February, in Retrospect

language

February some say is the month of love. Work that should have been finished in January dragged into February and filled February with editing and late-night reviews. It meant that I put new projects on hold, but who was keeping tabs when love was in the air?

“How old are you?” I asked the man who seemed smitten by me.

“Thirty-six.”

“And you’re not married?”

He started to explain the difficulties of finding the girl of his dreams, and I realized he had read my question wrong.

“I just wanted to know if you’re married,” I said softly when he paused for air.

“Oh?” he said, and then smiled, reminding me of the way he looked a few days earlier, when he had accosted me at the supermarket with, “Let me help you, you look tired.”

I had been dragging my feet behind my shopping cart as though the sum of the hardships of living in Lagos, sat in it. He charmed me into small talk and out of my phone number.

Later when he called, his many compliments and my thanksgiving done away with, there did not seem to be anything left to say. I was surprised that a man, who had used a shopping cart effectively, could not find his voice. He must have interpreted my silence as a semi-colon because he said, “Your driver seems nice,” referring to that night when my driver retrieved my shopping cart from him and loaded its content into my car.

My driver is not nice; my driver thinks he should be my boss, but I did not tell him that. I asked him about his line of work instead of putting a full stop at the end of his sentence.

I persevered to get to know him because I am curious about people, not because my friend had said, “You never know, why not give him a chance?”

But I knew. A woman knows. I knew that I did not always want to be the one to steer conversation to a place of interest for both of us. I knew that I could not continue receiving SMS messages like this:

Gud mrn pretty. hw waz ur nyt. u r sum1 worth reely lykng. deres just sumtin abt u. hapi Sunday.

I would not, and none of my friends, would abbreviate their text messages like that. It would take too much brainpower.

“I think he lied to me,” I said to my friend, “about being thirty-six.” 

I replayed several incidents for her to decide. They revolved around language, or rather the lack of it.

“Or maybe he is thirty-six, but his brain is nineteen.”

We laughed; it seemed altogether plausible.

When our laughter subsided, I accused her of being cruel. She quoted Chavez, “Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers.”

I was troubled by her inference. Wasn’t the shorthand way he fashioned text messages a positive measure of his ability to adapt to a mobile culture? Weren’t his text messages a genre of contemporary poetry; language is fluid, after all? Or, was it not more likely that the eight years between us equal a generation gap because as some have said, a different language is a different vision of life?

“Let’s keep it simple,” she replied. “It is either he’s nineteen or you are a grammar snob.”

In March, all my delusions will fall off.

 

© Timi Yeseibo 2017

 

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Shifting Gears [6]

Marilyn Monroe

A Leggy Affair

As a teenager, I imbibed ideas about acceptable body shapes from the people around me. So, I believed that a girl’s legs were beautiful only if they were straight like bamboo stems from the knees to the ankles, with no protruding muscles aka yams interrupting the flow.

Well, I inherited my father’s footballer legs, so during my years at university and for years afterwards, I hid my legs underneath trousers and maxis to escape mockery. My insecurity over what I deemed a flaw was like a thing around my neck, choking self-approval out of me.

Like a child force-fed by her determined grandmother, I spent my twenties swallowing popular beauty ideals of the society where I lived. They became the yardstick for measuring myself. I felt inadequate whenever I spotted a pair of bamboo legs. I considered the owner a lucky winner of the anatomy lottery because to me, having straight legs made one outstanding, special even.

In retrospect, that was laughable because straight legs do not shield their owners from life’s troubles. It is not as though those with straight legs can flash their exclusive Bamboo Club gold membership card and Life would say, “Aww, perfect pins, move along then, no troubles for you today. Next!”

Bamboo legs conferred no special advantages that I could see.

Still, at my old gym, when someone complimented my well-defined calves, I had to stop myself from peering at my legs, with lips turned downwards and eyebrows arched, as if to ask, “Me?”

I don’t know how I finally adjusted my beliefs regarding what is acceptable or not acceptable as far as my body is concerned. I suppose that as I approached my thirties, I began to ponder the whys of life even more stubbornly. Moreover, I realized that my legs would never change their shape; in fact, they would become even more muscled due to my new-found love for exercise.

My epiphany hit me like a clap of thunder. I woke up one day and suddenly every leg-concealing piece of clothing seemed revolting. Out went the trousers and maxis, and in came the short girly dresses and skirts that I’d always looked at longingly but felt I shouldn’t wear.

Recently, the instructor at my new gym praised my toned leg muscles; he wished he could devote more time to Leg Day as he assumed I did. I stifled a cheeky chuckle and in my head I sang, baby I was born this way.

Does clarity come with age? Or is this delicious comfort I have found in my own skin, this assuredness, my way of sticking my middle finger at my overdependence on external validation? Perhaps, I now understand that my quest for courage to set my personal ideals begins with embracing the things I am powerless to change.

These days, when I walk into the gym I spend a few minutes at the mirror-panelled walls, looking at my legs and smiling. I’ve come to love my legs especially the yams, which lend character to them. Not unlike the multiple perspectives that the angled mirrors provide, I can see either flaws or two healthy limbs to walk and dance with. Gratefully, I choose the latter.

I have one life to live and only this body with which to live it. The warmth of the sun and fresh air brushing my legs is wonderful; the prospect of a Marilyn Monroe dress-flying-in-the-wind moment is even more wonderful.

© ’Nedu Ahanonu, 2015
’Nedu blogs @ Nedoux.com

 

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Hardwired For Sorry [3]

Apology

An Apology For Womanhood

I posted quotes by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, on my Facebook Timeline earlier today. All day, the quotes rolled through my mind like a refrain to a sad love song. And as I navigated thick traffic in Abuja, Nigeria’s equivalent of Washington, it hung like a wet blanket alongside my cranky baby’s cries. Hunger and exhaustion made me extra tense. I turned the radio on just in time to hear the anchor dispense advice to a caller who was seeking help for a floundering marriage and periodic punches from her husband.

“You know men have egos. You just have to stoop to conquer. Avoid behaviours that anger him. If he tells you to stop serving dinner late, you too, get home earlier!”

‘Softening,’ he concluded by recommending she watch her tone and find opportune moments to discuss issues with her husband.

 

We raise girls to cater to the fragile egos of men. 

 

Seconds later, my car rocked from the impact of a danfo bus running into the passenger-side door where my baby was seated. The driver had been trying to shunt the traffic queue. Rage propelled me out of my car. He sauntered out of his bus muttering, “Na woman sef.”

My fury grew as he unrepentantly argued with me and as he spat, “Hey! Mistake na mistake. I get your type for house! Don’t talk to me anyhow! Na so you dey talk to your husband for house?”

Bystanders advised me to calm down. “Shebi you know he is a man,” one of them counseled.

 

We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. 

 

When we finally made it home, the water heater failed. I needed the electrician, Mr. Kehinde, to repair it. However, I couldn’t call him because he has issues taking instructions from women. So I rang my husband who was 800km away to call the electrician who was 4km away, and tell him to fix the heater.

Later, a friend called me to lament her experience at the police station where she had gone to bail a neighbour. The officer in charge had laughed in her face and told her that because she is a woman, she was not qualified to bail anyone. My friend, a medical doctor, then had to get her driver who has a secondary school-leaving certificate, to post bail. She was bitter and vented for a long time.

 

Each time they ignore me, I feel invisible. I feel upset. I want to tell them that I am just as human as the man, that I am just as worthy of acknowledgement. These are little things but sometimes it’s the little things that sting the most. 

 

Earlier in the evening, I listened to my aunt counsel my cousin whose husband is cheating on her and doling money he wouldn’t spend on his family, on his mistress.

“Just keep your home. That’s what I know. You will not be the first woman. Men stray, they return. Just ensure he continues to eat your food and don’t deny him sex. Don’t let silly girls who have not suffered with him snatch him from you.”

 

We teach females, that in relationships, ‘compromise’ is what women do. We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs, or for accomplishments — which I think can be a good thing — but for the attention of men. 

 

And then she turned to me, “I hear you are applying for PhD again. . . come, what are you looking for? You just want to compete with your husband ehn! The poor man does not have a Masters, now you are ready to lord PhD over him abi? Continue! That’s your cousin struggling right there. You don’t have problems; you want to create some for yourself with your own hands. Already, don’t you earn more than him? My dear . . . ”

 

We say to girls, “You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you would threaten the man. 

 

Just before I turned in for the night, I visited Facebook. Four angry rants filled the comment section under my post. Their lowest common denominator? Women were marginalized in Nigerian society but that narrative has since changed. Citing a few trailblazers, they maintained that today’s women are just as empowered as men are. So quotes like Adichie’s only promote mischief.

I shook my head sadly. I didn’t respond. No. I shut down and kept my angst to myself. As I drifted off, I wondered why my society would showcase exceptions as the norm while women remain second-class citizens in the pecking order. Why, in spite of clear opportunities to change the status quo, do we continue to look the other way? A society that is blind to the lived experience of roughly half its population is a sorry excuse, an apology for woman empowerment.

We’ve got a long way to go baby. But maybe, just maybe, tomorrow will bring us a new song if we open our eyes.

 

Abiodun Baiyewu is a lawyer, human rights activist, and feminist with a strong interest in medical jurisprudence and reproductive health.

Watch Amy Schumer’s video which inspired the series.

 

 

Photo credit: Unsplash/ https://pixabay.com/en/girl-sad-crying-raining-rain-drops-690327/

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Hardwired For Sorry [2]

Permission to Stand

 

Permission to Stand

I still remember my first board meeting. It was three weeks after my promotion took effect. After only one year in middle management, I had been promoted to executive board level in the publishing company where I worked.

For sure, I had done very well. My promotion was speedy, and, many people agreed, extremely well deserved. In addition, it was the first time in the history of the company that a foreigner (and a woman, at that), had been appointed to the board. My co-directors and their predecessors were all cut from the same cloth: Dutch men in their fifties, same lifestyle, same background, same jokes.

And so I was the proverbial breath of fresh air. Or so the CEO said as I took my seat at the table. I wasn’t quite sure what they were expecting from me. They looked kind enough, they asked my opinion, and they deferred to me on matters within my area of expertise.

Yet, I was largely quiet. For the first few months or so, I said very little. That could of course be due mainly to my introverted nature—scanning the world, observing life and its interactions, and formulating my views before expressing them.

I would never have dared utter a word unless I was sure of my premise, my arguments, and, vitally, my conclusion. I watched in admiration as my co-directors did the opposite. Especially Max, the commercial director. He would begin with a statement, firm, emphatic, sure. He would wind down various alleys of logic and counter logic, never once wavering in his sense of conviction, and then he would end his monologue, having arrived at a conclusion antithetical to the premise with which he had opened.

I would have been mortified had my thought processes been so exposed to the world, but by his manner (born of an assurance that I never before knew existed), I knew he had no such reservations.

However, my introversion was not the only reason for my reserve. In fact, it was a convenient label I put on myself, a comfort blanket which, protected me from the sharp gusts of truth: that, in a world seemingly governed by others, I was unsure of myself, earnestly seeking permission to stand.

I could not fathom why I felt that way. My technical experience and leadership skills had carried me to the place that I now occupied. Having accepted my appointment, I had every right to play my role. Everyone treated me as my new role demanded. Every voice spoke to me with much respect, save for the voice in my head.

I remember now with mirth a business trip I took to New York during those days. As I stood waiting for a taxi at JFK airport, I saw one of our most influential shareholders at the airport. He was carrying his bags and looking for a taxi. I had this crazy impulse to dash up to him and offer to carry his bags. Now I can only thank God for the steadfastness wherewith He glued my feet to the hot tarmac.

It took me a while before I realised my self-doubt was from within. That, somehow, it was bound up with being a woman. I don’t know when I came to that realization. Maybe it was when I discovered that some of the men around me were brimful with confidence but with not much ability. Maybe it was when I saw  junior male employees swaggering around with an arrogance that could be explained not by talent, and certainly not by achievement. Maybe it was when I noticed that the same self-doubt that tortured me was also present in the minds of some very fine, intelligent women in our company.

Fortified with this knowledge, I set out to change my story. No, not the perception of me that others might have had, but rather the story of me that I told myself. However, in order to do that, I had first to look at myself, come to terms with what I saw, and then begin purposefully to change that vision.

And so I did that. I have begun to tell myself, first, that I am bigger on the inside than I am on the outside. It is true that I am slightly built, soft spoken, and often given to quiet introspection. However, these are all remarkable qualities, and they add something special to whatever table I may grace. They are not weaknesses to be excused away. They are strengths, because they bring empathy and perspicacity to those with whom I have to do. I also know that I am bold, principled, and strong.

I was all the while seeking permission to stand. Now I have granted myself that precious right.

 

Bel Andrew-Amies makes her home in Amsterdam. When she’s not immersed in the world of international business law, she works on her short story collection.

Watch Amy Schumer’s video which inspired the series.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Hardwired For Sorry [1]

woman sorry

I throw sorry around a lot but many times, I do not mean it as an apology for an infraction. It is my all-purpose verbal salve to lather concern, nurture, and meaningful meaninglessness to friends and strangers alike. But what lurks beneath my sorry?

Diahann Reyes writes in her post, Amy Schumer and The Art of Taking Up Space:

One of the many facets that I appreciate about comedian Amy Schumer’s work is that she shines a light not only on the cultural conditioning that keeps women in restricted place, but also she exposes the misogyny that many of us have internalized from living in a patriarchal society. As some of her sketches intimate—women and girls have been known to do as good a job as anyone of objectifying, suppressing, or disempowering themselves.

 

In my view, Schumer’s video is exaggerated to jolt us out of complacency and take stock. To appreciate this series, please watch Schumer’s three-minute sketch: I’m Sorry.

I’m serious, watch the video first.

 

Unshrinking Myself

After sharing the video with a friend, we decided to observe how much we use the word sorry. She called me one evening. Thirteen seconds into our conversation, she said, “Gotcha! You’ve said ‘sorry’ three times already.”

I had begun our conversation by apologizing for not hearing her clearly, “Hello? Sorry, I can’t hear you properly.” Then I reeled off another apology for making her wait while I put on my earphones, “Sorry, let me just use my earphones.” My third apology was for speaking out of turn, “No, sorry, you go first; you were saying?”

We both had a good laugh, especially when she used sorry twice within the next ten seconds.

On the surface there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with our sorrys. Sorry aka pardon, excuse me, kpele, etc, depending on culture and context, is the grease that facilitates polite conversation. It is sympathy, empathy, and everything else in between. However, the video made me wonder if there isn’t an unhealthy self-effacement leaning towards unworthiness in a woman’s verbal and non-verbal sorry. To my mind, the women in the video were shrinking themselves. I am yet to meet a man I admire who does this.

We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

My parents raised me to ignore gender in striving for my goals. There were no limits to where I could go; not even the sky could hold me back. However, they could not cocoon me from the realities of socialization—an aggressive, assertive, and assured woman is a no-no. How many bold moves have been paralyzed by these words, but you’re a woman?

Over the years, some of my mentors have given me different advice on how to “shrink” myself. In a man’s world, it’s expedient to be the neck that turns the head than to be another head, complete with brains, that complements the man’s head. My mentors are successful women in their own right. Who am I to argue? But, I struggle with this concept.

As I learn to assert myself, I’ve been called a strong woman. It was always by women. It was never meant as a compliment. I catch myself shrinking my abilities, achievements, voice, again and again. Habits are hard to unlearn. Still, I have not yet turned pretence into an art form.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

Photo credit: cocoparisienne/ https://pixabay.com/en/woman-woman-portrait-head-mourning-850330/

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Think Like a Man, End up Without One [2]

couple

 

The Guy’s Girl

When Yetunde asked me where to meet up the following day, I didn’t hesitate before suggesting Babs, a sports bar. Calling Babs a ‘sports bar’ was dignifying the seedy, open-air joint in a backstreet in Surulere that sold cheap beer but also screened live football matches. I knew Yetunde wouldn’t have any qualms about hanging out at a beer parlour, surrounded by a crowd of raucous, sweaty, beer-guzzling men. I’d started giving her directions, when she cut in. She knew the place. I wasn’t surprised.

Yetunde was the quintessential guy’s girl. She loved video games, argued about politics and football and drank Guinness Extra Stout. But it was more than that. She understood men in a way that was uncanny. Whenever my girlfriend and I had a bust-up, Yetunde was my go-to-person. Majority of the time, she sided with me. I don’t think it was because we were friends. She would subject me to a grilling; she only wanted to hear the facts but didn’t want any important detail omitted. She would analyze the issues—a painstaking process that usually ended with her concluding that my girlfriend, Funmi was at fault.

Then she would laugh and say, “But you better go and apologize to Funmi. Forget about my analysis o; all that is English. I’m sorry, that’s what women want to hear.”

It was easier to apologize to Funmi after my conversations with Yetunde; that Yetunde agreed with me was enough vindication.

We had to raise our voices to hear each other above the din at Babs, but there was no lull in our conversation over the ninety minutes of the game. I couldn’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. I asked her, half-teasingly, if she now had a boyfriend.

“How can?” she laughed. “If I had a boyfriend, would I be here with you?”

“Come on, be serious. How about that tall, skinny dude I saw you with a couple of times at the cinema?”

“It’s always the same,” Yetunde replied, her voice dropping a notch. “He didn’t want a relationship.” The expression on her face suddenly became serious. She went on, “It doesn’t look like it would ever happen, Akin. I’ve started preparing myself for a lifetime of singleness.”

I faltered, unable to come up with an appropriate remark.

“Why are you looking so concerned?” Yetunde quipped. “Are you my father?”

I doubled over with laughter.

As I drove back home that night, light-headed from the beer and the euphoria of Arsenal’s victory over Chelsea, Yetunde’s remark about bracing up for a lifetime of singleness came back to me. It made no sense why a girl who got along so well with guys, shared our interests, and reasoned the way we did, seemed incapable of being more than just friends with any guy. Would I date her myself, I wondered, as I turned into my street. I chuckled. The thought was ludicrous. It was a question I had never considered, not even fleetingly.

It wasn’t that Yetunde wasn’t attractive. Far from it; boy, she nearly caught me staring at her behind on our way out of Babs that evening! I was also certain it had nothing to do with being friend-zoned or any such nonsense. Then why did the idea of dating Yetunde seem so incongruous? This was a girl I loved to hang out with, a girl who always cracked me up. Why would I not want to be with her?

Then it struck me with sudden clarity that defied the wooziness in my head, as I arrived at the entrance to my house: was it because Yetunde was too much like men that successful romantic relationships with them continued to elude her?

I haven’t been able to answer that question; neither that night nor in the six years that have passed. I am now married and I have two daughters. Yetunde is still single.

 

© Olutola Bella @ Bellanchi

 

 

Photo credit: SnapwireSnaps/ http://pixabay.com/en/couple-laughing-happy-people-598315/

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.