Adaobi Ezeodum: The struggles of the not-so-average Nigerian woman [Nigerian Voices]

by Adaobi Ezeodum

It was December 26, 2015. My aunt woke me up around 10 am to tell me that there would be a family meeting in the next thirty minutes. Not long after I was handed the worst news of the entire year: I will not be returning to the United States to complete my education.

I came to Lagos to spend the holidays with my family for a month, and two and a half weeks into my stay I was told I was not returning. My parents had planned that I wouldn’t return but didn’t want to tell me before I arrived because they knew I would end up not traveling to Nigeria at all. When they handed me the news, I thought they were bluffing. Never would I have imagined that they would go through with it. Here I was, in my last year of college, with all my belongings and possessions in America, and all of a sudden I’ve become stuck in Nigeria.

In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. Since I moved to the United States in 2011 to further my education, my belief system and my parents’ had been in constant clash. America is a place that largely promotes individuality and freedom of thought, while Nigeria thrives in conformity, but it is the most dangerous type of conformity. Nigeria is not like certain Middle Eastern countries where the rules of conformity are clearly played out. These countries tell you plainly; “These are our rules. If you refuse to conform to these rules, you stand to get in trouble with the law.” With these countries, you know what to expect. With Nigeria, it is a different case altogether. We advocate freedom of thought, press, religion and the likes, just as every democracy does, but are conformists to the very letter. The result of this is that freedom exists only on paper. In theory you are free,but practically you are not. Nigerians tell you “Be yourself, but only the version of yourself that is suitable to us and what we are used to.”

Living in a place like the United States makes you realize how much of a bondage it is to live in Nigeria, especially if you are born not to fit in. After living in the United States for two years, I began a mental detox. I started to question everything I had learned growing up. I began to unlearn what I had been accustomed to for most of my life. This is how the problem between my parents and I started. I did not fit the description of the model child they had thought I would grow up to be, and I refused to allow myself be unhappy just because I didn’t exactly turn out the way they’d wanted me to.

School began and I was still here, that’s when it begins to hit me. I’m here. I’m really here. The first thing I did was go into a bout of depression which lasted for about a month. I hardly slept, ate, and even contemplated suicide a couple of times. I just could not fathom the fact that I was stuck in Nigeria. I finally got over that phase by running away from home. I packed my things (which were not many by the way since I had brought items to last me only a month) and left on a day when no one was home. I moved in with a friend who lived somewhere on the mainland and stayed there for three months. Those months were very formative months of my stay in Nigeria. My friend stayed in a small but conducive place at Ojodu-Berger. It was there I experienced the paradox that entails with living in Lagos. During the week, I would sometimes board a public bus from Ikeja City Mall to Ojodu-Berger. Occasionally, the bus conductor increases the price by N50. At this point, more than half of the passengers alight from the bus, some of them exchanging words with the conductor as they left the bus. It amazed me because I always wondered why fifty naira made such a huge difference. But then I remembered that some of these people earn as little as twenty thousand naira monthly. With that kind of salary, every naira certainly counts. I would take a bus back to my friend’s house where we wouldn’t have power supply for close to four days. The moment we saw “light”, we were rushing to the nearest socket to charge our phones. Occasionally, we would run out of water in the house and would have to walk a mile to fetch water.

On the weekends, my boyfriend would send me an Uber which I would ride to meet him at his house which is located just after Victoria Island. We would begin our weekend shenanigans, which started with going to restaurants like Hard Rock Café, Sao Café, Lotus Pataya, and Maison Farenheit. In places like these where almost everyone is carrying the latest iPhone, having a decent meal and drink would cost approximately N 10,000. Later, we would head to clubs like Sip, Vapours, Quilox, Escape, and 57. After a good night out, we would then head back to his house where he had 24-hour power supply and water was not a hard thing to come by. I would leave him the next day and head back to the mainland; to the usual hustle of entering “kekes”, buses, and hoping we have power supply for at least 2 days in the incoming week. And then it hits you. The reason most people never have a completely accurate description of Lagos is that most times they experience just one side of it. I considered myself lucky to have viewed these contrasting parts of Lagos.

It’s been almost nine months and I’m still here. How have I survived? I told myself that living in denial was yielding me no results. I am here to stay, for a while at least. That is not to say I haven’t had my fair share of struggles though. The misogyny and patriarchy that exists in Nigeria is one that is deafening. It is the toughest to fight because you often feel like all odds are against you. You have to keep reminding yourself that you are not crazy and it is not a man’s world.

There is a constant reminder to myself to not get angry and retaliate when a man who is attempting to “toast” me thinks he’s doing me one by touching me or pulling my hand to grab my attention. It takes every fibre of my being not to yell at him and tell him that he’s invading my privacy because it’s no use. You’ll probably meet a few other ones on your way. The misogyny that exists in Nigeria exhibits itself in two forms; it is blatant and then subtle. The blatant one is the one I described to you a few sentences up. The subtler one is the one where women are advised to drop their educational qualifications and learn a vocational skill or start a business.

Oh! Before I go on let me mention that these things are okay as long as you do not earn more than your partner or spouse so that you do not emasculate him. It should be just something to keep you busy. “Aim high, but not too high” they say. Personally, I think this is the most insulting one. How dare you tell me to abandon a degree that I worked so far to get just because you have the “privilege” of having a penis? Do you think I cannot be the CEO of multinational company, or a corporate executive because of the “misfortune” of being born with a vagina? You reduce my intellectual worth to selling lace and fabric? It’s highly demeaning and worse than blatant patriarchy. The by-product of this is a country that is overly saturated with bead-makers, fashion designers, fabric sellers, make-up artists, and supermarket owners; and hardly any female engineers, scientists or CEOs. But I will survive. I will get through this. Women like me who do not fit in and refuse to fit in will survive. Together, we will be women who refused to let the pressures of this misogynistic, patriarchal, and hyper religious society get to us.

 


This entry was submitted as part of the Nigerian Voices competition organized by YNaija.com.

We publish, un-edited, Nigerians telling the stories of their everyday lives. Read all the narratives daily on the Nigerian Voices vertical. You can also contribute your own story titled ‘Nigerian Voices’ to [email protected].

 

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