Category Archives: food

First Came Jollof Rice

The Great Jollof Rice debate rages on amongst the people of West Africa. Whose is the original? Whose is the best? Is the original the best? Does it matter? There was a social media story last year about a pair of west African students (I believe one Nigerian and one Ghanian) in London who ended up in a brawl over an argument over jollof rice. Clearly, this is an emotive subject for my people :D.

Jollof rice is a one-pot dish, principally with a base of tomatoes, onion and red peppers with fluffy rice packed with umami flavours. That is the basic recipe but there are probably hundreds of variations of that. The word jollof originates from Senegalese language Wolof meaning ‘one pot’. Most believe it originate from either Senegal or the Gambia but its popularity spread across west Africa and probably inspired the Cajun Jambalaya too. Nigerians and Ghanians arguably cook it the most. Being Nigerian, of course I think the Nigerian jollof rice is best.

In Nigeria, Jollof rice is a national dish eaten by every tribe. It is the most popular party/celebration dish. In the southwest, it tends to be cooked in a very spicy tomato base and served with sides of fried/grilled meat, chicken or fish, moin-moin, plantain and some vegetables. In the north, it tends to have vegetable in it and usually some dried fish cooked in too.

I think one of the reasons the husband loves me so is my cooking and jollof rice is one of the dishes he loves. It is one of my favourites and my little girl loves it too so it is a regular on our dinner menu at home. It has always been well received when I have served it to our non-Nigerian guests and I have had a few recipe requests lately. When you google jollof, over 100,000 hits come up so there is no shortage of recipes. Jamie Oliver even dabbled with cooking jollof (probably best not to appropriate such an iconic African dish Jamie!). There is no right or wrong way to cook jollof  as long as you stick to the basics and I enjoy the many variations of it. It is the food of (African) gods. Mine is based on my mama’s recipe which always had lots of veggies and on special occasions coconut milk added in. Not heavy on chilli. I love healthy eating so I like to add in beans too. Here is my recipe which serves 4. Hope some of you try it and give me feedback on how it went.

 

Ingredients

  1. 1 standard mug of rice (Basmati best but long grain rice easiest for novice cooks)
  2. 2 standard mugs of hot water
  3. 175g tomato passata (or tinned chopped tomatoes)
  4. 1 medium-large onion finely chopped
  5. ¾ sweet-pointed red pepper finely chopped
  6. 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  7. 3-4 cloves of garlic finely chopped or crushed
  8. Scotch bonnet pepper
  9. 3 tablespoons of sunflower oil
  10. 1 tablespoon of palm oil (you can do it without but more authentic with. Found in African/Carribean food aisle or shops)
  11. 1cm slice of fresh ginger (or half teaspoon of ground ginger)
  12. 1 stock cube
  13. 1 teaspoon curry powder (African/Carribean food aisle)
  14. ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  15. 1 tin of precooked mixed beans or ½ mug black eyed beans (if fresh, soak in hot water a few hours before needed then boil for 20-30 minutes in lightly salted water)
  16. 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  17. ½ mug of peas
  18. Large handful of green (runner) beans chopped
  19. ½ mug of Sweetcorn
  20. Salt and pepper to taste

 

Method

  • Measure out the rice into a sieve and rinse in cool water and leave to drain on the side.
  • Put the oil in a medium pot with a lid on medium heat. Add the onions and fry until starting to soften. Add in the chopped red peppers, garlic and fresh ginger. Fry for a couple of minutes.
  • If you like chilli, add either ¼ or ½ half of the scotch bonnet pepper, very finely chopped. Otherwise, throw in a whole scotch bonnet when you add water to the rice, taking care not to break the pepper. That way it gives your jollof a wonderful aroma and you can choose to add a bit of the pepper to your plate later.
  • Add in the rice, tomato passata and tomato paste. Add the curry powder, thyme, some salt and blackpepper. Stir until well mixed.
  • Meanwhile, put the stock cube in the same mug used to measure the rice and pour over the boiling hot water. Use a spoon to stir ensuring the stock cube is fully dissolved.
  • Add the stock to the pot. Add in another mug of hot water.
  • Stir all the contents in the pot and put the lid of the pot on. Once it starts to bubble, turn down the heat to the lowest setting. Do not stir at this point
  • Check your rice after 10 minutes. When the rice still has a little water in it but has a bit of bite, it is time to add in the carrots, the runner beans and drained cooked beans at this stage. Stir once and lid back on for about 4 minutes.
  • Add the sweetcorn and peas. Cook for 1 minute. Check that your rice is fully cooked then switch off the heat and leave to stand for 1 minute.
  • Serve with sides of choice. Mine would be a hard-boiled egg, smoked mackerel and coleslaw. Fried golden brown plaintain if you have it.

Enjoy!

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Primary Six

In the Nigerian school system, we spend 6 years in primary school. Majority of children would sit their common entrance exam for secondary school in Primary 5 and if they passed, would skip Primary 6 and go straight to secondary school. My mother was the type of parent whose kids would complete all six years whether they passed or not. So, although I sat and passed my common entrance in Primary 5, I knew I was coming back to Primary 6. We went from about 50-60 children in Primary 5 to less than 20 in Primary 6. Our classroom was in the administrative block, away from the rest of the classrooms. We felt very grown up, practically teenagers.

I was a precocious child, mature beyond my age. Despite being tiny back then, I was easily the most outspoken girl in my class. This outspokenness in combination with my natural exuberance and good academic record meant I was a shoo in for Head Girl, leader of the prefects. It still makes me laugh that I was head girl because I was smaller even than the kids in Primary 3. That didn’t faze me one bit. I loved the challenge!

Our main duty as prefects was to organise morning drop off, assembly and break times. We had to make sure all the children were lined up per class and that they stayed in line and quiet during assembly. As Head Girl, I would lead the team of prefects patrolling the drop off area and it was our job to tell the parents if they were unacceptably late and even turn them back with their children still in their cars. Looking back, I am not sure how appropriate it was for us to essentially discipline parents. Perhaps culturally the teachers found it too hard to be so strict and they left it to fearless Primary 6 prefects to do. We also kept discipline in the playground during break time. Children being children, it was so hard to get them off the swings and slides and back to class. We ruled with iron fists. Somehow, we wielded enough authority that the rest of the school listened when we spoke.

Being head girl was tough yes but in truth, it was fun. By Primary 6, we had a very close-knit circle of (girl) friends. We had a laugh from the time we were dropped off until we were picked up. The first couple of girls to come would wait by the drop off, forming a welcoming party. The next girl to come would be carried to class ceremonially on a 2-person arm-throne and then we would all return for the next girl. That way, every morning, we treated each other like princesses. We would chat non-stop in between assembly and lessons. For lunchtime, we all stopped bringing in food from home (being so grown up) and were given break money instead. We would leave school grounds and go and buy food. In Yola in the 90s, there was no such thing as fast-food. Our options were local food sold to workers. Our favourites were moin-moin (bean cakes) and we discovered a lady who sold fried yam and tomato sauce. I don’t recall what we talked about back then but I remember how much laughter there was anytime we were all together. We would eat our food, sitting on the veranda outside our classroom and watching the little ones playing in the playground. We would play it cool with the boys in our class, falling silent when they approached as if we were sharing deep secrets.

Break times for us grown ups was competitive games. We had outgrown the playground swings, climbing frames and slides. In vogue during our time were clapping games and next level hopscotch. The clapping games involved a lot of very fast precise movements done by 2 or 4 girls in tandem (the boys never played, they probably weren’t dextrous enough or were too busy kicking a football about) whilst singing a rhyme. Check out this video on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbmNYD_YjzY). Then there was the game called 10-10 (ten ten) or walle in Hausa. The rhythm was produced by clapping and it started out sedately with a leg kicked into the ‘playing field’ and could be done in twos or bigger groups. The player had to avoid being played out by kicking out a different leg to the rest of the players. A bit like rock, paper, scissors using legs. And the pace built and built until it became quite frenetic. Very addictive game. As Yola is so dry and sandy, it could get quite dusty but that didn’t bother us. Brilliant game!

It fell to me to organise our leaving party in our final term of school. I don’t think preceding years did much to mark this momentous occasion but my friends and I wanted to do something special. I went to the headmistress to ask permission to throw a party and she said yes with no hesitation. Our party was on the final day of school. We decided what food we wanted and went to the market one lunchtime to ask for prices. I remember writing the list and working out how much money we needed and who would cook what. A few boys agreed to contribute but mostly it was a girls’ affair. The boys thought it was too girly to have a party.

We were given use of a room and brought in a tape player with the current hits on cassettes. We made the room look pretty and spread out the food on a large table. There was jollof rice, coleslaw, fried chicken, cupcakes, lots of sweets and soft drinks. My sister even gave us the beautiful Barbie cake she had made in her Home & Nutrition class. With the music turned up loud, we ate, drank, danced and had the best time ever, oblivious to the boys looking on in envy through the windows. We scrawled messages of friendship in marker pens on each other’s school shirts and found corners of furniture to leave our mark on.

At the end of the day, after all the fun, as the school bell went one final time the tears came. We were all going to different secondary schools. Despite making promises to keep in touch, we knew it would never be the same again. In those days, no one had email access or mobile phones. Keeping in touch needed a lot more effort. To be honest, I have forgotten half the girls in the group but I vividly remember the sadness in my heart as I hugged each of them goodbye and watched them get in their cars and drive off. I haven’t seen any of them since then. I found one of the girls on Facebook but 20 years on, we rarely have anything to say to each other. Still, I had a wonderful childhood and a big part of that was school and the friends I made there.

Mind the Gap

I watched a BBC documentary on The Taj Mahal Palace, one of the best hotels in the world located in Mumbai according to the documentary. It certainly looked the part. The opulence and the service was certainly worth the thousands a stay would set you back by. This struck me but what struck me more was the homeless families who made their home outside the walls of the hotel. The poor women who sold recycled flowers to make enough to feed their children. Where were the men who fathered those children I wondered? If the Taj was so successful, couldn’t it be charitable enough to feed its resident poor? How could the guests stand to walk (or more likely drive) in past those poor wretches into such luxury?

This sort of wealth inequity is replicated all over the world of course. The less industrialised the nation, the more likely you are to see scenes like these replicated. In Yola where I come from, this is very much in evidence. It is not unusual to see a huge mansion complete with high surrounding walls, an impressive iron gate manned by gatemen and perfectly manicured hedges sitting next to a hut, little more than a lean-to with dry barren land surrounding it and the inhabitant(s) unable to afford 3 square meals and clean drinking water.

When I was little, we would have bouts of feeling charitable and go visit one of those poor homes. Most of them are inhabited by single old women. Some were called witches because of their social isolation or maybe because of their disdain for some of our archaic cultural norms. Many are just poor and alone, without a benefactor to lift them out of abject poverty. A good proportion were quite old and really did need a hand. My friend and I would go in and give their hut a spring clean, refill their water pots (their lounde) and clear out accumulated rubbish. We would leave with their prayers for us and our mothers ringing in our ears. These women managed because they had neighbours like us who would go in periodically and help out.

That is one thing I love about Yola. By Yola I mean Yola town. Not the metropolis that is Jimeta which has lost most of its old school community (or maybe being ‘new’ never got a chance to form the same bonds). No one can deny that poverty is pervasive in the society there but actually, so is charity. It is imbedded in our culture to look after our neighbours. No one in Yola that I know of has ever died of starvation (malnourishment is a different kettle of fish). If your neighbour struggles to find a meal, they could simply turn up at meal times and they would get fed.

I remember one of our dear matriarchs who had little herself always fed more than just herself and her dependents. We always had food to eat at hers even though she was poor herself. When we went to see her before we went off to boarding school, she would ask for forgiveness (in case she died before we came back) and forgive us any infractions then she would rummage under her mat and give us some of her precious savings so we could buy something. We would demure unfailingly but we also knew we had to take it. Because not to take it would be seen as disrespectful and a sign we did not value her loving gesture.

This was 2 decades ago. Things are changing but charity is still very much alive. I am not sure whether the local children are still doing what we did back then but I sincerely hope so. Especially because as religion and politics become more and more of an issue and many of those in our communities claim to be religious. Well then. If that is true, true poverty should never be an issue. Islamically, Zakat is part of our core duties, one of the 5 pillars of Islam.

“Be steadfast in prayer and regular in charity: And whatever good ye send forth for your souls before you, ye shall find it with Allah”                                        Qur’an Chapter 2 Verse 110

For any Muslim who can afford to support their living themselves and have something left over, they should donate 2.5% of their wealth to those who are in need. This is Zakat. Imagine if in a society like Nigeria where an estimated 50% of the population (87 million) are Muslims. Now imagine that about half of them can afford to pay Zakat. If even half of those (20 million) contributed 2.5% of their wealth to a community fund that was well-managed, things would be so different. So I challenge the practising Muslims who preach all things good to sit up and remember this core duty of ours. More than a billion Muslims across the globe, a good proportion with enough wealth to alleviate poverty all around them. Let’s do it people!

Neglect Has A Lasting Legacy

I was 5 years old when my sister and I went on a road trip with Baba, our Grandad, up North in Nigeria. It was not normal for just the two of us to go with him. There was usually my grandma too or maybe my mama. However, this time we got to go solo with him. I suspect it is because we begged and it was the holidays and my mother was busy at work with no better plans to entertain us. Whatever the case, we got to go and I remember my sister and I getting bored quite quickly (probably an hour into the 6.5 hour journey). Plus my grandad had taken to listening to boring traditional Hausa music (Mamman Shata and the like). So we sang every nursery rhyme and Disney song we knew. We sang for hours until our throats were sore. Must have driven my grandad and the driver mad but they bore with us.

When we got to the town we were staying the night in, my grandad took us straight to my ‘aunt’s’ home. I say ‘aunt’ because this is not my mother’s sister, my favourite aunty in the whole world aunty Bilky. No, this is someone who grew up with my mum and her siblings and is therefore considered a ‘sister’. I will call this aunty ‘Auntie’ henceforth for easy reference. Now, we had spent quite a few holidays with Auntie and her many daughters in the past so we knew them well enough and were quite happy to be taken to hers. One of her daughters is very close in age to my sister and the youngest was a year older than I was but we usually got on pretty well. I couldn’t tell you if there were any special circumstances at the time we visited but I think not because we would have known. My mama was always upfront if anything major was going on especially if she was going to let us visit. Anyway, out of the car we tumbled, tired and excited. It was well after lunch but not dinner time yet but we were already feeling the first pangs of hunger having had a late breakfast on the road but not stopped for lunch. We were all shown into a living room in their sprawling home and someone showed us to the ‘bedroom’. I use the term ‘bedroom’ loosely because although the large room had beds (I think it was 3 single beds), most of it was clearly a dumping ground for dirty laundry and other clutter and it looked like no one had slept in there for a long time. My grandad left whilst we checked out our lodgings.

My sister and I waited for what seemed like ages for someone to come and tell us what to do with all the mess if we were actually going to be staying in that room. We also waited in vain for someone to offer us a drink or give us a snack. Nothing happened so we eventually picked one bed and cleared it and the area around it. We lay on the bed listening to the noises of muted conversation until all we could hear was our tummies rumbling. The sun began to set and we were soon left in darkness. One of us hunted for the light switch and we resumed our waiting game. We might have dozed off or maybe just lay around in a hungry tired trance but eventually I remember saying to my sister that I needed something to drink. That spurred her into action and she led me hesitantly out of the room and we wandered down the corridors of the seemingly empty house, most of the lights off. We found a kitchen but our hunt turned up nothing to eat. We had some water and sadly found our way back to the bedroom and eventually slept on empty stomachs.

We awoke to the sound of voices outside, going about their morning chores. We could smell breakfast frying…I am not sure now what it was (because we didn’t get any) whether it was fried yam, potatoes or bean cakes (kosei) but the smell was right under our noses and we were so famished we looked at each other in hope. No one came to get us and being nice Fulani girls, we stayed put. I remember asking my sister if she thought they had forgotten we were there. ‘How is that possible?’ She replied so we waited and waited. We waited some more as all the noise died down and the house fell silent again. Had they all gone out without so much as a word to us? Were we home alone in this house we didn’t know, in a town we had maybe visited a couple of times before? We finally ventured out and explored the section of the house we were in. No one was there. We returned to the kitchen, probably assuming that they might have saved us some breakfast. We found evidence of breakfast in the dirty dishes in the sink but not a bite left for us.

At this stage, I thought I was going to die of hunger. It was getting close to 24 hours since we had breakfast on the road with Baba and there was no adult to be seen. We went back to the room and my sister rummaged desperately in the backpack we had brought with us. ‘Look’ she cried excitedly after searching for a while. She brandished a N5 note. N5 (five naira) in those days (around 1990) was actually worth something. We could certainly have breakfast on the street with that. Remember this was a town we were not very familiar with so it was with trepidation that we ventured out of Auntie’s house and into the busy street. Thankfully there was no one out to cause mischief and we were left alone. We followed the smell of kosei to a street corner nearby and found a lady frying the delicious bean cakes seated on a stool by the fire over which she was frying. We gave her the N5 and asked for kosei. ‘All of it?’ she asked and we nodded hungrily. She scooped the freshly fried kosei out into the traditional newspaper wrap, sprinkled on a generous helping of the chilli powder that comes with it and handed it to us. We walked a few metres away before we gave in to the hunger in our bellies and we tucked in. After a few mouthfuls, we felt good enough to continue walking and we ate as we walked back to the house. The portion was decent and we gobbled it all up within minutes. Finally satiated, we chucked the paper in the bin and went in to have a quick wash and get dressed.

When my grandad came for us around lunchtime, we were happy again. Still left to our own devices but happy because my sister had fed us. We looked clean and my grandad was none the wiser. Lunch was served with my grandad so of course we got fed. I remember picking at the food because I was still stuffed from our late breakfast and also because I was so disappointed my Auntie had been so mean. But we said nothing. Just very happily jumped back into the car for the 3 hour trip to Kaduna where we knew we would be treated by my aunty Nafisa like princesses. I was not disappointed!

For many years after that, I did not forget or forgive that episode. The daughters I didn’t blame so much because half of them were young like us. But the 2 older girls were certainly old enough to know that young children visiting should at the very least be given a drink and food. Auntie should certainly have known better. I made up my mind that she was no longer my auntie but only my sister knew this for the next decade or so. I found every excuse not to go back there and mostly, I didn’t.

The next time I went was unavoidable. My mama and I were on the way to Kaduna and from there were to catch a flight back to Lagos where I went to boarding school. I wasn’t really given a choice of itinerary because she wanted to say hi to her ‘sister’. I knew anyway that I would be treated well because my mama was there but the hypocrisy grated. I clenched my teeth and said not a word. The visit was ok-ish. It turned out her daughter was getting married and we had been invited but my mother neglected to mention it. I had nothing to wear for any occasion as I was on my way back to boarding school and being a teenager, it mattered to me. Bearing that in mind, the youngest daughter and her cousin/half-sister on night 2 were in the same room as I was but I was lying on the bed, my head buried in a book as I was usually found in those days. They were whispering loudly about the pre-wedding party they were going to the next night and how much fun it was going to be etc. Being close in age to them, I would have expected them to have the courtesy either to invite me or not to talk about it in front of me. They did not have the courtesy to extend an invitation to me. Party night came and they snuck out when it was time despite being chummy with me all day. What sort of a fool did they think I was? The morning after, they were giggling over events at the party but would fall silent if I walked in a room or turned in their general direction. What grated wasn’t that I didn’t go because to be honest, I wasn’t one for parties at that age and I certainly did not have anything to wear. What sucked was their meanness of spirit and being treated like a fool.

Since that visit, I have stayed well away from most of that family. Although I have forgiven them their neglect and meanness, I doubt I will ever forget. That amongst other things are major character flaws I really wish not to be associated with. I have not considered Auntie my aunty for very many years to my mama’s consternation. I have since told my mama about that episode and several other incidents not talked about in this blog. I know she was dismayed and even sad but perhaps a small part of her is hoping that me and my sister’s account of that incident is overly-dramatized as remembered by our young immature brains. Regardless, I sincerely believe that if we had been her actual nieces, she would not have treated us so carelessly when we were so young. And she would not have allowed that mean spirit to rub off on her daughters.

When I think of her, I think of two quotes:

“When someone would mistreat, misinform, misuse, misguide, mishandle, mislead… or any other “mis”… to others, they’re obviously missing something from their lives.”
― Donald L. HicksLook into the stillness

“I know it’s painful growing,
I bet the changes was painful too.
But nothing is as painful as being somewhere you don’t belong.
Obviously.”
― Touaxia Vang

My Very Own UN

My sister is (or should that be was) a social butterfly. She always had more than friends than she knew what to do with and she never had issues making new ones. A classic extrovert. I considered myself an introvert for most of my youth. Now with more self-awareness, I know I am more of an extrovert than an introvert but I am pickier than my sister, the true extrovert. Because I have been so picky, I think I have ended up with the best friends in the world.

Some of the people I am talking about might not realise how much I value their friendship or indeed that I am talking about them but I hope when I describe how fabulous they are, they will realise how great and valued their friendship is to me. When I was little and my mama was my only role model, one of the things I thought was absolutely amazing about her and her life was her array of friends. They were young and old, some local, many from far afield (and being in Yola that is quite something I tell you). Some Muslim, some Christians. Some skinny, some fat. Some beautiful, some not so beautiful. Some quiet, some loud. Many feminists like my mama. All sorts. The one unifying thing about them was that they were kind and caring, they spoke to me like I mattered and they were passionate. If she ever needed anything around the world, all she had to do was pick up the phone or send an email and the cavalry would arrive. Subconsciously, as I grew up, I think I looked for all those things in my would-be friends. I think I succeeded in developing my very own passionate, kind, caring, loving, helpful and loyal circle of friends. The inner circle is a small one compared to my mother’s but I happen to believe the best things come in small packages. I will talk about my current inner circle in no particular order as I value them all fairly equally. I won’t mention my mama and my sister but they are my best friends and are the core circle.

First one is my Ethiopian friend who I met in 2001 who I shall call Lizzie. We were in the same tutor group in Gladesmore Community School (10AH massive) and we both joined in year 10 so we had common group but our big unifier was where lived and that we had to get 2 buses to get to school. So, earlier than the other pupils, we were up and out, dragging sleepy bodies onto the 144 which I caught at the first stop in Muswell Hill and Lizzie would hop on 4 or 5 stops later in Hornsey. We were normally quiet in the 144 but by the time we got on the 41, we were awake enough to chat. It was on the 41 that I got to know Lizzie’s life story and about her very grown up relationships. At this stage, I had never had a proper boyfriend and despite having a crush at school, I wasn’t really interested in a relationship. So I lived vicariously through her. We also bonded over our love of heels (low enough to wear to school and get away from censure) and long braids. Also I have been mistaken for Ethiopian so we had a similar slim innocent look. We have remained friends over the years, closer after school than in school, through her babies and marriage, through my medical school. Lizzie was a bridesmaid at my wedding and she regularly makes the drive up to Birmingham from London to visit. Even though we had periods were we got too busy with our lives, she has remained a constant. We may drift (although not so much now) through complacency but we never fight and we are there to listen. So here is to my yummy mummy Landan friend. For being constant and loyal and inspiring me to be more glamorous and feminine.

Next is my Northern Nigerian friend who I shall call Halima. We met in 1996 in Queen’s College, Yaba Lagos and we were friends from the very beginning. It was the Hausa lessons that cemented the friendship and as we were both boarders, prep times and dinner times were there for us to foster the relationships. In another blog, I have mentioned Na’ima and I was close to a couple of other girls, 2 of whom were boarders. Halima was in a ‘House’ located all the way across the quadrangle which thinking about now wasn’t so far but during those years was enough to make visiting her during weekends a significant event. She was responsible for the one and only time I had periwinkles (the hairstyle) for Sports day in JSS2 (see blog on that). Those periwinkles make an appearance on my first ever British passport and my husband loves the photo so much he keeps it by his bedside. She was one of the only girls whose homes I would visit outside school too and I knew her family so that made her more special than many others. Post-QC, she is certainly the one who would always make an effort to come and see me whenever I went to Nigeria. I knew about her wedding as soon as she had a date in mind because she wanted me to be able to jiggle my doctor on-call to make it there.  I am so glad I did. We shared her pregnancy from across the distance too. In all these years, I do not remember ever fighting with Halima. She is probably one of the gentlest and sweetest women I know and her son and husband are so lucky she is theirs. Despite being many thousands of miles apart and despite our other friends from that era being on social media and living in close vicinity to her, Halima is the one of all that I would be able to count on today if I needed a friend in Abuja. What a sweetheart!

Then there is my Southern Nigerian friend, let’s call her Tolu. I met her through NLI which is a (NGO) Nigerian initiative to promote young accomplished Nigerians living at home and abroad to be the champions that make Nigeria great once again. NLI was in 2010, or was it 2009? I came from here and she came from the US. We bonded over our passionate pitches and speeches. Never before had I met a young woman who seemed so like me. She exuded integrity and honesty and passion. When I told my husband about her, the words I used were ‘Tolu motivates me to be a better person. I wish she lived nearby so I could be in her presence regularly’. Being next to her or chatting with her on the phone or on social media never fails to give me a positive boost. Tolu to me is everything a young Nigerian should be and she makes me so proud to be in the same circle as hers. If I could choose anyone for my baby to be like, it would be Tolu. She went through a very harrowing time a couple of years ago and being so positive and so strong, she didn’t say anything for a long time because she is that type of a person who will be everyone’s shoulder but have no shoulder to lean on herself. She has come through all of that in a way that is no less than heroic. She is generous and kind. She is a wonderful listener. She is passionate about life and justice and selfless in her outlook. Maybe I don’t want my baby girl to be like her, maybe I want to be like Tolu. Anyway, if you are reading this my love, I might not have said in so many words but your strength, honesty, passion and selflessness makes you wonder woman in my eyes and I could not be prouder of you. I hope your dreams for Nigeria and the world come through because this world is so much better for having you in it.

Following on neatly is my only fellow Iro-Nigerian, who I call Irish anyway. She is Irish in all the best ways possible except she lacks an accent being southern England-bred (sadly but she can put on a pretty good one). We went to medical school together and once again it was fate that brought us together because we met in student halls in 2004. Being the only two medics in the flat of 6, naturally we became close pretty quickly as we were together pretty much all day every day for the first 2 years of our medical school. We were up ridiculously early and gone all day. We couldn’t party any night of the week like a certain somebody we lived with. We had plenty of work and exams to keep us busy. The first thing about Irish is that she is a morning person. I am most definitely not. She would wake up at dawn even on weekends and whistle cheerfully. She had these dryer sheets that smelled of fresh laundry…even today, that lovely fresh scent equates to Irish to me. She has tremendous boobs (sorry Irish but I feel they need to be celebrated) and the loveliest bouncy hair which is NOT mousy brown as she used to claim. She is one of those friends I have never fallen out with. It’s strange to think but we don’t have fights at all. Perhaps it is because she doesn’t tend to get dragged into one of my deep philosophical conversations because she is quite squeamish with deep emotional stuff and would rather the happier topics. That is not to say that she won’t indulge me if I need to offload. She makes the best butter icing cupcakes and has managed to teach me to bake a couple of things. She loves sunflowers. That is in a nutshell Irish to me. She is little Ms Sunshine with a spine of steel underneath all the Gaelic charm. She will stand up for what she believes in and will call you out if you do something wrong but all with the sweetness of honey. She has dealt with family issues that would faze many but she remains unfazed and strong. She also has lovely blue eyes and dimples which I would give my little toes for. Oh and she gives the best hugs ever! If Tolu is the girl I want my daughter to grown up to be, Irish is the woman I want to be for my children. I want to be all sunshine and sweetness and quiet strength and I want to be charming just like her when I grow up.

Then there is my Indian friend who around birth was inadvertently called One on some documentation and that is my name for her which I shall stick to. She is the only one of my friends who is younger than I am. We met whilst I was out doing clinical experience in SEWA rural, Jhagadia – a village in Gujarat State, India. She was out there too doing field research and being the only other single girl resident in the flats on hospital grounds, we instantly gravitated to each other and became fast friends. She is a biomedical scientist. We quickly found common love in tea and laughter and feminism. We quickly fell into a routine. She would come over after ‘work’ to put her water in my fridge and we would go over to hers for tea. I would usually drape myself all over her bed and even occasionally on the cool floor for it was pregnant with heat during my 3 months there. My friendship with her is very similar to the one I have with Safa except the age difference and my having a bit more life experience. And our life stories seem to mirror each other down to meeting the ‘wrong’ boy as defined culturally but actually believing them to be our Mr Right. Unlike Safa though, she is the only one of my friends who is shorter than I am so I feel refreshing normal size next to her. One is rather fearless I think and having lived in remote Jhagadia for a whole year, she then applied for a post-graduate course in the US and off she went to live in NY. Now she is in Malawi, again independently sourced job and seems to be flourishing. What makes her so special goes beyond her fabulous tea, her wicked sense of humour and independent spirit. She is also very honest and open, kind and supportive, generous and when she loves, she gives it her all. One is going to be great someday soon. Mark my words!

Last but not least is my youngest adopted mama, Farah for today. I met her in 2009 as a lowly FY1 doctor in the crazy world of City Hospital (Birmingham). She was soon to be medical registrar and had a reputation for being brutally honest and fierce. Did that put me off? No! I love my women fierce and fearless so we became friends in the mess when I was on surgery and actually had time to go to the mess every day. I loved her unconventional ways and I think she liked me because though small and ‘quiet’ on the face of it, I gave as good as she gave and never seemed to take it personally when that sharp tongue was pointed my way. Despite the difference in years, in the hierarchical world of medicine, we remained friends over the years and have grown closer since we stopped working together. She is another one from a Muslim background who was born into the religion and though respects me for practicing, is not of the same opinions about it. I respect that despite being from a middle-eastern background, she is honest enough to say this is how ‘I’ feel about religion and all that comes with it. I love that despite that prickly first impression she gives out, she is a big old softie with a heart that is good as gold. She is loyal and supportive and she is always there for me if I need her. She wore a polka dot dress to my wedding – if for nothing else, I will love her forever. What a woman! Farah I salute you. You are one of my heroes.

There you are dear readers, my wonderful array of close companions without whom I would be less of the woman I am today. I will take this opportunity to say that for the reasons I have mentioned above and for many more that I cannot put into words, I feel privileged to have met and befriended you all. Thank you for all the love and support. I love you all.

Save Our NHS!

Sharing this from a doctor’s facebook wall with permission because she says it better than I could express through the mounting frustration and despair I feel.

“I would like to tell you what the NHS means to me. It means that as a doctor. I get to think about what my patients need, and what is best for them. I get to think about that, above all else. Because my patients are someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, someone’s mother, someone’s mentor, someone’s shoulder to cry on, someone’s friend. I get to value their life over all else.

I love that. I love that when I’m driving down a busy street at rush hour, and an ambulance with blue lights and sirens wailing, presents itself to this mass of people on the road – people with jobs to get to, meetings to attend, events to arrive at, exams to sit – not one of them stops in the middle of the road and refuses to let the ambulance pass.
Not one of them thinks their schedule is more important than the stranger in the back of the ambulance, fighting for their life. They, the general public, the person on the street, the people of Britain, value a stranger’s life above everything else at that moment. I love that. I love the humanity.

Jeremy Hunt says, he wants us to provide a 24 hour NHS. I think thats fantastic. I am pretty sure I have already worked every hour of every conceivable day to make up the 24/7 ideal. I work bank holidays and public holidays and religious holidays. I work often right up until I need to leave to catch a train to a graduation or a wedding. Sometimes I have an Emergnecy and I work past that. And I send my apologies and I lose my tickets. Because the person I am working on matters. Because I value their life over all else at that moment in time.

I think a 24/7 service is wonderful. It’s the dream. It’s like dubai at night. Or New York always. The service that never sleeps. I mean. I never sleep. Not on call. But, yes, sure, things can be delayed. It takes longer for one doctor to see 80 patients at night, than it does for a team of 4 to see them during the day. It takes longer for one lab technician to process 80 blood samples vs a team of 5 during the day. It takes longer for one radiographer to image 80 patients overnight than a team of 3 during the day.

The hospital is not just made up of doctors. We cannot work without our colleagues. Nurses, phlebotomists, pharmacists, radiographers, porters, health care assistants, scrub nurses, physicians assistants, and anaesthetics techs.
We all work together as a team. At all hours of the day and night. Because we value the life of the person we are seeing.
We would love a 24/7 service. But you cannot achieve it by taking the same doctor, spreading him or her thinner to cover the gaps they are already covering regularly – and then tell them that’s what they ought to have been doing all along so let’s slash your meagre pay by 1/3 for good measure.

To achieve the sort of dreamlike 24/7 service Mr hunt is selling and we all want to buy. The answer is simple. Create more training posts. Hire more doctors. Twice the current amount. Hire more nurses. I’m tired just watching them scramble night after night, running between rooms taking care of double their normal case load. Hire more ancillary workers. If you really wanted a fully functioning service, where 3am on a Sunday looks the same as 10am on a Tuesday, that’s the solution.
Don’t fillet and tenderise your already overstretched team to plug the gaps. And don’t turn the public against them because they have said that it’s not right.

What happens to our value as human beings? As care givers? As people who place others first? Where is the logic, in destroying one of the greatest legacies of modern history? In order to reappropriate the money as bonuses for management consultants who “told us what was wrong”.

I never finished my story about what the NHS means to me. When I’m done with my job. And that isn’t dictated by the clock but by when my patients are all stable. When I’m done I go home to my mother, who is terminally ill. Sometimes she is very unwell. And at those times I return to the hospital. This time not as a doctor, but as patient and family. I cannot begin to explain the relief in knowing that our arrival isn’t heralded by piles of paperwork to determine how much money we have to pay for treatment. They wouldn’t find much. I’m always overdrawn. I once laughed when I lost my wallet, because there wasn’t any point in cancelling my bank cards. They would find nothing in the account. I am 34 years old and a “junior” doctor that has been working for 10 years. But I have nothing worth stealing. That’s because I usually just get paid enough to cover my rent and bills. And when I need to do exams or get a wedding gift or live without relying on a credit card I would pick up extra shifts, working even more weekends and holidays than I normally would, which was already a lot.

Then, like a lot of my colleagues. I volunteer. I volunteer my services to local communities. I voluntarily sit on charitable boards where I help develop plans to help the most vulnerable in society. I travel to refugee camps to help those that unlike me, cannot make ends meet, have been forced out of their homes through no fault of their own, and now have no one to care for them. Very few people value them at all, these proud, resilient, insightful people in camps and on journeys – let alone above all else.

So I am grateful for the NHS. Because as a terminal cancer patient. My mum and I show up at our A&e a lot. And often at the most inconvenient times. 3am. 7pm. Weeknight. Weekday. The tumor doesn’t care. But you know who does? NHS staff. They care. They value her life over all else when she walks through the door – even if she may not have very much life left to live. They always smile. They always listen. They are always patient and kind. They are cheerful most of the time, even as their pagers bleep mercilessly through every conversation they have, alerting them to another patient in need of being valued.

They trundle away regardless of the time, tucking my mum into bed, helping her to the bathroom, taking her blood despite the fact that her veins disappeared under the influence of chemotherapy long ago. Patiently searching for those life giving green threads in her hands and arms. Listening to her chest. Poring over her substantial medical history to make sure they understand everything. Discussing the minutiae that may unveil what the cancer is doing this time and how they can best hold it at bay. There are no shortcuts even at 3am. They value their patients and the families above all else. And I love them for that.

That’s what the NHS means to me. Service that comes full circle.

I treated someone’s mum like they were the only person in the world that mattered right then. And later on that night, some other kindly fatigued uniformed intelligent gentle soul did the same for my mum. And sometime during those 24 hours someone was late to pick their kids up from school or collect their dry cleaning – because an ambulance with the most valuable person to someone else, closed off the road they were on as it whizzed past.
That. is Healthcare delivered as a right, not a privilege. That is humanity. So the only question, Mr. Hunt. (And anyone else who backs the sham of making an understaffed workforce doing the best it can to work twice as long for two thirds of the pay, and ensuring that women who have families and researchers who seek to cure terminal conditions like my mother’s can’t do their job, which is what they value – ) the only question is – What do you value above all else? Money? The bottom line? The shareholders? Your mates who run companies that want private contracts? A shot at being PM?

None of that will matter to you when you are ill, Mr. Hunt. I promise you. At that moment in time. You will value your health above all else.

More than that, you will want a team of dedicated well trained NHS employees to value you above all else.
Value.your.health.service.”

Sweet Mama

When I think of my mama, there is a theme song that plays in the background. ‘A Song for Mama’ by Boys II Men. The song talks about her teaching her child everything, teaching them about right and wrong. It talks about the mama believing in her child when no one else would. It talks about loving mama being the food to the soul and her being the child’s strength. Amazing song!

My mama was never the most traditional of mums. For majority of my life, she was a single mum. She is a feminist. She travelled often to attend conferences and seminars and to take part in courses, for weeks and sometimes months at a time. She did not enjoy the traditional female roles of cooking and cleaning day in, day out.  I rarely saw her do laundry and she certainly never ironed for us. But…she also did a lot of traditionally mummy things. She woke us up for school every morning she was home. She bathed us both together in the bathtub and wrapped us each in a large bath towel, tucking us in just the way we loved it so that we were like worms in a cocoon of warmth. We would hurry off to our bedroom and fall into bed, clean and warm for a quick ‘shut eye’ and make her go through the process of getting us up again. She washed my hair and patiently combed out the tangles and put hair cream on my hair and scalp. She took me to buy school books, stationary and shoes when the new term began. She waited at the end of the school term for my exam results and told me how proud she was.

My mama recounts that when I was born in a busy maternity ward in Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Teaching Hospital, Kaduna. She says she knew I was different in that first hour. The maternity unit was very busy which meant that as babies were born, they were given a cursory drying and wrapped up and placed in a queue for proper cleaning before being placed in their mothers’ arms. My mama says that I wailed so loud for so long that the midwife had to come away from the mother she was assisting to pluck me out from the waiting queue, give me a good clean and take me to my mama. I cried all through her handling and I am told that as soon as my mama took me into her arms, I took a deep breath in and fixed my eyes on her. Apparently I was as good as gold for my mum throughout childhood. Not so to everyone else. I was a right madam and often fussy especially when my mama was away on one of her trips. I cried so much that I grew up with a husky voice but my mama swears I was always good for her. I think my tears were from missing my mama and fearing that she had abandoned me.

I was a different baby from my sister. My sister was the baby that wanted to be handled 24/7. I was the opposite. I wanted my mama to cuddle me with breastfeeds but I wanted to be in my bed when I was asleep. I was happy to be at home playing when my mama went out as long as she didn’t have luggage in tow. When she went on a trip, it felt like she took a piece of me with her. I remember vividly going into her room and sitting on the side of her bed. I would stare at the enlarged picture of her taken before I was born and feel the tears well in my eyes. I would press the button on the talking clock on her headboard and lie on the cool tiled floor in the dim light and wonder if I would ever see her again. For some reason, I was always afraid that she would never come back. Even though she told us how long she would be, it always seemed to me that the deadline had passed and no one was telling the plans had changed. I would lie on the floor of her room in the silence as my sister played with the neighbourhood children and imagine she had been killed in a plane crash and everyone was keeping it from us. I would cry quietly as I imagined the worst and eventually, I would find some hope from deep within and say to myself she was OK or I would have heard of the plane crash on the news. I don’t know why in my young mind, I didn’t think she could die in a car crash which was more common place.

When she came home, she always came bearing gifts. Nothing too extravagant but all special. I got my first Barbie after one trip and many years later a Cindy doll after I got over the loss of my Barbie. On a long trip to Venezuela, I got a t-shirt which I loved to bits and wore until its stitching unravelled and I had to be begged to throw it in the bin. I got a ‘born to be wild’ t-shirt from the US which when made me feel like the bee’s knees whenever I wore it. On the same US trip, she got me arguable one of the best gifts, a special edition perfume from the Disney store shaped like Belle from Beauty and the Beast. I still have the plastic Belle bottle more than 15 years later. One trip she went to the Disney store in London and got me a Tazmanian Devil woolley hat and gloves combo. A regular treat were the pick and mix sweets. The highlight was the marshmallows covered in strawberry-flavoured slightly tart sugar. Yummy! Those sweets taught us a highly valuable life lesson. She handed us each a large plastic bag full of sweets and left us to our devices. My sister would go through a fair few in the first day then slow down over the next few days. I was more calculating. I would pour out all of my sweets and group them into types and work out how I could make it so I could make my favourites last the longest. I always tried to save a strawberry sweet for weeks and ate it last. I will never forget how special that last sweet was. It almost made it okay that mama had to travel AGAIN a few months later.

I am one of those weird people who love salads. The secret? My mama. She makes the most amazing salads. I don’t know exactly how she did it but she made it so that having a special salad was an occasion in my home. She would take us to the shops to buy baked beans, sweetcorn and mushrooms. Then she would slice the tomatoes, hard boil eggs, fry the mushrooms and re-cook the beans then dress the lettuce with all of that, laid out in the most beautiful pattern. The salad would look and smell so good that we couldn’t wait to tuck in. It was so delicious that it was the main course of dinner. Thinking about it now is making me salivate. The other thing my mum is a queen of is smoothies. She loves them and she makes the best ones. What makes them extra special is the love she puts into preparing all the fruit and blending it all in batches and giving us all a helping. I have always watched children whine about eating fruit and vegetables and to be honest, I have never understood why. Because my mama was so good that she made us love fruit and vegetables.

Of course I am biased but looking back, I think she did an amazing job. She was the disciplinarian whose love I never doubted. In a society where smacking was considered the norm, she was very restrained and I can count how many times I got smacked. Each time was totally called for too and even then I knew. She is now one of my best friends, cliched though that might sound. I can talk to her about anything. My opinions are valuable to her even if she argues about it all. I am her confidant, her financial adviser, her personal doctor, her baby and her friend. I value her above everyone else and everyday, I thank God that she was gifted to me as my mother. I am thankful that she is healthy and strong and fiesty to a fault. I owe her everything I am. She is my greatest love.

The Magnificence of the Ocean

I love nature. The great outdoors (as long as it is not grey and miserable). Of the great outdoors, the ocean is my great love. Which is ironic because I cannot swim so really, I should stay away from ferociously powerful currents and the vastness of the ocean. But I can’t. I feel the draw like a moth to light. My heart beats stronger and happier when I am standing with my feet in wet sand, my ears full of the sound of waves crashing all around me, the spray of salty water on my face and very few people around me.

My earliest memories of the ocean are from holidays with my grandparents in Lagos which is on the Atlantic Ocean. Back then, Bar beach was still a place to go. Safe enough for children and I remember even then the huge waves which threatened to sweep me out into the ocean. My grandparents never came. My granddad was too busy for day time outings and I have no idea why Mammie, my grandmother never came. My mother would always prepare lots of sandwiches and an assortment of other snacks early in the morning and we would head out before noon and spend the whole day on the beach. My sister and I would build sandcastles, paddle in the water that foamed at our feet and watch the older children and adults swimming out into the deep waters to catch a wave back onto shore. I remember getting tired and having sand in every nook and cranny and sorely needing a shower by the time we were bundled into the car for home, all of the food eaten and all the excitement replaced by fatigue.

A few years later, Bar beach was destroyed by the power of the ocean so we found another beach. My mother discovered Takuwa Bay which involved catching a speedboat from a boatyard in Victoria Island. Takuwa Bay, because of its location off the mainland, was definitely much nicer. Cleaner water and sand, less crowded and the water less wild than Bar beach became. The speedboat was a new thrill and I loved the sensation of skimming across the water as the wind whipped past and we bobbed in our life vests, grinning like loons in pleasure. I remember one year we went when I was about 6 years old. My mum had just gone to London for work and came back with a beautiful swimming costume, a little swimming skirt and bandeau top in ivory silk. It was so pretty I couldn’t wait for our annual Lagos trip. Off we went to Takuwa Bay first weekend we got. I remember running around feeling rather grand. I think the headiness of my cool outfit went to my head and I forgot to pay attention to the ocean. Next thing I remembered was being engulfed by a huge wall of water. Knowing I couldn’t swim, I curled up into a ball, clasped my knees to my chest and held my breath. I don’t know how long I was under for but when the water washed back, there I was on the sand, eyes closed, breath held. My sister reports that she had seen me disappear in the water and thought I was a goner. Luckily for me, I was so young I didn’t let the fear overcome me. I was safe and unfazed. Within minutes, I was back playing the water whilst my sister stood guard.

When I went to secondary school, the tradition of Takuwa Bay beach days with my mum continued. The only thing that changed was the food we took. In the late 90s, we discovered the best chicken in the world. It was made on one of the street corners not far from Musa Yar’adua Street in VI. It was a small stall, very unassuming but damn! That guy could make chicken. We found out that he marinated it overnight and then grilled it to perfection on the day and on our beach days; we would often have to wait for the chicken to be done because he was aiming for the lunchtime crowd whilst we were trying to beat the lunchtime traffic and get to the beach before lunch. It was the juiciest, most tender delicious chicken ever. I have eaten a lot of chicken in a lot of countries since then and I swear that chicken would win a taste contest hands down. Makes my mouth water even today, over 15 years since I last one. I have no doubt that the chicken guy has moved on but the memory will remain with me forever and I often wonder where did he go? I do hope he is still making his amazing chicken and spreading that joy somewhere.

There was an annual ‘house’ trip in Queen’s College, my secondary school, to the beach where hundreds of girls packed into several buses and headed to the beach at Lekki. We all had to wear our Sunday wear out over whatever else we had with us that was more beach appropriate. There was always happy singing as we were liberated from within the walls of our school. We would save up our pocket money for the trip and gorge on suya, fresh coconuts and sweets. Despite the frustrations of the slowness of getting to and from the beach, it was a day we all loved and cherished and although I cannot remember much detail about any of the trips, I know it was a highlight and suya, sand and sea definitely had much to do with it.

Until this year, I loved my lie ins and there was no worse idea for me than to get up at the crack of dawn during holidays. I thought anyone that did that was rather balmy. That is until I went to Malaysia and was lucky enough to spend the night in a rented log cabin on the beaches of Kota Bharu. I think I was awoken by the first rays of light and whereas normally I would roll over and pull the covers over my head to block out the signs of morning, I was drawn out of bed by the gentle sound of waves crashing onto shore. I found myself heading out of the cabin and towards the vast ocean. I was all alone on the beach as the sky gradually lightened and the sun rose to greet the dawn. The fine mist of salty sea water coated my face and my heart raced in exhilaration as I stood with my feet in the warm water surging to and fro. I felt in that moment how small I was in this place we all call home. On earth. The ocean’s might and power was all around me and I felt like I belonged. Like I was part of this huge family of creation that did its function regardless of what we humans were doing. As we slept, the ocean’s currents were in constant motion, waves in continuous motion, forming and crashing. I savoured the moment of aloneness and silence. I felt my heart synchronise its beat to that of the ocean. I listened to the music of life and I wanted to be frozen in that moment forever. Eventually, after more than an hour of sitting and not thinking of anything but the now, another guest rose from their bed and took a morning stroll along the beach. The moment was over but in my memories, it will live forever.

Earlier this year, my husband and I went on Honeymoon to Mauritius. Mauritius is a destination I would recommend with all my heart. The Indian ocean is the best I have ever experienced. The water is so gorgeous, that beautiful turquoise colour that is neither blue nor green. And clean as can be. Despite not being able to swim, there was no way I was going to pass up being in the middle of the ocean swimming with dolphins. Off I went with George at dawn in the speedboat to Tamarind Bay where the unsuspecting wild dolphins lay asleep. I strapped on my life vest, stuck on the snorkelling gear and jumped in when it was my turn. And I got to be in the ocean with the lithe creatures we call dolphins. To be honest, being short-sighted with no glasses and being hampered by my inability to swim, I didn’t really ‘swim with dolphins’ but I was in the same strip of water as them and that was good enough for me.

When I got back on the speed boat, I was able to see them properly and even got a baby dolphin give us a little show – incredibly this show-boater of a dolphin did a series of leaps and spins as if he knew exactly what we were all hoping for. How lucky were the guys who took us out to swim with dolphins that day…what an amazing job it is to be able to jump into the ocean and cavort with dolphins. Le sigh. To round off the day, when we got back towards shore, we did a bit of snorkelling which even through my myopic gaze was the most incredible sight. The richness of the colours and the exotic fish blew my little mind. None of the images I have seen captured on camera compare to the real thing.

For me absolutely one of the reasons to believe in a higher power than in an evolution that happened completely by chance. The complexity of the ocean, its currents and shifts and rhythms. All part of an intelligent design for me but this blog is not about that. So yeah, the ocean. Amazeballs!!! If I could be anything or anyone, I would be a mermaid because as Sebastien says to Ariel in Little Mermaid ‘under the sea’ is where it’s at!

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!

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.