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.

I think of my Country

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Reflecting on Nigeria

I couldn’t count the number of times I rolled my eyes while listening to this young man mouth off about the demerits of Nigeria. By the time he described Nigerians as narcissistic I had just about had it. In his opinion, Nigerians are always quick to remind the world that we’re the “giants of Africa” but what do we have to be proud of? The smug look on his face spoke volumes to me. He was either trying to annoy somebody (eg. Me) or he honestly believed what he was saying and was daring the audience to disagree. I would not honor his desires then simply to spite him but I will speak my mind here.

As Nigerians we love to complain. Its a natural talent that we seem to possess. If we do well, we ask why didn’t we do better? If we fail, we ask why didn’t someone else stop us from failing. We complain about the corruption in our country like we invented corruption. We complain about our diversity like its the greatest curse. We would complain about anything as long as you give us the chance. What we fail to do however, after all this complaining is 1) look at what caused the problem  and 2)work to make it better.

Every time a Nigerian stands before me and tells me that we have no national identity all I see is a lack of understanding for where we as a country have come from. The country we now call Nigeria was a colonial construct that was set to ensure ease of colonial rule. The way Nigeria is set up was not for Nigerians to govern. It is a perfect representation of divide and rule because the people from one place to the next are so culturally different. It is hard to believe, with the sheer diversity of the nation that our people would mobilize to fight for independence; but we did. Our national identity should come in our shared history. We do not have to be Nigerian in the way that Americans are American to claim our national identity.

Every time a Nigerian suggests that secession of either the north or the south of Nigeria would solve all of our problems, I wonder how quickly we have forgotten the pain of the civil war. The lives of many people thrown in complete jeopardy because some people did what “seemed” to make the most sense. The north and the south of Nigeria have become very co-dependent irrespective of what some southern people might think. One would find it very difficult to survive without the other. The lives of civilians living in both parts would be horribly affected, and for what reason? Tribalism is our problem in the way some other countries have to deal with racism. As much as I hate to compare sites of inequity, I find this necessary in order to put things in context. Yes managing the power relations between multiple tribes is an incredibly difficult task but I don’t believe that it is impossible.

I am not naive. I know that there are many issues with Nigeria. I am often disappointed and frustrated with the people who lead us. I want more from and for the citizens. I expect so much from this country and it repeatedly falls below my expectations but I am not ashamed. I see potential in Nigeria. I am hopeful for a brighter day. Most importantly, I believe we have plenty to be proud of. There are Nigerians within the country and all over the world who are positively impacting the lives of millions. We are a resilient people who still find something to laugh about even in the darkest situations. We are smart, strong and we have such rich cultures. I don’t think that’s being narcissistic, it is choosing to acknowledge the positives when everyone insists on reminding you of the negatives.

picture by  willyverse