I was watching a children’s science programme with my kids some days ago when, half-way through dozing and feigning interest, I noticed that the topic that was being discussed was one that was very dear to my heart: the issue of being right-handed or left-handed.
As a child I remember how I got punished with a long yellow wooden ruler being rapped on my fingers when I held my pen in the ‘wrong’ hand. I hated my Primary One teacher, and had the misfortune of having her in primary Two and primary Five as well. She was convinced that there was something wrong with me as I did everything with the ‘wrong’ hand.
My ‘wrong’ hand was my left one. By the time I was in secondary school I had learnt the art of writing with my right hand but I could still write legibly with my left hand when no one was watching.
I really tried to become right-handed but it didn’t quite happen. I got used to comments from aunties who complained when I chopped vegetables while holding the knife in my left hand. They said I couldn’t possibly learn to prepare food properly using my left hand. Many kitchen appliances seemed designed to make me look inept as they just didn’t work properly when used by a left-handed person.
The most humiliating incident happened when I was around 12years old and my Dad hosted our extended family to a meeting in Ibadan. Though we lived in Lagos, we also had a house in Ibadan and this was to be the scene of my ‘disgrace before the kindred’. This meeting was a yearly event hosted by different family members. It was my parents’ turn to host the family that year and they spared no expense in making sure it was a pleasurable occasion for everybody.
My siblings, cousins and I were put to the task of serving food during the meeting. It was while I was helping out that I instinctively gave one of the guests, a man, a plate of food. Everything that happened afterwards seemed like a bad dream. I remember hearing the man rain abuse on me, claiming that I was an ill-mannered girl growing up in lawless Lagos with no respect for my elders. I remember crying and apologising while he insisted that I knelt down and apologised properly. My crime, by the way, was that I gave him food using my left hand.
A couple of other relatives joined in chastising me. My Dad tried to divert their attention with some Star, Gulder and Dubbonet and many of them succumbed, but the aggrieved man would not let up. My mum, who had heard the commotion, stayed in the kitchen. She was livid but dared not come to my defense in front of her in-laws. What annoyed me the most was that the man wasn’t even a close relative. I could only recall seeing him a couple of times in my life and I wasn’t even sure how we were related.
Fast forward to the present: I have adapted very well to using my right hand and I am now considered to be ‘ambidextrous’, which means being able to use both hands with equal dexterity. However, as with many ambidextrous people, I still tend to gravitate towards using my left hand. This means that I still get confused when I have to give handshakes or give directions, and still struggle to use certain right-handed instruments like corkscrews and scissors. At home, my kitchen sink is made for right-handed people so I find it very awkward washing plates. I still fiddle with my wedding ring after all these years because it feels like it should be on my right hand with my wrist watch and other jewellery.
What is wrong with being left-handed? There is no logical reason (scientific or otherwise) why people, particularly children, shouldn’t be allowed to use which ever hand is their dominant hand. Many people still think it is a problem which needs to be tackled but forcing children to change their dominant hand has been shown to increase the occurrence of stammering and dyslexia in children.
Research has shown that left-handers are considerably more intellectually gifted than right-handed people. This is perhaps why there are more “lefties” in creative professions – such as music, art, drama and writing – and more left-handed astronauts and leaders than would be expected. Perhaps the fact that the USA has had seven left-handed presidents so far, with President Barack Obama being the seventh, will go some way in convincing skeptics in Nigeria that being left handed isn’t a disability.
There is also something alluring in being different, or so I’ve been told. My husband once told me that one of the things that first attracted him to me was the ‘odd’ way I used my left hand when cooking and gesturing. That was the exact opposite of what my aunties told me: they said no man would want a wife who held things in a ‘weird’ way. What did they know?
I also got my own back on my rude relative. My parents and I went to Ibadan for a weekend a few months after my grand disgrace. The man and his son came to see my Dad about a job for his son at the Civil Service. They came very early in the morning and knocked very loudly on our gate.
Unfortunately for them, we didn’t have a gateman in those days and my room overlooked the main gate. As soon as I saw the man and his son, I casually strolled to our living room and told my dad that the noise outside the gate was as a result of some local children running into the gate while playing outside. The man and his son had to come back the following month because no-one bothered to see what was on the other side of the gate!
Writer – Abi Adeboyejo lives in Birmingham, UK with her two children and her fabulous man, who by the way, prefers that his wife writes down her thoughts than listening to her musings on everything.