The Receptionist, My Name and Culture by Temi Alalade


'Miss Olowofomilayo Badeja, the doctor says you should come back next week for your test results', croaked The Receptionist.

'It’s Oluwafunmilayo, ma', I corrected for the umpteenth time. 'Or just Funmi; I believe that will make the pronunciation easier'. She flashed what was left of her yellow teeth in a fake smile. I kept my face as hard as stone, struggling to keep my composure. 'You won’t get to me today', I said internally. 'I won’t give you that satisfaction'.

I’d never liked the Receptionist. She was an old shrivelled looking woman with beady little eyes and a nasally voice. Just the sight of her made my fingers twitch and my toes curl. I found her very annoying. No, annoying isn’t the right word…irritating. I found her irritating. She was the definition of irritant.

From the first day I set foot into Solmos Hospital, I knew she didn’t like me, and the feeling was quite mutual. She had made it a point of duty to make my visits to the hospital a misery. But then again, I didn’t blame her. I blamed my know-it-all elder brother, Demola, who had suggested that Mama and I go to Solmos Hospital in the first place just because the doctor there was his mate in secondary school.

'We attended the same high school o', he had told Mama. 'And he finished top of the science class. I even heard that he went outside the country for his medical degree; he specialises in gynaecology. I think he’ll be great for you, Kike; he can do a full check-up for you. In fact, I believe you should know him, he was the labour prefect in school'. That day, I had wished that looks could kill. Oh! The look on my face would have killed him and we would have been commemorating his death. How did he expect me to feel having my senior in high school pore over my body all in the name of a check-up?!

'Mama, I don’t think I would be comfortable having Demola’s schoolmate scrutinize me'. I had protested. 'It would be too personal!' Alas! My plea fell on deaf ears. Mama fell for Demola’s ploy and I was forced to go to the hospital against my wish, otherwise I would be deemed 'disrespectful and disobedient' to my elders. It was during moments like this that I wondered if Mama and Demola realized that I was now a young adult capable of taking decisions. Me and my own health again. It was MY health. I should have been entitled to choose a hospital of my choice. But no, I had to go to go to a hospital of their own choosing.

So, I found myself going to Solmos for check-up after check-up, and having to cope with the dreadful Receptionist. No doubt, Demola wasn’t exaggerating when he talked about the expertise of his doctor friend. He was easygoing, but very professional at the same time. I soon forgot that he was my senior in high school. The state of my health had really improved since I started going for regular check-ups. The doctor had drafted out a healthy diet for me and I had even succeeded in shedding a few pounds. The only thing that made me dread my monthly check-up was the Receptionist. At first I thought that she just found it difficult to pronounce my name, but then I noticed that she made this same 'mistake' whenever someone with a Yoruba name came to the hospital. It didn’t matter how many times the person corrected her, or how they tried to teach her to pronounce their name. She always found a way to murder the person’s name. She never made that mistake with people from other tribes, irrespective of how long or tongue-twisting the name may have been.

I became certain of her grudge with Yoruba people when she would make snide remarks like, 'You Yoruba people, that’s how you’ll  stuff your stomachs with pomo (cow skin), fatty meat and unhealthy food, later you will complain that you’re too fat', as if it was only Yoruba people that ate pomo and unhealthy food. Sure, that may have been the typical stereotype attributed to Yoruba people, but it was wrong of her to generalise. Didn’t a lot of people indulge in unhealthy eating? How did this suddenly become a 'Yoruba' problem? I didn’t need an angel from heaven to tell me that she had a grudge against Yoruba people, her aggression was so obvious.

'You know, maybe you should consider changing your Yoruba name to an English name. It will be much easier for you and for me. You Yoruba people always have such long and cultural names. Why must your parents give you such long names?' she snarled.

I jumped out of my thoughts and stared at her. I didn’t realize that all this while I had been standing there. Did she just say what I heard her say or was I imagining it?

'Excuse me?'

'I said you should consider changing your name'.

Imagine!, I thought to myself. She even had the audacity to repeat her brainless statement. I couldn’t take it any longer. I had endured enough for the past eight months. It was time to put an end to all this nonsense.

'I should change my name just so that YOU can pronounce my name. Do you realize what you have just said?' She looked at me, her eyes wide open in astonishment. 'I have tolerated and kept quiet about your bad-mouthed comments for eight months just because I wanted to show you respect but today, you have crossed the line!' I fumed. 'If you had a bad encounter with Yoruba people in the past, that doesn’t mean you should extend your hatred to me or other innocent people. My parents gave me the name Oluwafunmilayo because it means “God has given me joy”. I was the joy that God gave them after five miscarriages, but then again, I don’t expect you to understand the importance that people attach to their names. Which African name have you ever come across that doesn’t sound cultural? You say my name is too long, but when it comes to typing it on the computer to pay my hospital bills you don’t find it too long, abi?” She opened her mouth to speak but I didn’t give her the chance. 'It’s because of people like you that tribalism still prevails in this country! I like my name because it is unique and significant. I won’t change it for anyone, and I certainly won’t change it for you. I will find a hospital that doesn’t see my name as too “long or cultural"'.

I snatched my bag and stormed out of the hospital. The Receptionist stood in the middle of the hospital, still in shock that a young woman could stand up to her. Yes, I admit she was old, but it did not give her the right to discriminate me on the grounds of my ethnicity. In fact, it didn’t even give her the right to discriminate me at all. Good doctor or not, I wasn’t going to stay in a place where I was treated with disdain just because of my ethnic group. I was glad that I spoke up to her and that I didn’t continue to keep quiet under the excuse of African culture and being respectful.

I walked home feeling fulfilled. I had put the Receptionist in her place, upheld the importance of my name and defied the laws of culture.

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