My father loved to tell the story of how I was born at precisely 12noon on Wednesday, January 5, 1966 at my grandmothers apartment on Leninovsky Boulevard in Central Moscow. It was -14*C outside. Snow covered every where, white and fluffy on the spaces in between black and melting slush in the streets. It must have been easy to convince him not to go for lectures that day, and easy not to want to rush off to the state run hospital till it was too late. I made my prompt arrival right there with just the two of them attending. My mother was 18 my father was 28 or so.
I arrived squalling and squealing at the indignity of it! Why on earth would you NOT go to the hospital on time and ensure that I had the best medical care available from the minute I took my first breathe! If I coulda I woulda slapped them upside the head for putting ME at such risk. I mean, anything coulda happened! Thankfully I survived their youthful inexperience and stupidity. I’m pretty sure my grandmother slapped them upside the head when she came home from work.
The Beatles were trending around the world. That doesn’t sound quite right. The Beatles were causing mass hysteria all over the world and going viral 30 years before the internet gave viral a new meaning. My father travelled to the UK from Russia pretty regular and brought Divine Mother Ludymila all their records.
The Cold War between Soviet Union and the West was at detente. Brezhnev was Chairman of the Communist Party and head of state and Lyndon B. Johnson presided in the White House. Of course the Queen was and is still the Queen unaffected by mere economics or democratic whims. My grandmother named me Elizabeth. Not Leona and not Linda.
Black demands for civil rights were growing in the United States. Malcolm X was killed in 1965 and the Watts Riots followed in July of ’65 and again in March of ’66. The Black Panthers were formed later that year. The increasingly violent racial tensions in the United States reflected similar tensions in the newly independent colonial states heavily influenced by Franz Fanon struggling to carve out an identity for themselves and severe the yoke of colonialism.
Liberations struggles flourished across Africa. Samora and Machel in Mozambique, Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Mandela and Tambo in South Africa. Nigeria had gained independence in 1960 and Nnamdi Azikiwe was the President but unrest was brewing in the Western Region. My birth seemed to herald the 1966 coup, the ensuing slaughter of Igbo-Nigerians and the civil war that followed.
Would you be tempted to say – if thats the case perhaps better you had not been born then. I know I’m thinking the same thing but I was. I also think I would have to be a narcissist of anti-christ proportions to think my birth heralded so much drama, chaos, death and blood shed. I’m pretty sure there is no metaphysical correlation what so ever. Still, it makes for a compelling story line, don’t you think? A Hammer House of Horror Special – the Anti Christ is actually a WOMAN!
I could also frame the narrative of my birth around space exploration, in 1966 the Soviet Union led the Space Race and it was a great source of pride and common dinner conversation topic. My aunt and my grandmother were all committed communists. The state could do no wrong. They were very proud. I grew up believing I could be an astronaut if I wanted to be.
Then there was the pop culture backdrop; the mini skirt was becoming a staple fashion item, Andy Warhol ruled New York, Jacqueline Sussan published ‘Valley of the Dolls’, and Harold Robbins published ‘The Adventurer’, classics I didn’t read till 20 years later.
In Africa Chinua Achebe published his third book ‘Arrow of God’ and Lagos, Nairobi, Accra, Abidjan and AddisAbaba competed for position of most cosmopolitan African city south of the Sahara.
In Moscow produced excellent soviet films, theatre, ballet and opera. Perhaps my grandmother was a bit racist in steering me towards dance and music where she assumed my half black nature would lead me to excel instead of chemistry or physics where I guess she assumed my half black nature would not. I think I would have excelled at maths if given the opportunity.
Later in 1966 Pope Paul VI and Arthur Michael Ramsey, the Archbishop of Canterbury meet in Rome – the first official meeting for 400 years between the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. And England will defeat Germany to win the World Cup. The first episode of the science fiction television series Star Trek premieres in the US.
I arrived in the midst of all this creative tension and euphoria of possibility and potential. And I arrived in a hurry. I’ve never slowed down. I’m always in a hurry. I graduated high school at 15, university at 20 and law school at 22. Company secretary at 26, set up my first enterprise business at 28.
I also found time to get married, have three children and lose one by 20. By 22 I had lost the husband too having decided he was more of a hindrance than a help along this highway to somewhere fast that I was on and I became a single mom. Now with hind sight I have to marvel at this very young woman’s very big balls. She had very big dreams.
She also has a big big heart. No matter how many times her heart was broken she kept looking for that elusive crazy little thing called love – with lovers, friends male and female, family, mentors it didn’t matter the relationship. There had to be love.
Its truly amazing looking back on my five decades of experience. I never really thought i would see the Big 5-0. In my melancholy troubled youth I determined not to live longer than my Divine Mother who died at 41. In protest or loyalty or just childish angst or maybe just out of vanity influenced by Blondie’s song – ‘Die Young And Stay Pretty’ – I decided I would not live beyond 41.
Despite my high risk self destructive lifestyle I made it to 50. It is truly a miracle. I should have been dead long long ago. Well me and most every other Nigerian living in Nigeria too. Life expectancy for women is 55 compared to 52 for men. Technically I’m in the twilight of life already, an elder with just 5 years left on the clock. Well I feel like life is just starting!
Kind of tragic when you think about. People dying in their prime in Nigeria. I’m no longer so young that feel I have all the time in the world and yet I’m not so old that I feel life is over for me either. I really does feel like a whole new possibility of life. I didn’t feel this positive when I turned 40.
I mean I was grateful that I was no fool at 40. I remember thinking – phew I made it! I just didn’t feel a momentous difference. I didn’t really feel grown up yet. And I guess I do now. Well sorta. In some sort of way. I feel myself consciously ‘putting away the things of youth’ – like the insecurities, and the neurosis and the angst and the driven pursuit of an elusive ‘happiness’.
There is confidence in looking back and knowing you’ve played this game called life for 50 years and survived. There has been trauma, crisis, divorce, melodrama, birth, death, sickness , bankruptcy. Amid all the thorns there have been beautiful roses – children, family, friends, weddings, feasts, ceremonies, christenings, graduations, special places and special events.
I started travelling extensively at 23. I told people I was collecting memories and experiences instead of silver and gold. Boy was that true. Its been a rich and rewarding five decades. The good, the bad and the ugly have all shaped this amazingly unique person that I am. I like her. Anybody else’s opinion doesn’t count.
I’m looking forward to the next five decades. You know me, the overachiever. Now that I have passed my previously set age to die of 40 and clocked 50 I fully intend to reach 100. And why not? Its like a second chance at life. Might as well start planning 2066. Age we do not fear, we just don’t want to be decrepit.
The second half of the adventure is just beginning. Stayed tuned. MzAgams at 50 is better that ever.