by Edwin Okolo
‘Enjoy your youth’ sounds like a threat,
But I will anyway
There never has been a time where I needed sagely advice about my life and its seemingly insurmountable problems that I haven’t found a gem tucked away in a Regina Spektor song. And more recently there hasn’t been a question about growing older with grace and curiosity that Ozoz Sokoh, more commonly known as Kitchenbutterfly hasn’t inadvertently answered for me.
I am a millennial, part of the generation that rejected the diamond ring as a symbol of eternal love and the white wedding as a marker of future conjugal bliss. I am an Nigerian millennial, the worst kind; trapped in a country that almost defiantly chooses to remain backwards while painfully aware of all the possibilities that should be available to me.
I wrote my final WAEC paper at fifteen. I didn’t exactly enjoy secondary school; I felt like Sylvia Plath and Federal Government College Kaduna was my bell jar. University and desk jobs in dank offices didn’t rank very high in my list of possible futures, after all I could hit falsetto notes, dance ballet, draw and write- that fantasy future seemed one opportunity away. I joined a choir and then a band, couch surfed, watched a man die in my arms, fell into and came out of my first major depression. By the time I hit 20, I was washed up, burnt out and keening for the routine a university education would give me.
The late 2000’s brought about the age of the visible teenage success. Everywhere I turned in my early 20’s I was assaulted with images of 15 year old’s with million dollar mansions and career portfolios that put veterans to shame: MTV cribs, Pimp my ride and My Sweet Sixteen. They were doing things I could do- singing, dancing, acting, tinkering away at a computer. I spent 20-25 oscillating between rabid ambition and debilitating indecision. I wanted everything and knowing I couldn’t get any of it, not at the time I thought I was ready for and deserving of it drove me crazy.
I perpetually felt like a failure, a sentiment I’m sure many young Nigerians are way too familiar with. Nothing was coming fast enough and when I looked too hard at the future, all I saw was regret.
I think I discovered Ozoz Sokoh on Facebook through a status update by Bassey Ikpi. Bassey; I had followed from her Def Jam days, and back then she was an idol I had created, incredibly talented and distant enough that I could dress her in my assumptions. I know now how terribly unfair it is to define a person by something they did two decades before. I discovered Bassey and Ozoz again in 2014, trying out duckface selfies with Keside Anosike at that year’s Farafina Creative Workshop. It wasn’t the kind of thing I expected to stumble on on Instagram. I’d thought of writing workshops as painfully serious places.
Through out the workshop, I don’t think anyone approached the whole experience with quite as wide eyed wonder as Ozoz did. She admitted she’d never really gotten into selfies before then, spoke honestly about how she’d always considered her writing, predominantly memoirs about her relationship with cooking and food as not ‘legitimate’ in the way literary fiction is regarded. But you could tell that she had lived and wore that life well. She was both the matriarch and the ingenue, and it meant the world to me to see someone so open to the world.
I have followed her work and life in the intervening years, seen her embrace new experiences with the fervor of an 18 year old, celebrate milestones with her children and finally perfect fleek eyebrows. She doesn’t pretend to have it all together, and is a strong argument for why you shouldn’t have to.
I stand for Ozoz because she embodies many ideas that used to be intangible to me: the art of being content in who you are in the moment yet staying open to new experiences and opportunities. The need to celebrate personal triumphs, despite how wholly inadequate they may seem to outside eyes. The grace to walk through a room and leave it changed. The willingness to share your journey so others have permission to do the same.
I know this a little ironic to say to a Kitchenbutterfly, but never change.
I stand for Bassey too, but that deserves it’s own manifesto.
Edwin writes to explore concepts that he seeks to understand but cannot directly experience because of gender and genetics. He used to run the experimental fiction column ‘The Alchemist’s Corner’ and created the YA series Seams at The Naked Convos and serves as a fiction editor at Stories NG. He has written for Thelonelycrowd, Sable Lit Mag,Omenana and the Kalahari Review and was longlisted for the Short Story Day Africa Prize. He is obsessed with children, cats and Paternak, exactly in that order.