Tuesday, December 30, 2014

They Don't Care About Us


As much as I love the Brasil version, this one is the more powerful. No wonder it was banned in the US at the time (and still is?).

And bashed in the NYT. How can saying that "they don't care about us" be bigoted. I don't understand that. To say that such an expression is bigoted is to evoke shame in one who reveals that their benevolent leader is less than caring.

No, "they" don't care about "us," and if we sleep too long, no movement, no matter how strong will keep "them" at bay from destroying "us."

Throughout history, that is the way it is. By time, man is in loss. We have to be constantly vigilant to protect ourselves and those we love from essential slavery, whether it is physical, emotional or mental.

I hear people have been playing this during marches. Some of us just now realizing what's been going on under our noses for some time.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 Retrospective

As salaam alaikum,

As predicted, residency (and life) swallowed me in a way that did not allow me to post (or even write) that often, but that is soon going to be history! I am now a third year resident, and in six months time, I'll be graduating and taking a 3 month break before I start working for real. What I do in those three months are dependent on how much money I save up moonlighting in the next year, but that's another story.

Anyway, for me, the year is hardly over, as my SO is flying down tomorrow to meet my parents, which will get a little notch in my year-in-review, but I figure I may be pretty busy the end of this year so I'd better get in my retrospective now while I'm ahead.

So, this was my 2014, roughly, and maybe not exactly chronologically, but in order of things that stand out to me.

Grandfather: The last time I saw my grandfather fully lucid in this realm was around Christmas of 2013. There was a big ice storm in Flint and surrounding northern communities and it resulted in a prolonged black out. My grandparents were staying at my Uncle Maurice's place because the power was out in their house. My grandfather talked about how much he appreciated what we did for him, an old man, and he started crying. Early this year, he likely had another stroke and went into a fast decline that almost ended in his death in March of this year but ultimately ended in his death early in the morning, July 16, peacefully in his sleep. I love that man with all of my heart and I eagerly but patiently await the day when I hear the rest of his stories in Jannah, iA.

Auntie and Uncle: I met my Nigerian Aunt and Uncle for the first time this year. My uncle, who my father had not seen in over 30 years, and his wife traveled to the United States for the first time and stayed with my family. I cried when I saw the brothers together, reunited. They stayed for four months and I visited with them two weeks out of those four months. I would love to travel with my father to Nigeria one day and visit with the rest of the family. I could say much more about this visit, but that will have to be for another venue.

Sayulita, Nayarit: I still feel like we totally pulled a coup in our residency by taking this trip. For our second-year retreat, instead of the usual long weekend in Leavenworth, we took five days in Mexico with our favorite faculty member in March. It was a coup because those five days did not count towards our paid time off, it was "conference/educational time." So we were paid for five days in which we did maybe 4 hours a day of therapeutic small groups (which were excellent!) and spent the rest of the time as beach bums, wandering around this semi-hidden jewel resort town. I actually got sunburned on this trip. Yes, black people can sunburn. Skin peeled from every exposed surface over the next couple of weeks and I felt like I was molting. So those times I wore sunscreen in the Dominican Republic were not in vain. The 12 of us and our faculty member spent 5 glorious days sharing a house on the hill that overlooked the beach. It was definitely a second bonding point for my classmates and I fell in love with them again.

Jamaica: I had never been to Jamaica, and at first felt conflicting going there to attend a wedding in July, not only of people I had never met before (my SO was best man, and I was his date), but also as the only black person in the party. Yes, I felt conflicted going to a majority black country with a group of white people. This was only the second international trip (Sayulita was the first) that I've made that was not part of a service project. And then to go to a resort where I felt like I may be inherently exploiting the people who work there? It was challenging until I got there and realized that over half of the patrons at this particular resort were black, many of them Jamaican, having conferences or spending a relaxing weekend at the resort. There were also a lot of African Americans there. And I realize that supporting tourism in a country like Jamaica is probably more productive than any of the service projects I carried out in other countries the past, though I still found it polemic. At some point, I finally just let myself relax. I was welcomed by my SO's friend and his wife warmly into their wedding party and was pulled in to do some Serbian dances during the reception (courtesy of the groom's family). Minus the sand flies biting the left side of my body, it was a good time. This is another place I have to go back to. I love going to countries with majority black people!

Stevie Wonder: I attended Stevie Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life" concert as he toured the country. He actually made a stop in Seattle on December 3. So many performers and performances skip Seattle (like Motown, the Musical), but he came by. I was chief on Family Medicine Service at the time, and though I tried to switch my call days, I ended up on call on the day that our service went from tame to crazy. After that day, we would continue to admit patients and eventually cap out our service. My call days usually saw me staying at least until 8:30pm most days, and this day was no exception...exactly why I wanted to switch my call day so I could make the concert! In the end, I'm glad I didn't switch my call day because Friday (the day I was going to trade out) ended up to be a busier day. The concert started at 8pm, I got out of the hospital at 8:30pm and made it to the concert by 9pm. The people next to me lamented that I had missed "so much," though I got there as he did "Pastime Paradise," and knew that he had much of the album left, though I had missed "Sir Duke." I had heard from my cousins, who went to the concert in Detroit, that it went on for three hours. And Stevie did not disappoint. Our concert went on for four hours, which means I got to jam with Stevie for a full three hours after sliding in an hour late, until midnight! And, after four hours of sleep, I got in to work the next day, saw a full set of patients during my half day in clinic, and realized that age really is just a number. I thought that my days of staying up that late and then being fully functional the next day (without coffee) were behind me. At 29, I surprised myself with the stamina of a 19 year old while working full time. And Stevie, of course, was awesome. He sang each song from the album exactly as it was in the album. And his daughter Aisha Morris was one of his backup singers! And I could go on, but it definitely made my life to see my favorite artist in concert.

Nephew: My best friend from medical school had a baby boy in September, and I got to visit him in November when he was 6 weeks old. I've never witnessed someone I'm that close to have a baby, during those very new periods, someone that I knew before she met her husband when we were both very much single young women. And now seeing her as a mother, watching the transformation she and her husband have made...all I can say is, it's real. It's the only thing that gave my baby fever a pause. Not because of the job they were doing...no, they were doing excellently. It's just that I see that the struggle is real, there is no magical transformation. I was watching them as they were learning and adapting with a newborn. That is how life is, and that is how my life will be when, one day, iA, I have one of my own. Hopefully a girl. I already have some names picked out. Okay, so baby fever was on pause, did not completely go away.

Babies, babies, babies: This was the year of the babies. I think I delivered more than 20 babies this year, most of them being my own patients'. I just delivered one a few days ago, my patient's gorgeous baby girl. I have three more of my own patients due and then my residency adviser cut me off from deliveries. It's just as well. I've more than exceeded the number of continuities I need for graduation. My poor SO is tired of me talking about labor and delivery, and babies. He states that he could probably deliver a baby at this point from my descriptions of it.

Licensed Physician: I took (and passed) Step 3 earlier this year, officially completing USMLE and becoming a licensed physician. Seriously, exam taking in medicine feels like the "Song that Doesn't End." I started medical school and heard about the boards, and then learned about what would be the hardest exam I'd take in my life, disconcertingly named "Step 1." Disconcerting because if there is a step 1, there is probably a step 2, and maybe it goes on. Each year, I learned a little bit more about the exams I was going to be in for. Depending on one's specialty and if they go on to fellowship, there are a whole list of exams besides the USMLE steps that one had to pass to become not only licensed, but also board-certified. As I've chosen family medicine, I have an every-10-year board exam that I will have to pass and certain amount of Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits that I have to keep up with to maintain board certification. The family medicine boards through the ABFM is the last exam I'll take in residency, and the last exam I'll take in life (unless I lose my mind and go for more education or more board certification). But, in February of this year, I took and passed step 3, making me a licensed physician, able to practice independently (thus, moonlighting).

That Full Circle Moment: A couple of weeks ago in clinic, I had one of my first full-circle moments in family medicine. I went into the clinic counseling a pregnant woman on some cramping that she was having. She planned to do her prenatal care elsewhere, so it was going to be a simple visit. As I entered the room and began talking to her, I noticed there were tears in her eyes. She then told me that I was the doctor that told her that her grandfather was dying. Back in my intern year, when I was completing a night float rotation, I led a family meeting at 1am for a family whose beloved grandfather, who I had admitted hours earlier, was passing. It was the defining moment of my residency. I laid myself bare for that family as they looked to me to prognosticate what I couldn't with numbers. People were rolling on the floor, crying. I myself felt completely spent and cried after that interaction. I had never put so much of myself into a patient interaction in residency, and that was a great transition point for me. I actually didn't remember that woman in the sea of family members that were there, but she remembered me. Together, in the exam room, after I reassured her that there was no threat to her pregnancy at present, we remembered her grandfather. I shared with her that my grandfather had also passed that year, so I understood what it felt like to lose someone who had lived a long, complete life but who was still very beloved. We shared that moment and that continuity in a 15 minute visit. And so at the beginning of residency I saw the end of one life I was there at the beginning of another in the same family.

Saturday Thanksgiving: The last three Thanksgivings, I have been working. The first year, I was on the Family Medicine Service and served on a skeleton team that included my seniors and the chief and rounded on all of the patients of the day. My second year, I was on maternal child and covered the team's OB service. This past year, I was again on FMS, this time as chief, and I covered for my interns so they could all have the day off and me and one of the second years covered service for them. My first year, I wanted to prepare a turkey, so I made a full Thanksgiving meal on the day that I had off--Saturday. Since then, I've made Saturday Thanksgiving a small tradition for my residency class. This past year included one of the newest additions to our residency family, one of my co-resident's baby girls.

Death of a Cousin: In January, one of my second cousins lost his life senselessly. He was an anesthesia tec in his hometown in Ohio and he was paged in to work to help with a transplant. His car was in the shop so he couldn't drive there so he walked to catch a bus early in the morning and was robbed and shot dead, in cold blood, his body left in front of the bus stop where it was found shortly thereafter. This Christmas, my cousin, his father, a pastor, is celebrating his life and mourning his only son, the father of his two grandchildren.

A lot more happened this year on the smaller scale that is more tedious to recount. Overall, it was a good year, a year of challenge, growth and transition. And here I find myself.

And here I am.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Long Time


It's been a long time since I've liked a popular song this much. Maybe 7 years or more. Maybe more than that.

The voice is an incredible instrument. It's also incredible how many unique melodies can be created over time.

Otherwise, I'm in a pensive mood tonight. I'm stuck on a presentation I have to make on Tuesday but don't want to do any more work on it tonight. And so many other things on my mind.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Reason to Go


I need to sleep because I need to be up in about 6 hours. But I did want to reflect on this.

I now have a reason to go. Not only to die, but to aim for heaven.

I want to see my grandfather again, and I know that he's there.

And while I want to live a long life, and see my own children and grandchildren, and maybe even great grandchildren like he did, I have no reason to want to be here indefinitely.

He's there, with his father and mother, because as he was dying he called to them. He's there, with my grandmother's parents, and my grandmother will join them. When I hear nostalgic music or remember my childhood, I remember when everything was good and that was when he was in it, when he was a constant, a given, before I knew death, or life, really.

I was listening to Luther Vandross' "A House is Not a Home" and reflected on how many people were alive for the majority of my life so far who have now passed, most of them not at all close to me, and then there was Grandfather.

I think the feeling that he is not gone, that he just exists in another realm, in another space...gives the pull of heaven a little bit more urgency.

I pray that I can be everything he dreamed of for me and more.

And insha'Allah I'll meet up with Grandfather again, someday.

And I won't just feel his essence when I'm quiet or when I listen to New Jack Swing from the early 90s or gut-bucket blues from the 1930s and 40s.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


As salaam alaikum,

One of the last things about my grandfather that he lost in the months leading up to his death was his personality. Or, I'm unsure if it was his personality per se or more his unassuming nature. I'm not sure the two are the same. They could be. I'm not sure how much of this is an artifact of my grandfather's upbringing, in a small, Southern Baptist family in the South, how much has to do with growing up during Jim Crow and having to choose deference to white people or face certain death, and how much was just his gentle nature. But my grandfather, in the time I knew him, was very unassuming.

"Oh, don't worry about me, baby." "You don't have to do that." "When you're not busy, could you..." "I'm sorry to bother you, but..."

So while my grandmother, in her heyday, would absolutely dominate all conversation in the room, my grandfather was often silent. Even after his death, my grandmother confided in my mother that she worries that he won't speak up for himself on Judgement Day.

When I learned of grandfather's death, I immediately cried but instantaneously felt a nur that could only come from God, and I was blessed to feel his presence. I knew he was not far, and that he was not suffering, and that he was with God, and it was fine. And it's been fine. And though I missed him at the family gathering after the funeral, the chair that he would occupy inside the house during such gatherings empty, I felt his presence in all of us, his offspring.

And one of the things I either got from him or learned from him is how to be unassuming.

Because I am unassuming in my daily comings and goings. I sometimes don't advocate for myself. I think more than that, I purposefully don't try to stand out in certain situations. Sometimes I feel that I do the spiritual equivalent of shrinking myself as small into a corner as I can. And I don't know how much of this was left-over, learned Muslimah jeito from college, but I try not to be too loud (though I have a naturally resonant voice), too boisterous. I try not to take up too much space, consume too much energy around me.

As a result, I feel as if sometimes, people don't really know me, or that the traits they do know me for are artifacts of the unassuming nature.

Then I worry if I'm not really nice, understanding and a good listener.

I've thought about this more as I've begun to speak up more for myself, let my opinions be known, speak before getting a chance to pour over the intent of my words so much. Sometimes, I don't feel myself when I do this, although it is certainly necessary when assuming an authoritative role, like senior resident, recruitment chief, or later, attending.

I've been thinking about this as I've contemplated my career and the various leadership roles I'd like to take, and as I see that if I don't advocate for myself, few people will. People are ready to assume mediocrity, perhaps in part because my unassuming nature. People are ready to dismiss me or consider me someone not worth knowing.

I'm not bland. I'm not boring. I'm just different. And if I spoke of my interests with as much fervor and pride as some of my friends do, as if all of our base interests are universal or at the least theirs are the ones worth sharing, then I'd be in no way dismissed, ever.

But there's something to be said about humility.

I think there's a balance. One can advocate for themselves and influence their own environment while still being humble and kind. I just have to make sure that when I'm unassuming, it's not to my own detriment while being of little benefit to those around me I'm trying not to offend.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Black Achievement

As salaam alaikum,

I was reminded of this while watching a "Key and Peele" episode in which they compared black college movies with white college movies. White college movies were all about the party and college was a given. Black college movies were all about college as the destination, as if once insurmountable.

I have two cousins doing their studies in my hometown. One is in her first three weeks of graduate school, the other has started as an undergraduate. Both of them had small meltdowns on Facebook over the course of this week, threatening (though purely out of frustration) to drop out of their respective programs.

These are two highly motivated, very intelligent young women who earned their acceptance into their respective programs but who I feel did not have a realistic idea of what they were getting into upon matriculation.

Which is fine. I certainly did not know what I was getting into when I started medical school.

But I recognize something that one of my friends pointed out about black students. I recognize that she made sweeping generalizations and that there is no data, but I found her observations interesting. My friend was a tutor at one of the Harvard residence halls and had students of various ethnicities. She was supposed to be a resource, or at least a gateway to resources for the students. She noticed students of other races and ethnicities either had their own external resources for money and mentorship or they sought her out. Black students, who were the least likely to have outside money or mentors, also did not seek help. Another of my friends, also a tutor, acknowledged the same thing. The two of them believed that this was because, for the black students, college was the destination. They did not plan for the during or the after.

For a lot of black students, college is the destination. Education is the goal, not career.

Though few of these students would admit to matriculating into a school for the sake of college, few of them actually have the tools or insight to apply their education to their career aspiration. And few have the first idea of how to get those tools.

Facebook doesn't help. Facebook for both of my cousins became a place to boast their achievements and make sweeping statements about their broad aspirations, the audience being adoring family and friends who really do admire the ambition but have little to offer. Facebook also became the place of the meltdown, where those same people offer platitudes but no solid mentorship.

I'm not saying that this phenomenon is unique to black students. I'm sure a lot of college students of many backgrounds find themselves in the same place. I'm also not saying it's true of all black college students. But there are some things that ring true for me in my own educational and career trajectory, although, alhamdulillah, I've done well.

But college cannot be the destination. Sometimes, our families, as in black families, only know how to laud college. How's school and how's your grades? That's good, baby.

And that is good, but what are you studying? What classes are you taking for that? Have you been able to shadow or get an internship over the summer for that? How are you using your summers? Who are your mentors? If you don't have any, can you get some? Is there anyone whose career path you'd like to emulate? How does your resume look?

College is not the destination. Sometimes, your first career is not the destination. We should continue to congratulate high-achieving young people, but empty praise is not going to help them when school or training ultimately hits bumps or becomes frustrating.

The destination is not the 4.0. While grades and even grade point can be important depending on what career you are in, the goal is sustainable learning and application.

The destination is not the degree. It's not even the doors opened once you have the degree or the job you ultimately get with your qualifications.

The destination is not walking across the stage, loved ones looking on, pictures cross-posted on Facebook and Instagram, the degree on display in your home.

There are no destinations, just steps along a journey.

And as long as our students continue to set premature destinations and form their study habits, aspirations and life paradigms around these premature endpoints, then yes, there will be frustration, and yes, there will be wasted time, and yes, things will feel insurmountable that don't have to.

So I'm going to try to be there for my cousins and let them know that.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Body of Confessions: Long Hair


I'm on nights right now and I just squeezed by with only four hours of sleep. There is a mandatory diversity session at my residency tomorrow that I have to attend from 1-5pm, thus abdicating a full morning of sleep. I should have slept more, but I'm so excited that I have a little bit more time to write because I'm sleeping less.

Earlier this week, I decided to resume taking vitamins for hair and nails. I had taken these vitamins consistently for several months during medical school and saw some real results in terms of not only hair health but hair length unparalleled to my previous efforts. I stopped taking them, actually, only after I had lost some weight and the pills started making me nauseous. At that time, I also started doing some other hair care things that really improved my hair health overall, and I have seen more strength, health and growth than I have seen since I was 12 years old. I have had some breakage at my crown, though, so I decided it would be a good time to bring hair vitamins back into the mix.

Hair vitamins also have B complex, which is helpful for me for stress. When I started taking B complex in medical school (before I started hair vitamins), my mood improved tremendously in just a couple of weeks of resuming the vitamins.

Anyway, on the eve of taking the hair vitamins, I decided to also straighten my hair to trim my ends. I sometimes trim my ends with my hair straight so I can retain some type of straight shape, and other times when it's kinky by just clipping the ends of twists in my hair. I wanted to straighten it just to get a sense of its straight length.

After straightening my hair, I saw that my hair is actually longer than it has been probably since 2006 or so. It made me realize that I was not able to retain any length in my hair during medical school, probably mainly secondary to vitamin deficiency and stress. It's still odd to look at myself with my hair straight, not only because my hair lives in a puff atop my head for most of the year (which is actually conducive to breakage at my oft-neglected crown), but the last time my hair was straightened, it wasn't this long.

Because duh, hair grows.

And while I reveled in my new hair health, a baseline that so many take for granted, when I slept the next morning (since I'm on nights, I sleep during the day), I had a dream that I had straightened my hair and I was surprised to find that my hair was significantly longer--12 inches longer. And I reveled in having long hair just to awake and remember that though my hair is longer than it has been in a while, it is not that long.

And then I became instantly disappointed in myself.

Long hair, don't care? I feel like that is not a reality for many, if not most, black women. More like, long hair, absolutely do care.

I have lived a life that I tried to be as little about my hair as possible, in some parts of my life more than others (namely, the years where I wore khimar). After having a mother who fussed over how my hair basically dissolved away after chemical treatment, I did not to have any part of continuing that tradition, so I went natural. I stopped letting chemicals seep into my scalp every 6 weeks in favor of my natural texture, the touted "new growth" that for several years had been the nemesis to my attempts at bone-straight hair. I went natural, and all of the straight hair fell out. That was in 2003.

Years later, when the likes of Curly Nikki and Naptural85 and all of these other naturalistas came out, I had already arrived at a hair regimen of my own that mirrored popular natural hair care culture. Braiding my hair and then undoing it to have a longer puff was stretching, that thing I did to get spiraly hair was called flat twists, among other things.

I have worn my natural hair when it is only a few inches long and have struggled with it, sometimes inadvertently destroying my hair. I have not been about length, I have been about health in my daily hair care practices. The fact that I wear my hair in a puff most of the time is a testament to my favoring low-maintenance hair styles for my life as a busy resident.

But regardless of how I feel during the day and how much I am an advocate for love your body, including your hair, as it is, I have persistently had these dreams as an adult. As a child, I have not, only as an adult have I had these dreams where I wake up and my hair is significantly longer than it actually is in real life.

And I guess that's just it. At a subconscious level, I want to have much longer hair, hair that I can straighten and let blow in the wind, hair that I can let shrink and shake about my head and still have some length to it. It usually happens after I do my hair in a way I find particularly cute--invariably, I'll have a dream where it's even longer, and even cuter.

I think the fact of the matter is, subconsciously, so much of my idea of femininity is connected to long hair, and not just longer than men's hair, but long hair at base. And I've never had the length of hair that is in most cultures considered unquestionably female. And while the styles of my hair are generally more female, I have to count on the contours of my body and the way I dress to express more of my femininity, especially in those days I'm in a rush and can only do a puff.

And I wish it weren't like that. I wish I didn't have that subconscious desire to have longer hair, but it is there. It sometimes haunts me in my sleep after a day that I feel like was otherwise content. I know it's not about anyone else--it's about me. Because in the dream, each time, I'm waking up in the morning, preparing for my day, and looking in the mirror in surprise. No one else compliments me, no one else becomes attracted to me, no one else cares. It's just me in front of the mirror, marveling at my own self.

I'm usually thinner in these dreams, too, but I'll save that one for later.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Nigeria Wasn't Ready


"Nigeria was not ready for the white man to leave."

Continuing my delve into racial politics...

My parents recently visited a cousin of ours, from my Nigerian side, no less, who was actually integral in my parents' first meeting. Dr. Nwachukwu, or Doc as they knew him, was the head of the Department of Afro-, Afro-American and Chicano Studies (or something like that) at the University of Michigan, Flint in the 1970s when my mother, a recent graduate from the University, was his receptionist for a time. My father, a young, 20-something chemical engineering student, used to visit his cousin Doc and nod to his young secretary before entering the room.

The young secretary would not pay this man much attention until they were set up on a blind date in a party in Flint years later. And the rest is history.

Anyway, after over 30 years, my family reunited with Doc, who now lives with his second wife and children on the east coast. My parents drove their with my Nigerian Uncle and Aunt.

Besides my grandfather's death, it has been a summer of reunions--reunions of brothers after 30 years (my father hadn't been back to Nigeria since 1984, so quite literally), reunion of much of my mother's family to celebrate the life of my grandfather, and now, reunion of family for the first time after my parents marriage made him family to her.

My parents had a great time at Doc's home. One of the things that he did was share his perspective of Nigeria years after independence to the state that the country is in now. And his thoughts were as above. That Nigeria was not ready for the white man to have left.

To hear that from a Nigerian, though second hand, was astounding.

After living in the United States and being not only a full professor, but a head of a department for some time, Doc decided on two occasions to move back to Nigeria. Once in 1980, but then he returned to the United States, and another time in 1989. Between those two visits, he saw what was of Nigeria's infrastructure continue to crumble and democratic governance cease (as Nigeria was well into dictatorship by the second visit).

Of all of the descriptions of decrepit infrastructure, weakening culture and fractured politics that he must have told, my mother clung to the following example:

Doc was in a Nigerian university, a full professor there, trained in the United States, everything, walking into the building. Ahead of him was a graduate-level instructor who also happened to be white. As the white instructor entered the building, the students hailed him, cheering for him, enthusiastic for his arrival. As Doc walked into the building, the students turned their backs on him.

My mother's reaction is perhaps the topic for another post. But the long version of her reaction was that...maybe he is right. If these students' reaction says anything about the sentiments of the larger society as a whole, maybe they were not ready for the white man to leave! Maybe whatever tribal divisions that lead to genocide and war in the 1960s, that continue to this day under the guise of religion, keep Nigeria from the good governance that would ultimately lead to their further development. Whatever petty issue kept the students from revering their black professor over the white TA are perhaps borne out in larger society, and if it's going to be like that, maybe things would run better if the President of Nigeria were a white man, unconnected to tribal politics and not any other type of brown person.

And coming to that conclusion is really, really sad.

However, this is the opinion of one man, one Nigerian-born professor who ultimately decided to make his permanent home in the United States.

But what is it? Was Nigeria not ready for their independence? A whole lot points to yes. And does that inherently mean that they were not ready for the British to leave?

Then there comes the key question--would it have been better for the British to have never come to Nigeria, or the Europeans never having come to Africa, colonized, anything? And if so, what would the continent look like now? What would the world look like now? Would there even be a United States of America without African slaves' backs on which to build it on?

These questions and assumptions are all fraught with problems, the main problem being that we are in the present now. Independence has been declared. The arbitrary lines have been drawn on maps and groups of people who previously had nothing to do with each other have been called Nigerians  for 54 years this October 1. Not ready to be independent or not, not ready to be ruled by themselves, with all of the tribal baggage that survived 60 years of colonization, this is the present reality. And brain drain is a mug.

They weren't ready, okay, but now what? What kind of leadership is needed, what kind of reform is needed, how to you combat corruption that is near institutionalized?

Since my father left, I will always be an outsider, looking in. And while my cousins seem to be more concerned about what the existence of ISIS means about the second coming of Christ and upholding homosexuality bans for the sake of Nigeria, I'm not sure they have any concrete aspirations for elevating the political situation of Nigeria, of improving infrastructure, actually.

These are just my family members, though.

I would love to read contemporary Nigerian political thinkers and their take on the state of Nigeria and the best direction of the future. If any of my readers have some resources for me, I'd like to read them. I recognize that the disappointed musings of an ex-pat must pale in comparison to people who are living Nigeria as a reality.

Or is it really that the only way that Nigeria will work as a country is if it is run by white people?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Some Truths

As salaam alaikum,

"The one thing we did right was the day we started to fight. Keep your eyes on that prize, hold on." - "Eyes on That Prize"

I don't usually get political. On this blog or anywhere else online, really. Definitely not Facebook. But one of my co-residents posted something about Ferguson, and how we should keep talking, and while I agree, more than just talking needs to be done.

More than just media showboating needs to be done.

I posted in the Facebook comment box that we have a militarized police force that has been in full force and growing since the 1980s institution of the War on Drugs. I told her to read The New Jim Crow, which I have to read in pieces because it makes me angry. I told her that post-civil rights is a fallacy. The Civil Rights movement didn't end, it died. It died with a lot of its key leaders who were assassinated, thanks in part to our own FBI. To this day, I don't understand how more people don't know about COINTELPRO. Even if there were only evidence linking the FBI to the death of one Black Panther (and I believe there is more evidence than that), isn't that bad enough?

The movement was posthumously declared over. There was still work to be done and Malcolm X had just found Islam and that shaped the way he saw the movement, Martin Luther King had more than just a dream, he was a man of ideas made tangible and wanted to move to overall social justice and poverty next. So many leaders and non-leaders, young people, killed, so many deaths without justice.

Post-civil rights movement is a fallacy and that's exactly how Michael Brown could be shot with his arms up, feet away from the police officer so many times into his poor body and left dead in a pool of his own blood on the streets of Ferguson for hours in the sun, like a dog.

Black life is not valued in this country, never has, and if we do nothing, never will. Some black people do not value black life. That's how my cousin was murdered and left for dead in a pool of his own blood while trying to go to work to provide for his young family. For a few dollar bills. And the killer has not been found. That's how another cousin killed in cold blood and will spend the rest of his life in prison. That's how Emmit Till and thousands of other black men had their bodies destroyed for sport. That's how Eric Garner was choked to death in public and that's how Michael Brown was shot and left for dead.

Left like a dog. Or worse than that, because someone would have handled the body of even a stray dog.

I could say so much more, but this is not the only issue out there right now. This summer was a hard Ramadan for many because of injustice and death so many places in the world, most notably in Gaza. I don't like to get political mainly because I don't have time, during my training, to be part of the grander solution. I don't have time to be well read and therefore the best spoken here, and I don't put my prose to its best use, which I do not believe is an online blog that few people read. I believe that is mobilizing people who have the tools and the drive to affect legislation.

My parents have also always feared my online presence, especially as a Muslimah, because long before we knew about NSA, my mother, as a former black nationalist, knew about the NSA. In the sense that she knew after 9/11 there were most certainly governmental bodies that had the power to tap into our lives as the NSA has. Call that some old NOI conspiracy theorizing, but it was true, and now folks acting shocked.

I could say so much more, but instead, I choose to end this entry with a series of truths. This goes beyond Ferguson. This goes beyond the other string of innocent black men that were killed before Michael Brown this year and were killed after. This is about Civil Rights.

1. The militarized police are here to stay and will continue to use excessive force unless meaningful and deep rooted legislative action happens to eradicate it, much of which is firmly based in the War on Drugs. Our legislative bodies have not been in a state to affect that type of change and won't be in the foreseeable future.

2. The 1960s were a horrendous decade, not only because so many people were killed, but because the government lied, step by step, over and over and over again.

3. The Civil Rights movement should not have been over when it was. There were many victories but the status quo is not a victory we can declare post-civil rights worthy by any stretch of the imagination.

4. As Affirmative Action programs have ended over the country over the last 10 years, the "playing field" is still far from "level," as long as predominantly black schools remain predominantly poor, meaning the majority of black kids get substandard education to inhibit college success.

5. SCOTUS knew exactly what they were doing in voting down the Voting Rights Act, and that "country has come so far" rhetoric was a cover. Poor blacks won't be counting marbles in a jar to get the vote but there will surely be other restrictive measures popping back up, and it won't be restricted to the South.

6. Speaking of the value of black life, some black people also do not value black life, this is true. The reality of white-on-white crime aside, black self-violence is apparent not only in crimes and murders committed but in our own music, our entertainment, our leisure. This must stop because, fair or not, there is a group of people who will not value our lives because they figure we also don't value our own. And we will continue to die in our own hands and in the hands of others, on the street, in pools of blood for hours, worse than dogs.

7. Regardless of the above, it is egregious to blame the victim, and every time a young black man is killed, the victim is blamed, it is justified based on circumstantial issues that really are not worth dying over. Like Trayvon and weed. Like Emmit Till and flirting with a white woman. The latter should sound as ridiculous as reasons to die as Michael Brown stealing candy and Eric Garner selling taxless cigarette singles, except even more so because it was carried out by law enforcement.

8. COINTELPRO is real and it's declassified. And just because its now declassified doesn't mean that our government wouldn't and hasn't had similar endeavors, so to speak.

9. We talk about how our healthcare system is broken, and it is, but moreso our penal system is broken, broken and costlier than the education of our children, which further feeds into the system. The disregarded black bodies that are not slaughtered spend some time in the penitentiary, if not the majority of their lives, most of them for petty drug offenses, spending time and tax payer money in a place that has no reformatory value and leave unable to make lives for themselves because of ex-con status.

10. Injustices such as these will continue to happen, in spite of peaceful protest and marching in Ferguson until our government takes thing seriously enough and do as they did during the movement and sign the needed changes into law.

I think 10 is a nice round number. There are probably others that I could include.

It's been more than a month since my grandfather passed, and I feel even more emboldened to try to take over where he left off before a stroke and an ICU stay in the 1970s changed him from the outspoken member of his local black nationalist organization to a quiet man whose memory of injustice often suffered in silence as he changed his focus to his growing family of grandchildren.

"The one thing we did wrong was stay in the wilderness a day too long."

Let's not let time pass after Ferguson, security set in, and we wander back to the wilderness.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The First Death


My beloved grandfather died on Wednesday. We buried him today. I saw his body beforehand, and I smiled. It held him for so long, but it was so clear, looking at the frame, that this was just a shell, and not at all the man I've loved all 29 years of my life.

I am so happy that he died in his sleep and that he died at home, surrounded by family members. I am so happy that 9 of his 10 children, 30 of his 40 grandchildren and several of his 70 great-grandchildren were able to make it to the funeral, as well as most of his daughter-in-laws, his son-in-law (my father) and several community members.

He left behind my grandmother. They knew each other as children, for 82 years, and were married for 68 years, had 10 children, 40 grandchildren, over 70 great grand children and 3 great-great grandchildren. He converted from Christianity to eventually Islam with his family of 10 and was a founding leader of the Flint, MI Muslim community. He raised three of his grandchildren. Their home was a home for any and all of us when we needed it. I lived with my grandparents for about three months during the summer of 1995 and the winter of 1996 when my mother had medical problems.

My first memories of my grandfather were of the horsey rides on his knee, the string of lollipops he seemed to have an endless supply of, and his sugary coffee. My final memories of him, before his most recent decline, was of climbing up on a step ladder much less stable than he ought have, putting corn cobs in the feeder for the squirrels.

He had a unique way of telling stories, of mimicking people's voices, of making sounds, of playing with babies and making them laugh that is not duplicated on earth right now. He, along with my grandmother, loved children infinitely. They raised children from 1947 to 1998.

And between WWII, the auto plant and the conversion, there's so many stories that I do not know about Grandfather.

At first when he died, when I heard about it, it felt like a part of me died. It felt like a part of my mother, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, it felt like a part of us all died. Like a part of my heart went away. Then, in a matter of minutes, I had a sense of peace and fullness because, even though we can't know know, I was reassured that my grandfather was in Jannah. And more than all of the Qur'an reading I've been doing this month by ajiza, I felt the mercy of God, right then.

It was one of the strongest moments of my faith, and it makes all of the tears that I shed either happy tears or tears of saudade. My grandfather was a staple in my life, like my sustenance, and life will never be the same without him here. And life is not as precious without him here. But I will strive each day towards God, may I be all that Grandfather desired of us, his legacy, his progeny, and even more than he could have imagined.

I love you, Grandfather, and that you are in Jannah makes it even more of a goal for me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

All I Want to Be


As another Ramadan approaches, I'm starting to become more reflective and introspective at a time that my incoming rotation will not allow me to be. I'll be on a surgery inpatient service for the duration of Ramadan. I just have to get in enough calories and hydrate enough during suhoor and before I begin my shifts at 5am, and I think I'll be fine, iA.

But also, as another Ramadan approaches, I reflect on all of the things I've wanted to be over the years, all of the things I want to be, and all of the things that I've tucked away, at least temporarily. One of them is a better Muslim. That definition has shifted over time and looks a bit different than it did 11 years ago when I fasted my first full Ramadan outside of my parent's home as an 18-year-old college freshman.

It looks different than it did when I was a new, 21-year-old hijabi.

It looks different than it did when I was a 24-year-old medical student, struggling with the fear that my first Muslim brother-crush, who was marrying someone else, was maybe the best, the last and the only chance I'd ever get at love.

It looks different than I did when I was 27, newly disillusioned with love and certain aspects of my religion and moving from east to west coast with hopes to realize my dream career.

I think that, more than any time in my life, my self-definition is fluid. That sounds wishy-washy. I mean that I realize that parts of who I am are continually evolving as I grow and learn. I do not expect to reach my destination and still have life left to live.

In essence, I will not attain "better Muslim" at once and then sit pretty for the rest of the time. It will be one of those life goals I will work toward until the end, whether that is the end of my life or the terminal decline of my cognition.

And while one could say that my Islam is all-encompassing of the most important things of my life, I also have other aspects of my life for which I recognize that I will not reach a destination before the end. These identities of mine are constantly growing and changing, and I thank God for that. It means I'm very much alive.

It also means I can't close my eyes and see where I want to be at any given time. I used to be able to close my eyes and see such vivid detail, from the color of my clothes to the height of my husband, to how many kids we'd have at our sides. With maturity these details have necessarily become more vague or are now nonexistent, replaced with an intangible placeholder named insha'Allah.

Because I couldn't have made up the last two years of my life when I was an 18-year-old freshman or a 21-year-old hijabi or a 24-year-old medical student.

And that removes the pressure I feel to be all that I want to be. I no longer feel pressure to be all of these things soon, as if it would never happen otherwise. I no longer feel pressure to be all of the things I want to be at once.

I no longer feel the urgency of being all the things I want to be. It's all insha'Allah, and for the first time in a couple of years, insha'Allah doesn't feel daunting to me.

I guess this is what it means to Submit.

There's so much that I am that I want to be as much of my life as I can, but I cannot, because of the earthly limits of space and time. I want to be all of these things, including a writer, an artist, a singer, a musician - a family physician, a public health practitioner, possibly a medical director - a mother, a wife, a daughter-in-law--while carrying with the things I already am--a Muslim, a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a friend, the list probably goes on. I want to be all of these things at once because I enjoy each of them, in each of them I find meaning and purpose, in each of them I express a little of myself, and to several of them I aspire absolutely.

And for the first time, I'm okay with the fact that there may be some things that I'll never be. I'm not despairing right now with the possibility of never bearing my own children, but maybe I'll adopt or foster. I may never publish a fiction piece, but I'll keep writing. I may never marry, but I'll love and nurture those who are in my life. Not saying that they would not be hard to come to terms with, but I'm accepting.

Whereas when I was a teen, when I saw the future, I saw black, bleak, dark--whereas when I was in my early 20s, I saw future as a series of detailed ideals with a backdrop of grave anxiety--I can't see the future now, as I never was able to, really, and I'm placing my trust in God, the best of planners, while moving forward prayerfully with my own purposeful plans in the meantime.

By God's grace, I will be able to be all I want to be.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014



One day, I got angry. One of my younger cousins posted a picture of her boyfriend on Facebook.

That wasn't why I got angry. It was a cute picture and the guy reminded me of her dad, my first cousin. We often are attracted to men with certain traits like our fathers. That was not my concern.

My concern were all of these likes from family members who do not know this man from Adam. Some of the same baseless likes that my cousin got when she talked about how much she loved the man who, unbeknownst to much of the family, was beating her bloody.

Oh, because that's "black love."

I'm not hating on the entity, "black love." It's never something I specifically aspired to myself, pero bueno...

I was angry because I knew I couldn't post a similar picture of my SO without flack, hate, and promises of being disowned.

Because this isn't black love. This is interracial.

I hate the term swirling, so this is the last time you'll see me write it.

One of my cousins, in person, already asked me, "Why do you post all those pictures on your Facebook with all of those white people?"

I answered, "They are my co-workers." That satisfied him for a moment, but implicit in that question was probably...how about that one guy you seem to be standing close to in a lot of your pictures?

Taking pictures with all of those white people, indeed.

I could hear it now. "What's wrong with a black man?" "Oh, why are you with a *****." I don't even want to imagine the permutations.

And then, I probably scrolled down to another picture of someone with their loving in-laws, and I thought about how my SO was impressed that his mother behaved herself around me, though she's always worried about what people in the Old Country will think of her son being with a black woman.

And I just got angry. Angry then quickly tired.

I wish I could introduce this man to my family without drama. I wish they would welcome him like they welcomed my black cousins-in-law with open arms, call him cousin. I wish I could introduce him to my grandparents without at least one of those grandparents being pained. I wish I could include him in my family.

...that my father already doesn't like him is almost requisite, regardless of his race, hehe.

But I wish...man, I wish...

And I never aspired to black love, but I never aspired to be with a white man, either, precisely because of my family's racism and otherwise baggage that we have with our Nation of Islam roots. I figured if I were with another non-African brown person, they would be too confused to be racist. I'd still get off comments about I obviously haven't been with a black man, blah blah blah, but it'd be more tolerable. Maybe that one uncle wouldn't disown me.

But really...there are too many men in my family who will see it as somehow a personal affront if I don't end up with a black man. Like I'm making a commentary on their worth. No, I make no commentary. My relationship the living manifestation of exactly who desired to marry me. He who did not is not standing next to me right now.

So there.

So my SO won't be called cousin. We may not even have a wedding we can invite the rest of my family to. That makes me angry, but oh well. I love my family enough to recognize there's no changing them.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dissociative Moment


I just had a dissociative moment. I looked at my full name, first and last, on facebook and didn't recognize it as my name for a moment.

Because Nigerian names are so unfamiliar to most in the NW, and penned by my residency classmates, I've started going by Chi or sometimes Dr. Chi. Which is cute on several levels, yes, but that's not my name. My name is Chinyere. Everyone in medical school called me Chinyere, except the West Africans and my Romanian friend called me ChiChi on occasion.

Chinyere, ChiChi--those are my names. I refuse to use ChiChi in the professional standpoint, but I'm Chinyere.

Then, my SO's friends call me by my middle name because that's how he's introduced me for months before they met me, because he doesn't want them to butcher my name, but that's also disorienting...and then his mother calls me my middle name in Albanian...

And at the end of the day, I've been called other than Chinyere the entire time that I barely feel like Chinyere anymore.

And that's a weird feeling.

I call home, and my mother is more likely to call me one of my many nicknames with her (including, but not limited to Missy, Missy Moosey, Lucy, Lucinda, etc.). I can count on one hand the number of times my mother has actually called me Chinyere (well...maybe if I don't count Chinyere-bee-baby...for those who don't know how to pronounce my name, re-bee rhymes with baby).

My father...almost never calls me by my name unless he's locating me in the house or commanding me to do something. So the only correct way I know how to pronounce my name (because I even mispronounce my name to make it easier for English speakers) is in the context of a shout.


I think the rest of the time, he calls me Nne Nne...or nothing.

Oh yeah, more nicknames from my mother - Chich (pron. Cheech...she never calls me ChiChi), Chichmeister...

Yeah, I guess my father doesn't have a ton of nicknames for me. I'm Nne Nne, my brother is Nna. Or Nne Nne Le and Nna Le. Or Nna Nka.

I really regret that I don't know Igbo.

So I spent a lot of my life either being called out of my name or having my name butchered by those around me. My friends always knew how to pronounce my name, though.

But after a full day of being called Chi and Dr. Chi (occasionally actually hearing my last name)...it's a weird, dissociative feeling. I feel like I used to be Chinyere, but now, I'm Chi.

That's it. I'm going to start using my full name again. No more, "Red team, this is Chi." It's back to, "Red team, this is Chinyere," when I'm on service.

Because I love my name, and I feel the most me with it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Learning to Be Alone


Now that I've been stably in a relationship for nearly two years, I've gone back and read some of those pieces aimed specifically at single people that I couldn't palate the while I was single. Most of the time, I am usually dismayed that I was not able to arrive at the level of sheer self-contentment that the articles recommend. Happily partnered and not desirous of single status, though intellectually feeling that this time around, I could handle it, I wondered how much of my partnership was just for the sake of not being alone. I began to wonder if I would keep looking if I had arrived at a place where I was as content with solitude as these pieces recommend single people to be.

One of the pieces of advice that these articles often cite is that one needs to learn how to be alone, in general. Not just be single, but learn how to be content with one's own company.

And I thought about how bad I was at doing that even while still single. It wasn't that I was constantly yearning for a significant other to fill a space. But my space was constantly filled--with phone calls to my family and friends and visits from friends. The time that I actually spent alone was very meticulously filled with necessary studying while I was in school and writing projects or casual reading when I had free time. I usually exercised alone as well. But I didn't think I enjoyed this time alone--it was just a matter of course.

I enjoy hot showers after sweaty workouts, for example, but showering is something that one necessarily does alone the grand majority of times--I assume this is true even for married women.

But then, it happened. After a week of staycation and getting my life in my apartment organized for the first time since the first few months that I had moved in, I was organized enough to seek out samba class. I found one that I wanted to check out, finished my rotation duties and headed over to the class. I had a good dance and workout, walked home, cooled down and then jumped into the shower to wash the paint off of my feet (I danced barefoot on a raggedy, painted dance floor in a small cultural center in the International District) and in general enjoy the hot spray on my body.

Then, lotioned and deodorized, I sat on my futon and adjusted the temperature in my place by placing the window fan in the window, turning on the only lamp that survived the move from Boston in the corner, and settling down to write a little.

And I probably let one of those this-is-the-life sighs escape my lips before I realized...

Here I am, alone, in my own space, completely content with being alone right now, with the trajectory of the day, with how I plan to conclude my evening, with the fact that I can sit down and write.

It took me two years of a stable relationship to learn to be alone.

When my apartment was filled with papers that needed organizing, laundry to be sorted and washed and put away, dishes caked in grease that didn't come off with one round of dishwashing (but always with a clean bathroom!), I did not enjoy my time here. I spent most of the time in my bed, the only relatively clear spot in my place, with the blinds drawn because...if I have a night shift, I sometimes sleep during the day, so the goal of the bedroom is darkness. I spent most of my days at my SO's place, because he has a house, actually, and is a minimalist so has very little clutter. My house became a cluttered sleeping den with a refrigerator I was afraid to open.

Now, with all of my educational papers organized into binders and files, all of the junk mail that I had let accumulate over two years shreaded and recycled, the kitchen clean and ready for the next meal, my dining room apetizing, my reading corner restored with my papasan chair open and inviting...I have no need to be anywhere else. My space is less than 600 square feet, but I now can do almost everything I want in here. I can practice my samba moves in the living room with my small stereo system with sub woofer. I can experiment with different recipes and eat them at my dining room table or my now pristine bar area at the sink. I can curl up with a good book or medical journal and read in my reading corner. I can take a nap on my futon.

Or, like now, I can sit with my legs crossed and my laptop on my lap and write whatever comes to mind.

And my room, small and functional, can be reserved for what I always meant it to be for: sleep! Fresh sheets, organized closet and dresser drawers, dusted nightstand with my Qur'an, alarm clock and personal effects there at the side. It's back to being my bedroom again, and not a glorified dorm room of yore.

In med school more than in college, my dorm room bed was a place to eat, study, watch television, read and sleep. And repeat. And sometimes cry.

And there are so many other things that I occasionally do when I'm here, like long hair-care days. I recently spent 9 hours twisting my hair, and could spend a similar amount of time doing my next henna rinse and deep conditioning routine. And of course, there's the singing and the documentary-watching.

And this is just inside of my apartment! There's a whole world of things outside of the apartment that I enjoy doing solo - my samba classes, my workouts, shopping, eating what I want without being policed.

Not that I don't love doing things with my SO. Not at all. But there are definitely things that I did when my time was all my own that I miss now because I'm trying to balance a busy work schedule with future family time, so to speak.

That's when I wondered whether these self-help blurbs for singles are written by people who are happily partnered. Because it sounds a lot like my happily married mother's advice when I was a young, yearning girl. "One day, you'll look back at this time and be repentant," is the only thing missing from the learn to be alone injunction. 

Because that's what I wish I could tell my single self now and what I'll know in the future. This time that you're spending doing whatever the hell you want is priceless. Don't sell it short for the sake of a relationship. Enjoy it. Soak in it. You may not have it again.

Especially since I have baby fever at all times, I don't feel like I'm going to get to enjoy too much of my future married life non-pregnant or mothering, insha'Allah.

So if I don't take advantage of the last of my alone time now, gone could be the days of my concurrent samba dancing, jazz club singing (!!), personal training, exercising, hair henna glossing, two strand twisting, journal writing, MPB singing all the while doctoring self.

Ahhh...I get it.

But I did not arrive at this place when I was perpetually single. I didn't know what it was like to divide my time. I had time to do all of those things but I also had time to be lonely, devastated and disillusioned. That space is now filled and is overflowing into my alone time.

So now, I know how to be alone. Yes. Great.

No, but actually, great! It just gives me hope that my success in a relationship was not dependent on my being completely happy single. In fact, part of the impetus that keeps any two of us together as disparate human beings is anything from a preference against to a fear of being alone. So that's okay.

But I didn't need to have the single thing perfect before leaving that stage of my life.

...and the fact still remains, if nothing much is going on, I'm going to end up calling my mother, preferentially, anyway.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

My Parents' Radical Marriage


On September 15, 1983, surrounded by my maternal grandparents and my Uncle Junior, my parents were married at city hall in Flint. My mother wore a modest, lavender dress, my grandmother's favorite color, and my father wore what I wager was one of the few suits he had at the time. My mother would later tell me that the reason why they married at city hall and that she wore a regular dress was because she knew her father was poor and she did not want to burden him with an expensive wedding, or any wedding at all, apparently.

However, it was also convenient, in the marriage of a Muslim woman to a Christian man, that their ceremony was not at all religious. There was no broom jumping, there was no palm wine. My grandfather did not give his youngest daughter away and my Uncles Donald and Temple were not there to see their youngest brother take a wife. And that's the way my parents wanted it. They often cite my brother's autism for the reason they keep to themselves but I have a feeling they've always been low-key.

And characteristic of the rest of their marriage, my mother's family ignored her requests for little fanfare and threw them a surprise reception after they married. My parents, who sounded very much like hipsters of their time, were gracious and excepted the reception as my father accepted his new family.

My father would travel back to Nigeria the next month and return in April of 1984, just in time to conceive me. He would not travel back to Nigeria in my lifetime.

Pictures from this day are in the front of my favorite photo album in my parents' house. It was my favorite as a child because it was the one where I saw the realization of my birth. It began with pictures of my parents marriage, the reception, my parents in their first apartment and soon transitioned to my mother, several weeks pregnant, her baby shower, and then my newborn pictures. As a child, I loved looking at baby pictures of myself. I was a really cute baby. But I always looked at the album in chronological order, including the three or four pictures in city hall of my parents, exchanging vows, my father accidentally placing the ring on the incorrect finger and my mother laughing, and the kiss with my grandparents clasping their hands and smiling in the background.

Already, their marriage was not typical. It was not in a religious sanctuary, a term my mother would use to describe one of the reasons she and my father chose each other. They didn't need a religious sanctuary to practice their respective faiths, she maintained. She remains un-mosqued as she has been my entire life, praying five times a day alone in the house's prayer room. My father is several years returned to church after never having set foot during all the time I lived at home and through my college years.

It was not surrounded by family and closest friends. It was surrounded by just enough of my mother's family to serve as witnesses--and my Uncle Junior, who, as my senior uncle on my mother's side, has attended nearly every major event in my life, from my birth to my graduation from college.

It was not traditional. My father, who was not raised in Nigerian traditions and couldn't explain them to me if I asked, did not dress in traditional Nigerian clothes on his big day and would not dress that way in the United States for another 30 years. My mother did not wear white. There were no bridesmaids or groomsmen. My mother had no engagement ring when she donned her wedding band. And that was it. Married.

But it was also radical. The Muslim daughter of Muslim parents married a Christian man, with the open approval of her parents, though she never asked for it. A Christian man who grew up sitting at his father's feet during sermons married a Muslim woman in spite of all of the things he believed about the Muslims of the north that were responsible for killing his people before the war. He also didn't seek the approval of his family.

When my mother tells it, she never balked at what my grandparents would think of her marrying a Christian man. She did not ask their permission to travel to Nigeria to visit my father in 1981. She told them, then she went. A woman previously sheltered by the strictest parents I've ever heard of in the name of the Nation of Islam traveled outside of the country for the first time to Nigeria, by herself. She has never asked them what they thought of the whole thing and it hasn't mattered.

My father doesn't tell stories about these things, but I imagine he didn't ask or tell very much. Not only did my mother not meet his family when she traveled to Nigeria (tell me more about that month long trip, Ma), but his family just found out that she is Muslim...two years ago? Over the phone? This tells me that my father did not consult his elder brothers, as my grandparents on that side had already passed.

That the children of two families who were essentially religious entities in their community could pull of an accepted interfaith marriage was pretty remarkable. That neither of these adults were hindered by what their family thought was fantastic. Their marriage exemplifies everything a love marriage can be for a Muslim woman, for an immigrant man.

And unlike various in each set of their co-religionists, they do not wonder if their marriage is valid. And they do not doubt that it is recognized by God.

Besides this very radical aspect of my parents' marriage, the interfaith without asking permission part, it is also otherwise unconventional. It was my mother who proposed to my father. And I believe it went a little something like this:

"Hey! Why don't we get married?"

And three years later, after spending most of that time with the Atlantic between them, they did just that. Prior to their marriage, their courtship face-to-face was 10 months total - 9 months in the United States, 1 month in Nigeria. They succeeded in having the longest long distance courtship I've personally known of.

They were set up on a blind date by a mutual friend they hadn't talked to in years. My mother was instantly taken at how my father was so friendly and outgoing that he talked to the DJ at the party as if he'd known him for years, yet he just met him. I don't know what my father was thinking, but I know that he's always adored my mother, and probably felt some semblance of that then.

They were set up but they had met before. My mother was a secretary at University of Michigan, Flint in the offices of Afro-American and Chicano Studies, where my father's cousin, head of the department, worked. My father would visit his cousin and bow his head toward my mother as he entered the office.

And somehow, this was totally unrelated to them being set up.

I don't know if my father dated previously, but I assume he did. I know my mother did. Her first foray into dating non-black men was another Nigerian who happened to be Chinua Achebe's cousin. The date ended, and Mr. Achebe seemed enthusiastic but I guess that was the last date.

(And to think, I may have been an Achebe...more than happy to be who I am!)

And of course, as goes without saying, their union was intercultural.

For all the ways my parents' marriage was radical, unconventional, special, it was also largely ordinary. It's an ordinary story of two people who loved each other and decided to spend the rest of their lives together. It's all about love, as Maurice White sings.

"Bound to fall in love one day. Surely, and you need it!"

They liked each other, then they loved each other, they married, they formed a family.

I don't know what it was about my dad, but he saw my mother transform from being a professional-minded woman who never aspired to have children to a mother who adored and nurtured us without interruption from the days we were born while still developing professionally. And I don't know what it is about my mother, but she anchored my father to a land in which he never intended to stay.

And the rest is history.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Black vs. African: "Race Consciousness"


Black vs. African. There is no versus in me because I am both. I am black American and I am Nigerian American. I am all American, all black, and half Nigerian.

So when I am reminded of the tension between black people and first generation African immigrants, or the imagined tension between the two groups, it feels especially arbitrary to me. But I must respect that it is very real for those so impassioned and involved in our difference from our recent immigrant cousins, so to speak.

I say that the tension is imagined because I do not see the tension play out in real time. As a teenaged Nigerian-black-American girl, a few of my (black) friends felt it appropriate to get the scoop on why Africans thought they were better than black people. I can't remember exactly how I answered, but I should have said, "Well, I don't know. You should ask an African."

And how many times, in west African families (the only group I can poorly speak to), are all the hushed assumptions about black American people spoken out loud, those that lead mothers and sisters to decry their sons and brothers ending up with black American women, for example? And how many times have these women actually met the very people they have decried and confronted them about these perceived inadequacies?

Real tensions are lived out in heated discussions and shouting matches, African immigrant on one side accusing black American of being, whatever, lazy, violent, thuggish, and black American saying, ah-hah! I knew you felt this way about me! Now let me tell you why you're ignorant to the legacy of institutionalized racism...

I am not yet aware of this happening, but I'm hopeful a civil version of this gets played out in campuses across the country.

Because that's the only way imaged tensions turned real tensions can devolve.

And as I felt my friend back in high school unfairly placed me in the center of this unfortunate contention, I also refuse to place myself in the middle of it. I by far do not have the authority to lie bare the root of the tensions between African immigrants and black Americans. I don't think any one does, not another mixed person, maybe a scholar on the subject, and definitely not me.

In my family, the only black vs. African tension that existed was any sexual tension that existed in my parents prior to the realization of their relationship, but that is long gone 30 years into marriage.

And as the Nigerian daughter of a black American woman, maybe I wasn't privy to what our Nigerian family friends said behind closed doors about black people because they knew my mother was black. And maybe no one in my circles really meditated about the state of black Americans and that's why I didn't hear it.

So I cannot really confirm or deny the tension. But as a very black Nigerian American woman, I can say the following things with certainty:

--Africans are not better than black Americans by any measure, any more than any group of people is better than another.
--As black Americans, we must understand that the context in which race exists in our country does not exist in the same way outside of this country and in many places does not exist at all. Neither does our consciousness about it.
--As African immigrants and second generationers, we must make an effort to understand the history of institutionalized slavery and racism and the resultant Civil Rights Movement that is responsible for allowing us or our parents to immigrate into this country in the first place.
--All of us need to make an effort to know each other before dismissing each other on the basis of long-held reputation or rumor.

When I was little, my mother used to remark that Africans, particularly our Nigerian friends, could move into all-white neighborhoods and not blink. And often, their children would fare just fine as the only black children in the schools. Not so for this second generationer who's looking at the prospect of moving into the mainly-white suburb that my SO lives in. What changed with one generation? Race consciousness.

Being aware of my blackness, or what I think it means to be black in America, makes me fear that I'll encounter people who feel I don't belong in their suburb. It'll make me feel out of place. The majority of immigrants do not carry race and racial oppression on their bodies like many Americans do. My father would have felt comfortable in my SO's suburb and probably would have liked the weather better than the first place he lived when he came to this country, the upper peninsula of Michigan.

I didn't hear my father speaking the language of race consciousness until a friend of his, also Nigerian, experienced racism in the workplace. It was as if it became real for my father at that moment. Because the whole, "You're not like other black people," or, "I don't consider you really black" thing that a lot of us first- and second-generationers get isn't full-proof and it's far from universal.

We black people are not imaging things. Racism is real. It's a real force that is external and very much internal. It incorporates itself often in the nay-saying voice that all people have that we are variably able to silence. We have to fight off that negative self-talk that convinces us that our shortcomings are racially based and that we are inferior, somehow, because it's been said and implied so long.

Yes, internal. We internalize it because we consume it. It is spoon fed to us as children as soon as we learn we used to be slaves, that we used to be absolutely unequal, that we used to have separate everything, like we were dirty, like the brown of our skin was tainted and would rub off on others.
Nigerian children, for example, do not learn this about themselves.

Even when we are taught that it was wrong, of course, (though that was not necessarily implicit in the teachings I got about slavery, even in the North), it makes us fearful. Do racists still exist?

We internalize it when we, black kids in a poor school district, have test grades that are compared to the richer, whiter school districts. We internalize it when our test scores are lower than our white friends at the same class level. Was some of that true?

As a Nigerian American black girl, I was not immune to this internalization. My father had no context for it and always harkened back to his, "Do the other students have two heads?" to motivate me. I pushed through intense feelings of inadequacy.

My father's experience as one of the only black people in his science classes at the University of Michigan was, therefore, very different than my experience as one of the only black people in my science classes at the University of Michigan.

Internalized racism is the most damning form of racism there is. It makes us hyper aware of our racial difference and makes us move differently in space, to only our own detriment. It made my teenaged friend believe that Africans think they're better than us. And how did that make him feel? Alienated from a group of people who looked like him but where just another group in the list that thought they were better than him, and maybe actually were.

Whereas...I've never encountered an African immigrant who asked me if black people consider them stuck-up, ignorant and other.

Internalized racism makes us wonder if that neighbor in the all-white suburb glancing at us is racist and if they're wondering how a black woman could afford to live in this neighborhood, whereas someone else may not even notice the glance.

Internalized racism makes us wonder if the boss has been waiting for you to screw up because he was convinced that you didn't belong in the company as a black person and expected you to fail, whereas someone else may not have that tension.

Internalized racism puts us constantly in the defensive because so many people could potentially be against us at any time because of our culture and heritage and we have to be prepared, whereas that is not a reality for so many other people.

Internalized racism is confused to be race consciousness in so many of us.

Let me not run to the subway, because people get scared when they see a black man running toward them.

In summary, ruminations on what African immigrants think of us, black people, comes from a place of internalized racism, because as my father says, "Is that what you're going to eat?" No, it's not. If they do think they're better than us, screw them! Seriously.

Easier said than done, right? It hurts for someone who looks like you, who may share ancestry with you, to also be down on you like everyone else is. So first- and second-generationers, recognize that and respect it.

And African immigrants and second-gens, institutionalized racism was no joke! We will at some point feel the effects of it while in this country. It will be very hard for you to protect your children from it. So recognize and befriend your black neighbor who has come up with ways to teach his child to respond to it, recognize it in themselves and repel it.

Monday, April 7, 2014

We Are Fantastic!

As salaam alaikum,

I was single until I was 27. Scratch that, I was woefully single until I was 27. I am 29 and still unmarried. In the age of more equality for women than in recent past, higher percentages women in colleges and universities than men and entering the era of embracing or rejecting leaning in, people have given me reasons why we're still single since before I should have been worried about it.

Those of us who are in this class, those of us who are or have been woefully single, know these "rationale" well. We know it so well and it's so tired that I'm not going to recant it here! Suffice it to say, it is largely untrue.

Whether it's a small pool of black men who will accept a woman who has more degrees or more earning potential, whether it's a small pool of Muslim men who will accept such a woman, whether it's a small pool of men, regardless of religion, who won't push sex...there are diverse factors at play as to why so many of us have been so woefully single.

But we should never think that it's because we are impossible. That it's impossible for us to be desired by a man, impossible for us to be loved, impossible or just too damn hard, because that is also not true.

We, my sisters, are fantastic!

Every long-single woman I know, whether she is woeful or not, is a fantastic, multifaceted woman who is not in any way impossible.

Granted, being in an actual relationship after being long-single is a steep learning curve. We are fantastic but we're far from perfect and after living comfortably in your own clutter, so to speak, someone else being present and moving through that clutter puts your shortcomings on blast!

After being long-single, being in a relationship with another person will present a steep learning curve, but it's not impossible. And it may be hard to break through the walls we've built for so many years to protect ourselves from loving too easily and getting too hurt. And things that may be self-evident for someone who has had more relationships than we have we have to experience for the first time. In some unanticipated ways, we are grown women like young girls in ways our partners do not expect.

And the rest is starting from zero and recognizing that letting someone, anyone into your life like this, this close, this intimate, is hard simply because that person is outside of your body and not you.

Not impossible.

And it's not our faces, the amount we cover or do not cover, our size, our shape. When it comes to the physical strictly, there is literally someone for everyone. When I was woefully single, I used to want someone who loved me but never did I imagine someone looking lovingly upon me when I couldn't look that lovingly on myself. Who would have though that I would still be gorgeous even when gaining weight and my face starts to take on that rounded oval shape?

We are fantastic! And there are tons of things that we don't have to have all figured out before entering these relationships. We don't have to love ourselves fully, we don't have to have lived out our every ambition, traveled to all of the places we wanted to go, be fully realized women. It would be nice, but we're not perfect, and we're still going to frown at our thighs in the mirror sometimes, and engage in negative self talk every now and again about the stupid mistake we made at work, stupid me. We won't have learned that third language, we won't have filled up our passport, because it's okay to still be a work in progress.

Because we won't change but the context of ourselves and aspirations change when we make space in our life for another. And it's okay to grow from that point, too.

We are not impossible, we are fantastic.

I know because at 27 I met someone with whom I could just be exactly the Muslim woman I am, exactly the physician that I am, exactly the black woman I am and everything in between that I haven't had the chance to be with anyone else. And I thought there was something wrong with me, intermittently, in the years before when I wasn't considered past my face, by body, my cover or lack of cover, and my potential in short-term sexual encounters. And loving me is easy to him. And loving him is easy.

And before I met him, I knew I was fantastic.

I just also thought I was impossible.

But none of us, sisters, are impossible.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Nigerian Parent Invencible


Today, I was reading the wikipedia entry for Chiwetel Ejiofor (an actor I've admired since Dirty Pretty Things) and read about the tragic death of his father in a car accident in Nigeria, while he survived, and my heart sank.

It was the same way I was saddened to hear about a Nigerian woman, single mother in Michigan who was hit by a car as she crossed the street on her way to work and was killed.

If I ever have puff puff again, I'll probably cry over it as I remember how my mother, father and brother ate puff puff prepared by her at the last Nigerian wedding they attended.

I realize I'm really shaken by these deaths more than baseline because they bring my father's mortality into focus. My father is such a strong personality and a strong force in my life, I cannot imagine him suddenly and violently leaving, as in the likes of a car accident. In fact, God forbid! I pray when I do lose my father, it's not in such a way.

You cannot prepare for life and you can't for death but I'm just coming to terms with my grandparents dying. Sometimes I call my parents to make sure they're okay. I'm not ready for them to leave, but who ever is?

I've known a lot of Nigerians in my life...my father, aunties and uncles in that way that unrelated adults are aunties and uncles, and I see them as invincible, illogically so. I don't know if it's the inherent faith and God-fearing nature of so many of them, their ubiquity in my life for so long with little tragedy. It seems like they'd be here forever until they age and move on of natural causes.

There's something so alive, so vital about my father's presence in my life. Something about him that made me more apt to assume he was perfect for so long, even when I knew he was wrong. He's so steadfast in his faith and in his work as I suppose are many a first generation immigrant, like the auntie who made puff puff at the wedding, as I imagine Ejiofor's father may have been, a physician killed as he drove from a wedding in Nigeria.

And my heart sinks because they're not invincible, and I've always known it, but he feels so alive to me even when he's no where near me because of that presence his persona creates, and I'm not ready for it to be violently stripped from this realm. Not yet.

My father has commuted every day, one hour to work and one hour home, since the day after I was born, for 29 years now. I pray for his safe journey to work and safe return home, every day, for the rest of his life.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Other Side of the Storm


I'm waking up on the other side of the storm. I just completed 5 weeks of inpatient medicine where I was a senior on service. It was great - I learned a ton, I taught a ton, and I have so much more to learn. I passed Step 3, I'm completely done with the USMLE and I'm one step closer to being a sho' nuff doctor. I'm coasting through the rest of second year with all outpatient rotations after being fairly front-loaded.

And my life around me is a bit of a mess.

I'm sure I have some rotting food in my fridge that I'll soon be obligated to touch to throw out, my bathroom is the nastiest I've ever let a bathroom get (I have a low tolerance for bathroom mess), I have one load of laundry left to do, a bunch of clean laundry to hang and a whole new bunch of laundry piling up in my hamper. I have weeks of eating hospital food catching up with me and I'm off my wellness game. I have evaluations to complete, procedures to log, continuities to track, all sorts of things. I basically have my work cut out for me right now.

But...I'm going to take it one step at a time. Tonight, laundry will go unwashed, the tub will keep it's ring, the rotting food that is now frozen in time in my freezer will freeze another day. After clinic, I will go to the gym, I will come back and do a hot oil treatment, shower and shampoo, and then chill the rest of the evening.

Early spring cleaning? I'll save that for Friday after the gym.

I admittedly let myself go during this last block in favor of being a present, active, senior. I had a bunch of awesome interns that made my job easy. And I think I did the right thing. In order to be as fully committed to service as possible as a resident, you have to siphon some energy from other parts of your life sometimes. The part that I didn't want to sacrifice were relationships. So I kept relationships up and running, maintained the bare minimum personal hygiene, and pushed forward on service.

Last night leaving was relatively cathartic. But residency goes on.

Now what? I have a full day of clinic, then I begin our behavioral health block. I look forward to hanging out with my second year class and sorting out the untidiness in my life and faith right now.

On a slightly unrelated note, I only have nightmares when I sleep on my back. Last night, I had a disturbing dream that the world around me was being destroyed by huge bombs. Already, several people had died and the world was left in a state of anarchy and uncertainty. I was back at home, and it was only my mother and I at home at the time. I don't know where my father and brother were. I was sitting at the table, eating a breakfast of mixed fruit (which was dream fruit so it didn't look like real fruit) that I think was good. My mother and I were having a good morning, shrouded in the fact that we were living each moment like we could get killed the next. It was so scary, but I was a full physician at this time and I had to drive out to work. The problem was, I didn't know which route to take. There was a freeway exchange in my dreams (way back...I'm reaching back, now, because I hadn't had a dream about that exit in a while) that I usually avoided taking when leaving Ann Arbor but that I'd have to take because my other route had recently been destroyed.

And although we knew that we could get killed at any moment, our moments were filled with constant prayer and we had faith in God that we would be seen through. And with all of this on my mind, I ate the fruit plate before me and chatted with my mother about the state of the world as the sun shone more brightly than it usually does in Michigan and as the deceptively tranquil day was before us with blue skies.

I woke up, fearing for my life, sleeping on my back with my head to the side, looking at my open closet. Not sure why I only have nightmares when sleeping on my back.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Ideal


The other day, I was sitting with my SO and we were reflecting on our relationship (1.5 years now), and I can't remember how it came up, but I think I mentioned that I'd grown since the time I'd known him, and that I'm still growing, and I realize the things that I used to want in a relationship I don't actually want and things that I didn't think I wanted I really appreciate having.

He asked me who my ideal SO would be.

And I couldn't answer him. I know he's conscious of the differences in our spirituality and probably wonders if one day I'll wake up and decide I'd rather be with a more-practicing man and leave him on his way, especially when I get to talking about religion (even if I'm bemoaning certain elements). I feel like the answer I gave him would have only upset him.

Because, really, I've never thought long enough to formulate an ideal. My ideal man was always someone who would fit well with me. Someone who would make sense in my life, my practice, with my belief, and that was it. It takes actually being in a relationship to realize how selfish that view is and realize that it's never that simple with another, complex, whole human being at your side that you're relating to.

And just because I've waited and was prayerful and feel like I'm a really good person, doesn't mean I'm going to be the perfect SO. In fact, I spent so many years by myself, I still find myself being self-centered and forcing myself to put myself aside for a little bit to really hear my SO's point of view, his hangups, his problems.

Not that I'm usually a selfish person. Of course I know how to be a good friend and I do this for friends all the time. It's just...I guess I always imagined a relationship while being alone and relatively self-sufficient, so spending time with someone in the flesh who is filling that role after imagining it alone for a while makes it hard to get outside of myself and those imaginings and relate to the person on the other side of the dream.

So I feel like whatever I imagined as the ideal man or the ideal relationship before was fairly one-sided, as if there were a human man out there whose sole purpose in life was to be my eventual husband or something. And of course I never expected someone to be like that, but when one creates an imaginary man in their brains, he doesn't tend to have aspirations unique to your own.

What would be a better soul mate then one who also believed in care for the underserved, here and abroad? Maybe...

The fact is, the possible "ideal" combinations with me as a person are endless, but they are, regardless, combinations that I do not find often in nature. And implicit in my SO's question is his wondering if I'm settling or not, if I can do better or not.

And I guess I could imagine a lot of different types of men. Of late, I think it would be cool to travel to Brazil, specifically to Salvador, and meet some guy at the faculdade who was really into Nigeria, specifically Igbo culture, and therefore be fascinated with me, my family's history, my religion, and things go from there...

But I don't think about those things anymore. I don't construct ideals anymore because I have something real that is good, that works, that is better than I could have imagined in the package that it came in. I have before me a real man who has lived 6 years before me, has lived 33 years independent of me, has dreams and goals that do not involve me, and yet is now intimately interwoven in my life and it just seems silly to prefer to be with an imaginary man of my own making.

Whether or not I could "do better" is I guess up for debate, but I don't think I can fabricate an ideal. Not right now, not while things are so real.