10 Vocabularies And Stories of How I Learned their Meanings

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Every month, when I get my ABAjournal magazine, I hasten to read Bryan Garner’s column on Words. He gives very practical and useful tips on writing. Bryan has an impressive resume which includes being the editor-in-chief of all current editions of Black’s Law Dictionary. In the September 2013 issue of ABAjournal, Bryan asserted that one’s earning is directly proportional to their vocabulary size.( I will like to know your view on this in the comments section). I remember thinking that given how many vocabularies Bryan knew that he must be the richest lawyer in the United States. Here are his exact words: ‘If I were to hazard a fairly educated guess, I’d say that American lawyers’ vocabularies range roughly from 45,000 to 135,000 words. Further, I’d guess that those who know 100,000 to 135,000 words have, on average, at least double the income of those who know only 45,000 to 70,000 words. I would also guess that there are many more lawyers at the lower end of the scale than at the higher end.

Garner went on to quote from E.D. Hirsch’s essay, “A Wealth of Words” thus:

• “Vocabulary size is a convenient proxy for a whole range of educational attainments and abilities—not just skill in reading, writing, listening and speaking but also general knowledge of science, history and the arts.”

• “Correlations between vocabulary size and life chances are as firm as any correlations in educational research.”

• “Between 1962 and the present, a big segment of the American population began knowing fewer words, getting less smart and becoming demonstrably less able to earn a high income.”

Because I grew up having English as my second language, I didn’t have the privilege of picking up vocabularies from everyday conversations. That would have definitely boosted my vocabulary bank–and I understand now, my bank account. My siblings and I spoke Igbo at home. At school, I spoke English only because if I didn’t, my name would appear in the ‘Names of Igbo Speakers’ list which would in turn result in flogging from the ‘Senior’ who ordered the list.

Things are quite differen in Nigeria now. An educated middle-aged Nigerian woman once saw a kid in one Nigeria store gushing about how ‘awesome’ something was. The woman, who has English as a second language, commented on how easy vocabularies come to Nigerian kids these days. I share the same sentiment. I use ‘nice’, ‘good’, ‘beautiful’ more than I use ‘stunning’, ‘striking’, ‘exotic’. In contrast, at about age five, my nephews and niece who lived in Port-Harcourt could easily use ‘yawn’ in their conversations.

I read some where that you to have hear a word several times before you become familiar with it as to use it in conversations. Below are short stories on how I learned some vocabularies.

1. Aid : It must have been at least two decades since I learned that ‘Aid’ means to provide support for or relief to; help. I was in primary school. We had been given a test on Words and meaning and “Aid’ was one of the words. I didn’t know what it meant. Then I remembered that it was a word I say in the English version of ‘The Memorare’–a prayer we said at Block Rosary. The line read:’That never was it known that anyone who came to your protection and implore thy aid’ I translated the Memorare in Igbo since I knew the Igbo version as well ‘Enweghi Onye gbakwutere gi ka-ichekwaba ya ma o bu yoo gi ka-inyere ya aka’ and I could figure that aid means to help. I got that portion of the test right. This is proof that we can learn something new in the unlikeliest way.

2. Abscond: I used to get pretty good points for my essays in secondary school but one of my classmates, Chioma, always got better scores than I did. One day I requested to see her test paper. She graciously obliged me. Her essay was indeed well written. ‘Abscond’ jumped out at me because I had no idea what it meant. Needless to say that because I was (still am) highly competitive when it came to good grades, I never forgot the meaning– to depart in a sudden and secret manner, especially to avoid capture and legal prosecution:

3.Ephemeral: Years after I left secondary school,I went back to my alma mater. A former teacher had passed on. I was standing in front of the Staff room with the amazing Mr. Osademe, my former English teacher, when he commented on how ephemeral life was. From the context I knew ‘ephemral’ meant lasting a very short time; short-lived; transitory:

4.Stale: I learned the meaning from my sister Amara. Someone had used the word ‘stale’ in reference to a news. Amara had asked me if I knew what ‘stale’ meant. I didn’t. From her, I understood that it meant having lost freshness, vigor, quick intelligence, initiative, or the like, as from overstrain, boredom, or surfeit:. So you can say stale gist,stale bread.

5.Serendipity: When I practised as a young attorney in Eastern Nigerian, the wonderful Bertram Faotu was my mentor and in Nigeria-speak, ‘my oga’. Our law office used to buy the Nigerian Weekly Law Report published by the Late Gani Fawehinmi. Occasionally, when a weekly report came in, it contained an authority for a point of law we needed to advance in a case we were working on at the time. Mr. Faotu would say that it was serendipitous. So you can figure that ‘serendipity’ means an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident; good fortune;luck .

And talking about serendipity, when I was writing this blog, I visited Chioma’s (Chioma of abscond) Facebook page and one of her posts was a grammar test. It appeared she got all the answers right. I got 14 out 15. Yep, more than a decade after ‘abscond’, she is still better at it.

6.Eponymous: I learned the meaning while reading Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah in 2013. In the hair dressing scene that spanned several chapters of the book, Adichie used ‘eponymous’ to introduce the owner of the hair-braiding salon whose salon was named after her. So you can tell eponymous means of, relating to, or being the person or thing for whom or which something is named : of, relating to, or being an eponym .

7.Globe-trott: I learned this compund word from my Sister, Ify. I had retuerned from a vacation and she told me ‘ Hmm- you have been globe-trotting’. It means to travel all over the world for pleasure and sightseeing. So, I hadn’t quite been globe-trotting since I only visited one country. It was also from her that I learned that the ‘t’ in debut is silent.

8.Debut : means A first public appearance, as of a performer. It also has a verb form.

9.You probably know all the vocabularies in this post. Will you like to share some of yours with us? I find that learning through stories can be very efficacious ( and efficacious I learned through the Sacred Heart Prayer). Will you like to guess the meaning, that is, if you didn’t know the answer before now?

10.Garden-variety: I learned the meaning recently. It means ordinary or common. So if you are in Nigeria and prefer to eat anu nchi instead of the more affordable beef, you can say you prefer exotic meats to garden-variety ones.

My goal is that each post I write will offer something new. On that note, noticed how I cancelled out some words in this post, well, it was just to leave you with one of the tips I learned from the brilliant Bryan Garner–When editing your work, delete every unnecessary word. In Other words, Write straight to the point.

Still didn’t learn anything new from this post? Or just want to try your vocabulary knowledge, see this post and try the quiz for a chance to win a book on writing.

Do you believe one’s vocabulary size determines their earning power? Got a vocabulary story to share? Do contribute in the comment sections. And to get updates when I post new blogs, click the ‘follow’ button.

VOCABULARY QUIZ

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Please don’t use your dictionary. Take the quiz. Write your answer on a sheet of paper. When you are done, check how many answers you got right here. If you get at least 15 out of 20 right, let me know in the comments section. I will send the first person to get at least 15 correct Theodore Bernstein’s The Careful Writer. If the winner is in Nigeria, please I will need a postal address to send it. Good luck.

1. Adjure /uh-JOOR/ = (a) to forswear, disavow; (b) to request earnestly, beseech; (c) to put off to another day; (d) to dismiss.

2. Adventitious /ad-ven-TISH-uhs/ = (a) beneficial; (b) advantageous, propitious; (c) characterized by braggadocio about one’s exploits; (d) accidental, extraneous, entering by chance.

3. Apothegm /AP-uh-them/ = (a) pithy saying; (b) pharmaceutical prescription; (c) a syllogism with an implied premise; (d) something that is spiral-shaped.

4. Bowdlerize /BOWD-luh-ryze/ = (a) to chastise; (b) to expunge taboo words or nasty passages; (c) to print privately; (d) to harangue at length.

5. Chimerical /kye-MER-i-kuhl/ = (a) contemplative, reflective; (b) imaginary, having no real existence except in thought; (c) monstrous; (d) of or relating to Greek characters.

6. Cozened /KUHZ-uhnd/ = (a) conceived in wedlock; (b) defrauded, cheated; (c) favored; (d) pampered.

7. Demesne /di-MEEN/ = (a) lineage; (b) control; (c) face; (d) estate, manor house and land.

8. Dissembling /di-SEM-bling/ = (a) giving a false impression, feigning; (b) taking apart; (c) not resembling; (d) having a dissimilar sound.

9. Lucubration /loo-k[y]oo-BRAY-shuhn/ = (a) thoughtlessness; (b) lack of clarity; (c) laborious study, meditation; (d) the lighting of one’s messuage.

10. Factious /FAK-shuhs/ = (a) authoritative; (b) easily breakable; (c) given to party strife, captious; (d) artificial.

11. Irrefragable /i-ri-FRAG-uh-buhl/ = (a) undeniable, irrefutable; (b) unbendable; (c) strong; (d) rebuttable.

12. Legerdemain /lej-uhr-di-MAYN/ = (a) sleight of hand; (b) bookkeeping; (c) the making of false records; (d) official malfeasance.

13. Malefaction /mal-i-FAK-shuhn/ = (a) the production of unnutritious mother’s milk; (b) evil deed, crime; (c) a man’s accomplishment; (d) dissatisfaction.

14. Noisome /NOY-suhm/ = (a) outrageously loud; (b) quarrelsome; (c) offensive, extremely disgusting; (d) destructive.

15. Paean /PEE-uhn/ = (a) a dirge, song or poem of lament; (b) a wood nymph; (c) a song of praise or triumph; (d) a Roman demigod.

16. Privation /prye-VAY-shuhn/ = (a) breach of privacy; (b) the absence of what is needed, destitution; (c) economy; (d) a defect.

17. Quisling /KWIZ-ling/ = (a) an infant found at a doorstep; (b) an accomplished test-taker; (c) a merchant seaman; (d) a traitor.

18. Restive /REST-iv/ = (a) impatient; (b) restful, at ease; (c) unable to relax, continually moving; (d) laborious.

19. Truculence /TRUHK-yuh-luhnts/ = (a) fierceness, ferocity; (b) rusticity, country life; (c) immateriality combined with irrelevancy; (d) servility.

20. Weal /weel/ = (a) well-being, prosperity; (b) personal effects; (c) foodstuffs; (d) cartilage.

P.S: Feel it is difficult but you know someone who can ace it, refer them to try it.

Update: I just got a report that some of you are unable to access the link that contains the answers. So here they are: 1.B 2.D 3.A 4.B 5.B 6.B 7.D 8.A 9.C 10.C 11.A 12.A 13.B 14.C 15.C 16.B 17.D 18.C 19.A 20.A. I am very sorry for the glitch.

Also there appears to be a misconception that I got 14 correct. It wasn’t in this test. It was another. I am not familiar with some of these vocabularies. I got familiar with them after I took the quiz. We are all learning together. Thank you, as always for visiting my blog.

Daring to Believe – Paschal’s Wager

Pascal’s Wager is an argument in philosophy devised by the seventeenth-century Philosopher Blaise Paschal (1623–62).[1] It posits that humans all bet with their lives either that God exists or not. Given the possibility that God actually does exist and assuming an infinite gain or loss associated with belief or unbelief in said God (as represented by an eternity in heaven or hell or), a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.).

Here’s the logic:

  1. God is, or God is not. Reason cannot decide between the two alternatives.
  2. A Game is being played… where heads or tails will turn up.
  3. You must wager (it is not optional).
  4. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.
  5. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (…) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.
  6. But some cannot believe. They should then ‘at least learn your inability to believe…’ and ‘Endeavour then to convince’ themselves.

For a detailed reading of Paschal’s Wager see this Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_Wager

How Prepared Is Your Family?

It is one of those television scenes that continue to haunt one long after they watched them. In one episode of the last season of Desperate Housewives, Mike Delfino had just died and Susan’s friends came to visit her. Amidst her mourning, she lamented that Mike used to do ‘something’ to their car periodically to keep them safe. Susan had no idea what Mike used to do to the car or what tool he used. Her friends promised her that their husbands would come over from time to time to help her around the house with the chores Mike used to do.

While nobody likes to think of death, it is unlikely that anybody reading this will be around in the next seventy years. Having lost three former classmates (John, Nonye and Jane – God rest their souls) between 2007 and 2014, I am often reminded of the sad reality of death.

Some years ago, as a youth corps member in Northern Nigeria, I met a young widow, Mama Ndidi (not real name), an Igbo, who had three teenage daughters. She worked as a cook for a boarding school. She earned less than ten thousand naira (about fifty dollars) a month. I used to wonder how she made ends meet with her meager salary especially because she used to pay for okada to commute her to her morning and evening shifts. On an occasion, Mama Ndidi told me (I worked part-time for the school) that she was saddened that her husband died leaving her to take care of their children. I sensed that she was ill-prepared for it. I got the impression that her husband was the sole breadwinner until his death. It was unlikely Mama Ndidi got a higher education. She had a pretty face and a gentle disposition. She was a good woman caught off-guard when life dealt her one of its devastating blows.

Before the end of my youth service year, Mama Ndidi died too. She had taken ill and was admitted to the hospital. I visited her at the hospital. I wondered if the yellowing of her eyes was the result of inadequate nutrition. I wondered if she got ill from the mosquito bites she got from cooking in an unsanitary open space. I used to see her shield herself from the mosquitoes. Upon her death, Ndidi, her first daughter, became the school’s cook. (If there are laws prohibiting child labor in Nigeria, they are not enforced). In fairness to the school, they deemed it a favor to Ndidi and her sisters as the young girls had to learn to fend for themselves. I still remember the look on Ndidi’s face when she told me of her mother’s death, ‘Mama m arapugo’ she said – that her mother had left, an euphemism for death. Death was too heavy a word for a girl so young. While I do not know the entire story, for example how well off their husband and father was, I felt that Mama Ndidi couldn’t shoulder the emotional pain and financial stress that followed her husband’s death. And in some ways, I believe that her death could have been avoided if she had adequate resources to get a good medical attention.

To avoid a similar fate befalling your loved ones in the event of a serious illness or death, here are steps you can take to protect your family:

1.Establish Multiple Streams of Income
A family whose sole source of income is the salary of one parent runs the risk of being exposed to poverty upon the death of the breadwinner. While sometimes, it is more practical to have one parent be a homemaker, it is expedient that every household has more than one source of income. Investments that generate cash flow can also offset the danger of having a lone breadwinner. And even when one parent is a homemaker, it is imperative that they be skilled, confident and ready to earn a living if the need arises. If for example the family has a business, it helps to get the non-working parent involved, however slightly, in the operations of the family business. This ensures a smooth transition in the event of death or illness of the active partner.

2. Write a Will
Everybody knows writing a will is a good idea but very few people actually write one before death comes knocking. Writing a will gives one power to distribute one’s hard-earned resources the way one likes best. It also helps prevent a situation where one’s survivors fight over their estate upon their death. One can also circumvent certain customary inheritance laws, especially the unconscionable ones, by making one’s wishes known in one’s lifetime. Moreover, writing a will gives one opportunity to give some of one’s legacy to people who ordinarily may not be entitled to it. For example, a wealthy man who desires to give part of his estate to his favorite charity or a poor distant relative can conveniently do so through his will.

While it is ideal to go to an attorney to execute a formal will duly attested by two witnesses, writing a holographic will in the comfort of one’s home will suffice. A holographic will is one handwritten by the testator(person making the will). In most jurisdictions, it is sufficient even if not witnessed. So while you put off going to see your attorney, writing down your wishes in your hand in the meantime is a good idea as no one can guarantee being around tomorrow.

3. Get a Life Insurance Policy
For small premiums paid in one’s lifetime, a life insurance policy is a good way to leave some money to take care of people one leaves behind without necessarily placing the burden of managing an investment like say, a real estate propert, on them. Money paid to one’s beneficiaries can be used by the family to pay off mortgage on the home or even see one’s children through college. Life insurance policies are better investments when bought at a younger age as the premium tend to go higher as one ages. In any case, the need for a life insurance policy decreases as one gets older since one will be less likely to have young dependents but more likely to have made sufficient money to make more tangible investments one can leave behind for one’s loved ones.

4.Get Your Finances in Order
It can be a hassle to keep track of all the investments, both good and bad, one makes over a lifetime – stocks, real properties, insurance policies, retirement and pension funds etc. And over time, some do depreciate in value and one may be tempted to overlook them. Nevertheless, one should make effort to keep an eye on, and keep a documented record in one place, of all of one’s assets as even a small leak can sink a boat. Moreover, it is hard to predict which of one’s assets will prove to be a great investment in the long run. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep a record of all of one’s assets and what actions, if any, need to be taken on them periodically to make sure one doesn’t lose them. A record like this will also help anyone stepping in to manage one’s affair, upon an illness or death, to ease into the position without much difficulty.

5. Make Sure Your Family Know About Your Investments
While there may be reason to be discreet about one’s assets in families where there is mistrust, it is important that one’s survivors know where to look to see what assets they left behind. In the United States, an estimated 25% of beneficiaries do not claim their benefits under a life insurance policy because their loved ones did not intimate them of the existence of the policies. I also read that there are as much as $60 billion dollars of unclaimed assets in the United States. It is no different in Nigeria. When I was practicing as an attorney in Eastern Nigeria, I once had a client who found a deed of a property in his deceased father’s name. A search at the Land registry showed the deceased father actually owned such property. Communicating one’s assets to one’s prospective successors-in-estate also helps avoid a situation where survivors go after property a deceased had relinquished in his lifetime.

Getting your financial affairs in order is one of the greatest favor you can do your loved ones. The peace of mind and financial security your family will enjoy tomorrow will more than compensate for the effort made in tidying your affairs today. To get you started on this journey, follow this link: http://halbertwealth.com/articles/HandingDownYourLegacy.pdf and get for free a document that will guide you in putting together a list of all your assets, and details to lead your loved ones to them. You can tweak it to meet your needs. It is a very simple template to work with. I have given you this gift, now it’s your turn to fill it out and pass it on to your loved ones.

PS: Found this post helpful, please share.

Omalicha – Cubing Carrots

For the umpteenth time, Omalicha uncovered the pot of soup boiling on the green single-burner kerosene stove. The back of the pot was already covered in soot and it was only Tuesday. Omalicha washed the back of the pots on Saturdays, Saturdays because she didn’t go to school on weekends. Omalicha never took time to ensure that the wicks in the stove were positioned well before she put on the burner; often she would place the burner askew on the wicks haphazardly, and as if in protest the stove produced rebellious red flames, instead of the benign blue ones.

On Saturdays, Omailcha carried the black pots from her parents 2nd floor flat, careful not to get the soot on her clothes, to the open yard on the ground floor. She placed them near a tap of running water where she scrubbed the black pots with blue omo and sand until the pots became a shiny silver. The sound from grinding the sand on the pot sent uncomfortable sensations through Omalicha’s thirteen-year old fragile body. Omalicha never had a refined scrubbing powder bought from the market to wash the pots. Once, she intentionally broke her mother’s porcelain plate, staging it as an accident, so that she could use them to make a scrubbing powder as she had been taught in her Home Economics class. But after sustaining bruises from crushing the broken plates with a stone, she thought that the trouble wasn’t worth breaking more of her mother’s china plates. On an occasion, her friend Egodi told her that ashes were effective in getting black pots clean, she walked half a mile to collect ashes from Mama Ijeoma, a woman who prepared and sold akara and pap in the mornings. She had been disappointed at how little ash the burnt coal had deposited in Mama Ijeoma’s hearth. Much as she would have loved to trade places with Kelechi, her neighbor whose mother cooked with a gas cooker that produced no soot, Omalicha was stuck with washing black pots on Saturdays with coarse sand that occasionally bruised her small hands.

Omalicha removed the cover of the pot again. The soup got smaller with each time she checked, the liquid drying up as Omalicha waited for Ebube to finish with the vegetables. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Ebube bent over the sink washing ugu leaves. Ebube was arranging the stalks of the leaves so that they were all perfectly aligned before she set them down on the enamel tray to cut. Omalicha never understood why Ebube took so long to get ugu ready; why she washed them five cycles and took time to get the stalks together before cutting the leaves. Omalicha typically washed ugu once, twice only if she felt grits when she placed her hand at the bottom of the bowl after the first wash. While she knew that arranging the stalk helped for a neater cutting, Omalicha believed that it made no difference if she sliced leaves finely or otherwise since the leaves wilted when cooked .

Though Omalicha’s senior by two years, Ebube was never in charge in the kitchen. The few times Omalicha allowed Ebube to take the lead, they ate dinner late and her mother chastised Ebube for being too sluggish. Her mother reprimanded Ebube,’Can’t you see how fast Omalicha is? How many heads does she have?’. But Omalicha knew why Ebube never seemed to finish any task in time. To prepare salad for example, where Omalicha will barely scrape the carrot, Ebube took time to peel the carrots until they glowed a bright orange before she proceeded to meticulously dice them so that each cube is similar to the other. Once, after Omalicha had sliced the cabbage, green beans, potato, cucumber and tomatoes for salad, and Ebube was still bent over the five stick of carrots she had to slice, Omalicha had been infuriated and told her reticent sister that her carrots were too perfect even for a carrot dicing contest. Omalicha didn’t care whether carrots in salad were in circles or cubes. Irrespective of the shape in which they were eaten, cube or circle, they nourished the body. Omalicha felt that Ebube had no justification for cutting them the way she did. Ebube’s measured moves often resulted in Omalicha not going out to play with her friends even when she finished her chores early enough. Their mother always insisted none of them left the kitchen until they finished cooking.

Omalicha got her share of criticism from her mother for her lack of thoroughness. She always failed to pick up clothes littered on the floor before sweeping the rooms and would leave the kitchen after washing plates without emptying the vegetables collected on the kitchen sink drain strainer. Omalicha never let her mother’s chastisements get to her. Her mother knew who to call when: Ebube for a tasty fried rice when they were having guests over, in which case they were sure to have a late dinner, or Omalicha, when she needed a quick dinner of white yam eaten with red oil and coarsely chopped onion and pepper. Once, when their mother’s sister, Mama Ejima visited, Omalicha’s mother told her how different her daughters were. Characteristically, Mama Ejima had chosen to see the glass as half empty and had joked about how Omalicha and Ebube were like the two proverbial knives at Eleke’s house – the sharp one had no handle and the one with a handle was blunt. Omalicha dreaded Mama Ejima‘s visits because she was always quick to notice when the bathroom tiles were dirty and needed scrubbing.

Ebube stirred the pot one more time and looked over to see Ebube straining water from the ugu leaves. Despite their mother’s repeated counsel that removing water from shredded ugu was tantamount to stripping the vegetable of its nutrients only to eat Chaff, Ebube always strained her leaves when their mother wasn’t at home. She said excess water from the leaves left soup tasteless. While Omalicha didn’t care about preserving the nutrients in the vegetables, she cared that Ebube’s attention to detail invariably robbed her of her leisure time. And on this day, as she looked out the balcony and saw Anulika and Chiazokam playing tempa and oga, she wished for a fleeting moment that she had a different sister. She preferred the rhythm coming from the oga: tempa…twenty…thirty to Ebube’s as she hunched over the sink straining the vegetables. But she couldn’t run downstairs to play oga or her family would have a late dinner.

P.S, So how do you roll in the Kitchen? Are you an Ebube or an Omalicha?

OF NIGERIA’S 2015 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS AND THE ROLE WE CAN PLAY

In this article, Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of a Nigerian minister in these words:

“Dr. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, he had big sleepy eyes and seemed to come from another time in the past when old-fashioned integrity was easy. His simplicity surprised my father. He was not interested in the usual carousing of the powerful, no late nights and drinking and trysts, and my father did not have to guard any secrets for him. He ate breakfast with his family every morning, and took walks with his wife in the evening, and played tennis with his children on weekends. He listened attentively, those half-closed eyes so intent that my father, at first, felt uncomfortable when they were trained on him.

…In my father’s village, the Minister walked around with his assistants, meeting people and asking them questions and listening to them. He showed women how to mix sugar and salt and clean water to give their children who had diarrhea and he told them about washing their hands with soap and he told them the Universal Primary Health Care center would be open in a month. Once it was open, every baby would receive vaccines.

He showed them photographs of bright-eyed babies in Lagos and he told them immunizations were like small precious gifts for babies. They cheered and clapped. In the eyes of the villagers, my father was a star. No minister had ever come to them before.

Who even knew that our small village existed? But my father kept telling them that he had done nothing, that it was the minister who insisted on coming. Years later, when my father told me the story, I could still see his eyes full of things I could not name.

‘The Minister treated all of us like human beings,’ he said. ‘Like human beings'”

Nigeria’s Presidential elections are around the corner and there are good reasons to be apprehensive. I have watched with interest people passionately defend their candidate of choice on Facebook and elsewhere. Some Facebook users, I understand, have gone as far as ‘unfriending’ their friends who do not share their political ideology. Nigerians’ active participation in the debate of which candidate is a better choice for the country is a welcome development in that it strengthens our democracy and provides an avenue for people to inform (or unfortunately, misinform) the electorate. Such debate, depending on who is making one, actually sheds light on what for example, an incumbent has done to improve the lives of the people as opposed to what he claims to have done. Testimonies coming from people who actually use the services like roads, etc, provided by a political leader are obviously more reliable than ones given by the same leader at conventions and rallies to secure another term.

Many Nigerians, and understandably so, have expressed disappointment at the choice of the two leading candidates for the presidential elections. One person aptly said that she is uninspired by either candidate, that with the many talents Nigeria has, we could have done better. I share the same sentiments not because I do not believe that neither of Jonathan or Buhari can deliver – Nigeria’s economy seem to have improved under the former and the latter has a record for discipline – but because some candidates with better potentials were passed over by their parties merely because of their tribes and religion – affiliations often made not by choice but by accident of birth. Undoubtedly, if we continue to emphasize the things that divide us as against the things that unite us, we will make little progress in Nigeria. In the end, Nigeria needs a leader who can tackle the current security issues in the country while putting the needs of the country before his. We need leaders like the Olikoye in Adichie’s story.

And while it is necessary that we criticize our leaders, constructively not disparagingly, it is even more important that we understand how uneasy the head that wears the crown lies. We should appreciate how despite his good intentions, a leader may not deliver as expected, what with the many challenges a county like Nigeria struggles with. In other words, we should pray more for our leaders and play our part by engaging in actions that will move Nigeria forward. For example, nothing stops a wealthy Nigerian from building a library in his community to help less privileged young Nigerians who otherwise cannot have access to books. A rich CEO, instead of leaving all his wealth to children who will squander whatever he left behind once he is dead, can set up a trust fund to give scholarships to brilliant but poor people in his community. Actions speak louder than voice. We need people who will light the darkness. We already have enough people cursing it. For me, my friend who sacrifices part of her decent salary to give back to students from her alma mater is a better Nigerian than those of us doing all the talking. Another, a young female attorney (an Igbo living in Northern Nigeria), who uses part of her meager salary and donations from friends to buy things for prison inmates and widows, inspires me. These are Nigerians worth celebrating; these are Nigerians whose stories should be told more often. No country can make progress without help from the private sector. United States has several private museums and hospitals rendering free services to people. Such organizations also get donations from the public. So while we wait for the government to wake up to its responsibilities, we must look inward to see what roles we can play for a better Nigeria.

Civil and public servants must also understand the unique privilege they enjoy in that they have more resources to touch more lives than private individuals. I commend INEC for its videos and other programs dissuading youths from engaging in violence in the coming election. Unfortunately, the people who need to hear these messages of peace are unlikely to have access to them and that is why we must strive to educate all Nigerians. When I read Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, a book that detailed the horrors of the Biafran war, I wished that every Nigerian could read it to understand what can happen when we allow an ugly history to repeat itself.

Come the day for the presidential election, we will have a chance to decide if we will continue to live in peace as one country. We will have an opportunity to show the world how committed we are to our democracy. I pray that God will help us choose wisely a leader that can move Nigeria forward. More importantly, I pray that whoever emerges the president, we will resist the temptation to make utterances that can incite the less educated ones to violence. We must work together to support the new president. That is the only way can we show that we are truly democratic as doing otherwise will be forcing our will on others.

Long live Nigeria!

I’m Back

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I have been away from my blog for a while. I had some important business to attend to. How have you been doing? I missed you all, especially your inspiring contributions. While I was gone, I grew up some. I hope you did too. Thanks to those of you who inquired why I was away. And many more thanks to all of you who read my blog. I have incredibly been blessed by you. Like I said in this post, blogging has made me a better person. I learn a lot from my blog posts and your commnts. I have also made new and valuable friends from blogging. One of you gave me an opportunity that wouldn’t otherwise be available to me. (God bless you, Tina. You know how grateful I am). Older friendships (Chika Nwuzor, it was nice to finally know your true identity; you played Bond, James Bond quite well) and familial bonds have been strengthened. In other words, blogging has been worth it.

I started blogging when I was staying at home looking for a job. One of my sisters with whom I share a common passion for books, to talk me out of my gloominess casually said something along the lines of, ‘You know, staying at home gives you time to read books and, you can even write one’. A kind sister she is. In the years past, we had each considered writing but we never did; I would tell her that she had more life experiences than me and so was in a better position to write. When I moved to a place where I had access to internet and a laptop, she told me I no longer had a reason to put off writing. We encouraged each other that way. (Sis, I believe you now have access to internet, so no more excuses please)

I still haven’t written a book; haven’t even started writing one but blogging is close enough. That shows how powerful encouraging words can be. Sometimes, all it takes to nudge one into action is a casual remark by a kind friend, the way my sister did. I knew blogging was unlikely to be my day job, but I knew it would help hone my writing skills. (When I eventually started blogging another sister told me to not give up and that if nothing else, blogging would help polish my writing skills. Yes, I have great sisters). I also anticipated that by blogging, I would network more. Most importantly, I started blogging in the hope that my writing would help my readers in some way. I haven’t been disappointed . While I am not yet where I ultimately hope to be, I feel more confident and more inspired because of the invaluable things I learn from you.

So if you are at a point in your life where you feel like you are stuck in a rut, you can do something about it. Find a way to rejuvenate your life. Try doing something you love that will add value to other people’s lives, no matter how small. You will be glad when you do. Apart from the fulfillment that comes from serving, you also get access to opportunities and vistas that were previously either closed to or unknown to you.

Thanks as always for reading. Expect new short stories and inspirational posts from me in the coming days and weeks. Let’s keep inspiring one another. God will guide and be with us. Let’s do this!

P.S. I love hearing from you. Your time permitting, please leave a comment below. For my readers in Nigeria, I understand the apprehension regarding the coming election. In my next post, I will put in my two cents and prayers for Nigeria.

This One Thing Will Help You Keep Those Resolutions This New Year

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Some days ago, I went to a buffet. Because going to a buffet have a way of derailing one from whatever good intentions they have about eating healthier, each time I leave one, I resolve it would be my last visit. But I always go back; talk about breaking resolutions. However, when I went this last time, it was different. It was different because each time I left my table to go to the buffet bar to get another round of food, I did something. What I did took only seconds but it helped me avoid the carbs and fats. I left the buffet without my body weighing pounds heavier and my soul a ton guiltier. Yea, overeating is a sin: the sin of gluttony.

If you are like most people, as this year ends, you have made a list of areas in your life that need improvement; things that are no different from the ones you wrote down at the beginning of 2014. Your New Year Resolution probably includes shedding some pounds, making progress in your career, getting closer to God etc. Again, if you are like most people, the things on your list this year will make your 2020 list.

But making effort to do one thing on the list (I hazard a guess that most people reading this have it on theirs) will help you accomplish the rest with less effort. This poem below says it more than I possibly can.

I got up early one morning
and rushed right into the day
I had so much to accomplish
that I didn’t have time to pray

Problems just tumbled about me
and heavier came each task
‘Why doesn’t God help me?’ I wondered
He answered, ‘You didn’t ask’

I wanted to see joy and beauty
but the day toiled on gray and bleak
I wondered why God didn’t show me
He said, ‘But you didn’t seek’

I tried to come into God’s presence
I used all my keys at the lock
God gently and lovingly chided
‘My servant, you didn’t knock’

I woke up early this morning
and paused before entering the day
I had so much to accomplish
that I had to take time to pray

By now, you would have figured what I did at the buffet that helped me with temperance; I said a short prayer in my mind imploring God to help me get healthy food. It worked. I even had more pineapple than ice cream for dessert.

May God help us get closer to Him this coming year for in union with Him, all things take their proper place. Have a blessed 2015.

PS: I couldn’t find the author to give credit for the poem. I came across it years ago and looked it up while writing this post. I hope it touches you as much as it did me.

Of Prejudices And Racial Stereotypes – Stories From An LA Policer Officer and Others

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It’s a staggering statistics. A black man in the United States is twenty-one times more likely to be killed by a cop than his white counterpart. So yesterday, I attended an event organized by Institute for Non-violence in Los Angeles, an organization that aims at restoring peace in communities through dialogue and mediation as opposed to violence. (I am embarrassed to tell you how much longer it took me to find the location because I didn’t have my GPS. Google has indeed dulled me). The event was organized in response to recent police shootings of unarmed black men in the United States, including Michael Brown, to address the outcry and concerns from the black community that their children are targeted merely because of their race. Events like the one yesterday help pacify communities and offer a rare opportunity for both sides to share ideas on how to avoid such incidents in the future; the communities to understand what the police expect of them following a routine stop and search, and the police to understand that a book can’t always be judged by its cover.

Yesterday’s event was eye-opening for me in many ways. I found particularly interesting the contributions from a black LAPD officer, Chris (not real name), who unfortunately found himself caught up between the two sides, being a black and a cop. His stories often told with humor showed that yes, there could be racial bias among members of the police force as can be found in every profession, but then that one couldn’t ignore the unique danger to their lives faced by policemen who work in poor, black, often gang-infested neighborhoods. While their colleagues who work in predominantly white neighborhoods merely go to inquire of their community members how they and their cats are doing, cops who work in inner cities with astronomically high homicide rates routinely respond to calls relating to violence, hence the higher rate of police shootings in those communities. Chris’ easy going disposition helped defuse the tension in an otherwise anger-laden event. Here are some of the stories he and other participants at the event shared and lessons we can learn from them.

A Purse Clutched Tighter
Chris explained that being a police officer didn’t make him any less likely to be a victim of discrimination and racial profiling especially when he wasn’t in uniform. According to him, on one occasion, while off-duty and casually dressed in T-shirts and jeans, he had visited an upscale restaurant in a rich neighborhood with predominantly white and Asian residents. Once he walked into the restaurant, a woman sitting nearby immediately, without any subtlety whatsoever, hugged her purse tighter. Apparently, she wasn’t used to seeing blacks in the neighborhood and probably believed, as portrayed in the media and elsewhere, that blacks were all gun-carrying, purse-snatching bunch of riffraff. Chris, hurt but intending to get some fun from the incident turned to the woman and told her that however firmly she held the bag, he could get the purse from her in a matter of seconds if he wanted to. Chris let the woman panic for a while before revealing to the woman that he was a cop, that he was one of the good guys who would save her from incidents like that and not one to perpetrate that as she erroneously thought .

Your first thought while reading this story, especially if you are black, is to think, yep another example of racism and yet they claim it doesn’t exist in America. But the unfortunate truth is that we all harbor bias somewhere and sometimes misjudge people based on stereotypes we associate we them. Sometimes we hold certain biases even against members of our own race etc. I am aware of a certain bias African immigrants in the United states have against African-Americans.

A Panic Alarm Set Off
Chris also told a story of an occasion where despite being in police uniform he was unfairly treated by a homeowner whose house he had visited following the report of a break-in. According to him, the owner treated him like crap without any respect whatsoever. I don’t remember the homeowner’s race but given the context in which the story came up, it’s safe to assume he wasn’t a minority. Chris said that as fate would have it, months after the break-in incident, the man’s house alarm accidentally set off and the police responded by rushing to the man’s house thinking there had been an intruder. By the time Chris got there, the officers who got to the house before him all had their gun drawn directed at the homeowner. They didn’t know who the homeowner was and had assumed justifiably that he was the intruder. Chris said he had a moment to chuckle when upon his arrival and the homeowner sighting him, the homeowner meekly called out him, addressing him by his name, in the hope that he, Chris, would identify him to the other policemen, he being the only one that would recognize that he was indeed the homeowner given their previous encounter. The once hostile man now had to seek the help of someone he once looked down on. Chris did get the other officers to put down the gun and the lesson was learnt to not look down on people because you will never know where or in what circumstance you would meet them next.

A young white officer who tried to give Chris a ticket knew this and stopped himself just before he committed a faux pas. Chris had been off-duty and was in his parked car when a young enthusiastic chap who apparently was fresh from the academy walked up to him requesting to see his ID card. Intending to mess with the young man’s head, Chris asked the reason for the request despite knowing that wasn’t the right thing to do. Then he told the young officer that his ID was next to his gun at which the cop gave him a bewildered look, alert that Chris must be up to something. Chris did eventually tell him that he was a police officer himself and the young man disappeared seconds later. He knew better than to hang around any further with a man who he must have rightly assumed was his superior.

Often, we judge people based on our misconceived perception of them. What if the lady that had clutched her bag tighter knew better? What if she had black successful and responsible friends (and there are many of them)? Chances are that she would she have known that for every news she sees on TV of a black man robbing etc, there are thousands of untold stories of black people performing heroic actions and being responsible members of the community, contributing in meaningful way to the society. I can’t fault her much though as I have misjudged people in the past. Recently, an acquaintance who is gradually becoming a valuable friend told me how people had misjudged her in the past, nothing to do with morals but her apparent inability to meet certain standards expected of Nigerians in the United States to be successful. I didn’t let her in on my secret which was that the first time I met her, I had the same not-so-impressive impression of her. Of course she has gone on to prove that people misjudged her and some of the people who once spoke ill of her ( that’s why we shouldn’t) now look to her for support.

Perception Matters
While one can’t do much about some stereotypes and the baggage that comes with them, (one can’t change one’s skin color), there are ones one can control to a certain extent. Chris had mentioned during the session that as a black man himself who grew up in inner cities, he could tell more easily if a young man walking down the street had a gun. He did agree to some extent that a young man’s clothing could determine whether he would be stopped by the police or not. A lady in our team mentioned that even though she was black herself, she always felt uncomfortable around black guys with sagging trousers, tattoos etc. A young teenager (he was thirteen) in the group narrated that he and his equally young friends had once been stopped and accosted by policemen who had their gun drawn. The police were in pursuit of some other young black teenagers and had mistaken the young man and his friends for the miscreants they were after. The young man had been wearing a hoodie. Someone mentioned in the session that but for the hoodie, the police probably wouldn’t have sopped him (as his face and features would have been visible from a distance). The young man agreed and said his dad always told him how to dress to stay safe in his gang-infested neighborhood. For example he said, button-down dress shirts on decent jeans make one look responsible as against big white shirts over baggy jean trousers. But a lady in the group, a city attorney pointed out that whites who don’t dress so responsibly don’t get stopped by the police. She thought it was unfair that a person’s clothing should be used to judge them only when their skin color is black.

Lessons Learned
From the session, I now understand the unique challenges Police face by virtue of their job and the need for us to cooperate with them as they put their lives on line everyday to protect us. They could have their own biases as we all do but most times they act with good intentions. Some people in the session inquired of the police the advice they can give young men so that they don’t become victims of police shooting. The police advised that when stopped by a cop, one should be polite, follow the police instructions, keep one’s hands in plain view; there is no way a cop can tell if one is armed or not and fumbling with one’s waistband could make the cop think one is reaching for a gun and that’s usually when they resort to violence to get the person under control. One of the young teenagers in our team admitted that the police once used brutal force on him when he ignored their request to not leave the house after his mother called the police on him. According to him, he had only intended to visit his grandma who lived down the street so that his temper could cool before he went back to his mother. But the police had no way of knowing what his intentions were and had to use force to get his attention. It again boils down to being polite to the police. But unfortunately, because most black men have their own bias against the police and always believe they are just out to get them, they don’t cooperate with them as their white counterparts do and that can account for the disproportionate police shooting of blacks.

Finally, I learnt that we all have implicit bias. We assume that because people look a certain way that they must behave a certain way. Knowing this, we should take more time when we make decisions so that our thoughts and often wrong perceptions don’t reflect in the way we treat others.

Have you ever been a victim of prejudice? Have you ever looked down on someone only to realize subsequently that you had misjudged them? Please let us know in the comments section. There is always something we can learn from you. And as you well know, I value your contributions!

PS: Want to know what biases you may have against people based on their race, weight, religion etc? take this Harvard test and you will be surprised at what you will find.

If you are in the LA area, check INVLA link above to see when they will host the next event. It pays to get more involved in one’s community.