Hushed Tones...

It was nice to see the parking lot full of cars.  One of our favorite restaurants in the Grand Rapids area is a beautiful Persian restaurant with excellent food and exquisite authentic decor.  We have come to enjoy and appreciate the subtle nuances in the cuisine and the mixed potpourri of individuals who amble in on any given afternoon or evening.

Today was not an exception as the table almost diagonally adjacent to ours was occupied by a mixed group of American and Australian diners.  As a Nigerian American, it was nice to have another accent punctuating the air with laughter and conversation.

As we neared the end of our meal, the proprietor who was also assisting guests stopped by to ask if we'd like to try some Persian tea.  Although we were stuffed, his description made the cardamon infused hot beverage sound so inviting, we decided to taste the brew.  It was excellent!

As we savored our tea, I realized that something was a bit off.  The table in front of us, which had been involved in a normal level of conversation was now speaking in hushed tones.  I could decipher some of the conversation and it took me a minute to realize that they were responding at least in part to the conversation which had just taken place at our table.

As our tea was brought to the table by the proprietor, a conversation ensued in which we spoke about Persian culture and the country of Iran.  Admittedly, not a conversation that you're likely to overhear in the average West Michigan restaurant setting.  He talked about visiting Iran and his family and how he wished more people would make the journey to see his native country.  He asked us about our home country Nigeria.  

It was a comfortable and easy conversation as we connected on the level of fellow travelers in the diaspora who had immigrated to the United States.  As he talked about Iran and the geopolitics of the area, I was struck by how different it is to have a conversation as human beings, not as the caricatures which we see so often portrayed in the media.  Hearing the country of Iran described as a safe, orderly country was a far cry from anything I had become accustomed to.

Which brings me back to the hushed tones.  It quickly became clear to me that this type of conversation was not just a rarity, but somewhat of an oddity.  One which had stopped the conversation at the table next to us as they listened in.  I left the restaurant thinking;  I wonder how our lives would change, if we simply engaged in more human conversations?  Conversations in which we listened to each other, shared our experiences, expressed interest in another's culture and were curious about learning something new. How would our worldviews be enlarged if we were less dependent on the incessant tethers of talking media heads framed within the small and large screens of our electronic devises?

Life Under Construction...

The office phone rang this morning.  I hadn't planned on being available, but I picked it up anyway.  The voice wished me a Happy New Year and asked how I was.  Apart, from the fact that I knew my client had weathered some recent challenges, nothing would prepare me for what she was about to share.  A serious situation on every level.  Yet, she was concerned about me.  Had it been a good Christmas?

As I struggled to wrap my head around the situation, I had to be real.  The pat answer of 'yes, it was great' was just not right.  Not when she had shared with such direct simplicity the painful drama in her own life.  So, I told the truth.  Holidays aren't always easy.  There had been drama and I was still processing.  It takes humility to admit that the life you want to live doesn't happen according to script.  And to be OK with being real with that.

The challenge of living inside of the space of one's head is an interesting one.  If you're any bit like me, conversations in my head play out all kinds of scenarios complete with Q&A long before they occur.  If they occur at all.  It can be a draining way to live, because 90% of the imagined scenarios never take place.  But for the 10% that do - one is prepared!  

However, when you're confronted with the stark reality of plans gone awry and the pain of dreams put on hold, because life has suddenly assumed a 'new normal, it forces you to step back from all the 'imagined' drama.  It's a humbling experience to be reminded that life is a gift and not guaranteed to anyone.  The phone call today brought this reality to a striking focus. So much of what seems so important is really not.  

That's why pride is so deadly.  It is a toxin that infiltrates reality by creating a false perspective of who we are and what we're here to do. Pride distorts reality by making us think our drama, our hurts, our anger should be the central theme.  It also complicates communication. When we miss our way, personal drama contorts speech in ways that are hurtful and demeaning and in the process take an ounce or pound of flesh in the offering.

 Moments like my conversation this morning are a type of gift because they force us awake.  Bringing an awareness of the fact that no matter how much I think I know, have done or accomplished, at the end of the day, I'm simply a learner under discipline.  And, the best part is being given the grace to continue to grow and learn with the understanding that to be in life, means that one is continuously 'under construction' in some capacity.  God is a very creative instructor and I don't always understand the lesson plan.  It's a humbling space and sometimes disquieting.  And that tension in process is OK.



Christmas Puff Puff & Couture...


Depending on where you are from, this hot little snack item may be known as a Beignet (New Orleans) Berliner (Germany), Paczki (Poland) or Puff Puff (Nigeria - West Africa).  Best consumed  shortly after emerging from the  sizzling oil and eaten without adornment or sprinkled with a bit of sugar; it's like a little culinary festival undulating the taste buds.  Warm molten yeast bread, perfect for any festive occasion or gathering.

I'm always intrigued by how different cultures celebrate traditional festivals and by how versions of similar types of food specialties are found all over the world.  My mom would make a tasty, nutritionally dense dish called Ekpang on special occasions from cocoa yam, spinach/collard green leaves, tomatoes and onions, meat or chicken, spices and palm oil.  

The dish took hours to grater the coco yams, season and steam in molds or tin foil and also prep the palm nut soup that suffused the yams with spicy flavors.  She was originally from the Cameroons and as a kid, I thought that no one else had ever eaten this dish.  Later, I would discover versions of the meal were enjoyed throughout various communities along the West African coastline.

In 2016, I am introducing a brand new course offering about Cultural Intelligence and the advantage that cultivating this skill set has for our personal and professional lives. Culture speaks in many different ways, but perhaps nowhere more eloquently than around food and the shared experience of holiday traditions including what we wear.  Celebrations are an opportunity to revel and express our identity.  Clothing is often a significant part of this.

I have fond memories of Christmas celebrations which were centered around family, food and the thrill of getting brand new clothes! Those brand new clothes were inaugurated into our Sunday best for the remainder of the year.  

The notion of giving gifts was very different as a child as well.  In fact, for our family the focus for Christmas presents was on watching our parents eyes light up as we gave them gifts that we had carefully crafted for them during our time at school.  Their exclamations of delight and the proud display of those homemade mementos on a prominent shelf in our home, were some of the best memories I have of Christmas as a child.


The Art of Communicating with Squiggly Lines

 I think words are shape makers.  Communication at its core impacts us in so many ways.  A great conversation engages my thinking and energizes me.  So does a great book or article.  The words of some of my favorite African female writers like poet Patricia Jabbeh Wesley and Chimmanda Ngozi Adichie  create a complex tapestry of imagery  around the colorful, exotic energy that is the African diaspora experience..

Nigerians in particular are known to be expressive word shapers. Even our phone calls are not quiet.  It is as though our words must be enunciated clearly and loudly enough to ensure they travel through invisible space without unraveling.

Growing up, I found it amusing to listen to supposedly private conversations which were more like big box expressions of large sound waves splashing against the ears of just about anyone who cared to listen.  

 Words punctuate, truncate, elongate, morph and dilate around our personalities creating context and flourish.  Conversations which are inspirational, encircle me with warmth and gratitude.  Angry words pierce my soul like sharp arrows.  

I think the best conversations occur in the wide open space of the unexpected.  When I am open, curious and accepting, all sorts of opportunities for interesting interactions emerge.  I enjoy in depth grown up conversations, but find that some of the most interesting  shapes of dialog swirl around  kids whose world view is not yet neatly formatted.  Conversations with truly curious people (including kids) are like squiggly lines.  They're fun, refreshing and thought provoking!

The best word shaped space for me is the cloud.  There's something about the curves of a cloud which engages the nuance of communication in an interesting way.  When I'm in that 'cloud space' with an audience, I know that what is being created is unique.  A point in time which will never be repeated, but is savored, and animated not unlike the quirky energy within a squiggle - creating an experience which energizes and transforms myself and the audience in some unique way forever.

After the storm...

It's one of those overcast days in West Michigan.  Typical of fall when the rain stops and starts, and the sun can't quite seem to determine if it's safe to emerge for good.  The trees have shed most of their leaves, courtesy of a surprise snowfall early in the month of November, but the snow has not established a sustainable presence.  Which is fine by me.  That can wait.

We are launching our website for LA Speaking today.  It's been a process which has been over two years in the making.  With starts and stops and sometimes apprehension moving forward towards a shift in my career focus and concentration.  According to my dad, who labelled me a 'Talkative' since my earliest formations of syllables,  I've been communicating for a very long time.  

Communication for me is a deep dive into curiosity about people, what makes them tick, why we thrive or fail to and why things work the way they do...or don't.  From my earliest recollections, I've been a seeker of wisdom.   At its core, wisdom brings a context to life even if it doesn't always provide a ready explanation.  

Wisdom for me is a comfort and a challenge.  A journey which takes me in spits and spurts towards new levels of wondering, questioning and engaging deeply.  I find its presence arresting and daunting at the same time.  The search for wisdom is what inspires my desire to share information, exploring a topic for nuance, depth and differences in meaning and context.

The past two decades have been spent learning and expanding my knowledge base in all things 'real estate'.  However, the course of that journey yielded some interesting starts and stops as the early years of the career were the calm before the storm of the economic crisis which lasted not months, but years.  The experience and lessons learned personally and professionally have been life changing.  There's a grit which becomes ingrained in core space when you go through a period of sustained trauma.  There's also strength and the power of faith which grounds the roots which stay put.  Anything which can be shaken, generally is.

I no longer look at financial markets in the same way and I feel a different type of compassion for people as I witnessed a lot of loss in spaces and places where the grief and pain of financial pressure were unwelcome intruders.  And in these spaces, wisdom remains my teacher.  Listening, learning, growing and sharing - that is what I've always wanted to do, was born to do and commence doing in a new more intentional way through LA Speaking.  Let's talk.