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.

I am learning everyday, life is short. Love life like air, like mango trees. Ije uwa. Only this matters. No matter how small, keep your story. Write it as a note, a song, a book, the wind, or the kernels of a sheri mango. For candles will blow, tears will fall, even mangos grow old and perish. But your story will always remain, always speak for you, even when you become one with the earth.

Image from
the memoirs of Dr. Ogbuokiri.

I’m in a space where stories matter. I know the pain maybe unbearable, but using this medium to share that he lived a great life, like the mango trees of his childhood. May we all get to appreciate time and age so gracefully.

I talk to my late grandma, often, every Sunday in particular. Whenever I say my prayers after holy communion, I say hello to her. English was not her first language. So all her prayers were in pidgin English and Igbo back then. She mixed both languages often. My favorite being the one for Blessed Sacrament. Mma Mma nke Chi ne ke, Kedu? That what I say to her often. Thats how she prayed then. That and I hope she is doing well. Papa too and every single ancestor that joined her in heaven. They say you never forget the one that formed you, the one that framed you too. The one that made it possible so you exist. I cannot forget Mama. Not when she is the reason I exist. The mother of Onyelo, the one who gave birth to something so impossible. I am an impossible being. To know her story, to recall how she never gave up, to see what persistence looks like, know and feel it too, is my keep for today. We were never meant to be. I should not be here today. But I am and for that I will do all that I can, so all things impossible become possible. Love and miss you Mama. Sleep well.

Mama holding Rose!

You will look for me and not find me. You will look near flowers red like hibiscus, near those small like roses. You will look for me near things small and red, near things you hold dear, like the picture of Onyelo, next to Papa, with Mama Ocha, holding Rose. Only, that you are not a flower, you are not fleeting, and moments like this, like rapture, are endless blessings, like walking on water, like turning wine to water, this moment of you, holding Rose forever .

I imagine a people can lose sight of their history. Become swept away by the current of other people’s history. Ignore too when the rain began to beat them that they forget to dry themselves up. All of this is grave. The loosing sight, being swept away and simply forgetting. But of all this, prescribing solutions through one vision, is like death. No good comes out of graves. Everyone needs to figure out their part with the story, use their strength, and do what they know, even though dangers remain ahead. You may fail too. That’s okay. Failure is an option, though we won’t dwell on it. We will build on its strengths, it’s possibilities, and every sign it uses to lead to success. The work we do must be in service of others despite our failure. It must make their life easy too, like art, like poetry, like form, like lines, like every attempt to use the master’s language, never forgetting the moon rises for all. I am in a space they call moonrise.

I remember her smile like it was yesterday. She always smiled. She was tall and very beautiful. The look on her eyes was like paradise, always mesmerizing, always kind, always tender, always love. Her name was Selena and she was loved by so many. I share her story today, not to grumble, but as a reminder that research for me is people. The passion I feel for research has names and faces that I dare not forget and her story was my first experience at mental health trauma, turned domestic violence, turned suicide. We watched this in real time. We tolerated it too, with assumptions that it would go away over time. Selena’s life was cut short by someone else’s mental health issues and we are left to wonder, what more could’ve we have done.

So I write today, as a reminder that the world is truly an unkind place, people are dealing with a lot, and the familiar can be life threatening. My own awareness of being a researcher and experiencing the ramifications of what happens when evidence is not translated in real world settings is of interest to me. It may seem like we can never help everyone, I know. It may seem like research is uncaring, I know. It may also feel like we are only in it for ourselves. I know too, and agree that there are miles to go before research can truly be for the people. But we can try. I am convinced that if we do our part to ensure that evidence-based research is translated to real-world settings, then there would be no more stories like that of Selena and I would be celebrating her light, her life today and not reminiscing on all that life took from us. So it’s vital for me to write this to remind all of us that research is people and we should care for it, be vigilant and do all in our power to ensure that it remains that way. I also love and miss you Selena and may your soul continue to sleep in God’s bosom. Amen

“I am an endangered species.

But I sing no victim song.

I am a woman.

I am an artist.

And I know where my voice belongs…

To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought your dream, wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t come true.

I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like.

This is what striving looks like and don’t you ever, ever, give up on you…”

I was blown away by these words sang and spoken by the great Sheryl Lee Ralph at the Emmy’s yesterday. I met her once, in person in undergrad when I attended a leadership program in Philadelphia and I was mesmerized. Anyone that has come in contact with her, ultimately feels like you are in the presence of royalty, a queen. Watching her acceptance sang and spoken yesterday brought great joy to my soul. This is one deserved award for a very brilliant and powerful woman and I hope her words will inspire you as it did for me.