Describe your last attempt to learn something that did not come easily to you.
‘Mommy shebi she’s not a girl?’
‘Ahahn. C’mon shut up Ikenna! Why would you say that?’
‘Because, mommy, girls are supposed to have fine handwriting’
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to grow up and just finally be an adult. I never saw anyone yell at my mom or slap my dad. No one dared tell my class teacher to ‘look at this nonsense’ or even ask the mechanic down our street if ‘something is wrong with your head?’ I wanted that life.
I look back to the times when I was a child and remember how those were the most terrible moments of my life. It’s hard enough having a problem that people do not understand, but it’s harder when you yourself do not understand what your problem is, or as in my own case, believing you are your own problem.
I used to sneak into my mother’s room when I was in primary school to look at myself in the mirror. I would stand there and just stare at this person who was hell-bent on making me suffer. I remember one day when I was in Jss1, I had received severe beatings in school and had come back home only to get beaten some more, I walked into my mother’s room, stared at her mirror for about 5 minutes and just started punching the mirror and yelling. My already sore wrists were aching some more and tiny scars were making themselves comfortable on my skin but I just kept punching and punching; I was going to get rid of this person in the mirror. It was not until then, that my mom and dad accepted that I really had a problem, that I was not faking my learning disability.
You see, I have a condition called Dysgraphia. On the face of it, it appears that I simply have a terribly terrible handwriting. When I was in primary 3, I was held back from using pens like my other classmates and was made to continue using pencils. I used to get smacked a lot for ‘trying to write cursive when she hasn’t perfected a basic handwriting’. In fact, I did not start to write with a pen until my Jss1 and that was only because I was in a new school and no one really considered the possibility of any 10year old not being able to write with a pen.
Let me tell you a little about Dysgraphia (although you can pretty much just google it up). Dysgraphia is a learning disability (or at least that’s what it is called). People with dysgraphia may learn their schoolwork just fine but they cannot learn to write well or legibly. We don’t know how tos pace our writing. We are not good creative writers as we cannot really think and write at the same time. (Dictations are the worst!!!!) Heck! We even find it hard to pre-visualize the alphabets or words in our head before we write, sometimes. Most times, it feels like we need to focus so much on our writing that we cannot focus on any other thing but our writing. We spell baddly also. And we sometime s do not complete our senten. Oh! I haven’t spoken of the physical pain. Because we do not quite understand the practical physics of writing, we may tend to twist our wrists in weird ways when we write, thereby causing severe pains in our wrists (and from personal experiences, the whole body or at least the back). Oh, and because of the pressure most of us are put under, you may see us holding our pens so tight that the tips of our fingers get sore.
After my Muhammad Ali experience with the mirror, my mom and dad took me to the University of Lagos to see their doctor friend. My mom and dad used to call him Krego, but they asked me call him Uncle Goke. He was my saving grace. He told me to just talk to him about how I felt and what I was thinking when I started punching the mirror. My mom preempted me and started saying, ‘Krego hmm… all this madness started when she entered secondary school o. See me see wahala, I just wanted to pay good money…’ Uncle Goke listened to my mom silently and with intelligent eyes and when she was done he said, ‘Okay Florence. But I’ll like to hear her talk’. I went on and just told him everything – how I fail all my examinations not because I do not write the right thing but because no one can read my handwriting, how my classmates call me Chick not because I’m sexy but because my handwriting is like a chicken’s scrawling, how my wrists are always constantly hurting and how the secondary school life is so hard for me because most of my teachers resort to dictation, how nobody, absolutely NOBODY seems to stop for a moment and compare my horrible results with how well I answer questions in class. And heck! I’m the smartest girl in my class (the smartest person was Ahmed). I told him how I prefer listening to people, how I love music so much because it does not demand me to do any writing… just to move my body.
Uncle Goke referred me to one white doctor (Dr. White, actually) who occasionally consulted at LUTH. One good look at me and my handwriting, he laughed boisterously and said, ‘Oh c’mon, it’s just Dysgraphia’ (as if to say, ‘Oh you Africans! With all your amazing insights and juju you couldn’t figure this out??)
He wrote a letter in his not-doctor handwriting to the principal of my school explaining my condition and recommending that oral exams be administered to me instead of written ones. In the letter (which I have a photocopied version framed on my wall), he also stated that teachers should refrain from chastising me for my sloppy handwriting, as there was nothing that could be done about it. He suggested that they allow me take a tape recorder to my classes and record all of them so I could prepare for my oral exams. He also stated that if I MUST write, then they must provide wide rule papers and graph papers for me.
Of course somewhere in Jss3, my parents realized that WAEC and even Junior NECO would not hear all that story so I had an oral exam and went abroad and completed all my academics there (pssst…. I am a Ph.D holder). But yes, that was my last attempt at learning something that did not come easily to me. It was the last because, after Dr. White’s letter and Uncle Goke’s faith and hope in me, I realized that the only thing between my dreams and me is a leap of faith.
I am still learning to write and here’s something you would find carefully written with my own hand, framed in my bedroom:
‘A Leap of Faith: The bridge bet ween the gap of where you r and where you want to be. It is a leap be cause you have to take action. And it is faith because you have to be lieve’