Many including Nigeria’s president Jonathan Goodluck have expressed how they hoped Mandela’ legacy can be a lesson for African politicians and leaders, this is pie in the sky. Mandela when he was alive didn’t inspire African leaders and he certainly wont dead. The thing is Mandela was cut from a different type of cloth. He didn’t go into politics to get rich, to aggrandize himself and his cronies. He became a politician because he wanted to fight for justice and freedom, he wanted to make the lives of his people better. He gave everything to achieve it. The best we can hope for is that the mammoth media coverage his death is receiving will inspire younger generations to demand (and become) politicians and leaders of integrity, principle and who have the courage to do the right thing.
Chapter 1: I heard a voice in my head London, UK, 2006 – 2007
“I’m moving to China!” I said, thrilled by the sound of those words.
“I’m moving to Beijing!” I repeated, even more thrilled. The more I said those words the better they sounded.
“Is that a normal thing to do?” my colleague and friend Bernie asked, with utter bewilderment on her face.
Bernie’s words and reaction echoed most people’s when, in early November 2006, I announced my imminent plan. To them what seemed normal and desirable was what I already had: the well-paid job in a top investment bank in London's Canary Wharf, complete with an onsite gym, doctor’s clinic, physiotherapist, dry cleaners, coffee shops that served Starbucks coffee, and financial, legal and emotional advisors a free phone call away.
The job afforded me many things a well-to-do woman of thirty-two living in London should possess. There was the comfortable place I occupied on the “property ladder”: I had two mortgages, one for a flat I lived in and the other for one I rented out. How I loved going back at the end of each day to the soft lemon and sky blue painted walls and light oak wooden floors of my flat, my oasis. It was decorated just the way I wanted it, sparsely furnished, so there was plenty of room to showcase the glorious light that filled it every day when I drew the blinds. Even at night, when the blinds were shut, I could still feel the presence of the light. The perfect end to the day was always me crawling into my delightfully comfortable bed with a True Form mattress that shaped to my body. That mattress was the most expensive furniture I had ever bought, but worth every penny. I have had the best sleep of my life on that bed.
I had all the shoes I wanted—well, the ones available in my size (42 European, 11/12 American size). I still can’t understand why shoe designers and manufacturers haven’t caught on to the fact that a lot of women wear shoes my size. I have known this since I was fifteen, when I worked in a shoe shop. I guess they are all in denial that women no longer have small, dainty, feet. Anyway, the shoes I did buy made up for the many I couldn’t find in my size. I bought expensive, frivolous, mostly high-heeled shoes usually £200 and above, unless they were trainers or on sale. In my opinion, it wasn’t possible to get the type of style and quality I wanted for below £200! It didn’t matter that most of these shoes sat in my wardrobe unworn. I got enormous joy in buying them and later parading them for my friends and nieces who looked on, often with an amused smile at the outrageous style and/or colour.
I had started to acquire the type of clothes I dreamt of. I mostly wanted every item made by Vivienne Westwood! Her timeless, quirky and brilliantly cut clothes really suited me down to the ground. Still, each fashion season I settled for buying a couple of items from her Anglomania and Red collections—never from her Gold collection. The frugal part of me couldn’t quite justify spending anything above £400 on an item of clothing, the starting price of her Gold collection. The rest of my clothes were from designers’ sales events—Selfridges’s excellent sales and the odd item from French Connection or All Saints. I usually got some great buys because I liked clothes no one else wanted, those too off-the-wall and too colourful for a city where most people favour black or cheap imitations from the catwalk found in the likes of Top Shop, H&M, or Zara. I had a strong dislike for the high street, fast fashion and imitations. I couldn’t understand the need to always wear the latest trend from the catwalks or cheap and badly made copies for that matter. I deplore poorly made clothes, especially when the stitching comes apart before you even take them out of the shop. Then there was the crowd and the messy layouts of these shops to contend with. I could never bear to go inside. The only high-street shop I liked and went in regularly was Gap’s flagship store on Oxford Street. It had open and clean space, with plenty of very helpful staff to keep the clothes nicely folded and stacked. You couldn’t beat Gap for solid basics to be paired up with my unique items.
I had plenty of friends, and some family, so I had a busy social life. It was so much fun taking out my youngest nieces and nephews on excursions to museums and parks! To keep them in check and entertained without losing any of them was not an easy task—especially when you’re taking care of nine kids under thirteen years old, as I once had to do! I loved having my oldest niece, Sarah, just seven years younger than me, hang out at my place, which she did regularly. She lived down the road from me and she could use my Internet for free. She always made me roll about with laughter with stories from her and her friends’ lives.
Alex, my friend from work, was another person who made me laugh a lot. He was the first person I became friends with when I started at the investment bank. For the entire time I spent there—five and a half years—he made me laugh at least once a week over coffee. Well, neither of us actually drank coffee, but we still referred to our weekly get-together as “coffee”, it sounded better than: “juice or bottled water or hot chocolate.” We made a “meeting” and “outing” of it (we put in our calendars and went to a coffee shop away from our office building). We would spend thirty minutes to an hour discussing all sorts of topics; from what funny things his little sons had said and done to the latest movie releases.
I had plenty of movie material to talk about as I went to the cinema religiously twice a week. I had to make full use of my UGC Cinema unlimited pass; at fourteen pounds per month it gave me access to any UGC cinema in the UK as often I wanted. Going to the cinema alone was my ultimate escape. I got to do two of the activities I love most at the same time: watch movies and stuff my face with the biggest box of sweet popcorn I could buy.
Another favourite activity of mine was after-work drinks with my friends Caroline and Melanie, though none of us were drinkers. Our choice of venue was the wine bar in Waitrose supermarket in Canary Wharf. This was no ordinary supermarket; it was high-end and the bar catered to those who were more interested in drinking good-quality wines and champagne in a civilized and discreet environment, as opposed to the more rowdy bars in the area which were full of people out to get pissed or drown their sorrows. The best thing about the wine bar was that then it was the only nonsmoking bar in the vicinity. Caroline worked in the same team as me, and Melanie worked in another investment bank also in Canary Wharf. We would share the latest from our lives and air our troubles over red wine, or champagne, and nibbles. I didn’t like champagne until I started drinking it with the girls. Now I love it—even pink champagne! I’m not a pink sort of girl; I think it to be the most revolting of all colours, the epitome of gender stereotyping. The only occasion pink was an acceptable colour was when it came to my best friend Aitana. My eight-year-old nephew once described her as: “not white but pink.” Since then it became our inside joke. Whenever she complained of or referred to herself as being “so white,” I would say: “you are not white but pink!” I liked her pink skin so much that we spoke on the phone several times a day, even on days when we had seen each other.
On weekends I went out to dinners or parties (rarely bars or clubs, as I can’t stand smoky places) with friends and my boyfriend, Bryce. Yes, I even had a boyfriend! A fitting one for someone in my position: he was tall, attractive, an architect and aspiring entrepreneur. We did all the things couples do: hold hands, argue, laugh, dance, make plans and so on. Eventually, though rather sooner than envisaged, we moved in together.
Despite all that I had going for me, I was in a total state of despair. It became increasingly hard for me to get out of bed and, once up, I was lethargic, moody, and short-tempered. I desperately wanted to change my life. But to what, exactly, I had no clue—until I had the idea to move to China while on a trip in Guangzhou in late October 2006.
A month earlier, before I made that trip to Guangzhou, I had agreed to go into business with Bryce as an attempt to escape from my job at the bank. To research ideas, we went to trade fairs in Hong Kong and in Guangzhou. On the day of the Canton fair in Guangzhou, we finished much earlier than anticipated, at five o’clock. Our train to Hong Kong wasn’t due till 8:00 p.m., so we went looking for a China Mobile sim card to make it easier, and more affordable, to be contacted. We got one, thanks to a Nigerian man who had been living in Guangzhou for over a year. He could speak some Chinese and, of course, English and acted as a translator and tour guide. After we parted ways, as we were walking back to the East Railway station to take the train to Hong Kong, I suddenly heard a voice in my head telling me: “Actually, Kehinde, you could move to China and learn Chinese.”It wasn’t like I was in a romantic and beautiful part of town or anything; if you have ever been to Guangzhou you will know it ain’t pretty! The city is known for being a manufacturing hub. All the buildings, including the residential ones I saw, were like mini prefabricated boxes in varying shades of grey, off-white, and beige. On that day even the skies were grey. The most stylish and interesting things I saw there were the subway trains; long, modern, and shining aluminum, with bright orange seats. I immediately mentioned the idea to Bryce. He replied it sounded like an interesting thing to do. We changed the subject, but the idea was fully ingrained in my head. I was moving to China!
When quizzed by friends, family, and colleagues with “Why China?” I couldn’t really tell them what they expected to hear: that it was some part of a big plan to strike gold, like many were going to China to do. Nor could I tell them I was going there to do voluntary work in some impoverished parts or to travel. Instead, I told them I was going “to get my energy and focus back while I learn Chinese”. To be honest, I was as puzzled as they were. I didn’t really know what those words meant, but they were the ones that came out of my mouth. I had never in a million years thought I would have the chance in this lifetime to learn Mandarin. Though, I had always said that, “the only other language I would bother learning is Mandarin if I had two years to spare to live in China.” I guess I had said it out loud so many times that the universe translated this to be my desire—even if I really didn’t want to do it. The idea was transferred to my destiny bank until the moment was right for withdrawal. That moment was 19 February 2007, when I left London for Beijing.
WHY I WROTE THIS BOOK
This is not the book many people expected me to write. They thought I would write about my travel adventures, especially about my move to China. As much as I enjoyed and cherish my travels, they are not enough to make me want to spend four and half years writing, the amount of time it took to complete this book. To be honest, I don’t love writing; I find it hard—in fact, writing this book is on the very top of my list of the hardest things I’ve done in my life, and many times I wanted to give up. I asked myself over and over again whatever possessed me to write a book whenever I struggled to come up with words to express the thoughts and images in my head or when RLS (restless legs syndrome) took over my legs and arms, making it unbearable for me to sit still. The answer was always the same: because I must speak out for those who can’t; just maybe there is some chance I could bring comfort to and empower others!
As I mentioned before, I was primarily inspired to write this book after I came across a report by the United Nations on violence against children published in October 2006, titled UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence Against Children. In the midst of a breakdown I was on a quest to comprehend what happened and was happening to me. The report stated that the World Health Organisation estimated, based on various studies, that 150 million girls and 73 million boys under age eighteen experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence during 2002. I was very shocked and disturbed by the figures. How could child sexual abuse be so prevalent? I looked elsewhere for other stats, and they painted the same alarming picture. It occurred to me the figures are probably an underestimate, because all the people I knew who had suffered from child sexual abuse never told until they were adults; when they did tell, was often to friends or partners. If child sexual abuse was any other crime or disease/illness that was this prevalent, it would be declared a pandemic, there would be a global monumental outcry, and a state of emergency would ensue. So why doesn’t child sexual abuse get the deserved attention?
First of all, let me clarify why I would refer to child abuse as an illness/disease; it is obviously a very serious crime as well, despite society’s nearly nonchalant reaction to it. Cambridge online dictionary defines disease as “something that is considered very bad in people or society.” It is socially accepted that sexual abuse is very bad from the perspectives of the victims and molesters. Another definition of disease, given by Collins English dictionary, is “any impairment of normal physiological function affecting all or part of an organism”; psychiatrists and psychologists agree that sufferers will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects how the amygdala and hippocampus, the parts of the brain responsible for emotion and memory, work. In the case of hippocampus, it is has been noted that for sufferers of PTSD, this part of the brain can be smaller and not fully developed. I think the D in PTSD, standing for disorder instead of disease, make it sounds not so serious and just threatening and unpleasant: “Oh, it is just a disorder, nothing to worry about!” For someone who suffered from PTSD for decades, I can tell you it is very serious. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks and nightmares, avoidance and numbing (which can lead to excessive drugs and alcohol usage), and being on guard—feeling tense, angry, and easily startled. Though PTSD doesn’t only affect those who have experienced child sexual abuse, it can also affect those in car accidents, terrorist attacks, or wars. However, PTSD in recent years has been hijacked and labeled “hero’s disease,” thanks largely to the US government’s acknowledgment that its veterans are and can be sufferers. The US’s National Institute of Health (NIH) fact sheet on PTSD mostly focuses on US military veterans’ suffering, there is also a special website for veterans, and the month of June 2012 was PTSD month for veterans. The National Center for Telehealth and Technology (known as T2) was established in 2008 to research and develop technology solutions for psychological health and traumatic brain injury; some of their tools to treat PTSD include the PTSD coach mobile app and Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET). As of 2005, more than two hundred thousand veterans were receiving disability compensation for this illness, for a cost of $4.3 billion, according to the website Medicinenet.com. I am by no means diminishing veterans’ suffering; however, 4.8 million veterans from 1990 to the present, as stated on the website Infoplease.com, pales in comparison to the tens and even hundreds (if one goes by UN’s estimate) of millions of children estimated to experience sexual abuse every year in the US and the rest of the world. On the other hand, the US government’s acknowledgement of PTSD as a serious condition helps raise awareness.
It has been said that the current diagnosis of PTSD often does not fully capture the severe psychological harm that occurs with prolonged exposure to traumatic events where the victim is generally held in a state of captivity, physically or emotionally. Dr. Judith Herman of Harvard University suggests a more appropriate diagnosis is complex PTSD, as people who experience chronic trauma often report additional symptoms alongside formal PTSD symptoms, such as changes in their self-concept and the way they adapt to stressful events. According to Dr. Dryden-Edwards, women and men (I added men because it also happens to both sexes) who were sexually abused at earlier ages are more likely to develop complex PTSD. If it goes untreated, it can also impact future generations; Dr. Dryden-Edwards goes on to say women who suffer from complex PTSD “during pregnancy are more likely to experience a change in at least one chemical in their body that makes it more likely (predisposes) the baby to develop PTSD later in life.”
I’ve tried to come up with several reasons why child sexual abuse doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Is it because unlike other diseases/illnesses such as cancer and HIV, there are no visible signs—no loss of hair, for example, and no extreme weight loss or gain from treatments? With complex PTSD (and ordinary PTSD) there are visible signs such as self-mutilation, inexplicable violent outbursts, and physical and muscular pains, repulsion to and avoidance of physical contact, disassociation, and suicidal feelings. It can also result in early mortality if the sufferer uses excessive drugs or alcohol to numb his or her trauma or succeeds in taking his or her life. The problem is that most people are unable to comprehend what these signs mean and simply put it down to someone having issues or being cold or crazy. Another thing is that in most cases, people would have to get close to a person suffering from complex PTSD to see these signs. Even then, it is hard to see the signs, as sufferers are often adept at hiding what they consider as their shame, and they pretend to be fine and try to live as normal a life as possible.
I have also wondered if one reason why child sexual abuse is so prevalent and not dealt with appropriately is because the perpetrators are often men. I don’t have statistical evidence to support this, but if you think about the cases of child sexual abuse, you’ve heard the perpetrators are mostly men. Men are also the creators and guards of a judicial system that can protect children and punish their abusers. Would admitting the widespread prevalence of child sexual abuse be like admitting their failure as protectors and social architects? Would it be like admitting there is something in their sex that goes against universal ethical and biological rules to have and express sexual desire for children? Of course most men are not child abusers, and they are not the only ones responsible—women too are responsible. How many times has it emerged that the mother, aunty, or big sister (as in my case) involved in a child-abuse case knew but did nothing to protect the child involved? What is it about us as people and society that permit and tolerate violence against children? I don’t know, and I don’t have the answers, but one thing I can do is not remain silent.
I realized to speak out about what happened and how it had impacted my life would require me to share intimate details of my life (some I’m not proud of); I asked myself over and over again was I crazy—why would I want to do that? If I remained silent, I would be guilty of perpetuating the abuse of children, be it sexual or emotional or physically hidden. Before, I couldn’t speak out, because I was so traumatized by what happened to me. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to heal; I know many are not so fortunate. I know how debilitating and demoralizing living with the horrors of sexual abuse can be; I hope that by sharing my story the sufferers and those close to them will find comfort. I am not naive enough to think by writing this book I am going to stop child sexual abuse, but I hope to raise some awareness and provide a better understanding of how childhood sexual abuse can affect a person.