The Gospel According to Lesley: The Evil Step Mother

Since I have introduced My Evil Step Mother let me say something about her.

She didn’t stand a chance. My Mother is a Goddess. Which woman can compete with that? My Evil Step Mother lost the popularity stakes before you even began. And she didn’t make it any better when she decided to comb my matted dreadlocked hair instead of just cutting it off when she first met me. Dreadlocks? You may wonder. Yes. I had dreadlocks at the age of four because my father didn’t comb my hair in the one year after we absconded from the Soviet Union before she joined us.

Her name was Lilia. I’m still trying to find out if she is dead or alive and whether maybe she left me something in her will. Because I have an enduring fantasy that somewhere somehow I have a long lost relative that will leave me something in his or her will. Being remembered in a will, inheriting something, is like being affirmed or validated, its like saying ‘you belong.’  Agatha Christie’s characters were always left something in someone’s will.

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Lilia wasn’t all that bad really. I know she crossed the road once rather than walk on the side walk in front of a Jewish centre and that she regularly made fun of my father’s nose, our fat lips and our kinky hair. I know she had a racist opinion about every thing from black sexuality to black crime which she shared freely with me even when it wasn’t age appropriate. I know she only married my father to escape The Soviet Union. My Mother would never have considered doing such a thing. Like I said, a goddess but she didn’t know that my father would take me when he left. She didn’t even know that he could.

I also know that Lilia Nikoliayevna Zviaglosky did not sleep with my father. We’ll come to that later.

In my imagination Lilia was evil because she made me sit to learn sewing, knitting and crocheting when I would rather be outside playing in the woods behind our estate or swimming or something. I was a bit of a feral child. She did evil things like comb my hair, which hurt. She tried to make me learn the Russian alphabet and how to read and write in Russian. She even made me go to bed at 8 o’clock on Summer nights when it was still bright outside. I would lie in my bed listening to children playing outside in the sun and hate her. She was so evil she cut up my beautiful white synthetic leather boots that were all the rage in America in 1974. Then she stitched up the cuts and made me wear them to school! (I was too young to own it and it was too long before Michelle Pfeiffer popularised that look in 1993.)

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I thought she was a real evil bitch. Unlike The Goddess, my real mother.

There is a price to pay for everything. Lilia paid the price. Eventually she divorced Dr. Agams and last I heard married some guy named Fred G. Paradin. Fred used to take her to Vegas on dates. The Divorce was epic. Dr. Agams filed a cross petition and included the CIA, FBI and KGB as co-respondents but not Fred. Shortly after that Dr. Agams brought me to Nigeria. (Specifically to Umuaka, a Mediaeval Little Kingdom on the banks of the Njaba River in rural south east Nigeria where I was to send the second decade of my life.)

After living in Nigeria Lilia doesn’t seem like such an Evil Step Mother after all.

You haven’t seen or heard about Evil Step Mothers till you come to Nigeria. Nigerian women seem to think that being nice to their husbands offspring by other women is a crime. Its like the default setting is Evil Step Mother Mode. I think maybe it has something to do with loyalty to your mother’s hut in polygamous homesteads. A mothers primary responsibility is to protect you from abuse. Children without mothers were targets and little better than orphans. Men never raised kids.

Evil Nigerian Step Mothers will starve you, beat you, cut your prick off if your a boy, or your eyes and tongue, shave your head if you’re a girl, especially if you are a pretty girl, make you do all the house work like Cinderella,  make you sit on the dining room floor to eat while her children ate at the table and generally make your life so miserable that you eagerly marry the first person that asks you when you are 15. Just Google ‘step mother Nigeria’ and see for yourself.

I can hear you saying “Not me! Never.”

So long as you know that your step children will never like you and will never be grateful for whatever kindness you show them. A Nigerian woman spent years raising her step children like her own. When her husband became terminally ill these step children manipulated her and her three children out of her home of over 20 years and brought their mother, who was married to someone else by then, to bury him when he died. The poor woman and her there children got nothing from the estate.

So I still call Lilia, My Evil Step Mother. I’m The Ungrateful Nigerian Step Child. And I’m still hating on her for what she did to those boots.

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What Lessons Can We Learn From Anna Nicole Smith’s Life?

Last week was ten years since Anna died. I guess if you’re still news worthy ten years after your death you are a cultural icon. There were stories all over the internet about her daughter and how she is doing now. Larry Birkhead the baby daddy and caregiver made a few tasteful appearances and interviews. Nothing overtly exploitative even though we all know he must have been paid. He kept on saying that Dannielynn was not inheriting any millions and that it wasn’t Anna’s estate supporting them. He said it often enough for me to doubt him. When asked how he made a living Larry said he earned money through photography and ‘flipping houses.’

Anna did not die without assets and her assets have been quietly going up for sale over the past few years. Her LA house was sold, as were some of her personal effects and memorabilia. Dannielynn remains her only heir. Her second husband Howard Marshall gave her quite a few gifts including jewellery and art work. Just before she died she was reportedly paid $1 Million for footage of her birth and an exclusive interview with Howard K Stern her lawyer and best friend.

I’m not sure if I care, I’m only commenting because Larry made so much effort to deny he is profiteering from her estate. I guess like Anna he is intent on proving that he is not a gold digger. Does that phrase even apply to men?

Anyway I was intrigued and dug into the story a bit more than I did when it was breaking. I first became aware of Anna as the new Guess? jeans girl back in 1993. She was beautiful and she was being hyped  as the new plus size super model wanna-be. As a young woman obsessed with her weight and resentful of the super thin models that bombarded me every time I opened Vogue and Cosmopolitan, Anna was a refreshing image. It was refreshing when media hyped larger models Cindy, Linda Evangelista and Naomi. Come to think about it this hyping of plus size models is becoming kinda of tired. They have been touting bigger models since the 1990’s and still present them as a new trend. So how long before its accepted as main stream?

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I was only vaguely aware of her return to the spotlight as the Trimspa spokesperson. It was a story about a woman losing weight after all, like all women that obsess about their weight those kind of stories tend to catch our attention. It wasn’t until she got pregnant and ran off to the Bahamas that I really started to pay attention and followed the story till she died.  But not so much that I can remember where I was when her death was announced on 8 February 2007.

As the drama played out and videos started emerging of her obviously medicated and frequently  incoherent my knee jerk reaction was that Howard K. Stern was an evil Svengali manipulating her. And when she finally died, 5 short months after the death of her son and the birth of her daughter, it became just another tragic footnote in celebrity history.

“Don’t make me trade one baby for another” she reportedly said.

A lot has been written about Anna Nicole. In my quest for a new angle I watched a documentary by Lisa Ling on ‘Sugaring.’ Sugaring is where younger women hook up with older men with the understanding that the men take care of the women financially. Dr. Phil asked them “Are you hookers?”

“No more than a woman that chooses to be a full time homemaker financially dependent on her husband” one of the women replies.

Lisa Ling keeps suggesting that the women are cheating at life by trying to ‘skip some steps’ or taking a short cut. She looks at them bemused throughout the documentary.

“I pay for myself, I always go Dutch” she says. I cringe for a second. I don’t. Especially not if I’m invited out.

Growing up in Nigeria it was accepted that men invite a woman out  and pay. Mostly because women didn’t just go out on their own anyway, unless they were ‘working girls’ and charged at the end of the night. It wasn’t till the 90’s that a new breed of financially independent middle class women started going out with the ‘girls’  and each girl paid for herself.

It would seem a bit cliche to rant about an invisible patriarchy that limits a woman’s opportunities for self actualisation. Or to point out the obvious differences in mind set and access to available opportunities for poor vs. rich and educated vs. uneducated and rural vs. urban women.

In my digging around I come across ‘White Trash Nation’  a 1994 New Yorker cover story by J. Friend. “Welcome to the age of white trash” he wrote. Anna’s picture accompanied the cover headline. The article is uncanny in its prescience. Reading it I realise that Trump is the new White Trash Hero. And deja vu, in a 20/20 show they dredge up an early quote from Anna admiring Trump and suggesting he become president and make her his First Lady. Knowing Trump Anna wouldn’t have been his style. He likes ‘classier’ women – European women.

The parallels between her and Melania can’t be ignored.

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Both from small town lower class families, both turned to ‘modelling’ to get out, both took off their clothes for money and both married rich older men that they met through their work. The comparison ends there. Melania is European and Anna is ‘white trash’ a racial slur used to describe poor white Americans that were ‘poor as slaves’ and lacked ‘social grace.’ In Europe ‘white trash’ or the most economically disadvantaged whites are the gypsies or the Roma as they are called now. Demonised, excluded, discriminated, rejected.

Anna met Marshall her second husband and ‘never danced again’. ‘My husband threw money at me’ she infamously said. ‘Its very expensive being me.’ And she didn’t curb her hard partying jet setting lifestyle after she married him. Melania on the other hand played hard to get, was discreet, financially prudent and convinced Donald that she was immune to poaching. In an interview with Larry King shortly after their wedding in 2007 Donald very proudly announced that Melania is like the  fortress in Song of Solomon. Powerful men like that kind of thing, its probably one reason Donald would never have considered marrying Anna. She was too available.

Anna was actually the more successful of the two in their chosen career. She made the cover of Playboy, was Playmate of the Year and landed a multimillion dollar ad campaign and even appeared in a couple of movies before her hard partying ways crashed her career almost as soon as it took off. She also seemed to think she could have her cake and eat it; marry Marshall and claim half his estate without actually cohabiting with him.

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Watching Melania I can’t help think she played her cards well. She never contradicts Donald, doesn’t nag, massages his ego and infantalises him. ‘My boys’ she calls him and her son Barron. Its like watching Carla coo at Nicholas. It’s weird to watch. Beautiful women confidently and brazenly patronising powerful men. It’s like watching public sex, too intimate and uncomfortable.  A display of power, a challenge to all those morality stories about the evils of leveraging your feminine charms in relationships with powerful men and the world. And a validation of all those other stories about ‘bottom power.’

I think a lot of violence against women might be fuelled by suppressed male rage against this reported male powerlessness and vulnerability to female sexuality. Even Anna’s second husband Howard Marshall is quoted as saying that a man in love does stupid things. Adam, Samson and Julius Caesar might agree. And while Anna may not have seen any better options for upward mobility she doesn’t strike me like a victim as some people would like to portray her. No more than Melania is a victim. These are women that made choices and exercised agency.  We all have to face the choices we make.

When I left my first husband and became a single mom in the city of Lagos in the late 1980’s I was about Anna’s age. But I was also a graduate. I came to Lagos to study for the Nigerian Bar exam and never went back to the village I spent the past ten years in. I never overcame my personal values against transactional sex of any kind.  This often brought me into conflict with female members of my clan who considered male patronage (of the financial kind) just one more perk of being a pretty woman and what a waste of pretty and yellow if you didn’t cash in on it.

“I won’t look this way forever” one of the young women tells Lisa Ling. The young women all express sentiments I heard often growing up in the village.

“Why waste your time on a poor, abusive and inexperienced boy who will not appreciate you or treat you well, when you can be with an older richer man who will take care of you and spoil you?”

In Lagos I declined offers to be a cocktail hostess, the fourth wife to a 70 year old polygamous millionaire with a penchant for ‘half castes’, some bad-o’s mistress and the Venus De Milo campaign girl. Venus De Milo was the biggest skin lightening  brand in Nigeria at the time and the Venus De Milo girl was bigger than Miss. Nigeria. I declined the campaign offer because the fee wasn’t big enough, not because I had anything against modelling.

“What do I care about the fee?  I’d do it for the exposure” one of the strippers Anna worked with in Houston said about after Anna’s Playboy and Guess campaign appearances. The fee I was offered for the Venus de Milo campaign felt inadequate for the massive exposure it would have brought. I wasn’t looking for a husband or a sugar daddy, I wanted to be a successful lawyer. I wanted to be appreciated and respected for my mind. I was excoriated by friends and family.

I tried to talk to my oldest aunt about love once. She was unable to grasp the very western concept. Women married for security, not love. Another aunt regularly and vocally upbraided me for ‘giving it up for free.’

“Since you’re giving it up at least get paid for it’ she always said. ‘Free’ sex was the height of irresponsible. And inconsiderate. “After fucking all those men you expect me to give you money?” she asked her daughter. And once her daughter became sexually active she never gave her another kobo. Her daughter made her proud eventually. I’ll never forget the last time I saw my aunt. She took delight in recounting for me all the things her daughter, who eventually became the not so young fourth or fifth wife of a rich polygamous Nigerian man, had bought for her.

“Two freezers, two refrigerators, a generator, a pick up, a washing machine.”

My aunt owned a beer parlour.

The marriage didn’t last.

“At least she got a lot out of it before it collapsed. What did you get out of your own marriage? Foolish girl.”

It wasn’t that a man was a woman’s only opportunity to a better life. Rather it was the waste of a good opportunity by a beautiful woman. You could fry chicken and flip burgers for minimum wage all your life or you could land yourself a rich boyfriend, sugar daddy or husband and live easy. What’s love got to do with it?  Or appearances?

While Anna’s and Melania’s rags to riches stories are cliche they might not draw the same criticism in Nigeria they do in the west. In Nigeria they might be seen as symbols of feminine success. It’s Anna’s hard partying ogbanje lifestyle that forms a cautionary moral lesson for women in Nigeria and Africa. Melania on the other hand is, for a certain type of woman, the epitome of how to do it right. Get the man, and keep your head down.

Ask Bianca Onu Ojukwu, Halima Diende Fernandez, Shola Okoya, and Frances Iwuanynwu or even Emir Sanusi’s new teenage wife.

😉

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The Gospel According To Lesley: Talking About Beauty II

Last month I wrote about some of the stuff I’ve done over the years in the name of ‘beauty’ and promised to fill you in after I think about it some more.

For many many years I tried to prove that I was just as hardy as the Natives. Because the natives always told me I was soft because I was half white. They said we are not strong like them. So I used to run around under the sun at noon and otherwise look very hardy during the hottest time of the day and all day till the sun went down. We got up and went to bed with the sun.

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Sun Hustle by David Osagie, Digital Artist

They were right. I was wrong. I am not as hardy as the natives. All that running around in the sun just over heated me and made me sick. So nowadays I follow oyibo advice – I stay out of the sun. My friends tease me because I use these uber cute and kitschy sun umbrellas and hats if I’m even 2 minutes in the sun.

I avoid  being outside between 10am and 5pm. If I could get away with it I would only come out between 7pm and 7am but they might call me a vampire. The natives are very superstitious. They go to bed early. There will be no one to do business with at that time of the night anyway. The ones that stay awake may not make good business partners.

Nigeria proves the stereotype that only bad  things happen at night.

I used to eat a lot of garlic. I still eat garlic but not so much. My ayurveda diagnosis does not recommend it. I eat just enough to prove I am not a vampire and to keep real vampires at bay. Beware the ones that go “Hmm. You eat garlic.”  Like its an accusation of witch craft.

The most common age related damage I seen on Nigerian women is sun damage.  Even in the ones that are not so yellow.  We live almost at the equator, with only gods knows what type of environmental ozone and atmospheric damage making us super vulnerable to the worst of the sun’s radiation.

SPF just doesn’t cut it for me. It also made me sweat too profusely so I dont use it. I just don’t go out during the hottest part of the day. Oyibo is deceiving you to buy sunscreen. The smart oyibo’s are the ones in Spain and Greece. The ones that close all business and take siesta during the hottest part of the day. Americans like to  suffer. Always busy. You understand why Nigerians of the Igbo extraction like them so well? By the way you can read a short history of the tan here.

I don’t want or need a tan. Nor do I need to worship the sun. I’m pretty sure it will rise tomorrow, that I’ll have roughly the same number of hours of sunshine and that I will get some living in Abuja. Imagine what it must be like where they have 24 hours of night or 24 hours of day for a season?

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Dark Side by David Osagie, Digital Artist

The changing lengths of  the days in London, Moscow and St. Pete’s freaked me out good enough. After four months of cold short days cooped up indoors I almost rushed out to worship the sun too.

Around here we tend to worship the rain storms, thunder, lightning, the earth that yields food, water, rivers, oceans, creeks and springs. My skin loves the rainy season when the air is heavy with moisture. In Nigeria we have real rain storms. The rain in England is civilised. You can walk for hours and not get wet. In Naija you are soaked within seconds by just one gust.

Avoid the heat too. In the absence of air-conditioning in the village I found that generous applications of nzu, a chalk like mud from the river beds, when left to dry on the skin, would cool the body and leave the skin wonderfully moisturised. I would lounge on a mat under the mango tree in white chalk and a wrapper reading or listening to music on the radio. Of course the natives thought I was crazy. What do they know. Suffer head people. Running around in the sun. Perspiring. Smelling funky.

Avoid the sun joor. Apu na anwu.

Chao bella

 

 

Child Custody in Nigeria FAQ: Who Owns The Child? II

‘Ownership’ of children is a feature of many customary laws in Nigeria.

Customary laws vary from one tribal group to the other. In some Igbo-Nigerian communities payment of the bride price determines ‘ownership’ of children. In ‘An Anatomy of Female Power’ Chinweizu has previously argued that the payment of bride price in Nigeria does not entitle the payer to the woman but rather to the fruit of her womb and I agree with him.

Among some Igbo-Nigerian groups and in Umuaka where I come from and grew up in particular under tribal laws where a marriage is not formalised and a bride price is not paid any child a woman bears ‘belongs’ to her father’s house and enjoys full inheritance rights. Likewise, if a woman left or divorced her husband she had to repay him the bride price her paid or any children she had thereafter ‘belonged’ to him, no matter who was the biological father. However, these tribal laws have been held to be repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience and are not usually enforceable by the customary courts anymore. Likewise, tribal laws that deny mothers access or custody without a consideration of natural justice, equity and good conscience are repugnant. However, it takes a good knowledgable lawyer to make that argument before the court.

In Yoruba-Nigeria the practice was that a child could claim a right to inheritance so long as the father had acknowledged him during while the father was alive. Sharia law, which is classed as a customary law in the Federal republic of Nigeria, apparently privileges mothers in custody issues whether they were married or not.  Customary courts just like statutory courts have a lot of discretion and it all depends on the arguments they are presented to them.

Lagos State is the only state in Nigeria that has created a family court procedure to deal with disputes relating to guardianship, custody and adoption that is not related to matrimonial causes in its Child Rights Law 2007. So if you are in Lagos and are unmarried and have a custody matter that is the law to refer to.

Nevertheless there is still a lot of confusion regarding children that are born to parents that were never married under statutory or customary law. There is also an increase of children born to parents that are not married under statutory and customary law. There seems to be a presumption that once a father is named on a birth certificate as such it secures his ‘rights’ to the child. I figure the courts will be busy untangling those complications for a few decades to come.

I’ve heard from a lot of people that the Social Welfare Office’s, which are increasingly called upon to decide questions of custody and maintenance in cases where the parents were never married have been ruling that once a child is 7 years old the father can take custody. This is wrong and dangerous and needs to stop. The law remains clear that the best interest of the child is paramount in deciding custody and neither parent  is entitled to automatic custodial rights. Both must show that they can meet the best interest of the child and not only that the other parent cannot.

In a decided case the father when asked what arrangements he had made for the children whose custody he was seeking said they would stay with his ageing mother in the village as opposed to staying with heir mother on the university campus where she lived and worked. The judge despite his conservative leanings ruled the children live with their mother even though he could not bring himself to grant her custody.

Perhaps the confusion lies in the meaning given to the word ‘custody.’ Custody is not ownership. We’ll consider ‘custody’ in my next post. I’m already over my 500 word limit. Or guideline.

Chao

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Child Custody in Nigeria FAQ: Who Owns The Child?

First of all we really need to stop thinking in terms of ‘ownership’ of children. Children are not chattel. You do not own a child. They are little people. Dependent little people and adults are parents, guardians, care takers and providers. Not owners.

That said what people usually mean when they ask that question is who gets ‘custody’ when the parents of a child are separated, divorced or even never married. Or who the child lives with because the parent a child lives with will influence the child’s future behaviour and personality.

Both parents have an equal right to raise, influence and make decisions for their juvenile offspring. (Nwosu vs. Nwosu [2012] 8 NWLR) Where the parents are cohabiting there is no usually issue and in many households the father assumes the role of head of household and makes decisions for everyone else with or without consulting his wife, the mother. It all depends on their personal dynamics.

Custody issues arise where either party wants to leave or end the relationship between the parents of a child or children. In Nigeria most men seem to think that they ‘own’ the children and presume that they will get custody especially of male children. Then again most men seem to think they own their wife too.

Both the Matrimonial Causes Act and the Child’s Right Act are clear that issues of custody are to  be decided in the best interest of the child and the courts have held that neither parent has an automatic right to custody.

If you are in a statutory marriage (that is one registered at the Marriage Registry and issued a Federal Government Certificate) and want a divorce, judicial separation or nullification of that marriage and believe that the best interest of the children is served with you or a woman in a violent abusive marriage that stays because you won’t leave without your children here is what your lawyer needs to do;

  1. After drafting and filing our petition for judicial separation, divorce or nullification and being assigned a court BEFORE serving your spouse your lawyer should file an exparte motion (known as an interlocutory relief) for temporary custody pending the determination of the petition AND a motion on notice for temporary custody simultaneously.
  2. The court will hear the ex parte motion and make a ruling which will be served on your spouse (The Respondent) with the notice of petition and the motion on notice for the same interlocutory relief asked for in the ex parte motion. The court will set a date before the exparte ruling expires in 7 days to hear the motion on notice thus giving the respondent a chance to challenge your request to the court for custody pending the determination of the main petition.
  3. After hearing the motion on notice and the respondents answer the court will either uphold its previous ruling or make a new one. This ruling is only binding till the matrimonial matter before the court is decided and then the issue of custody will be considered again and a final ruling be made at the end of the trial.
  4. Either party to a matrimonial petition can apply for an interlocutory order for custody.

The court will seek to determine what is in the best interest of the child and will consider the child’s age, gender, special needs, living environment, child care arrangements, plans to further the education of the child, financial ability of parent proposing arrangements, and the parents temperament and lifestyle. However, financial privilege alone is not enough determinant of a child’s best interest. (Nwosu vs. Nwosu)

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