Ever been to a circus and seen those jugglers, riding a bicycle, doing cartwheels and still managing to effectively throw and catch oranges or apples, or whatever? Most of the time, that feels like me. I can definitely relate in my own little way.
Life so far has taught me that with drive, determination and a positive attitude, anything is possible. I believe that if you are prepared to work hard, make sacrifices and accept support, you can achieve the unachievable. I’d encourage anyone with a dream to pursue it, if that’s what will make you happy.
In 2007 I gained admission into the University of Leeds to study for a Master’s degree. It was then I packed up and left my home country, Nigeria, where I was born and raised. My first visit was in February of that same year, where I got my admission, and by September I was on the plane. Here I am almost nine years later, and my life has changed drastically in ways I never knew it could. I am a wife and mother of 2 lovely kids. I am a public servant and also run my own business, helping to support young people from Africa in their integration into foreign studies and life in general. I imagine now the juggling analogy is starting to make more sense.
It’s 4.50am and I am awake, ready to take on my day. Waking up any later is an absolute disaster. The kids have to get ready for nursery and the childminder. Of course, I also have to get myself ready and prepare lunch for us all. While I make back and forth trips to the fridge, my brain analyses and processes 50 different things at once. There are days everything overwhelms me and I am at my wit’s end. These tend to be the days when I find myself in another city for work.
Occasionally I find myself splintered in identity. Who am I? What am I prioritising? What should I be prioritising? Am I doing things right? On those days I miss my children. They have to be in bed by 7.00pm. When I come home late in the evening, they’re already in bed or well on their way to being tucked in for the night. Every now and then, when my mind is full and I cannot sleep, I start wondering whether I’ve made the right decisions. When will I ever make time for myself?
Learning and sharing
In moving to the UK, I had to face numerous challenges that came with being from a different cultural background. I’m a Nigerian woman married to a white British man. My husband has slowly learned to enjoy friend plantain, Nigerian fried rice and the very popular Nigerian jollof rice. I, on the other hand, have had to understand the basic British idiosyncrasies. Early on in our marriage, I had to explain to him the Nigerian habit of extended family members often visiting without prior notice… even when they come from places as far away as Nigeria!
Before marriage, I was not interested in cooking English meals. But now, I am quite adept in the kitchen, be it preparing food my kids and husband love… which I don’t eat (ham, bacon, half boiled eggs and so on). I have learned to be more open-minded, flexible and patient while learning about this new culture. There has been issues on occasion. We’re just like all other married couples. Hard times bind people together; love is forged in fires. The colour of one’s skin doesn’t define a marriage. Love, trust, patience, loyalty and respect define a marriage. It’s been a learning curve, learning about each other.
Sacrifice and support
Late last year I travelled to Nigeria on a business trip. This was my first time of leaving my kids for more than a day. Leaving my family to travel was not easy. It broke my heart. My amazing mother-in-law and father -in-law, who I call ‘Sheffield Mum’ and ‘Sheffield Dad’ stepped in to take care of the children. So far, they have been a huge support to me. Despite all the challenges I see every day, Insight Africa UK has been a labour of love and each time I make a positive break through, it gives me joy knowing that my labour yields positive fruits.
Success for me means that my kids and husband are happy, while I do what I love, enjoying my career. In my spare time, I tend to my garden. It’s a big one – half is made up of the lawn and the other half is made up of shrubs and flowers. Right now, we have two apple trees, two cherry trees, two pear trees, one peach tree and one plum tree.
Success and Superwoman
I believe as a woman I can have it all. I plan on taking my business into a different league, entering new markets, creating additional revenue streams and redefining relationships. I am constantly re-evaluating, re-prioritizing and re-connecting with the important things in my life. I try to get enough perspective so that I know I am intentionally making those choices instead of letting ‘chance’ happen to me. I am a homemaker, a business woman, a public servant, a wife and a mother. And I love it.
My name is Ral Parkin and I am tempted to believe I am a superwoman.
About the author: Ral Parkin is the Executive Director of Insight Africa UK LTD, helping support and encourage young people from Africa in further education.