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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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Corazon Por Corazon

I speak very little Spanish but being a salsa fan, I have heard enough Spanish lyrics to know the Corazon means heart and the Spanish-speaking world is always ‘Corazon this’ and ‘Corazon that’. The title is a nod to the video I just watched on Facebook which has inspired this piece. It was posted by Andre Gayle who has stuck English subtitles on a Spanish video entitled Corazon por Corazon (heart by heart…changing the world). Basically, the video is about the loss of our humanity, the very essence that is supposed to make us superior to other animals and plants. It highlights what cruelty and sadness there is in the world and how a lot of us are desensitised to the sight of another human in need. So much so that when we witness suffering, many a times our response now is to take out our smartphones and take a video instead of offering our help.

It made me cry, especially the scenes of animals and children being abused. It made me ask ‘why’ again. I am the half full glass type of a girl but occasionally, I become despondent when I watch the news and it is full of pictures of little children being bombed by Israel or another old pensioner being abused by a carer. It makes me question what I am doing spending so much of my time doing NHS/eportfolio paperwork when there is suffering out there and I have the medical training to perhaps make a difference to so many, in Nigeria for example. It makes me question whether having children is a good idea because what legacy are we leaving behind for them to inherit?

The environment is a huge worry for me. I drive a Nissan Leaf in an attempt to be greener and I recycle and try to minimise waste. I know my efforts mean something but are probably insignificant in the grand scheme of things but at least having made the effort, I go to bed with a clearer conscience. For every person who drives a ‘green’ car or cycles or walks, there’ll be 10 people who drive cars with ridiculous amount of emissions, who waste more than half the food they buy and who never do any recycling. As the ozone layer thickens and the greenhouse effect is compounded, global warming intensifies. Formerly temperate climates develop extremes of weather. Flooding, draughts, tsunamis, tornadoes, forest fires and earthquakes occur with greater frequency than ever before. Large populations of the world who are dependent entirely on subsistent farming are living in famine conditions year after year. Ironically, in Europe and the US more and more of the population are buying excess food and every week are binning it as they buy too much and let it all go to waste. Too much of land is taken up by refuse which no one knows how to get rid of properly. Mountains of waste piling up as we become more and more wasteful. Turns out that even our recycling is not all recycled. Because our Governments have not invested enough into recycling plants so only a fraction of the potential recyclables are being  recycled.

Kindness is becoming short in supply too. As the video highlights, it is now commonplace to watch a person being beaten, robbed or even stabbed and no one wants to step in because it is all about protecting the self. Every year, there is someone on the regional news who has been stabbed or mugged in a bus or at a bus stop or somewhere similarly public where everyone has just stood by and watched. Yet some of these people have the audacity to whip out their phones and video the event and then post it on YouTube. I always wonder how these onlookers would feel if the victim was not a stranger but their mother, father, brother, sister, daughter, son or best friend?

As for the violent offenders, many of them are children who are old enough to know between right or wrong but even at that early age, they seem hardened and lacking in the most basic of human kindness. I know this lack of kindness and empathy is multifactorial but I am convinced one of the main reasons is poor parenting that comes with the modern time. As a paediatrician, I am in a privileged position to be able to closely observe the intimate relationship between parents and their children. There are many things we see that cause us to raise our eyebrows and a few that send us running to Social Services. But what I find most disappointing is when a young child aged 3 or 4 does or says something cruel and the parents, instead of taking the opportunity to point out what is right or wrong and explain why, turn their faces away and throw away the chance to shape their child into a decent person. A couple of weeks ago, I was on-call and went to see a 10 year old boy who was in pain with my registrar (senior to me) and an ST1 (junior to me). The registrar examined him and decided we needed to investigate by taking a blood sample. The boy’s reaction was to shout ‘You are not f*****g touching me. I will bash your f******g head if you come near me’. What did his father do? He bowed his head and my registrar shot the top of the dad’s head a look. As more swearing came forth, I stepped closer to the boy and said firmly ‘I’m sorry you are scared of having a needle but you are not allowed to speak to us like that. We are here to help you.’ That stopped him in his tracks and he resorted to sobbing. His red-faced dad followed us out of the cubicle to apologise and all I could think was ‘don’t apologise to us, teach him to have a bit more respect.’

Speaking about respect, I think that has run off with the kindness. As doctors, we are at the receiving end of a lot of disrespect but we put up with it because we understand when people come in contact with us, it tends to be the most stressful, frustrating, unhappiest time in their life. I think a little respect goes a long way. It is in the small things like saying sorry when you barge into somebody, holding open a heavy door for the person a few paces behind, picking up an item someone (especially frail, old or pregnant) has dropped right in front of you or even smiling at a stranger who makes eye contact. It is about saying please and thank you to anyone helping you out even if it is their job to do it. It is about acknowledging your work colleague who does a little extra work so you don’t have to do it or staying longer at work to finish a task so they don’t have to hand it over to you. It is about realising your loved one is sad and giving them a hug. It is about saying the occasional thank you to your spouse for all the little considerations they give you daily that make your life better without you even realising they’re doing it.

I will say that I am lucky to be surrounded by lovely people who I am proud to call my family and friends. I know I did not get to choose my family but I certainly chose the family I keep close and the friends I surround myself with. These people are generous. They are donating to charity and taking part in fundraising for charities. They are courteous to strangers and helpful where they can be. They smile easily and are generous with their hugs, kind words and cups of tea. They recycle. They reclaim furniture. They treat their pets with love and tenderness. They are there when you get bad news. They hold your hand and sit beside you when there are no words that can ease the pain and hurt. They pray for you to succeed and celebrate whole-heartedly when you do succeed. They turn up when you need them the most. They laugh with you and not generally at you (but sometimes they laugh at you too if they know you can take it). They care about their neighbours and it is not always about them. They are diamonds…beautiful bling with surprising strength. They inspire me every day to be a better person and whenever I reflect on the people in my life, I feel blessed.