Friday 2 November 2018

Thankful for the privilege my parents created for me

As Pharaoh.

A thankfulness reappraised
Sometimes, I just want to appreciate and be thankful for some of the things that have become the stories of my life.
In a life filled with privilege, opportunity, good fortune and blessings, or is it sheer luck, you can only be grateful. I was watching a programme on television yesterday title Rich House, Poor House on Channel 5 which is a documentary-style reality television programme that follows two families from opposites ends of class and wealth divides swapping their homes and lives for a week to experience what the other side lives.
On an abstract level, it was just entertainment, but it was also a social anthropological study to which one can begin to relate and understand the broad spectrum of society, the depth of empathy, the ability to reflect and the willingness to adapt.
Money helps but there is more
In yesterday’s show, you saw the amazing dynamic of community and neighbourliness in what one might call the deprived, yet the absence of means did not define them as lacking in humanity, love or the sense of belonging. The lack of money is not necessarily being bereft of happiness.
On the other side, where there was hardly any neighbours and a weekly spending kitty ten times what their counterparts in the exchange had to live on, the father of the house had cut down on life as an executive for health reasons and his wife reflected on how he could have worked himself to the death and whether life would have been worth it to be a rich widow. It is not all about money.
Yet, I could see privilege and opportunity in different guises in both families, the aspirational in terms of exposure and the inspiration in terms of experience ministered to me as lessons in life.
The lessons outside classes
What amazing luxuries that accompanied my early education in an international setting of races from all ends of the world in Nigeria, I born in a foreign land and those, not of Nigerian parentage born in Nigeria, we all equal and the same without one being favoured over the other.
The daughter of the headmistress once pinched me and when I returned home to tell my parents, my dad said I should never let anyone take advantage of me, I should retaliate. So, the bully who was older and bigger came again and I did to her what she did to me, she went crying to her parents. Her father was the head of the company where my dad was a middle manager.
A conversation ensued between her mother and my father, they settled on the fact that she was the bully and I refused to be bullied. She never tormented me after that and we became friends. The lasting effect of that encounter cannot be discounted.
Of privilege and access
My extra-curricular activities after school like being driven to art classes and my sister to ballet classes or when I was Pharaoh in our school’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, exemplified the richness of education unquantifiable in examination scores but trenchant in character building, self-affirmation and confidence bordering on exuberance. You find the ability to express yourself in places where normally others would be tongue-tied.
The parental quest to toughen me up and give me a sense of my cultural roots was sending me off to boarding school hundreds of miles away from home. In some ways, it was a hellish experience for the first few years, but I adapted.
I had other classmates who travelled by train from the north of Nigeria alone, catered for by strangers until they made it to school and they endured the same on their return home. I was put on a plane, there was someone to pick me up and ensure I was delivered safe and sound to the care of the housemaster. I also had relatives close by for the short holidays as well of visitors who when they came to visit their wards made it a duty to see me too.
Knowing who you are
I was raised in a bubble of sorts, an idyllic existence in Rayfield, Jos and in Tudun Wada, Kaduna, desperately shielded from many influences, though some were unavoidable due to proximity or circumstance, they became defining moments of exposure to sexual abuse, morbid fear, extreme religiosity, encounters with fetish priests and much else. All this is part of the narrative that has become my story.
In many ways, I have retained the accoutrements of privilege which have given me the various instances where I have been able to seize upon opportunities. It does not mean that I have not been visited by failure, infirmity, incapacity or misfortune, but they are not definitive of who I am, rather they are parts of the journey of life for which I have been grateful to traverse, survive and thrive.
I owe the grit and the suppleness to the exceptional upbringing I had and one more thing I would never repudiate is that I have been a child of privilege, not necessarily born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but given the tools and the means to navigate wealth and class in having both or neither without losing the quality of the person that I am. I have my wonderful parents to thank for that and I am always grateful to them.
Other members of the cast including me at different times in the musical play.

Note: All the pictures were taken of our performance of the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Sacred Heart Primary School, Kaduna in December 1975. I was Pharaoh of All Egypt.

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