A harmless hilarity and a buoyant cheerfulness are not infrequent concomitants of genius. We are never more deceived than when we mistake gravity for greatness, solemnity for science, and pomposity for erudition (Charles C. Colton).
The Yoruba word “Amuludun” roughly translates as “the entertainer” in English. It connotes that jolly jovial fellow who becomes the life of the party at any gathering – making the beats more interesting.
Fewer words better describe the person of Dr. Odutola Ayorinde Odusanya (alias Oloye). We are thrilled to present an enigma as our Disability Champion number 4 of the series.
Anyone meeting this handsomely fair skinned, Deaf gentleman for the first time is immediately taken by his amazing sense of humor and the hilarious. Dr. Tola brings amusing wit into almost everything. This pretty well explains why he’s so full of zest for life and living despite being profoundly deaf.
Interestingly, this one trait of an uncanny ability to meet the tragedy of Disability with uncensored comedy has been a formidable forte in the fight against odds brought by deafness some 50 years ago.
There’s never a dull moment with this chivalrous gentleman who has a way with the fairer gender – an “Okó omoge” (ladies man) to the core. He’s the kind that can diffuse the tensest of situations with a distinct brand of wit and humor.
I have witnessed this on numerous occasions. Let me recall one:
“The incident happened not long ago in Lagos at a time of petrol scarcity. Long queues and the attendant tension was everywhere. As we sneaked into the filling station, a minor disagreement broke out between Oloye (as he’s fondly called) and a management staff who claimed we broke rules. For a brief moment, the exchanges flew back and forth.
Then, Oloye, realizing that neither tact nor belligerence would save the situation tuned in on his talismanic sense of humor. It only took an exaggerated gesture, facial expression, and bingo – the tense atmosphere melted into a laughing party. Next moment, the previously aggrieved staff, subdued by the joke walked away with his expression lit up by a smile. Vintage Oloye!
“Life is what you make of it”, he constantly exhorts the upcoming generation.
THE JOURNEY INTO DEAFNESS
It was 1972. The young Ayorinde – then 11 or thereabouts was a fresher at famed Tai Solarin’s Mayflower School, Ikenne, Ogun State.
Recurrent bouts with fever during each session of his first year at the school either landed him at the infirmary or got him sent home. The last occurrence, saw him admitted to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) after first aid treatment with quinine. He left the hospital profoundly deaf.
After deafness struck, teenage Ayorinde dropped out of school for some three years.
Those were the days when the idea of education for the Deaf child was still far fetched and the best most concerned parents could do was seek cure for the child. Meanwhile the child stayed at home. And so for three good years, this was Oloye’s fate.
Recalling this period, he says: “It hurt to see my classmates get ahead of me. Daily, I felt helpless watching them leave for school and return while I stayed home.
DADDY, I WANT TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL.
Tears came to my eyes the first time I heard from the horse’s mouth the moving incident narrated below. On sober reflection however, I was able to unearth its deeper meaning, namely:
“In deep, unfathomable mines of never-ending skills, Providence often delight in hiding His sovereign will beneath odd designs” (William Cowper).
He was alone at home that afternoon sitting on a bench on the verandah.
He had just finished a light refreshment of groundnuts and discarded the sheet of newspaper used for the packing. By some strokes of Divine arrangement a headline on the paper he just threw away caught his attention: “Deaf Man Bags PhD”. (This young boy was to go on to achieve a similar feat – against all odds). It was a story of the late Dr. Sunday Mba, pioneer of Special Education in Nigeria. The story contained all the inspiration this near abandoned Deaf dude needed to revive his dream to go back to the classroom. Folding the newsprint, he kept it by him awaiting his father’s return.
That evening, he confronted his father with this story of a deaf achiever. You see, the published success story of Dr. Mba was the game-changer that convinced a desponding parent to give his determined Deaf boy a chance to go back to school – but not before he had warned him, tears in eyes: “o ko le gbo nkan ti won ma ko won ni school” (you wouldn’t hear what is taught in school).
CHAMPIONS NUGGET: “Never underestimate the power of writing the human success story. You can never tell how many lives it would touch.”
HANDLING THE CHALLENGES
Challenges! We all face them in their various forms. Some more, others less. For the person with a disability however, the challenges take on peculiar dimensions. Ridicule is one of those – an ongoing battle. It is most common among youngsters. Growing up as a Deaf teen, Oloye had his fair share of ridicules from peers. I was called “Omo Odi” (deaf-mute), he recalls. “Sometimes, these mockers would put green leaves of plant in their mouth to mock my deafness. I fought many internal and external battles”.
How did he meet these insults? A master capper to the core even at that young age, the Deaf guy would often return the taunts by calling those who put leaves in their mouth hungry goats. Go on, stuff your stomachs with more fodder, he bounced back the insult on his traducers.
In coping with his disability, the quintessential Oloye displayed early in life the wisdom of ages echoed in Rachael Yamagata’s quote:
“As I grow older, what I find interesting is that I get experience with pain, and I start to see the lovely hilarity of life…and create something with it”. (CHAMPIONS NUGGET)
Here is one dude who didn’t allow disability stop him from rising above ridicule and to catch up on the sunny side of life.
Zombie o, Zombie (Zombie o, Zombie). Zombie no go go unless you tell them to go (Zombie)
Zombie no go stop unless you tell them to stop (Zombie)…
He caused quite a stir in class that morning when he breezed in crooning Late Fela Anikulapo-kuti’s hit track to the glee and amazement of mates who could hardly believe a Deaf person would spread musical cheer.
These folks just couldn’t grasp the force behind this Deaf dude’s superior sense of happiness. For young Odutola however, happiness is an inside thing – not to be hindered by his circumstances.
Ironically and unawares, our pro bono entertainer was passing a sublime message through his performance. He was saying: “You don’t have to become a zombie to people’s opinion or life’s circumstances – of which disability is one. Gaiety, cheer, and good humor are key instruments for conquering.
Presently, he doubles up the tempo with some mesmerizing dance steps and the class goes wild with frenzy. Uproarious laughter ensues.
“I might have become a musician, Oloye says during an interview.” But then he admits rather wistfully as many later deafened adults do: “deafness robbed me of the joys of music”. Yet he hasn’t allowed the internal music or entertainer of sorts in him to die. Every now and then, he still spontaneously unleashes his instinct for drama. One moment, like one drawing his words from the air, he conjures up rib-cracking jokes that lightens up an audience. Another moment, out of the blues, he captivates you with spontaneous renditions of Yoruba folk music – complete with graceful dance steps and a charming smile beaming across his face. As a young man, he efficiently leveraged on this winsome amiableness to win the “Mr Gallaudet” crown during his college years in America.
WRAPPING IT UP
But it hasn’t been all “uhuru”. Let’s be real, disability brings with it more grave challenges and obstacles than can be conquered with mere fun.
To overcome, one must be tough and go out fighting. And this champion admits, “I’m a fighter”.
He fought his way back to school and excelled. He presently holds a PhD. At the Federal College of Education, Special, Oyo where he is employed, he is considered the forerunner who broke stereotype barriers – paving the way for successive generations of Deaf staff to climb up the academic ladder of this renowned, yet discrimination ridden learning institution for special education.
What did it take? Fights? Backbone? Guts? Grits? Ask Dr. Tola. He knows.
Even without saying it, he forcefully drives home the reality that living with deafness in a prejudiced society was never a stroll across some green grasses.
A veteran of many wars against society’s prejudice and discrimination on account of his deafness – some of which he lost and some he won to arrive where he is today, this Chief lecturer has a number of publications and awards to his name.
“Life will hand us lemons”, Oloye never tires to remind. But then, he tops up with hope: “its up to us to turn it into lemonade with our unique personalities and giftings”.
Disability Champions Series is a collaborative project of the Jibore Foundation and Inclusive News Network.