July 21, 2015 by Kambili M.A. Chimalu
Fear, a four letter word that has such power that it determines what we do, how we do it, and when we do it. Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. People have different fears. I for one am terrified of snakes (hello? It slithers and should be crushed by my heel) and an ordinary existence, amongst other things.
When we are faced with fearful situations, we either fight or flee. It is nature’s way of giving us an out when faced with insurmountable odds. Left with fear alone, we freeze, but our adrenaline makes sure we do not become easy preys, so we are pushed to fight, if we can, or flee, if we cannot.
I have not faced many fearful situations, but I can vividly remember one moment in which I was truly afraid. It was around middle-late 2007. I had just come home from school for the weekend, so I decided to go to the market to grab a few things. As I was leaving, I walked out from between two parked cars and immediately, an Okada carrying a passenger stopped aggressively in front of me. The passenger demanded I hand over my money and phone, while lifting his shirt quickly for me to catch a glimpse of something black and shiny. My mind screamed “gun” and the fear overtook me. I immediately became an automaton, simply responding to the orders barked at me. I handed over my phone, dipped my hands into my pockets and emptied the contents, and after they were satisfied that I had handed over everything, they zoomed off. While this was going on, time stopped for me in a sense. Nothing else existed outside of that moment. The hustle and bustle of a typical Nigerian market continued around me, but even in the midst of the crowd, I was alone and terrified.
After the hoodlums drove away, my senses started to come back to me. As I looked around, I saw people all around me. Life continued for those people while my world was spinning out of control. Right across the busy road was a policeman with a gun. “Should I have screamed? Would he have heard me? Would he have helped me?” These questions and more swam around in my head. “Did anyone else see what had just happened to me?” After I was done questioning the generalities, I turned to specifics: ME. “Could I have done something differently? Should I have walked between those two cars that left me isolated even in a crowded marketplace? Did I even see a gun or had my mind/eyes been playing tricks on me?” Because I was aware of the atmosphere at the time, a period when kidnappings and ritual murders were rampant, I started wondering if I would have got on the bike had they demanded it. What if the order had been “get on the bike” instead of “give me your phone and money,” what would I have done? This is a question I still ask myself whenever I remember the incident. The whole interaction with the hoodlums and my introspection afterwards couldn’t have been more than a few brief minutes, but it felt like an eternity. I went home in a daze.
In my moment of fear, I froze. I did not fight or flee. I simply became an automaton.
Now, why am I telling you guys about fear and our reactions to fearful situations? It is because of a cause that is very dear to me: the plight of the average Nigerian woman. As an average Nigerian woman, a lot of her actions are ruled/determined by fear.
I have been on Nigerian forums, where women come to seek advice on marital issues and other things, a lot lately. The responses that these women get from men and women alike always break my heart.
Take for instance a woman that was seeking advice because she was afraid of losing her husband. She has been married for two or three years without a child, so her husband decided to beg another woman to bear children for him. On finding this out, she begged people to pray for God to open her womb, so that her husband’s diabolical plans would be thwarted.
I did not join in that prayer circle or even mutter a word of prayer on her behalf. I knew that this was the woman’s heart desire, but how could I, in good conscience, pray to condemn a fellow woman to a life of misery? The man does not respect her. He cheats on her. He refuses to see his wife’s pain and only views her as a defective baby-making machine. I couldn’t pray for her womb to be opened by God because I wanted her to have a clean break whenever she came to her senses and decided to take the trash (the man) out. I wanted nothing to connect her to him.
Like this woman, a great fear for many Nigerian women is not getting a husband or not keeping a husband. A friend once complained to me about the stress of having to take public transportation to work, so I innocently suggested that she buy a car. By her reaction, you would have thought that I asked her to sacrifice her first born. Her response? “Do you want me to intimidate men away from me?” What the hell? I had no response to that because my blood always boils and my filters go out of service when I hear such drivel, but because I valued our friendship, I swallowed my tongue. I tried to persuade her to see the sense in getting herself a car, but she wouldn’t budge, so I left it alone.
The thing then becomes that when women operate solely from this place of fear, they diminish themselves. A single woman does not want to succeed too much lest she emasculate the men around her. A married woman is encouraged to bend over backwards in order to accommodate the whims of an egotistic man.
In these situations, it is as if we neglect nature’s design that we fight or flee when faced with fearful situations. Why shouldn’t we encourage women to not just succeed, but to succeed extremely well? Single women should be encouraged to fight society’s expectation that a woman’s success should be weighed down by the weight of men’s egos. Why shouldn’t my friend be courageous enough to fight to buy herself things without the fear of emasculating men?
In the same vein, we should encourage married Nigerian women to flee toxic marriages. Instead of joining a prayer circle to further entrench a woman’s bondage, why don’t we encourage her to flee? Instead of telling a woman with a cheating husband to be more sexy, get in shape, and give him all the styles he wants, why don’t we encourage her to flee? Instead of telling a woman with an abusive husband to be even more submissive and unthreatening of the mans ego/authority, we should encourage her to flee as fast as her legs can carry her.
After all, it is natural that we fight or flee when our lives are threatened by challenging situations, so Nigerian women should do things that should come naturally to them as nature intended.
I have felt paralyzed with fear and alone in a busy market square while people continued on around me. A lot of Nigerian women are paralyzed with fear and feeling alone even in the midst of a crowd. I want to be the one that takes their hands and says, “I saw what happened to you. You are not alone.” I don’t want to continue my life oblivious to the women drowning in fear around me.
Photo Credit: Google Images.