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 is Zikoko’s What She Said.
The woman in today’s What She Said thinks of herself as a hustler. At 29 years old, she has a decade-old career spanning industries without a university education. Now she’s committed to expanding her business. She loves what she does and runs from men who try to offer her money to stop her business.
Tell me how it began.
Back when I was about 10, I used to tell everyone I was going to be a doctor. This was after reading Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands. I wasn’t the brightest student and my parents were not the most educated or the wealthiest, but they supported me. My mum used to call me her baby doctor. My dad, who bought me Gifted Hands, bought me more medical books to read. I was determined to become a doctor.
How did that change?
Nigeria is a dream killer. First of all, it was hard to get into university to study medicine after two attempts at JAMB. I really didn’t want to take another course. My final option was to go abroad to study. As we were preparing, my dad got scammed by yahoo boys and lost a ton of money. The dream ended there.
I’m sorry. How old were you at that point?
I was 18. He eventually lost his job. It was a difficult time in our life.
My mum was a pensioner at that point, and it wasn’t even as if the pension came regularly or was worth anything. I became their primary caretaker at barely 18.
I was so frustrated and tired. One day, I was home and there was nothing to eat. For some odd reason, I just took flour and made chin chin. And it just hit me that I could start selling chin chin.
I had planned that the year I turned 19, I’d take JAMB again and go for my medicine, but the idea of hustling and making my own money took root in my head. I still took the JAMB, but do you know that I never checked my result? I was so sure that I had failed and was purely interested in the little money I was making.
I was selling the chin chin to schools around my area. I would wake up as early as 4 a.m. to start making them and then supply to supermarkets and small kiosks in the area before I even did any retail selling myself. My mum used to help distribute too. Before this point, I knew exactly nothing about business. But I pushed myself anyway.
What was the money like?
It was just enough to ensure that there was food on the table every day. I’m the only child, so that responsibility was mine. I couldn’t afford to buy myself nice things or go to nice places, so I avoided my old friends like a plague. A few months after my 19th birthday, I had a talk with an old friend who was worried about me. It felt like a condescending conversation because chile, this girl and her parents were rich and her advice and concern seemed to come from a place of privilege. She told me that I can’t live for my parents alone, that I had to live for myself. She kept asking where the baby girl that wanted to become a doctor was.
And I was like, it’s true oh. I just let my years of dreaming come to an end because of JAMB.
Did you decide to go back to school?
Nah. I decided to learn how to sew and juggle that with making chin chin. My mum became solely in charge of distributing it.
How did that work out?
Nonsense. I didn’t finish tailoring school. Barely spent two months there.
The male instructor used to sexually harass me. It started on the first day. By month two, I had had it. I never showed up again.
Eesh. I’m sorry about that.
That was when the next opportunity opened up to work at an organisation. I got a job as an office assistant in a small microfinance bank while still making my chin chin in the morning and allowing my mum to handle distribution. I think because the chin chin was so good, it actually gained some popularity in my area. I didn’t even realise it was picking up steam until one day, my dad was doing the accounts for the month, and we made ton of money in profit. I was like, wow!
So I added some of my salary in that first month, paid for a shop for my dad to run a small cyber cafe and sell drinks and chin chin. The shop didn’t pick up at first, but my mum’s distribution to schools really did well.
Then I got tired, existential crisis and depression followed. It was a struggle to manage everything and still work full time. And I was just 20/21. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t know how to stop.
What did you do?
Impulsively quit my job at the bank — which I really enjoyed — and tried to rest for one month. At the same time, I decided to explore selling egg rolls. That one failed badly, so I stuck to chin chin and continued for about a year — no additional jobs. Then my mum got sick and we couldn’t afford the bills. I was literally using everything I had saved up to pay for treatment. The day she died, it was because we didn’t have enough money to pay for some drugs.
I promised myself from then on that poverty and I were enemies.
I’m so sorry.
Thanks. Since then, I’ve worked as an escort, an usher, a personal assistant, a nail technician, a hairstylist. I even went back to sewing at some point. Then I worked as an office manager at a couple of places. But in all this time, it’s chin chin that has stayed with me, and now I’m doing it full time.
I and my dad have carried the business on our head, especially in memory of my mum.
I was dating someone who promised to take care of me and wanted me to stop the chin chin business, and I was like huh? There’s a kind of shame some people I’ve dated associate with what I do. But that one was the height. He was like, a beautiful woman shouldn’t have to work. He had several promises to fix my life if I stopped the chin chin business, and I said no. Making my own money actually makes me so happy.
Haha. You do sound very excited.
In fact, I’m addicted to it. Before, I couldn’t do accounts by myself, but now I can. I’ve taken a ton of business classes to help me learn how to run my business.
I am by no means shaming women who have sugar daddies or people to help, but doing this makes me happy. When I think about the money in my account and the sales of the day, things like that make me want to orgasm.
It’s true. That’s my own turn-on. One day, a client called and said they wanted a certain amount of chin chin supplied for an engagement party. This was a few years ago. It was a lot of money — rent money. I just went to my room to go and lie down. I didn’t realise when I brought out my dildo and came.
Lol. Do you spend money on yourself now?
I’m just learning how to do that. Before, I was saving and saving for a rainy day. Now I’ve realised that if I die, someone else will spend that money. So I take care of myself and my dad. If there’s something I need, I don’t have to do math a lot before I get it.
Do you ever feel like you want to go back to university?
I won’t lie that I do. I’ll be in some gatherings and start feeling inferior because I don’t have a BSc. So I really do. But, not now. I have some new ideas I’d like to work on over the next couple of years. I have a target sum. I want to expand to all of Nigeria and then outside.
My story isn’t complete yet.