So I Got In Touch With My Feminine – Accepting Her Was The Hard Part

February 4, 2015

Growing up in the Igbo heartland we valued industry. Igbo women are very industrious and hard working. They farm, go to market and feed the household. Their men pay rent (shelter), school fees, medical, clothes and all the other objects of a quality life. Nowadays some progressive Igbo men let their wives do civil service or bank work and buy their own clothes and trinkets.

I used to call myself ‘di bi ulo’ which in Igbo means head of the household. After all as a single mother I paid the rent, the school fees, medical, put food on the table and clothes on the kids back. And because I  made  the money I made the decisions how to spend it. I used to ask the conservative men in my training workshops why they let their women sit on their ass at home.

If you ask them why they don’t want their women to be in the more ‘masculine’ endeavours – like politics, long distance trade, government, commerce etc etc, they most frequently say they don’t want their women to be ‘manly’. Someone said they don’t want their women to be like me. I took it as a compliment back then.

When I started ayurveda therapy in 2013 I was told my physical symptoms were the outcome of suppressing my feminine energy. I didn’t quite get it then but I attempted to examine it here and here  Over the course of the past two years as I took my herbal supplements and did my yoga I started to notice a change. In November my therapist said “Your feminine energy is emerging, and it is so tender”.

(Yeah lady why do you think we buried it so deep underground in the first place.)

Feminine energy – emotions.

“Les you’re too emotional” my friend tells me as I cry on her shoulder over my latest heartbreak.

In 2005 I took an online personality test that said I thought like a man but was more emotional than the average woman. Go figure. So I’m emotional. I can accept it now. I’m feminine – thats ok.

Its not the end of the world – its a great beginning. Being able to acknowledge that I am emotional – very emotional and apparently more so than most women is actually very empowering. I’m not resisting it like I did before when I still believed that emotions were ‘bad’ – in the corporate world and in modern relationships too according to said friend.

“Roll them up into a bundle and toss them aside” she advices.

“Sister thats how I got hyperthyroidism. I almost died you know.”

“Ewo! Is that why my own thyroid is developing goitre?”

“Think about it.”

“Ah! So what should I do? I’m missing my boy o”

“Call him”

“I no go call am o. I no fit be like you. What if he hurts me?”

“You’ll survive. Look at me – I survive and I still believe in love. Just next time I’ll make sure its someone that can handle my emotional needs.”

Lovers by Tolu Aliki

Lovers by Tolu Aliki

How I Started Smelling Like A Native And Found My Purpose

January 30, 2015

 

I’m in the middle of the bush in south east Nigeria. Lying in bed staring at the ceiling with my arms over my head I catch a whiff of something completely human. Not acrid or putrid or rank, just very strong. And human. It takes me a second to realise that its me. I forgot what I smelled like, the I before deodorant, body spray and expensive french perfume.

Its not an unpleasant smell and people aren’t moving away from me or holding their noses but I am of course completely outraged!

“Smell? B.O.? Me keh?!! This is not acceptable!” screams my inner prima donna raised on Cosmo and Vogue.

But I’m in the middle of the bush in eastern Nigeria and I’ve run out of deodorant so whether I find it acceptable or not, whether its below minimum standards of civilisation or whether its an infringement of my fundamental human right to smell good is completely irrelevant right now.  I have to face the Beast! The Woman in the Mirror! Whose that smell?

I take a deeper whiff. I’m not used to it so its a bit of a shock. I expect it to be unpleasant because all my life I heard that body smells are unpleasant and should be masked with all the vigour of a military occupation. But its not unpleasant, it smells earthy like the first rains or nzu or freshly turned soil. I take another whiff. I like this smell.

Of course this smelly incident is just a metaphor for what happens when you hide the real you somewhere behind layers of civility, responsibility and respectability – like perfume and deodorant. You’re told you should be like this, not like that and so you come to hate and deny that other you that you hide behind plastic smiles and glazed eyes.

I had to smell myself, literally and figuratively, to find out who I really am and that I love the person that I am. And I had to be in the middle of the African bush and run out of deodorant to come to the realisation that –  THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ME.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to stop using deodorant or perfume. You don’t have to experience how I REALLY smell. Its very personal. Animals identify each other through smell you know. And some people smell so repulsive there should be a law against them. Their negative impact on me  motivates me to smell good more than Cosmo and Vogue – which I stopped reading long ago.

When I lost my job I lost more than just a job. I lost what I thought at the time as the purpose of my life – service through a distinguished career in the non profit sector. But truth is unless you are a rigid religionist or a fundamentalist your purpose can change and evolve. Just like you.

(Warning – repulsive or unpleasant BO could be a sign of ill health, bad diet or poor lifestyle)

 

meaningoflife

Its Been A California Minute. How You Been?

January 14, 2015
Migration by P Fisayo

Migration by P Fisayo

Hi. Happy New Year. I’m back. Its been a California minute, as the yankees would say. How you been? How’s your family? What did you do for the holidays? Who did you spend it with? Did you have a great time? Or was it torture? Or somewhere in the middle? Would you like to share your experience? Tell me your holiday stories.

I just came back in time for Christmas with the family. You know I been on sabbatical for the past two years. Back in 2012 I took a months vacation. Read here. First real vacation in a long time. It felt so good I decided to take a year off and call it a sabbatical. I just wanted a year off, from work, from Nigeria, from responsibilities…a year to disengage.

I know a sabbatical is supposed to be like a working holiday. But I had to call it that because my puritanical work ethic would have balked at anything else. I didn’t do a stitch of work for the entire year. Unless you call writing work. I don’t get paid for it yet so I don’t. Maybe I should.

When I came back to Nigeria in January last year (read here) I thought my mid life crisis had burned itself out and I was ready to rejoin the Bedlam that is Nigeria. I was wrong and I ran away again. I said I was going for the summer but who stays six months for summer and comes back just before Christmas? Yeah, ok, Lesley does. I guess I had unfinished business.

Its been a good two years, an enlightening two years. When I left Nigeria I was still reeling from my experience with Oxfam GB (read here), the death of my father and recovering from a grave disease . I was burned out, deflated and exhausted. I also thought I could challenge my dismissal from Oxfam or at least some sort of compensation for the fall out but the UK Employment Bureau only handles domestic hires, and I found an English lawyer willing to file a a no win no fee criminal assault case a week before the statute of limitations kicked in. There just wasn’t enough time to file a charge she said.

It took a while but I realise that its all been for a greater purpose. I’ve had to review and reconsider what matters to me, what I want and whats important. And its not what I thought. I’ve changed. Again. I finally let go of that fruit I was clutching and found freedom.

This could get exciting! Lets go!

Did You Know Its International Men’s Day?

November 19, 2014

Did you know? That there is such a thing as International Men’s Day?  I didn’t know till I saw a post on my friends FB page this morning.

Their website says this about what its all about.

The 6 Pillars of International Men’s Day

1. To promote positive male role models; not just movie stars and sports men but everyday, working class men who are living decent, honest lives.

2. To celebrate men’s positive contributions to society, community, family, marriage, child care, and to the environment.

3. To focus on men’s health and well being; social, emotional, physical and spiritual.

4. To highlight discrimination against men; in areas of social services, social attitudes and expectations, and law

5. To improve gender relations and promote gender equality

6. To create a safer, better world; where people can be safe and grow to reach their full potential..

Seems noble enough. I guess I have no problem celebrating men once a year outside Father’s Day. I have nothing against men, I like them very much as a matter of fact and I would like to see more positive male role models and a safer better world etc  etc etc.

I gave birth to and raised two men myself and I would like to encourage them and reinforce all the good stuff I taught them about being good, caring, responsible and loving men. One of them is even a father himself now, of two daughters no less. I had to raise two modern men and I expect him to raise two modern women (with help of course, we all have lots of help).

While I ‘get it’ and I almost shared the good news blindly without a caveat or a critique, further consideration made me pause and look into it some more.

Apparently we need to feel sorry for men because, you know what, they are committing suicide in record high numbers according to a UK report that came out to coincide with IMD. Four thousand five hundred suicides were recorded in England and Wales last year, 78% of them were men. In India the National Crime Records Bureau report for 2013, said 64,098 married men committed suicide as against 29,491 married women. The underlying assumption is that they are suffering a crisis of masculinity. 

While men remain the major perpetrators and victims of violence especially male on male violence , women are predominantly victims of male violence. And most of the violence against women is perpetrated in the home while most of the violence against men is perpetrated outside the home. So whats the conclusion? Men are inherently violent? Or just misunderstood?

I’m not man bashing. I raised two sensitive and caring men and I know a lot of other men that are great role models of strength, purpose and compassion. These are the men that I can and will celebrate.  The awesome men that aren’t in a ‘crisis of masculinity’, the wonderful men that aren’t wingeing about the gains women have made and are doing something about  being better men.

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Living Under the Patriarchy II

November 17, 2014

‘Your father is dead.” Did he say my father wants to speak to me? Sometimes the old man uses other people’s phones to call me because he thinks I won’t take his calls.

“What did you say?” I ask.

“Your father is dead. Your father is dead” the caller, Mmuta my uncle, replies.

I feel a cold rush run through my body and sink into a nearby chair. He can’t be, I think to myself. I haven’t built him that house yet. Besides, he’s too mean to die, he enjoys tormenting us, his family, too much.

“Should we bury him today?” Mmuta asks me over the phone.

“What?”

“Should we bury him immediately?”

I feel a spark of irritation. How can he ask me such a thing? I haven’t even processed news of my fathers death and he wants to make me responsible for the decision to bury him immediately or not? He didn’t even ask me if I was sitting down when he broke the news. How callous. But that is the way of the village. Men don’t do sentimental although some are more compassionate than others. Mmuta is of the practical school of thought.

I wonder why he’s asking me anyway. I’m a woman, there is no way in hell they will let a woman decide the conduct of an Igbo man’s funeral even if she is his oldest daughter. When he was alive my father said he wanted to be buried the same day he died, rolled up in a mat like a Muslim. He said he wanted no monuments, just a tree to grow over his bones. Simple, inexpensive, no fanfare. He was a committed communist, he abhorred all obscene consumption and crass materialism.

I gather my reeling senses – “Yes, bury him immediately.” I reply and hang up. Who knows, it just might work.  My concern shifted to how I would break  the news to my sons. In a daze I went to tell them their grand father was dead.

I call Mmuta several hours later.

“Have you buried him?”

“The family met and decided that he is too important to bury him just like that.They said they will meet and inform you when and how he will be buried.” Mmuta replies.

A couple days later my younger brother calls. He is my fathers first son and he is younger than my youngest son.

“We have decided that we have to complete his house before we bury him.”

My father the communist and idealist lived his whole life in a suit of rooms in his fathers ancient house and didn’t start building his own till after he retired with his gratuity. It was less than 60% complete.

“Really? Do you have the money to complete it?” I ask.

“What do you mean? That is the decision we have taken, all you need to do is tell us is how much you are contributing” he snarled.

The hyena’s had gathered. My father wasn’t there to protect me anymore.

scompound1913

Living Under the Patriarchy I

November 11, 2014

My father took me to the market in Owerri once when I was 12 or 13. I didn’t want to go with him. I was at that age when parents embarrassed the hell out of a teenager. And by this time I was finding my father a bloody embarrassment all the time.

He made me walk ahead of him. As usual the traders in the market started groping me and pulling me and appreciating God’s work in rather lewd Igbo grammar. Usually I pushed them away and told them off  and shopped with the least offensive and quietest of the lot.

I tried to brush them off and ignore them in my usual manner but my father pounced on each and everyone of them.

“What are you looking at? Why are you touching her? Are you mad?”

The wise ones slunk away, the brash ones tried to stand up to him. Big mistake. No one stood up to my father. When he used that tone of voice he expected complete and immediate compliance. And he didn’t hesitate to use his fists to enforce compliance.

I don’t remember much else about that day except wanting the ground to open up and swallow me while he argued and fought his way through the market. I must have bought something but I can’t remember what it was.

Most of the male members of his extended family behaved in a similar manner when we were out together.

“What you looking at?” they would demand aggressively of any poor sod that happened to look my way with more than appropriate interest.

My fathers family were well known in the village for their quick temper and quick fists. It was well known that a fight with one of them would bring the entire family coming to the rescue and support of their own. It was a large family. They didn’t ask what happened till the threat was eliminated and everyone at home and accounted for. They were like the marines or the army like that.

One guy got beat to a pulp for calling me names. One of my cousins still has an impressive facial scar to remind me of the incident. He uses it to manipulate me regularly.

“Ah ah. I took a knife for you nah. See, sixteen stitches, because of you” he would say pointing to the scar that dragged the line of his lips into a perpetual half frown. It didn’t feel right to remind him that I hadn’t asked or even expected him to fight for me much less take a a nasty cut to his once handsome face although he is still handsome in a rakish beat up way.

I didn’t appreciate my violent protectors back in those days. I didn’t even know that I needed them. I was clueless, it didn’t occur to me that something bad could happen or that I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself if it did. After all I knew how to use a knife.

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Adam Nico – Living Like A Professional in the UK

November 10, 2014

I met a Kenyan acrobat in Brighton. He used to work for Zippo Circus. He even showed me the pictures. Circus jobs don’t usually come with a pension. He’s old and works in construction now. He is also homeless. His British wife kicked him out he says. They have two kids. A son who is in university and a daughter that got 5 A’s in her O’levels. He’s so proud.

I asked him the last time he visited Kenya. He tells a rambling story of taking his children and step children there and showing them where he was born but he doesn’t say when it was. Before the missus kicked him out is the best guess so thats like 10 years ago. He’s been in the UK since 1992. He was born in Mombasa. He boasts of the land he has in Kenya, given to him by his fathers lineage. I ask if he has a native wife in Kenya. He pretends to look shocked.

He recalls how Tip Top Entertainment (owners/managers of Zippo) used to send him and his team to Germany, Netherlands, France etc. Its sad to see him nearly destitute. The way he insists that he is a ‘professional’ betrays the memory of a life of dreams and hopes.

 

Adam Nico (Copyright Lesley Agams)

Adam Nico (Copyright Lesley Agams)

What Should We Be Afraid Of?

October 18, 2014

It was October 1998. Me, my bff and a male friend were walking home from our local joint around midnight. We went there every night after work to drink beer and shoot pool with the boys.

It was a short walk but we had to pass the Nigerian Security Minting and Printing office opposite NTA to get there.  In Abacha’s days they were always guarded by military and police.  Sometimes they would come out on the road and shake down passersby.

In the military days we always got stopped and asked for ID, I never gave anyone mine. I knew my rights, you know what I mean.  and I was loud and vocal in asserting them especially with the boys in uniform. Its a surprise I didn’t get shot. Or maybe it was the fact that I was a woman, and a yellow woman at that. More prudent friends restrained me if we neared a check point.

Anyway this night the boys in khaki stop us and ask for our ID. Our man friend flashes his, I question they’re right to ask for mine. My bff, wise and cautious, stands aside quietly observing. Eventually I win the shouting match and they disdainfully tell me ‘Go abeg, craze woman’.

So I shove off still cussing and still raking. Our male friend had disappeared. As we’re walking away my bff who had been standing near a couple of girls sitting on a rock by the road at the checkpoint tells me the girls told her they had been there for hours. And basically how lucky we were to be on our way. I don’t know what it was but I had this certainty that the khaki scum were planning to rape those girls or at least coerce them into sex as soon as they were alone.   I turned back.

The zombies at the check point were surprised to see me coming back. I walked right up to them and shouted at them that I came back for the two girls.  It all went from bad to worse rather quickly. One of the soldiers cocks his rifle and points it at me. I don’t skip a beat. I turn to my wise bff standing well away and looking rather shell shocked by now.

“Maya, if they shoot me tonight make sure you tell my father exactly what happened.”

Of course they didn’t shoot and my bff and I walked those two girls home. The girls told me the zombies had been trying to coerce them to go into their security hut and have sex.  They thanked us profusely. Couple weeks later we walked into the restaurant where they worked as waitresses. They didn’t let us pay for a thing.

Reckless? Fearless? Brave? I’m none of those. I’m just someone that stands up for myself and for others that need standing up for. I didn’t think of death, I was certain I was going to die. Someday, somehow. I just didn’t want to die like a chicken or like something cowering and afraid in a corner. When death comes I wanted to be ready to stare him in the eye and defy him. Dare him to make me scared. Because somewhere somehow I learnt never show to fear. Never to be afraid.

 

 

1978

Ihioma, Nigeria 1978

 

 

 

A Sterling Goat

September 30, 2014

 

Two British aid executives came to Nigeria for a program launch in Sokoto. They flew first class into Lagos, stayed at the Lagos Sheraton for two nights, entertaining and each of them consumed a bottle of high end cognac each night. After two days they flew business class to Abuja, stayed at the the Abuja Sheraton and then went by road the next day to Sokoto in shiny hired SUV’s. They took four hampers of food from the Abuja Sheraton with them because they had been told the food at the hotel in Sokoto would probably not appeal to them. When they got to Sokoto they went with all pomp and pageantry to deliver – now wait for this – 20 goats to 40 families. Or was it 40 goats to 20 families. I can’t remember which. I heard they paid £5000 for the goats.

 

Diseye Tantua a talented Nigerian artist has made the molue the subject of a series of  delightful 'African pop art' paintings.

Diseye Tantua a talented Nigerian artist has made the molue the subject of a series of delightful ‘African pop art’ paintings.

The Story Behind the Pictures

August 25, 2014

Let me tell the story of these picture.

I wanted a professional studio shot for my LinkedIn profile and other social media. Some thing that didn’t say ‘selfie’ or ‘office Christmas party’.  So while I was in England last year I decided to do just that. I had done a couple in Abuja a few years ago but they didn’t give me digital copies so they kinda got lost. Sad, they were quite nice.

So when I saw a deal on wowcher offering a full makeover studio experience  worth  well over £399 for £9 I rushed it of course.  The hook was perfect. For this price they do your hair and make up give you pretty much all you can drink champagne and take your picture in 5 different outfits (and dozens of poses) and give you one digital print. After the appropriately staid media shot below I got a bit adventurous.

linkedin profile pic

See – THAT’S what two and half hours of hair and makeup look like.

I’ve never spent more than 10 minutes in the morning on hair and makeup. Who had the time? I was a  single working  mother. Now that I have the time I lack the interest. I didn’t recognise myself after two and a half hours of hair and makeup.    It was an amazing experience. I recommend it.

After 3 glasses of champagne and 2 hours with the broodingly handsome Italian photographer called Sergio I had to chose my Top 10 shots out of over 400. As I flipped through the shots I just dey wonder -“Who be dis chick? Na me be dat?” Some of those shots only but ever gonna be seen on my bedroom wall o!

I don’t look like this everyday.  I can’t, I wouldn’t know how to but it was a rich experience and I enjoyed it. And its nice  to know I could look just as hot as Halle Berry and Jada Pinkett  if  I could devote 4-5 hours a day. And I would if I was getting paid  for it.  We women are socialised to feel so insecure about growing up. This shoot was just what my ageing self esteem needed to fight the media images of perfect size 0 women aged 14 – 22.

The only thing that’s changed since the photo shoot is that I wear lipstick now. Well, sometimes. I’m still 10 kg overweight. I’m still a size Large (horror!) and my hair more often looks like a bird nest than anything so sleek and groomed but just for a few hours I was George Eliot’s ‘Lucy Deane’ instead of ‘Maggie Tulliver’.

I’m sure I’ll look at these pictures in 10 and 20 and 30 years time and be just as amazed. And my grandchildren will probably gasp in wonder  and say “Babs! You used to be young!”.

ADR_1463-c copy

Yeah, those ARE fishnets

 

 


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