Dolapo Adeleke is a 25 year old filmmaker who is slowly making her mark in the Nigerian film industry. The director, fondly called “LowlaDee“, is the brain behind Brave, and A Place Called Happy.
On the 20th of August, 2007, Dolapo was in a car accident. The brakes of the car she was riding in failed. Dolapo, sitting in the passenger’s seat, without a functioning seatbelt, crashed through the dashboard and windscreen of the car.
Today, the 8th year anniversary of the accident that left her with facial scars, LowlaDee shares the inspiring story of her walk through a very difficult time of her life; and how she found purpose through the pain.
We hope you are inspired by her heartfelt story and how she sees life now, in spite of all the pain she went through.
The Dolapo Background
I was born 6th September, 1990 in Kano. I grew up always being selected to give speeches, representing my primary school in debates. I wrote my first book ‘Little White Hen’ in primary three. I was sure in high school that I wanted to be another ‘Oprah’. It was my ultimate dream to own a TV show and help gazillions of less privileged people. I had published my second book ‘Flesh and Blood’ by SS2 and even won a national award for it. I was going to achieve my dreams at every cost. What was going to stop me?
One night, in 2007, my parents came to my room and started showering prayers over me. I didn’t really like spiritual stuff like that but my parents told me our pastor had called from South Africa saying his wife had a dream where I had an accident and was burnt beyond recognition. He told my parents not to allow me go out till after prayers and when the leading says so. I was thought ‘what kind of wahala is this one?’ After the prayers I just went to bed. I didn’t say the prayers, I’m not sure I cared at the time.
I had graduated from Dansol High School in 2007 and waiting to resume at Covenant University.My childhood best friend called me up and said we needed to pick up our handbooks from Covenant. We agreed I’d come over to her house and we’d go together.
I woke up feeling a bit irritated at everything. My grandma had said I shouldn’t go out because she had a nightmare where a baby was in a pool of blood and crying. That upset me. I’m like what’s up with all these dark talk?
That morning as I was to go with my Dad to pick up some of the school documents, he looked at me and for the very first time he said ‘See how beautiful my daughter is. See her glowing skin’. I think I truly felt beautiful with conviction for the first time.
On getting to my father’s office, he told me I would be going in the driver’s 504 car and not in his. I didn’t want to go in that car. I wanted to go in my dad’s ‘fine car’; but the way he screamed at me, I had to go in the driver’s car. When I got into the 504, I sat in the front seat and the first thing I tried on was the seatbelt. It didn’t work and sadly at that time, wearing your seatbelt wasn’t enforced in Lagos.
We got to my friend’s house, and the driver was trying to park, but the car kept moving. I just thought it would stop, but after my friend’s house is a high slope. The car started going very fast. The driver began screaming ‘brake brake!’. I didn’t have time to think. Everything happened so fast. We crashed into a fence and my face broke the windscreen and the dashboard. I remember hearing the blood pouring out of my face like a tap. I remember I jumped out immediately though I couldn’t see. I remember they made me sit on the floor. The car even burst into flames after I had jumped out; but they put it out.
My friend’s brother rushed me to the nearest hospital where I was immediately attended to. As I opened my eyes hours after, the first thing I saw, crushed my heart. It was my father crying. I managed to say ‘Daddy why are you crying? Please stop crying’. I remember him rushing out to call my mother. My mothers eyes were swollen and she only kept saying, ‘Dolapo can you see me? Please tell me you can. How many fingers can you see?’ They thought I was blind.
I remembered being transferred to General hospital at 2:00am that same day and the doctor had given a report that I may not be able to think well again. I had a fractured skull. In fact, my forehead skin had chopped off. You could see the bone.
It was truly a trying time for my loved ones.
The Face. The Scar. The Pain
I later got transferred to another private clinic where I was for about two months till I managed to resume school. As at the early stages in the hospital, I still didn’t know the extent of the damage to my face because there were no mirrors around me; but I know that everyone who came to see me burst into tears. I couldn’t understand it but I would tell them that I’d be okay.
One fateful day, I was taking chicken soup with a stainless spoon, and somehow I turned the back of the spoon and I saw my face. Blood of God. I cannot describe the pain that pierced through my very soul. I couldn’t recognize myself. I was uncontrollable, I cried so much. The whole hospital was on standstill that day. Everyone was sad; nobody knew how to help me feel better. It was from this day that the real trauma of the accident began for me.
What did I do to deserve this? I was only 16. I had dreams. How was I to resume school looking scarred and unrecognizable? You see, people tried to talk me out of this pain. But you can’t motivate or talk someone out of pain sometimes.
Thank God for God, family, and friends who stood beside me. My mind would have been wrecked, my spirit broken but they were there for me. Every step of the way. I am so grateful for the support system I had.
Surgery and Skin Grafts
Because of the serious damage to my forehead, where the skin had chopped off, my parents couldn’t afford a surgery. I was transferred to Ilorin Teaching Hospital where I was to undergo skin grafting. The skin graft failed…woefully.
The doctor called my mom and I to his office and he looked at me with so much compassion and said to me. ‘When a car has an accident, and becomes dented, the mechanic can only try to make the car look better but it can never be new again.’ As he spoke, the tears just flowed because I understood perfectly what he meant. But I wasn’t a car. I am a human being – a young human being with feelings. How was I supposed to live through this? I felt my life was over and all my dreams had just been snatched from me.
One morning I woke up with so much anger. I wanted to fight. And I wanted to win. I decided to resume school despite the way I looked. I didn’t know what I was getting into but I knew I needed to fight back at life somehow. To make a point I did not yet know.
Reintegration Into School Life
I resumed school and I can remember I wore a wig with a fringe. The scar on my forehead wasn’t one to show off at all. It was still fresh. The one on my cheeks, I couldn’t do anything about it. The first day I got to school, I walked into the cafeteria and the first person I saw was my very close friend. She looked at me and looked away. This was like my very own sister but she couldn’t recognize me. I tapped her and said, “Sola, it’s me Dolapo”
She screamed so loud and she hugged me. In fact, all my secondary school friends at Covenant University became a support system for me. It felt good but so many people didn’t know my history and so I would get awkward stares, and whispers when I passed along.
While trying to adjust, there were times I just wanted to quit school. The psychological torture of the accident was so intense. I just couldn’t do it anymore. One day, I was crying in the toilet and then two of my classmates overheard. They truly comforted me with inspiring words and I stayed in school.
I decided I was going to share my story in front of the whole school during a chapel service. Just maybe I needed to give a reason for the fringe hairdo and the scars so the stares could stop. It was a huge step for me but I did it and it truly did mark a new beginning for my remaining days in school. The awkward stares and whispers greatly reduced because people now knew the history.
When I saw that my face was beginning to look better in 200 level, I became obsessed with taking webcam pictures because I was so excited to see a glimpse of how I looked like before. I took pictures and then I would compile them with Picasa and put music under it. I discovered I could tell stories with pictures so I moved to moviemaker and from taking pictures, I began recording short webcam clips featuring my roommates, fix music etc. Some of the clips went a bit viral. Then, some school units started coming to me to edit ads for their programs.
This gave birth to the passion for filmmaking. I began to conceive a bigger picture and I was going to achieve it.
I graduated from Covenant University in 2011 with a good 2:1 in Mass Communication.
I had graduated from school into the ‘real’ world and fantasized about getting my face back through plastic surgery. A part of me did not accept the scars. Through a sponsored trip in 2012 to meet with a successful plastic surgeon in South Africa, I was shocked when the doctor advised me to leave things the way they were. He told me surgeries are 50/50 and no plastic surgery in the world could ‘totally’ take away scars and my face shouldn’t be that experiment again. He advised to invest in professional make up kits; but I couldn’t wear that kind of makeup everyday. Plus it’s not just my thing. The thought of anything going wrong was scary.
I was heartbroken and I remember, Mai Atafo had called me while I was there and for the first time, words of encouragement did ease the pain. He said to me ‘Dolapo those who truly call the shots are behind the camera. In fact I want you to take a nice artsy picture of yourself without the fringe and frame it. By the time you are 27, you will laugh at yourself for worrying so much about scars.’ I will never forget those words. An ounce of courage was added to me.
Also I contacted Kechi Okwuchi, a survivor of the Sosoliso plane crash. She said to me ‘Don’t be afraid. You will be fine’. Hearing that statement from someone who survived with burns on her body and had undergone more surgeries than I had, blew my mind away.
It is true that where you problem stops is where another man’s own starts. So hearing ‘It would be fine’ from someone who had been through worse pain, made me believe it will really be fine. I drew strength from her courage and I am riding on!
Pain to Purpose
It is true that in your pain, you find purpose. I had registered my production company in 2011 just after graduation. I couldn’t afford to go to film school so I went with the harder way of learning to make films- by just making them and so far it’s been a soothing ride. Right now, I write, produce, direct and edit professionally.
Brave, short film, starring Adesua Etomi and Wole Ojo became the first officially released work from the company and the awards, reception and recognition is so inspiring. We produced our first Television movie ‘A Place Called Happy’ starring Blossom Chukwujeku and Sika Osei. We are working on our first Television series as well. We have produced corporate videos for some of the most prestigious companies in the country.
Also, just recently I was nominated under ‘Best Film Director’ at the NEA awards with iconic people such as Kunle Afolayan, Mildred Okwo and it feels unreal.
I felt unqualified, but, it shows that the big picture I conceived back in school will come to pass. All these make me believe that when we are strong enough to flip the coin of pain, we find purpose and in purpose, we rule. We find joy.
Looking to the Future
The inner scars are harder to fight. I still fight it till today. I have been on a fringe since 2007 because of the failed surgery on the forehead. Will I wear a fringe forever? Perhaps it is the Lowladee trademark? Heck! It is my reality. I wear a fringe for me. It makes me comfortable and I realized on time that I owed no one an explanation as to how I want to live through my reality.
I won’t say I’m totally healed, but I am a work in progress. I am still nervous about being in front of the video camera but I am hoping someday I would be courageous enough to film a biopic on my story.
I remember one day while in Uni, my hall potter at that time called me to her office and said, ‘You will marry a good man’. It was awkward but it makes sense now because it is true. I met the man of my dreams in 2011 and all I can say is that my hall potter was right. Love when genuine can heal broken spirits and I am grateful I have that 200%. I am grateful I have that good man.
My story may not even be compared to what some of you have been through or going through, but we become stronger when we fight. We are larger than life and we cannot let life mess us up all the time. We cannot afford to live life on our knees. We must FIGHT and WIN on our feet.
It has been 8 years and I am grateful to God for life publicly. I am just so grateful that today my friends are not shedding tears over me, or family members calling up my parents to remember 8 years of my passing.
I am alive and grateful for being able to overcome years of depression and anger.I honestly never thought I could look close to what I looked like before the accident again and I am grateful that I can look at myself today and smile at my transition.
Thank you for taking the time to read. Please celebrate with me!
Thank you to my family and my friends who have continued to stand by me. I love you!