Tag Archives: Abuja

Listen to Granddad

My grandad by everyone’s standards is a legend. He has seen and done so much in his lifetime and he continues to do so today at the age of 85. Look him up. Ahmed Joda is his name. I won’t bother to write about his many achievements because so many have done so over his many years of service. I want to write about the man beneath it all. My grandad who I call Baba. We all do, his children and grandchildren alike. Because before I realised what other people thought of him, through my young eyes, all I saw was an ‘old’ man who was my mama’s dear father. My only grandfather. The patriarch of the family who was also the main father figure in my life.

The first thing we all know about Baba is that he is a stickler for punctuality. Now this might not sound significant to you but coming from Nigeria, it so is. Have you ever heard of the concept ‘African time’? Did you know ‘Nigerian time’ constitutes even worse ‘lateness’? So a Nigerian who is always on time is as rare as hen’s teeth. His most precious possession is his watch. He looks at it every few minutes even when he has absolutely nothing to do. It’s like a nervous tick. And God forbid he forgets his watch at home, he will drive us all mad asking for the time every 5 minutes.

When Baba asks you to meet at 5pm, at 5:01pm he will be on the phone asking where you are if you are not there. If you make plans to go somewhere with him, be sure to get there on time because I kid you not, if you are more than a couple of minutes late, he will go without you. Whoever you are and wherever you were meant to go with him. I think I wrote a blog about how he invited his friend from Abuja to come to Yola (9 hour road trip) to join us all on a trip to Gembu (6 hour road trip). We waited for 20 minutes and despite the fact that it was 6am and we would get there by lunchtime, he declined to wait and left without them. Lord knows what they went through to find Gembu because Nigerian roads outside of Abuja and Lagos are poorly signposted especially places like Gembu and they didn’t turn up until the next morning! We in the immediate family are no strangers to his bark of ‘come on!’ which when I was little used to make me cry because it sounded so scary. Over time, I have learnt not to react so emotionally to it but still, when that bark comes because we are more than a minute late to leave for some engagement, my heart skips a beat.

I once asked Baba why being punctual was so important even when no one else (Nigerian) cared and why we had to be the first ones at every event. He explained and although I cannot remember exactly how he phrased it, the message is reflected in the following quote:

‘Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it. No idleness, no delay, no procrastination; never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.’

Lord Chesterfield

He certainly lives by that rule and as I have said before, he has achieved more than most people would in 3 or 4 lifetimes. Perhaps he is still going so strong at 85 because he is mindful of seizing every moment he has been blessed with. I certainly want to emulate that when I grow up.

So many things I love about Baba but one of them is easily how much he has empowered us all to speak our minds. He has never been of the school that children should be seen and not heard. From a very early age, he would ask our opinions on topics most adults would never broach with children and he would give your answer his undivided attention and take it on board. Many years later, he would repeat your words to you especially if you had learnt from experience that things were not black and white and he would invite you to explain why the change in opinion. This means that in the Joda household, we are all prolific debaters and will put across our arguments without fair of censure as long as we were being honest. Active debate is encourage actively and even the youngest gets heard as long as they want to contribute. I think what keeps Baba so young at heart and full of zest is that he surrounds himself with the young and he sees life through our eyes. That way, his ideas are always in date and he can converse about whatever you choose to discuss.

Somehow, Baba never asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up until I was 13 years old. I brought the topic up because when I was choosing my optional subjects for SS1, my mother expressed surprise that I didn’t want to do Economics. My response was one of surprise too because although I was good with figures and mathematics, I was always more into my science than finance. Turns out Baba thought I would make a great economist. Next time we sat around the dining table, I asked him why he thought I would make a great economist. I can’t remember his reasons but I promptly told him I was going to be a doctor and that there was no way economics would even feature in any options I would take for a career path. He expressed his disappointment that that was the path I had chosen but of course it was up to me. I was going to be the first doctor in the Joda lineage and thought he would appreciate my individuality.

It wasn’t until I was qualified and he sought my opinion on some of his medications that I felt he was proud of the career path I have chosen. So was I right not to listen to Baba? I thought so until the recent NHS upheaval which might mean me changing career tracks this late in the game. He is almost always right my grandad after all. Maybe what he foresaw was that being an economist would be a better quality of life for the grand-daughter who was feisty and named after his beloved wife. Perhaps he knew that my hard work and talents would not shine the brightest as a doctor. Perhaps he even predicted that I would end up working in the NHS whose main shortcoming is its poor economics. Who knows? As of now, I think I chose the right profession. I knew I wanted to be a doctor before I even know what a doctor really does. I love the job itself now, more than I ever thought I would. However, the politics of the NHS now means I am questioning whether my love for the job justifies my continuing on in the career when it means me risking my health, my social wellbeing and happiness and giving up so many of my dreams. Watch this space!

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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.

Sports Day in QC

I was in Abuja 2 weeks ago and took a cab to my friend’s house in a neighbourhood that apparently can befuddle even the best cab drivers in Abuja. My friend, let’s call her Nana, sent a text with directions and when I read them out to the cab driver, he was impressed. I laughed and said ‘she did go to QC so of course, she can give directions!’ His turn to be impressed as he appraised me. ‘You went to QC?! And I thought you were an oyinbo!’ Oyinbo (Yoruba) a.k.a bature (Hausa) is a white foreigner to you because I do not sound like a home-grown Nigerian anymore. I shook my head and smiled.

My husband carries the passport photograph above in his wallet or car as the mood strikes him. He claims to love the photo. I happen to love it too but for purely sentimental reasons. As an SS1 (year 9 equivalent) girl, I was finally loving being in Queen’s College (QC) and even liking a lot about the boarding house when my mama dropped the bombshell that she was relocating with my sister and I. The photo was taken for my British passport application when I was 14 years old. I remember my mother taking me out of boarding school to go and complete all the processes required to get a British passport. Medical tests. Passport photograph and I am sure something else too. I was excited, never having been to Europe and nervous because I would be leaving my friends and home and going somewhere that I didn’t belong. 

The picture was taken at the midway point of the middle term of the year just after Inter-House Sports Day. I can tell you this day was one of the annual highlights for most students in QC. It was a day of sporting competition where all the top talent in the school would be on display. There was calisthenics for SS2 girls. There was show-marching for all the 6 competing Houses complete with sexy cheerleader-type outfits, twirling batons, ribbons galore and some very sharp moves. Our families and friends were all there as this was an open day at QC. This also meant that the boys from all the big Lagos secondary schools came to check out the QC girls and play. KC boys especially felt entitled as they were King’s College and there was a bit of relationship between the schools for historical reasons.

The end of the 1st term was when all the excitement began as the calisthenics routine was planned and the girls began to audition for the marching. By the beginning of the middle term of 3, rehearsals would be in full swing and we would all sneak a preview of our Houses as they perfected their showpieces. Rumours about special twirl pieces would fly about. Girls would whisper about how the girl up front House A’s marching band had the highest knees and best pointed toes. Yet more whispers about how synchronised House B’s moves were and other whispers about how maybe House C was the dark horse that would triumph over the usual winning Houses. By the time the pom-poms were being fashioned for the calisthenics using plastic bags cut into strips, excitement was at fever pitch. None of us was able to sit through a lesson without whispering about some aspect of Sports Day. In the days before, half of the classes were put on hold as athletes, SS2 girls and marchers put the finishing touches on their game plans, their costumes and performances. We all got in the game on the Thursday before the Saturday.

In 2000, periwinkles (like the snails) were all the rage in QC hairstyles. That is what I have in my hair in the picture. Basically, you either braid hair or take a small section of hair then curl it about itself to resemble the shell of a periwinkle shells. I remember wanting that hairstyle all week and I was saying to Nana that I had no one to do my hair when she said she would do it. ‘Can you really?’ I asked and sure enough she could. I bought the small colourful rubber bands we used to secure the periwinkles in place and off I went to her dorm in Obasa House where we got to work. It took several hours to get it done but it was all worth it when she put the final band in place and let me look. I was ecstatic and I thought I looked great with my periwinkles and my brand new white sneakers with orange shoelaces in tribute to my beloved Obong House.

The day is a bit of a blur now but I remember the highlights. There were thousands of people all over the school ground, walking where they normally would be barred from, saying hello to missed family and a lot of excited giggling coming from us teenage girls. There were little cliques of boys strolling ‘coolly’ about, pretending not to check out the preening girls. There was the addictive smell of roast chicken and other foodie delights being prepared for sale by the vendors that were for this day only invited into our school grounds.

The first event was always the show-marching. I remember finding a spot where I could watch the marching unhindered and the butterflies of excitement as I waited with bated breath for the first of the girls to emerge. The 1st sighting of the marchers, previously well hidden in an undisclosed secure location would send a ripple of chatter across the Sports field. As the Houses came out in alphabetical order and more outfits were spotted, the chatter grew louder and I oohed and aahed with everyone else. I shifted from foot to foot in admiration of the beauty on display and watched as the marchers wiggled in anticipation of the marching they were about to do. I could also see the pride with which they held themselves. The way they walked taller and turned their be-ribboned braids from side to side as they checked out the competition and the admiring crowd. I caught 1 or 2 girls giving flirty looks to nearby boys. Then the call to order came and the marching began. I could have heard a pin drop in those minutes with the exception of the small segments where the baton-twirlers did their thing and drew gasps of admiration and clapping from the audience. This year, there were no dropped batons and every House it seemed topped the previous until it came to my House which surpassed all others. That year we won. For real. I took it as a personal reward for my loyalty and absolute belief in my House. Lol.

The calisthenics was another highlight which came towards the end of all the athletics. The SS2 girls strutted their stuff to a popular pop song, pompoms waving in unison. It was received rapturously. As the athletics continued, I joined other girls in the queues for peppered chicken then frozen yoghurt then meat pies. I stuffed my face unable to control myself as all the options beckoned. I ran around and took photos with other girls and admired each other’s hair and shoes. As the final medals were presented, we all started to mill about and congratulate those who took part and did well. Then the House that won the overall competition was announced  and given the trophy and the winning girls showed off in their house colours and celebrated loudly. As the day drew to a close, we all began to find our families and friends and say our goodbyes as the teachers and school Prefects began to round us up and return us back to the safety of our boarding House. Another sporting triumph!

Scapegoating: the current vogue

My father-in-law is Zulu or as they are called when they are Zimbabwean settlers Ndebele. He was telling me the other day about Mugabe’s Korea-trained soldiers (the Sixth Brigade) and how a few years ago, hundreds of young Zulu men were rounded up and shot by them. There was a lot of unhappiness amongst the Zulu and when Mugabe was back for ‘re-election’ campaigning, he was asked directly and he prevaricated but no apology was made. The Zulus are sitting there with resentment and as the years tick by with no justice, the anger and resentment builds.

Now imagine that Mugabe was a Muslim and the Zulus were Christian immigrants. If Mugabe had killed so many hundreds of Christians, he would have been branded an ‘islamist terrorist’. What that term means I have no idea. Except it has the word Islam in it to further demonise all of millions of Muslims all round the world who are no more terrorist than you and I. All those Muslims who are living peacefully with their non-Muslim neighbours.

I, as a Muslim, have non-Muslim family and friends who I love as much as I love my Muslim blood relatives. My in-laws are all Christian and I love them regardless. Even if every time I go to their homes they pray for me ‘in the name of Jesus’ which to me is like a big ***k y** and your beliefs. Some of those Christian friends and now family despite knowing me and claiming to love me still think that all of us Muslims are murderers and would murder them in their sleep given the chance. That I would take up the arms I do not believe in and kill them just because they are not Muslim. Fills my heart with disappointment but what can one do?

My sister’s current BBM status says ‘expect nothing and you won’t be disappointed’. So now I expect no less from the non-Muslims I meet who ask me if they came to Nigeria, would they be killed? Does anyone out there know anything of history and demographics anymore? Last time I checked, Nigeria was not a Muslim country and has never been. The places where I have invited people to (Abuja, Kaduna and Adamawa) probably have at least 50% Muslims and Christians, never mind that in Yola town, the majority may be Muslim and even that I am not wholly convinced. Never mind that all those things that are seen as Islamic are actually part of the Fabric of Yola – where every indigenous girl regardless of faith is expected to wear a scarf once she has reached puberty and not sleep around with every Tom, Dick or Harry who cares to ask. Where if your neighbour has a car and your mother falls ill in the middle of the night, you are welcome to knock on your neighbour’s door and ask them for a ride to the hospital. Where if your child is hungry, you can knock on a neighbour’s door and they would share of their lunch or dinner. Where my marriage has been celebrated in every home I know despite the fact that my husband is from a non-Fulani non-Muslim background. Where everyone is saying they will start saving now so that they can come all the way to England to meet my husband because he hasn’t yet made the trip to Yola. Where every time I am greeted, they pray for me and my husband, bless my marriage and pray for us to have plenty of healthy children. These are the people that are terrorists. These are the people who want all non-Muslims dead.

My people who are not allowed to complain about the atrocities that plagues them all because they happen to be Muslim. When the girls in Chibouk were abducted, people said they are all Christian (which is not true). My mother and her people (civil groups and human rights activists), many of them Muslim like my mother organised rallies and demonstrations in Yola and Abuja to get the world’s attention on the issue and demand for those girls to be brought back. One of my so-called friends on Facebook then posted on her wall that we Nigerians were making too much noise. Why are we going on about these girls? Like so many ignorant people have asked and I said to her as I say to every other ignoramus who thinks they should ask us to be silent: ‘why shouldn’t we?’ If my mama and her people did not shout so loudly, they would have been accused of complicity as with Boko Haram even though they have been shouting about Boko Haram for years. If these nearly 300 girls abducted had been white British or American children, no one would have dared to complain about people wanting them back. This same ‘Facebook friend’ of mine who is the mother to 2 children would make more noise had her 2 girls been abducted too. But no, it is okay for her and so many others to tell us not to make so much noise.

To anyone who thinks that, I say I do not need friends like you. I do not even want friends like you. So unfriend me on Facebook, take me off your BBM, delete my phone numbers from your phones and leave me alone. Go and spread all you negativity and hatred somewhere else. Go and pick on someone else who needs or wants you. Me, I will be just fine with the friends and family who love and understand that I am just like you. I do not want to kill anyone. I do not want them to kill me. I want to have children and I want them to be free to worship or not as they please. Without being victimised for it. After all, it is one of the basic human rights. Freedom to worship!

A Baby Boy

Dedicated to Fareeda Rasheed – an aunty-in-law and a dear friend taken too soon! 

I am one of 2 girls and for most of my childhood my mama was a single mom so my house was a boy-free zone mostly. No one peed standing up so we didn’t have the toilet-seat-left-up issue or the bits of wee that missed their mark and ended up outside the toilet ball with the associated whiff. No one with boy bits so walking around naked was never awkward outside of ‘visiting hours’. Nor was accidentally opening the toilet door when someone was on the toilet. We were all the same so it was a quick sorry and everyone forgot about it minutes later. As a result, whenever I pictured being older, getting married and having babies, my babies were girls. And to tease me, my sister would say you will have only boys and I would react either with a strident ‘God forbid’ or ‘I hope not’ or ‘please God don’t do that to me’ or similar save me somebody phrases.

 My uncle’s first baby was a boy, who we nicknamed Baby A. His mother was lovely so we became fast friends after the wedding. I was 12 years old. She turned up unexpectedly for one visiting day at my boarding school when I was in JSS1 (first year of secondary school) with a baby bump and I got so excited! This was going to be my first cousin within reach (I have 2 cousins in faraway America). I prayed hard that it would be a girl so I could dress her up and play with her hair. We spent the summer with my aunty and the baby was due the week before we went back to boarding school. We hoped and hoped it would arrive before we had to leave but as these things tend to happen, there was not a peep from the baby. We said our disappointment goodbyes, patted the bump one last time and left.

 2 weeks later, he arrived with great fanfare but I wasn’t to meet him until the end of term. He was 10 weeks old when I first met him and at that stage, he was cute but didn’t do very much. He just fed and slept and I couldn’t even dress him up in cute pink dresses and hair bands. I was pleased but not bowled over. This all changed 5 months later. It was the summer holidays and his mom had decided to relocate to my hometown Yola to learn Fulfulde (the Fulani language), do a HND in Law and generally learn the ways of her husband’s people.

 On weekdays, my sister and I were on babysitting duty from the morning until she came home from Legal studies as the college was called. Being adolescents on holiday, we stayed up late every night and then had a lie in each morning. There was nothing much to do apart from visiting friends and going to buy sweets or drinks from the one main road where all the shops were situated. Sadly, we were by then too old for playing sand games or climbing trees. We were young ladies. Haha.

So back to Baby A, his mom would wake up bright and early, feed him and bring him round to our house. Then, rather than wake us up (which was an impossible task) she would place him on the blanket between my sister and I and sneak out. My sister was the better sleeper so I was generally the one to wake up. The first thing I would notice as I stirred was that the blanket wasn’t moving with me. Then I would feel like I was being watched. Eventually, I would be awake enough to crack open one eye and scope out the situation. Each morning, Baby A would sit patiently and wait for the eye to pop open. Then his face would break into the most disarming irresistable grin. My heart would melt and instead of the usual grumpy awakening, I would pop up and give him a cuddle, drawing from him happy chortling. My sister was soon up in the face of all the merriment. We spent nearly 3 months in this idyllic way.

 We would compete over who would feed him, who would carry him, who would burp him and even who would change his diapers. He was the sunniest baby. Hardly ever cried. Always smiling or laughing. We were there when he mastered how to sit without support and there as he started to crawl and then pull up to stand. By the end of the summer, he was standing and even attempting to take a step. It was with a heavy heart we said our goodbyes when it was time to back to boarding school. This was the beginning of my boy baby love.

 We relocated to London so I missed the infancy of the next boy cousin to be born. Then, when I was in medical school, the news came that my other aunty (wife to uncle no 2) was expecting a baby and he was due during Easter holidays. His grandmother is Egyptian so his mom went to Cairo in preparation for his arrival. My grandmother (her mother-n-law) was also going to be there so I saved up money for flights and I flew to Cairo. He was due the first week of my 4 week holiday. Her tummy was so huge it looked like it would burst and everyone predicted that he would be early being the second baby. Despite her busy upping and downing with the hope of inducing natural labour, she ended up having a caesarean section as there were safety concerns.

 I was much more excited to meet this little boy and he was gorgeous. All black curly hair and very Fulani features. I spent 2 weeks with Modi (that’s his Fulani name) then had to come back. I didn’t see him again until he was 11 months old and I had a 3 month summer holiday. I spent most of it in Kaduna in their home getting to know him. I was his constant companion. Imagine my joy when his first proper word (after da-da and ma-ma and ba-ba) was Diya! I was chuffed. We all went to Abuja together when it was time for me to head back to Birmingham. I was off the next evening. In Abuja, I stayed at my grandparents whilst they stayed at their Abuja home. I went over the morning of departure and spent a few hours saying goodbye to my little sidekick.

 As I got into the car to go back to my grandfather’s and get ready for my flight, he came running out as fast as his little legs could carry him. He bent forward with chubby hands on his thighs and screamed my name as loud as he could. I heard him through the closed windows and slid the window open. His tears broke my heart and I felt myself welling up. I was going to stay a little longer but his mom said ‘no go! I will get changed and bring him over before you go so you can say a final goodbye’. She lifted him to the window and I gave him a quick kiss then detangled him and we drove off. She never did bring him. Looking back, I am glad because I would have made him cry a second time and made it even harder to say goodbye. It was 2 years before I saw him again.

Baby A and Modi were the best convincer for me to be happy with whichever sex baby I may have in the future. Now I look to the near future as a married woman wanting children and all that I pray for is a healthy boy or girl.