today marks 10 years since my university graduation. my gran came to canada for the event and i feel, in some way, that she was coming as my papa’s, her husband’s, representative. papa died in january 2005 and one of my last conversations with him included his telling me that criminal justice was a mickey mouse subject, that i should have taken something more respectable like geography. i am sure this is why i picked up geography as a teaching subject.
at 22 i was surprised that i had graduated university. it seemed so far away and so difficult to achieve, an accomplishment i was more astonished about than anyone.
a family friend, then in her 80s, attended the ceremony and bought me a copy of some get rich quick book. i don’t remember the author and i never read it properly, i simply skimmed the key ideas. the only item i remember is that one wanting to improve their financial position should avoid buying fancy milky coffees and instead save that cash by drinking their coffee at home prior to heading out for the day. i think the coffee thing sticks in my mind because i became coffee obsessed around the age of 20 – it came about on a series of cold days while working on a golf course, not having any other hot beverage choices. i am now a caffeine addict through and through, going on more than 10 years.
the coffee chat was not the point. ruth, the wonderful elderly lady i have known since i was less than 4 years old, has been classified by family and friends alike as a witch. not the nasty kind you picture in scary films. she was more like glinda the good witch from the wizard of oz, not to be confused with glenda, a lovely irish girl i met in uni. ruth predicted, not to me directly but rather to my mother and her daughter, my mother’s close pal, that i would be successful. this was a prophesy from a person with significant prediction skills and abilities the rest of us mortals were not let in on. i had no idea how to fulfill such a prediction, or whether or not there was any truth in it.
i sold the book ruth gave me in a yard sale prior to moving to scotland: my birthday gift to myself on my 27th birthday. with all worldly possessions checked in at pearson airport in toronto [including my bicycle], i recall crying into my beer while talking with a guy from calgary amidst watching michael jackson’s funeral and wondering whether or not i was making a huge mistake.
i honestly believed that it was impossible to predict one’s future. i never believed in psychics and figured ruth’s prediction was a result of her kindness and wish that i would do well as a grown-up. at 32 i don’t feel like a grown-up even now, i still feel 18. even when i got married at 30 i felt i was too young. as an aside, my gran said she felt 25 about a year before she died at age 83, my hope is to feel the same if and when i become an octogenarian.
scotland was an excellent time in many ways but living in edinburgh put me in my place a large number of times, both academically and personally. i occasionally thought of ruth’s mention of success.
my work in edinburgh involved a lot of boarding work and short teaching contracts, it was clear i needed to move on to more serious and permanent teaching work. i started applying in europe, asia, africa and south america. the first place that offered something was sudan, just before the north and south split. i had read about a teacher calling a teddy bear muhammad and getting slung out, having caused real shame. i was too mouthy and the money was a ridiculous sum more than i earn, but i figured it was danger money. so instead i chose the safer route with nigeria. hahahahahahahahahahahahaha.
now, i could have been perfectly safe in khartoum. instead, i have spent 4 years in nigeria, 2 in lagos and 2 in abuja. i met the most perfect man, he is calm, kind and clever. had i gone to sudan i would have missed out.
ruth’s idea of my success never really struck home with me until i married abu. i realised then success was not about money; it was about how you feel about your life.
i saw ruth in december 2014 at my parents’ place and hope to introduce abu to her next month. she is now in her 90s and is as amazing as ever. so is her husband. they have been married nearly 70 years, i think, and i am so pleased i have the privilege of knowing them.
i joke with abu about becoming a best selling author with more money than i will know what to do with but that isn’t success. cash isn’t success. all of the experience i have had is true success. while becoming published proper would be great, i know everything will be fine because i care about my students and work hard alongside some incredible people.
there is no doubt in my mind that ruth was right. it is just that my understanding of success was convoluted for many years.