Column: In Times Like These…
By ‘Rolake Odetoyinbo
Editor’s note: It is our great pleasure to introduce you to ‘Rolake Odetoyinbo — a gifted, dedicated and fierce Nigerian woman. As part of her wide-ranging activism in her home country, Odetoyinbo writes a regular column for the popular Nigerian newspaper The Punch, where she boldly talks about her life as an activist, a mother, a lover and, simply, a Black woman living with this virus. Starting this week, she will share those provocative, insightful and entertaining columns with us at BlackAIDS.org as well. We couldn’t be happier!
Odetoyinbo may write from West Africa, but her personal journey is instructive to Black women everywhere. And her columns help all of us understand the universality of this epidemic. But more than that, they defiantly give the lie to the phrase “AIDS victim,” instead illustrating exactly how we all, be we positive or negative, can and must live on despite — and because of — this epidemic’s assault on Black people everywhere.
Growing up, I was a tomboy who wore trousers, climbed trees, scaled fences, rode bikes and played football with the boys. No boy my age could beat me in a fight, and my neighbor, the late Nigerian basketball player Timi Alakija, taught me to box.
In secondary school, I was a bully ever ready for a fight. I wore my hair short, walked with a bounce and always got male roles in school plays. I was a late starter — tall and flat as a beanpole, my breasts and periods didn’t make an appearance until around age 14.
Then, overnight, everything changed. I went home for long vacation and everything grew wings and sprouted so fast I was embarrassed to return to school after the holidays.
That was then; this is now. One of the things I now love best about ‘Rolake is the fact that she’s a woman — and I won’t trade that for the world.
As a teenager and young adult, I dreaded menstruation. Now I just love those things we call peroids. Every month, God reminds me that he has given me the honor and privilege to conceive. The joy of feeling a baby grow inside of you is heavenly as you carry this fast-growing, round stomach around for some months, during which everybody treats you like an egg.
Strangers give up their chairs for you. People invite you to the front in long queues. Fighting and cursing “area-boys” allow you drive in to buy fuel during scarcity. Molue drivers, who never stop long enough at bus stops, come to a complete halt to allow you to get off the bus as the conductor makes the special call of “o’loyun, o p’onmo,” just for you.
While pregnant, you’re allowed to be cranky. Your man and male colleagues run circles around you and allow you to have your way. After these nine months of bliss, you endure labor to bring forth this baby. And while Oga gets a handshake and a pat on the back, all envelopes and gifts come to you.
O.K. ladies, don’t skin me alive — I agree pregnancy isn’t easy and the birthing process can be hell. But you’ll agree all those memories recede as you hold that precious child in your hands, watch the envelopes grow and look forward to the next time!
If the man is the head, then a wise woman is the neck that turns the head whichever way it desires. Don’t get me wrong, I love the brothers and I’m an unrepentant “man-liker.” But I just don’t envy them.
I can wear assorted colors in trousers, dresses, skirts, wrappers — and even my shocking pink undies are considered sexy. But my dear brothers are stuck with sober “male colors” in clothes and shoes. They have to wear trousers every single day of their God-loving lives, while I have endless dressing options open to me.
As women, I think we should take time out to look inwards and celebrate that sweet, adorable girl on the inside of us all. Let’s examine the woman we’ve become, get to know her, love her and, most importantly, strive to make her someone we can give our unreserved respect to.
In the years that I’ve worked on HIV and AIDS, I’ve met some amazing, openly-positive women who are real trailblazers. These ladies have dared to challenge discrimination in the court of law, in the health institutions, in schools when their babies were denied education, in their communities and, most importantly, in their everyday lives. So I’d like to celebrate my special sisters, who are my heroines in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Georgianna, Abigail, Yinka, Lucy, Julie, Mary, Doris and Jumai, here’s to you – you daily challenge and inspire me!