I wonder on days like today, how we have made you feel through the years. Did we make you smile? Did we keep you hopeful? Or where we full of stress, full of denials for a freedom you truly derserve. I see that with each passing day, we made your eyes stay wide open. Sure there were stressful days, never ending tears and calls for attention from all of us for your superhero ways. Your name Chizoba, means to save after all. So we looked up to you to save us from ourselves, save us from days when the skies hurt, and nights when the stars blinds. We called on you to save us when we didn’t know how, like when all the noises in our head, called us out by name, during moments that were suppose to linger. We are human after all and with you we have seen all the sides the jewelry of emotions display. We have known pain, but felt joy. We have cried, but also laughed. We have fallen, but yet stand because life with you demands we do both. Not just when things are bad but when they are good.

I would love to use today to dwell on the good. Not because it’s the day we celebrate men like you who birthed eyes that glisten like silvery stars, but because you birthed them with your hands. I know joy when I see it and it is you. From the moment you walk into any room, all our fears and worries for the day disappear. You are more than our savior, more than an knight with shinning armour, slaying dragons we would rather hide. You have slashed many of our fears away, slashed our worries for tomorrow too. With you there is no need to think of what tomorrow may bring, no need to wonder what the future holds, no need because the present is far more eloquent. All the joy felt even on a single day with you are like birds flying with magnificent grace. You are grace, and the way you accept all of our ways, is the profound harmony our soul sings today. You presence is all that interests us, all that guides us, protects us, remains with us long after others you are called to save rush to your hands.

There have been plenty days when all we hoped for a full uninterrupted day, to sit, to question, to share. There were some we knew mattered most for the people in need. Heads in need of blood flow, despite our need for life flows with you. We watched you sacrifice so much, your time, your life, us, to heal others whose last name you barely know until they arrive at your hands. Both the presence and absence of you, both the coming and going you do so often, every single thing about the joys and pains of healing, is felt with you. We use today, the awe and reverence of a day everyone joins to celebrate the primary importance of fathers, to let you know that you are our sun when it cries, our stars when it blinds, our skies for all it tends, and our air for all it whispers. A day with you is better than a thousand sunsets. A day with you is life, joy, laughter and tears running down our face unashamedly. You pull so many emotions from us all at once that even days like today are not enough to speak of your extraordinary ways. You will always be the ignition that lights up our lives, always be the air we breath, always be anything we dream, because you first gave us you.

For that we lift you up to the one who first made you, declaring that not a single thing above or below, will stand against you so long as you breathe. Not a single person, black or white, old or young, will come against you when the rivers of Niger and the crocodiles of Kaduna, all the rivers and lands your feet have sailed and will sail through belong to you. Your hands will always save, always know bravery, always heal. You will always be our seed, our soil, our water for all time. You will always be our beginning, primarily saving, before we knew we needed a savior. This is what you are to all of us, and you are like no other. Happy Father’s Day, Zobam.

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!

I went to Bamileke Kingdom today. It was of course at Musee Quai Branly. But honestly, I went on a journey to ancestors and beyond. So much to tell but for now, I learnt about beads and cowries today. Their connections to queens, and all things powerful and of value. I learnt about how their techniques are always the same, always the threading of beads or cowries, few at a time, then stitched together in time. I saw how inspirational the colors and patterns of beads can become. Always together, always in awe. Truly I saw you.

I have been struggling with writing lately. Sure, the goal was to keep one thing a day. But 24 hours is long with my family, that writing suffers. I have also asked myself, why write? Who cares? Or what will you gain or lose whether you write or no longer choose to write. The only answer and the one that keeps me going, is because I have to. It doesn’t matter if no one reads it. I do. It doesn’t matter if the words too are jumbled some days or poetry another day. It certainly doesn’t matter if I go through some days without words. All that matters and when the words come is to put them down.

My motivation for today!

So I write because I have to. I write because it’s my season to do so. I write because I have waited so long to understand what words do when they flow from my heart and my soul to this space that I choose to keep. I write because it gives me life, joy too. I write because it allows me to write in other ways that I never thought I could. I write because I am lit for it. I write because I am not consumed by it. I write because something about writing, like God, keeps me in awe. I write because I see words like a tree, an evergreen tree planted near streams of flowing water. I write because the words will find me, whether I choose to find them or not, they call and I obey. I write because I have a feeling for it. I write because writing promises nothing, not fame, nor fortune, nothing but torture, yet I choose the wounds and spaces it opens up for me. I write because it is healing for me, healing for my mind, healing for my head, healing for all that makes me whole. I write because I can’t seem to conceal my thoughts these days, so I put them in words. I write because if something should happen, there will always be words to help me make sense of it. I write because it pushes me beyond my limits, pushes me to meet myself beyond myself everytime. I write because it reminds me of the time I went sky diving, the fear, the thrill, the sheer happiness too of seeing a world from above the skies, reminds me that writing can once again become like that moment. I write too for the time when I smiled next to a lion, the greatest animal that ever lived. I write for that girl turned woman, who stayed fearless, knowing that she had conquered all that held her back. I write then for resistance, for the fight that I have to keep digging and fighting so many more women like me conquer their fears.

My lion picture!
My lion picture!

I write because people ask how do I do it all the time, how do I go from hollering at four children all day and then still producing work all day. I write because I come from a long line of women, whose stories are never told, who too hollered at children and made the most out of life as they saw it. I write for the one woman we all called Mama Ocha, the woman who raised me, taught me too the meaning of persistence, preserving, and everything in between possibilities and dreams that I know is within me. I write for Belle, my better me, shining from glory to glory and beyond, with all that is within her. I write for my boys, my gift from God, my God, the one I gift back to God, for because of them, I can be my best self. I write for the one who saved me, my crocodile of the north, the one who hailed from Nimo and Kaduna, to give me a life that is beyond my wildest dreams. I write for Onyelo, without her there is no me. I write for Okolie, the one who called me the apple of his eye, the one who gave me money to buy words early, the one on whose shoulders I continue to stand. I write for the future, for whatever the journey ahead may hold, I long to know you, to love you, to bask in you, knowing that words will be my guide through you. I write for my past, all the pain and hurdles that led to the outpouring of blessings that continue to surround me and all that I love. I write for goodness and mercy are with me, and I will continue to dwell in them and words for as long as I live. These are the reasons I write. The words come and I obey even if it means, I am I the only one that reads them. I will still write.

My Mama Ocha!

I had a conversation with my mother in-law yesterday. We were talking about work and why I keep getting carried away with one grant after the other. Most of them are also not successful. In other words, you may be carried away with work and still have nothing to show for it. I heard myself say during the course of the conversation that I could go days without eating, if I have to when it comes to writing my grants. It also doesn’t matter if they are all unsuccessful. I also noted that I really don’t know why especially because I don’t need anyone of them. Of course becoming a successful grant writer is wonderful but the stress of it all makes you wonder why even bother. In the course of our dialogue I also framed my reasoning in this way: I don’t need wealth, just sustainable health and healing to all who deserve this right. It has always been for people and how they can have sustainable healing. Writing in this manner is full of sleepless nights and extremely stressful. I still do it because I believe in the cause. If one person can be saved through something I worked to get a grant for, then I will be content. The one I am writing these days is beyond me. I told my partner in writing that I thought we had written difficult grants but this one is something else. I may not get it. But I learnt something new about myself during this process. That I am willing and able to talk to anyone to bring my crazy dreamed up ideas to life, anyone one. That to me is the gift that grant writing keeps giving and for that I am content, win or lose. So to close: I don’t need wealth. Just sustainable health. To all those who deserve this right.

We are kicking off this summer with 100 days of books, books, and more books with my kids. I believe in leading by example and so to kick off, I just finished reading Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes. It was a beautiful, easy, effortless story of how a girl who loved to day dream turned her day dreams into words. She was of course aided by a teacher who saw the magic inherent with day dreaming and flipped his classroom to accommodate the girl and her day dreaming behavior. I loved this because I saw myself in Gabby. I am a day dreaming girl to the core and these days I turn them into grants. The one I am currently working on began as a day dream and it took 4 days, yes 4 days to put a draft together before we travelled out of town. I was able to travel and rest simply because my day dreams turned into words which then turned into a very rough first draft of the grant. Of course editing is the toughest part of any grant, but I am happy this one began as a dream. Only time will tell if this dream turns into reality.

In the meantime, my kids read if I had a tail and according to my 8 year old if he had one, he would use it to write. My 9 year old will fly with her tail while my five year old will wag his tail around just because. Happy summer days of reading.

We are also painting and drawing this summer!

‘So there are no models. Create from scratch. Checkout everything for health or disease. Know then that revolution begins with self, in the self. You make false starts because of the models you use. Ask questions instead. Everything is incompatible with those that believe in we the people. Reject the opinions of those who love to explain us to us. Reject all notions of roles not committed to us. We got time. Mouth won’t do it. Neither would haste, urgency or stretch-out-now insistence. Not when a revolution, so needed for us is here.’

That’s what Toni Bambara said in Black Woman. It’s my mood for the rest of the year.

Our rose bushes are blooming, unafraid, on their own. Not even birds can deny the depths of them. They are like mini trees. Evergreen and erect. A perfect combination of lush and sublime. Their leaves are perfect. Carved into an angle that say so little of how glorious they are. The folds of each rose fall neatly in ways that keep me humble. Everything about them, the stories they never tell, are perfect, forcing me to rise, erect, evergreen, like a rose.

Someone shared this on my twitter feed today. A letter from Kurt Vonnegut, about advice with life. To him, ‘practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.’

I am in the process of becoming.

In the process too of making my soul grow.

I keep practicing poetry writing.

Keep telling stories too.

Not for any fame or fortune, but to live in the moment.

As all the words within me linger on till eternity.

Kurt Vonnegut also noted that we should practice a six-line poetry about anything but rhymed. The sentences above are my attempt at writing six lines. I hope you find your way of becoming

The letter below.

There’ll be red sand. Red stoneless sand will line all the roads you see. But still, keep walking. The distant paths will blend to red and orange and red again. You’ll drop to your knees to feel their reddish nature. The roads ahead will lay bare, but for footsteps. Hurried steps. Hushful legs. Bristling through unaware of their walk through roads of red and oranges. You’ll see women and children walking. Some with babies carried at their back, walking. Some with things on their heads, like water or oranges shaped like pyramids, walking. Some, walking and waiting for their turns on orange and black Keke’s or motorbikes. Reds and oranges blend with the sole of their feet, moving freely with all the forces within. Everyone you see will be going somewhere. Hurried and unhurried steps, will be moving somewhere. Legs will do all the walking. Mouths will do all the greeting. But eyes, will speak only what eyes see.

Image from The Dream Keeper and other poems by Langston Hughes with illustration by Brian Pinkey.