I have a profound affinity for stories. Stories that bring out the humanity in us and uplift our souls and move us through the imaginary world. Stories that provide an anchorage of hope to a brother or a sister, forlorn on this rugged road of life. Stories that put you on an optimistic path when you’re overwhelmed by the manacles of pessimism. Stories that reinforce what the Arab poet said that “be optimistic even in the eye of the storm.” Stories that leave you spellbound due to the grip they hold you with. Stories that leave you awestruck with a compelling force that makes you put down a book you are reading, laughing alone and wondering how the mind of the author could conjure that. The importance of a story can never be overemphasized. How a story is told could always shape the perception of a people about a subject. It could make an angel look a devil. The converse also holds.
In one of his novels, Anthills of the Savannah, Chinua Achebe poignantly captures the need for the telling of the struggle and also the redemptive power of a good story with a fable. I capture it here unedited. “The leopard had been looking for the tortoise and hadn’t found him for a long time. On this day, on a lonely road, he suddenly chanced upon Tortoise, and so he said, “Aha! At last, I’ve caught you. Now get ready to die.” Tortoise of course knew that the game was up and so he said, “Okay, but can I ask you a favor?” and Leopard said, “Well, why not?” Tortoise said, “Before you kill me, could you give me a few moments just to reflect on things?” Leopard thought about it — he wasn’t very bright — and he said, “Well, I don’t see anything wrong with that. You can have a little time.” And so, Tortoise, instead of standing still and thinking, began to do something very strange: he began to scratch the soil all around him and throw sand around in all directions. Leopard was mystified by this. He said, “What are you doing? Why are you doing that?” Tortoise said: “I’m doing this because when I’m dead, I want anybody who passes by this place to stop and say, ‘Two people struggled here. A man met his match here.”
Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie underscores that in her speech “The Danger of a Single story.” She stated, “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
This love for stories made me spend more times in the library reading novels and short stories instead of being in the Chemistry lab as a young Science student at O’Reilly Senior High School. And that also explains why I love to read more memoirs, biographies and autobiographies because in the stories of people, we find light and dispel the darkness within us. In the stories of others, we are able to overcome difficult situations because these books give us roadmaps on how these people were able to overcome back-breaking difficulties to reach the heights they attained.
Back then at St. Cecilia’s Basic School in Nima, I loved to read the Old Testament of the bible because of the Pentateuch (first five book of Moses), the history books that tell us the story of the Israelites “from their conquest of Canaan to their defeat and exile in Babylon”, the story of Elijah and other books. As a Muslim also, I love and listen to Chapter 12 being recited more than all other of the 114 chapters of the Quran because it gives us the complete inspirational and motivational story of Yusuf (Joseph in the Bible) at a go unlike others that are given in parts.
One of the goals of my life is to inspire people tell their stories. Each one of us has a story to share and no matter how it is written, there is one person at least shipwrecked in this road of life, who will feel fine and find his or her feet after reading. So, I push the young ones to always write their stories. In lieu of this, one of young people I try to push has this wonderful story to share. She is Jariya Yussif, an enterprising young lady that is pursuing an accounting degree at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration. She has this to share. Savor it and learn.
Perhaps, the greatest hurdle I have come to face is accepting the fact that it is okay to not always be okay regardless of what happens in my life. Recognizing that asking for help didn't make me deficient but rather displayed abundant courage, was the monumental turning point in my life. I have always had incredible paternal family, full of copious determined, disciplined, and independent people. For the first several years of my childhood, my father raised two of my brothers and I on his own after their separation. Despite struggling to make ends meet, our basic needs were always met. He made sure we were never in want of anything.
However, by the time I was in Junior high school, I was almost on my own. I stopped asking for help even when I knew I needed it, due to fear of no one helping. This provoked a rapid downward spiral in my life. I slumped academically, socially and emotionally. I stopped talking to my friends kept to myself and sadly, depression set in. When the time came for us to fill out secondary high school applications, I couldn't muster the courage to do mine. I knew I wasn't ready and that terrified me. The most difficult sentence I ever had to muster were my confession to my father, “I want to take the year off.” It was a desperate cry for help. I felt ashamed and humiliated. Above all, I feared that I let down one of the most influential men in my life. To my astonishment, my father agreed. He hugged me tight as an act of comfort, but I knew there was another emotion hidden. Disappointment. For the first time in almost three years, I felt exasperated, but it was what I needed. At least that is what I told myself.
Things didn’t get better. For a few months, there were a lot of ups and downs which nearly made me consider giving up but somehow, I regained consciousness when things began to fall in place. The gap year I took ended up benefiting me significantly. After working productively with entrepreneurs, I saved enough money to fend for myself and family and moreover achieve my aim of establishing a business for my father.
I got home one day, sat my father down and brought out the money I saved before him. I told him what I intended to do. Maintaining eye contact, I could feel him battling with his instincts. It nearly crumbled the courage I had built up. After a long silence, I broke down in uncontrollable tears as I went on my knees. Suddenly, I felt his soft hands patting my back and all I heard was “May the Almighty God continue to give you the strength you need in all facets of your life and may He bless you unconditionally.” Relief flowed through me. I knew there and then that I was appreciated. The joy I felt was unmatchable.
The year quickly came to an end and with what I could gather, I enrolled myself into secondary school. Three years later, I was finished my senior year with excellent grades and graduated on the honor roll. My friends were ahead of me but I didn’t mind. I knew that I would tackle that same desire and tenacity as I did the last three years. My experiences taught me that as we navigate our challenges, we must remain focused and positive. I believed that no matter the challenges I encountered, I had a consistent vision. I am going to give my all to become a successful Muslimah no matter what life throws at me. I wanted to inspire young women like me. In the end, my hard work and determination brought me to where I wanted to be. Since graduating school, my father's business had grown. He successfully opened outlets in most of the nearby towns. I was amazed at the great transformation in our lives. We had come a long way and now lived a life my father had always dreamt for us.
I strongly believe that I am the lady that I am today because of these experiences, and I do not have any regrets. It built in me a tenacious resolve, resilient spirit, strong heart, and profound diligence as a young lady. Perseverance, Integrity and hardwork have become one of my finest traits. One thing has remained the same throughout the years. I have always managed to fight through and push forward on getting a brighter future. Sometimes, to progress you must stand still, take irrevocable steps no matter the risks involved.
NB: The writer is a Youth-Activist and a Student of Knowledge.