by Ruona Agbroko Meyer
It is 2008. I am in the Microbiology department of the University of Lagos, Nigeria shaking a blackened test tube over a Bunsen burner. A classmate waves. I shift the wooden tongs to my less-used right hand, and hug her. We make small talk.
It turns out Damilare is here to write an entry exam into a postgraduate degree programme after a year of national service. She sounds sympathetic towards me, telling me ‘God will do it.’ You see, I am still doing the undergraduate degree we both started in 2000.
I spent years in MAULAG-Unilag because I was in a course I never liked.
My father was a journalist but insisted I would not be one. Aged 13, I told him I wanted to choose art-based subjects for my senior years in high school. He refused, telling me journalists were poor. We were indeed poor in material terms. After Father paid tuition for good schools, we often had no money left for frivolities. I won’t say ‘I had no shoes’ (all pun intended) but they mainly came second-hand from Aswani market or were a hand-me-down.
Worse, my father was arrested under the Abacha regime so safety was an issue.
And so I tried to be a doctor, did biology, chemistry…and ended up in the Department of Microbiology. But journalism was what I wanted. There were students like me who didn’t want to be there. They turned to drugs, drink, paying or sleeping with lecturers. Since I did not have the liver, kidneys or other body parts to sacrifice, I decided that was not the way for me.
I made a conscious decision to pursue my dream. And so, I started writing my thoughts on the country in a notebook.
They ended up as the column “The Way the Cookie Crumbles” in THISDAY after my father stumbled on the notebook and his colleague Simon Kolawole assured him they were worth publishing. My father insisted I maintain my studies; I lied that I was. I would go off to conduct interviews, write stories and was freelancing, often for free or crap pay. My studies began to suffer. Lecturers saw my feisty spirit as promiscuity. One offered me sex to pass his courses. I told him I would gladly fail honourably. Another told me to my face I was unserious and would never amount to anything. I agreed he was right about the first part; I was not as serious with Microbiology, but I cried all the way home about the rest of his statement.
After a counsellor never showed up at the Student Affairs office, I decided to drop-out. I just didn’t show up at university, but continued to write. By then my career had kicked off.
My mother discovered I was a drop-out when her husband died. Mostly due to emotional blackmail from the woman, I agreed to be bundled into Unilag, made to re-register and finish the course. Because my goal to be a journalist was underway I got on with it, but paid for the tardiness by graduating with a third-class degree.
As soon as I finished, I started working for NEXT newspapers, and shortly after got a Reuters scholarship solely based on my work. Studying for a journalism degree in South
Africa was pure joy. I graduated with a distinction, which had a serendipitous effect; my mother now tells her friends strongly not to pressurize their children into careers.
After a short stint working at Reuters’ Africa headquarters, I moved to London and now…I am an intern with the Financial Times.
Yes… I—the failed Microbiology student—have had the privilege to seat in the same room as Lionel Barber as he chaired an editorial meeting and then practiced subbing on a production desk in the FT newsroom.
Why this long-winded story? Because there were many more confused kids like me back then. They chose self-destruction, blamed Nigeria and family witchcraft. I didn’t.
It’s your call, people. Anything’s possible.
About the author:
Ruona Agbroko Meyer is a journalist, freelance writer and trainer. Her work has been published in THISDAY, NEXT newspapers and news agency Reuters.
She is currently an intern with the Financial Times. And working on removing the 3rd, 4th and 5th words of the previous sentence.