Don’t Mind Your Business: Help End Violence Against Women.

I was asked to speak about violence against women and my brain immediately shut down. This usually happens when a topic or theme seems bigger than me and encompasses the whole universe. It also happens when I am scared to death because suddenly something that is meant to come out of my mouth is suppose to make sense and provide answers.

“What will be your point of view?”

This was the next thing asked of me which fortunately started to unravel my brain and ease my fears. The question helped me narrow my focus. The suggestion of a point of view relayed to my brain that it was okay to pick one thing as a starting place for the discussion that will help end violence against women.

Lo and behold my answer to that same question when it came out was:

“My point of view will be philosophical, psychological, shared humanity, social commentary … if it makes any sense… type point of view.”

Well, needless to say the organizer took a chance which inadvertently caused me to explore the process by which I was allowed to BE and my starting place was from the question, what will be your point of view?

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What should be my point of view?

For those who know me, one of my many life philosophies is to question everything; and being asked about how I planned to explore violence against women led me to think about the questions and statements put to us daily and their effect on us.

So on the day of the talk, this was how I approached it:

I first asked the audience to help me with some insight into something that has been nagging at me for a while, which is also one of the most useless statement ever in life. I asked what brain processes would make an individual, who on seeing another individual that they are acquainted with after a long time of absence, would say to the them in amazement, YOU ARE FAT!!! 

Actually this happened to me one very great day when I was happily taking a stroll, and feeling extremely good about myself. Suddenly this Keke Napep (Rickshaw/Tuk Tuk) passes by me, then a girl screams my name followed by the “You are fat!” statement and for the next two minutes, I stood rooted to a spot not knowing what to do with myself.

After I recovered from the incident, it occurred to me that the girl called me by what my family calls my official name. This means it only appears on legal documents and most people do not even know it is my name, unless, you were in my secondary or primary school. So according to my calculations, she was most likely in my secondary school, not my friend and most likely not in my set.

I finished secondary school at fifteen, some eighteen years ago looking like a scarecrow due to health battles. And here we have some thoughtless and frankly not well-intention person expecting me to look exactly the same eighteen years later. I mean who has finished growing at fifteen?

And as I wondered at statements and questions, relating it to that experience (one of many), I immediately saw something that flies under the radar. It is not so obvious but I now consider it one of the biggest enablers of violence against women. This is the fact that from growing up to adulthood we are constantly bombarded with questions and statements that we are not allowed to engage with. We are somehow expected (without engaging with these statements and questions) to accept them as normal and therefore harmless. We are also to ignore their effect on our mental and emotional health because of that unspoken rule that as a female, you do not respond to such things in order not to be tagged as defensive, angry or aggressive.

9 out of 10 times, when “You are fat!” is said to a woman, she smiles uncomfortably and might even go the extra mile not to be ‘that’ kind of female and say thank you. Some even say, “it is good living,” even though they have been dieting and exercising for weeks to lose the weight they do not like. But God forbid they should own up to being an ordinary human; super women do not gain weight, they are naturally forever thin regardless of their station in life. I find it more amazing when I hear this same statement being said to women who have had kids, I mean what is up with that. To think we are a culture that is meant to mind our own business.

I believe the reason for making these thoughtless statements is because it absolves an individual of responding to the possible call of their words. For example, if after telling someone they are fat, they respond that it is due to depression and eating for comfort; you will have to engage further into the matter. It will be inhumane for an individual to express this to you and you nod and then walk away. This is because like it or not, the call that comes after your statement requires action and you will have to deal with the consequences of your action or inaction after hearing it. So we say thoughtless things and move on because they require nothing of us.

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When you can’t comment in a conversation about you but are forced to be a ‘smiling bystander.

 

Why are women also the main perpetrators of these thoughtless statements against other women?  These are the same people in our culture who will be reluctant or might never engage with a woman being abused because they are trying to mind their business. There is another unspoken rule, that you do not interfere in peoples issues because your interference may end up bringing shame on you. But we have no problem interfering with issues that concern peoples bodies which sometimes does things they have zero control over like expand due to age and genetics.

So why do we keep saying things to women that they cannot engage with in order to decide for themselves how they feel about it. How do we not think this has inadvertently caused women to permit abuse on themselves because when it subtly begins, even though they know it is wrong; they do nothing because they have little experience engaging with wrong done to them.

It has been told that abusers do not just begin with physical abuse. They start first with verbal abuse and then proceed to emotional abuse before they graduate to physical abuse. If women were generally used to engaging with verbally uncomfortable statements against their person will they not immediately know how to engage with it in any kind of relationship and put a stop to it. Instead we smile politely and by extension reward the bad behavior of potential abusers.

My neighbor, a man I do not really interact with, once told me i had lost weight in the same no greeting no preamble “You are fat,” way. And I immediately knew to start avoiding him because yes I had lost some weight but in opinion, it was three not so noticeable pounds. My first thought was how closely have you male neighbor, been looking at my body to notice? I didn’t smile politely but I eyed him disapprovingly and walked away,   angry because i wanted to engage but I knew how fast the script would be flipped on me and it was not worth the trouble… yet.

I am just using one of the more common statements used on women which most times forces them to be silent even though it is a violation and a cruelty to the issues going on in their lives. But there many more examples I could give.

What to do then? Well, be thoughtful and mindful about what you say in a conversation to a woman. Do not make statements that forces her to be silent. Do not ask questions she is ‘not’ allowed to answer. Say things that engage her so she can make a decision and contribute towards the discourse of life, especially her own life. And the biggest one of all, if you do not like a particular woman then please find that humanity in you and leave her alone, don’t pretend to be a friend; because like it or not that side of you will always find ammunition to use against her. We women tend to be each others worst enemies. We need to learn to honestly love each other.

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There are also other kinds of these types of statements which I can give examples of to say how we are also unkind to men and force them to be silent when it would be ten times more helpful if they could engage with these statements, questions and thoughts and this also leads to violence against men…But I will not. As big Sister Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has said, we spend too much time as women talking about men.

It is time we look inward more; there is a lot of work to be done.

 

Images via Flickr: David Woo, Morgan, Ron Mader, Davide Vizzini

W Is For Wisdom As It Is For Woman

The question was very simple and the already confused audience frowned in response. It was a miracle they didn’t storm out of the room yelling, “No! Stop! We give up!”

The truth is Nigerians are used to linear learning and I am a proud rambler. You need to just connect the dots when I am expressing my thoughts on an issue and God bless you if it is something I am passionate about. And unlucky for this audience, on that day, there was going to be no middle ground in my talk.

At this forum where the above mentioned audience was seated,  I was speaking about being a woman in a patriarchal society and the deal was to crack open very closed minds. I first argued with the philosophical side of things then I dove into the Christian side. This is a major crutch for people that do not want equality between women and men; so they twist religion to justify their stand and I was going to challenge that stand.

The first question was, “How many of you have heard preached in your church multiple times that wisdom in the bible was given female attributes, called a she and described as a woman?”

Not a single hand went up.

Then I followed up with, “How many of you have heard preached in your church, multiple times, that the ideal role of a woman is to submit to her husband?”

All hands went up including mine.

After which I asked why there is such an imbalance in teaching about what should be the makeup of a woman, especially when the bible takes time to talk about these things. I also wondered why the church doesn’t see how beneficial it is to use what the bible says about wisdom to encourage women to be wise. And it is more confusing, considering these are the group of people expected to uphold the moral fabric of the family.

It is indeed baffling not only because of the immense benefits of wisdom clearly written in the bible; it is akin to finding life.

Proverbs 8:35-36, “For whoever finds wisdom, finds life and obtains favor from the lord but he who sins against wisdom wrongs his own soul; all those who hate wisdom love death”.

These are pretty strong and set words for embracing wisdom so why doesn’t the church encourage it. And if we are doing things by the book, then why not encourage women to embrace the attributes that wisdom offers especially since wisdom is identified as female.

Another under-told story in the bible, is that of Huldah in 2 Chronicles 34. The good king Josiah had found a book lying neglected in the temple and who does he send it to with a delegation to be verified as the book of the law, the prophet Huldah, wife of Shallum (v. 22). She is basically the first bible verifier/interpreter.

I truly feel if it were up to some pastors, they would rewrite this chapter.

In their version, the story written would begin with Huldah being the good and submissive wife that she was, going to her husband first and consulting with him. She would ask his permission to speak of what she knew; like the good humble wife she was. And he would in turn say, “Go ahead wife, bring honor to my name”, then she would reply to the delegation saying, “with my husband’s permission, let me tell you what I know…”.

Honestly I got exhausted writing that out. This is what some pastors would love to preach but since the bible can’t be rewritten, it is all together an abandoned topic.

On a side note, Huldah’s husband’s occupation or rank in society wasn’t mentioned but it was noted that he was the grandson of the keeper of the temple robes. This makes me wonder a lot.

What the story of Huldah tells me however, is that in marriage there is a place for submission as there also is a place for independence. Submission probably has to do with the decision making for the family (I’m guessing since I am not married) which makes sense because every outfit should have a leader.

Independence has to do with making the most of the gifts, talents and abilities in you, since you alone are going to answer (and answer you must) for the use or misuse of it. Again, this is not something preached to women because in our society, right next to the fear of hell is the fear of giving women a voice.

The argument is when you give a woman a voice she becomes disrespectful, arrogant and forgets her place. Yep, the word ‘place’ has been used countless times to my hearing.  It is a miracle we do not have women walking about extremely dizzy from being bombared about not knowing their place; all because we have an opinion or want to contribute.

Still, nobody knows where this place is or what we are meant to do there. But one thing is clear; silence built the foundation and walls of this place.

This directly contradicts what I understand wisdom to be according to the book of Proverbs. Wisdom is everywhere calling out, raising her voice in invitation because of the life in her words. She instructs, corrects, rebukes, teaches and gives knowledge.

Even the virtous woman in Proverbs 31 (a darling favorite of Nigerian Pastors) is not a silent bystander, vs 26, “When she speaks her words are wise and she gives instruction with kindness.”

Silence and submission is what as women we are encouraged to embrace as our lives motto but this is not God’s standard for us. He also wants us to be wise, kind, full of knowledge, gracious, loving and a host of other things. Most importantly he wants us, male or female to make the most of the gifts he has give us.

Light is meant to be on a lampstand and shine for the world not hidden under a bushel; it has no function in that manner… under the bushel – Matthew 5:14-16

This is my understanding of who I am meant to be as a Christian woman and I am sticking to it .

 

You may also want to read my long post on How to survive a patriarchal society as a woman and get the picture of the other side of things.

 

Dear God, Can Nigerians Be Judged Differently When We Get To Heaven?

Heavenly Father,

I can boldly say I speak for all Nigerians when I say we can’t wait to get to heaven. Especially those of us that know Revelations 21:23, because it promises that “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp”. And THIS is our ultimate dream; 24/7 electricity.

And speaking of light, isn’t it a miracle that we are considered, according to statistics to be some of the happiest people on earth? The fact that this constant darkness hasn’t filled our hearts with true darkness speaks a lot about the Nigerian spirit doesn’t it?

It is also another great miracle that depression and mental illness is not on a mega high in this country. People here do try their best against all the odds, alas genuine hard work pays minimally. And it is a bad look when thieves and corrupt people have the appearance of reaping all the rewards for little or no work. Harder still is it to convince young impressionable people that that is not the way to go.

We do need to focus and look to our better role models. Unfortunately the noisier “role models” are the wannabe celebrites who are determined to publicise their success with ‘stuff’. Most of which is a gross exaggeration of what they actually own. But that is becoming the new normal of legitimate success.

But wannabe celebrities are not who I am presenting to you today; just good old us, regular Nigerians.

First of all, I think when we get to heaven, we should be seperated from the rest of the nations for two reasons.

Number one, if there is a way to hide or disappear, we will find it. I know there is no hiding from you, just saying it might be quite irritating dealing with people who feel so smart that I am sure they believe they can outsmart you. I am just glad there is a word in your good book to qualify people who seem wise in their own eyes; and that word is foolish. And hopefully one day soon, before we leave this earth, we, Nigerians, will gain true wisdom.

Two, we will just delay the line unnecessarily; queueing without some abusive authority to keep us in order does not work with us. And you are a God of love. And then there is the issue of excessive begging, multiple justifications or manouvers to either jump the line or avoid the judgement at hand. I am not sure anyone would have the patience for that annoyance.

(A heavy pause and some sighs later…)

I believe I am looking at this all wrong, mainly through my own eyes as I know you are patient, merciful and full of grace.

But as Nigerians, we do a lot of wrong. And so therefore we are now regretably the world’s poster child for scammers and scamming. How did we get here?

Some of us may have have taken your word too literally when you said time and chance are given to all. So whenever an opportunity strikes, we take it. This doesn’t excuse us by the way, we just need to get to the point where one of our values isn’t taking advantage of every situation for our benefit.

There are so many churches in Nigeria but redefining our values does not seem to be a popular topic coming from the pulpit. I guess it is not commercial enough. Or maybe  if pastors could find a way to place corruption and stealing, on the same sin level as fornication and adultery, we may just make some headway.

However I am extremely glad that every man is going to answer for themselves before You. A lot of us really do try to minimise our poor personal choices and not cave in to the burdens and temptations that come our way because of our bad governments.

My final thought is, how can we on a large scale work with your bountiful wisdom, grace. love and mercy and transform Nigeria into a great nation?

And is it possible for your voice to be louder than the still small whisper? Just on the off off chance that the millions of roaring generator noises might be interfering with our hearing. I know, I know, I am just reaching…

You are always an awesome God.

Your hopeful daughter,

Ulan.

 

Featured Image, Seperation of concerns, Falk Lademann Via Flickr

Who Is A Hater?

If you are of Nigerian descent and believe you have haters, you are not paranoid just reflecting your true feelings about other peoples success… yeah I said it.

STOP! Don’t close this post because you are already pissed at the first paragraph; it is not your fault, you are after all a product of our environment. There is a really good and unavoidable reason for how you are feeling and don’t worry, you are in the majority.

A post explaining why, precedes this and you can pause on this one, read it Here and then come back.

If you have read the preceding post, come on in, today is the day of liberation. Freedom from the shackles of envy is yours for the taking.

Do haters exist? Well… why not, I have lived with and met some people that have given me the heebie Jeebies ( an idiom I have been dying to use it). People that could not even pretend to be happy at my success. You can just imagine how truly unhappy they must have been not to pull of pretense; we after all have made a culture of  pretending.

However, my thing is an individual is innocent until proven guilty. And if someone doesn’t walk up to you, use their words and express their hate, then you cannot assume they are a hater. If their silent actions make you really uncomfortable then my friend, you run and you run fast far away from them.

Fortunately, not unlike being envious, believing you have haters who are sitting in their dark cupboards staring at your Facebook updates and trying to light those ‘God bless me plenty’ photos on fire with the green light of envy blazing from their pupils, also has its importance in the scheme of things.

These are:

a) To help distract you from that true sense of failure you would otherwise be feeling: Common, admit it, when you were a child did you dream about a Hyundai whatsits-name or did you dream of being an astronaut? But since that dream hasn’t come true on account of all the challenges thrown your way that you haven’t been able to overcome; a banker is what you settled for. Now you need to show the world some kind of success and silence that inner voice still trying to speak  on behalf of your hopes and dreams.

Denial that crafty snake, sliders by and whispers in your ears, assuring you that you have achieved… something. And this is evident by those imaginary Hyundai-less people squeezing their face at your acquisition while silently weeping over their lack.

The Bad News: Unfortunately, Bonnie Ware an Australian Nurse who spent several years in Palliative care looking after patients in the last twelve weeks of their life says, the top expressed regret is, ” I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” This means in the end, no true comfort will be received from ‘stuff’ unless they were gotten while living out your dreams.

The Good News! Now you know. What are you going to do about it?

b) To feed the darkness in you: There is no human incapable of great evil. The most notorious recorded criminals in history are all human beings. This basically means we all have tendencies. And the reason some of us don’t succumb, I personally feel is not out of fear of jail or death; it is just that we just haven’t allowed the desire to consume us beyond reason.

As a Christian, I lean on the grace of God and walk solely in the light of Christ. And this light fills me with love. Love is a powerful tool, don’t believe me, ask the little guy below.

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Seriously the trap is, the moment you start thinking of your haters, you need to create reasons for their alleged hatred. And since they haven’t verbally given you one, guess where you begin to search? In the inner recess of your own evil tendencies; by creating reasons and scenarios why their hate must have been triggered. And this is a never ending well.

The Bad News: When digging a well, previously buried sands and other things will be brought up to the surface; and you will never know what will be uncovered.

The Good News! Buried sand and other things remain buried when not dug up. If restlessness and itchy fingers are your worry and you need to dig something, dig into your capacity for love and expand that hole, it is the better alternative.

c) It indicates you are totally sold to the societal machine, conditioning and whatever expectations are put on individuals in that decade (it keeps changing and that alone should tell us something) :

Personally, and my friends know this, I do not have a dream car or plan on personally owning one. I do know the ease and comfort having one brings. And whenever it is raining and I get to borrow my Mom’s car, it is with deep gratitude that she owns one. And in the event I end up having a car, it will definitely not be for daily use.

As a writer, I have gotten tons of my material from the goldmine of public transportation. This is one mine I will not readily relinquish. Whatever society’s expectation is for someone my age, unless ‘they’ will become Scheherazade, visit me daily and tell great tales I could never come up with no matter my effort, there is zero interest in me to please that expectation.

You may hate driving or feel inadequate to be someone’s life partner; but you do it either way because it is expected. And this hater accusations just perpetuates the circle of misery as you are inadvertently reinforcing the so called standard.

The Bad News: Our culture is one of relentless probing. People that can barely spell your name will look you in the eye and list all the wrong things in your life; and this is not to mention the liberties taken by family members. Its tough out on these streets.

The Somewhat Good News! Valid rebellion is your only course of action. It eventually earns you respect and reluctant support. It is doubly tough to make your rebellion work but the victory is delicious.

I will stop for now.

You can argue for the validity of the existence of haters but I support my stand; they only exist because of us. There is a potential hater in everyone except when we always choose to respond in love and kindness; not easy but doable.

So choose love always.

I love you with the love of the Lord; my own human love is work in constant progress.

 

Featured Image Via Flick (Pink Marina)

The Importance of Envy.

If you grew up in a Nigerian home and do not have what I will call ‘Foundational Envy’, then go find your parents wherever they are, hug them tight and say a loud ‘thank you!’ And if unfortunately, they are no longer here with us, fill your heart with mountain sized gratitude and offer it up to them. You are one of the saved.

A typical Nigerian upbringing ensures from day one you are aware that friends, family, neighbors and generally anyone in close proximity (within your age group) is a potential foe. This is because you are constantly being compared to one or the other. If you ‘lack’ manners, you are compared to your well mannered cousin. If you do not do well in school, you are compared to a neighbor or parents friend’s child who did well. And I pity you if they are financially less fortunate and do not have the opportunities/privileges given to you.  Sometimes this comparison doesn’t even have true merit. And by this I mean,  you maybe came 5th out of 45 and the neighbor’s child maybe came 2nd out of 30. No one does the math to asses that based on numbers, you are pretty much on the same spot, 2nd sounds better than 5th and that’s all there is to it. So your holidays are pretty much spent doing time in your room surrounded by books.

Okay, so let’s say you survived Foundational envy by virtue of your upbringing, but do you think you have survived Environmental envy?

Environmental envy is the one you encounter on the daily constant by those struggling with Foundational envy. If you’ve lived in this environment then all your interactions are done within it. And there is no way, you haven’t at some point worked with, lived with and probably been in a relationship with someone suffering with Foundational envy; you do have relatives right?

Unfortunately, constantly brushing up against this thing heightens your sense of awareness of it. And unless some force field is shielding you or  you are drenched in the love of Christ, slight traces of envy-like behavior might show up every now and then in your behavior. Like refusing to compliment an individual who refuses to compliment you (just a mild example).

Like all things conceptually meant for good, this ‘getting an individual to do better as a result of comparison with their successful peers’ has turned out to be one of the most damaging and unproductive techniques. And its uselessness is increased by the confusing message that one is meant to always be there for their family, kin and the entire village.

The ‘wise’ forefather that came up with this concept obviously did not think it through.

How do I support someone whose success means my life is immediately going under a microscope, and misery might ensue shortly thereafter? How is that suppose to work I wonder? Most importantly, how do I honestly love, encourage and help validate another’s life purpose when them succeeding at it according to some measure automatically means I am failing at mine?

These are questions those of us who want to do better probably grapple with daily.

In questioning myself, I have come to understand that understanding the function of envy is the best way to get over it and eventually be unaffected by it. Paradoxically, it starts with measuring things against themselves.

So therefore, Envy helps us measure:

Our true conditioning. By this I mean our propensity to love or even our understanding of it. I will be bold to say that envy shows just how much you have encountered love in your life. Have you slightly brushed up against it or truly felt its incredible powers? It is true books, philosophers and scientists have characterized love into different forms; but for the purpose of understanding envy, we will sum them all up into one and plainly call it LOVE.

There is a wide range of ways we display envy but I will simplify it into low end and high end which are:

a) Twinge envy: This is just a slight twinge when you see someone that has something you really want for yourself. It does not linger or last and can almost pass for wishful thinking. This is on the low end and inversely means you do have a lot of love in your heart and life but you can only claim this when it is measured against someone you know getting something you really want.

What to do: Further squash that tiny twinge by practicing magnanimity. You can call that person up or send them a message congratulating them. Take it a bit further and wish them more success. Admit also that you would love to encounter their good fortune as well. Can be difficult if you think to hard about doing it but trust me, it is great for wearing the edges off envy.

b) Volcanic envy: It is on the all consuming high end. You are obsessed by what is going on in this persons’s life. Thoughts of something wrong happening to them excites you; and sometimes you go out of your way to make sure something bad happens. My friend, I’m sorry to say this but the love in you can probably be measured with a teaspoon. And no, while we can say some people are a bit difficult to love and I should not generalize; this measure is solely based on your ability to acknowledge another person’s success.

What to do: As a Christian, I will say, if you believe in God, pray hard and confess it ALL. What usually happens is, you open the door to peace that brings knowledge and understanding. This helps you give out love that you were once incapable of and the more you give, the more you receive. And envy will soon become…” what envy?”

If you do not believe in God, the only thing I can say is you may have to fake it till you make it. Painfully acknowledge the envious feeling and immediately work in the opposite direction before it catches up and consumes you. With time your natural response might just be to be happy and gracious in acknowledging someone else’s success. Sorry if this is not too helpful, my filter and response to situations is the bible, anything outside of it is my human intuition and knowledge.

Who runs our lives: us or society?  The truth is every society has it rules and guidelines and they can be pronounced, nuanced or imagined. And there are these guardians that try to tell us what is right or wrong and in this case, who is successful or not. This is only a problem if you allow it to become one.

We all have the ability to question whatever society puts on us and whether it aligns with our core beliefs. But because of the normalization of society’s expectations, we somehow forget we can and sometimes we must question them.

We envy people that a little look into their lives will makes us feel nothing but pity. A dishonest politician’s child might make you envious because society claims being able to effortlessly afford stuff is success. But would you really sleep well knowing you are the sole cause of another’s hunger filled sleepless nights? probably not. Moreover, some of our most satisfying achievements were the ones we worked hard and had to overcome many obstacles to get.

What to do: Question every expectation put on you. Think for yourself and define your own measure of success. Make sure this measure is not a low-key escape from working out your true potential because you will not escape the regrets this will cause you at the end of your life.

Envy helps us tell the difference between Aspiration and Admiration.

The difference: To put it simply, admiration just likes what it is inspired to like in another person. If its a skill, talent or ability, admiration is more than okay with its existence because it provides something to be valued.

Aspiration on the other hand comes packed with motivation and ambition to be like the individual inspiring it.Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

With admiration, we might borrow a mannerism, life philosophy or sense of style from the individual but with aspiration, we see ourselves becoming like the individual, achieving what they have achieved and secretly wanting to surpass them.

Unfortunately for us, thanks to the first mentioned Nigerian bred foundational envy, we do not have the emotional construct to aspire to anyone especially our peers without some very negative side effects.

It is easy to aspire, even with this upbringing, to be like a Scarlet Johanson for example. This is because the physical, cultural and psychological distance between us helps our construct. Your life will never be compared with hers in the same merciless way even though she is your peer.

But to aspire to be like your successful next door neighbor, forget about it. Within a short time, no matter how hard you try to keep it clean, resentment along with envy will start brewing. You both grew up in the same soil and sandbox, and even if you are not told, you somehow wonder about your own short comings. Then you resent that somehow your neighbor was spared, then the blame game begins and in the end, you will be lucky if anyone takes any responsibility.

What to do: If you can tell that you do not want their life but appreciate its existence, then this is admiration. And the best way to build on it envy-free is to show the person you admire them and go further to wish them the best. But be careful that  you do not start veering into the creepy shadowy territory of being a mindless copy cat.

When you badly want to be at the spot they are in, that is aspiration. This is generally not a bad thing but take some time to examine your true motives. Is it just because of the success it brings to them or does it align with your own life’s purpose. Hint: When you picture your success throwing dust in the face of theirs as oppose to the sense of fulfillment it brings you; it time to take a step back.  You will have to do the work in finding your own true purpose. Hint: It is usually located in your natural abilities and your life story (the experiences both good and bad) 

At the end of the day, Envy is something that should bring us to self examination not self sabotage. Because the more we focus on bettering ourselves, the less likely we are to worry about another person’s success.

Instead, we might just have the clarity to see it for what it is and in time we may be able to change this false script of silently competing with each other.

It will be a great day indeed when our peers stop being potential enemies but fellow comrade in arms. A great day indeed.

 

Featured Image via Flickr

 

How To Look Better: The Expansion Theory.

The New Year has rolled in, diets, exercises and cleanses are underway. Even though for some of us, these measure are done in thought but not quite in deed. What can I say, sometimes these resolutions are made at low moments, when the spirit seems willing. But come the morning, when light and tranquility flood in, we decide we actually want to love ourselves rather than meet society’s set definition of beauty. So we eat the remnants of our cakes, brownies and chin-chin because life is too short, God is too good and we are already way too blessed to be stressed and … well the left overs taste better anyway.

You know by we, I mean I right? Okay, let’s continue.

So, I asked myself this question, “How can you look better in a way that is truly satisfying to you and no one else?”

And it wasn’t really hard to find the answer because I already know the things I place value on. Some of which are: knowledge, intelligence, character-defining experiences and authentic friendships. And I know in the new year I want more of these things. I want to add to the ones I already have and grow bigger and better. So to expand on what I already have, seems to me the answer to how to look better in 2016.

The twist to my answer however, which was painful to admit, was that I had stopped looking good to myself because I had lessened or altogether stopped doing things that felt very natural to me. Growing up, had made me adjust in a way that does not feel right. But its a new year and so we will renew ourselves. Once again by we, I mean I.

These are the ways I plan to add and expand myself more beautifully and be blindingly gorgeous before the year is over. I plan to:

  1. Be eager for new things and then be open minded, just like a child: but the great part is as a grown up, I now have filters and a mind of my own.
  2. Be attentive and present; it will enhance strong self disciple in this distracting world of ours. And increase my chances of getting a satisfying reward in whatever I do.
  3. Be studious, no more cursory glances but in depth study of the things that grab my attention and excite me. I believe this is how innovations happen, among other things.
  4. Believe in myself and what ever contributions I have to make to this world.

The last one is the hardest to do, because we mostly feel the need for others to validate us. And I will be bold to say, by practicing the first three things, I believe it will be easier to do the fourth.

This is because there would be such an expansion within yourself, that you might just be bursting at the seams, eager to share, create or just do something worthwhile.

There are seven billion people in the world and you are but one dot in a sea of people. People by some degree are different from one another. And dot that you are, I believe the world needs your special contribution in it.

Its true the world will not crumble without you but it will definitely be missing a piece that is yours to give.

Plan to be big enough, expand yourself and be visible. Most importantly believe you are too important to be left out of making a mark in the world.

And lastly, once again by you, I mean me.

How do you plan on looking better this year?

You all look alike!

I once had a Chris Tucker moment, like the one he had in Rush Hour 2 and it wasn’t in the least bit funny.

Okay, wait, let me remind you of the Rush Hour scene. Remember when Chris tucker (Detective Carter) and Jackie Chan (Inspector Lee) were suddenly surrounded by Chinese gang members in the massage parlor and had to fight their way out and C.Tucker mistakenly punched J.Chan? Well, instead of an apology all he did was helplessly say, “all y’all look alike!”. I cracked up uncontrollably at that scene and still makes me laugh to this day; it was hilarious.

Not unlike those two, I found myself in a situation I was struggling to fight my way out of, but… arrrggghhh let me just tell you what happened.

Years ago while working on my writing in Lagos, one of my other job descriptions was that of a personal assistant. The writing brought in sporadic pay while the personal assistant job brought it a steady monthly pay. It was as a result of that, I found myself one hot Lagos afternoon on my way to pick up a house help.

The location for the pickup was a very posh restaurant on Awolowo road in Ikoyi and I didn’t like going there. This is because most of those kinds of establishments in Lagos have the rudest doormen and snootiest servers. And if you do not arrive in an expensive Jeep; well that’s when your misery begins. I always arrive either on an Okada (public motorcycle) or the lowest form of arrival, after a long sweaty trek from the bus stop.

As I approached the door that day, wiping the sweat off my brow, I hoped the owner would be somewhere around. He was a really nice Lebanese man who looked for every opportunity to practice his English. And when he stops by your table, to his employees it seems like you have been touched by the gods; hence undeserving of their bad manners.

He wasn’t around but sitting in a lone corner was a slim and slight lady, the only female in the whole area and I made a dash for her table.
Me: Sorry, excuse me, are you the person looking for a job?

She looks up, I register disbelief in her face, the silence was stretched, I was trying to be patient and then she gives me this very unnerving look.

While I am recovering and wondering, ‘what the…?’
She (blandly): I like your hare.

Well I thought she said ‘hare’ at the time, I was still adjusting to the phony Lagos accents and the excess use of r’s. So I asked, very confused at this point, “My hare?”.

Then she points to my head. ‘Oh my hair’, we’ve talked about this on this blog before. Anyway, I say my automated thanks and slow as I can be, I stupidly repeat my previous question about the job. This time she ignores me. I stare at her and suddenly she begins to look familiar.

Me: aren’t you xxxxxxxxxxxx?
She answers with a ‘finally you recognize me’ look and instantly becomes friendly. She was a popular musician whom I had seen a couple of times on the news. She asks me to sit, which I do. Then I lie about loving her music while silently praying she doesn’t ask for my favorite song. I didn’t know any of her songs.

The horror began when my boss called to tell me the girl I was expecting, would not be showing up. This was after a nice chat with the musician. So feeling quite free, I started telling my boss how I mistakenly thought Miss xxxxxxxx was the house help.

She: You thought I was a house help?
And she was saying it right at the time my boss was saying into my ear, “I hope you are not still sitting next to her”.

Naturally, this brought on the full range of my grievous mistake and the look on the musician’s face confirmed it. I quickly ended the call with my boss and started searching the problem solving archive of my brain on what to do next;I came up empty. However, I proceeded to say the most stupid thing (in hindsight) I could have said to someone like her.

Me (speaking at the speed of light): I am so sorry, I am from Jos, It is a lot easier to differentiate house helps over there. Everybody dresses so well here, I can’t tell the difference, everybody looks alike, there is no difference.

She looked like she had been slapped, then looked at what she was wearing and so did I, for the first time. In hindsight again, it must have looked like I was confirming whatever she was thinking.

The next thing that happened was almost magical for the lack of a better word. The musician basically curled up into herself, like in defeat or for protection. I started to seriously rack my brain on how to make the situation better; again nothing came to me. And so we sat in silence; she lost in her thoughts, me thinking of an exit strategy.

Then my boss calls again and says I should wait for something else. I was stuck but had an idea to turn to the occasional saving grace; any conversation about music. I asked about her genre of music and she relaxed a little bit. I was relieved. The mutual love for music will heal the day.

What happened instead was, she used every music show to state her worth; her financial worth. The musician told me how much Glo paid for this and MTN for that. The time she sang in America for this amount and in the U.K for that amount. I truly pitied her but was relieved when my message came. And before I left, I did one more thing, stupid or not, I just went for it. I apologized once more for my mistake and let it be known, it only happened because she was the only female in the area not because of anything else. She gave me a tight smile, reached into her bag and handed her business card. Whatever that meant, on my part, I had washed my hands off anything my mistake brought up for her.

My Mom was a house help when she was young and worked to put herself through school. I am extremely proud of my mother and every single day I wish I am as hardworking as she still is; you can call her superwoman. This is why I couldn’t find comfort to give the musician because I have never seen anything wrong with being a house help. It is a job like any other; for most people it is a spring board to make their dreams come true and most importantly it is a way to survive.

What I learn’t that day is, you can never out run your demons. True freedom is in facing them. When you do, you will find they are ghostly things bent on depriving you of a full life. And if you think being successful at what you love and what you are good at (I researched her when I got home. She is exceptionally talented, no joke) will save you and help bury your issues… well good luck then.

This is what I am doing, handing all my issues to God because when the son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I found this truth in the bible that brought understanding to the fruitlessness of escapism.
Isaiah 30:15-16, ‘The sovereign LORD, the holy God of Israel, says to the people, “Come back and quietly trust in me. Then you will be strong and secure.” But you refuse to do it! Instead you plan to escape from your enemies by riding on fast horses. And you are right — escape is what you will have to do! You think your horses are fast enough, but those who pursue you will be faster!

I choose to quietly trust God with all that plagues me. I’ve told him how I truly feel about every aspect of my life that weighs me down. And he brings healing through his word and through the occasional soul searing process of encouraging me to be vulnerable with trustworthy people in my life. I tell you help is flooding in.

Escape is not a long term option because all it takes is a little rattle and you’re instantly faced with your demons. And next to change, the other things constant in this life are the rattles.

Hustlers or Customers?

Everyday, if you are open to it, you will learn something new…

This is my new discovery about living life and I am embracing it along with the complexity that comes with learning new things.

The original post has changed. I was going to write something entirely different but I decided to take a long walk before settling down to write and that changed everything. Somewhere along one of my walking routes is my Balango customer. Balango for those who don’t know is the Hausa word for barbecued meat. There are a lot of open air barbecue spots in Jos and it is a thriving business especially if the maker can get the meat right and juicy.

Before I go any further, I feel like I need to explain what a customer is in the Nigerian context. For some odd reason, when we say customer here, it is both the seller of the commodity and the buyer. What makes both of these parties customers to each other, is the frequency with which one patronizes the other; usually the buyer.  Another factor of consideration in this relationship is how familiar the buyer and seller are with each other. It is not strange to find a seller who knows all the names of his customers kids, the schools they go to, if they have health issues and a host of other personal information. This is because for the past say twenty years, the buyer has been coming to the same shop or stall to purchase whatever they need.

Back to my story. As I walked past my balango customer, I was happy to see his business thriving as usual but just as I walked a few steps further; a new development unfolded before my eyes. I had not walked that way in over ten days and during my absence, a new balango seller had erupted near my customer. And I was immediately pissed. I had half the mind to walk up to the new guy and ask him questions like, “What nonsense is this?”, “With all the free spots from here to Hill Station Juction, did you have to pick this one to start your own business?”, “Are you just an evil man or what is this rubbish?”.

I’m not sure I should tell you the caliber of purely wicked thoughts that were going through my mind over this guy who was, I feel, stealing the food from my customer’s mouth. And as I was trying to find peace within my spirit over this earth shattering development, I noticed the new balango man calling customers to himself and I heard a voice say, “walk away and walk away fast”. Now this is what irked me more, I was walking against traffic and this means, people walking with the flow of traffic on that lane would get to the new guy before they get to my customer. And the fact that the new guy picked that spot was all the proof of his intent as far as I was concerned.

Nevertheless, I kept on walking and thinking and having an imaginary dialogue in my head with the culprit. It was a forty minute walk and by the end of it, I had asked and answered some questions for myself.

One of the questions I had to face was why my customers are my customers. And these were my honest answers.

1) They are familiar and I love how we interact and the camaraderie between us. It helps make the whole market experience pleasant for someone like me; I hate going to the market.

2) I do not have to bargain with them because I feel we have gotten to a point that they like me enough not to cheat me. So I feel a bit safe in their hands.

3) They give me a lot of ‘Jara’ which means extra stuff. This I must confess with my new understanding is no longer something I am comfortable with.

Bottom line, I always get low prices with them, great customer service and a pleasant experience.Customer.

Now a few days ago, I read Proverbs 11:24-25, and it talks about scattering your seeds to sow more and invariably reap more as oppose to sowing in one place. And what do you know, the verse popped into my head during those forty minutes of walking along with some accusations.

First, what do I really know about what transpired between the balango sellers before the new development. It is possible that my customer knows the other guy and even invited him to do business with him. It might be an expansion. It might also be a man doing a neighborly thing to help another brother out. I do not know but I assumed the worst. I may still be right but the truth is till I go back and investigate, I will never know.

Another accusation that also popped up was about the many times, I saw sellers in the market who looked like they have not had any sale. And even though they had the same things as my customer, I walked past them because of my own above mentioned convenience. And no matter how frantic they looked as they tried to get my attention, I ignored them. This is because i saw them as trying to hustle me from my customer and I wasn’t having it, I felt like it was my duty to defend the pockets of my customer.

See I am not going to lie to you, the convenience of having a customer is numerous and bountiful. And we should cherish and keep those relationships. We can however be deliberately about trying to balance things out. I plan to start praying and asking God to direct my steps every time I go to the market. I will always ask his help to locate sellers that really need to have a good sale that day and maybe you can do the same too. Once in a while let’s try to look around and see if there is someone who may just have something to take back home because of our purchase. It can be one of our ways of shopping ethically and spreading seeds of hope. I believe this way we can reap the benefit of reducing poverty as we spread our resources far and wide.

What do you think?

There is dignity in labour.

I sort of knew I wouldn’t really be shopping in the month of July on account of my sporadic income generation. I am a self employed writer and filmmaker, so there is no monthly salary coming in. I am not even a shopper to begin with, I only buy things I absolutely need after a lot of deliberation; and after I see how high it ranks on the necessity list. I just do not enjoy going to the market.

The Ethical shopping challenge, a Micah Challenge for the month of July has however given me the opportunity to pay attention to things I normally wouldn’t pay attention to. This challenge is very important. It is also an interesting one because I want to see how I can add to the discussion on how Nigerians shop and interact with the market place.

I wrote a Facebook post on July 3rd about how we do not have the credit card system in Nigeria but we have an internally generated credit system which is truly damaging and adds to the poverty situation in the country.

Today, I want to write on something else which is still in line with The Ethical Shopping Challenge.

I have seen a great difference between an elderly person shopping in the market place and a younger person. The elderly person usually fifties and above, walks up to the seller, greets them warmly, asks about the market, asks how their sales are going and usually carries a lively conversation with the seller during the time they are trading. When they are done and the elderly person has walked away, you can still see a residual smile on the seller’s face. The mutual respect between buyer and seller is also evident during their transaction; but this is becoming lost. A younger person usually walks up to the seller, any conversation they have is during bargaining and the younger person expects to be served snappily. The seller may sometimes deliberately waste their time or refuse their offered price because of their attitude and at the end of the transaction neither is smiling or satisfied. To be honest,  I have mostly seen these types of interactions in the North-Central part of the country with traces in the East, and not so much in the West but I digress.

This could be because we have created a hierarchy of jobs in Nigeria. If you work for an oil company or an oil servicing company, you are on top of the ladder and some how revered and respected. The bankers follow closely behind depending on their station within the bank (Mangers on top, Cashiers at the bottom, Guards and Doormen not considered), along with people that work in some well paying government agencies. I have heard young people say “I am just managing as a Teacher,” a job that used to be well respected. Basically, it all boils down to how much an individual earns at the end of the month. It is no longer about the quality of the service you are providing to society and its ability to transform lives.

My mother has a shop in our neighborhood and it is amazing to note that every time we employ a sales girl there is always some “well intentioned” neighbor who comes to tell her, she can do better. They ignore the fact that this person has been living in the village with no opportunity to go to even a primary school and they are presently working to save money and better their lives. A lot of them come to work for a year or two to save up for school but these ‘Do-Gooders’  wont stop filling their ears with how degrading it is to be a sales girl in a shop. Anyway this is a long story for another day but the point is to show you the mind-set that accompanies being rude or acting uppity to people that sell in the market place and shops.

The bible in Ephesians 4:29, talks about how we should watch our words and use it for the edifying of each other. The King James version adds “that it may minster grace to the hearer”.  Hopefully we all know what grace is and that it is not given based on merit. The bible has called us to love and value each other, it does not ask us to be selective.

For these reasons, I feel another way we can shop ethically in this country is by the way we interact with sellers in the market place. I am not saying pretend to care because truly once the love of God fills your heart, you can’t help but care. But how about giving a warm smile and a greeting, speaking with respect and being patient with the seller in the market and in shops even when they are ‘a bit slow’. Then before you leave, why not wish them a successful market day.

There is dignity in labor but in this country, our culture likes to trample on that dignity. This is a form of oppression and poverty thrives on oppression. Let’s stop this and give back dignity and strength to people who work so hard to give themselves a better life and to provide for their families.

Shop ethically with a smile this July and do it always, for the rest of your life. You are making a difference, i promise.