I returned to Singapore a changed person. I was happier hence in a better state of mind to learn. I had one more year at UWCSEA Singapore and I was determined to enjoy it. I had come to realize that studying at UWCSEA was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I could not afford to squander and that I had one chance, one shot to get things right. And so instead of just going through the motions and wishing it was soon over, I decided to be present, be engaged and before long I was enjoying it.
Sometimes God chooses to work in ways indecipherable to our minds just to bring about the healing, peace and love we so desire and for me He did this by bringing me someone in the person of a first year Kenyan girl with a larger-than-life personality who rocked my world. I quickly and unofficially adopted her as my baby sister. Playing the overprotective loving ‘big sister’ brought a sense of fulfilment and purpose I had not envisioned. I was happy. The migraines had lessened significantly but insomnia was still my full time companion. Our relationship – insomnia and I, I mean – was no longer a secret; everyone in the boarding house knew since it was NOT unusual to find me sitting in or roaming the corridors at weird hours of the morning for lack of sleep. I had not learnt about the antidote to insomnia in Psalm 127:2…He gives His beloved sleep.
I wanted my friends to have a real taste of Sierra Leone and decided to venture into the otherwise unexplored territory of cooking. My cooking resumé at the time consisted of vast experience in cooking plain white rice for my family. On those not-so-good days, forgetting that I was cooking I would get so engrossed in one of my many books that I would end up serving my family some burnt rice. I had solid head knowledge about everything that goes into cooking but no practical experience. My mom, hands down the best cook for miles around, had done her part. Everyone in our neighbourhood would attest to that because they would often hear her scolding me/giving me a lecture about why I needed to learn to cook. My mom was deliberate about shouting because she wanted to make sure she had enough outside witnesses in case I ever tried to blame her for my lack of dexterity in cooking delicious meals. But I would not budge; I had no interest whatsoever in cooking of any sort. What will you give your husband to eat? If you continue like this, you will need to read from a recipe to cook for your husband. I was not persuaded. What husband? I wasn’t even sure then if I wanted to get married (that’s a whole post for some other time). My long distance relationship with the kitchen, which included watching her cook from a distance and passing her stuff from time to time, was working well for me. Besides, I knew I had inherited some of my mom’s genes – the best of her – and some genetic transfer of her cooking skills had taken place at birth. Of that I was sure. Practice, in my opinion, was unnecessary. And so I experimented with rice and stew, which I served to my friends. Maybe the best part about cooking for my non-Sierra Leonean friends was the fact that none of them had a point of reference – that is no one, besides the other Sierra Leonean whom I gave strict warning to hold his peace – about how the food was supposed to taste. Besides, no one looking at me would have known that I had little or no practice because I carried myself like an expert in the kitchen. The meal was nothing to write home about but it served the purpose of giving my friends a taste of Sierra Leonean cuisine.
I also ventured into the braiding territory when I started doing my own hair. I had to. There were no known black salons and it was rumoured that the one black woman who could braid charged a fee of 300 Singaporean dollars (about US$200) per hairstyle. This Freetown girl who was accustomed to having her hair done for free wasn’t about to shed some serious cash for a few box braids. And that’s how I started braiding. On those days when I was too tired to do my hair after I took out my braids, I would wear my uncombed (translation: unkempt) hair to class and around the campus. No one cared. In fact, I got a lot of attention from admirers who wanted to touch and feel the texture of my hair and thought the curls in my hair were cool. As I walked around campus, I would chuckle to myself from time to time as I tried to imagine my mom’s reaction to my uncombed hair.
That year – and this remains one of the highlights of my UWC experience – my friends and I decided to climb the highest mountain in South East Asia, Mount Kinabalu. I really didn’t care about the mountain or the fact that it was a world heritage site; I just wanted to prove to my friends that I could scale it. There were many reasons to give up once we started the hike uphill. The path was rugged and slippery and with no prior practice or training whatsoever, I was gasping for breath stopping every two minutes to catch my breath. Many Japanese grandmothers (I am not exaggerating) went past us on the way. (Apparently, some Japanese grandmothers scale mountains for the fun of it). I contemplated quitting many times but every time I wanted to, I thought about how far I had come and the long way back down and I pressed on. I loathed the feeling of defeat that would follow if I gave up and I did not want my friends to have the satisfaction of being right about me not being able to make it. Even though we took much longer than other groups (thanks to my snail pace), we eventually made it to the summit of the mountain. I was awestruck! Nothing – not even my frozen fingers or the high altitude – could steal my joy in that moment. I was literally on top of the world! All the pain along the way – aching knees and legs – paled in comparison to the joy i felt in that moment. The Congo Tong girl was scaling new heights.
I’m pressing on the upward way, new heights i’m gaining everyday…Lord plant my feet on higher ground.
Daughter of the King