MY TRANSITION FROM A GIRL TO A WOMAN

Important lessons learnt

I was born 28 March 1997 in Lagos State of Nigeria. I was quite a timid child. Always played alone, sometimes with my siblings. I never associated with any one; I was an introvert to be frank. It wasn’t as if I didn’t like playing rough as my sisters did. They would do back-lifts, somersaults and the rest of those terrifying plays that left me afraid at the thought of trying it out. I was scared I might break my neck or back – I was indeed afraid of death itself even as a little child.

Lesson 1: Enjoy your moments while you can but be careful while at it.

I don’t quite remember everything about my childhood but there are some memories which stuck with me. I remember loving to play ‘dress up the baby’ or ‘mother’. I would dress my Barbie doll with baby clothes and diapers I had grown out of. I remember loving babies and wishing mom could give me one though I had a little sister who was two years younger than me. She wasn’t a baby anymore but just someone who shared my stuff. I remember mom’s full attention shifting from me to her. Most times mom would remain snacks I was given to eat but since my younger sister’s arrival, she was given or we had to share. I told my little self never to be jealous of her. I looked at my immediate elder sister and wondered if that was what I had done to her – take mommy’s attention away from her.

Lesson 2: Always keep pictures of moments; a picture is worth a thousand words. 
Lesson 3: Whatever is good for the goose, is also good for the gander!

As a kid, my elder brother was always telling us scary ghost stories and how they loved the dark. I remember an accident that made me afraid of the dark even up till date. My elder sister whom I was left in her care left the house, locking the door. I had woken up from my sleep (I was quite a heavy sleeper and so she didn’t expect me wake up anytime soon and decided to quickly pay a visit to her friend) and called out for her but no reply. The house seemed to swallow me. In my hallucination, big shadowy shadows were coming to grasp me and I started screaming because everywhere was dimly lit. I hated the dark and she left me! I ran towards the door and was shrieking at the top of my little voice. The ‘imagined ghosts’ seemed like they were reaching out trying to drag me into their evil world and I was shouting for my freedom. Luckily for me, a neighbor heard my cries and alerted my mom who ran from her workplace to unlock the door for her little baby. I was hot with fear and seeing my mom gave me relief. She calmed my nerves and when my elder sister arrived, mom punished her for being so careless with her little sibling. I wouldn’t say I was pampered infact mom was a total disciplinarian. My brother would also tell us how insects like cockroach could give a person leprosy and the rest of those cock and bull stories; this led to Entomophobia (fear of insects) now even as a young adult I can’t bear the sight of cockroaches. I would always scream and run out of the house when I see one. You should see me freaking out during one of these “insect attacks”.

Lesson 4: Mind what you say to kids, it can have a long lasting effect on them.

I can also call to mind my first fight ever and being a calm child it was unbelievable it happened outside the house. Mom had bought the latest lunchbox with a water-bottle; it was fanciful and I was quite proud of it. I even showed it off to my classmates and they were all happy. The distance from house to school was not far but to get to my school, one had to cross a wooden bridge because the area was riverine. On my way back from school that day, I stopped to catch little ‘turtles’ as we would call them not that I know what they are called now. I had totally forgotten the water-bottle was hung across my neck and I bent over the wooden bridge to catch the little turtle but in the process my water bottle fell into the water and disappeared right before my eyes and I was helpless and finished. Mom would definitely kill or punish me. These thoughts occupied my mind as I walked home. I had always been considered an abderian by other children. There was a particular little boy, probably a year older than I was who was always bullying but little did he or I know that day was to make the end of his bullying. He started calling me names as usual and being an area dominated by children, it didn’t take long for children to gather telling him “Beat her! Beat her!” and he foolishly encouraged by their words and not wanting to look like a fool, pushed me. I fell hard to the ground.

Mom didn’t like us fighting and worst of all in the public. I got up and brushed myself, he pushed me once again. This time the children were chanting “Give her sand to chop! Give her sand to chop!” and I knew according to what I’ve seen and heard, giving a person sand to eat during these fights meant the sand-eater had been defeated and angered already by the loss of my precious water-bottle, I pushed him hard as he was approaching to give me sand.

I sat on him and gave him punches I never knew my little hands could muster. I did beat him to a pulp and gave him the sand to eat. The children were surprised; they had never seen me fight, let alone beat a boy older than I was. They all kept mute and was speechless. After giving him the beating of his life, I picked up my schoolbag and continued my journey home. When I got home, I hid my uniform in the laundry and pretended like nothing happened.

Later that evening, I had gone to meet mom at her workplace like I did after my return from school. While on my homework, I looked up to see the boy’s mother dragging her pulp-beaten son with her approaching my mom. The boy’s mother told my mom I fought and beat her son. My mom was surprised, she knew I had never fought and to confirm her worst fears she called me. She asked me if I had beaten the boy and I said yes and she asked me why. I narrated everything that had happened to her. The woman said “So you get the mouth to talk se you beat my pikin (child) abi (right)?” and to avoid further trouble, my mom told the woman to take her son home and address him. She went further to tell the woman of how she didn’t raise troublesome kids. The woman who had known my mom as a no-nonsense and great woman, took her cross of a son and left. My mom punished me and after serving punishment of kneeling down, she called me and told me she didn’t punish me because the boy looked for my trouble but because I had fought with him which stood against all she had taught me. I was really angry but I was too small to understand but as I grew older, her reasons dawned on me.

Lesson 5: Always call a spade a spade no matter what is involved. Let your child trust your judgment and at the same time, be strict. An Igbo adage says “When you beat a child when one hand, use the other hand to bring the child closer”

FROM LAST TO FIRST

When I little, I was usually carried to school, crying of course. The only thing that could change my mind to attend nursery classes was biscuits or sweets. Just buy them and I won’t cry anymore no matter how I hated those boring lessons and teachers who loved flogging us anytime we made noises in the classroom. What really pissed me off was that even though you were not among those who were disturbing the class, you will still get flogged. So you see my reason for hating school was justified. I didn’t do well in classes or school projects and I didn’t care. I graduated from Nursery to Primary where competitors and competitions increased, not that I still cared anyways but I began to care. In primary school, I was faced with being a loner, I started understanding there were several disadvantages to being a loner. Nobody gave a damn about you, nobody talked to you, played with you or shared your stuff. And to crown it all, I was always the last at the end of the term. Mom was not happy with my grades and this gave me concerns. It was time for class captain to be chosen and a boy was chosen as the Class Captain and a girl who sat at the front row, Assistant. The reason for their position I noticed was because they were the best in the class. I felt envious somehow and I started wondering why I was not even trying to come first or third in the class but always the last. A God-sent teacher as if spoken to by God above that I needed directions at that point in my life, called me to her office few days to our Common Entrance Examinations which would determine whether or not you were proceeding to Secondary School. What she told me left me wondering and pondering for days. She told me I was a brilliant child and that I was just too afraid to be the best. She told me she had been watching me all through my years in primary school and that it was time to be the best. She asked me a question I would never forget in my life; a question that made me put people who were stuck in that same shoe as I was in the right path. She asked “Do the best pupils in your class have two heads?” and I replied “No”. It wasn’t until I thought deeply about these words I began to realize how sluggish I had been in terms of my education. It was an eye-opener and I studied hard in preparations for the Common Entrance Examinations and after the results were out I was the overall best in our locality and the entire school and that was how I became the ‘girl who wowed the entire school with her transformed grades”. The school gave me a scholarship to further my secondary education in the same school and that was how I knew I had the brains and brawns to be great.

Lesson 6: Learn to encourage even the worst of failures because the last might end up being the first. Never look down on anybody no matter where you find them. An adage says “Be careful how you treat people on your way to the top, because on your way crashing down, they may help you back up”

In secondary school, the competition became tougher because I was obviously not the only brilliant one. But I used a skill I didn’t know how I acquired to surpass them all. I used to read ahead of the scheme of work and didn’t depend only on what the teacher had taught, I would make my own research. I became a wonder to both the teachers and my classmates. I was nicknamed ‘Old woman” in secondary school because my teachers believed I was smarter than my age. My secondary school teachers taught like we were in the University – no notes on the board just dictation, this helped improve my communication and English skills. I became good with words and was able to spell words just by hearing its pronunciations. I read a lot of books and was always with a little book to jot down new words that built my vocabulary. I burnt the midnight oil. When everybody was asleep, I was reading and I discovered I understood a lot when I read in the night. These habits contributed to my distinction in tests that were given to us without prior informing us.

Favour, during her secondary school days

I was able to turn obstacles around to my favour no matter what they were. I always came first at the end of the term; an unbeatable position which I held with caution throughout my secondary school days. My classmates were happy anytime I didn’t come to school for weeks because it meant the second best might just get to be the first best. There was an incident where our eldest sister lost her husband a few months after having her first child and I couldn’t go to school because I had to stay at home to sympathize with her. The funeral was planned and carried out and by this time, I had missed school for about two weeks. They had written tests already. When I requested to write my own tests knowing it would drop my grades for that term, the teacher acquiesced and announced to the class that the tests were to be conducted for me. You should see how all of them vehemently disagreed adding that since I had missed it I had missed it. Angry and perceiving nothing but jealousy, I told the teacher I wasn’t writing the test anymore but that he should grade me nothing for the tests.

I was unhappy with my classmates and was deep in thought of what to do next. I decided within myself I needed to pass the examination 100% that was the only way to get my position. I read and read and read until the examination day. On the set day, I remember arriving school finding them reading. I sat and bowed my head in prayer and one of them walked up to me and asked “Why are you not reading?” and I replied “I have read”. I asked God for retentive memory and to take away examination fever and nervousness. After the examinations, the younger students approached me informing and asking me “You would not believe who took first position” and out of curiosity I asked “Who is it?” They told me I was the one and thinking they were joking, because my maths I know was bad because I didn’t even finish and did not write the test at all. I shooed them away classifying the news as untrue and impossible. Yes I wanted to be the best but I wasn’t expecting the first but maybe second or third position. Our report cards were given to us and when my rival opened hers she smiled and asked me what was mine. Our positions were graded in percentages and after comparing our percentages I was unbelievably the first. How in God’s name did I become the first without writing continuous assessments tests? Only God can answer that question. To crown it all, my first position from Junior Secondary School to Senior Secondary School was never taken away from me.

My elder sister had died when giving birth to a bouncing boy. She had had two children already – a girl and a boy making them three and her husband not knowing anything about raising a baby, left him in the care of his grandmother, my mom. The baby was lovely and he was left in my mom’s care including the other two. My mom being stressed up each day from work and needing her sleep in the nights informed me I was going to be the one feeding the baby in the night and oh my word was he a cry baby? I accepted this responsibility knowing it was going to hinder my night reading and did it with good faith. I shifted to afternoon reading but it took time before I adjusted to it.

When we went for her burial, I stayed away from school for some weeks and when I resumed I heard they had elected Prefects from my class. I smiled and said that was a good thing, afterall we were the most senior students in the school. My classmates complained to me about our classmate, the Head Girl – Yomade. They said she had turned against them since she became the Head Girl and she keeps insulting them even in the presence of the younger students. I was surprised they all came to complain to me. How had the rejected stone become the Chief Cornerstone? Who come I had to be the one to save them from themselves and Yomade? But they didn’t like me? Being bold, I met with Yomade and told her what I had heard and she told me they were not being exemplary to other students. I explained the terms to the two opposing parties and resolved their differences.

I was in class one day when a younger student told me the Principal had sent for me. I went to her Office and saw the teachers in her Office, I feared I had gotten into deep shit and rummaged my heart for possible crimes I might have unknowingly committed. My Principal was quite the disciplinarian; she took no shit and never gave a damn whether your parents were the President themselves. I entered her Office and greeted everyone present. Right there and then she declared Yomade was no longer the Head Girl but that I was. I was shocked because I knew with great responsibility comes great expectations. I wasn’t ready! I was too shy. Being the Head Girl meant a lot; it meant representing the school outside and inside, it meant upholding the name of this great alma mata, it meant being punished for the wrongs of the younger students, it meant shouting and ordering people to do the right things in the school, it meant being close to the teachers as you have to submit everyone’s assignment for marking, it meant leading the whole school, it meant leading my classmates and it felt too bad I was leading in terms of position already and now this? How would Yomade take this news that the position she took pride in was snatched away from her and yet by me? This was pretty damn hard. 
I walked to the class with heavy heart to break the news to them. And when I did, everybody was happy and clapping except Yomade. She told me if I was joking I should better stop it and I told her I couldn’t, wouldn’t dare to joke with this kind of matter. She walked past me and marched to the Principal’s Office to confirm the news and my other classmates waited to hear me say “Yomade come back, I was only joking” but to their surprise I only took my seat. Yomade came back from the Office with a swollen face, crying. I couldn’t console her I knew she would scream at me to let her be so I sat still. But my classmates were obviously happy that position was given to me. Yomade didn’t speak to me until after about a week and everything was over as quickly as it had begun including the beefing. That was how I became the unexpected Head Girl of the School.

I started noticing a pattern of how I would do things for the first time in a big way. I started trusting more in myself, started believing more in my abilities and strengths. I started identifying my strengths and weaknesses and started dealing with them. I had managed to deal with the weakness of being the last now I was the first. It was time to deal with another type of weakness –public speaking.

Our School was invited for HIV/AIDS seminar which was sponsored by a popular TV station. I didn’t realize what I had gotten myself into until it was too late. Several tests were carried out on us and we were taught how to take care of ourselves at puberty. We were giving pamphlets and fliers concerning teenagers and puberty. It was time for the Head Boys and Girls of the various Schools present to tell the world how they felt about the seminar. I was already too scared seeing better schools than mine and girls who were much more beautiful than I was present, all speaking with phonetic into the camera, I sank deep into my skin for three main reasons:

  • One, I hadn’t done this kind of thing before. I have never been on national TV and that too for the first time, unprepared.
  • Two, there were beautiful girls and handsome boys present and they all had great intonations. What if I was to stutter or bring out saliva? They would surely make fun of me. And I was way too ugly, chubby and with big lips.
  • Three, my principal and classmates’ eyes were cast on me giving me that look of “Hey you can see how well they’re speaking, don’t bring disgrace to us”.

When the Head Girl of my school was requested to come speak to the camera, I sat down like I wasn’t the Head Girl anymore and my classmates had to call my name before I got up and shyly walked to the Camera. I was telling myself “Don’t fret, they won’t eat you, just do what you always do best and get the heck out”. I asked myself again what did I always do best except coming first in the class. All the same I got to the camera and I told myself to be myself and after answering series of questions I discovered I had greater intonations than any other School Girl present. I became free and when I walked back to my seat, I glanced at my Principal in time to meet her smiling at me. Well, hmmm! That meant I nailed it. My school mates were clapping as I took my seat.

Lesson 7: Never accept to be a failure. Failing to plan means planning to fail. 
Lesson 8: Teach children to be responsible at a young age. 
Lesson 9: If you are able to prove your self worth with a little duty, more will be entrusted to you. To whom much is given, much is expected. 
Lesson 10: Always trust in yourself no matter what people may say. BELIEVE AND YOU’LL RECEIVE.

It was September and the holidays were here again. I was happy not because I went for holidays; which by the way I never went for. Yeah. Surprised? This girl didn’t do holidays, she worked around the clock. I was happy because I get to focus more on family issues and self development.

I decided to help mom out in the business and though I knew close to nothing about handling a computer, I was passionate about learning it. That was all that mattered to me! I spent my holidays in the family business learning to type. I was an ardent listener as well as a good student.

Before months, I became known as what could be called “Renowned Typist”. Some of you probably said “What? Is that all?” Then I challenge you to a typing competition. My speed and accuracy increased with time. My mom was proud of me; not only because I had learned typing and knew a lot about computers but because she had a brainy child. She even wanted me to be a nurse though she didn’t impose her desires on me, she just let me “flow with the wind”. Whatever wind was that.

After resumption, I got to practice more on my new found love – computers in the computer laboratory. I discovered another crush of mine, one I never knew was inherent in me; one I never knew was genetically empowered – ART. Let’s face it, I was always good drawing up stuff from the board during biology but I just thought I could draw it because, I don’t know … whatever! Christmas was fast approaching so there was need to decorate our classroom that was when that little angel inside me tweaked and appeared. I let my inner artist out and took on drawing challenge, something I had never done. I told them I was going to draw stuff to decorate our classroom and when I brought these stuff to school, everybody wanted to see it; including the teachers and students. But I was staring at these paintings and wondering what was special about them. I became “Everyone’s Artist”. Thanks to my lovely teachers who encouraged me, I did more when it came to arts.

Lesson 11: “Seest thou a man diligent in his works, he shall seat before king and not more men”. Whatever your hands find to do, do it well.

I have always been a hypochondriac. I always find myself concerned about my health. I have a headache, I’m so scared. If I’m down with malaria, I would freak out. I thought I would die when I had ruptured appendicitis and my belly was bisected and stitched up like it was old rags sewn together. I had become afraid of death itself after my mom passed away. This is one fear I still face -

If I am to write my life story, even an Encyclopedia wouldn’t suffice. Therefore in summary, I have learnt from mom how not to be depressed with challenges and problems but to face it head on. Probably if I hadn’t not learnt this, I would have been a drug addict or talk about the numerous heart breaks, I would have been a total sucker. My heart feels like nothing could hurt it – no situation could bring me down. Nobody could talk me down. No not one!

I have learnt to always be optimistic, to seek that good in everybody. There’s always a good side to every beast, you just have to search hard enough to find it, hidden in that thick and dark void, waiting for a voice of truth, of faith, or of assurance to make it spring back to life. My mom could speak to a person that’s being classified a “no-go area”.

Alcoholism or drug abuse does not solve problems, dear people. It still lingers and would always remain so unless you face it head on. You have to take the bulls by the horn. Let go of the pains, depression, anger, hatred, every shit you take in and package in one side of your heart that have made you blind to reasoning. 
I believe I’m invincible. I’m infallible. I’m undaunted. It’s not what I’ve learned to tell myself but it’s what I’ve learnt to believe in. I believe in myself. I believe in you. I believe in the world.