There is a kind of peace that flows when you grow fully and beautifully. I am finding that peace for myself with each passing day.

It’s in the morning sun, the one that peaks through my window right before 6 am to let me know a new day has begun.

It’s in the steps I take to my quiet space for me, where I nestle in between sheets and warm fuzzy blankets to do all that matters for me.

It with morning runs, with the love of my life, my Zobam, on days when our legs feel ready to run miles we wish to never end.

It’s in the children that come into my room everyone, with words like Good morning that allow me to know that everything good will come our way.

It’s in the chaos and hustle of a busy day, one filled with toothbrushes that curve like the letter U for my boys, decisions around showers or bath and which bathroom, my own or theirs.

Its in the light breakfast we all eat every morning. Nothing heavy just eggs with all sorts of fruits, black berries, blue berries, raspberries, strawberries and anything berries will do.

It’s in the drive somewhere, every morning, with my kids somewhere. School, summer camp, Drace Park and the endless walks and runs around green beds of grass with kids 10 and below.

It’s in the quiet time I steal for myself, every morning, right before work, just for me, to do and be me.

It’s for the times at the store during the way, endless strolls along aisles, full of things we don’t need.

It’s in the afternoon runs with my kids, pick up and drops offs somewhere all in the name of raising children that are critical about life.

It’s in the times we spend together, most evenings making dinner, that fills our heart and home with joy.

It’s in the times I get to spend with them again, movie nights, reading books, anything that little kids love these days.

Beautiful art by Iamrenike on instagram.

My peace may flow around them, as it should, when they bring so much joy and heaven in a world full of chaos.

I am loving all the ways I am growing these days. Images like this from Renike remind me of why it’s important to spend time listing all that makes your grow fully and beautifully.

I wrote this in three minutes because above all, words make me full and beautiful.

I remember. I have been saying this word lately. As if all memories are fading fast. They seem to be, considering how time seems to run along these days fast. So I remember, once when I took a class in college. It was a sociology class and the focus was on slow food movement or this idea of eating food slowly. Not the focus on processed food or fast food that many of us have unfortunately been accustomed too, but food from the earth, a movement focused on growing what you eat. So I remember when as a little girl, my grandmother would give us garden eggs from her garden to eat. My dad and my grandmother planted some along with Aloe Vera and Hibsucus flowers at the front of our house and yes, he would use them for juice and drinks and anything else that made his heart well. Dad was diabetic so he relied heavily on food from the earth. Our favorite being these garden eggs or Afufa or Anyara as we would call them in our Igbo language. I remember them big too, pearly white and with green stripes. There was a joy, not easily described whenever your eyes or your mouth sees and tastes these garden eggs.

Garden eggs

That joy came to my doorstep today. My husband’s cousin mailed some garden eggs to our home all the way from North Carolina. She didn’t have to considering we just spent the weekend with her in Georgia but she did and the joy I feel for them and her and not easily described, but I’ll try. I’ll try to remember this joy, remember garden eggs, remember being a witness to moments with them, with my dad and grandma, long gone too. I remember this collective memory you revived for me and thank you to our dear cousin. Few things bring joy like garden eggs. I hope you find them for yourselves these days.

Pour me juice mom, please pour some juice in my cup. This was the sentence that jolted me back to writing. I was in the middle of sorting groceries that I just bought. Exhausted and still trying to figure what to eat for dinner. My five year old son had other things on his mind. They included pouring a strawberry lemonade juice in his strawberry lined cup that he made for himself. I wondered out loud to myself that I didn’t even know when I asked him this question: why did you line the strawberry on your cup. To relax, said my son. That’s how I relax. Where did you learn that from, I asked again. From a cartoon, and this is how I want to relax, he said and walked away with his strawberry line cup with strawberry lemonade juice. We should all be relaxing like my five year old. Sure a strawberry lined cup will do. But beyond the cup, a little me time is critical. I looked at him in amazement. He is only five and prioritizes himself first. He is only five and understands what makes him relaxed. He is only five and seeks enjoyment things. That was my text to Daddy right after our exchange. A lesson I learned from my five year old. Life na je je, as we would say in Pidgin English. We should make time to relax and do all the things we love and want to do. It doesn’t have to be strawberry lined juice on a cup. But more so, that thing that keeps you going. I have been on a slump with writing. This is probably the longest I have not written in awhile. Of course death has a way of keep thoughts and word bay. Death stole my thunder and words would not do. I am grateful for my son and the lesson he taught me that I didn’t know I need. Life na je je. We should all make time to relax. I’m am off to relaxing.

Our ancestors are our first audience. Christell Roach reminded me of this yesterday. They have stories long forgotten and must be told by us their legacy that remain. So here is my attempt with that.

I have tried to understand my creation story. Tried to know on whose shoulders I stand. My father’s side has plenty empty holes. Of his father, his mothers, and all the ancestors that came before him. The only thing I am left with is his surname, Iwelunmor , an Igbo name which means ‘anger never reaches my soul.’ So from him, I am never supposed to be angry. And if I ever get to the point where anger hijacks my thoughts, my words, my actions, then I must stop short still with letting it reach my soul. That is the extent of my father’s side that I hold on to too. It gives me hope.

My mother’s side, has holes too. Mainly with her father, but especially with her mother. I am always drawn to every single thread of information I glean about her life. For starters, she was an orphan with 2 siblings, a brother and a sister. I am unclear of when her parents died, except she was young and was subsequently raised by her uncle. Then we were told she married my grandfather, a chief, early and without the support of his people. So their marriage was never fully recognized. Their marriage also never bore any children in the early days which gave my grandfather and to the joy of his people, the right to marry more women. He did. Not just one, but two. They would go on and give him numerous children and my grandmother, watched all of this and even joined in raising those children. That she still persisted to have her own is the creation story I long to complete for myself.

I know she persisted as we are the evidence of her persistence. I would not even be here writing this at this moment if she gave up. So nestled within my DNA, long before I would become, is the insistence to persist. That creation story had gotten me through many periods of self-doubt and despair. I exist literally because my grandmother persisted. So who am I not to do the same. But even with this story, there is still an aspect of her life that I still want to know, the how and why? The how because it took her 20 years to give birth to my mother and why because 20 years is a long time to never give up. The how too because this was a time of no artificial insemination. There were no hospitals and, well, a water goddess has a hand in my creation story. So I exist because my grandmother met a water goddess who gave her some potions that enabled her to give birth to my mother. I stand before you, in full bloom, birthed by the hands of a water goddess.

My grandmother!

So now I am obsessed with this story. I long to bear witness to this power of persistence and Christell Roach and her lecture on Storytelling as a tradition on witness, is my guide. Our light festival did more than I could ever imagine yesterday. It got me up today thinking in essence about child birth in a time where women were lucky to have any form of hospital or maternal care. That my creation story is tied to maternal, child health is my muse now with public health storytelling that all I can say is stay tuned. I am in the business of storytelling now and I will do like Outspoken Bean suggested and begin anywhere. Welcome to the fire that our first LIGHT festival has lit within me and stay tuned for next year. We are coming with more fire.

We are coming with FIRE for public health!

Pregnant, to be full of meaning, revealing, loaded, heavy, charged, abundant, hopeful, fruitful, productive, all of this and more defined the day I had today. From my dearest Ritamae to Bastille, Black Pharaoh at the Lourve to UNESCO, Onyinye to #27 rue Claude Tiller, the experience I had with Belle, took me to the core of my roots in Paris. I will never ever forget today. You have made me truly pregnant or full for tomorrow. (These words do not do enough justice to this day by the way. More to come soon).

At my first job after PhD!

I have taken plenty short trips in life. But few are as unforgettable as the past 4 days in Lagos. Imagine arriving to blue skies. No soon after we arrived, even after all the chaos we encountered at the airport, I arrived to skies perfect and blue.

I entered Lagos too with clarity. Day after day, I saw myself opening up to the wonders of this place. Opening up to the young people nurturing its greatest hope. We came for them. Came to witness all they could offer for themselves and those like them. We called it PrEP4Youth. They called it life changing. And one by one I saw as young people came up with ideas of how to care for each other. Ideas for girls without hope and boys out of hope. I saw how they told stories of themselves, told stories of their peers and dreamed of ways they could all live in a land where the skies remained perfect and blue. I kept saying nothing about you without you. They kept showing nothing for them without them. For where they come from, their is no need to ignore them, no need to divide them into those that receive or complete, no need to act as if they cannot lead things for themselves. The past four days left moments of joy, from teams exceptional and finesse, from youths thinking outside the box, in red shirts, or green shirts, braided hair, or faded cuts, Godswill, or rising up again. I saw all this and more with fullness for tomorrow. Nothing about young people without young people. Nothing about people without people. This is the change they want.

If you want to decolonize anything, start by stepping out of the way. Then proceed with this mantra, ‘it is not about you.’ Nothing for people, communities, health systems, anyone, without them. Some may write papers on this, some may even have stories to tell. I saw first hand in Lagos, the need to step out of the way, so people themselves tell their own stories. This is why I firmly believe and will continue to do my best to ensure that we are all storytellers. No degree or peer-reviewed journals required. Just come as you are. I am on a mission to build platforms for storytellers in health who dare to dream.

I see things differently with each passing day. I know things differently too. Where one thing stands, another thing will stand right beside it. That was Achebe’s thing. I get that. Also that the storyteller is the eagle’s feather. It’s all he spoke about. I am also seeing that our focus on certain things like publications as settings and backdrops of life, impact, call it what you want, eliminates the connections we make with each other, our community. I entered scientific writing at my own peril. I have know it’s headache for too long that I pity the next generation stuck in its ways. I see it traps them in it ways. Makes a mockery of them into thinking they own its ways. But academia will always be academia, always prepared to choke you and spit you out if you do not know who you are. I do. I have always know that I am my grandmother’s child, a fierce persister when all things fail. It’s in my DNA to never give up. It’s how I was literally formed. So if you want to know why I do this work, don’t waste time trying to guess. Come close and I may tell you. I also may not because I feel sorry for you. Feel sorry that all you see is what you think you see. If only you know the legions guiding my feet, then you would know that he alone knows the plans and of course they are good. Perhaps change will come and nothing will distort all we know about writing for the public. Nothing will also stand in the way of how we connect with them too. We could also pick our pens and write. Why not, when we are all storytellers. And this business I am in now, demands that we all do, not just the experts, everyone whether 5 years old or 85 years old. Everyone is an expert storyteller of their own health. You owe it to humanity to connect with your stories.

Everything and everyone have stories to tell

I imagine

undoing,

ending,

the woman

killing

memories

of girlhood,

in me,

unafraid,

believing,

in nothing,

just loosening,

trouble,

rustling

pain,

embracing,

love,

all buried

within,

like snow,

falling

rain,

liberating

my mind

Loving

this day,

I begin,

opening,

to you,

only you,

see

only you

can

begin this

I imagine,

undoing.

Memories of my girlhood.

The bits and pieces of my heart are slowly coming together through words. The prolific writer, bell hooks is my muse and guide through this process of undoing as well as so many other writers. But Ms. hooks speaks to my heart. I have been reading a lot about bell hooks of late. I began dancing in her words more when the pandemic began. She was the perfect salve for healing in a time of uncertainty. I buried myself deeply into everything she wrote. Her death took it to another level and well, not a day goes by these days that I am not pouring into anything she has ever written. She was a rare breed. My sister, my mother, my confidant, my friend, all in my head of course. She is the writer I long and dream to become. One unafraid to simply write. With no fear of sanctions or anything. I began reading about why she wrote her memoir “Bone Black,” which mostly focused on memories of her childhood. One thing I remember was her struggle to even begin. She once shared that when she made the decision to write about her journey to becoming a writer, there were no words.

Secrecy and silence for example, initially blocked her ability to write. To write about one’s life, to leave a trace of it, was frightening for her. Writing for her though became something to hold on to, to keep close. Writing ultimately helped her see the world clearly. These days, for me, writing has become a way of looking and seeing, a way to of undoing all that keeps holding me back from telling the stories I want to tell. I too have stared and continue to stare at blank screens, holding back for fear of breaking whatever bond, I have for keeping my thoughts hidden. Becoming bell hooks, choosing that named helped her kill Gloria Jean Watkins, her real name, and real self. To Ms. hooks, telling one’s story, even the process of telling, is tied to a longing to recover the past in such a way that one experiences both a sense of reunion and release. This longing for release compelled writing but concurrently fostered reunion, one that enabled her to write about her life in a way that allowed her to find herself. Like a living memory writing about the past can shape and inform the present, can foster self-growth and change in a practical way. One that I am truly looking forward to now that I am slowly delve into my undoing.

In a 1987 interview with Chris Searle, Chinua Achebe shared why it took him nearly 15 years before he wrote his next novel ‘Anthills of the Savannah.’ It’s is one of my favorite of all his books for his critical stance on the significance of the story. The story, according to Achebe, is ‘our escort through life without which we are doomed. It’s the story that remains to convey all our gains, all our failures, all we hold dear, even all we condemn. The story is the only way we keep going from generation to another, almost like a transfer of genes, to the next generation,’ Achebe noted, a transfer far more important than anything else. I always come back to interview as a guide for what I do professionally. I may call it different things, papers, grants, implementation science, global health, but really at the core of what I do, there is a story that keeps brewing, one focused on the people I work with, one totally committed to helping them tell their stories. It’s their stories that will get us to a healing, healthful generation, their stories will transform and help to convey what is important, what is of value, and what must be preserved and yes Chinua Achebe is leading me all the way.

Towards the end of the interview Chinua Achebe talked about the dangers ahead for those committed to whatever stories they are telling to their generations. We can all be antiracists for example with public health, that’s my hope, using tools that begin to center the public as they find the words to tell their stories, but until then, Chinua Achebe noted that we will struggle. He stated that for those committed to the story, there are dangers on the way, mostly because of our human condition, one where our lives are always soaked in a struggle. We may never know whether what we are doing will bear fruit and even if we fail, hopefully those that come after us, may learn from our struggles. That is the great hope and my keep for today turned into verse (all inspired by this interview) with Achebe reminding all of us interested in health equity work to know:

There are still dangers in the way. Still a lot of work ahead before we all achieve equity, before we all become antiracists. Until then, we shall always struggle for our people, struggle for their dreams, struggle for their light, struggle for their plight, struggle with our might, struggle at night, struggle during the day, struggle for a say, struggle for pay, struggle while we play.

We struggle for justice, struggle to end injustice. Struggle for voices, that struggle to be heard. We struggle to achieve, struggle for what we believe, struggle to see, struggle to simply be, struggle while we flee, struggle with their knees, struggle with our hands held up, struggle with our heads held up, struggle to rise up, struggle to even standup.

Some of us struggle to cope, struggle for hope, struggle out of scope, struggle with their grope.

We struggle with racism, struggle with sexism, struggle with ageism, struggle with classism, struggle with ableism. We struggle for optimism, struggle against their narcissism, struggle with their pessimism, struggle for our activism, struggle with their symbolism.

We struggle for our lives, struggle for ourselves, struggle for all our gains, struggle when it rains, struggle in pain, struggle in vain. Still we struggle to breathe, struggle to eat, struggle in heat, struggle till beat, struggle for seat, struggle in defeat.

We struggle to survive, struggle to thrive, struggle for our values, struggle for importance, struggle for what we preserve, struggle even if we fail, struggle even as we struggle.

We struggle for our past, struggle for today, struggle for tomorrow, struggle for our history, struggle for our story.