If I Hear Another Sorry, I Will Scream!
I was confused after listening to the high-achieving female innovators in Amy Schumer’s video string a melody with the word sorry. What did their sorry mean? In my part of the world, sorry is usually used to convey pity and sympathy. It is a word I am intimately familiar with.
I remember being a rambunctious kid, playful and energetic. Then my world flipped and went in a direction my young mind could never have imagined. At age seven, I contracted polio and had to learn to walk again, albeit with a limp. Then, just before my sixteenth birthday, I had a freak accident and sustained a fracture to my left femur. After a couple of surgeries, I was confined to a pair of crutches. I have used them for twenty-eight years. People say sorry to me all the time even though I’m not in any kind of pain.
Because my physical disability attracted pitiful stares and sorrys, I became obsessed with trying to prove that I wasn’t as helpless and disabled as I looked. I focused my energies on education and worked hard to find a footing where the brilliant students stood. Intellectual development became my foremost life goal: if you can’t walk or run, by all means think.
My worldview changed after I read about Helen Keller’s achievements despite contracting an illness in childhood, which left her blind and mute. I also read about Franklin Roosevelt, who contracted polio at thirty-nine, but went on to become president of the United States and was re-elected three times. I believed America was the only place for my dream of a normal life. I dreamed about studying and possibly living in The States. When I finally had the opportunity to pursue an MBA in America, I was refused a study visa twice.
I was crushed by disappointment but by this time, had become a possibility thinker. I ended up in England, where I received my MBA and DBA degrees. Seven years in England, and I never heard the kind of sorry or endured the stares that made me want to hide back home.
I returned to my country after my studies hoping that because I now had Dr. before my name, sympathy would morph to admiration and sorry would drown in the applause of praise. Not so. People still stared with pitiful eyes and they still tell me sorry.
However, pity that makes me feel inadequate isn’t the only narrative. Once as I stood at Port Harcourt International Airport waiting for my luggage, a porter walked up to assist me. As we made our way out of the airport, he looked at me again and exclaimed, “Kai, fine girl like you; wetin happen to ya leg?” I was speechless for a second. Then I asked him if bad things were the preserve of ugly girls. He laughed out loud, and I joined him. Often wit is the bridge through an awkward situation.
In addition to the old mind-sets I contend with daily, I try not to sound too intelligent on purpose. I even overthink the act of posting my thoughts on social networks. I used to be disability conscious, now I am overly conscious about my intellectual achievements. After striving to be extraordinary and do extraordinarily well in my endeavours, I find myself trying to be ordinary to make everyone around me comfortable.
I have spent a good chunk of my life trying to prove a point and trying to change perceptions. So, maybe a part of me understands why the four leading female innovators in Schumer’s video are chorusing sorry. They seem to be apologising for being women at the top of their game.
We have no control over our gender. I had no control over my physical challenges. I controlled what I could. I overcame the limitations of my disability and developed myself in the ways that mattered most.
I am a woman. I have a physical disability. But then, I also have a doctorate degree. There is nothing to be sorry about. If I hear another sorry, I will scream!
Ekpos Waritimi is a management consultant, researcher, and speaker. She currently lives in Port Harcourt.
©Timi Yeseibo 2015
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