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Tales of a North Central Corper Part 1

I couldn’t take my eyes off her drawn eyebrows, she must have shaved the last trace of hair off many years ago, from where I stood, it looked like she chose a semi liquid eye liner and made perfect semicircles where her eyebrows used to be.  I took my eyes off her eyebrows and concentrated on other parts of her appearance, she was dressed in ‘’iro’’ and ‘’buba’’ and had on matching head tie in gold and black. This made her look like a wedding guest instead of the vice principal special duties of the secondary school that was to be my home for the next one year.
I listened to her jump from Yoruba to English as she talked to me about the ‘’time book’’ I needed to sign on days I came to work, the ‘’pink card’’ that had a list of my classes and ‘’dress code’’ that was appropriate for work. I had to stop myself from laughing out loud at that point, I made a mental note to laugh about it later.
Finally she handed me a collection of WAEC past questions on Literature in English, a pile of photocopied poems with footnote analysis on the poems to teach SS1 to SS3 students’ literature. As I walked out of her office to the sitting area for NYSC teachers, I wondered about the texts for drama and the texts for prose and if she knew that the SS3 students’ syllabus is different for the SS1 and SS2 students’ syllabus.
On my way, a male teacher walked past me in ‘’buba’’ and ‘’sokoto’’, talking with rapt attention to a female teacher dressed in a long skirt, blouse and head tie to match, made out of Ankara and almost matching winter jackets. They were conversing in Yoruba and clearly painted on all the walls in green were the words ‘’Always speak in English’’.
I arrived at the makeshift office for NYSC teachers, I sat at one of the tables and gave the school another look. From where I sat it looked like a bunch of rectangle boxes around a field with yellowing patches of grass and two football goal posts; just the rusting iron frames, without the nets.
I didn’t pay any attention to the conversations going on around me; I tried to remember at which point I fell in love with Literature in English and why I choose to teach it.
‘’Why they keep giving us nasty fish stew and bread is beyond me’’ I complained to my friend as we prepared to attend Literature class. I had my ‘’Exam Focus in Literature’’ in one hand and tapped my head to make sure my pencil was tucked safely into my hair. We walked to the class next to ours because our teacher; a short skinny man whose clothes never fitted properly was already waiting. When he opened his mouth to speak all his other flaws disappeared and anyone listening was sucked into whatever he was saying immediately.
We were analysing a poem ‘’The Road Not Taken’’ by Robert Frost. My teacher recited the poem by heart, when he was finished he made us take turns in explaining how the poem made us feel and what lessons we were able to draw from the poem. Maybe it was because of the magic in his voice, we all had something to say; the poem took us all on personal journeys within the 40 minutes of the lesson.
I yearned to give my students the same experience, help them fall in love with literature and appreciate words and the weight they carry.  
My eyes caught the first poem on the pile ‘’The Fence’’ by Lenrie Peters, I read though the poem and decided it was fit for my first lesson. I decided to give the students my best, study properly before each class and help them find an escape in words.
But this wasn’t what happened.  

24, life lessons,

Pretty Cute or Beautiful

The gold framed mirror in my bathroom reminds me of the mirror in Snow White. Here am I standing right in front of it and doing what the Evil Queen did in the enchanting story, “mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest in the land?” My question is different though, it is;
“Am I beautiful enough, mirror?”

On good days I find an answer, I say to myself; ‘yes I am beautiful’, on bad days I just keep looking at my reflection in the mirror searching for a beautiful feature on my face.
I remember when my face started breaking out, I was in Primary 4 when the first pimple appeared then the next one and soon I had a face full of these pesky tiny boil like things on my face. I made the mistake of pinching them off and that has left me with tiny dark scars. 

Maami noticed I was disturbed by the pimples, she said to me ‘’you look pretty this phase would pass’’

Fast-forward to my first year in secondary school. My English teacher gave an assignment to differentiate between pretty, cute and beautiful, the boys decided to make the assignment practical by classifying the girls into the various categories. The girls got wind of it and put a stop to it.
One Tuesday evening the girls sat in a circle and decided to pick up where the boys left off; ‘power to the women’ you would think. We went round the circle labelling ourselves and when it got to my turn one of the girls said that she couldn’t call me pretty, cute or beautiful that the pimples on my face made it hard for her to determine where I fit.

I was deflated.
That holiday I asked Maami what she thought of me. If I was pretty, cute or beautiful. She said I was her prefect daughter made for greatness that I didn’t have to worry about that.
In my second year, the head of the English department called me and asked how many times I wash my face that I should do it more often that it would help with the pimples.

By my third year, I hated going out with my mum. All the women had some cure to suggest. I was taking blood purifiers, vitamin supplements and using very expensive special soaps and oils on my face. The drugs I hated, the oils and soaps smelt really nice. 
One Friday evening, I had just taken out my hair used one band on it so it could have the appearance of an afro, this look was easy for me, my hair is natural. I looked at myself again in the hostel mirror I decided I looked pretty. I walked into my room to drop my combs and my roommate said to me if she had such pimples on her face she wouldn’t go out. ”I will sit at home till it all cleared.” she finished.
In my fourth year, I made the executive decision to stop taking all the drugs and using the soaps and oils; I really didn’t care anymore.
A boy had a crush on me and wrote me a note. I didn’t believe in the words he wrote because when I looked in the mirror I didn’t see those things.
At some point in all these I lost my smile.

One Friday evening in my fifth year,  I just worked on my afro look and I was walking towards my classmates who were seated in a group talking loudly; one of them shouted ”Ore you look pretty” my smile broadened when I got close up she added ”I think you look pretty only from afar” 
By my sixth and final year in secondary school, the pimples where gradually fading and in its place where tiny black scares.

I didn’t have the first idea about makeup let alone brown power. So I went through university with many people trying to convince me of its importance and why I needed to wear it.
I cared less about it. I was on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance and I had come to love and accept myself. I was no longer crying about horrible comments and suggestions that didn’t come off the right way.
After university I bought my first compact brown powder and I told myself it was never going to become an everyday affair and I was going to use it moderately.
The band wagon of why foundation cream is important and lining my eyes would make my eyes pop and my teeth shine soon followed.
I wasn’t buying it. I am happy with whom I am and my life choices, I have scaled many hurdles to get to this point of self-acceptance and self-love and I wasn’t going to be talked into doing anything I am not comfortable with.

We are planning my friend’s wedding, at one of our meetings I told them I would only wear makeup I feel comfortable with and I wanted to look and feel like myself at the wedding. The bride keeps telling me she is worried about my face. 

Constantly talking about this gave room to my old demons and I began to question myself and ask if I am pretty, beautiful or cute.
I went home after our meeting agitated and went straight to the gold frame mirror in my bathroom, I forgot to lock the bathroom door, Maami noticed I was talking to the mirror and leaned on the door frame, I turned and asked her if I am pretty, beautiful or cute and she smiled and hugged me.

Since that night I stopped asking the gold frame mirror any questions, I just wake up in the morning and tell myself that I would be the most beautiful version of myself for that day. On a few occasions it includes road rage and having a one woman music party.


    Photo Credit: Tidola Photography