Tag Archives: school

The First Pupil of Nadi Nursery School

I cannot remember a time when I did not love to read. It was a skill that seemed innate to me and before I was in primary school, I was reading well above my expected age. My mama always says thank God for that love because my sister was the opposite. She loved to play and focusing on learning to read was not a priority. She wanted to be out and about and had no time for it. My mama despaired but things soon turned around. Because there I was in nursery school, learning to read ahead of what I was being taught and when my sister saw that, she decided it was time for her to learn too. I was also learning to read and write Arabic by the age of 5 so my brain must be hardwired for it.

One of my aunties, Aunty Dijatu Balla is the proprietor of Nadi International and a lot of people know that I was their first ever pupil. She wont stop telling them about me every chance she gets. Back in the day when Aunty Dijatu was planning to open her school, my mama was a sounding board for her ideas. I doubt they noticed her limpet of a daughter (yours truly) stuck to her side, listening to everything they said. When the time came for her to think about recruiting pupils (finally!), I gave them both a shock. I would like to come to your school I said. I wasn’t quite 2 years old yet. Most nursery schools recruited children 3 years or older because there were 2 years of nursery before primary school education began at the age of 5-6 years. I was a year early. Really? She asked. I was certain. I must have convinced both her and my mama because she agreed to enrol me. I was overjoyed. I hated being left alone when my sister went to school and Mama was by then working for the Government so she too had to go and leave me alone every morning. I could not wait for term to begin (I think we started in January, just over a month after I turned 2). I don’t remember too much in the way of details being that I was so young but I definitely remember my yellow check uniform dress with the maroon collar and waist band. I remember feeling like I was the bees’ knees when I put on my brand new uniform, complete with brown school sandals and lacy white shocks.

Nadi back then was in a little bungalow off Mubi Road in Jimeta, Yola. It had a few small classrooms and the bit which would have been a sitting room in the house was like our hall. I remember the hall the most. It had sliding doors leading into it and on the sliding doors were life-size pictures of Big Bird, Bart and Ernie from the popular children’s TV show Sesame Street. The highlight of the day was when we all of us would sit on the 2 long wooden benches, our arms around each other’s shoulders and sing nursery rhymes. The best one was ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ and we would all rock from side to side in complete synchronicity as we sang the few lines over and over again. We also loved ‘If you are happy and you know it, clap your hands’ with all the motions. Oh the simple joys back then!

Another vivid memory was of the baboon in the house next door. He was held in captivity by a long rope tied around his waist. It was long enough for him to climb up the high wall separating our school from his home and sit and watch us. When we were let outside to play, we would without fail run to that bit of wall and try to catch his attention by singing and dancing. One of our classmates, Fatima Silas, must have been terrified of him because we took to singing her name to the baboon. The baboon would stare longingly at us, wanting to play and when our dancing and singing got too much for him to bear, he would try to jump down to us and his rope would pull him back. We would all scream at the tops of our lungs and race back into the school room, scared he was trying to grab us. The next day, we were back by the wall to try and get him to react once more. I wonder where Fatima Silas is and if she remembers this at all.

I remember a few other names from those years. Altine Hungush, Amal and Mamie Sewa. Mamie Sewa was one of the first pupils with me because her mother was our head teacher. I remember her mother well. They were Ghanaian and lived not far from the school. Sometimes, I would go home with them and if I was there long enough before my mama came to pick me up, I would get fed. I still remember how delicious I found their ‘foreign’ food. There was a dish with garri, palm oil and something else. The something else I cannot remember but I know I took a lot of pleasure from such a simple dish. I remember the food and how she and her husband always spoke gently and with love.

Nadi was a great 2 years of my life and when I finished there, I moved onto Airforce Primary School as there was no Nadi Primary School yet. Nowadays, Nadi is not just Nadi Nursery School. It is a nursery, primary and secondary school. A huge establishment located in purpose-built premises with hundreds of young children, having their minds shaped. In the office of the proprietor is a framed picture of me when I went back on its 20th anniversary to receive a special award. I am so proud of my alma mater!

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Happily Ever After: a Disney concept or reality?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a lot of good news though:

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

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

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

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

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

I will end with this quote:

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

Listen to Granddad

My grandad by everyone’s standards is a legend. He has seen and done so much in his lifetime and he continues to do so today at the age of 85. Look him up. Ahmed Joda is his name. I won’t bother to write about his many achievements because so many have done so over his many years of service. I want to write about the man beneath it all. My grandad who I call Baba. We all do, his children and grandchildren alike. Because before I realised what other people thought of him, through my young eyes, all I saw was an ‘old’ man who was my mama’s dear father. My only grandfather. The patriarch of the family who was also the main father figure in my life.

The first thing we all know about Baba is that he is a stickler for punctuality. Now this might not sound significant to you but coming from Nigeria, it so is. Have you ever heard of the concept ‘African time’? Did you know ‘Nigerian time’ constitutes even worse ‘lateness’? So a Nigerian who is always on time is as rare as hen’s teeth. His most precious possession is his watch. He looks at it every few minutes even when he has absolutely nothing to do. It’s like a nervous tick. And God forbid he forgets his watch at home, he will drive us all mad asking for the time every 5 minutes.

When Baba asks you to meet at 5pm, at 5:01pm he will be on the phone asking where you are if you are not there. If you make plans to go somewhere with him, be sure to get there on time because I kid you not, if you are more than a couple of minutes late, he will go without you. Whoever you are and wherever you were meant to go with him. I think I wrote a blog about how he invited his friend from Abuja to come to Yola (9 hour road trip) to join us all on a trip to Gembu (6 hour road trip). We waited for 20 minutes and despite the fact that it was 6am and we would get there by lunchtime, he declined to wait and left without them. Lord knows what they went through to find Gembu because Nigerian roads outside of Abuja and Lagos are poorly signposted especially places like Gembu and they didn’t turn up until the next morning! We in the immediate family are no strangers to his bark of ‘come on!’ which when I was little used to make me cry because it sounded so scary. Over time, I have learnt not to react so emotionally to it but still, when that bark comes because we are more than a minute late to leave for some engagement, my heart skips a beat.

I once asked Baba why being punctual was so important even when no one else (Nigerian) cared and why we had to be the first ones at every event. He explained and although I cannot remember exactly how he phrased it, the message is reflected in the following quote:

‘Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it. No idleness, no delay, no procrastination; never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.’

Lord Chesterfield

He certainly lives by that rule and as I have said before, he has achieved more than most people would in 3 or 4 lifetimes. Perhaps he is still going so strong at 85 because he is mindful of seizing every moment he has been blessed with. I certainly want to emulate that when I grow up.

So many things I love about Baba but one of them is easily how much he has empowered us all to speak our minds. He has never been of the school that children should be seen and not heard. From a very early age, he would ask our opinions on topics most adults would never broach with children and he would give your answer his undivided attention and take it on board. Many years later, he would repeat your words to you especially if you had learnt from experience that things were not black and white and he would invite you to explain why the change in opinion. This means that in the Joda household, we are all prolific debaters and will put across our arguments without fair of censure as long as we were being honest. Active debate is encourage actively and even the youngest gets heard as long as they want to contribute. I think what keeps Baba so young at heart and full of zest is that he surrounds himself with the young and he sees life through our eyes. That way, his ideas are always in date and he can converse about whatever you choose to discuss.

Somehow, Baba never asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up until I was 13 years old. I brought the topic up because when I was choosing my optional subjects for SS1, my mother expressed surprise that I didn’t want to do Economics. My response was one of surprise too because although I was good with figures and mathematics, I was always more into my science than finance. Turns out Baba thought I would make a great economist. Next time we sat around the dining table, I asked him why he thought I would make a great economist. I can’t remember his reasons but I promptly told him I was going to be a doctor and that there was no way economics would even feature in any options I would take for a career path. He expressed his disappointment that that was the path I had chosen but of course it was up to me. I was going to be the first doctor in the Joda lineage and thought he would appreciate my individuality.

It wasn’t until I was qualified and he sought my opinion on some of his medications that I felt he was proud of the career path I have chosen. So was I right not to listen to Baba? I thought so until the recent NHS upheaval which might mean me changing career tracks this late in the game. He is almost always right my grandad after all. Maybe what he foresaw was that being an economist would be a better quality of life for the grand-daughter who was feisty and named after his beloved wife. Perhaps he knew that my hard work and talents would not shine the brightest as a doctor. Perhaps he even predicted that I would end up working in the NHS whose main shortcoming is its poor economics. Who knows? As of now, I think I chose the right profession. I knew I wanted to be a doctor before I even know what a doctor really does. I love the job itself now, more than I ever thought I would. However, the politics of the NHS now means I am questioning whether my love for the job justifies my continuing on in the career when it means me risking my health, my social wellbeing and happiness and giving up so many of my dreams. Watch this space!

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.

She is Someone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being a Paediatrician

I knew I wanted to be a doctor when I was about 4 years old. I can’t explain now how I came to that conclusion or why I was so sure. I just knew and now I am a doctor. In my 2nd or 3rd year of medical school, as part of career guidance we were given a link to a website where we could input our data and get a psychometric analysis done on us. I had to answer a series of questions about how I felt about certain things, my beliefs, my principles, how I solved problems. Eventually, I answered the numerous questions and it took a minute or 2 to load. Then it gave me the list of medical specialities ranked according to the ones I am most suited. Pathology and neurophysiology came last as I would have expected but I was taken aback by the top 3 choices. It said: Paediatrics, Palliative Care and Neonatology. I poo-pooed the test and dismissed it. When I went into medical school, one thing I was certain of was that I loved children and I never wanted to see them sick and suffering. Therefore I sort of ruled out paediatrics very early on. Back then I thought I might end up being in Obs & Gynae (obstetrics and gynaecology) because it was a good mix of medicine and surgery and I thought the variety and acuteness would suit me. I also thought I could be a GP because it retained the versatility of all of medicine without having to make a choice.

During my Obs & Gynae posting as a medical student, I found that although it was interesting the speciality did not set my pulse a-racing. There was no eureka moment. The specialists were nice but I didn’t feel any kinship with them. My paediatrics was my last medical school posting and the moment I stepped into the Children’s Hospital (BCH), I felt an excitement. Even though most of it went over my head and there seemed to be a lot of calculations and there was the issue of small people who were not well, I felt right at home. Over the 6 week placement, I grew to love BCH. I loved the patients, the child-friendly wards with their play areas, the kindness of the nurses and most especially, here were doctors I wanted to be like. Who I enjoyed spending my time with. Who seemed to derive pleasure from their work even as they were rushed off their feet with the number of patients. By the end of that placement, the career puzzle for me was solved. I was going to be a paediatrician. And to my surprise, the patients I loved spending time the most with were the little premature babies born with complex problems needing surgery to survive.

As an FY1 (first year after graduation from medical school), I met a patient in her 30s who had inoperable incurable ovarian cancer. We bonded as I tried hard to get some blood out of her for some tests her consultant had ordered. When the ordeal was over, I thanked her for being patient and she called me back to say she thought I had a way about me that would be perfect for palliative care. She said she didn’t know if I already had my career mapped out but that I should think about going down the Palliative care route. I thanked her for her kind words and left in a reflective mood. Despite my psychometric prediction, I had never given it much thought. I considered it over the next few days and concluded that although I was a listener and when it came to my patients very patient (unlike in my personal life then), I wasn’t sure I could handle all the emotions that are linked with patients who are dying. So I filed the idea away under ‘unlikely’ and didn’t give it any more thought until just recently.

Earlier this year, I stumbled across an online course on paediatric palliative care and signed up to it. As I worked through the course modules, I realised that I was into all the issues that were being raised and although a lot of it was challenging, it was exactly the kind of challenge I relished. A lot of it was to do with talking about options and choices. About spirituality and counselling. About co-ordinating care. About letting the dying patient and their relatives dictate the terms about how these last days/weeks/months should be handled. I realised that palliative care is not just about the advanced care pathway which outlines what to do when death is imminent but also about actively keeping the patient well enough to reach certain goals. It is about enabling the patient to die in a way that is most acceptable to them. It is about being there for the patient and their family so that when things become scary or unexpected, there is a comforting presence to guide them through the darkest hours/days. So I have come full circle and now I know that I would like to sub-specialise in paediatric palliative care. I wish I knew where my Obs & Gynae patient was so I could share the news. I wonder if she is still alive today.

I love being a paediatrician by the way. If I don’t end up sub-specialising, I would happily be a general paediatrician. There is a different vibe on a paediatric ward or in a paediatric hospital like BCH. There is a friendliness that is missing in adult medicine. People seem to go out of their way more to be helpful in the paediatric world. Nurses do not seem to be as difficult or as disconnected as they can be in adult medicine. The paint on the walls is brighter happier colours. There are toys, music and games everywhere you go. The best bit about my job is the children. It is such a privilege to work with kids. They are amazing little packages, mostly untainted by the negativities that come with growing up. They come out with the best statements and questions that make you stop and think or laugh until your belly hurts. Their bravery is comparable to none and watching them as they struggle with illness and develop ways of coping is inspiring.

Of course paediatrics is a complex speciality by its very nature. Our patients are often too young to tell us how they feel and exactly what their symptoms are so we have to be more observant than our adult counterparts and we have to go on what other’s (parents/carers) impressions are more than the patient’s own words. Many do not understand why they feel poorly. They just know that they are not happy and they want it to be fixed. Parents are often not at their best when they meet us because they are anxious and stressed about their sick child and are frustrated because they have no solution to put them out of their misery. So yes, it is often the most difficult part of the job having to face irate upset parents who want to find someone to blame for their helplessness. Who want to take out their frustrations on someone else and make demands because it makes them feel they are doing something…anything. Sometimes, these parents do cross the line of anxious and stressed parents to parents who are abusive (mostly verbally but occasionally physically). Unfortunately, it comes with the job but we deal with it in our own way. Usually by being patient and reasoning with but where necessary we call on services to support and protect us. Luckily, these horrible encounters are not an everyday occurrence.

I have so many examples of the beautiful little people I have come across in my job but I will tell you about a recent one. I was on-call over a weekend and covering the haematology ward (haematology deals with diseases involving the blood cells). A 2½ year old boy with severe haemophilia B came in with bruising which meant he needed an injection of factor IX (the bit of blood he doesn’t make enough of which is essential to prevent you bleeding without much force). It was my job to treat him so with his parents and a fellow doctor assisting, we held him still and I injected the medicine into his vein. He cried as I did it and when it was done (it only took a minute), his parents prompted him to say thank you. Through his tears, he turned to me and said ‘thank you’. Then as I tidied up, they got their things together to leave and he waved and said to me ‘bye lady’. With no resentment. Despite the fact that I had just poked him with a needle for reasons he was too young to understand. I thought wow! Only a child would be as forgiving as that. The momentary feeling of guilt for making the gorgeous little boy cry passed with that exchange and off I went, to do more things to other children which might make them cry in the short term but looking at the bigger picture, everything I do is in their best interests so when I go home and I go to sleep, I feel happy and satisfied. And thankful for another day where I have done all I could to make another child’s life that bit better.

Nigerian Converts

The Glasgow Commonwealth Games have occupied many of my waking hours in the past 3 months (yes I recorded it all and have savoured the many hours slowly over 3 months instead of 2 weeks). The competition has been great viewing and I find myself from time to time wishing I had tickets for Glasgow. To be honest, I am puzzled about that still because I am sure if I had known when they were on sale, I would have tried to get tickets for some of it but that opportunity completely passed me by. Sadly.

Although I am a bit competition-mad and will watch most TV programmes with even a hint of competition and a chance to be awed by talent, as an amateur athlete myself back in the day I have a special love for the athletics. And these Games were very special for me for a puzzling reason. We Nigerians are pretty good at the sprints so we tend to feature throughout the rounds. The first heats were men’s 400m I think and when the Nigerian fellow was announced, I sat up in surprise. First his name was very ‘black American’ sounding (most Nigerians have at least one traditional name somewhere in their full name). Then, the commentators went on to say he was ‘one of the many Nigerian converts’. I was puzzled. I had never heard of a person converting to a country before. I mean I know people change nationalities for example but I have never heard it phrased as ‘converting to British’ for example. Odd choice of phrase but I was even more puzzled as to who these people were and why they were converting to Nigeria.

Turns out that these athletes are former American (plus 1 former GB) athletes who have swapped alliances to Nigeria. Now as a Nigerian, I have never been surprised to see a Nigerian name in a British, American, Dutch or even Qatar vest. Truth of the matter is, with the corruption in the Nigerian Government, there is practically no investment in Sport these days and our long-suffering patriotic athletes are forced to abandon ship for greener pastures. And I don’t blame them. If as an athlete for Nigeria I would have to work a horrible job to keep the roof over my head and food in my belly and juggle all that with training, I too would choose to go another team who would not only sponsor me so I can focus on my sport but also give me support in terms of coaching, psychology and physiotherapy. Rather, I was very surprised to see the movement was in the other direction. People actually joining Team Nigeria from other countries. So I investigated.

Apparently our Government has actually made real effort in ‘recruiting’ these former US/UK athletes in the hope of boosting our medal chances. I also discovered that the reason why these athletes’ names are suspiciously not-Nigerian is because many of them are many Generations American/British but according to the news on the internet, they are all bona fide Nigerian – by which I deduce that maybe some of them are 25% Nigerian but they were born and bred abroad and probably did not even have a Nigerian passport/citizenship until they were ‘recruited’. Rumours are that some of these athletes should not be representing Nigerian because their claim to citizenship is tenuous to say the least (I read about a girl who is Nigerian because her American uncle married a Nigerian, thus becoming Nigerian himself and somehow that qualified his niece as a Nigerian?). Dodgy if you ask me.

It is all well and good that our Government has finally sat up and taken note that we have been haemorrhaging all our talent to the West in the last 2 decades (at least) and is making an effort to correct things. However, I concur with their detractors on the internet who point out that allowing these ‘Nigerian’ converts to come in and out-compete our less experienced home grown talents and then for them not to win the expected medals is probably more of a con than a pro. What our Government should be doing is recruiting our budding athletes in schools and universities and creating a training programme with good support to allow our talented young people to hone their skills and become the elite athletes they have the potential to be. We should be investing in our athletes like the great sporting nations do so that we have professional athletes whose focus is all on their sport whilst they are in their prime. We should be there for our athletes so that they don’t have to go on strike before major sporting meets to get their just dues. We should go back to the 90s when we were all so proud of our sports men and women and we treated them like the superstars they were.

Nigeria with our huge population has plenty of potential. We really don’t need to leave our shores to recruit people in. All we need to do is invest time and money in those already there and I am sure in the years to come, we will be up there with the US, Jamaica and GB teams. Long live athletics. Long live our talented children. Long live Nigeria.

School Refusal

My sister exhibited school refusal behaviour for years when we were little. Every morning was a huge trial in my home before I was old enough to start school. My mama would battle to get my sister washed and dressed in her uniform and she would dawdle as much as was humanly possible to my mama’s intense irritation. Then, as she approached the door of the car, all hell would break loose as she would weep as loudly as she could. If I hadn’t been witness, I would have assumed my mama was draconian and was whipping her to shreds with a dourinah (a.k.a. koboko – a leather whip that is extremely effective for whipping and causing exquisite pain). She would get as far as the door of the car and like a limpet, grab onto the frame of the door with hands and bracing her feet on the floor of the car refuse to get into the car. My mama would withdraw because she couldn’t face this torture every morning and either the driver or one of the cousins/aunties or 2 would have to prise my sister’s hands and feet off her brace position and someone chuck her into the car and shut the door. Once in the car, her weeping would settle into less loud sobbing and the last image I would have of her was her face pressed longingly to the back window, staring at me whilst tears streamed down her face as the car reversed out of our drive and took her away to school.

Coming home was a much happier affair for my sister. As soon as I heard the car’s horn blare for someone to open the gate, I would stop whatever I was doing and race onto the veranda and wait for my sister to alight. Then I would excitedly tell her about my ‘amazing day’. Truth was I hated being left at home almost as much as she appeared to hate leaving for school. I was so bored without her that I would make up stories about how much fun I had at home whilst she was away. The best recurrent series of stories that I told my sister was as follows. We had a concrete electrical pole by the side of the house that stood about 7-8 metres high. I used to pretend I could climb up this pole and once I got to the top, I would whizz around the country using the electric cables, having adventures as I went. A bit like time travel but without a tardis or similar machine. To be fair, my sister was sceptical to begin with because it was a little far-fetched but two things convinced her: an older cousin who was home with me corroborated my story and I embroidered the stories with so many details that her imagination overcame her scepticism.

Basically, I could only go up this pole on a weekday morning when my sister was never there. I somehow had special strength in my limbs that would allow me to climb to the top during those hours of the day but not outside those hours. I remember demonstrating to my sister how I could climb about 1-2 metres then get stuck so I guess she could imagine how if I carried on, I would get to the top. Then she questioned why we would go to certain places only. I was wise enough to know that if I started to talk about places I had never been, I would be caught out so I always went to Kaduna or Lagos, Mambilla or Kano or even Michika on my time travels. I told her that I did not control the time travel. All I did was climb to the top and I was beamed somewhere. I cannot remember the exact details of my stories but it generally involved being chased by someone or some animal and escaping or visiting the seaside or a mountain. Once my sister was convinced, it was easy to spin the tales into more fantastic stories. Little did I know that she believed for many many years after I stopped those tales. Apparently my story-telling was so good it was only after she was a grown up that she questioned those tales. She only admitted that to me in the last couple of years!

Looking back, I think perhaps that my sister hated leaving for school because she was missing out on the adventures of the pole travels. Also she must have missed me as much as I missed her and it was like a small bereavement every morning. Poor little thing. This must have been the case because I think within a week of my starting school, she would skip happily to the car every morning and I don’t remember any more early morning tears. Phew!