I recently listened to Chimamanda’s Ted talk ‘The danger of the single story’. It reminded me of old times so I decided to tell you my story.
For the longest time, all my characters had ‘English’ names; from Kate to John to my favourite name, Eric (I overused this name sote I’m sure all the Erics were sneezing multiple times). I struggled to give them the ‘abroad’ lifestyle that I was not familiar with. Forced them to eat baked beans, drink orange juice with their bowl of cereal and speak back to their parents. I mean, unlike Chimamanda, I knew what baked beans tasted like but it was the underlying problem I became worried about. I held the ‘international’ lifestyle so high that I started to think I wasn’t good enough. The characters in my writings mocked my Nigerian accent and my lunch of stewed beans and plantain. Why didn’t school serve us burgers as lunch? Why couldn’t my thirteen-year-old boyfriend sleep over in my room? Why couldn’t I go for walks to the parks?
It was not until I read Purple Hibiscus that my eyes opened. I saw the light, dear people. Oju mi la! (my eyes opened!). I began to read more African literature. Wait, I had read African literature before. We all read Eze goes to school, Without a silver spoon, A mother’s choice and so on, you get my drift. But I had an epiphany when I read PH. Maybe it was because I related to Kambili so much. Anyway, I began to embrace my own culture. I started to use cultural names in my writings and creating opportunities for Efo-riro to make appearances in my stories. I got comfortable with the fact that boyfriends didn’t exist; only husbands who fell from heaven on your graduation day.
At first, I embedded my personal experiences into my work. It was easier that way. But as I read more stories and listened more attentively to the world around me, it became easier to form stories from a Nigerian perspective in my head.
During this time, I stumbled across Ope Adedeji’s work and fell in love. This was the peak I was striving for. (Check her out and thank me later). Have you heard of ‘binge reading’? That’s what your girl did. I soaked in her brilliance. I also started reading not-so-popular Nigerian writers. You’d be shocked at the talent Nigeria possesses.
I’m still learning and growing in my craft but it feels great to be unapologetically authentic.
Deb – the Efo-riro lover.