Sometimes I wonder how different my life would have been if people were enlightened about dyslexia. One of the major reasons why Westerners are more advanced than Africans is because they are open to knowledge. They ask reasons why, they study patterns and seek solutions. We are not like that. We take a hypothesis and turn into a fact, a law, a norm, a tradition, just because we never knew different. We accept our ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’. This is why we trail behind their innovations and discoveries.
I grew up in a low income household of five children. I was the middle child of a seamstress and a Carpenter. I normally wouldn’t have attracted a lot of attention. I was the second boy. Everything was great till I started school. That was when I was told who I was.
I liked school, but I didn’t get it. They moved too fast for me. It was a cramped class of 35 children to a young lady that didn’t want to be there. I did not understand. And it broke me that others did. I tried. I struggled. I wanted to learn. My teacher got frustrated. They beat me. Repeatedly. They couldn’t understand how I could be that stupid. Nobody should be this slow, they said. But I was. I could not help it. I was the last to write my alphabets. I was the last to pronounce two letter words. I was the last to know my sums. And soon, I was the last at everything else. I was relegated and doomed for failure.
I got called names. I was labelled a dense. It soon stuck. People heard about me and assumed I was stupid without even knowing me. My parents accepted that I was their stupid child. “Olodo Dipo” “Dunsey Dipo” “Empty head” “Good for nothing” “Bolo” “Ode”
I was the joke of the school. My dense-ness became a thing of referral. I was the twelve-year old in Primary four. My parents wanted to pull me out of school. My repetition had become an embarrassment. You could be dull, but not this dull, they thought.
I begged them to just let me finish primary school. That I would learn my Barbing skill full time. I just did not want to give up.
I could I tell them that I had stories in my head. Stories that I couldn’t write. But they were there. Right there in my head. I just couldn’t…
Soon, I started to tell them. In our compound. At the school. At my oga’s shop. I was known as the storyteller. Although, I still got insulted that that was all I was good for. I didn’t mind though. My stories were getting out there.
My life changed when I got to primary Five. I knew that was my last year in school. I loved it but it just didn’t love me back.
My life changed when Corer Ben came to our school. It was a public school and we usually get a lot of corpers every year. Most just came to pass the time. But few really came to make a difference. Corper Ben was one of those.
He had been briefed about the oldest kid in class. “Dipo Olodo” He didn’t pay me much attention the first time he came to class but at least he didn’t give me the look of disgust and pity the others usually gave me.
That day, during long break, a couple of kids gathered under the mango tree and asked me to tell them a story. And so I started. With verbal and body illustrations, I took them to the land of fantasy. I didn’t see Corper Ben by the window poking his head out and watching me with fascination.
The next day, he called me asked where I had read the story I told. I told him I couldn’t read. He asked if I saw it in a movie. I said no. It was all in my head. He was amazed. He asked if I ever wrote it down. I said no. I just told it like it came.
Then he said he would teach me to write it. I looked at him as he had grown two heads. I wondered what magic he wanted to work on a thirteen year old that couldn’t pronounce three-letter words.
But he did work his magic…
With patience and long-suffering, he worked his magic. He met with me after school and started from the basics.
Within three months, I could read. And gradually I became better. When I learnt to read, every other thing began to make sense. I could understand the other subjects. Well, except mathematics. I never liked it.
I didn’t know Corper Ben had other plans. He had probably seen the resignation and acceptance before in my eyes. He started teaching me other subjects. Particularly mathematics and English. He wanted me to take the common entrance examination.
My hope had been restored. I took the examination that everyone expected me to fail and passed. To the shock of everyone except Corper Ben. Even I was shocked. It was surreal.
I, Olodo Dipo, had passed the common entrance.
My parents were convinced to allow me give secondary school a try. I had chosen a public school near my house. It was not easy. I still struggled. But now, I had hope. Hope that made me study hard and do my best. Corper Ben still called my father sometimes to keep in touch with me. He always told me there was a light in me. I held on to that.
I failed my first WAEC. I surprisingly had only English. I had graduated my apprenticeship by then and was working for my boss in a Barbing salon in Ikeja. I was quite good. More of an entertainer. In a place, where no one knew me, I became a just Dipo. And soon, ‘Fun Dipo’
I saved up and wrote GCE. I failed again. I decided to go for tutorials. I started going twice a week. I wrote another GCE the following year and I passed. Then, the next year, I put in for part time at Unilag. There was no question. I studied English and Literary Studies. It was all I wanted. All I knew.
I wrote my first book while I was in school. I had written a lot before that but I grew the courage to send it to a publisher when I was in my final year. I wanted the whole world to read my words. I dedicated the book to Ben Oruchi, the man that gave me wings.
When I got word that I was going to be published, I cried. Tears rolled down my face. I didn’t care if it sold or not. I was getting published!
And it sold. Oh, it sold. I became an overnight success. It was a story of two lovers doomed for death. Set in a time before time was known. The depth and richness still astounds me. I was commissioned to write it into a play. And it was adapted for film and theatre.
My publisher applied for a scholarship course for me in London. I had never even been to the Airport before. The first in my family to ever fly in a plane. I got an offer to lecture in Unilag after my course. I’ve written two books after that. Both global successes.
As I stood in the backstage with a microphone being attached to my ears, I wondered what I was going to say. But when I thought about the many children out there, with dyslexia, that did not have a Corper Ben, I knew exactly what I had to do.
“Ladies and gentlemen, all the way from Lagos, I present, Dipo Olaleye.”
(Applause from crowd)
“Thank you so much. It an honor to give this TED Talk. I wonder how different my life would have been if we were enlightened about Dyslexia. One of the major…”