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Read Letter

The Happiest Woman in Iloko

My dear Jack, you’ve probably never heard of a town called Iloko. It’s a rather small town in South West Nigeria that is punching above its weight. Its most significant edifice is the famed Olasore International School (OIS), though it will soon host a golf course. As it happens in other climes that school single handedly put the town on the map.

I have a very deep association with Iloko. My very close pal is a scion of the ruling dynasty. In that and my corporate capacity I have sometimes spent weekends in Iloko. Also had occasion to address OIS students. On the Sundays I’m in Iloko I attend the Anglican church located in the palace grounds. One of the most fascinating people I have met in Iloko is a particular woman I see in church on Sundays.

By earthly standards she’ll be classified an imbecile by the politically incorrect. “Intellectual disability” is the modern turn of phrase. In 2010, President Obama signed a bill known as “Rosa’s Law”. It changed “mental retardation” references in many American Federal statutes to “intellectual disability”.

This woman of which I speak has neuro coordination challenges. Her head movements are unnatural. She jerks in irregular intermitent intervals. Her hand movements are not synchronous with her body. If I recall correctly her legs are bent somewhere, like twigs twisted in a different direction. And so she walks in an up-down mechanical motion, like a boxer bobbing and weaving though less exaggerated. She’s neat- always in an ankara (wax print cotton) ensemble called iro and buba. It’s a cultural blouse and wrap. On festive occasions she does wear lace. I’ve seen her in two- a white one and an old lilac and orange accented one. She always has a head scarf on. Sign of piety or fashion choice I knoweth not. Plus rubber slippers. Choice or means? Her head is small, though proportionate to her frame. Her complexion? She’s not dark chocolate brown. A whif lighter.

She’s probably in her forties but who knows! Could be younger. May be three six, may be less, or more. She does try to speak, and that’s all I’m going to say about her elocutionary attempts. Somehow however, between the attempted speeches and the jerkings she communicates.

Every Sunday I’ve been in Iloko I’ve seen this woman in church- dancing, bobbing, grateful. Every thanksgiving in church there she is dancing to the altar, dropping her little squeezed offering. She’s always happy- has a happy smile; like someone in a secret conversation with herself. I deem her incapable of malice or other corrosive varieties of thought or verb plaguing those with complete faculties. She’s always happy to see others, always courteous- as far as her limited capacities will allow on display. Why, she’s the happiest woman in Iloko! I’ve never seen such constant happiness.

She lives on the good graces of the princes and others but she begs in a happy manner. If you don’t give she’s still happy. She never turns despondent. She just accepts the fact and moves on. Her simple graciousness is a study for sales personnel. Good reaction to non patronage brings the customer back. Even when she’s unacknowledged, treated like an environmental prop there’s no malice. She’s friendly, worries not about the things we worry about despite all we have. It’s like she’s read the scripture about God’s social security system for the birds of the air. They never worry.

This woman will live long! She can’t have high blood pressure. I doubt if she ever has cause to visit a doctor. The things that kill us are envy, strife, malice, unforgiveness. Studies have determined they’re cancerous. Instead she rejoices with those who rejoice, mourns with those who mourn. She’s ever gracious, doesn’t think ill of others, even in disappointments. No visual malice. She’s content with what she has. Has a ready smile for all. Doesn’t see her disability as a problem. Hardly notices it. Yet some young women complain God short-changed them of all round physical proportionality!

When are we ever going to be grateful to God? When are we going to stop measuring ourselves with others? If a woman who lacks everything goes to church to express gratitude doesn’t she put us all to shame before God? Clearly this woman doesn’t think much of what people who don’t think much of her think. We are too overly concerned about what people think of us. Some have run into debts trying to make impressions. The salary can’t satisfy the month ‘cos there’s always an item of impression to buy.

You’re a young man Jack. That means there are some things you can’t have now from honest labour. Those things will come in time. Don’t set yourself up for crime or foolish indebtedness. Your girlfriend must appreciate the inchoate stage of your life, or you’ll never be balanced. And don’t give your girlfriend a false impression of your means. That’s an expensive lie. You’ll need to keep lying under such circumstances, pose in cars not yours, borrow even clothes. How are you going to build a true and honest relationship on lies? Better to be yourself. Prioritise. First things first. Don’t consume tomorrow. In time everything you want will come. Just be dedicated and maintain focus. And tighten your screws.

Life you’ll soon discover is not a hundred meter dash. It’s a marathon. Pace yourself. Stop comparing yourself to others. You’re using the wrong tape measure. You’re not a tape! Face your journey, concentrate on your life, run your race not someone else’s. Don’t blow money anyhow. Those who earn it don’t spend it anyhow. An older friend taught me that. There are many lessons to learn from the happiest woman in Iloko. When next you feel like complaining, think of her.

Your mentor,


© Leke Alder 2014

Tags : Comparing, Complaining, Gratitude

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