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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

BETWEEN WHO IS AND WHO COULD HAVE BEEN (long but worth it)

My lovely sister just left. She had come to stay with me briefly whilst on a one-week pilgrimage to the prayer city of mountain of fire and miracles. She brought my gorgeous 20 and 21-year-old nieces with her. She is the eldest of my mother’s children and a real tower of strength. My earliest memories of her were of this tall, slim, dark stunning heroine like figure who was joyous, fun and tempestuous. With her large almond eyes, cut glass cheekbones, straight thin nose, regal bearing and that body, all longs lithe limbs with unexpected and outrageous curves only in the right places. To cap it all she had an unnerving sense of style and fashion. Today in another place, another skin, she could have been a taller Kate moss but it was the seventies in Nigeria.
She was sought after as a model but my mother would have none of that “omoita” (vagabond) profession. Our only memento to that truncated dream was a centre spread face shoot of my sister in the then glorious daily times. She looked like a cross between Naomi Campbell and Iman, (l swear l exaggerate not), l of course hero-worshipped her. She went to fashion school and was just finishing when my mother disappeared. The family fell apart, she is my half sister and my mum’s family took her and my other older sisters away only to abandon them. From that time when l was eight, l didn’t see her again till l was twelve and after that only the odd once or twice a year up until now. All through the years though she has always been a steady, supporting presence in my life. She has told me over the years harrowing stories of survival that explains who she is now.
Fast forward 26 years and l watch my sister walks into my home. Her stunning bone structure entombed in layers of flesh, her large eyes dimmed and sunken into the flesh, those famed cheekbones struggling to assert themselves. Her luscious ebony skin is sallow, her full bouncy hair thin and grey, her shoulders rounded and bent, the only reminder of the girl she was in her sunshine of a smile, bright even gap toothed smile that warms the skin.
She walks in and l kneel to greet her in the tradition of our culture and then got up to give her a tight hug, my true emotions and feeling incommunicable. At 48, my sister looked 68.
Fast-forward one week and my sister has finished her pilgrimage to the prayers city, her eyes are feverish and her pace restless. I had retreated into my sanctuary, my study, bedroom and bathroom are my ode to peace, tranquilly and sanity, no one comes in without reason or permission. I was lying near naked on my four poster wood bed, a shrine to the senses and l know the sensuality of the room, the rich regal colour and bedding, the warm oriental oils l burn and the thick maroon rug and mahogany carvings, chests and furniture makes her uncomfortable.
So she would peep in, see me reading or talking on my now stolen mobile phone and duck out again. I knew what was coming but l was determined to have fun at her expense.
Finally she summoned enough courage and came in, a bottle of olive oil in one hand and a bible in the other.

I am 35 and an unmarried mother of one, which of course is a cardinal offence regardless of all my accomplishments and contributions to my society. Worse still is the fact that l seem quite happy in “my condition”. My gentle dad had once (upon harassment by others l suspect) had the token so “what is the problem” conversation with me and we had got up from that with a deeper respect and understanding of each other. Second time it ever happened was after my brilliant comic sister’s third wedding, my dad and my eldest sister paid me a visit for a “now what really is the problem” conversation. My usual response is to poke fun at them, get irritated, angry then revert to humour once l realise that we are never going to be in the same place on the issue and they are really well meaning. Besides it is such a rarity that it is instantly forgettable. Compared with the hell other families give their daughters from age twenty, l know my family is brilliant about it.

So it is with amusement that l watch my sister walk towards me, l could see her almost physically willing herself on. The week’s spiritual cleansing, three days of dry (no food no liquid) fasting and prayers and three more of only liquids and prayers had drained her physically but strengthen her resolve.
Aduke, she started, l know you are oloyinbo and l understand that a good man is hard to find but let me tell you what is happening. The devil does not go to bad places he has conquered those places, he goes to good places and people to test them and gloat at God. Look at you, you have everything but the crown of a woman, her own husband, he knows that once you have that you will be complete before God and man so he has prevented that and l plead with you that in my one week of praying, it has become clear that we must break the bondage. I have spent my life praying for my husband that is why he stopped beating me and even if he carries 50 women, he must surely come back to me so l have begun special prayers for you. Before December God must bring your husband so we can have a wedding ceremony all you have to do is accept it with me in Jesus name. She proceeded to pray and rub the oil on my head and hands. I let her. She summarises by asking me to fast with her and if possible to come to prayer city where I’ll be given a special room as a celebrity so no one know I’m there praying for my December husband.

Through it all l oscillated between, a deep sadness and an insane desire to laugh out loud, l kept biting my lower lip to stop the laughter until it bled. I wanted to gather my lovely sister in my arms and comfort her and point out who she could have been to her but l don’t think she would ever understand. Instead l sat on the bed with her rubbing her hand and nodding in agreement but gently telling l shall not be doing prayer city and such but l will pray with her. I said it to make her happy, she deserves a lot more happiness, if marriage was only about the ceremony, l would do the ceremony sans husband to give her more happiness but alas l suspect that’s not what she wants.

We moved to the floor talking and my mind wandered to whom my sister could have been if she had not spent her life fighting to keep her marriage. Her husband a happy go lucky army colonel from an interesting family with three sets of twin boys, himself one of a pair was your regular army male. Hard drinking, hard smoking, hard skirt chasing. His family typical, lazy, suspicious, untrusting of a beautiful young wife, economically dependent on the one brother made good and out of control in their own individual capacity. My beautiful enterprising sister who had by the early eighties built a thriving fashion business got married to her new officer boyfriend at age 25. A vibrant, funny, happy successful woman. Then she left her business and began the army wife life of barrack after barrack. She had two beautiful daughters and due to taunts from his family and numerous girlfriends began an insane search for a son, had one more daughter and at 48 is still praying for a son. She physically fought girlfriends for years until she resorted to prayers. He still skirt chases and one of his reasons for liking me was that at age 14 l caught him with one and never told my sister. I wasn’t protecting him, l was protecting my sister, and even then l knew that she had enough pain to deal with. His family hates her because they believe he spends all his money on her so she has fought many battles with them and finally takes them to God having been informed that the mother and only sister are witches! He was almost killed in Liberia and given up for lost in Bakassi for three years, the army was preparing to evict them when he resurfaced my sister believes it was her prayers. Because he never got juicy army appointments she has always been the silent breadwinner of the family running two grocery stores in different army barracks. She has almost completed building a home in Lagos for that family to retire into. In all of this l must say that he is nicer than many are and is her greatest advocate, encouraging her to keep praying and fasting whilst he goes on skirt chasing and all. This is my sister’s life and the reason why she has lost her looks, her youth and her true personality but she keeps her sanity with her extreme religiosity. That l cannot begrudge her, which is the story of many women in Nigeria.

It is useless to point to the many socio economic factors that are the underlying reasons for the intractable personal and community problems that religion provides a palliative or aggravation for many people. She asks me if l have any interesting men in my life right now. I shook my head and smiled wanly, l thought of the queer, bush jr supporting, married, born again one proclaiming undying love, the selfish, insanely, unexplainably wealthy soldier turned politician asking me to cook for him and the anal, bullying corporate monster with napoleon complex. I said that there was no special one. No she said don’t look for a special one just a good enough one in fact I’d like you to marry an officer! Something tells me some officer in her barracks has been talking to her. I laughed and teased her about her weight which is causing her some health problems as l remembered a conversation my friend Remi had with a certain sitting first lady. At 45 Remi is only a couple of years younger than my sister but she could pass for her child and is still able to attract men as young as 25. Remi is unmarried and unchild and admits that she might not have minded marriage but she never found the man however, she is one of the happiest people l know and never lacks companionship both male and female. At a party the first lady walks up to Remi and says o de wa enia kan (why not find yourself someone), Remi laughs (the first lady is a relentless matchmaker) and teasingly says ha I’m looking for a special someone, my hero. The lady says with firm severity, hero ke, they are all bastards you just manage them, look at that one l married, his eyes deceived me l thought he was a gentleman but he is complete liar. Surreally, she then drags her governor husband into the circle and says wo my dear l was just telling Remi here that she should just find someone because you are all liars and the governor deadpan, says but my dear deep respect ti mo ni fun e ni mo se nparo fun e (my dear l only lie to you because l have deep respect for you)!

I though about all this as l sat on the floor with my sister in silence, l love her so much but l also miss that other girl who might have become a confident assured beautiful woman, a sister whom married or unmarried l could l have told that l am brilliantly happy in my state, requiring no one to complete me and enjoying the quest for a sane stable partner whom l might or not marry.

36 comments:

ada said...

DAANNNNGG!!! that was long, but sure worth it! Sisters, I have one of those and she means the world to me. She's younger though and sometimes I wish she were more like me (how selfish, I know). I just want the best for her, and even though she is all grown up (21 and a half) and fully capable handling her own, I still feel like I have that responiblity over her you know. However, she will never be me and I have come to realize that. It may take sometime for your sister to come around (a really long time by the way...MFM does not play)...or so I heard, but sooner or later, she will. Whereas her prayers are enough to cover you...u shld count yourself lucky(cliche??? yes, I know. But very true)...keep the blogs coming...

Nkem said...

A deep breath...

bello.fighting.ignorance said...

Go on si owun!!!
maa lo moto pim pim!!!

bello.fighting.ignorance said...

pls blog owner translate my comment O!!

Marin said...

So funny, sad and poignantly true.
The story of our Nigerian lives!

IMHO, there is a great divide which will be very difficult to bridge, between your type of thinking and the typical Nigerian mentality, increasingly mixed with a good dose of pentecostal paranoia!

Araceli Aipoh said...

This is an awesome story...

Anonymous said...

Good post. Life is what it is, not what it could/might have been. Some people get curveballs thrown their way with the label "marriage" on it.

uknaija said...

This is a beautiful piece reminding me of why I used to buy Tempo every evening when I lived in Lagos for your column- Jisting-the rantings of an opinionated female. Glad to see that you're still your feisty iconoclastic self

Chocolat said...

Very refreshing! Long but surely worth it. I love what the first lady said....they r all d same o.
But my dear, u have to be complete and happy with you before someon else can enter the equation.
Life is too short to waste it planning on tomorrow, might as well live in the moment. Everything good will come later on, ur Hero included.

Gbeborun Of Lagos said...

Aduke, that was a veeerrrryyyy long one. Good read though.

I love the way you were able to stay within the tonation of love despite your having a different approach to life from that of your sister's.

Anonymous said...

you can sure write your ass off girl! damn.... these blogs are a bestselling book compilation already.

this is the story of so many women. i have a "tuning off whilst looking contrite" routine when these "why not settle down" talks come. i even sometimes feel guilty that im not frantic at 37. guilty im hurting my family. like you though they are really wonderful about it. considering dis na naija.

pam

pamela said...

damn.... you can sure write your ass off girl! tv nearly made me forget.

this is the story of so many women. i personaly have developed a "tuning off whilst looking contrite" routine when these "why not settle down" talks come. i even sometimes feel guilty that im not frantic at 37. you know.. like im being inconsiderate.

pam

solabomi said...

its really important to be confident in ones self. that is where u find the strenght to be your own person. just wa eyan kan and then be miserable for years to come. my cousin recently got married and my mum's advice was- "i can't take that! in our family we take it and take more than that so dont listen to anyone" (though she said it in yoruba). im like what the ****. but i guess thats the socity we live in.

Soul said...

And that's why I believe religion is destroying the spirit of Nigeria and especially Nigerian women.

I couldn't get over this though:
Look at you, you have everything but the crown of a woman, her own husband, he knows that once you have that you will be complete before God and man

That statement is completely appalling and reflects a worrying mindset.
The implication is that you are not enough, no matter what you do for you, no matter what you do for others, you are not enough in her eyes as well as the eyes of God because you chose not to be with anyone right now.
I have heard family of mine say to a woman who was being physically abused.. 'you already have one child with him, stay with him have all the children you want to have and let him do his thing, we will talk to him to stop hitting you but just try to be a better wife'.
And we wonder why many Nigerian men are so darn mysoginistic?.
We encourage it by our actions.

And the worst part of it is that we teach our children to do it as well, we tell them to sacrifice everything for 'their man', we teach them that having a man is better than loving themselves.
We teach them to put up with abuse and abusive behaviour, we teach them to always elevate their men no matter how useless he is.
And in the end we all suffer.

I could go on, but I'll stop.

Anonymous said...

my 2 cents family matters should be kept private this is a public forum think about how your sister would feel reading this

Belle said...

i'm not done reading yet... but i just wanted to say that I can't believe i am just now finding your blog. WOW @ your writing/story telling skills!

Anonymous said...

That was a brillant piece..Aduke, i am just 25 and i am already having the marriage talks ...Visitors come to my haouse and have the aundacity to ask me "who my fiancee is and when would i be getting married"..FIne i would like to get married and all but i am not desperate..Marriage isnt equal to happiness... so many of my mums friends are all in unhappy marriages but they feel fufilled (at least they got married)..Being unmarried is not the worst thing that can happen to a woman..Ifu find the man fine go ahead..but if not are u to stand on d road and scream "i am looking for a husband"..our family and friends are telling us out of love and because they care about us but as for all those my mums amebo friends they just want to know why you are not married and then laugh behind you..or they simply just want to come and chop rice on ur wedding day..The problem with Nigerians is that we focus so much on the wedding day and not "how happy will i be with this person as i am spending the rest of my life with them"

Dimples said...

Damn that was long!!!!It sounded like something out of a Naija home video.
All i can say is just continue to be strong for your sister..and listen to her whatever she has to say even if u don't agree sef!!!
Yup I’ve been to Prayer City a few times cos my mum goes to MFM….”dem people can pray”…but it’s all good sha…We all need prayers in our lives.

LOVE UR BLOG BY THE WAY…KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!!!

Tolu said...

The writing was brilliant. It tells the story of how our "Nigerian" culture has been holding Nigerian women hostage for generations. Its sad that our own mothers/aunts/sisters contribute to this brutality. It great to see a new group of women growing up, redefining what it is to be an african woman. Go on with you bad self sista mi!

Anonymous said...

www.againstbabangida.com.
Visist this site if you dare?
oh, ans spread the word!! IBB must not rule again!!

Dotun said...

ooo ga o o (it is high)

Funmi Iyanda said...

It would be great wont it to just get women talking on many taboo subjects not only amongst themselves but with men. We as a nation are not alone in our culture of silence challenges, l reccommend that you guys all read a little heart rending book called THE GOOD WOMEN OF CHINA by Xinran. A collection of stories told by Chinese women of their experiences to a radio journalist over eight years. Incredible stuff. More importantly you will see the parallel to our own stories. would love to do a radio show like that but hey l cannot do everything can l? especially since l usualy have to do it with my blood.

As per how my sister feels, l love my sister desperately and she knows this, she is embarrasingly proud of me. We know no hypocrisy in my family.

Anuoluwapo said...

Brutal Honesty that stems right from within your soul.... No iota of pretence... that has always remained my attraction for you and all you entail.

I was a bit concerned about how open minded your sister or her children (not kids... Goats have kids) would feel about reading this "right-on straight from the heart" piece, but you already set that straight.

You dont know how many people your stories inspire on an hourly basis. I for one just copy and paste on my laptop so I can read over and over and over again (your copyright is protected, I swear!).... and aside from my Bible, your writings have slowly become one of the things that help me remain sane. I cant say you are sane yourself though :-) WHat-the-heck! Normal is boring!

Thank you for sharing, nonetheless.

All I wanted to say.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this piece very much - and loved the comments just as much. It was a relief to see kudos from the respondees and not the usual fire spitting faith and tradition defending firing squad.
You go girl, things are changing...

Anonymous said...

I dont know why i just found your blog.. After reading this, I cried for Myself, for women and for Nigeria.
I go through this as well. At 27, my parents are apalled that I chose to do a Phd instead of coming back home to 'find a man'
Good piece.. very thought provoking

Funmi Iyanda said...

i know Anu, l can seem a bit unhinged cant l? trouble is, that is my normal and it is usually a source of much bafflement to me when it slowly arrives at my conciousness that others dont think so. Usually the transparent truth of the source delivers me but only for the discerning. Accepting the consequences of my normal is the most grown up thing l have ever done. It is so liberating.

Anonymous said...

HELLO FUNMI.
WELL WHAT CAN I SAY? THAT ARTICLE IS REALLY GREAT AND I READ EVERY WORD.BUT I AM THINKING, WOW I AM LIKE THIS! IS IT OK FOR A GUY TO THINK IN THIS LINE ABOUT MARRIAGE TOO?
I DONT WANT TO LIVE OUT OTHER PEOPLE'S EXPECTATIONS

Anonymous said...

LOL!!!!!I think at the end of the day the nigerian mentality of the whole husband issue kills me!!!!it revebarates too the very core of my being!...as a developing socety we hang on to issues that are so irrelevatn and inconsequential. for instance my parents and ther ideoloy that i have to marry a muslim....for christskaes we are all human beings!....i think at the end of the day we all know that which is right for us and that which is wrong!......i'd definetly hate to be married to an everlasting baggage of sadness and hopelessness....men who only feel validated by the belittleing of their spouse and depend solely on them!

Errata said...

I dont see how this piece was long. It was too beautiful to be long. As if say you never read 4-6 chapters of textbook due in one week. THATS long.

All I can say is, that FIRST LADY IS MY KIND OF LADY!!! MRS. GUVNOR!! LOL. She should probably be the one who is the governor instead of the mr. billy goat she dragged into the convo. But then again, her words were quite true. I believe there are a couple knights out there but we are all stained and faltered and cant expect the best out of everyone ourselves. so just find one billygoat wey you too fit drag every now and then that can 'enhance' your life on some level and MANAGE!
LOL. I dont care how azzbackwards it sounds but hate em or love em, men can be some very nice accoutrements you just have to train them well and never love them harder than they love you.

Mr. napoleon complex might not be so bad you know,,u know u cant be wearing the sokoto of the relationship.
Tidings

Anonymous said...

I particularly find this article interesting because it hits home. Your Sister reminds me of my mother. Directing all the tension to religion and being a child out of wedlock you can guess at whose direction that energy is focused on. And before i forget i am male.lol. We too get this sort of problem but of a different kind. Keep doing what you do,you are truly appreciated.I really hope you hear this everyday.Stay Blessed

Star said...

I guess one just has to take a stand in life. Few days back I actually sat down to think of who actually Mr.Right is.
And I actually came to the conclusion that Mr. Right is not Mr. Perfect and most importantly, he must be someone seeking perfection in every aspect of his life.
I've actualy been invited to Mountain of Fire prayer city too for deliverance but my brothers didn't buy the idea and there's pressure from my end concerning marriage cos I'm 26 (they say I'm getting too old). It's not as if it's a bad idea but then I'm taking my time and praying about it too (I didn't go far though, preferably my ROOMon my knees), so I don't end up making a mistake; an irreversible one.

I don't have a sister, but I have a mother and plenty Aunties praying. I've actually been given a "deadline" October 2007.

Anyway, I'm praying things work out well. I also wish you the best in life. U sure deserve the best.

Stay blessed.

Naija Vixen said...

Finally,sumone who understands that marriage is not for every1..society's opinion's just not enuff...if there's no respect,trust or loyalty,whatz the point?My folks despair when i tell them that im an advocate for divorce,but which would they rather have?a happy single me?or a broken,sad and pained married daughter?Thanks Funmi,u r truly an inspiration...

Anonymous said...

I am heading for 25 and whilst I am seeing someone, I am actually trying to ensure that I am ready for the next level and that he is worth the next 50 years of my life. The older women in my life as well as some friends think I should just get on with it.

You know, I can hardly blame the women (mothers and sisters) who hound their loved ones into marriage. I say that because these women still romanticize and see marriage the way 'it was meant to be'. A safe haven, a beautiful union of 2 mature and loving people who vow to spend their lives loving eachother equally.

These women still have that romantic notion in their heads but the truth is, a good majority of marriages have become a pastime in which participants indulge in debasing, abusing, disrespecting and tearing eachother down. Its all about self these days, lustful indulgences, power madness, ego trips etcetera. Is it any wonder that many a sane woman are now afraid of what marriage holds? I, for one, am a believer in Christ but that does not mean I'll choose to be a fool for any man. One can never be too careful in this game of love. Never. The key is knowing in Whom to place your trust and being wise and discerning about all thing relationships.

Anonymous said...

Damn!u sure can really write well.Great story telling skills. Compact writing.I like ur attitude towards these things though with the tone of ur writng.I am a guy.early 30s and just married a couple of months ago.this kind of 9ja thots and mindset have really pitted me with some pple cos they think i am an 'oversabi' or something.Ur family story is similar to that of mine. i try very much not to be steroe- typed now that i have moved to the other side of the street-raising my head up by His Grace.This marriage thing and the pretence i see with a lot of pple is really something else.The pentecostal paranoia,still pits me against some of my friends and my wife that i have known and going out with since college even though we broke up(on graduation and going for service in '98) for sometime cos of this Nigerian economic and warp mindset that the pressure was too strong for her and my own care free attitude then cos of economic reasons.I am not a saint like you said of donald duke.Thanks for ur brutal honesty which has got me into trouble a lot of times.Just trying to learn some of these things now.Pls continue to be that person that He has created u to be.U are different i every way even though u look better in pictures than the real life! Keep up the good work everything good as you desire will surely come.Thanks for ur wonderful contribution to humanity.
Rennaisance brother...

Adeolu Akinyemi said...

Writing for Nigerian Home Videos...ever considered that. We need help there.

Many Marriages are people managing what they believed was compulsory. People rush in, and hate to rush out. But I think despite all these, 70% living below the happy marriage line and all, it's still possible to desire and have a great marriage. People look for happiness in marriage...it's not there. Happiness is first in you, and when you get it right, it should multiply your powers, not divide you fortune (Abrahovic)

I like you funmi (I'm happily married), and I think life holds more in its wake for you. Life has just started for you :), at your age...Jesus had died..and risen again...Martin Luther had died, Bruce Lee had died. You are alive and burning (my expression for living with passion), new chapters are openning. Don't just look for someone, but keep your mind open.

Queenb said...

I totally feel you on this one, I guess its our culture, I know my mum has those 'whats wrong' conversation with me every chance she gets but who said married people are happy people? I guess it doesnt matter?! To them maybe but to me...I'd rather be alone than be unhappy! Nice one Aunty Funmi