By Akin Ojumu

Although I had a little patch of grey in my forehead, which I have had since I was in high school, I started my current job with a full head of jet-black hair and my visual acuity was a perfect 20/20. Fast-forward many years later, I have gone through several iterations of prescription eyeglasses – with each new one stronger than the previous one by a lot, the crown of my head is now a desert devoid of hair follicles, and the small patch of grey hair in my forehead has somehow metastasized, sprouting like snowflakes all over the little hair remaining on my balding head.

You go bald pretty quick when you work in a high visibility and high-pressure job such as mine.

Yes, you may hear us spout all day long about boosting the immune system with broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) to achieve HIV remission. Our conferences may induce you to slumber with the constant yammering about deploying the “Kick and Kill” or “Shock and Kill” strategies using a Bispecific T-cell engager to induce latently infected cells to express HIV proteins on their outer surface so that an enhanced immune system or therapeutic agents can recognize the proteins and kill the infected cells. We might have, on more than one occasion, bored you to death with us talking about inducing CCR5 dysfunction or mutating CCR5 genes in order to help HIV infected individuals control or completely eradicate the HIV virus. And it is true that both the Berlin and London patients, two people who have been functionally cured of HIV/AIDS, are direct outcome of our work.

Our work sound all fancy and dandy, like the sound all scientific mumbo-jumbos make, right? Don’t be fooled. It isn’t all that out of this world science when you compare it with the work done in other scientific and technology fields. Our line of work isn’t some super-duper spectacular daredevil feat on the level of mind-blowing medical miracles. While we may be correct to describe our work as cutting-edge science, it is still nowhere close to being rocket science. It isn’t anything like separating conjoined twins or an in utero surgical repair of spina bifida. Our experiments don’t compare with the repair of a thoracic aorta dissection. Not by a long shot.

So, you ask, “How come the job gets so stressful as to give you canities and alopecia? (Again don’t let those words bamboozle you, they are medical terms for greying and balding of the hair respectively.)

The simple answer to the question is, people and their baggage. And some folks carry so much baggage that no airline would allow them to fly.

We tend to forget that our colleagues and co-workers are not aliens from outer space. They are people with flesh and blood just like us. As human beings, they are subject to the same issues of life that befuddle all human beings.

Confronting some is a mountain of bills they must surmount in order to keep their home or car or send their kids to school, and some are wading through the stormy waters of a marriage that is falling apart each and every day. Many of our colleagues have wives who act as though they are nothing but a deep well of child support and alimony. For some of the people at work, it is a husband at home who is a drunk and sexually abuses the kids, or the husband who is a bum who sits at home all day long watching TV and getting fat on the food the little salary brings to the house. With others, it is their child – the only child – battling a rare cancer and needing to undergo several cycles of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, or those with an out of control child battling the demon of substance abuse. There is the bedridden parent at the hospice who has had back-to-back cardiovascular events and there is no other relative nearby to help with the care.

You see, it doesn’t take long for the work environment to heat up to such an unbearable level of discomfort when you are trapped, for more than 8 hours, 5 to 6 days a week, in a 5-by-5 foot office space with so many people carrying so much hurt and pain locked up within their soul. While some of us try very hard to wall off our private lives and troubles to stop them from seeping into the office space, we don’t always succeed. From time to time, the walls do crack and the storm of the home soon wash up unto the shores of the workplace.

You don’t need a license in medicine or a doctorate degree in clinical psychology to diagnose that the wall that keeps the troubles at home from eroding the office space has broken from the presenting signs and symptoms that you often find. The sign is the colleague who has made it his sole purpose in life to make the time you spent together at work a living hell on earth. It is the ever-negative coworker who goes about with a perpetual frown that seems to have frozen on her face and always comes bearing bad tidings. The broken wall and the seeping sewage explain the office tattletale and rumor monger who seems to always have one juicy story or another about the office politics.

It is the colleague who thinks he is the smartest person in the room and is quick to point out that the other person is dumb and has no idea what he is doing. You can tell the wall is broken and the fecal matter from home is leaking through in that coworker who is a drama queen and has an insatiable appetite for attention. It is seen in the maligning colleague who takes delight in running you down with the boss and other coworkers behind your back. A broken wall is the pathology that explains the man, or the woman, who seems to be eternally engaged in turf wars on multiple fronts with other coworkers. It is the reason behind the coworker who sends out e-mails that seem to yell at you, as they are written in font size 30 with multiple sentences written in all CAPS. The sign of a broken wall is that coworker who never acknowledges or returns your “Hello” or “How are you doing”.

In an office packed with highly intelligent, ego-driven Type A personalities, when you combine that with the usual character flaws found in all of us, and then you add to the mix the broken walls causing the troubles at home to flood the office place, what you get is a hyper charged environment full of people living in a world of hurt  and pain and would love nothing better than to spread the hurt to other people in the work place.

To survive in this work environment, to enjoy the time I spend there, and more importantly, to be a light in darkness and salt of the earth, I cooked up a potent remedy. I call it the “NO WAHALA” formula.

NO WAHALA means I greet everyone I meet with a “Good morning” or “How are you doing,” regardless of whether or not they answer me back.  It is me making it a point of duty never to take personal anything said or done to me at work that I found to be offensive, a slight or outright disrespectful. In all my interactions and communications, I take great pain to be super respectful to everyone in the office no matter who they are. As a matter of principle, I promptly respond to all e-mails for which a response is required. I treat all my fellow workers with the decency and utmost respect that all human beings deserve without regard to rank or status. When I see a colleague looking out of sort, I go out of my way to ask them what’s going on and if there’s anything I can do to help, and I’m always willing and eager to listen to those who open up to me to unload their burden. Above all, I make sure I do my job exceptionally well, going above and beyond what is expected of me.

In addition, I have recently started teaching my colleagues – none of whom is Nigerian or speaks Yoruba – the meaning of the phrase, NO WAHALA. I would walk up to a colleague who is having a bad day and tell them, “NO WAHALA.” Whenever I sense a meeting is getting too hot, I’d say, “NO WAHALA". I often stick my head in colleagues' cubicle and tell them, “NO WAHALA”. And so of course, they’d ask me what “NO WAHALA” means. Some I tell the meaning, and some I ask to go Google the answer.

This has been going on for a while now without me taking much thought of it, until this morning when I walked into my colleague’s office – someone who is a pay grade or two higher than me. Her name is Liz. Written on top of Liz’s whiteboard – among several notes, reminders, and important work she has going on – is the following statement:



You can imagine the thought that went through my mind and the emotion that I felt at that moment. Until this morning, I didn’t realize how powerful and impactful such a simple saying as “NO WAHALA” is. I never thought I was making any difference in my simple attempt to make a difference. I didn’t think my desire to share my faith, by being a light and salt in my work place, without preaching a sermon was catching any fire. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I was succeeding in making my work place a happy place. It wasn’t until I saw what my colleague wrote on her whiteboard that it dawned on me that my NO WAHALA formulary is a potent medicine for healing broken souls. And for that I’m humbled and thankful to the Almighty God.


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