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Sleep covers a multitude of sins. Take my word for it. Have you ever recovered from an illness and someone says “Ah, you look so well”? Sleep and rest are linked to all sorts of good outcomes. I used to sleep three four hours a night. If I slept a long time I slept 6 hours. And no matter what time I went to bed I couldn’t sleep beyond 9am. My conscience would have me out of bed and running around like a headless chicken after an all night binge that ended at 7am.
“Work hard and play harder.” I famously said once. “Not on two hours of sleep” the Universe replied and hit me with thyrotoxicosis.
Now I get my uninterrupted 8 hours of sleep every night. If I go to bed late, I wake up late. If I have a sleep deficit I make up for it real quick. Next night where ever possible. And I sleep late on Sundays. Every Sunday. Just lounge around in bed reading, napping and ringing the bell for service. If god could rest one day out of seven then so can I god damn it. Its my definition of ‘Keeping The Sabbath.’ No other rules apply.
In Nigeria I can bloody well do that too because everything runs on ‘African Time’ anyway. Even the Mexicans know about it. When we plan events and we want the event to start by 6pm we never put that on the invitation. We put noon on the invitation hoping the guests will start to arrive by 6pm. And start at midnight anyway. Go figure. Anyway its part of our planning process, African Time is. I know all you Nigerians in abroad find it infuriating. Kpele.
Depending on the power dynamics I can arbitrarily reschedule a 9am appointment or even not inform you that its been rescheduled at all if I need a couple hours of extra sleep. You’re probably late anyway. My sleep is more important than your good will.
It wasn’t easy putting my needs first, at first. My ‘oyibo’ conscience would scream at me and burden me to get to the meeting and I would convince myself that 3 hours of sleep was okay because I felt just fine. Margeret Tatcher famously slept 4 hours a night. She had Alziemers or dementia or something when she died. So did my late mother in law who also had sleep problems.
I don’t play with my sleep o.
My bedroom is the nicest room in the house, airy, comfy and soothing. Music, yes. television, no. No television in bed. Only a couple of books on the night stand. My boudoir. I try to fall asleep and wake up feeling happy to be alive.
I also know how to sleep rough. Catching as many or as few hours as possible in the most uncomfortable conditions. Because sometimes even where you sleep is determined by power dynamics and you sleep and wake up with uncertainty. And maybe work hard to escape and create a personal sense of security. Or status. Or dignity. Refusing to give in to those forces. Or giving in.
Don’t compromise where you sleep o and – as my friend used to say – who you sleep with it. And why.
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.
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?
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.
I just turned 51. I’ve been told often enough that I do not look my age and asked just as often how do I do it. I shrug it off, blame it on gene’s or one way or the other avoid the topic. I feel uncomfortable talking about it. A lot of women are. Even Chimamanda used to be.
The other day I was talking to a young woman about how I protected my skin from dryness during the UK winter. I described abhyanga, ayurvedic oil massage for her. I always used an oil massage before a shower during the winter never soap. And when I soaked (once a week maybe less) I dumped a bottle of Johnson’s baby oil in the tub with the bubble bath.
“So after using that sisal brush on your skin you took time and used oil to give yourself a massage? Hmm. You dey pamper yourself.”
I guess you could say so. (I’ve used a sisal brush to dry brush the skin before bathing in the every morning for more than ten years. Read about it in Vogue back in the day.)
“I’m just trying to keep my skin supple. I’ll always been obsessive about my skin even as a child. What was an unhealthy obsession then is just what I need now. ”
I’ve also used Boots ‘Glycerin and Rosewater Tonic’ to clean my face everyday for over 20 years. Never soap and water. It suddenly occurs to me. I’ve had a very sophisticated beauty regimen all my life. I do pamper myself and take care of myself. No small thanks to My Evil Step Mother who tried to make a lady out of me. And curb my vanity. Was she successful?
In the tropical heat I always use a loofah and a gentle soap or shower gel. Currently using PH balanced Sebamed. And last last I will use Dove or Pears. Gone are the skin punishing days in the village when Dad bought me Tetmosol or Dettol soap. And Vaseline. And I would run around at high noon like one of my dark skinned brethren. My Father tried to make a revolutionary ought of me. And curb my vanity. Was he successful?
I’ve also used a body scrub at least two three times a week for well over 20 years. St.Ives Apricot Scrub used to be a favourite. It was always available in the market sha. At reasonable price too. Then I when I started to travel plenty I got into Soap & Glory. Now I am in love with Lizzy Ab’s All Natural Sugar Body Scrub. All natural ingredients. Leaves the skin feeling baby soft and smooth. It even taste’s good. I really take time when I’m scrubbing. I put all the attention into it I once put into bathing my new born babies.
I don’t let my skin feel tight. If it feels tight I know I need a moisturiser. I use coconut oil daily right after a bath or shower and Jergen’s Ultra Healing lotion during the dry months. I apply as often as necessary in between to relieve the tightness. And drink more water. Till I am peeing every hour or two. Dry skin has to be attacked from the inside too. I eat right and take my vitamins.
I take care of my skin because I figure clothes are disposable but I got to live in my own skin for my whole life. So I might as well keep it healthy and looking great. I mean if you can do it for those Blue Suede Shoes you can do it for your skin right? It just another piece of leather. Just that its still ‘alive.’ Can you relate? No?
Don’t worry about it.
I treat my feet well too. Notice how the feet do so much work? Show them some appreciation. Give them a massage with the nicest smelling richest cream or lotion you can afford. Pamper your feet. Wash and pamper them when you come home from the market square. Appreciate the work they do. The intricate engineering that keeps you upright all day long.
Say ‘Thank you.’
A proper pedicure once in a while would do. Not the road side kind. I swear I judge a person by the state of their feet.
And how they smell.
I get complimented a lot that I smell good. Thank you. I appreciate the effort that goes into smelling good. I make a lot of effort to smell good. My revulsion at unpleasant smells is primal. I think its evil to assail your fellow human beings with funky body smells. Or any other kind of unpleasant smells. Like cheap perfume. Cheap perfume smells cheap. I do not use it. I’d rather withdraw from polite society.
Let’s see. What else do I do to stay healthy and strong? Let me think about it and get back to you.
Fuckability: A measure of how much you would have sex with a person. Often ranging on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). urbandictionary.com
I’ve had to give some thought to fuckability. It’s just one of those things I never really thought about before. I always thought women had intrinsic fuckability merely because we were women.
You can blame my Russian step mother for that. We were watching a wildlife program on TV and I asked her why all the male birds looked flamboyant and eager while the females looked drab and nonchalant. Her response – males wanted to attract and mate more than females.
In other words females had intrinsic fuckabilty while males needed some extra help.
Of course I was 7 at the time and yet to find out that females want it just as much. Or that we were a bit more complex than the birds and the bees. I retain an unshakeable confidence in female fuckability that has nothing what so ever to do with looks, or behaviour.
The matriarchs in our house did not tell is ‘fuckability’ was our ultimate goal. Our matriarchs pretty much ignored what men were up to, told them off once in a while and instilled in us the importance of hard work and self sufficiency.
It was assumed that you would marry and have children whether you were male or female.
In their opinion only men with lots of lands for a woman to exploit were marriageable. You did not marry a man with no land. How on earth would you survive? Men did not feed women and children. They provided the land on which women laboured.
In my village the primary measure of a woman’s ‘fuckabilty’ was her industriousness. A beautiful, sexy but lazy women was just as likely to starve as a lazy man. That was how it worked back then. I still feel privileged to have grown up with these women. Things have changed.
The first time I heard a woman of my homestead define ‘fuckability’ as a woman’s sexual value was from my town dwelling elitist uncles wife who was coincidently the first woman in the whole of village to go to the white man’s school.
She represented a younger generation that was more educated, more religious and yet more dependent on men. And she represented the sort of Victorian and religious values I’d already come to disdain.
Rihanna’s latest single “Needed Me” is all about fuckability and the new feminism.
“Fuck your white horse and a carriage”
The first Prince song I ever heard was “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. It was 1980. I lived in rural south east Nigeria. I was captivated. I voraciously read the album sleeve. The picture of the bare chested young man on the album sleeve looked vaguely like the only picture I had of my older brother.
I developed an obsession for this artiste that looked like my brother (and me I guess) and this single. Those carefree days when one had time to listen to a song over and over and over and over again. Till you knew every word, every crescendo, very note, every chord, every accent, every lead in.
It’s lyrics were just the right amount of risqué for prudish me. Compared to his later lyrics “I Wanna Be Your Lover” seems innocent and romantic now. Just like the album cover. Then one day I read in Ebony Magazine that Prince was a diminutive 5’2″. I don’t know why I felt betrayed and heart broken but I did. I took down his poster from my bedroom wall. Thereafter I always looked at him with side eye.
(I must seriously explore my issues with diminutive men. I am not similarly dismissive of diminutive women.)
What I didn’t ignore, what I paid keen attention to were his fashion choices. I loved his glamorous subversive 80’s style. I remember thinking “If I were a male rock star I would totally rock high heels, makeup, purple, crop tops and frilly shirts like Prince” because men’s fashion (especially white male inspired fashion) is generally really really boring.
Rock stars, royalty and African men seem to be the only ones that can break male fashion rules with impunity. And few aristocratic men do anymore except at ceremonial occasions. Prince evoked the extravagance of men’s fashion in Louis XIV’s France and Tudor England. Men’s fashion has become decidedly plebeian and conservative in the last few centuries.
Was that the influence of the American Revolution or the Communist Revolution? Or both? I’m sure some intellectual somewhere has expounded a treatise on it. Fashion has always been a status symbol. Only royalty ‘dressed up’ everyday. Only royalty was permitted flamboyant sartorial displays. Only royalty could afford it.
For the rest of mankind it just wasn’t practical because, you know, they have to do real work. So they created these acceptable uniforms for ordinary men and women that both announced social and gender status and kept the people trapped within them. It was and is a display of power just like any masquerade contest in Africa attempts to do. Its all theatre. Village Square Theatre.
I always felt sorry for men because of the social restrictions on their fashion choices. At least women, royal and plebeian, were still allowed to adorn and display themselves. I hated shopping for my sons, there never seemed much variation in the offerings for young boys. I spent hours obsessing about dressing them with some individuality.
What happened to men’s fashion that all you can boast of is the quality of the fabric and cut? Anyway I looked at it, it was still a a rather uniform suit, whether it had three buttons or one, a peaked or notched lapel, made in Aba or by Ermenegildo Zegna. The suit and tie seemed so status quo, so reactionary.
Music is visceral. Art is visceral. And good music and good art challenges and questions the status quo. We feel before we think. And Prince, his music, his art and his fashion made us feel. Both comfortable and uncomfortable emotions and that was his true genius. Then it made us think. And his visionary style empowered many to break out of anachronistic fashion rules. Today we have cool fashion lines for boy’s and Jaden Smith. Prince was part of THAT revolution.
That he was a black man is no surprise (because Elvis was just too theatrical if you know what I mean.)