The biggest chal-lenge of Keppy Ekpeyong

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Keppy Ekpeyong remains one of the most popular faces on the tube, but a lot of his admirers must have underated the extent to which he can be temperamental even in real life situations,throwing some light on how he has effectively checked his wife each time she decides to go nagging as well as the price he has had to pay for popularity.

What would you say has been the biggest chal-lenge of your life?

I don't think I've come across a major challenge yet. I don't think I've had a challenge that can be described as major. I have had several experiences that have challenged my life, my disposition, my atittude and stuff like that. But somehow when I go through it, I don't feel like I'm going through so called challenges. Much later, when I think about most situations and wonder how I went through them, I discover that those challenges are not challenges as such. So, I don't know how challenging a challenge is or how a challenge manifests. I'm not too sure about it. But I think in life, most of us become more apprehensive when we anticipate situations. When a situation is thrown at us, we get through it; we ride the storm easier than when we are allowed to think it.

Give me an instance of such.

About five years ago when my daughter was about nine and she had to undergo a surgery. She had a situaiton called adinoid, and she had to do an operation. Do you know that I went through a lot of trauma in my mind? First of all, I could'nt fully appreicate the extent of pain and trauma she was going through because of her condition. I couldn't offer her relief. I was challenged at that point that I wasn't positioned enough to give the necessary support. When the doctor now said that the condition would have to be surgically taken care of, I couldn't be useful in the sense that I wasn't going to be part of the surgical team. But you know, I survived it.

In what sense?

In the sense that I prayed. There is this consolation that I've managed to come to terms with in life; when I'm faced with a difficult situation, I just pray and forget about the problem. Like what happened in my daughter's case, the operation was a very dicey one. But I still found some strength in the fact that I had thrown the budden over to God. And the doctor was the first doctor who had told me that the operation could swing either way. The condition developed when she was two and we had managed it until she was seven years old. And it was at that point we realised that we had to take it out. And the doctor made it clear to me that the operation could swing either way.

At that point, did you feel you were going to lose her?

No, because I had prayed. It was well beyond me. It was a challenge that I couldn't surport.

But you were scared?

I was more than scared. I was petrified because I hate being in a situaiton where I'm gagged or bound. I would be useless in that situaiton. I always like to contribute in any situation, even if it is minimal. Even if it is some emotional contribution, I don't mind. I was emotionally scattered. I was empty. I was beside myself. I felt useless. Loads of questions kept coming up in my mind. I began to blame myself. I panicked. I was finishing one stick of cigarrette in one minute. But when she came out of the theatre and she was alright, I just felt I had worried for nothing. After that, I realised that there is no real challenge in life. It comes when you allow situations to weigh you down. So, the attitude I've adopted is that when a situation presents itself, I automatically begin to think of remedy rather than allow it to weigh me down.

Does this indicate that you are not emotionally strong?

My wife is emotionally stronger than I. She had come to terms with the reality faster than I had. There was no ENT consultant in Nigeria we had not spoken to at some point becuase the condition started early. So, at different times, we had been advised, “do this operation, it's five minutes, she'll get out of it'. That was what they said to us. And I thought of that and was rather suspicious. There is no operation, no matter how light, that you'll find so much relief in five mintues. So, I knew they were trying to cover something. And because I wasn't exposed to their field, I thought there was more to it until we now met this ENT consultant who said it was a fifty-fifty thing.

What are those questions you said were going through your mind when the operation was to be performed?

Am I being fair as a father? Have I acted in good fiath? Have I provided everything possible to prevent this situation? Is this situation (the operatio) necessary? Did we explore other options? Did she have to go through this particular problem? How come it happened to her and not me? Why is she the one going through this amount of discomfort and I'm so confortable? And stuffs like that.

Did you challenge God?

No bcause we had prayed. I don't know whether it is cowardise but I find so much comfort in that run-away syndrome; running away to God. I don't know whether it's cowardise or it is the right thing to do. But I think it is the right thing to do because if I have a situaiton now and I just say a small prayer and I just relax, I just find that the situation is calm. As a growing child, I have always been prepared to take my budden to Christ. So in my old age, it is manfiesting as well.

Are you that old?

I'm old o. I no dey talk my age for public. I'm like old papa.

What has that experience taught you?

That experience is a recurrent decimal in my life. Every time I'm confronted with a situation, I first of all panic because I'm human and I'm vulnerable. But within the hour, I adjust. I panic a lot more than my wife. Then I adjust and begin to think of a solution.

Why are you less emotionally strong than your wife?

Seriously, I don't know why. In many instances, she has demonstrated that strength. I don't know whether it comes with her natural ability to give birth to chidlren. From when my first child was born, I began to experience some renewed respect for women. The average man on the street could beat the average woman on the street. But if you are in a maternity ward and you watch a woman put to bed, you would forever respect their strength because you would feel the pain. You can only imagine what they go through.

Were you present when your kids were born?

No, I wasn't present. I'm always out at the last minute. I was always determined that I would be there, but it is like you wait and wait and you miss rapture. The first time, the nurses pushed me out because I was an emotional wreck and it wasn't good for her. I was like saying, “don't shout on her, be careful with her.” And the nurses said, “you're disturbing us,” and they pushed me out of the room. And as they pushed me out, my baby cried. So, if I had delayed my emotions, I would have seen it through. The second time, I was pacing up and down because I was really worked up. And I went down to take a bottle of beer. But by the time I went back upstairs the baby had come out.

How long have you been married?

FIfteen years now

What has really kept you together?

Most importantly, it is friendship. We have formed that friendship and it has become strogner through the years. The good thing about it is that we're friends first. I've found out in life that with friends, you tolerate all than even the members of your family. So, first of all, she's my friend before she is my girlfriend, before she's my concubine, before she's my mistress and finally before she's my wife. All that in one, we find it easy to stablish a raport. We talk about practically, everything. We share experiences. Even when I'm away for two or three months at a time, we still talk everyday. So, there's a lot of talk therapy which we apply in our relationship, which has managed to keep us going.

Don't you ever get bored of staying with the same woman for fiften years?

We were talking about this boredom about a week ago when we had a friend over and we were doing random talking. And I said may be at some point in a relationship, partners become boring towards each other. And may be at that point, you should encourage your wife to go on visits and let some absence create some fondness in the relationship. Or may be go for an holiday togehter and do something new; a kind of old wine in a new bottle

Are you saying that the attraction you had for her 15 years ago is still there today?

Yes, the attraction is still there. Just before I travelled recently, I remember saying to her that when we're older and ready to die, I think I'll die before her because I said I won't be able to live without her. So, I think our relationship is still jazzed up. The Calabar juju she used to intoxsticate me with is still working strongly (laughter). Honestly, I'm not saying our relationship is not real, I'm not saying our relationship is artificial. We quarrel once in a while.

When she says or does something that hurts you, how do you react?

I tell her straight to her face right there. Or when she begins to nag me, I just leave the house for about two to three hours. And when I come back, it's like nothing ever happened.

Tell me about your most embarrasing moment.

I've had my shirt torn by over-excited fans. Some had pulled my ear and say, “See this boy!” But I really can't afford to get angry. I try to accommodate those expressions. I was at one sit-out in Uyo recently, we were having some drinks. And there was this uniformed guy that kept looking at me and I was uncomfortable. I knew why he was looking at me, but I now began to wonder whether there was more to his looking at me. And suddenly, he came over and hit me and said, “Na you I dey see since?” I was shocked and surprised. His demosntration of recognition was very agressive, but what can I do?

Watching you in movies, one gets the impression of a tough guy. Are you really tough?

It's very difficult to determine how tough a guy is. I know that my kids laugh at me when I cry when we watch some movies that carry me along emotionally. So, I don't know how tough I'm supposed to be. I know that I'm fundamentally human. I have a capacity to love and be loved. Every actor you see in his role, is interpreting his character in a myopic representation of the larger society.

So what we do as actors is that we allow our characters to grow within us. Our characters consume us. So you assume your character in your interpretation. Actors are like clay, they are molded into whatever character you want them to play. I tried to tend towards being playful because I have a terrible temper. And I try to retaliate any wrong done to me because I believe that nobody has monopoly of mischief. I don't think accident happens, especially in a matured relationship. For isntance, I don't believe you accidentally say things about me. So to me, my perception of that act is deliberate.

Give me one of such instances when you have retaliated an act.

Let me start off with my son so that you would understand that if I do this with my kids, I can do it with anybody else. My son is about six years old. Sometimes, chidlren try to be your parents, so they do nasty things that tend toward dominating you. He might just wake up one day and punch me, and I would punch him back and it would be harder.

I keep on telling him when he punches me that I would punch him back. And I would discourrage him from punching at all because you don't know what opposition you would run into in life. So, it's like a lesson to deter him from being a bully. Somehow, at the back of my mind, this has been my philosophy in life. If anybody deliberately does things to you and you let the person go, the person is not going to learn a lesson. The person will get away with it and do it to somebody else, and it might be something a lot more than he anticipates. If something hits him back, he might actually sit back and weigh his options and say “it's true, I really shouldn't do things like that.” It's more corrective than punitive.

What happens to the biblical saying about turning the other cheek?

I believe in that too. But there's no way anybody is going to punch me that I'm not going to punch him back. It would be so spontaneous that I won't even believe it myself. I'm a marshall artist and I have a furious temper. I went into marshall art because I needed to control my temper.

Has your temper put you into trouble before?

It has put me into trouble before because I beat up somebody, but I wasn't wrong. I always justify everything I do. It wouldn't make sense if we're having a discussion and all of a sudden you decide to punch me. What do you expect? That I would sit back and look shocked and petrified? No, I'd punch you back straight away.

You give the impression that you were a bully when you were much younger.

No, I wasn't a bully. I won't go out of my way to hit you, so don't go out of your way to hit me. I think it makes sense. Sometimes when I'm driving, for no reason, bus drivers would hit my car. I would come out of my car and hit their car back too. I don't understand why people should be unruly. Let's keep our social distances. That people look big and stronger doesn't mean that they can intimidate me. It doesn't happen like that anymore.

Having been acting for so long, what makes acting appealing to you?

I did not plan to become an actor. I became an actor quite by accident. It was Tade Ogidan's initiative, so to speak. He introduced me to acting and groomed me. A few things he said informally to those of us who have listening ears contributed to my growth.