Tag Archives: Disney

Happily Ever After: a Disney concept or reality?

I am a huge Disney fan. My late grandmother Mamie introduced Disney to both my sister and I early. Every time she travelled abroad, she would return to Yola bearing delicious large variety boxes of chocolate and Disney Videos. She would watch the animation movies with us and being an adult, she got some of the more subtle humour and would chuckle away to herself. For us, it was about the songs and the princesses, about the girl finding her prince against all odds and getting that happily ever after. My sister and I knew all the songs and when we drew pictures, it was always of the beautiful Disney princesses with their tiny waists, long hair and dainty feet. It is not hard to see why I wholly believed then that every little girl would grow into a beauty, find her soul mate, fall in love and live happily ever after with lots of happy children. To make it worse, I was also an avid reader and there was nothing I loved more than fairy tales, all with their happily-ever-afters and when I became a teenager, I read numerous paperback romances.

Unfortunately for me, reality intruded at some point during adolescence. I was witness to women who had been beaten by their husbands, those who were practically enslaved and could not leave their homes on their husband’s say so and those who were in forced marriages, mostly young girls like me. I went from thinking that every little girl was destined to be happy to believing it was all a fairy tale and that there was no such thing as a happy relationship between a man and a woman. I still believed in romance but I believed that romance didn’t tend to last beyond the ‘honeymoon’ period of a relationship. I also learnt about the widespread deceit being enacted by adults who seemed blissfully happy in their marriages.

I could not find any aunties who could say to me that their marriages were truly happy. Even those who at face-value were living a fairy tale. I found out that many came to be content with their lot having gone through a lot of heartache and choosing to put up with the husband they got as opposed to looking for Mr Right. Most had considered leaving their marriages but on balance thought the security of a marriage outweighed their hurt and betrayal. Many had been cheated on, more than once. A good proportion were the main breadwinners in their household yet were still treated as secondary to their husband. They took the lion share of responsibility, financially and socially. They fed and clothed their children, they made sure the children attended school and did their homework. They sent the children to Quranic School and made sure they learnt to say their prayers and how to fast when the time came. They were the nurturers and disciplinarians. They did it all for little appreciation in many cases.

Unsurprising, I was quite cynical when it came to love. I had very few relationships that lasted longer than a flirtation over a week or maybe one date. Before I met my husband, I had two ‘significant’ boyfriends. I think it is pretty telling that both of those are guys I met on holiday and only gave them a chance because I was on holiday and in the mood to have some fun. The first one lasted about 7 months but the last 2 months wasn’t really a relationship. The second lasted about a year and I really did consider a real relationship with him but I had my rational hat on throughout and I could see how bad he would be as a potential life mate. It was clear to me that we were not in the same place in our lives so I broke it off, difficult though it was.

I was single for 4 years before I met George. By the time I met him, I was happy being single. Loving my space and the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted, unlike many of my friends. I was happily alone and not at all lonely. The only thing missing in my life was children – I had always been sure that I would one day be a mother. I even had a plan for that. I wanted to take a year out to see the world then come home and work on my career for a few years. Then when I was comfortable, I would find myself a gay bestie who wanted children without the ties of a relationship and we would have a couple of children raised in harmony. Plan B was to go to a sperm bank and find myself some quality swimmers. The only concern I had was explaining to my extended family back in Nigeria who the father of my children was.

Of course, best laid plans and all. I was making plans and God had plans for me. Just before my year of travel, I met George and I was suddenly in a real relationship. George says he knew within a few days he wanted to marry me. It took me a little longer to be sure but I was pretty sure within 3 months that this was the man I would risk getting my heart broken for. We have been together for over 4 years now. We have, like everyone else, had some ups and downs. Some of the best times in my life have been in the past 4 years. Some of my worst too. Some of them because of the relationship, a good proportion nothing to do with personal life but for which I was glad I had George to lean on. I have grown up and learnt a lot about myself. I have found that I have infinite patience I could have sworn I didn’t possess. I am capable of much love despite hardship. I am capable of trusting a man. I still can get really angry but yet my capacity for forgiveness has grown immensely.

Question is: does happily ever after exist? I don’t have an answer. I wish I did. I know there are couples out there who give me hope. My grandmother and grandfather were not a perfect couple. I know Mamie (my grandmother) had to put up with a lot through the years and her patience had to have been great but I also know that Baba (my grandad) loved her and that she knew he did. He never forgot her birthday or their anniversary. He never passed on a chance to show her off. He loves all of his grandchildren lots but he has a special spot for the 3 of us named Aisha, after my grandmother. When she died, it was clear he was lost without her. She died just before their 50th wedding anniversary. He went into deep mourning and we were all worried for the first year after that he would self-destruct. He couldn’t bring himself to mention her name or talk about her for many months. When the raw wound finally began to heal, he would mention her with reverence and such love that it made me well up. Theirs was definitely a till death do us part affair. I cannot attest to how happy they were but I like to think it was happily ever after, at least for Mamie who died secure in her husband’s love.

As a relative newly-wed, of course I want to believe it will be a happily ever after affair. I only agreed to say I do because I had hope that it would be forever. No one goes into a marriage wanting it to fail. However, the facts speak for themselves a bit here. These are from the Marriage Foundation and the Office of National Statistics:

‘The Social Justice Outcomes Framework reports that 45% of children already see their parents separate. Unless trends change dramatically, nearly half of all children born today will not still be living with both natural parents on their sixteenth birthday.’

‘34% of marriages are expected to end in divorce by the 20th wedding anniversary.’

‘There were 241,000 marriages in 2010, near a 100 year low. Cohabitation rose from 2.1 million couples in 2001 to 2.9 million in 2010.’ Maybe because divorce rates are so high, people are opting more and more not to say I do?

There is a lot of good news though:

‘Those who marry have a far greater chance of survival as a couple than those who cohabit. 93% of parents who are still together when their children complete their GCSEs are married.’ In other words, couples that choose to marry as opposed to just living together are much more likely to stay together, have children and watch them grow to the age of 16 or older.

60% of marriages are expected to survive to the 20th anniversary.’ Isn’t that an amazing statistic?

‘16% of marriages reach the 60th wedding anniversary’ and ‘the average marriage is expected to last for 32 years.’ I think those are awesome stats, don’t you?

‘Among natural parents, 31% of those couples who were cohabiting at nine months had separated when the children were seven compared to only 12% of married parents.’ Meaning that married parents are nearly 3 times as likely to stay together for 7 years or more compared to those just living together.

‘Cohabiting couples make up only 19% of parents but account for half of all family breakdown.’ In other words, married couples tend to stay together more than couples who have chosen just to live together.

I will end with this quote:

‘Quite clearly getting married does make a difference to your life chances and your children’s outcomes.’ It has been shown to be socially advantageous. Married people are more likely to be happy than their co-habiting or single or divorced counterparts, despite the shocking divorce statistics. So let us look beyond those stats and go into marriage putting our best foot forward. Sure it is hard work but we all know that anything worth doing is worth doing well. So I remain a realistic optimist. I will work hard at my marriage and I will pray for my happily ever after. I think I deserve it.

Advertisements

Be Your Own Yardstick

I will start by admitting that I, like most other people, did not like the way I looked for a long time. More accurately, I had insecurities about some parts of my body, some of which remain to date albeit in a very passive way. So I understand that as humans, we always want what we don’t or can’t have. I have worked very hard not to measure myself against people who bear no resemblance to me. I realised very early on that my genetics are out of my control so wanting to be someone completely different was a futile aspiration.

I have always been skinny or more politically correctly slim. I used to hate the word skinny when I was a teenager because to me, it represented a person who was gawky, awkward, boy-like and unattractive as a young woman. I realise that most girls put on weight around puberty and looking at the stick-thin waifs gracing runways, magazines and Hollywood movies, it is easy to see why they would aspire to be skinny like I was. I was completely oblivious to this as I was quite the tomboy and did not have any time for magazines when I was around puberty. The movies I loved were mostly animation and even if the girls/women portrayed in most Disney movies were on the smaller side, they all had the beautiful curves I adored. My mother has lovely feminine curves and so does my glamorous older sister. Perhaps being African where the culture predominantly celebrates curvaceous women had a bigger influence than I was conscious of too. My celebrity role models were Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez and later Beyoncé and Alicia Keys all of whom have (and celebrate their) curves. All of those things meant that instead of the usual Western ideals of being a size 6, I was self-conscious. I wanted to be bootylicious and packaged in a short petite perfectly proportion frame.

The worse part for me was having to go shopping. Again, another aspect where I differ from the norm. It probably started out because I used to accompany my grandmother to the market in Lagos and she used to take her time visiting stall after stall finding the best quality food for the best price. I would follow impatiently, wishing she would speed up and within an hour, I would develop a painful ‘stitch’ in my side, making me want to sit on the ground (a massive no-no as it was rather murky in Lagos markets).

As I grew older and had to start participating in shopping for my own clothes, it was okay because my mama like me is impatient with shopping and she used to be quite military with it. When I became an adolescent, my mama decided to give me money for clothes shopping and it became my responsibility. The shoes, underwear and bags were easy enough because it was just a matter of looking to see what caught my eye. Clothes on the other hand was a nightmare! I vividly remember days coming back dejectedly after 6 hours on Oxford Street in London and trying on top after top and jeans after jeans and none of them fitting well. I would look in the mirror and see this anorexic figure staring back at me. Some of those days, I would be so demoralised that I would cry. Thankfully, although I haven’t put on much weight over the years, I have acquired some (slight) curves which means that I am now a proud standard size 6 or 8 depending on the shop. I can confidently go out to buy new clothes knowing now I will find things that fit. It is just a matter of finding the style I want for the price I am willing to pay for it.

The lesson I taught myself early on was that there is no use aspiring to become curvaceous like J-Lo overnight. Rationally I knew I was going through puberty and it would take time before I developed curves. Also I had seen pictures of my mama in her 20s (pre-children) and she didn’t have much in the way of curves back then. I also looked around my family and realised that most of the young girls were rather skinny. Fulanis in general are skinny folk anyway (think Masai-like physique, same ancestry). I would tell myself that just because Britain was predominantly British and it catered to the genetic makeup of that population did not make me unattractive. Many of my friends and family told me countless times that they would rather have my body than theirs but I thought they were lying to boost my confidence. I only started to believe them once I grew my curves and became more body-confident and got strangers complimenting the way I looked.

I am still not a massive fan of the mirror and often forget to look at myself in it. I still find some of my features surprising and often when someone mentions something about my facial features, I have to go and look in the mirror to work out what they are talking about. I’ll give you a classic example of my lack of self-awareness. I was 14 years old when my sister and I went into a shop I had never been too. I turned a corner and caught sight of a girl who I thought looked vaguely familiar and I mentioned that to my sister casually. It probably didn’t help that at that age, I was still in denial about my short-sightedness so did not have perfect vision. My sister looked at with a smile like I had made one of my endless jests. I was confused. It dawned on her in seconds that I genuinely had seen myself and did not realise it was me staring back from the mirror. Oh well!

In general, I guess it is a good thing that I am not self-conscious about what others see when they look at me. I care more about presenting a professional look when I am at work and a ‘nice’ look outside of that. All my adult life, I have chosen an extra 5 minutes in bed over putting on makeup in the morning. Thankfully, being sexy or desirable are not issues I care about. My dear husband assures me that I have those characteristics in abundance anyway and it is only in his eyes that it is important I am those. To anyone else, it really doesn’t matter to me what they think of how I look as long as they see that I am a decent and caring girl inside.

My message is simple – I value what sort of a person I am inside more than out and because of that I do not compare my ‘beauty’ to others. I have simply learnt to embrace and even love the body I was blessed with. I see beauty in all body sizes and shapes, colour, height etcetera. As Christina Aguilera says in her song Beautiful and I paraphrase – ‘I am beautiful, no matter what they say. Yes, words can’t bring me down. I am beautiful in every single way. Yes, words can’t bring me down…Oh no! So don’t you bring me down today…And everywhere I go, the sun will always shine.’ Preach! Belief in your beauty, regardless of what people say because there will always be critics but that is their problem, not yours my friend.

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

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!

What or Who Was I in My Past Lives?

I was reading a book this weekend just gone and the main character had hypnosis to remember her childhood. This reminded me of the popular BBC day time show which put celebrities through ‘regression’ and re-enacted their past memories to try and establish who these celebrities were in their past lives. Before I write down my thoughts, I have a disclaimer. I do not belief in reincarnation and living multiple lives. Sometimes I think it would be rather nice to have another chance to do it all over again but then again, if you come back into a worse situation what is the point? One life is long enough for me, thank you very much.

I figure the biggest clues to what or who I might have been comes from the things I love instinctively. So first of all, I love physical contact. As a child, I would literally drape myself all over my mama whenever she was seating down. I also loved to climb and sit in tree tops. I was light on my feet and despite many falls, never broke a bone. I have always loved hugs and being stroked particularly on my back. Remind you of anything? That’s right: a cat. I remember loving the Jungle Boy, the film adaptation of Disney’s Jungle Book and my favourite thing was when Mowgli came face to face with ‘Shere Khan’ the fierce tiger and stared him down. Since then, I have loved big cats as well as the domestic ones we kept and tried unsuccessfully to keep safe from our dogs. I loved seeing the white lions and tigers at The Safari Park and I know that if I could choose to return as an animal, my 2nd choice would be as a lioness.

My 1st choice animal would be a horse. My granddad has a farm and when my mama moved back to Yola, I was less than a year old. She was the farm manager in those days so being a baby, I naturally spent a lot of time on the farm with her. The stables were full to bursting with mostly polo horses in those days and my mum likes to recount that I learnt to ride before I could walk. What she means is that I loved the horses and whenever there was a stable hand with any spare time, I would be popped onto the back of a gentle mare and walked around. I never had proper lessons but I watched my uncles play polo and I always knew I wanted to ride horses. When I was old enough, it came as naturally as breathing for me to be on the back of a horse. Of course in those days, I couldn’t handle the frisky younger polo horses but there was 1 in particular called Sofia that I favoured and every chance I got, I rode her.

So why do I love horses so much? I think they are absolutely gorgeous creatures. I love their soft velvety noses especially when they brush it across your palm as they take sugar cubes from your hand. I love their large teeth and long lean faces. I love their beautiful manes especially when they are shaved and plaited before polo matches. I love the deep brown of their eyes and their ridiculously long eyelashes. When they look at me, I feel like they can see into my soul and read my thoughts. They whiney at exactly the right moments in a tale. I love their foals with their ungainly long legs and how they skip around and play as their mums graze. I love watching them breastfeed then lean contentedly into their mums’ flanks. I love watching the adults gallop and seeing their muscles ripple under their glossy warm coat. I love to brush them down after a ride and watch the shine on their coat. I love their smell which lingers on my jeans for days after I have had a ride. As I have got older then moved away to England, I don’t get as much opportunities but I still go back to the farm and ride when I visit.

Fulanis are cow people and nomadic in origin. Beef is in general loved universally by the Fulanis and the more, the merrier. There is nothing my granddad loves more than firing up the clay barbeque pit and roasting beef straight from the abattoir. My sister is also a big meat eater and could eat meat all day every day. I on the other hand, like my mama, prefer seafood. I would eat seafood all day every day. I love it all except slimy oysters and odd mussels. The other love that goes hand in hand with seafood is being by the sea. I cannot recall ever being stressed at the seaside. Not even when I thought I was going to drown once. Not even in a little speedboat in the middle of a turbulent ocean when I can barely float in the shallow end of a swimming pool. I honestly feel the happiest when I am by the sea, hearing the waves crash onto shore, having brine sprayed onto my face and burrowing my bare feet into fine sand. Maybe in another life, I was an islander.

There are some smells I love with an intensity I cannot explain. I love the smell of coffee and did so from a very early age despite hating the taste (my granddad was addicted to it so I naturally I stole a taste). I used to add a pinch to my black tea so that I could smell coffee without its taste. Every time I walk past a coffee shop, I want to go in and sit just so every breath I inhale, I am immersed in the smell of coffee. Yet I can go months without drinking a cup of coffee. I also love the smell of freshly baked bread, particularly baguette and tiger bread. In comparison to coffee, with bread, I cannot wait to tear into the loaf and devour the piece. I do not even need butter or jam. Just fresh bread is enough for me. This makes me think of Belle in the little market town street in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. That fact in addition to the relative ease with which I navigate French makes me think that perhaps in a former life, I might have been a French girl.

Lastly, I wonder about my love for certain tastes. Sweet and sour fruits are a particular love for me. I especially love tamarind which I started eating when I was about 4 years and over the years, that love has never waned. And since then, I have found many other fruits with the same sweet and sour nature. Sour sop (or guanabana), mangoes, chappulle and mboye (found in north-eastern Nigeria), agbalumo (found in Central to South-western Nigeria) and tsamiyan biri all over the north. When I couldn’t find something to satiate the hunger for sweet and sour, I would cut one lime into 2 halves and dip the top of each half into a plate of sugar, allowing it to soak up the sweetness then suck on it. I can feel my taste buds tingle now as I remember the sweetness giving way to sharp tanginess that made me tingle all over and screw up my face even as I revelled in the taste sensation. The other taste I love is chilli pepper. There is rarely a time when I feel that no chilli is a good idea. Sometimes I crave the heat of scotch bonnet peppers so badly that I get up and cook up a scotch bonnet chutney. This chutney is so fierce that just opening the jar I store it in makes my eyes water and draws an unexpected sneeze from me. I must have 5 or 6 different chilli containers in my spice shelf yet every time I see a different form of chilli, I am tempted to buy it. This all despite the fact that my gut has decided that it is rather sensitive to chilli and the older I get, the less tolerant it gets. However, I am so passionate about chilli that I could not live without them. That combination of loves to me brings in mind Thai food…which means I could have been Thai in another life.

Of course I have many other likes that make perfect sense. Like peppermint. My mama’s main craving whilst pregnant with me was Trebor peppermint so I think her blood had high levels which became the norm to me. As far back as I can remember I have always loved Trebor peppermints and buttermints which are still ever present in my home to this day. I love all small animals and people and for me, the smaller the better. But who can resist a small helpless creature with massive Irises and total innocence? I also love vanilla ice-cream but only in an ice-cream cone. Without a cone, the experience just isn’t the same. I think it is the contrast in texture between crunchy and soft creamy ice-cream and the contrast of room temp cone with freezing cold ice cream. I love pancakes, thick and fluffy as the Americans make them. I love pies with mash, mushy peas and gravy. I love the colour red. I love elephants and camels and riding them. What I am trying to say is, even with a long list of likes and dislikes, there are some irrational ones that make me think for a second: what if I like them now because I loved them in another life and it is the leftover memories making me feeling the love? I wonder…