Hello, I’m Alive! (and ten lessons learned)

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It’s 2017 and feels like I got the memo when everyone’s already having a good time. For the first time since I started this blog I didn’t write a New Year post. I’ll tell you why, alongside the beautiful things that happened in 2016.

  1. My spiritual life became richer. I’ve always been an always-have-your-feet-on-the-ground kind of girl. If something does not make sense, the chance of trying them out is slim to none. In 2016, I learned that faith isn’t very logical all the time and the lack of sense does not make it an impossible feat.
  2. Forgiveness came easier. Ever felt like you lack the capacity to forgive someone who hurt you? I felt that way for a long time. I was hurt in 2015 and wondered how I would survive the year with all the anger and grief. Then I learned forgiveness isn’t a feeling; it’s something you do and then do again every single day after. It wasn’t my love I had to give; it was my consent to hand over the offender to the author of love. Life became easier after that.
  3. Studying made me almost mad. I’d say literally mad but that wouldn’t be true. I did feel almost mad though trying to pay attention to other things aside the pile of books staring me in the face every day, lecturers reminding me to read at least two hours daily and colleagues oppressing me with all their knowledge. But I realised with constant practice and discipline, everything becomes a tad bearable.
  4. We got stuck in a recession and Trump blew the world away. Typing this made me chuckle. Imagine waking up every day to the new fall in the value of your currency, going to the market to learn your favourite brands have doubled in price, searching for alternatives and hating them, dealing with the fear of unemployment and a pay cut, and knowing Trump is the president of America. Conditions will always change and everything bends to accommodate it.
  5. Ideas! That’s what happens when you know things may never be the same again. I spent a lot of time thinking of alternatives, which led me to considering the things I love most in the world, which further led me to research and now I’m a step closer where I want to be in 2017. Change can be a good motivator to realign priorities if it does not paralyze you.
  6. Learning to let go. Not everyone is meant to remain in your life. I heard that once and never gave it another thought until I had to let go of someone special to me. It was not an easy decision, but it had to be done. How did I feel afterwards? Terrible. But terrible is only a feeling and feelings change.
  7. Life hangs precariously on a very thin thread. And could be gone in a puff! I mourned the loss of a blog pal (you’ve probably seen Archaeopteryx here). But his demise made me think about life a little more deeply. Death comes for all like a long-lost friend; we can either embrace him with joy or regret.
  8. The past never goes away. I dream of him knocking at the door. Sometimes I look out the window and he’s there, bidding me to come out. But I don’t; I don’t invite him in nor do I go out to say hello. The past never really goes away; he’s there in our subconscious, but no one says you have to give him audience.
  9. Set manageable goals and keep them in sight. Goal setting have been a tradition for many. Some never see past February, and others can quite simply be termed ‘rolling plans’. I’m not sure why some goals never see the light of day, but studies suggest the reason for failure may be tied to our sharing. The logic is the brain feels gratified when goals are shared with others, hence reducing the likelihood of accomplishment. Mine has never tanked like that, but then I’m not a goal-sharer until I hit the mark. Perhaps it’s time to try a new approach (?) Write it down, keep it in sight, ask for help, but otherwise keep it to yourself.
  10. Victory! Comes sweeter to those who labour the most. I don’t know if I heard that somewhere or if it’s original. A week ago my final results were released and I’m happy to say this girl is an official holder of a professional certification. I had to let go of things I loved (like this blog) to get here, but I’m glad it was worth it. Although the journey may seem long and weary, the joy when it’s over will exceed every effort put into the task.

I like to begin each year with a general theme. In 2015 it was hope; 2016 was a time to tear down and reconstruct yesterday.  This year I’m trying out things that scare the crap out of me. I know it will probably feel stupid sometimes, but like an advice I read on another blog said, “if you wake up one morning and feel unhappy with where you are, have the courage to do whatever is necessary to make a change in your life.”

So here is to taking bold steps.

Happy New Year

 

Image: Pixabay

 

 

 

Happiness Through The Hour-Glass

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If you had asked me what happiness meant a decade ago, my answer would have read: it’s finally coming home to good food and a warm bed. You see, I was in a boarding school that availed me only the basic luxuries—as basic as they could get. When I posed the same question to a group of friends, answers differed with each person defining happiness as best he could, given the prevailing circumstances of their lives.

I used to think this was a one-definition-fits-all thing; that you could tell people what should give them lasting happiness, and that the sum of one’s feeling would be their dreams, both short and long-term, fulfilled. I may have been wrong.

It explains why a person living in luxury would consider suicide when they can afford everything they ever wanted. Why a mother would kill her own baby if children are God’s gift to man. Why certain people suffer spousal abuse, if the call to marriage is the highest union that two people can find. Why privileged children run away from home, when there are less privileged that would die to have just a bit of their part. Or why some go into crime even when provided for by the State. The paradox is that people want happiness but do not understand why their desires, now fulfilled, leave them feeling hollow still.

The much I’ve come to know is that our personal and collective definition of happiness changes the longer the sands pass though the hour-glass. It was Heraclitus who said that no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he is not the same man. If human character was subject to time and experience, one’s perception of happiness is also subject to the same prevailing influence.

It brings some perspective into this ever elusive definition. In fact I am willing to bet that if I threw open the same question, obvious as the answer(s) may seem, it will take some thoughts to offer one that pleases you.

So I asked myself again: what does happiness mean to me?

Over time it has been so many things, but the passage of time has helped to refine my perception. The more sand has escaped from the hour-glass of my life, the clearer I see through it. Whereas happiness used to mean getting as much as I could within the shortest possible interval; now it is knowing that happiness is not in achievement itself, but in the journey between how soon I want it and when I eventually get it.

On First Impressions and Seconds

First-impression

Do first impressions matter?

A week ago I was walking home from work, down a busy Lagos street, exhausted and barely keeping the adrenaline pumping when I stopped to buy bread. Bread because I don’t know how I’ll survive in my house without it for a whole weekend.

The woman was rude. That was my first impression. She spoke like I was interrupting something and shot daggers when I tried inspecting the bread. I asked if they were fresh. Yes. They all say yes, but you ask anyway hoping someone will say it’s a day old. Or two. Or maybe a week. But asking buys you time to block out the rest of your senses and use just the nose. If you’re lucky the pleasant aroma of freshly baked bread will fill them in no time.

She looked irritated by my presence and I regretted stopping in the first place. Naturally I’d walk away, but I didn’t. I stayed, allowing our mutual irritations overlap. For a moment I wondered how she managed to keep any customers at all.

Three days later I walked past the same stall and heard someone call out. When I turned it was the bread seller, waving and asking if I wanted to buy more bread. I’m not sure if I succeeded in hiding my surprise, but even before thinking I could feel my lips returning the smile. This thing betrays my emotions.

The next day I stopped over to buy bread. She called me her friend or something like that. I don’t mind, I’ve been called many things by women ranging from darling to sweetheart to love and my baby. It’s all the same to me.

Everyday I walk past my eyes do a quick search for her. We lock gaze. Smile. And communicate a silent good night. Yesterday I stopped to buy bread. Two? Yes, two. She remembers I bought two loaves the first time. She remembers the brand I like. I don’t even inspect it. Don’t take too long to eat this one. I nod.

I’m surprised she recalled my face since we met on a dark road illuminated by candles from other traders. Maybe I have one of those faces you don’t forget; maybe I look like one of those customers you know will always come back.

Should first impressions matter?

I don’t know. I met a bread seller who was rude the first time, I was sure I never wanted to do business with her again. A week later and we’re exchanging secret smiles. There are many things that could have been wrong that day. She could have had a bad day, and yet all I could think of was how I deserved a nice, cheerful person serving me… even when I wasn’t feeling so cheerful myself.

What does that make me?

I don’t know. But I hope that someone out there will be more generous with a second impression of me.

What Came Before?

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Incidentally, in a conversation just a little while ago I had to explore some history to try to reach some clear understanding of a cultural matter. The culture of people are a practical demonstration of their identity. A loss of their cultural history often results in the kind of vulnerability that we witness in Africa today: a vulnerability that shows itself in our embarrassing efforts to acquire and display foreign accents, in our dash to buy all things Western, in our speed to bad-mouth Nigerian ways and things. It is easy to sell any narrative about Nigeria to Nigerians today especially because we have no idea what we once were and where we once headed. We are like sheep without shepherd without our history.

In a personal experience I saw another side to this issue. History may not be lost but it may be so painful that you wish that it was. Every time you come up against it you want to avert your eyes and pray that by the time you look up it would have dissolved like mist before the rising sun. And yet without facing that history squarely and bravely but intelligently dissecting it, that fear that it always inspires will be the baggage you carry everywhere with you.

My secondary school and university days carry their share of history. I can often hold my own when embarrassment comes at me in public. I don’t know where I picked up the skill but I actually know how to take an embarrassing moment and make it a memorable one. Or at least I used to. But memories are a whole other bucket of fish. Sometimes you remember and shudder at what you did and hope nobody else does. History may be embarrassing.

How we understand the past is the most important element determining the future — James Carrol

But without history, how can we know our own selves and plot a course for the future? What you do not face squarely and clearly sort through is likely to haunt you into repeating the same mistakes. History says a lot about who we are. As a matter of fact, without it, we are ships adrift on the sea. We need it to guide our paths into the future.

The question “who am I?” begins its answer in “what came before?” History may be scary; it may be embarrassing or it may be unknown but it should never be ignored. Discovering it is key to discovering ourselves, understanding it is key to understanding the decisions we have to make and the paths open to us. Owning it takes the power of definition away from possibly malevolent or dubious elements and gives it back to us.

 

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Odii is an entrepreneur. Figuring life out and sharing his discoveries is business he enjoys doing. You can find him @ Panorama

Intricate

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It took staring at a leafless tree for days and struggling to still my hands from reaching for a camera to come to this; to realize how monotonous life is when we allow it. Wake up. Eat. Work. Sleep. And perhaps pull out our cameras and take a shot ever so often. It’s not difficult to see how one can remain absolutely clueless about the world and the delicate beauty it harbors.

Few days ago I conversed with a friend. We talked about the special things that make us tick—mine were books and photography—and then about joy, sadness and emotions. At the time I felt what it could be like to exist in a space without experiencing it. It’s a lot like catching a nice view and jumping in just in time to take a picture, before the moment passes. That is the power of photography: the ability to freeze time, as good as elemental power can get for us, until you take a closer look at your picture and a whole new wonder explodes—like that Dragonfly. I always thought it ordinary till I took note of the light play on its wings.

“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”  Psalm 139:15

I think of humans like that, artistically formed. We are the wonders of creation with our diverse characters and emotions. There are seasons to life, every emotion carefully woven in the fabric of time. Our feelings of joy and sadness are each a part of who we are, so that we are a bit more appreciative of the moments in our lives. To know that our highs and lows are not just symbols of our strengths and failures; they are also testament to the intricacy of the human soul. It’s great to know that we are alike and yet so different, and it will always be a wonder plying one road to discover the depths of a single being; to move past this monotony and experience life, not exist in it.

I learned a good photographer is one able to tell a story with a picture and infuse his essence into the frame. I’m not that kind of hobbyist yet, but I hope to get there someday. Likewise I believe this also forms the basis of our humanity: our ability to see past the visible darkness and confidently step into the lives of others. I’m not that kind of human either, but hope to find the courage someday to hear your stories.

Shadows

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It was a starless night. The wind howled like a lone wolf outside and the little filtered by the mosquito net barring the window carried the promise of a heavy downpour. We gathered inside the tiny room housing two of us as was our ritual, were we would talk about everything and nothing in particular. A candle stood regally upon the study table, casting its warm glow upon the room and beside it sat a Bible in its divine glory, one of the most show-cased and least opened books.

They said I never say much. I smiled. As always there was little to say. We were but different people brought together by providence. They talked about study, boys, family, religion, food, sex, love. I smiled and laughed on cue, all the time thinking of how much we had changed.

Yes, there was always so much to talk about. The conversation went on around me, one minute building into a crescendo, followed by a barrage of laughter and the next, a sound no louder than a whisper.

I looked to my right and sniffed the air again, rain. Then a muffled sound snapped me out of my reverie. I held my breath as my heart raced and adrenaline pumped into my muscles numbed from sitting Buddha style. Something was out there. The conversation went on, and into fear grappled mind words finally began to filter through: slut…not so beautiful…poorly dressed…likes men…sleeps…lecturers…

I shook my head to clear my mind and turned back to my companions. Lightening flashed and from the corner of my eyes I caught a glimpse of a silhouette huddled behind the door.

Few minutes after the door opened and she strutted into the room. A quick glance at her downcast eyes confirmed my already budding suspicion. She’d been listening. I glanced at my companions who moments ago struck by dumbness, so artfully recovered and now launched into new horizons like they weren’t moments ago gossiping about our once absent friend. She flopped on the mattress and joined in the conversation, her sentences so often punctuated by childlike laughter.

I wondered at humans– the length we would go to make ourselves feel better. How easy it was to misunderstand others simply because they lived different lives from ours, or at least what we are used to having around us. Why it was so easy to forgive a child for being too trusting, looking at the world like a playground, and choosing to see only the inherent good in others; while with adults we brand them honorary titles like slut. But do we really grow out of our childish nature or does our shell just grow bigger? Do we don new clothes, fresh masks every day, live like society dictates and find a drug for our unhappiness and frustration? We carry bibles; hide behind religion or whatever else makes us feel good, pretending to be upright, but inside we are simply a bitter lot, people very much unsatisfied with life, hoping for redemption.

Behind each girl was a story– experiences, mistakes, choices, life. I saw dreams that could best be likened to fairy tales woven in the web of time and left to gather dust because of fear– fear of society, and fear of the unknown. But she was different, brave. So much had changed around her but she seemed untouched. She’d wrapped her past around her but was never deterred by it. She was life. She was like the candle: tall, regal, warm and full of light.

The flame flickered, casting a shadow. Its light shifting, changing, and then it was back to normal.

From across the room our eyes met and held. She regarded me briefly and I read the unspoken questions in them. I burned in shame. Then slowly her lips curved into a smile and I knew all was forgiven.

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I wrote this a year ago (June 2014) and since my brain is slightly short-circuited right now, I figured it worth digging up stuff from my archive. This was one of my earlier attempts writing something that looked like a story, 🙂 I can’t tell if I succeeded or not so you can be the judge.

See you around.

Saints. Sinners. Standards. Sex.

For some time now I have told my friends how much of a hermit I’ve been. Well today I crawled out of the real-world cave, visited the internet and came upon a post on twitter. Now this post isn’t something new, it’s not even something fresh, but it brought to mind again a certain trend that’s weighed heavily on my heart.

Let’s start with some background information.

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I’ve realised that people like to look for a piece of them in others. Perhaps this is some way our minds build connections– kindred spirits– and makes it easier to bond with others with whom we share similar behavior. For instance, people who consider themselves ‘bad’ (sinners) will likely bond with other people who share an atom of ‘bad’ traits with them. Likewise goody-two-shoes (saints) tend to attach themselves to people who are like them. We’re looking for something identifiable– markers perhaps that assures us we are not among strangers.

There is a twist though; it’s almost a bit of fairytale stuff. Sinners who tend to become attracted to Saints often try to change them. And vice versa. While the latter is queerly acceptable for reasons of making people the best version of themselves if they choose, the same cannot be said for the former.

Now about that trend I talked about earlier, there have been discussions ongoing on forums about women sexuality. For some  reason there seems a consensus that women who aren’t virgins should not deny sex to their boyfriends. There’s also another that women who claim virgins are most likely lying about it. I have some difficulty wrapping my head around this.

Where does a person’s choice to change come in?

When a woman declines sex, what has the state of her vagina got to do with it?

Should a person desirous of leading a different lifestyle after years of living in a moral cesspit be denied?

I  understand that morality for people is subjective, dependent to a large extent on religious doctrines, laws of the state, social influence and intuition, but the drastic decline is troubling. It’s like we’re telling one another, once a sinner always a sinner, refusing to acknowledge that anything good can come out something once terrible.

I believe in change. I believe that people have some inherent goodness awaiting discovery. And I know there exists some who cannot believe in themselves until someone does.

So why won’t we allow those who have been brave enough to cross the threshold from Sinner to Sainthood lead a new life? It’s like praying a person turns around from their ways with an eye shut, while keeping the other open hoping that they’ll slip. It doesn’t add up.

Define your choices,  hold yourself accountable to your standards. And then hold everyone else to it.

What a person chooses becomes their new marker; their new identifier. I do not mean that the past dissolves into nothingness, no. If that happened there’ll be no lessons learnt from our poor choices. But people should be allowed to be. If she says no sex, don’t go wondering why you shouldn’t eat from her honey-pot because some guy who was a product of her erratic behavior ate from it. We need to learn to respect choices. It’s disturbing when a man asks this virginity question…  Seriously again, what has the state of her vagina got to do with anything?!

This is for young women out there because I am one and can write from the shoe that hurts me. Virginity is a good thing. Awesome.  But it’s not everything. Aside keeping yourself for so long, it’s important you know why you have kept yourself for so long:

Is it supposed play as an advantage in the dating pool?

Are you waiting for that special man?

Do you think it’s wrong because God said so?

Define your choices,  hold yourself to your standards. And then hold everyone else to it.

quotes on morality and choice

If you’ve been sexually active and choose to become inactive, then this is your new standard. Ignore whatever silly people out there say. I don’t know if it’s called revirginization, but don’t let anyone make you feel like you have to become less than you’ve chosen simply because it makes you look cool and makes them feel good.  The relationships you keep should edify not cause you to stumble again (Of course same goes for the guys).

In favor of men who are skeptical about the virginity proclamation, it’s difficult to entirely blame them when some women have turned this age-old sign of virtue to a get-out-of-jail card. When a reason becomes old it simply becomes impossible to accept it as valid. Don’t be liars. Virginity is not an free pass. It’s not your key to the world and really it takes just a well placed sex organ to lose it. What should count is your word and choice– after all it is your body and you own exclusive rights to it. Don’t go about allowing people make you defend your decision to deny intimacy.

Pearls should not be given to Pigs because they’ll trample on it, completely ignorant of its worth

To those in search of a morally pristine being, at the very least make certain you’re pristine enough and worthy of them. It’s hypocrisy to want something you’re not desirous of being. A bit of biblical wisdom here, pearls should not be given to Pigs because they’ll trample on it, completely ignorant of its worth. If you’re in search of something more down-to-earth then there are those available too, but allow the people who wish to crossover do so in peace without pressure.

Here is one thing I do believe though: If there is a God in heaven he’ll give to everyone exactly as they deserve.

 

Image: Google Images

When It’s Never Enough

My new friend and I walked down the length of the University’s road in search of an ATM. It’s been less than 30 minutes after feeding on what was no doubt the most decent meal we’ve had in weeks—not decent because we couldn’t find anything to eat all these while, but because we could finally begin to feel the knot in our belly loosen enough to savour the taste of food. We had just written the most important exam of our lives—you could say for now because when the next one comes this will be bumped down to second place. Continue reading

Fifty Shades Of Whatever You Like

Man has three lives: one shared with the world, another known to the inner ring, and a third between himself and his maker. The first is the politically correct being, one that turns away censure, judgment and all things vile; the second is reserved for those we trust, whose lives intersect with ours by virtue of mutual interest and trust; while the third isn’t very agreeable. It’s our secrets hidden in the darkest part of our hearts. It’s our fantasies, our love, our shame, basal desires attracting retribution. Continue reading

A Threefold Lesson  

“Some of our biggest lessons come in beautifully wrapped little packages of experience.” 

Of all her body parts, Mma’s hair held the least appeal. It frizzed, broke and resisted every act of taming irrespective of her efforts. This was a cross, a very surprising cross because for years she had been blessed with beautiful hair—long, soft and admirable. Continue reading

Are You An Old Soul? (On Reincarnation And Spirituality)

It’s a common belief in this part of the world—Africa—and certain religious circles—Hinduism and Buddhism—that the souls of loved ones who pass away reincarnate i.e. are reborn into this word. As a Christian, I am hard-pressed to disbelieve this, but some things happen that make me rethink my position. Continue reading

Dear Authors, Why Are Academic Texts So Boring?

I’m a reader, have been for as long as I can remember. One day I opened my really beautiful eyes (oh please check my picture) to behold a new world. It wasn’t one of amniotic fluid and echoes from mama’s vocal cords. I saw a brighter world. A noisier world without the natural filters I was used to; a world with lights, colours, textures and books. Continue reading

Family Ties and the Feeling of Inadequacy

Meet S. Fashionista, celebrity fan, movie maniac, business mogul, accountant, dancer, singer, selfie icon, pout queen, sulker, Gazelle. She owns more shoes and clothes than anyone I’ve ever known and packs a mean gaze for someone petite. Sometimes I’m jealous she has such a lively résumé, other times I really don’t care that she has such a lively résumé. Continue reading

Blotched

Last Saturday I bumped into Mr. M. He used to be a friend of the family, until a certain incident changed that. Surrounded by basins of beans, rice, crayfish and other food condiments, he peered so hard at the polythene bag gradually being filled with items of food I wondered if there were hieroglyphic inscriptions on them. Continue reading

Blank Space

Talk about the old ways: the era of tea parties, balls, sitting on the porch, picnics, moonlight games in the village square, pen pals, letter writing or carting a journal around and talking. Yes, talking. Continue reading