The Emotional Cancer

I had been watching a lot of movies on bullying lately, and it has made me realize how bad an experience it is for anyone to be bullied. Bullying is defined as oppressing someone perceived as vulnerable. In most cases bullies hurt other people because some other aspects of their lives are not going well. When they fail to fix the problems, they transfer their energy to emotionally pulling down others. The moment the victim of bullying succumbs to the negativity, the bullies feel victorious and focus their energy on the activity which seemingly makes them relevant. The victims become underdogs. I thought bullying only happens at school, but it is sad to note that at work, church, on internet and in families it happens too.

There are many factors which contribute to a school child becoming a bully. At home, the child may be being abused. On the other hand, the parents could be going through a tough divorce or constantly fighting. If the child does not get the necessary help, resentment sets in. Student underdogs become easy prey for the child’s misplaced resentment. Sadly, the most manipulative children are seen as ‘cool’ and many students want everything to do with them. Therefore, some students become bullies because they want to be part of popular groups in school. For some, they bully others without knowing that they are doing so. Unfortunately, students who are bullied are usually the ones who do not conform to defined ‘swag’ standards, those with special needs, etc.

Bullying does not only worry children, but adults too. One day, I had been watching Steve Harvey’s show on a young lady who came to seek help on how to deal with an elderly workmate who is mean to her because the young lady got promoted instead of the elderly lady. Many people encounter such problems at work, some even get overworked by bosses and emotionally abused. Jealousy by workmates leads to sinister ganging on the ‘lucky’ employee. When people in managerial positions partake in bullying, it could be that the target employee refused to do something illegal for them. It is difficult to deal with bullying at work because it may be subtle or some people are ignorant that adults get bullied too. A considerable number of people is considering quitting their dream jobs because they cannot stand the bullying at work.

At church too, some people are considering quitting or changing denominations because of bullying. The sole reason for people to go to church is to fellowship together in Christ. However, there are some people who lose focus of the main goal and try as much as they can to distract others. Pastors, pastors’ wives, elders and even Sunday school children can be guilty of bullying others. Consequently, the bullied people are hurt and some end up thinking that every person who goes to church has bad intentions.

Moreover, the internet seems to have given a platform to people who have always wanted to bully others but had no guts to face them and those who wanted to continue bullying others even after physical encounters. The cyber bullies demean people through negative comments and video or picture edits to mock the targeted person. Many people are affected by such kind of bullying since they live for social media approval. Some suicide cases are due to excessive bullying on social media.

Being bullied is a living hell, but it is more painful when your own people take part in killing your spirit. Bullying does happen in families too. Sibling rivalry seems to be normal, but if care is not taken they can lead to brokenness. A child can be bullied by his/her siblings because of their facial features. It may seem fun pointing out that one child is less beautiful than his/her siblings. But when the siblings are not mature enough to realize that it is not an everyday joking matter, they can bully their fellow. The same applies to children intellectual capabilities and body types. At some point when I was growing up, my young brother gradually gained a lot of weight. Instead of encouraging him and working out with him, I inappropriately told him to do something about his body many times. Unknowingly, I was adding onto the bullying which was happening to him at school because of the weight gain regardless of how actively engaged he was in sports. It is now that I am aware of bullying that I am reflecting and realizing that my brother found it hurtful to be body shamed and I am very sorry.

If people are able to do to others what they want them to do to them, bullying would never exist. There are many measures which can be taken to abolish bullying. To curb bullying in schools, parents should avoid arguing in front of children and they should try as much as they can to love and support their children. If they do so, children will learn that love is the solution to most problems. Teachers should pay attention to how students interact with each other to notice bullying when it is happening. Ultimately, the education curriculum should include team building camps for students with psychologists and counselors to help students with ways they can deal with problems in life and understanding how their actions affect other people. Empathy is a solution which cuts across age groups and organizational boundaries. It is everyone`s responsibility to ensure that bullying is stopped because it is an emotional cancer.

I would appreciate learning from readers working solutions for school, work, church and cyber bullying. Feel free to comment in the comment section.

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We Finally Talked!

Carsten, Yannik, myself and Rahel during a Swedish lecture

Being a new student in a lecture hall full of students who have known each other for years can be uncomfortable. It is just difficult to know how to react in class or how to approach any of the classmates. But difficult assignments are an ice breaker.

I studied myself very well, and realized that I am an extrovert. I am that kind of a student who cannot let the lecturer continue teaching if I have not understood the previous concept. I raise my hand and ask for the concept to be clarified more. When it comes to sitting positions in class, the first two rows are my preference. One of the reasons why I like sitting in front is for the lecturer to quickly notice my confusion by just reading my facial expressions, which they always do.

When failing to cope with writing notes in class, I usually ask a desk mate what I missed or I just pull their notebook for a fifty second glance and return it. Fortunately, people I usually sit next to in class pull my notebook too, so I don’t feel guilty when I pull theirs. If different people sit next to me in every lecture, that is how I get to talk to almost everyone in my classes. The class sizes at Ashesi University are small, so it is possible to actually talk to everyone.

Myself before a Mechanics lecture at Ashesi University on high school day

I had to become an introvert in lectures during my first weeks at Mälardalen University, since the most dominant Swedish people’s social trait is being reserved. In the lectures, I never said a word. Thankfully, an Asian classmate whose personality is just like mine always asked the lecturer to clarify unclear information. The questions she asked were exactly the same questions I would have asked. Whenever I was lagging behind in writing notes, I left space to fill the information up during study. I was not sure how the person sitting next to me would have reacted if I had pulled his/her notebook for a glance to update my notes.

 On my first day, in my Operations Research class I saw a girl who resembles Naa, a girl who was in my Foundations of Design and Entrepreneurship group during my first year of college at Ashesi University. The extroverted me was telling me to pull my chair on wheels towards her to excitedly tell her that she looks like my former classmate, while the self-proclaimed introvert me decided to ignore it, which I finally did. I waited for her to speak a word in class so that I would also check if she speaks like Naa, but she never did.

A time came when we had learnt enough to be doing labs. The lecturer explicitly told us that the labs were difficult, and certainly they were. We stayed after the lecture hours to continue solving the problems and at some point the lecturer would leave to attend other urgent matters. It is then that we needed help the most. My friends always tell me that when I am doing school work, my facial expression seems like that of a person who understands what she is doing. Because of that, one classmate I had never talked to before approached me to ask how I had tackled a certain question. Surprised, I smiled and showed him my answer, which was nonetheless wrong. I approached other mates for help and they approached me too. That saw us discussing potential ways of solving the problem, but we still could not arrive at a satisfactory answer.

What mattered to me is that we at least had a conversation, the lecturer would help us with the problem anyway. During that moment, I saw a few people who probably were extroverts, but would not be themselves around new people too. The second lab came, and the teamwork continued. We could not arrive at an answer again, but ultimately we talked. It is that moment that I realized that human beings need each other no matter how much they try to live independently.

After interactions with other mates, I automatically switched from introvert to extrovert mode. I participated more in class and I felt free to pull dear desk mate’s notebook for notes update. Myself and some classmates started greeting whenever we met in the corridor, and with a few, I exchanged numbers. I can conclude that solving the same difficult assignments is another way of making new friends. However, the theory did not work on the girl who looks like Naa, we never talked.

03/03

The previous Saturday, my friend’s housemate had a birthday. When I met him in the evening, I asked how his day was. He replied, “It was just like any other day, there is nothing special about my birthday.”

My view about my birthday is contrary to dear friend’s. I always squeal with excitement when my birthday is drawing close. On this day, it is when the Lord looked at me, saw that I was good and brought me on earth for a good cause. I believe so because the Bible clearly asserts that in Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good….” The thought of this scripture helps me to regain my strength and confidence.

Myself on my 20th birthday

The new strength brings me joy. Joy which makes me look back to see how the grace of the Lord has brought me this far. A day before my birthday I go over all my photos on google drive, which makes me reminisce about my past and realize my physical transformation over years. I use some of the photos when wishing myself blissful years ahead.

At midnight, I usually start planning how to make my day extra. By extra I mean doing something which I do not do on any other normal day. It only has to be positive fun and economic. I do that because I believe that happiness is a state of mind. I ensure that I am happy first about my day before anyone else makes me realize the significance of the day in my life. Nonetheless, I am grateful that there are people who get excited about my day before I even get into the birthday mood. I appreciate the fact that my counterparts sacrifice their time to be with me or wish me the best on my day. The love in the birthday messages makes me overwhelmed with delight.

After receiving such love from God, friends and family, I find more reason to soar higher and live a meaningful life. On 03/03, I just feel that Isaiah 60:1 was written for me. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”

My Swedish Chronicle

Choosing to study in Sweden for a semester is one of the bold steps I have ever taken in my life. Being a pioneer meant that I had to be very proactive in sorting out the immigration documents since there was no student to refer to about how they went about the process in the past. Gratefully, I had people who were very supportive all the way. Kajsa, Bengt, Susanne and the Office of Diversity and International Programs (ODIP) helped me with settling in information, Dr. Amanquah with course matching and my host father, David Asumadu-Boateng, with reassurance that greatness is achieved when one is not in their comfort zone. When I had to get a visa to go to Nigeria to get a visa to Sweden, Araba Botchway was my rock together with her network which I continue to appreciate even up to date. Not forgetting the prayers of my Kingdom Christian Fellowship (KCF) beloveds and my friends and family.

Priscilla, Bengt and myself at Arlanda Airport in Stockholm

Despite all the hurdles, I managed to travel to Sweden on the planned date. On the 19th of January 2019, I landed on Swedish grounds. Bengt, a lecturer at Mälardalen University and Priscilla, a Zimbabwean who lives in Sweden, patiently awaited my arrival at Arlanda Airport in Stockholm, each with a shopping bag of warm clothing. One may be wondering why they brought me clothes yet I had mine. Sweden is extremely cold. The clothes I had brought from Ghana, which happens to be the extreme opposite of Sweden, were not warm enough. Even if I had brought my Zimbabwean winter clothes, I still had to add a coat on top of a usual winter jacket, a hat and a scarf to survive the excruciating cold. Many staff and faculty who had been to Sweden before cautioned me about the cold weather, but I thought having experienced winter for the past twenty one years of my life in Zimbabwe, the Swedish cold would not be any different.

As I walked to the car, cold crept into my bone marrow despite the fact that I had worn warm clothes. I suppose it was a ‘welcome to Sweden’ feeling, the weather proving a point. After five minutes in the car, everything became alright. I began seeing the other aspect of the weather I had ignored because of the cold. Snow!

A students’ apartment

 Snow is beautiful. It takes over the earth and whatever is on it. Covering ugliness and humbling the proudest of creation, bringing out evenness. To those who understand color symbolism, snow white connotes cleanliness, innocence, goodness, purity and virginity. That is what I see every morning when I wake up and look outside through the window of my apartment.

The Swedish people believe that there is no bad weather, there is only bad clothes for the weather. Therefore, they go out to ski and do many activities as any other warm day. I have seen children biking or sliding in the snow, something my mother would never allow. My mother`s belief about weather, if not most Southern African mothers` beliefs, are opposed to Swedes’. I remember growing up, my mother would lock me and my siblings up in the house after school during winter with the fear that we would catch cold outside. We had good clothes for the weather, but any sneaking out would result in spanking, if not a beating. Mothers on the same apartment we lived in actually cooperated in making sure all children were locked up. Whenever a child tried to sneak out, the lady next door was quick to alert the mother of the child who happened to be doing outdoor activities. It was as if the mothers were full time security officers in the way they coordinated. Even the mother who was doing outside chores would see and ‘snitch’ on those children who managed to pass through the door security probably because the mother next door left the window or verandah to get something in the house.

Barrett and I during the city tour

I suppose the fact that I grew up not experiencing the beauty of cold weather made me non-hesitantly walk for four hours to a frozen lake and around town a day after I arrived in Sweden. Myself being curious, adventurous and obviously not under the supervision of my mother, agreed to tour the city with Barrett, an American friend who studies in Sweden. It was sunny, but the sun was just there for decoration. The cold was still there, but this time I was well clad to keep it from creeping in my body. Unfortunately, I could not wear a mask to cover my cheeks, which became the cold target.

The lake was frozen, something I have never seen in my entire life. Snow came with cold to humble the mighty and untouchable lake. Boats got stuck at the shore and hundreds of people were skiing and treading on the lake. That was the most exciting activity I have ever partaken in. Not because I have never walked, but because on that day I walked on a lake, which tends to cooperate with gravity during the other seasons just as our mothers cooperated in keeping us indoors during winter when I was young. The frozen lake was beautiful and welcoming. Every face out at the lake was gleaming because only the daring came to witness the beauty and fairness of nature.

Myself at the frozen lake

Barrett showed me around town after the frozen lake explore. First near the lake is an old castle which she referred to as ‘the ugly castle’, but honestly to me it was just okay. In town there were some decorations which seemed like Christmas lights. In my heart I asked why they still had not removed them since the festive season was over. In no time Barrett answered my silent question, as if she read my mind. She told me that during winter it really gets dark so the decoration lights help with extra illumination. Honestly, the Swedish climate stuns me. The sun rises at 8 am and sets at 4:30 pm. This makes me feel like I sleep late and wake up early, but I am adjusting with time. I even hear that there is a period when the sun does not set at all, which is quite interesting. My prayer is that the season comes when I am still in Sweden.

City decorations

As Barrett was telling me about the Swedish climate while walking around town, I noticed something about Swedish public transport. It is organized, reliable and efficient. The bus or train arrives at the station at a scheduled time so there is no need for anyone to be announcing/shouting that the bus is going somewhere. This is the complete opposite of what happens in Zimbabwe and in Ghana. In Zimbabwe, public transport is usually small vans which we call combis. Each combi has a conductor always shouting the name of the final destination until the van is full. The funny trait about these conductors is that they always shout “two vasara” meaning two people left in Shona language, even though the combi has no passenger. Factually, they are right because the driver and the conductor are two people and when two passengers are left to fill the combi, the statement still holds. But the passengers prefer it when it is two people left to fill up the vacant seats because they don’t want to be delayed while the driver waits to get people to fill up the car. One thing which annoys the passengers but mainly the conductor is people who ‘dress to kill’ but not going anywhere. Drivers tend to stop and wait for such people to board only to realize that they are approaching the road to cross over to the other side of the road. In Ghana, the small vans are called trotros and their conductors are called mates. The mates behave in the same manner as the Zimbabwean conductors, but not as patient for ‘dressed to kill’ pedestrians.

Fortunately, Västerås is a small city so there is no need to take a shuttle to and from town, something that I do in Zimbabwe and in Ghana. Therefore, Barrett and I walked to our respective houses after the city tour. We definitely needed to be somewhere warm after such a long time exposed to the cold.

For me, my house is not just an escape abode for warmth, but somewhere congenial. Every day I walk in to the affable characters of Benjamin, Vlasiov, Mia and Harris, to the beaming smile of Asier and to the flash of Adarsh. Yannik has a personality of a peacemaker. Carsten, a gentleman of a forbearing persona. He helped me with the pronunciation of the Swedish name of our resident street whenever anyone asked where my apartment was located during my first week in Sweden. I would ask, “Carsten where do we stay?” and he would politely respond, “Hülphersgatan Theresa!”

Harris, Benjamin, Carsten, Mia, Vlasiov and myself

In every apartment of college students, there is mostly a (n+1)th housemate as mathematicians would say, n being the number of original housemates. Our house has (n+2) housemates rather, if not very welcome visitors. One of them is Gemma, a cute and lovable girl from Cuba. Her smile is contagious and her sweet voice wakes me from sleep to go and greet her with a big hug. I will be surprised to know that anyone is displeased by her presence. Elton is our second main visitor. He is always ready for games and fun. I am still yet to know more about him.

There is rich diversity in my house and so as Mälardalen University`s international community. I have met people from countries I never knew existed and countries I have never been to. Each with something new I can learn about life and human interaction. My Swedish for Foreign Students professor can attest to the fact that there is a lot to learn from the diverse group as he spent the whole roll call class learning to pronounce every student’s name correctly and their origins. There is a surfeit of diversity in the world`s population, and this is what makes life so beautiful.

Exchange students during the introduction session

Life has been beautiful to me since I arrived. I am making new friends and now can move around the city on my own. However, my main challenge is making jokes in English. My brain is wired to make some in my mother language. The moment I just say it in English, it ceases to be a joke, but some flat sentences. If I made some, I honestly did not intend to. Making jokes in English just blows my brain fuse.

As I now go into my third week of school, I am fastening my seat belt to start embarking on the learning journey in a different setting. Building on what my able lecturers imparted me at Ashesi University.

Our God Reigns

Many intercontinental travelers know that it is impossible to be tolerated at embassies when one does not have an appointment. In my case, it was different.
Two weeks before I had to travel to Sweden for an exchange program, I realized that getting a positive decision for my student residence permit application was not enough. I had to go to Nigeria to get my fingerprints and photo taken for my residence permit card so that I would be able to travel. This process was going to take at least three weeks, which was not good news at all to me. Kajsa, a Swedish lecturer at Ashesi University inquired for me if there was an alternative way and she learnt that I could apply for a D-visa, which would come out as quickly as possible. It was on a Tuesday then, only left with nine days to travel.

Worried about how I was going to get to Nigeria, I walked out of Kajsa`s office. I sent an email to Araba, the Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at Ashesi, international students coordinators at my school and at Mälardalen University, my exchange school, informing them about the new course of the process. Soon after sending the email, I saw Araba standing at the entrance of the reception talking to a student. As soon as she saw me she greeted me and asked me when I was leaving for Sweden. Since she is a MasterCard Scholars’ mother, I had notified her about my new opportunity as soon as I got my acceptance letter.

We got into her office and I told her my worry. Her response was, “Finances are not an issue. My worry is how long it will take for your Nigerian visa to come out. Since you are not West African you require a visa to go to Nigeria.” Thankfully, the MasterCard team had started an opportunity fund the very same semester to financially back scholars who get great opportunities but still have to cover some costs on their own. Araba`s calmness and willingness to help just melted my heart. I could not believe that she postponed one of her meetings so that she could contact people within her network to get the paperwork ready overnight for my Nigerian visa application.

I submitted my application on Thursday and I was told to come and collect my passport and visa after a week. I did not have a week to wait. My time was running out. I needed to be in Nigeria by Sunday. When all these challenges were coming my way, I remembered what God had said to me through Auntie Debbie during one Friday all night prayer session. He said that I will go to Sweden. That statement reassured me that all would be well. Knowing that God is not a man that he should lie (Numbers 23:19), I knew he would find ways to fulfil his promise. And surely, he made a way. On Friday, a day after submitting my Nigerian visa application, I got a call to come and collect my visa.

After jubilating that I had gotten the Nigerian visa, I realized that my appointment with the Swedish embassy had not been confirmed yet. Despite that, Araba got my air ticket activated so that I would travel to Nigeria on Sunday. Any non-believer would question our sanity for paying a two way ticket to go for a visa interview which I had no appointment for. All this was done in faith. For the Lord alone tells us to commit our ways unto him and trust in him for he shall bring everything to pass (Psalm 37:5).

David accompanying me to Kotoka International Airport

Early Sunday morning, my host father, David accompanied me to the airport. Before we left the house, he led a prayer to commit the journey in God’s hands. Araba had sent me a message telling me that she was with me in prayers and Gumiso had been praying with me since I started applying. The Lord in Joshua 1:9 says “Do not be frightened nor dismayed, for I the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” The Lord had me covered, he even brought people in my life to stand with me in prayer. I did not tell my relatives, neither did I tell my family about all the challenges I was facing. Because as I was drawing close to the finishing line, the hurdles were becoming a lot. The situation was going to be difficult to understand for someone who was afar. I wanted to spare them the disappointments and break only good news to them.

I got to Nigeria at noon. Shade, a lady in Araba’s network had a driver waiting to pick me to the apartment she had organized for me. She warmly welcomed me and took care of my basic needs during my three day stay. Surely, only God can define this act of love for a stranger. She was not obliged to do anything for me, but she got out of her way to help me.

Myself in Nigeria, on my way to the embassy

The following day, I woke up early in the morning so that I could get to the Swedish embassy just before it opened. The place had tight security and surrounded by a very tall durawall. At the gate was a security office where the security officers verified whether one had an appointment or not. That simply meant that whoever was going to be served was the one with an appointment. The security men asked me if I had an appointment and my response was that it was indefinite. They told me to wait outside. After a while, they called me to come into the premises. The interviewer took my documents and went out of the office to inquire something about my visa request. When he came back he told me that I did not qualify for the D-visa application. I speechlessly stared at him and after a moment of silence he said, “But, you must have prayed really hard before you came here, I will give you the visa.”

Certainly, I had prayed the previous night. I pray the other nights, but that night I prayed more. A month before, I had discovered a YouTube channel by Sid Roth where people who have supernatural gifts tell people about the greatness of God. That very night I had watched a show about a man who has a gift to see angels and how they work to fulfil God`s purpose. Having seen how powerful God is on Sid Roth’s show, I prayed and asked God to send angels to book my appointment and make his way to get me the visa on the same day. God created everything on earth, so he has power to control anything which transpires. With that in mind, I trusted him to take care of my situation on the day.

As if that was not enough, after the interviewer realized that I had to change my money to Nairas before going to the bank to pay the visa fee, he offered to take me to the forex changers during lunch. Being a foreigner, worse off a southern African in possession of United States dollars was going to make me an easy robbery target. Unfortunately, there were no forex bureaus around. Life seemed very fast there at the money changers’, and surely I was not going to be safe. Straight from the foreign currency changers, I went to the bank to deposit the money and brought the receipt to the embassy. The interviewer worried if I had eaten since I spent the whole day waiting, he gave me directions to a place where I would get decent food. Honestly, I had no time to focus on my hunger. Apart from that, he had been very kind to me, way more than what I had heard about embassy workers. All I wanted was just to get the visa. One and half hours later, I was called to come for my passport. My visa was ready and I managed to travel on Friday, the planned day.

I am astounded by the mighty power of God. Throughout the immigration processes, I had people help me expecting nothing in return. People I did not even know and some I have not met up to date. At the bench outside the gate, I had heard people tell their previous experiences at embassies. Most of them bad experiences, but my story is a good one. God answered my prayer and even provided me with first class treatment to show me that he is capable of doing even bigger things in my life. No system is complicated for him, all I have to do is just to trust and obey him, for he is perfect in all of his ways.