Afoma and I bonded initially over our mutual love for Mama Brene and books. But she is one of the most resilient and resolute people I know. She’s authentic and vulnerable and such a refreshing voice. You’ll see. As usual, quotes from me are in italics.
1. What does your name mean to you?
My name reminds me of my mother and my paternal grandmother because my grandmother named me. The literal meaning of my name ‘Afoma’ is ‘good stomach’ and that’s the only meaning I knew for the first 15 years of my life so it sort of felt like my name was a nod to my mother. It reminded me that I was from this wonderful woman. I really never liked any of my names for a long time. I thought they were unusual and people always said ‘hm, never heard this one before. Sure your name isn’t Ifeoma?’ or about my other name ‘Jean’, many people just called me ‘Jane’ instead and I remember secretly wishing my name was ‘Jane’ instead. My father gave me that name and I think for a while he was sad about my casting it to the side. In recent times, people have told me that a deeper meaning of my name means someone who’s good, with good values, a generally all round good person. I’ve come into my name in the last few years and I now my name is me. I love it. It reminds me of the women I’ve come from and also of the kind of person I want to be. My name has taught me acceptance of self (and love of self).
I love that. Hidden meaning and uniqueness exist in our names.
2. What’s your favorite childhood memory(ies)?
I read somewhere that the best memories people have of their spouses and family members are the ‘ordinary days’ and I think it’s true for me. My childhood memories are sweaty days running around our compound, pouring talcum powder on our tiles and faux skating, wearing thick sweaters and having tea during thunderstorms when my brother and I would pretend that we were in America and it was snowing outside.
Then there are the special memories: certain wedding anniversaries. There was this one time one of my parents got a cake from Mr Biggs and we were all so excited and we ate cake and had drinks and celebrated that my parents had been married for ten years. I worried a lot as a child. I worried when my parents argued or when my brother was sick; my brother had bad asthma from when he was 4, so there were 3am hospital runs and many times when he just couldn’t breathe. It was terrifying.
There was also a lot of picture taking at home. My parents would call us in the middle of hide and seek to come take a picture, just out of blue, or my dad would take pictures of us while we ate or sang. There was a lot of ABBA and Westlife and we had so many karaoke afternoons. My parents love music.
Your childhood sounds like so much fun.
What is the unique thing about growing up female and Nigerian?
When I was growing up there wasn’t a lot of talk about feminism and I pretty much subscribed to a lot of a norms; I thought it was the woman’s job to cook and serve the men and I’m not even sure where I picked that up because my family wasn’t exactly “traditional” in the sense that my mum worked full time; she was actually the busier person for a while when we were growing up. My dad used to bathe me and drive me to school and pick me up while my mum went to work. I think maybe because cooking was my mum’s thing and that’s because as I’ve realized since I’ve grown, she loves it. She cooks whenever she gets the chance. She loves to host parties and plan recipes and everything. She has a ball in the kitchen. She hardly ever asked me to come in the kitchen with her because it was her space. I actually remember my dad being the one who said ” go help your mother in the kitchen”.
The problem for me was that I feel like my worth as a woman became inextricably linked to knowing how to cook and clean and shop for food and being good at it. I remember when I was nine I used to panic thinking of the fact that I couldn’t cook, like “oh God, my husband will drive me away” and then there were movies where women got driven from their husbands homes and then there was always the occasional “who will marry you like this?” comments from some older women.
Then there was the usual harassment by strange men on the road. The first incident I remember clearly was being 9 years and in JS1 and coming home in my PE outfit with my friend, and this man, grown man, accosts me and starts telling me things I can’t even remember anymore. When I got home everyone sympathized with me and was really upset but I remember being told not to wear my PE uniform home anymore. They were the usual ‘skorts’. Before then another woman, a complete stranger had told me, a nine year old that my legs were out in my sports clothes and never to wear them out again. It had never even crossed my mind that my legs were showing until that point. I remember feeling like it was my fault and I had to hide my body. I’ve always dressed pretty conservatively because that’s how I liked to dress but it just felt like a layer of unwarranted shame.
How have you tackled any of these unique challenges?
I’m unlearning so much. I’m detaching my worth from whether or not I can cook a great meal not because cooking isn’t a fantastic skill or because I don’t enjoy cooking, but because I don’t want to feel like I’m worthless because I made one bad meal. That’s how bad it was. I didn’t try baking or anything new for ages because I didn’t want to not be good at it and feel bad about myself and it’s so incredibly silly. So I’m unlearning. I want to cook because I want to and if I want to. I enjoy cooking but I know people who don’t. And it sucks that women should feel bad or less than women because they can’t cook or don’t like cooking. Everyone should know how to cook if they don’t want to starve. Period.
I also wish more people had told me that it is not okay for anyone to harass a child regardless of what she’s wearing. I think it’s important to dress modestly and I understand that modesty is very subjective these days, but I will say that I grew up around so many boys and men who never once even looked at me suggestively regardless of what I was wearing, so it’s not just about what you’re wearing and we need to say that more often than we blame women.
I think the key to growing as a Nigerian woman is unlearning.
Preach that, sister!
What do you do professionally at the moment and why do you do it?
I’m a medical student. I’ve wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do. It’s strenuous and mentally challenging and physically grueling but there’s no place I’d rather be. People trust doctors so much and being in the hospital it’s just amazing to be able to give help and make things better.
What was your trajectory? How did you get to this point?
I grew up in a very middle class family and I was all set to go to the university of Port Harcourt. I was stressed about JAMB and getting in for medicine. I had written WAEC in SS2 and I was supposed to try again in SS3 because my result had been barely above average, but I got lazy and decided not to. We heard about the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency overseas scholarship exams and my parents wanted me to write it so I said hey, I’ll try. I’d never ‘won’ anything before that. Not even one of those “bring 10 satchets and win a prize thing” but then I passed! But I was 15 and I couldn’t go overseas to study medicine according to them, so I did A levels in a Nigerian sixth form college. After one year my dad thought it was a waste of time and sent me to Ukraine on his own. Eventually, the scholarship board got back in touch with me and continued the sponsorship which was nice. Then in 2014, Russia and Ukraine had their thing and I transferred to the Caribbean. I lived there for a year and a bit. It was life changing. I’m currently home in Nigeria studying for step 1 of the USMLE and my exam is in April. So that’s pretty stressful. After that I’m supposed to start clerkships, hopefully, so we’ll see 🙂
What are you passionate about? (cringe)
I’m passionate about friendships. I’m very passionate about interpersonal relationships in general; how people impact each other. I’m passionate about understanding people and how their minds work. I’m passionate about words and literature. I love to read. And I love having written. I’ve also become very passionate about podcasts. I love great conversations and podcasts are such a fantastic way to be a virtual part of them. I’m passionate about spirituality and and my relationship with God. I believe that everything else works because that exists. I’m passionate about my family. I’m also very passionate about social media! It’s so fascinating how much smaller the world has become and how much easier it is both to meet (and not meet) people.
Sounds as if I wrote this.
What are three lessons you’ve learned in the past year?
I will now proceed to shamelessly plug my blogpost about lessons from 2015 which is an extended list.
- The most important thing I’ve learned is the relevance of self love and feeling worthy of love and affection. If what it takes to get to that point is becoming a better, kinder person, then do it. Work on being the best version of yourself and love yourself through the process. Self love to me means that anyone who treats me like less than I am is not welcome. Anyone who makes me feel like I’m “too much” or “too difficult” is not welcome because I know who I am and what I am and I simply refuse to be treated any less than I deserve. Self love to me also means recognizing humanity, in myself and in others. Learning to forgive myself for the times when I’m not as kind as I want to me, when I’m lazier than I’d like.
- You get so much more done by just doing the work than you do moaning about how life is. Let me just say that there’s a place and time for moaning. Oh it should be done. Moaning is necessary when you have to be up earlier than you’re used to, when someone you love leaves you, when you’re having a bad day or a bad hair day. Please moan, but don’t forget perspective. When you’re done moaning you need to get the work done.
- You can find friends in the most unlikely places. Basically life almost never goes according to your plan, so don’t rule people out too easily. Stay open, stay soft.
Are you happy at the moment? What can you do to be happier?
I am! I mean happiness is a very fleeting emotion but I’m fundamentally a very happy person. My friends panic a bit when I’m not happy. You can always be happier. So I think for me what I should do is worry less. I’ve always been the person who thought of the worst case scenarios but since I’ve read Brené Brown (Hi mama!) I’ve realized that living a life waiting for the worst to happen, living the best moments of your life watching for black clouds that may not come any time soon is a terrible way to live. So instead, I’m being more mindful, more grateful, more vulnerable, more present, more forgiving, more understanding. I’m living more wholeheartedly.
Who inspires you? Why?
So many people, for different reasons. I’ve already mentioned Brené Brown. She inspires me so much. To live fully. My most recent celebrity inspiration is definitely M.I just because I listened to this podcast and he’s so brilliant and so honest about things in his life and it’s inspiring to me as a creative and as a human.
My mother is the most inspiring person to me because she finds a way to stay soft and to stay human. She is genuinely one of the sweetest people I know. She’s taught me the most important things about friendships because even when I’ve seen her enraged at something someone she loves has done, she loves them anyway. They call her and she shows up for them. She tolerates people and she doesn’t judge them. I’ve always seen people come to her for advice and just known people who love her as much as I do. She’s always spoken to me honestly and I remember asking her questions and her saying “I don’t know”, “I wonder about that too”. I always took that for granted but I realised as an adult that not everyone has that.
My brother and my father inspire me. My brother probably loves me more than anyone in the world does and he makes me a braver, better person. My father gives so much of himself every single time.
My friends inspire me. They’re so brave and so strong and yet they let me be there for them in their most vulnerable moments. I know I can be neurotic but my friends have NEVER made me feel that I’m too much. My friend Dami puts me to shame sometimes with her kindness. Even when I’m not nice she’s nice to me. My friend Esther teaches me kindness. I watch her interact with people and I’m just so inspired to be better and kinder and be more graceful. My friend Bobola is alwaysssss there. Even when all he can say is “I really don’t know what to tell you”. He’s there. Sometimes you just need people to be sad with you or be happy with you or to say a prayer for you or send you an “I’m rooting for you” text like my friend Tiwa does. My friends Naressa and Shanee who almost religiously stay in touch with me and remind me of their love from across the Atlantic. And other times you need people to know when you let you be. I have other great friends who I can’t even mention. Most of my friends are doers and even the few who aren’t, push me to be one. It’s inspiring to watch people love you for who you are.
And sooo many people on social media who are now also friends like Sabirah, Osemhen, Ekene of the kink and I, Elo Osunde and so many other people just inspire me creatively and generally.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m currently reading ‘The Icarus Girl’ by Helen Oyeyemi. It’s very spooky. And it’s fantasy which I’ve never been a great big fan of, but I like her style of writing. It’s an exciting read.
What would you say to the teenage you?
There’s nothing wrong with you. The world is a much bigger place than your secondary school. You’re about to meet so many amazing people. So you just keep living. Life gets easier, and harder, but it never stops being beautiful.
What would you like your future self to remember/ keep about this season of your life?
YO, IF I PASS STEP, I can do anything.
I really don’t know what’s going to happen, there are so many uncertainties right now. But, I want to remember to keep reaching out to people. I want to remember to be able to put feelings aside and stand up for myself. Take every second to make new memories and enjoy new experiences.