Her different interests appear to be at odds; or put mildly, at extremes. On one side of the coin, she is a Children Theatre major. On the flip side, she is a Sex Therapist. Such seeming confusing posture is not rare to Pamela Udoka. Many find her statements on sex rabble-rousing, particularly on social media, in a largely conservative and pretentious Nigerian society. Nseobong Okon-Ekong reports
It has been in my plan to interview the Udokas for long, but I never got around to it. The husband attracts my enduring attention as we have a few mutual friends. Dr. Arnold Udoka is a Theatre Artist who majors in Dance. He is the Director, Dance, Music/National Choreographer with the National Troupe of Nigeria. His wife, Pamela is a Theatre Artist, as well, who majors in Children Theatre. Their home is an interesting mix-and-match and either of the two can hold a good conversation on their subject of interest.
However, they exude a persistent charm that captivates many admirers for their bluntness. The Udokas are open; very frank. They roll and dance around subjects that many mumble in their closet. It is not too surprising, therefore, that Pamela openly calls herself, and she is increasingly better known as a Sex Therapist; and Arnold thinks nothing about accompanying her to a sex toy shop.
Your guess is right. They were not always like this. They were a seemingly normal couple until Pamela approached her husband to solve a problem she was having with children she was working with. His advice led to what she has become today. He told her to study Psychology in order to have a good understanding of children who were manifesting abnormal behaviours in her drama class. This simple quest for knowledge, in the beginning, has opened a wide door of fame and unbelievable income. It is instructive how it all adds up because in the end when we sought to know the gain in her new career path, she holds up her husband as her most cherished trophy.
Pamela is a woman of multiple skills. She is the President/Artistic Director of Children’s Arts Development Initiative (CHAIN), a Not-for-Profit children’s theatre organization; President and Country Rep of the Nigeria Centre of the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People (ASSITEJ); World Congress of ASSITEJ appointed African Counselor and the Deputy Director (Drama) of the National Troupe of Nigeria. The Pioneer Coordinator of the National Troupe of Nigeria Children’s Theatre Workshop from 1992 – 1997, she has been at the forefront of children’s theatre practice in Nigeria since 1991, has written and produced plays for children and youth including ‘Clash of the Ants’, ‘I Dream a Christmas’ and ‘The Rejected Blessing’ (which made the NLNG Prize for Children’s Literature for long list in 2007). Pamela Udoka directed ‘The Last Safari’ for 50 Years of Corona Schools produced by late music maestro, Steve Rhodes; coordinated the children’s carnival to celebrate ‘50 Years of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart’ in world literature and was Artistic Director, 2008 Lagos Children’s Carnival. She also produces Children and Youth Theatre festivals to mark special children and youth dates in the Nigerian and ASSITEJ International calendar. Within the global space, Pamela Udoka has presented papers and led plenary sessions at the 5th World Summit on Arts and Culture, Melbourne, Australia in October 2011; International Theatre for Young Audiences Research Network (ITYARN) in Sweden, where she delivered a plenary paper in May 2011 during the ASSITEJ World Congress; was invited to Warsaw, Poland in May 2014 to attend the World Congress of ASSITEJ as the Nigerian delegate, and was in Subotica, Serbia in September 2014 to present a paper at the 21st Festival of Children’s Theatres.
A prodigious scholar, she holds the Certificate in Entrepreneurship, FATE Foundation; PGD Marketing, Nigerian Institute of Journalism; B.A.(Hons,) Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan; M.Sc. Psychology, University of Lagos and at the present pursing an M. Phil/Ph.D degree in Clinical Psychology at the University of Ibadan. Pamela is a member of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), a certified Clinical Psychologist and member of both the Nigerian Psychological Association (NPA) and the Nigerian Association of Clinical Psychologists (NACP).
Her impressive academic background aside, Pamela knows how to apportion time to her different interests, which now appear to be at odds; or put mildly, at extremes. It may even be confusing to some, but such posture is not rare to Pamela, who starts teaching her own children about sex education from as early as they can talk. But it is still an exceptional candour for the largely conservative, even if pretentious Nigerian society. Many find her statements on sex rabble-rousing, particularly on social media. To be sure, she is not the first person to idealize sex, however, the cultured manner with which she approaches the subject does not give room to cynics who may have ambushed it as pornography or sometime worse.
Shocking as her comments on sex may appear, her ability to present informed themes on sex that stimulate heated debates from respected names on topics that are relatively private affair have forced an increasing number to turn to her for help. Pamela is breaking a lot of barriers. The good thing is that she starts from her home. In a world where it is a surprise to see her husband going with her to sex toy shops to make purchases which he pays for, the braveness of Pamela is already causing misperception in the mind of those who try unsuccessfully to draw her husband’s attention to his wife who they consider absolutely ridiculous.
Knowing where to draw the line is still the ace that recommends Pamela to many discerning parents and school authorities who trust their children to her for a season of grooming. She explained the self-imposed rule that keeps her in contention all these years. “When I do theatre, it is for children and young people. When I do Clinical Psychology, I deal with adults. I do a lot of adult stuff when it comes to Clinical Psychology. It is not for children. It is strictly for adults. I have children. I had four. One died in 2008 at 12 and-a-half-years. He died when I was doing my internship in my Clinical Psychology work, so therapy helped me to heal. Telling me it is well, at that time was a statement of denial or saying you know how I feel is not true because you don’t know how I feel. Don’t try to pretend that you know. But a therapist knows how to handle that situation. He knows grief therapy techniques. You allow the therapist to do their work. The religious people can pray. That has its place. But telling me the child has finished his race or something like that is more hurtful to the person who is grieving.”
Her eldest child is 20 years, while last child is five years. Between them is an 18 year-old. Pamela gives the impression the two older siblings had a hand in the coming of their kid brother. The 18 year-old was 11 years when the pressure to have a junior in the house started mounting. More than anything else it provided an opportunity to tell the children about menopause. Pamela thinks parents should look out for opportunities like this to educate their children without sounding vulgar. She had told her son that it was possible for her to have a baby because she had not yet reached menopause. It was a strange word that sparked the young lad’s curiosity. And that provided the chance Pamela needed to slip in a good and healthy dose of sex education fitting for his age.
She recalls another incident that took her to the nursery class of her daughter when she was five years. One day, she got a desperate call from the school to come over immediately as her daughter was allegedly manifesting some aggressive tendencies. Reaching the school, she asked her what the problem was.
“Mummy,” she said, “you told me nobody must touch my private parts without my permission.” She went on to recount how a male classmate groped her buttocks and would not stop after she told him to back off. So she slapped him!
That show of resentment against sexual abuse could happen because Pamela lectures her children about sex from an early age. “I discuss sex education with children when they are children. Now that they are adults, I still tell them ‘whatever you want to know about sex ask me. Others pay me to get the information you are getting for free. It is your birth right.’ I say to mothers, ‘talk to your children.’ Sex education can be broken down to children under five, children under 10; 20 year-olds. It depends on the words you are using. I don’t just talk vulgar. Call the body parts by their name. If it is penis, say so. Let the child know. Don’t call some funny name. Some adults come to me now for help. They are lost about sexual activity. Not that they are not sexually active, but they are ignorant of the action and the consequences of the action they take. Parents should do what they are supposed to do. No child leaves home for academic purpose before the child starts talking and they start talking from home. The moment they start talking teach them about sex. Start by telling them the correct name of their private part. I also warn my boys, ‘don’t touch any girl inappropriately. It is not a formal lecture. Always look for an opportunity to slip in the information.’”
Pamela places a premium on her work. Having begun her consultancy after her Master degree in Psychology, she is pressing ahead for a Doctorate. Her meetings with potential clients are predicated on a background of studious scrutiny. She said, “If a client comes to me and tells me he has erectile dysfunction, I don’t just say come and pay me this amount. I am Clinical Psychologist. I carry out Clinical Assessment to find the cause. Some of them may be on medication. There are some medications that suppress erection. In that case, I send them back to their doctor to review their medication before we start. Some erectile dysfunction is caused by the situation at home or the situation at work. Erection is a mental thing. If you are not stable at home, you will not have an erection. Some of them are chronic masturbators. If you are used to the firm grip of your palm, you cannot enjoy sex when you have penetration in a lubricated, luscious vagina. Some of them have erectile dysfunction because of low self-esteem. Some of them are depressed. That is why you must come with your sex partner. The therapy sessions involves her or him, as the case may be. There are some exercises that she has to help you with. If you are having erectile dysfunction and your sex partner does not help you even with her utterances, you will not get better. You must understand how erection works and how both of you should communicate to achieve erection. If it is the woman that is having what they call frigidity, she cannot help herself. During foreplay, her sex partner must help her to get lubricated for you to enjoy what you are doing. You must practice. You must give me feedback.”
In her line of work, Pamela knows where to draw the line. She had been warned by her teachers that some clients have a tendency to see the consultant as the object of their fantasy. For the first time, her voice assumed a stern tone. “I tell my clients because I am talking about sex does not mean I am a commercial sex worker. You have come to me because you have a problem that I am trained to help you with. My interaction with clients is strictly professional. Their secrets are safe with me.”
It is a good time to bring on the narrative of how she switched from using psychology to understand the behavior of children to trying to get a grip on adult comportment. It is important to establish that she was looking for something else when she stumbled on a precious find that has now enveloped her world. “Call it naivety, call it what you like, I couldn’t understand why couples fight. It is one reason I went to study marital conflict. It was strange to me. My husband and I disagree. We quarrel. We can’t have it peaceful all the time. It won’t be fun. Once in a while, we disagree. We argue. It might take a while before we talk to each other about certain things, until we sit down and say what is your own problem? Is it your own point of view or what? Do you have a superior argument? It is not that we have peace every day. But the time we have peace supersedes the insignificant disagreement that we have.
My first degree is in Theatre Arts. I had to retrain as a Clinical Psychologist. My Theatre Arts competency is in Children Theatre. While doing Children Theatre, you find out that you will be talking to some children and you tell them what to do and they are not responding. You start wondering. I went to my husband. He suggested I should study Psychology. I went to the University of Lagos. In my first year I did what was called Occasional Psychology. It was a course for those who did not have a background in Psychology. I also did Developmental Psychology, but the Developmental Psychology does not tell me how to assist the children with strange behaviour. I then had to study Clinical Psychology. My M.Sc project was on how to manage social phobia in children. In the process, I discovered Psycho Drama. After my M.Sc, domestic violence became an issue. Again, Psychology came to the rescue.”
Without saying so expressly, it was clear that Pamela had become fascinated with tracking behavourial patterns. To her, anything worth studying, demanded to be combed with a fine brush. She had to get to the bottom of marital conflict. Her study threw up three strong factors that cause marital conflict – sexual dissatisfaction, communication pattern and third party interference.
She explained the last and second factor. “Third party interference, generally refers to mothers-in-law, but you find out that it can mean friends of the spouses; even the spousal siblings and spousal children. The clergy too sometimes interfere in marriages. We have different communication patterns in a relationship. The tone of voice, the way you accept your faults, the way you communicate the other person’s fault enables the communication to be frictionless.”
A lasting testimony to her good choice of studying Psychology which she often presents proudly is the case of a prominent medical doctor who sought her help for his son who was manifesting symptoms of low self-esteem. She cast the boy in the role of a king in one of her plays. At rehearsals, he was told time and again that he could not be a king and keep talking like a child. After a while, the boy, on his own, identified other characters like a houseboy that a king should not talk like. In no time, he started to act like a king. At the performance, he put up an excellent enactment. His father was so proud that he told Pamela that what he could not do for his son as a medical doctor, she was able to achieve with Theatre Arts. Pamela acknowledged that she could only achieve this because of her study of Psychology.
This apparent success has presented a new opportunity that is uncommon in her career. Because of her Psychology skill, playwrights and script writers demand her services. They consult her when they have certain disorders that they have to inculcate in a character. Also in terms of interpretation of situations, when writing about a psychiatric ward round, for instance, in a Psychiatric setting, the medical team does not go from bed-to-bed. The patient is invited in by the nurse into a consulting room and there is an interaction with a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Clinical Psychologist, Nurse and Occupational Therapist.
On a personal level, her knowledge of Psychology has enriched her skill as a playwright and director. She is now better able to present a logical correlation of a character’s behaviour through psychological explanations. She confesses that she allows ample chance for cultural and religious handles to interpret characterization also.
Pamela has used the same winning formula since she started her children theatre. Her plays emerge from having a workshop with the children. That way, she is only a moderator in a production where the children themselves, largely determine the outcome. She said, “Children Theatre is creative art. You let the child’s latent talent come out. You let the child express his or herself. You don’t impose things on the child. You are supposed to stay back and guide the child. Most of my productions are products of workshops with the children. The children are the ones talking. I just script what they said. I do a little more research to fill the gap. In ‘Clash of the Ants’, there were clashes in the country and we decided to talk about what causes the wars. To make it more interesting for them, I cast all the children as ants. So you drive their imagination. You can tell a child who comes from an abusive environment during the workshop. If you tell a child to play the role of a father, automatically the child plays his or her own father.”
Psychology has not always been a palatable staple since Pamela discovered and fell in love with the subject. There have been moments of teary repugnance, when she had to make a tactical withdrawal. At times when she is looking at a live replay of textbook episodes of delusion of grandeur, for instance, a man is front of her and is stating matter-of-factly that he is Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of Nigeria. After such encounter, her human emotion gets the better of her. She becomes moody and can hardly hold back the tears at seeing the fickleness of the human mind and how easy it is to cross the threshold of trickery; or is it insanity?
That was in the beginning.
She has since developed natural absorbers to accommodate the weirdest surprise.