All posts by Mona Opubor

About Mona Opubor

Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American short story author and memoirist. Mona has work appearing or forthcoming in venues including Allusions of Innocence, Descant Magazine, The Kalahari Review and Lowestoft Chronicle. Mona was a 2014 participant in the International Writing Program of The University of Iowa. Mona has lived with her husband and three children in Lagos, Nigeria since 2011. She enjoys cooking spicy food, travel, doing charity work, and reading.

Facing My Ebola Fear

On July 23, gravely ill Liberian-American diplomat Patrick Sawyer flew into Murtala Mohammed Airport. He died at a Lagos hospital four days later, after exposing scores of airline passengers and medical personnel to the Ebola virus.

Ebola had arrived in Nigeria. It has since spread to other areas of the country.

Ebola Virus Particle
Ebola Virus Particle

I live in Lagos but on the day Patrick Sawyer delivered his terrible gift, I was an ocean away. My three children and I were on vacation at my parents’ house in suburban Massachusetts.

It was disconcerting to be far from Lagos when it was in crisis. I read articles about Ebola in the newspaper, watched reports on CNN, and tried to ignore the panicked emails from expat women I know.

My parents urged us not to return to Nigeria. They suggested I enroll the kids in the elementary school down the road, which I attended as a child.

It was tempting. The children could walk to school along the same forest path I had used. My mother would cook delicious Indian meals and my father’s wine cellar would allow me to remain in a continuous state of inebriation. At 41, I would have no responsibilities and could spend my days in the basement hula hooping and taking naps.

My children, however, were sick of America. They missed their father, their friends, and their toys. They were desperate to return. My husband, John, assured us we would stay safe in Lagos, that Ebola in Nigeria could be contained. But it is very unnatural to willingly travel into danger. It takes courage, which I lack.

I couldn’t decide whether to stay or go. And then one day my husband phoned me from Lagos to complain about our housekeeper. He had broached the subject of Ebola with Marie and was annoyed by her response.

“What do you know of Ebola?” John had asked her, intending to discuss precautions to prevent the spread of disease.

“I don’t know him,” Marie replied. “Is he Yoruba?”

“Can you imagine,” John told me, “she thought E. Bola was a man’s name! Has she been living under a rock?”

And that was how I decided it would be safe for us to return to Lagos. If Marie—my barometer for all matters West African—had never heard of Ebola, it must not be a big deal.

The kids and I arrived in Nigeria in mid-August. As we taxied to the gate, the newlyweds beside us slipped on latex gloves.

reaching out for nothing

After deplaning, the passengers queued up in neat lines for body temperature scans. This was the first time I had ever seen thermometers used at an airport or anyone in Nigeria stand in a line without trying to cut to the front.

The ordinarily bustling terminal was silent. It was as unsettling as in the weeks following 9/11 when New Yorkers stopped honking their horns and giving each other the finger. I felt like a cold hand was squeezing my heart. This wasn’t the Lagos I remembered. Was coming back a mistake?

I noticed a number of people pulling out bottles of hand sanitizer and squirting their palms as we cleared customs. Suddenly every surface seemed to be writhing with toxic germs. I wished there was a giant barrel of sanitizer I could dip my children into by the ankles, Achilles-style.

We exited the airport, dropped the suitcases at home then drove around looking for a place to eat. It was 10:00 p.m. on a Saturday night and Lagos was dead. We tried three restaurants but they were all closed.

We ended up at The Radisson, a shiny hotel perched on the lagoon.

IMG_7759

 

I took a seat by the water and waited for my family to join me outside. From my table I had a view of the lobby. I saw a man near the bar lurching back and forth, vomiting. Then his face tipped up and I saw white discharge covering his mouth. At that moment, John and the kids walked by him.

John was stoic. As I saw my husband and children become infected with the Ebola virus, my eyes filled with tears. We had just become a cautionary tale.

My 4 decades on the planet, my 22 year romance with my husband, and my 3 beautiful children were about to be reduced to a handful of hysterical Facebook posts and a few mistakenly pressed thumbs ups.

Then the man straightened and I saw a shiny vacuum in his hand. His back was bucking because he was cleaning. What I had thought was white vomit was a surgical mask over his mouth.

John and the kids joined me at the table. They appeared to be Ebola-free.

Our first week back in Lagos was tense. I considered offering Marie an immediate early retirement because she coughed twice in an afternoon.

Despite my anxiety, we settled back into Nigerian life. My daughter got her hair twisted at the salon. I went grocery shopping. The children spent a happy day at the pool splashing with friends.

My fear began to dissipate. The number of Ebola cases in Nigeria, meanwhile, began dropping.

Aside from the strategically placed dispensers of hand sanitizer that had materialized around Lagos, it was business as usual.

Hand Sanitizer

I had no way to know how severely the Ebola virus would impact our lives when we returned. My decision was a bit impulsive, perhaps, but was borne from a desire to reunite my husband with his children. And I am certain I made the right choice. This is home.

It is in moments of adversity that we see the true worth of a people. Against all odds it seems that this awful virus has been contained here. Nigeria has been tested and I’m proud to say that she has come through with flying colors.

In the end, all I suffered was anxiety, nightmares and sleepless nights. Compared to thousands of our fellow Africans, we got off easy.

photos by: & ,

Is Kidnapping Ever Justified?

My friend forwarded me the security advisory, which began, “There have been three kidnap incidents in Ikoyi in the last five days.” I read this while sipping my morning coffee, a knot hardening in my chest.

My husband and I moved to Nigeria with our three young children in 2011. We live in Ikoyi.

Wax market
Lagos market

I skimmed through the rest of the message, gnawing on my thumbnail. It provided practical tips on staying safe, such as varying your routine, avoiding fuel stops on isolated roadways, and bringing braiders to your home instead of leaving your child at a salon for hours.

The email ended with a warning: “If you live in an area with high kidnap rates, there is always a possibility that you could already be a target, or that you or your family members are being developed as targets.”

Our sweet children could be targets? I slumped over on the sofa and decided to lie there until I died.

My husband, John, called me from work an hour later. Death was taking longer than planned, so I answered the phone. “Did you hear about the kidnappings?” he asked. “I must have gotten that email from a dozen people.”

“Those poor families,” I said. “Do you think we’re safe here?”

“Our risk is low. These are almost always inside jobs and I trust the people who work for us.”

“Isn’t that what everyone says?” I asked.

I stared at the photo of our kids on the end table as John explained that most countries have had periods in their history when kidnapping is common. “It happens in Russia and Colombia. It happens in any place where there’s income inequality and lack of opportunity. In Brazil in the ‘80’s, plastic surgeons perfected an ear replacement technique because victim’s ears were sent along with the ransom note.”

If John was trying to comfort me with facial mutilation stories, it had the opposite effect.

roll_6_32

When it was time to pick up the children from school, I roused myself from the sofa. After bolting the front door, I climbed into the back of the SUV and buckled my seat belt. Our driver, Sunday, locked the car doors. We circled inside the electrified walls of the compound, waiting for the blue-uniformed security guards to open the gate.

The children were sitting in their classrooms, all body parts accounted for. I hugged them and felt the knot in my chest loosen.

At home, the kids snacked on watermelon slices. They began doing their homework at the dining table while I had my cooking lesson.

Taiwo comes over once a week to teach me how to prepare my husband’s favorite dishes. She has spent twenty years working as a chef and instructor to ex-pat and wealthy Nigerian families. Over the last few months, we have become friendly. We chat about our children, about her church, and about the meaning of Yoruba names. She is proud that her oldest daughter is the first in their family to attend university.

melon 'soup' with goat
Melon soup with goat

I began washing bitter leaf in a bleach bath in the sink. Taiwo struck a match and lit the stove. She squeezed palm oil into a pot. As it sizzled, she sliced a plantain.

She told me how easy it had been to find transportation to my house and thanked Jesus. It is rainy season here and she arrived just before the skies opened up.

I mentioned the recent kidnappings as I stirred the greens through the water. “Isn’t it terrible?” I said, submerging a leaf.

Taiwo told me a story about a mother and daughter she knew from Church who were kidnapped in Benin City. She said the women were held for two weeks before being released. “These were good, God-fearing boys,” she said of the kidnappers. “They graduated from university but couldn’t find jobs. Their families needed them to pay school fees for their junior siblings.”

I pulled the stopper from the sink and watched the water gurgle down the drain.

“When educated Nigerians can’t get jobs,” she said, scraping the pot with a spoon, “it’s fair for them to turn to kidnapping. The wealthy have more than they need.”

The children’s laughter echoed into the kitchen. I stared at Taiwo, my mouth hanging open.

I mumbled something about misdirected governmental spending but Taiwo interrupted, offering rapid instructions on preparing stew.

In the evening, I sat in the dark living room, left with more questions than answers. I wondered if others felt like Taiwo did. Would the people we know in this country sympathize if our children were kidnapped? Or would they think it was a fair price to pay for the opportunities we have had?

Days have passed but my thoughts remained on Taiwo. How could a morally upright woman come to the conclusion that kidnapping is a justified commercial enterprise? I can’t relate but I have never been pessimistic about my children’s future. I don’t know how it feels to live without the expectation that my kids will prosper.

Saying Yes

Most of my life, I haven’t said YES. I’ve said NO. I didn’t want to learn the tango. I didn’t want to try Mongolian food. During the break-up my boyfriend and I had post-college, I refused to be set up on a blind date with a man named Kenny.

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for nine years and I’m amazed by how many opportunities I let slip away.

Though I was always reluctant to try new things, motherhood gave me unlimited excuses to say NO: I am too busy with the children. I would but I can’t find a babysitter. Sorry, but the kids need me. I refused and refused, avoiding failure and shielding myself from pain.

I am proud to have raised three delightful little souls. And I’m not interested in dwelling on the choices I’ve made. It doesn’t serve me. What I can do is embrace the opportunities now. Saying YES makes life interesting.

I think back to a special day I had in 1999. I was in my apartment in Brooklyn when the phone rang. My friend, Rob, asked me if I wanted to see a movie with him that night.

“What movie?” I asked.

“It’s called Agnes Browne,” he replied.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Never heard of it. Who’s in it?”

“Does it matter?” he asked. “I have an extra ticket and it’ll be fun. Just come.” Rob gave me the address and two hours later when I arrived at the cinema, he was waiting for me outside.

We went in and walked by a woman with an imposing profile. “Wait,” I whispered. “Is that Angelica Huston?”

“Probably,” Rob said.

“What’s she doing here?” I asked.

“It’s a film premiere for her movie. She has to be here.”

“Wait, what?” I asked. But then it dawned on me. Rob was the editor of the celebrity section of a fashion magazine. He was working that evening. It felt like an icy hand was squeezing my heart. I took a shaky breath. “Why didn’t you tell me? I’m dressed like a bum.”

“I knew you wouldn’t come,” he said.

He was right. I would have refused if I knew the details. We watched the movie, which was forgettable. Then Rob asked me to accompany him to the after-party. I went reluctantly. Like I said, I prefer saying NO.

As Rob chatted up Mary J. Blige, I stood alone, leaning against a wall. Then I thought, “Why am I acting like a loser?” I decided to project confidence. Who cared if everyone there was accomplished and glamorous? I smiled and pretended to be comfortable.

After half an hour, an Irish man tapped my shoulder. In a lyrical accent, he said, “Excuse me. My friends and I noticed you all by yourself. You seem so forlorn. Do you want to join us?”

And here I was trying to project cool disdain! I ignored my first instinct to say, “No way will I join a bunch of strangers,” and said YES instead.

The Irish man asked me what I did for a living. I said I wanted to be a writer.

“Oh,” he said. “I have a friend you should talk to. He’s a writer, too.” He left for a moment and came back with an older, portly gentleman. “Mona,” he said, “this is my friend, Salman.”

And that’s how Salman Rushdie came to join us at the table.

We talked about writing. We laughed. We realized we both hailed from the same part of India. We discussed the Kashmiri lamb dishes we loved. I told him I thought Midnight’s Children was a work of genius and he sat up straight and said, “Tell me more.”

Then after a long and delightful conversation, Salman Rushdie—my literary idol—said, “Wow, Mona, I’d love to read your work.”

And that’s when I stood up and began tripping over my feet to leave like Cinderella at the Ball. I wanted to say goodbye before the magic was gone. I wanted to leave wanting more. So I thanked him and ran.

I never sent him any writing. There was nothing worthy enough. Maybe there will be someday. But I got what I needed which was this: the delicious feeling that all things are possible and if you are open to the Universe, you will be the recipient of great gifts.

A year ago I moved to Nigeria after a lifetime in the United States. I am a first-time expat of questionable ability and I fight the temptation to fall back into old habits. I could return to my house when the kids are in school and hide until it’s time to pick them up. But how will that help our family make a life here?

So I say YES.

When I am asked to make decorations for a charity event, I say yes, even though I lack the arts and crafts gene. When I am asked to go to the movies, I say yes, even though it’s a tearjerker about buying a zoo and I sob the entire time. When I am asked to bring the kids to a complete stranger’s house for a playdate, I say yes. When I am asked to attend a yoga class with some oil wives, I say YES, YES, YES!

And when no one asks me, I ask.

“Can I go with you to the orphanage where you volunteer to care for the children?” YES.

“Can I be the Nigeria Club Leader for my University and arrange alumni mixers?” YES.

“Will you accept me into your fiction workshop so I can connect with other African writers?” YES.

I am just a scared, lonely housewife in an unfamiliar country. But I am going to keep SAYING YES and keep creating new opportunities for myself. I don’t know where they will lead but I am certain I am better off for having TRIED.

Choosing Happiness

Twenty years ago—when I was a college freshman—I fell in love with a dreadlocked Nigerian boy. This boy, whose name was John, loved me back. He told me about his idyllic childhood in Lagos and swore that one day he would return there to raise his family.

John was my first boyfriend. He was my first everything. I promised I would go with him to Lagos. As long as we were together, I would be HAPPY.

John and me, happy in college

 

Time passed. We married and became parents. Our lives were blessed. We seemed to be living the dream. Last year, we lived in a pretty New Jersey suburb with our three healthy children. I loved our community and the life we had built there.

Then one night at dinner, John told me he wanted to look for a job in Nigeria. He had waited long enough, he said. He wanted to go home.

I said okay. I wanted my husband to be happy and I knew he would enjoy working in Africa. I was confident our kids would adjust. I was less sure of myself.

John received a job offer, which he accepted. The months leading up to our departure sped by in a blur of anxiety and activity.

Leaving the U.S.—where I was born and raised—to move to Lagos was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. To my surprise, initially I wasn’t sad to live abroad. It felt like a fabulous vacation.

I am something of a vacation expert. I’m fortunate to be married to a man who loves to travel. Last night, John was reading on his laptop in bed and I peeked over his shoulder. He was looking at pictures of Lebanon in the summer.

West Beirut beach

“What the heck?” I asked.

“I hear it’s beautiful. Let’s go.”

“That’s random. Why there?”

“There’s a direct flight. If you don’t want to come, I understand. I’ll bring my Nigerian mistress. I’ve been meaning to tell you about her. She’s crazy about me. And she’ll say yes.”

“No! I’ll come. Please.”

When John is curious about a place, we go see it for ourselves. We blow all our savings on travel, which is why we have no savings. I may be short, fat, and possibly malarial but the one part of my life I love wholeheartedly is that I get to see the world.

So moving to Lagos felt like a holiday at first. Then one day it didn’t anymore. The kids and I were cooped up in the apartment. There were hours of traffic each day to endure. We had no friends. We pined for our loved ones. The teachers at the children’s new school slapped them. John left us to work in South Africa indefinitely. Our daughter was misdiagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome. My father-in-law—who lived nearby—died.

I was lonely and alone. And I had to deliver my kids through their pain so I couldn’t take care of myself. I had no way to know that things would get better.

I BECAME DEPRESSED.

I woke up every morning into a living nightmare. It was hard to get out of bed. I was miserable.

Little by little, the crushing sadness dissipated. I fought to pull out of it with every fiber of my being. One day when I was ready to quit, I received an email from my friend, Carma, in England. All it said was, “DON’T BREAK. DON’T BREAK. DON’T BREAK.”

Carma was right. I was breaking. But as I type these words today, I’M NOT BROKEN. After two months, I stopped crying. I stopped ending each night with three glasses of wine. I made an effort not to complain to my husband.

What remained was a perpetual sorrow I couldn’t shake. I was able to grocery shop. I bathed my kids and read to them before bed. I appeared to be coping but there was a secret.

Every day I walked on a tightrope. I had to place my feet down gently or I would fall back into despair. For the first time in my life I had to make deliberate and careful choices.

No matter what I did, I asked myself, “Will this make me sad?”

And if the answer was yes, I DIDN’T DO IT.

So I pulled away—emotionally—from people in my life who were negative about Nigeria. I quit drinking. Sometimes alcohol makes me melancholy and I couldn’t risk it. I went to the gym as often as I could manage. Riding the exercise bike left me calm and relaxed. I allowed the kids to take turns sleeping with me in my big bed. I love to cuddle. The feel of their warm little bodies next to mine was soothing.

It was a strange way to live. All of my actions stemmed from a fear of depression. I couldn’t afford to fall apart. John was thousands of miles away. If I gave up…if I lost hope that things would turn around, we had no safety net.

I have never needed to consider what my recipe for happiness was. Until we moved to Nigeria, I took happiness for granted. I thought happiness was my birthright. For the past year, however, I’ve acted like a mechanic, constantly monitoring my internal systems and tweaking them as necessary.

And I never felt joyful while all this was going on. But I skated away from DEPRESSION.

I chose to be happy.

It was a conscious decision that felt unnatural. I kept moving forward no matter what. When Radha was little, John told me our daughter was built like a sprinter. When I asked him what I was built for, he said, “Your body is designed for a death march. If there was a trail of tears, I’d put my money on you.” And that’s how it felt. Every day I kept trudging along under a burden of grief I could barely shoulder.

You know what kept me going?

My beautiful, wonderful children.

 I couldn’t let them see me fail.

My kids are Nigerian and American citizens. When I get the chance, I’ll fill out the forms so they can become overseas citizens of India, too. As adults, the world will be open to them. They can live and work where they choose.

Their mama is a crybaby. They deserve better but that’s what they’ve got. Yesterday I read them a book about a boy who asks Santa for tents for earthquake victims instead of presents for himself. I sobbed the entire time.

Reading to the kids

“This story’s not even sad,” Radha explained, with a logic I long to possess.

“What’s your problem?” Omala asked. “Why do you cry so much?”

 

“You cwy if you need to, Mama,” Om said, patting my back. He glared at his big sisters. “Wespect your mother!” he shouted.

I am unwell.

But if my children see that a person with profound limitations can make a go of it in a new country, won’t they have faith in themselves that they can do the same? And maybe—just maybe—they might look at these words someday and take comfort in their mother’s triumph over sadness. Maybe they will realize that there is joy on the other side of pain if they have the courage to stick it out.

And God willing, the next time life deals me a blow, I will remember this lesson, too.

I choose to believe that moving to Nigeria is a gift for our family. It’s a treasure whose wonders continue to be revealed.

I CHOOSE TO BE HAPPY. I WILL ACCEPT NO LESS.

Thoughts on Hair, Beauty, and Race

Nigeria is the Promised Land

I’m an Indian woman, and you know what? I have BEAUTIFUL HAIR. It’s shiny and lustrous. I have the kind of hair you see in hair commercials.

I married a Nigerian man. When I met him, he had dreadlocks. Now he shaves his head once a week, almost to the scalp.

We have three children whose hair is unlike their parents… or one another’s. And you know what? They have BEAUTIFUL HAIR.

There seems to be universal agreement that my hair is great. But not everyone agrees with me about my kids. I know the politics are complex but I don’t believe that the more African your hair is, the less attractive it is.

Radha has soft, thick hair. It tangles easily. When it is long and she wears it down—i.e., not now—I have to detangle it for forty-five minutes before we can leave the house. She has tight curls. Her hair grows up into the sky, not down to her shoulders. It grows very fast. It is hard to give her a good haircut but it has been done:

Radha’s hair

Omala’s hair is thinner and finer than her sister’s. Her hair grows down in soft corkscrew curls. Detangling her hair in the morning takes five minutes, tops. Her hair also grows fast. It is hard to give her a bad haircut:

Omala’s hair

Om has the thinnest, straightest, finest hair of the bunch. His scalp is visible in places. He has loose curls that never need detangling. Unlike his sisters, you can easily run a comb through his hair. We keep his hair cut short:

Om’s hair

We went to a Dominican hair salon in West Orange, NJ over the summer. I thought the owner might be able to manage cutting the kids curls. But what I didn’t count on was the ceaseless commentary on the textures they found most pleasing.

“It’s too bad,” the salon owner told seven-year-old Radha. “You don’t have good hair. Your brother got the good hair in the family. His hair isn’t as curly as yours. His is better than yours.”

I was aghast.

“She’s perfect the way she is,” I said.

When the owner’s daughter tried to talk me into getting a relaxer—chemicals that would straighten Radha’s hair—I was MAD.

“She’s just a child,” I said. “She can relax her hair when she’s older if she wants to but I’m not going to put chemicals on her head. I want her to know we think she’s beautiful the way she is.”

The salon owner looked at me like I was crazy.

Now the chink in my armor is this: I have no ability to manage my children’s hair. I can spray them with conditioner and detangle them before school. I can wash their heads when they shower. But I can’t style their hair to save my life. When I braid my own straight hair, it’s a simple process a child could perform.

When Radha got her hair braided in New Jersey, however, it took half the day. The women who did the braiding took hours to pull out her tangles, wash her hair, and blow-dry it. Their hands flew over my daughter’s head, combing out little hexagons, and weaving dozens of thin, identical braids. They were Artists.

They were also Saints for listening to Radha cry, complain, and writhe around in her chair.

My daughters are tender-headed. They can’t stand the pain of someone pulling their hair. Because their hair grows fast and because they think they look gorgeous all the time, I cut their hair short before moving from New Jersey to Nigeria. I wanted to make life as simple as possible for us.

My daughter in braiding hell

I get all sorts of well-meaning advice I try to ignore:
“Learn to braid it.” I’ve tried for eight years and it’s not going well.
“Don’t cut it. It won’t grow back.” It grows FAST, I swear.
“Too bad you’re not the black one in the marriage. Then you’d know all sorts of hairstyles.” That is not helpful though I secretly agree.

When we were in NJ, Radha had begun crying often because she wanted thin hair like her sister.

Not surprising. Radha has always been our kid most sensitive to matters of race.

When she was one-years-old, she stood up in her crib and stared at John and me, gobsmacked.

“Papa being black! Mama being white!” she cried.

“No, no,” John said. “We’re all brown. Radha is brown. Papa is dark brown. Mama is light brown.”

“Papa being black! Mama being white!” she insisted.

She wanted to know why she was different than her parents. She talked about what colors we were constantly. She couldn’t understand where she fit in.

I told her Papa was dark like coffee and I was light like milk. Then I poured milk into coffee and showed her the lovely tan color it produced. “That’s you, Radha. A mix of both your parents.”

Then—for the sake of full disclosure—I added two Splendas and drank the coffee. I hope I didn’t inflict any emotional damage but it was morning and I needed help waking up.

Omala and Om never struggled with their skin color. They barely seemed to notice. Why would they? They looked just like their older sister. Radha paved the way for them. She beats back a path through the jungle for her siblings everyday. They walk behind her without a second thought to the amount she has slaved to deliver them there.

So… so what? How is Nigeria the Promised Land? What does hair and race have to do with any of this?

Well, after a lifetime in the US, we moved to Nigeria in November. The kids are at a new school in Lagos. Since it’s the start of the semester, I just got a list of extracurricular activities I can sign them up for. There are things like Brownies, the young engineers club, kwik cricket, and Bollywood dance club.

There is also a class called, “ALL THINGS HAIR (braiding, weaving, etc.)”

Wait, let me say that again so it can sink in.

There is a class called, “ALL THINGS HAIR (braiding, weaving, etc.)”

Can you imagine? Once my daughters are in third grade, they can learn to style their hair from the African teachers at school.

I AM THRILLED. THEY ARE THRILLED. WE ARE THRILLED, COLLECTIVELY, AS A FAMILY.

In the car on the way home from school, I said to the kids, “Isn’t that amazing? It’s so cool that there’s a class like that. Now you guys can learn all sorts of fabulous hairstyles.”

“Can I take it, Mama?” Omala asked.

“Yes, when you’re older.” I said. “There was never a class like that at your old school in New Jersey. What a cool thing about Nigeria.”

“There never would have been a class like that because most people had straight hair there,” Radha said. “But in Nigeria, everyone has hair like us.”

Did you hear that?

The ease with which my sensitive, anxious daughter claimed Nigeria blew my mind. In this country, people are like us, she said. In the U.S., where she lived her entire life, Radha had begun to hate herself a little. How could she not when so many well meaning people—like the hairdresser in West Orange—told her she should?

I am hoping that by moving here at such a critical stage in Radha’s development, she will see that she is a beautiful child. Instead of lamenting she’s not Indian like her mom or white like Lilly—a girl in her former school she never shuts up about—she will embrace her brown skin and thick curly hair.

And if that happens, I will be right that on that front at least, Nigeria is the Promised Land.

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