A BEAUTIFUL SOUL AND THE BLACK DOG
– A review of the book ‘DUST TO DEW’ by Betty Irabor By Femi Olugbile
Betty Irabor is a winsome lady who is well-known in celebrity circles in Nigeria. She is a journalist, and the publisher of the well-regarded magazine ‘GENEVIEVE’. She is a powerful influencer among the young, especially the females, who see her as a pace- setter. The one person she reminds you of, reading her book, is a lady whom she mentions in the book as one of her own influencers – May Elen Ezekiel, or ‘MEE’ to countless Nigerians. MEE was like everyone’s naughty, brilliant sister. One of the most courageous people you ever met, she routinely said things that other women would rather die than say. She wrote beautifully, and when she flashed that smile that showed off a gap in the side of her teeth, everybody – even the hidebound barely literate military brass who ruled the Nigeria of the day, shook their heads and left her well alone. A major MEE weapon was her readiness for self-disclosure. When she wrote casually in her column that before she finally found the love of her life – RMD, she carried a condom in her handbag as she went about her daily business, just in case, not even the most puritanical Christian or the most stiff upper lip male chauvinist could attack her. She was MEE, and she was just being practical and honest. Her reading audience lapped up everything that she wrote, and always looked in every piece for the nugget of salacious self-disclosure. Most of the time there was nothing salacious, just common-sense practical self-help of a Nigerian girl trying to make her way in the world. Expectedly, MEE cut right up through the ranks like a hot knife through butter, eventually founding her own magazine which she called Classique. Sadly, she died early. But this is not a review of MEE’s life, or the book she never wrote. This is a review of ‘DUST TO DEW’, a book by Betty Irabor. Betty started the ‘Genevieve Pink Ball’ initiative to create awareness about the scourge of Breast Cancer, and she is the publisher of the longest-enduring glossy lifestyle magazine in Nigeria. The thread that runs through ‘Dust To Dew’ is Betty’s struggle over several years with ‘the black dog’ of Depression. The illness started soon after her fiftieth birthday, and the story of her life from then was a struggle to get her life back. The Foreword by Kadaria Ahmed, and the ‘Afterword’, by Betty’s husband, Sony, give the picture of a woman who has made her way in society, generating much affection and admiration along the way. At the time Betty first succumbed to Depression, she had all the appurtenances of success. She had founded her dream magazine, which was flourishing. She had a doting husband and loving children. Her friends adored her. Journalists jostled to photograph her when she walked the red carpet in Society functions. When Depression took over, she would spend entire days in bed, the duvet pulled over her head, and the curtains drawn to avoid any ray of sunlight. Sleep was impossible. She lost a massive amount of weight. She felt disconnected from all the things she loved – her work, her social life, even God. She avoided her friends. On a particular birthday she locked the gate of her house and instructed her security-man not to open for anyone, on the pain of a sack. She made the round of hospitals and doctors, including psychiatrists, but she was generally discontented by the way they treated her. Nobody, she felt, really understood. Nobody was truly listening to her. But ‘Dust To Dew’ is not just one gloomy story of Depression. It is also the story of a ‘Lagos girl’ who made good. Born to a policeman father who lived in Obalende Barracks, she spent the early part of her life walking to school and happily running errands or playing with her friends in the neighbourhood. She attended Methodist Girls High School, Yaba, where she discovered a talent for the Hurdles. She won a Lagos State competition and was chosen to represent Lagos in a national athletics competition in Jos. A man came along and told her she was an Osagie from Bendel State and she should be competing for her ‘native’ State. He offered her a scholarship to switch allegiance. She was a Lagosian, she averred, and she already has a scholarship. There are the not-so-happy details of her childhood – the separation of her parents, going to live with her mum in a one-room ‘face-me-I-face-you’ apartment in Ebute Metta, wanting but not succeeding to have a relationship with her father, and the death of her brother Eddy in a Sickle Cell crisis. What comes through in Betty’s book is an uncowed spirit fighting through a dark corridor to wrest her life back from the grip of a disease that troubles up to one fifth of all mankind at some point. Eventually she found a female psychiatrist who was a good listener and with whom she was able to connect. And now? And now Betty is back, on the red carpet, on the celebrity pages of newspapers, and among her doting family. ‘Dust To Dew’ is a story of Survival. It helps to demystify Depression by describing it from within. Betty is effectively taking on the role of ‘Ambassador for Mental Health’ and should be acknowledged as such even by the mental health establishment. Her story and her reach would help with the anti-stigma campaign. Nollywood films, which are filled with depictions of mental illness that send the wrong message, could be a starting point for public education. Betty, and the group of people like her – known as (Service-) ‘Users’ are, all over the world, taking the driving seat in shaping the message of Hope. Dust To Dew published by Quramo Publishers, is recommended for general reading.