My Guidance Counsellor

Hi hi 🙂

To all of you who have called and texted, wanting to know why things have been very quiet around here lately, thank you very much for loving us and following so faithfully. To those who wondered quietly ;), we cherish you too for caring. The answer to your questions will soon be manifest, ceteris paribus. 

In the meantime, the story below is that kind that is both fiction and non-fiction, you know those greedy ones? Yes. It was inspired by a facebook post by one of my sisters from another mother. Please enjoy …

My counsellor

Years ago when I was in secondary school I went to the Guidance Counselor’s office to talk about my future. Two years earlier in SS 1, I had chosen the Science class over Arts without consulting anyone because at the time, it felt proper. And in the following two years, while things looked rosy on the outside, I agonizingly vacillated between my passion for the Arts and the career path I had chosen.

So when it was time to apply to universities, I thought ‘maybe … just maybe I can make it right’. I decided to do the first thing I had neglected earlier – seek coaching. And that was how I ended up in Miss Ugo’s office.

I remember walking into her ‘office’ and thinking that I just could not end up in one like that. It shamed me sometimes to think so lowly of my teacher but it was such an undignified workspace. It was probably 10ft by 5ft; a simple wooden table sat in the centre effectively dividing the space in two; two chairs on either side of the table and two shelves (of the same polished wood) were the only other furniture. Then there were books; makeshift mountains of books covering most of the table and floor, tomes that caused the wooden tiers of the shelves to curve, and were piled high along the cardboard wood walls, almost to the ceiling. She smiled when she saw me, and beckoned me in. I moved books aside to sit, trying not to think about how it felt like consulting a witchdoctor in a Nollywood clip.

As best as I could – and the words were not easy to find – I explained my dilemma to Miss Ugo. I told her that I was making very good grades in Science class and I even enjoyed some of the Physics and Biology classes, but I could not get past the feeling that I should be in the Arts; I told her how I loved my English and Literature classes to death, how I could swap my break-time for a debate on government and politics; I told her how this feeling grew steadily from SS 1 through SS 2 until the first term in SS 3 when I decided to make the move; I approached Ibechukwu in the Arts class and after listening to him and leafing through his Government and CRK notes (two large thick-covered notes worth of material EACH), I chickened out and stayed in the Science class. I told Miss Ugo that for the choice of a course to study at university, I wanted to find something which could leverage my sound Science background while allowing me explore my love for the Arts.

— Is that all? She asked.

–Yes

–Okay.

Still seated, she swiveled to her right, plucked a hefty book from the shelf and dumped it with an oomf on the mountain of books that was her table. I picked out one word – Architecture – before she slammed yet another large one over it, and another, and another. From all over – behind the door, against the wall, over my shoulder, beneath the table – she pulled out books with multicolored backs, all thick as bibles, and piled them on top of each other.

When she was done, Miss Ugo shifted in her seat and looked at me – I scraped my seat to the right, because I could no longer see her face over the pile.

–See this book here, it is for those people that like Fine Arts, like Mr. Umunna, those that like to draw and paint.

She handed me a volume whose cover read ‘Fine The Arts – choose right for college!’ in flamboyant colors. There was a –

— And this one is for those people that like Mathematics, like Algebra and small small calculations.

This one was thicker than the fine arts book, but surprisingly lighter, I dropped it on top of the first book, in my lap.

— If you like engineering, those people that fly airplanes and build machines, sometimes they even go to space; if you like that kind of thing, look at this one.

She handed it over. I dropped it in my lap.

— This one is for medicine and medical sciences, doctors, pharmacists, lab scientists and those people that do research for diseases and cures in big hospitals. You will see those ones here.

Hand. Drop.

— Do you like to read novels? If you like storybooks and all those figures of speech in literature, or even English, or Law, you will see many of that here.

Hand. Drop.

This went on until the entire pile of books had been transferred from the table to my lap. Then she adjusted her spectacles and smiled a very reassuring smile. Unsure of what to do, I thanked her.

— No problem, my dear. Just make sure you return them soon so that other people can also use them.

I staggered a little under the weight. Balancing the stack of books on my hands in front of me, I used the door. The day was Friday.

First thing Monday morning, I returned the books to Miss Ugo’s office.

— I hope they helped?

— Yes, they did. Thank you very much, ma.

— You’re welcome, my dear.

She smiled, and I used the door.

If she had paid any attention, Miss Ugo might have noticed that the thin film of dust on some of the book covers remained undisturbed, and that the books were returned stacked in the same order she had given them to me. She would have known that I never read them.

Share with us below if you had any Guidance counsellor experiences … have a fabulous day!

-Chisom

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The Lectern: Impossible is nothing

I do not know about you, reader, but this past month has been both a trial and a blessing for me. I gave up many times – numerous nights when it was just hisses and ta-hell-with-it’s. But none of those dark moments was ever for too long at a time. Every time it seemed impossible to pull through, someone/thing came through – family, friends and/or that aged belief in my own strength.

Imagine my delight then when Chizzy knocked on my door this early morning with ‘Impossible is nothing’ … as if she knew! Thanks to this month’s edition of ‘The Lectern’, I have found belief afresh. I hope you do too.

Have a sweet July 🙂

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…that we might be read


IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING

Impossibl is nothing - The Lectern

I recently saw a picture of Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote on the cover of Tell magazine. On the far end of his mahogany desk sat a plaque on which was written, ‘impossible is nothing’.

Many times I have heard that phrase repeatedly used by motivational speakers, and I often roll my eyes in response. Never did I take time out to find its application to me.

One day, I went to buy some shoes at an ‘OK’ store. If you don’t know what ‘OK’ shoes are, you are not Nigerian; it means okirika shoes, a code name for fairly-used imported shoes. Fellow Naija babes will agree that ‘OK’ shoes are more durable than the acclaimed ‘foreign’ ones, most of which are made in Aba anyways.

But I digress. I entered the shop and asked the shop attendant to pick out black ballerina shoes for me. Rather than do as I requested,  the man brought out a writing pad and began to scribble on it. I was too curious to even be vexed, what was he writing?

After he was done, he handed the pad to me and I saw that he had written on it: “what do you want to buy”. The guy was deaf and dumb!

What on earth is a deaf and dumb fellow looking for in the business of buying and selling?, I thought to myself. I know quite well what trading entails – a lot of talking and haggling and more talking. So saying that I was shocked is an understatement. I bet you are too.

I was amazed. At that point I remembered the phrase, ‘impossible is nothing’.

Here was this guy, probably already written off as a mute, as something headed for nothing. He was disabled, but he refused to be disadvantaged. He rejected the limitations placed on him by his physical condition and rather chose to see ability in his disability. Plus he handled the sales so well that I even forgot to haggle – and you know we love to haggle.

This experience made me pause for a minute and think. I thought about how at several points in my life I had abandoned projects and plans because I felt they were impossible feats. Oh nobody has ever done it, I would often lament; the last person that attempted failed woefully.

Many times I catch myself holding on to a past hurt, obviously stuck in a rut, but refusing to let go. And other times, I feel like my best days are long over and I can never live a happy and fulfilling life again … the list is endless.

However after my experience with that shoe salesman, I began to see hope. I see now that I am fired up to succeed like I have never been before. I see now that life can throw anything at me, but I, and I alone determine what to make of it. I see now that ‘impossible is nothing’.

Dear friend, if nobody has ever done it, be the first. Challenge the status quo and reach for new frontiers. Who said you cannot be the one to break that old record and set a new one? Nobody.

If you still think it’s impossible, maybe because you have tried so many times and failed every time, then you need to visit Thomas Edison. He will tell you that 999 feels like 1 million to someone who has lost all hope, and one more trial to a passionate soul. Nobody every moved forward by keeping their eyes fixed on the rear view mirror. The past is past and those who dwell on it pass away with it.

The shop attendant in my story wrote out his words in well-articulated English, his lettering was bold, neat and legible. Evidently, he took time to learn to read and write. Even in his disability, he stands tall and makes much more money than many who are perceived as ‘able-bodied’.

Is there an area of your life which isn’t quite playing out according to your plans? I suggest you stop planning for a minute; take the time to show gratitude to God for the areas that are working. Then you may think about ways to make the problem areas work. And when you are done thinking, stand and start doing – very important. Because it is often in the ‘doing’ that our strength fails us. And if in trying you fail, I urge that you try, try and try again. Do not bother who has written you off, never write yourself off.

Losing your eye is not the worst thing that can happen to you, losing your vision is.

Decide today that nothing shall be impossible for you. Whatever is conceivable is achievable. The greatest battles are fought in the mind, win them. And you shall soar like the eagle, because indeed, nothing is impossible if you believe.

By Chiezugolum Odilinye

Chizzy Odilinye

Chizzy Odilinye is a chemical engineer who is driven to challenge status quo and add value everywhere she goes. Her pleasures are photography, chess and cooking.

Don’t forget to share with your friends and enemies; also take a minute to tell us in the Comments what you’re thinking about this one. If you have written something which you would like our readers to enjoy from ‘The Lectern’, attach and send it in a mail titled ‘The Lectern’ to ojukwumartin@gmail.com. If you are unsure about a subject matter, still reach out and we can work up something appropriate for you. It does not have to be right or left, right or wrong…only your opinion.

Chisom

What If

pensive African woman

I was 18 when we broke up; 18 years, 11 months and 29 days old to be precise. He attacked my weight again, I remember it like it was yesterday. The first time he did it, I can’t remember what we were talking about but arthritis came up and he said I should watch my weight or something like that. Basically, “you are getting fat”. That was the beginning of the end because come on, he knew how sensitive I was on the matter.

Well this time, I decided, would be the last. If all his love did was make me feel wretched, then it was pointless loving him. So I called it off. I knew he would come back, and come back he did. Suddenly, my weight was not an issue anymore.

Anyway this story is not about him. This story is about another ‘him’; the kind of ‘him’ that marks himself.  You know…right up there. He is like that scar you alone know of, the one you often find yourself fondly rubbing your hands over. The kind of scar that makes you smile. This story is about him.

I was 18 when I met him; 18 years, 11 months old to be precise. Funny how ‘met’ as a word is now very subjective, what with social media and its array of networks. I remember it like it was yesterday. I commented on something, he replied, I replied his reply, he replied mine…and we got talking. You know how you meet a guy and unconsciously compare him with your father, and oh the joy it brings when he checks every box. If you have your dad as a benchmark – Daddy’s girl club – you’d know exactly how I felt. Because this dude checked every box and moved on to circles.

We did not date, it was not practical considering the distance. But oh my, the chemistry, it sizzled hot and fierce on both sides. I had hit jackpot and boy, did I have plans! I would graduate at 22 and go on to Lagos Law School so we can officially be together. Then NYSC, settle in Lagos and live happily ever after with four kids; three boys and a girl in a big house with…well, we could work out the other details later.

Then I turned 20. They say when you get older you have more answers. If that is true, something must be wrong with my growth. My birthday that year came with a lot of ‘what ifs’ – “what if I only get into Law School in Abuja?”, “what if I am drafted for NYSC in Sokoto?”, “what if his genes are allergic to mine?”, and “wait oh…what if he does not feel the same way?” And in all of these ‘what ifs’, there were no answers.

I have always wanted to be mature, to really live in the 21st century as a 21st century woman. Gender Equality! If you like him, tell him, et cetera. Anyway, I told him how I felt. And in response, he officially asked me out. Not the answer I was expecting but an answer nonetheless. It felt nice at first. I finally could call him “baby”…aloud – oh yes, I used to say it in my head – and I could end the calls with” I love you”. But distance, the witch that she is, refused to let it be.

I couldn’t kiss him or hold his hands; we couldn’t touch each other or “touch” each other. No dates whatsoever – forget all that Skype. There were no eye to eye declarations of love or playful tickling that ends in bed with panting and sweating and no clothes on. Yes, we connected intellectually. Yes, relationships go beyond physical needs but…I don’t know, it just was not enough for me, for us. And so we broke up.

Looking back now, I think we just missed being friends that we did not work to actually be a couple. We became just friends again and yes it was awkward – going back from “hi baby” and “I love you” to “hey buddy” and “guy, pack well”. But we got over it. We were die-hard friends!

I told you the first one came back, right? Not my ‘jackpot’ now, I mean the first ‘him’ with the weight issue. Yes, he came back and became a good boy, always on his best behavior. He was safe and secure – no sizzles, no hot and fierce whirlwind of emotions. It was not the same as with my ‘jackpot’ but it was something good. I was not lonely, needy or desperate. So I settled.

Sometimes, I imagine what my life would have been with my ‘jackpot’. “What if I had waited and kept my mouth shut?”, “what if I had met him at another time, under different circumstances?”, “what if we had held on to each other just a little longer?” Even at 32, I still ‘what if’; like I said earlier, something is wrong with the way I grow.

Now I look across the table at my ‘best behavior’, and I look at the little one we conceived on one of those rainy nights when holiness flees and everything is possible. And I smile. Yes, I lost my ‘jackpot’ and I settled with my ‘best behavior’ but this right here…this little man in the high chair, gurgling cute nothings and trailing cereal all over his cherubic face, this is my pot of gold.

By Ezinma Ukairo.

Ezinma enjoys good music, food, books and movies. She is currently in her third year at the university where she is studying law so that she can promote the beauty of womanhood, and end child marriage and world hunger. Ezinma is afraid of ever having to just ‘settle’ in a relationship, but she keeps a closed mind to all the ‘unwanted stuff’ and continues to believe in love.

I WILL VOTE

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It’s yesterday and I am going to get my PVC today.

Walk in quietly, greet the two ladies and the man in the office with a smile, “I want to get my PVC.”

“Where’s your temporary?”

I hand it over, take the only other available seat and proceed to dig into my phone.

Man shuffles through the stacks and stacks of plastic cards…once, twice. I am counting, spying from beneath lowered eyelids. When he starts a third time, I just know. Even before he says the words, I know…

“Oga, you no get card oh”

“Huh?”

“Your own no dey here,” he says.

Disappointment. First at myself because I have just realized that I expected to be told just that. And at INEC for proving my distrust well-founded.

“Okay,” I stay seated, looking with what I believe is a deadpan expression from one INEC face to the other. “So…” I try, “what’s going to happen now?”

Madam seated at the table seems surprised by my calmness; I can’t quite define the look on her face as surprise…I don’t know what it is but it makes me feel good…proud-good.

“Errr…oya bring his card.” She takes the laminated TVC from perplexed INEC guy and begins to write on an A4 sheet.

I am itching to see what it is she is writing, but I tamp down the urge. I sit still, harassing the touch-screen of my now battery-dead phone.

“Here.”

I stand, slip a lazy foot into one slip-on and take my outstretched TVC.

“Come back in three weeks for your card,” she says with a smile.

Jega postponed for six weeks so three weeks is ample time, I quickly calculate. “Okay thanks.”

I blast one grin at the trio and shuffle out in slow deliberate steps. I caught a glimpse of the A4; she’d written down the details – name, number, address, et al – from my TVC.

I know I’ll feel better coming for my PVC in three weeks than I did coming today.

Chisom

This Thing Called…Marriage

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My father was wearing his trademark brown khaki shorts, it’s roomy pockets sagging at the sides, and one of those old singlets he loved but which every other person at home hated because they looked like suspenders. The memory stands out in my head, very sharp. He stood straight with his back against the wall, his hands – the only visible sign of his anxiety – busy doing nothing in particular. My mother stood in the space between my dad and I; her wrapper was tightly cinched just below her breasts and she had rolled up the bogus sleeves of the fading Hollandis blouse past her elbows. She took up most of the room in the tiny corridor, her back to dad and her face in mine.

“I si gini?” she asked, her voice a chilling ferocious whisper. What did you say?

I swallowed the ball of bile that threatened to clog my throat. I had thought this through, I was sure that it was what I wanted, what I needed to do. So I willed my racing heart to calm down, and I said to her – to them, “Acholum inu nwanyi kita a” I want to get married now.

I was just 16 years old when this transpired between my parents and I. If you are Igbo, or Nigerian, or human, then there is a 99.5% chance that you know exactly what my parents did afterwards. In fact, you all now have different versions of the ensuing events playing over in your minds but like Nollywood, we all know how it ends – I didn’t get married. Heck, it’s been a long time since then and I am still not married.

This Thing Called Marriage is a matter that will neither lie low for us nor our generations to come. An elderly friend of mine once said that even if humans evolved into giant clumps of metal eons from now, our hills of steel would still find a way to pair off with each other in marriage. It is so important to us that a lot of the time, marriage is the most important medium with which we classify adults, second only to gender.

Think: when you first meet that dashing young auditor who just started at your office, your first thoughts are not about her state of origin, or birth stone or the trait of snoring in her family history, are they? No. You want to know if she’s married. Or when you first see that hunky form from behind, all you want is for him to propose so you can hand over the children you already had for him in advance; then he turns around…and he’s wearing a priestly collar. Bam! And it doesn’t stop at adults either – even 5-year old Kamsi goes home to tell Daddy that he will marry Miss Tayo, his kindergarten teacher.

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Marriage – it’s the all-important issue. Question though is, why?

Some say it’s a holy order anointed by the gods of society: from ‘School’ to ‘Job’ to ‘Marry’ (S-J-M). Others, like my friend Paul, disagree. He believes that it subtracts from the beauty of the union when people say such things about marriage as ‘it is next on the list’. Paul does not think of marriage as a requirement for whatever accolades are given out at the Pearl gates; he thinks of it as a privilege, one he presently is favored by.

When asked about his partner, he gets all dreamy and emotional and starts to cry tears of love says “moments together with her are moments in bliss. There really is nothing more beautiful that when two people give themselves completely to each other. When we disagree, there is this lovable tension between us; the rest of the time, it is the legendary tale of love birds. Fight or no fight, the feeling is awesome. Words really can’t explain such feelings, neither can words describe how anxious I am to consummate it in marriage”

Then you think that it is all roses and chocolatey panty hoses…until you talk to my friend, Walter. In a recent piece, he recounted how in a moment of – I like to think – sheer bravado, he updated his Blackberry dm with the message: ‘I do not believe in the institution of marriage.’ Now Walter is past 25 and talented, so, promising, and he has a day job! So of course, “the aftermath of that declaration was a series of pings and phone calls from friends and acquaintances who wanted to know if I was suffering a fever or feeling inebriated, for me to have the temerity to say such a thing”

You’re wondering “but why” and I’m saying “Wyclef” “I wondered too” Walter stated as his reasons for his disposition, a compulsive nature and his penchant for lonesomeness. He had more to say – or more rightly, ask: “Why do perennial bachelors need to explain why they don’t want to put the ring on it? Does all of humanity have to want the same kinds of things? Must my happiness and fulfillment come from wanting to spend my life with someone, just like everybody else does? Couldn’t I simply live my life, putting out good stories, paying my taxes and occasionally traveling around the world, unfettered by familial obligations or spousal guilt?”

Then I wondered “why not?!” Really, why not? With the calls for equality and fairness multiplying faster than Ebola is spreading, one would have figured that if the married do not have to explain their reasons for marriage, the unmarried should not have to explain their unmarried status either. I remember one time watching Serena Williams claim another tennis trophy on television; I turned to my buddy and said how it was a shame that such a beautiful, strong woman with so much talent was unmarried and without children. Now I think of it, and the real shame is sitting on my head.

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The problem of the human obsession with This Thing Called Marriage is that in the long run, a lot of us marry without knowing the half of what to expect. Some of us confuse wedding for marriage and enjoy the breeze of the former only to wake up in the latter as…

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Even the internet is guilty; try googling the word ‘marriage’ and you’ll find yourself deluged by a litany of rings, white gowns and pristine wedding smiles. That is so wrong. Even for those who understand that the concepts of wedding and marriage are well and truly divorced, it is no guarantee that we understand This Thing Called Marriage.

As at the time I made my intention of marriage known to my parents – yes, at 16, I wasn’t thinking about a wedding. Neither was I thinking of conforming to the societal creed of S-J-M – going by the creed anyway, I wasn’t even half ready. All I was thinking of was the sweet girl (let’s call her Bimi) I was in love with at the time and how I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

Like many of us, I was thinking of babies – how they would have my eyes, Bimi’s hair and nose, and a combo of both our lips, and how it would feel to sit in the evening breeze, with them curled up on my chest, making the cutest infant sounds.

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But I wasn’t thinking of children – the mess they can make, the noise which knows no seasons, the tantrums, the pranks, the school runs, the allergies, the grooming and the raising.

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Like many of us, I was thinking of starting small with Bimi – in a little bungalow in this polite neighborhood where the neighbors minded their business and the rain fell softly every Sunday morning; we would spend the days laughing and playing, I would let her win at cards and she would let me win at table tennis; and at nights, we would make babies.

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But I wasn’t thinking of money – the university degrees neither of us had at the time; the rent for that tiny bungalow which we could never afford without jobs; the PHCN bills, generator bills and water bills, and maintenance bills for when the roof leaked or when an errant child smashed a football against a window; hospital bills, transportation costs to wherever we needed to go, and food.

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I wasn’t thinking of Life – the food that would never come without money; the hunger that was bound to come without food; the attention I would need to pay to Bimi, and her hair and make-up – at 16, she had only just started experimenting with lipsticks; the clothes she would outgrow and the new ones she would need; the girl she would outgrow and the woman she would become; the boy I would outgrow and the man I would become.

The list is endless, and common among us, if we dared to be honest about it. We think of a lot of things, true, yet there’s a lot more we do not think of. And as if it isn’t hairy enough, reality is that a lot of the stuff we never thought of is still mysterious to even the married ones among us.

In correction therefore: The problem of the human obsession with This Thing Called Marriage is that in the long run, a lot of us marry without knowing the half of what to expect that all you can expect is to meet with the unexpected.

On this issue, I am neither for Paul nor Barnabas Walter; I am only that voice crying typing out in the wilderness, questions that you must answer for yourself: Firstly, do you ever want to be married? Why? After which you may then answer, what do you think of This Thing Called Marriage?

 

I am @ojukwu_martin on twitter