Tag Archives: laughter

Primary Six

In the Nigerian school system, we spend 6 years in primary school. Majority of children would sit their common entrance exam for secondary school in Primary 5 and if they passed, would skip Primary 6 and go straight to secondary school. My mother was the type of parent whose kids would complete all six years whether they passed or not. So, although I sat and passed my common entrance in Primary 5, I knew I was coming back to Primary 6. We went from about 50-60 children in Primary 5 to less than 20 in Primary 6. Our classroom was in the administrative block, away from the rest of the classrooms. We felt very grown up, practically teenagers.

I was a precocious child, mature beyond my age. Despite being tiny back then, I was easily the most outspoken girl in my class. This outspokenness in combination with my natural exuberance and good academic record meant I was a shoo in for Head Girl, leader of the prefects. It still makes me laugh that I was head girl because I was smaller even than the kids in Primary 3. That didn’t faze me one bit. I loved the challenge!

Our main duty as prefects was to organise morning drop off, assembly and break times. We had to make sure all the children were lined up per class and that they stayed in line and quiet during assembly. As Head Girl, I would lead the team of prefects patrolling the drop off area and it was our job to tell the parents if they were unacceptably late and even turn them back with their children still in their cars. Looking back, I am not sure how appropriate it was for us to essentially discipline parents. Perhaps culturally the teachers found it too hard to be so strict and they left it to fearless Primary 6 prefects to do. We also kept discipline in the playground during break time. Children being children, it was so hard to get them off the swings and slides and back to class. We ruled with iron fists. Somehow, we wielded enough authority that the rest of the school listened when we spoke.

Being head girl was tough yes but in truth, it was fun. By Primary 6, we had a very close-knit circle of (girl) friends. We had a laugh from the time we were dropped off until we were picked up. The first couple of girls to come would wait by the drop off, forming a welcoming party. The next girl to come would be carried to class ceremonially on a 2-person arm-throne and then we would all return for the next girl. That way, every morning, we treated each other like princesses. We would chat non-stop in between assembly and lessons. For lunchtime, we all stopped bringing in food from home (being so grown up) and were given break money instead. We would leave school grounds and go and buy food. In Yola in the 90s, there was no such thing as fast-food. Our options were local food sold to workers. Our favourites were moin-moin (bean cakes) and we discovered a lady who sold fried yam and tomato sauce. I don’t recall what we talked about back then but I remember how much laughter there was anytime we were all together. We would eat our food, sitting on the veranda outside our classroom and watching the little ones playing in the playground. We would play it cool with the boys in our class, falling silent when they approached as if we were sharing deep secrets.

Break times for us grown ups was competitive games. We had outgrown the playground swings, climbing frames and slides. In vogue during our time were clapping games and next level hopscotch. The clapping games involved a lot of very fast precise movements done by 2 or 4 girls in tandem (the boys never played, they probably weren’t dextrous enough or were too busy kicking a football about) whilst singing a rhyme. Check out this video on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbmNYD_YjzY). Then there was the game called 10-10 (ten ten) or walle in Hausa. The rhythm was produced by clapping and it started out sedately with a leg kicked into the ‘playing field’ and could be done in twos or bigger groups. The player had to avoid being played out by kicking out a different leg to the rest of the players. A bit like rock, paper, scissors using legs. And the pace built and built until it became quite frenetic. Very addictive game. As Yola is so dry and sandy, it could get quite dusty but that didn’t bother us. Brilliant game!

It fell to me to organise our leaving party in our final term of school. I don’t think preceding years did much to mark this momentous occasion but my friends and I wanted to do something special. I went to the headmistress to ask permission to throw a party and she said yes with no hesitation. Our party was on the final day of school. We decided what food we wanted and went to the market one lunchtime to ask for prices. I remember writing the list and working out how much money we needed and who would cook what. A few boys agreed to contribute but mostly it was a girls’ affair. The boys thought it was too girly to have a party.

We were given use of a room and brought in a tape player with the current hits on cassettes. We made the room look pretty and spread out the food on a large table. There was jollof rice, coleslaw, fried chicken, cupcakes, lots of sweets and soft drinks. My sister even gave us the beautiful Barbie cake she had made in her Home & Nutrition class. With the music turned up loud, we ate, drank, danced and had the best time ever, oblivious to the boys looking on in envy through the windows. We scrawled messages of friendship in marker pens on each other’s school shirts and found corners of furniture to leave our mark on.

At the end of the day, after all the fun, as the school bell went one final time the tears came. We were all going to different secondary schools. Despite making promises to keep in touch, we knew it would never be the same again. In those days, no one had email access or mobile phones. Keeping in touch needed a lot more effort. To be honest, I have forgotten half the girls in the group but I vividly remember the sadness in my heart as I hugged each of them goodbye and watched them get in their cars and drive off. I haven’t seen any of them since then. I found one of the girls on Facebook but 20 years on, we rarely have anything to say to each other. Still, I had a wonderful childhood and a big part of that was school and the friends I made there.

The Cycle of Life Part 3

I could write and write about the many lives I knew that were cut short in their prime but I will complete the cycle with this last blog about one of my oldest friends. His name was Nabil. We probably met as babies but the first meeting I remember was when I was 15 years old. We had moved to London the summer before and were getting settled in still. My mama came home one day and announced we had been invited to have dinner the Ibrahim’s on Saturday. Who were they? I asked. She explained that they were old family friends. The parents were my grandparents’ friends and although their children were younger than my mother and siblings, they knew them well as children. I am told one of the kids had even stayed periodically with my grandparents in Lagos when they were going to school there. She told me that the oldest daughter had 2 sons, one my age and I was going to meet them.

Although we both lived in North London, it was quite a trek as there was no direct tube route and we had to go on 2 (or was it 3?) buses. By the time we got there, my nose, fingers and toes were frozen and all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball and sleep by a fire. I needn’t have worried. As soon as we stepped into their house, I felt my frozen cells begin to stir. It was always tropical in that house. Mum and Baba (the grandparents) like it very warm so there was never any danger of being cold once you got in there. I was introduced to the many adults, face after smiling face. It was like a mini-Northern Nigeria. All the warmth, the noise, everyone speaking Hausa. The boys were called down, Nabil and his little brother. They were instructed to take me upstairs until it was time for dinner. Although Nabil was friendly, he was definitely the quiet one. His little brother made up for it. He was very chatty, still pre-adolescent and full of excitement about life. Back then, he was quite small too. Very cute!

Nabil played us some music and told me about how they had only been in London for a year so were new to town too. He explained who was who in the family and we made general chitchat with his little brother telling us his fantastical half made up tales. We were in the same year of school and I was older by 2 months. By the time we got called down to dinner, we were friends. Over the delicious dinner cooked by Mum (his grandmother) and his mum, we talked some more. We exchanged numbers when I left. We stayed good friends over the years. We went to visit every so often and they made the trip across North London a few times too. We text occasionally in between visits. The next year, we talked about finishing year 11 and applying for colleges. I told him I was doing all the sciences and Maths because I would be applying to do Medicine. He said he wasn’t sure yet what he wanted to be so he was still thinking about which subjects to choose. We talked about where to go and I must have been convincing because I suggested for him to join me in Barnet College and he promised to consider it. He wrote down his address on a teddy bear notepad I had so I could sent him information when I had a confirmed place.

Common sense prevailed and he went to a college more local whilst I went to Barnet College. We went to see movies together and we even ate out at this stage, being all grown up at the ripe old age of 17 and 18 years. Every time we went out, he would insist on paying for everything and I would argue him down so we went halves. His little brother had grown into pre-adolescence by then and would irritate Nabil endlessly. His patience was great and he would repeatedly ask him to butt out of our conversations. I didn’t mind. I had a sister too and as the younger sister, I knew what it was like to be the little one. When we applied through UCAS for universities, he finally had a plan. He was going to study Maths. I was shocked. I mean, I was a straight A student and I got my A in Mathematics, an A* even in AS. I was no slouch when it came to it but to do a whole degree in Maths? I was agog! Why would anyone in their right minds do such a thing? He took my teasing in his stride. He said he didn’t have a profession in mind like I did and he knew he could use his generic Maths degree to do a wide range of things. I accepted this but I still thought him mad. He gave me that calm smile of his. ‘You’ll see’, he said.

As is the norm, we saw each other less when we went off to different universities. I went to Birmingham and he stayed in London. We probably saw each other once a year but when we did, it was like no time had passed at all. Ours was a very easy friendship. He would tell me about his ‘crazy’ Maths course. He seemed happy. I would tell him about Medicine and how much of it there was. How I realised more and more that what I knew was only a small fraction of how much I needed to know. He was openly impressed by how well I coped with it. His support and belief in my abilities were unwavering. Just like his friendship. I knew he was there somewhere should I ever need a friend. We text and Facebooked more than we spoke face to face. I can count the number of times we spoke on the phone in all the years.

Over the years, I would tease him gently about his girlfriend, or lack of. As the Fulani girl, I should have been more embarrassed to talk about such things but he was so shy about it. It became part of our friendships. I would needle him about ‘her’ and he would counter by asking me about my many boyfriends. I wasn’t shy about it. I had very little in the way of boyfriends but I told him of every encounter and how I preferred not having a boyfriend. He never admitted to any love interests but his brother was a more open book and I know there was somebody special at some point. He graduated and started an online sales platform. Next thing, he was talking about going back to Nigeria for his NYSC (mandatory youth service). He settled in Lagos. I happened to go the Lagos route once in his time there so I got to see him. He looked way too skinny and I was worried. As a newly-qualified doctor, I saw ill-health everywhere and was concerned he wasn’t sharing. He reassured me that he was fine. I didn’t need to doctor him. I believed him because youth corpers do tend to look the worse for wear during their year’s tenure.

The last time I saw Nabil was in Life Camp, Abuja in 2011. He happened to be visiting Abuja whilst I was there on a 10-day holiday. He was staying with a friend who brought him over. Again, I thought he was too skinny and he laughed it off. ‘Maybe I was always meant to be skinny like you’, he said. We chatted for an hour and he had to go. As we hugged goodbye, I felt how bony he had become. Life in Lagos was a hard one for a young man trying to start a business. My parting words were ‘You need to eat more. You should look after yourself better.’ His reply was a laugh and a ‘Yes doc!’ I stood at the door and waved until the car was out of sight. Not for a second did I imagine I was saying goodbye for the last time. The fuel subsidy crisis in Nigeria was the last thing we ever chatted online about. He became very involved in the demonstrations. I worried about his safety and he sent photos of himself and his friends at Lagos marches, looking happy and less skinny. He had found a cause to believe in. I was proud he was making a stand for a cause.

News that he was ill came out of the blue. I was in Yola, having taken a year out from working in the NHS to see the world. My mama got a call from one of his relatives saying that he was in hospital with a bleeding illness, cause still unknown. It was pretty serious and they were considering transferring him abroad as the healthcare available in Lagos was deemed inadequate. When my mother related the facts, I wanted to know more. What sort of bleeding? Was it related to a fever? Was Lassa fever the suspected cause? When my spoke to them again later, she was given more details. He had woken up that morning and told the friend he was living with that he wasn’t feeling too well. I think there was mention of a headache. He had been well the night before going to bed. His friend had gone with him to hospital and he either vomited or peed blood. The exact sequence is hazy but the gist of the story was that he had become sick rather quickly and what started out as an isolated bleed was now bleeding from multiple sources. He had been given a transfusion, we were told. He was conscious but seemed to be deteriorating.

When my mama related all of that news, I immediately thought the worst. When I burst into tears, she was alarmed. ‘He is alive,’ she said to me. ‘Don’t write him off.’ I tried to explain what I was thinking. I didn’t want to be a pessimist but unexplained severe generalised bleeding had a poor prognosis even with the best medical care. And he was not getting that. Not yet anyway. I had 2 professional experiences to draw on, both rather negative. My first experience of a patient with uncontrollable bleeding was in Malaysia on my medical elective in the 4th year of medical school. He was brought in by his heavily pregnant wife and a male relative to the A&E where I was working. He was very quickly diagnosed with Dengue Haemorrhagic fever. However, before any real treatment could be commenced, he went into cardiac arrest. With the medical students and his wife watching, the doctors performed CPR. It was horrific. He began to bleed from every orifice imaginable. His ears, nostrils, mouth. The blood was coming up the tube he had inserted into his lungs to ventilate him. The only part visible with no blood streaming out of it were his closed eyes. It was over as quickly as it began. It was obvious to everyone that he was far too ill to be saved. His wife was led away with the news.

The second experience was indirect. I was working in FMC Yola (Federal Medical Centre) and although Yola was ‘free’ from Lassa fever at the time, there were new cases being reported further south of the country. In fact, about 6 months before I had started working at FMC, there had been a patient with Lassa fever there and 2 of the doctors had contracted it from him. Unfortunately, 1 had died and the second had got to the Lassa Centre down south in time to be treated. He was one of the registrars on the paediatric team I was working with. So although he was okay, it seemed that mortality was quite high and only those who were diagnosed early and treated before they started actively started to haemorrhage (to bleed) were salvageable. Nabil’s story didn’t quite fit the bill because he had not complained of a fever and indeed had no fever in hospital. But it was my best guess with the facts I had and I feared the worst.

I pulled myself together eventually and prayed and waited with my mama. Next time we got an update, it was to say he was worse still, I suspect barely conscious at this stage. He was still bleeding despite all efforts and his parents were with him (they don’t live in Lagos). An air ambulance had been organised and he would be transferred abroad as soon as possible. We even heard he was being placed in the ambulance and I thought maybe there is some hope after all. That hope was short-lived. We got a call a few hours later to say that although his parents were in a flight to London, his air ambulance had never taken off. There were complications and unfortunately, he had not made it. I was so upset! All I could think is how his parents had no idea he had died and how they would have to make the return trip with that news weighing on them. To be honest, I have not asked them what happened exactly but it could only have been a terrible day.

I think the initial reaction of tears had taken the edge of my grief. I had started my grieving process before he was gone. I sat around in disbelief as my mama asked if I would be okay. As we made arrangements to go and visit his family, I could not stop thinking about how final death was. That was it for him, in this life anyway. I have no brothers so I whilst growing up, I found a handful of boys/young men to be my shining examples of decency in the male sex, my torch bearers when I felt dark about men in general. Nabil was one of them. Here was a gentle, calm, positive young man who believed in doing what was right, what was decent. He was respectful of God, his parents and our culture. He was a great friend and it was clear from the few times that I spent with him in the company of his family and friends that he was an all-round good guy. Losing Nabil was losing a little of the light in the darkness that sometimes surround men for me. Nabil was a good guy. Now he is no more. It took just over 2 days for a healthy young man in his mid-20s to sicken and die. Muslims would say it was time to go. I accept that but did it have to be such a horrible death? What did he ever do to deserve such an end? Why him?

The Cycle of Life Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Very Own UN

My sister is (or should that be was) a social butterfly. She always had more than friends than she knew what to do with and she never had issues making new ones. A classic extrovert. I considered myself an introvert for most of my youth. Now with more self-awareness, I know I am more of an extrovert than an introvert but I am pickier than my sister, the true extrovert. Because I have been so picky, I think I have ended up with the best friends in the world.

Some of the people I am talking about might not realise how much I value their friendship or indeed that I am talking about them but I hope when I describe how fabulous they are, they will realise how great and valued their friendship is to me. When I was little and my mama was my only role model, one of the things I thought was absolutely amazing about her and her life was her array of friends. They were young and old, some local, many from far afield (and being in Yola that is quite something I tell you). Some Muslim, some Christians. Some skinny, some fat. Some beautiful, some not so beautiful. Some quiet, some loud. Many feminists like my mama. All sorts. The one unifying thing about them was that they were kind and caring, they spoke to me like I mattered and they were passionate. If she ever needed anything around the world, all she had to do was pick up the phone or send an email and the cavalry would arrive. Subconsciously, as I grew up, I think I looked for all those things in my would-be friends. I think I succeeded in developing my very own passionate, kind, caring, loving, helpful and loyal circle of friends. The inner circle is a small one compared to my mother’s but I happen to believe the best things come in small packages. I will talk about my current inner circle in no particular order as I value them all fairly equally. I won’t mention my mama and my sister but they are my best friends and are the core circle.

First one is my Ethiopian friend who I met in 2001 who I shall call Lizzie. We were in the same tutor group in Gladesmore Community School (10AH massive) and we both joined in year 10 so we had common group but our big unifier was where lived and that we had to get 2 buses to get to school. So, earlier than the other pupils, we were up and out, dragging sleepy bodies onto the 144 which I caught at the first stop in Muswell Hill and Lizzie would hop on 4 or 5 stops later in Hornsey. We were normally quiet in the 144 but by the time we got on the 41, we were awake enough to chat. It was on the 41 that I got to know Lizzie’s life story and about her very grown up relationships. At this stage, I had never had a proper boyfriend and despite having a crush at school, I wasn’t really interested in a relationship. So I lived vicariously through her. We also bonded over our love of heels (low enough to wear to school and get away from censure) and long braids. Also I have been mistaken for Ethiopian so we had a similar slim innocent look. We have remained friends over the years, closer after school than in school, through her babies and marriage, through my medical school. Lizzie was a bridesmaid at my wedding and she regularly makes the drive up to Birmingham from London to visit. Even though we had periods were we got too busy with our lives, she has remained a constant. We may drift (although not so much now) through complacency but we never fight and we are there to listen. So here is to my yummy mummy Landan friend. For being constant and loyal and inspiring me to be more glamorous and feminine.

Next is my Northern Nigerian friend who I shall call Halima. We met in 1996 in Queen’s College, Yaba Lagos and we were friends from the very beginning. It was the Hausa lessons that cemented the friendship and as we were both boarders, prep times and dinner times were there for us to foster the relationships. In another blog, I have mentioned Na’ima and I was close to a couple of other girls, 2 of whom were boarders. Halima was in a ‘House’ located all the way across the quadrangle which thinking about now wasn’t so far but during those years was enough to make visiting her during weekends a significant event. She was responsible for the one and only time I had periwinkles (the hairstyle) for Sports day in JSS2 (see blog on that). Those periwinkles make an appearance on my first ever British passport and my husband loves the photo so much he keeps it by his bedside. She was one of the only girls whose homes I would visit outside school too and I knew her family so that made her more special than many others. Post-QC, she is certainly the one who would always make an effort to come and see me whenever I went to Nigeria. I knew about her wedding as soon as she had a date in mind because she wanted me to be able to jiggle my doctor on-call to make it there.  I am so glad I did. We shared her pregnancy from across the distance too. In all these years, I do not remember ever fighting with Halima. She is probably one of the gentlest and sweetest women I know and her son and husband are so lucky she is theirs. Despite being many thousands of miles apart and despite our other friends from that era being on social media and living in close vicinity to her, Halima is the one of all that I would be able to count on today if I needed a friend in Abuja. What a sweetheart!

Then there is my Southern Nigerian friend, let’s call her Tolu. I met her through NLI which is a (NGO) Nigerian initiative to promote young accomplished Nigerians living at home and abroad to be the champions that make Nigeria great once again. NLI was in 2010, or was it 2009? I came from here and she came from the US. We bonded over our passionate pitches and speeches. Never before had I met a young woman who seemed so like me. She exuded integrity and honesty and passion. When I told my husband about her, the words I used were ‘Tolu motivates me to be a better person. I wish she lived nearby so I could be in her presence regularly’. Being next to her or chatting with her on the phone or on social media never fails to give me a positive boost. Tolu to me is everything a young Nigerian should be and she makes me so proud to be in the same circle as hers. If I could choose anyone for my baby to be like, it would be Tolu. She went through a very harrowing time a couple of years ago and being so positive and so strong, she didn’t say anything for a long time because she is that type of a person who will be everyone’s shoulder but have no shoulder to lean on herself. She has come through all of that in a way that is no less than heroic. She is generous and kind. She is a wonderful listener. She is passionate about life and justice and selfless in her outlook. Maybe I don’t want my baby girl to be like her, maybe I want to be like Tolu. Anyway, if you are reading this my love, I might not have said in so many words but your strength, honesty, passion and selflessness makes you wonder woman in my eyes and I could not be prouder of you. I hope your dreams for Nigeria and the world come through because this world is so much better for having you in it.

Following on neatly is my only fellow Iro-Nigerian, who I call Irish anyway. She is Irish in all the best ways possible except she lacks an accent being southern England-bred (sadly but she can put on a pretty good one). We went to medical school together and once again it was fate that brought us together because we met in student halls in 2004. Being the only two medics in the flat of 6, naturally we became close pretty quickly as we were together pretty much all day every day for the first 2 years of our medical school. We were up ridiculously early and gone all day. We couldn’t party any night of the week like a certain somebody we lived with. We had plenty of work and exams to keep us busy. The first thing about Irish is that she is a morning person. I am most definitely not. She would wake up at dawn even on weekends and whistle cheerfully. She had these dryer sheets that smelled of fresh laundry…even today, that lovely fresh scent equates to Irish to me. She has tremendous boobs (sorry Irish but I feel they need to be celebrated) and the loveliest bouncy hair which is NOT mousy brown as she used to claim. She is one of those friends I have never fallen out with. It’s strange to think but we don’t have fights at all. Perhaps it is because she doesn’t tend to get dragged into one of my deep philosophical conversations because she is quite squeamish with deep emotional stuff and would rather the happier topics. That is not to say that she won’t indulge me if I need to offload. She makes the best butter icing cupcakes and has managed to teach me to bake a couple of things. She loves sunflowers. That is in a nutshell Irish to me. She is little Ms Sunshine with a spine of steel underneath all the Gaelic charm. She will stand up for what she believes in and will call you out if you do something wrong but all with the sweetness of honey. She has dealt with family issues that would faze many but she remains unfazed and strong. She also has lovely blue eyes and dimples which I would give my little toes for. Oh and she gives the best hugs ever! If Tolu is the girl I want my daughter to grown up to be, Irish is the woman I want to be for my children. I want to be all sunshine and sweetness and quiet strength and I want to be charming just like her when I grow up.

Then there is my Indian friend who around birth was inadvertently called One on some documentation and that is my name for her which I shall stick to. She is the only one of my friends who is younger than I am. We met whilst I was out doing clinical experience in SEWA rural, Jhagadia – a village in Gujarat State, India. She was out there too doing field research and being the only other single girl resident in the flats on hospital grounds, we instantly gravitated to each other and became fast friends. She is a biomedical scientist. We quickly found common love in tea and laughter and feminism. We quickly fell into a routine. She would come over after ‘work’ to put her water in my fridge and we would go over to hers for tea. I would usually drape myself all over her bed and even occasionally on the cool floor for it was pregnant with heat during my 3 months there. My friendship with her is very similar to the one I have with Safa except the age difference and my having a bit more life experience. And our life stories seem to mirror each other down to meeting the ‘wrong’ boy as defined culturally but actually believing them to be our Mr Right. Unlike Safa though, she is the only one of my friends who is shorter than I am so I feel refreshing normal size next to her. One is rather fearless I think and having lived in remote Jhagadia for a whole year, she then applied for a post-graduate course in the US and off she went to live in NY. Now she is in Malawi, again independently sourced job and seems to be flourishing. What makes her so special goes beyond her fabulous tea, her wicked sense of humour and independent spirit. She is also very honest and open, kind and supportive, generous and when she loves, she gives it her all. One is going to be great someday soon. Mark my words!

Last but not least is my youngest adopted mama, Farah for today. I met her in 2009 as a lowly FY1 doctor in the crazy world of City Hospital (Birmingham). She was soon to be medical registrar and had a reputation for being brutally honest and fierce. Did that put me off? No! I love my women fierce and fearless so we became friends in the mess when I was on surgery and actually had time to go to the mess every day. I loved her unconventional ways and I think she liked me because though small and ‘quiet’ on the face of it, I gave as good as she gave and never seemed to take it personally when that sharp tongue was pointed my way. Despite the difference in years, in the hierarchical world of medicine, we remained friends over the years and have grown closer since we stopped working together. She is another one from a Muslim background who was born into the religion and though respects me for practicing, is not of the same opinions about it. I respect that despite being from a middle-eastern background, she is honest enough to say this is how ‘I’ feel about religion and all that comes with it. I love that despite that prickly first impression she gives out, she is a big old softie with a heart that is good as gold. She is loyal and supportive and she is always there for me if I need her. She wore a polka dot dress to my wedding – if for nothing else, I will love her forever. What a woman! Farah I salute you. You are one of my heroes.

There you are dear readers, my wonderful array of close companions without whom I would be less of the woman I am today. I will take this opportunity to say that for the reasons I have mentioned above and for many more that I cannot put into words, I feel privileged to have met and befriended you all. Thank you for all the love and support. I love you all.

Yapendi

You will by now having read previous posts have seen me posing with a baby. And you have noticed when I talk about my children, I talk about the children I will hopefully have some day. So who is this baby? Well he is my Yapendi. My nephew, born to my only sister and he turned one a couple of months ago. I call him Yapendi because although there is a name for maternal aunt (Yapendo) in Fulani, there isn’t a corresponding name for niece or nephew. This I thought was unfortunate and when I lamented about it, his dad (whose Fulani is limited) suggested Yapendi and I think it is perfect. Anyone who knows anything about me also knows that I absolutely adore children and Yapendi being my only nephew, he comes top of the pile. However, he is particularly adorable so I am not entirely biased.

First he is the chunkiest baby ever. Well done to my sister who pushed out a 4.2kg baby naturally. His cheeks practically beg to be kissed and his eyes being the replica of my sisters are so direct that they make me want to be better. I call him chunky munch when it’s not Yapendi. From week 1 of life, he had a mind of his own. I would place him on my chest in a comfortable position and just as I got comfortable myself and my concentration lapsed, he would throw himself either to the side or backwards, prompting frantic scrabbling to make sure he didn’t fall off. He loved being in the bath, kicking his legs happily as soon as he learnt the joys of water and would cry when taken out of the bath. He became ill in that first month and had to be in hospital for weeks and was discharged on oral medications. He was brilliant about it and would happily guzzle all of his meds without a fuss.

At a couple of months old after he mastered the art of gurgling, he started to wake my sister up every morning by gurgling loudly and kicking his legs. When she told me, I was a little sceptical but I went to visit and true enough, every morning about 6am like a mini alarm clock, he would wake us up with the happy sounds coming from his bed. Now I am NOT a morning person so do you think I was happy to be woken up every morning at 6am during my precious few days off work? Actually, yes I was. It was a revelation for me that I could be up at that time every morning and actually I was happier for it. Now I know that it is not the waking up I hate, it is the way I am woken up (usually my husband slamming a door or talking loudly on the phone). Now he is older, he sleeps in for longer but still, as soon as his eyes open, his smile appears.

Another thing he loves is music. I know most babies love the nursery rhymes on their toys but this one loves all music. Every time a phone rings, he starts to bop to the beat and when I want to settle him, all I have to do is sing or hum or beat-box (amateur though I am, my Yapendi totally appreciates my skills) and he is off, shaking his butt, swaying from side to side, lifting a leg up and throwing his arms out, all with his head held to one side and a big grin on his face. When you stop singing, he will look straight into your eyes and dance some more so you get the hint he is not done dancing. I think that is absolutely adorable and when I have a baby, I pray she is exactly like her cousin.

One of the funniest things about having a nephew is trying to talk to my sister on the phone. In the old days, we would not talk for weeks then get on the phone and spend hours catching up (she lives in Nigeria now and we mostly communicating via social media). Nowadays, every time I call, Yapendi first looks on in amazement as my sister laughs hysterically then he demands to have the phone and although he can’t speak, starts to garble words down the line and when I am put on speaker phone he goes completely silent. My sister says he looks around the room in surprise, maybe expecting me in person. Then I sing to him and he realises I am coming from the phone and in his excitement he always always switches off the phone and she has to call back several times in one call.

So what can I say in conclusion about my adorable Yapendi? He is a joyful little boy who has got rhythm and is the spitting image of my beloved sister. He is chunky and deals well with sickness. He likes to cuddle like me and blossoms under positive attention. He loves to dance and thinks his Yapendo’s voice is good enough. Most importantly, he loves his Yapendo and brings her so much joy, it is unreal. My only sadness is that he lives so far away so I don’t get to hang out with him all that much. But never mind, there are planes and smartphones. Yapendo loving is flexible!

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!

Woman in Bloom

I love that term: in bloom. Normally I would use it when talking about beautiful spring flowers but this time, I am talking about myself. This was my 23rd year of life. I was in the penultimate year of medical school and to be honest, I didn’t particularly feel ‘in bloom’. That year, I had moved into my uncle’s house to save money on rent so that I could pay for my elective in Malaysia. My sister had quit her job in Lincoln and moved down to Birmingham to look for a job after graduation. It was during the economic crisis so jobs were hard to come by and money was tight generally. I had been single 2 years at this stage (I won’t count one date and a lot of light flirting the year before). I had a great 2 months in Malaysia and Thailand then flew straight home to Nigeria afterwards.

I think it may have been something in the Malay/Thai food, water or air. It didn’t take a long time after I got to Nigeria for the first proposal. In fact, I wasn’t even in Nigeria yet. I was on the plane to Lagos. My first flight on Virgin Nigeria. I was pleased that after the disastrous end of Nigerian Airways, here was a semi-Nigerian option. All of the flight staff except 1 pilot were Nigerian. My section in economy was served by 2 strapping Nigerian young men. I remember thinking ‘wow, I wouldn’t have thought this was the obvious career choice for these 2’. But there they were and they seemed very happy in their job. Polite and friendly, 2 qualities that are not in abundant supply when it comes to the Nigerian Service Industry. One of the stewards waited until after the inboard meal was served and cleared away to come and sit in the empty seat by me. I noticed of course and I reluctantly removed my nose from the book it was buried in. He started with chitchat (which made me cringe in those days) then went straight into compliments and then ended with saying that he was interested in a ‘serious relationship’ and slipping me a piece of paper with his details. I took it with a murmur of appreciation, tucked it into book and promptly tried to forget whilst ignoring the knowing looks from the passengers listening intently.

Next, I went to Kano City with my sister and her boyfriend (let’s call him Ahmed). We were all invited to dinner with an aunty and uncle. Ahmed’s friend, who we had known for 5 years, decided he wanted to come say hi at dinner and popped in unannounced. Ahmed must have told him where we were, not imagining he would turn up uninvited. He (who I will call Hassan) was a twin, the extroverted ladies’ man in comparison to his less confident twin. He was very charming and always had us in stitches with his funny anecdotes. He seemed to come across the funniest people and situations so his tales of everyday life would keep us all entertained every time we hung out with him. Hassan was Ahmed’s age, 11 years older than I was. So he always treated me with fondness like Ahmed did. As a little sister I thought. My uncle and aunty were gracious and insisted he joined us for dinner. He didn’t need inviting twice. He sat next to me and did what he did best, entertained us. We were all in stitches. Then, unexpectedly he turned to me and announced that he wanted to marry me. In front of my aunty and uncle!!! I was mortified. As a Fulani girl, that is probably as embarrassing as being seen naked by my uncle and aunty. Thank God for brown skin because I would have been beetroot red had I been fairer skinned. I tried to laugh it off but he was persistent and oblivious to my discomfort. My uncle and aunty were good sports and pretended this was an everyday occurrence. My sister smirked at me and appeared to be entertained. When it became really uncomfortable for me, I pretended I needed the loo and left the table. I stood outside to cool off and was wondering how long I could politely be away for when Hassan found me. He launched into why it would be an ideal marriage and how beautiful our children would be. Really? After a few polite ‘No’s’ I fell back on a lie. I announced that actually, it would never work because I had a boyfriend back in England who I loved dearly. Give the guy an A for persistence. It didn’t faze him one bit. He reckoned that if I gave him a chance, I would come to realise that he was a better match for me than my fictional boyfriend. Everyone who knows me knows I am a terrible liar. I was starting to crack when Ahmed came to my rescue. He draped a protective arm around me. Hassan immediately looked for support from him. He asked Ahmed ‘is it true she is in love with a guy in England?’ Without blinking, Ahmed say ‘yes’. It was said so matter-of-factly that Hassan bought it and backed off. I clearly don’t lie convincingly. I could have kissed Ahmed in that moment. I was very impressed!

Still in Kano, the very next day in fact, I got another marriage proposal. This time from another unlikely source. I was visiting an aunty who happened to be a judge. This means that she gets state security in the form of policemen on patrol at her house. I walked a friend to the gate of the house and when I turned around to go back in, there he was. I instinctively stepped back and with a quick greeting, tried to go around him. ‘Hold on’ he says in Hausa. ‘Can I ask you something?’ Basically, I seemed like a ‘nice girl’ and he would like to marry me. As he was on duty and shouldn’t have been trying to pick up girls, I didn’t hesitate to say no thank you and leave.

Next, I went to Kaduna to visit the aunties and uncles there. I had made no arrangements to get back to Abuja and was just going to hop into a public car the next day. My cousin and I were hanging out with her then boyfriend and his friend. She brought up the topic and the friend ‘Omar’ said actually I have to go to Abuja to meet with a client so I could give you a lift. My cousin and I went with him and he dropped us off. He was friendly and a great talker so naturally I got on with him and thought we were just mates. Until he said he was considering breaking up with his fiancée to be with me. Whaaaat?! 1. He had a fiancée and 2. He was in love with me. I was shocked. I was firm in my refusal. My feelings were definitely friendship and no more.

Finally, I was in Yola with my family and thought the craziness would have to stop because no Yola boy had ever approached me before (discounting the one at 13, less said about him the better). Wrong again. As I tend to be, I was my mama’s constant companion during the Yola trip and we went to visit one of her work colleagues. He was brilliant. Probably about 10 years older than me but he was well-educated, well-spoken and had achieved so much at his age. I was impressed that here was a Fulani man I could potentially get on with on many levels. But that was where it stopped. I admired him but didn’t even consider I could fancy him because he was my mama’s (young) friend. He told my mama he wanted to marry me. ‘Crazy man!’ she said. He was already married with a child on the way. Why would her baby want to be any man’s seconds?

I remember looking in the mirror and studying myself. I wasn’t any different from the previous year. I had no more curves than the year before. I was still too skinny for my liking. My hair was its normal self. I wasn’t dressing to impress. I wasn’t on the hunt for a man. I was happily single. So the only conclusion I could draw was that maybe I was in bloom and I couldn’t appreciate it. Whatever it was, it certainly was a major ego boost for a girl who looked in the mirror and saw skinny instead of slim, gawky instead of elegant, cute instead of beautiful. What an amazing summer!