I have been reflecting a lot on what is happening in the world right now and I will put up some posts about racism and discrimination and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on myself and the people that I work with. Right now, I need some good; some encouraging news and a reminder of the goodness in people in spite of the evil that we continue to see. Something to reflect on with joy as I go to bed tonight, and not the faces of black people who have become hashtags because justice will not even have a chance of being served otherwise. Those conversations will come later. Today, I remember Uncle E and I want to explain why he is someone I am very thankful for.
I had gone back home to Nigeria to visit my family and apply for a Thai visa so that I could attend a conference in Bangkok and Chiang Mai several years ago. It turned out that I had to go to the embassy in our country’s capital, Abuja, for the visa; so I went there and the process went rather smoothly. I had booked a one-way flight because I was unsure of how long it would take to get my passport back with the visa, but it was issued very quickly. So I went to the airport to buy a return ticket at one of the airline counters and I could not believe how many people were trying to do the same thing! People were sweating, all stretching out their hands with their passports and ID cards in them for the airline staff to take them; because once they took them, they would issue your tickets and you would pay. There were no queues that day, it was Friday evening and people just wanted to go home!
I sat in a corner where four other (business) men sat too, waiting for the queue to reduce a bit before taking my chances again, then we began a conversation. They all worked for an architectural firm, were going back home to Lagos where they lived, and one of their staff was going to the counter to buy the tickets for them. So one of the men said: “ok, Sarah, give me your passport and money and he will get yours for you too”. I thanked him profusely, he gave the man the money alongside their money and tickets and sent him to the counter to weather the storm of people who were trying to book their seats on the next flight to Lagos.
After 15mins of the man not returning with our tickets or passport, I got fidgety… “Had I just been swindled? What if it was all a setup? But they look like professionals and we have been talking for a while. Oh nooooo, if my passport is gone will I be able to get a new one and a re-issued visa in time for the conference?” I expressed my concern and Uncle E said “ah ah, which visa is in your passport that is so important and making you panic like this? I must see it!” Shortly after, the man with the passports and tickets returned and I heaved a deep sigh of relief! Uncle E then took my passport, opened it and began to flip through as he said out loud “India, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand etc…these are all drug routes, what are you looking for in these places???” He looked at me suspiciously. I burst into laughter and explained that I worked with an NGO and worked with vulnerable groups in different places, that I was trained as a counsellor and one of my focuses was on trauma and abuse. He listened intensely, challenged me, and asked me a lot of questions, which I was happy to answer; I like a good argument and conversation, as it makes me think even more. We talked until it was time to board the plane, and we all went to our seats.
When we arrived in Lagos, Uncle E said I could share his cab. We would drop him at home first since we would go past his neighbourhood to get to mine, and then I would be dropped off. We talked a lot more about my work and he encouraged me and told me that he was very proud of what I was doing- working with women who have been sexually abused and raising awareness about human trafficking for sexual exploitation even though I wasn’t being paid to do it. He said it was admirable and that I should stay in touch because he would like to see how he could support me, and partner with me.
This happened in 2010, here I am 10 years later- a PhD Candidate (dr. Sarah Adeyinka coming soon), founder of an NGO and someone who has built a career path for myself consistently over the years. Uncle E is one of the people who stood by me from when he met me! He sent me money many times, had me give a talk to his children and their friends to create awareness, called me to check on me and my work and still does! In fact, he called me a few weeks ago to find out if I’m doing well and if the women I work with are doing well in light of the pandemic.
Someone I met at the airport ended up becoming one of my most dependable supporters and someone who I know will call me out if he sees me going off track, he will for sure! So, I just want to say thank you, Uncle E. You know who you are, but I don’t think I ever fully expressed how much of a blessing you are to me and how looking back at my life and my journey, you are one of the people that made a big difference. I don’t think you will fully understand how much of an impact you made in my life without asking for anything in return. From the bottom of my heart, e se!
To the person reading this, if there is someone who impacted your life for good, reach out to them and let them know. Don’t wait, just do it.