I find it very difficult to describe myself… some people have described me as a bit of a wandering spirit. Some describe me as a nerd. I have even been described as an old soul. The one thing I can say for certain is that I enjoy solving problems. I was born in Warri, in a steel town hospital which might explain why I’m an engineer (twice over – a chemical/process engineer and a petroleum/reservoir engineer). Both of my parents are from Ijebu and I’m a bit of an amateur short-story writer – I mostly write at www.thenakedconvos.com where I also serve as an assistant editor . I love cakes, music and cocktails.
I spent the early years of my life in Warri. I had a pretty interesting childhood (at least by my own reckoning). Days spent plucking fruits from trees, saving up money to buy kool aid and ice cream; talking about Rambo and Robocop and doing the entire assortment of random things children generally do. I have always had this fascination with information and knowledge. For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to know how things work – I had finished reading my father’s collection of encyclopedias by the time I was 8 even though I didn’t understand half of what I had read anyway. (I have also forgotten quite a lot of it – I have a notoriously bad memory). I also wrote essays and stories quite a bit. I won a prize for one of my essays back then. The only thing I remember about that entire event was that my mother was extremely pleased (she had also won quite a few awards for her own essays back in her youth and she eventually obtained a degree in English. I think she thought whatever measure of talent I had, came from her – she was right)
I’ve been on scholarships for most of my life. When I was 9, I won a scholarship to attend the Igbinedion Education Centre in Benin for my secondary education and so I did. By some universal conspiracy, my parents moved to Benin as well and I concluded my teen years and secondary education there before moving to Lagos. I eventually gained admission into Obafemi Awolowo University in Ife to complete my degree in chemical engineering. My dad had studied the exact same course 30 years earlier in the same University so this was a really exciting thing for me. While I was there,I was lucky to be the recipient of scholarships from TOTAL and ExxonMobil. I had a reasonably interesting social life and managed to waddle my way into graduating with a first class degree and also somehow ended at the top of my class – I still hold my mother’s prayers and God’s grace responsible for that little piece of academic maneuvering.
Then in February 2010 my father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. It was the first in what was a series of life changing events that came in quick succession after that but it was surely the most significant. My mother was in the hospital at the time for another condition and so having to take care of her, dealing with the grief as well as having to make funeral arrangements for my father was extremely difficult for me, my brothers and the entire family. That period of intense grief, mounting responsibility and the realization that life could very suddenly change without any warning has definitely become one of the defining periods of my life.
My mother also passed away a few months later in July. I was 24 at the time and by many standards, my brother and I were adults so we had to deal with a lot of the ensuing issues by ourselves. It was a harrowing experience, having to visit her in the hospital everyday up to her passing, trying to run the house and businesses and keep her spirits up as she fought for her life in the hospital. Eventually, when she succumbed to illness, I think something broke in me. My mother was a lot more than just a mother, she was a close friend. We were something of kindred spirits – I had inherited her love for food and literature and music and we explored a lot of those things together. We used to cook, dance, make jokes and play games together. Losing her struck at my very core.
I think I went through all the classical stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and eventually – acceptance. The thing they don’t tell you about the acceptance stage is that it can take the rest of your life to complete. I think I am still accepting but I also think it’s important to get through the first few stages as quickly as possible.
In my case, my elder brother and I realized early on we were all our younger brother had left. He needed us to be strong for him, to take care of him and so we took charge and did what we had to do to keep what was left of the family functioning. My elder brother was my greatest support. I think since then, we have learned to rely on each other a lot more than we used to. Some extended family members were very helpful as well. Between my brother and myself, we made a plan, we focused on it and we have been doing our best to achieve it ever since.
Going through such a difficult course just a few months after a series of tragedies was both a blessing and a curse. It gave me something other than the pain and grief to focus on. On the other hand, there were points when things got really difficult, and I sank to some very low lows and it seemed overwhelming having to deal with so many things mentally at the same time. Whenever that happened, I would remember my father and his calm and collected attitude to solving problems. I would remember and then I would try to deal with things the way I imagine he would have. I also rested and wrote a lot. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I would just take a break. I also wrote fiction, random musings on life in general, poems, anything. Putting words (or equations) on paper seemed to give me some reassurance and peace. But really, in the end, I think my friends at Imperial were my greatest support. Especially in the ones in my class. We would talk about everything from the course work to our families and life in general and I slowly came to realize that a lot of people have gone through difficult trials of their own. So many of us had suffered losses of varying kinds and to varying degrees but we were all there, pulling through, helping each other deal with our respective issues.
Petroleum engineering at Imperial College is a very rewarding course but it does demand its pound of flesh. An intense workload, brutal schedules and continuous bombardment of knowledge and information were the things I had to contend with. Most of the time however, it was actually a lot of fun interacting with, working with and learning from some of the most intelligent people in the world – as course mates and lecturers. For the first time in a long time, I was actually unsure of my academic performance. The entire class was made up of people who were the best from their respective universities and some had years of actual experience behind them and so things were uncertain and tense in the beginning but after a while, it eased up. We all bonded quite nicely (nothing brings people together quite like shared suffering).
My department had an interesting policy where they do not release any results until the entire course is concluded. This implied that beyond an email informing me that I had passed my exams in January and May, I had no idea how good or bad my results were up to the very end. Then one day, I was out for a movie and drinks with friends when I got an email from my project supervisor telling me that not only was I one of only three students to be awarded a distinction but that I had also won the coveted London Petrophysical Society Prize for the work I did and presented as my MSc thesis. I was completely blown away. I actually fell to my knees with surprise and appreciation. It’s one of those moments I will probably never really forget. Six months later, at the graduation ceremony, when I was called out to applause from the entire Royal Albert Hall, I was thinking of a great many things, it was another special moment. I was glad my brothers were there to witness it; I only wish my parents had been there to see it too.
I often joke that if you took exactly half of my mother and half of my father and put the two halves together, you would get me. My parents largely influenced who I am today. The experiences, good and bad, define me fundamentally. The experience has made me a bit different emotionally as I realize just how ephemeral life can be and so I enjoy it as much as I can. I live and learn harder than I ever used to. I have every intention of living to honor the memory of both my parents. I’m working on living for both of them and myself. Doing what they would have wanted for themselves and for me too. I’m working on being both an engineer and a writer. I have a patent in both mine and my fathers’ names (it was the last major invention he worked on before he died and is a legacy I share with him). I also wrote a science fiction short story which has been accepted for publishing in an anthology by a small publishing house based in South Africa. Right now, I live and work in Abingdon, Oxfordshire at a Technology center where I get to help develop and play around with state-of-the-art Petroleum engineering software applications. I intend to keep writing short science fiction stories so that one day I can collect them in one book and dedicate it to my mother.
Things like this hurt profoundly. You want to cry, scream, curse, wallow in your sorrow and just crawl into a corner. You can do that. When life deals you harsh cards, then you have earned the right to do that. But when you’re done, the world will still be waiting. There will still be things you need to do. Responsibilities to be taken up. Legacies to be carried on. You will still have a life to live. And so I tried to get on with the process of living as soon as possible. All I can say is, “we are what we experience”. Whatever happens, good or bad, take it, absorb it and make the most of it. Channel it and use it as a driving force to achieve whatever you have already set out to achieve. Experiences are more powerful than any simpler inspirations.