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.