Monday, August 03, 2009

The Girl Whisperer
as published by the Sunday Guardian
of 2nd August 2009

Whispering Lessons

The Whisperer is in the city of London as he writes this. A city meant to be in the middle of summer but still feeling very cold to a body that has been warmed over several decades by the African sun. He sits quietly, looking out of glass-plated windows at blood-red buses carrying people to varying destinations, people meditating on their own thoughts and he remembers some of the lessons life has taught him.

One of these is that the best revenge you can ever mete out is the revenge of living well. For everyone who has ever abandoned you in a relationship, who has ever looked at you and told you, you would never make the cut, that you would never be a success; it is your determination to prove them wrong that should be your driving ambition. It should not be you praying night after night that they stand under a crumbling skyscraper, that a speeding car runs them over or that they accidentally swallow ground glass. The best payback is the one that improves you so much that both the doubter and the rest of the world are awe-struck when they finally see you come up for air.

Another lesson goes hand in hand with this. You must always remember no one is compelled to believe in you or your dreams and aspirations. There is no one who owes you that obligation, not your mother or brother or best friend. The primary believer must be you. If you do not believe in yourself, no else can, no matter how much they pay lip service to your cause. “There will be miracles if you believe”. The power of consistency and single-minded pursuit of a cause can never be over-stated. Take the Whisperer’s word for it as he once took the word of Professor Adeoye Lambo, the renowned psychiatrist, in a quiet conversation at a dinner table years ago. Lambo said, “A cutlass has only one sharp side”. Keep cutting.

You will also learn that success has many parents but failure is forever an orphan. There are many who lay claim to having lent a hand to the supposed, perceived success of the Whisperer but this man can count and he knows those who truly believed. Guard your heart, guard your strength, and keep true friends. Nwabundo Onyeabo, I’m never letting you go.

The Whisperer has learnt that not all that is gold glitters. In searching for potential in prospective partners, the flashy are not always the best options. Often we do not look below the surface, as we are swept away by the glamour, the glitz, the trappings and the tinsel, but there are deeper things and those are the things that will last when the surface trimmings are gone. And believe the Whisperer when he says the surface trimmings will go, some sooner than later.

A lesson that must never be forgotten is that patience is a virtue and it will serve you when other things have failed. Often however, we are not prepared to wait. In a world of instant gratification, we expect results at the click of a button. One day, your ship will berth in the harbour, carrying all (or who) you want if only you can resist the urge to be hasty. I have seen things I longed for; fall in place many years after, even though not at the time I desperately sought it, and I have chosen to believe that the eventual timing is the right one. Beware of desperate steps; the darkest night lived will turn to day.

The Whisperer has learnt not to believe in stereotypes; for angels come in many forms and not all of them are pretty but they are angels all the same. The most-sound advice he ever got in academics came from a classmate on a dusty classroom corridor when he was thirteen; and help has come from unlikely sources like “area-boys” when he was stranded and at their mercy. Do not judge a book by its cover or a potential suitor by pedigree or family history. Open the book to read and then if it does not catch your attention, throw it away. Note that I did not say to take the book home when you can steal a quick glance through its pages by a busy roadside. The world is full of surprises and the book’s contents might surprise you. Everyone has a story.

I have learnt that the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, that for some reason, many humans are wired to believe what lies unattainable just across the iron-gate is much better than what they have in their possession. We long for the good-looking person who goes past the door every morning, thinking of how life would be a much better place if only that beautiful person existed in it. The only fault with our calculations is that we underestimate the baggage other people carry. There are a number of variables in every relationship; the mind-set of the people involved, their personal quirks… Sometimes we do not realise we are in possession of the real deal, that we hold gold in our hands as we strive for “fools gold” in other places, material that bears a semblance to the real thing but is of much less value.

I have learnt that happiness and laughter know no colour or language barriers, that you can find happiness in the company of those who are young at heart and contentment with those who are truly content. I have learnt that truly peaceful people are priceless and a person who is like “still waters” can be calming to the soul. I have learnt that a person dies on top first and the day you lose your childhood is the day you lose everything.

I have learnt you must be able to speak the language of children and have the strength to look Presidents in the face.

I have learnt you must love yourself first before you can truly love others and though others might have the ability to make you happy, there is no one who can give you joy. It is your duty to find that wellspring inside yourself.

Theatre-ing@Terra- 3rd Annual Season of Wole Soyinka- June and July 2009.

The Girl Whisperer
as published by the Sunday Guardian
of July 26, 2009

If I were a boy

I first came across the poignant Beyonce Knowles song, “If I were a boy” one day as I sat surfing cable television channels. A good looking woman, Beyonce herself, was playing the part of a police officer who did her work well but spent time with the other officers doing what men generally do after hours; drinking, clubbing, and just “kicking it” as men have an inclination to. All this while, she had a doting boyfriend/partner at home who would watch the clock and wait for her to come home. It was a reversal of roles and gave me a lot of food for thought as the singer must have intended. Then only a few days ago, I sat talking with the Alli-Hakeem sisters, Toyin and Anike and one of them said, “If I were a boy”, and she elaborated on the things she would do and get away with, expressing pain that runs deep in women, pain inflicted by the things men do and never have to answer for.

In some ways, men are like the officers’ corps, policemen if you wish, who stand up for each other, whose ranks are closed and who will never testify against a “brother-officer” even at their own detriment. It is a rare man who tells a woman, “I saw your man with so-and-so”, or “I saw him at so-and so”. For some reason, the “esprit de corps” code among men also conjures a code of silence. Many men take relationships for granted the way the generality of women could never. Beyonce sang, “If I were a boy even just for a day, I’d roll out of bed in the morning, and throw on what I wanted and go drink beer with the guys”. As an aside, that might be the singular advantage men have over women, the ability to wear clothes without thinking if the colours suit our eyes, or whether our eye-shadow is the wrong shade of blue or whether our arms are growing bigger and we cannot get away with wearing sleeveless tops anymore. But back to our song and Beyonce. “If I were a boy, I would turn off my phone; tell everyone it’s broken so they would think I was sleeping alone.” At this point, many of the men reading should take deep breaths and think of the variations of this lie they have told. Some will say, “But the women do it too”. The Whisperer agrees but submits that this is a fallacious argument. According to philosophers,“And you too” does not work very well when you are the one accused of wrong-doing. Today, the Whisperer looks only at the men and the way they take their women for granted.

We turn off our phones and claim there is no network in a world that permits us to do whatever we want to do as long as it is not “hurting anyone else”. When the men sit to reflect, they must remember that the breaking of a human heart is probably more painful than a physical accident.

“I’d put myself first and make the rules as I go, because I know she’d be faithful, waiting for me to come home”. The Whisperer is not only in this procession of those who make the rules as they go; he is also carrying a banner. This is said without pride and shame-facedly. Men often make up the rules of engagement as they move along, much like the way children create new rules to suit themselves in games they have not mastered fully. What applied in a previous relationship will not apply in a new one. A rule set for the female partner, will not be applicable to the male. We can take long sultry looks at other females as we drive along but a glance from our woman that lasts for more than one second on a passing male is tantamount to fornication. She has sinned in her heart. The man is confident always that the woman at home is exactly where he wants her to be. She will not be going anywhere and no matter how long the pursuit took, she has been conquered and he can look to newer horizons. But do not forget that it is a strange world we live in where there are never any guaranteed fairy-tale endings and it is possible that like in the words of Mr. Ray Parker, “by the time poor Jack returned up the hill, somebody else had been loving Jill.”

Music is the closest thing we have to a time machine, able to teleport you to exact places and times when you first heard the song. With songs, the situation is created again, the same players, the entire scenario. I can never hear the Oleta Adams song, “Get here if you can” without feeling pain and Gabrielle’s “Dreams” does the same thing for me.

Madonna’s haunting “La Isla Bonita” is a victory song for this Whisperer, one that always reminds me of a day I took a major step in the right direction, and All 4 One’s ”I swear” will remind me of my father till my dying days. The reason is simple. I heard him singing the song in accompaniment one day as it played on the radio and I was brought into reality forcibly, that my father was a man first, before being a father.

The talented Ms. Knowles sang, “You don’t care how it hurts until you lose the one you wanted because you’re taking her for granted” and I agree. And the Whisperer gives advice to all men wherever they might be, and in whatever generation they might come from, even if they find this article seventy-five years from now in some dusty archive and they sit to read from yellowing, brittle pages. As they ponder on how love must have been in generations gone by as they go about their business in a world that may bear no resemblance to this one that we know; all men should remember one thing, times and seasons may change but men and women will always be. There are many pluses in being a man but it is not a sign of manliness to drag a woman in the mud behind you.

“If I were a boy...” Walk a mile in your woman’s shoes.

India. Early June 2009.