On a Wednesday afternoon in December of 2018, Ayo gladly agreed to meet up with me at a coffee shop in Lekki right before day 1 of the #EatDrinkLagos Festival. Tucked away from the madness of the city for a couple of hours, we had a conversation about misogyny in Nigerian churches, his past relationship mistakes, career risks he has taken, his love for praise & worship, mental health, the lessons his solo travels have taught him and the figuring out of his faith journey. Read about how Ayo, a Medical Doctor, MBA holder and self-proclaimed ‘Future Amateur Chef’ (he’s being humble. I have to routinely mute then unmute him on Instagram stories because everything he posts makes me hungry) navigates life in Episode 01 of #TheSitdownSeries.
Karina: For the record, Ayo, what stage of your career are you at right now?
Ayo: So for the record I am in my last year of residency training. The way it works is that after medical school, you pick a speciality you want to go into. You go to residency training in that speciality.
Karina: What did you pick?
Ayo: I picked Emergency Medicine. Sometimes you can also go into fellowship which is more specialised training within that speciality. I’m not going to do that. Clinical medicine is fun but I’m more interested in healthcare systems and growing them in Nigeria. As a result I feel like I don’t have anymore time to spend training in something even more specific. That’s where I’m at right now.
Karina: Would you say you have been satisfied in Emergency Medicine?
Ayo: Oh mmm…
Karina: Tough question?
Ayo: That is a hard question (smiles). Let me preface it by saying that I’ve been travelling for the past three weeks and on this trip, for the first time in 8 years since i started this medical journey, I actually felt like I missed my work. While I was in Morocco, I came across a picture of an x-ray and I wanted to read it. I miss reading x-rays; I haven’t read an x-ray in so long! Two days ago I was home and someone said something which made me think of a patient scenario and I was like wow, I miss taking care of patients. So take that for what it’s worth; this is my experience right now. I began to miss doing my work.
The second thing I will say is that for all the medical specialties that are available I feel like the best decision I could have made was Emergency Medicine. Now, asking about medicine as a whole… have I been satisfied? I honestly don’t even know what the answer to that is.
Karina: It’s not a yes or no answer, is it?
Ayo: No, it’s not. Satisfaction is such an interesting term. The reason is because at some point you have to realise that work is work. There are days of it I can say I’m satisfied with what I do, there are days where I go in just knowing that work is work and there are days I go in hating it.
The big question is if I had to do it again, would I do it? That answer is yes, but my mindset would be completely different. Things that I thought were important in the beginning really are not that important. Most of that comes back to the sense of herd mentality. In medicine, there’s this herd mentality that everyone has to be doing the most at all times.
I used to get bad reviews earlier in my career which would be along the lines of ‘he doesn’t look busy… he just looks like he’s not interested.’
Everyone else would be running around as if they have six heads and it’s almost this sense of you have to got to be always suffering if not, you’re not working hard enough. If I were to do it all again, I wouldn’t be stressed by little things like that-I would probably have kept some of my hair (laughs). I would have have taken time off after undergrad before I went to grad school.
Karina: Why is that? For rest?
Ayo: Not for rest; for life experience. That’s one of the reasons I went to business school; because I wanted a break from medicine. While I was in business school I got to work on a couple of cool projects and I got to travel. The experience I would have had as an undergraduate working at a regular job with some money in my pocket and trying to be an adult would have been very helpful down the road. Lessons that I’m learning now about managing people, how to carry yourself, learning about what’s actually really important to me in life/relationships/friendships. These were things that I told myself I didn’t have to worry about because I told people and myself ‘oh I’m a medical student-everyone can forgive me for being late to dinners and not being there for birthdays’. The things I could use ‘being a medical student’ as a blanket over, I now have to really think about. Who do I care about? Who are my friends? I would have taken a year or two off for that experience if I could do it again. I would do it again; I would just think about it a lot different. My priorities would be different.
Ayo on Relationships
Ayo: If I’m being honest with myself, I think the first relationship I got into was because of the pressure from my parents. I still remember exactly how it happened. I came home one December for the holidays and my dad was like ‘oh, hopefully by the time you’re finishing med school you’ll meet your wife’. This was about two years before I was done with med school.
Karina: So subconsciously it set in?
Ayo: I didn’t even think about it subconsciously; I made a move. I remember going back at the end of January and saying to myself ‘I’m going to cut off all the ladies I know’. Whether they were my friends, close friends, whatever. So I did that. Then I told myself that (I’ll date) the next lady I meet who can make a good mother. It’s funny, the only thing I think about the future and family is taking care of children.
Ayo: Exactly. So I decided that the next lady I meet who I think will make a good mother is the woman. Then I met her in March… and we started dating that summer. I don’t regret the whole process because it was helpful for me to be in a relationship; I learned a lot about myself and that was good. But if I really really dig back, the only reason I made that move then was because my parents were saying ‘it’s almost time (for you to marry)’. They should go and sit down somewhere jo (laughs).
I’ve only ever fought with my parents once and that had to do with this relationship. When (my past relationship) ended, we went out to dinner and they were putting so much pressure (on me to be in a relationship) and it was just like… you guys need to stop. So now, I’ve told them straight, that I don’t want to talk about this with you anymore. So now that they know, they bring up subtle hints instead.
Karina: We hear a lot about marriage pressures on ladies; for us women. But not so much for guys.
Ayo: Honestly, I don’t know how a young woman in our generation who is Nigerian is surviving. Because you’ve got to be married, you’ve got to be independent but also dependent. You have to be attractive but not be a slut; you’ve got to post nice Instagram photos but not let them be too slutty. You’ve got to get your own job but not make more than your husband. And if you want to get a Master’s (degree) you have to know that by getting that Master’s you are limiting your pool of men. I don’t know how women are managing this kind of pressure… women here are developing thick skin to comments but it’s not normal. It’s not okay. I think it messes with people a lot psychologically and they might not necessarily know that they are adjusting for it. I don’t know, I’m not a fan. I’m not really a fan.
Karina: What’s the pressure like being the first child? It seems like it’s a lot on your shoulders.
Ayo: It is a lot. I hate that my parents would try to say that (me being single) affects my siblings because I actually think about that alot. Not necessarily from a relationship standpoint but I think about it a lot from the career perspective. I’ve done relatively well, but I’ve also done it taking a very traditional approach. There was not a lot of creativity in my path so far. I went to undergrad and from there I went to med school then business school, residency. That was the path. Now, Tolu [Ayo's younger brother] is trying to figure out what he’s going to do and Semire [Ayo's second younger brother] has just finished so he’s trying to figure out what he’s doing to do and so is Iyebiye [Ayo's younger sister]. I worry that that the measures for evaluating success are not even. For me who has gone through a very traditional approach it’s easier to check boxes and say this, this and this. Okay, this is the next step. For (my siblings), not so much. I think about that a lot. As a result, I’m trying not to put pressure on them and I’m trying to manage those relationships well.
Ayo on His Name and Losing Joy
Karina: Is your full name Ayobami?
Karina: And what does it mean?
Ayo: It means ‘God has brought us joy’.
Karina: What are your other names?
Ayo: Oluwafemi. Christian. I have another name that has like ‘Deji’ in it but I don’t remember. I used to call myself Michael a lot when I was young… my parents let me do it do it so I guess *shrugs*
Karina: (laughs) I named myself Jasmine… like why did we do these things?
Ayo: (laughs) I don't know!
Karina: Which of your names do you think you’ve seen translate into your life?
Ayo: This actually really important because my mum really believes that what you call a person is what they are. I honestly, truly believe it as well. My name is Ayobami, which is the ‘joy’ part of the full name [Ayo means joy in Yoruba] and I think it really makes me a jovial person. One of the things that was actually really hard for me about two years ago was that I found that I had lost joy. It was really difficult because I know myself to be a really easy-going, laughing all the time type person. So when I felt like the life I was living wasn’t really matching that name it gave me a lot of trouble. I call myself (my name) out loud actually. I find that name to have an influence on my life.
When I was in high school I went by Femi (shortened form of Oluwafemi). Femi by itself means ‘love me’. I think those were more creative times of my life. I do know the difference between who I was then and now. I would be the guy who would write the love letters for guys (laughs). A guy wants to talk to his babe and I would be the one writing the letters for him! I was the dancing guy, the loverboy… I do honestly believe that names influence you.
A couple of years ago I started calling myself ‘Omoba Orun’ which is ‘Son of The King of Heaven’. I needed that name at that point because then, I was battling my faith. I was trying to convince myself that I was worthy of where I was and that grace had come to me. I strongly believe in the power of a name.
Karina: I didn’t know the story behind the name Omoba [which is Ayo’s Instagram handle]. That’s beautiful. I love that.
Ayo: (smiles) Yeah, names are really important. Really important.
Karina: You mentioned your faith journey. Now I know that you were brought up in a Christian home; we went to church together as teenagers. How has your faith journey developed in the past few years and where is it now?
Ayo: God is… (sigh)... see ehn (smiles). Let me start by saying first that I have to give credit to my (younger) brother Tolu. He was the first person in my family to start asking questions. He’s very inquisitive. Sometimes very annoying (laughs) but very very inquisitive. He would ask a lot of why’s and I would be like ‘just keep it to the status quo’ but he was one of the first ones to ask about The Bible and the way that we practice Christianity.
There have been ups and downs along the journey. Two years ago, my journey changed a lot. One of the reasons was because the relationship I came out of, I had prayed. I sought God’s face. I know exactly where I was when I felt like I heard a word that was like ‘go ahead’. I was kneeling down in this hotel room about to take an exam and I prayed about the relationship and I thought I heard that message. So when the relationship ended, I was really mad at God. Not why in the sense of ‘why have You hurt me’ or that the relationship was over but more like ‘do you even talk to me? Are You even real? What is this thing that I heard that I was so certain was You and was that necessarily You?’. So that has taken me through a path. The first 6 months after the relationship was over I was like ‘I’m going to be a wild person. I’m wild now!’.
I think that my relationship with God is one that is really personal. Some days I don’t even know if I can call it Christianity, which is really weird because I do believe in Jesus Christ. I pray using His Name. I believe He died for our sins and all that but I think that we as a society have a certain Christianity that is practised and is religion which doesn’t necessarily match me anymore. I still believe in hell, heaven, salvation and all that but there are certain things that I just don’t understand. I was saying the other day that one of the reasons that Nigerian churches in particular annoy me is because of all the misogyny, the ignorance and stupidity really that is in our society has found its way into the church. People now want to use the Bible to back up some of these things like ‘the man is the head of the house’ blah blah blah. It makes it difficult for me to align myself with some of those principles that these Christians have.
I think there is lots of room for me to grow in my relationship with Christ. I’m just having difficulty matching that relationship with what the church is calling Christianity. I think there are lots of people that are going through this as well. It’s difficult and it has become more and more difficult over time. Sometimes I sit and listen in church and I’m thinking ‘what are you guys even talking about?’
Karina: Like ‘what are you chatting?!’
Ayo: Exactly! ‘What are you chatting?!’ (laughs). I do love church because… praise and worship is my thing. But when the message comes… I don’t know. I don’t think church is as important for me now as it was when I was growing up. Back in the day when I didn’t go to church I would feel so bad. I do wish I had a fellowship; I don’t really have that fellowship of Christians in my life. I think I need that in my life.
Karina: Like you said that comes when you’re focused on the one-on-one relationship. It’s not just the routine of ‘go to church’.
Ayo: Yeah. And you know how The Bible is a manual… well, it should be. But there are some things in The Bible that are just like ‘fam, let’s not read this too much.’
Karina: Like ‘don’t loud it.’
Ayo: (laughs) Don’t loud it! When you’re bringing The Bible up don’t loud this scripture! I think I struggle with that a lot which is why I’ve been having difficulty managing a Christian relationship in a traditional way. The Bible is suspect sometimes if I’m being very honest. Churches are very suspect because they’re human beings. It’s an ongoing battle trying to figure out where I want to be. I still went to a praise jam yesterday, I still cried during worship. I still appreciate that relationship. I just need to figure out how it can be structured because I do appreciate that church gives you structure. Even if you’re not understanding The Word, you are in God’s presence every Sunday. Every week. You are around believers. Every now and then you hear a word that helps you, someone will give a testimony that helps. That structure is very beneficial. It’s just when you’re not connecting to all of it…
Karina: Are you a big reader? There are a couple of books or audiobooks that I’d like to recommend because last year my faith journey shifted suddenly. There were so many doubts.
Ayo: Yes! I’ll take them down.
Karina: I read this book called ‘Out of Sorts’ by Sarah E Bessey. It’s about how she was raised in a Christian home and at some point in her life she stopped going to church-for 10 years-because she just thought, this is all bullshit. It’s just not adding up. It’s the first time I had read about someone going through doubt in their faith journey. I was feeling a lot of guilt for doubting and questioning.
Another book by her is ‘Jesus Feminist’ by the same author which talks about the parts of The Bible which, like we were saying, shouldn’t be ‘louded’. It really delves deep into the culture and history behind these scriptures. And she also admits that she doesn’t understand what The Bible is saying as well.
I think it’s important for us to have these conversations because it’s not like we’re losing our faith. We’re just asking questions. There’s a need to discuss it.
Ayo: And learn through it to make sense of it.
Ayo on Travel
Ayo: Until last August, I couldn’t travel outside of the US anyhow because of work visa and all so I travelled within. I’ve been to 30 of the 50 states.This year (2018) I’ve been to 6 countries. Next year (2019) I’m going to try and do another 6.
Karina: What were the 6?
Ayo: I’ll tell you the boring ones first; Canada, Nigeria. Then the UK, Dubai, Spain and Morocco. Trying to hit more this year. So I’m doing SA and maybe Colombia. I might go to London because I had a short trip and you know how family can be; everybody be getting mad that I didn’t see them. If I don’t go to London in March then I’m going to go to Colombia.
Karina: What has your experience travelling solo and experiencing new place that way been like?
Ayo: One thing I’ve found is that the language barriers end up being pretty annoying. That would be the only negative thing. Other than that, I’ve found that when I’m travelling I meet a lot of very interesting people. When you get past the tourist stuff and you just sit down and talk with people you learn so much about different cultures. For me, that’s the best part because your world view just continues to grow more and more. That’s why I really enjoy it.
I met this lady in Morocco who has been travelling since January 2017. She’s been to over 30 countries in a year-she’s just knocking them out. When we spoke, she was about to settle in Egypt for a couple of months… she didn’t really know how long she’s going to be there. When she spoke about how she views Muslims and how she views this war that the US has with Muslim countries, it’s very interesting. She was like I’ve lived with them, I’ve worn hijabs, gone to their prayers so I can’t relate to that (the war). So yeah, I really enjoy it.
What I need to start doing is writing. I need to write about my travels. I need to write my recipes.
Karina: *side eye* you better.
Ayo: (laughs) I’m just lazy! Ole ni mi! (Yoruba for 'I’m a lazy person'). I just want to enjoy jo, I don’t want to work!
Karina: Would you call Nigeria home?
Karina: Fully? 100%?
Ayo: Fully, 100%. I was thinking about this yesterday… I have to figure out what it is that draws me here. I can’t put it into words yet. Maybe in a couple of years when I’ve been burnt properly I’ll change my way about this but there’s something about being in Nigeria that, at least for me, feels so original. One of the few true things about me. Maybe my personality is changing all the time and maybe I don’t like chocolate today and do tomorrow. I know that I will always love Nigeria and I will always be Nigerian.
I grew up initially poor here (in Nigeria). By God’s grace I’ve done well (in America). So I feel like I’m supposed to do well back here. I joke with my friends all the time that by first million dollars are going to come from America but by next 2,3, 4 million will come from here. I’m supposed to blow here! (laughs)
As far as healthcare is concerned, I feel like I’m supposed to be here. This is still home; it always will be. It’s important for me that in the next couple of years I spend a lot of time here as an adult and see what that actually looks like. I mean, if things don’t work out? It will always still be home. I’ll join in the struggle…
When I first felt like I wanted to come home I thought ‘everyone should do this’. But I understand that I am in a place of privilege. That’s a very difficult ball game. When people would tell me ‘I’m thinking of going to Canada but I feel guilty’ I would tell them not to feel guilty. I would tell them that if they can pack their bags and go to Canada, please go. Pack your bags and get out of here.
Karina: We all have a vision of where we would like to be and what we would like to be doing; the ideal situation. You’ve told me about your plan to spend more time here in Nigeria. What do you see yourself doing? What does fulfilment of a duty/promise to yourself in that situation look like to you?
Ayo: When I close my eyes and think about the future, I envision myself at a conference somewhere-a big conference-talking about what we did to fix the healthcare system in Nigeria. That’s my dream. I want to be at a place where people are using Nigeria as an example for that. Now people are using Singapore and Costa Rica as case studies. I want to be at a place where I am part of that conversation saying this what we did when healthcare in this country looked like it was going to fall apart. These are the steps we took to implement it. That’s big picture. Is that a real thing that will happen? I don’t know. It’s been helpful for me to have that vision; that this is what I eventually want to get out of this experience. How do we get there? I’m still not sure but I have ideas about it everyday. We could do this and this and oh! this too. Even this morning, I was thinking about the business plan.
I like your question actually-feeling I’ve done a service to myself. What do I need to make myself feel like I’ve done what I wanted to do? That I’ve done right by me for being here. I think that it’s going to be difficult to quantify that because I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be doing but most importantly, at the end of one year I want to be able to start to say ‘these are some of the building blocks that I’ve put in place’ that I can see tangible results from. If I could say ‘because of xyz intervention we were able to make sure that 1000 more people were able to start a pharmacy or this many more people to invest in healthcare.’ It’s also really important to me that in my first month here, which will be August or September, to not do anything but just talk to people. Just sit in my apartment and talk to anyone who will talk to me and just listen to identify the specific problems then the solutions.
What has been very exciting for me in the last two years since I’ve been coming home a lot is that people have been so welcoming. A big worry for me was that because I didn’t come from a wealthy background that I wouldn’t know a lot of people. People are open to having conversations on what they think the problems are what possible solutions are. It’s been amazing. It has been helpful to have that… I don’t want to say network because I don’t really care about that but more that insight. I’m really excited. Really excited. It’s reassuring that there are people who actually care about this country.
Karina: I’m so excited for you Ayo.
Ayo: I’m so excited. I’m going to be a Lagos boy AAAYE!