The Nigerian Woman | Granny said…

Advice from my Grandmother

Hi Guys!

Bringing the Nigerian woman series back with some wise words from my Granny. For some reason, this memory has been at the forefront of my mind lately so I thought I’d share. On my first day of Primary school, she sat with my mother as my mum helped me into my “big girl” uniform. When my mother stepped out for a few minutes my Granny proceeded to hand me some major keys. It’s kind of funny to me how with the passing of time, her words have renewed meaning to me. Anyhow I’ll stop babbling on and get right into it.

The first thing she said to me was “neither a borrower nor a lender be”. Yes I’m aware that this is Shakespeare now but at the time I was none the wiser. At five this meant that when other kids at school would ask me to rip out paper from my notebook for their games, it was my responsibility to consider the consequences. First, my mother would have my ass if I ran out of pages in my book cause I was being the community vendor for table soccer. No friendship was really worth that. Plus the reverse of being the borrower was not safe either. Kids are mean and once you get that reputation of being the one who is always borrowing; its hard to shake the mockery. Later in life however, being discerning with borrowing and lending can save your friendships. There is nothing more uncomfortable than that feeling of debt whether you borrowed or loaned. You know that feeling when you see someone who owes you money faffing about on Snapchat or Instagram without a care or as would be the reverse, the feeling that you can’t take a breath without your debtor glaring at you. Either way, this is a philosophy I would recommend to anyone.

The second thing she said was “don’t let anybody see your pant”. This one caught me off guard to be honest but it was a lesson on avoiding pedophiles and men being scum 😛 . Okay maybe I’m reaching with that last bit but not by much I assure you. At five as you can probably imagine I took this very literally. There was nothing to suggest that this was really veiled caution against sexual predators. This lesson however came in handy a few weeks into Primary 1 when a two of my male peers at the time thought it would be cool to bring a small mirror to class and place it on the floor as a “peeping” apparatus -_-. When I found out, I stared the offender in the eye like Mowgli did Shere Khan and slapped him :). Ah the thought of my righteous retribution still makes me smile today. Fast forwarding a few years though, I feel what my Granny is saying to me now is that many people will make a case for why they are deserving of you; some convincing, some just creepy, but your vulnerability comes at a high price so act accordingly. I was raised in a society that constantly sexualizes women and like a double edged sword, shames them for indulging in anything sexual. For this reason I feel she was telling me to guard more than just my itty bitty fruit of the looms but to guard my heart as well.

Lastly, she said to me and still says to this day “be a good girl”. These are the all encompassing words of caution. If showing discernment in my dealings with others and guarding my heart weren’t enough to steer me on the right path, these were her final words to me that day. These words say to me remember where you come from, be kind and honest, honor your parents, be a blessing to all those you meet and live in peace with others.

Sometimes I wonder why she chose to tell me these things on my first day of school or if she told my mother these things as well but whatevrr it was, I’m glad she did.

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The Nigerian Woman | Rooted

Yosola Paul-Olaleye

Hi Guys!!

YossiePaul

Back again with another amazing Nigerian woman! I remember growing up how the instant rebuke for doing less than your peers was “do they have two heads?!”. I am however convinced that Yossie does! 😀 How else do you describe someone who is a published author, working on her Masters degree and gearing up for a PhD. and of course maintaining the daunting responsibility of being entertaining on social media!! Always true to her Yoruba roots and an all round pleasure to talk to and learn from, I know you would enjoy reading about this Nigerian Woman just as much as I did!

Who are you (What are the things that make up your identity, likes, interests, quirks)

You’d think people would be comfortable with this question given that we are supposedly self-obsessed, but I still struggle with it. In any case, I’m a 22-year old wearer of many hats – at least, I try to be. I feel it’s my duty to be able to do many things for myself, and this is probably to my detriment.

At the moment, I am studying for a master’s degree in Communication Governance at LSE. In my spare time, which is technically no spare time at all, I work on an online publication with friends and I try to build platforms that will potentially change the way we discuss issues concerning Africa and ‘development’.

I am also an aspiring writer, and I published my first book in September 2015. It is a collection of essays and poetry about home and various experiences of womanhood. It is dedicated to my grandfather, the man whose influence shaped my life and work.

Two things make up my identity, really, and those are books (by which I mean words and everything about them) and Nigeria. This is because everything I do finds its way back to my love for words, language, and literature; and whenever I think about my work and my goals, I think about ‘home’.

What do you feel being a Nigerian woman means?

On a very simple level, I think of it merely in terms of our places of origin, our names, our histories. But I am also interested in how the above shape our identities and influence our character.

Being a Nigerian woman for me is about knowing where I have come from – which I understand as my name and my family’s lineage – and leading a life that glorifies that history. I come from a long line of women who have changed their environments and the lives of the people around them, and I feel it’s important for me to follow that path and do something meaningful for Nigeria/Nigerians, especially girls, perhaps in education.

Maybe being a Nigerian woman, for me, is about contributing positively to the growth of our home?

Has your identity as a Nigerian ever been questioned? Why and how did you respond?

No, it hasn’t. If anything, my identity as a Yoruba woman has been questioned, but that’s because I don’t like pepper (read: hot food). Sometime last year, a friend generously went out in the night to find some food for me. He came back with Nando’s and I didn’t think much of it because I figured we couldn’t go wrong with chicken. Wrong. At some point, I realised my mouth was burning and so I asked him if he got extra hot. He turned his face away from me and said, “You have a Yoruba mother.” I was like: Yes, and so? That I have a Yoruba mother doesn’t mean I eat pepper, please. So I had this dramatic moment of, “Please don’t kill me o!”

It was quite hilarious. I actually love the look on people’s faces when I say I don’t like super hot food. It’s like, “ah ahn. You sure sey you be omo Naija like this?” Yes, I’m sure. I don’t understand what people enjoy about tapping their heads while eating because of pepper.

When did you become conscious of your identity as a Nigerian woman?

I think this happened sometime last year – I think I fully came into myself in 2015. I had always known that I was ‘Nigerian’, insofar as I was born and raised in Lagos. I had always known my full name, and I had always been aware of the influence my childhood experiences had on my person. But, last year, I started to think about my childhood, and my relationship with my grandfather, who, in many ways, tried to make us all aware of where we came from, of our names, of our history. This is why I dedicated my book to him and why I wrote the short essay about home and my grandfather.

I started to think about what my name means, and how to make sure it drives me, and that’s when I started to feel strongly ‘Nigerian’. That said, being away from home makes me feel somewhat removed from the reality of Nigerian living.

What are you most proud of when you think of Nigerian women?

Ooh, the fighting spirit! I mean, it could also be described as shakara (especially if you’re Yoruba), but I think it’s wonderful. And it’s also not restricted to Nigerian women. I think African women all over the world share this, and it’s what makes us – our grandmothers, our mothers, all of us – remarkable. Don’t worry, no feminist propaganda here (although that wouldn’t be amiss). 😉

Where can people find you and your work?

All over the web, literally. I have placed all my digital footprints in a central place for ease: www.about.me/yossiepaul

 

 

The Nigerian Woman- Diverse

Nneoma Nwankwo

Hi Guys!!

Back with another one! (Shout out to DJ Khalid still). Nneoma is one of the first friends I made in life (not nearly as dramatic as I just made it seem). She was in my age group in church so we just kinda grew up together. Needless to say we were cool kids :p. We have both evolved immensely since those days in our afro-puffs but this young woman here continues to make me so happy! She’s a true inspiration and I hope you all check out her work and see all of the amazing things she gets up to.

Nneoma-begin-Nigerian woman

Who are you (What are the things that make up your identity, likes, interests, quirks)

“Who are you” is such a difficult question! I’m Nneoma, and my name means Good mother. I’m really extroverted, so I enjoy being around people. I listen to music in African languages I don’t understand, particularly Amharic, Xhosa and Tamasheq. I can sing the songs literally word for word, but I have no clue what they mean, and I’m fine with that! But of course, I love my Nigerian music, Reggae, and Dancehall. I study Political Science, and Urban Planning, and I conduct extensive research on Menstrual Hygiene. I write poetry and fiction also, and I’m a scribbler–so I have couplets and unfinished story plots in the margins of all my Politics and Law textbooks. In my group of friends, I’m definitely the loudest, because I love making people laugh. I worry that I’m too pushy sometimes, because I’m the one in the group that’s like “Apply to this program! Send your paper to this conference!” but my friends love me anyway, so it’s fine. I have been really blessed in life: I have an amazing family, wonderful friends, and great opportunities. I can truly say that I’m immensely happy, and as much as I can, I try to ensure that people around me feel the same way.  

What do you feel being a Nigerian woman means

When I think of Nigerian women, three words instantly pop into my mind : humor, resilience and ambition. Almost every Nigerian woman I know is hilarious, we innately relate to everyone with humor and wit, and there’s always a way to ease up any mood and create a loving atmosphere with the way we talk and crack jokes. Although it’s starting to change (or get better), the Nigerian society has looked down on women as less than men for the longest time, and resilience is necessary to deal to with it. Furthermore, Nigerian women around the world are breaking down barriers, and really doing amazing in all fields, from entertainment to finance to politics. It’s amazing–I cannot imagine being anything but.

Has your identity as a Nigerian ever been questioned? Why and how did you respond?

I don’t think I ever had my identity questioned, until I started university in America. Even then, it was not so much being questioned, as being clarified by others who identified as Nigerian also. They were trying to “make sure” that I was a “real” Nigerian, you know, like “Omo, are you experiencing this culture shock? You fit cook jollof? Wetin dey happen na?” So my Nigerian-ness wasn’t so much being questioned, as it was being authenticated. I don’t think the purpose was to isolate Nigerians raised in America, or Americans of Nigerian descent, rather to find Nigerians with more similar experiences, and to build relationships with them.

When did you become conscious of your identity as a Nigerian woman?

I have always been aware of my identity as a Nigerian woman. I grew up in a household where Nigerian female icons were very celebrated, like I vividly remember the day Agbani Darego won Miss World, and I remembered it was important because she was a Nigerian woman, just like me (even though I was 6 years old at the time). I remember when Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was rising through the World Bank. My Mom actually wrote a wonderful book called “Gender Equality in Nigerian Politics,” and then became the first Nigerian woman to win an Oxford Reuters Fellowship. So even as a young girl, I was positively hyper-aware of my identity as a Nigerian woman.

What bothers you the most about Nigerian women?

I hate to make a sweeping generalization of both Nigerian men and women; but I’d have to say I hate that mentality that there are just things that men do, that a woman will have to put up with, especially in a romantic relationship. So like a man is cheating, hitting a woman or verbally abusing her, and it’s like, well, he’s a man, and that’s how they behave and just pray about it. I refuse to believe that somebody is (un)intentionally being terrible to me, and I should just sit there and take it (quietly) because he’s a man. Whether he is a boyfriend, a father figure, or just a male friend, if a man consistently mistreats me, I will permanently remove him from my life. Thanks to my parents’ marriage and my brothers and all my male Nigerian friends, I know what loving relationships between men and women should look like, and in the words of Lauryn Hill, “respect is just the minimum.”

What are you most proud of when you think of Nigerian women?

Honestly, I cannot even quantify how much I love Nigerian women. I think of my different Nigerian female friends, and they are so diverse in ethnicity and religion, but the bond is fantastic. Nigerian women have this great way of keeping our heads up, and forming beautiful relationships with each other. I think we are the most hilarious group of people–and where there is laughter, often that’s where you will find love. I am most proud of the drive that Nigerian women have–if we say we are going to accomplish something, good luck attempting to stand in the way of us and our goals.

Where can people find you and your work?

My professional Twitter: @nneomaen (!) I share there whenever my work gets published, or whenever something interesting happens in my life, which is everyday, if you ask me 🙂

The Nigerian Woman- Legacies

Ezi Odozor

Hi guys!

I would like to introduce this amazing woman to you! I met Ezi when I was in first year and my friend dragged me to an NSA event. She started the group and was president at the time. It’s a little crazy how three years later I was chosen to continue a legacy she had put in place. I remember thinking she was so cool and important then and its funny how that impression hasn’t changed at all even with time. Reading her post was really special for me because I felt it really spoke to the deep cultural ties that many Nigerian women can relate to. I know that you would enjoy reading this just as much as I did :)!Ezi The Nigerian Woman

Who are you (What are the things that make up your identity, likes, interests, quirks)?

My name is Ezinwanne Toochukwu Odozor—Ezi for short. I’m a graduate of the University of Toronto. I double majored in English and in Human Biology, specifically in Global Health.

Writing is my medium for expression—whether poetry, stories, essays or music.

Global Health is a field that allows me to be myself: to be passionate, to be an advocate, to write, to think, and to create. I specifically am working on getting into the field and focusing on child and maternal populations.

In my life I’ve been a counselor, a student service representative, a program coordinator for a medical residency program, an Executive Board Member and Unit President of a large Employee Union at a major University, a friend, a writer, a lover, a singer, a terrible saxophonist, a jewelry maker, and a goof.

I have been many things, but I think the core part of who I am is tied to my name. Ezinwanne means the good sibling, or neighbour.

In everything I’ve done, I’ve looked to support others and to really explore the human condition—whether through art, academia, or advocacy. That is who I am, I suppose.

What do you feel being a Nigerian woman means?

Huge question. It means being a woman, an African woman, in a world that will not readily recognize you. In a country blessed by every excellence of the natural world, but stressed by a colonial history. It means that you will add colour to the life of people around you. It means that whether Edo, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, or Tiv you will be born into a tradition of strength and will have the job of passing that strength on to others. It means that you will have to bear much and it will be a beautiful struggle. It means that you will have a network of sisters who will laugh and cry with you, but who will also make you shine your eyes on occasion.

It is hard to say what being a Nigerian woman means. It is a thing that you feel in your core and when you look at your sister, you just know she feels it too. That’s what I think at least.

Has your identity as a Nigerian ever been questioned? Why and how did you respond?

Definitely it has been: by friends, by strangers, by lovers.

I was born in Nigeria, but I came here when I was nearly two years old. Ever the busy body, I was walking, speaking fluently—in Igbo mind you—and, by all reports, causing all kinds of mischief.

When people ask me where I’m from, I say Nigeria. Inevitably they’ll ask when I came to Canada. When I say 1992 they smile and say, “Oh” or “You’re Canadian then,” as if this would undue my dual citizenship and safely place me in a plane of being that they could easily digest; that I must be one or the other. My response is to force a smile and say, “No I’m Nigerian.” I am Canadian too it’s true, but it is my Nigerian identity that has in great part added colour and flavour to my understanding of myself.

At 24, I still speak Igbo and understand it fluently. I’ve passed the test of the aunties: I can cook our many flavoured dishes, I know my tradition well, and I can tie a mean ichafu (headscarf for my Oyingbos; gele for my Yorubas).

My parents never let any of us children—whether born here or not—forget where we come from. They made sure we went to cultural events and meetings and sat us down many a night to remind us of our cultural duties. I am grateful for this. Igbos are a very strong, traditionally grounded people in general. As an academic in the field of African Literature (Postcolonial studies, literatures, etc) my Father in particular played a great role in fostering a connection to our Nigerianess.

Being Nigerian is more than a location and more than the number of years you spent steeping in one place or another.

I wrote a response for the Guardian on the topic of migration actually. They abridged it a bit. Read the full thing here

When did you become conscious of your identity as a Nigerian woman?

I’ve always been conscious of it. I’ve always been conscious of the fact that I’m female and of the fact that I’m Nigerian and of the intersection of the two. My consciousness of it as a young child was definitely not so ideological and intellectually developed as my consciousness of it is now, but I always aware of it. In the Igbo tradition as the ada of my Kindred—that is the first girl of my kindred, not just of my immediate family—there is a responsibility that comes with that, and so it’s a formal part of my consciousness. Again, my family respects the traditions of my people and so this is an important part of that.

What is your vision for Nigerian women?

I think we need more cohesion. I’m a supporter of group empowerment and cohesive competition—words abi? What I mean is that the group should gather together to push its members higher; not always by agreeing, but always by supporting, and by seeking each other out, such that no one feels alone in their quest. Empirically, there are way too many Nigerians for any of us to be feeling isolated or unsupported.  We also need to be more visible in our strength. Too often are we ready to bow and bend and appease. There are far too many Nigerian women achieving the impossible and yet, where are their collective stories? We cannot wait for others to sing for us. A Nigerian-feminist force would be a powerful one if developed into a movement. What would the west do without us—women and men of Africa, of Nigeria. If we realized our greatness as a collective, as women in particular, we would unstoppable. What a beautiful thought really.

Who is a Nigerian woman in your life who inspires you?

My mom. Perhaps that is cliché, but if you knew her it’d be undeniable that she is a beautiful force. The things she has been through; the things she does for people. All of them are gorgeously handled. She keeps telling us that when she retires she’ll become a lawyer. She’s tireless. She is a builder of people and of ideas. I enjoy hearing about the new programs that she brings into her school board to help the Children she teaches, especially the things she does to empower the special needs children. She doesn’t allow anyone to tell them that they are incapable, she believes that there is a way for everyone to come into their greatness. Whether they are market women or managers, Nigerian women have a kind of perseverance that is enviable.

Where can people find you and your work?

www.echoolibrary.wordpress.com

The Nigerian Woman: Unfinished

You thought it was done?

my girls

I know it has been more than a few weeks since I put up a Nigerian woman post but I am far from through with this series. When I started I wasn’t sure what I wanted to achieve by asking for these stories. All I knew when I started out was that I wanted stories and I wanted this to be an experience that was beneficial for the writer. I wanted it to be something that causes the writer to think more about themselves. At no point did I think that this would cause me to think more about myself and how I understand my identity as a Nigerian woman. (yes I realize I just called myself a woman and not a girl but I will address this later). Reading through the posts I have received, even the ones I am yet to share, I hear so many of my own thoughts echoed through the experiences of other women. When I read the stories of women in my family and I felt the same things I could attribute it to having shared experiences and while I share something with everyone I’ve asked to post so far, there is a surreal feeling reading the thoughts and perspectives that I have received so far.

I am truly grateful for all who have shared their stories with me and I can’t wait to continue sharing more stories.

Picture by Willyverse

The Nigerian Woman|SSR

Shully Sappire-Rubinstein

Shully T-Sr Begin

Hi Guys!

Firstly, I’m so thrilled at the response to the first post in this series! Thank you so much to everyone who read and commented! Here’s the second piece in the series. I was particularly interested in her story for a few reasons; 1) Shully is smart and awesome and hearing her opinion is always great! 2) Being biracial in Nigeria is a pretty unique experience.

As someone simply observing, being biracial seems to draw so many different reactions; bullying, admiration or indifference and often times all these reactions could come from a single source. Shully pulled me into her thoughts and experiences and I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

Who are you (What are the things that make up your identity, likes, interests, quirks)

A while ago I read a tumblr post that said “’I’m having a conversation with one of my friends and I ask him, “What defines you?” and he responded with, “Nothing. A definition excludes the possibility for change.” When I think of my identity, I think of that statement because I feel I am constantly negotiating what it is. That being said I will say the things that currently make me “Shully” lol. My names, my Israeli name and my Nigerian name define me. Shulamit means peace and Temitope means “I’ll always have something to be grateful for”. I am not somebody who people typically think of as peaceful and for a long time I was laughed and told I was named wrongly and so I stopped telling people the meaning of my name. It took me a long time to understand the significance of the name and now I can say without any hesitation I was not named in vain. Temitope reminds me to pause and look around, to be thankful and to recognize the little and big things. After that rant lol, other things that define me would be reading,most especially works of African authors, developing my writing craft, my somewhat obsession with cleaning, extreme organization and arrangement. I also need to be early to everything or I freak out internally. And finally being an introvert but also a weird person according to my friends.

 What do you feel being a Nigerian woman means?

I think being a Nigerian woman means different things depending on where you are from in Nigeria. I think it has a lot to do with understanding the history of women in Nigeria, in your family, culture and understanding the relation to you. I think of strength and perseverance when I think of Nigerian women, of survival, of many lives lived. I think we carry a certain level of pride with us, a Nigerian woman is complicated but wonderful lol. I think of the relationships with sisters and aunties, female friends of the community of women and strength of sisterhood whether in churches or markets

What was it like to be bi-racial in Nigeria?

For me this is a complicated question because I often find I had a different experience than most bi-racial kids in Nigeria. I was bullied for most of elementary and middle school for the reason of being bi-racial. I was also extremely religious, like go to church 4 times a week-earlier-than-service-starts-and-leave-2 hours-after-it-ended religious. My sister and I were always the two “oyinbo” children, easily noticeable and always talked about in church. When I was in Nigeria, I found that I always claimed Israel more, my Nigerian-ness needed no explaining although between my sister and I, she was the one that “looked” more Nigerian. My blond hair and green eyes constantly attracted stares and comments

Has your identity as a Nigerian ever been questioned? Why and how did you respond?

I think this is kind of related to what I was saying before about looking less Nigerian than my sister. In that regard, people are always shocked when I say I’m Nigerian and often people ask if I have been there and are surprised when I say I lived there all my life. Then they ask if I can speak pidgin or where I lived in Nigeria. Almost like a standard test to verify my Nigerian-ness. I usually go through the routine with them, answering questions, laughing at surprises. It only thoroughly bothers me when my experience is questioned and dismissed but mostly I am used to interrogations lol.

What is your favorite thing about Nigeria?

It’s the jokes, the comments, the slangs that make you laugh. Being able to see a meme or a comment or a status and be transported back to a time it happened or remember several experiences. Even to show it to another Nigerian and have them share in that with you. To be miles away from home but still the ability to experience a homier you, that is what I love. Food. Strength and laughter in people, families and communities.

What would you change about Nigeria if you had the chance?

I would change the dependence and crutch on churches. I think people in Nigeria are taken advantage of by the churches. There is too much money going in to churches and too little being put back into taking care of the people you see on the way to your church. It needs to change.

Where can people find you and your work?

You can find me on tumblr – forshalom is where I post up most of my work. Visit, tell me what you think.

The Nigerian Woman| Then and Now

Iquo Ukoh

Hey guys!

As promised here is the first in my Nigerian woman series. To start off I decided to gain some perspective by asking my mother. She was the perfect go-between as she has the benefit of time and consequently has had a fuller experience than I have of being a Nigerian woman.

Iquo Ukoh-Begin
          Mrs Iquo Ukoh

Who are you? (What are the things that make up your identity, likes, interests, quirks)

A wife , a mother, a career woman and a mentor to many young women.

I am a woman that is driven by excellence and a passion to succeed no matter the odds. Even though I did not study marketing in the University but I have become one of the names in marketing to be reckoned with in Nigeria.

In recent years I have decided to channel my creative passions via food blogging, creating new recipes and educating my followers on healthy lifestyle options.

What do you feel it means to be Nigerian, especially a Nigerian woman?

Nigerians are passionate and expressive people. The determination to succeed is one of the most salient characteristics of the Nigerian people. No wonder many Nigerians stand out wherever they are found around the world. A Nigerian woman no matter her social status  is one that is ready to challenge the status quo and dare to try in a man’s world. Cultural and religious limitations continue to place impediments in her path but the Nigerian woman is finding her way around this. It’s not been easy but a certain level of progress has been made

What changes have you noticed in your perspective as time has gone on?

Whilst my mum’s generation were mainly sit at home mothers, today a lot of mums are economically active one way or the other. The limited opportunity for employment has necessitated that women go out to generate income for their households. More women are heading organizations which heather to were mainly the men’s domain . We see women in previously male dominated professions like engineering and  architecture. I am seeing many more women taking charge of their lives and really challenging dominant ideas regarding their abilities.

What are your hopes for young Nigerian women?

The sky is the limit for young Nigerian women who are ready to work hard to achieve their set goals. The road may not be easy but the opportunities are limitless. The average Nigerian man has not quite shifted in his perception that the woman should be seen and not heard. This stance is more apparent in some cultures than others. However, when I see the giant strides young Nigerian women are achieving today  in areas previously dominated by men, I am hopeful.

Where can people find you?

My blog, 1qfoodplatter

Picture by willyverse