How to be a good Nigerian daughter

Preamble: This story was written almost 2 years ago. At the time of this story I was nine months post graduation and my professional life was yet to begin. I had passed qualifying exams and I seemed to be doing a lot of waiting generally.

Becoming a good Nigerian daughter requires lifelong, continuous, no-breaks-in-between learning.

It seems especially hard for me to be a good Nigerian daughter. My mother blames it on my exposure to the European lifestyle, maybe this is so. Or maybe it’s just me and to admit that, she would have to admit that she has a child who chose to be a terrible Nigerian daughter. Can’t be easy to accept.

You see, my problem is that I’m fiercely independent. It didn’t happen by chance. I taught myself to be so. After a series of relationships in my youth, one day I woke up and had no one. No real friends nearby, no boyfriend and essentially no life. I didn’t even know who I was.

I was in a foreign country alone, and by alone, I mean really alone; if I had died it probably would have taken a few days for the people in my Nigerian church to notice. So what did I do? I cried. I bawled my eyes out. I was coming up on 21 and this was my life?

But as all things happen, time went on, I chatted with all my friends who knew me before I moved, I learned to explain, in short sentences, the pain and emptiness I was feeling. They tried to get me to woman up, stop being so sad and move on, but there was only so much they could do from 7,000 km away. In the end it was up to me.

So I started, I started picking myself up, finding out who I was. I went to the hypermarket by myself for the first time, I went clothes shopping alone for the first time; this was particularly unnerving, how could I trust those lying mirrors and the shady lights without outside input?

I did a lot of firsts, and while they were all incredibly sad I got up and did them, BY MYSELF. In time, I started to see that there were no social monsters waiting to pounce on me if I ventured out alone, no one seemed to care, or even notice.

This was all good and dandy but my birthday was coming. If there’s anything I’d like you to learn about me it’s that I love my birthday. I think it’s just the most special day in the whole wide world! So this awesome day was approaching, and it was a big one too. 21. Yet here I was, alone. I had a choice to make, I could either bemoan my situation, or stand up and do something about it. I chose the latter.

I went online and a booked a low cost flight, a hotel, and a tour for one to no place else than Paris. The city of (self?) love. I paid for everything in full too, just to make sure I didn’t back out. Also it was very important to get a place that offered breakfast because I imagined I’d be quite sad waking up alone on a birthday trip, so I needed to have something to get up and get dressed for, since the financially conscious girl in me would never let her money go to waste.

The night before my trip was not easy to put it mildly. I still tear up remembering the pain I felt that night. I cried like I had never cried before. I couldn’t believe this was what my life had come to. It was my birthday and there was no single person I could be with? I was going to travel alone? By myself? What about safety? What if I get taken? How would I keep all my belongings safe with me in a strange city?

It was extremely hard to pack for that trip. At a point I laid in my partly packed suitcase and cried some more. But dawn was approaching and soon my airport shuttle would arrive, I was running out of time. So I threw everything I thought I’d need in that box, zipped it up and off I went.

Because this isn’t a story about my trip I’d spare you all the touristy details, it’s enough to say I had a really good time. I was so busy and tired from walking around the city that I had very little time for self-pity. How could I even? I was in Paris! That trip really made me count my blessings, and at the risk of sounding like a spoiled millennial, it empowered me. It taught me that I didn’t need other people to be happy. It taught me that I could be at peace with myself and enjoy my own company. It taught me that I was enough for me.

I ended my birthday by chance in a fancy French restaurant on my way to my hotel, I got a few stares, which I expected seeing as I was a young black girl dressed casually and I was alone. I ate some food I cannot pronounce and smiled while doing so. I was happy.

When I got back to my city two days later, I felt lighter, more daring and I was immensely proud of myself. But there was still one more thing on my to-do list. I had wanted a tattoo for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, lower back tattoos were all the rage so I thought I’d get one there, we know how those turned out.

On October 29, I walked into a tattoo shop, alone, I gave the artist a design I had picked out, he printed it and I was on my way to getting my first tattoo. I came prepared with music, not tight jeans, and a will to not cry. Ninety minutes later, there it was. My tattoo in the flesh! (Or on my flesh?) So since you already know I love birthdays, Oct 29 became my tattoo birthday. I still celebrate it.

Not many big ‘first and alone’ moments came after all of this. At least none that immediately come to mind, but these were enough to get me started. While I’d love to say I transformed into a free, uncaring bird after this period that would simply not be true.

Every day I chose to do me, to care for me, to be content by myself. I set up a Friday solo movie night at my local cinema. I didn’t care that I would meet groups of people who I knew, I was owning my solitude. If I wanted to do something, I just did it. I ate pizzas by myself, went to a bistro alone, you name it. These things seems insignificant but for me at that point they were real victories.

This was how I taught myself to be independent. People around me had a few things to say when I would tell them of my solo adventures but no one was ever bothered by it.

This all changed a few months ago; I’m back in Nigeria you see, and this my ‘independence’ or whatever I’m calling it doesn’t fly here. I caught a whiff of it during my graduation. My mother came and insisted that the studio apartment I had lived in for 2 years was all wrong. How dare I have my Aspirin out here on the table in the full glare of any one who walks in? And what was this blanket on the pull-out couch?!

In Nigeria it’s even worse. My parents are super supportive of my plans and actions, just as long as it fits into the good Nigerian daughter plan. More studying? Great! And that’s about it, that’s the only point my parents and I agree on, that I need to further my career in some way. I seem to be doing every other minute thing wrong. I’ve forgotten my values and the things they taught me, every time I do something unbecoming of a Nigerian daughter my European masters are blamed.

Going into the details of everything I’ve done wrong would be to start another story but suffice it to say I’m being a terrible Nigerian daughter.

Perhaps this short, likely incomplete, list below on how to be a good modern day Nigerian daughter and the ways I have failed will better explain it.

How to be a good Nigerian daughter (The List)

  • 1) Be born into a family that preferably also has or will have boys
  • 2) Know from an early age that your job is to serve the family
  • 3) Go to school, study hard and pass exams
  • 4) Go to more school, a professional course is a plus but it has to be feminine enough
  • 5) Throughout your days in University keep your eyes peeled for a man to marry
  • 6) Graduate in time, do ‘sharp sharp’
  • 7) That man from no 5? Marry him. In fact you can do this before no 6 we don’t mind
  • 8) If you still haven’t done no 7, under no circumstances should you try to live an independent life.
  • Your daily work commute is 4 hours from your father’s house? So what? If you can’t manage, find a new job
  • You would like to live on your own just to have your own space? My goodness! What would people say? Please don’t drag your family’s name in the mud

9) Remember that your job is to serve the family, if it’s not your father’s family then it’s the one you’ve made with your husband. You cannot serve yourself are you trying to shame us?

  • 10) When you have fulfilled all the steps above sit down in that position. Do not shake, move or blink. Things must follow a straight line from here. Have (more) kids, celebrate anniversaries, get promoted at work. The end

It isn’t all that hard to be a Nigerian daughter. Sadly I skipped no 5 and landed at no 6 and yet I have the audacity to choose to live an independent, alone, life.

I have brought shame and disgrace to my family such as has never been heard before by this action alone. I should live in fear of people finding out, no one will ever believe that I’m a good girl nor while I ever find a decent family to give their son to me in marriage. Whatever be my reasons for choosing to live independently I should have ignored them and stuck it out until I found the man who was to marry me, wherever he may be.

Oh and if my mother tells your mother not to send you abroad to study, I’m sorry, it’s because of me. Because as she says, at least if I were here in Nigeria she would see me taking the wrong (independent) path and correct me in time. Sadly, I’m set concrete now. There’s very little hope, but she won’t give up on me. Even bricks can be chiselled into shape.

As for me? I’m at peace and immensely grateful for the life I have right now. I’m also anxious for my professional life to move forward, but it’ll come, in good time.