MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO

posted in: Free Thoughts, Ink Africa | 3

 

I prided myself in being more mature than my peers. I felt either too old or too young for the things that turned other kids into fire crackers. Fairy tales belonged behind screens and I never wished otherwise. Romance…the real kind with people who looked like the future me would, belonged in the future, right where my future self waited for me.

I understood the adult things on time – things like sacrifice, responsibility and obligation held enough meaning for a child like me to develop a palette that didn’t care much for sweet silly things.

You see, tea parties were for kids who used words like “jammies” and wouldn’t wear anything that wasn’t bedazzled. Things like that seldom lived beyond my thoughts. I was too busy exploring words on pages and regurgitating them as my thoughts on paper, in the best way a child could manage. Somehow, I realized early that there were more important things to do.

My teen years came draped in the same spirit. I’d swallow my emotions whole especially when they echoed desire for silly things. Things like dating your crush were silly to me just because they were – what business did 14 year-olds have with that anyway? Other things like school trips abroad were a tad silly (or at least i thought I’d be viewed as such) because I figured that preserving the finances of the family was my obligation too. My parents would kill me for this later.

It wasn’t so much about my age as it was about the feelings – the rightness of things, how tight or loose my chest felt when I weighed things against “greater causes”. How could my peers not see that there was always something at stake, with all the random, supposedly childish stuff we chose to do? How could folks not see how there was no sense in what a lot of us spent time doing?

It was culture, communal values and personal observations among other things, all taking root consciously or subconsciously. It was all the things that teach a child that personal truth has an order to it. It’s the way our subconscious picks up otherness and how we sometimes let that take preeminence over our needs in this present moment. It’s how we accord the future meaning based on happenings of the past and insist that the present should explore itself only within the boundaries of that formula.

These things worked out greatly in certain contexts. It awakened an early pursuit for purpose and a life with a higher meaning. It balanced me out morally, by societal standards. Heck, I kicked the hell out of school work for most of my academic career. But despite all these, I can tell you, in retrospect, that there are disadvantages of always living like there’s more important stuff to consider before dipping your feet into the present.

It robs you of any taste for disruption and risk; two things you must be willing to joyously embrace, to a certain degree, in order to stand the chance of holding truth that pulses in the same rhythm as your heart beat. Despite my colorful persona and people’s opinions that I can be fiery and daring, I know within myself that the paths they see are not those that challenge me the most. I know that there’s more digging to do and that the thought of calling the relics that may be dug up by name sometimes terrifies me because it’d need me to bury my feet in the heart of the present, damning consequences and tossing the lenses of obligation that have served as a moral compass for a long time. You see, the uncertainty in how that may look or feel can be frightening.

Despite thousands of quotes and memes that urge us to embrace our journeys and interrogate what we hold as true, the fact is that the process of unlearning that follows, is a hard thing. Unlearning that ourselves are supposed to be neat sensible, knowledgeable beings holding a clear map titled ‘Becoming’ is a hard thing. Learning that there is a wildness to us that should not be tamed – one that we need to keep alive so that we can fearlessly walk uneasy paths – is not an easy thing.

Sometimes, the most important thing to do is to acknowledge now; to embrace this phase and bare your skin to it even though it may become like parched desert ground for a moment or two. Sometimes, it’s to jump and borrow feathers from birds on your way down. Atimes, it’s not to wait until you’re twenty to have your first kiss. Even now, it may be to take up honesty with yourself concerning how you became who you are and whether you believe that’s all the story is or could be.

I think it may start out tasting like gravel; something that your teeth resists and your tongue rejects. But soon enough, this becoming begins to taste familiar…something like your soul, something like deep consciousness, something like bliss. I think that this is when we begin to truly thrive as our own people.

I believe that being comfortable with interrogating who we are and why we are, and accepting and exploring the role of where we are, are powerful things; events that no one should be ignorant about. Not us and certainly not our children or those with whom they’ll share their lives.

 

xoxo,

Nma

Great Men Walk the Streets Too

The Beggars and Mad People Society in Aba was an ecosystem of its own – bursting with activities; recruitment, retirement and even transfers. For the sake of this conversation, let’s ignore that those two adjectives stir up unease in the ears of a lot of people and call a spade what the layman in Nigeria would call a spade. I was very young and honestly intrigued by how sophisticated the system seemed to be to my childlike mind. This was an industry that boasted of individuals who had carved niches for themselves and dominated conversations of sane, gainfully engaged people over Ludo games or bottles of Crush. Some were known for their dance moves and others for the shows they unknowingly held for jobless youngsters in street corners. Somehow, they found a way to creep into the conversation of people who may not have realized that they had all along been noticing the trend in the kind of naira notes a certain beggar preferred or that another mad woman had given birth to her third baby in two years. People even went as far as having favorite beggars. I know I found some more interesting than the others.

 

Aba was a rowdy, energetic town whose turbulent energy permeated lives of all who lived in it whether or not it had their permission. Here, spontaneity was thrust upon you; unprecedented events had a way of fastening themselves unto your attention and somehow, whatever it was would seem spectacular enough to have been worthy of your precious time. On some days, it would be the tale of a child who had turned into a tuber of yam or bleating goat after picking money off the floor of Ahia Ohuru. On others, it would be of how the Bakassi boys had slaughtered a random teenager after they had placed their matchet on him and it turned red, indicating that he was a thief. On very uneventful days, a child or two would get missing and then parents all over the town would ground their children for a week or so, constantly reminding them of the dangers of the streets during “mber” months. The commercial verve coupled with the government’s seeming disinterest in the sustainable sanitization of the town only heightened the mounds of debris and chaos that characterized the town especially areas like Ngwa road, Ariaria Market and Obohia. Few residential areas had tarred roads, street gates and clean gutters and mine was one of them. We lived on Nweke Street – a long, clean street in Umungasi that housed everything from residential buildings to hospitals and then churches. Two and three story buildings dominated the street with the most prominent house being the stead of the mother of the current governor of Abia State as at then. The street was ripe with activity, birthing avenues and closes as off-shoots as it snaked its way towards Eziama. The influential and lowly inhabited it alike and in the crevices of this diversity, life sprang forth for children like me. My parents had made it clear that we were to stay indoors at all times and our housemaids did a fine job of enforcing that instruction with threats of reporting our mischief to our parents or in my case, telling my mum that I had bought a lavender-scented lip gloss from the shop opposite Jacob Memorial Hospital. Like most of the apartment buildings of the 90’s, ours on the second floor, had two balconies – one in front, spilling out from the sitting room and another at the rear of the building, just beside the kitchen. Somehow, the rear-side balconies popularly called “backyard” usually served as stores for keeping everything from drums of water to garbage cans, gas cylinders and tripods. Ours was no exception and so the most I experienced of the outside world as a child were from the other balcony which we called “front”. It was through evenings spent on this front that I met people, heard things, decided on who I liked or didn’t like and then learned valuable lessons on acknowledging the journeys of all men and how in some way, every story is worth telling.

 

Zam Zam was a beggar with the voice so powerful. On many occasions, the sun either rose with his voice piercing through our sleep in the dark or set with the melody, a vehicle to roll the day into oblivion. He had a severe limp and always wore dirty brown shirts. My memory gets blurry when I think of his head but I think he wore red face caps. Maybe I cannot remember because I could never look at him. Each time I heard his voice – a high pitched tenor that spread across Nweke Street and its environs with unnerving resolve – chills would run down my spine and I would run to whatever part of the house had the most people in it and rock myself back and forth waiting for the fear to leave with him. But he always lingered. Sometimes, he would hobble his way into our compound singing the same old song; zam zam zam…Chineke zam, zam o. Onye kere uwa biko zam zam o – a plea to God, the creator of the world to answer him. Perhaps everyone else felt it too; the street was always quiet enough for Zam Zam’s voice to be the most outstanding element. Even when it wasn’t quite dark, children rolling tires on the streets disappeared, the hoots from bike men suddenly faded away and the sounds of pestles banging their fists on the chests of mortars became dull. He would sometimes sit in our compound, right beside the parked cars singing his heart out, not minding that no one ever gave him as little as 50 kobo, which was enough to buy one Sprint Bubblegum in the late 90’s. No one gave him anything but no one also asked him to go away. Everyone was fine with the arrangement except for me. The more he sang, the more I cringed in fear until he became a tool with which the housemaids taunted me. All he came to do was beg but in truth, he only taught me to house fear. At least he did so until the streets went on for months and then years without his shrill voice piercing the dark to inflict us with his droning melody. The day we remembered to ask, we heard he had died. However, this was just one man. There were others out there like Emeka.

 

Emeka was tall, dark and gripping in the way that most mad people we had seen were not. He had a strut that did a fine job of hiding his slight limp and full beards, nothing compared to his teeny weeny afro. He wore a soulful look with the same bland expression all the time but there was also an air of dignity that other mad men such as Onye Ike did not have. The soot and grime clung to him desperately but we barely noticed them each time he walked past wearing those whitish tunics. He treaded the streets with his feet bare and smoked every chance he got. I never heard his voice but I always saw his mouth move when he asked a shop owner for a cigarette or bread. I wondered how his voice would sound – Was it soft or gruff in support of his beards and huge appearance? I wondered how he got the money – did he have family who sneaked up to him at night and replenished his pot of gold? Somehow we knew his name was Emeka but didn’t dare approach him or even scream from afar for fear that he might mark our faces and plot a revenge. He had built a reputation for himself of leaping into the air to kick hell out of whoever stood or walked in front of him. When people began to stay away, he failed to realize it so once in a while he would spontaneously leap and kick the hell out of the “nothing” that stood or walked in front of him. The most interesting thing about Emeka was that he disappeared and reappeared once in a while looking refreshed – hairs trim, clothes clean and just a tad more pristine. Whenever he returned to the streets from his getaways, people talked. They said he had sober days in which he would spend time with his family. They’d clean him up, feed him and keep him away from the cigarettes. But they said that his illness always came back – clung to him like the parasite that it was and would not leave him for more than was necessary. They said it was a spell; a man had found Emeka atop his wife and had cast a spell on him.

The last time he disappeared, the news we heard was slightly different. It was said that a powerful pastor had prayed for him and gotten him healed and that he had given his life to Christ. Some said he had even stopped smoking and constantly sat at his family shop at Immaculate Avenue. Anyway, it was hard to confirm the story because no one ever saw him for themselves. It was always someone they knew that came bearing the news and so we took it for what it was, knowing that a narrative that had changed hands so often was most likely adulterated. Even though we were unsure, we hoped for his sake that it was true. We did not see him for weeks and then months went by without seeing him leaping into the air to kick no one in particular. The day we remembered to ask, we heard he had died.

 

Many important things happened in Aba; Ariaria Market happened all the time, wealthy men and their politics happened, Bakassi and their killings happened but these people also happened. Our chests were not too full to house their stories and so in the midst of talking about Orji Uzor Kalu’s mother and how her house on Nweke Street became a party hub each time she returned from her numerous trips abroad, we found time to notice that the man who had sat by Nicholas Street begging for alms was now a cobbler at the same spot. We found it necessary to notice that the new mad woman spoke English well enough to be a former Abia Poly student. We somehow found it necessary to sit on our front porches every evening and tell stories about passersby because they somehow deserved attention whether or not they were supposed to be worthy of our time. Somehow, we found life to be more meaningful when everybody participated.

 

With the Somebody Syndrome a never ending fad in Nigeria, it is easy to ignore those without the standard identity tags – titles, crazy money (Here, for your wealth to be recognized, it had to be regarded as crazy money, bastard money or too much money), ostentatious style or a recognizable share of the national cake through contracts and/or public office roles. This explains why we were forced to notice Orji who was crippled but owned two three-story buildings on Nweke Street and an adaptable automobile. For the most part, in Nigeria, you are either somebody or nobody. From a critical standpoint, it is easy to see how the corruption that has so eaten into the fabric of the Nigerian society is hinged to the exaggerated sense of entitlement of the privileged to the detriment of the masses who have also in some ways been programmed to believe that their impoverished states are perpetual with no elements of importance to the society. Many of those who dare to think that they are deserving of something better are driven by a rabid sense of desperation to be regarded as superior to their reality and then indulge in devious and ruthless activities usually designed to displace the affluent and covet their good fortune at any costs. An intricate system of vices and injustice has scored itself on the heart of society simply because of the inability of people to acknowledge otherness.

Now, I am all ripe with womanhood and no longer have a balcony nestled halfway into the sky from which I can notice whose head is balding or whose husband has returned from wherever it is that family men disappeared to once in a while. So when I walk the streets, I try to find these stories in eyes, scowls and grunts because every second unfurls with humans being and deserving to be seen. I take notes of how familiar faces go missing during certain seasons and how divergent political opinions are no longer expressed only through riots but also queer means like keeping a coffin for months in front of a piece of land as a warning to the government to stay away. The tales of men like Zam Zam and Emeka are only two out of millions of stories that when acknowledged, exercise our humanity and give meaning to the context in which we can give ourselves to the society. All of us are life happening at the same time; no one is just a filler. The stories most untold are usually windows into the anatomy of culture and society within which we can discover what ails communities and decipher problems that can birth sustainable change in the world we inhabit. The thing about privilege is that while we do not always acknowledge it, we bury ourselves in it until all we can see are reflections of ourselves and those who look like us. We sit within our bulletproof cars with tinted glasses and rush past life happening in its fullness because what we have defined as a journey should not include the beggar by the roadside who calls you Oga mi each time you drive past or the cab man who has driven past your mansion every day for the last five years. You see, the thing that makes life itself resides in all of us and a gross imbalance will continue to exist until we become aware of each other even though acknowledging others can sometimes breed unease. It is navigating these kind of uncomfortable conversations that uncovers questions that carry in their bellies, answers whose concealment has left us wanting. The thing about otherness is that it consists of elements without which the wholeness of self cannot be achieved.

Self lies with you but finds its essence in causes bigger than itself. Socio-economic, scientific and political phenomena are explored within the veins of humanity and its evolution as informed by every man’s existence. Tools like language and science are under-utilized when we fail to engage all parameters that can possibly expand their usefulness in forging more sustainable versions of civilization. So I think that we must awaken to a higher consciousness that allows for the celebration of resources that come alive each time a pair of feet hit the ground. It is now vital for us to count it a privilege that greatness may not be as scarce as we believed it to be; embrace the knowledge that it litters the streets disguised in the unusual and sometimes, the unwanted. Accepting this discomfort that comes with acknowledging that greatness lies raw and unrefined in the questions and answers that we embody is gold yet untapped.

THE MONEY MISTAKE NO ENTREPRENEUR SHOULD BE ABLE TO AFFORD

 

Ladies and gentlemen of the Start-up World get in here!

One mistake you cannot afford to make as an entrepreneur is not understanding how money creation works as a function of value creation or refinement. Corporate employees can get away with this provided they have a specialized understanding of the aspect of the finance equation related to their job description. As an entrepreneur, you absolutely cannot afford this luxury. What happens is that you frustrate every idea that you cannot bring to life because of lack of knowledge of how monetary value can be created from an idea and the consequences would mostly be the loss of benefit(s) that could potentially be yours: investors, market share, recognition etc.

Let me give you an instance, I always wanted to do something in T.V (I probably still will) but I just couldn’t figure out how money was made from T.V. I mean the real generation and flow of money via T.V programs. Because of this, I could never quite develop my ideas around this because I could not map out how to allocate resources or what my value propositions would be for collaborations or anything that could potentially be of help to the development of the idea. I tell you, it’s just a long messy business.

So let’s start from the very beginning.

  1. Indulge your curiosity

Somehow, just somehow, we have been made to believe that expressing curiosity unveils your ignorance and tags you “slow” especially when there is a certain level of expectation of you to know some things. The truth however, is that expressing curiosity truly dispels ignorance. We need to recondition our minds to understand that no matter the reason or circumstance, the only outcome of not asking a question is not having an answer. This is exactly what we do not want because while questions are a pathway to knowledge, the knowledge itself resides in the answers.

Thanks to the millennial disposition to embrace google at the expense of 1001 other viable forms of learning, it is actually in a sense, easier to access a wider range and depth of knowledge including opportunities to meet and impress mentors especially if your approach is brilliant. People are actually willing to offer you more experiential learning experiences than you think through conversations, assignments etc. provided they recognize your inclination to deploy the knowledge being dispersed to you.

Take advantage of this and ask right. You really do not have to burden a particular person with the responsibility of curing your 20-something years’ worth of financial ignorance. You can glean from the experiences of different maestros and sources and embrace the robustness that comes with fitting the jigsaw pieces together. The good think about genuine thirst for knowledge is that it is seldom satiable.

  1. Task Yourself to Deploy

True understanding of a subject matter comes with being able to exercise your knowledge of it in various forms. I cannot say that I am a well-rounded person if I was a great child but am clueless about being a functional adult. I cannot call myself a pastry chef if all I know how to make are fish and meat pies; I would simply be a meat and fish pie chef. Linearity is great for specialization but the thing is that as an entrepreneur, you have an equally great need for generalist skills, one of which would be finance. General here does not imply a basic understanding because you certainly need to be darn good at certain things for your outcomes to leave the comfort zone. Or don’t you think it is more comfortable to manage smaller wealth portfolios than the larger ones.

My point? Deploy the knowledge you gained from indulging your curiosity. This is vital whether or not you have a functional financial system to apply it to. Have conversations that’ll allow for you to regurgitate what you know and be challenged, write about and invent scenarios, design case studies or at least try to solve already existing ones, volunteer to help solve a money problem. Just do whatever that allows you to exercise that knowledge and make sure that in the end, you create some form of value other than money itself.

Let me tell you something important: You unconsciously make demands on yourself for the resources you’ve been provided with. That is to say that when your mind probes and cannot find gratification in you applying the knowledge that you were privy to (either through increased financial gain, competence or recognition), you will begin to feel frustrated about that issue. You’ll find yourself saying things like “I just can’t get a hang of it”, “Despite my efforts…”, “I need more clarity” etc. You see, clarity on anything comes be engaging that thing.

  1. Engage Money

Money is a busy-body that craves attention. Take a look at your bills for the month and tell me that that’s a lie. You also need to work out ways to demand money’s attention and have it flow in your direction. Make rules for your money, track how it walks in and out on you. What are your beliefs about it and how healthy are they? What are your expense triggers and how much control do you have over them?

What I am basically trying to say is that as an entrepreneur or anyone really, you need to learn the behavioral patterns of money in your life and business. That way, you can put a leash on it and in more ways than a few, get it to function in a manner that is favorable to you. The goal here is to heighten your consciousness of the roles money and finance in general play in your everyday life and business and being able to navigate these events with a higher degree of awareness.

Part of this engagement is enjoying the dividends of controlling money. There’s very little that hails money and spurs you on to making more than a functional reward system. Learn about those and deploy. Actively try your hands at earning, investing, saving and spending wisely. Don’t overdo just an aspect of this engagement and if possible, make this exploration with someone with shared values and interests.

In being consistent with these seemingly easy steps, you’ll find yourself demystifying the concept of wealth creation and being able to explore it in manners that you once considered beyond you. You must understand that you will continue to be a creative who runs around in circles of ideas and brainstorming sessions until you figure out how you can string these ideas like beads onto a string, with money/finance being the string in this case.

You should come to see that while it seems as though money is the outcome of implementing your ideas, it is really more importantly, a vehicle for driving execution. The wealth that you build as dividends of your successful business can be considered a favorable outcome for your personal life as the entrepreneur but as long as were talking business, it’s capital and you must know how to source and explore it to its limits.

Don’t brush the simplicity of these tips aside; personally, I sought the deep, technical and cutting-edge answers to my money mindset issues but had to learn that a great deal of the answers that I kept on getting fit nicely in these three boxes. And no matter how you’re pocket is, I am learning that there’s no perfect place to start. For what it’s worth, broke makes for a more dramatic start, a possibly more interesting journey and more jaw-dropping testimonials when you hit milestones, so get started anyway.

Cheers!

 

SAPIOSEXUAL AND OTHER ADJECTIVES

posted in: Free Thoughts, Ink Africa | 1

I appreciate a man who’s inspired, who knows this and that about anything and is competent at what he does. Great hair would be nice and I certainly think that a voice box dipped in honey would be fantastic. Oh and there are things that I haven’t yet labeled that I look out for – like the style with which he wears his skin and how he controls the rhythm of his mannerisms to suit the atmosphere around him. Some of these are not things that you capture with “Oh! He’s handsome”. So I don’t! This explains why describing someone who got my attention is always a delightful speech punctuated by gestures and mimics and onomatopoeia. People are too rich in themselves to be treated like a monotonous maroon-themed ensemble. People are rainbows.

The day I learned of the word “sapiosexual”, I was glad that I found another adjective that could describe people, perhaps even myself, without making them seem too plain, like vanilla-flavored muffins. I do not consider myself to be simple; the blend of full brows, bold eyes, full lips with a perfectly shaped cupid bow and a forest for hair are not simple on any face. My mind on the other hand has always been a whirl pool of anything that fits right in. Again, not simple and after rocky phases that led to finally rising above most of my insecurities, I honestly don’t care for stereotypes and cheesy punch lines in describing me. So perhaps, the harder I am on the tongue, the more convinced I am that you’re getting close. And every smart woman can tell apart the texture of flattery from her truth. J

I guess the point is that there is no right place for stereotypes or single stories of people and what they embody and this holds true even when you think that your motivations are right. You do not set defining walls around your idea of a person using just what irks or fascinates you the most about them. Even when you intend it to be a compliment, an over-used label or impression of a person tends to lose its complimentary effect and become grating on the nerves. Because, a person is a great communicator and loves it when you brandish words like eloquent, expressive, articulate etc. in describing them, does not make it okay to forget that they are dynamic people with the capacity to evolve or thrive in other spaces.

I recently had a personal experience in which a friend ticked me off. This person apparently has a knack for intelligent, highly driven women and was probably drawn to me for the same reason. Even though he’d acknowledged some other traits of me that he found endearing, everything always circled back to me being brilliant. It was great to be seen as more than just a pretty face but intellectual prowess soon became the underlying explanation for anything that I did right. I could make a choice on a whim to do something that I felt was interesting or even purely random and this friend would come up with a theory of how some realm of intelligence was responsible. Sometimes when I did things that didn’t fit into neat boxes of brilliance or were silly, I could sense the disorientation it brought to the idea of me. On one occasion, I went off on him because even though the underlying intent was meant to be approving, it started to stifle the idea of me being anything than a few neat adjectives that he felt were apt.

I know that it can be easier to fall into the habit of describing or addressing people in a certain way, even when we have the best intentions. However, it can have a counter-effect on the subjects. When we label people – especially in relationships – either through the way we describe them or treat them, we are unconsciously building a narrative around them and creating reference points that will form basis for evaluating their actions and inactions. It’s also essential to be sensitive to the whether there is an aspect of themselves that the subjects might seek to express at a particular time. In as much as, most people (and I think I speak for the women here) would appreciate not being describe with cheesy, textbook lines all the time, we also do not want you to take that one remarkable thing about us and turn it into walls that we can only pray to jump over.

The thing about stereotypes is that they do not have to be totally false. On the other hand, they also can be hinged to pleasant attributes. However, what makes them negative is the idea of people holding them to be true and obtainable at all times, despite varying situations that may have caused change to occur. While this may seem like an issue relevant to only relationships, it is noteworthy that all aspects of our life are fed by the quality of relationships that we maintain whether personal o professional. I also think that empathy has a great role to play in how we address, treat and even describe people.

It is truly rewarding (in both romantic and platonic relationships) to be intentional about how we label the other person especially when we communicate these impressions of them with. And for heaven’s sake, let’s be done with tasteless adjectives when we’re trying to win the other person over. Take them all in and make an attempt to articulate the miracle that they are.

The “Journey to the Centre of Yourself” Series: The Introduction (Ep. 1)

“A man’s chief delusion is the conviction that there are causes order than his own state of consciousness”

– Bob Proctor

31st December 2016 is still a blur. I cannot quite remember the events that took place on that day but I definitely remember the emotions that I felt. All I wanted that day was for 2016 to come to an end. I didn’t care for the new year; I just wanted 2016 to crawl into eternity and never show up again. And yes, wanting a year to come to an end and being eager for the next can be two unrelated things. When it struck 12.00 midnight, I cried profusely in relief and I knew that I did not want to feel that way about 2017.

Last year was the most grating year in which I had proprietary claims over most of the challenges that I faced. Before this time, most of the hard times I had faced either stemmed from family-related issues that certainly didn’t have to sit on my shoulders alone or turned out to be personal problems that I could solve without rocking my boat. I thrive amidst challenges so I would seldom tag one a “problem” unless it was grave. However last year, I dealt with the most intense situations that I had ever faced in both my personal and professional lives.

In that one year, I was stretched in ways I could not believe and tasted life in the most exotic flavors I had come to know. This was in itself, a beautiful thing but things somehow spiraled out of my control and I soon began to amass failed outcomes in a lot of areas. I have always set and lived up to high standards that I set for myself and so in the face of erratic outcomes, I was thrown off balance. My tussle to stay on top of things led me to a whole new level of decision making and kick-started patterns that I had been subconsciously conditioned to set in motion during times like this. So, all hell broke loose.

By the end of the year, I was choking on aspirations, unexecuted commitments (to both myself and other people), toxic emotions and a desperate need for redemption. Somehow, I managed to keep my professional life fairly above the storm (I’ll address how and why as we progress in the series) but other aspects of my life were the opportunity cost.

It’s almost a year later and unimaginable things have happened. I have sacrificed self, time, financial resources and even some relationships to pursue personal transformation and development and raise my level of consciousness. In the last 11 months, I have quit my job, read tens of books, consumed over 130 transformational multimedia resources, written a memoir (don’t wait for it to get published just yet), volunteered, evolved alongside my aspirations, gone on a social media cleanse and spent an insane amount of money on training and coaching programs. I have inspired myself, disappointed myself, broken myself into jigsaw pieces and spent late nights trying to create “the dream” from this pieces.

Right now, I can say that I have grown and learned a lot about my truth but the fact is that growth doesn’t always resemble what you envisage it to be. I am owning my truth and now feel more responsible for my reality. Like my mentor says, “clarity messes you up”; clarity and the pursuit of purpose aren’t just the romantic reasons that you list when asked why you attended a self-help seminar. They are terrifying responsibilities but they are infinitely rewarding. Frankly, I am still adjusting to exploring myself in the way that I am right now and silence has served me better than it ever has in my decades of living. However, I have had the privilege of interacting with incredibly bright minds this year and I can say that there is more commonality in humanity than we know. In more ways than makes sense, our journeys, as people, are alike and we are all seeking self-actualization in increasingly complex and dynamic societies. So as this new year comes to an end, I am bursting with a sense of responsibility that nudges me to share what I now call “the journey to the centre of myself” even though it’s a never ending one.

The beauty of this is that even though I will disperse what I know in the context of my own experiences and probably draw from those of people that I’ve interacted with, the essence of it all lies in principles, mindsets and approaches to life as we know it. We will talk about a plethora of things that, even though are not technical, will span across diverse facets of life including business and career.

If we’re going to have this conversation, then we’ll have to do it right. This means that I am going to endeavor to be as honest as possible and because this is a series, we will have the luxury of having a multi-dimensional approach to issues that are relevant to our journeys especially as young, inspired people hustling for positive change. Articulating some issues might get a tad uneasy and for you – following the series – dealing with some realizations might be rocky but I’ve learned that you can’t relate with your truth based on the level of ease that it affords you. These pieces of yourself that you might find, will form building blocks that will open you up to the real work – living intentionally and owning your truth. I hope that with this series, I’ll be able to pass on the torch that has set me one on of the most rewarding paths ever.

So grab your tickets guys, it’s time for the homecoming!

P.S: This is not a motivational series so stay home if that’s what’s you’re after. This is not also a tell-all reality show in print. This is intended to be an expository journey for people seeking to learn from another’s experiences to raise consciousness regarding life issues common to us.

Disclaimer: I am not a certified neurolinguistic programmer or psychologist. So as far as professional psychotherapy is concerned, manage your expectations wisely.

A Penny on Tragic Change

posted in: Free Thoughts, Ink Africa | 1

It is this phenomenon of change that accords the present its value. It is what makes us seek our preservation so that we can have something from today, something familiar, when tomorrow comes. It is uprooting of a version of self to birth another that colors experiences and gives meaning to memories and hope. It is here that the future gains its significance – the ability to take what we currently have and make it into something new and ours too, whether or not it’s positive. It is this nature of ours to cast off deep-seated parts of ourselves, knowingly or not, to take on forms that ultimately mark our procession to another realm that defines what we all call life even though we all own different versions in the most similar way.

I think that in many ways change, especially tragic change, is abrupt. Even when the process seems slow, giving enough time to erase or unlearn some things one backspace tap at a time, the momentum gained is never enough to make relearning easy or healing swift. The weight of “alien-ness” is not something designed to be familiar neither is it permitted to be avoidable. How then have we not mastered the inevitable? How then can we find meaning in this?

It had been a year since I last saw her but I could almost bet she’d look the same – fair scalp clothed with short hair too curly to be Nigerian, skin still glowing from over seventy years of being polished with lemons and a smile still sterling like a crescent moon bringing youth to the old night sky. They had told me over the phone that she – my grandmother – whose mind was sharp as a pin was now experiencing age-associated memory impairment. I had spoken with her a few times to scold her over not taking her drugs but her resolve was always intimidating and I would always cajole and plead instead. So when I walked into her room, I was unsure of what to expect but was certain I would encounter something unexpected. She beamed when she saw me, my siblings and our friends and then rose slowly and reached out for me. I hugged her, making sure to bury myself in her familiar softness. I asked how she was and what had happened all this while and she told me everything except that most of it were unknown to her, resident in her imagination. My sister had already told me how our little cousin and his mum had come to visit her and how afterwards, she announced to everyone that her grandchild had come to show her his wife. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when she told me the same thing and how my father who had come the previous day to plead with her to take her drugs, had come to warn her sternly not to take any of her routine pills until he gave his approval.

Each time she said any of these bizarre things, my sister and I would share a look and silence that said “Old age is taking her away from us”. She had become a colorful tree in autumn, losing a leaf after another the more she said and thought those unreal things. After a while she turned to me and said in Igbo, “Nwadiuto (the name she calls me which means ‘Sweet Child’) went to serve her fatherland (referring to the NYSC program) for many years now and never came back, not even to see me. I smiled at her and said “I am here Mama” and that was when I saw that even she was before now, was not fully aware of how much of herself had been evaporating. She bowed her head and exhaled and was silent for a minute as though she was mourning the loss of her youth – herself. She looked up at me, smiled and patted my shoulder and then went on to tell us how she was no longer herself because she could no longer change into shorts and fight off anyone hassling her grandchildren.

I can see it already; how we all are scrambling for more time with her, making her promises that we hope would be potent enough to extend her time with us, trying to make room within ourselves to house the inevitable and hoping that our love, deeds and prayers are enough to elongate this path of relocation that she treads. We hope like anyone else would, that the more we care, love and live, the easier it would be for us all to transition into the space that we now prepare for her eventual absence. What is striking is that what is a slow march for us is a sudden fall for her – not being able to recognize her grandchild even after 45 minutes of sweet talk, seeing the young ones as adults and ignoring common sense on a whim. So as we seize the gift of time to make room for oncoming change, we must now remember that within her is a raging wind, ripping up elements of her that she once thought permanent and that these free spaces must be filled with positivity and enough of our presence to yield growth. You see, change, especially tragic change is always in some way, abrupt.

Like Anais Nin once said,

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically.

We grow sometimes in one dimension,

And not in another; unevenly.

We grow partially. We are relative.

We are mature in one realm, childish in another.

The past, present and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present.

We are made up of layers, cells and constellations”

It is sometimes in the bosom of anguish and discomfort that we are empowered to make room for ourselves to breathe and thereby grow in some way. Loss has popularized itself as unwanted and people have spent verve and time combating the occurrence of the inevitable. Society evangelizes strength in the face of tragedy and people are led to latch unto broken pieces of themselves, fastening them together with duty, memories and an exaggerated sense of loyalty. Herein lies the danger of a single story; clinging to what is now the past at the expense of allowing yourself room to accept that that absence is here to stay and can be filled with a legacy that will birth a more rewarding narrative. Until we begin to truly see how discomfort and insight from these experiences can spur growth, we would never be able to harness the potential that is embedded in change, no matter the kind. Our strength should show up in letting us feel emotions without consuming them ourselves because as hard as it is to accept, loss in itself doesn’t kill but grief does. It should show up in graceful acceptance of the present and objectively and radically applying resources within our reach to create value for ourselves, others and even the legacy of what we had just been lost. This applies not just to personal lives and relationships but to professional affairs and communal ones too. It is in our interpretations of events and reactions to them that we have the chance to make change – no matter the kind – precious and productive.

Focus: Redefining Perfection

Somehow we’ve been made to believe that since we cannot house perfection beneath our skin or even exude it, images on paper always should. Perhaps a reminder of what we could be with more “effort” and faith. Somewhere in this age, standards have been etched unto  “paper-worthy” narratives and like a plantation of blooming palms, they all pose, leaning on their perfection with hair billowing like palm fronds and jewels signing off their majesty in our minds. Someway, mannequins and humans have managed to look like doppelgangers in everywhere that isn’t reality.

It all seems forgivable until we begin to submit our wellness to the standards of inanimate images who ironically only reflect dreams that people like you think they cannot quite embody. It seems forgivable that all models and sketches are of women with lush pliant eyelashes until women whose kinky hair found their way to their eyes begin to carry shame upon themselves in handfuls. It all seems pardonable until it just isn’t and right now, it isn’t.

Recently, I made a sketch of a lady and believe me when I say it was a decent sketch [I am a decent artist ;)] The only thing was that as a result of the angle at which my head was bent while I drew, her own face came out somewhat angled. I made do with her and went ahead to give her great hair and shape; people in real life have all sorts of heads and facial features and each unique stroke of character that their flesh wears makes it all the more striking. Beauty really doesn’t need permission to thrive and until this resonates as truth in us, we will keep submitting our glory to the unrealized dreams that images on mag covers and canvasses carry, for validation. Tell me you see the tragedy too.

Anyway, as you already expect, a number of people seemed unnecessarily unsettled about something being quite wrong with the appearance of the lady I had drawn. I couldn’t help but think about how, perhaps, the standard really isn’t on paper anymore. These images of unrealistic versions of what human beauty should look like have crystallized in our minds that every other person including even the “models” on paper are now passed through the lens of these socio-culturally imposed reflections in order to earn the definition of being that they ‘deserve’.

With people, perfection thrives with focus – focus on the individual miracles that only you can shed light on. Miracles that can reside anywhere, from bones to heart to mind. There are no limits to where the pieces of perfection you embody can lodge themselves. It’s all you so do not disregard the whole simply because where your glory lies happens to be a blind spot for someone else who needs repositioning.

Sometimes, the ugliness (and I do not refer to just physical beauty) we say we see in ourselves has nothing to do with what we hear others say about us and everything to do with the blueprint we have of self. The problem is that a lot of times, we forget that one of the things love and beauty have in common is that it is not their job to be easy on the eyes. Always remember that the interpretation of anything draws its essence from dimension of focus and that functionality cannot be maximized unless true knowledge is attained. Focus on everything that is right about yourself and watch how your impression of yourself evolves into true self-awareness from which you can explore and optimize the creation of sustainable value exclusive to you.

PICKING BEANS

In traditional Africa, how grounded you are as a woman is measured by a myriad of factors with domestication at the forefront of the pageant. More interesting is it that you do not have the luxury of choosing what chore interests you and therefore what you will and will not do. You are given ‘what you ought to cater to’ which is determined by whatever standards are prevalent in the household and if there is a handful of “Africanness” in your home, be rest assured that you’ll get it done anyway.

I have always thought picking beans to be a hard, cumbersome chore because well, you literally pick the bean seeds one at a time. Millions of bean seeds are poured into a tray jumbled with a crowd of impurities, dirt etc. that render the food unworthy of being eaten in that present state. These beans are then painstakingly picked one after the other – breaking some out of their jackets and transferring whole ones to another container in readiness for cooking. Most young home-grown African girls are pros at this one. It is tedious is you ask me but we all agree it’s way better than chewing on stones while eating. That’s just not a romantic idea.

The universality of adolescence and the turbulence that drives it must be recognized for its beauty – the kind of beauty hinged to emotions and the whirlpool of humanity that continually serves us the hope of becoming. This common story became my experience and it was then that I learned one of the deepest lessons that still holds the reins of my sanity.

My teenage years were fiery with drama especially in my relationship with my mum. We fought a lot things just like you would expect an adolescent girl and her mother to, and being the expressive sanguine that she is, she would erupt with words like a long suppressed volcano and all that red-hot lava would crystallize in my mind as offenses. I would over-analyze these verbal exchanges and wallow in hurt and self-righteousness until I was full. The book that I was, was filled with things that I could not get myself to erase with ease and so I slammed the pages shut – there would be no more of this writing.

This time, I just turned deaf ears. It was easier to shut out all the altercations coupled with whatever were values tucked within them rather than let my emotions rage each time this drama blossomed. However, the downside was that I was thick with experiences and still learned no lessons. This was the tragedy.

This is the tragedy that a lot of us are becoming across diverse facets of life. Life happens to us every day and rather than refine our experiences to yield lessons that we can apply to create value for ourselves and the society, we over-analyze details from a position of self-righteousness or stubborn will to stick to what we know – tradition, a business plan, relationships etc. that we do not necessarily have to abide by.

In my case, this realization dawned on me and I began to seek how to make the best out of these encounters instead of throwing the bath water away with the baby. It was then that I stumbled upon the idea of picking beans. Like with the chore, you had to pick what was good and whole and discard the rest. And so, when anyone threw words at me, I’d simply pick beans.

Amidst the hurt and pulsating emotions dancing wildly like a billowing flag within a sandstorm, I would simply envisage myself sitting with a tray of grains, taking away whole bean seeds – lessons – and discarding hurtful words like chaff. This was healing for me and has remained so. This was for me a medium for guarding my heart and granting myself an escape from gathering offense and fighting the scars they imprinted upon me.

In Gbolahan Fagbure’s book “Working on a Dream”, he raises the question of how much more peaceful our dealings with people across our professional and personal lives if we could consider the excesses of people as we do those of kids. When children cry, are irritable or throw tantrums, we do not go about thinking that they do all that out of spite. Instead we consider the facts that they may be experiencing discomfort, hunger or pain. By exploring this dimension of the situation, we treat them with more concern and arrive at more wholesome outcomes. This too, is a great alternative to the picking beans analogy.

Remember that wear and tear are outcomes of usage. This applies to us as individuals; we burn out as well. Hence, we must set limits to how we utilize ourselves especially when the resources are internally generated and sustained. As an individual, taking everything that comes your way so seriously especially when they can culminate to negative experiences, is a luxury that you should not be able to afford. Not every event that occurs should crystallize into your life experience and this is a function of how you interpret those events and thus, allow them into your reality.

Ever since, I have equated this chore to a metaphor that holds the magic to a world of rest in a world that throws me an unfiltered mix of experiences. The best part of this chore, for me, has always been towards the end when the tray has more chaff and stones than bean seeds such that it becomes difficult to pick the seeds individually. Here music is born as the contents are spread within the tray in a side-to-side movement of the tray that births a kra-kra sound. Then with the nimble hands of a juggler, the beans are thrown up in a motion that sends the contents of the tray into the air and the beans somersaulting backwards onto the tray in a manner that leaves the impurities in front. The whole beans land at the back of the tray in a victorious ‘krainch’ sound, affording you the privilege of blowing the chaff into the air and out of your care.

This acrobatic display of hands, trays, beans and air can be replicated in your life with you holding onto your values and lessons and letting go of negativity in all dimensions of your life experiences. I am sure you’ve already noticed that in this journey into and through adulthood, you are being tossed unexpected pieces of a mix of both hard and soft stuff and here is a recipe to ease the overwhelm. Not everything that comes to you is for your consumption and you must build a system to filter what you let into yourself or else you will most definitely bear the burden of either getting it out or leaving with the consequences of harboring it.

Adulthood and perhaps life itself were not made to break you! However, it is your responsibility not to let yourself get broken.

Bedside Talk with a Lonely Wife

posted in: Ink Africa | 0

Bedside lamps only shine light on my pain

Throw rays on unrustled sheets on rainy nights

On two pairs of legs that never meet

On tears glistening in the wake of the moon

On bodies whose caress can never light a fire

 

Bedside lamps only shine light on my loss

Throw rays on untouched lace on windy days

On two pairs of hands that can never go south

On tongues that sit in their caves nursing loneliness

On parts that never rise to please me

We All Live in Places

posted in: Ink Africa | 0

In the days that birthed today,

Love lived in the simplest of places…

In wrappers that hung loosely around mothers’ waists

In old satchels that housed fathers’ coins

In the grains of Sunday rice and threads of Christmas clothes

In empty bellies of brothers who sacrificed meals

On reddened buttocks of partners in crime

 

In this day birthed by yesterdays,

Love lives in intangible places

In promises escaping lips of lovers

In battles fought to preserve humanity

In heartbeats that race at the mention of a name

In the union of preserved heritage and emerging dreams

On the road that leads to you – spitting image of wonder in the heart of God

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