Aziza Cooke mixes literature and medicine to make a difference

Two years ago Aziza Cooke decided to share what would have been years of pouring her heart out in poetry, and has been touching the hearts of her readers. Making a difference in the world, whether through poetry or medicine is what the final year Texila University student sees herself doing.

“Writing poems started around the time I was in seventh grade. My father, an English teacher, pushed me to write poems as a way of dealing with whatever teenage issues I was facing at the time,” she shared. Her challenges, she added, may have stemmed from feeling like an outsider after the family moved to the Bahamas. She had just completed fourth grade at St Agnes Primary School when she and her family moved to Inagua in the Bahamas. “Inagua is what you consider a family island so everybody literally knows everybody. So as the new girl I spent it reading and preferred to wear my skirts at the ankle. I didn’t fit in at first; I spent a lot of my time indoors reading or sleeping. I loved reading Robinson Crusoe and other adventurous novels,” she recalled.

By the time Aziza was in eighth grade the Science lab at her school was turned into an Art room and she delved into art, drawing and painting. Her favourite subjects were English Literature, Art and Science. The medical student turned up her nose at the mention of Mathematics. She mentioned that she could never wrap her head around the subject and although she tried with the subject she didn’t try hard enough not realizing at the time that Math played a vital role in medicine. She later learnt how much it did when she began her pharmacology course at Texila. “… I was like, what is this, why are there so many calculations? But I’ve been trying with it; not my favourite thing, definitely not. However, I passed the course but it was during this particular course that I spent a lot of my time writing and drawing. If you saw my notebooks you’d see places where I was working then there would be a page where I’d have a poem or picture I started drawing during the class. The lecturer would always point me out in class because I was always doing something other than paying attention to her,” Aziza chuckled.

Her father shared in all of her struggles. Because she seemed strange to the other children she was bullied and more so for being a “chubby” teen. She never expressed how she felt to anyone but said it loudly in her poems. Aziza found solace in doing so and now and again shared her poems with her father. She had hoped that after reading her poems, he would encourage her to retaliate. But in all his wisdom he told her that the only power anyone have over someone is their reaction to someone and though she did not quite understand then, it became clearer as she grew older. “I found the merit in these things because he wasn’t just teaching me for that one instance, he was teaching me for those occasions that would pop up as I got older. So, these days, I govern my life based on those few quotations or parables that I’ve gotten from him,” she said.

While still a child, the poet was hoping to someday become a lawyer or a journalist but felt her parents were more intent on her becoming a doctor. She never thought about medical school until one day during a summer vacation in Guyana. “We didn’t have a conversation about it. One day my daddy said to me ‘Hey let’s go check out this place then we went into the office at Texila and a few days later I was filling out applications for med school. To me it wasn’t a big deal. I was like, okay, you know what, I’ll just do this. I’ll get it over with, no problem. Then the first semester at Texila hit me and I saw physics. I had never failed anything in my entire life and then I failed physics. I called my daddy crying telling him ‘I can’t do this. I really just wanted to drop out, but he gave me another motivational speech and gradually I started putting in the work and I fell in love with it. After I failed the course, my father bought me a book with three thousand physics questions and I’d sit there and do them. I tried my best to understand them and what I didn’t, I got help from the lecturer and I passed the subject. Now I fully respect medicine because even though it may not have been my first choice, you walk into the hospital and you’ve got a whole lot of responsibilities in your hands so you need to be focused all the time. I love medicine so much more now.” Aziza plans on retuning to Inagua where her mother works as a nurse to give back of her time and effort to the people there as a doctor and after she is retired she hopes to write her own inspirational books.

She has written almost fifty poems to date some of which she has performed at the University of Guyana, OMG, Duke Lodge and 704. Two of her favourites are “Passion or Nothing” and “The Only Love I’ve Ever Known”. When she moved back to Guyana she learnt of the Jazz and Poetry on a Stool Group and joined with them in promoting the art in Guyana but said it took her a good number of years before she found poetry being promoted here. It was through this group that she met Renata Burnette, also a poet, whom she has always admired for her talent. “I met her in 2016. I was performing for the first time ever and I was sitting there and I wasn’t really paying much attention at the time because it seemed like everybody was doing the same thing. There were a few rappers but nothing caught my attention until I heard this voice, really strong, really powerful… She completely captured my attention. She wasn’t afraid to speak her truth and then I found out that she doesn’t write anything down; everything is retained. I thought that was really cool. In terms of poets that I admire there’s her and there’s Jaime Myers [the director of Jazz and Poetry on a Stool] as well. There is also a blogger that I like. Her name is Thai Alexander and her blog is called ‘Gorgeous in Grey’. I think she’s in her forties and she’s got completely white hair, which is her natural hair plus she’s plus size and she rocks it without apology.”

Apart from her poetry, Aziza also blogs about her everyday life sharing her experiences with her readers hoping to inspire them and from the comments feedback is great, persons commend her on a job well done and let her know how much they relate to her topic thanking her for choosing to speak about challenges and woman empowerment. Whenever she has writer’s block she steps back from her writing and hangs with friends or talks about the topic with Renata which would help to shed some light on what else she wanted to say. Sometimes she does a video of herself talking about the topic and from there her ideas would flow to write the blog.

When it comes to getting the support she needs, the poet said it is available 100 percent from her family adding that the Jazz and Poetry on a Stool group is just as supportive especially Renata.

Poetry she noted has helped her a lot since she has learnt to overcome her shyness and stage fright. In addition blogging has helped her especially during 2016 when she went through a major breakup. She was able to transfer her pain into writing. She now has the ability to do public speaking and impromptu speeches. She has gained self-confidence because of writing. There was a time when she worked out for long hours because of her weight or felt insecure whenever she had acne breakouts. Cutting her hair, she said, was like getting rid of her last crutch because she has always had big curly hair which people would admire. Many were against her cutting her hair but writing has helped her to embrace who she is as an individual, whether she had a weight issue or not, the clearest skin or not, or the most admired hair or not. Writing has helped to empower her as a woman.

Asked if she could meet anyone, dead or alive, who it would be and why, Aziza did not hesitate to say that she would want bring her grandfather back to life. “My grandfather to be honest … he died in April. He lived in Wakenaam and I did not get to visit him much. He had a stroke a year before and he was bedridden for a good bit. The day that he died I got a call to say my grandfather was sick and that I should go and see him. I got there and he said his final words and within five minutes he started crashing and we rushed him to the hospital and the doctors allowed me to help, being a med student. So, while we were there working on him putting in his feeding tube and catheter and all of those things I was so into helping him and making sure he was alright that I didn’t know he had stopped breathing. So right there on the table in front of me, my grandfather died. It’s still a bit tough,” she said, battling back tears. “He always wanted to have a doctor much like my daddy so he was really excited for my graduation. He was 84 when he died.”

It was this grandfather who always taunted her about not knowing to waltz. She spent many summers with him listening to old-time stories.

Her hobbies are writing, painting, listening to music including ‘Rake and Scrape’, a genre related to the Bahamas.

For favourite dishes, the 23-year-old enjoys guava duff (a bread made with guava that is dipped in a brandy/guava sauce), kidney beans and rice cooked similarly to cook up, dhall puri and roti, calaloo cook up and pepperpot which she is hoping to make for the first time this year.

Speaking to aspiring writers and poets, she said, “If it’s something you want to do then by all means go ahead. My philosophy for everything is ‘Chase after the dream and not the competitions’. So whatever your dream is forget everybody else who may be competing with you or who have their own opinion and give it your best shot. My father always says to me ‘Your success will be measured by how successfully you struggled in your struggles’. So for every failure that I have I remember that always.”

Aziza’s blogs and poems can be checked out at https://www.instagram.com/theironyofzee/ and https://theironyofzee.wordpress.com/ as well as on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/theironyofzee/?ref=page_internal and on SoundCloud https://soundcloud.com/the-rite-of-passage

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