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| Powerful

Busola Olukoya

Busola-Begin

Hi Guys!!

I’m not going to waste any time on this introduction, this post blew me away!!! Her attention to detail, the way she spoke words straight from my heart and she says it all so well!! I’ve known Busola since we were in Jss2 and watching her grow and mature into this beautiful human being has been such a privilege. Like I said not going to bore you with much of an intro, enjoy!

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

My name is Olubusola Onyedikachi Olukoya and I’m Catholic. While growing up with two sisters in an Igbo-Yoruba household, our parents never made us feel like we were less of either tribe. Despite many distrusting comments from extended family members on either side, we were taught to eat both Yoruba and Igbo variations of Egusi soup, without much preference for one over the other. Thus, I feel that I am Busola as equally as I am Dikachi. My religion, however, is not as fluid. I am Catholic. This was the only identity I could claim in its entirety while growing up, and it has been my anchor.

My parents also tried to expose us to many different environments so that we would know a little bit about everything. Conversations in our home ranged from sports like tennis and golf, to medicine, politics, spirituality, literature and fashion. I took piano lessons at the Muson Centre for a year before stopping. I learned to play golf but never got a handicap. I learned to swim but I never went through speed or endurance training. I learned to learn and to enjoy learning. In this way, I am a dabbler of sorts. I took up knitting in college, I own a gorgeous sewing machine, and I write unfinished poetry on slips of paper that I can never find afterwards. I am the queen of incomplete projects, and I’m realising that I’m okay with that.

What does it mean to you, to identify as a Nigerian woman?

When I think of Nigerian women, I think of my mother, my aunties and my grandmothers. And, when I think of these women, I think of a patriarchal system that has deep roots in our cultural history and awareness. I think of a culture of silence, endurance, sacrifice and the glaring ostracization of outcasts. There are things that are never in a woman’s place to say or do. I was always told to “eat the shit given with a smile on your face” and to “remember that you are a woman”. Something about these constant reminders of my place in society made me never want to be a part of it.

Similarly, while growing up, I was never exposed to an alternative narrative of my cultural heritage. Each side of the family mocked me for not being enough of one tribe. I quickly grew to hate the word hybrid and, while doing so, I created an identity for myself that was stripped of any cultural affiliation. By late adolescence, I had taught myself to fit in just enough to be passable – dropping kini’s and chai’s, depending on the listener – yet I wanted to stand out enough to seem above being either one or the other. I wanted to be just enough of me for my own sake.

In my naivete, I aspired to be American. From afar, it seemed to be the only nation that took pride in celebrating diversity; advocating against the binary system of human expression which I had experienced growing up. Now, I know that there is no such nation, and am learning to build a nation for myself in the cells of my own body.

Lately, while pondering my response to this question, I realized that time and experience had altered my perception of the Nigerian woman. While in the diaspora, I have been exposed to the inherent diversity of any single identity. There is a plethora of narratives of Nigerian people with both similar and differing experiences to mine. The realization that there is not one single definition of a Nigerian woman, coupled with the rising vocalization of the harsh reality of being a woman in any patriarchal society, has made it more comfortable for me to claim this identity. I have come to believe that one’s identity lies in the connection to one’s history. Thus, I am a Nigerian woman because of the identity conferred on me by the line of women before me — from which arises the history that I will pass on to the women I will raise in my lifetime.

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

It wasn’t until I moved to the states for college that I started thinking of myself as a Nigerian woman. As one of three Nigerians at a small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere, Ohio, I realized that my narrative was the only representation of a Nigerian woman that some of my friends would ever receive. This forced me to re-examine the traits I thought made me “Nigerian” and to consider the many ways those traits would be interpreted — and misinterpreted — in my ambassadorship. I found myself learning to braid my own hair, wearing prints to church (unlike I had previously detested doing), and falling in love with the many ways of recreating the meals that I never imagined I would miss. My best friends at college learned to see sha and abi as essential conversational tools, and I discovered a love for learning the history of my culture and my people as represented in literature.

What challenges do you face in the perceptions of your identity?

I’m most worried about people mistaking my single story for a representation of all Nigerian women, or of all African women. I realize, now, that this is unavoidable, as a majority of the inhabitants of the world choose to remain ignorant about global affairs, and the media is unrepentant in its perpetuation of saving Africa. I think that the only way to rise against this challenge is to be fully and unapologetically myself, without trying to conform to a narrative that seems more glamorous on Instagram. To do this, I know I have to arm myself with knowledge deeper than what can be found trending on the interwebs. I also have to be willing to respectfully — but firmly — present a differing opinion to any broad generalizations that come my way (Yes, I do speak very good English as do most Nigerians. No, there is no such thing as sounding “African”, I don’t think the burden of presenting 66 countries – including the de Facto states and territories – should fall on one person’s lips).

Which Nigerian woman are you most proud of?

I’m proud of my mom, Ezinne Olukoya, for presenting an alternative reality of what it meant to be a Nigerian woman to us. From my mother, I learned to be honest about a messed up situation, but to make the best of it regardless. My mother always joked that she couldn’t work hard in school because she did not understand maths. So she swore to herself that her children would excel at the subject. She took the same approach at every milestone of our lives from the Common Entrance to the SATs.

While most of my friends had mothers who worked at banks, schools and hospitals, my mother was always waiting for me at home after school, and was up early to make us hand-squeezed orange juice and fresh meat-pies before we left for school. This has resulted in a deep friendship with mum, and an even deeper respect for her sacrifice. I think, like any mother would, my mother wanted to give us opportunities that weren’t available to her as a child so that we would be able to succeed in an increasingly globalized world. As she lacked the monetary means to do so, she learned to coach us into developing sound interests, and to support us as we pursued them.

For a long time, to a lot of her friends — and to herself, sometimes — my mother seemed like a failure. We were poor, she didn’t have a stable job and she always put her family first. Growing up, I saw women mock her for not being woman enough to be a strong contender in a male-dominated work field. However, I am yet to meet another woman in her generation that is capable of inspiring trust and conversation in children at different developmental stages. As we’re all leaving the house, my mum has started taking the classes in child education that she has wanted to take all her life but, now she’s the one people turn to when they are confused about the subject matter. After all, she’s now the one with the hands-on experience!

Where can people find you and your work?

People can find my more recent work on my new poetry blog at; http://morohunfolu.tumblr.com/

P.s. because I know she’s going to read this, I love you mum, for giving me the space and the tools necessary to find and do me.

The Nigerian Woman| Afrolems

Atim Ukoh

Atim Ukoh Begin

Hey Guys!!

This series wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t consider the role that cooking plays in the average Nigerian’s life. Nigerians love their food if nothing else and there is the very vibrantly expressed opinion that every Nigerian woman must know how to cook (-_-). For this post, I spoke to my sister; CEO and creative director of Afrolems. She stays slaying in the kitchen and while I try, real has to recognize real!! I loved reading her post because while we’re sisters, our experiences and perspectives are pretty different plus she made me laugh :P. Anyhow, I trust that you would love reading this just as much as I did!

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

My name is Atim Ukoh. I am in my late 20’s, currently a food blogger and a digital marketing strategist. I like to believe I am generally a lighthearted person even if I end up panicking about a lot of things. I am too stubborn for my own good. In recent times, I have discovered I love travelling and exploring new cultures. I believe in living life to the fullest. I laugh a lot at any thing. Ask my mum. Sometimes I think it’s nervous laughter because hey you might be boring and I am not sure how to fill in the gap of your awkwardness or you just might be genuinely funny. You never know.

What do you feel being a Nigerian woman means?

A Nigerian woman means being very adaptable. Adaptability is generally a trait popularly associated with Nigerians in general. Moving to Canada reinforced this trait in me. As a Nigerian woman who spent 18 years in a tropical country, the Canadian winter was not the easiest situation to adjust to.

The dating scene was also different. In Nigeria, women are used to being chased aggressively, wined and dined even before you truly find out about her. It took a bit of effort to adapt to the Canadian way of dating which involved giving a guy your number and waiting 3-5 business days to get a text saying “hey I still have your number”.

The society has several expectations of you as a Nigerian woman. There are expectations that you would naturally be domesticated, which may not always be the case. In general, there are societal opinions that need to be taken into strong consideration. Now I am personally not a believer of that fact but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still something to consider. I believe in creatively playing the game and being strategic to get what you want from the society.

What role do you feel food plays in the life of the Nigerian Woman?

Being that I am from Akwa Ibom in Nigeria, there is an additional expectation that I should also be a great cook and it should be a huge part of my DNA. I sometimes believe when Nigerian men see their women, they see a walking pot of soup. There is an expectation that a pot of soup or rice would come out of her being around them for over two hours. I believe food plays a very crucial role in the lives of Nigerian women. Grandmothers and mothers for generations have forced their daughters into the kitchen to learn a thing or two about cooking because they believe the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

When did you fall in love with cooking?

I fell in love with cooking when I successfully made my first tasty pot of Indomie noodles. I realized that I could walk into the kitchen, climb on a stool because I was too short to reach the stovetop and stir my way to perfect noodles fit for consumption. It was the best feeling ever.

What are you most proud of regarding your Nigerian identity?

I am proud of the fact that we are a resilient group. Regardless of what life throws at us, we manage to smile through it, adapt and keep moving. I love the richness of the cultures that exist within Nigeria. I love the fact that we have unique traits that differentiates us from other Africans and even sometimes makes them a tad jealous. I love the fact that we are an enterprising group of people. I would not trade my Nigerian identity for the world.

What are your hopes for Nigeria in the coming years?

I would like to see Nigeria truly get its act together. Be a place that people want to visit, become a place that is synonymous with great inventions both in the arts and sciences. I’d like the Nigerian woman to have a stronger voice in the rural communities, as that would reduce the rate of poverty within these communities.

Where can people find you and your work?

You can find me through my blog Afrolems or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @afrolems

Picture by Willyverse