Let Courage Speak


On Thursday mornings, the wind of excitement that got caught in his Agbada and swept out of our house whenever he left, returned to lie in wait, ready to welcome him when he breezed in without fail come the evening.

When I was younger, I looked forward to Thursdays. It was the one day in the week when she woke up on the right side of her bed, the one day I didn’t get beaten for existing. She would sing loudly, out of tune, as she made breakfast, and pepper my face with kisses when she dropped me off at school. Wisdom taught me to save any requests I had till then because joy turned her into Santa, doling out gifts and granting wishes like it was Christmas. As I grew older and began to understand it for what it was, Thursdays became the worst day of my life. It was the day my mother dolled herself up and allowed that man treat her like a prostitute.

I would come home from school to find him dressed in his white vest and briefs, sitting in front of the TV watching CNN, a tray of eba and ilasepo balancing on his thighs.

Omo mi, my daughter! Come, come and greet your daddy!”

I hated it when he called me that. Technically, I was just a girl he saw for a few minutes on a Thursday evening before he dragged my mother off to her room to earn her keep.  I never debated the point though, after all, it was his money that kept a roof over our heads and food on our table. I would shuffle over to his side and pause as I reached him, unsure of what greeting him entailed that day. Some days, he would draw me onto his laps and wrap his arms around me in a cassava infested hug. Other days, he would gently push me to my knees saying, “In our culture, we kneel to greet our elders. Your omo igbo of a mother is teaching you her nna ways!”

I hated the way he breezed in and out of our lives, an unsettling wind knocking over everything in its way and leaving pandemonium in its wake. She would be angry and irritable the second he left and a cloud of danger would hover over my head, raining down drops of hell. In that state she was quick with her hands so I learnt to disappear, donning my cloak of invisibility.

I hated that the whole world knew I was his bastard child. I hated that even though he provided for me financially and deemed me fit to adopt his name, not once in my 18 years had he acknowledged me publicly. According to his company website and all his media profiles, “Chief Cadrew is blessed with a lovely wife; his childhood sweetheart, and four beautiful sons.”

The devil must have taken her sanity captive when she insisted I attend the same high school as my half siblings. The one time I tried to explain to her how it felt to walk past my brothers in the corridors at school and have them look through me like I didn’t exist, she beat me so badly I couldn’t sit for a week. Her beatings I had learnt to live with but I couldn’t live with my brothers’ indifference. I wasn’t even worth hating; I was nothing to them.  The whole school knew we were related but no one talked about it. They had parents who loved them and friends that idolized them but I, little miss bastard child, had no one. None of the kids at school would talk to me and I didn’t know why till one girl decided to inform me that they were all afraid my mother would decide to target their fathers.

Couldn’t she try and understand how it felt to see my father come to my school on parents day and not as much as glance in my direction? The same man who called me “omo mi” every Thursday. I would watch them from a distance; him and his wife. I could never get over how beautiful she was. She looked so regal, spoke so eloquently. And when she smiled, her eyes sparkled like the diamonds on her fingers. I could see why he wouldn’t even consider trading her in. Pretty though my mother was, she was in a class a lot more ordinary.

I hated that she thought the life she was living was good enough for me.

“My dear you don’t need an education to survive. What you need is a good man that will look after you and provide for the children he will give you.”

I wanted to go to University, to make something of my life, but she wouldn’t hear of it. I should have known better, shouldn’t have dared to dream. What else did I expect from a woman who had earned every kobo in her bank account by lying on her back?

I hated that she had turned me into a show horse, parading me before rich old men, like a lot at auction.

“Someone is coming to see you today so you had better wear a nice dress and put on some makeup,” she would say, her eyes twinkling with excitement.

I was her retirement plan, her pension fund.  As much as I hated her, I hated myself even more for not having the courage to stand up to her and demand better, fight for better. Every night, I cried myself to sleep knowing it was only a matter of time before I caught some slobbering old man’s eye.

I rehearsed my speech; planned the words I would use to express the pain I had endured over the years, the shame I felt at the circumstances of my birth, the life I envisioned, the dreams I longed to achieve.

But every time my feet found the boldness to walk up to her, my mouth couldn’t find the courage to speak.

Immigration & Identity

I read a Daily Mail article on Mo Farah this morning and I could tell from the tone, how proud the writer was to call Mo British. Despite being born to Somali parents and spending the first 8 years of his life in Somalia, if you took a poll today, I suspect that only a small minority of people in Great Britain would consider him a foreigner.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he has set the record books blazing with his performance at the 10k men’s final and the olympic gold medal hanging round his neck.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he has seemingly embraced the culture of the Nation (while remaining muslim) and chosen to put himself forward as a representative of Great Britain.

Sir Mo, the TV pundits have been calling him…and I wouldn’t be surprised to see his name on the next honours list. A great prospect for a man who couldn’t speak a word of English when he first touched down in London.

Like many immigrants, by his own admissions, he never felt accepted by British society and it wasn’t until he heard 80,000 people screaming his name in the Olympic stadium while he stood on a podium with the British anthem playing, that he finally felt accepted, like he belonged.

An immigrant myself, I know too well what not belonging feels like.

Twenty-eight years ago I was born in London to Nigerian parents who promptly shipped me back to Nigeria as soon as I was fit to travel.I spent the first 16 years of my life in Lagos after which my mother packed my bags and shipped me back to London. I have now lived in London for round about 12 years.

I go to Nigeria and much as I enjoy being there in spite of all the madness, I no longer feel like I belong there. In theory, it’s home but honestly, I feel like a square peg in a round hole. It no longer fits.

I come back to London and even though it’s been home for the last 12 years and I have built my life here, every now and again something happens that reminds me that happy though I am here, I’m not quite British.

I have become  a hybrid of two cultures.

I had a conversation with a British-Indian friend that made me realise I’m not the only one that feels this way. Even though he has never been to India, his parents have done a great job of keeping him connected to the culture, so much so that he shares my dilemma.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this. Are you a hybrid of two cultures and how do you deal with this? If you have dual nationality and had the opportunity to represent a country at an event, how would you decide which of your countries to represent?