Travel Smart With Attorney Chika Okoroafor: Why I Love Traveling and Why Your Visitors Visa Application May be Denied Even Though You are Rich

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This post is part of the Travel Smart series written by Chika Okoroafor, an Immigration lawyer based in Nigeria. To get a glimpse into the wonderful work she is doing helping people who want to leave (whether permanently or temporarily) Nigeria’s shore,  read our interview with her here.

Hello everyone, please get in here. This article promises to be an interesting yet educative read. Look around you, someone you know is thinking about traveling outside Nigeria. It could even be you. If you are not thinking about it today, you will probably be tomorrow. By nature, we are inquisitive and adventurous beings in constant pursuit of knowledge. With the exception of Agoraphobics, I believe that we all are Christopher Columbus in some way.

I love to travel. For me, traveling is educative, therapeutic, ethereal, fun, and so much more. For me, traveling is living. The beauty of nature can never be aptly defined in words, nor ideally qualified by adjectives. One needs to experience it.

In my university days, I was a member of Junior Chambers International (JCI for Short). The highlight of my membership with this amazing association was that we traveled a lot, locally and internationally, attending workshops, seminars, trainings, conferences etc. Before I graduated, through JCI, I visited 21 out of 36 states in Nigeria ( I have since covered more local and international states). I had fellow Jaycees who covered more states and traveled around the globe while in school.

In those days, as a student my funds were very limited. My parents’ priority was to provide the basics; any extracurricular expenses had to be scraped out from whatever was left and where nothing could be scraped, a little mathematics came very handy. Ever heard of the the 101, 011 or 001 formula? Foregoing one or several of the three meals a day to scrape by. When it comes to traveling, passion always comes before price. Passion always finds a way, for what wouldn’t one do for passion? So I gave up meals to save for a trip. Some sites are priceless, top on the list from my JCI adventure days was traveling the devil’s elbow of the Obudu mountains enroute the famous Obudu cattle ranch; the drive up the mountain is my must trepidus and exhilarating experience yet. Other scenery included the beautiful landscape, rural and cultural preserve of Ilara Mokin in Ondo State, Yankari game reserve in Bauchi state, Olumo rock Abeokuta etc, not discounting friends made along the way who turned family.

Traveling teaches love and tolerance; perhaps that accounts for my unique perspectives of life, one of which is we are all people irrespective of where we come from. Are you conceited and tribalistic ? A healthy dose of traveling will do your soul some good.

Pardon the derail, this article is about international travel via the visitors’ entry permit platform.

Visitors’ Visa is an entry clearance permit granted by a diplomatic mission to a foreigner/ alien according its holder a right to enter its country albeit  temporary for a particular purpose and for a stipulated time frame.  

Visitors applications are the most applications diplomatic missions receive. It’s also the most abused visa. Holders of visitors visas, by regulation, are expected to strictly adhere to the purpose for which visa was granted ab initio. There are plethora of visitors visas, differentiated by purpose of visit e.g. family visitors visa, tourist visitors visa, medical visitors visa, sport/entertainment visitors visa, business visitors visa, study visitors visa etc.

A diplomatic mission may merge a couple of these visitors visa in one clearance permit eg. US B1/B2 covers family, tourist, and business visits while UK standard Visitors Visa covers family, friends and tourist visits. Where a visa stands on its own, its application has to be strictly for the purpose it was issued. For instance, if an applicant is granted visa as a tourist, they are not expected to work, rely on the host country’s public welfare packages like free medicals, school etc. Such indulgence will be a breach of  visa regulation and if caught, visa will be revoked and there may be further consequences like a ban.

Another important aspect of a visitor’s visa is tenure. Before visitors visa is issued, an applicant has to specify the duration of stay. The fact that a diplomatic mission issues more time than applied for, does not automatically confer on applicant right to stay beyond reasonable time. For example, Mr X, a first-time applicant, applied to UK diplomatic missions for a standard visitors visa to visit a friend or for holiday, specifying duration of stay to be two weeks. If found eligible, UK will issue him 6 months multiple entry permit. This length of visa granted does not translate to a right to stay. It is, at the most, tenure bestowed in trust extended to Mr. X to use bona fide, for subsequent visits.  That is why it is a multiple entry visa. Even where six months visa is granted at single entry, applicant is still expected to adhere to purpose and duration stated in his application.

Qualifying for a visitors visa

Most often, people and/or “agents” gamble with their application, using the correction through error approach where they assume that what works for A will work for B.  For instance: A and B work in the same organization, earn the same salary (or B may earn more). A applied for visitors visa and was granted, B did same but was not so lucky. I would be a millionaire if I have a penny for every time I hear this remark “ I did the same thing A did, I earn more, yet I was refused” or “ how come my junior(s) are always successful with their application and I have been repeatedly refused”. Well all I know is that just like in gambling, you win some, you lose some.

Dear readers, please note that visitors visa regulation is based on individual assessment. That you work in the same organization, earn the same income as a colleague who has been assessed eligible does not confer the same status on you. Financial assessment is not limited to income, your financial encumbrances vis a vis your income is also considered.

Using the scenario above, A may be single or married and his wife may also be gainfully employed, while B who may be earning more than A, is also married, his wife is a homemaker, he has two children in school, aged parents etc. From the evidence of his financial statement presented, it will be obvious that his income goes as soon as it comes in. Thus, between A and B, B, is an economic red flag to an entrance clearance officer.

Another analogy on financial assessment: Mr. Y a trader, trades in his registered business name, applies for a visitors visa with his family, he enclosed certificate of business registration and bank statement etc. and his application went hitch-free. His friend, Mr. X, owns a business, a duly incorporated limited liability company, let’s call it XYZ LTD. Shareholders and directors are Mr. X’s nuclear family members i.e. wife and children. Mr. X wants to treat family to a vacation abroad so he got his company’s incorporation documents, XYZ cooperate bank statements. XYZ company is worth billions. He confidently submits documents to a diplomatic mission of his choice. Mrs X and children are already daydreaming about upcoming glamourous vacation. Weeks later the package is returned with the rejection letter enclosed; refusal was on the grounds of lack of funds. It could be that at the interview, the entrance officer asks for evidence of fund and Mr. X flashes XYZ business account statement and officer goes, “sorry but these funds are not available to you”. It’s a simple company law principle enshrined in the locus classicus  case Salomon vs Salomon: a company is a legal being, different from its shareholders – no one can lay claim to what belongs to another. At best an individual may enjoy some benefits by virtue of his position in a company and such privileges must be expressly stated and agreed by board resolution, during a duly convened board of director’s meeting (irrespective of the fact that directors in this scenario are Mr. X and family/Visa applicants).

In nutshell, to present your company’s account for the purpose of proving financial eligibility, documents like, board resolution, letter from the bank where fund is held, and an official letter in company’s letter head are essential. And yet financial eligibility alone, though a very vital tool, does not by itself suffice.

In reiteration, there are no static formula, every application is holistically analyzed before conclusion about an applicant’s eligibility is reached. In addition to one’s economic status, below, are two key factors considered during an assessment of visitors visa applicant.

Proof of Purpose

In applying for a visitors visa, there must be a clear and definite purpose and documents in support for e.g family visit/business visit. When applying based on your relationship with someone in the host country, there should be an invitation letter from your host and your host must be a national or documented resident of the country. In case of a tourist visa, a well planned-out travel itinerary will suffice for proof of purpose.

Ties to Home Country:

A diplomatic mission needs to be convinced that a visitor’s visa applicant is not an economic migrant. How? Via an applicant’s ties to his/her home country. Ties can be ascertained by applicant’s personal and financial circumstances.

Thus, marital status, responsibilities (family/social), financial status vis-a-vis financial liabilities, career, age, immigration history, are factors considered collectively during an applicant’s assessment. Each of these attributes have its significance with regards to applicant’s eligibility.

For instance, a minor applying alongside his parents/guardian has a better standing over an unemployed major sponsored by his parents or invitee. An unemployed, married parent, in some cases is considered eligible over a single, though employed individual. Also some diplomatic missions are not first-time applicant friendly. So here you see an averagely financial applicant considered over a financially buoyant applicant because the former has visited countries the diplomatic mission considered at par with its country while the other applicant may be refused because he/she holds a virgin passport.

In conclusion, the importance of pre-application assessment by a professional who understands the demeanor of various diplomatic missions cannot be overemphasized. Assessment is not recommended for first-time applicant alone. During subsequent applications or renewal, it’s imperative to seek professional counsel as well, for the following reasons:

I Personal/financial circumstances may have changed.

II Change of purpose may entail different visa type, and

III Immigration rules are not static; they are regularly reviewed.

In time, we will discuss each visitors visa type disclosing tips and tricks on how to professionally package a visitor visa application.

It’s school season! My firm represents and liaises with several international schools. If you have any questions or are considering studying abroad, leave a comment below or email us at attorneychika@gmail.com. We will be happy to answer your questions. There is always something for anyone. Our next post will be on student visas. So look out for it.

Thank you all for your comments and shares in our previous posts.

 

Chika Okoroafor

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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.

Omalicha – Cubing Carrots

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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 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.

The Mesh by Kwesi Brew

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We have come to the cross-roads
And I must either leave or come with you.
I lingered over the choice
But in the darkness of my doubts
You lifted the lamp of love
And I saw in your face
The road that I should take.

I saw this poem by Kwesi Brew, a Ghanian poet, years ago. It has remained with me since. It’s short but evokes a strong emotion. And now, I am calling on you to tell me what you think the theme or analysis is? Who was Brew talking to? When can one use this poem in life to communicate a certain message.

A poem is often subject to diverse individual interpretations so I hope you don’t google to find inspiration from what others have written about it.

Now I can’t wait to see the interpretations you will give to this poem. Do let me know in the comments section.

The Hesitant Haggler

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Egoamaka didn’t like haggling. Once Egoamaka got to Main Market and settled on a shop and the trader to patronize, she immediately bonded with the seller, confiding in him that she wanted a product with a superior quality. And once the seller reassured her ‘M ga-eme gi ofuma‘, I will do you well, Egoamaka felt she was stuck with him. She considered it would amount to betrayal to go elsewhere to haggle, to shop around. And once her new-found trader-confidant alluded to the cost price, how much he bought his wares, Egoamaka was conscientious to not offer a price below that. She would only ask for a price that would accommodate the cost price and give a reasonable profit margin to the trader. It always astounded her each time she went to market with Aunty Ijeoma that Aunty Ijeoma cared little whether a seller would make a profit from a sell made to her. For a merchandise a seller told them was for one thousand five hundred naira, Aunty Ijeoma would unabashedly inquire of the trader: ‘I na-erekwa two hundred naira‘? would ask the merchant if he would sell for two hundred naira, about one-seventh of what the merchant asked for. At first, Egoamaka used to think that Aunty Ijeoma had no conscience, was inconsiderate to make such ridiculous offers, but once, after a trader who initially look offended at such meager offer eventually sold to Aunty Ijeoma at the price she asked for, Egoamaka wondered if it was the seller who had no conscience as to ask for an unconscionable price for something he was willing to sell for much less without as much as a smidgen of guilt. Egoamake wondered how many weak hagglers he had cheated.

When the salesperson was a friend or an acquaintance, haggling was even more challenging for Egoamaka. As a child, she wondered why her father paid uncle Ndudi, who deals on china wares, for the china plates her father bought from Uncle Ndudi’s shop. She wondered why Uncle Ndudi wouldn’t give them to her father, his only brother, without charging anything. As an adult, Egoamaka hadn’t mastered the subtlety required to haggle with a loved one without coming off as being mistrustful of them. Once, Egoamaka had gone to Styled Shoes, a shop owned by Uju’s mum – Uju, her childhood friend. Egoamaka had started to haggle with Uju for a lower price for a shoe but once Uju said: ‘Mmadu o na-egbu onye o ga-eso eli?’, does one kill someone whose funeral he would attend?, alluding to their longtime friendship and how it was unlikely that she, Uju, would take undue addvantage of her, Egoamaka had paid hastily without as much as another word even though she wasn’t sure she liked the shoe.

Egoamaka continued to be a hesitant haggler. Then something happened. She had gone to Main Market with her friend Ebere, who was preparing for her traditional wedding. Ebere was worse at haggling than Egoamaka. Ebere had paid seven thousand naira for a hand bag, and just before they left Main Market, they casually entered another shop where they saw a similar bag hanging in different colours. After a little haggling, the seller was willing to sell the bag to them for Two thousand two hundred naira. Egoamaka discreetly compared the label and the texture with the one they had bought and they were exactly the same. Distraught, they left the second shop hoping to return to buy from it after returning the one they previously bought. But when they went back to the former seller, he paid little attention to them. He was on to the next customer, sweet-talking her to get as much money as she was willing to part with, without any regard to the value of the products he sold. It wasn’t until Ebere gave him a surreptitious glance threatening to disclose his unfair business practice to the new customer that he took them aside and agreed to give them a discount, a refund for two thousand naira. He said it was the best he could do: that he could not take back the bag; that he didn’t take returns. He pointed to a sign on the well that read: We Sell the Best for the Cheapest price. It was only after Egoamaka got closer to the sign and squinted that she saw the fine print inconspicuously written on the notice: No Refund After Purchse. Ebere didn’t get a bargain but Egoamaka learnt a valuable lesson.

After Egoamaka started applying the tips she learnt from Aunty Ijeoma including hagging harder; not commending a product however she liked it or the seller would know she was hooked on the product and would be reluctant to sell at a lower price; and not buying from stores with too much frills like air condition and tiled floors (as a buyer indirectly pays for them too), she started to get on the wrong side of storekeepers. Once, she went into a store that had price tags on the products ( a rarity in Main Market) and haggled so hard that the attendant rudely told her to leave the store so that she could attend to ‘serious’ customers. Egoamaka wondered why the price on the tags were so sacrosanct and inflexible: weren’t they put there by the traders?

Egoamaka also learnt to avoid ‘hustlers’. Usually traders who had lost their capital because fire gutted their shops and wares or because they were robbed on their way to get stock from Lagos, they stayed in a friend’s shop to help out and they made money to rebuild their businesses by going to another shop to get a product for a customer when the shop they were attached to didn’t carry the product. But often, the hustlers lied to the unsuspecting customer. They would claim they had it in stock but at a warehouse and would have the customer sit down and wait for them with a bottle of malt bought by the hustler who was sure he would recoup his money by selling the product with enough profit to make up for his ‘investment’. But Egomaka knew better, once a product wasn’t displayed in the store and warehouse was mentioned, Egoamaka was quick to leave the shop before a bottle of malt was opened for her to guilt her into waiting. And once she left, she often found the product at a shop nearby. Egoamaka sometimes felt sorry for the hustlers. Because they did not have insurance, they had to start their business all over again when they were hit by a misfortune. Egoamaka wondered why she didn’t see fire engines anymore to fight those fires often rumoured to have been started by arsonists who use the opportunity provided by the chaos in a burning market to loot stores. When she was younger, she usually woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of the fire engines, ‘popi popi’, and she would overhear her parents say in muted voices, ‘Main Market is on fire’. And the following morning, she would hear of people whose shops and wares couldn’t be saved because the fire truck didn’t have enough water to fight the flames. But Egoamaka didn’t see or hear fire engines anymore in Onitsha. She often wondered what happened to them.

Though Egoamaka found haggling tiring, she was happy with the small victories she won. Once she learnt that her friend, Nkem, had bought a suit similar to the one she had for twice the amount she paid for hers. Nkem had bought hers at a high-end store. Egoamaka didn’t gloat over her improved haggling skill. Instead she told Nkem that perhaps hers was of a superior quality, hence the higher price. But she knew Nkem’s wasn’t superior. She knew they were by the same manufacturer. She knew Nkem had paid more because the store she bought from had beautiful lights and a tiled floor.

Egoamaka was glad she had mastered the art of haggling. And when she was tempted to go back to her old ways because of an irritated and impatient seller who mentioned she was being cheap, she reminded herself that a penny saved is a penny earned, and she haggled even harder.

PS: See the prequel ‘Home Service’ here

Home Service

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The year she finished secondary school, while she waited for her WAEC and Jamb results, Egoamaka had to live with her parents for one year; a year that had her feeling nostalgic about the boarding house life she had enjoyed for six years but didn’t wish to relive; a year that had her yearning to get admitted to the university so that she could experience firsthand the stories she heard about life in the university. Leaving for university would grant her independence, freedom to do whatever she wanted. But for this one year, Egoamaka had to stay at Onitsha to do her ‘Home service’. Home service, as she and her elder sisters nicknamed the one year that would have her cooking, washing clothes, and doing all the mundane domestic chores she had somehow managed to avoid when she lived in the boarding house in her secondary school, Akwaete High School. In particular, this Home service year, she would learn to pound fufu even though she thought that the chore was absolutely unnecessary. Garri was a good substitute and was much easier to prepare. She already knew that when she got married, she would never buy fufu, what with its foul smell and all the sweat that drops into the mortar from the brow of whoever was doing the energy-sapping chore of pounding the meal. To that end, she had decided that when it was time, she was going marry a man who didn’t mind the difference between garri and fufu, a man who wouldn’t say that fufu was more enjoyable because a ball of fufu was smoother and therefore moves down the throat more easily.

Egoamaka and her sisters often joked that Home Service was a parody of the National Youth Service Corps, a program of the Federal Government of Nigeria that mandates young university graduates to work in public service in return for a monthly stipend. Though no stipends were paid for Home service, Egoamaka appreciated that the one year helped her improve her culinary skills and gave her privilege to travel with her parents to their village, Nnoka, on weekends. Traveling to the village gave her an advantage over her siblings because she got to know some of her distant relatives who she would otherwise never know existed. It always fascinated Egoamaka that everybody in Nnoka seemed to be related somehow. Whenever they met someone in Nnoka, usually at a funeral, St Thomas’ church or Orie market, her mother would say something along the lines of ‘Egoamaka, bia, o kwa ichetera Liyoonadi (Leonard), a na-alu nwanne nna ya, Mgbokwo, n’obi anyi’ , inquiring if Egoamaka remembered the stranger, Leonard, and explaining that Leonard’s aunt, Mgbokwo, was married to one of their kinsmen. Despite her mother alluding that Egoamaka had met the stranger before then, Egoamaka was always sure she hadn’t but would tell her mum that she recognized the stranger, to save herself from embarrassment. It amazed her that her mother always took time to introduce her, sometimes, to people she was sure she would never see again.

For the most part, Egoamaka, enjoyed the one year she spent at home as it gave her time to bond with her parents, including being told by her mum when there wasn’t enough ‘ogiri’ (a foul smelling pasty spice made from fermenting a local seed)in the ‘ora’ soup she made. But there were things Egoamaka didn’t enjoy about Home Service. None of them, however, paralleled going to Main Market at the behest of her elder cousin, Ijeoma, who lived with them. A once popular international market, Main Market had become a shadow of its old self. Once, Egoamaka wore flip-flops to Main Market during rainy season but came back home barefoot. Between stretching her hands sideways to maintain her balance as she gently lifted her flip-flops from the sticky mud at the market, and trying to avoid a cyclist honking directly behind her, she had lost her stance and the footwear gave way forcing her to carry them in her hands. The shoe repairer she met insisted she had to pay fifteeen naira to get them fixed and she didn’t have that much on her. But it wasn’t the mud or the rude cyclists that Egoamaka worried about. Egoamaka didn’t mind either that each time she went to buy vegetables at Freezone (so called because the market women at that section of the market sell in an open space and do not have permanent spaces), she had to buy a plastic bag or bring one from home or she would have to go home with her ugu leaves uncovered. Egoamaka loathed that the market women who sold fresh produce apportioned the often damaged wares in small mounds, mixing wholesome ones with pitiable ones, and wouldn’t allow her to pick only the fresh ones from each portion even when she was willing to pay more. They wouldn’t even let her touch them lest she left them in a more damaged state. She didn’t blame them. That was how they bought them from the local farmers who insisted they buy them in baskets the farmers had already packed, often with the bad ones hidden beneath the good ones.

Egoamaka had also noticed that the florescent lights at the stores where laces were sold made the materials look more beautiful than they actually were. That was no problem for her either. She had learnt to step away from the humming generators and persuasive traders to go outside, to the irritation and discomfort of the lace sellers who worry that other desperate traders will try to entice her once she stepped outside the shop, where she can use natural light to truly assess what she was buying. As inconvenient as all these were, they weren’t the reason Egoamka hated going to market for Aunty Ijeoma. What she hated was that each time she got back from the market, Aunty Ijeoma would ask her: “Ikwegharikwara onu?’, Hope you shopped around. And often, Egoamaka didn’t.

PS: The sequel ‘The Hesitant Haggler’ is coming soon.

CHIELO: One Little Girl’s Journey to Finding a Career

When she got older, Chielo was told that she never went to a nursery school, and that on her first day in primary school, she came home with illegible scrawls drawn haphazardly on her 20 Leaves notebook. When her sisters asked her what she had written, what the scrawls drawn in circular motions were, she grumbled that she didn’t know what those people in school were doing. At six, Chielo was known to be strong-willed and impatient; She insisted that her younger siblings, Elonna and Somadinna, with whom she ate fufu every night after coming home from Block Rosary Crusade, did not pick up vegetables from the soup with each swallow of a morsel but only when she said so. And whenever she gave the go-ahead, Elonna was prudent enough to pick up as much vegetables as he could, carefully cupping his free hand under the overloaded morsel to catch any leaves that could fall off the food as it made its way to his mouth; he didn’t know the next time ‘small madam’ would be benevolent enough to allow him taste the onugbu (bitter leaves) that always came in long strands and that always tried to fall off his fufu, as if determined that he would not have them. Somadina didn’t care much about vegetables. Whenever their mum cooked porridge yam with ugu leaves, he wondered why anybody would overwhelm and subdue the sweet and earthy taste of the otherwise yellow sauce with some tasteless leaves. But their mother always admonished them to eat vegetables because it was good for them. She would say, ‘o na-enye obara’, literally, that it gives blood.

Chielo also insisted that her brothers only dip each fufu ball, ‘okpoko’, into the soup only once, and only long enough to make a small circular mark in the soup. Staying longer inside the soup plate or making a mark beyond the circle was not allowed. It meant the offender had taken up more soup than was permitted and was sure to be reprimanded by her. Her brothers only extended beyond the circular point to draw a line only when ‘small madam’ gave the order. And Elonna was sure to move his morsel of fufu long enough from one end of the plate to the other so that the mark left on the plate, when the soup is thick, forms the diameter of a circle. Because Chielo said so, they ate in turns, morsel after morsel, so that no one ate up more food than the other. However, everybody was allowed to make each ball as big as their throat could allow to pass through. Chielo must have been at an advantage because being older, the hole in her throat must have been larger than her brothers’. She often wondered why she had to eat with her younger brothers, why she couldn’t have her on plate of fufu and soup. She always thought that if she did, she would save the vegetables for last and only use the liquid part of the soup for her fufu. The vegetables would be taken last, as a piece of meat would, since it was only occasionally that they found meat on their food, often the first day the soup was cooked.

Chielo’s performance and attitude on her first day of school didn’t change throughout her first year in primary school. Her school report card continued to be filled with red ink until her second year when her mother decided that no child of hers was going to be ‘an iti’, a mediocre. After all, both herself and her children’s father, her husband, used to do well in school. Their father especially always came first in class. Chielo found it interesting that no adult ever admitted to ‘carrying the class in the head’ in their school days. And one day in school, when her primary 2 teacher boasted about how she used to be among the best in her standard school days, Chielo suspected that since she didn’t say that she used to take the first position, that she must have always come in the fourth or fifth place in a class of ten pupils. She thought that her teacher was being economical with the truth.

After her mother decided that enough was enough, that willy-nilly, Chielo must become as intelligent as her elder sisters, she made out time in the evenings to review her school work with her. She wanted her to join her sisters to say ‘Agbara m firstu’ , I came in first place, when their uncles asked them about their academic performance during the Christmas holidays. Chielo’s mother went on to tame her stubbornness. She reproved her when, because of her impatience, she didn’t make enough effort to get a word right;her mother thought that gave up easily. She taught her how to read her ‘Macmillan’s Reader’. Chielo mostly crammed the passages. ‘Agbo lives in the town of Lagun, which was not far from Ibadan. He went to primary school…’ her voice would trail of until she fell asleep on her mother’s laps. On some days, her mother would let her fall asleep or go to play with her sister only if she got every word in the passage right. Did her mother know that she couldn’t actually read, that if a word was taken out of the passage, that she would not be able to pronounce it? Chielo would never know. Her mother’s knowledge or otherwise of her secret didn’t matter because by the next academic year, her result improved. She came in second place in her class. She was thrilled. However, because her success came only after she and her mother ran into her teacher in church, she wasn’t sure if she really deserved credit or if the teacher was ‘doing pashia’, was being partial towards her because they had become somehow acquainted. When she went on to the next class headed by another teacher and took the first position, she knew it was for real, that she was officially a good student.

Like her older sisters, Chielo was destined to go to a private secondary school. She did and continued to trade first, second and third positions with two other girls. One day, when one of her teachers caught her crying because Yadiba, her rival who was also her best friend, had come in first place and she in second, her teacher chided her for her lack of sportsmanship.

Chielo continued to do well into her senior secondary. When the decision came to join Arts or Science class, she said she preferred the Arts. But her family and teachers, except for her English teacher, said no, that with a brain like hers, she was more suited for the sciences, that it will be waste of gray matter if she joined the Arts class. However, because her school mandated every SS1 student to take all courses so that they would be in a position to make an informed decision, Chielo was both a Science and Arts student in her first year in senior secondary. By her second year, she knew she preferred the Arts but again, well-meaning family members encouraged her to give Science another shot. Partly because of that and partly because she couldn’t resist the allure of a ‘Dr’ before her name, she joined the Science class. When she couldn’t memorize the periodic table-twenty elements and their atomic numbers, Chielo contemplated joining the Arts class for the umpteenth time.

Chielo took mostly science subjects in her WAEC. In later years, she would think it was Providence that made her also take Literature, a move that would later be her saving grace. She loved literature. Her eldest sister Nwanyidimma had helped ignite her passion for books. When Nwanyidimma was in secondary school and Chielo was still in primary school, Nwanyidimma stayed up late at night to tell her stories from Macbeth, The Lonely Londoners, and The Mayor of Casterbridge. By the time she was in Primary six, Chielo could read fluently in both Igbo and English. Every evening, she would read a portion of Urunwa by Ojo Maduekwe to her mother, her mother who had taught her how to read.

Either because she wasn’t as good as her family had thought or because she had made up her mind that she hated science, Chielo flunked Physics and Chemistry in WAEC. Her Jamb result wasn’t any better. When time came to take her GCE, she combined as many Science and Arts subjects as were allowed to make up the nine subjects she was required to take. This time, she insisted on taking Arts courses in her Jamb and she did exceedingly well without a ‘machinery’- a professional exam-taker, usually a university student, who applied for exams only to help students who had arranged for his assistance in ‘Special Centers’. When her eldest sister saw her Jamb result, she exclaimed: ‘You got this score with this your little head?’

With her outstanding Jamb result, it was obvious she wasn’t destined to be a scientist. Because Chielo had bought the idea that studying law was the preserve of bright students who didn’t want to be in Science class, becoming a lawyer was her first consideration. But after hearing terrible stories about lawyers and how they were all liars, Chielo decided it wasn’t meant for her. She didn’t want to go to hellfire. Because she was good in Math, she decided she was going to study Accountancy. She had come to realize that there weren’t many options for ‘professional’ courses in Arts as they were in the Sciences. No wonder everyone wanted her to study science so she could choose from Medicine, Engineering (there were several of them), Pharmacy, Optometry, Dentistry etc.

One day, Chielo mentioned to one of her mates that she was going to be an accountant. The mate casually inquired why she didn’t want to become an attorney so that she could be self-employed and not waste her time searching for non-existent jobs after graduation from the university. Once again, being an attorney was back into consideration. But she was still worried that her ‘faith’ would not allow her become a lawyer. When her sister and brother-in-law came to visit, she told them that she was considering studying law. She told them her reservations about the profession which included that she had heard that men were afraid of female lawyers, that men thought they were too much trouble so female lawyers ended up being unmarried. Her brother-in-law, Udokamma, whose facial expression showed he was slightly amused, said something along the lines of ‘No, that is not true. If anything, being an attorney makes a woman, for want of a better word, more marketable’. In later years, when she took interest in basketball, each time she saw Tim Duncan on TV, Chielo would be reminded of her brother-in-law. Their similarity lied in their height and personality.

Her concern that being a lawyer was a sure ticket to hell persisted into her days in the university. From time to time however, she got an assurance from a wise adult that she could be a good attorney, that there were honest attorneys who did not sell justice to the highest bidder. There was the monsignor in her parish, Mosignor Nduka, who prayed that God will bless her intentions when she told him that she wanted to use her profession to serve the poor, a lie many members of the profession tell themselves the fallacy of which they realize only when they make their first money. There was also the elderly attorney from her town who was also a Catholic knight who when she told him that she heard that attorneys were buried face down, was stunned and said that he, after decades in the profession, had never heard that. Chielo always found it fascinating that the subject of a rumor was always the last in the distribution chain.

When she became an adult, Chielo would attempt to talk a little girl into becoming an attorney and would try to talk a young boy out of becoming a hip hop singer (after his upset mother came running to her). But when Chielo was tempted to convince a young girl to become a medical doctor, a girl she knew will make a good physician, a girl who when she was barely five years was so responsible and caring that she covered Chielo up with a blanket when she found her asleep, she resisted the temptation.

Chielo did very well in her university as a law student. She also passed her Law School exam on her first attempt. The same year she finished law school, she was admitted into the Nigerian Bar. She knew she will make a positive difference in her profession, that she would defend those who have no one to speak for them. That was, until she too realized the fallacy. It was then it dawned on her that it would take determination to not sell her soul to earn a living.

PS: The views that may have been implied in this story are not necessarily the author’s; she was more interested in writing a good story.

Remebering Mr Nwosuagwu, Mrs Ekechukwu and Mazi Ubaka

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Before writing this enrty, I searched the internet and found nothing on any of the above three, my secondary school teachers, who have all passed away. This is my little way of immortalizing them and making their legacies live.

Mr Damian Nwosuagwu

When Sir Nwosuagwu first came to our school, the rumor was that our school had offered him more money to get him to leave another top private school in town. My school needed him to help improve our science class. Not long after he came, he was made the Dean of Studies and with it came the added responsibility of instilling discipline in not-so-well-behaved girls in a Catholic school. And instill discipline he did! It only took a yell of ‘Sir Nwosuagwu is coming!’ from a girl sitting close to the window to stop a delinquent student from further engaging in whatever mischief she was involved in.

Mr Nwosuagwu went on to improve our science class. He introduced Further Mathematics to the few students who were willing to ‘endure’ an elective course with him. Most of the students had enough of him from his General Mathematics class. Nonetheless, I had a certain respect and admiration for him. It was Sir Nwosuagwu who taught us how to know  at a glance if a numbers is divisible by a single digit number. For example, I know instinctively, without solving the math, that 468 is divisible by 3. Yes, because the sum of its digits is divisible by 3 i.e, (4+6+8=18) 18 can be divided by 3 to give 6, a whole number. And however many digits a number contains, if the last two digits together is divisible by 4, then the entire number must be divisible by 4. Again, for example, without doing the math, I know that 5,679,348 is divisible by 4 because 48 is divisible by 4. The divisibility rule is one of the things I learnt in school that didn’t leave me. And trust me, many did including Almighty Formula and Standard Deviation(did you ever wonder in secondary school what use those were? I still do.) See here if you will love to learn more of the rules.

Thanks to Sir Nwosuagwu, I still have average basic Math skill despite the reputation lawyers have in some quarters for being bad in Math. (I was thrilled when I reviewed some standardized tests recently and found that I still remember the area and circumference of a circle! Don’t judge me Engineers. It’s a big deal for me, I have no need for Calculus).

Besides being a Math genius, Sir Nwosuagwu also played the role of a life coach. Despite our Unruliness, he cared enough to teach us some life lesson. It was from Sir Nwosuagwu (or his friend) that I first heard that saying that genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. When I reunited with a secondary school friend about eight years after our graduation, we differed on how Nwosuagwu imprinted that truth in our very much impressionable minds. My friend remembered Nwosuagwu saying it himself but from my recollection, Mr Nwosuagwu brought one of his friends to talk to us. The friend must have given a very good one because I recalled that he ended his speech with that saying and left the class as quickly as he had entered.

Mrs Isabella Ekechukwu

Aunty Isabella wasn’t your typical teacher ; she drove a car to school – something we considered a luxury at the time – and always wore well-tailored matching skirt and blouse. She was light skinned and had a gap between her front teeth. Thanks to Elechi Amadi’s depiction of Ihuoma in The Concubine, I still consider both proof a woman’s beauty. Now, I am baffled any time a dentist recommends closing gaps between teeth.

Mrs Ekechukwu helped hone our English Language proficiency. Her Impromptu Speech series during morning assemblies taught us to speak good English while literally thinking on our feet. Her reluctance to give an A made us work harder. I give credit to Mrs Ekechukwu for being part of the team helped me build the foundation in my use of English. Though she hardly meted out corporal punishment, we used to joke that her blunt and honest remarks directed at errant students were equally as scarring. Despite her intolerance for mediocrity, she genuinely cared about our welfare and showed us motherly affection. My fondest memory of her was when on an occasion, she stopped to ask me about some bug bites she had seen on my skin.

Mazi Ubaka

I knew Sir Ubaka for barely two years (or was it three?). We learnt of his death after we returned from a long vacation from one of my Junior Secondary classes. I never knew his first name. He was dark, a little plump and of average height. He taught us CRK (Christian Religious Knowledge) and CCD (Catechism of Catholic Doctrine). It didn’t matter that I didn’t know him for a long time. One thing he taught us would in later years be the subject of numerous family meetings, countless sermons from pulpits, and would cost government agencies millions of Naira on billboards and TV ads in the campaign against HIV and Aids. He advised us to say three Hail Marys everyday imploring the Virgin Mary to give us a certain virtue.

Playing Our Parts

I don’t know at what age any of these remarkable teachers died, but in my estimation, none of them lived past sixty. Their deaths are a sad reminder of how ephemeral and fleeting life is. We just need to play our parts and influence as many people as we can in a positive way. They did play their parts remarkably well and I do hope ( as one of my other teacher used to say, albeit mockingly, in mild protest of the pittance teachers are paid) that teachers’ rewards are in heaven. In my opinion, that’s where these amazing teachers who guided me, and other young girls, should be.

Do you have a teacher who influenced you or a fond memory of one of them? Please share in the comments section below. Don’t have time to give details? Simply write their names and anyone who comes here will appreciate your effort to honor them.