Tag Archives: danger

The Cycle of Life Part 1

As I said in the bit about me, I am a realist with a healthy dose of optimism. Apologies that I am again going to write about death. It may seem morbid to my blog followers but I do not always find talking about death negative. I dwell so much on it because it is my way of not forgetting those who have left footprints in my heart. Also because unfortunately, for someone who has been fortunate not to be from areas where death is a daily occurrence, I have seen more than my fair share. In the old and in the young. If you are squeamish, this may not be the blog for you.

I write this in the living room of my sister’s flat in Abuja and this was prompted by another blog I just read and also by a conversation I had with my sister. It was a long conversation but it ultimately lead us to discuss our mortality and how death can strike unexpectedly, about being a parent and planning for that eventuality to ensure your children are taken of and about writing wills etcetera. Despite the gravity of the conversation, it was quite an uplifting one. The words to follow are snippets of memories centred mainly around 3 deaths that have literally changed my life. These are young people who no one expected to die and their manner of death changed the way I think about death.

The first was of a classmate from Queen’s College, Lagos. It happened in 1999. She (I will call her Eve here) was not a girl I was particularly close to or even fond of. But I had known her for nearly 3 years when tragedy befell her. Eve was the daughter of a quiet unassuming teacher who I will call Mr Brown here. Mr Brown was the complete opposite of his daughter. Where he was quiet, she was loud. Where he was always serious, she was always laughing, finding the humour in things even when it wasn’t appropriate. She was tall for a 12-13 year old and he was a short man. She was fair where he was dark skinned. The comparisons were striking being that they were father and child. Anyway, Eve was the class joker. She was always loudly laughing or telling a joke. She was always planning the next prank or calling out funny witticisms from the back of the class. Sometimes, it was distracting so I wasn’t always laughing with her but I never thought her to be malicious.

We came back for the 3rd trimester of JSS3 and Eve didn’t. Soon rumours began to circulate about her being unwell. Then we heard that she was in fact really quite sick and was admitted in hospital. Then we heard that she had been victim of an acid burn. The extent was unclear but we did not expect how grave it was. Why we asked? And we kept asking. She was only a young girl. Why would anyone do this to her? I was pretty sheltered so I had never heard of acid attacks nor did I know the usual motives behind them. My more streetwise classmates told me that normally jilted or scorned (adult) men were the perpetrators were and the victims the poor unfortunate girls/women of their affections. It was mainly a Southern thing back then so I had never come across this despite my mother’s job.

This was the perplexing issue to us, her classmates. Why would a girl so young attract such affection? Soon, we again heard that the attack was aimed at her older sister (also in our school but nearer 16 or maybe 17 year old). We were told that Eve opened the door to their home unsuspectingly and she had acid thrown in her face. We were told that she was badly burnt and had been admitted to the hospital weeks before we were hearing of it and was in a serious condition. We talked about her non-stop for a week. There was a sombre mood in the class. It was as if no one felt right to take over her role. So there was no joking or pranking in those days. We all feared the worst as the news we heard was comprised solely of rumours. Like Chinese whispers, we were unsure who to believe.

One morning, the Day students (as opposed to us Boarders) came in talking about the 9 o’clock news on NTA (Nigerian Television Authority channel, national news broadcast). Eve had been mentioned as there was an appeal for funds. The attack on her and the resulting serious injuries were so serious that the doctors in Lagos could do no more and I think the thrust of the news was that her family was appealing for donations to take her abroad. This was when we realised just how bad things were. We sat around in silence, praying for some news. Mr Brown turned up in our class that morning. For once, no one needed to ask for silence. We all sat in our seats and looked at him expectantly. He spoke to us in his quiet voice. His eyes were red…from exhaustion or from tears – it was hard to tell which. He confirmed the rumours. Eve had been the unintended victim of an acid attack. She had been home alone when the men called and as she was so sick, she could not identify her attackers. She was in hospital in a stable but critical condition. He left. For the next few weeks, we continued to whisper about Eve. What did critical mean exactly? More rumours about who the intended victim was and the suspected attackers. About the extent of her injuries. Some adults had been to visit and they all agreed it didn’t look good. Despite all our fears, she remained alive but in a ‘stable condition’.

End of term for us JSS3 students came early and on our last day, some kind soul had organised a bus for those of us who felt up to visiting to go and see Eve. Most of the Northern girls declined to come. I was the only Northerner to get on the bus. In total, out of 90+ classmates, the bus held less than a dozen of us plus a couple of adults. The bus ride was made in total silence. You could smell our fear and the tension was palpable. I mouthed prayers, praying that I could handle whatever condition she was in. I don’t remember much of the usual Friday traffic and the heat. I remember walking off the bus in a single file and how much I was dreading what I was about to see. The smell hit me first and I felt my gut roll. My nostrils curled inwards, as if to block off my nose and the smell with it. I thought I would faint. It was the smell of decaying human flesh reaching the corridor outside her room. I could hear someone whimper and start to sob within our group. We all marched on following the adult leading us in. We stopped by the door as she announced our entrance. When she opened the door, the smell hit us harder followed closely by the sound of Eve taking breath after painful breath. My knees locked and a part of me wanted to bolt. I remember telling myself sternly that I could face anything. If she had to be here, I could visit her. Even if only for a minute.

On wobbly legs, I followed. I inhaled and held my breath. The bedside cabinet was groaning under the weight of medication. Mostly topical and oral stuff with cotton wool and forceps in a metal tray. She was barely visible. Her head was uncovered and there was a lady (her mother?) whispering in her ear. Asking her to be brave, not to scream in pain as she had begun to do. ‘Your classmates have come to visit’ the lady whispered into the hole where her outer air should have been. She seemed to hear her and she lapsed into her painful breathing again. The rest of her body was covered. It was beneath a metal cage over which a sheet was draped. I could not see underneath but I was certain she had burns all over her body, which was why she was lying so. To prevent clothing coming in contact with her skin. We all took turns to step up next to her and tell her who we were. Her eyes were covered, she clearly could not see. The hair on her head was badly singed and what was left of it was in a clump, stuck to her skull. All of her skin was badly damaged. You could see bits of colour imbedded in the skin of her face and neck, clothes melted into her skin. Her nose was gone…there were holes for breathing but no nostrils. Her ears like I already mentioned were missing too. All that was left were holes leading to her middle ears. Her lips were also damaged and her mouth was hanging upon as she struggled to get air in. Through her open mouth, you could see her blackened shrivelled tongue.

She grunted when each girl said her name. We retreated to the back of the room and stood silently for some time. Her carer took a bottle from the cabinet and dropped it onto some part of her face when she started to complain of pain again. Soon, her bravery was unable to contain her pain any longer and she began to whimper. This very quickly turned into screams of anguish. She was clearly in unbearable pain. We all had tears in our eyes as we were ushered out. Her carer came to us and said ‘thank you so much for coming. I know Eve appreciates it’. None of us replied, we were too busy crying. We got back on the bus and gave way to emotion. I remember staring unseeingly out of my window as tears coursed down my cheeks. I wept for nearly an hour, until we got back to school. When I got off the bus, my face was dry. It was obvious I had been crying but the tears stopped. I had to be brave. I got my things and I went home. I did not speak much of it over the next few days except my family would ask how I was doing whenever the appeal for help with medical costs was broadcast. Her death was announced on the Tuesday after we visited. Although I didn’t say it out, I sent a word of thanks to God for answering my prayer. My prayers on the bus after we left was that He put her out of her misery. I was sad but life went on.

About a month later, 2 of my older male cousins, my foster sister, my sister and I had one of our late nights of playing cards by the light of a lantern on the veranda whilst most of Yola slept. It was around midnight and Yola was definitely in bed by then. We were suddenly famished and we rooted around in the kitchen to no avail. We decided to go out and buy some food. We walked in the quiet to the night market (‘kasuwan dare’), fearless in those days of anything untoward happening. Yola was that kind of town. Despite the fact that 3 of us were young girls, we felt safe enough in the company of 2 older boys. We bought food and came home, had a merry little feast and were in the middle of telling jokes and laughing when it suddenly dawned on me that Eve was dead. Just like that. She would have no more holidays, no more jokes, no more laughs. She was gone. Forever. The enormity of it hit me. The pain she was in, the senselessness of her death (her murder come to think of it) and the grief her family must be going through. How had she felt just before the attack happened and when she had the acid thrown at her? How had she borne the pain for so long? Could she smell her own flesh decaying? Did she realise how badly she had been hurt? Did she know she was dying?

From laughter, I dissolved into tears and I could not stop. The more I thought about her, the more I wept. The others were concerned. I told them through my tears not to worry. I was just remembering Eve. They were worried I could see but also understanding. This carried on for maybe half an hour. Eventually, my sister suggested that the boys go home. My sisters would look after me. I smiled through my hysteria and tried desperately to compose myself. I remember rocking as I sat on the ground, hugging my knees and trying not to hyperventilate. I was sobbing out loud, my eyes closed as I got flashbacks of Eve in her eventual death bed.

My sisters asked what the matter was when I did not show signs of stopping. I said ‘I will be fine. I don’t know why I can’t stop crying.’ Actually I did know. I could not stop imagining myself as her. Going through that ordeal, surviving for over 3 months with all the pain. Unable to talk, unable to move, unable to ask why. I thought mostly of her mother, who had to watch her daughter go through this. I thought about the inadequacy of treatment, how she was clearly in pain but there were no painkillers strong enough to control her pain. I thought of her sister, who was rumoured to be the intended victim. How did she feel? Did she feel bad her little sister had taken her place? Did she feel guilty by association? I thought of Mr Brown and his wife. I knew they would be devastated. I had seen it in their eyes. How were they carrying on? How could they bear the pain? If the pain I was feeling was so deep and I wasn’t even that close to her, how must they feel? How could they bear to be alive?

It took over an hour for me to calm down and stop the sobbing. I still cried. Until dawn that day but silently as my sisters lay next to me and went to sleep. I got it all out then and not once since have I shed a tear over Eve but I remember her whenever I think about life and death. The details are unclear to me now but I think her attackers were caught. Her sister was a witness in the case. I don’t know if they were convicted and what happened to them afterwards. We never got to go to the funeral because it happened over the summer holidays.

Life moved on when we returned to SS1. Without Eve. She had never made it out of her pinafore and into the skirt we were now wearing as senior students. Whenever someone said someone funny, we would refer back to what Eve would say. Mr Brown, bless him, looked devastated whenever we saw him, which wasn’t often. He did come to say thank you to all of us for our prayers and our parents’ donations. He especially wanted to say thank you to those of us who visited. He said we helped Eve. I hoped so. As the days turned into weeks and weeks into months, we gradually moved onto other topics. Other girls soon took up the mantle of class clown and the laughter returned. Still, I never forgot and I know at least within my circle of friends at least, none of us will forget her. She lives on in our hearts. What a senseless loss!

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

Swinging Party

No, not that kind of swinging (tut tut!). The good old-fashioned swinging on a swing kind of party. This story goes back a very long time (well over 20 years) so bear with me if I ramble on. Let me set the scene. This happened in Yola, capital ‘City’ of Adamawa State in North East Nigeria circa 1990. That is where I spent my childhood. I was 5 going on 6. I will tell you a little bit about Yola for those of you (I suspect most of you) who know it not.

Yola is a big town or as we residents like to call it a small ‘City’. It is one of the oldest established towns in the region and is the home to one of the biggest surviving Kingdoms (the ‘Adama’ kingdom) which covers a large region from around Taraba State across the North East border of Nigeria into Cameroun covering places like Ngaoundere and Maroua. All are united by the language Fulfulde, ruling the Fulani people. The King resides in old Yola town which is a stone throw from my childhood home. Happily, some of the royal traditions still exists and the Palace is a beautiful example of old Northern Nigerian architecture. I digress. So back to Yola. It is very close to the Sahara and indeed North-East of Yola we do boast an expanse of desert these days as deforestation and global change take hold. By virtue of location, it is very hot. Average temperature is above 35oC and at its peak, it is between 40-45oC. The coolest I remember is about 20oC and we all thought we were going to freeze to death. Again I digress. Suffice it to say, Yola is a traditional town. Hot, dry and home to my childhood memories and many of my family members and the Joda family home.

Now to explain the lack of public services and amenities. The Government does not take its public health and basic amenities seriously to say the least. Up until the last decade, most places do not have a proper waste disposal site. Still a problem in Yola. Electricity is patchy at best despite paying your bills. Water shortage is a chronic problem. Many have to rely on wells and for the more well of, boreholes with (if you can afford it) a mechanised system of pumping water into an overhead tank which then ensures you have a steady clean supply into your home. As you may have realised, in a hot town like Yola this is a very big issue.

We were one of those lucky one who had an overhead tank so water was in plentiful supply most of the time. I think it was early summer holidays before the rainy season was in full swing. On a day that was pregnant with heat, waiting on the next rain and we were bored with nothing to do. We had in the past had a tyre swing on a tree at the back of our house but my sister went and broke her arm so my mum had the tree cut down and we were without swing. We had dogs at home and chains for the rare occasion they were left out of their hut during the day (they were ferocious guard dogs who took their duties very seriously you see so poor neighbours needed protecting). There was 5 year old me. My sister was 9. A neighbour probably 11 years old and a cousin maybe 16 years old. One of us had the bright idea to set up a swing and we quickly realised the dog chains were the strongest rope substitute we had. We then debated where to hitch this swing and looking around the outside, soon settled on the metal frame holding up our water tank. We worked quickly and within minutes, we had our makeshift swing. The metal frame was definitely NOT set up for swinging on so with the swinging came a slight swaying and an ominous sound. Did we pay heed? Not on your life.

We swung merrily away, laughing and having the time of our lives. Our neighbour, Hajja Adama (now sadly departed), who was probably in her 50s then, came to investigate the sounds and discovered our misdeed. We paused, caught in the act and knowing how wrong it was. I don’t know how we did it but we soon convinced her to sit on it and being a much ‘heavier’ customer, the tank frame protested loudly. She jumped off and left but we knew she wouldn’t be reporting us. We got carried away as you do and unfortunately for us, my stepfather caught us in the act and we all got a caning for it. Well-deserved too but you should have heard the shrieks as we jumped about and he tried to cane us on our legs. Of course, the swing was very swiftly dismantled, never to be resurrected again. I might have cursed him too (cheeky little girl that I was) but you know what, the danger and the act of breaking the rules intentionally gave us such joy that I will never forget that swinging day. So good!

Male Drivers

Have you as a girl ever sat next to a male driver and heard them make the comment ‘female drivers!’ with disdain dripping from every word? Have you as a boy been the person making that comment? Well I have news for you, I think in many ways male drivers are just as bad and in some cases much worse drivers. Sure many female drivers tend to err on the side of caution and so you may be excused for getting a little impatient when they drive at a speed of 25 miles/hour in a 30 miles/hour zone and refuse to get into the slow lane. that annoys me too. However, ask anyone who has had an accident whilst crossing the road in a residential area where a boy racer (or just as likely a fat middle-aged balding man) has decided he would rather go at 50 miles/hour and you end up losing a spleen or even a kidney for a momentary lapse of concentration out on the roads. I regularly tell off male drivers for turning normal roads into formula 1 arenas and risking my life just to get to a movie or meal when they have wasted too much time starting out in the first place (you know who you are!). Not worth it is what I say.

One thing that intensely irritates me is when men say women have no spatial awareness. Er, I have no issues bay parking properly thank you very much and my reversing round a corner was the easiest skill for me to master. Ask my driving instructor and the person who conducted my driving test. I think men have spatial awareness issues big time. And they display these issues in the least expected place. They cannot drive within their lane! My husband is chief culprit. He is forever drifting over the line and sometimes well into the next lane without meaning to switch lanes. When I complained, he would say things like I am not holding anyone up or I was avoiding a bump. Rubbish! My father-in-law had to concede my point when on one 30-minute journey alone I pointed out 10 men drivers with their wheels on the lane divider or even over. And majority of those were holding me up too. Men!

Another thing is men in large expensive cars. As a sensible woman, my car is a good-size (I drive a Nissan Leaf and before that I had a little car, the Nissan Micra). I am forever having to pull up short because men see me coming and think they can just pull out in front of me when I have right of way. My husband laughs when I complain and says it’s because they think me in my smaller less expensive car would not want to bash their humongous overpriced toy. Well, I will have you know that this female driver makes it a point not to let such impudence slide and I never let them in if they try to force their way in front of me. I simply let the irate looks wash off my back and sometimes the swearing that comes with that. In fact, I usually grin broadly and give them a cheeky wave to rub it in. What a cheek! I regularly pretend I do not see them pulling out and purposely leave the braking a little late and then pull up just before I make contact whilst I enjoy the look of horror on their faces. Dangerous game I know but it’s so worth it when I get the reaction I seek. Hehehehe.

Biggest safety concern of all is men on their phones. It is as if that law was made for female drivers alone. The number of times I have had a man drive erratically in front of me and I have had to switch lanes to avoid an accident, only to go past them to see that they are busy fiddling with their phone. Van drivers in particular are always on the phone having a chat as they weave in and out of traffic. I always wonder who is supposed to be enforcing that law and where they are. I mean I sort of understand looking at your phone when you have stopped at a traffic light but actually driving at high speed and using the mobile phone is downright dangerous. Most of all I think it is very selfish. If you do not value your life all that  much and a phone call or text about how wasted you got last night is worth you risking your life, then take a second to consider that when you are driving a car, you are only 1 of potentially a whole crowd of people whose lives are at risk. I will give you an example of this. When I was out in Nigeria in 2012, one of my doctor colleagues lost his mother. How? His sister who was driving was using her phone, took her eyes off the road and crashed into another car, instantly killing her own mother and a passenger in the other car and causing serious injury to herself and the other passengers involved. I ask you: is it worth it? I know that if I killed my mother because of my mobile phone, I would probably lose the will to live. Even if it was a stranger that got killed or permanently disabled, it would scar me for life.

Having said all of that, I must commend male drivers for one thing. In general, I have found them to be more generous of spirit when it comes to letting you in when you are coming into slow traffic and they have right of way. I don’t know what it is with female drivers but it’s like a crazy competition not to let another female driver in front of them. Like letting you in is to give up their crown for the throne of I-don’t-know-what. I regularly am kept idling for multiple cars all driven by women and am finally let in by a kind gentleman. So all hail male drivers for their courtesy (and I will purposefully exclude the rude male taxi drivers particularly those in black cabs who are the opposite of gentlemanly). So I leave you on a final note that please when you drive out of your home and go on public roads, remember your highway codes, drive in your allocated lane (if you can’t tell where you should be, please do visit the optician at your earliest convenience), respect your fellow drivers female and male alike and most of all, do not presume to be a better driver because you have a penis. As far as I know, it is not actually capable of driving a car itself.

Silence is the Residue of Fear

…Says Clint Smith (find him on YouTube) on the topic of ‘the dangers of silence’. I am sure we all have had things that we have been afraid of and that we have sometimes let those fears get the better of us. I know I have but as I have got older, I have learnt to deal with it better. The way I see it: either we let fear rule us and it limits our lives or we rule our fears and find ways of neutralising them and despite them make progress in life.

I used to be scared of heights, snakes and spiders. Many children are frightened by these things too. I guess one reason is that these things are potentially dangerous so we are physiologically and psychologically programmed to have a healthy fear of them. Secondly, children listen to their parents and siblings and as these phobias are the commonest in the world, we tend to feel that if mum/dad/older sister/brother is scared of them, there must be a good reason so we copy them.

I know personally that my fear of heights came from the fact that whenever I have gone higher than 4 metres off the ground, I feel this irresistible pull to jump off the edge and that scares me. Over the years, I know that the urge to jump is weaker than my desire to live so I am not so scared anymore but honestly, there is still a seed of fear in there somewhere when I am in a glass elevator over 10 floors high.

With snakes, it is simple. My mama is scared stiff of snakes. She will not wear anything with the image of a snake on it. She doesn’t want to see snakeskin shoes or bags. She can’t stand jewellery in the form of snakes. She doesn’t even like harmless cartoon snakes like the ones in Jungle Boy and Aladdin. So I was scared of them. Despite that, I loved the 2 cartoon snakes I have mentioned and I am happy to look through a glass wall in a zoo at the prettily coloured snakes and watch a documentary on them. Plus I would not turn down a ring or earrings shaped like a snake. However, I draw a line at having to handle one (God forbid someone tries to drape it over me) and I would never buy anything made up of snakeskin.

Icky spiders – I just don’t like the rough fuzzy texture of their skinny fragile legs. And they are a little stupid aren’t they? Because when you try to lead them out or catch them gently and release them outside, they run at you, try to climb all over you or cling to you and then in your irrational fear, you squash them. Oh dear!

A fear that was harder for me to deal with was my fear of commitment. My parents were divorced before I was born and I didn’t know very much about the reasons why until more recently. What I knew back then was that he must have been bad because my mama is an angel and he hurt her. Also through my mama’s feminist work and from attending feminist conferences with my mama, I heard a lot about the bad things that men do to women. Naturally I thought it was crazy that any woman would subject herself to a committed relationship with a man.

I didn’t have a proper boyfriend until I was 18 and that didn’t last long because he, rightly, wanted a girl who would keep in touch regularly (it was a little long distance, he lived about 2 hours away from London) and I resisted his requests because it felt like too much commitment to me at that stage. My next relationship was nearly 3 years later and this time, he was keen on being more intimate and yet was happy to be non-committal. I guess at 21 years, I had matured a little bit more and wanted some commitment. My fear then became that he wanted to use me and that I would fall in love with him then I would have my heart broken. So I broke it off.

I met George, my husband, when I was nearly 25 years old and he is the first to tell anyone who would listen that he knew he wanted to marry me within 48 hours of meeting me. Well, I embroider slightly. He insists he knew in the first hour of us meeting that he wanted to marry me but I think he is being rather dramatic. He did tell me on our 2nd date, 5 days after we met, that he liked me and he thought I was potentially the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Wow! Honestly I wanted to run away as far as my little legs could carry me. Instead, I sat in the reception of our favourite Chinese restaurant and tried to shush him because I didn’t want anyone to hear. I also told him that he was lucky I was leaving for a year abroad in the next week because if I hadn’t been, the fear his words had struck in my heart would have sent me into self-destruct mode and I would have sabotaged that relationship too.

The time and distance made me realise that here was a man who made me laugh, who loved me for me and whose heart is good. Here was a guy with whom the chemistry was just right. Here was a man who I could be myself with. So I meditated about it for many months whilst I was away. I talked to my mama, my sister and my friends. I prayed for guidance and I realised that although I was scared, petrified even, of committing to George, I was more afraid that I would throw away the chance to be happy. So I took a leap of faith and 3 years later, I am married to him.

So are you fearless now? I hear you ask. No, not quite! I have many small fears. I have one big irrational fear and I have one proper grown up fear. The grown up fear is my fear of failure. I have been lucky never to have failed at anything I set out to do until I failed my specialist paediatric (the dreaded 1b) exam last year in June. That failure threw me for six. I knew I had to retake the exam because I cannot progress beyond ST2 year (level 1 of specialist paediatric training). But I hated every minute of it. The fear crippled me. I couldn’t sleep, eat or work properly for many months in the lead up to the repeat. My ability to deal with the normal stresses of my relationship and work was at its lowest level ever. I even got to the point that I was thinking of giving up on the career I love because I was so scared I would fail again.

I got over that fear by thinking up a plan B. There are so many things I could be. I might want to be a paediatrician first and foremost but actually the underlying love is of children. So what else could I be that would allow me to work with children? As soon as I gave myself the permission to imagine, the list of alternatives was extensive. Top was human rights activist, academic teaching medical students, author of children’s books and even babysitter. The last one was particularly tempting especially because I know from my doctor colleagues that a babysitter taking care of 2 young children full time can earn as much as I do without any of the stress of being a doctor. Food for thought.

The last fear I will confess to is my irrational fear of mice/rats. I love Tom & Jerry – and as a child, I would always root for Jerry the mouse over Tom the cat. However, in reality, I hate those rodents. It comes from the time we cornered a mouse in our kitchen and tried to capture it. it poked its head into the drain hole of the kitchen sink and then squeezed through that tiny aperture. That was the freakiest thing to me! How can a round mouse do that? Bleurgh!!! So now I am petrified of them. A decade ago, I was in an uncle’s house in Nigeria and went into the guest bedroom to grab something. As I turned round to leave, I spotted a tiny mouse flash past the doorway and it must have been behind the chest of drawers beside the door. I jumped onto the centre of the bed and tried to work out a route of escape. My 2 year old cousin came to find me and joined me on the bed. We tried to shout for my sister and friend to come and save us but we were too far or too quiet to be heard. My sister finally came to find us about 30 minutes after we disappeared. She still laughs about it because when she came, I could barely speak in my fear as I tried to warn her that the mouse was there. She had to coax me off the bed after proving to me that the mouse was not laying in wait. That is one I still grapple with and I am not sure I will ever outgrow my fear of mice but luckily, I rarely have the misfortune of tangling with one.