Once upon a time, there was a young lady who came to intern at my mother’s business. She was just out of secondary school so we knew she would only be with us a short while; until her WAEC results were out and she went away to University. To my 10 year old self, Alice was larger than life. She was smart, gentle, patient and so pretty; not mean or snobby or pompous like girls that age can be.
The summer holidays quickly passed and so did Alice’s time with us. She had been accepted to study at one of the higher institutions in Lagos, Nigeria while I was going away to boarding school. We neither heard of nor saw Alice and I almost forgot everything about her except her gentle smile.
Fast forward to this weekend, nearly 20 years later, my mom mentioned that Alice had turned up out of the blue at her office begging for her old job back. She was skinny and haggard; not at all like we would ever have imagined her to be. Apparently, life had not been all she had hoped for, because soon after she had gone to University she lost both her parents in quick succession. Perhaps burdened with sorrow, she was unable to keep up with her academic work, dropping out of University all together a year later. Soon after, she married a young trader who lived in her neighbourhood. With no qualifications or hope of finding a good job, they struggled to make ends meet.
Things came to a head in October 2013, when Alice lost her only child after a short illness. According to her, the pain and turmoil of her life was too much for her; she was unable to eat or sleep for many days at a time. She soon discovered solace at the bottom of any bottle she could find. Rum. Whiskey. Beer. It really didn’t matter as long as it numbed the pain she was feeling and before she knew it, she was hooked on the alcohol; needing it to get through each day.
The exact events and circumstances of the past years can only be narrated by Alice herself but what I do know is that, this sweet, gentle soul is struggling with an alcohol problem. She has nowhere to stay as her husband has thrown her out of their matrimonial home. She has no immediate family to turn to and those who may have helped her are mostly afraid of whatever ‘curse’ has befallen her. Sadly, after everything she has been through, she is being jeered at, mocked, called different names (Witch being the favourite) and blamed for how life has turned out for her.
Last night, as my mom and I discussed the options that were open to us in our desire to help Alice, I remembered a silly joke I once heard about how Nigerians do not suffer from depression like the ‘white’ man. Something about how it was a foreign ailment and how Africans in essence are stronger than the Westerners. This situation reiterated the silliness of that notion, and it also brought the realisation that throughout my years in Nigeria, I never saw or heard an advert for a counselling or support network for people dealing with issues like bereavement, addiction etc. I wondered if such organisations exist and maybe I have just never heard of them.
I wondered about the way many people approach real problems that real people encounter. What has alcoholism or addiction got to do with witchcraft? Are people so myopic in reasoning that every single storm in life is caused by the devil? Now as a believing Christian, I would be the first to tell you about how spiritual everything is- but surely there is a place for medicine, psychology, psychiatry and good old understanding. Not every wind is the devil’s doing. I would like to think that there are challenges that are not demon-induced.
Lastly, I am concerned that marriage to some people seems to be all about the good times. I remember my own vows very clearly “for better or for worse”. I would expect that a spouse’s prerogative is to assist, support, encourage their other half and not add to the problem! Throwing your wife out of the home should never be an option especially when you know she has nowhere else to go. Likewise, locking your husband out of the house is mostly unacceptable.
Dear reader, the purpose of this piece is not to cast blame or speculate about what goes wrong in people’s lives. Instead I hope it will be a reminder to all of us that there are people out there who for one reason or the other are more disadvantaged than we are. Some of them have lost their way and are passing through tough times. Please, let us try to help them when we come across them. Let us all build a society that is fueled by love and understanding. Pointing fingers and judging really do nothing to help. It is amazing how we lay everything at the devil’s feet. I strongly believe that though we live in a developing country we can change things one person as time through our interaction with one another.
I look forward to hearing from you all. Have you suffered from depression – maybe from hardship or bereavement? Please share with us how you coped and triumphed over it.
Photo Credit: myginfo.com
Kome Olori Agulonu is a writer and business analyst. She is also the CEO of Chunky Jewels, a brand of unique, handmade, African inspired costume jewellery sold in the United Kingdom. You can follow her on Twitter @komeolori or email her at [email protected]