They Said Nigerians Don’t Read

I have been working  through some books lately, in which Nigerians “in general” (and you know how I feel about generalizations) have been criticized for not having much of a literary culture. People say Nigerians only mostly read Christian or self-help books, and news papers. Honestly, I cannot say that this isn’t true. It’s a terrible problem, made even more terrible by the fact that very few people actually consider it a problem.

I believe it starts with the way literature is taught in most Nigerian schools – to build up a catalogue of practically meaningless facts, rather than to grow literary curiosity and thought. I remember one of my literature teachers in secondary school very fondly – the one who did her research and actually seemed to know what she was talking about, not the lazy one who said “basically” at least twice in every sentence he uttered. Every time we talked about forms or genres, she would always say that an example of the epistolary form is “Mariama Ba’s So Long A Letter“. She repeated this phrase in this particular arrangement so many times, I can hear her voice saying it even as I type it.  Not, “So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba,” not “Mariama Ba’s novella,” not any other variation of that phrase.

This was a fact that I learned in order to pass exams. It was introduced to me as such, and it stuck. We never discussed the actual text and its merits as a distinct work of literature. I wonder now if my teacher had actually read the book, or if she was merely reeling off facts she herself had come across in her education. I had always assumed that she must have read it, but thinking back now to how she hardly said anything else about that text in spite of how often she mentioned it, or how she never had any other examples for the epistolary form, I wonder.

We can’t excel at things if we don’t teach them practically! We would have more literary curiosity if we taught literary curiosity and appreciation. We would have more sporting champions if we taught students games on the fields rather than in the classroom. Like, why on earth do I know the dimensions of a basketball court, the rules of scoring, and the history of the game, but I never touched a B-ball all my years in secondary school? Why did I learn about Cricket, and different kinds of sporting injuries? Just… why?

We did far more literary analysis in my CRK (Christian Religious Knowledge) class than we did in my Literature class. So, it’s no surprise that the students grow up to appreciate texts that expound on biblical teachings but not much else. Nigeria’s most read books seem to consist entirely of self-help self-published books. Bible is awesome and all, but literature is also essential!

Maybe people would recognize the fiction in newspapers if they were exposed to other forms of literary fiction. And maybe we would have more respectable Nigeria-based publishers if people had a home-grown appreciation. This way the best writers don’t have to pander to Europe/America and all the ideological pressures that come with that. If Nollywood can thrive, why can’t home grown literature?


Under the Shadow of Noo Saro-Wiwa’s Disdain: Nigeria

Noo (pronounced “gnaw”) Saro-Wiwa, as you may have guessed is the daughter of martyred environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa. She is a travel writer, and the author of Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria.

Can I start by saying that this book made me ANGRY to no end! It was astonishingly infuriating.

Before I go any further, I think it helps to mention that she was commissioned by her editor and publishers to write this book about Nigeria because of her Nigerian heritage. And, as one reviewer says, she is writing to provide a view of Africa by an African. This was all false advertising, because as this infuriating book would prove to me, Noo Saro-Wiwa is much more of a Briton than she was given credit for. #WesternIdealismFTW

The book, which I was excited to read, because 1) it is of a genre I am not very familiar with, as I don’t read a lot of non-fiction travelogues 2) It was written by Ken Saro-Wiwa’s daughter and that piqued my interest, as I’m sure her publishers anticipated 3) It is actually relevant to a research project I am working on right now as it deals with individual cities in the country. So, I was sold, sold, and sold. I ordered it before I even got approved for my research this summer.

Actually reading the book was a painful experience. I rolled my eyes so hard they hurt. The unending disdain, the condescension, the generalizations, it was too much abeg! If I was just reading it for fun, I would have flung it aside forever. But alas, that was not the case.

I have to say the book does have some merit. For one, I had the urge to travel to the places she had gone, to see the Drill monkeys and the ancient monoliths in Cross River state, to visit the slave museum in Badagry, to travel to Obudu Cattle Ranch and ride the cable car (like I’ve been wanting to do ever since it was installed! #humph). I wanted to travel to these places not only to get the experience, but also to weigh in on the value of her observations and conclusions. It is a travel guide/travelogue afterall, and I give her full credit for the book’s success in that respect: there were many exciting adventures that I would love to replicate for myself.

Another good thing about the book is that she is very honest from the start about her relationship to Nigeria and how she feels about the country. The prologue was in many ways a disclaimer. She outlines her history with Nigeria while describing an episode at Gatwick airport, where a few Nigerians get rowdy after their flight is delayed indefinitely (more on this episode later). She writes about moving to England as a toddler and being forced by her parents to spend two summer months at “home” in Nigeria every year. She writes, “Having to spend those two months in my unglamorous, godforsaken motherland with its penchant for noise and disorder felt like punishment” (3). But this is not merely the feelings of an angst-y teenager who has no appreciation for her motherland. Noo may have put on her big girl panties, and is travelling to Nigeria again on her own terms this time, but the same disdainful borderline hostility towards the country still underlies her overall encounter.

I keep going on and on about her condescension and disdain, so I will just pull a few quotes to illustrate, make e no be like say I just dey vex for Noo. Here, she is writing about her experience on a Danfo bus, where a salesman gets in to peddle his cure-all tea to the passengers:

“For thirty minutes he itemised the tea’s magic powers with a surprisingly seductive eloquence and sincerity. In fact, all Lagos salesmen have an earthy and genuine sales pitch that is devoid of all that shady infomercial patter I’m accustomed to. Perhaps it’s easier for them to relax when they know they can rely on their audience’s gullibility and patience” (p. 22).

First of all there is this assumption that “In fact, all Lagos salesmen” share something other than being Lagos salesmen. Really? Have you met them all? No room for different methods here, abi? But, even that’s besides the point. My main gripe with this tiny section of the book is something she does throughout, which is to pitch Nigeria against an innately superior Europe/America. To say that it is “easier” for Lagos salesmen to “relax” because they can rely on the gullibility of their prospective customers is to 1) deny the salesmen of their marketing skills – which in her own words are seductive, eloquent, and sincere – by attributing their success to a gullible audience, and 2) to say that Nigerians, in general are inherently less intelligent (more stupid or more gullible) than Westerners who must need more work on the part of the salesmen to be convinced.

I had to put the book down and breathe at this point. What the actual hell? Somehow, even in this false dichotomy she has created between The West and Nigeria the people who supposedly buy into genuine, sincere, eloquence are more gullible than the people who fall for “shady patter”? Why? Because they are Nigerian and must prove to be inferior no matter the intellectual maneuvers one has to make to get there?

The sad thing is, the details of her observations rarely add up to the summations she makes of them. So, she often contradicts herself in an effort to sustain, perhaps inadvertently, her underlying disdain for the country and its people. For instance, on the next page she writes:

“Belief, especially self-belief, seems a vital ingredient in helping people get through life in Lagos. There is no room for equivocation or weakness” (23). Since she writes that there is no room equivocation or weakness you would think that it is impossible for salesmen to count on gullibility in such an environment. When you live in an environment where everyone is potentially out to dupe you, gullibility has to be one of the greatest liabilities. But, this is not something Noo takes into account in her summation of this episode.

In the Gatwick Airport episode I mentioned earlier, she also seems to arrive at conclusions that are not really supported by the details of her observations. She is caught between her embarrassment at the Nigerian passengers who are making a scene and her need to defend them and their Nigerianness (their loudness) against the snickering Europeans all around them. But although she notes that she is sitting among the “silent majority of Lagos-bound” and I imagine mostly Nigerian passengers, she still goes on to reinforce polarizing stereotypes at the continental level no less: “I am forced to watch the European and African mindsets collide in a way that equally splits my loyalty and disdain towards both” (3). In this false diametric opposition between such large categories, Europe on one side and Africa on the other, she fails to account for “the silent majority” of Africans. The Nigerians who do not fulfill the stereotypes do not matter in her summations, and this trend throughout her book is what really gets to me, especially since she is really invested in making these summations and presenting a certain idea of the country and its people to her audience. Who might her audience be, you ask? Guess.

Overall, her other main problem with the country (besides the injustices that led to the murder of her father), is the unfavorable perception of Nigeria in the Western imagination and how that rubs off on her as an individual. As a diaspora Nigerian who, in spite of her spectacular history with the nation, is actually a Briton, Nigeria’s reputation in Western eyes is unavoidable. And this reputation, to her chagrin trails behind her no matter where she is or how assimilated she becomes. This, might very well be the reason, conscious or unconscious, for her unrelenting disdain.

She writes, “Being Nigerian can be the most embarrassing of burdens. We’re constantly wincing at the sight of some of our compatriots, who have committed themselves to presenting us as a nation of ruffians.” “For it doesn’t matter what I might achieve in life, these streets represent me; in England, cheerful telephone queries about the provenance of my name are occasionally met with silence when I tell them I am Nigerian. The world judges me according to this mess, and looking at it made me feel rather worthless” (2, 24).

Hey, Noo, maybe the problem is not that every single Nigerian on the planet isn’t a well-behaved upright citizen. Please name a nation with no negative stereotypes about them. Please. None? Maybe, the problem is that people are so willing to buy into harmful and unfavorable stereotypes about us…and about every one who isn’t them. Maybe, you should try not to base your self worth on a singular and contorted view of a whole nation – a nation of endless variety, which you yourself have observed. Of what use is your disdain in the fight for progress in Nigeria? Perhaps, you should focus on bringing to light that “silent majority” you spoke of, rather than aiding the loud actions of the minority who are committed to bringing shame on your head. Makes an Ass of You and Me

Let me tell you a little bit about one of my very good friends. She and I had many a fights when we were going through that process of becoming actual good friends. You know, those fights where you have to decide if you would prefer a superficial friendship or a deep one. One of our biggest points of contention was our differing understandings of generalizations, assumptions, and stereotypes – particularly ones tied to the jokes she seemed to love telling at the expense of all Nigerians.

Those storms that threatened the bliss of our budding friendship were often borne out of me taking offense at something she had said or laughed at when it came to “Nigerians in general”. I did not take those jokes lightly, and I let her know EVERY single time (Letting her know was a sign, on my part, that I did want us to be real friends – hopefully she’s got that part by now). Was she irritated? Yes! Did she think I was overly sensitive? Definitely! And, did she react positively? Not really. You see, at first it just seemed like she stopped propagating Nigerian stereotypes through her jokes but only when she was around me so that I wouldn’t get offended. She walked on eggshells for a quite a while. But in time, and after many many intense talks between us – with me straining to explain my reasoning and her struggling to grasp it – I think she has come to understand that it was much bigger than that. It was much bigger than just a few harmless jokes, and a seemingly prudish and oversensitive girl.

You see, we can’t always help ourselves when it comes to believing in stereotypes to be true and complete representations of others. It is much less difficult to hear and believe a single story about a community or a people, than to painstakingly get to know a lot of the individuals that make up that community. I must concede that stereotypes are very handy and convenient little things, and they are like the Sparknotes* of inter-cultural relationships. But, they also hamper real (individual) unassuming human connections in ways we cannot always conceive of.

Every individual has a story: a patchwork of labels, events, and identities that, as a whole, is uniquely them. Unfortunately, stereotypes are more concerned with picking specific labels, and passing them off as “all you need to know” facts, thereby disrupting the unique tapestry of identity, and discrediting the complex nature of each idiosyncratic human story.

I remember a time when I did not like telling people I was Nigerian the first time I met them. This was not because I disliked, or was ashamed of my country, at all – Nigeria is great, and she is mine! However, I do realize that there are so many stereotypes about Nigerians, most of which are unfavorable, floating around every part of the world. We are everywhere, and while that has its advantages, it also has its demerits. For instance, when the first thing people find out about me is that I am Nigerian, I very frequently lose the opportunity to make a first impression as an individual. It is so automatic. Suddenly, I’m no longer me: I’m a country, an abstraction, I’m the loud life of the party, the money lover, the crook, the jovial friend with an agenda, the smart go-getter, and so much more.

“I had no idea you were Nigerian, you’re so quiet!” – The astonished words of a girl I had met two or three times before, on the occasion of her discovering my nationality.

Sometimes, our prejudices, and subliminally conceived assumptions are transformed into micro-aggressions, often delivered with well-meaning intentions. It’s like the time I wrote part of literature review for a group project, and my otherwise very friendly and kind team member couldn’t hide her shock when she said “OMG! You’re such a good writer! I had no idea you could write so well!” Never mind that we were all taking a class to become writing tutors, which I’d think is indication enough that we were good writers all.  Never mind that we had all been nominated by professors for having this very skill. I could take the more flattering route and speculate her compliment was borne out of the notion that my writing was particularly exceptional and maybe genius, but I highly doubt that was the case. Literature reviews are not the most stimulating things to write, and I most likely had a “get it done” approach to that assignment.  So, what WAS that about? Was it about her thinking that I couldn’t write well because I was Nigerian (black, African)? Was it about her thinking that since English was not my first language, I couldn’t command it nearly as well as she? Was it about her having lowered expectations of me because of her unvoiced assumptions? Or did she simply perceive my “get it done” writing to be exceptional?

I don’t intend to claim that I never am a perpetrator of assumptions, generalizations, and/or micro-aggressions. A particularly now-cringe-worthy incident comes to mind. I remember incessantly asking this guy, “What are you?” in regard to his ancestry, and I could not, for the life of me, understand why he seemed to be taken-aback. If anything, I was a bit annoyed by all the fuss he was making because, to me then, it was just a simple question. I should probably point out that I’d not had a lot of experience with race, so I was not informed enough to channel my curiosity into a better phrased question. I just came from Nigeria, and you were either black, white, or “half-caste”/mixed race. I’m really not trying to make excuses for myself, the point is that it takes a conscious effort, and awareness to avoid incidents like these.

Maybe the girl from my writing class didn’t mean anything by it. Maybe she was actually appreciative of my writing, and did not understand that her expression of shock might be perceived with different connotations. What this means, is that we all have to put in extra effort to identify, scrutinize, and terminate our prejudices, lest we rob other humans of their chance to be persons.

But until everyone gets to that level of consciousness, I have decided that any assumptions another person makes about me will be their problem, not mine. So, heck yeah! I’m a Nigerian! Do with that what you will.

Good Evening, but I Bring Bad News

I feel I must confess: I hate keeping up with the bad news of the world. I do not like watching the news, listening to it, reading it. I cannot pretend to be up to date on what’s happening in the world. I cannot claim to be one of the first people to know. I am not that person that has the morning newspapers and evening news ingrained in her routine. And, I don’t ever feel guilty about it. My dad will probably have a rage attack if he ever sees this. But, that’s just the way I feel. Have you ever noticed that it’s only on a News program that the host wishes you a Good Evening, and then proceeds to tell you exactly why it is not?

Yeah, yeah, I know awareness is great. Ignorance isn’t really bliss (although I do prefer the illusion of bliss on occasion). Knowledge is power, the more you know…and whatever other adage. But I find that when I do keep up with the news, one of two equally unfavorable things happen:
1. I get emotionally involved, and consequently depressed – because it is almost always bad, hopeless-sounding, and practically catastrophic news.

2. I feel detached and develop that, “at least it’s not happening to me” kind of attitude.

When I get invested in the news of people dying, a war brewing or boiling over, children being sold and violated, buildings and aircrafts being shot down, devastating natural disasters, and so on, it can very easily begin to feel hopeless. I don’t know if it’s the media building sensation over the hopelessness of those circumstances, but once you get invested, if you’re anything like me, it is very difficult to get out of it. You might start thinking, “What’s the point of everything?” “Why isn’t God here already?” “Can I move to another planet to be by myself, peacefully?”

I have decided that shock, and rage, and sorrow, with all their propensity to move people into action, can become like drugs. They will get you high on indignation, and bring you low into depression and cynicism. They can get you addicted and jaded. They will increase your threshold of tolerance for horrible happenings, and gradually get you to the point where you’re so desensitized, nothing moves you anymore. This could be the secondary reaction of always listening to the News – again, if you’re anything like me.

I cannot, for the sake of sensitivity and awareness, deprive myself of enjoying happiness and the little joys of life. Yeah, bad things are happening everywhere, but so are good things. What’s the point in letting myself seep in a constantly depressed and outraged state of mind? Who is that going to help? What is that going to achieve?

I have weighed the pros and cons, and I have decided that at this time in my life, all I need in order to maintain a reasonable amount of awareness is Twitter …and maybe Google, if I feel like it. I don’t need all the gruesome details constantly repeated CNN-style, which will most certainly keep me depressed for days long after the sensationalist part of the Big Media Break is over. What I do require is a 140-word-or-less description of the biggest news the world’s media has to offer, sprinkled occasionally with jokes and gossip from different perspectives (of course). If it’s something I think I can handle hearing more about, then I’ll look into it. However, I refuse to subject myself to the constant bombardment of despair that is our daily evening news – thank you very much, but, No.

I don’t mind listening to inconsequential news (E!), because it’s easier for me to prevent emotional attachment when it doesn’t involve people losing their lives, sanity, and liberty unjustly. I know I wouldn’t care as much if Jennifer Aniston got a new rad haircut as I would if there was a mass shooting at an elementary school.

I’m certain not everyone will agree with me on this, but that’s okay. I know myself. I know that once I’m invested, getting out of an unresolved worry is practically impossible. And most of the stuff reported to us, the masses, stays unresolved for really long lengths of time. My solution? Keep a bit of distance – not so close that melancholy and cynicism are constantly poured into my life, and my happiness stolen away with every word, but also not so far that I’m entirely oblivious*.

My advice? Know thyself.

*Hence, Twitter. Twitter feeds can be great and annoying at the same time - you can stay in-touch if you’re willing to deal with the rascals.

What is Normal?

This is a Story of The Normal Myth

What is normal? How do you define what is and isn’t so? Is it an average? Is it a certain yardstick by which we must all measure ourselves? Is it a myth? Or a reality? Is it based on prevalence? Or is it universal? Oh no! It couldn’t possibly be universal, could it? Is universality even really a thing when it comes to people? The question of universality is one I will ponder at a later time. Now, I’ll just focus on the alleged myth of “The Norm.”

Yes, I looked it up in the dictionary and read most of the definitions I could find. Then I read a little description about the history of the actual word. Then I took a look at what I’ve come to understand as its meaning based on what I’ve done, felt, heard, thought, said, and seen others do.

I’ve come to discover, being normal is like being able to fit in a box…or a niche, if you will.  I think that the problem of abnormality arises when it is unclear with which box one is supposed to measure one’s normalcy. How do I embrace being different if I’m not sure to what I must compare myself in order to determine my level of normalcy? Who decides what the boxes are? Who decides what the niches are? If I were to create a niche and no one recognized it as a niche is it still one? Is it like human rights in that sense? (You can’t claim to have human rights if no other human recognizes/acknowledges that you do). If claiming to be normal weren’t like human rights, then I could claim that everything I say and do fits perfectly within a niche that I have created for myself and is therefore my normal. Would that fly? Would my personal normal be considered normal? That’s the big question, isn’t it?

So, is the norm just the box or niche with the most people in it? Is it about averages and prevalence in that way? Or is that understanding of The Norm based solely on our perception, which tends to play tricks on us?

This society is increasingly against conforming. Apparently mainstream is uncool, unhip, and dead (or is sentenced to death). But here’s a premise I found a bit confounding: if nobody is conforming, it follows then that no one is “normal”, and that simply cannot be, because there are certain traits, and behaviors that occur more often than others, and surely those have to be the norm. The Norm seems to be decided based on what’s prevalent. There are attitudes, beliefs, systems, and styles that may have been aberrant before now, but have now been made into the new norm due to the sheer amount of nonconformists who have taken it upon themselves to “not conform” by imitating a particular brand of the atypical. Therefore, the atypical becomes the typical if enough people go that route. You see, Normal is not a stagnant concept. Culture and Normal go hand in hand, and as one changes, so does the other.

What is The Norm if not the rule, as opposed to the exception?

I will use a simple fashion example to illustrate. Let’s hope I can keep it simple. Say, in the year 2001 you saw a regular 15 year-old girl (not a celebrity, not even popular in school) wearing shorts so short that she couldn’t possibly be wearing sensible underwear as well, would you not have been at least a little bit shocked? I would even go as far as suggesting that some people would have been outraged. No fifteen year old girl in 2001 would wear anything like that unless she were intentionally trying not to be normal – to be an exception. Fast-forward to America in the year 2014, some people still think wearing shorts that short is an act of rebellion, an abnormality, an exception, but all you really need to do to see otherwise is take a walk around a mall sometime. Short shorts are not, contrary to what some people may still belief, an exceptionally provocative fashion choice. So many girls have signed up for that style of fashion that it is now a norm. You see, once a barrier is widened, or a limit pushed, in order to achieve exceptionality and inspire shock or awe in others, one cannot rely on repetition – one has to go further. Short shorts may have been a boundary-pushing fashion choice on what women could and could not wear in public, but it is no longer an aberration. One must look to the future for even more boundary-pushing movements, like the one that’s likely to gather momentum with Rihanna’s recent naked dress. Glamorous nipples and fashionable butt crack in public?! I’m practically clutching my pearls!

If tomorrow I decide to take it upon myself to become a hipster, and I begin to frequently research what hipsters are doing in order to copy them, then I can never truly be a hipster. Because being a hipster involves setting trends, not following them. Being a true hipster is about making things cool, not about finding out what’s cool and doing it before most people. Then, a few questions arise – who defines what cool is? The hipsters, or their followers? Is the coolness factor added by the hipsters themselves, or by their followers who believe them to be the mavericks, the trendsetters, and the in-crowd? Are there even true Hipsters, or are they all just ardent followers and overconfident, possibly grandiose, snobs?

Bottom-line is, everything cannot be the rule all at once. We all wish (and might fight/advocate) for our differing and sometimes unique ways of living and perceiving to be acknowledged and accepted as normal, but that simply cannot happen. If everything were to be considered normal, then that word would lose its meaning. You could also say the same for the word aberrant – if we were all aberrant and abnormal, then we would all be normal in our eccentricities. Normal and Aberrant need each other in order to even exist – Given that all humans are not the same, if nobody is normal, then nobody is atypical, but if some people are normal, then it follows that some people must be atypical…

I must mention that I almost did not publish this because I was informed that it’s a bit too dense. I did try to make it less convoluted, and I had to cut myself off at some point (I really could have gone on). So, if you follow the thought processes here, and you have any questions, qualms, or contributions, by all means let me know in the comment section below!

Angels of Apathy

7 Billion People in the world. About 7 billion.

Angels, because at the end of the day we are good people. Deep deep down inside, we are, I promise. We do good things. We often have good or sound intentions. We are kind. And considerate. We try to be patient. We are sensitive. We are sensitive to a fault sometimes. We let the old and pregnant people have our seat on the bus – in fact let’s make it a law, we said. We sympathize with others. We empathize – well, most of us do. We lend a helping hand, when we want to. We offer a shoulder when a crier comes to us.

But, the problem is that most times we are good because we want to be seen as good people. We are good because we care what others think/feel about us, so it’s really not about them. We are good in a weirdly paradoxical way that seems self-less but is ultimately self-centered. We are angels when we don’t have to go out of our way. We are angels when the law requires it and we’d rather not get in trouble. We are angels when being angelic comes with affirmation. But, we are gradually becoming more apathetic than angelic.

What happens when the people or situations that are in the direst of need angelic acts are not in direct view? What happens when we are separated by the cushion of high-rise buildings, or a few streets, a neighborhood, a country border, an ocean, and maybe even a continent? Are we still good? Are we still selfless, and sympathetic, and eager to help? Do we become apathetic? Do we become hoarders? Apathetic hoarders? Spoiled to the point where we have a different set of ultimately inconsequential problems? Third world problems, right?

How do you explain the drastic juxtaposition of a small group of “good” people who own a majority of the wealth and resources available to us as a race, and a larger group of people who own little to nothing, although they share a planet with the former group? That’s Africa. That’s the Americas. That’s Europe. That’s Earth for you.

Call it capitalism. Call it application of ingenuity. Call it greed. Call it human. Call it a gap, or a fence, or an imbalance. Call it unfair. Matter of fact, call it fair – all fingers were not created equal after all. A bit callous, maybe.

Doesn’t matter what you call it: the facts remain what they are. About 7 billion people sharing a planet, but not actually sharing a planet.

*Angles of Apathy is a phrase I borrowed from a song I heard on the radio. See lyrics here -



Back in secondary school, my friend Sally used to say how she did not plan be to be married until she was around 27 years old. I always thought she was just trying to be outlandish on purpose. Who knows, maybe she was. But, I still used to think she was a bit weird for thinking that way – 27 is so dangerously close to 30…and we all knew what 30 meant! …Or at least, we knew what we had been taught it meant.

We learned that 30 meant going from “a maiden” to “an old maid.” 30 meant going from being referred to as “young woman” to “unmarried woman”. 30 meant, away with university-age and in with married-with-a-kid age (so, if you’re not there by that age, you’re malfunctioning somehow).

This is an idea that I think should be deprogrammed from our minds. I mean, if you’re a woman or man married with kid(s) by 30, good for you! Congrats! But no one should be put down, or made to feel like a failure, sitting on a time bomb just because they’re not there by that age.

I have been the unfortunate witness of this notion being expressed by one of my old Secondary School classmates who happened to be male. We were just having one of those casual, “where are you now?” and “what are your plans?” type of conversations. I told him I was going to pursue an MA/PhD, and his first reaction was, “so when will you get married?” At first, I wanted to tell him off, but I decided to be polite, and just make a joke so we can both laugh and move on from that kind of questioning.

But he was so bent on his intent, that even after I had laughed it off, he decided to end the conversation with this gem; “Well, just make sure you get married by 25, okay?” I wasn’t sure how to react to this, because I wasn’t entirely sure what I was feeling. The way he even phrased it as a helpful hint/advice was both rage-inducing and utterly amusing. I felt a weird combination of rage, shock, amusement, and disappointment in that instant, and I had to take a moment to breathe so that I wouldn’t say anything I would come to regret.

After taking a breather, I asked him if he was planning on getting married by 25 as well, to which he, without hesitation, replied that he would not be ready by then, and he still had to revel in not being tethered to a woman until he was about 30. I hoped he would see the hypocrisy of his outlook, but I don’t remember if I pointed it out to him or not. Honestly, the rest of that conversation is now a blur to me. I lost interest in anything else he had to say or ask, and did not invest in the conversation anymore.

Funny enough this notion does not apply to men in quite the same way – why should it, right?

We are indoctrinated into this idea that if men are like fine wine that gets better with age, then women are like egg salad (you really don’t want that aged).

I’m not saying we should also impose these same expectations on men, neither am I endorsing that George Clooney lifestyle for anyone – I’m simply saying, don’t put people down for not meeting your marriage-age expectation (especially if they’re not your children). And if you’re at that close-to-30 age and the pressure is piling on, just remember that desperation makes for some horrible decisions – stay calm, and stay happy!

When Compliments are Uncomfortable

Have you ever been praised for being humble, after which a response was expected? Have you ever been told you’re the most beautiful, or purest, or kindest, or most inspiring, (or most anything) person the compliment-giver has ever met? What is it about these kinds of praise that make sensible people cringe a bit?

It might be the hint of insincerity that accompanies statements like that. I often sense that people who dole out such hyperbolic compliments at will rarely, if ever, mean it. And it makes me wonder what runs through their heads as they utter the disingenuous words. As for praising someone for being humble, I think maybe the praise-giver doesn’t always realize just how uncomfortable that could be for the receiver – who, if she/he were truly humble, would be immensely embarrassed by such commendation.

But I will start by addressing the hyperboles. This sort of applies to one of the things I’ve noticed, living in America. You see, people claim to “love” more frequently than I had ever seen. How many times have you heard something along the lines of, “Oh! I just LOVE (insert banal object/ mediocre person here)!”? What’s wrong with saying you “like” something? Or saying that something or someone is your current favourite? I am a strong believer and perpetrator of the notion that “Love” is a strong word, which should be reserved only for when you truly and deeply love. We should refrain from throwing it around so willy-nilly. I do realize I may be fighting a lost cause here, so…I’ll just have to keep cringing inwardly whenever I get annoyed about this.

There is something about hyperbolic compliments, or expressing praise in exaggerations that make them seem so much more bogus than the speaker may have intended. Here’s a story to illustrate:

I remember my first time speaking at a Bible study group I belong to on Campus. I was so nervous, I fumbled a lot, I could hardly get the words out, my voice wasn’t loud enough to reach the back of the room at times, and there were a lot of awkward pauses and nervous stares. I led Bible study two weeks in a row, and admittedly, by the second week I had gotten a bit better at it. I was able to laugh at myself a bit more, but I wasn’t an expert by any means! After that second week, I remember a particular girl, who I’ll call Samantha for the sake of this blog, came to me and said, “That was so good! Yo! [she] should lead Bible Study every week, guys!”

A part of me knew that Samantha may have been saying that just to make me feel better about all the fumbles, (and she was not being sarcastic at all, in case you were wondering). However, I did wonder why she would go to such excessive lengths, which just made her compliment come across as insincere (Really? EVERY week?).

Fast-forward a year or two later, Samantha probably already forgot this little encounter. I was asked to lead Bible study again, and this time I was way more comfortable up there, and it was just a smoother, and dare I say, fun delivery of the message I was given (still not an expert though). Along comes Samantha, in the middle of a conversation I was having with someone else about how much of an improvement I had made from last time. Imagine my astonishment, when she chimes in something along the lines of, “oh yeah, that was kinda bad, but you were great up there this time!” My initial suspicions were confirmed at this point. You can imagine what now runs through my head every time Samantha pays me a compliment. -_-

Another uncomfortable kind of praise is when you’re lauded for your humility! As far as I know, there is no right, non-awkward way of getting out of this kind of compliment without offending anyone. Please, correct me if I’m wrong.

If you are going to praise someone for being humble, please do not say it to their faces! One of three things will happen; the person could thank you and generously accept that compliment, at which point they don’t seem that humble anymore; The person could start to explain why they are not humble, at which point you’d just wish they’d shut up and accept a compliment for goodness sake!; Or the person would not know how to react, at which point a massively awkward moment ensues.

If you’ve read up to this point, please let me know how you’d react if someone praised you for being humble, or gave you a hyperbolic compliment contaminated by insincerity.

Why Would Everyone Want to Look The Same?

The internet is surfeit with galleries of celebrities, from A-listers to Z-listers, who have changed their appearances in order to achieve or maintain a particular kind of prettiness. And I say “prettiness” because I think beauty is so much deeper than what you see when you look at a person. Always with the nips, tucks, facelifts, cheek implants, engorged lips, and narrowed straightened noses that I could slice cheese on. The “after” pictures of these celebrities always show that they were shooting for very similar looks.

For a society that incessantly preaches individuality, there is an inordinate amount of people trying to copy a certain idea of what “good-looking” means. It may have started in Hollywood, but it is slowly and steadily spreading through to the rest of the population.

Homogeneity of any kind, in the big picture, is not usually a great thing. It is not always a good thing to maintain a non-changing culture among a homogeneous group of people. What does a community become when their culture or appearance is not allowed to evolve with some introduced heterogeneity? A cult? Another extinction? See Elif Shafak’s talk on fiction, if you wish to get a better understanding of what I’m saying here.

Also, think about it from the perspective of a scientist for instance. There is a reason a wide and varied gene pool is necessary for the survival of the human race. It is one of the medical/biological reasons close relatives are discouraged from getting married and/or having kids with each other.

There is a reason every individual person was created to look different from the rest of the population. Even with identical twins and doppelgangers, there are still little ways of telling them apart. We have varied blood types, genes, facial and bodily features and shapes. And let me not forget the whole finger print thing – no two people have the same one! Is that not indication enough that we are not supposed to be one big homogeneous soup pot of creatures?

I’m just trying to stress the importance of heterogeneity, I might have gotten carried away, but I’m sure by now you get the point. We should not all be trying to attain that particular narrow-nosed, fair-skinned, full-cheeked, full-lipped, skinny-but-shapely image of good-looking. And for the guys, not everyone can be or should be a tall beef-cake with washboard abs. I personally know a few girls who are not big on the whole sculptured abs thing.

I strongly believe that the attractiveness of a person is not, and should not be a universally agreed-upon idea, because that saying – beauty is in the eye of the beholder – has a lot of merit.

At the end of the day, it comes down to being comfortable and confident in your own skin and your own looks. It comes down to accepting the fact that no matter how you look or don’t look, there are going to be people out there who find you good-looking, and people who do not. And, you should not always take the fact that someone doesn’t find you attractive or good-looking as something to be internalized. Those kind of comments are more about what people see than about what is actually there. In the same way, how you feel about your looks, and your confidence level, are actually more about what you see than about what is actually there.