Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here.
This week’s #ZikokoWhatSheSaid subject is a 28-year-old Nigerian woman. She talks about writing as a form of therapy, being a Christian in a staunch Muslim home and raising 17 cats.
What’s one thing that makes you happy right now?
Right now? Writing.
It was a huge part of my life until I had a four-year writer’s block. A few weeks ago, I started writing again, and I can feel myself becoming lighter. I still haven’t gotten my groove back, but knowing that writing isn’t completely lost to me makes me happy.
Of course, being around my family makes me happy too, but writing adds a layer of self-fulfillment.
When I had writer’s block in 2018, I almost prayed for death because I was tired of living. I’ve started writing again, and it gives me something to look forward to when I wake up. Sometimes, I hate getting sleepy because it means I have to stop.
I don’t even write to get my books published or anything. I just have so many stories in my head, and I love bringing them to life. It’s like I get to create my own world, and even if it’s just for a little while, I can live in it.
What do you write about, and how did you get into writing?
I started out of boredom. It was the first week of senior secondary school in 2007, and I was sitting in class doing nothing. I picked up a pen, took one of my school books and started writing a story. It was romance, but there were some elements of my life in it. When I was done, for some reason, my classmates liked reading it. So I wrote more.
After a while, it stopped being about boredom and became my every waking and sleeping thought. I would dream storylines and be inspired by everything and everyone around me. I even wrote a three-book series about my best friend that I hope will become a TV series someday.
You were on a roll. So when did the writer’s block happen?
After I met Christ in 2012, I wanted my writing to include my faith, but it was so difficult. I was used to writing your typical romance so switching to gospel was like learning how to drive an automatic car and suddenly having to go manual.
I refused to write anything else, but what I wanted to write seemed beyond me. Coincidentally, I was really busy with university, and then law school. A lot of things were happening at the same time, so writing sort of fell away from me. By the time I settled into adulthood, I realised I couldn’t write like before. I’m so glad that’s over now.
Me too. How did you shake the block?
I prayed about it a lot. I told God why I wanted to write, that I believe He gave me the talent as a means to tell people about Christ. I apologised for burying my talent because of my law pursuit and just let Him know I was desperate. After some time, the characters started speaking to me again.
Were you always Christian or did you just convert in 2012?
I was born into a Muslim family, so I’ve always been religious. I even used to represent my Arabic school in competitions. But I attended a Catholic primary school so I also had a deep knowledge of the Christian faith. I was okay with both religions.
When I was 16, I started spending time with a girl who lived in my area, and we talked about God a lot. She opened me up to things I thought I knew about Christ, and when I realised the difference between Islam and Christianity, I had to make a choice. I chose Christ then, but it was years before I truly understood what it meant.
What do you mean?
I later had the opportunity to study several religions at OAU. I literally got accepted for a degree in religious studies instead of the law I applied for. So I studied Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and many others, and it was just one religion that had a God who loved me so much He was willing to die for me.
Others kept asking me to do things to attain “paradise”, but Christ was the only one saying, “You don’t have to do anything. In fact, there’s nothing you CAN do, so I’ve done it all. All you gotta do is believe me.” Only one religion had a God who called me His own child. The choice was between sonship and servanthood, and I chose to be a son.. Or daughter, in my case.
And how did your family take it?
I haven’t officially told my parents I’m a Christian yet, but they know. Everyone knows. My actions, words and very life reflect Christ. My big sister also attended OAU, so some people told her about it.
I’ve told my younger siblings because we have a close relationship, and I can tell them anything. At first, they were confused and wanted to know why I couldn’t just “be a Muslim”, but I explained how I felt, and they cheered me on.
What about your parents?
In the beginning, it wasn’t funny. They were all over me all the time like, “You were born into a Muslim family. It’s only someone who’s greedy and wants what other people have that’ll decide they want to step out of their own religion.” They would sit me down, and pray and fast.
So what’s writing post-block been like?
I finally found a balance. I still write romance, but now, every word is a conscious effort to reach out to someone and say, “You’ll be okay.” I’ve finally gotten to the point where the ideas that swim in my head are the ones that’ll heal people. And I can finally breathe.
Do you write for a living now?
No. I haven’t gone into it because I’m scared. I’ve been writing for a long time, but I just enjoy sharing my books with friends and discussing them. Lately, they’ve been pushing me to “let the world see”. I’m scared the world won’t be as kind as they are.
I’m scared of the day someone will tell me, “Your books aren’t actually that good” or “This is trash”. I’m scared I won’t recover from it, and it’ll take away my love for writing. Right now, I hear a lot of “This is good. This is great. You write well. The storyline is perfect”. And that’s good enough for me.
A while ago, I published the first book I wrote after my writer’s block, but I refused to post the link so people won’t see it. I just like going back to the site to look at it. Maybe as a birthday present to myself at the end of the year, I’ll finally share.
What do you do at times like this when you’re unsure of yourself, or just sad?
I think of a bright future. Lately, I’ve been thinking I want to settle down, get married and have two to five kids. I’d like to move into my own house with my husband and start living my own life. Apart from that, in the presence of God, there’s fullness of joy. So when I start to feel sad, I remember I dwell in His presence. I listen to music and play with my cats.
Yes, I have cats. I have a lot of cats. Well, not anymore. I’m down to two now, but once upon a time, I had 17 cats at once. My dad was going to send all of us out of the house like “I can only live with one: human beings or cats.” Lol.
Oh wow. How did you handle 17 cats?
It was overwhelming but also easy because cats are fiercely independent. They love to do everything themselves unlike dogs. They clean themselves and some of them love to stay outside. They also don’t make noise at all. The only problem is when you have kittens and they start to pee on your couch. My parents tried to kidnap and give out one of my cats once, and it actually crawled all the way back home the next day. The older cats started dying, and we started selling off the kittens.
Omg. Do you feel alienated from your family at all?
My whole life revolves around my family. I work for my dad so we spend a lot of time together, and we’ve gotten closer. I’m his lawyer. I handle the administration of his real estate company. He likes to involve me in the construction side, so I visit his sites too. Then I go from work back home.
When I go out, I go with my siblings. We go everywhere together. Last time, we went to this Korean festival, and it was so much fun. We had Korean food, drank boba tea and sang K-pop songs. We all love to hang out together, and our differing religions don’t affect that. We are our own friends and sounding boards. If something happens at work with my dad, I report to my mom and siblings, and he reports me to them too.
Most people don’t like working with their parents. What’s it like for you?
I mean, some people ask if I intend to leave. But I don’t want to. I think of it as a permanent job, you know, a family business. At the end of the day, my dad hopes to retire and wants to have someone who already knows the business. I’m learning a lot really fast. I think it’s giving him the confidence that if he decides to take a break, everything will be okay.
I’ve been working with him for almost two years now, and I’m used to almost everything. The workers and staff, everyone is used to me. We hope the rest of my siblings join too. My youngest sister is studying architecture, but if she doesn’t want to come into the business, that’s fine too.
Why do I feel like your parents made you study law because you wanted to write?
Funny thing is I didn’t always want to be a lawyer. In primary school, I was called “small lawyer” because I was good at debates. I won all of them. I was small, but I spoke well, so they always involved me in anything to do with speaking. In secondary school, I was put in any competition that involved oratory skills even though I was in science class.
So what did you want to be?
I wanted to be a gynaecologist. I loved pregnant women and the whole process of pregnancy. I have three younger ones, not to mention many nephews and nieces. I’ve seen the pregnancy process from start to end a lot of times, and it amazes me.
I watched my sister move around in the womb and then move around the same way after she was born. My baby brother moved slowly and rarely in the womb. And when he was born, he was so quiet and gentle. I figured our characters are formed from the womb, and I found that fascinating.
I agree. So from gynaecology to law? How did that happen?
I didn’t have the skills to achieve that dream. Oh, my God, physics was hard. After graduation, I didn’t get admission for medicine; I got microbiology. I would’ve had to study microbiology for four years before I could switch to medicine.
Then my dad told me to take GCE for art class because, for some reason, he thought I was a genius and my only options were medicine and law. He also never really supported my decision to be in science class in the first place.
How did you manage such a shift after graduating?
I had to start reading and teaching myself government. Thank God, I did literature throughout secondary school because I loved reading, so it was easy for me. I wrote a second WAEC and did GCE for two different classes in the same year.
I got another admission for microbiology at the same time that I passed my entrance examination into art class pre-degree at OAU. I had to choose between “Microbiology then Medicine” and “pre-degree then law”. I chose pre-degree because it was shorter.
Law, finally, right?
Nope. After the one-year period, I got religious studies and English, which is how I learnt about so many religions. I was going to transfer to mass communication, thinking I would combine my love for writing and speaking. But during my second semester in religious studies and English, ASUU went on a strike that lasted months.
When will ASUU change?
At a point, it seemed there was no end in sight. My mom was like, “Look, all my kids are stuck in school.” My elder sister had been in OAU for years because of the strikes. My parents didn’t want the same thing to happen to me. So my dad said we should move to a private university.
He told me to write entrance exams for law and mass communication. We went to the law department first, I wrote the exam and passed. My mum just said since I’d entered for law, I didn’t need to write the one for mass comm., so we went home. That’s how I ended up studying law.
Talk about fate
In the beginning, I hated it because I had so many friends in OAU. I even had a boyfriend there. I was sad, lonely, and I felt old; I was almost 20 starting over in 100 level where my classmates were 16. But I found the NIFES fellowship, and after a while, I wasn’t sad again.
I learnt a lot while studying law. I saw so much injustice in the cases we had to study, and I told myself, “I would love to do something about this and make sure the people around me don’t suffer this kind of injustice.”
I feel like something changed
In law school, our lecturer made a statement once: practice is not the same thing as theory. I thought he was just being philosophical. But when I graduated, I realised he was right. I thought with my law degree, I could stand up to policemen in the face of police brutality.
But in Nigeria, when a lawyer goes to challenge the police, they can’t go with the confidence and power they taught us in school or you see on TV shows. They have to be subservient. If you want to get anything from the police, if you want your clients to be treated well in custody, if you even want to get police bail, you must be subservient and bribe them.
When I saw this, I was shattered. It wasn’t what I signed up for or imagined when I studied law for how many years of my life? I honestly don’t want to be a lawyer forever. I plan to practice for five years.
What about the family business?
My legal skills will still be applicable there. Right now, I go to court and deal with cases, all of which I’ve won so far. But after some time, we’ll hire a company lawyer for those. I really wish there was more I could do. I feel like a weak lawyer because I don’t have the power and experience to do most of the things I would like to.
I can’t stand up in court to speak against injustice because there are too many rules, from the way you dress and speak to the colour of your hair. While rules are good, people will always mismanage them, and many lawyers and judges do.
Because I don’t have enough backing to get away with whatever, I have to be very careful and tiptoe around the law. I don’t enjoy doing that. I’ve practiced for two years so far. If in three, I can get some footing, I’d continue. If not, I’d just hang up my robe and wig, and do other things.