So I met a girl…

I was recently the host on a TV competition show for people aged 8 – 13 and there, I met Zara.

I remember the first time I saw her. She is pretty with her Fulani long limbs, nose and beautiful eyes, but it wasn’t any of that; what struck me was the defiance, almost anger, that I sensed in this 13-year old. She always wore sneakers and leggings/jeans with her hijab; while discussing with her peers, she would sit thug-mode – you know, that pose where you hunch over with your elbows perched on your knees, legs spread firmly and widely apart – and gesticulate like a rapper. Occasionally she’d laugh, displaying white happy teeth, and only in these rare moments did the child in her shine through. Almost as soon as such a moment happened however, Zara would tighten her lips, brush a thumb over her nose and resume thugging.

One time I was feeling lucky, I told her to smile, because didn’t she see the cameras were on her? Brothers and sisters in solidarity, without so much as a glance my way or even the twitch of a muscle, Zara replied, “I don’t like smiling”. End of matter. Ozugo. As my friend Nike would say, Opari! lol.

Zara is smart; she would answer her questions correctly while playing with the edges of her hijab in a manner that drawled, are we done here? And when she ran into a tight spot, when she didn’t know the right answer, she would give up instantly. Hands still stuck in hijab, she would shift her weight from one spindly leg to the other, and amidst a train of hisses (yes, into the microphone!), she’d set her face in a scowl so visibly irritated that you’d be forced to sniff your armpits – like, is it me? Am I stinking? Then she’d throw an answer at you – because she expects it’s the wrong answer and wants to be left the hell alone – but she’d get it right and qualify for the next round. And then would she permit herself a tiny smile.

This happened over and over, and it irked me quite a bit. I wanted to conk her head and say, in my father’s voice, “Mai fren, dunn be sillay!” At the same time, I wanted to hug her tight and say, “Princess, can’t you see how great you are?!”

I saw through Zara. I saw this smart girl who could win, who wanted to win, but who was so afraid to try because if she didn’t win eventually, it’d hurt too much to hear someone gloat over it. So it was safer to feign disinterest and only try halfheartedly – get the logic? Me neither. 🙂

I didn’t get the logic, but I knew that the weight on this child’s shoulders shouldn’t be borne by even a full-grown adult. I knew that her former attitude (because that’s in the past now, Zara, isn’t it?) would only lead to a dark place in life, a dank bottomless pit in which regardless of how much money, accolades or relationships she garnered, joy would perpetually evade her. I knew that it wouldn’t matter the sad story she came from, life, self-acclaimed Themis that she is, would deal with her justly. And because I knew all these, I knew that I had to teach her a lesson, she and the rest of the children.

So, I got to work. Every time I saw her at camp, I talked to her, validated her; every time I saw a hijab bowed over, I told her to chin up then I smiled at her; every time she stumbled during the competition, I re-validated her. You’ve come this far, Zara, why give up now? Give it your best shot, so that win or lose, you won already. If you give up now, don’t even bother waiting for the results because yours got called already – fail. Be strong, you can do this, you’re beautiful, you’re good, you’re smart…DJ Khaled would’ve been proud of me.

In the end, Zara came in second place nationwide. She won some money, a medal and a trophy for her school. She says she also won a mentor and “an uncle who got my back” (I denied the mentor part, I’m not that old biko). Most importantly though, she won herself confidence and a lifelong supply of precious tenacity.

Now here’s the juice. Zara told me that but for her mother, she wouldn’t even be in school. Having married at 13 herself with zero education, her mother was determined that her daughter would live different. But it was just her; Father Zara and everyone else in Zara’s family and immediate community thought it was a waste of time having my young friend in school. Her mother constantly fought, negotiated, schemed and scraped, to keep her child in school. And so, coming for the competition, Zara wanted to show everybody that she was worth it. She wanted to prove to her father and her people that girls should be allowed to go to school.

“Well, look at you now,” I told her as we sat gisting afterwards, “you did all of that. Killed it!”

She beamed. I asked if she had plans to attend the university and her nods reassured me. She said she would become a medical doctor, an actor and a TV host, and then she would build a big school in her community where girls can go for free.

“I wish my mother was here,” Zara sighed, “I told her not to come because I was afraid I’d fail her.”

“It’s okay, now you know better. You’ll never again let fear rob you of a potentially priceless moment, like this one.” I consoled her. “As for your mother, look in the mirror…she is here.”

I meant it.

When the winners lined up for pictures, Zara held her trophy up the highest, her smile the brightest…so bright I couldn’t help mine.

It was the proudest in your face moment I have ever seen.

 

P.S: Zara is a fictitious name used here to protect my friend. Haba, if iss you nko, will you use her real name?

Chisom

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THIS THING CALLED SUCCESS (2)

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The line dragged lazily forward at snail pace, inch by inch. Up in the sky, the sun burned a loud orange, looking every inch the vengeful lover intent on seeing the earth below suffer. And suffer it did, because people hid beneath shades of umbrellas, a few sparsely-branched trees, buildings and even books. The students on the line had nowhere to hide though; the lecturer’s office was one of those buildings that were an after-thought – a lone cuboid banished to the fringes of the university premises.

The students lined up in twos – over two hundred of them – the shorter ones lobbying to partner with the taller ones for want of sun shades; their books and fans fanned the hot air aggressively, in vain. Many of them would rather have been elsewhere, but it was result day for IMB 203 – the only 4-unit course for 200level students of the department of Industrial Microbiology in the university. On such days, nobody went elsewhere but towards the scores.

They entered the office as they were queued, in twos; each duo walked into the office and up to the lecturer’s table. One after the other, they supplied their names. The lecturer checked on the large sheet of paper splayed out before him and relayed the grade to the student. They didn’t argue, there was no room for protests or corrections, not for another month at least. They smiled and profusely thanked him for nothing – if the grades were good, or they mumbled curses which sounded like thanks and shuffled out of the room with fallen faces, if the grades were terrible.

On this day, the latter was in highest demand. The results were really bad, the kind of result turnout students called ‘EFCC’ because there was an abundance of F’s, E’s, D’s and C’s with either sprinkles of or entirely no B’s or A’s. It was quite the unpleasant surprise because the course had been the easiest – by everybody’s standards – for the semester.

Bola, Ifeoma, Florence and Abdul had already gone in and only Bola had made a B–65. The others had all made C’s and they were four of the class’ five brainiest students – some cartoon freak had once referred to them as ‘The Fantastic Five’ and tacky as it was, it stuck albeit in a more refined format as F-5.

A student would hurry up to join the line, and quickly ask around, “How far? E make sense bah?”

He would be greeted with downed faces and hisses, “EFCC oh”.

“Haba, how nah?!” he would exclaim. Then quickly ask, “F-5 nko?”

“Omo, na every every oh” would come the reply. “All-man hammer better EFCC”.

“Na serious wa oh!” Then he would shake his head, cross his hands and join in the mute chorus of pounding hearts praying for narrow escapes.

This was the unspoken script acted out by every student that joined up. For Kizito, that had been half an hour ago. Now he was at the front of the line, and sympathy hung heavy in the air behind him. Everybody was sure that Kizito would hammer an F.

If his rugged Rasta-esque appearance didn’t do it for you, his slurred Ajegunle drawl intimated you of how unserious a student Kizito was. He was so unserious that many a lecturer had begged him to quit school. But Kizito always smiled his crooked smile and waved the concerns away; he wasn’t called ‘Kizikaza’ for nothing, he was quick to remind them. He was a nice guy, always armed with a joke or prank to put smiles on people’s faces which endeared him to most of his colleagues.

As he entered the office paired with Onyii, a female course-mate, the others behind mourned Kizikaza’s 4-unit failure. Seconds ticked by very quickly and Onyii exited the office. Then Kizito followed.

“ÒPÉ OH! ÒPÉ OH!! ÒPÉ OH!!!” he screamed. In one fluid motion so fast it left everyone gasping, he scooped the petite Onyii up and twirled her around. Then just as fast, he plopped her down, ran circles around an imaginary object in the sand, did a back-flip and pumped his fist in the air. His face was split in a grin that sadly, made his already rugged face assume an even scarier mien.

But the joy in him was evident as he yelled even more excitedly, “Chae! Mò tí bad gaan! I baaaaaad!” He did a quick run from the front of the queue to the back, giving high fives to everyone as he passed them on the line. People were perplexed to say the least but they found themselves – involuntarily – smiling and accepting his high-fives.

“Oluwa tó bad!” Kizikaza sang. Then he knelt and raised his two index fingers up in the air in a move so akin to a soccer goal celebration. Then he stood and executed another back flip.

“Diarisgodooooooo!” he yelled one last time and ran off.

For the first few seconds after Kizito had run off, nobody said anything as all eyes trailed his rapidly receding figure. Mouths stood agape, expressions perplexed and half-amused. Then as one, all eyes turned to Onyii who stood to the side, visibly flustered from the twirl.

“Wetin Kizikaza get?” everybody wanted to know. What was his score?

The look in Onyii’s eyes was even more confused than those mirrored in the eyes fixed on her.

“E-40” she answered, “he got E-40”


 

This Thing Called Success means different things to different people. But a lot of the time, the definitions revolve around amassed resources and met goals. In the story above, IMB 203 was the sort of course we called ‘moi-moi’ back in school – the simple ones whose lectures you only attended to catch up on old gist and whose examinations you wrote without any need for ‘cooperative union’ seating arrangements.

So when the results came out, many of the students expected A’s with maybe a few sprinkles of B’s – success. But it wasn’t to be because for some reason, the grades were terrible, nowhere near as good as the expectations had been – failure. So when it was confirmed that the grades were indeed EFCC, everybody admitted failure. Everybody except Kizito.

As far as Kizikaza was concerned, his IMB 203 was a success. It didn’t matter that he had sailed past an outright F by a needle’s width, nor did it bother him that others were grossly disappointed with their B’s, C’s and D’s. Kizito passed. That was all that mattered – success!

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Consequently, I have had cause to believe that This Thing Called Success is in fact more relative than anything else. In This Thing Called Success(1), we examined cases where success was summarized as an executive position, a good pay-package and comfort…but does that define success for everyone? What is the generally acceptable definition of success? Does one even exist?

I sought my answers from people who saw and walked this earth long before my generation did. And I got some interesting answers…

“I learned…that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get” – W.P. Kinsella

“If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut” – Albert Einstein

Then the ones which in my opinion, hit home…

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” – Maya Angelou

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”  – Albert Einstein

And then…

“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.” – Bessie Anderson Stanley

Having pondered on these, I am persuaded to posit that:

#1. Success is indeed relative.

#2. It is up to everyone to define for oneself what success amounts to.

#3. For the sake of living a truly successful life, one’s definition of success had better be less and less material.

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You now, reader, tell me, do you agree? What does success mean to you? Ponder on it, chew on it, ‘kizikaza’ on it if you must…only remember to share with us in the comments section, your view of This Thing Called Success.

 

The Kizikaza story was inspired by a friend and brother in success, Seun Abejide.

I am @ojukwu_martin on twitter