Tag Archives: Kaduna

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.
― Touaxia Vang


On Death and Dying

My best friend confessed early in our friendship her fear of death and I remember being curious about why she was scared. Now looking back, maybe the question should have been why I did not feel the same? I mean of course death is not a welcome or happy thought but I don’t dwell on death and I certainly don’t actively fear it. I am very much of the school that there are 2 certainties in life: we are all born and we will all die. And since death is inevitable, I don’t think about it much.

Death is the final release.  Whatever one believes in, I think most of us believe that once you are dead, you don’t feel pain anymore. I know some people believe in reincarnation, some like me believe in the Hereafter and some think that whilst your body dies, your spirit never does and it still retains the memory of pain/anger/hurt/happiness. Although I believe in the Hereafter being Muslim, I do think that when I die, my soul leaves my physical shell and returns to its source (God). Then at some point, our lives are all assessed and we are rewarded (or not) for all our good deeds.

I wonder sometimes about what it feels like when your soul detaches from your body. I wonder if it is like a physical break, painful but transient or if it is more like an emotional separation where the after effects are long felt. I then wonder what the soul feels if it feels anything at all once it is separate from the vessel that conducts and interprets pain. Beyond that, I think death is more fearful if you are not the one dying. I mean, I would imagine that if I was in a terrible car accident, I would either die instantly with no time to think or become scared of what was happening. Or I would be in pain or feel myself getting weaker and weaker and it would be so unbearable that death would be a welcome reprieve. Same as if I had a chronic illness which was not curable but I was steadily deteriorating then dying would probably be a mercy for me.

When I think about dying properly, I realise that although I am not afraid of the dying itself, I am scared of some of the ways that I could potentially die. I am afraid after all. Being a medic, I have seen many people die so I have spent time thinking about the way I would not like to die. I guess one of the scary things about dying is that most of us do not have any idea when we are going to die. It is different for those who are diagnosed with ‘predictable’ illness but even there, giving patients a prognosis (i.e. a number of days/weeks/months/years they are expected to survive) is not an exact science.

In the past 6 months, I have come across patients who were not expected to survive being born and the first few days of life yet despite all odds, they are still with us many months later. I have also come across patients who were predicted more time only to deteriorate much quicker than anyone has experienced, giving no time for their loved ones to be prepared. The only people whose time of death can be predicted with any accuracy are those who are already brainstem dead but on life-support and when the machines are switched off, we can be fairly sure they will die within a certain time period. Even so, we have all heard of the ‘miracle’ stories where patients defy the odds and remain alive far beyond the expected time of death.

My ideal death would be the one most people wish for. I would like to die in my own bed, in my sleep. I would like for it to be when I am old but young enough that I am still completely independent. I would like for it to be after a family reunion where my nearest and dearest are all sitting around a table and reminiscing about the good old days. I would like for it to be after my mother has gone to her grave because I can’t think of anything worse for a mother than to bury her own child. I would like for my children (if I have them) to be old enough that losing their mother does not scar them too badly.

If I am unfortunate enough to have a catastrophic trauma and needed life support, I have told my closest family that I would prefer not to be kept alive for many days. I would like to be given a chance to recover (if there is one) but when it gets to the time where my chances of waking or recovering are much less that 50% then I would prefer for the machines to be switched off. I would like to be an organ donor although in my donor card, I have not ticked the skin donor thing because I am a bit squeamish when it comes to being buried with bits of my skin harvested. I don’t yet have a will but I have told my husband of my wishes verbally if I don’t get around to writing a will before the day comes.

I would like to be buried according to Islamic rites. I think the simplicity of an Islamic burial suits me perfectly. Washed and wrapped in a cotton shroud and buried within a day. If I am in my bed, the closest Muslim graveyard would be perfect but if I happen to be abroad in a strange land then I would like to be taken back to Kaduna, the town of my birth because that symmetry also appeals to me. Also my great grandmother and grandmother are both buried there so it would feel right to lie next to them.

When my grandmother died, there were a lot of tears and prayers and silence but there was remembrance every evening after the crowds dispersed and I found that uplifting. I think the sitting around the dining table and talking about Mammie’s life helped lift the gloom that surrounded us all. The fact that we could all remember and share our memories of Mammie reminded us all that although she was gone, a part of her was alive in us all. And that she had had a good life and her quick death was merciful. Those evenings also reminded us that life is transient. It is unpredictable and death can pick any of us at any time. In remembering our dead, we embraced life and were thankful for all we had been gifted with. I really hope those I leave behind can do that instead of it being all sad and tearful. May we all die a pain-free dignified death and may those we live behind be able to accept it is our time to go and may they have the strength to celebrate a life well-lived (hopefully).

A Baby Boy

Dedicated to Fareeda Rasheed – an aunty-in-law and a dear friend taken too soon! 

I am one of 2 girls and for most of my childhood my mama was a single mom so my house was a boy-free zone mostly. No one peed standing up so we didn’t have the toilet-seat-left-up issue or the bits of wee that missed their mark and ended up outside the toilet ball with the associated whiff. No one with boy bits so walking around naked was never awkward outside of ‘visiting hours’. Nor was accidentally opening the toilet door when someone was on the toilet. We were all the same so it was a quick sorry and everyone forgot about it minutes later. As a result, whenever I pictured being older, getting married and having babies, my babies were girls. And to tease me, my sister would say you will have only boys and I would react either with a strident ‘God forbid’ or ‘I hope not’ or ‘please God don’t do that to me’ or similar save me somebody phrases.

 My uncle’s first baby was a boy, who we nicknamed Baby A. His mother was lovely so we became fast friends after the wedding. I was 12 years old. She turned up unexpectedly for one visiting day at my boarding school when I was in JSS1 (first year of secondary school) with a baby bump and I got so excited! This was going to be my first cousin within reach (I have 2 cousins in faraway America). I prayed hard that it would be a girl so I could dress her up and play with her hair. We spent the summer with my aunty and the baby was due the week before we went back to boarding school. We hoped and hoped it would arrive before we had to leave but as these things tend to happen, there was not a peep from the baby. We said our disappointment goodbyes, patted the bump one last time and left.

 2 weeks later, he arrived with great fanfare but I wasn’t to meet him until the end of term. He was 10 weeks old when I first met him and at that stage, he was cute but didn’t do very much. He just fed and slept and I couldn’t even dress him up in cute pink dresses and hair bands. I was pleased but not bowled over. This all changed 5 months later. It was the summer holidays and his mom had decided to relocate to my hometown Yola to learn Fulfulde (the Fulani language), do a HND in Law and generally learn the ways of her husband’s people.

 On weekdays, my sister and I were on babysitting duty from the morning until she came home from Legal studies as the college was called. Being adolescents on holiday, we stayed up late every night and then had a lie in each morning. There was nothing much to do apart from visiting friends and going to buy sweets or drinks from the one main road where all the shops were situated. Sadly, we were by then too old for playing sand games or climbing trees. We were young ladies. Haha.

So back to Baby A, his mom would wake up bright and early, feed him and bring him round to our house. Then, rather than wake us up (which was an impossible task) she would place him on the blanket between my sister and I and sneak out. My sister was the better sleeper so I was generally the one to wake up. The first thing I would notice as I stirred was that the blanket wasn’t moving with me. Then I would feel like I was being watched. Eventually, I would be awake enough to crack open one eye and scope out the situation. Each morning, Baby A would sit patiently and wait for the eye to pop open. Then his face would break into the most disarming irresistable grin. My heart would melt and instead of the usual grumpy awakening, I would pop up and give him a cuddle, drawing from him happy chortling. My sister was soon up in the face of all the merriment. We spent nearly 3 months in this idyllic way.

 We would compete over who would feed him, who would carry him, who would burp him and even who would change his diapers. He was the sunniest baby. Hardly ever cried. Always smiling or laughing. We were there when he mastered how to sit without support and there as he started to crawl and then pull up to stand. By the end of the summer, he was standing and even attempting to take a step. It was with a heavy heart we said our goodbyes when it was time to back to boarding school. This was the beginning of my boy baby love.

 We relocated to London so I missed the infancy of the next boy cousin to be born. Then, when I was in medical school, the news came that my other aunty (wife to uncle no 2) was expecting a baby and he was due during Easter holidays. His grandmother is Egyptian so his mom went to Cairo in preparation for his arrival. My grandmother (her mother-n-law) was also going to be there so I saved up money for flights and I flew to Cairo. He was due the first week of my 4 week holiday. Her tummy was so huge it looked like it would burst and everyone predicted that he would be early being the second baby. Despite her busy upping and downing with the hope of inducing natural labour, she ended up having a caesarean section as there were safety concerns.

 I was much more excited to meet this little boy and he was gorgeous. All black curly hair and very Fulani features. I spent 2 weeks with Modi (that’s his Fulani name) then had to come back. I didn’t see him again until he was 11 months old and I had a 3 month summer holiday. I spent most of it in Kaduna in their home getting to know him. I was his constant companion. Imagine my joy when his first proper word (after da-da and ma-ma and ba-ba) was Diya! I was chuffed. We all went to Abuja together when it was time for me to head back to Birmingham. I was off the next evening. In Abuja, I stayed at my grandparents whilst they stayed at their Abuja home. I went over the morning of departure and spent a few hours saying goodbye to my little sidekick.

 As I got into the car to go back to my grandfather’s and get ready for my flight, he came running out as fast as his little legs could carry him. He bent forward with chubby hands on his thighs and screamed my name as loud as he could. I heard him through the closed windows and slid the window open. His tears broke my heart and I felt myself welling up. I was going to stay a little longer but his mom said ‘no go! I will get changed and bring him over before you go so you can say a final goodbye’. She lifted him to the window and I gave him a quick kiss then detangled him and we drove off. She never did bring him. Looking back, I am glad because I would have made him cry a second time and made it even harder to say goodbye. It was 2 years before I saw him again.

Baby A and Modi were the best convincer for me to be happy with whichever sex baby I may have in the future. Now I look to the near future as a married woman wanting children and all that I pray for is a healthy boy or girl.