A Love NoteĀ 

Love is hazel. 

It’s the color of your eyes when you watch me, that unusual lightness that seems like the sun shining through shards of tinted glass as you look at me, through me, inside me. It’s the color of your stare when you think I’m asleep, the color of your glare when I pour my milk before putting in my cereal. It’s the hazel that warms me, warms me like fuzzy slippers when my laughter ends in a snort and you give me that look. You love all the dork in me with those eyes when I belt along to Heart in the car and when I work out our change at the corner shop on my fingers and toes. 

Love is tart. 

It’s the taste of the raspberries I wake up to, the ones you bring me when I sleep late. It’s the whirr of the blender when you make my fruity smoothies, when you chuck an apple into my lunchbox for my ‘vitamin fix’. It’s your tone whenever I try to be self-deprecating, it’s you when you think you’re a lap-dancing Danny Castellano to my Mindy Lahiri. 

Love is steam.  

It’s your foggy glasses as you fumble with the tea kettle, it’s the mist rising up from the cup of tea you can’t stand, but you make every evening because I want it. It’s how you gently rub my back to wake me up when I fall asleep on the couch, how you walk me to the hot bath you draw for after a long, frustrating day without you. It’s the sigh that curls around my tongue when you kiss me, it’s the tension in your fingers when you hold me. It’s Sunday mornings and it’s Saturday evenings, and it’s every day in between. 

Love is wet. 

It’s rainy days and the scratch of Otis Redding records, and me curled up behind you because you know I like to be the big spoon. It’s the kiss you place in my palm, your open-mouthed kiss on my crooked baby finger, the one I broke, the one you swear is your favorite. It’s how you step into the shower to wash my hair because my arms hurt, it’s the damp in my eyes when you call my mom every weekend.

Love is all the colors, all the textures, everything, all; the feelings, the moments, big and small. 

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Teacher’s Pet

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I confess, I was a bit of an apple polisher as a student. A suck-up, if you will. My teachers were generally fond of me, with the exception of two or three (or twelve) who just didn’t get me. Barring people like my Economics teacher who never forgave me for correcting his grammar in class, I was rather a favorite student (again, of some select teachers). I was the one who sat in the front row and sometimes didn’t get caned when others did. I was the one who was picked to read the passage in English class and conjugate the French verbs on the whiteboard.

Obviously, I had quite a few teachers over the years whom I really loved. But, my absolute favorite was Mademoiselle Okwesa, who taught me French for three years.
Now, it wasn’t just her beauty, although she was immensely pretty, so pretty that sometimes you just stared at her instead of listening to her. It wasn’t even because she spoke the most melodious French, or sang like an especially gifted bird. It wasn’t even because French happened to be my favorite subject.

No. I loved Mlle. Okwesa for the simple reason that she loved me. I know. I’m easy like that.

But, yes. She was so fond of me for reasons I didn’t understand. Could be because I was quite adept at her subject, or because I was Catholic (she was also our Catholic mistress), I don’t know. But we had a bond and we both knew it.

I remember once in the second term of my JS1, when I laid hands on an erotic novel called Emmanuelle. I’d never read the like, and I was so enthralled, I read it during French class (it only seemed right, being originally a French novel), under my table. Of course she caught me. I’m not exactly known for my smoothness.
Ah, the disappointment. She looked at the book, looked at me, and I kid you not, my tears just gushed forth. My eyes were like a beach, friends. Actual ocean of tears. Little bacteria surfing at the beach of my eyelashes.

We had so many quiet, love-filled moments. She was that kind of person. Quiet, unassuming, but with a spine of steel. I would go to her house, which was on the same floor as some of our dormitories, and she’d teach me French hymns and Christian songs. I would carry her books to the French Room after classes and just bask in being her favorite. I remember how I always tried to score above 95% in French, just so she could say how proud she was of me.

I saw her once, years after I had left school, at mass in my church at home. It was like seeing a long-lost, much-beloved sister (she was never particularly motherly) and I actually dragged my mother to meet her. When she hugged me and said she was proud of how grown up I was, my chest grew suspiciously tight and my allergies started to cry.

I don’t know if she ever knew how much she meant to me, but I do. And that must count for something, surely.

Happily Ever After

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I’ve always wanted to live an uncomplicated life, which is kind of impossible, because living itself is the very definition of “complicated”. To be very frank, what’s happening right now in my existence is a complete 180 from what I really want. I’m currently on edge, waiting for many other shoes to drop, with many balls in the air and many other metaphors in the offing.

So, I’m living anything but happily ever after at the moment. If I’m to be honest, I don’t see myself living happily ever after in the near future. But let’s assume for a second that I’ve fast-forward my life past the struggle and years of work and dues-paying till that lovely, lovely day when my happily-ever-after finally begins.

Obviously, I’ll be a teacher by then. I mean, that’s what this rat race is for, isn’t it? To learn enough to be able to live with being responsible for the learning of others. I’ll be a tenured professor, probably Ethics or something equally bleeding-heart-esque. I’ll wear gathered midi skirts and always carry my spare glasses in my pocket. I’ll drive a vintage car, like a Benz 200, and yes, Jess, I’ll rock A LOT of polka dots.

I’ll live in an airy house, a cottage, maybe, with a huge yard. I’ll have a swing and a shed and maybe a little garden, where I will struggle to grow camellias. Perhaps a pond, if I have the inclination. Point is, really, really huge yard with space for options. And maybe a pet. I’m currently wary of animals- they usually tend to dislike me intensely, for unexplored reasons – so, I’m not sure. But I’d like a dog, maybe a Siberian Husky, because they’re clever and stunningly beautiful, or a Samoyed, because, have you seen that smile?

I’ll have speakers all around my house, with a vintage turntable and wax records. In the evenings, Etta James and Otis Redding will waft from the speakers while the smell of dinner wafts from the kitchen. After dinner, I’ll sit in my library/study and grade papers and trade wisecracks with my husband.

Yes, I suppose I’ll have a husband. Why not? He’ll be the professor type – you know the type. Tweed, glasses, beard. Tall, lean, wry. Quiet eyes, hidden depths. Reticent but oh-so-intense, perfect foil for my chattiness. Former international organization bigwig – turned – professor. Long fingers and, ahem. You know, I haven’t thought about this much.

The children will have flown the coop, naturally. They’ll be in school, probably, if I’m to be realistic. The youngest will be just like me. We’ll clash all the time, but we’ll be mad about each other, just like Lorelai and Rory in Gilmore Girls.

I’ll have my family and friends close, but not too close-by. People need to miss each other every now and then. I’ll take many long walks and go on holidays to out-of-the-way towns. I’ll spend rainy days (and nights) with my husband, listening to music and reading and having cups of tea and just being.

I know, it all sounds so boring. I know people generally love the bustle and rush and paper chase, but not me. I like peace. It may be quiet, but I think it will be a very wonderful life, the one I want. and I personally can’t wait.

Polite Company

“It is never a good idea to discuss religion or politics with people you don’t know.”

As a rule, I never debate certain issues in public. Asides from the stress and discomfort of partaking in a heated conversation, there’s the near-certainty that in this day and age of the omniscient millennial, you can never convince anyone to abandon what they already believe to be true, the very same way they can never convince you.

Religion, politics and current hot topics like Beyonce’s latest video and Lena Dunham’s right to feed the public TMI are such conversational pariahs, to me. It’s really hard, especially now when so many weird and wonderful, not to mention asinine, things are going on and one is bursting at the seams to say something (this is my cover story for all the weight I’ve gained in the recent past. It’s all from swallowing opinions).

But having things to say =/= saying anything, because opinions are the second quickest way to alienate people (the first being candor). Plus, as earlier highlighted, opinions lead to arguments which are only an exercise in stress and futility. As long as the world is diverse, as long as people are different, discussions on religion, politics and suchlike are powderkegs.

In this heyday of social media courts of public opinion, you can achieve worldwide infamy with just a mere zeitgeist-insensitive comment. Spaces like Twitter where your entire commentary has to be squeezed into 140 alphabets or, even worse, chopped up into 140-character cubes, have to be the worst. Before you can clear your throat to explain your point, your tweet has travelled around the world with a speed that’d have brought tears to Phileas Fogg’s eyes. You are subsequently pelted with e-rotten tomatoes in the village square and before you say “but did you die?”, know that you might die if the tomatoes accidentally enter your mouth.

It just seems far more on the side of peace, sense and sensibility to clutch one’s opinions to one’s chest when in the society of strangers. Save stress, zip it.

Childhood Revisited

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There are times in life that are perfect for distilling the perfect thoughts and emotions about certain things, just like a perfectly ripe fruit being harvested from a tree at the perfect time.

Today is one of such days. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the experiences that shape us, about what a little difference in circumstances and situations could have possibly done to influence who we are now.

I think, all in all, that I turned out alright enough, but I also think that it’s not unrelated to the fact that I consciously decided to do so. I didn’t have the most messed up childhood, but I can’t possibly say that it was the healthiest.

So many things I would change if I could go back to do so. On good days, I remember the sunshine and daisies, but on days like this, the darker, more insidious regrets collect like old friends at a reunion party.

Because I’m genetically programmed to keep personal issues private, I’ve combed my memories for the easiest thing to share, and I think I can (almost) comfortably say that if I could change one thing about my childhood, it would be myself. I would be more curious, more questioning and a little less idealistic.

Every regretted path I’ve treaded in life is as a result of that childhood acceptance and idealism about what the old folks expected of someone like me. I didn’t push myself, even when I felt like I had to. I didn’t learn the things that interested me, I didn’t see a bigger picture than my immediate existence, and unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone to show me. I didn’t go out of my way to be better, I just was.

And now, as an adult, I’m belatedly pushing myself. I’m finding out who I am and starting out late on this journey of well-roundedness. And these people who say sagely things didn’t lie; it is very hard to learn to be left-handed in one’s old age.

So, this is definitely what I will teach my children, if I ever have any. Pay no attention to anyone’s expectations of you. Explore what interests you. Always push yourself to do better, to be better. Don’t waste your days. Don’t merely exist and go through the motions. Remember that you can be something really special, but you’re not born that way. You have to put in work.

Let’s hope they’ll be far more self-aware than I ever was.

Karma Chameleon

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I’m sorry. This title is sheer clickbait. If you’re here because you love Boy George, I’m so sorry to disappoint you. I myself am disappointed and am leaving immediately.
But first, let me just say what I think about reincarnation, which is the true, less-gripping reason we are gathered here today. (I know. Karma Chameleon. Reincarnation. Apples and orange paint.)

Now, I’m Nigerian. In Nigeria, I’m also Igbo. This means that down to my smallest subset, I’m programmed to be superstitious. My people believe almost everything – that pythons are sacred, that masquerades are masked spirits which climb out of anthills (sounds bloody uncomfortable, I know), that eating snails while pregnant will make your child have copious amounts of saliva. We also really, really believe in reincarnation.

If, say, a woman dies today and one week her daughter-in-law gives birth to a girl who only vaguely resembles the late woman, it goes without saying that Woman 1 is back to this wicked world, live in living color. The baby girl has no choice in the matter; her name is Nnenna (which means grandmother, literally). You find that people begin to exaggerate certain similarities because they’ve been told that they act like some dead relative, not necessarily despite it.

Personally, I don’t believe in any of this. I believe that people can uncannily look and act like someone long gone, but that’s the end of it. I mean, genetics, anyone? As far as I’m concerned, when someone dies, that’s it. One person, one soul. No recycling. No second missionary journey to the land of Google and Pizza.

Now, if only I could explain away the old-lady cackle in my head as I’m writing this…

Right To Health

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Access inequalities in healthcare is both an academic and a personal interest of mine. I believe that health is a fundamental human right, and access to healthcare is a collective responsibility. I think that it’s one of the world’s biggest failures that in many climes, good health is only available to people who find themselves high on the socioeconomic gradient.

So, the question remains. Is access to healthcare the responsibility of the government, or should it be handled by the private sector?

I personally think that both parties have roles to play, with responsibility largely skewed towards the government’s side. Now, the common man, especially in an LMIC like Nigeria, can hardly afford a lifetime of paying private sector health bills. In this region where the national health insurance is, in itself, a discriminatory tool, and private health insurance is not much more than ‘institutionalized gambling’ – no job, no more insurance, the options for the man on the street regarding access to health are pretty bleak.

The government, in my opinion, has the responsibility of putting sustainable and functional institutions in place to cater to the health needs of people. Hospitals which people can actually go to and not be certain of death by negligence, a health insurance system which actually works for the poor, and not just as an avenue to pad select pockets.

Also, health is much more than the presence or absence of sickness. Health is a total state of mind, soul and body, and for good health to be achieved, the wider determinants of health must be in order. Environment, education, socioeconomic issues, etc. All these fundamental indices can’t be left in the hands of the private sector (even though the government is doing a very convincing invisibility impression where these are concerned).

The private sector should serve as an auxiliary to the primary services of the government. If the private services are in control, I can only imagine what havoc market forces would wreak on the affordability of healthcare. To be fair, I’m not an expert on the economic dynamics of demand and supply, I only vaguely remember what I was taught in secondary school, which is that an increase in demand generally leads to an increase in cost. Again, I may be misrepresenting my teacher, but let’s say I’ve remembered correctly. This means that the people who have the greatest need, those whose wider determinants of health already put them at a disadvantage- the poor who live in unhealthy environments and barely have access to education which in turn elevates awareness of healthy living- will find even more barriers to accessing necessary healthcare.

Of course, the visible danger of leaving the health of people in the hands of the government in a country like Nigeria is the fact that corruption, greed and misplaced priorities make their stewardship a death wish. In a country where ‘tax’ is a slang, where the manna from the bowels of the earth oil money is the personal property of a select few, who will pay for this government healthcare?

But, the reality is that there’s no way around it. The government IS primarily accountable for anything as collective and as fundamental as health. Whether we choose to hold them accountable and treat it as important as what it is- a matter of life and death- is up to us, the general public.