a picture showing moyo okediji poised for the camera

Who owns your body?

Who owns your body?

Would you be shocked to learn

you don’t own your body?

Ten things, I hate to tell you,

claim ownership of your body

The first owner of your body

is your name.

Try taking your body from your name

and you are left bare

without a background with which

to see yourself

reflected in the mirror

because what you see is nameless.

The second owner of your body

is your family.

Before you ever realized

that you existed,

your family knew you

and began molding you

in their own image

and turned you into a mirror

of their own appearance

from which you have been running

since you started crawling

The third owner of your body

is your first language

Stripped of your first language

you lose your tongue

and become a hollow vessel

into which everything is emptied

without an opportunity

to understand anything

or comprehend whether you’re moving forward

even when it is possible you’re going backward

The fourth owner of your body

Is your job

Without a job

of what value is a fellow?

Your job is what you become

just as your job becomes you.

It is totally unbecoming of a human

to live a life of value

deprived of a productive job

The fifth owner of your body

is your food

If you’re tall, short or in-between

if fat, thin, slender or obese

radiant, grouchy, approachable or angry

one may ask in earnest, “What manner of diet

you have fed your body?”

The food you eat

and the one you don’t

may stand in your path

between going right or veering wrong.

The sixth owner of your body?

The religion you espouse.

Whether you have a faith

or religiously proclaim yourself without one

often determines whether you move a mountain

or let it be.

Millions have died defending their religion

while millions for their religion have killed.

All is fair and game

in the feuding field of religious beliefs

The seventh owner of your body

is nothing short of your ethnicity

In Africa, it is called tribalism

and has drawn a line between neighbors

destroyed religious affinities

determined what food you eat

and what meat you hate.

If I’m Hutu, and you’re Tutsi

Or Hausa when you’re Yoruba

it’s often the difference

between whether you live or die.

The eighth owner of your body

happens to be your race.

Gender and sexuality matter

but race binds identities

beyond the doubt of reason.

You may change your gender

and later alter your sex:

But the race you’re born with

Is the race you die with

The ninth owner of your body

is the nationality of your country

It matters whether you’re American

or you’re Nigerian,

the passport you carry

often is your visa

between drinking from the village well

and using a toilet bowl;

between your city getting bombed

and dropping the bomb on others;

between living a dream life

and leaving the dream deferred.

The tenth owner of your body?

Your friends.

Without being my friend

how would you have read this nonsense,

from the beginning to this point

without killing me?

You need your friend to own your body

And you to own your friend’s body

because it takes two

to fall in love

and of what true purpose

is a human life without love?

–Moyo Okediji

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