‘What you see is what you are and what you will become.’ Ben Okri said it best in his book ‘Astonishing the Gods.’ These days, what I am seeing is beyond me. They are truly wonderful things. Things that make one’s heart full. My heart is indeed full. I tried to dwell on it over the weekend. I’m still trying. Words fail me but know that I am grateful. January is cervical cancer awareness month and I get to launch a project that is near and dear to my heart in Nigeria tomorrow. I saw the project immediately cervical cancer came knocking at my door. In fact, I wrote the first version and submitted it before I knew how deep it would bury itself in our home. It buried itself and we are finally making sense of the journey ahead. Which is why I am all for those prepared to go on the journey. This isn’t a favor. Lord knows anyone around me isn’t doing me a favor. Know you came into my life. In situations where it is the reverse, know that my addition to your life is always for good. So whatever you see is me, is what we shall become. I will continue the journey with or without you. I know who started it and I know he will lead me all the way. Keep what you see!

Image from Nike Art Gallery

To a girl or a boy alone, know that you have a people, with their own histories, their own stories, their own mysteries, their own adversaries, their own victories, their own jewelries, their own galleries, their own sceneries, their own groceries, their own factories, their own sanctuaries, their own vocabularies, their own stationeries, their own missionaries, their own legionaries and their own visionaries. Even when you feel alone, know that you can always begin again with your own history.

I saw first hand, the power of never forgetting your history during our stay in Nigeria. It was at my husband’s mother’s home and I was mesmerized by the histories that remained within the home. For example, we came across a wooden stool, probably over 100 years and in close to pristine condition. The stool had a language of its own, with a history of its own still waiting to be told by generations that follow. I asked as much questions I could ask about it, took pictures to preserve our meeting together and that’s when it dawned on me, that I am never alone. Not when I have a history of my own, with stories and mysteries of my own. I wanted to know who made the stool and why. Who used it and for what occasion. I also had questions about the carvings, it’s four legs, the striking lines at the bottom, and the markings across the top. Here was a stool, in it’s own room, it’s own house, it’s own language that still conveys a message of it own, all while built with hands long gone. Even though all that is left is this image, the mere presence of the stool, is a reminder that our existence, our history matters. Keep it all.

I dreamed things would be different.

Children would laugh and I would sit back and sigh.

There is no place like home.

Not in form, for some.

So thank God for all the roosters, turkey, cows goats and monkeys we saw along the way.

Also thank you to all the trees that swayed around, ushering gentle kisses along the way.

They allowed me to keep dreaming and my children to keep laughing, keep being limitless too.

We will be back, only though I know with whom and where we belong.

There is no place like home.

Not in form, for some.

I am a mom to a child on the spectrum. Our trip to Nigeria over the holiday break made me choose to tell our stories more in 2023. Why? I saw ugliness and disdain for autism in Nigeria. Also not from strangers, but from those I call family. I have asked myself questions upon questions. Wondered out loud whether I thought things would be different all became we came home. We came home after all and so yes, I expected acceptance, love, understanding, patience, even joy. There is no place like home after all.

But rather, I was met with an attitude that might as well be described as hatred. We of course had a bumpy ride when we landed. We were stuck in a hotel room, exposed to the loud sensations of Lagos and yes, my child longed for the sanctuary of our home in the US from the moment we got to Lagos. It didn’t help that our first week there meant that I was working so I wasn’t even present to help calm his anxieties. And they were a lot. Justifiably so. We live in a home that is literally surrounded by trees because I know first hand what green space can do for children on the spectrum. I literally took a semester long class focused on this during my time at UIUC. We were lucky to see some trees in Lagos but the noise and constant chaos meant that the first couple of days were full of dread for the place we were to call home for a month. When work ended and we finally moved to our new place the following week, things began to settle in place. He had his music. We had more space and life seemed to move at an easy pace. We also removed ourselves from things that triggered his anxiety and that helped a lot.

But the time we got to the village. Even in the midst of all the flies that would often trigger a loud response from my son, he finally was at peace. I watched him everyday waiting for one loud scream or loud tears or even anything. But I got nothing. He was at peace. I would secretly watch from afar how he interacted with folks. They were minimal, but still something. He didn’t scream, didn’t cry, didn’t even yearn to return home. Rather he played with his siblings and cousins, ran around with all the animals he saw around him, named them too like Ellie the Cow and Sam the Turkey. I was struck by his sense of joy for a place many dare not travel too due to the uncertainties in Nigeria. Indeed, when you are home, there is no place like it.

I was born and raised in Nigeria but this was my third trip to a village so I too was taken aback by the serenity we felt for this space. Then it occurred to me. People will never understand your ways. Home is home and something your spirit know has no bounds. Even when people judge you and count you off even when things go wary, when you are home, your spirit knows. So keep living beyond their limits for you. Keep being limitless too. If we only stayed in Lagos, our trip would have indeed been miserable, but the village changed all of that for us. The Igboness side of me, felt that it was because we were truly home and there is no place like it. It was as if my son’s spirit knew that he was walking on the land his people once walked, once lived in too. His spirit, or chi felt at peace at home. Mine too. I saw beauty beyond words for a space that welcomed me, welcomed my children, and allowed us to see joy, feel joy and know joy, even if only from animals that roam around or tall trees that sway around or the perfect peace that resonates when you are surrounded by those with whom you truly belong to.

I look forward to giving this back to him some more. The memories from this trip and our time at the village was priceless for us and especially my son. It restored my faith with being a mom with a child on the spectrum and living in Nigeria. We will be back. Only now, we truly know with whom and where we belong.

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!

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!

The idea of remaining in one piece, birthed this space where all my experiences, parenting, productivity, life continues to roam free.

I cannot begin to count all the ways it has helped me heal from fires and storms. My heart knows too, all the ways rivers flow in peace, all because we lived, our way.

And so to sum this year in few verses would also diminish all that the year gave. And it gave everything, death, chaos, hurdles, trust, betrayals, triumphs, stories, and speech made less.

Yesterday, between hearts full of joy, and souls at peace, I learnt the true meaning and power of grace. The thing 2022 gave the most.

It’s in the people you see, those surrounding your table, those walking along your sides, those passing through storms with you, and those keeping your minds and imagination roaming wild and free.

They made 2022 sterling, silent, but statuesque all because I pondered themes that allowed me to reach beyond my dreams and the skies above.

Grace was sufficient for me yesterday. Grace got me through today. Grace will lead me all the way tomorrow and beyond.

Seeing as though we remain pregnant and full of ambitions for this thing we call joy (not to be confused with what others call work), grace has helped me give my all. Emptied everything too as I proceed to the next fold.

Knowing that my best is still yet too come, grace is how I choose to walk, knowing that there are legions by my side, prepared for the battles ahead.

I may not be able to sum the year in few verses, but grace is all that remains. That and the multitude of happy faces gathered around tables in a lounge in Lagos, for this thing we all birthed together.

We never forget moments that are rare. Those that are dear. Those that remind us of how far we have come. Those that show grace still for the journey ahead. All of them collided today when we came across an original signature log from the West Africa Council of Medical Research.

The year was 1962 and the log was full of signatures from notable leaders visiting the council. Today, our program officer, all the way from NIH, added his signature to this precious book of treasures and history. To witness this made me proud and thankful for this rare moment where we all lend our voice and expertise to address health in Africa’s most populous country.

Thank you Bill for all you do to help us advocate for the health of young people in Nigeria. Witnessing this truly made my day!

This place has haunted my dreams. In it, I imagined I would be surrounded by all sorts of art. Some would be hard to describe. Some would also leave me speechless. Well, speech and description were hard today. Meeting the legend every one calls Mama Nike too. But I’m grateful. All I can say is that if you are ever in Lagos, visit Nike Art Gallery. It would be so much better than your dreams.

In the middle of Nike’s Art Gallery.