Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Greatest Heist

When people talk about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I want to shut my ears and not have to listen about who started what and whose fault it was. Initially (I’m talking about the most recent spate of killing this summer), the UK media was all pro-Israel and blaming it all on Hamas and Islamist militants. Of course this is the currently flavour of the new millennium so I don’t expect any different. However, I do wonder why we have got to the point that legitimises Israel enough that we question who started what.

I know history isn’t my strong point…indeed I dropped the subject as soon as I was allowed to in school because the lessons were so boring for me, I felt like I was having a mini-stroke each time I had to endure one. But these days with the internet and good writers, I am loving my history. So let’s look at the facts about Palestine and those who came in to steal their land.

Palestinians (comprised of mostly Muslim and Christian Arabs and a minority of Jews) were living peacefully in the South-western corner of the Middle East. In the years around 1948, Europeans of Jewish descent (mostly Russian, German, Polish and Romanian) mobilised and en-masse emigrated to the ‘Promised land’. They were led by a group of political extremists who called themselves Zionists who wanted their own State. Unfortunately, it was already occupied by the Palestinians. These Palestinians were home and had no intention of letting someone else move into their land and displace them. So they didn’t quietly give up their land. They fought to protect their homes. The emigrants decided that if the occupants would not create a space for them, they would force them to. So they killed nearly 1 million Palestinians and they moved in. In 1948, after a lot of bloodshed, the Zionists lay claim to over 50% of the land occupied by the Palestinians.

The UN did a lot of hand-wringing and said the occupation was illegal but their voices were quiet because politically and economically, the Zionists were powerful and for the UN big players (the US and UK especially), the Zionist money trumped the human rights of the people of Palestine. So the UN threw up its hands and turned away without any real admonition to these land-grabbing killers. Over the next 60+ years, the Zionists grabbed more and more land for their new territory (Israel), all the while killing thousands of innocent Palestinians and generally making life for the majority of Palestinians intolerable.

Today, Israel with its approximately 7.5 million population occupies a territory of just under 22,000 square km compared to Palestine’s 3.5 million population who occupy less than 6,000 square km. From all accounts, the Jews only owned 7% of the land to begin with. So they owned less than 2000 square km and that has somehow grown to 11 times its size (now occupying 78% of the area). Israel has built walls effectively imprisoning those within them and controls movement of the Palestinians. It controls the movement of food and other commodities needed in daily lives. Palestine which existed hundreds or even thousands of years (as there are historical texts that talk about Palestine from around 600AD) is not a UN-recognised country but Israel which was created within a lifespan and who illegally grabbed land has a seat on the UN council.

Am I missing something here? Put yourself in the shoes of the Palestinians. Whoever you may be and wherever you may belong. I try to imagine what I would do. This is how I imagine this. My husband and I have a house (not imagination). It has a few bedrooms and a few bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room, a garden and a garage. It belongs to us. It is newly built so it never belonged to anyone else. We have papers of ownership. The records all show the deed are in our name. My husband and I live in it. We are chilling at home one weekend when someone knocks on my door. It is a family of 4 from neighbouring Coventry. They are from out of town and they have no place to spend the night but they have a tent. Can they camp out in our back garden until they are rested? We let them have our garden. One day, we come home from work and they have moved into our garage. Sorry, they say, it was raining so hard that we just needed to get some more concrete shelter. Okay I say, being kind-hearted. Days roll into weeks and I say to my husband it would be nice to have access to the garage again but we decide to just let them be because they are not causing undue inconvenience. One day, both my husband and I work late and come to find the family has moved into the house and occupied 2 out of 3 bedrooms. There are only 2 of you, they reason, and you really don’t need more than the master bedroom and your bathroom. My husband and I are not happy. It is our property after all and we paid for it. We contact the police who says it is your home but our hands are tied if they say you invited them in. As we try to think of a solution, we come home one day to find our things have been moved into the garage and the locks to the doors to the house have been changed so the only room we have access to is the garage. We knock on the door angrily and are told through the letterbox to leave or else.

What would you do? Of course, we would try to get the Police to evict them and restore our property to us. We might involve the local media and social media in an effort to get some support. However, if everyone sat on their hands and were not interested in our story would we just leave it at that? The truth is we would try anything to get them out. We would break down the door and throw their things out and move our things back in. We would drag them kicking and screaming out onto the street outside if we were strong enough to do so. Or we would mobilise our neighbours and friends to get them out.

This is what Palestinians have done as far as I can see. They fought not to leave their land. They were forced out. Many tried to appeal to the world for help to restore what was legally their land. Then a small fraction of the population got angry enough to pick up arms and resort to violence. Hamas and other political groups were born and as they gain more support, their weaponry gets more sophisticated. However, the moneyed Zionists have far superior weapons and superior defences so again, it is the whole population of Palestine that suffers. But Hamas and their ilk do not stop to consider that and neither does Israel. The innocents of Palestine (mostly unarmed young men, children and women) continue to die as they are caught in the crossfires.

Now picture that Palestine is located in Europe. Imagine that England was Promised to a group of people in their Holy text a couple of millennia ago. And these people decided to mobilise in 2015 to collectively travel to England. Then imagine that they initially claim asylum and stay with people of same ancestry. And over months, they move into neighbouring lands until the neighbours protest and resist. The invaders then mount violent assault on the people occupying England, pushing all those people North and across in Wales and Scotland. Imagine them killing more than 10% of the people currently living in England and then declaring England is no longer to be called England…that they have renamed it ‘Promised Land’ and the English are no longer citizens of a known legitimate state. Imagine…

What a dire situation those people live in! What kind of a world sits back and watches the conflict deepen and life become more and more inhumane for millions? What kind of world rewards criminality with legitimacy? I feel desperately sorry for those who are living under this tyrannical rule and feel they have no choice but to put up with because it is their home. Obviously I know that the issue of humans and their attachment to land is complex and people have always valued land more than most things including significantly their lives. And there is the small issue of the walls around Palestine so many cannot merely leave and move onto greener pastures. What a hot mess!

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When You Argue with a Fool

Have you ever had an argument that goes round and round in circles, never-ending with no point to be made? Where the person you are arguing with seems to be in a monologue? Where their comebacks are so off the mark that it feels like you are in a different time-zone? Where hitting your head hard against a concrete wall might be more productive?

I have and it used to annoy me so much that I’d get really upset and want to stamp my feet. And I used to try and reason with them and try to get them to see that the argument was entirely useless and was going nowhere. Now that I am older and wiser and my fuse less short, I deal with it in one of 2 ways. Either I say ‘look this argument is going nowhere and I don’t have the time for this’ or I just say ‘we will have to agree to disagree’.

I will confess something. I copied that 2nd response off somebody older who I admired when I was teenager. I remember the first time someone used it on me and back then, I couldn’t handle the maturity of it. Back then I thought everything was black or white. I thought every argument had to end with a winner and a loser. Now I know that there are many shades of grey in between (no, not 50 shades child!). Knowing that the world isn’t so binary makes arguments less upsetting for me.

I can now acknowledge what is fact for me is not necessarily fact for another because we are all shaped by different factors. We are shaped by our genes, our environment, our family, our friends, the media, our education, our beliefs, our religion, our culture and much more. Most important of the factors that shape how we view the world is our experiences. Hence, some of the things I would have argued successfully so passionately for 10 years ago, I am not so sure now are as I argued. Yes I enjoy a good debate but I am the sort that will not be dragged into an argument unless I have strong views on the subject and I have very solid reasons to back up my views. Fact is, I do not back away from an argument and I am often successful in getting my point accepted or at the very least acknowledged by my debating partner. But I choose what I will be sucked in by. And more importantly by who.

Which brings me neatly to the quote I have used as inspiration for this blog…‘don’t argue with fools, people passing by won’t be able to tell who is who’. It is my belief that arguing with someone who you know is arguing for all the wrong reasons is a complete waste of your life. This wrong reason might be that the arguer loves the sound of their voice and they are using you as a sounding board. Or they want to impose their beliefs on you because they do not think yours are important enough. Or they say things they don’t believe in order to shock or upset or entertain the passers-by. Or they want to score points. Or they are angry or upset or stressed about something or over someone and they want to take it out on a scapegoat. Or they are arguing for the sake of it, not because they believe in what they are trying to convince you is true.

These days, with my adult hat on if I spot the arguer with these wrong reasons and they ask an opinion so they can start a diatribe, I simply say: ‘oh good question but I am afraid I don’t know much about that. I’ll pass.’ Or ‘how about you tell me what you think’ or ‘I would be lying if I said I care about that matter’. Then I listen until my patience runs out and I find an excuse to not be in the same space anymore.

If it is a proper friend and they pick an argument over the littlest thing, I will usually get worried and ask if they are okay…really ok or if there is something they need to get off their chest? You know the saying ‘when you ask a woman what’s wrong and she says it’s nothing…’ Well fact is, when your sister/mother/husband/friend who you usually get on with great starts to conjure up arguments from the most innocuous conversation, then they are asking for help. Something is up and they want permission to spill. They want you to listen. So please, instead of entering into a slanging match, give them a hug and invite them to tell you what’s really bothering them. Chances are that they do not really think George Bush was a good president or Apartheid wasn’t all that bad.

Being a Paediatrician

I knew I wanted to be a doctor when I was about 4 years old. I can’t explain now how I came to that conclusion or why I was so sure. I just knew and now I am a doctor. In my 2nd or 3rd year of medical school, as part of career guidance we were given a link to a website where we could input our data and get a psychometric analysis done on us. I had to answer a series of questions about how I felt about certain things, my beliefs, my principles, how I solved problems. Eventually, I answered the numerous questions and it took a minute or 2 to load. Then it gave me the list of medical specialities ranked according to the ones I am most suited. Pathology and neurophysiology came last as I would have expected but I was taken aback by the top 3 choices. It said: Paediatrics, Palliative Care and Neonatology. I poo-pooed the test and dismissed it. When I went into medical school, one thing I was certain of was that I loved children and I never wanted to see them sick and suffering. Therefore I sort of ruled out paediatrics very early on. Back then I thought I might end up being in Obs & Gynae (obstetrics and gynaecology) because it was a good mix of medicine and surgery and I thought the variety and acuteness would suit me. I also thought I could be a GP because it retained the versatility of all of medicine without having to make a choice.

During my Obs & Gynae posting as a medical student, I found that although it was interesting the speciality did not set my pulse a-racing. There was no eureka moment. The specialists were nice but I didn’t feel any kinship with them. My paediatrics was my last medical school posting and the moment I stepped into the Children’s Hospital (BCH), I felt an excitement. Even though most of it went over my head and there seemed to be a lot of calculations and there was the issue of small people who were not well, I felt right at home. Over the 6 week placement, I grew to love BCH. I loved the patients, the child-friendly wards with their play areas, the kindness of the nurses and most especially, here were doctors I wanted to be like. Who I enjoyed spending my time with. Who seemed to derive pleasure from their work even as they were rushed off their feet with the number of patients. By the end of that placement, the career puzzle for me was solved. I was going to be a paediatrician. And to my surprise, the patients I loved spending time the most with were the little premature babies born with complex problems needing surgery to survive.

As an FY1 (first year after graduation from medical school), I met a patient in her 30s who had inoperable incurable ovarian cancer. We bonded as I tried hard to get some blood out of her for some tests her consultant had ordered. When the ordeal was over, I thanked her for being patient and she called me back to say she thought I had a way about me that would be perfect for palliative care. She said she didn’t know if I already had my career mapped out but that I should think about going down the Palliative care route. I thanked her for her kind words and left in a reflective mood. Despite my psychometric prediction, I had never given it much thought. I considered it over the next few days and concluded that although I was a listener and when it came to my patients very patient (unlike in my personal life then), I wasn’t sure I could handle all the emotions that are linked with patients who are dying. So I filed the idea away under ‘unlikely’ and didn’t give it any more thought until just recently.

Earlier this year, I stumbled across an online course on paediatric palliative care and signed up to it. As I worked through the course modules, I realised that I was into all the issues that were being raised and although a lot of it was challenging, it was exactly the kind of challenge I relished. A lot of it was to do with talking about options and choices. About spirituality and counselling. About co-ordinating care. About letting the dying patient and their relatives dictate the terms about how these last days/weeks/months should be handled. I realised that palliative care is not just about the advanced care pathway which outlines what to do when death is imminent but also about actively keeping the patient well enough to reach certain goals. It is about enabling the patient to die in a way that is most acceptable to them. It is about being there for the patient and their family so that when things become scary or unexpected, there is a comforting presence to guide them through the darkest hours/days. So I have come full circle and now I know that I would like to sub-specialise in paediatric palliative care. I wish I knew where my Obs & Gynae patient was so I could share the news. I wonder if she is still alive today.

I love being a paediatrician by the way. If I don’t end up sub-specialising, I would happily be a general paediatrician. There is a different vibe on a paediatric ward or in a paediatric hospital like BCH. There is a friendliness that is missing in adult medicine. People seem to go out of their way more to be helpful in the paediatric world. Nurses do not seem to be as difficult or as disconnected as they can be in adult medicine. The paint on the walls is brighter happier colours. There are toys, music and games everywhere you go. The best bit about my job is the children. It is such a privilege to work with kids. They are amazing little packages, mostly untainted by the negativities that come with growing up. They come out with the best statements and questions that make you stop and think or laugh until your belly hurts. Their bravery is comparable to none and watching them as they struggle with illness and develop ways of coping is inspiring.

Of course paediatrics is a complex speciality by its very nature. Our patients are often too young to tell us how they feel and exactly what their symptoms are so we have to be more observant than our adult counterparts and we have to go on what other’s (parents/carers) impressions are more than the patient’s own words. Many do not understand why they feel poorly. They just know that they are not happy and they want it to be fixed. Parents are often not at their best when they meet us because they are anxious and stressed about their sick child and are frustrated because they have no solution to put them out of their misery. So yes, it is often the most difficult part of the job having to face irate upset parents who want to find someone to blame for their helplessness. Who want to take out their frustrations on someone else and make demands because it makes them feel they are doing something…anything. Sometimes, these parents do cross the line of anxious and stressed parents to parents who are abusive (mostly verbally but occasionally physically). Unfortunately, it comes with the job but we deal with it in our own way. Usually by being patient and reasoning with but where necessary we call on services to support and protect us. Luckily, these horrible encounters are not an everyday occurrence.

I have so many examples of the beautiful little people I have come across in my job but I will tell you about a recent one. I was on-call over a weekend and covering the haematology ward (haematology deals with diseases involving the blood cells). A 2½ year old boy with severe haemophilia B came in with bruising which meant he needed an injection of factor IX (the bit of blood he doesn’t make enough of which is essential to prevent you bleeding without much force). It was my job to treat him so with his parents and a fellow doctor assisting, we held him still and I injected the medicine into his vein. He cried as I did it and when it was done (it only took a minute), his parents prompted him to say thank you. Through his tears, he turned to me and said ‘thank you’. Then as I tidied up, they got their things together to leave and he waved and said to me ‘bye lady’. With no resentment. Despite the fact that I had just poked him with a needle for reasons he was too young to understand. I thought wow! Only a child would be as forgiving as that. The momentary feeling of guilt for making the gorgeous little boy cry passed with that exchange and off I went, to do more things to other children which might make them cry in the short term but looking at the bigger picture, everything I do is in their best interests so when I go home and I go to sleep, I feel happy and satisfied. And thankful for another day where I have done all I could to make another child’s life that bit better.

Judge Me Not

Yo teach, I’m fed up with this shit!

Judge me not by the color of my skin,

This olive complexion given by genes.

Hate me not for my accent,

Trying to hide it for your pleasure.

 

My grades reflect MY knowledge!

Don’t give me that

“Cause you were taught in a white school” shit.

What you know?

Ma stayed up with me studying,

You gave up,

Saying I’ll never make it.

 

Now I’m laughing. 

Six years later and I’m graduating,

Heading off to college,

While your rich and privileged dropped out. 

Y’all could’ve believed in me,

But you refused.

So later fool, I’m out.

Off to better places and higher goals.

 

The poem above is entitled JUDGE ME NOT BY THE COLOR OF MY SKIN by NANASEVEN432 (accessed on http://www.powerpoetry.org/poems/judge-me-not-color-my-skin). It says so much about what it is to have skin that is not white in a majority white country. Britain is much more inclusive than America judging by what is said in the media. Yet, the first thing I am judged by generally is the colour of my skin.

I moved to London aged 14 and I can tell you far from rejoicing when my mama told me we were moving to England, I was very sad for many months. I did not want to be the new girl at my new school and I certainly did not want to leave my friends. I was afraid of what it would be like to be the foreigner. I was not excited about the prospect of cold winters or being away from the extended family. Little did I realise that as soon as I stepped off the plane, I would lose my identity and join the nameless mass of ‘black people’. That I would be held responsible for every bad thing any black person has ever done or will do in the future. That I would be judged even before I open my mouth and speak.

When I went for career’s advice in secondary school, I told the lady that I was going to be a doctor. I believe I was the first person from my school in Tottenham to become a doctor (I might be wrong but my teachers say so) so you can imagine this careers advisor’s expression. She took a minute to compose herself and said you need to consider other options like physiotherapy or nursing (these are probably more attainable for the black population). I was like I am pretty sure that is what I want to be. Another white tutor at College met with me to give me advice on UCAS applications and cautioned me against applying for just medicine (UCAS allows you to apply for 4 medical schools only which usually means prospective medical students apply for physiotherapy or medical science or pharmacy in the last 2 UCAS slots as backup). Well, I told him, I will take my chances. I don’t want to be a physio or anything else. I saw the lack of belief in his face but I smiled anyway, thanked him for his advice and left.

I went to Dubai with my sister 7 years ago and during that trip, we went on a dune surfing excursion. We were placed in a 4×4 with a couple of Russians who were rather un-exposed. When we got out to stand on top of the highest dune and admire the breath-taking sight, one of the young Russians stood beside us and said ‘You are exotic’. My sister was bemused by it and I was just a bit ‘ehn?’ Exotic meaning what? Strange like an exotic bird or fish that is rarely seen? Non-European like exotic fruits from Africa, Asia and South America? Non-white? Personally I was put off. It didn’t end there. There was a whole group of Chinese tourists in the other 4x4s in our convoy. When we got to the campsite and were sitting around, eating and watching the belly dancer do her thing, a Chinese young woman timidly came up to my sister whilst I was off fetching a drink and asked if she could take a photo of her. My sister said yes. I watched with surprise from where I was and as I walked back, a group of Chinese people descended to my sister’s side and posed for pictures with her. Like some sort of statue. I stood sternly to the side, daring any of them to want to include me in their craziness. I think the expression on my face spoke volumes because no one bothered me.

This was repeated a couple of years ago in India whilst I was travelling with a bunch of people. We were in Delhi at one of the largest grand old mosques up on a hill where you could see much of the city. I was hanging out with an 18 year old Aussie as pretty as a flower, let’s call her Audrey. She looked like the much talked about English rose and the Indians visiting the site thought she looked like Princess Diana. As we sat in the shade, tired from the walking and the heat, a father approached us with his daughter. He motioned to Audrey and mimed taking a photo. She shrugged in acquiescence and the girl sat next to Audrey whilst her father took a photo. This emboldened another father nearby who without a word, strode over to Audrey and dumped his baby in her lap then walked away to take a photo. A queue quickly formed and poor Audrey was trapped in a photo-taking frenzy. I watched from the side lines as she went from not minding being used to being embarrassed and feeling harassed. She went redder and redder and eventually extricated herself from her fans. Later I asked how she felt and she said ‘trapped’.

Over the years, I have got bored by the question of ‘where are you from?’ From fellow black people, I realise that the question is normally a way of finding common ground but in general, I feel it is a way of reminding me that I am a foreigner here. Unfortunately for those who don’t like us foreigners, I was born a British citizen (by virtue of my mum being a Londoner by birth) so this is my home too. I am entitled to be here. I have paid my way and will continue to do so. My work is essential to the population. Some people go on to say ‘you speak good English’. My reply now is always ‘of course I do. It is my first language’. In a way that is true. I learnt to speak Hausa, Fulani and English simultaneously as a little tot and actually my English vocabulary is the strongest of all 3 because I was educated in English. Indeed I would like to point out that if you were to test the British population on their grammar and comprehension, you would find that across the ethnic groups, indigenous Brits tend to score the lowest. Sad but true. So don’t patronise a black person with ‘you speak good English’. Many of us have lived here most of our lives if we were not born here. Many of us are as British as British comes.

I would call myself a Nigerian Brit. Nigeria first always because my blood is Nigerian. I was born in Nigeria, my parents are both Nigerian, my first steps were taken in Nigeria, my foundation was in Nigeria. Nigeria made me who I was so that when I came to Britain I could contribute to my school and my community. But I am British too. I learnt my profession in Britain. I have worked all my working life in Britain. My closest friends now are mostly here in Britain. I love Birmingham. I met my husband here. I married him here. I have bought my first home here in Britain and I hope to have my children here. I have aspirations for Britain. I want it to be better. I want it to grow. I want Britain to embrace all its children, regardless of the colour of their skin because I honestly believe that the colour of my skin tells you nothing about who I am. What my dreams are. What my beliefs are. What makes me special. Above all, I believe that what makes Britain great is the diversity of its population. This is what makes our country part of the UNITED Kingdom.

On Death and Dying

My best friend confessed early in our friendship her fear of death and I remember being curious about why she was scared. Now looking back, maybe the question should have been why I did not feel the same? I mean of course death is not a welcome or happy thought but I don’t dwell on death and I certainly don’t actively fear it. I am very much of the school that there are 2 certainties in life: we are all born and we will all die. And since death is inevitable, I don’t think about it much.

Death is the final release.  Whatever one believes in, I think most of us believe that once you are dead, you don’t feel pain anymore. I know some people believe in reincarnation, some like me believe in the Hereafter and some think that whilst your body dies, your spirit never does and it still retains the memory of pain/anger/hurt/happiness. Although I believe in the Hereafter being Muslim, I do think that when I die, my soul leaves my physical shell and returns to its source (God). Then at some point, our lives are all assessed and we are rewarded (or not) for all our good deeds.

I wonder sometimes about what it feels like when your soul detaches from your body. I wonder if it is like a physical break, painful but transient or if it is more like an emotional separation where the after effects are long felt. I then wonder what the soul feels if it feels anything at all once it is separate from the vessel that conducts and interprets pain. Beyond that, I think death is more fearful if you are not the one dying. I mean, I would imagine that if I was in a terrible car accident, I would either die instantly with no time to think or become scared of what was happening. Or I would be in pain or feel myself getting weaker and weaker and it would be so unbearable that death would be a welcome reprieve. Same as if I had a chronic illness which was not curable but I was steadily deteriorating then dying would probably be a mercy for me.

When I think about dying properly, I realise that although I am not afraid of the dying itself, I am scared of some of the ways that I could potentially die. I am afraid after all. Being a medic, I have seen many people die so I have spent time thinking about the way I would not like to die. I guess one of the scary things about dying is that most of us do not have any idea when we are going to die. It is different for those who are diagnosed with ‘predictable’ illness but even there, giving patients a prognosis (i.e. a number of days/weeks/months/years they are expected to survive) is not an exact science.

In the past 6 months, I have come across patients who were not expected to survive being born and the first few days of life yet despite all odds, they are still with us many months later. I have also come across patients who were predicted more time only to deteriorate much quicker than anyone has experienced, giving no time for their loved ones to be prepared. The only people whose time of death can be predicted with any accuracy are those who are already brainstem dead but on life-support and when the machines are switched off, we can be fairly sure they will die within a certain time period. Even so, we have all heard of the ‘miracle’ stories where patients defy the odds and remain alive far beyond the expected time of death.

My ideal death would be the one most people wish for. I would like to die in my own bed, in my sleep. I would like for it to be when I am old but young enough that I am still completely independent. I would like for it to be after a family reunion where my nearest and dearest are all sitting around a table and reminiscing about the good old days. I would like for it to be after my mother has gone to her grave because I can’t think of anything worse for a mother than to bury her own child. I would like for my children (if I have them) to be old enough that losing their mother does not scar them too badly.

If I am unfortunate enough to have a catastrophic trauma and needed life support, I have told my closest family that I would prefer not to be kept alive for many days. I would like to be given a chance to recover (if there is one) but when it gets to the time where my chances of waking or recovering are much less that 50% then I would prefer for the machines to be switched off. I would like to be an organ donor although in my donor card, I have not ticked the skin donor thing because I am a bit squeamish when it comes to being buried with bits of my skin harvested. I don’t yet have a will but I have told my husband of my wishes verbally if I don’t get around to writing a will before the day comes.

I would like to be buried according to Islamic rites. I think the simplicity of an Islamic burial suits me perfectly. Washed and wrapped in a cotton shroud and buried within a day. If I am in my bed, the closest Muslim graveyard would be perfect but if I happen to be abroad in a strange land then I would like to be taken back to Kaduna, the town of my birth because that symmetry also appeals to me. Also my great grandmother and grandmother are both buried there so it would feel right to lie next to them.

When my grandmother died, there were a lot of tears and prayers and silence but there was remembrance every evening after the crowds dispersed and I found that uplifting. I think the sitting around the dining table and talking about Mammie’s life helped lift the gloom that surrounded us all. The fact that we could all remember and share our memories of Mammie reminded us all that although she was gone, a part of her was alive in us all. And that she had had a good life and her quick death was merciful. Those evenings also reminded us that life is transient. It is unpredictable and death can pick any of us at any time. In remembering our dead, we embraced life and were thankful for all we had been gifted with. I really hope those I leave behind can do that instead of it being all sad and tearful. May we all die a pain-free dignified death and may those we live behind be able to accept it is our time to go and may they have the strength to celebrate a life well-lived (hopefully).

Top 10 Lists

You know those lists that rank the top 10 in whatever category you can make think off. Generally, I take it all with a pinch of salt because these lists tend to pander to stereotypes. But a couple of years ago, I found this one (I think it was in a forwarded email) and edited it ever-so-slightly to make it a perfect fit for me and posted it on Facebook for my George. I was surprised and pleased to find a list that seemed to be reflective of me. I have pasted that list of 20 ‘things girls want guys to know’.

  1. I love when you cuddle with me
  2. A kiss on the cheek is a definite yes
  3. I want you to put your arm around me at the movies
  4. I don’t care if you are the strongest guy in the world
  5. Size doesn’t always matter so don’t stress
  6. I don’t always look my best so get over it
  7. I shouldn’t have to plan everything
  8. I’m always ready to talk so call/text or talk to me
  9. I’m not perfect and I never claimed I was
  10. I love surprises
  11. The little things you do mean the most
  12. I like boy stuff too (you know it too!)
  13. Cursing & fighting doesn’t impress me (in fact the complete opposite)
  14. Don’t be mean to me to get my attention
  15. I can tell when you’re not listening so fix up and listen to my pearls of wisdom (let’s face it, I’m always right!)
  16. When I say I’m cold, that’s your cue to come closer
  17. Hugs mean more sometimes (or should that be most times?)
  18. I need your advice sometimes so don’t be afraid to offer it to me
  19. I will take good care of you if you treat me right
  20. I will love you more 😀

 

All 20 items are absolutely applicable to me especially how much I appreciate a hug, a cuddle and a kiss on the cheek. For a relationship to work, I totally believe in items nos 8 and 9. 11 is so true and I keep reminding my dear husband of that fact. George, my hubby, insists that he is not romantic in the slightest. That is a huge untruth because George will swear blind that no 6 doesn’t apply to me. He claims I look perfect all the time which to me qualifies him easily as the most romantic man I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I know that of course it is not true but psychologically, it really doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, I know he sees perfection in me because he looks at me through love-tinted glasses. When he looks at me, he looks at me with such appreciation and I can tell you, it is great for my self-confidence and body image. Since meeting George, I find that when I look in the mirror and all I can see are my flaws, I am able to say to myself it really isn’t that bad and not sink into depression as I used to on rare occasions in my younger days.

No 20 is rather funny because in the early days of our relationship, I would say that to my husband and he would get upset because he thought I was questioning his love for me. As he knows now, that is not the point of that statement. Despite my competitive nature, when it comes to love for me it is the opposite of competition. It is the ultimate team pursuit where the strength in the individuals promotes strength in the team greater than the sum of the individual strengths. So when I say no 20, I mean to say I love you more than you realise. I do not mean that my love for you is greater than your love for me. I mean to say that every day I love you more. And I mean to say that I pray to love you even more every time I say those words. So who says women are complicated? I genuinely believe that if my husband could apply these items to our everyday life, he would make me the happiest wife in the world. Simples!

Nigerian Converts

The Glasgow Commonwealth Games have occupied many of my waking hours in the past 3 months (yes I recorded it all and have savoured the many hours slowly over 3 months instead of 2 weeks). The competition has been great viewing and I find myself from time to time wishing I had tickets for Glasgow. To be honest, I am puzzled about that still because I am sure if I had known when they were on sale, I would have tried to get tickets for some of it but that opportunity completely passed me by. Sadly.

Although I am a bit competition-mad and will watch most TV programmes with even a hint of competition and a chance to be awed by talent, as an amateur athlete myself back in the day I have a special love for the athletics. And these Games were very special for me for a puzzling reason. We Nigerians are pretty good at the sprints so we tend to feature throughout the rounds. The first heats were men’s 400m I think and when the Nigerian fellow was announced, I sat up in surprise. First his name was very ‘black American’ sounding (most Nigerians have at least one traditional name somewhere in their full name). Then, the commentators went on to say he was ‘one of the many Nigerian converts’. I was puzzled. I had never heard of a person converting to a country before. I mean I know people change nationalities for example but I have never heard it phrased as ‘converting to British’ for example. Odd choice of phrase but I was even more puzzled as to who these people were and why they were converting to Nigeria.

Turns out that these athletes are former American (plus 1 former GB) athletes who have swapped alliances to Nigeria. Now as a Nigerian, I have never been surprised to see a Nigerian name in a British, American, Dutch or even Qatar vest. Truth of the matter is, with the corruption in the Nigerian Government, there is practically no investment in Sport these days and our long-suffering patriotic athletes are forced to abandon ship for greener pastures. And I don’t blame them. If as an athlete for Nigeria I would have to work a horrible job to keep the roof over my head and food in my belly and juggle all that with training, I too would choose to go another team who would not only sponsor me so I can focus on my sport but also give me support in terms of coaching, psychology and physiotherapy. Rather, I was very surprised to see the movement was in the other direction. People actually joining Team Nigeria from other countries. So I investigated.

Apparently our Government has actually made real effort in ‘recruiting’ these former US/UK athletes in the hope of boosting our medal chances. I also discovered that the reason why these athletes’ names are suspiciously not-Nigerian is because many of them are many Generations American/British but according to the news on the internet, they are all bona fide Nigerian – by which I deduce that maybe some of them are 25% Nigerian but they were born and bred abroad and probably did not even have a Nigerian passport/citizenship until they were ‘recruited’. Rumours are that some of these athletes should not be representing Nigerian because their claim to citizenship is tenuous to say the least (I read about a girl who is Nigerian because her American uncle married a Nigerian, thus becoming Nigerian himself and somehow that qualified his niece as a Nigerian?). Dodgy if you ask me.

It is all well and good that our Government has finally sat up and taken note that we have been haemorrhaging all our talent to the West in the last 2 decades (at least) and is making an effort to correct things. However, I concur with their detractors on the internet who point out that allowing these ‘Nigerian’ converts to come in and out-compete our less experienced home grown talents and then for them not to win the expected medals is probably more of a con than a pro. What our Government should be doing is recruiting our budding athletes in schools and universities and creating a training programme with good support to allow our talented young people to hone their skills and become the elite athletes they have the potential to be. We should be investing in our athletes like the great sporting nations do so that we have professional athletes whose focus is all on their sport whilst they are in their prime. We should be there for our athletes so that they don’t have to go on strike before major sporting meets to get their just dues. We should go back to the 90s when we were all so proud of our sports men and women and we treated them like the superstars they were.

Nigeria with our huge population has plenty of potential. We really don’t need to leave our shores to recruit people in. All we need to do is invest time and money in those already there and I am sure in the years to come, we will be up there with the US, Jamaica and GB teams. Long live athletics. Long live our talented children. Long live Nigeria.

If Music be the Food of Love

…Then I am glutton and I want it all. I look at my little nephew loving music and it melts my heart. Where it not for music, I would not be where I am today. Music of all kinds. Music that is live or recorded. Current or retro. Played through headphones or on speakers. Walkman, discman to iPod. Music punctuates the story of my life.

I have 2 cousins in the US of A. The older of the two, the girl who shares my grandmother’s name with me, plays the violin to a good standard. She probably isn’t Vanessa Mae standard but the effect her music had on me was electric. She played a piece of music I wasn’t familiar with in my room in London and it changed that room for me forever. As she coaxed the strings into song, the tune struck a chord deep within me. It was as if everything came alive. My senses turbo-charged. I wanted to lie down and close my eyes and for it never to end. I must have had a very foolish smile on my face by the time she played the last note. It was the first time I had seen her in over a decade and I didn’t know her all that well. All it took for me to love her was a piece of music that she insisted wasn’t very good. All the shyness, the reserve, the uncertainty of my relationship with her was wiped away and in its place, I felt love, kinship and trust.

I will never forget the first time I heard the flute being played live. I was in JSS2 (equivalent of year 8) in QC Lagos when one of the senior girls was called on stage to play some music. There must have been nearly 4000 girls crammed into the Hall and despite all effort throughout the rest of the special assembly, there was steady background chatter. She came on stage and as she assembled her flute, the silence began to wash across the room. She played the theme song to Disney’s Pocahontas. Have you ever listened to the score on that song? It is so beautiful. And the words amazing in their simplicity. As she played, I could feel the tears gather in the back of my throat. All the other girls must have felt the same because the silence was absolute halfway through and at the end of it all, there was a stunned silence before we all erupted into applause and hooting. From then on every time I saw her, it felt like there was a magical halo around her for me. She glowed blue to me. And although I have forgotten the names of some of the girls I sat with for years, I remember her name as clear as daylight. Talking about Disney music – I get a similar awe when I listen to ‘When you believe’ from Prince of Egypt and ‘The cycle of life’ from Lion King. Spell binding.

I had a friend in QC who used to be just a classmate. Then one day, she opened her mouth and sang in class and we were all in awe. I guess you could call me the original fan. Although I have since forgotten what the first song Esther sang in public was, I will never forget how I felt about her from that day forward. Of course it helped that she was a lovely girl anyway but in my appreciation for her talent, we became fast friends. The song I will associate with Esther for the rest of my days is ‘I love you Mummy’ which was a hit in Nigeria in the 1990s. Every time she sang that song, all the hairs on my body would stand up and all my worries and stress and unhappiness and negative thoughts would simply disappear. There was once a special assembly only a select few attended and Esther sang that song there. Apparently, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Even our Principal had tears in her eyes. I saw her as an angel. She had a golden yellow halo. She was quiet, unassuming and her smile could light up a stadium full of people. Little did I know that when I left QC in 2000, it would be the last time I would see her. She was diagnosed with cancer shortly after I left and she died a couple of years later. Like they say, the best of us die young. R.I.P Esther. What a loss to the world and especially to those who never got to experience the magical voice Esther had.

I love musicals and I have the utmost respect for the incredible talent of theatre actors and actresses who sing their hearts out night after night. My favourite musical is Catz but my absolute ever performance was back in 2001 when I went to see ‘Notre dame de Paris’ in London. The narrator man with his long blond hair and colourful blue coat looked just like all the other stars but he overshadowed them all so that by the end of the show, I was more focused on his bits than on the lead actor and actress. What made it more amazing was that his voice outshone all the female vocalists on stage and I think that is a rare quality. The tone in his voice was pure. It was like crystal in its clarity and every word resonated in my soul. The power was like no other I have seen in theatre and I literally cannot comprehend how he could work his vocal cords so hard for so long and retain its beauty. When the show was over, I did not want to leave. I felt like if I didn’t move, I could remain wrapped up in the magic of his voice forever.

Last year, my then fiancé and I went to the Stephen Lawrence memorial concert at the O2 arena and the line-up was epic. I was mostly looking forward to Emile Sande but there were numerous others I was excited about. The revelation of the night for me was the lovely Beverly Knight from Wolverhampton (which is down the road from me). I have always liked her songs and loved her personality but when she sang ‘Fallen Soldier’ on stage, I fell in love with her. It is by far the best live performance I have ever heard. I have heard the song before and thought it was ok but when dear old Bev sang it, she elevated it to new heights. Every word struck chord in my soul and I felt the tears come as I remembered all my fallen soldiers. The pitch was perfect. The sentiment suited so well to the theme of the evening. She sang her heart out and she won a fan for life. I now realise that she is probably one of the most underrated British stars. It must be because she is so understated in her manner, so personable and so approachable. She is the ultimate girl-next-door except she is more than that. She has been blessed with the most gorgeous voice. What a star!

I know some Muslims believe that modern music is on the scale of evil but I honestly could not disagree more. How could I not appreciate beauty that I believe is a gift from God? How could music which inspires me to be pure and to be kind be bad in any way? How can music which erases my sadness and stress be anything but good? How can music which promotes happiness and positivity be anything but encouraged? Life is hard enough I think so I simply cannot accept that something that makes it all better can be a bad thing. I love music and I celebrate its existence. And most of all, I thank God for music because it has been life’s saving grace more times than I can count.

The Science of Happiness

My favourite saying is ‘laughter is the best medicine’.

The Positive Project

The quote, “happiness is an inside job” is absolutely true.  We choose how we let situations, decisions, and circumstances affect us.  You can choose to look at the downside of everything, or you can choose to be happy because happiness is a choice…it’s your choice!

Unfortunately, many of us choose to dwell on things that aren’t going well, the problems in our lives, or the things we don’t have.  We do this despite the fact that each and every one of us have SOOOOOOOOO much to be grateful for.

So, how happy are you?  Do you consciously choose to be happy, or do you focus on the negative?

If you have a difficult time choosing to be happy, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

What if I told you there is a way  to be happier right away…no matter what?  You would most likely want to know…

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I Had a Son

I used to think having a baby boy was as bad as not having any babies. Over the years, I have come to embrace the idea of a being mother to a baby boy and even hope that my second will be a baby boy. This hope came from another one of my vivid dreams. This dream happened 5 years ago.

It was one of those busy dreams with a lot of running around and stress. I don’t recall most of the dream but the first bit I was aware of featured a heavily pregnant me in a room with several other women and in the first stages of labour. I remember being very hot and I was perspiring as the labour progressed and I got instructions on what to do. For some reason, no one in the room was in focus. I could not tell if my mama and my sister were amongst my birth attendants. I suspect there was at least one midwife. All I know is that I felt in control despite the alien event that was unfolding within my body.

Next thing, I was half-sitting, half-lying down with my legs in stirrups and pushing the baby out. It wasn’t real time…time seemed to be moving very fast as I watched myself going through the process. I felt a searing pain deep in my pelvis and I thought ‘I don’t think I can do this’. Then there was a more solid pain that threatened to break me in 2 and I looked down to see a baby. I blinked and the baby was clean and in my arms, all wrapped up in the softest cream-coloured blanket and a baby blue hat. I had a son.

As I held him, his dark brown eyes popped open and fixed on mine. As our eyes met, I felt a surge of love deep in the pelvis which he had just reluctantly exited. The only way I can describe the feeling is that of falling deeply and irrevocably in love. I felt the warmth of my love for this tiny boy spread out to every fibre of my being. It felt like the whole world fell away and the only thing I could see in its full glory was my son. The rest of the room was a blur. I could hear dimly conversation in the background but all I could make out was his breath sounds. My olfactory nerves jangled with the smell of him and even my taste buds tingled like I was gorging on the most delicious meal I had ever tasted. My skin prickled as if electrified and the hairs on it all stood on end. My muscles quivered. Tears dripped out of my eyes. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. I felt like I was simultaneously floating on a cloud and being sucked towards the centre of the world. I was in free fall. I was in love.

The heat and pain were forgotten in that instant. My head emptied of all thought and all I could think was ‘here he is’. Like that was the moment that all the preceding days of my life had been leading to. Together with that love came the overwhelming urge to protect him from the big bad world. I shivered as the protective tigress in me snarled to life with a ferocity that scared me. In that instant as I gazed into his eyes, I felt love, pride and an irrational fear that he could be hurt. I knew then that I would love him more intensely that I had ever loved. That I would celebrate every achievement of his with a purer joy that any I had ever experienced. That I would feel his pain like it was mine. That I would move heaven and earth to ensure he was happy. That I would die to protect him.

I was frozen to the spot, staring into his unblinking eyes when I snapped awake. The power of my feelings stayed with me for the rest of the day. I felt exactly as the great romance writers describe being in love. I had butterflies fluttering in my tommy. The colours of the world seemed sharper, brighter and more intense than usual. The weather was perfect regardless of whether there was rain or sunshine. My creative juices were flowing. I had ideas coming out of my ears. I did not feel thirst or hunger. I just felt ridiculously happy and I walked around all day on a high, humming to myself and doing little dances when no one was looking. So, I thought, this is what so many mothers feel when they finally hold their long-awaited baby in their tired arms. What an incredible feeling! I only experienced it in a dream and the depth of the feeling was immense. It was like a high to end all highs (not that I know what an actual high feels like but I can imagine!). No wonder some women carry on popping out babies long after everyone thinks they should stop. No wonder there are women out there who admit to being addicted to being pregnant and giving birth to babies. All I can say is that I pray one day I will have this experience for real. Because it felt damn good. The best feeling ever!