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Sarah, don’t be a Crab!

I have many pleasant memories of my mum’s cooking. As a child, I remember running to the kitchen as soon as she started cooking and doing the happy food dance (everyone has one, yes, even you!) while waiting for her to give me piece of fried fish or meat to tide me by until the cooking was done. The only time I avoided the kitchen was when she was cooking crabs, those were rare occasions, and I steered clear of the kitchen as soon as I saw the crabs in the open bucket. I wondered why mum didn’t put a lid on the bucket because I was terrified they would climb out and grab me with their vicious looking chelae (pincers/claws), so I wisely stayed away. Mum either left the bucket open or put a small cutting board over it so that we kids could run in and out of the kitchen when we needed to, but the crabs never came out.

Now that I’m older, I understand more about crabs than little Sarah did; there was no need to have a lid on the bucket because the crabs do a great job of keeping each other down. When one tries to climb out, the others pull it back down; when another tries to escape, the same thing is done over and over again until they are all exhausted and just remain in the bucket or enclosure. I have heard the term crab mentality being best described as a way of thinking that says, “if I can’t have it, neither can you”; in other words, if I’m stuck in this bucket, so are you and so we shall remain”. Isn’t that a distorted way of thinking? You’re stuck, I’m stuck and we will wallow in this misery together because neither of us is getting out. Think on this for a moment and let’s talk about soldier ants. 

I hate soldier /army/safari ants with a passion because their sting hurts very badly, in fact, I clearly recall the first time I was stung by one in May of 2007. It was a sunny day in Jinja, Uganda, I was with my team cutting grass with a slasher when I felt a sharp sting in my inner thigh; I was wearing trousers that were tucked into socks, that were tucked into gum boots, yet something had gotten through! My first thought was “snake!” but thank God it wasn’t… I looked down and realised I had stepped on a trail of soldier ants that were previously concealed by the grass which we had now cut. The ants were not pleased and were climbing my trousers but one had found its way in and was stinging me in my inner thigh, I yelped and stomped as I ran to my room to take off my boots and trousers! Upon stripping, the ant still had not let go so I had to pull it off my skin, crushing it before I was free; the stinging continued for a while with some swelling but the ant was gone and that was a relief, literally!

Here’s the thing about soldier ants, they are unified, they march in a trail and when derailed, they gang up on the obstacle and take it out even if they die doing so. Am I saying that the ant on my thigh was yelling in ant language  “I will die for the cause of the ant line” probably not, but I can’t say 100% since I don’t speak the language :).

Here’s what I am saying: ants have structure, they support each other, carry their burdens together and look out for the collective good; crabs don’t, they pull each other down and each one wants to escape alone. Imagine if crabs would unite and support each other in bucket scenarios; granted, that would be like something out of a horror movie but it would probably yield different results.

When I read news articles, blog posts and reviews online, I am often appalled by how ugly we as human beings sometimes treat each other. How we criticise others, make fun of their pain, their differences, deformities, mistakes, physical appearances, and God help them if they’re famous people with broken marriages. Crab! If someone is in pain, what is your go-to response? Your default response, what you think on the inside, check that thought.

Rather than learning from the mistakes of others, we often mock them and celebrate their tragedies without realising that with that mindset, even though we might be physically free, we are emotionally and mentally enslaved. That to enjoy the misery of others, to put fellow human beings down and to rejoice in the pain of those who are suffering whether we like them or not is a reflection of our own depravity and the state of our inner wellbeing. Believe me, I am speaking to myself as much as I am to you.

Time to turn a new leaf. Does this mean I will automatically like everyone? Ha, fat chance of that happening! BUT, will I commit to having a clean heart, celebrating justice and equality, spreading love instead of hate, joy instead of gossip, and hope not slander, absolutely! What’s more, you can now hold me accountable to it by saying Sarah, don’t be a crab!

Crabs
Ants

Loss at Sea

I am not a mother, I have never been pregnant and cannot claim to understand fully the bond of a mother and her child. But I have a mother who loves me and I know she would give everything for me, in many ways she already did. She gave up food, clothes, holidays and more so that my siblings and I could be well-educated, fed, and make something good of ourselves. I know how much she hurts when we are hurting and how she is unable to sleep when one of us- her children is in pain, and how she cares for me when I am ill. So I know to an extent the bond a mother has with her child for I have experienced and still experience that very bond with my mother which might be why this story I am about to write hurts my heart so much that it took me seven months to be able to type this out.

It was a calm night in November 2016, our MSF Search And Rescue (SAR) team had just completed a series of rescues and was told to remain on standby by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC), which we did. Not long afterwards, we were notified by MRCC that a commercial vessel had rescued some people the night before and would bring them to us so we should prepare for the transfer. We prepared quite optimistically because the people were rescued the night before and that at least meant they did not spend the cold night in a rubber dinghy with very little on as was usually the case, and that meant little or no risk of hypothermia and deaths.

The transfer went smoothly, the guests embarked our vessel, were registered and settled in; but it wasn’t long before I noticed that several of the Nigerian women were crying, then the crying became wailing and others around them sat in silence shaking their heads in sorrow. Then I saw an older woman who looked like all her energy was depleted sitting in the corner with tears rolling down her cheeks; immediately, I knew she was the one who had lost a loved one along the perilous journey. So I sat next to her as she cried, I cried as well, and we sat there in silence for an hour, maybe two; then she told me the story of how her daughter died in her presence and how her life could never be the same, she was broken.

She was a fellow Nigerian woman bearing one of my names, in her late 40s traveling with her 22-year old daughter from Libya to Italy because they were promised a better life there. Her daughter had almost died once on the journey so when they finally got on the rubber dinghy, they thought all was well, their journey was over, they would arrive in Italy and work to earn their keep. Unbelievable as this may sound to many, a lot of the migrants arriving in Italy by sea do not realize how unrealistic their dreams of life in Europe are; they think that because they are skilled in certain areas, they will get a job and be permitted to live in Italy or other countries in Europe. It’s interesting that for holders of certain passports, that’s all you need to get a visa and residence permit, while for others, it is almost impossible legally, so they resort to taking this deadly route.

Back to the story- they had been on the rubber dinghy for over 10 hours with water seeping in, and fuel leaking in; people were crying out in pain as they tried to move away from the salt water and fuel combination (it causes a terrible burn, that is similar to a hot water burn). As they did this in the overcrowded dinghy, they realised it was partly deflated and more water was coming in, so panic set in and people scrambled to stay on the dinghy. Just then, they saw a big vessel approaching and cried for help while panicking and trying to stay on-board; this was when my friend called to her daughter (we will call her Suwa) “Suwa, help is here, we are safe Suwa” but there was no response. It was pitch dark save for the spot light of the approaching merchant vessel that rescued them; as she called Suwa and reached for her, the spot light shone on that part of the dinghy where she saw her on the floor being trampled by the panicking travelers, her head submerged in a few centimetres of water. She kept screaming “Suwa, hold my hand, Suwa” but Suwa simply looked at her until the light in her eyes were gone and she was no more.

At this point, I wept. What do you say to a mother who has just lost her only child, the child she called her ray of sunshine and reason for living? We wept together until she laid down to sleep and I walked away. There’s more to this story, more that happened as we disembarked but I’ll write that later because even now the tears are streaming down my face as I write this. When did we become so heartless to each other as a society, that we see someone like this and refer to her as a monster, a leech coming to Europe to drain her resources and wealth. Forgetting that the brutal colonial history of Africa is one of the major reasons why the continent is still struggling economically to this day? Am I against rules, laws and immigration? Absolutely not! It is necessary for law and order, and for development; but to demonise people who only want the best for their loved ones, who have themselves been deceived, who have encountered traumas we cannot even begin to imagine, that I can never support.

Love has to win, we cannot live with hate for it will destroy us, I implore you, please choose love.

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#Metoo

The hashtag me too has been trending for a few days now and while it is sad that it took such a long time for the truth about Harvey Weinstein and his alleged sexual predatory behavior to be revealed to the world, it is encouraging to see women all over the world unifying to share their own stories of sexual abuse. This is not discounting the fact that so many boys and men are victims of sexual abuse; case in point- Terry Crews who was an NFL player and is a muscular, athletic American man shared his story of abuse in Hollywood, the abuse happened in his wife’s presence. How sad and inhumane! However, I want to focus of girls and women because girls and women are inherently more susceptible to sexual abuse and harassment; it is unfair and unjust, but this is something that women have had to deal with on a daily basis for centuries and must end!

My friend Rachel Moran says this “when some men hear me say that most sexual offenders are men, what they hear is most men are sexual offenders, and that is not the same thing”. Nevertheless, statistics show that there are more sexual offenders that are male than female; and male on female sexual attacks are higher than any other. I could post links to different statistics here but I won’t, let this be a challenge for you to do your research and come to your own conclusions. We live in a world where most societies are patriarchal, including those who claim to support gender equality and equal rights for all. This is why men and women must come together to promote actual equality for all; if half of the population is oppressed and violated, how can a community or society be healthy as a whole? Look at the statistics of how many women have to take anti-depressants and deal with panic attacks as a result of sexual violation, it is not right that they have to live with the consequences of someone else’s greed and maniacal behavior. It is time for us to come together as humanity to empower each other for good, to defend those who are being oppressed because of their gender, race, nationality and even physical features.

I remember being on a bus that was being held up by armed robbers who proceeded to take some of the passengers down, rob them and rape some of the women; I can still hear the screams in my head…this happened 10 years ago. I remember being groped on an extremely crowded bus on my way home from university at the age of 17 and feeling helpless because there was nothing I could do about it. When I complained, people yelled at me for being fussy and suggested I buy my own car and drive alone if I did not want to be around people, they empowered the predator without realising it. That story is one of so many that I have and will share later on. What we need to realise is that like Martin Luther King Jr. said “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”; if our society provides good healthcare, but sexual violence is prevalent, then that is not a just society because things are out of alignment, out of order.

To those of you who shared your heartbreaking #metoo stories, I hear you, I celebrate you and your courage to speak up when society would rather have us stay silent because “you don’t wash your dirty linen in public”. To those who have never experienced this, I hope you never do and that your innocence is never taken from you. To the men who feel guilty and judged even though you were never a perpetrator, that is not the idea of this post; it is to open your eyes to this reality and encourage you to speak up, stand against all forms of sexual harassment and abuse. When we do this, men and women, when we come together to promote a just and truly peaceful society, our world as we know it, will never be the same.

MeToo