Friday, April 28, 2017

Up for Air

I'm always one for goal setting and a lot of dreaming. If you ask my family, one goal I have talked about tirelessly is that of learning how to swim. As a child, I did not learn how to swim and as I got older, the desire to do so has overwhelmed me greatly. But as I got older, the goal was not so much to learn to swim or be a swimmer but rather to become a scuba diver. 

For a lot of black people living in the United States, answers to not knowing how to swim can possibly be found by looking back into history. When the United States experienced a boom in swimming, which was accompanied by the constructions of several municipal pools across the country, blacks were systematically denied access to pools and thus, were unable to learn how to swim. Further, when pools were desegregated and blacks had access to them, white flight followed, as many whites who could, abandoned the desegregated public pools for pools in clubs they were assured would not be used by blacks. Extreme measures were employed to ensure that some pools remained desegregated, and there is the famous picture of James Brock, manager of the Monson Motel Lodge pouring muriatic acid into a pool in St. Augustine, Florida in an effort to get out black swimmers who had jumped in as part of anti-segregation efforts staged by Dr. Martin Luther King. 

While pouring acid into a pool seems like an extreme reaction to getting black swimmers, there were even other shocking reactions like a pool manager at the Last Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas draining out an entire pool after the singer Dorothy Dandridge dipped her toe into the water in defiance of the white only swimming policy that the hotel had. So, for many blacks, the idea of swimming was a far removed reality because of racial opposition and the question of access. Also, it is important to consider that most pools were located in predominantly white and often affluent neighborhoods, so the questions of access was even more compounded by that of economics as well. So, the knowledge of swimming was not one that could be passed down as parents who did not know how to swim were not able to teach their children. Further, even when municipal pools were then built in black neighborhoods, they were mostly shallow and often only suitable for wading. 

Thus, it is no surprise that Simone Manuel's win at the Olympics was greeted with tremendous applause in the black community because for many years, access to pools had been denied to blacks and that a black woman would triumph in a typically white only sport was a huge feat. But economics and access aside, another barrier to swimming particularly for black women has been our hair. At least for me, as I became an adult, that was the hurdle I faced, what to do with my hair, which often had extensions sewn in. Given that my formative years were not spent in the United States, I did not face the historical challenges to swimming that most blacks in America face, however, I did not learn how to swim because swimming wasn't something my parents prioritized. However, as I grew older and moved to the United States and lived in a neighborhood with a large pool, I didn't think it was something I needed to learn until my sophomore year in college. 

My sophomore year in college was significant because of my lab partner in my physics class who was a black female. I remember her telling me how she had to hurry through lab on a particular day because she was leaving on a trip to go scuba diving with her family. My eyes bulged when she said so and at once, she wasn't a black female standing before me, but rather, an alien of sorts. A black family going scuba diving? I think that was where the bug bit me and for years, all I could think of was learning how to swim, just so I could scuba dive. I talked about it for so many years and did nothing about it until I moved to London. 

I remember walking back to my apartment one day from work and going past these old Roman like baths that had now been converted to pools that were owned by an athletic club. I decided to walk in and lo and behold, they had swimming lessons that only cost twenty quids a month! Imagine that! But shortly before I moved to London, I lived in Houston and I had gone to the YMCA to enquire about lessons and was shocked by the price. It was a worthy investment for sure, but I was traveling a lot and couldn't make time for lessons so I had pictures of Ryan Lochte on my bathroom mirror, and all over my closet. Asides from the fact that Lochte is something of a douche bag, he is undeniably handsome and the visual was the perfect encouragement for me. 

So I began swimming lessons in London and owing to serendipity, there was a scuba diving club that met once a week at the pool and I somewhat joined the club, but before I could be allowed to go on a practice dive I had to be able to swim, so back to lessons I went. My first instructor was the lady who came in with the Cartier bracelet on. Now, given that I hadn't taken lessons before, I was shocked that she didn't get into the pool, but rather stood at the edge calling out instructions. I only spent one class with her before I was assigned to the Greek god. He was a great instructor but he was more interested in chatting with me and was enthralled by my Americaness. I enjoyed being in his class, but felt I wasn't making the progress I wanted and so I asked to be moved. Then I was assigned to the Brazilian and he was fantastic. I made great progress and even surprised myself with the things I could do. The Greek god and Brazilian didn't get into the pool either, but by then, I had learned that this was just how things were. 

My swimming lessons got my all. But like I mentioned, my hair stood in the way and I would always have to return home, shampoo my hair and then spend at least three hours post swimming to blow dry and press my hair as I had to be back at work the next day. Sometimes, I would be up until 2am blow drying and pressing my hair but I didn't care, all I wanted was to become a scuba diver and oh, learn how to swim. I didn't want to be a statistic or the poster child for swimming accidents, like that in Shreveport, Louisiana, where six teens, three of whom were siblings died trying to rescue another their brother who almost drowned as their mother looked on in horror. I want to be the mom, who teaches her children to swim because I can, since I'm a certified scuba diver. So in the meantime, whilst I search for a new instructor, I think you should too, if you know that you cannot swim and don't have a valid excuse as to why you do not. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Plus Ultra

In a few hours there will be a new president in the United States. Either way, America will not be the same again, as this election has been the undoing of this nation. In Latin, the phrase ne plus ultra signifies the climax, the highest point that can be attained or the ultimate. As events unfold, the question that begs to be answered is if this is the ultimate, the height that will be attained in how America deals. Without doubt, this has been the most divisive election season I've been privy to or have simply witnessed. Being an immigrant in the United States, my first chance to vote was in 2008 as I became a United States citizen just in time to cast my vote for Barack Obama. I still remember where I was when Wolf Blitzer called in a victory for Barack Obama. To say it was surreal is an understatement. Then in 2012, Obama went up again for reelection and won, making the American Dream and its promise of upward mobility for all [as long as you made the effort] somewhat possible.

When I went to the polls in 2008, during the Presidential Primaries, I was conflicted. On the ballot was an African American, Barack Obama and a woman I respected, Hillary Clinton. My thoughts at the time were, was I black first, or was I a woman first? Given the nature of our births our gender is what is announced and not race. However, living in the United States, I learned that I was only female secondarily but was primary identified by my race. I was a black woman and the woman was just an addendum as I was black. Thus, I walked into that polling station and cast my vote for Obama, identifying with my race and a candidate I believed in.

However, as much as I have clung to my blackness, and still do cling, in this electoral season, I brought my blackness though, but importantly my gender. For as long as I have remembered, I have always admired and respected the Clintons, importantly Hillary, and I remember the holiday when all I got were books either written by or about the Clintons. Thus, when news about another run began brewing, I knew that I would be voting for Clinton. At the time, I thought the usual suspects, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Mitt Romney would run for office on the Republican ticket, then Ben Carson became a candidate and then Donald Trump reared his toupee clad head.

I could write a dissertation about Trump, but a lot has been said about him already. But one thing is certain, for all his racist diatribe and divisive rhetoric, Trump is a reflection of the American consciousness. When he talked about Mexicans as rapists, expressed his intentions in building a wall, mocked a disabled reporter, talked openly and with great gusto about sexual assault, mocked a deceased military veteran, his surrogates only supported or found ways to explain his vitriol away. What I soon realized was Trump was no different from the man at the grocery store who smiled and gleefully bagged my groceries while wearing a hat that promised to "Make America Great Again." What Trump had that the man at the grocers didn't have was a platform to spew his vitriol. So while the man at the grocers didn't have the grand hotels and hefty bank accounts and affiliations to hide behind and perhaps tell me what he thought about me, he had Trump who could.

While I have been baffled by Trump's vitriol, his vile behavior and blemished reputation, I have been even more befuddled by the people who have trumpeted his virtues. Importantly, I have been confused and shocked by Christians who have heralded Trump and have both overtly and covertly pushed his agenda. While I might give a pass to those in the pews, I have been shocked by those from the pulpit that have through aggression and coercion talked their flock into voting for Trump. As an evangelical Christian I cannot reconcile my Christian faith with an endorsement of Donald Trump.

His list of sins though not irredeemable keep increasing daily. Are Trump's cocktail of bigoted and sexist remarks locker room talk, bluffing, or are they a reflection of his character? I'll go with the latter and assert that with Trump, what you see is what you get and any pastor endorsing him has some deep soul searching to pursue. It is no secret that the church has been aligned with the Republican party because of the need to preserve traditional values that are the core of the Christian faith, but there is a major flaw in a theology that endorses a bigot  simply because he manages to speak your dialect or finagle his way into your bedroom. But alas, politics does make strange bedfellows!

Mention the name Hillary Clinton and her candidacy and those who are opposed will bring up a history of corruption and then finally segue into talks about emails. Now I will say this, while Hillary Clinton is not the savior we want, Donald Trump is without doubt the Messiah we do not need. Hillary surely has been caught with her hands in the cookie jar a number of times and it is not a secret that her record is blemished and leaves room that allows for aspersions to be cast. Yet, one cannot point out her faults without noting her commitment to public service beginning with her activism as a young girl, following through to college, law school, the Children's Defense Fund and her service in the White House, the United States senate and in the State Department. In every election there are always imperfect candidates and Hillary is no different. Thus, I will admit that as much as I was excited by Obama's candidacy, I was worried by his inexperience and I would be veering from truth if I assert that I have no concerns about a Clinton candidacy.

Surely, Clinton will never be a candidate for canonization, however history would be remiss to not celebrate her ambition in spite of her shortcomings. While Clinton is my preferred candidate, I will not gloss over her mistakes. Did she err on the issue of the emails, of course she did. Despite the final verdict [even after the recent revivals of the probe last week] that prove that there was no wrongdoing, her actions had the appearance of an attempt to either cover up or mask some type of misconduct or grossly illegal behavior. I do not say this lightly as I will always vote for integrity and transparency. But to quote a meme I saw leading up to the election, "if you had to undergo heart surgery, would you rather a surgeon who has been accused of malpractice operate on you or the manager of a fast-food restaurant?"

In all, this election has surely been like no other as it has shown that Americans do not respect their core democratic ideals. So, no matter how we try to spin the perception of the country, beneath the patriotic songs and fireworks are deep seethed issues and a need for a long drawn out effort at reconciliation and reparations. Without doubt, this election has exposed America as a severely divided country that is going to be even more fractured once this election season is over. The entire process has been a reflection of the bigotry, anger, racism, sexism, religious turpitude, and depravity that seems to be the foundation as opposed to virtues such as freedom and fairness.

Nonetheless, for all that ails this nation, there is so much good about this country that has been blighted by the current election. Thus, this election is not the end. There is more, plus ultra. Either that tending to make America truly great, or that signals a downward spiral. Either way, there is more to come and the next four years will be a turning point in American history. There should be no surprise, for if anything, the Brexit vote seemed to be a harbinger of things to come.

Either way, my faith gives me confidence that God is sovereign, and irrespective of who gets into The White House, His will stands because His purposes cannot be thwarted and He can accomplish His will either through Hillary, Trump, Mussolini, or Castro. But I want to tell my children and grandchildren, that I stood on what I believed to be the right side of history, that I stood with her. While tonight, in this moment, I do not know what the future holds for this nation it is my hope that Donald Trump does not lead this nation, but if he does, he will have my support as my president should, but he will never have my respect.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


A few years ago, I began a series on or around my birthday, posting lessons, reflections, thoughts and ideas from the previous year, but that also reflected the current year as well. With my birthday approaching this year, I spent some time compiling my list but didn't have a chance to post it as it was a very busy time for me. I spent the earlier part of my birthday running errands and then spent the later part at the airport and then on a flight to Athens, Greece with my Mom and friend. So, while it's a bit or a lot late it still is a reflection of the ideas and thoughts that whirled in my mind, capturing the previous year.

1. Marvin Sapp is one of the few people who can truly sing the songs of my heart to God
2. Dark chocolate chip cookies
3. I really love cooking for people and I'm always constantly feeding someone. It's just something I love to do.
4. God will always be the greatest love of my life.
5. Gold jewelry.
6. My love for art is inexplainable. You can always find me at a museum and when I go for periods without a visit I do suffer slightly.
7. I never stop challenging myself.
8. I am still learning to take people at face value and not read meaning into certain actions. Sometimes, it's not that deep.
9. I fall in love with cities and I don't think I've ever met a city I didn't like. I always see the beauty in every place and I think it's a plus because I'm never out of my element except if I choose to be.
10. "Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy." Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
11. I do not take good health for granted at all.
12. My niece and nephews are still some of my favorite people, but then, there's this boy called Paul.
13. I have never encountered more assholes in a square mile of space than I have in the City of London. Hopefully, I haven't become one of them and even if I have I'm still on the mild spectrum so have no fear.
14. Louie Giglio, Tim Keller, Bank Akinmola, Tony Evans, C.S. Lewis, Larry York and Gary Clarke have shaped my theology and walk with God more than they'll ever know on this side of eternity.
15. If I were a closet raider, I'll target Tracee Ellis Ross, Lupita N'yongo, Shiona Turini, Solange Knowles, Kerry Washington, and Hannah Bronfman. Their sense of style is totally up my alley!
16. "In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." Martin Luther King Jr.
17. All that glitters is not gold.
18. I still have a fetish for glossy magazines.
19. I love the deep dirty south [from Savannah, to Mobile, Nashville, Charleston, Atlanta, Ruston and all in between, I'm glad the south is my second home].
20. Life truly has a way of coming full circle.
21. Almost everything I know, I learned from a book.
22. Looking back, my life has been full of so many grand enriching experiences, so that I can honestly say that I've lived and continue to live a very good life.
23. The older I've gotten, the wider my pool of acquaintances has grown, while my circle of friends has gotten infinitesimally smaller.
24. I always opt for in person conversations if I can help the situation. I don't trust emotions I cannot see.
25. Emily Dickinson's poem, "I Dwell in Possibility," still remains a top favorite of mine.
26. One thing I've learned is that people will walk away. Oftentimes, it is because you no longer fit a certain mold or box they've made for you, or that you no longer serve their purpose or simply because you've outgrown each other. However, I have found wisdom in this and will quote T.D. Jakes who said, when people walk away, let them go. Your destiny is never tied to anyone who left. It doesn't mean that they are bad people it just means that their part is over in your story.
27. Indeed, God bless the child that's got her own.
28. God can make something out of nothing.
29. The experience of being a black person is one of my greatest joys. Should I be given the option to choose I would still choose the skin I'm in. In the words of James Brown, "I'm black and I'm proud."
30. Always be the bigger person.
31. Let it go.
32. There have never been ideal situations in my life. Thus, I have come to realize that my life does happen, not because I have my ducks in a row, but in spite of them not being so.
33. I am still in need of heart surgery. Psalm 91.
34. ___________

Monday, May 23, 2016

News from home

It is not every day that a Nigerian man leaves his family to go and find work in Italy. My father lost his job because his skills were no longer needed and the company was going in a different direction. The different direction was a young Yoruba man who had just finished his youth service -- a one year required service corps for all Nigerian college graduates -- and had plan that would make the factory competitive and rival the biggest European manufacturer of African textiles. 

The news began with a phone call. My mother screamed at first, collapsing dramatically on the floor and began yelling something about her enemies laughing at her. It all happened so fast, and in a few hours, my father returned home earlier than usual and headed for his bedroom.

In between what sounded like muffled tears, my mother's high-pitched voice could be heard, “Darling it’s okay now. Darling it’s alright. Would it have been better if he were an Igbo boy? Ehn? After all he's Benin. He's your junior brother. It’s okay.” Her consolations were a far cry from her hysterical outburst just hours ago, but we were hardly shock, this was just my mother in character. 

After losing his job, my father would wake up every morning and still drive us to school as he had always done. In spite of the fact that he had lost his job and perhaps had nowhere to go, he still dressed up, some days in a shirt and trousers, other days in kaftan and trousers, ever so dignified, refusing to accept any handouts from friends or family. He managed to keep his head up for a while, but with time, his despair became evident. As we watched television at night, he would rest his chin in his palm, sighing deeply and clucking. The weekends were the worst, as he paced up and down the compound deep in thought speaking inaudibly as he covered the yard with steps that seemed light but were ominously heavy.

After the first two months, my father stopped taking us to school. He became moody and reclusive and began to lose weight. He hadn't expressed this much sorrow even when his father died suddenly a few years ago. We became fearful of him and rarely ever approached him. Conversations with him became limited to invitations at meal time and the necessary greetings in the morning and at night. He was deeply pained. How could they let him go after twenty-two years of service? He was always punctual, he sometimes refused to take his annual leave and he forbade my mother from wearing European wax prints. He had given his life to the company and yet, they decided to go in a different direction.

I knew things were really starting to unravel when I got home one day from playing with some friends and looked up to find that the wall clock that he had received after his twentieth anniversary was no longer stood directly above the family altar.

Although we didn't receive rides to school and sometimes had to walk or take public transport, my father continued to dress up as always and leave the house daily. Every evening, he would explain to my mother that he had been seeking vacancies and talking to his old friends and would soon hear good news. After four months, no good news came and my father became even more weary and distant. He began coming home later than usual, tired and irritable, until one Wednesday evening he didn't come back home, leaving my mother with five children to care for all by herself.

We never lacked anything. My mother especially, who strutted around the city in colorful fabric earning the nickname Madam Peacock or several variations of it that made her strut even harder. My father saw to it that all her needs were met. It must have been because he loved her, but also it was because he had a point to prove.

Marrying her was no easy feat and after enduring a series of insults from her family because of his family background, he made it his duty to stroke his ego by seeing to it that all her needs were met, including her supply of skin lightening creams that markedly changed her from the woman in the studio pictures with the huge afros and bell-bottomed pants that filled albums in our parlor and pictures in frames that circled the seating room.

She was well rounded where it mattered, and wore her rolls of flesh as though they were a badge of honor, a symbol to all, especially her family, that she was not doing badly. In spite of her weight, my mother was beautiful, but I couldn’t help but wish she would lay off the lightening creams. At this point though, she was at the stage where stopping their usage would surely do more harm than good.

I remember a genealogy project at school where I took in old pictures of my parents glued to a piece of cardboard my father had brought home from work. I thought they looked glamourous. My mom, with her huge pompadour reclined ever so lightly against what seemed like a bar stool, while my dad stood tall next to her, neither of them smiling yet radiantly beautiful.

I was about to begin my talk when from behind me, a classmate, Uloma shouted as though she had unearthed a diamond, "That is not your mother o! I thought your mother is yellow." I ignored her, though my humiliation was palpable. She was clearly a novice at reading body language because she turned to Amara who sat next to her remarking loudly, "but her mother is yellow and fat!" Audible whispers soon began to float around, while my teacher Mrs. Boateng, a short Ghanaian with dried, crispy looking jheri curls that reminded me of Japanese noodles looked on with a smirk, as though the racket in the class was coming from another room.

My mother had once threatened to slap her for hitting me with a ruler and this perhaps was her best attempt at getting back at both of us. While I struggled to keep from crying, the fuss continued until finally a voice I couldn't recognize put the confusion to rest, "her mother is bleaching."

My siblings and I exchanged knowing glances as we sat in the luxurious bus and geared up for the long journey to Lagos. As we sat in our seats I occupied myself with one of the novels I had taken from my mother's nightstand. We began by counting the red cars on the express way, then the blue ones.

The huge lorry that kept pace with our bus was completely covered in local proverbs and scriptures from the Bible. As we finally sped past it, my eyes lingered on the largest sign that ran along the full length of the lorry in large old English text font, "no condition is permanent."

We had taken this route many times to go and see my uncle during our long vacations, but this time, the trip was markedly different. We were leaving Kaduna for good. My mother, not one to be overly burdened had called my uncles to let them know that their brother had left and she was sending their children down to live with them. It was arranged for my older brother and I to stay with my uncle while my other three siblings would go to Akure where my Dad's sister-in-law had a primary school they could attend for free. My mother stayed on in Kaduna to mind the house and wait for my Dad to return, needless to say, we didn't get the invitation to her wedding.

Life in Lagos was exciting. I liked my new school and the friends I was making. Now, I was a Lagos girl too and I could hold my own against my cousins who for years would taunt me and call me a "bush Hausa girl." Life at home however was very interesting. 

My uncle was a walking contradiction. He was a deacon at his church, yet he was sloppy, recalcitrant, and took infidelity to levels not previously attained. His wife was quiet to a fault, existing in his shadow and always had one ailment or another. My cousins, both boys, were boisterous and out of control. I always wondered how I had never noticed how badly behaved they were summer after summer for all these years. 

Thankfully, my uncle's wife was glad to have me in the house. I accompanied her to the market, cooked with her and became her soap opera watching buddy. She was very different from my mother who now paid once yearly visits in the company of her driver, arriving in a different car every year.

I resented her deeply. At first, I was happy each time she came. The boot of the car would be packed with clothes, shoes and books. She also never failed to bring bags of sweets and all kinds of biscuits, treats that we only had during birthdays. With time, I began to loathe her and her gifts. I found it easier to forgive my father for leaving, but could not forgive her for deserting us. She had a choice and she did not choose her children. She would often tell me that as I got older I would understand why she had to leave. Despite my deep anger towards her, I had to swallow my pride when I needed money to purchase a ticket to attend university in Texas. I had won a scholarship and did not need her money for much besides a plane ticket.

I could hear the familiar sound of irritation mixed with anger and sometimes disgust. It was the same tone he had in his voice when he would return from work without his key and would spend minutes knocking on the metal gate while we either played in the yard or were busy preparing dinner in the kitchen.

“Ivie, didn’t you see my call?” he spat out.

“Yes uncle, I did but I couldn’t leave because I was in the middle of an important meeting with my boss, I am sorry Sir.” I said sheepishly.

“How is that your job again?” His question didn’t demand a reply but was just a filler, until he got to the main reason behind his call.

“Eh, there is this head phone.” He said, as though he expected me to know what headphone he was referring to.
At this point, my nerves had subsided. He had asked two seemingly benign questions and he had not delivered any bad news yet. This time instead I was the one who replied with disgust, irritated that he had called me to discuss headphones.

“Yes, what headphones?” I retorted.

“Is it me, you’re talking to like that? Anyway, there are these headphones I want to take to Benin when I go and visit next month. I heard some musician is producing them. See if you can send them to me in blue. My friend’s wife is visiting Dallas and can bring them back for me. That is why I called.” He finished off the last sentence with a tone of authority the words ringing in my ears long after he uttered them.

If I could slap him, I honestly would have done so. I was so furious that for a few seconds I held the phone to my ears, speechless, the venom rising inside me.

“What the hell did this old man just ask for? Headphones by some musician. Do I even own those damn headphones?”

When I finally gathered myself to respond, I was so disgusted but yet again I failed to stand up to my uncle and rather than tell him that the bulk of my discretionary spending that month was earmarked for a friend’s bridal shower, I agreed to buy the headphones and give them to his friend.

After I hung up the phone, I stood in the restroom for what seemed like minutes rehearsing the conversation with him and telling him exactly what was on my mind. He had a gravely sick wife and he was concerned about headphones to take to Benin. Again I was overwhelmed with the desire to want to slap him once again and I felt so small as I reached for a paper towel to pull open the restroom door.

My uncle had won again as he had several times before. I hurriedly walked back to my cubicle, convinced I left a trail of smoke from all the anger behind me as I walked. I sat down in my chair, tapped on my keyboard lightly and entered in my password and mechanically began the search for those headphones he needed to use in Benin.

If only my uncle were computer savvy, I bet he would be lining inboxes of unsuspecting foreigners and requesting for bank account numbers.

On numerous occasions, my cousins who had become known as the neighborhood touts would go and rescue my uncle from getting a beating from some woman’s husband. Ironically, he only got saved from one beating to be brought home to receive another.

There was this particular lady I remembered who made blouses for my aunt. My uncle was rather fond of her, so much so she began to make his clothes even though it was known that she only made outfits for women. She was a superbly skilled seamstress, but she had other brilliant skills besides sewing. On numerous occasions when I would ride in my uncle’s car he would find reason to pass by her house slowing down deliberately as he drove by giving her enough time to walk up and chat with him.

Yes, that was her son. I had just seen his picture the other day, and Facebook suggested him as a person I knew. Once when I perused his page, I was shocked at the number of obscene memes he posted on his wall, most of them referring to the prowess of whatever it was that hung between his legs. It didn’t take long for my shock to dissolve into laughter. This kid had to be joking. He was skinny beyond belief and his face was severely riddled by acne. I respected him though because he had an unrivaled amount of self-confidence. However, I was in awe of the girls who commented on his pictures, vying for his attention, they truly were the stars of the show.

So when I saw his name suggested again, I chuckled a bit and moved the cursor to the right to see other profiles. I don’t know what it was that made me stop, but I realized his profile picture was different. He still had acne but there was something different about him. He had headphones hanging around his neck. They were headphones made by an American musician and they were blue. I quickly proceeded to search his profile and read where he thanked a certain unnamed uncle for giving them to him just in time to wear for a talent show at the private school he attended.

I am not sure how it all happened but within seconds, the only sound audible was the ringing of the phone in my ear, drowning out the sound of oil in the frying pan where the plantains I was preparing for dinner danced around.

In a few minutes I heard his voice. He sounded super excited to hear from me.

“How is that your boyfriend?” He asked jokingly.

“And your work?”

 “Fine Sir,” I responded and mumbled some mundane stuff about how stressful work had gotten the last few days.

“Okay, we just finished our hundred day fast and we are praying for you. The God of Abraham will enlarge your coast and give you rest in due time. He will promote you and make you a manager in that your job. The people that are directing you will soon be under you. I prophecy that your promotion will not pass you by.”

He went on for what seemed like a few minutes, becoming mildly incoherent as he began to speak in tongues.

When he finally stopped to catch his breath and conclude the prayer, I thanked him and said something about having to go.

“It is well.” He uttered with much assurance.

“Thank you sir.” I responded.

I hung up the phone just as the smoke alarm when off, my once golden brown plantains now charred slices bobbing around in the oil.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Glass as Half Full

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

I enjoy talking to people, strangers especially, because most of the time, they are very unpretentious and do let down their guard down so easily. I find that I meet the most interesting people though in different locales, at airports and especially on flights. I have a special fondness for people I meet at airports, because tangled in their travels are deep webs of stories and when I have stopped long enough to listen, I often find that everyone has a story to tell. A friend of mine recently made the observation that I always meet so many interesting people and I realized that she wasn't far off from the truth.

Earlier in the month, I planned a trip from Houston to Atlanta as I had a scheduled race in Atlanta on July 4. I got to the airport at about 8am, and what began as a series of delays eventually turned into a cancellation by the airline. The airline provided little to no information following the cancellation, besides telling customers the only options were to either receive full refunds or be booked for another flight. The next flight out was on the day of my race and was scheduled to depart at noon. Rescheduling just was not an option for me because the plane was scheduled to land hours after the end of the race.

In spite of having endured multiple cancellations, standing and sitting in awkward positions by power outlets to charge my phone I remained so calm and used the opportunity to meet and talk to people. I met a lady who was departing for Atlanta on another airline to attend the 80th Anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous, which was holding in Atlanta that weekend. I met a young lady who was flying into Atlanta with plans of visiting her boyfriend in Columbus who offered to give me a ride to Austin to get on another flight to Atlanta to make it in time for my race. Then there was the guy who was scheduled for dialysis treatment who banded up with several others to rent a bus and drive through the night to Atlanta. Then there was the woman with the son who reminded me of my nephew whom I helped with rescheduling her flight, an ordeal that lasted over an hour.

However, of all the people that crossed my path at the airport that day, none made as strong an impression as the man in the trucker hat. After retrieving my luggage and purchasing a new flight ticket on another airline, because I had to be in Atlanta and wasn't going to miss my race for the world, I looked for a place to sit in a coffee shop as I had been at the airport for almost twelve hours at this point. There were two men occupying the chairs positioned in the direction of arrivals and one was gracious enough to offer me his. As I settled into my chair, I read the writing on the hat of the middle-aged man that was still in his chair out loud. His hat had a scripture from the book of Proverbs, the third chapter and the fifth verse. The inscription on his hat simply read, "Trust God, and don't worry."

I mouthed the words out loud and told him I liked his hat as I sat next to him. At once we picked up a conversation. I told him about my cancelled flight and how I was in very high spirits because I had met so many people and had so many enriching conversations. I brought the conversation back to his hat and shared how my faith has always served as an anchor and helped me through so many challenges. He then opened up about how he expected to have his life figured out at his age and how oftentimes, he just wished God would give him a glimpse into his future so his mind would be at ease. He was a widower, having lost his wife of over thirty years three years ago and was at the airport to meet a lady he recently began talking to. He told me his intentions for her were good and he was going to let her have his bedroom while he slept on the couch while she was visiting. At the end of the day, he hoped their relationship would blossom into marriage but was also fine if it didn't. He shared about how deeply lonely he was as a widower and an empty nester and how he never knew such loneliness could exist.

In all, although it was clear his heart was heavy, he was still quite upbeat. There was a desire to want to know what was to come, but yet, a childlike trust in God and a willingess to follow as God led. As we sat there and talked for minutes, he felt like an old friend and we talked and laughed and shared stories mostly centered on our respective walks with God. I had to leave mid conversation to go back home and I always wonder about that man at the airport. His loss, his heartbreak and his resolve. He chose to see the cup as half full and I shared that same reslove with him. Had I let my long stay and disappointment over my flight cancellation get in the way, I might have missed that moment to share conversation with him. He was such a sweet man.

These stories at the airport always get me, and the people there get me too. On another flight ealier in the year from Chicago, I met a young lady, who had just recently quit her job to care for her dad who was battling cancer at MD Anderson. We talked the entire length of the flight and have kept in touch ever since. Or the women I met on the flight from Houston, one of whom was a marathon runner and wants to run a race with me some time in the year or the man I met on a flight to Mexico a few months ago who was silent the entire trip but gave me his number as soon as we landed and asked me to come out for a drink.

Whenever I fly, I'm reminded that the world is so vast. Maybe it's just the sheer number of people boarding flights for different reasons --weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals, court cases, illnesses, honeymoons, job functions or just moving away to start life all over again-- or maybe it's the stories behind the faces. From the ticketing counter to the security line and the gate, these faces all have stories and I'm reminded that the world is a very big yet surprisingly small playground and the way to win is to choose and keep choosing to see the glass as half full.

Friday, July 3, 2015

33 Life Lessons

1. Always wear perfume.
2. I’ve learned not to call people out as much. First, life is way too short, secondly I honestly just don’t have the time and lastly, I’ve come to realize that when people act out of line, it has more to do with them and perhaps their present circumstances in life than it has to do with me.
3. Life can be very harsh and unforgiving.
4. Life can also be so beautiful.
5. Don’t let anyone tell you we live in a post racial world because we surely do not.
6. I have learned not to operate from a position of scarcity or to have a scarcity mentality. There’s lots of room for everyone and God is in fact very generous.
7. Paying for experiences adds a lot more value to life than paying for things. With experiences, you are left with so many stories to tell and importantly, your life is enriched and enlarged. How many stories can you truly tell about your conversation starter bracelet?
8. Listen.
9. Don’t wallow in regret. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “there are far better things ahead than any we may leave behind.”
10. If you have a chance to have children, do have a few or a truckload if you can. I haven’t found a more potent mood enhancer.
11. Your parents truly do want what is best for you and will always have your back.
12. There’s nothing quite like family and siblings truly do make the best friends.
13. The good thing about friends is that we get to choose the friends we keep. Good friends are hard to find and should be treasured.
14. Water your own garden and truly tend to your soul.
15. I have learned that we do not get to choose our personalities. In just one week, I was told by two separate people that I have a commanding presence. I’ve heard this for most of my life and I’m learning that it can be a snare or a great tool if handled wisely.
16. I’ve learned that many of the questions I have may never be answered and sometimes, it’s best to not overly seek answers but trust that the secret things truly do belong to God.
17. I’ve learned that in the midst of all the ups and downs in my life, there has always been something to celebrate and something to learn.
18. Challenging oneself is important. I never knew I could run a half marathon until I did. And I’ll never know I can climb Mount Everest until I try.
19. There’s so much life to live.
20. This lesson came at the end of my thirty-second year, but it was the most poignant. I’m not defined by my failures or past experiences. God makes all things new and beautiful. The same Peter who denied Christ thrice was the same Peter upon whom Christ declared he would build His church.
21. I still love ice cream.
22. Giving is so important.
23. Whoever said reading is fundamental never lied.
24. Travel. There’s so much world to see. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to travel and you don’t have to board a plane to do so. Even in your state or your present locale there’s a new and exciting place perhaps just an hour or two away. Make it a point to go somewhere new once a year.
25. I have learned that I am not perfect and never will be. I also am too introspective for my own damn good. But if there’s one thing, I want to be a better person each day and I work very, very, very hard at it. It might not be obvious to most people around me, but I really do. However, I’m grateful that the work of inner change is a work of God’s grace and does not lie in my human power.
26. I love to write. I just simply do and wish I devoted more time to it because it truly gives me immense joy.
27. The world is such a beautiful place. Each time I pick up a copy of Architectural Digest or even Fast Company and marvel at all the amazing things people like me are doing I realize that there’s so much out there. It’s a beautiful world out there, Harriet. Men built the skyscrapers in New York, the Golden Gate Bridge was wrought by men and the palaces in France were all built by men just like me. Thus, the persistent question I ask is what I’ll build and be known for.
28. I have learned that I still do not have the patience to watch television.
29. From watching the marriages of a number of young people, most of them friends, fail, I have learned that marriage is more about being the right person than finding the right person.
30. You’ll never be bored if you follow the right people on Instagram. Just ask me.
31. Tim Keller is that theologian.
32. I’ve learned to take big leaps of faith.
33. God is still good and I doubt that this will change. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Africans Killing Africans: When Lessons From Apartheid are not Enough

If any group of Africans should understand the sting of racially charged violence, it should be South Africans. While violence has been and continues to remain a common theme in most African societies the Africans on the southern most tip of the continent not too long ago were victims of the most oppressive form of aggression, relegated to living in abject poverty in shanty towns in a country they fully owned. In the last few weeks pictures, videos and personal accounts of xenophobic attacks by South Africans on other African immigrants in the country has made me wonder if South African history books have taken out accounts of apartheid or if South Africans are just suffering from a severe form of amnesia. The murders in the country of other African immigrants can almost be likened to Israelis killing immigrants in their country forgetting what they once suffered at the hands of Adolf Hitler.

Immigrant tensions are not new and years ago, flaring tensions in Nigeria caused then president Shehu Shagari to order immigrants in the country, most of them Ghanaian to leave prompting a mass exodus of Ghanaians and other immigrants creating rife hostility and bitterness. While I am not privy to any studies on the economic state of the residents post the exodus, I can almost argue that the life of the average Nigerian was not improved by sending their fellow West African neighbors home, if anything a dearth must have been created as teachers, seamstresses, store owners and other business owners fled. The situation then could have been handled better and most certainly, South Africans can come up with solutions to address the burden immigrants have placed on their country and resources that do not include brutal attacks and murders. 

Undoubtedly, as a continent, Africa is tremendously resource rich, however, it is no secret that the majority of Africans in almost every country live in quite deplorable conditions, victims of corrupt governments. Another known fact is that countries that seem to be doing relatively well are typically burdened by the influx of immigrants seeking better living and working conditions. Over time, for countries that are thus burdened with a heavy migrant population, it is inevitable that conflicts will arise as the citizens and legal residents of the host country struggle for what few resources there are. It might be frustrating when the residents feel that they cannot measure up either because the immigrant population is more educated or more financially secure, while they live on the margins unsure of their daily sustenance. But in spite of the arguments against the immigrants there are more civil ways to address immigration issues and violence of any form does not belong on that list.

But a number of South Africans have concluded that the only way to rid their country of the immigrants they have come to view as a nuisance is by staging attacks against them. It is interesting to note that besides African immigrants making a living in South Africa, there are immigrants from a host of other countries, with scores of Chinese immigrants leading the ranks, but there are no accounts of attacks against immigrants that are from without the continent. In my mind, the explanation as to why only Africans are targeted seems rather simple but complex at the same time. I can almost assume that non-African immigrants who are indeed prospering are viewed as deserving of their success because there is an arbitrary hierarchical system and already, South Africans perceive them as better than they. Thus, since they are better it only follows that their success should not be seen as a threat. On the other hand though, other Africans are not viewed as deserving, after all, they are just as black and perhaps seen as inferior and why should their perceived success be permitted when black South Africans cannot seem to get ahead?

While my argument might be flawed, there is a great deal of truth to it. The success of groups perceived as deserving or unfamiliar can sometimes be dismissed, but then when it seems as though those who are succeeding share some commonalities, their success then is perceived as a threat when in reality it might not be. Unfortunately, South Africans in their attempt to rid their country of other African immigrants are wrong in their logic and are making an already bad situation even worse. Interestingly, when a group has been marginalized for long periods and oppressed their views on perceived threats seems to become warped. Rwanda and the events leading up to the genocide is a marked example and now South Africans are joining the trend. If South Africans learned any lessons from being oppressed under the system of apartheid, those lessons have collectively been discarded and the scars might have been replaced with grafts as the oppressed have now become the oppressors.