Sunday, 27 May 2012

A Few Good Men

(Nope, I haven’t watched the movie. I just thought it would make for a good title.)

This past week, I ran into a former classmate of mine in the bank. I was pleasantly surprised. After graduation, I moved to her country for work and she moved to mine. For this reason, it’s always a treat when she arrives in town and pays me a visit. It tickles me to see how ‘Nigerian’ she has become – from her verbal expressions, to her greetings, to her dressing, to her easy-goingness (is that even a word?) – and how she almost feels like a stranger in her own country these days.

We stood in a corner and screamed, hugged, and laughed, ignoring the other bank customers, standing in line and staring at us with curiosity. We had both filed for divorce around the same time. She filed from my country and I filed from hers. I got mine three months ago, and she got hers a couple of months later. My mind went back to our school days and I recalled just how difficult her marriage was, and how she somehow managed to keep up with it with such grace. Like me, she played the part well. So well that I initially mistook her abusive partner as simply being a bit over-protective.

During one of her rare visits to my place in those days, she had planned to just come hang out with me for an hour. We sat in the living room, catching up. Her phone rang incessantly. She would patiently pick it up and speak soothingly to her partner. I only realized it was him after about the third phone call.

‘Didn’t you tell him you were going out?’ I asked, finding it rather strange. We only lived about two blocks away from each other.

‘I did – don’t mind him. He keeps asking when I’m coming back,’ she replied cheerily.

‘Oh. Does he know you’re at my house?’

‘He knows. Don’t mind him. The man won’t let me rest.’

‘Well, I guess he just can’t do without you,’ I said, believing this as I said it, but still finding it rather bizarre since she’d only been with me for a few minutes. ‘The man is missing you, so you better hurry home O – I don’t want trouble.’

She hissed good-naturedly. ‘Let’s just ignore him for a while. I’ll go home soon.’

‘Hmm!’ I teased her, smiling: ‘Gender and Power!!’

This phrase was taken from the tentative title of her dissertation, and we both burst out laughing.

‘Forget all those things,’ she said, waving her hand dismissively. ‘We’re just busy theorizing to get our degrees. We know the real deal, though.’ We laughed some more.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned about the level of abuse, which she divulged to me one day. I could not fathom how she was always so happy-go-lucky, having been through all of that. I had never seen her depressed – not even slightly.

I looked at her now, my eyes going from her head down to her toes and back.

‘You look amazing!’ I said.

‘Really??’ she responded in shock.

‘Yes! You’re glowing. You’ve lost some weight, too, right? You’re looking thinner. In fact, your face looks entirely different. And I’ve never seen you in this style of clothing. It really, really suits you.’

‘Oh, my God. Thank you so much. You don’t know how much that means to me. In two decades of marriage, all I ever heard was how ugly and stupid I was. He would tell me that over and over again.’


‘Yes, my dear. So the way I look now is how I used to be before I got married, what I used to look like. I’m finally re-discovering myself.’

I nodded slowly, understandingly, and sadly, recalling having used those same words almost vertabim myself in the past. 

I didn’t get it. This was a gem of a woman: kind, compassionate, hard-working, and a go-getter. She was responsible for bringing her entire family over to the US on her meager scholarship, and ensuring everyone settled in nicely. The family could never have been where they are today, been exposed to the opportunities they now had, without her. She was an attractive woman with an advanced degree who believed she was ugly and stupid because someone had told her so enough times. And she hid all this pain behind the brightest smile.

‘How are the children, though?’

‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I haven’t seen them in a long time.’

She got her divorce, but her children were forcibly taken away, and were now with her ex in a different country. I didn’t know how to adequately express my sorrow over this.

‘Oh, it’s okay. They’re almost all at the age where they’ll be at liberty to make their own decisions and come see me whenever they want. Right now, they have no choice,’ she said breezily. ‘I decided to stop contacting them because I don’t want them to get into the habit of lying to their dad, who regularly asks them if I’ve contacted them, and who takes away their cell phones.’

Wow, I thought to myself. Sweet, sweet mother. I could not even imagine. What would I have done if my children were taken away and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it? I suppose I would just have to kill somebody, I thought, staring at her. That’s easy for you to say. Your ex-husband wasn’t abusive in that way.

I thought of how fortunate I was not to have experienced any real ugliness at all.

‘It is well, my dear,’ I said, the words falling heavily from my mouth. What did that mean, anyway? It is well, keh? How could it be well when a mother couldn’t see her children? ‘I’ll keep you in prayer,’ I said out loud.

She smiled back at me, as usual, laughing a little.

I got home that day and made a note to myself to write about this. At first, I just wanted to share her touching story. But today I decided I wanted to do more than that.

My aim in putting things down on paper isn’t to depress people (believe it or not!).

As much as I want people in similar situations to know that they’re not alone (and people in not-so-similar situations to have insight into what it’s like), I also want them to know that my experiences and my friends experiences do not definitively define marriage, nor manhood. One ‘bad apple’ don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl!

I want the world to know that I’m actually a pretty happy, easy-going person myself, despite my experiences. I conjure up painful memories from the past and convey them as accurately as I can because I simply can’t believe that I went through what I went through for no reason at all. There has to have been a purpose, even if it’s just to let others know it’ll be okay. Just to let you know, it actually takes a bit of work these days to conjure up (some of) these memories. I actually feel guilty sometimes about just how successfully I’ve moved on, about the fact that I barely give my former spouse a thought unless I’m trying to remember something to write about, unless he contacts me for something, or unless I’m playing the role of a dutiful mother and asking the children if they would like to talk to their Daddy. I feel guilty sometimes about the fact that, when I search myself, I don’t seem to come up with any real bitterness. It’s almost like if you’re not bitter, then maybe you didn’t really care that much to begin with. What I do find is a substantial amount of indifference … and I wonder if the indifference and total absence of curiosity I usually feel where he’s concerned aren’t actually worse than bitterness.

People often ask me how I would feel if he got re-married. My sincere response has always been that I’d be really happy for him. From the little I’ve observed, he really does seem to do so much better with a wife (and which man doesn’t, come to think of it?). I’d be a tad relieved, too, as that would be a strong indicator that he’s not holding out hope that we’ll ever re-unite.

I’ve really, really moved on. The only times I feel stirred to pay a bit of attention is when it comes to anything that has to do with his role as a father, and this rarely occurs.

I want the world to know that there are definitely some good men out there. I tell singles all the time to be careful what they hear. The world is full of such bad stories that one feels almost shy and insecure about sharing any good (marital) tales. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Many singles I know don’t believe me, bombarded as they are with women’s negative experiences. I’ve started sharing some really uplifting stories with them, and I thought I’d share them with you, too.

Be encouraged. It is well, afterall:

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Just Because

I’m not sure if it’s traveling that I don’t like, or if it’s just that I don’t like being away from my kids – which usually happens when I travel since most of my trips are work-related.  I suspect it's a combination of the two.

Nonetheless, I’ve noticed that there’s something about traveling and being in another country for a short while that has an almost spiritual effect on me sometimes. Once in a while, it happens while the plane is landing and I’m in my seat, looking out the window. As I land in countries I’ve only read about, I sometimes have an overwhelming feeling of awe at God’s greatness, and at the fact that He’s made it possible for me to visit a number of these places.

And then, there’s the quietness of the hotel rooms. I’m so used to being surrounded by commotion and demands, that being in a hotel room in the middle of nowhere, all by myself, draws me closer to God sometimes. To combat the feelings of guilt about leaving my children behind, and the loneliness of hotel rooms (as opposed to my own home), I turn to God and feel a special kind of closeness sometimes.

On one particular trip last year, I was moved by three things: the thick quietness of my hotel room, a movie, and a news clip.

The movie was a true story (my favorite kind) – the simple but touching story of an unemployed, African-American woman. A single parent in a low-income neighborhood who courageously stood up against the entire police force, with all the odds against her, and successfully drew national attention to the discrimination often faced by the urban poor.

I was profoundly touched by this simple movie. To crown it all, I switched to CNN and discovered it was Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday. He was being interviewed, along with his family members and others, and his contributions to the fight against apartheid were expertly chronicled. I was in complete awe of what God can do with our lives if we just let Him.  The thought of these two people, coupled with the quietness of my room, led me to tears. I had a strong urge to just worship the Lord in the quietness of my room, marveling at all He is able to do. I decided to just worship Him for a few minutes, just because. I don’t do this nearly enough.I was relieved to be heading home the following evening, and this probably played a part in making me so emotional, too.

My flight had some ridiculous delays that night. As we learned that the flight had been delayed yet again, after having waited a couple of hours already, I exchanged exasperated glances with the lady sitting next to me. We struck up a conversation and eventually began to converse like old friends. She was a young American lady doing some de-mining work in an insecure African location. I stared at her admiringly while she talked about her work; nodded understandingly, as she talked about her family challenges. We made our way to a café and had some pizza together, continuing our conversation for another couple of hours.

‘Are you signed up with this whole frequent flyer mile thing?’ she asked.

‘Yes, I am – are you?’

‘No,’ she said.

‘Oh, you should definitely sign up, especially given how much you travel. There are quite a number of benefits.’ I described the application process as we finally stood in line, waiting to board.

It was my turn now, so I handed the flight attendant my boarding pass.

‘Have you ever traveled business class?’ she asked, standing behind me.

‘Only a couple of times,’ I replied, turning around to look at her. ‘And the times it’s happened, I was upgraded because my boss went up to the counter and sweet-talked the flight attendants.’

Just then, there was a resounding beep as my boarding pass went through the machine. I quickly turned back to the flight attendant, slightly panicked. I couldn’t bear to have anything else happen tonight. I just wanted to get home.

‘Is there something wrong?’ I asked apprehensively.

‘Oh, no,’ he said, casually. ‘We’re just upgrading you to business class. Enjoy your flight.’

I turned back and stared at my airport friend, eyes wide and mouth open. She stared back with surprise and a touch of envy. I said my goodbyes hurriedly, apologetically, and left her behind.

Oh my God, I thought as I settled in my large, comfortable seat, stretching out my long legs. Poverty is terrible. You mean some people actually get to travel this way all the time?? Thank you Lord, for this privilege. I’m just so shocked. This has never happened to me without any ‘manipulation.’

I had some juice and then began to doze off, lulled into a light sleep by the buzz of the airconditioning. I was awakened from this sweet sleep by someone standing next to me, obviously trying to get into the window seat right beside me.

‘Excuse me, Mum,’ the voice said, gently. I looked up and stared. Then I wiped my eyes and blinked to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. His sharp, alert, kind eyes stared patiently back at me. I nearly fell out of my seat.

Guess who it was?


My shock and hesitancy didn’t go unnoticed by those around me. They were equally awe-struck, but a bit amused by what I would call my ‘bushmalism.’ I finally gathered myself together and stood out in the aisle while he moved past me and took his seat. As he did so, I wasn’t sure what to say. I couldn’t just not say anything, like a bush girl. And so, I said the first thing that came to mind:

‘Happy 80th Birthday, Bishop …’

‘Oh, thank you, my dear. Thank you so much,’ he said graciously, humbly.

Thank God I’d watched CNN last night. Okay, so what should I say next, I wondered. Should I strike up a conversation? About what, though? Should I ask how Nelson Mandela was doing? Nah … bad idea. I kept trying to get a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye. I noticed he was trying to get the attention of the flight attendant to hang up his coat.

‘Let me take that for you,’ I offered.

‘Oh, no, no – don’t worry. He’ll come get it eventually’ – which he did.

I sat uncomfortably in my ultra-comfortable seat, wishing for a few minutes that I had my sister’s personality. She would definitely know what to say (probably even exchange business cards) and have a great story to tell later. I said nothing further.

A few minutes later, I was glad I didn’t strike up a conversation. Archbishop Desmond Tutu had fallen into a deep sleep right beside me, totally ignoring his dinner.

The plane landed in the morning. ‘You have to say something before you get off,’ I told myself. ‘These things don’t happen everyday.’

And so I grabbed my laptop and said, ‘I’m really honored to have sat next to you on this flight. I hope you enjoy your stay.’

‘Thank you, thank you, my dear,’ he replied, graciously, clearly used to the effect he has on people.

He was ushered off the flight and met by a group of protocol people at the end of the hall. When I got home and switched on the TV, I found him officiating over a ceremony. I was doubly glad I hadn’t disturbed his sleep. The poor man had walked off the plane and right into a high-profile event.

I knelt down by my bedside. Thank you, Lord, I said.

I was convinced that God deliberately did me a couple of special favors; deliberately wanted to show me His greatness and His ability. He just wanted to ‘rub it in’ a bit and remind me of His incomparably great power. Just to make me feel special, just to let me know He’s there. I can’t explain how I’m sure, but I just know God was letting me know He’s with me, He’s watching, He’s caring.

He did it just because. 

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Running into The Other Woman

If you’re a married survivor of infidelity and the marriage means anything to you at all, you immediately became obsessed with knowing the details of the affair(s) – and if the details are not made readily available to you (which would be the norm), your ‘life’s mission’ becomes to unearth them yourself. You go through moments when you think you’re going crazy – because your partner almost convinces you that you are, or because of the sudden change in your personality from a balanced individual to an obsessive human being.

Personally, I could not concentrate on my work for the first four months. How God managed to cover me during that period, I will never be able to fathom. With my workload, you simply can’t get away with blanking out for a couple of days, not to mention a four-month period. During that time, I moved through my days in slow motion. My brain just seemed to be in a fog when it came to work. I would spend the first half of the day trying, struggling, fighting to maintain enough presence of mind to at least respond to emails. I was terribly unproductive. The remainder of the day would be divided between staring blankly at my computer screen with my mind far, far away, and googling about ‘marriage,’ ‘Christian marriage’ ‘Christian marriage and infidelity,’ ‘Christians and divorce,’ ‘When The Other Woman is your friend’ – any permutation of words that came to mind and that I hoped would bring answers.  

I understand that unfaithfulness is a really difficult issue for erring Christians to admit to. The implications of unfaithfulness are far-reaching, and it seems logical enough for the erring party to want to avoid causing any further damage – to want to just put it behind them and everyone else and face the future. I cannot emphasize enough, though, to anyone in this situation, that there is no real future without the truth. Withholding the truth does not spell the end for the marriage, necessarily – if the marriage in question is built on outward appearance only. Sure, it’s possible to grin and bear it and limp along. But I’m talking about a real marriage – the kind worth fighting for, the kind we all hope for. In a real marriage – the kind worth fighting for – the truth can, will, and does set you free. The truth is more powerful than the pain. The truth is the starting point for healing.

I’ve run into the other woman (the only one that I really know well) thrice since I found out. The first time, it was by appointment and the other two times, we just happened to bump into each other. The first time, she asked if she could meet with us both to have a discussion. Her sister and another couple, close family friends of ours who stood with us all the way during this ordeal, were also invited. We met at a neutral place, a coffee shop in the neighborhood.

I arrived at the venue eagerly, exhausted by all the deceit and so ready to let them know it was tough, but I’d forgiven them, and I’d get through it. We sat directly across the table from each other on wooden benches in the garden. She talked for at least forty minutes, uninterrupted. I looked her in the eyes, but she wouldn’t look back. Her eyes flitted everywhere as she talked – everywhere but toward me. I continued staring at her in consternation. What was wrong with my friend? How had she changed so drastically? She was here to finally tell me the truth, wasn’t she? Why was she avoiding my eyes – something she had never done in my history of knowing her?

My mind tried to follow her long speech. She talked of all the respect she had for me and my family, about how she looked up to me and my then husband, about how we were the model Christian couple, about how much she loved us … I was getting lost. Why didn’t she just get to the point?  My gaze wandered from her shifting eyes down to her lips. I could no longer hear what she was saying – my mind was no longer following. I watched her lips moving, wondering what she was talking about. My eyes moved back up to her eyes, which still refused to meet mine. The sound of her voice switched back on. She was saying that she had been falsely accused, that this was all a malicious scheme to ruin our close friendship.

I was disappointed. I had left my house and come out here for this? She could’ve told me this on the phone. We didn’t have to meet in person for this. Why wouldn’t she look at me? I took deep breaths and silently chided myself for expecting too much, for expecting anything at all. When would I stop being so naïve? When would I ever grow up?

Our family friends moderated this difficult meeting with skill and maturity. I was grateful to have them involved, to have solid people in this land where I have no relatives. My then husband was asked if he had anything to say about all this.

‘Well,’ he began, shifting in his seat, ‘On behalf of my family, I just want to apologize to her for all the pain that she has suffered as a result of being falsely accused. This whole ordeal isn’t fair to her.’

WHAT??!! No, he didn’t!

I honestly could not believe my ears.  I immediately burst into tears in spite of myself. Our family friends – the wife – rushed around the table and handed me some tissue.

That was the first time I cried since I found out.

I sat defenseless next to my then husband and across from my friend of just a few weeks prior and simply cried my eyes out – tears, snot, gasps, shudders, and all. They both responded with silence, neither looking at me: my then husband, staring straight ahead of him, looking like an indifferent statue chiseled out of stone, and my former friend, avoiding my eyes, staring beyond me.

I felt naked, exposed, and ashamed, without a covering.

Well, this is just peachy, I thought to myself. He often complained that I never wanted to allow myself to be vulnerable enough to cry. Now that I was crying, I hoped he was finally satisfied.

We finally dispersed after everyone else said a few words. We all trudged into the parking lot, a defeated party of six. It had been a waste of time for everyone concerned. There were no winners.

I didn’t come face to face with my former friend until probably a couple of years later or more. I rushed into my office building that day, almost late for a meeting. I caught a glimpse of a figure standing awkwardly in the parking lot as I rushed past, and glanced behind me briefly, feeling like I was being watched. Not noticing anyone in my haste, I entered the building and waited impatiently for the elevator by the reception desk.

A figure suddenly approached me. Hesitantly, shyly. I looked up and recognized the figure as the person I had seen standing in the parking lot, but hadn’t recognized. As I finally realized who it was, she greeted me nervously. I greeted her back, not bothering to hide my surprise. I asked politely how she was, as the elevator opened up. She was fine she said, as I entered the elevator. As the elevator doors began to close, she suddenly stepped forward courageously and asked if I could please call her sometime. She had been trying to reach me on my phone for quite a while, but I simply never answered it and she eventually gave up.

‘Please call me,’ she pleaded urgently, desperately. ‘Do you still have my number? I lost my phone, so I don’t have your number anymore.’

‘I don’t have yours anymore, either, but I know how to get it. I’m not sure if I’ll call, but I promise to think about it.’

The elevator doors closed. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror along the elevator wall as I reeled over what had just occurred. I was glad I wasn’t looking bad. The mirror reflected the image of a confident, well-dressed, attractive woman in a hurry to get somewhere - far from the portrait of the miserable, 'abandoned' wife.

Don’t be silly, I said to myself. This wasn’t a competition. It never had been.

She was looking good, too. Thinner, and different in a few other subtle ways, but still essentially the same.

I debated for about a week over whether to bother calling her or not. Call her for what? There was nothing to talk about. But the temptation was strong. She had pleaded with me to call her. Maybe she was finally ready to tell the truth. Although my then husband wasn’t ready to break down yet, maybe she was. Maybe she was as tired of it all as I was.

And so I called. In a nutshell, the phone call was a disappointment. I didn’t get what I wanted. Rather, I got an abridged version of what I got at the coffee shop a few years prior. And so, I hung up, finally accepting that it was time to move on. I had to learn that I would probably never get what I wanted (what I felt I needed) and that this was okay.

Not long after that, I bumped into her in the parking lot of my office building again. She had a doctor’s appointment at one of the clinics in the building. Unlike the last time, when I didn’t have even a split second to think about how to react, this time, I saw her approaching and I thought about it. I decided not to carry on with the charade, pretending like nothing ever happened. She came toward me with hope and eagerness in her eyes, a greeting forming on her lips. I averted my eyes haughtily and openly shunned her. She immediately got the message and made her way into a different elevator.

‘There,’ I said to myself, feeling victorious as I got to my floor and headed to my office.

The feeling didn’t last more than a minute. I was overwhelmed by conviction as soon as I sat at my desk. ‘There, what?’ I asked myself. What had I achieved? There were no victories here, no winners. The minute I sat down, I got back up and marched back to the elevator. I knew which floor she was headed to. I got there and found her standing at the reception desk. I walked up behind her with a message from my heart on my lips. ‘Look,’ I was about to say, ‘I’m hurt and I don’t understand, but I don’t hate you. It’s hard for me to know what to say to you given all that’s happened, but I don’t hate you.’ She turned around just as I reached the desk and immediately began narrating the predicament she was having with her appointment, almost as if she was expecting me.

‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ I replied. ‘How are you doing? How have you been?’

‘I’ve been fine. Things haven’t been easy, but I’m fine. I was fired from my job and I’m about to move. I had an accident and broke my leg. Remember my car? It was totaled during the accident - here are the pictures. I’m being kicked out of my house. Auctioneers came by and threw all my stuff out. It’s been really rough.’

‘Oh …’ I was speechless.

I stared at her, taking in the single crutch she was leaning on. I stared at her, thinking of the friend I had known so well. All the responsibilities she had in her family, and how giving she had always been toward them. How much we had shared and how close she had been to me. How on earth was she going to manage in this crazy city without a job? How could things have gone downhill so fast?

There was no room for gloating here. No winners, no victories. This was an all-round tragedy for us all. None of us had come out of this wreck unscathed. 

‘I’m sorry,’ I said simply and sincerely.

There wasn’t much more to say. This time, she had looked into my eyes, and if she still knew me at all, she knew exactly what I was trying to say, what I was trying to do.

I went back to my floor, to my desk and sat down with a sigh. The important thing was to be able to live with myself, and this I could now do comfortably.

What a way to begin the day!