By Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi
If there is one thin, I was grateful for during the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown, it was the time I had to myself. Due to the fact that I had to go into self-isolation for 14 days, because I had just returned from a trip, there was nowhere to go. For two weeks, I was holed up in my room with only my laptop, books and television for company.
Even after I was able to move around, there were no large meetings, weddings, funerals, birthdays and the like. My hairline was able to breathe, because I did not have to tie any geles. I did not have to take out anything fancy to wear and fret about which shoes went with what, it was simply unnecessary. I spent all day in my lounge wear trousers and loose tops. If I had to have meetings, they took place in my home office or online.
Then the lockdown was eased recently and it was okay to go back to work, minus the large public events. After over eight weeks of going nowhere, I pulled out five Ankara print dresses to try one after the other. Nothing fit. It wasn’t as if I did not know the ‘COVID-19 Pounds’ were piling on, I just chose to ignore it. Afterall, everything was on lockdown, including sensible eating habits. I dragged myself to the gym and the first two days, I almost died. I reminded myself that it is the price you pay for negligence. You cannot plant feathers and expect chickens to grow as one of my teachers and mentors, Patricia McFadden, once told me. I had spent weeks eating, sleeping, reading, writing and binge-watching Netflix. And now I was surprised that my clothes did not fit anymore.
Last year, at an event with a group of women, I spoke about Transitions. As we go through life, we are always in transition from one thing to another. The transitions could be age-related, personal milestones, professional, changing locations, our lives are built around transitions. Many times, we derive joy from these transitions, and some of them can be tragic and painful, like those to do with the loss of loved ones, loss of employment, separation and so on. All we can do is prepare for the next transition in our lives; because whether we want it or not, know it or like it, transitions will happen and we have to prepare for them if we possibly can, or learn to survive them.
Today, June 11th is my birthday and it is another moment of transition for me, from one age to another. I am 57 today. Even if I wanted to be coy and hide my age, I can’t because these days, everything is out there! Last year I gave the speech and wrote the essay ‘Where is Your Wrapper’? I did not expect it to resonate with so many people, but it did. Everywhere I go people tell me how much it touched them. I have decided to honour this and take the wrapper metaphor a step further.
I did not get to where I am today without the benefit of the wrappers of other women. My mother, who was my first teacher in giving to those who need things more than you do. My aunties, who have looked out for me and cared for me in so many ways. Friends at home and around the world, who have held me up with prayers, visits, a kind word, a shoulder to cry on, childcare when I needed it, and company to simply chill and enjoy a glass of wine. Sisters and colleagues of all races, who provided me with access to opportunities such as training, professional networks, grants and platforms to raise my voice. The amazing women I have worked with in political spaces, whose wrappers have shielded me when I needed protection.
These wrappers from diverse sources have aided my transitions and have strengthened me. The least I can do is bring out my own wrappers for others just as others have shared theirs with me. In case you are wondering if it is only women I want to acknowledge, I assure you, I have many wonderful ‘agbadas,’ who have been there, starting from my late beloved father.
Today, I am starting an online initiative as part of our work at Above Whispers Media Foundation, known as The Wrapper Network. It is going to be a platform for mentoring, sharing information and providing practical support for mostly young women, but open to women of all ages. There are many women who want to assist other women and there are many more who need help. As I launch The Wrapper Network, I will be supporting 40 women entrepreneurs to enable them grow their businesses or start something new. I will also be reaching out to ten women’s organisations across the country (five in Ekiti State); particularly those working on Gender Based Violence. This is my own way of thanking them for the hard work they do with very little resources. I would like to say a big thank you to all my friends, who pooled resources to make these activities possible. I would particularly like to thank my sisters in the Ekiti State government, who mobilised donations of food items towards one of my programs, the Ekiti Food Bank. Through their efforts, over 2,000 households in the state will receive food packages today. Some people came up with exciting ways to celebrate my birthday online, using giveaways, videos, competitions, there were several creative ideas and I was so touched. I don’t want to start mentioning names, but God knows I am deeply appreciative of your love and efforts.
Last year on my birthday, I wrote about ‘Carrying and Dropping Baggage’. Today, I am talking about ‘Being Present’. Maya Angelou said, “If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you must look forward, do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is to be present in the present.”
I don’t need to look back; I have left that behind. Tomorrow is another day; it will reveal its mysteries and joys in due course. Today, I am Present. I am here for what needs to be done right now. Even when I am in doubt, afraid, frustrated and just don’t feel like beating the same old drums, I have to remind myself that I have to do what needs to be done now. In the present. So dear readers, as I celebrate another year, I am thankful to God Almighty for all the blessings that have come my way. I thank all my friends, women and men from all over the world, who continue to extend their ‘Wrappers’ and ‘Agbadas’ to me.
To my wonderful husband and my biological and non-biological children, I say ‘Thank You’ for being simply the best. For those who are wondering about my penance in the gym, it has paid off. My clothes fit again and I am not planning to ‘transition’ back anytime soon. I am here. I am Present. Absence is not an option.
*Adeleye-Fayemi, a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer; is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women and the First Lady of Ekiti State, and can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com