My name is Olawamiri Ayo. Everyone calls me Ola except my mom and dad who insist on saying it as it is. I’m the first of 4. I was the only child for the first 8 years of my life after which my parents proceeded to have 3 more children (all boys) in quick succession. I will be 29 in November this year (2013). Olamide is 20, Oladele is 19 and Olaitan is 17. All three are in a Private University studying Economics.

My tale is one of encouragement…

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I finished secondary school (FGGC Shagamu) in 2000 and after 3 years of JAMB drama, I finally got admission into OSU to study Business Administration. I just wasn’t able to get into Unilag, IFE or UI- my original choices. I served at a big communications firm in 2008 and since then, it has been one search for a job to the next. As you might have figured, I wasn’t retained. I was terribly disappointed. I gave that job my 100% devotion.

Then, my family lived in Idimu and the firm was in Ikoyi-two opposite ends of Lagos. I would wake up at 4am each morning and be at the bus stop by 5:10. When I was lucky, a family friend who works on the Island would pick me up and when I was not, I would take a bus to Obalende and then find my way to the office, usually on foot. I would get to work really early, all tired and sweaty and freshen up in the bathroom, grab a 15-minute nap before anyone else got to work. By 7:30, I’d be on my computer, responding to emails and generally getting work done. I never left the office before 8pm. Most times, I’d stay till 9/10 in order to follow the family friend home. Whilst I waited to be picked up, I would not just sit idle, I’d get busy and stay busy till he called me that he was entering the street.

Most people did not know I was a corper. I attended meetings alone sometimes and I was almost certain that I would be retained. About a month before passing out, a new girl joined the firm and she was asked to ‘shadow’ me. I was feeling like a boss lady who was now showing someone else the ropes. I was elated. Thinking back now, I seemed to be the only one who was happy. I guess like they say, you are always the last to know you are being ‘stabbed’. It turns out I was showing my replacement the ropes. She was a graduate of UI and had just returned from the US armed with a Masters Degree. I was told I would not be retained but I should feel free to check their website for openings and not hesitate to apply. Like they forgot that I knew the drill. Only about 2 percent of the work force got employed through that website.

Unlike my fellow corpers who were never given any hope of being retained where they served, I had not been applying as I was certain of my place at my posting so I was literally at home for about 6 months after service. I applied anywhere and everywhere. I would wake up in the morning, do my chores and then head for the cyber cafe near the house searching for jobs frantically. It got so bad that the guy there had struck a weekly deal with me instead of paying hourly. I just wanted somewhere to go to every morning wearing a skirt and blouse. My parents, bless them, had turned me into a live-in house maid and it was not unusual for my mom to call me with a list of things to do before she gets back. I was totally and completely frustrated.

sad and frustrated

I hated going for events where I would meet old mates because the first question friends will ask is, ‘so what are you up to these days?’ and after 6 months of having finished NYSC, it was no longer cute to say, ‘I just finished serving’.

After 2 years of doing nothing, I started accepting ushering jobs. We would usher people at events and I would see my classmates from Shagamu and OSU walk into the event looking like they owned the world. A few would say ‘hi’ while most just kept walking. I guess they didn’t want to have to explain to people how they know the usher.

I did the ushering job for about 5 months until the day I saw my ex walk in with his pregnant wife/girlfriend/fiancé. I quit on the spot before they saw me, went through the back door, jumped on the first okada I saw without even telling him where I was going. The okada ended up taking me all the way from Sheraton Ikeja to Idimu- that is normally a 2-3 hour drive. I cried on the okada till I got home. I just didn’t understand how I would search for a job for almost 3 years. I just did not get it. Thankfully, no one was at home when I got there. I went into my dad’s room, took a bottle of red wine, locked myself in my room and finished the entire bottle. I slept till about 10 am the next morning.

That was how I started drinking. I was a secret drinker. I could not continue taking dad’s bottles of wine because he would notice and I certainly could not afford them so I turned to Don Simon. I hated the taste so I would buy Tasty Time and mix it. Sometimes, I’d finish a whole pack before 9 am. I would bounce out of my room in a very chirpy mood, hug my dad and shout the loudest ‘Amen’ during morning devotion and my mom would admire my good nature and how I was taking the whole lack of job issue very well. Little did she know that it was all thanks to alcohol. I heard weed helped one escape reality. If there was somewhere I could get it from without being found out, I’m sure I would have dabbled into that too.

I was very dependent on the alcohol and would take it before facing the world each morning. No one ever found me out. I was the master of deception. Thank God that was the only vice I had and thank God I preferred solo drinking because I’m sure I would have been led into worse things had I not been a lone drunkard.

One random day during my Don Simon/Tasty Time breakfast, I got a message from a group I had joined and someone there shared the story of how they were able to give up alcohol. I was one of those who sent back responses. I said ‘Wow, God is great. What a great testimony!’ I wrote as I sipped on my concoction.

I was at my lowest one day when suddenly, I thought about my life and by myself, went to God in tears and pain and I told Him how angry I was that I had no job even after slaving away in school to get a 2.1 and slaving away during my service year. I ranted in tears for almost an hour, inebriated yet sober. I asked for His help and mercy and I promised to stop with my pattern of drinking.

The miracle did not happen right away but it eventually came. About 2 months after I had that moment with God, I got a call from a multinational I had applied to exactly 7 months before. A polite lady asked to speak with me and then asked if I am still available and interested in the programme. I did not have to write a test. I was interviewed 3 days after on the 31st of March and I was given a letter of employment to begin on the 1st of April-the next day! It was unbelievable! I mean, as I walked out of the meeting with some of the big bosses, I was immediately ushered into HR and handed my already typed up and signed letter which means the ‘interview’ was just formality.

The day before the interview, I had spent about 6 hours in the cyber café near my house researching the company, finding out about all their core areas, recent developments, etc. Lo and behold, I did not have to say one thing from my research at the interview. They simply asked about my experience and what I can bring to the company and voila! I got the position. It might interest you to know that of all 5 of us on the programme from Nigeria, I am the only one without a Masters degree and also the only one without a degree from a foreign university, the oldest (I think I even have passed the cut-off age) and also the only one with a Business-esque (non-professional) degree. The other 4 are: lawyer, economist, accountant-with ICAN and accountant-on level 2 of CFA.

working

Now, I have a job! I will first be a Graduate Trainee for 2 years then confirmed thereafter. I’m in Nairobi for 6 months, Addis Ababa for another 6, Johannesburg for another 6 and the final 6 in London. I look at my official email address, my office laptop and iPad, my official blackberry, my ID card and just smile. Now, I have a tea lady assigned to my desk area when I am in Nigeria who keeps asking, ‘aunty, tea or coffee?’ and I remember when I used to do the asking. God, You are good and Your mercies endureth forever!

Now, I’m happy to set up a LinkedIn account and to re-activate my Facebook. I’m paid a very decent salary (equivalent of 3 times what I would have been earning presently had I been retained at the firm I served) and I get to go for conferences and events like every month. Each time I pass by an usher, I smile and greet them. Usually, they look at me stunned, not understanding why a delegate is taking so much effort to greet them. I have stopped drinking totally. I don’t even take energy drinks. I renewed my relationship with God. I also met the best man ever. He has not proposed or anything but I see where we are headed and it looks like a good place. I have learned to trust in God for the littlest of things. Every experience one faces is like a slap of paint on a canvass. It might not make sense now. It might even look like a mess is being made. But when the Almighty is through with His work, when the Potter is done with the clay, you will be turned into the best-finished product you can ever imagine.

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I was going through intense depression and alcohol was my method of escape. For others, it is drugs, sex, anger, violence or even total silence and denial. The truth is every successful person has one story or the other to tell of not so rosy times past. We need to learn to remember to trust God and wait for his perfect timing. “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint” Isaiah 40:31.

We also need to be more aware of those around us-our siblings, parents, children and friends. Learn to check on them and see how they are really doing. The strong ones might actually be those who complain to you everyday. The ones you should really pay attention to are the silent ones who smile and act like all is well. They might be dying inside or worst still, high, like I used to be.

All in all, I thank God for my life and my friends. A word of advice: Even as you prayerfully wait on God, don’t just sit and fold your arms. For those who are serving, in Med school, Law school etc, start applying now! Even if you are sure of being retained where you are or are sure of one job dad’s friend promised you, still just start applying when you are not desperate and there is no pressure on you. Most application processes these days in good companies span between 3 months to 6 months so you better get on it! Learn a craft or a trade. Do something!

Don’t be tempted into escapism when things are looking down. When you get back on earth, your issues and problems will be there, waiting patiently for you with legs crossed. Instead, speak to someone you can trust and who is sure to give you sound advice and lead you to God in prayer.

Finally, enjoy each phase of your life. A friend once told the story of how he had to latch on to the back of a moving bus in order to get home each day. Now, he drives around town in his brand new car. You think you have it bad? People have worse tales to share. So keep the faith and know that all is gonna be just fine!

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