Thursday, December 15, 2016

Recollections of Christmas Traditions

Christmas is here already and as usual, it's colored with excitement and enthusiasm. Depending on the kind of family you were raised in, some pictures and memories automatically flow through your mind when you think of Christmas. One of the most noticeable heralders of the season for me, are the carols …

 “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…”
I’ve always loved that song despite the abstractness of the snowy day from a Nigerian perspective. It’s laced with nostalgia and urgency in a melodious mix that is an embodiment of all that is the Christmas tradition. 

…just like the ones I used to know
I’ve loved Christmas since I can remember. Even though I didn't grow up in a family given to traditions, some things rubbed off from the society at large, and over the years, those things, though borrowed, became a sort of tradition to me. I’m not sure which elements stand out the most from my childhood and have traveled with me through the years. Maybe it’s the lights and other decorations that transform our streets from mundane to mesmeric pictures from our favorite fairy tales. Perhaps it’s the sweet melodies of carols drifting dreamily out some windows and in others. With my mind's eyes I see grainy mental pictures of a musically gifted relative  lovingly fingering a piano so that missed notes here and there are forgiven as a medley of carols are sang at the top of our voices and fill our hearts with such a sense of peace and joy that worries and other heartaches seem to pause for a week or so. Could it be the trees that come out just in time to herald the historic birth of our King?  Or the gifts stashed away under the tree which were ALWAYS highlights of the season. Even though receiving gifts that we had day-dreamed and drooled over all year round was great, the small things like sweets and cookies were heartily received because somehow, even the youngest of us knew that the value of the gift was not itself but in its being given and that we were lovingly remembered at Christmas. 

Maybe it is in the recollection of the temporal burying of hatchets and other misgivings between neighbors and the portal of goodwill that opens in the week of Christmas to allow for the free flow of drinks and food from household to household. Did your neighbors send their children over to yours with ceramic or metal dishes brimming with Jollof Rice crowned with choice pieces of thoroughly fried Chicken or Beef, till your family had a dining room filled with an assortment of meals from different homes and motivated by varying intentions? Despite this, by some unspoken rule, the one meal that everyone awaited with giddy excitement was mother's very own food. The recollection of the taste of my mother’s special Christmas Jollof Rice and Fried Chicken is so strong I almost call out to ask if food is ready. It wasn’t that we didn’t have Jollof Rice on other days, it’s just that for some inexplicable reason, Christmas Jollof always seems different to my tastebuds.

The Carol services and dramatizations of the Christmas story cannot be forgotten or left out when pictures of Christmas traditions are painted. This year, honoring the circle of life, I watched my kids first performance in a Christmas concert, and was fondly reminded of all the times past when I stood in their positions singing of the wonders of Christmas at the top of my voice.

For some families, the holiday was not complete without the huddled family meetings to resolve protracted intra-family feuds. As tempers and voices flared and subsided in unfathomable rythmes, one was never able to clearly decipher what the arguments were centered around if you were not invited into the fold. But everyone knows that Christmas is a time to be with family and no misunderstanding was worth denying one's self the joy of loving and being loved by the people who know you as best as any human can. Even city dwellers somehow find a way to get away from their ball and chains lives, sneak back home (wherever home may be), and crawl into their mothers’ arms and under their wrappers for a recharge of their emotional batteries because who really knew what punches the new year would pack?

For me Christmas is a kaleidoscope that neatly brings together these fragmented practices which when alone are never quite significant or explainable, but which when fused together within the season bring the greatest cheer to our hearts and remind us of all that is true and the source of the world’s one shot and peace, for all times. Whilst still holding on to traditions and family cultures created around Christmas, we want to ask that we all take some time to remember the most important part of Christmas; and the real reason we celebrate Christmas at all. We celebrate Christmas because of the birth of Jesus. We celebrate His gift of promise amid despair and hopelessness. Like a number of people today, there must have been tons of questions echoing in people’s minds 2000 odd years ago. Then Jesus came, a single answer to a million questions ranging from the economy to matters of the heart.

What’s amazing is Nigeria is at one of those turning points littered with questions and groans. It’s the perfect time to celebrate Christmas. It’s the perfect time to open our hearts and lives anew to the hope that Jesus’ birth ushered into the world. The birth that whispered in the dead of night “It is well!”  

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Letter to My Younger Self (1)

Dear Nora,
Let me start by saying, although ‘Life’ has a way of molding our character and behaviour, your life is proof that when character is true and good, it will always shine through, no matter how many mud slings life throws at us. I know you are wondering what I’m talking about. I’m referring to those years you spent in the clutches of depression and silence imposed on you by the sadness and uncertainty you felt as a young teenager.
I know how much you miss having your mum in your life. You are certain life would be less painful if she, instead of your step-mom, were the woman in your life. You know you would smile more and cry less. That may be true, but you know what the Bible says about all things working together for good for they that love God? Well it’s true. Many years from now, you will look back on your life (like I’m doing now) and realize with utter disbelief that maybe THAT life was the life you needed to grow into a strong resilient woman and if you had to do things all over again and were given a choice, you would choose the life you have right now over the one you keep day dreaming about. So, my advice to you: Dust yourself up, stop wallowing in self-pity and start making notes of areas in your life where you desire to see a stronger, better you.
My heart breaks as I think of the sense of worthlessness and unworthiness that looms over you like a dark cloud. My heart breaks because over the years I learned that there is so much complexity and wonder to the girl that you are. So much so, that in the years to come, when people talk about the Nora they know and have experienced, you will marvel at the character in their stories and wonder if the stories are exaggerations. Your friends describe you as ‘wise beyond her years’ ‘witty’ ‘good natured’ ‘kind hearted’ and ‘good morals’. Imagine that! So the next time you look in a mirror, remember that there so much more to you than meets the eyes. 
Before I ramble on and forget this important point, you need to stop looking at your sisters and feeling less…not as pretty, not as fair skinned and generally less remarkable. Let me give you a privileged peek into the future darling, you ARE intelligent and beautiful. As you will learn later in life, beauty has many faces, complexions and body types. Ask Agbani Darego and then ask Unwana Udobang if you doubt me. So, yes your sisters are beautiful but then so are you. Between you and me, you will come to prefer your type of beauty over theirs especially when you start having kids. Your body is not perfect, but it is the only one you have and love it you must and will. As time goes on, you will also learn that physical beauty is not the full measure of a woman. Time will teach you that there is more to a Total Woman, qualities like inner strength balanced nicely with meekness, intellect, versatility and a host of others. So dearie, food for thought “How do you rate when these qualities are considered?” Whatever your answer, know that there is time for improvement and that the virtuous woman of the Bible is not an illusion.
That thing called ‘Love’, I know how you think it is synonymous with hurt, betrayal and disappointment because you see it only through the tainted lenses of your mother’s experience. Honestly, you neither know the whole of it nor truly understand all that happened. What I however know from my years in walking in your shoes is this; Love truly is rare. Most people mistake a lot of other fleeting emotions for it and many pay the price for those misrepresentations. But, Love IS real. People have felt and experienced its beauty and one day, you will too. It will take you time and you will worship at the altars of caution and distrust for a long time (thankfully not too long as to add to your life’s regrets), but eventually, you will befriend a particular boy and slowly but surely, your heart will melt and reform. He will help you to break that teenage vow never to tell someone you love them, and mean it. He would help you learn that what Love isn’t is perfect, and what it is is beautiful and worth experiencing, pain and joy all bundled in one. You just wait and see! Remember his name… Its Victor Odiba Igonoh… especially the surname *wink.
You know how I said your heart will melt and reform? Good thing it does, otherwise, it would definitely have broken as you got to know and love Ojonimi and Jodie. It would not have been able to contain this untamable joy that courses through it each time you look in their lovely faces or the gratitude you feel towards God for these blessings.
I know this has been a long letter, but I think it’s been necessarily so because you need to see the beauty that you are and your life is. There is so much more to say but it would take too many words, too much time and possibly ruin the experience.
Before I end my letter Lovely Nora, I must tell you one more thing. I wish that this were an opportunity to re-write some passages or even whole chapters of our life’s story. Then I would be able to warn you of some mistakes that your path holds so that you can pick other routes and make better choices. But that isn’t what this letter is about; this is just a letter to let you know that your life IS beautiful. So dear, it is with some sadness I tell you that you will not always make the right choices. You will make mistakes grave and small. But you will learn to forgive yourself (especially because God has set an example for you by first forgiving you) and learn from your mistakes. One of the lessons you will learn is that you are far from perfect and no one is infallible.
I love you Nora, with all of my heart… so catch up already; learn to love yourself so you can truly start living!
Lot’s of Love…
An older, wiser Nora

Monday, December 1, 2014

Redefining Beauty

Yesterday an eclectic group of talented and fascinating women met at the maiden edition of 'The Inspire Series Event' to discuss a topic that though targeted at the womenfolk, has plagued all of mankind since forever; Beauty.
Issues were examined...
"What is Beauty?"
"Who is Beautiful?" Is it the woman with the flawless skin or that other woman with the amazing persona that lights lives?
"Where does beauty really lie? In the eyes of the beholder (as touted since God knows when) or in the heart of the holder? I'm I (not) beautiful simply because YOU pronounce me so or is my 'beautiful quotient' a factor of some self-discovered truth that cannot be tarnished or dismissed by the fleeting opinions of others?
"How do fame and societal judgment marry where beauty is concerned?" Do I get forgiven my physical inconsistencies because I'm a celebrity or does that status bring my spots and imperfections under more spotlights and invite more unsolicited beauty consultants to my vanity chest?
"Should I feel the need to compensate for not meeting up to society's beauty standards?"
"So by genes or a lifetime of sacrifices and self deprivation, I have some how checked off all of society's beauty-must-haves (like that's ever possible!), where do I go from there?"

These and many more questions were raised and brilliantly answered by people like Inspiration FM's Wanawana, the inspiring Glory Edozien (the event's organizer), OAP, Oreka Godis, Gidi Up's creator, Jadesola Osiberu and notable makeup artist, Lola Maja amidst others.

I dare to speak on behalf of the lovely ladies who were at the event in saying that the time spent in that room full of open hearts was time well spent. I also want to believe that attendees left there with a clearer sense of responsibility (not just to themselves but to posterity) as regards defining beauty concepts vis-a-vis other virtues.

I may not be able to swear that "Beauty" as a concept was giving a new cap yesterday, but I'm certain that the meeting helped attendees bond over the common struggle for an understanding of what society says on the matter of beauty, what we have all learned from our different but shockingly similar experiences and the truths that we have come to know for ourselves... "I may not be as slim, as curvaceous, or as light-skinned as YOU say I should be, but what I am is enough!!!
Titilope Shonuga performing a spoken words poem

Omolara serenading attendees

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


So I was just watching a video (Shonda's Speech) of Shonda Rhimes (Creator of our much loved Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal) and listening to her tell me (yes me, Nora!) how I need to stop painting blue skies and fluffy clouds about being so-and-so and actually step out and BE somebody. She thinks it’s high time I actually took steps, no matter how shaky in the direction of turning any of my many dreams to some sort of reality or another and I found myself agreeing.

It’s not that I haven’t heard this speech before…over and over have I heard it. But still as I listen to her talk it rings pure and true. It reverberates in my innermost being and causes something in my stomach (no not my bun) to uncoil. Maybe it’s the fact that I had only hours ago listened to Jason Njoku (Founder of iRoko TV) tell me (yes me… and a room full of TEDx Euston attendees and the www in general) his story about failing into success (Jason's Speech). Maybe its hearing people say over and over that ANYONE can literally migrate from the unimpressive to the relevant and lived-a-meaningful-life region that’s causing this unease on my insides and causing me to ask myself the questions:

·         “Why can’t this be MY story?”
·         “Isn’t there more to me than this life that can be summarized in a paragraph or two?”
·         “What is holding me back from daring to be more?”
and very importantly,
·         “What is THAT more that I can be?”

Ultimately, I come back to this point; the point where my thoughts get fuzzy whenever I venture along this train of thoughts; the point where most times I hit a brick unyielding wall. What IS that more that I can be? What IS that ‘more’ that is frothing impatiently on my inside, waiting for me to discover that it’s been here all along, my true self and glorious destiny?
So I start with an inventory. Who am I TODAY, right now?
I check off mental fingers,

·         I’m a HR Professional,
·         I’m a loved and loving Wife,
·         I’m an adoring mother,
·         I’m a treasured daughter (but I don’t think that counts as I had no input in that)”.

I fall mentally silent at this point and then attempt a deeper probe… surely there must be more to me. Silence still. So I go the only logical way there is to go and it’s a promise to self that there MUST be more to me. I will not live and die on a bland note! I WILL matter for something and it doesn’t have to bring fame and glory. I just want to know that when I lay my head down in final mortal sleep, it is to rest from a life well spent, not one that I barely scratched the surface of.

My question still lingers… “What is my more?”

I’ve always loved and wanted to write something worth reading… just maybe… 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Is Nigeria too Image Conscious?

I love my country... like a mother hopelessly loves that  child that she fears will eventually give her a heart attack because he has vowed not to hear word.

I can’t run away from my roots (no matter how many plans I make), I can’t turn a deaf ear to her woes (even if I fill my ears with preferred news of how things ARE working in other countries), and I can’t beat her to death with a stick (never mind how many articles I  write huffing and puffing). At the end of the day, ‘my own na my own…Naija na my own.’ So every day, I awake and carry my cross… “My name is Nora and I am a Nigerian.”

In this spirit, when I see an article like the one I’m about to share, I’m torn in 2 directions. One part of me relates to what the author is saying. I have probably said a thing or two on some issues mentioned sef. But as I progress through the article, another part of me starts to nag and squirm. It queries my patriotism for agreeing with someone who seem so uninhibitedly rude to Naija and its people (never mind that she herself is one and is careful to use the words ‘us’… ‘we’…and ‘our’ in acknowledgement of the three fingers pointing in her direction).

As I tweet about her article I second guess my action for a second or two as I think about the backlash I may get for not stating loud and clear in my tweet that “I AM NOT ON THE SIDE OF THE AUTHOR!!!” But I posted my tweet any ways ‘cause I do wonder if she is right? If we sometimes go on about the wrong stuff. I wonder (for the first time to be honest) where the people are that thought “Chai! See what Vocal Slender and that Igbo man…” whose name I can’t remember right now … “ had to go through to turn dreams to realities”.  

Does Nigeria Have an Image Problem?
By Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

Some years ago, a British filmmaker discovered an exotic site in Nigeria: An entire community of human beings subsisting on mountains of refuse.

And not in some remote state, but in Lagos, the country's commercial nerve centre - a city of fast cars, luxury shops and sleek folk, with women in Brazilian hair weaves and men in Ferragamo shoes.

Shortly after the Welcome to Lagos series aired on the BBC in April 2010, Nigerians around the world went berserk.

"There was this colonialist idea of the noble savage which motivated the programme," Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka said of the documentary.

"It was patronising and condescending," he added.

The Nigerian just has to kick up a tornado whenever he is perceived unpalatably.

Nigeria's High Commissioner to the UK Dalhatu Tafida described it as "a calculated attempt to bring Nigeria and its hard-working people to international odium and scorn".

Online forums also went ablaze. "They are giving us a bad image," many Nigerians fumed.

Then the Lagos State government submitted a formal complaint to the BBC, calling on the organisation to commission an alternative series to "repair the damage we believe this series has caused to our image".

These patriots were not distressed that their compatriots in the oil giant of Africa were living in such squalor - that development had somehow eluded those Nigerians.

They did not rally with cries of: "There are people in our country living like this? What shall we do? How fast can we act?" No, no, no. The majority of voices were harmonised in one tune: Anxiety over their country's image.

Similarly, Nigeria was reluctant to accept desperately needed foreign assistance to fight terrorism, despite the country's armed forces being clearly overwhelmed.

We were more worried about how requesting help might affect Nigeria's image than about forestalling the wanton destruction by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.
In October 1960, Nigeria was loosed from the shackles of imperialism when the colonialists packed their bags and left. But over five decades later, Nigerians remain in captivity: Foreigners control our self-image. What the West thinks of us often takes manic precedence over who we really are, what we know and feel about ourselves.

The Europeans who first landed in Africa were unconcerned when the people they regarded as monkeys equally assumed that the white interlopers were ghosts. The Germans can shrug it off when they are stereotyped as humourless; the Russians can dismiss it when they are described as cold. But the Nigerian just has to kick up a tornado whenever he is perceived unpalatably. He is touchy because he has no alternative image on which to base his confidence.

Like many Africans in the diaspora, a number of Nigerians abroad have erected careers out of defending their people's image. With indignant frowns and stern tones, they strut from one global stage to the other like superintendents, dismantling stereotypes and whitewashing sepulchres. 

This passion probably sprouts from a desire to blend into their host communities, to not be perceived as savages from some nihilistic jungle. Unknowingly, they reinforce the subconscious message that has been passed down to generations of Nigerians and other Africans: That the West's opinion of us is paramount; that enlightening and convincing foreigners matters more than discerning who we are and who we want to be. And so, when the West claps for us, we get excited. When they tell us off, we get upset. When they applaud one of us, we automatically join in applauding the person. We frantically monitor foreign opinions and we panic at the slightest hint of a negative perception of us.
We fret about the many uncomplimentary stories from our land making the rounds on international media circuits, more than about the actual negative circumstances that birth those narratives.

From politicians to intellectuals to entertainers to terrorists, Nigerians have been socialised to rate themselves in the light of Western perceptions. And as some of us have discovered first hand, the most effective way to draw the attention of our own people to any issue, is to speak to them through a Western medium.

It is unhealthy for a people's self-image to be hinged almost entirely on outside forces.
Nigeria expends too much valuable energy on sweeping dirt under carpets and stuffing skeletons inside closets. Consequently, we deny ourselves the opportunity of frank dialogue, cultural criticism and self-examination—processes that are vital for a society to advance, by which the imperious West itself has developed thus far.

Nigeria can lead the rest of Africa in freeing our people from this image bondage.
 Adaobi's article and the pictures were culled from here

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

(No) Help!

It saddens me that Nigeria is the way it is… almost to the point of regret of my Nationality. I was so happy when I heard that some of the kidnapped girls had been rescued. It even gave me hope. Hope there might be something in our system that hasn’t yet yielded to the corruption and ineffectiveness that has ravaged our society. Hope that our law enforcement agencies, and by association Government, could still be depended on.

But news broke not too long after, that all the stories about some of the girls haven been rescued were false. The Principal of the school has confirmed that none of her girls have been fortunate enough to be rescued by our fabled law enforcement agencies. The only girls who have gotten away from the Boko Haram Kidnappers are those who have employed their own wits and summoned courage that they probably never knew they had.

What’s worse? Is it that our Government and law enforcement agencies has failed us at a time such as this or that someone (from within the agencies?) failed to get their facts right before raising the hopes of all concerned by talks of a rescue operation that never was? What kind of people think that at a time like this, face-saving is the priority? It’s been over 1 week since these girls were taken. Our law enforcement agencies have not been able to shame these perpetrators of evil by stealing back from them even 1 of these girls. I can’t help wondering if they are all still alive and what ill treatments are being meted out on them.

It’s a day of mourning when we discover as a country that a bunch of teenage girls are more resourceful than our law enforcement agencies. It’s time to put aside our fineries for sack clothes when over 200 teenage girls are grabbed by the literal Hands of Evil and we all as a country stop in our tracks, shake our heads in despair, even shed a few tears then go on with our lives. How? Why? These girls are not dead (as far as we know) but as far as our government is concerned, it seems like their death certificates might have as well been signed. I dare say that if 200 cars went missing from a Toyota dealership, more efforts would have gone into recovering them. What are we to make of this? Are material things worth more to us as a people than lives (so long as they are not our very own)? How can we go on with our businesses as usual as if over 200 potential leaders of tomorrow have not been stolen away in the dark of night? I hate to sound like I’m obsessed with the western world, but I have no doubts that had this incident happened in America or Britain, their Governments would have gone all out to recover the girls. Our Government’s inaction (yes, inaction!!!) speaks so loudly of a lack of compassion that I fear for all of our lives. If a lack of compassion is not the problem here, then it has to be the grossest of ineptitudes. So which is it?

Updates on the situation...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sweet Mother

I just came across this video on Youtube. I know it’s well past Mother’s Day but it was too beautiful to pass up plus Mother deserve to be appreciated every day, in several ways.

It’s just about brought tears to my eyes … that’s a lie! It DID bring tears to my eyes. I also made be proud to be a Mom. Made me feel better about all the times I thought my efforts went straight in the drain.

This video is a tribute to every Mom out there who feels undervalued and over worked. God Bless you for your labour of love!

OH GEJ!!! (2)

I gladly eat my words this morning. What?! Yes! I’m happy to announce that some of the girls that were kidnapped on Monday by the Boko Haram (BH) sect have been rescued. Read news here. There was a search and rescue operation after all and it has yielded some favourable results. Let this be a lesson to the faithless; God does answer prayers.

I can’t express enough how relieved I am for the “over 80 girls” that were safely recovered from the terrorists nor can I imagine the bravery of the 16 who escaped the clutches of their abductors. I pray that God will always give us the grace and wits we need when life presents us with unpleasant situations. My prayers remain with the girls who are still being held. My hope is that they too will be safely recovered and that they can put this horrible incident securely behind them.   I urge the good men (and women..?) who rescued the “80 or so” to intensify efforts to recover the remaining girls because I can’t imagine the rage and frustration that would be vented on these poor girls by the kidnappers.

Every morning on my way to work, I tune in to Classic FM 97.3 to listen in on their Front Page News & Analysis by Sly, Bukola and the delightful Jimi Disu. It’s a great program and most times, the analyses are spot on. But today JD decided to play the Devil’s Advocate and see things from the perspective of GEJ on his attendance of the Kano rally in the face of the terror that BH had just unleashed. So he said… maybe GEJ went to the rally because the acts of terrorism were perceived to be BH’s way of trying to clog the wheel of the Government …maybe GEJ did not want to accede to the expectations of the sect by halting all Government activities.

As a little boy I know would say “No! No!! No!!!” I beg to disagree with Mr. Disu and ask…

 “How do dancing and clapping at a rally organized to welcome Ibrahim Shekarau (a man who can’t seem to make up his mind on where to pitch his tent) back to the PDP move the country forward?! How do Mr Shekarau’s political proclivities translate to the governing of our nation?! No one says the rally had to be cancelled but did GEJ have to be there in person?! Forget the rally; does this explanation also cover his attendance of the 100th birthday of the Olubadan?”

 Oh GEJ!!! *smh