Flat Foot

My conversation with Kide, the Uber driver from Congo, slowly unwrapped itself. I was in Ottawa for two nights and stayed in Gatineau, a city on the northern bank of the Ottawa River. The flight was smooth; we were enveloped in dreamy clouds and on solid ground soon again. Evening turned into night and my eyes grew heavy.

The grey sedan arrived in enough time for me to scan the reviews for the driver. I saw him when he stopped at the light and crossed to the other side to board. I was in no particular mood for talking and planned to say a polite “hello”, enjoy the ride in silence, and take in the sights. I liked were I was. Ottawa. The seat of power. The city felt like it was heaving a sigh of relief as elections had just come to an end. It was big but not sprawling. I was taken with its historic buildings and paced busyness. The people carried on as though they had places to be, but could spare a minute or two to help. I walked past one man in a gas station whose body odour reminded me of the traders under the hot sun in Balogun market in Lagos. I walked past another who called me his sister and was from Kenya.

Kide was short and dark; his head shaven and beardless. The pleasantries ended as the ride began.

‘How was your day?’, he asked

‘Why don’t you go first? How was your day?’, I said

He chuckled and then told me that his day was good. When I probed further, he told me that he volunteered with people with disabilities earlier in the day. After I told him how my day went, he asked where I lived. I said that I lived on the East Coast and that I had moved there for school.

‘Your family must be rich.’

‘Yes’, I said, laughing.

‘Rich in love, rich in faith, rich in hope’, I continued.

Kide shook his head as if I had said something wrong.

‘I mean money. Did your parents pay your school fees with faith?’, he asked with all seriousness.

‘No’, I replied. ‘We are comfortable.’

My answer confirmed what he suspected. He told me not to waste my parents’ money or disappoint them, and reminded me of students who were squandering their tuition fees on new cars and parties. I felt like he was restraining himself. Like he was going to tell me not to get pregnant out of wedlock but stopped himself. After I told him that I had my own ambitions and was not taking anything for granted, he asked if I was a Christian.

‘Yes’, I said. I regretted that for a moment. I wanted to see what would happen if I said that I wasn’t. I also had the thought that he would not tell me all these things if I was white. This tendency to counsel strangers is a thing that is decidedly African, I thought.

The ride continued. He asked me how long I had lived in the country and I told him. I asked him the same question and found that he had lived here for twice as long as I had. When I teased that he must be a rich man, having worked all these years, his voice rose slightly when he said that he had five children and had been working only for the same bills to claim his bi-weekly pay.

I told him that I ultimately wanted to go home.

‘Why don’t you stay here and build a life?’, he asked.

There it was again. This telling strangers how to live.

‘Canada is nice and I like it. But it is not home.’

‘Except there is a man waiting for you at home’, Kide questioned.

I let him know that there was no such man and that my desire was fuelled solely by my aspirations. He found that unbelievable.

‘What if you meet someone here and marry and he does not want to go with you?’

‘I don’t believe in springing surprises on people. The issue of where to live is major. We will talk about it before we marry. And if we do not agree on where to live, there will be no marriage.’

‘Okay. But are you seeing somebody?’

‘I’m not’, I said.

Alarm rose from his chest through his throat into his mouth when he asked me this next question.

‘Are you selfish?!’

‘Selfish?’, I asked, taken aback.

That one surprised me. I am conscious of my flaws and selfishness is at the bottom of the list.

‘No. I’m not selfish. My self-improvement is my priority.’

Kide was now engrossed in full-throated laughter.

‘I’m focusing on making myself a better person. I believe in marriage and I love love. I admire my parents’ marriage and I hope to have something like that one day.’

‘I don’t want to rush into anything’, I concluded quietly.

‘No’, he said in agreement. Perhaps that was the only point on which we agreed. Perhaps he was tired of me and just wanted the conversation to end.

The encounter left me thinking. Choosing to develop oneself before sharing one’s life with another being considered selfish baffled and bothered me. I did not feel anger. I felt pity. Not just for him but for many others who thought the same. Maybe I should just accept that people will live their lives as they see fit and I should live mine as I want. But we don’t abandon people who want to hurt themselves knowingly or otherwise. We counsel, we admonish, we befriend.

Sometimes I forget that people want different things for their lives. Sometimes I forget that people will learn only after they suffer.

But I hope all the women and men who read this will choose themselves, heal themselves, and love themselves before they do the same for another. And I hope that we do not put ourselves through needless pain and unnecessary suffering to love another. I hope we do not starve ourselves to feed another. I hope we do not bruise ourselves to heal another. Because even we are worth loving, worth defending, and worth prioritizing.

Stretch Marks, Cellulite, and Self-Confidence

It is a rainy Saturday morning in May. I get up, the lessons of the past day, fresh and resounding in my mind. I scrub my bathtub and sink, thinking and thanking my Creator for another chance at life. I offer my words and my life as a sacrifice and hope they please him. I shower and get ready to meet two gorgeous women for breakfast. After an hour and a half, my belly is full. And so is my soul.

The sun is still on her day off and the clouds are moody about it. They keep crying. Their tears pour from the skies in quiet, gentle showers. It is Sunday the next day and so I try out three outfits for church. My roommate and I come to a decision. We deem the third outfit, a light blue off-the-shoulder dress and nude shoes with gold embellishments, the winner.

I like what I see when I look into the mirror. Standing there for a few more moments, I go back a few years ago, to a time when I inched closer to reproach for my body. It is pertinent that I provide some context here. I am an African woman who possesses her mother’s features. Her rosy cheeks, her nose, her full hips. Of my siblings, I am the least lean. This did not come without certain remarks from some extended family members. Now and again, I would hear “are you sure you’re not eating your sister’s food?” It was a casual jab that made my heart bleed. Being Nigerian means that you do not take certain things seriously. Knowing this did not take the sting out of those words, often laced with big smiles.

Perhaps I had acted without wisdom in some respects. I enjoyed food thoroughly and now and again, disregarded my parents’ counsel to eat a little less.

Puberty hit and stretch marks became permanent visitors. You know, the kinds that show up unannounced and have no immediate plans of vacating your space. I didn’t like them. I didn’t like that they spread out on my arms without regard for my feelings. I didn’t like that they were there. I didn’t like that I didn’t take my mother’s soft and flawless arms. I didn’t like that they didn’t respond to cocoa butter, shea butter, aloe vera, stretch mark creams and soaps, and the ultimate, bio-oil. It broke my heart when one day in boarding school, I discovered that my bio-oil had disappeared from my locker. Where and how was I to find it?

The morning before mass one Sunday morning, I wanted to dress up in a pretty sleeveless dress. It had a white background and was adorned with green, turquoise blue, and black designs. I examined my appearance in the mirror and did not like what I saw. Because I didn’t want anyone looking at those crooked lines, I promptly found my mother’s leftover foundation and poured some of the brown liquid onto my palm. Smoothing it over both sides of my upper arm, I nodded, satisfied with the result.

I grew up in a happy home and knew that I was loved fiercely. I believed that true beauty resided on the inside yet I knew that appearance mattered.

In the weeks leading up to my graduation from secondary school, I enlisted my mother’s help as my coach in my quest to become more fit. My father and siblings cheered me on and my mother and I bonded. I was satisfied with the outcome of that exercise and felt beautiful on the day I graduated. I felt even better, knowing that I had done my parents proud by winning prizes.

I think something profound shifted after those years. Perhaps the hormones wore off and I could think and see more clearly. Beauty had never been something I had always thought about with a standard in mind. For me and for others, being presentable was all that mattered.

An important part of growing old is growing up. This is the area where many of us fall down. It has taken seeing myself through God’s eyes to get to the place of true beauty, one that never fades.

I also believe I became inspired by people who regarded themselves with admiration and considered it normal. As a person who is always looking to do better and be better, I find it difficult sometimes to hush and say “I like where I am and who I am.” I fear complacency. I don’t like or want to be ordinary and so I’m constantly looking for ways to improve. But without knowing it and through God’s help, I found myself with people who affirmed me out of love. Find those people. Keep them. Be them.

In a previous post, I outlined my qualms with society’s idea of self-love. Out of love, not spite, my parents cautioned me when I overate and it would have done me good if I listened. We all know that excess weight predisposes us to coronary diseases. It is my firm belief that self-control is an act of love, even towards self.

I owe the person I am today to all of my experiences. I don’t want a filtered, airbrushed type of beauty. I want the crooked-nosed, gap-toothed, sun-beaten type of beauty. Beauty was never meant to be just superficial. Beauty was meant to orient man towards heaven, towards the author of beauty. I want the kind of beauty that wells up like a spring, from within.

If my stretch marks disappeared overnight, I’d miss them. They have greeted my eyes every morning for years now, and have taught me a great many things about what fills a person with beauty and grace.

Quiet the chaos and clothe yourself with dignity and strength. According to Pope Benedict XVI, you are willed, you are loved, and you are necessary. Believing any less would be selling yourself short.

7 Ideas For Your Next Self-Care Session

One of my favorite things to say is that one cannot pour from an empty jar. It is impossible to give what you do not have. In the course of our daily lives, we share, give, and do things constantly. At the end of any given day, it is essential that you recharge and refuel. As an introvert, this is key to my existence.

Just so you know, self-care is not selfish. The Golden Rule asks us to love others as we love ourselves. In order to love others properly, we must first love ourselves. You must pour back into your spirit so that you can do more and be more for others. Without further ado, let us jump right in!

  • Shower with the Lights Off

Slow down and let those deliciously warm drops of water touch you. Don’t be in a hurry, your best ideas tend to come when you pace yourself. Get comfortable with your thoughts. Be careful when stepping out so you do not slip and fall.

  • Lay on the Floor in the Dark

This sounds ridiculous but oh how relaxing it is! Pick a clean and quiet space, turn off your phone, and unplug the fridge so it doesn’t hum. Breathe slowly and hone in on one thought. This is a good time to pick a psalm, a proverb, or a quote to focus on.

  • Count Your Blessings

Don’t focus on the flood so much that you miss the rainbow. Learn to look up and leave your worries below for a moment. Name your blessings one by one. You are alive, there is hope.

  • Be Kind

Do something for someone else without expecting anything in return. The next time you’re feeling helpless, help someone. Remember that you are blessed beyond measure. It might just take a little more effort to see that when things go wrong.

  • Pray

This should be the first thing to do. Pray without ceasing and offer thanks for who you are and who you will be. God is near to the brokenhearted. You are not an afterthought, you are not a mistake. The Creator looked at all the good things in the world and thought it still needed you. Your talents and abilities are his gifts to you. Be grateful for that.

  • Create a Treasure Box

Get a random box and fill it with all the words and wishes others have given you on any occasion. You could even fill it with notes you have written yourself. When you feel down, affirm yourself with those words. You is smart, you is kind, you is important.

  • Journal

And light a candle while doing so. Pour your heart out on those pages. Create an atmosphere devoid of distractions and center yourself. The beautiful thing about journaling is that when the storms are over, you can look back on how you rode the waves.

Eat, sleep, exercise, and surround yourself with good people. Those who challenge you, who inspire you, and those whose shoulders you can lean on. Life is suffering, it is tough. But so are you.

On Loving Yourself

“Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident”- Louis de Berniéres

In recent times, the internet and bookshelves have been bombarded with ideologies on self-positivity and self-love. Many propose that self-love is a crucial factor in propelling individuals into fulfilling lives. While I appreciate the intention of these messages and acknowledge that they can be helpful to some individuals, I do not completely agree with them.

It seems as though these authors assume that the consumers of these messages are without flaws. Unfortunately and realistically, this is not the case. One quote I recently came across said, “you are perfect exactly as you are. With all your flaws and problems, there’s no need to change anything. All you need to change is the thought that you have to change.”

Although I appreciate the sentiment echoed in the quote above, it can be problematic for persons trying to decipher right from wrong in a certain stage of life. It is worse still, for a fellow who is being corrected yet doesn’t see the defects in their character.

Love entails acceptance. Acceptance and then action.Continue reading “On Loving Yourself”