Tag Archives: freedom

Here We Go Again

lilywhite

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

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

mother and child

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

queue jump

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

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

name spelling

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

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

random search

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

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

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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.

She is Someone

A little girl is born. Hopefully, she is received into the world with love and happiness. Unfortunately, there are still many places where having a baby girl is not a joyous occasion. Where femicide is still a problem – where baby girls are killed soon after being born because the culture sees it as shameful to be a parent to girls and not boys. Where new born baby girls are still dumped in their thousands, left defenseless because they are unwanted by those who bring them into this world. where baby girls are sent to a far flung rural hamlet and not registered in the birth registers. Where girls are sent out at a very young age to hawk small wares and be taken advantage of by paedophiles whilst their brothers are sent to school to be educated.

Sadly, the world is very unequal when it comes to gender. Even in the most ‘advanced’ of societies, women are under-appreciated. It boggles my mind that for the same job, same hours and same skills set, many women in the USA and Europe still get paid less than their male counterparts. Today, professional women who live in a partnership (marriage or otherwise) in the West still do majority of housework and childcare. Many a man will complain about doing what few chores he is asked to do for the woman (and his children) he claims to love. Many a man will feel they are entitled to be selfish and only worry about what is theirs alone whilst their woman cater for them and their children. To many, it doesn’t even occur to them to consider how their woman feels. How hard they make the life of their woman by not contributing a fair amount to making their home as nice as it is. To many, they don’t routinely say please or thank you for all the little things their woman thinks to do for them.

Double standards are still very evident in everyday life today. A man who has serial one night stands is a young man sowing his wild oats. All sorts of excuses about them needing to get it out of their system, yadda yadda yadda. A young woman does the same, she is seen as loose. A teenage girl gets pregnant and everyone judges her and her parents but very few will point the same finger at the teenage boy who made her pregnant. He doesn’t have to stop hanging out with his friends, he gets to carry on going to school whilst she has to drop out of school in shame and lose most of her friends. The baby is seen as her responsibility and she gets judged if she stumbles and becomes overwhelmed by one of the hardest jobs in the world.

A mother I think arguable has the most essential job in the world. The world’s population is obviously dependent on women bearing children. The mother does the lion share of teaching children about life, how to treat each other, and the difference between wrong and right. She teaches them about hygiene and how to dress. She is often the disciplinarian. She gets to play bad cop and yet in most cases, the children know that mother loves them. Mother’s hug is the best. Mother’s kisses cure all hurts. Mum is the one you run too when your heart is broken. Mum’s food is the one you crave when you are ill. And we all know, mother knows best. She wants what is best for us. She always has a welcoming smile, an ear ready to listen and a shoulder to lean on in our moments of doubt. She is our best friend. This is why my mind is boggled by the fact that women are so undervalued in this world. How can any man think less of a person because they are female when they were shaped by the love of a woman?

Now I know some mothers are not the best of mothers. Not all mothers are amazing. Not all of them get it right. However, the vast majority have their hearts in the right place and do the best they can for their children. Most of them, despite their faults, try to be all that I have described above for their children and I think regardless of their failures, we should remember how much of their lives they give up so that they provide for us. So that they are there for us. And our gratitude should translate into respect for our mothers which extend to all the mothers out there.

Religion interpreted by men also discriminates against women. I will talk about my religion Islam because I know what it means to be a Muslim girl and woman. There is a lot of obsessing about how women dress in many Muslim communities. Men conveniently forget the Islam asks men to cast down their gaze when in the company of the opposite sex. So I ask you, if they are busy not staring at women, why do they notice every little thing about how we decide to dress? Also, apparently some Muslim men believe that a woman should ask the permission of her husband to leave the house yet the husband is free to go and do as he pleases without letting his wife know what his plans are. What amazes me even more is that in some Muslim circles, the said husband goes out and pulls another woman to bring home as a second wife and that is all acceptable whereas if a wife wants to go to the market or college/university, the husband is allowed to be mad she went without his permission. Is what way is that fair?

So all I am saying is that I think men need to rethink how they treat the women in their lives. So we are biologically different and in the old days, perhaps physical strength was directly linked to survival but in this day and age, things are different. Physical strength is only an advantage in a few circles. Women have as many skills as men do and are as valuable in modern society as the men. Most importantly, women do the world’s hardest yet most rewarding job for free. They are our mothers. They deserve our respect. If you are an employer, pay everyone fairly for the job they do. If you employ a woman to do the same job as a man, pay her the same. If you are married or cohabiting with a woman you love and she works as many hours as you do, do some cooking and cleaning too and don’t make her ask you a million times first. If you haven’t seen your mother for a while, call her up today and take her out for a nice dinner or if you lucky to have lots of money in the bank, buy her a cruise or send her off on a surprise holiday or spa break. Show her how much you appreciate all the love and time she has invested in you. Call up your sister and tell her you love her. You know it’s the fair thing to do. Just do it!

Do Your Little Bit of Good

Desmond Tutu says: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

What a great saying! I fully subscribe to it. I think the world would be in a much better place if everyone believed in doing their little bit of good and did it thus creating a lot of goodness. Most of the people I meet are very good people and have really good intentions but only a few are doing anything to put their good will into action to help change the world in their little way. I suppose I am actually privileged to work in healthcare though. Nurses and doctors do so much fund-raising for charity that we almost take it for granted. Most of my work mates will have badges, hoodies, t-shirts all bought for charity. Many of them are taking part in charity runs to raise money for great causes.

Many of our amazing little patients are also into their fundraising. You may have heard about Stephen Sutton who died from cancer a few months ago. He has just been awarded a Pride of Britain award post-humously. His story has inspired so many because instead of focusing on his bad prognosis (predicted bad outcome), he thought he would raise money to help find a cure for cancer for those who have the misfortune of following in his footsteps and to support those young people and babies with cancer. Even if he had raised only a £100, it would have been amazing because of the intention behind it. The intent was to improve the lives of others when it was too late for him. The intent was to make the world better for a group of unlucky people who have or will have cancer. Great news is that he has raised £5 million pounds so far and counting and his name has been immortalised for being so brave and selfless in his time of despair and illness, for making a difference. Stephen probably never dreamt how big his fundraising page was going to be but he did what he did anyway.

Malala who has just won a Nobel Peace Prize at 17 years old and is a fellow West-Midlander is another inspiring story. Her story started out small. I am sure she never thought she would end up living in the UK making speeches that are heard all over the world and getting complimented by the likes of Barack Obama and the Queen. All she did was speak out against the injustice of being denied an education because she and her friends were unfortunate enough to be born girls in Pakistan. She got shot for her pains but instead of being cowed by the real threat of the Taliban, she remains unrepentant and continues to be the voice for her fellow oppressed girls and young women. She has inspired thousands of girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan to insist on their right to be educated. A small thing that has metamorphosed into a huge thing for so many.

My mama has an NGO that works primarily to empower women and young people. Part of what they do is provide support in setting up small businesses and training in crafts. They also help find and pay lawyers for victims of domestic violence and rape. But their manifest is unlimited really. Whatever a child, adolescent or woman needs that they can help with, they do. They have helped end many forced child-marriages; they have helped girls/women get away from abusive relatives and start up a new life. They help women who are desperate to support their children train in simple skills that will help them earn a living so they know where their next meal is coming from and know that they do not have to go from door to door, asking for hand outs. They provide extra tuition for young people struggling with their education and their prospects of employment. They provide sanitation and educate on public health issues. They have even helped a young lady locate her birth father. The work they do is not exactly earth-shattering to read about and does not make the news but I know how much good they have done for the hundreds of people who have come to them for help. I know what a lifeline they have been and continue to be for so many. They are doing the little good they can do with limited resources but it is changing the world for those around them in Yola and beyond to the rest of Adamawa state.

All of these people inspire me so much and as a result, I have made a promise to myself. I might not be anybody. I am certainly not rich nor am I famous. I am not extraordinary in anyway but I have been blessed with an amazing family, a few great friends, a fantastic job and a life mate (my husband) whose love is so uplifting. I guess you could say that I am extraordinarily blessed. So I try every day to do or say something that will do some good for someone. The best thing is that my patients are great recipients of my efforts. So many children just want positive reinforcement to shape them into lovely responsible adults. So I find something beautiful about them and tell them about it. I tell them how gorgeous their curly hair is. How special their rare blood group is. How amazing their natural red hair is. How beautiful their glasses are. How brave they are. How happy their hard work to get better makes me. How brilliant they are to do schoolwork when their health is failing. I say good morning to the cleaners that keep our hospitals clean and I smile every time I pass them in the corridors because their job is hard and their pay is small but they are absolutely essential in helping us make our patients better. I buy badges, hoodies and t-shirts for charity and I wear them with pride.

So I challenge you my dear reader. If you ever watch TV or read about someone who has done something and you feel inspired, do a little something each day to brighten up someone’s day. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money; it doesn’t have to be recognised by anyone. As long as when you go to bed, you remember the feeling of having done something good for someone with no strings attached and fall asleep with a happy heart. Let us all do the little things that are easy and free in life and hopefully the sum total makes the world that much better.

Tell Your Truth  

I quoted Clint Smith’s comment about fear in an earlier blog and this one here is inspired by the something else he said on the same YouTube video. He is an American who lectures in the States and he says in the video that the only thing he asks of his students when they are in his class is to tell their truth and that nothing leaves the room without their permission. This got me thinking about truth and its importance. I know everybody lies sometimes and actually sometimes a lie is the kinder thing to say. However, I do think these days too many people lie willy-nilly for no good reason and it baffles me why.

My mama and I (in case you haven’t realised it yet from the number of times I mention her in every blog) are very close and I think one of the biggest reasons why that is with each other, we tell our truths. My sister and I never went through ‘teenage rebellion’. We didn’t have anything to rebel about because everything in my home was out in the open. My mama has always been truthful when asked anything directly. Of course, there are things she held back from us when we were too young to understand but as long as she thought we would understand the answers and that it would teach us something, we were told. I knew about the birds and the bees from very early on and so it was never a big deal talking about sex in our home. Because my mama is a feminist and part of her NGO work is empowering women and girls, I attended a workshop she organised in the early 90s back when HIV and AIDS were in the headlines. So before I was 10 years old, I knew about safe sex, condoms, how to put them on and dispose of them safely. Even before that, I knew all about periods and puberty and everything else that was necessary to face growing up.

In the same vein, whenever I made friends with anybody, I would invite them to our home at the earliest opportunity so that my mama could meet them. I knew that if my mama was okay with such a friend, then they were good enough to keep as friends. I could rely on my mama to be truthful. So over the years, we have talked about friends, boys, men, sex, drugs, alcohol, travel, homosexuality, religion, war, the potential for an apocalypse, death and anything else I was ever curious about. We are so comfortable and open that people often get surprised by how much my mama knows about the exact things people would try to hide from their parents. It is only as I have got older that I have started to edit what I tell my mama. This is mainly to do with my significant other relationship and I keep things from her not to withhold my truth but so as not to sour the relationship between my husband and his mother-in-law. After all, ‘they’ say that if you tell your parents about the ‘bad things’ that your spouse does to you, they will harbour it for aeons whereas you might forget it the very next day or week. I am a very lucky girl because in my home telling my truth was not only actively encouraged, it was expected. I am now trying to teach my husband the same and I hope to emulate the same culture with my future children.

In my profession, telling your truth is a GMC requirement and it is set out as part of the duties of doctors which we are sent in paper copy periodically to remind us of our oath. I am a paediatrician and definitely not a surgeon. However as the cookie crumbles, I happen to be doing a surgical rotation (which is ending today. Hoorah!) currently and I have had major issues because of a lack of truth and the surgical culture of aggressive competitiveness and subtle bullying. I particularly had a problem when my father-in-law was taken ill and I was delayed going in for a shift. Long story short, I couldn’t leave him until he was safe and so I was going to be late for handover. The doctor that was meant to handover offered to swap shifts. I thought how lovely, swapped shifts and thought nothing more of it. Then rumours started to fly after I was late for another shift about how I was so late I didn’t turn up for my shift. After a couple of weeks of ignoring the immaturity of it all, I found the senior doctors involved and asked if they had a problem with me particularly if swapping that shift was a problem. They all denied having any issues but I had heard enough to take it to the top consultant and my supervising consultant. They were both lovely and reassured me. I thought ‘Great. All sorted and I’ll put it all behind me’. The rumours continued and I eventually found the source of it all. Disappointingly, it was a registrar senior to me who always made out we were cool. So I had it out with him and asked him to be professional. I am pleased to say once I confronted him, he has behaved in a more professional manner but I must say I will be glad not to have to work so closely with him anymore. I just think that there is no place in a professional setting for lies – everyone is there to do a job and if you are not interested and focussed in the job, maybe you should quit and go do something else.

I have a confession to make. I am rather feisty and not afraid to speak out in most situations. Even as a child, the worst thing you could do to me was lie about me. I remember way back in primary school, someone jealous of me for something or the other said to one of my friends that I had said something about her behind her back. My friend promptly told me because she didn’t believe I would do such a thing but I was so mad that the girl had accused me wrongly that I cried. Unfortunately, in these situations, I still get so angry that I often end up crying because I feel helpless to do anything else. I am getting better at dealing with the anger though so hopefully by the time the kids come along, their mummy won’t go round embarrassing them with her tears. As far back as I remember, I made a vow to myself. Unless there is an absolute need to hide the truth, I shall always tell my truth. And honestly, it feels great!

Separating the Wheat

I was talking to a friend of my husband’s about the politics of Islam and the current trend of labelling every evil person that happens to be Muslim as an ‘Islamist terrorist’. He is Kenyan and grew up in a mixed Muslim and Christian community in Nairobi like I did in Nigeria. Yet he has also been misled by the media who have an agenda. The current agenda being to fuel all the fire in the islamophobic drama and give them more dramatic headlines. People labour under the misapprehension that majority of Muslims are either terrorists or terrorist-supporter and the rest of us are sympathisers with the fanatical extremist groups. Never mind that these extremists are killing us moderate Muslims more than they will ever kill anyone else. Because they want to silence the voices of moderation.

Anyway, this post is to show you words direct from the Prophet of Islam whose teachings we Muslims try to emulate in everyday life. This to me is how I feel about people of other faiths and even no faith. I like many other moderate Muslims want to live together in harmony. We love our neighbours regardless of religion. Oh and breaking news. 99% of us do live together with our non-Muslim neighbours and friends and even family with no evil designs on them.

Through reading via social media, I found this letter written by the Prophet of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) where he addresses Christians mainly but I would suggest that actually these words apply to all non-Muslims who interact with Muslims.

I accessed the excerpt from http://www.examiner.com/article/letter-to-all-christians-from-prophet-muhammad

 

(The original letter is now in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul)

“This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God! I hold out against anything that displeases them.

No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.

No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”

English translation from ‘Muslim History: 570 – 1950 C.E.’ by Dr. A. Zahoor and Dr. Z. Haq

Freedom

Freedom comes in many forms. As does oppression. Before I launch into my tirade against hard-headed hard-line judgmental people and narrow-minded stereotypes, I have a confession for you. I am a feminist. And I am proud to be one. My mother is a feminist, the first in my family and I am proud to say I will carry on that tradition and pass it on as far as wide as I am capable. Feminism for me is all about freedom. People who know nothing or small bits about feminism immediately think a feminist is a woman who hates men, wants them all to suffer and is probably lesbian or at best bisexual. I am writing this to set those people straight of their misconceptions.

First of all, I know of feminist men. Misconception number 1 banished. 2nd misconception is that feminists hate men. The ones I know don’t. We all have things we don’t like about people, be they men or women or even children. We even have the odd people we hate like the wife-beaters and child rapists. Yes most of those are men but there are evil women too and we feminists hate them with as much passion as we hate the men. 3rd misconception is that we want men to suffer. That one is easy – if you read anything about feminism proper, you’ll know that what feminists actually want is for women NOT to suffer because of the things men do to them. Last misconception is that feminists are lesbians. Well, I am married and I love my husband. And I can tell you that when I go to bed with my husband, I am not looking to fondle breasts or play with his hair. My mama, despite the 1st disastrous outing with my biological father, remarried and I know it wasn’t all chat. So there. Feminists are not all women, we do not hate all men, we do not wish to harm all men and we are not all lesbian.

I was born into feminism. Like I said, my mother is a feminist so from infancy, I was exposed to a lot of grown up things. Things that she tried to shield me from but as I said in another blog, I loved to sit with my mum and would often refuse to leave or would hang around even when they wanted privacy so I heard a lot. And part of my contradictions as a child was that I listened and never forgot anything I heard. I would always come back to my mama at a later date having thought about what I heard and ask her to explain the whys and the whats. To her credit, incredible woman that she is, she would patiently explain and give me leaflets and books to read to help me understand.

One of the first things I learnt from my mama is that in a Yola marriage, a woman has to put up with a lot of crap. A lot of that is linked to the fact that in Yola when I was growing up, most women were housewives (two-thirds I would guess). Which meant that women were dependent on their husbands for all their material needs. This gave many men the license to use and abuse their wives. Women in Yola are strong, by Yola women I mean the Fulani women. They are so strong that they think crying/complaining of pain whilst in labour is a sign of weakness (rightly or wrongly). I know this for a fact because I worked in FMC Yola for nearly 5 months a few years ago and as a paediatrician, I was in the children’s wards which were right next to the maternity wards and I swear I probably only heard labour ‘sounds’ 5 times in the whole time I was there. And those women were probably not Fulani and had complicated births. I digress but you get the point. That is why I know how badly they must have been treated. Because they came crying. Weeping like they had lost a child or a parent. My mama was like the agony aunt with legal and financial aid at her NGO.

I also learnt that although the Yola community, like many others, hides behind religion and tradition, the religious and traditional leaders know what the truth is and if forced to will admit it. For example, a lot of muslim Yola women are/were under the impression that divorce was the domain of the husband and the wife was basically under lock and key unless he decided she could leave. Actually Islamically the wife has as much of a right to divorce her husband as he does her but tradition meant that the husbands were better educated which then meant 2 things: 1. The husband could write a divorce script and the wife being illiterate could not and 2. The ‘law enforcers’ in customary and Islamic courts were men so unless faced by someone in the know, feminists generally like my mama, they would rule in favour of the men. My mother asked her lawyer friends for guidance and her belief that the wife had a right to divorce as long as she had valid grounds was correct. Then we found out through her NGO’s work that a few Yola women despite being uneducated had realised this a while back and they had successfully filed for divorce. Guess the commonest reason they cited for wanting a divorce: my husband is impotent. And you know why that is? Because the husband was too ashamed to face any questions on his virility that he granted the divorce asap. Good on those women who discovered and shared the secret!

One of my mama’s NGO’s main focus is empowering the girl child and preventing child marriage. Unfortunately, there is still a huge discrepancy in the achievements (economical and educational) of boys and girls in most of the world. But feminists have made huge inroads into improving the situation. I have seen dozens of girls brought to my mama and not one appeal for help was turned down. My mama and her team fought tooth and nail to emancipate every child forced into a marriage. They then tried to provide them with long-term prospects either by sponsoring them to go to school or learn a trade. Many of them have been employed by my mama at one point or the other. Many of them are now fully grown women with careers or atleast a means of making some money so they can retain some independence and support their children should their husbands fail to provide. Many of them become one of my mother’s many children and one of my many sisters and the occasional brothers (through their sisters).

One thing about being feminist is about knowing and appreciating the fact that women and men are physically and mentally different. We do not want to be like men. Most of us do not want to take over the traditional male roles that have evolved into male roles because of the physicality. That is not to say that a woman cannot do the same job but it might take longer or she might need another pair of hands and sometimes it is easier for a man to do. Just as we know that there are men who are very paternal and are very capable of nurturing and looking after a baby’s needs BUT physically it is impossible for them to be as good as the mum because they have not got a uterus to carry the developing foetus for 9 months and they have not breasts to breastfeed with. Just as we know that a woman matures mentally in her 20s to her 30s whereas many men do not get to that level of maturity until they are in their late 30s and 40s. And we know being a mother brings out the tiger in every woman so that when their babies are in danger, they are capable of superhuman feats to save them. Men in general do not have those same instincts however it is well known how protective men can be of their daughters especially. So although feminists want women to have equal (human) rights with men, we recognise and even appreciate the differences in how we are built.

The biggest thing about being a feminist is the issue of how to dress. As a feminist I believe that every woman should be able to dress as she pleases. To please herself that is. Because people accuse feminists of hypocrisy if they are dressed to impress or sexily. The point is feminists believe that the woman’s body is hers to do with as she pleases. If she wants to cover herself head-to-toe in a black Arab gown and gloves and socks, then we are happy with it as long as it is her choice. If the same woman decides that today, she would rather be in a miniskirt and vest top, then that is okay too because it is what she wants. Not what her father or brother or husband or even mother wants. It’s all about the right to choose for yourself as an adult woman. But our people are obsessed with the issue of how a woman dresses so the disagreement continues. Tragically, many uneducated people still subscribe to the fallacy that the way a woman dresses is partly to blame for them becoming a victim of rape. To that I say, why is it that a man can walk around in shorts or topless in the heat and in general no woman tries to rape the man but when the roles are reversed the rapist points a finger at his victim for enticing him? Nothing justifies that barbaric act and its almost laughable that anyone would buy that as an excuse in this day and age. Thank goodness for the Nigerian Constitution stipulating a custodial sentence for all rape and for the NGOs providing the legal aid to ensure more men are convicted of this heinous crime.

Above all to me feminism represents love and freedom. Love because we stand up for those girls and women who haven’t a voice to say no when things are being done to them that they absolutely do not want or consent to. Freedom because that is what we promote no matter what the problem a girl or woman is faced with. Freedom to be born (and not killed solely for being female), freedom to go to school (and not be kept at home to learn to be a domestic goddess whilst your brother goes to school), freedom to have a childhood (and not be raped or married off too young), freedom to learn a craft or study for a degree, freedom to marry or not, freedom to choose who you share your bed and home with, freedom to decide how many children you bear in your own womb and breastfeed and nurture for the rest of their lives, freedom not to be violated or abused, freedom to leave a bad relationship. One day the whole world will realise that feminists are not against men but they are for men and women. That what we want is the world is to be happier and for all groups to be free to live a happy life. What we want is for the world to show some love to each other regardless of faith, tradition, ethnic group, education, class, age and most importantly gender. Peace!

My Stepdad

His name in Fulfulde means grandchild. I didn’t realise that until after his death…

I often refer to my mother as a single mom and majority of my life she was but I did have a stepdad for 7 years. She married him when I was between 3 and 4. She says the big clincher was me. As a child, I was very particular about who could look after me and where I would sleep. Suffice it to say, I would only sleep in my home or in the arms of those closest to me – mainly, my mama or one of the female cousins we always had living with us in Yola (my hometown). 

My mother recalls that not long after meeting my stepdad, I was tired after a trip and I chose to curl up in his arms and go to sleep. All this in the face of me being rather aloof with him (I was a hard child to please when it came to strangers). I think he had asked several times if she would marry him at this stage and she had hesitated. Practically, she probably thought it would be a good thing for her two girls to have a ‘father’ and the community would certainly encourage her to be married for her and her children’s protection. But I know she had been burnt by her relationship with my biological father and that she also valued her freedom highly (which a husband in Yola traditionally would take away to a large extent).

This seemingly insignificant act of sleeping in his arms did 2 things. It told my mama (rightly or wrongly) that he was a good man and that her daughter felt safe with him. It also told my stepdad that although I acted like I didn’t care much for him, I loved him in my own funny way. She says she told him her decision soon after and they got married.  

So did I warm up to him after this show of affection? Not really. I told you I was a hard child to please. I accepted him because my mama loved him. I loved him too; as one would love an uncle and not my favourite uncle at that. But I steadfastly called him uncle and I never let anyone call him my father. I always pointed out he was my stepfather to anyone who made that error. My sister, 3½ years older was a much easier child. Despite the fact that she actually knew my biological father and had been hurt by the events leading to the divorce. She treated him as she would treat her biological father. Had he lived, she would have bestowed the highest fatherly honours on him when she came to get married. She would have asked her husband’s family to ask him for her hand in marriage. Me…I never intended to do that. I would have said to my husband’s family ‘go and ask my mother – she is both mother and father to me’. The family would have overruled me of course and directed them to my stepdad had he been alive and still married to my mama. Kids!