Confession: fear drove me to Nigeria

A couple of people asked me why I went to Nigeria. Most of the time, I told them I was going to visit family (which was true), and sometimes I told them that I was going because my mom was going and I didn’t want her to go alone (also true). But what I didn’t talk about much is that I didn’t want my mom to go alone because I was afraid. I was afraid that she might become ill or come to harm, that I wouldn’t be there, and that I would forever feel guilty about that. My decision to join her on the trip was totally motivated by fear.

It started innocently enough: we moved from Nigeria to Canada in the mid-1980s and as we were getting used to a new culture my parents urged me to be careful as I embarked on new activities in a new country. I remember the Just Say No campaign (against drugs) in the 80s and 90s, being told not to talk to strangers, and campaigns against drinking and driving. When I was about eight years old, I reported the man who would drive us to school (carpool) to my parents because he would drink as he drove, not knowing that drinking coffee wasn’t illegal! My dad is a very cautious person so I know that rubbed off on me.

Fear and the resulting caution followed me through my youth: when my friends were doing underage drinking I refrained out of fear (this is not a bad thing!) but I was afraid that the harmful effects of alcohol could show up after just one drink; I similarly refused to smoke out of fear. But guess what? You can be cautious but disobedient: my parents were against sleepovers but I went to a couple, always with their knowledge—if something happened I wanted to be sure that someone knew where I was. My parents were also dead-set against me going to dance clubs and I assure you I have lost count how many (hundreds of?) times I danced the night away. But I did something most disobedient children might not think to do, something that my parents never asked me to do: I would write out the name of the club I was going to, sometimes with its phone number, and I’d also add the phone numbers of my friends who I was going out with (because I didn’t have a cellphone at the time). Even when I was being “bad”, I took precautions.

About eight years ago on Canada Day, a former colleague held a barbecue at her house. We were sitting in her backyard having a good time, waiting for the food to be cooked, when a guy ran into the backyard. He was a stranger, even to our host. He said “You have to hide me, they are after me!” While our host casually told him to sit and pretend he was one of us, I picked up my purse, said good bye, got into my parents’ car and drove myself back home. I had no plans to die on Canada Day when whoever was chasing this stranger showed up. I still get together with some of the former colleagues who attended that barbecue and we laugh at how quickly I extricated myself from that situation. In my defense they admitted they weren’t too comfortable with the situation either, but didn’t know what to do.

Fear is healthy when it’s protecting us from things that can harm us, but there’s a fine line between being careful and being cautious to the point of not fully living. While I was in Nigeria, I was comfortable when I was at my grandmother’s house, but any time I had to travel, from Lagos to Akure (and back), within Akure, or from Akure to Ondo or Ilesha, fear would enter my heart. Let’s just admit that the way people drive in Nigeria is crazy (though Nigerians are excellent drivers)! I will never get used to it. I was hyperaware of my surroundings at all times, thinking that an accident was just around the corner. I was afraid to cross the busy street near the market because those cars don’t wait for anyone. I was afraid that my mom would get sick and if we had to go to the hospital I was worried about the care she may receive there. Even the simple task of going to the bank to withdraw money is scary when you have to deal with a security guard, and have your belongings searched. I was afraid to speak at the airport because, from past experience (my cousin told me that one time when I was seeing him off, the okada (motorcycle) driver charged him more because he heard my accent), I didn’t want my accent to trigger requests along the lines of “Aunty, what did you bring me?” I’ve got a new tactic for dealing with such requests now; I tried it once during this last trip and it worked well: I give the person asking for money a confused look and say “I don’t understand” several times in reply to their request until they stop asking.

I had a good time with family in Nigeria but my fear of what might happen if I wasn’t with my mom all the time got in the way. It prevented me from exploring my home state and becoming more comfortable getting around on my own. At this point I don’t know if I can travel to Nigeria alone. I allowed fears that never came to pass to hold me back.

But Nigeria trip aside—I visit every two or three years—let’s look at my life. I often operate out fear: fear of making a bad decision and having to live with its consequences, fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of looking stupid. And to what end? All around me I see people making bad decisions, being rejected, failing, looking stupid…and surviving. Not just surviving, but coming back better than before. We know that fears must be fought with action but we’re afraid to do what is needed to reap the rewards that come from action.

I changed the tagline of this blog from “Murdering the Yoruba language since 1979” to “Ordinary woman pursuing an extraordinary life” over a year ago and I’m still that ordinary girl, afraid to make big decisions and living in fear. Two of my newsletters from last year were about fear, but not much has changed. As I mentioned in August’s thankful post, I’m glad that I am less fearful of flying, but I have many more fears to fight. Because, I want to be great. And I can’t be great and fearful: I have to choose one, and it’s time to stop choosing fear.

22 thoughts on “Confession: fear drove me to Nigeria

  1. Jummy, it’s very brave of you to share your fears with us. I think we all struggle with fear on different levels, and if not properly managed, it could greatly impede the quality of life.

    The say a problem acknowledged is half solved. I look forward to hearing of your successes because I know you’ll do great things, despite the presence of fear.


    • Aww, thank you, Mona. I agree with you: I see how fear is holding me back in so many areas of my life and I’m tired of it (but the question is HOW tired am I? Am I tired enough to make a change? Time will tell!).

      I appreciate your support and encouragement, both in the comments and on WhatsApp! :)

  2. Jummy, you have touched on a very important subject here and I applaud you for your bravery!

    I was having a conversation with a girl at church last week on why we are afraid to do the things we want dearly. We went back and forth until I came to this conclusion:

    That we love to match who we are and what we want to do to who the world says sees and thinks should be there. We’re underdogs. Introverts like us have no business sharing the stage with firecrackers and comedians.

    These thoughts, like you already guessed, aren’t real. In your words, one can’t be great and fearful. I find that the sooner we start to embrace the thorny, ragged edges, colorful parts of our lives that aren’t mainstream––instead of trying to conform to the world, the more comfortable and forgiving we’ll become.

    This is loooong but I hope it makes sense. I really, really enjoyed this post. Thanks for sharing and cheers to getting braver! (You and me, abeg!)

    • Yes! It makes perfect sense, Margaret; thank you for making the time to share. I’ve seen it so many times in others that it’s the part that makes them unique that is now the key to their monumental success. We need to find an effective way to keep that messaging top-of-mind. And cheers indeed to a braver us!

  3. hahaha. so that’s where the ‘good naija girl’ in you comes in. I can’t believe you wrote the name of the club and wrote the number for your folks. To be honest going to naija scared me too at first. I feared travelling there on my own. Just wanted to share love for your blog. have an awsome day :)

    • Thank you for the love and for dropping a comment, Alos…or is it Sola? I appreciate you!

      Kudos to going to Nigeria alone—how was it?

  4. Interesting read. I actually can relate to some parts of this post such as fear of speaking so they don’t pick up my accent or when I try my best to put on a super strong Nigerian accent, they still always pick up on a difference I try hard to hide. Nigeria is always fun but I still always move around with the fear of being mugged, or lost in the middle of nowhere without a familiar face around me. The driving? I think I’m getting kind of comfortable (because there’s no choice really) with it each time I visit but I still do have moments where I grab the seat so tight. I guess the important part of it all like you already said is to let go of the unhealthy fear because it would rob of so many opportunities and exciting things in life. I know fear has robbed me of things in the past.

    • Yes, Missy Tee: well said! I’m glad you’re getting more used to the driving because I was always gasping at what I perceived as close calls; when in fact I think my gasping was more likely to cause an accident than the driver.

      I hope that you’re having a better time doing things despite the fear than I am; thank you for commenting.

  5. My maternal grandmother instilled A LOT of fear in me when I was growing up. To the point that I don’t think it was very healthy for me, period. I’ve written about this on my site (e.g. this post: ) and told me many myths about what one can catch in swimming pools and at the beach. Though she taught me a lot about Chinese culture, I realized, once I entered my teens that I had to limit my communication with her (very difficult to do when she lives with you) to just to be my own person. It took a VERY LONG TIME, not even my time away in university (something both my parents and I wanted me to do. They would have paid for residence even if I went to school in Toronto) totally helped. And by then, she and my grandfather had moved out (because my mom and dad decided to downsize and move to a condo. A two bedroom condo with one room for me when I came home for a weekend or during vacation). It was tough, but I HAD to do it. It was for my health, both mental and physical.

      • Not only SUPPORTED – they EXPECTED me to leave for university – to the point our house was SOLD. I think they actually wanted me to spend time in boarding while in high school, but somehow couldn’t let go at that time (the school doesn’t have a weekday boarding program). We made use of the school’s boarding program when they were away for business or vacation.

  6. Funny, I was having the same conversation with my sibling a week or so ago. our younges went off to college (staying in the dorm) and we all who moved from Nigeria in the early 90’s and never even thought for a second of staying the dorms were discussing how terrified the parents had been at the thought of it back then. I think the trauma(?) of culture shock instilled a lot of that fear in the parent and it trickled down to us kids and it a fear that lingers even now. I never though of it as fear though, more as an “over cautiousness” about everything. I have found that it is extremely limiting and I have really been trying to find my way away from it.
    I found though that I am not that cautious in Nigeria, in Lagos yes, but once I am in Warri or Benin where I grew up and still have lots of friends and family, I am very much at home and when I get the “aunty, weythin you bring for us now?” I just reply like any good Warri girl, U give me something carry go before, I beg commot make I see road!” :)

    • Well said, Ejiro: I agree that the effects of culture shock trickled down and some of us became over-cautious as a result. In my case I’ve become fearful that something bad will happen—it would be nice to not have those thoughts as an immediate reaction.

      As my faith grows this aspect will change for the better, I hope, because as you said it is SO limiting!

      Lol, love your sassy response!

  7. Lovely post. I believe you talking about your fears is one step further in conquering them. I also think you should keep trying to do what you fear and then the death of fear is certain. That gives you room to explore to your greatness.

  8. “….I want to be great, and I can’t be great and fearful..” – Very very true. I will remember this lines GNG, and I will keep saying it to myself too!
    I pray that you will let go of fear and truly embrace life in all its fullness xx

  9. Thanks for sharing this Jummy. It takes some level of boldness to share something like this. We all have our fears, but in the word of Joyce’s Meyer, we “do it afraid” Courage is like muscle, the more we use it the it grows.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Esta! You said it: fear is not an excuse; we have to do what needs to be done anyway. And as a fitness coach your analogy of courage being a muscle is apropos (and true!).

  10. I get this… I can totally relate.
    I struggle with fear a lot….. most decisions in my life have been made out of fear but I get some moments of madness and do some super unexpected things: These are the most memorable moments of my life.
    Lol.. the part where you walked out is super funny!!!

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