A womb tells the beginning of your story. Life forgets it’s continuity. Yet, if your stories, instead of theirs, your life, instead of their own. All your gains, instead of defeat. Your pain too, instead of deceit. If your lillies bloomed in any way. Your roses only registered thorns. Your days are as days. Your nights too, like nights.

If only you spoke of all the ways the rain fell on your head. A clear view of your flood. Those that deflated or those that manifested into all the sum of you. If you ever disappeared, even if for a minute, in your thoughts or in reality, all the moments, distant or near, that are simultaneous with your years. If there were no colors in your life, no dash of pink in Spring, or yellow in the summer, if only black and blue, then the telling of that will do. If there were hours unaccounted for. Labor unpaid. Tears unknown, joy undiscovered, desires unfulfilled, even delight unspeakable, only insight may salvage all the residue that remains.

So then tell all the arcs you know. Those that bent all the way to the ground, those that lost the ground or those that flapped up to foreground. Tell all the moments flowers made you smile. Dahlia’s or daffodils will do. Remember the rain, the depths of the fall or floods. Remember too ending hours of your existence, the earth beneath your feet, ideas that persisted, or encounters that made you rise, all before your sun sets.

Picture from Homemade Love by bell hooks.

When the hours of your existence have been accounted for, what will remain? I woke with this need to ask myself this question. Who will tell my story for me, just the way I would want it to be told? We die, that may be the meaning of our lives, said Toni Morrison. But we do language and that maybe the measure of our lives. So when your time is up, how would your life be measured? With the things you did and as told by those behind, or with your own words and as told by you.

I want my words to do the talking. I want it to talk back even when I’m gone. I want it to speak of all the ways I lived, the flowers I kissed, or the storms that persisted. Either way, our memories are all we have and we can keep them now, even as we breathe.

So to those wondering whether it’s worth keeping, these moments of our living, know that your stories are worth it. Keep it.

The plans for this year was light. I planned to walk through flames, to risk the fires that burn, even in the cold, just so I get to the forest of light within. That was the new year plan. In one week, I have been informed by the year that this one will be a rollercoaster. Sit tight and hang on. If last year tried to consume you, this year is coming, bright and burning. And it’s only the 8th day. I opened my door this morning. Let the cold air seep in. I was reminded in that instant to breathe in. Cool air. Breathe in. Even as things burn. Breathe out. As smoke rises. Keep breathing. The year will come for you. Try to burn you too. Cold air will seep in. You will feel like you are sinking. Floors will give away. Yet, breathe in. Push them all back. Close the door. Breathe out. You have noticed the air. Noticed the smoke, and the sinking floors. But still, turn around and smile. They will not understand this air you breathe in.

The most sublime lessons are those learned and relearned. The post above was first written on the 8th of January, 2022. Now, a year later, the message feels like it was written today. I am keeping this year as a reminder to myself to keep breathing again and again. 2022 was indeed a rollercoaster. I still don’t expect folks to understand the air I breathe in 2023. Still, I intend to keep breathing.

Happy New Year.

Something about this moment,

This New Year again,

Feels like a renewal

A rebirth

A time for reimagination

Restoration

Release

Rest

Remeberance

Revival

Resolve

Revelations

And Revaluations.

Only, this time, I’m in a village,

And the pleasing sounds of rare birds and cocks crowing, goats bleating alongside more bird sounds chorusing through tall palm trees, keeps me ready for the boundless possibilities of this New Year.

I am at the gate of new realities for another new year, inhaling too, the fragrance of a well-deserved rest, and a lingering happy silence, but this time, I am still.

Will this gentle breeze I feel this moment, will these sounds endlessly start my day, will the earth remain as red as it is or the palm trees rustle with the breeze? Soon, I will leave these place but may all the things I feel for it, all the rest and release I received from this place, be with me as a New Year begins again.

I have been away. I desperately need it. I had to cut everything off. I also had no choice. I was in a remote village and no amount of wifi would work. We had three from 3 different companies and my most spoken word this past week was no reception. I let time and the moment go on as expected. It was the restoration my soul needed that I really didn’t fully know I needed. It gave me more clarity, gave me peace, gave me perspective and now bring on 2023.

If I make changes or move in another direction, know that’s it’s this thing called grace. It’s my revelation for 2023. How I also choose to reevaluate my life too. I have nothing but grace, and with it, I have everything I need. This grace is my word and mood for the year. I pray it leads me and you all the way in 2023.

I saw a soft radiant sunset last evening. We were driving through an estate whose name when translated from Igbo to English means ‘blessings are great.’ Everything about out evening, from the setting sun, to our time at the estate, was full of grace, full of blessings. No wonder an Igbo man retires home the last few days of a year. The sun, the estate and all its hidden meanings are all I need as we begin to close out 2022.

I knew there would be stares. I expected it. I knew many would never get his ways or ask questions about his tears. I didn’t realize they would stare, or laugh or drive us away. I also didn’t realize we would be shunned or pitied too as if to live with him is a deadly disease. I didn’t realize it would also come from those I considered family, those meant to protect and shield us from the questioning stares of strangers. That I would feel regret for bringing is all I feel. Questions keep playing in my head. What did I think would happen? How did I not know people would stare or shun us? Did I expect everyone to know and understand autism? What happens next too?

At first, all I felt was anger. Hatred too. I hated how they looked at us or shunned us. Hated that they would never get to know the bright boy we all know because his tears was deafening. Hated that I would now have to shield him more from the world and their ways. Hated that they see us from a lens of pity.

Truth is I have zero tolerance for people and their pitying ways. I’m able to live and thrive with what they see as chaos. He makes me a better being, with life, work and everything. I would never trade him for anything. He is what God brought our way anyways.

To the older gentleman that took care of us at the airport, the one who saw past his ways, his fears, the noise, the weariness, thank you. I know our paths may never cross, but I’m writing this because you were the first to show us humanity’s best in Nigeria with living and traveling with an autistic son. Your kindness and tenderness to us is not lost on me. Even the little walk you took with him helped to restore my faith in people. To the rest, cross me off your contact list. I’m petty like that. I really have no use for you in my life. I don’t care if you are still family. I can act and will win an Oscar where you are. I really have no need and desire to ever see or hear from you. You can save your pity for your existence.

How I feel these days with being a parent of a child with autism in Nigeria!

The heart of soccer never changes. There will always be winner and losers. Just as the sun rises and sets. Some will rise and shine. While others will fall deep into abyss of regret only time can heal. I watched todays World Cup finale with glee. For once, the heart seemed to change. No clear winner or looser until the end. We all watched with glee and awe wondering how it will end. And finally it did. Argentina and Messi go home with a cup but France and Mbappe were equally deserving, if not winners themselves. They gave their everything just as Argentina did and in the end, the heart of soccer never changed. There were indeed winners and losers. Only though, in the end, even the losers were winners in the eyes of so many. They truly were.

Palm trees line greyed walls. Some still baring their fronds. Some bare. There were gates with barbed wires. Black, grey and brown gates with a dash of green and white. Most of the walls too were grey. The skies too grey. It was as if walls and skies gathered together for a grey purpose. We used to dream of this estate. Dream of life among dolphins. Only though our dreams were better.

I drove into Dolphin Estate yesterday. I was running errands and one of my stops was the estate. At first I was excited about visiting it. It was built or fully formalized during my childhood years in Nigeria and I distinctively remembered wishing my parents had a home in the estate. When we drove in, both shock and awe greeted me. Shock, because my dreams of this place were so much better than reality. Awe because I was living my dreams of walking or driving through this estate. I also immediately felt troubled for the Nigerian condition. Nothing ever seems to last. That and repairs or maintenance seem to be like distant cousins. I walked through the estate of my dreams yesterday. Only that my dreams were much better. Now I’m left wondering what can dreams do, when reality seems grey.

I fell deep into the unknown this past week. Everything was out of place. Even my face broke out in ways unknown.

It was as if life was full of chaos and change, all spiraling out of control.

I tried to relax, take things in stride but a life relaxed seemed like a luxury my strides couldn’t afford.

Not that I didn’t want it, but apprehension and anxiety seemed to keep me in a flight mode. So I figured I’ll learn something new about all I was experiencing, including those I wished I could fly away from.

Death has a funny was of reminding you about the gift of each day. The gift and voice of people too. Those you take for granted and those you ought to cherish much more.

So we moved in stride. Still anxious and apprehensive about our days, but appreciating all they bring.

The chaos, the change, life and death, all still completely out of our control but consoled that one day, we will meet again. Even boldly smite death’s threatening wave.

Till then, “Rest In Peace Uncle Raymond.”

My uncle Ray!

Imagination is crucial for life. I’m learning that every day. Imagination, that space between dreaming and thinking, between believing and daring, is a vital source of life. The prolific author, Achebe said if we starve it or pollute it, the quality of our life is depressed or soiled. The sterling writer, hooks noted that it is one of the most powerful modes of resistance that oppressed and exploited folks can use to provide a survival life like. She went on to note that when we are free to let our minds roam…imaginations will provide the creative energy that will lead us to new thought and more engaging ways of knowing. For all these reasons, I say keep your imaginations.

The imagination needed for this balloons on a bike as gleaned from a friends page is an inspiration for me.

I have always loved Langston Hughes poem, ‘Dreams.’ They personify my mood these days. My story is one of dreams. I shared that during a presentation yesterday at NYU. I have this presentation where I go from dreams to ambition to dips and rising and back to dreams. It’s my take on the programmatic focus of my research.

How I sustain my work also known as dreaming, being ambitious, experiencing dips and rising through this field called global health.

I live to sustain evidence-based effective research in limited resource settings. It’s an audacious dream, many people describe as vexing or least understood outcome of research. I beg to differ. It isn’t vexing to me. Never has been. I have written multiple grants on it. They failed. The field was not ready then. They still may not be, I said during my presentation yesterday. But I can dream and when I do, I am reminded of the words of Langston Hughes:

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

While we are at it, today I did the unthinkable. I have always dreamed of being a children picture book author, so I pitched a story, inspired by dreams and gazing out to a night full of brilliant, radiant stars. It’s the annual picture book pitch fest on Twitter and I figured I have nothing to lose. I also finished the first completed draft of the most brutal grant I have every written today. Grants, stories, one thing for sure, I am holding on to my dreams.

A son found his mother, slumped on the floor one night, stiff, unresponsive. He picked her up, thinking she slipped and fell, maybe from a heat stroke, a stressful day, and laid her gently on her bed. Not before he put a cool towel on her forehead and kissed her cheeks as he bade her good night.

The next morning, the son went to check on his mom. He found her just as he laid her, stiff, unresponsive, only this time, life became more urgent. Not his, but for a mother who lived and slumped, as if life never meant anything, as if all it seeks is to leave you stiff, and unresponsive too.

Stroke by stroke, each hour is a gift. Piercing through life, each moment fragile. Now son buries a mother, he first saw stiff, unresponsive. A mother departs, not as she came or lived, despite giving life to sons and daughters who still live.

I am wise enough to see that this mother could be anyone who forgets first to live. So with each passing day, I beg mothers anywhere, do what makes you smile. Cherish sunsets and long walks alone. Be friends with friends who make life glorious till the last call on a Friday evening. Laugh through ice creams and daffodils. Kiss foreheads of little ones and big ones you love. Live so life never finds you stiff and unresponsive.

Lucille Clifton always had the best images of black mothers. This is one of hers I love.

Ambition to me is tied to what Ngugi wa Thiongo once described as a ‘quest for relevance.’ It is a search for a liberating perspective within which to see ourselves clearly in relationship to ourselves and to the other selves in the universe. He would go on to suggest that this question depends on the choice of material and the attitude to or interrogation of that material. How we see things, even with our own eyes, is very much dependent on where we stand in relationship to it. To him, any strong desire to achieve or do something is inherently laced with a language of struggle. And this struggle starts even from the beginning.

Sustaining global health, becoming ambitious with whatever you choose to do in this field is all about taking a leap into the land of struggle. It’s that struggle that ultimately makes you begin wherever you are, do whatever you can, to become part of the generation crazy enough to think they can change the world. I am very ambitious with global health, naming it, sharing it, so that I not only see myself clearly but work with like minded people to make the global more relevant than ever, changing how we all see it too, one story at a time. And yes, it is full of struggles, full of thinking that I can really change the world with fully-funded projects that last. How I am working to mobilize people to embrace these crazy ideas with global health is at the heart of my upcoming talk on Tuesday April 26th. It’s my hope that if you join us, you may learn ways to sustain your crazy ideas with global health, even in the midst of storms.