By Denrele Animasaun
A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water-Eleanor Roosevelt.
A rest, they say, is as good as a change. It is crucial to take some time out to replenish and invigorate the body and mind. I want to thank those who have reached out, wondering where I have been.
I was hiding in plain sight, watching people and events while resting my pen and locking my lips. I have been itching to write but the lockdown made us all pause to think. Here in the UK, on the 23rd march, was the day of reflection, people stood to honour the tragic passing of thousands to Covid, 126,284 dead so far and up to 1.5 million potential lives have been lost and three quarter of those that died are over 75. The UK is 6th and Nigeria is 73rd and 12,031 dead on the Covid League table. With the vaccine, there is hope.
In the midst of it all, Dr Ranti has been among the people watching, in particular, with tongue in cheek, detailing how Nigerian aunties in the UK or diaspora are coping during the Lock down.
Nigerian Aunties in the UK: lockdown survivor kit – Dr Ranti Lawumi
Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness- Desmond Tutu
Does makeup expire? Will my face slap me back for slapping on makeup? Maybe my shoes think I’m dead! Oh Lord, will I even fit into my clothes? I’m so bored! I can’t take it! Wait…is that another grey hair???
You would be forgiven for thinking that these are the thoughts of a young woman in her twenties, missing out on the Friday and Saturday night ritual. You will be wrong, very wrong.
These are thoughts of your ‘African Aunties’ in the UK. These are mostly Nigerian middle-aged women (and other women of colour) who love a good party but are now cooped up at home in lockdown, working, cooking, being wife, mother, sister and friend from the same spot. To serve the same underserving band of freeloaders we call, our loving family. With no friends popping round, no parties to attend, and worse – no hope of a sneaky little garden party on the horizon. With lockdown, there is no respite. It’s enough to make a grown woman weep!!
Africans in general are hospitable people who love to celebrate. However, Nigerians are on different level. We are to party as bread is to butter! We are in a class of our own. Nothing and I mean absolutely nothing; can top a Nigerian party (aka Naija party, faaji, ariya). Anything calls for a celebration. A new baby’s naming ceremony, an engagement, a housewarming, the big birthdays with a Zero or a 5 at the end are all fair game. It’s also a good excuse for one party guest to bring along at least four girlfriends each – it would be rude not to. Your host might think something is terribly wrong with you if you turned up alone. If there are 100 party guests on the list at least double that number will be catered for. It has always been come one, come all. The Nigerian party is a phenomenon, it is more than just an event, and it is a spectacle! For non-Nigerians; they cannot believe the generosity of the oraganisers, food and drinks flow through the night and they get to take food and drinks home. Yes, Naija party, home and abroad is a colour fashion fest and Naijas’ know how to throw party.
At the Party everyone is a star and treated as such; with the ‘hello darling’ ‘hi babe’ or ‘sweetheart’ – well, takes your fancy for the greeting. The stress of the 14-hour shifts, terrible bosses, unpaid bills, errant husbands and difficult children are suspended for the next 4 hours. Party is therapy and a life saver.
There really should be a space on the invite to say, ‘no stress, depression or anxiety please, we are Nigerians – leave all at the door’.
The main reason for attending a Nigerian party is the company of family and friends. Aunties are the Doyenne of every party, they do not have to be your aunty, they are aunty by age and position, they are the connector s and they make every party.
With Covid, social isolation and lockdown, where does it leave the Nigerian aunties in the UK?
Being away from your home country means an attitude of ‘there is no time like the present’ takes over. Difficulties faced by friends are discussed there and then, people are encouraged, and advice and plans of action are put into place. Marriages are saved, times tested childhood rearing practices are discussed, holistic remedies are passed around, recipes are perfected, and a general sense of togetherness is experienced. At the party your mood is lifted, and for the next three to four hours – anxiety and depression melts slowly away.
The Nigerian party serves a huge community function, keeping everyone recharged and able to face the next week. It helps with our mental health. At parties, we sing along and dance to afrobeat, gospel, juju – you name it we do it justice. It gives a direct hit to our endorphins. You know those ‘happy chemicals’ that are present when you do something fun, pleasurable or rewarding? Yep…you got it.
Right now, this is what is missing. Some ‘aunties’ have been driving themselves crazy with conspiracy theories about the virus. Now it’s moved subtly to conspiracy theories about the vaccine (put the phone down, please – WhatsApp can wait!).
In this new normal, how do you survive when all your support systems are stuck at home themselves, clinging on to the last vestiges of their sanity, trying not to feel down, rising sense of panic, anxiety or depression at what might come next? A lot of us have had to deal with loss, bereavement, overwork and all sorts of adverse conditions. People are being rushed into hospital or are anxious and panicky with a sense of foreboding and lashing of palpable anxiety.
So, in the absence of the beloved ‘Naija party’ what quick remedies can help in lockdown to help keep anxiety and depression at bay?
5 Lockdown busting top tips:
- Breathe – yes, we all breathe but do we take time to do it slowly, intentionally and wherever possible outside of the house to get some fresh air? No. The act of mindful breathing can lower your heart rate and soothe those nerves.
- Take a walk – you may be missing the gym, but this does not stop you from taking a purposeful walk or a leisurely stroll. It will help you sleep. Oh…and don’t forget to stretch before and after! Your joints will thank me.
- Take a break from social media. It’s not healthy to constantly bombard yourself with bad news. Take that time back for something more positive. Did you try the new jollof rice recipe yet? Yes – I have it!!
- Make a quick phone call to friends, family, and children living away from home, grandmas and grandpas. Learn to listen to the unspoken – you may be someone’s lifeline.
- Get a therapist – don’t be shy. Mental health difficulties don’t just happen to the people who have no friends, or the less well off. It can happen to you or people you know – actually, it happens to one in four of us. So, you (yes, you!) You know at least one person right now who is either depressed or anxious. If you are not sure how to get a therapist – Try Mentally aware Nigerians
- Lockdowns are part of the new normal and survive them, we must. If we are ever going to get back to those parties in good shape, keeping our mental health intact is key!
We are in this together, so stay safe, stay well and I wish you a good mental health.
Dr Ranti Lawumi is an experienced practicing Chartered Psychologist with many years’ experience. She has worked clinically for the past 20 years with various types of Mental Health presentations. Having graduated with honors from The University of Ife, Oyo State Nigeria, when she moved to the UK she went on to further study in Psychology. She has since acquired a combination of degrees and diplomas from The University of London, The University of Surrey and The University of Oxford. She resides with her family in London, UK
She believes that the pandemic has left a slew of anxious and depressed people in its wake who are mostly in denial, while struggling to understand what this new normal means