Back in the 70s, my close friends and I fantasized about speed as most young people are wont to do. We loved those sleek, ugly- beautiful cars that promised, not just driving pleasure, but also speed in the realm of Formula One.
An advert that encapsulated this and made speed look glamorous was from BMW, the German ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’. In most of the magazines of our time, Esquire, Playboy, Time and Newsweek, it emblazoned its message of speed. ‘If you are late to the airport’ it advised, then the car to take out of your garage was a BMW and went on to emphasize the take-off power of a BMW engine by stating the 0 to whatever Miles- Per- Hour in 10 seconds. This advert caught my imagination as it did many of my friends.
Two of my childhood friends, Wole Adeloye and his senior brother Kayode, who was my primary school classmate—and rival—have had a life-long relationship with cars and speed. Wole, till today, tries to attend a motor show at least once a year and goes on the auto-bans whenever he can squeeze the time. He has also been able to drive many of his dream cars by renting them when on trips to Europe and America apart from having owned more than a couple of high-tech cars like Porsche, Mercedes and yes, BMW. Kayode on the other hand, has confessed to doing 150 miles per- hour on the auto-banns recently. He also boasts that any car he cannot take off the road due to an engine fault, will have to be towed.
Not surprisingly, both studied engineering. Wole’s advice, when I was about to go for my first car in 1976, was to buy a Fiat Mirafiori, an Italian car that was for the yuppies in the 70s. Although it was nowhere near any of our fantasy cars, it was noted for its take-off speed, and therefore quite ok for the young and adventurous. Unfortunately, my employer’s generosity couldn’t quite accommodate it and I had to settle for something less.
Funny how time slows everyone down. Two weeks ago, I was on my way to Wole’s UK residence. The quickest way would have been a direct flight from Lagos to London. But we, madam and I, relegated speed for a change and opted instead for comfort and, I dare say a different travelling experience. The fact that we also wanted to spend a couple of days in Dubai made the choice of Etihad easier. I should be commenting on our experience shortly.
My reason for going to the UK was to heed Wole’s call. It was a call I couldn’t refuse even if I wanted to; and I didn’t want to because it was to celebrate the one year of his son’s healing. Tomi, one of the most accommodating and sensitive human beings I know was a sickler. I used the past tense because he has been healed in a revolutionary procedure after 25 years of pain and trauma. We were to celebrate that fact in two days of testimonies, dancing and praise worship.
The full account of Tomi’s testimony would take a book and I have urged Wole to do that. After all, he is very comfortable with words—Government College Ibadan taught him well in that regard. But the testimonies we heard from Tomi and his parents brought tears and cheers to many a face at the gatherings. They were simple accounts of a sickle cell sufferer. They were also familiar stories for those who live around sicklers. They were accounts of pain, of uncertainty, of crises in the cold of the night. Accounts of a spoiler that turned up anytime something good was coming to the family or the family was planning a trip. In summary, they were accounts of a traumatic past, a worrisome present and a bleak future. This was the story until last year when God intervened and the power of prayers took control.
In a lay man’s language, the procedure is to flush out all the sickled cells and replace them with healthy ones. But every step of this procedure is laced with mines. There has to be a match, the immunity has to be brought down so low that the chances of a rejection would be minimised. Unfortunately, the body at this point is also susceptible to infection. Then the healthy cells must ‘take’ and grow. And if anything goes wrong along the way, it is not a simple matter of returning to status quo. It is a grave matter of losing a life; which was why Tomi was initially not considered ‘sick’ enough to be accepted. The hospital wanted people who were so sick that they had nothing to lose. Tomi’s life had been a life of prayers and thanking God for small victories. But this time, the prayers intensified. A group, led by a Pastor decided that it was going to fast and pray until the hospital changed its mind. The hospital eventually did. And when the three month procedure was going to start, prayer groups were formed in many cities of America, Nigeria and the UK thanks to the power of the social media.
When I met the family in the US about a week before the procedure was to start, I was apprehensive. My friend must have been too because the conversations were not as free flowing as they normally are. Tomi was quiet and pensive and I had no words with which to lift him up. The Tomi I met last week was a healthy, happy man. Incidentally, the first event for the celebration was held at a venue where Tomi was rushed to two years ago during his mother’s 50th birthday. This indeed is a healing story.
Of the many ‘angels’ God sent to this family, a UK based Nigerian doctor stands out. Dr Awogbade went beyond the call of duty and is in many ways, responsible for Tomi being alive today. Of import however was her statement that many sicklers would live normal lives if the Nigerian authorities could take the simple step of identifying them at birth for proper management. Her goal is to come to Nigeria to help reduce sickle cell incidences. She will need all our support.
Back to our Etihad experience. It took us 24 hours almost to the hour to get to London. A journey of six hours by direct flight. (You wonder why some airlines which are airborne for six hours charge almost twice those that are airborne for 15 hours. There is a rip-off somewhere). But it was a delightful experience. Etihad in-flight services are up there. And the lounges especially in Abu Dhabi are fantastic. They are homes away from home.
My experience reminded me of another BMW claim when it was advertising the luxury and comfort of its cars. BMW, the advert said, was the car that would make you want to take the longer way home. How true of Etihad.