The Case for Contentment

pt. 1

Morning had just broken that Tuesday. I balled my right hand as I wiped the crust from my eyes like a little child, made my bed, and headed downstairs. It was quiet, as mornings usually are in our house. This quietness gave me the chance to savour the sight of the rising sun, which had not yet risen in full strength and so was merciful.

I finished morning prayer, as I usually did, to learn a little more about this Word made flesh who entered my life and changed it completely. My feet swiftly left the couch and my toes curled together when they came in contact with the cold floor, as I tiptoed my way to the bathroom. In true millennial fashion, my phone came along.

I was seated when I read the message. This message whose kind I had never received before. I let out the sort of laughter that signified a disbelieving surprise. I read it again just to be sure that I had seen what I had seen.

He said he would go straight to the point. He said he would like me to be his sugar baby. He said no sexual relationship or nudity would be involved. He said we could negotiate weekly allowances. He said he was sorry if his message “pissed me off.”

I said I was not interested. I said I was not interested. I said I was not interested.

He asked what he could do to impress me. I said, “Here’s the thing: I am completely content with my life. My reasons for entering a relationship with a person has never been and will never be material. So, to answer your question, there is nothing you can do to impress me.”

He said that he was looking for a long-term relationship that could lead to marriage.

pt. 2

My friend would be moving to a new city in a few days and so we thought we would hang out and catch up before the move. We met at a coffee shop downtown where the overlapping chatter and laughter, the saxophonist playing on the Row, and tourists and Islanders documenting their memories made the space come alive. I drank an iced tea sans ice and watched as my recyclable straw slowly mopped up my tea.

After the “how are yous” came our conversations which ranged from our generation’s capacity for a revolution to the place of the sacred in modern life to my conceptualization of the Western world (excluding Europe due to its history, which is distinct from the Americas although connected) to social media in the age of climate change.

Tuesday’s proposition also came up. After reading the message, he determined that the writer was a swindler whose intent was to defraud me, and said that it was good that I responded in the in which manner I responded.

pt. 3

First came the pride in myself about how I responded. Then came the annoyance. How else was I to respond? I simply did what I was raised to do.

Contentment is not complacency. Contentment is not mediocrity. Contentment is not settling for less. Contentment is not being satisfied with being average. Contentment is not thinking that the keys to a better life lie in the hands of another.

Contentment is seeing the distance between where we are and where we want to be and being joyful as we make our way there. Contentment is doing what we can today and letting Him handle what we cannot. Contentment is longing for more while being constrained by the certainty that we will get more and be more in time. Contentment is a defence.

Contentment is the guardian that ensures that we do not taint and tarnish our dignity before we arrive at the inevitable mountaintop.

Rethinking Life, Death, and Legacy

We do not think about death enough.

We are surrounded by death each day and yet, the concept and reality of death is foreign to us. It is almost as though in completing the routines of our daily lives, we forget our mortality. Our species relies on the death of other species to sustain life. Before we arrange a beautiful bouquet, flowers must die. Before we roast corn for barbecues on warm summer nights, maize must be taken from its life source. Before a grain of wheat multiplies, it must first fall to the ground and die.

Death. It is all around us but so often forgotten.

Death. It is sure to come for every one.

People sleep and never wake and the world moves on. Perhaps what prevents us from talking about death is our apprehension about what comes after. Perhaps we think that by not dwelling too much on the life after, we can evade it. How innocent and yet so misguided a thought.

What comes after has two dimensions: eternity and legacy.

Eternity is timelessness. It is eternal recompense. It is infinite multiples of however many years we spend in the here and now. It is home. It is the home we get to choose. It is our final destination.

Legacy is the castle our values here on earth has built. Legacy is what comes to mind when our names are called in our absence. Legacy is the voice that speaks long after we go silent. Legacy is the reverence or regret our children remember us by. Legacy is either the man who built his house on sand or the one who built his house on the rock. The waves arose and the wind blew hard against both houses, but only one was left standing.

Life has true meaning when considered in the inescapable reality of death. Both eternity and legacy matter too much to live without truth, beauty, and goodness. All three of which can only be found- in their fullness- in Him.

Maybe we should engage life with the recognition that it is a gift for which we must give an account. Maybe as we engage with others in this race, we should look up and look at the big picture; a giant mosaic of intentions, assumptions, and regrets. Maybe we can then live at peace with ourselves and with others.

Better to go to a house of mourning than one of mirth.

The fragility of life is, in many ways, like a sunset. It lingers, blessing the sky with its warmth and colours. Then all of a sudden, the light fades and darkness falls.

Written in loving memory of Prof. Iheanyi Achumba, Mrs Rayné Platell-Kenny, and all who have gone before. Kachifo, unu di anyi n’obi.

Performing Intellectualism

Thick coral beads with swirls of cream strung together and resting securely hung on his neck. The news had come on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) channel, and there he was, ready to share and defend his take. This man had succeeded in amusing and annoying the whole country in equal measure, but it appeared he did not know.

That evening, “News Time,” as my mother called it, had come. It started at six and ended at eleven o’clock every day. My parents, steadfast timekeepers of News Time, ensured no one missed this portion of our schedule and half-expected our chorus of helpless objection. Come dry, dusty harmattans or refreshing rainy seasons; we were faithful. Nigeria was celebrating its Democracy Day and he, a former member of the House of Representatives, lawyer, and holder of two master’s degrees said:

“A celebration of democracy or a depreciable apotheosis of a haemorrhaging plutocracy, cascading into a mobocracy with all the ossifying proclivities of a kakistocracy? With our democracy enveloped in a paraplegic crinkum-crankum, we must all rise up to bring to focal triceps and biceps, Nigeria’s pluto-mobo-kakistocracy… certainly not democracy!”

Laughter erupted in the living room.

This was the only suitable response to what we had just heard. Question after question, he employed what I could only describe as gigantic grammar in response. Despite being impressed by his ability to weave together convoluted tongue-twisters, in our hearts, we did not respect him.

Having been immersed in an academic environment for the last five years, and suspecting that I will inhabit this space for longer, I have grown tired of witnessing performative intellectualism. It is an act that has grown stale. I am fatigued by sentences easily deflated with the simple prick of a pin, and consider performing intellectualism an affront to the gift of speech and self-expression. Before I become guilty of that which I accuse others, let me explain. Performing intellectualism is exercising one’s intelligence or speech solely for the purpose of impressing or pleasing listeners.

I am exhausted by those who cook up fancy, fluffy, and washed-out sentences to fill the silence.

Silence is fine. Speak that which is truthful and meaningful and say nothing when you cannot.

When we do not know, we should admit it instead of chasing down and laying hold of an answer by all means possible. Maybe the point of education is that we ask more questions; which is a function of thinking deeply, thoroughly, and honestly. Relying on deep-sounding concoctions to impress robs us all of the chance to engage with the subject matter and one another meaningfully.

My hope is that educators arrest these performances using four words:

“What do you mean?”

I think the ultimate test of knowledge is the ability to speak simply and coherently of what we claim to understand. What do we gain by trying to sound important when we already are? We are important simply because He made us. That is enough.

2018: A Review

I think it is appropriate to share my review of the past year three weeks into the new one. In 2018, I had a vision board that carried on from the last year. I made it for the final year of my bachelor’s, really, and did not give too much thought to what would happen after.

On the first day of the last year, I sat and wrote what I expected and would work to happen. I wanted to be stretched in 2018 and stretched I was. Disappointment and surprise stretched my heart. Funnily, the surprises made up for the disappointments. Through walking with God, I have learnt that what the enemy means for evil, God delights in confounding hell and turning it around for good.

Towards the end of the year, my walk with God was rejuvenated. It was like a volcano spat fire into the coal embers of my heart. He taught me about giving. The most memorable lesson was that when I felt the inclination to hold back, I was to give even more.

I learnt, more tangibly, the way through which God speaks to me. In 2018, I saw God honour the words I spoke. I felt Him renew my thirst for wanting to be in right standing with Him. My heart found rest in Matthew 6 v 33.

It seems like all I’ve mentioned so far has been about my faith and for those who are not familiar, I’m grateful that you made it through. Truthfully, my faith is the epicentre of my life. 2018 saw me flesh out Butterfly Dreams some more. 2018 saw me take my health more seriously.

2018 was a year of purposeful alliances. If there was any relationship that felt forced, I let it go. I learnt in a real way that it was essential to assess relationships and that some friends are better from afar. I discovered that my perfectionism affected how much I enjoyed moments for what they were. I learnt that waiting for situations to perfectly align before acting was a waste of time.

I learnt that instead of reacting to the brokenness of others with anger, I could give them to God. I learnt to wish others good in spite of the way their faults hurt me.

2018 was the year of challenging yet rewarding conversations. 2018 was the year of miracles for my family and friends. 2018 was the year when even disappointments evolved into blessings.

2019 will only be better, I am sure. Even surer am I that everything good will come.

Turning a New Leaf

Here I am, curled up in the corner alone, having entered the new year. When I looked around me in church after praying and dancing in worship, people were hugging each other, shouting “congratulations!”. There seemed to be a collective persuasion that 2019 was going to be a good year.

The weeks leading into this year were filled with inspirational dissatisfaction. I do not remember what prayer I prayed for Him to do as He has done.

November 5.

That was the day I deleted my social media accounts. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Gone. He, very likely, reached into my heart and rewired something.

I became disillusioned, out of the blue, with social media. I had grown tired of the brand of activism that did not translate to tangible change. I was tired of people maintaining one persona online and another in real life.

I was tired of how politics of a certain kind was finding its way into sports, entertainment, business, and education. I was tired of the fact that at a time when the talk of tolerance was loudest, there was unbelievable hostility to opposing views that resembled traditional ideas.

I was tired of scrolling endlessly. Newsfeeds were bottomless, and the refresh button aggravated the problem. I was tired of commenting and connecting with strangers while neglecting my own people by whom I was surrounded.

I was tired of thinking that because I saw a witty caption and a crisp photo, I knew how my friends were doing. I was tired of wasting my time by my own hand. I was tired of the faux outrage and outrage on-demand I found on those platforms.

Truthfully, I was embarrassed by the person I had become. I had now become a person who would run to social media to announce that I won an award or that I liked how the sun shone today.

I was ashamed that a criterion for who I followed or followed back was the aesthetic appeal of a photograph born out of filters. I was ashamed that my attention span was shrinking and that talking to my family on the phone involved scrolling through Instagram simultaneously.

I was ashamed of the expectation I placed on an image I edited to perfection, and of my disappointment when it did not perform well. I was tired of glamour without substance.

All of these factors culminated in the decision to delete my accounts. And my thoughts have never been more lucid.

I am able to connect more deeply and intentionally with my family, my friends, myself, and my Father. I have remembered my first loves of books and music.

The thing about a bubble is that no one realises it is a bubble until it bursts.

So, if you did not post on social media for one day or one year, who would notice and ask after you?

Cheers to the new year and to turning a new leaf.

Newness

I saw him again.

Nothing had changed.

He still wore his blue jeans and tucked in his t-shirt. He still wore his black belt and white sneakers. His still wore his sunglasses and baseball hat.

This was the same outfit he wore the first time I saw him. He still took small, hurried steps; arms swiftly swinging, head slightly bowed.

This is the man I now frequently see on my street.

This past week has been one of seeing new things unfold. I moved out of 532 and did not realise how much I oriented myself with regards to that space.

532 was home. 532 was the place where friends gathered in good and evil. 532 was familiar. I knew which door had to be turned a particular way to open. I knew which step of the stairs creaked. The place had a familiarity that was comforting.

I am sitting at the dinner table this morning; listening to jazz, drinking tea, and watching the rain drizzle. I am trying to become familiar with the strangeness that now accompanies my life. But, this I know; that new things get old. That I have to accept this new phase by just living it.

Living in transition, living in newness, living in change, living in the uncomfortable.

One day, the house in which I now dwell will become home. One day, I will be able to find my way with the lights turned off. That is when I will know for sure that this is home.

No one needs a map to find home.

On Growing Up Quickly

I’m sitting on the floor of my apartment.

Barefoot, watching the sun go down. This evening, the sky is a glorious medley of gold and blue and purple. I have India Arie’s I am Light playing. Her words are powerful yet quiet. They are utterly deserving of repetition until they become my belief.

They are my declaration.

Early last week, my father sent me screenshots of photographs. Photographs that documented several moments of my childhood. I am grateful that memories of my childhood fill me with joy and not anguish.

I saw photographs of myself being held by my brother, dancing at parties, cutting birthday cake, eating spaghetti. What I would give to go back to that time.

I remember being thirteen and daydreaming, looking forward to leaving home. I remember eavesdropping on what my parents and their friends talked about over beer and garden eggs and pepper soup. I remember tending to guests and taking a little extra time because I did not want to miss out on a particular detail.

I remember trying on my mother’s lipstick and jewellery when she was away. I remember wanting to have my own space.

And here I am, sitting on the floor of my apartment. Having paid rent a few days ago. It hurts.

I miss being taken care of. I miss the permission of irresponsibility childhood granted me.

Ten years from now when I own my home and will possibly be married, I will miss eating pizza at two in the morning while trying to finish a paper. I will miss impromptu sleepovers at Tosin’s house.

The next time I am tempted to wish I am somewhere else, I will remember that all of this is temporary. I will remember that ten years ago, I laid on my bed and watched the stars twinkle and wished the same.

I will remember to enjoy being young and fresh-faced.

Growing up is like watching the sun go down. It happens slowly and certainly and beautifully. Then, all of a sudden, night falls.

Spring Break in Santa Barbara, Honduras

*muchachas – the young women who live at the Jardin

The was so much about Honduras that reminded me of Nigeria; the warmth of the people and the country, the openness to strangers, the textured walls, the craziness of the drivers, the ambition of traders in traffic, the lush vegetation, the marvellous mountains, the cool evenings, the unending roads.

Sr. Violaine and Sr. Maria-Jose and Neri came to get us from the airport. Neri lived close to the Jardin and helped the people there. He smiled much and said little, his handshake was sincere and sweaty.

Sr. Maria-Jose’s quiet smile welcomed us. There was a wise and benevolent air around her and there was almost a mischevious twinkle in her eyes when she smiled.

Sr. Violaine had a heart that ignited any room. It was a guilty pleasure to watch her shift from her first language, French, to English and then Spanish. It was obvious that the work she did meant the world to her.

When we arrived, some of the muchachas* came out to say hello. Some were reserved, some were outspoken, all were happy. The girls at the Jardin had left their homes and families for their education. Their homes were far away from school, so they lived at the Jardin, which was closer. There was something about them that struck a chord with me. Behind their shyness was a wondrous expectation. An expectation of what the next eight days would hold for them and for us.

On the way to church on Sunday, it began to rain but only lightly. We chose to forgo the vehicle and walked. Some of the roads surrounding us were untarred and hilly.

The people had a deep spirituality and an even deeper understanding of the Gospel. It was evident in the way they made room for one another. In the way, even strangers like myself were embraced. It was evident in the way the older women kissed the newborns.

After lunch and siesta, we explored downtown Santa Barbara. Every street was vibrant in its own way. The walls were low and painted in lively, sometimes clashing colours. The people did not cease to amaze me. There was kindness and a twinge of curiosity in their eyes. Every “hola!” was not left unreturned.

Our time at the park confirmed what I suspected; the people here took life easy. Their every waking moment was not filled with frantic activity. They embodied what it meant to be a human BEING. I saw people sitting; staring in the distance, enjoying the breeze. A mother grabbed her rambunctious, little son by the hair. He had tried to run onto the road.

The men were unabashed in their admiration. Simple greetings were met with exaggerated replies. They stared quite easily and sometimes, up close. Due to the language barrier, we could not understand their flirtatious mumblings.

There were houses in the glorious, cloud-covered mountains. I wondered what the break of dawn would look live for those who lived in them. I also wondered if the people were oblivious to the beauty that surrounded them or if they had simply grown accustomed to it.

The familiarity of the unfamiliar, at church, was something I was grateful for.

A bond was quickly forming between us and the muchachas*. Picture English sentences interjected with Spanish words and vice versa and many hand gestures. This was one of the rare occasions in my life when questions were answered with hugs and resounding laughter.

The next day saw us beginning the “service” portion of our trip. Once we began, it was evident that the Sisters had been so busy fulfilling their purpose so much so that aesthetics had become secondary. Although we did not complete our tasks, our hosts were satisfied.

I felt a mixture of emotions when I thought about the muchachas. I wish I had their openness to strangers, their comportment, their love for one another, their reverence for God.

By the following day, it became clear that corn tortillas were a staple.

I was aware of the way life sounded here. Everything was alive and free. The clucking and crowing of chickens, the chirping of birds, the laughter that took the place of words, the patting of ground maize for tortillas. The song of crickets was the soundtrack of the night. Above our room sat the moon; half full and surrounded by stars only on one side.

The next day, we painted the IHER, an informal school. We had youth over at the Jardin from the parish and hosted a little soiree later in the evening.

When morning came, we picked coffee beans in the mountains about 1200 feet above sea level. Most of the journey was bumpy but the sights provided adequate compensation. The work truly was a labour of love.

Another woman who made an incredible impression on us was Miriam. Her face had an ethereal glow when she smiled. She was strong and handled things; no time wasted, no questions asked. She was an integral part of life at the Jardin.

On Saturday, we did not have any work to do and so we went exploring. We visited a waterfall and swam. I swam! I had shared a pool with people prior to that and it hardly qualified as swimming. Although I had lived on an island throughout my undergraduate degree, I only walked on the seashore and sat by the bonfire when I visited the beach. My friend, Katie, who is a phenomenal swimmer was on the trip as well. Because of her presence, I gained the confidence to go into the water. She taught me how to float and how to kick my feet in the water.

Swimming that day was a lesson in trust. As she taught me, I would get afraid and become tense and begin to sink. In her usual quiet and confident manner, she said, ” Relax your body. The waves will carry you.” I listened and obeyed. I am grateful I did.

I thought that was an incredible metaphor for trusting Providence. In my life, I have found that it is only in the moments when I chose to trust God and His timing that I am the most joyful and free.

Feeling the warmth of the sun on my face and the cool of the water throughout my body as I floated was transcendent. When I opened my eyes, I saw the rich blue colour of the sky and that moment felt like a gift.

On both Friday and Saturday nights, we partied with the muchachas and some other friends. The speaker powerfully blasted music into the darkness. For the first time in years, I was unbothered about how the neighbours would feel about our music.

We began with Spanish music; swaying our hips, dancing in pairs. I was deliriously happy. The music was moving, the people were dancing. I felt sweat trickle down the small of my back and felt a small numb pain under my feet. Surprisingly, many of us were not sore the next morning.

Our flight was before noon on Sunday so we set out of Santa Barbara early in the morning. The muchachas were in their pyjamas when we began to load our luggage into the vehicle.

Goodbye was sad.

I could not believe eight days had come and gone. The hugs were deliberate and warm and tight. I would miss this land of swaying coconut trees and endless fields of corn.

As I walked to unlock the gates of the Jardin, I heard the toll of the bell, summoning the girls back to normal life.

A Tale of Cancelled Flights, Frustrated Hope, and Other Related Shenanigans

Part 1

I was away visiting my family in Georgia over the Christmas break and it was such a joy to leave my studies and other responsibilities behind. I took the bus to Halifax and then went on from there.

The trip was perfect, save for the flight from Toronto to Atlanta. The connection from Ottawa to Toronto was delayed due to mechanical issues and I missed the last leg of my trip as a result. The airline was gracious enough to offer food and accommodation for the night and I was back on track the next morning.

Perhaps this is a good time to mention that save for my aunt and uncle, neither my sister nor my cousins knew of my impending visit. And we got them good! Soon after, Chi Chi and Nneoma returned for the break. It was pure magic every time we were together. I haven’t been to Nigeria since I moved for my studies so visiting my aunt and uncle always gives me a semblance of family life at home.

Christmas Day was incredible! The turkey was delicious, the tunes were banging, we played games that caused wigs to fall off, and everyone was in high spirits. New Year’s Day was a bit milder as we were at church the night before.

Part 2

Before I knew it, everyone began to return to their individual bases and I soon followed suit. My early-morning Thursday flight took off as scheduled and all went well until I arrived at the Montreal airport and was told that all flights to Halifax had been cancelled. A snowstorm was expected to hit the city that night and there were safety concerns.

Due to my previous experience on the way to Georgia, I expected that the airline would provide accommodation until another flight was scheduled. I got a text saying that I had been re-booked for Sunday. Sunday!!! That was three days away but it was the least of my worries. I found my way to Customer Service and explained my situation. I was told, to my utmost surprise, that there would be no compensation as the flight was cancelled through no fault of theirs. I stood there in disbelief and mumbled an incoherent “thank you”. Of course, I understood. But was I still frustrated? YES. How was I supposed to find decent accommodation in a city I had never been to so unexpectedly?

I was given a phone number to call and was told that the person on the other end of the line would be able to get me discounted hotel rates. After being on hold twice and being told to call back in thirty minutes, I was told there was nothing available in the Montreal area.

It dawned on me that I was now 100% responsible for myself.

My search for an affordable (lawyer speak for “cheap”) hotel room bore fruit after several minutes. Almost $200 evaporated from my wallet just like that. The receptionist who informed me that a shuttle bus would come to get me in no time soon called to tell me the opposite. My two options were either a $45 taxi ride or a $10 bus ride. I imagine you know the one I picked.

I hopped on the bus and told the driver where I would be alighting. It was not my actual destination but I figured I could walk the rest of the way. Once I got off the bus, the kind of cold that slapped my face almost sent me back inside.

I wore my scarf a little tighter and began to find my way. I entered the address into Google Maps and began to walk. It was a cold evening and since I didn’t have gloves on, I began to alternate pocketing my hands.

Men and brethren, whether Google led me astray or I led myself astray, I cannot say. The only thing I’m sure of is the fact that a journey of ten minutes took an hour and a half. It began to feel like I was in a Christmas movie. I started whimpering after a while because I had to drag my box up a hill against the wind’s current. And then my phone died right when I needed it.

After asking two kind security men for directions, I arrived at my destination.

I was grateful for the warmth that enveloped me when I entered the lobby. I was more grateful that I had the means to get a roof over my head, given the circumstance.

Part 3

My flight on Sunday was scheduled for eight but I was up by four in the morning because I was scared that I would be left behind. I arrived at the airport and was through security with time to spare. All was well until we boarded. First, the service director of the flight informed us that they were de-icing the plane and that we’d be on our way in about ten minutes. Ten minutes passed and then we were told that there was a problem with the washrooms. I thought this was a minor issue that would soon be fixed but I was wrong. Very wrong. We stayed glued to our seats for an hour and a half before they officially cancelled the flight. Everyone was visibly upset.

When we disembarked, we were told that the next available flight was coming in from Dallas and would be ready to go at six in the evening. I had never felt more frustrated. My hope of going home that day seemed to be slowly slipping away. The bus to Charlottetown would be leaving at four thirty.

I had to find a solution.

I explained my predicament to the customer service agent who pitied me and said she would help. I held my breath until I saw that my new boarding passes had been printed. It didn’t matter that they took me back to Toronto. It didn’t matter that I spent six hours waiting at the airport. I was going home and that was all I focused on.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that I had been given a first class ticket! My friends, let no one deceive you. It is good to have money! Ah! I thought I was on the wrong flight but once I confirmed that I was not, I behaved myself. The seat was big and soft, the pillow was heavenly, there was ample legroom, and the screen was responsive. My day was made.

I got home at midnight and my roommates were already asleep but I woke them to say hi. They were sleepily joyful to see me and I let them be.

One thing I learned was to ask questions as soon as I did not know. “Fake it till you make it” cost me over an hour in the cold. Another lesson that was reinforced was to remain grateful because no matter what, it could always be worse. Imagine what would have happened if I did not have the means to get a room for those three nights. Finally, people may have fancy titles but at the end of the day, they are just people. Try to engage, as much as you can, on that common, human level.

I have gone, seen, and conquered. May 2018 be good to you.