Tag Archives: airport

Here We Go Again

lilywhite

The past few month has seen a lot of talk about racism in the media. Particularly in relation to the Oscars. With it, a lot of eye rolling and people saying they are fed up of black people going on about discrimination and playing the race card. What about the Muslims, the gays, the transgender, the browns, the women, the poor? It is a constant source of irritation and sadness for me when these discussions kick off and people start shouting at each other. My first issue is no one wants to listen. This is why racism and the many other forms of discrimination continue to thrive in our societies. Societies that are ashamed to admit a lack of progress and would rather hide what they consider dirty laundry out of view. As if out of sight is really out of mind. Well, it is humanity’s shame and face it we must. Because if we don’t face it then we won’t ever fix it.

On the Oscar issue: yes, it is inherently racist. Why? Because up until recently, majority (94% according to many internet sources) of those who are eligible to nominate and vote for the winners are white and ¾ of those are men. Human nature, and this is evidence-based, is such that if a selection of talented actors/actresses/directors is presented to a person, the voter will look for common traits to identify with the nominees. The easiest trait to identify: skin colour, gender and other physical attributes. So stands to reason that if 94% are white, they are more likely to nominate and vote for white people. There was a blog by a young black woman who works in the entertainment industry published on mumsnet. The reaction was one that had my gnashing my teeth. Many (white, brown and black) suggested that it was not the correct forum for such a discussion. I was dismayed. If mothers are not the people who need to be educated about the ills of discrimination and who need to be encouraged to socialise their children into seeing beyond colour, then who exactly is going to be the catalyst for change?

mother and child

I cannot for the life of me see which other group yields more influence when it comes to such a fundamental change. As a soon to be mother, I see it as absolutely my job to teach my child to see the inner qualities of every person they interact with and judge them based on their actions and words and not the things over which they have no control over.

queue jump

In Nigeria, there is blatant racism still. The fairer your skin is, the more socially desirable you are in many circles. The more foreign your English accent, the more educated you are perceived to be. Being resident in Europe or America or Asia elevates your self-worth. Doesn’t matter if you do the most menial of jobs abroad or have very little education over there. I was born in Nigeria, left as a teenager and I have now officially spent more of my life outside of Nigeria then in it. I see the discrimination clearly. Sure I am a highly educated and successful professional but most of the strangers I interact with don’t know this. To many it is all superficial. I get asked my opinion on things that are well outside my area of expertise and even when I am confessing to having little knowledge, my opinion carries weight. I get better customer service because of the way I speak. I get less abuse from those who like to abuse their positions of power – the police, road safety, customs and immigration officers. When I go into shops run by foreigners, I watch how they treat ordinary Nigerians with barely disguised rudeness or contempt and how those Nigerians do not complain about it. I speak up sometimes to the surprise of those Nigerians and I get told I am ‘feisty or fiery or outspoken’ with amusement or admiration depending on the age of the Nigerian I am defending. I have been in situations where a non-black person has walked into the place, seen the queue of Nigerians waiting to be served and decided that their time was more valuable that the locals and cut to the front. I wait to see if the officials say anything, rarely will they ask for the person to do the right thing. If nothing is said, I am never afraid to tell the person that there is a queue and we were all in it.

The other manifestation is through skin bleaching. It is so prevalent in Nigeria and indeed many other societies. People, mostly women, spend a lot of money on creams and lotions containing dangerous toxins which ‘whiten’ their skin. Some of the more expensive products do a good job and give them fairer skin that looks natural and healthy. Most do not. It is so ugly to see the patchwork that results from some of these products. You see women prancing around with their face and neck a Caucasian skin tone, their arms brown and their joints black as nature intended. It is so unnatural that it sometimes looks like a comedic caricature. Sadly, for those who do it, they look in the mirror and think they look more beautiful. Heart breaking to me because some of the most superficially beautiful people on the planet are all shades of brown and black. There is nothing more beautiful to me than flawless golden or deeper brown skin. I see photos every day and wonder how those who bleach are unable to see the beauty in brown skin. Of course this is all about superficial beauty. Maybe that is where we fail. We are too preoccupied by the outer image and fail to see the beauty within. I truly believe that for a person to be truly beautiful, their soul, their heart and their mind must have a positive nature. That is why I find beauty in the eyes – a person whose eyes glow with love, happiness, kindness and warmth is a person I naturally gravitate towards.  That is why there is nothing more beautiful to me than a baby (human or other mammals). That luminosity that is unspoilt by life and its many hardships, that bright light.

name spelling

Here in England, racism is everywhere. I have a surname that has 3 syllables. Pronounced exactly as it is written yet many won’t even attempt to pronounce my surname. If I can get my head around Siobhan actually being pronounced as shee-von and Yvonne pronounced as Ee-von, then I do not see how it can be hard to say a name as easy as Ab-dal-lah or Jo-da or Di-ya. Working as a doctor on the wards, I have had patients say to me with surprise ‘you speak good English’ and I turn around and say to them ‘why wouldn’t I? English is one of 3 languages I was brought up speaking’. I overhear staff talking to non-native English speakers (those with foreign accents or limited English) very loudly, as if the issue is with hearing loss. I hear comments about those non-indigenous Brits being ungrateful for asking for what is routinely offered to their white British fellow patients. I see the relief in black and Asian patients when I say that I will be their doctor and I will look after them. I empathise with them even as I feel sad that I make them feel better not because of my medical skills but because of the colour of my skin and how they perceive that I can relate to them better or will treat them with more dignity.

I will never forget the first time I was racially discriminated against. I was in my 3rd year of medical school on my first hospital placement in an inner city English hospital working with a medical team. On the first on-call I did with them (on-call means being responsible for the new patients coming in off the streets as emergencies), I was seeing patients who were then reviewed by the qualified doctors. Of course, there is a triage system so medical students never saw patients who needed urgent care for things like an on-going  stroke, heart attack or acute asthma that needed immediate treatment before information gathering. Anyway, I was allocated an elderly Asian gentleman to see. I walked into the cubicle and introduced myself, clearly explaining that I would see the patient then get one of the doctors on my team to review. The patient did not protest but his 2 sons were affronted. They, in their high-powered suits, did not think it was appropriate for their father to be seen by me. They wanted someone else. I got my registrar and told him what they had said. He, being Asian like them, was angrier than I was. He marched me back to the patient and his family, informed them that I was part of the team and as this was the NHS, they would be seen by the first available medic. Their choice was me or going private. How awkward for me and the patient! They apologised and I got through the consultation. This happened 10 years ago and happens to this day. I applaud my registrar for his stance and anecdotally, it is happening less and less because people like that registrar were calling people out for their attitudes.

random search

I spoke in another post about the attitude the police have when they stop you as a black person. The approach is usually quite different – the black person is more likely to be treated as guilty of some wrong-doing until proven otherwise even where you are the victim reporting a crime whereas the white person is more likely to be treated as innocent until proven otherwise. Same as when you go into a shop, a security man (or woman) is more likely to follow around a non-white person than a white person. Same as ‘random’ extra security stop searches in the airports. Once, I got stopped for a random search twice in 10 minutes in Birmingham International Airport less than 100m apart. I was irritated and the lady was apologetic and wouldn’t meet my eyes. I pointed out to her that her colleague had just stopped me randomly too and in fact he was only a stone’s throw away. What was it she thought would have changed in the distance to her? It is a random search ma’am. Randomly because I am black you mean. She flushed and muttered an apology as I gathered my bags and carried on. Random. Racial profiling is reality.

So whilst I know that majority of white people are not actively racist, just as I know that majority of Muslims are not extremists, it is clear that as a black woman, I have more obstacles to contend with. Life is just that little bit harder because I was born with the colour of my skin. I ask for no special treatment. I just want to be treated the same as my non-black friends are. I want to be treated with respect and given my dues. I want people to judge me for what I have said and done (which I have control over) and not the genetics I have inherited. I want my talents to be recognised for what they are and not the physical package they come with. I want the same rights afforded to me by virtue of being a human being. I want justice. I want acceptance. I want to freedom to be me.

Advertisements

The Original Aisha A Joda

So my name is Aisha A Joda and I am the 2nd in my family of the name. I was named after my grandmother Mammie who died 11 years and 2 months ago. She was taken too soon but at the same time, she lives on in her children, us the grandchildren and now her first great-grandchild. Of our generation, the only people that remember her clearly are my sister (the 1st grandchild), me (the 2nd), Michelle (a.k.a Aisha the 3rd), Jeff (a.k.a Ahmed the 1st of our generation), Ahmad a.k.a Baby A (the 2nd grandson Ahmad) and maybe to a degree Huwaida (a.k.a Aisha the 4th) who was only 3 when she died.

As I have 18 years of memories to share, I don’t know where to begin with Mammie’s story from my perspective. I will start from the last time I spent with her. She came to visit in London and unfortunately had a last minute conference or board meeting she had to attend so she had to leave us together for 4 or 5 days and nights. In all my life, I could not recall ever it being just me and her. For the first time, it was just the 2 of us…Aisha Joda, the first and second. I remember worrying about what to cook for her and what we would talk about and whether she would be difficult to please. I had nothing to worry about. She was as sweet as sugar and warmer than a loaf of fresh bread just taken out of the oven. All she asked from me was help to bring down a mattress so she could sit on the floor when she was watching TV and then taking it up stairs each night when we went to bed. And she wanted 2 hot water bottles because she could not get warm enough despite the fact it was only October and it was a fairly mild autumn. Being a teenager, I remember being uncharitable enough to think she was just being difficult asking for the hot water bottles but still, she was my mama’s mother and so I did as she requested every night and I even took them up into her bed as she seemed to struggle going up the stairs. Every night, she would say thank you and I would think ‘what for? I haven’t done much’. She would hop on the bus every day for some shopping and come back with some lunch because she didn’t want me to bother cooking as I was going to college (A2 year). We talked as we never had and she told me stories that made her laugh so had her shoulders would shake and she would clutch her bosom.

On the 3rd day, she came to me and said she would run out of her oral hypoglycaemics (medication for her type 2 diabetes) the next day and she didn’t want to go all the way into central London to see her private doctor for a prescription. Looking back, her unwillingness was probably because she was feeling unwell. Perhaps from her rheumatoid arthritis. Anyway, I took matters into my hands by going to my GP and telling them I was home alone with my grandmother and she needed a repeat prescription urgently. I didn’t even know but OAPs in England, even non-residents were entitled to free emergency drugs and this situation qualified her for it. Within minutes, we left the GP surgery clutching a prescription and headed straight for a pharmacy. I will never forget the look on her face as she thanked me for sorting it out for her. I protested that she didn’t have to thank me; she would have done the same for me. But she said ‘I thank you anyway. You saved my life’ and I could have sworn she had a tear in her eye. Crazy Mammie I thought although secretly I was pleased I could sort it out for her and that she was so happy over the little I did. Also secretly I was ashamed that I had grumbled in my heart for one second that she wanted hot water bottles when it was such an easy thing to do. The other 2 nights, I did her hot water bottles extra hot and took them 15 minutes earlier than bed time so that the bed was toasty warm when she made it up the stairs. I also put on the heaters for longer because I figured my mama would rather her mum was warm than save on the bill. One memory I will never forget is of her standing by the living room radiator that I had just switched off before bed and pressing the backs of her legs and hands on the warm metal to get a final warm blast before we headed upstairs.

She was to go back on the Thursday morning on a 5am flight and my mama came back the night before. I remember waking up despite loving my sleep those days and watching my mama and her mum get ready for the airport. She was wearing a black abaya that last morning I saw her and it had little crystals on the neck and sleeves with a matching scarf. I remember saying how beautiful she looked and teasing her about wanting to look good for our husband, my granddad (long story about the our husband thing). She laughed and said she wasn’t going to see him for another couple of weeks as she was going to Kaduna via Lagos and he was in Abuja for a work thing. I hugged her as she left and said safe journey. I watched them head out the door, never thinking that was the last time I would see her or hear her. My mama later said she had got Mammie special assistance so that she would be driven on those airport buggies because the walk was too long and she didn’t want Mammie to get too tired. That was the last sight she had of Mammie I am sure…Mammie on a buggy/transporter thingy, facing my mum as they drove her to fast track check in.

My love of Disney movies comes from Mammie. She had the whole collection of videos back in the day and whenever she went to the US to visit her 2nd daughter (my only aunty), she would come back with all the latest and we would go over to her every day for a video until we had watched them all then we would go back to our old favourites. She had watched them so many times that she knew every scene and every time one of her favourite scenes would come up, she would recite the lines and laugh with them. She also always had a large box of Thornton’s chocolates and would allow us to choose one every night after dinner. Of course being children, 1 was never enough so we usually stole an extra one sometime before dinner. We thought then we were clever and she wouldn’t know but I know now that she must have known but she never said. And somehow she always had another fresh box waiting when the current box was empty. Dinner in Yola was always in the formal dining room until I was 11 or 12 years old. Before that, the table was always set with proper china and silver cutlery with a fresh linen table cloth and matching napkins. My granddad sat in the centre chair by the window and she always sat opposite him. Then my sister and I would sit next to our husband and tease her for not being next to him as we were. Despite the air-conditioning and the closed door, there would inevitably be one fly in the dining room and Mammie hated flies with a passion. She would spend half of dinner flicking unsuccessfully as this sole fly that seemed to want to play. She was a very slow eater anyway and it was made much worse by her fly obsession so by the time we were done with dessert, she would be just be finishing her mains. She would take her dessert (which tended to be fruits) into the parlour (sitting room to you) and eat it as the children watched TV and she and the grownups had a good old natter.

I think she went through the menopause when I was about 4-5 years old. I remember saying to my mama and sister that she was always grumpy and I know I always wondered why she was always complaining of being hot despite it being about 20 degrees in her parlour with the A/C on. She would fan herself on and off all day and mutter about how hot it was. And sometimes she was short-tempered with the house servants and occasionally us. Oh and she had house-clothes that she would wear when she was indoors for comfort. It was obviously clean but in my young mind, I just thought it was a little unhygienic and eccentric since she had wardrobes full of beautiful clothes. Talking about her fashion sense, it was impeccable. Her hair was always neatly plaited and looking at her pictures of her in her 30s and 40s, she used to have all the latest fros and perms. She loved her shoes too and had 2 large shelves of shoes in her dressing room. My fit used to fit into her shoes and I would spend hours trying them on when she was in the kitchen supervising dinner or talking to adults. Sadly, I outgrew her size 3.5 feet when I was 11. Her makeup was always Clinique and her latest perfume Estee Lauder.

Being Fulani with our pulaku culture, public displays of affection in adults isn’t the done thing but being a little girl, I cared not one bit for that societal norm. we spent a lot of time in the holidays in my grandparents’ home and my mum would join us after work with or without my stepdad. I would happily hang with Mammie and play with my sister Charo and their dogs and tortoises and run from the geese. However, as soon as my mum arrived, that would all cease. I would run to her and hug her like I hadn’t seen her in a whole year and not 8 hours and cling to her for the next few hours until we went home. My grandmother would look on in amazement and several times she would ask me ‘aren’t you embarrassed’. Meaning wasn’t I embarrassed to show such a blatant preference for my mama over everyone else. Being precocious, I would look her straight in the eye (another thing children don’t do) and say ‘no!’ as if it should be obvious that I love my mama above anyone else. She would shake her head in amusement and give me a playful nudge as I sat as close to my mum as humanly possible.

Another memory that stands out is when my mum had travelled and we were staying with our grandparents. Mammie realised we were bored and decided to brave the heat and take us out for a drive. My sister was feeling helpful so she took the keys from her handbag to open the car and let the heat out before Mammie was ready. Of course Mammie had no idea and came out the entrance hall where her bag was and opened her bag for the keys. She didn’t find it and looked high and low for it, never thinking it would be in the car. My sister and I got bored of waiting by the car and came back to see what was keeping her. The memory of the sight still makes my sister and I roll about in laughter. It was a proper lol and lmao moment. We watched as she frantically rifled through her bag and started to shake onto the rug in frustration and we realised she was after the keys we had taken. Woops. We were beside ourselves with laughter at the frantic way she searched and at the same time, our hearts raced as we thought of how we would tell her that her search was fruitless because we had the keys. I don’t remember who told her but one of us did and she was relieved and exasperated all at once. We managed to control our laughter but for days after, every time we were alone we would mimic her search and fall about laughing. We still laugh at the comical image. You’d have to see it to understand just how funny the image was. LOL.

Mammie never forgot a birthday or anniversary. She was like a walking calendar and she not only remembered her children and grandchildren’s birthdays, she remember all her friends and their anniversaries and she had a card for every birthday and for the grandchildren she always had a present to go with it. To this day, a lot of my jewellery is from Mammie and I am still reluctant to buy anything precious because most of my precious stuff was Mammie related. I am having my Yola wedding celebrations in the coming month and the intention is to wear of Mammie’s many sets of jewellery as my way of including her in the day. Because she also loved to celebrate occasions and would have been dressed to the 9s and sprayed us all with her mint notes, squirrelled away in case an occasion necessitating money to be sprayed.

The call came on the 6th of October at around 7am. I was fast asleep as it was a Sunday, the day of lie-ins in my house. I suddenly snapped awake and looked around in confusion. I got up to go to the bathroom thinking maybe I was woken up because I needed the loo. I sat on the loo and nothing happened. As I went to get up, my mother’s mobile rang and I stood by her door to listen, curious why someone would call so early. All I heard was a stifled cry and then nothing. I felt my heart sink as I stood frozen by her door and I assumed my granddad had died. After about a minute, I pushed open her door and she looked at me with eyes brimming with tears and choked out a word ‘Mammie’. I remember holding her as we both wept and not knowing what to say or do. We must have been there for maybe 30 minutes, eyes dry and staring blindly into space. We were awoken by the phone ringing. The first of dozens of phone calls from her brothers and sisters, cousins, aunties, uncles and friends. Our doorbell was soon ringing too.

I won’t dwell too much on the aftermath of Mammie’s death but I will say I am so glad I got that last few days with her. My name is from Mammie. My looks are from Mammie. I eat slowly like Mammie. I love Disney Animation movies like Mammie. I am heat-intolerant like Mammie. I can find a bargain like Mammie. I love to laugh like Mammie. I think one of the biggest compliments that someone has paid me in the recent years was to say that I am like Mammie because I love family and I make the time to go see everyone when I get a chance to visit Nigeria (that is called Zumunci in the lingo). I hope that I can continue to carry on some of the greatness of the original Aisha Joda and I hope that if Mammie is able to hear or see me, that she is proud of the woman I have become as she was always proud of us all. In fact I know she would have been proud that I am who I am today. Aisha Joda, Mammie, my grandmother. You may be gone but you will never be forgotten!