This post was inspired by a moment of reflection on existence, transcendence, and impermanence but for the most part, it is steeped in reality.
I am not very accustomed to gifts. I grew up knowing that provision was almost all I could get from my parents. Special meals on special occasions like Mothers’ day and Independence day, those could have been called gifts if I was thinking in that direction. Payment for arbitrary school trips and excursions like that one time I went to Tinapa resort, Calabar, Nigeria in secondary school – that was a gift from my mum, but I didn’t see it as such, then. Growing into an adult, I used to sigh at any overemphasis on gifts – distinct from the charitable act of giving, I make reference to the friendly, affectionate type – especially when hinged on ceremony. To an extent, I feigned indifference to gifts, but in sincerity, I largely dismissed gifts as an unnecessary objectification of love, care or concern. In retrospect, I get where this came from. It came from my early secondary school days when I used to host my own birthday celebration, invite neighbors and friends, give them gifts and never get anything in return. I used to host my birthday celebrations out of my life savings (think “uncle do Christmas for me nah”) because I absolutely loved birthdays then, so I wasn’t exactly out to get anything in return. I just loved celebrating my birthday. But, I guess the lack of reciprocity bottled up into something that almost made me anti-gift as I grew older.
I also remember the unvarying gifts I used to get and give, in my secondary school days. Earrings. Everyone I knew (about 5 or so female friends) gave and received shiny studs as birthday gifts and yeah, it was cute, and damn boring but still very much appreciated. If I remember clearly (I do), my best birthday gifts, as a kid, were given to me by two of mum’s friends who I call aunts, and who interact with me like I am directly a friend of theirs. They gave me two novels (those dramatic micro series by Ghanaian authors) and a plastic flute respectively on my 10th birthday. I remember smiling to myself and feeling overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness backing the gifts. They set a high standard that one else reached throughout secondary school until I got to college, and gifts became a way of life, in a deeper way.
I am no longer a big fan of birthdays. I try not to celebrate or entertain exuberance on my birthdays. I reflect, take walks, have deep conversations and basically spend more time in “inward” activities. As for gifts, I am not exactly into them now. But I regard them highly, and I respect them because of the nature of, and circumstances around the gifts I have gotten in college. Do I still give gifts? Yes. Most times, they are bland and unplanned, for example sometime in 2016, I gave my roommate long threader earrings with a broken thread. I bet she threw it in the trash. I would have. At other times, I give well-planned and symbolic gifts, sometimes, getting a team of friends to contribute to them. I am a certified birthday surprise planner for my closest friends, even though I never celebrate mine. I collect mementos of the things that matter to my friends and curate single wholesome pieces such as a group-painting or a framed photo collage that I gift them.
Do I get gifts now? Yes. Yes.
Yes. Refer to the picture above.
In college, I turned sweet-eighteen (my sweet sixteen was terrible) and a surprise celebration (the very last time I have celebrated my birthday) was planned in my honour by my residential advisors during our residential fireside chat by a public beach in Grand Baie, Mauritius. For that birthday, I was gifted the lovely pink purse you’ll see in the picture above, by three of my friends/residence mates. That purse was an item that came loudly announcing its purpose, and by so doing, got me wondering how I never conceived that I was living an incomplete life without a purse. It has traveled with me and grown older with me. The filtered picture might not show it, but its edges are very torn and it begs for a replacement but I have said, “not yet, I still love you and I just want you.” The cute little felt angry-bird bag in the picture was a gift from my first roommate in college who doubles as my soul sister. That gift couldn’t have come from anyone else. It could only take someone who lived with seventeen-year-old me to gift that. The Verveine hand towel taking up space in the picture was a gift from my host mum in Mauritius. At first, I used it to wipe my face exclusively, but later, it became my petite body towel for the days my big towel is microbe-laden (who says dirty?).
I am grateful for the gifts that hold the memories of friendship and interaction from my life in college. Particularly, as the countdown to my graduation heightens (June 12, 2019), I catch myself staring at the spaces and things around me and remembering the first time I beheld or took ownership of them. These gifts whose contexts I have shared above have been very meaningful to me in their own right. They contain certain details that I will live to remember. Allow me to unpack some of these details.
The inscription on this mug is a popular French quote which translates to “make your life a dream and your dream a reality.” I got the mug from my host mum the day I left Mauritius for Rwanda to commence a marketing internship in September 2018. I was going for an internship in a field I was intrigued by, and in a country I was excited to visit mainly because my good friend lived there. It seems like the mug prophesied the journey ahead because those four months in Rwanda turned out to be some of the best, most unreal months of my entire life.
This Bible was given to me by a great friend of mine before he left college for bigger purposes. We had had a long chat about life, faith, school, and Nigerian music, and I had mentioned not having a physical bible at some point in our nearly three-hour-long conversation in his residence’s balcony overlooking moonlit sugarcane fields. I saw the bookmark when I opened the Bible for the first time, and I was moved by it. I keep thinking about the last two words, the call to action: “Read it!” and it gets me thinking that if only we knew that the Bible is the source of life, we wouldn’t even need to be told or reminded to read it. The love I have for this bookmark is almost equivalent to the love I have for the loud highlights which make my Bible study a lot more revealing. Ever glued to my bedside, the sight of this Bible gives me peace every single day.
I have had two Batswana roommates in college. The first was actually my first roommate, the one who gifted me the angry bird bag. The second gave me this beaded bracelet. The bracelet was left with a sweet goodbye note from her a few days ago as she left for her internship. I couldn’t give her one last hug because I was out-and-about trying to scale an audition and put a stop to the wannabe actress tag I’ve shamelessly borne. But I texted. What I didn’t add to my appreciation text was that I am in love with the sky blue and black hues of the Botswana national identity, its soft, mellow simplicity. With or without this bracelet, I cannot possibly forget the kindest roommate ever, and I will definitely be visiting Botswana soon, with a beaded source of pride on my wrist.
This is the gift set which will stay with me till eternity. It breathes life into me, and even though the friend who gave it to me is resting in peace, she remains alive through the words on paper, the symbol of strength in the bracelet, and the memories both inspire. My friend gave me the bracelet on a special, nerve-wracking day, three years ago. I had my first musical performance in college, and the bracelet regalized my Ankara ensemble as I belted out Beyonce’s “I was here.” This year, I placed the bracelet by my window seal. It stands high reminding me of my own strength and the exceptional strength of the friend who gifted it to me.
And the note…the note is the single relic of love that calms me like a peace dispenser. It soothes my heavy heart, dries my tears occasionally, triggers my tear ducts more often than not, and gives me the courage to live for something – to live for a love that spans life on earth. I carry both with me everywhere I go. On my weakest days, as I pray to God and ask for signs that He is with me, I remember that I have an angel and that my angel says that I am beautiful, pretty, gorgeous and outstanding.
My gifts from college…
There have been more gifts which I have been blessed with on this college way. Some of them came as travel souvenirs (socks from Japan, golden morn from Nigeria), some came as requested “hellos from the other side” (kinky braids and shades that I wanted from Rwanda), and some came as part of barter contracts but due to their uniqueness and serendipitous suitability serve more as gifts than exchanges (guitar traded for a ukulele, skirt traded for hoodie). There have also been the consistent freebies, mostly free food and free transport which aren’t easily accounted for because they are as replenishing, as full-and-recurring as the kinky hairs on my head.
One thing I have learned from my exchange of gifts in college, especially from the receiving end, is that as much as memories stick and matter the most, the impact of objects as gifts should not be sidelined or intellectually questioned in the way our woke culture academizes everything that has characteristically festooned humanity. Physical gifts spark memories and emotions which remind us of the lives we have had, the people we have seen, and the things we have touched. That is why printed photographs will (or should) never be old-school. That is why I am able to write this piece, because I sat back on my dorm bed and noticed that nearly all my daily essentials are gifts, down to my pink Eiffel Tower toothbrush which makes me want to improve my French so bad. I want to get better at giving gifts, not because I feel obliged to reciprocate, but because I want to give my loved ones the things they probably had no idea they needed until I gifted them. I want to give back love, not a forced, needy-showy type of love, but the love that stays after the handtowel fades and discolours, after the purse is completely torn and all pink is gone, after the mug breaks and the words become shards. I want to give back the kind of love my friend gave me before she passed away – the love that says, “I am always with you, even if we don’t see, even if we don’t talk anymore, even if…”
You tell me, what kind of gifts have you gotten? What kind of gifts do you give? What kind of gifts do you want to give? What kind of gifts would you like to receive? Do you get to choose? Should you get to choose?