and seems to enjoy it but what I was most impressed by is that he can cook the loveliest crepes (thin pancakes). Impressed not only that he can make them delicious, thin, round and unbroken but also that he uses reconstituted powdered milk and if I hadn’t know, I would never have guessed. He also gives lovely hugs and likes to sit and talk about the important things in his life. And when I am not in the same town as he is (which is most of the time these days), he will often say hi or good night or send me emoticon hugs randomly. Warms my heart I tell you.

My brother-in-law’s best ‘girly’ trait is that he celebrates his love for his family. When he and my sister moved into their home, he spent a considerable amount of time and money choosing and framing pictures of their close family members. And by their family, I mean his family and my family. Imagine my surprise when I found the loveliest framed photo of my mama’s in their bedroom and one of me with the pictures of his sisters in his study. Awwwh! The other thing is his ability to turn the volume up when his favourite music is on and dance around the kitchen without any inhibitions or when in the car, do a perfect imitation particularly when it’s a girl singer lol. Before he lived with my sister, I thought that was a girl thing. But apparently not, thank goodness!

There are lots of girl things that I have come across that I have loved and still love in the uncles and cousins, patients and friends too. I know a man who loves black nail polish and getting his nails done who has to hide his love for fear of people’s acid tongues. I know of a younger brother who buys the best hand bags for his sister who is my friend. I know of a cousin who when he was younger loved nothing better than to brush his mum’s gorgeous hair. I know several who love to be hugged just like I do.

Special mention to my dear husband though. I love so much about him but foremost are the girly traits that were like girl-magnet when it came to me. I think the seed of love was planted when he was honest about his feelings and that he let me see how vulnerable falling head over heels had made him. He loves my pink fluffy socks which even I find too girly to wear out and he is not shy to admit it either…he took them all the way to Nigeria when he went to ask for my hand in marriage. My poor sister got a shock when she spotted my socks peeking out beneath his trouser leg. George also has a onesie (I am not sure how to spell it but you know what it is when I say it is like a large baby grow/jumpsuit/overall). He insists that it absolutely is not girly but I beg to differ. On babies is where it should be. On girls, it is cute and could even be a sexy slouchy playsuit-type affair on a young lady. On a boy up to primary school level I could persuaded to see its merits but on a man old enough to shave and father children, I am in the ‘please no’ group. Dearest old George pretended that I could have the onesie when I shared my concerns but did I ever get to wear it? You know the answer to that. The onesie is a bit of a uniform these days and I have to actively order him not to wear it to restaurants or the cinema. He even turned up at the hospital I am currently working in wearing the onesie and asking for me. Oh the embarrassment! If I had known, I would not have owned up to being his wife.

So to my granddad (Baba), Baby A, George and all the unmentioned cousins/friends/little ones that have made my days with their ‘girly’ ways, I love you all and please embrace the girl in you. One love.

Silence is the Residue of Fear

…Says Clint Smith (find him on YouTube) on the topic of ‘the dangers of silence’. I am sure we all have had things that we have been afraid of and that we have sometimes let those fears get the better of us. I know I have but as I have got older, I have learnt to deal with it better. The way I see it: either we let fear rule us and it limits our lives or we rule our fears and find ways of neutralising them and despite them make progress in life.

I used to be scared of heights, snakes and spiders. Many children are frightened by these things too. I guess one reason is that these things are potentially dangerous so we are physiologically and psychologically programmed to have a healthy fear of them. Secondly, children listen to their parents and siblings and as these phobias are the commonest in the world, we tend to feel that if mum/dad/older sister/brother is scared of them, there must be a good reason so we copy them.

I know personally that my fear of heights came from the fact that whenever I have gone higher than 4 metres off the ground, I feel this irresistible pull to jump off the edge and that scares me. Over the years, I know that the urge to jump is weaker than my desire to live so I am not so scared anymore but honestly, there is still a seed of fear in there somewhere when I am in a glass elevator over 10 floors high.

With snakes, it is simple. My mama is scared stiff of snakes. She will not wear anything with the image of a snake on it. She doesn’t want to see snakeskin shoes or bags. She can’t stand jewellery in the form of snakes. She doesn’t even like harmless cartoon snakes like the ones in Jungle Boy and Aladdin. So I was scared of them. Despite that, I loved the 2 cartoon snakes I have mentioned and I am happy to look through a glass wall in a zoo at the prettily coloured snakes and watch a documentary on them. Plus I would not turn down a ring or earrings shaped like a snake. However, I draw a line at having to handle one (God forbid someone tries to drape it over me) and I would never buy anything made up of snakeskin.

Icky spiders – I just don’t like the rough fuzzy texture of their skinny fragile legs. And they are a little stupid aren’t they? Because when you try to lead them out or catch them gently and release them outside, they run at you, try to climb all over you or cling to you and then in your irrational fear, you squash them. Oh dear!

A fear that was harder for me to deal with was my fear of commitment. My parents were divorced before I was born and I didn’t know very much about the reasons why until more recently. What I knew back then was that he must have been bad because my mama is an angel and he hurt her. Also through my mama’s feminist work and from attending feminist conferences with my mama, I heard a lot about the bad things that men do to women. Naturally I thought it was crazy that any woman would subject herself to a committed relationship with a man.

I didn’t have a proper boyfriend until I was 18 and that didn’t last long because he, rightly, wanted a girl who would keep in touch regularly (it was a little long distance, he lived about 2 hours away from London) and I resisted his requests because it felt like too much commitment to me at that stage. My next relationship was nearly 3 years later and this time, he was keen on being more intimate and yet was happy to be non-committal. I guess at 21 years, I had matured a little bit more and wanted some commitment. My fear then became that he wanted to use me and that I would fall in love with him then I would have my heart broken. So I broke it off.

I met George, my husband, when I was nearly 25 years old and he is the first to tell anyone who would listen that he knew he wanted to marry me within 48 hours of meeting me. Well, I embroider slightly. He insists he knew in the first hour of us meeting that he wanted to marry me but I think he is being rather dramatic. He did tell me on our 2nd date, 5 days after we met, that he liked me and he thought I was potentially the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Wow! Honestly I wanted to run away as far as my little legs could carry me. Instead, I sat in the reception of our favourite Chinese restaurant and tried to shush him because I didn’t want anyone to hear. I also told him that he was lucky I was leaving for a year abroad in the next week because if I hadn’t been, the fear his words had struck in my heart would have sent me into self-destruct mode and I would have sabotaged that relationship too.

The time and distance made me realise that here was a man who made me laugh, who loved me for me and whose heart is good. Here was a guy with whom the chemistry was just right. Here was a man who I could be myself with. So I meditated about it for many months whilst I was away. I talked to my mama, my sister and my friends. I prayed for guidance and I realised that although I was scared, petrified even, of committing to George, I was more afraid that I would throw away the chance to be happy. So I took a leap of faith and 3 years later, I am married to him.

So are you fearless now? I hear you ask. No, not quite! I have many small fears. I have one big irrational fear and I have one proper grown up fear. The grown up fear is my fear of failure. I have been lucky never to have failed at anything I set out to do until I failed my specialist paediatric (the dreaded 1b) exam last year in June. That failure threw me for six. I knew I had to retake the exam because I cannot progress beyond ST2 year (level 1 of specialist paediatric training). But I hated every minute of it. The fear crippled me. I couldn’t sleep, eat or work properly for many months in the lead up to the repeat. My ability to deal with the normal stresses of my relationship and work was at its lowest level ever. I even got to the point that I was thinking of giving up on the career I love because I was so scared I would fail again.

I got over that fear by thinking up a plan B. There are so many things I could be. I might want to be a paediatrician first and foremost but actually the underlying love is of children. So what else could I be that would allow me to work with children? As soon as I gave myself the permission to imagine, the list of alternatives was extensive. Top was human rights activist, academic teaching medical students, author of children’s books and even babysitter. The last one was particularly tempting especially because I know from my doctor colleagues that a babysitter taking care of 2 young children full time can earn as much as I do without any of the stress of being a doctor. Food for thought.

The last fear I will confess to is my irrational fear of mice/rats. I love Tom & Jerry – and as a child, I would always root for Jerry the mouse over Tom the cat. However, in reality, I hate those rodents. It comes from the time we cornered a mouse in our kitchen and tried to capture it. it poked its head into the drain hole of the kitchen sink and then squeezed through that tiny aperture. That was the freakiest thing to me! How can a round mouse do that? Bleurgh!!! So now I am petrified of them. A decade ago, I was in an uncle’s house in Nigeria and went into the guest bedroom to grab something. As I turned round to leave, I spotted a tiny mouse flash past the doorway and it must have been behind the chest of drawers beside the door. I jumped onto the centre of the bed and tried to work out a route of escape. My 2 year old cousin came to find me and joined me on the bed. We tried to shout for my sister and friend to come and save us but we were too far or too quiet to be heard. My sister finally came to find us about 30 minutes after we disappeared. She still laughs about it because when she came, I could barely speak in my fear as I tried to warn her that the mouse was there. She had to coax me off the bed after proving to me that the mouse was not laying in wait. That is one I still grapple with and I am not sure I will ever outgrow my fear of mice but luckily, I rarely have the misfortune of tangling with one.

Thou Shalt not be Extremists!

With all of the recent headlines about Islamist terrorists, ISIS and jihad, you may be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that the majority of Muslims are terrorists, extremists or at the very least extremist-sympathisers. Or at least that we are all being told to be one of those and that we are stupid enough to fall for the lies and deliberate mis-information. Not so in reality. Majority of us are right bang in the middle of the lane. As with all other groups of people.

Most of us are silent because we lack the motivation to get into a shouting match with the more vocal and more strident extremists and the likes. I hasten to point out that most people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike are like that: apathetic, ‘let someone else sort it’, ‘bury your head in the sand’, ‘go with the flow’ Joe Blogs. Most of us are unhappy with the labels being thrown around and although we try to straighten out those around us with salient facts, it is hard to make a dent into the torrents of lies that are being peddled by the extremists and by the media who love a scapegoat and worship viewer/reader numbers which undoubtedly flourish in the presence of terrorists, death and destruction. Most Muslims are tired of having to defend their very being as if the ‘innocent till proven guilty’ rule does not apply to us because of our faith. Despite the fact that our very lives and daily actions provide ample evidence that we are not in fact extremist or terrorist. Most Muslims are disappointed that people with normal intelligence cannot see through the blatant lies, just as majority immediately saw through Hitler’s propaganda for example or even Tony Blair’s weapons of mass destruction in Iraq whopper.

Here are some Islamic quotes to support this very premise in addition to the one in the image above. Please read and share for those who are in the dark about the actual teachings of Islam.

The Quran says:

  • “God does not forbid you to be kind and equitable to those who have neither fought against your faith nor driven you out of your homes. In fact God loves the equitable.” Qur’an 60:8

These are sayings by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh):

  • “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves..” The Last Sermon.
  • “Anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should not harm his neighbour, and anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should entertain his guest generously, and anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should talk what is good or keep quiet (i.e. abstain from all kinds of evil and dirty talk).” Abu Hurairah, Sahih Al Bukhari, Volume 8:47.
  • The best of all dealings is the one which is moderate.
  • They are the losers, those who make the religion hard and tough. They imperil themselves who enforce tough practices of Islam. They destroy themselves, those who are extremes. Ibn Masood, Sahih Muslim.
  • Make things easy and convenient and don’t make them harsh and difficult. Give cheer and glad tidings and do not create hatred. Riyadh us-Saleheen, Volume 1:637.
  • A strong person is not the person who throws his adversaries to the ground. A strong person is the one who contains himself when he is angry. Islam on Line 
  • “Religion is very easy, and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded.” Bukhari 1:38
  • “The best Jihad is (to speak) word of justice to an oppressive ruler.” Abu-Dawood 2040
  • “Avoid Cruelty and injustice..and guard yourselves against miserliness, for this has ruined nations who lived before you.” Riyadh-us-Salaheen 203

Sayings by some thinkers, Muslims and non-Muslims:

And I end on a comment by Steve Earle who said:

Salam!

School Refusal

My sister exhibited school refusal behaviour for years when we were little. Every morning was a huge trial in my home before I was old enough to start school. My mama would battle to get my sister washed and dressed in her uniform and she would dawdle as much as was humanly possible to my mama’s intense irritation. Then, as she approached the door of the car, all hell would break loose as she would weep as loudly as she could. If I hadn’t been witness, I would have assumed my mama was draconian and was whipping her to shreds with a dourinah (a.k.a. koboko – a leather whip that is extremely effective for whipping and causing exquisite pain). She would get as far as the door of the car and like a limpet, grab onto the frame of the door with hands and bracing her feet on the floor of the car refuse to get into the car. My mama would withdraw because she couldn’t face this torture every morning and either the driver or one of the cousins/aunties or 2 would have to prise my sister’s hands and feet off her brace position and someone chuck her into the car and shut the door. Once in the car, her weeping would settle into less loud sobbing and the last image I would have of her was her face pressed longingly to the back window, staring at me whilst tears streamed down her face as the car reversed out of our drive and took her away to school.

Coming home was a much happier affair for my sister. As soon as I heard the car’s horn blare for someone to open the gate, I would stop whatever I was doing and race onto the veranda and wait for my sister to alight. Then I would excitedly tell her about my ‘amazing day’. Truth was I hated being left at home almost as much as she appeared to hate leaving for school. I was so bored without her that I would make up stories about how much fun I had at home whilst she was away. The best recurrent series of stories that I told my sister was as follows. We had a concrete electrical pole by the side of the house that stood about 7-8 metres high. I used to pretend I could climb up this pole and once I got to the top, I would whizz around the country using the electric cables, having adventures as I went. A bit like time travel but without a tardis or similar machine. To be fair, my sister was sceptical to begin with because it was a little far-fetched but two things convinced her: an older cousin who was home with me corroborated my story and I embroidered the stories with so many details that her imagination overcame her scepticism.

Basically, I could only go up this pole on a weekday morning when my sister was never there. I somehow had special strength in my limbs that would allow me to climb to the top during those hours of the day but not outside those hours. I remember demonstrating to my sister how I could climb about 1-2 metres then get stuck so I guess she could imagine how if I carried on, I would get to the top. Then she questioned why we would go to certain places only. I was wise enough to know that if I started to talk about places I had never been, I would be caught out so I always went to Kaduna or Lagos, Mambilla or Kano or even Michika on my time travels. I told her that I did not control the time travel. All I did was climb to the top and I was beamed somewhere. I cannot remember the exact details of my stories but it generally involved being chased by someone or some animal and escaping or visiting the seaside or a mountain. Once my sister was convinced, it was easy to spin the tales into more fantastic stories. Little did I know that she believed for many many years after I stopped those tales. Apparently my story-telling was so good it was only after she was a grown up that she questioned those tales. She only admitted that to me in the last couple of years!

Looking back, I think perhaps that my sister hated leaving for school because she was missing out on the adventures of the pole travels. Also she must have missed me as much as I missed her and it was like a small bereavement every morning. Poor little thing. This must have been the case because I think within a week of my starting school, she would skip happily to the car every morning and I don’t remember any more early morning tears. Phew!

Allah (swt) is Al-Jabbar: The Mender of broken hearts

The words that follow were written by a lady called Asmaa Hussein who lost her love and reflects on how her relationship with God is helping her through it all. It struck a cord with me because this is the Allah I believe in and worship. The loving, merciful incredible God who promotes peace and love, not war and violence.

 

It has been a year since I got that most-hated phone call, a year since I stood over Amr’s body at the morgue and tried to memorize every feature of his face before I would have to let him go, a year since we were attacked in the graveyard by people who hated the truth and righteousness that Amr stood for.

People wonder how I was able to hold myself together. They wonder why I haven’t collapsed or given up hope in Allah or in the goodness of people.

I don’t have an explanation from myself, but the answer can be found in the story of Prophet Musa’s mother in the Quran. She was instructed to place him in the water if she feared for his life at the hands of Pharaoh’s army:

“And We inspired to the mother of Moses, ‘Suckle him; but when you fear for him, cast him into the river and do not fear and do not grieve. Indeed, We will return him to you and will make him [one] of the messengers'” (28:7).

I often wonder about what kind of strength she must have possessed when she placed her infant child into a basket, and pushed him into the water without knowing where he would end up, or whether she would see him again. She did one of the most difficult things a mother could do. But she held herself together with the help and guidance of her Lord, and watched him drift away.

Musa was accepted into the house of Aasiya, but he refused to breastfeed from any woman and his sister who had been following him, led them to take the baby back to his mother.

What was the purpose of Allah (swt) returning Musa to his mother? Musa could have breastfed from any woman without returning to his mother and still grown up to be the messenger of Allah, not decreasing anything from his righteousness or his remarkable journey and story.

But there was a reason Musa had to come home to his mother:

“So We restored him to his mother that she might be content and not grieve and that she would know that the promise of Allah is true. But most of the people do not know” (28:13).

Allah caused Musa to return to his mother simply so that she wouldn’t grieve, so that her heart would be at ease and that her faith would not waiver.

Allah (swt) cared about this woman. He mended her heart, not so that the course of history could change or some big momentous event could take place. He mended it because He is Merciful and Loving to the believers. And so that when we read her story, we can know the extent of His Love and Mercy. That is all. And that is enough of a reason.

Allah (swt) doesn’t wish for the believers to grieve, and He wants them to know that His promise is true. I’ve lived it this past year. Every time I was about to reach a breaking point in my despair, or to fall into the darkness of losing hope, I would receive some news that would lift my heart. Someone would have a beautiful dream of Amr, someone would perform ummrah on his behalf, or establish some charity on his behalf. I would receive words of support from people I love and respect, or encounter some verses in the Quran that would take me by the hand and hold me steady.

I remember a few months ago sitting one day after I had prayed Asr. Tears were streaming down my cheeks, my heart was aching and I didn’t know how to rid myself of the immense pain. I raised my hands to ask Allah (swt) to help me be able to somehow visit His sacred house to come closer to Him and for that to be a part of my healing. Before I was able to even make the dua, my phone rang. It was Amr’s parents calling me to tell me they were just at the Ka’bah making dua for me to be able to visit it. And I thought – how strange that this dua has yet to come from my lips, and Allah (swt) has put the same dua on the lips of people beloved to me in such a blessed place.

My heart was lifted so much in that moment that the tears of sadness turned into tears of joy.

None of these things are coincidences. And none of these things happened because I am particularly good or worthy. They happen because Allah (swt) cares about the hearts of His slaves. I know that He cares about me and about my daughter because I’ve lived in the realm of this immense Mercy this past year…every ounce of pain was met with some inexplicable beauty and serenity that no human effort could produce. And it was from Him. All of it.

If you believe in Allah alone with no partners or intermediaries, and you worship Him alone, and you sacrifice that which you love in order to come closer to Him alone, you will see wonders in your life. Your difficulties will become blessings. Your heartaches will become healing. Your duas will be answered in ways that you could have never imagined. He doesn’t want you to grieve, and He wants you to know that His promise to the believers is true.

It’s not any more complicated than that. It happened to me, and it’s still happening.

Alhamdulillah.

What’s in a Bouquet?

Nothing gives me the pleasure a nice bouquet of flowers gives me. One of my dearest friends came to see my new home after the wedding and brought along her nice boyfriend to dinner. He came bearing flowers and I could not hide it. I was smitten. He is now the lovely boyfriend, upgraded from ‘nice’.

All flowers and come to think of it, portable plants have that effect on me. They upgrade a person. Maybe it is because a person who appreciates a bit of nature automatically appeals to my inner green goddess. Or maybe it is because they are so beautiful that they appeal to my love of beauty. I am a big fan of beauty in so many ways my husband gets confused. I will digress, as you know I am prone to, but I do find beauty in unusual places and features. My own mama is still grappling with the concept of ugly cute which my sister totally gets. Think the Grinch which I find irresistibly cute down to his pointy paunch. Lol.

Back to the flowers now, I think I also love them because I know they and their leaves more importantly are tirelessly hovering up all the CO2 I am producing and providing me with fresh oxygen to breath. Some of them are also emitting the most gorgeous natural fragrance to turn an ordinary room into an oasis. So when I get a bunch of flowers, it goes beyond the thought for me. It is a gift of love, of happiness, of health, of beauty, of fragrance and of generally amazingness. Never does a £10 gift generate so much appreciation and gratitude. Love love love.

Brummie Beautiful

Before I became a Brummie, I lived in London. My oldest friends in the UK mostly live in London and most thought I would be back to London first chance I got after uni. I had other ideas. When I applied to study at the University of Birmingham, my top reason was not how well the University did in the overall league tables (it is one of the top ones) or the style of teaching at their Medical School (systems-based learning with early clinical contact which suited me perfectly) or even the extra-curricular opportunities available (our uni loves sports and music). I just knew that the Midlands was the place my heart felt the strongest pull towards.

I first visited the Midlands a year after moving to the UK when we went to Nottingham to visit an old classmate of my mama who happens to be a GP whose son was at the Medical School in Birmingham. I loved the idea of the Midlands, ironically it brought to mind Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings which is based around Birmingham and the West Midlands but I didn’t know that then. There was something about the calmer pace of life that I was immediately drawn to and the open spaces and clean air in Nottingham. My London stresses simply fell away and yet it felt like there was enough to do for me here. The best way I can describe how I felt is that my pulse matched the pulse of the Midlands.

Knowing how I felt about the Midlands and having spoken to the medical student son of the GP friend of my mama’s, I knew that my 2 certain UCAS application spots for medical school would be Nottingham and Birmingham. I ended up applying for a spot in Imperial College and Kings College (both to match my Queens College pedigree). I persuaded my mother to accompany me to the Open Day at the University of Birmingham and my top choice became Birmingham. I loved it all. From New Street Station which to be honest wasn’t all that (although we are awaiting our new state-of-the-art concourse and generally more beautiful station which is being worked on as I write). To the pace of the life – there was enough bustle for me not to be bored bearing in mind my Lagos and London background. To the mix of people – black, brown, white and many shades in between of all shapes and sizes and how happy majority of people seemed to be as they rushed around shopping and working. And finally the beautiful grounds of the University of Birmingham which impressed me from the moment I stepped out of University station and cast my eyes on the Iron Man on the little roundabout leading to the main University Campus.

The longer I have lived in Birmingham, the more in love I have fallen with it. People are scornful of the ‘accent’. Err, the accent y’all think is Brummie is actually Black Country and majority of people in Birmingham City do not sound anything like that! And I don’t even mind the black country brogue despite the fact that when those people speak to me, I have to focus really hard and find myself staring at their lips as if I can lip-read. The other common misconception is that it is all warehouses and dirty ugly buildings which I am sure are a stereotype from the war days. Well, you should see Birmingham now. We have lovely centuries-old cathedral and buildings, many right in the centre of town. We have a beautiful open market on weekdays behind the Bullring and the Rag Markets which are closed also behind the Bullring. I cannot not mention the Bullring because it is now a major family attraction for all its shopping and food court. Also the Mailbox which is glamorous sister of the Bullring with its more expensive designer shops and trendier restaurants, bars and clubs. There is the Arcadian with all of its entertainment by night and dining facilities by day. Our China/Oriental town is thriving right next to the Arcadian with Chinese supermarkets and many restaurants to choose from.

The Jewellery Quarter is simply the place to be if you are looking for a great deal on diamonds and precious metals. If you take your time browsing, you will find jewellery shops with beautiful antique one-off pieces like the pearl bracelet I wore on my wedding day. There are also jewellers there who will for a fee design unique pieces for you or use an old stone to design a new piece or re-structure an old necklace or bracelet to suit you. I lived in the JQ so you could say I am partial but it is a lovely place to live with lots of flats perfect for single young professionals or newly cohabiting partners who are yet to start having a family. The cemetery is a peaceful place to hang out…it is a proper old-school one with large tombstones and in many spots, whole families laid to rest together over the years. For the year I lived there, I would walk through the cemetery every morning and evening and say a prayer for those whose bodies were laid there and I would wonder about their stories and smile at the fresh flowers placed at gravesides.

The biggest thing for me though is the people of Birmingham. Of course we have our EDL-racists, our illiterate chavs, our stinky tramps and our gangs which are not the best but which large city doesn’t have them? As the second largest city in the UK, we have our fair share of the not-so-desirables but you have to look deeper than that. We are a melting pot of all the races of the world. The ‘minorities’ here are not minorities. We have large communities of Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Jamaican, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Polish and Iranians. You name it, we have got them in fair numbers in Brum. With all these groups comes the variety of music and food on our streets. We have festivals to cater for all the different groups. We celebrate Eid and Diwali with as much gusto as Christmas. We have plays celebrating all the different cultures. The highlight for me, we have children that are more mixed than in any place I have lived. We have the unlikeliest of mixes…black and Chinese, black and Indian, Pakistani and English, Spanish and Turkish, even Nigerian and Polish. As a paediatrician, it is a privilege for me to get an insight into these families and appreciate the diversity of my home. Simply put, they say home is where the heart is. For me, Birmingham is where my heart is.

Black Sisterhood

I am black. I love being black. I celebrate being black. Earlier this week, I had an incident that to me highlighted what is so amazing about being black and being included in the black brotherhood. Or sisterhood when it comes to us ladies.

My husband borrowed my nice 100% electric eco-loving car on that day because his work car was in for repairs and I was stuck with his super-sexy sporty German turbo-charged something or the other. Honestly, I am a bit of a speed fiend so I wasn’t complaining too loudly and he did custom-order the interior leather colours to suit my taste. So here I was in his sexy car running down to the nearest Charity shop to drop off some bits and bobs. On my way back after another diversion for road works, the fuel low indicator began to flash furiously at me and I thought this was the normal husband thing where the fuel is always a little too low for comfort and I get teased mercilessly for preferring the comfort of a few extra litres, just in case. Anyway, to cut the long story short, as I debated where the nearest fuel station was, the car started to slow down and then cut out shortly afterwards and then I was broken down.

OMG! I managed to steer the car into the inside lane before it cut out completely then called the recovery people. I popped my hazards on and settled down to wait for the lovely recovery people to come save me after a few choice words to my husband which clearly displayed my displeasure at the predicament I found myself in. The first bus that came up to me stopped and pretended a whole lane was not wide enough for him to use and he wanted me out of the way. I pretended not to see him but I was looking as he gestured something rude. A really fat white man.

I got onto my phone and started doing phone things to stave off the boredom that was already overwhelming me 3 minutes into the wait (in a promised less than 1 hour wait). I was engrossed in my phone when I perceived a vehicle slowing down to a halt beside my car. I reluctantly pulled my eyes away from my device when I heard an incredulous voice say ‘oh no, she is on her phone’. My already bad mood immediately worsened and before I could engage the brakes on my mouth, I said ‘Well I am broken down. Is there a law against using my phone when I am stationary?’ It was a white police woman in a police van. She blushed in embarrassment because her jumping to that conclusion was completely prejudiced having seen that here was a young black woman in an expensive car stopped in an unusual position. She apologised immediately and after suggesting that I might perhaps be safer standing out on the pavement, she drove off swiftly. Smh!

As I stood by my car and waited, I had several dirty looks from passing drivers, all white and seemingly hostile because I had the audacity to break down in their path. Never mind that they could all drive past in the unobstructed outer lane. I stared them all down and waited. A black guy driving a delivery van stopped 2 car lengths behind me and offered his assistance. With his help, I managed to reverse back into a better position leaving more space for the outer lane to flow nicely. When he was satisfied I was in a better position, he left with a kind word. My mood much improved, I hummed a song as I paced the pavement. I was broken down in a spot near the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital so I had a few patients stop by to offer their kind help too.

There was a very elderly very English gentleman who tottered over in his tweed jacket to ask if there was anything he could do to assist me. My smile firmly restored, I was able to say no but thank you and watched as he made his slow progress away from me. Next a pair of fellow elderly Africans stopped. I joked that I just needed a parking space and was waiting for them to leave. After they had unsuccessfully tried to guess that I was Nigerian, they commiserated with my situation and offered to let me sit in their car to shelter from the light drizzle. I declined their offer and instead had a debate about the Ebola outbreak and what it would do potentially to us ‘poor’ Africans. I had to reassure the ‘dad’ that I was definitely okay and that the recovery van man had called to say he would be there in the next 15 minutes or so before they reluctantly drove off.

I have been reflecting about this little incident for the past couple of days and my conclusions are as follows. There is definitely a lot of work to be done in inter-racial relations and the negative stereotyping we all do especially when it comes to colour. Britain might like to pretend it is PC and all that but actually there is an undercurrent of racism in a lot of their institutions, the Police being a prime example. The neighbourhood I broke down in was inconveniently the ‘most racist’ one in Birmingham. Northfield – the stronghold of BNP in Birmingham where many EDL supporters live. Allegedly. I am sure many of those white drivers who jumped to conclusions about why my car was stopped on the main road going through Northfield were of the BNP/EDL-persuasion. But who knows?

Most importantly, that incident was a very positive experience for me. First that the lovely old gentleman saw a woman in need and was gentleman enough to offer help that he physically would not have been up to. Second that the black delivery guy took time out of his busy schedule to stop to help a sister and indeed succeeded in making me and my car safer. Lastly that the African pair kept me company and offered to shelter me from the rain. I am thankful that kindness and neighbourly concern are still quality traits on display and that there are still men out there who would go out of their way to offer their assistance to a complete stranger. Despite her gender or colour. I am thankful to be part of a race that believes still in brother- and sister-hood of everyone black and that where we are a minority, there is a code of this black-hood that means they automatically consider us part of one large family. It is such a lovely feeling and it is part of the reason why I love being in Birmingham because I see evidence of such goodness often as I go about my business. Long may these feelings and attitudes continue to prosper!