I can’t date an ugly man, I’m hot –Victoria Oruwari, blind opera singer By Comfort Oseghale It is not often that one comes across a young woman so relaxed and self assured. It is even rarer when the person in question is visually impaired. Victoria Oruwari, concert artist and opera singer, was recently in the country to give a concert at the MUSON centre. She was very much at ease as she gave an insight into the events that shaped her life. ‘‘I have always done music. As a child, I sang. One day, at the Pacelli school, I was playing around with my friends, singing. The music teacher, Mr. John Yekini, just called me and asked me to sing a song for him.‘‘ Luckily for Victoria, her prayers were answered because she had been yearning to join the Pacelli school band. After singing two songs for her music teacher, Victoria was invited for a practice session with the school band the next Friday. She was eight years old at the time. That singular event launched Victoria‘s music career. She went on to perform with the Pacelli band at various charity events at the National Theatre, state house and the presidential villa in Lagos. She said, ‘‘There was this huge charity event in 1988 where Pacelli band performed. We were famous at the time because after my Alleluia Joy chorus in 1987, NTA did a 12-week feature on the Pacelli band. We were the in thing at the time. It was a three-session programme and it lasted for two days. It was amazing.‘‘ Victoria became a celebrity figure after that. She would sing at the state house every Childrens‘ Day. ‘‘I met Maryam Babaginda many times after that, bless her soul. She came to Pacelli and did a lot for us,‘ she recalled. Victoria admitted enjoying lots of attention and goodwill from the public. ‘‘Once or twice when I was on my way to Port Harcourt on holiday, some people would recognise me at the airport and tell my brother that they would get my ticket. It was cool.‘‘ One would expect Victoria to shy away from questions about how she lost her sight, being a woman. On the contrary, she answered questions about her appearance frankly and without any bitterness or resentment over what might have been. ‘‘I was born sighted. I lost my sight at the age of six going on seven. I had a few complications during a cataract operation; things kind of spiraled out of control. My eyes reacted funny to some treatment I was given and I developed secondary glaucoma, which is like high blood pressure in the eye. I was flown abroad to have that treated and in the course of that, I lost my sight.‘‘ Being from an affluent home, if Victoria was sequestered away after she got blind, it would not have been news to anyone. As it turned out, the contrary was the case. Her family simply refused to fold their hands and bemoan their fate. ‘‘A friend of my sister‘s told my mum about Pacelli School. It is the one and only school for the blind in Lagos. My mum wasn‘t going to keep me at home because I lost my sight. All my siblings are highly qualified people academically, so they were not willing to let me languish at home. I am the last of four children. So, I relocated to Lagos from Port Harcourt because Pacelli was a boarding school.‘‘ Victoria’s face lighted up as she recalled her time at Pacelli. ‘‘Pacelli was interesting. It was nice meeting other kids that were blind. There were also some not-so-nice experiences, but I suppose it was because it was a boarding school and I was a child; a very spoilt one at that. If I didn‘t get my way at home, I threw a tantrum and everybody listened. But here my tantrums didn‘t count.‘‘ From Pacelli, Victoria moved on to Queen‘s College, Yaba for her secondary education. ‘‘QC was another interesting place because I had to mix with sighted children. It was here I started to develop a thick skin because sometimes you get people teasing you in class. If you don‘t have a thick skin, then you get swamped with depression. Anyway, it was just a phase because I made some long lasting friendships there, including one of my best friends in the country. The teachers were very enlightened people and would never let you get away with anything because you were blind.” Victoria expressed much gratitude for the education she received at Queens College. ‘‘I went to London and could talk alongside the A level students because I went to QC and also because of the support I got from my family.‘‘ For her A levels, Victoria attended the Royal National Institute, Worcester for the blind in England. All her family members had to pool their financial resources to get her the best education available. It was like a preparatory school for the real world. ‘‘They had a school which I attended for two years. We were basically taught independence. We were kept in little flats. Each flat had four bedrooms. I learnt how to use a guide stick and a washing machine. We were taught how to cook, learnt how to shop, manage finances. We also had mobility lessons.‘‘ Every Friday was fun night for Victoria and her friends as they could go out to experience night life. They were even taken to night clubs twice by one of the wardens of RNIB. ‘‘We had to learn to look out for ourselves in a night club,‘‘ she said. After her time at the RNIB, Victoria decided to pursue music professionally. ‘‘I was inspired to sing by Disney‘s Sleeping Beauty classic. Incidentally, the girl who sang the piece was taught by the very same teacher who taught me music at Trinity College of Music.‘‘ Victoria did so well at her music lessons at the RNIB college that she scored distinctions in her Grade 5 and Grade 8 singing exams; the highest in the country. Her certificate was signed by the Queen of England. ‘‘I decide to audition for the Trinity College of Music, which is what is normally done. I so much wanted to go there. It is not a normal university; it is a conservatoire. People would kill to go there. Every year, 250 singers would audition to go there and only 12 would be selected.‘‘ Typical of great people, Victoria scaled through the rigorous auditions and was among the lucky 12 selected to study music at the Trinity College. ‘‘I felt very privileged. It is like another realm because you are with people just as talented as yourself. You have to really make your mark to be exceptional. It wasn‘t easy because you are also competing with sighted people as well. It wasn‘t a school for the blind, it is a professional school. There were coaching, drama and physical therapy lessons. It was lovely.‘‘ Acting and drama seemed out of place for someone who could not see. So, how did Victoria cope. How could she read her scripts? ‘‘Well, it is obviously no use telling a blind person look like this or like that. The feeling is simply described to us, and our bodies respond to that feeling. Sighted people copy looks while a blind actress pretends to feel the emotion. I really felt like a part of a family there.‘‘ Victoria went on from there to give recitals around the United Kingdom; at the Regents hall, Charlton house and a few castles. ‘‘Some aristocrats would invite me to their house to sing when they had dinner parties,” she said. With the exception of her eyes that gives an impression of being handicapped, Victoria is every inch an upwardly mobile woman. Right from the weave on her hair to her shoes, she displays a taste and flair for fashion. Surprisingly, she does her own shopping. One would not expect that since she can‘t see what she is buying, right? As it turns out, Victoria does not leave her appearance to chance. ‘‘I pick out my own clothes. I learn a lot from fashion channels on DSTV. So I know what is currently fashionable and what is not. It is just a matter of understanding your body. I pick flattering outfits. For example, I am not a very tall person, hence the platforms I am wearing. But you should see my gladiator shoes, they are my latest craze at the moment!‘‘ Her animation as she talks about her sense of style is infectious. ‘‘I had to teach myself how to wear heels and not fall down. Every girl loves to wear heels and it would be sad if I couldn‘t. I am first woman before I am blind. I don‘t want to be the girl in the beautiful dress, I want to be the beautiful girl in the dress.‘‘ she said. Beauty, they say, is in the eyes of the beholder. What then happens when you can‘t see, what is the basis of physical attraction for a blind person? Victoria laughs, “You know everybody asks me this question and I have never been out with anyone who wasn‘t handsome. Someone who isn‘t handsome wouldn‘t have the courage to approach me, because I always make sure I look hot. There is something in a guy‘s mannerism that gives him away when he isn‘t handsome, because he would not be confident. I have had guys tell me that they are really ugly, maybe they think I wouldn‘t bother because I am blind. And, of course, I have my spies to check the guy out.‘‘ Victoria analyses men and relationships with amazing clarity and insight. ‘‘I haven‘t had terrible experiences with relationships but it is very difficult to get a balance. Men are very protective species and are more so of a blind person. Some guys see that as an imprisonment; they feel they would constantly have to worry about you for the rest of their lives and they don‘t want that. Some are intimidated when they discover my career is important to me, but that is who I am. Others expect that I would stomach anything because I am blind. I refuse to do that and they will be like, how dare she wants that much? After all, I have offered to marry her. But don‘t just offer to marry me; you have to want to marry me. It is not a favour.‘‘ For now, her time and energy will be spent on advancing her music career. ‘‘You have to build a career before you have a family, because when you have a family, your life isn‘t yours anymore. You would have to put other people before you. If you don‘t have fulfillment within yourself, you can‘t do that with a happy smile on your face. You would have to start telling your kids, look what I sacrificed for you. I don‘t ever want to tell my children that‘‘ she said. The Punch What a pretty lady and touching story too.