We were told we were obstacles. Something like impossible. For how are we possible, when all we seem are never clear like a dream. So we lived like a dream. Like a difficult stream with no beams for barricades, only palisades as blockades and surrounded with stockades that leave you with no accolades. Confined now to roadblocks that clog, obstacles that block, and stop, we became more like stumbling blocks. We suffered through more flops, that seem like shocks, every time we saw an opening out of luck.

See every time some path seemed to open from nowhere, every time it seemed all our stumbling blocks were finally going somewhere, all the loads, finally unloading, we were met with more obstructions, ditches with no instructions on how to snag out of complications turned limitations, and impediments, turned frustrations. No instructions too on how to dig out of enclosures that seemed more like restrictions, delays that seemed like hindrances or setbacks for life constantly dealing with a barrier.

Now, it may seem like this is a book of barriers. Maybe, but we write to share that all we faced, all the hurdles, that seemed like turtles in a chortle, every single manacle, and shackle, all the restraints that seemed like a life full of deterrent, none of it was a detriment in the end. For we are warriors. Something like warrior women. And this, this is a book of warriors.

I watched The Woman King. Nothing else to say except what came out of my spirit above and well, go watch it.

Ezi-okwu. Truth. We were told we are light. Something like a book of light, with pages that emit rays, with words that stream, gleam and beam, like the sun. Truth. We were told we are like the sun. Our glow, like our flicker shines lucid, with a spark, a scintilla, that flashes, and sets us a blaze, like a flame or fire. Ezi-Okwu. We were told we are like fire. Forever serene, truly luciferous, and built like a lighting blot. We never lack luster. Truth. We always shimmer, glisten and gloss everything till our brightness emits brilliance. Ezi-okwu. We were told we emit brilliance. In full splendor, our sheen, like our sparkle, dazzle, in a luminous reflection, the kind that kindles, illuminates, brightens, air, days, so we stay glorious as we radiate this radiant splendid life we choose to clarify and make clear in every single way, about how we are like light. A book of light. Ezi-okwu. Truth.

Something about this light, Lucille, something about all the rays it emits, both short and long, something about its glimmer, it’s glow, it’s everlasting shine, has me wishing for days when truth is life. Ezi-okwu bu ndu. You are truth, Lucille. You are.

Dedicated the above to Lucille Clifton.

I started my day early. I set out with a goal too. I was supposed to finish the approach section of a new grant we are working on. Yes, it’s the only thing I do these days. Anyways, I was done with aims 1 and heading to aims 2 when I did the unthinkable, I didn’t hit save as I closed the document by accident. I literally felt like pulling my head once I figured out my mistake. Crying was not enough. I felt so helpless that I literally went to my bed and just wailed out loud to myself. I was overwhelmed and tired as this grant is so painful to write and I am in that uncomfortable space of deciding whether it is worth it or not. It feels like it isn’t these days and it scares me. I never want to stop writing grants. I hate that I can write and make costly mistakes like this. When I summoned courage to get back to my laptop, I looked up and say all the rays emitting from my little light fixture in my room. They were speaking to me in ways that made me feel, almost instantly, that everything would be worth it in the end. The mistakes are still painful, but when you are a book of light, even these mistakes have lessons the emit rays so brilliant. I am leaning on light.

My son tried to carry an orange box bigger than himself today. I tried to help. He shoved my hands away, choosing to carry it alone. Until he couldn’t. He stopped trying, opting instead to sit right next to the box, fully content. Looking at him, I realized that I have been observing him wrongly. He didn’t need my help because he was capable of doing the work all by himself. His way. Most children are. I smiled. He smiled back, content with his box on the floor next to him. His way. I am reminded of writers whose words become sharp, all because they wrote their way. I see them in my little boy and his orange box

My son! Love him

Words are living. I am leaning on this every day. Their hold can be strong. Forcing you to dig deeper than the surface of what they seem. I am making sense of words these days. Making sense of all the ways they burn like fire, then blow like wind, touching everything until you become one with the wind or fire and anything else that words choose to become when you let them flow on their own. These days they are flowing and I am living more like fire. Their hold on me is as strong as fire. Their breathe too, as gentle as the wind at times and as wild as fire at other times. I keep coming back to fire, keep referring back to winds, as if all the words I know are as fierce or as tender as they seem. Still I know this to be the power of words. Nothing is as it seems. And anyone who dwells in these words like flies, may end up in their grave.

The love I have for words is my motivation these days.

So long as the road experiences a journey, so long as that journey is rough or smooth, so long as it takes turns up or down, and goes through paths windy and narrow, those lighted and dark, with frogs leaping or children stomping, so long as every single thing happens on the road, darkness, light, leaping, stomping, windy, narrow, up, down, rough , smooth, but constant motion, not even a single moss will ever grow on it.

We say this tiny frog leaping along the way and it was motivation enough, with my children stomping in excitement, to keep leaping forward.

I am learning the significance of a journey. Learning too that all I do these days are part of the journey, smooth or as rough as it maybe. Whether with tiny frogs leaping or children stomping, keep moving. We had a guest speaker in class today. She reminded us, me in particular that everything is a journey. Keep moving no matter how tough the journey maybe. The fact that you are on the road, you are walking still, means you are alert and the road is in motion. You will get to your destination one day and nothing will surprise you then. These days I am learning too that so long as I dwell in the one who began this journey, then nothing, nothing, would be against me. I am dwelling in him too, knowing that nothing would ever be able to separate me from his love, so long as I remain on the road he already set for me.

Beyond the tears, beyond the sighs, beyond the frustrations born out of nothing, something, everything, there is a child, waiting to be seen, hoping to be heard, wishing to be held. See them, hear them, hold them. Something must yield. Your hope, your flesh, your future, dwells too in this child. Dwell in them. We are in a space where we know how the roots hold the tree. We keep holding too.

With the Archbishop of St. Louis!

We spent our Sunday in somber reflection on what it means to follow Jesus like St. Matthews the tax collector. The Archbishop of St Louis paid our small church a visit and we learnt first hand that following Jesus was for everyone, tax collectors, mothers, all of us fighting never ending battles of wanting to pull your hair. Sunday’s are tough in our home. The in between a great weekend and back to school mode can be tough. But I still choose to tough it out, knowing these are my roots and they must dwell in me.

My son repeats himself always. He is on the spectrum so we expect this. But these days I have been working to channel all his repetition into something useful. Enter writing letters. Today he woke up saying the same things he wanted yesterday, his toys for Christmas. I told him to take a piece of paper and write a letter to me indicating what he wants. He did. Here is his letter. We still have work to do, but I think I am on to something. Keep writing letters, even from your children to you.

P.s. he is also reading to his baby brother. His first time doing so. This one brought a huge smile to heart.

What I am carrying is mighty? I am carrying dreams that are bigger than me. I am learning that everyday. It also takes time. Nothing happens by accident. Even the good news I shared yesterday, first has to go through failure for success to become ours. I am learning to be patient with time. The me of before, the one that rushed into grant writing early, was so anxious and ready to get any that I just wrote and wrote and failed and failed. It should never be that way. Didn’t I have any mentors, a dear friend of mine once asked? Why did you write all those grants and kept failing but still kept writing?

Honestly, I was eager to learn? I knew that this business of writing grants was full of rejections. My very first grant was initially rejected before it became successful. So I know too that to get one, you have to fail. What I didn’t know was that I would fail so many times and yes I had mentors? I just thought I was on to something and if only reviewers believed in me like I believed in myself, than that something would be the greatest work ever. It has taken years and learning past failure to know that truly, what works is a vision, a story.

Ideas are plenty. I get them everyday. I have many that failed. What is necessary is your will to endure all that comes with the ideas and may your endurance be bigger than you imagine. Yesterday’s success was a difficult grant to write. We initially wanted to keep it simple, but our local leader pushed and pushed us to go big or go home. I initially refused and then bought into his vision reluctantly. It’s his field and I thought all I was doing was helping him visualize how far we would take it.

What I didn’t know at that time, was that cervical cancer had buried its roots in our home. We initially submitted the first version of the grant June 4th 2021. I got the news of my sister in-law’s illness, something we thought was just minor on June 5th. That was the day I knew what our leader had been warning us about all these years. He always said cervical cancer was a problem. I said ok, but didn’t know the extent. But on June 5th, my world changed. I moved from anger to fury to denial and anger, wishing and praying that this was a bad dream. We tried everything. In the end, everything we did was not enough.

So I continued to do what I knew how to do best, write grants so no woman would die from cervical cancer again. As we begin, this new research, I am leaving this year to remind myself to never forget to dream and dream big. None of this is possible without a dream, and a story to propel you though what may be a tough writing experience. Those grants I failed, they were always well written, but lacked vision and ways to become impactful. I am learning that everyday. The need to move past failures to spaces where dreams soar. Those bigger than you. It’s my keep for today.

May your dreams propel you to new heights.

I said I wasn’t going to cry. Said I would be strong as we still have miles to go. I have typed and retyped what I would say when a day like today arrives and honestly I stand in awe. To think that the news of our victory came on 9-22-22 keeps me numb. Thank you Angie for fighting in heaven for this one. Thank you for letting it be known that death does not have to have the final say. To be in this work is rough. Tough too. There has been days and nights in which all is given and nothing is received in return. But then I remember Chinua Achebe’s word, his reminder that until the lions have their own historians, the story of the hunt will only glorify hunter. So then I set out to be a lion. Set out because your death was overpowering. Your living too. But your death continues to haunt me.

I have been haunted by how it all transpired, haunted by the fact that we had no idea until it was too late. Years of figuring out the public’s health meant that I couldn’t even use all my knowledge to save my loved one’s life. So I have been trying to figure out how we lost our way. When did it become all about health and not enough about the public. I first discovered what was killing you when it was too late. You were not able to walk. Not able to talk in the last days and nights of your life. We couldn’t even get you on the plane to travel from Jos to Lagos as your condition was to dire to take chances. We still did. Living, we figured, was far better than dying. Everyone pitched in where they could. Bathed you and fed you. Prayed over you and anointed you when the end seemed so close. We all kept wondering and asking why and how and why and how only to end up with a grave that now belongs to us. We have been having a very hard time adjusting to your death. An equally hard time with the absence of your being. Your voice still echoes in my minds. All the things you called me, like Osodieme. We still vividly recall mama screaming and crying as she watched her only daughter die while she lived. Still hear her questions and wondering if we had any idea that you were dying. We did and we tried everything was all we could mutter. Afraid she would die too, we kept all this from her until the last week you both had together. Here was a woman who brought you to this world. Now she watched you die, wishing she was the one dying and not you.

These are all the things that have played in our head and minds since cervical cancer came to our door. You have taken us back to ourselves, back to all we know, just so we stand fierce and ready to do the battle necessary. I expect us to struggle. We are lions and the history of the hunt has never been in our favor. But we will tell our story one day, share of all the ways we struggled and all the ways we triumphed, just so no other woman dies from cervical cancer. We have kept moments of silence, done due diligence to your sunset, just so your sunrise will remain sterling again. This is the start of your sunrise and from today, may your story, like you, be fierce and ferocious as we bear witness to voices silenced, yet triumphant, those prepared to live and begin again, beyond their cervix, beyond the thing that tried to silence them forever. It failed. We are living proof. Beyond our fury, for girls and women by girls and women are all the ways your light shines past your death. We stand in awe.

He drew a rainbow. A rainbow for me. He drew it up to show that I was a good mom. A loving one too. A rainbow, for a mom, good and loving. This is the recent image from a boy who just a month ago drew himself laying beside a pool of blood. I stood next to him in the image, crying. His teacher thought it was disturbing and we almost ended his art before it began. He is only five. These days he still draws. Not blood or me crying. But all the things he loves. Mom, rainbows and all things blue, yellow and green. No reds, except on rainbows for mom. If you let them be, their minds will do all the dreaming, with images turning from blood to rainbows to love. Blood to rainbows. Crying to loving. Life moves. The connections you will make are varied. So, keep breathing, keep being limitless, little black boy, keep letting your mind roam free, through this jungle to light.

A rainbow for mom by my son!

When a woman dies, and her cervix is to blame, catapulting her from the prime of her life, to her grave, what remains as a witness to her life, her stories, her cervix, her silenced voice? Who will resuscitate a life cut down by cervix?

Still sitting here contemplating why women die from cervical cancer? Image from Lucille Clifton.

As I watch my life story slowly change, with cervical cancer elimination, our next attempt at putting the public first in public health, so many questions remain. I look forward to all the struggles and hope ahead on this journey.

Nobody gave her anything. Not the one she loved. Not the ones that loved her. Not even the ones she confided in, all things great, all things small. And so she sailed through life. Not giving. Not laying it all down. Not showing how she endured and endured until her last breath when her cervix got the final world. It did.