My gifts from college

This post was inspired by a moment of reflection on existence, transcendence, and impermanence but for the most part, it is steeped in reality.

Gifts…

I am not very accustomed to gifts. I grew up knowing that provision was almost all I could get from my parents. Special meals on special occasions like Mothers’ day and Independence day, those could have been called gifts if I was thinking in that direction. Payment for arbitrary school trips and excursions like that one time I went to Tinapa resort, Calabar, Nigeria in secondary school – that was a gift from my mum, but I didn’t see it as such, then. Growing into an adult, I used to sigh at any overemphasis on gifts – distinct from the charitable act of giving, I make reference to the friendly, affectionate type – especially when hinged on ceremony. To an extent, I feigned indifference to gifts, but in sincerity, I largely dismissed gifts as an unnecessary objectification of love, care or concern. In retrospect, I get where this came from. It came from my early secondary school days when I used to host my own birthday celebration, invite neighbors and friends, give them gifts and never get anything in return. I used to host my birthday celebrations out of my life savings (think “uncle do Christmas for me nah”) because I absolutely loved birthdays then, so I wasn’t exactly out to get anything in return. I just loved celebrating my birthday. But, I guess the lack of reciprocity bottled up into something that almost made me anti-gift as I grew older.

I also remember the unvarying gifts I used to get and give, in my secondary school days. Earrings. Everyone I knew (about 5 or so female friends) gave and received shiny studs as birthday gifts and yeah, it was cute, and damn boring but still very much appreciated. If I remember clearly (I do), my best birthday gifts, as a kid, were given to me by two of mum’s friends who I call aunts, and who interact with me like I am directly a friend of theirs. They gave me two novels (those dramatic micro series by Ghanaian authors) and a plastic flute respectively on my 10th birthday. I remember smiling to myself and feeling overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness backing the gifts. They set a high standard that one else reached throughout secondary school until I got to college, and gifts became a way of life, in a deeper way.

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Some of my gifts from college

College…

I am no longer a big fan of birthdays. I try not to celebrate or entertain exuberance on my birthdays. I reflect, take walks, have deep conversations and basically spend more time in “inward” activities. As for gifts, I am not exactly into them now. But I regard them highly, and I respect them because of the nature of, and circumstances around the gifts I have gotten in college. Do I still give gifts? Yes. Most times, they are bland and unplanned, for example sometime in 2016, I gave my roommate long threader earrings with a broken thread. I bet she threw it in the trash. I would have. At other times, I give well-planned and symbolic gifts, sometimes, getting a team of friends to contribute to them. I am a certified birthday surprise planner for my closest friends, even though I never celebrate mine. I collect mementos of the things that matter to my friends and curate single wholesome pieces such as a group-painting or a framed photo collage that I gift them.

Do I get gifts now? Yes. Yes.

Yes. Refer to the picture above.

In college, I turned sweet-eighteen (my sweet sixteen was terrible) and a surprise celebration (the very last time I have celebrated my birthday) was planned in my honour by my residential advisors during our residential fireside chat by a public beach in Grand Baie, Mauritius. For that birthday, I was gifted the lovely pink purse you’ll see in the picture above, by three of my friends/residence mates. That purse was an item that came loudly announcing its purpose, and by so doing, got me wondering how I never conceived that I was living an incomplete life without a purse. It has traveled with me and grown older with me. The filtered picture might not show it, but its edges are very torn and it begs for a replacement but I have said, “not yet, I still love you and I just want you.” The cute little felt angry-bird bag in the picture was a gift from my first roommate in college who doubles as my soul sister. That gift couldn’t have come from anyone else. It could only take someone who lived with seventeen-year-old me to gift that. The Verveine hand towel taking up space in the picture was a gift from my host mum in Mauritius. At first, I used it to wipe my face exclusively, but later, it became my petite body towel for the days my big towel is microbe-laden (who says dirty?). 

I am grateful for the gifts that hold the memories of friendship and interaction from my life in college. Particularly, as the countdown to my graduation heightens (June 12, 2019), I catch myself staring at the spaces and things around me and remembering the first time I beheld or took ownership of them. These gifts whose contexts I have shared above have been very meaningful to me in their own right. They contain certain details that I will live to remember. Allow me to unpack some of these details.

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The inscription on this mug is a popular French quote which translates to “make your life a dream and your dream a reality.” I got the mug from my host mum the day I left Mauritius for Rwanda to commence a marketing internship in September 2018. I was going for an internship in a field I was intrigued by, and in a country I was excited to visit mainly because my good friend lived there. It seems like the mug prophesied the journey ahead because those four months in Rwanda turned out to be some of the best, most unreal months of my entire life.

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This Bible was given to me by a great friend of mine before he left college for bigger purposes. We had had a long chat about life, faith, school, and Nigerian music, and I had mentioned not having a physical bible at some point in our nearly three-hour-long conversation in his residence’s balcony overlooking moonlit sugarcane fields. I saw the bookmark when I opened the Bible for the first time, and I was moved by it. I keep thinking about the last two words, the call to action: “Read it!” and it gets me thinking that if only we knew that the Bible is the source of life, we wouldn’t even need to be told or reminded to read it. The love I have for this bookmark is almost equivalent to the love I have for the loud highlights which make my Bible study a lot more revealing. Ever glued to my bedside, the sight of this Bible gives me peace every single day.

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I have had two Batswana roommates in college. The first was actually my first roommate, the one who gifted me the angry bird bag. The second gave me this beaded bracelet. The bracelet was left with a sweet goodbye note from her a few days ago as she left for her internship. I couldn’t give her one last hug because I was out-and-about trying to scale an audition and put a stop to the wannabe actress tag I’ve shamelessly borne. But I texted. What I didn’t add to my appreciation text was that I am in love with the sky blue and black hues of the Botswana national identity, its soft, mellow simplicity. With or without this bracelet, I cannot possibly forget the kindest roommate ever, and I will definitely be visiting Botswana soon, with a beaded source of pride on my wrist. 

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This is the gift set which will stay with me till eternity. It breathes life into me, and even though the friend who gave it to me is resting in peace, she remains alive through the words on paper, the symbol of strength in the bracelet, and the memories both inspire. My friend gave me the bracelet on a special, nerve-wracking day, three years ago. I had my first musical performance in college, and the bracelet regalized my Ankara ensemble as I belted out Beyonce’s “I was here.” This year, I placed the bracelet by my window seal. It stands high reminding me of my own strength and the exceptional strength of the friend who gifted it to me.

And the note…the note is the single relic of love that calms me like a peace dispenser. It soothes my heavy heart, dries my tears occasionally, triggers my tear ducts more often than not, and gives me the courage to live for something – to live for a love that spans life on earth. I carry both with me everywhere I go. On my weakest days, as I pray to God and ask for signs that He is with me, I remember that I have an angel and that my angel says that I am beautiful, pretty, gorgeous and outstanding.

My gifts from college…

There have been more gifts which I have been blessed with on this college way. Some of them came as travel souvenirs (socks from Japan, golden morn from Nigeria), some came as requested “hellos from the other side” (kinky braids and shades that I wanted from Rwanda), and some came as part of barter contracts but due to their uniqueness and serendipitous suitability serve more as gifts than exchanges (guitar traded for a ukulele, skirt traded for hoodie). There have also been the consistent freebies, mostly free food and free transport which aren’t easily accounted for because they are as replenishing, as full-and-recurring as the kinky hairs on my head.

One thing I have learned from my exchange of gifts in college, especially from the receiving end,  is that as much as memories stick and matter the most, the impact of objects as gifts should not be sidelined or intellectually questioned in the way our woke culture academizes everything that has characteristically festooned humanity. Physical gifts spark memories and emotions which remind us of the lives we have had, the people we have seen, and the things we have touched. That is why printed photographs will (or should) never be old-school. That is why I am able to write this piece, because I sat back on my dorm bed and noticed that nearly all my daily essentials are gifts, down to my pink Eiffel Tower toothbrush which makes me want to improve my French so bad. I want to get better at giving gifts, not because I feel obliged to reciprocate, but because I want to give my loved ones the things they probably had no idea they needed until I gifted them. I want to give back love, not a forced, needy-showy type of love, but the love that stays after the handtowel fades and discolours, after the purse is completely torn and all pink is gone, after the mug breaks and the words become shards. I want to give back the kind of love my friend gave me before she passed away – the love that says, “I am always with you, even if we don’t see, even if we don’t talk anymore, even if…”

You tell me, what kind of gifts have you gotten? What kind of gifts do you give? What kind of gifts do you want to give? What kind of gifts would you like to receive? Do you get to choose? Should you get to choose?

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Got this ukulele in exchange for an old guitar. I call her Brownie Payton. She’s definitely a gift.

 

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Whispers Of Love United Festival 2019

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has – Margaret Mead.

Context

In a university that runs on a triannual educational cycle such that the third trimester is a period of internship, you can expect two streams of thought in the mind of the student away on an internship. The first is the thought of school which is filled with sensitive flashbacks, laid back memories, and relational nostalgia. The second is the fully-present, Eckhart Tolle-ish thought of the intern life which is laced with undulating sequences of ambition and chill. The thoughts that make up the first stream have been ideally consistent in the past three years of my university experience. I have always remembered my friends, with Whatsapp statuses temporarily replacing our dinner-time check-ins. I have always recalled memorable events from the first two trimesters of school, usually class sessions which were extra-stimulating, school tattles which were too juicy and specific occasions which were hugely impactful to me. One of many occasions has consistently stood out – beyond staying in my minds’ eye, I am convinced that it is glued to my heart’s heart – and it is the Whispers of Love United Festival, a celebration of Christ-inspired love, youth and leadership which is organized annually by students and staff of my school.

Whispers of Love United is a network of youth leading change by spreading the gospel of true love – God’s love – to the world. Founded on the terrain of my university by a teacher who embodies love and humanity, the first seed of Whispers of Love United was planted in the spirit-filled souls of classmates and friends of mine who availed themselves to one vision: “transforming global communities through love-inspired leadership.” In three years, this seed has germinated and sprouted across three countries – Mauritius, Kenya, and Rwanda. This year, I was privileged yet again to witness the signature annual event of Whispers of Love United – a day-long festival – for the third time that it has been held. This festival is remembered by a lot of people for the electric worship concert that sums it up. Personally, I remember it for every unforgettable item on its agenda, the Godly mission it represents, and mostly, the love, youth, and community that underlies its occurrence and success. Never have I seen a mission being brought to life in all the forms that it commits to be, all the changes it seeks to lead and all the values it dares to keep. The Whispers of Love festival has a special place in my heart. In fact, the concert that it culminates in is probably the only event that you’ll see me at and wonder if I have a habit of making a home out of every event I attend.

I feel blessed to have contributed to this year’s Whispers of Love concert, and I would like to take you through all that I saw, did, witnessed and enjoyed in the lineup to the festival, on the actual day of the festival, and after the festival. You might want to grab a cup of whatever liquid-works-for-you for this. If I were to suggest, living water’s best. Come with me…

Pre – Festival

On the fourth of February 2019, exactly three months to the Whispers Of Love United Festival, a call-for-volunteers was made, through the Christian fellowship at my university, which I must now mention is the African Leadership University, Mauritius. Receiving the email announcing open volunteer sign-up, I reminisced about my role at the past year’s festival and I proceeded to fill in the form. I signed up for the Merchandise and faith support teams. What proceeded was an announcement of team leads who immediately took up their assignments in humility and commitment. I acknowledged my roles in the two teams I was a part of, said my hellos to my teammates, shared a couple of ice breakers and ways-of-working deliberations with them and then stepped back to fulfill my final year student duties whilst preparing myself to fulfill the tasks I had taken ownership of. These tasks comprised procurement of the merchandise for the festival and contributing to the guides in the New Believers’ Manual produced by the faith support team.

The months of February and March were filled with back-end preparations, brainstorms and in my opinion, unavoidable fallow. Calenders were being cleared through deliberate efforts to conclude responsibilities which could distract in the weeks leading up to the festival. School work was judiciously given its right of place. In the minds of team leads and volunteers, especially those who had been on this road the year before, plans for better execution were being hatched and honed. I believe it was at this point that the decision to hold the festival in an actual auditorium, to invite a popular South African gospel band, to sell tickets for funding, and to intentionally seek out sponsorships were all borne and nurtured to what would become, a first-time glorious reality.

April was the month of work, effort, back-and-forth, and collaboration. The creative team churned out lovely branded posters and flyers which were as eye-candy as they were yellow-mellow-cute oh. The marketing team took up rightful digital space informing the world about Whispers of Love and announcing the festival to come. A registration link was shared as wide as the student-led reach could go. The finance team sought sponsorships and donations in person, through churches, on GoFundMe. The hospitality team made a call for ushers. More volunteers came aboard. The logistics and performers’ team frantically called out to talents to say yes to the stage. Personally, I shied away from musical performance but embraced testimony sharing. The faith support team devoted time to crafting the manual for new believers and designing a program to support new believers after the festival. The Worship team put in a lot of hours at rehearsals. Meeting reminders, WhatsApp correspondences, and last-minute tweaks backdropped the weeks leading up to the festival. Hope was kept alive. The festival was happening.

Philippians 4:13

I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.

Isaiah 40:29

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

Isaiah 40:31

But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

With May came finalized flight bookings for all who were flying in for the festival, including those of WeWillWorship, the band headlining the worship concert. “Dress” rehearsals were organized. Volunteers finally got to see the venue first-hand, and oh, did I give gratitude to God for growth and provision when I sat on a custom high-back chair.  Two years earlier, our venue was a secondary school hall. This year, we were sitting in an auditorium in which conferences, TEDx talks, and seminars have been held before. With May, came also, rush hour, a bit of anxiety, some fatigue and above all, greater surrender to God. Prayer and fasting became daily commitments. Loose ends had to be tied as tightly as could be, and the will and faith of 50 student volunteers led by 3 spirit-led festival conveners curved out towards one groundbreaking event – the Whispers of Love Festival 2019.

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Festival

On 4th May 2019 – a Saturday – I donned my red volunteer t-shirt, tried on two different pants before settling on my beloved blue corduroy pant, put on my thick-soled black sneakers and stepped out of my room for a day that I would live (and leave university) to remember. I was late to the bus transporting volunteers to the auditorium and I could feel my mumbled apologies to those I kept waiting being bounced back to my conscience. But, that didn’t matter in about fifteen minutes when we arrived at the entrance of the festival venue – Jin Fei Auditorium, Mauritius. Looking all red and stepping out of the bus with energy and enthusiasm, we walked into the venue and immediately settled into different work stations, some of us already cognizant of what needed to be done, others a bit more flexible, sticking around and asking if anyone needed help.

My primary assignment that morning was to set up the booth for merchandise sales. My friends and one more volunteer helped me do this. All I had to do was look the part – show (unintentionally, really) that I needed help. With merchandise sales covered, I joined the faith support team, my second team, for a prayer session and a check-in on our roles and responsibilities for the day which included guiding people who came into the prayer room, praying with them if they ask, offering to counsel them if they needed, and sharing our new believers manual with them. The soundtrack to the morning preparations was delightful indeed, as the star band – WeWillWorship – was actually rehearsing at the same time. My heart melted when they rehearsed the song, Mvini, a single off their recent album which helped me through the toughest phases of dissertation writing earlier in the year. Listening to their harmonies at rehearsals, I was super amped for the worship experience. I was ready.

And so, the festival began. A medley of songs of which I particularly resonated with Kirk Franklins’ My World Needs You served as the perfect musical opener, caressing my entire being into a state of calm and relaxation. I sat still despite all the joy overflowing in my heart and witnessed the unfolding of more engaging sessions. There were talks by the founder of Whispers of Love United, Demilade Oluwasina, as well as Susanna Dalais, the manager of Lighthouse School, Mauritius. There was also a famed relationship panel which addressed the topic of courtship and marriage from a Christian perspective. One particularly intriguing question from the audience was, “Can a Christian marry a non-Christian?” With a tight agenda, the rightful response to this question could only be reached outside of the stage. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to see that an issue which cut across complex nuances of humanity, political correctness, faith, and truth was brought to light. The climax of my personal experience at the festival was a dance performance by talented friends of mine who jived to contemporary gospel tracks. I had to restrain myself from joining in when they did the billy bounce dance to Zoe Grace’s Sweet Jesus remix. The second highlight of my experience at the festival was, of course, the three-hour-long worship concert.

I have been to two major gospel concerts in my life. They are both annual, star-studded, “stadium-crowded” events –  The Unusual Praise organized by the Catholic Church Of Divine Mercy and The Experience organized by House on the Rock Church, both in Lekki, Lagos, Nigeria. One thing that has struck me about these gospel concerts is the combined energy of the audience obtained from one source and channeled to one outlet – God. There is no need to be under any other kind of influence to enjoy the moment. The spirit takes over. People from all works of life share moments of praise and worship like they are gathered in a heaven on earth, and the process/ impact is the purest form of bliss I have ever experienced in my entire life. The Whispers of Love concert is peculiar to me because it brings this experience of bliss to an atmosphere which I can best describe as home. You could easily settle onto the floor of the stage and worship from there. You could stand on the spaces in front of the “Reserved” rows and dance all the way to and from the stage. You could form a dancing train and everyone else would join in and move with the flow. I took a few seconds of a soak-in break during WeWillWorship’s ministration at this year’s Whispers of Love concert to observe the entire auditorium. I noticed a lot of things which swelled my heart.

I saw “reserved” seat signs down on the floor, probably trampled upon by gyrating shoes. I saw unhinged self-expression – people jumping in the middle of songs, kneeling at the pitch of a melody, seating and staring forward as they were consumed with inner thoughts and prayers. I saw a little boy waving his arms from side to side as the Anointed band from Mauritius ministered. I saw people sing in unfamiliar languages – Xhosa, Mauritian Creole, Igbo, English, French – reading projected lyrics and dancing to the afrobeat and reggae tunes. I watched a crowd of over 300 persons learn dance moves which were imitative of the activity of laundry – washing “invisible clothes” with their hands, hanging said clothes out on invisible rails, picking up the “dried clothes” and ironing them on an imagined board. I, myself, stood somewhere in the midst of it all, worshipping and sweating away goosebumps from the excitement of being in that auditorium, at that time, with all those people, for one reason – to worship God and to react to His love in the physical and spiritual ways I could.

The concert ended with “Malibongwe,” a hit South African gospel track. It was performed by WeWillWorship and the Whispers of Love United Band. Seeing them on stage together, especially with the red hues of the students who made up the Whispers of Love band shining and sparkling, I said a prayer of gratitude to God for a successful day, and I just wished that we had more time to praise and worship. The festival ended with closing remarks by the three ladies who organized it through a team of devoted student volunteers. These ladies  – Seppy, Debbie and Memory – give me reason to believe that the world has not been denied graceful and faithful leadership. After their remarks, pictures and meet-ups followed. Click. Click. Away. I took the back seat at this point, as I always do.

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Post- Festival

On Sunday afternoon, the day after the festival, the team of volunteers met up for a hangout and debrief session. The fresh looks on the faces of those in attendance showed that people had crashed for hours, and their rejuvenation was kicking in beautifully. I wore a bright pink top to catalyze my own rejuvenation. Although my feet were wobbly the whole time from all my dropdown dance moves at the festival, my heart couldn’t have been firmer. I listened to people’s honest feedback, most of which I resonated with. I nodded and snapped at the mention of the many improvements from last year’s festival. When Shoutout time came, I gave my shout out to the talented friend of mine who designed the t-shirts and whose flexibility made my job as a merchandise representative easier. I also gave a shout out to my friend who supported me throughout the fulfillment of my merchandise procurement role – going with me to see vendors and selling merchandise when I was unavailable.  I was given a shout-out for demonstrating “true service.” That got me blushing for a second or two.

There were lots of snacks to nibble on, throughout and after the debrief rounds. Because I was late (not again) to the session, I couldn’t get a piece of everything. I grabbed as much of the leftovers as I could – lots of Dorito chips, spoonfuls of some salsa dip that didn’t taste as processed as it looked, a small slice of borrowed cake, four grapes, and a plastic cup of Sprite. I ate whilst giving more Shout-outs that I hadn’t thought of in the moment of public sharing. I gave a shoutout to my faith support team lead whose ice breakers have shown me what is ideal for engaging a team before crunch time. I also gave a shoutout to my roommate who was an understudy festival organizer, taking on administrative roles when needed and ensuring that financing and external outreach went as planned. I should have given one last shout out but I didn’t have to anyways because the founder of Whispers of Love echoed my intention. He shouted out to every single student volunteer who signed up to assist with the organization, preparation, and execution of the festival, with love, flexibility, humility, and willingness to serve.

The frontend and backend of the Whispers of Love Festival 2019 taught me servitude, faith, grace, and community. An attendee who spoke to me after the festival commented, “you all are leaders. you all are so good.” He spoke truth. I have been privy to a good number of student-led events, but there is something different about Whispers of Love festival. The spirit of contribution to the festival was Christ-ordained, and when Christ takes center-stage, everything good and blissful emanates. So, I will end this with a shout-out to God for the love, the people, the event, and above all, the life. As the countdown to next year’s festival becomes official, I encourage you to follow this space for more.

Mercy Chinwo’s “Excess Love” is the irreplaceable backdrop to my mental homecoming

The first time I saw Mercy Chinwo on-screen, she was auditioning for the second season of Nigerian Idols, the currently-defunct Nigerian version of the international Idol series. Nigerian Idol ran for five seasons between 2010 and 2015, providing a notable platform for young gifted singers to showcase their talent to a vibrant audience. The primetime reality TV show it was, Nigerian Idol best reminisces as a visual magnet for audiences you will most likely find sprawled across couches in family parlours, or squeezed into padded waiting chairs at barbing salons, on a Sunday evening. If my memory serves me right, I used to watch Nigerian Idol every Sunday at 5:00 p.m on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) channel, which then, showed signs of the walking-corpse identity it now holistically bears. The fecundity of Nigeria’s talent-based reality TV landscape in the days of Nigerian Idol, Naija Sings, and Project Fame West Africa kept Nigerians like me who were social media outsiders, sane and radiant.

Mercy Chinwo was a fireball on the Nigerian Idol Stage. She brought a unique energy and richness of tone, everyone – the live audience, judges and home audience alike – was totally consumed by her sheer talent and consistent A-game. Past the auditions stage, Mercy never failed to impress her fast-rising fanbase week after week, song after song, genre after genre. We could feel her zeal beyond the screen divide; we resonated with her pursuit of near perfection in every performance; we sang along when she hit us with a mashup of Fela’s ‘Zombie’ and Sir Victor Uwaifor’s ‘Joromi‘. We loved Mercy – chubby smile, shiny costumes, gap tooth, and all. I remember being in awe of her perfect composure in high heels as she danced and dramatically embodied the songs she covered. I can never forget her wig-snatching rendition of Psquare’s “Chop My Money.” She so perfectly embodied the female version of the persona in that song, I couldn’t help but say a quick prayer for the bobo whose money was going to be chopped without any care. Her contestant number was 530, and although there was nothing special about the way she finger-signed this number when appealing for audience votes, my family and I still loved her for it. We loved for being normal enough to finger-sign just like every other contestant when she had that unmatchable talent and distinctive “fully-made” stage presence.

Mercy had to win season 2 of Nigerian Idols. She had to. Not just because of my mothers’ countable votes, but because she truly won the hearts of Nigerian families and households who, in spite of the saturation of enticing foreign content on satellite stations, still maintained a viewership quota for local shows. And she won. Grandly. Majestically. I remember jumping up and down in our living room screaming “Yes! Yes! Yes.” My mother’s reaction, as Nigerian as could be, was a firm declaration of her supposed precognition. She said, “of course, I knew it. Mercy is our winner. There is power in her name. Mercy…Child of Mercy. Mercy… Child of God.” I must add that Mercy won Nigerian Idol in a season that was arguably the most competitive ever. Her toughest challenge was at the finals, where she competed with Joe Blue, another explosive performer who emerged as the second runner-up that season. Joe Blue has resurfaced on our screens very recently, shaking up the fresh, glazed stage of “The Voice Nigeria,” the newest kid on Nigeria’s talent competition block.

Soon after Mercy won Nigerian Idol, she released a single which was produced under her winning recording contract with Sony Music. That single seems to be nowhere to be found today, understandably so, taking into account her sprawling list of hit songs in the past year. After her victory at Nigerian Idol, I lost full sight of Mercy, only catching her in ‘cameos’ for one or two movie promotions or during annual Calabar carnival festivities. Just a glimpse of Mercy on screen – for whatever reason – brought back sweet memories of the better part of my TV indulgence in 2012, the year she won Nigerian Idol. In those moments, I would hope for a rerun. I would wish her the very best in her career. I would pray more people got to see and know of her magic. Little did I know then, that Mercy would come to take her rightful place in the Nigerian music scene…6 years after her first appearance, as a new, niche artiste…a gospel singer. A holy ghost fire- wielding gospel singer.

I couldn’t even tell it was Mercy when I heard the song, “Excess Love” last December. It was a lazy Saturday morning at my home in Aba, Nigeria, and I had just finally won a war against sleep. Rising crookedly out of a tiresome sleep-wake-stare-sleep again pattern, I sat up on my bed trying to figure out what needed to be done in my life besides cleaning the house and having pap and akara for breakfast. Seems like my sister, who lay slanted on the other side of the bed assumed I needed a soundtrack for all that contemplation. She immediately started playing songs on her phone. I knew she too was struggling to get out of bed and start her chores. The first two songs on her playlist were known to me. I sat still, not thinking too deeply, not making any effort to actually get out of bed, partly disinterested in the music. Then, I got up and headed towards the door, to brush my teeth and pick a broom.

Nearly out of the door, I heard, “your love is kind…” and I just kept walking towards the bathroom. I didn’t know the line or the song, and then, I wasn’t moved. Moreso, I was actively forcing myself to start my chores so I couldn’t afford any form of distraction. The song kept playing till it got to the chorus. Then, I heard, from the bathroom, “Jesus, you love me too much oh…too much oh, too much oh, excess love oh.” I was hooked at once. There was a mighty energy of blissful surrender that I felt off those lines. Distraction was damned. I ran to my sister. “What’s the name of this song…who sang it?” I asked. She replied, “Mercy sang it. It’s called Excess Love.” She said Mercy with that tone of familiarity siblings use for an intimate crop of people – celebrities and randomers included – who have become household names, yet I still couldn’t connect the hint to the Mercy I knew from Nigerian Idol. So I asked, “Mercy…which Mercy?” She said, “Mercy Chinwo. Have you forgotten, Mercy from Nigerian Idol?” I gasped and sat down to let my heart melt comfortably. I was overjoyed. At first listen, I knew I had fallen in love with “Excess Love” and I knew the song had the potential to be a defining and symbolic memento, a token to my roots, my childhood, my family, and my home.  I was utterly convinced, right then, that Mercy Chinwo had birthed an anthem. That anthem echoed tones of familiarity – a very Eastern-Nigerian familiarity that I knew as well as I could recite my ABCs. I called “Excess Love” a gift of love, history, and context. I couldn’t get enough of its powerful, absorbing chorus. Its simplicity was like a rich human’s experiment in intentional modesty. As I sat back on the bed I had coerced myself into leaving that Saturday morning, I told my sister to replay “Excess Love”. I re-listened, properly, contentedly,  at peace with shifting aside the thought of chores waiting for me. Afterward, I willed myself to do just one thing – pick up my phone and download the song, for myself.

“Excess Love” is a kind song. It sounds like a song on a mission to soothe and caress a listener. The lyrics do not try too hard, they do not seek to be tagged “cerebral.” They are simple. As simple as the “good mornings” older Nigerians will have to reply to for the rest of their lives. “Excess Love” is heartfelt. It doesn’t come out gushing. It comes off wholesome, articulate, reserved for a reason, the reason being that there is no need to show-off to the One who runs the show. “Excess Love” is a profession of love received, undeserved yet unceasing. It is a Christian’s heart-cry. It is a requiem for God’s inexhaustible love for humanity. It is a Thanksgiving song that chooses to affirm the reason for gratitude instead of plainly professing gratitude, and that is why I love it in a special way. Just like Cory Asbury’s “Reckless Love,” it shows me a novel way of telling God that I am grateful…by outlining and describing the very gifts of God that I am grateful for, affirming each one of them, and showing the world that even the littlest of things should spark our gratitude to God.

“Your love is kind
Your love is patient
You fill my heart
With so much peace and joy
You’re amazing
You make my life feel brand new
You’re amazing
You make my life feel brand new

Jesus, you love me too much (Oh)
Too much (Oh)
Too much (Oh)
Excess love (Oh)”

Those are the first verse and chorus of Mercy’s “Excess Love.” The first time I heard that first verse, I walked away from it, until the chorus stopped me in my tracks. Today when I hear just the first line, I stop whatever it is that I am doing and listen. Sometimes, I sing along. At other times, I simply listen in peace. The other day, I heard someone playing it on loudspeaker in the college dorm adjacent to mine, and I beamed with childish pride. I told my friend, “that’s my song. It reminds me of home.” Truly, “Excess Love” takes me home. It brings memories of familiarity…the stout pitch at the pronunciation of “Jesus,” the “oh” that fills up the ends of the chorus, even and perhaps, especially, the choice of the word “excess.” “Excess Love” carries along with it, the setting of its birth – Eastern Nigeria, and I know that setting too well. I know the sounds associated with the place(s) of my birth and upbringing. “Excess Love” brought those sounds back to me last December, a time when my entire gospel music collection was an exclusive stack of songs by Hillsong, Bethel Music and Lauren Daigle.

Yesterday, I heard a ministration of “Excess Love” which picked me up me unawares and dropped me in a garden of divine bliss. The minister was Osby Berry, a budding American singer who shook up the gospel music la-la-land with an enthralling cover of Hillsong’s “So Will I.” Since Osby went viral for that cover, he has ministered many other hit songs by Hillsong, Jubilee Worship and Elevation Worship. In retrospect, I do not know why I never expected to hear “Excess Love” from Osby Berry, especially in light of its “excess” spread (a.ka. popularity) all over the media. I think, for the most part, I had held the song too close to heart as a memento of my personal history and context that I didn’t expect anyone else, especially people who have not experienced the setting that echoes through its sound, to relate to the song as much I did. That is why, until I heard Osby’s cover, the only other rendition of the song which I listened to repeatedly besides the main version, was Mercy’s own moving rendition on a street in Port-Harcourt, Eastern Nigeria, her home base. Frankly, though, I am in awe of the global reception of “Excess Love.” It warms my heart to see the world swayed by the things that sway me, inspired by the things that inspire me, brought to tears by the things that make me cry. It makes me feel less alone, and for some reason, without any attempt to seem self-righteous or conceited, it makes me have more faith in humanity – our power to connect, and our sameness.

I am proud of Mercy Chinwo. I am inspired by her journey from Nigerian Idol to the globe. I am intrigued by the power of timing in her life. The years she spent away from the tabloids, honing her craft after her win, deciding what direction she wants her music to take, possibly seeking God, heeding his call and finally, opening the door for the world to come in and taste of her gift. Mercy has gifted me with an irreplaceable backdrop for all the mental homecomings that I have had and will continue to have as I seek greener pastures miles away from home. I play “Excess Love” on the days when I am consumed by foreignness, and in dire need of an escape… to home. I play “Excess Love” on the days when I feel the weight of distance from my family, my native language, my native food, my estranged childhood dreams. I play “Excess Love” on loop on the days when the thought of home…a reminder of my belonging, is the only thing that keeps me alive. For all these, I say “thank you” to Mercy, for coming back, and to God, for being the reason for it all.

Video: Excess Love – Mercy Chinwo

Is this what they call social anxiety?

I hate ceremonies. I hate events. I hate networking dinners. I hate community gatherings. Maybe because I struggle in them. Because when I attend them, I feel like I can’t breathe. The flashiness. The pomp. The colours. The chatter. The effort to communicate. To be social. To not be alone. To be happy. To not just be alive. To look it. To look it so much you could create a new life out of all the life you exude. Sometimes, the people you know pretend not to know you. They prefer those who are well dressed. They would rather sit with those who are jolly. Other times, the people you know try a bit too hard to show that they know you. Everybody wants to have fun. No one else seems to be as overwhelmed but you. So you suck it up.

“Oh this event is for you, Chisom…Why don’t you go have fun?”

No, it is not for me. I feel heavy and saturated. There are way too many people. This is such a small space. I can’t breathe. I don’t want to be here. I hate not wanting to be here. I….you know what? Bye.

Transition

Transition is remembrance.

Flashbacks like waves in your sea of living. They come when stirred, “Facebook-poked,” when a token of the past moves in the direction of your minds’ eye. You recall the tiny details of years gone by. Somehow, you mostly remember the good moments. Like your memory filtered the bad ones…for your own good? Even when you catch a speck of the bad times, the heaviness is light. You say a prayer of gratitude for strength and resilience, and somewhere in your mental contingency vault, you stock up on the proclamation, “I shall overcome.” If (when) the waves bring back grief, you might have to accept that the grief shall be carried along…that it never really leaves.

Transition is coming full circle.

Here, coming back to square one doesn’t connote stagnancy or failure. Now, it means that you returned to get what was truly yours. It means that some parts of your life were left unlived…and you had to relive them in order to live them. What do your people say about reincarnation? Think of transition as reincarnation but for experiences, not people. For you, it could be an invitation to do something you wanted to do but never got around to doing. It could be a “hello” text from someone you haven’t talked to in two years, someone who has always been there but not here…present but absent, in mind but not in heart. It could also be the realization that the small things you fussed about were indeed…small.

Transition is vigilance.

You know what they say about finishing strong. That obsession that springs forth when you are well aware of the finishing line. You rethink your choices. You audit your lived experiences. You assess your habits. The word, change, takes up a more technical undertone. It becomes less of what happens to you, and more of what you do to or for yourself. You become quite invested in the future, sometimes at the expense of yesterday’s future…which you are living in today…a present (unopened). All this while, you are stepping in, leaning back, seeking “you” in the midst of “all.” But, the challenge is that when you become too vigilant and there happens to be no trace of danger whatsoever, you could – unintentionally – create that danger. Vigilance craves validation too.

Transition is vulnerability.

You come to terms with the truth, that you actually found connection. You weren’t alone. Some real friends. Family, even. And you love them. You love them in ways you never knew your heart could. Even though you might attempt to be philosophical about missing people, you will feel your heart swell up for the joy of friendship…relationship… situationship…acquaintance. The heaviness that will be left in the wake of this joy is the kind that cannot be lightened with tears, the kind people carry with them at airports after a last wave. But vulnerability doesn’t always come with tears. At points of transition, vulnerability can and should be, laughter. Melodies of joy, backdrops of hilarity, custodians of interaction, laughter should never be lost in transition. (n)ever.

Transition is love. Hence, Transition is life.

You are two months away from your college graduation, and your senses could never be more active, your brain couldn’t be more alert, your heart couldn’t be more open, your workload, of course, doesn’t get more saturated than this. You are transitioning so quickly, a bit blindly, even though you are trying too hard to be intentional. See, life in itself is uncertain. That is probably why we are gifted with love, a feeling we can attach to an assurance, even if for a brief moment in time.

So, hold onto the love that you are sure of. Embrace the people you have come to know. Remember the sound of their laughter. Do the things that give you joy. Let the memories of this doing be etched in your heart. Do not try to fight the future. Be gentle as you try to get a hold of it. Acknowledge your transition. Own it.

Navigating nebulous “niche” Nigerian social media communities. Part 2: Discovering Nigerian Techies and Creatives on Twitter

I joined Twitter in October 2013. I didn’t think it was as mainstream as Facebook so I was very glad to create an account. It was officially the first social media account I ever had, given that then, I perambulated the streets of Facebook using my mum’s account. Joining Twitter, I sought a digital space that was known but not too popular, a space that guaranteed fewer family pictures and even fewer pictures of my classmates.

Oh wait, I just remembered that we had 2go and Eskimi at some point…I guess Twitter wasn’t my first after all.

After I joined Twitter, I tried to get the hang of it, you know, get into the groove. But, I never got around to. It seemed quite elusive, esoteric, scientific even. I didn’t understand how retweets worked, why I couldn’t make “friends”, and heck, there were way too many @s flowing around it seemed unnecessary. So, I backed out…took a hiatus, which I later got to realize wasn’t solely a personal experience but one of those collective, contemporary lived experiences. I came back to Twitter sometime in 2017, and although I am yet to call it a ‘safe space’ like I could call Facebook now, I can say that it has been enlightening, far from confusing, a bit too saturated, but nevertheless, an eye-opener.

My friend, Elizabeth, majorly inspired my return to Twitter. She seemed to have found a sort of digital residence on Twitter that she couldn’t stop talking about. She would talk about trends, hashtags, movements, jobs, people, Nigerians on Twitter. One time, she made a post lamenting the illicit acts of SARS during the anti-SARS Twitter campaign, and her post went viral, amassing over 600 retweets. I was like, “wawu!” Elizabeth’s Twitter journey started off from exposure to, and participation in the publicization of movements and causes which mattered to her including feminism, human rights, and political justice. She would tell me what was being brought to light about so-so-and-so Nigerian politician and I would be like, “oh, hmm, nawa oh…”

I am neither well-attuned to political discourse nor opinionated enough to have a say in topics I am ill-informed about. So, I never really had much to say in response to Elizabeth’s political conversation starters. I was likely to engage the topical issues she raised off of Twitter from a less (or non) political standpoint…like shifting a conversation about Dino Melaye’s political shenanigans to the sociological underpinnings of his musical acts. Nevertheless, you can bet that when Elizabeth got drawn to a new part of Twitter, a bit distanced from the political landscape she had dwelled in for a while, a lot closer to the professional world of Nigerian youths doing great things through technology and art, I got the memo first. Coincidentally, that was also the period I properly settled into Twitter after my patchy return. So, naturally, I saw what Elizabeth saw and retweeted, read what she liked, and discovered the people she would talk about with enthusiasm over dinner. These people were…are Nigerians, hardworking, talented Nigerians living in Nigeria. They were Nigerian techies and creatives who from an omniscient viewpoint, seemed to have formed a nebulous “niche” virtual community of youth helping, supporting and inspiring each other. I got to know them in the days I sourced all my Twitter content from Elizabeth, and now, I am proud to have a large number of them on my “following” list.

When President Buhari called Nigerian youths “lazy” last year, I wished I could introduce him to these Nigerian youth that I now draw inspiration from every single day, via Twitter. I wished we could have a presentation session where I showed him the strides of Justin Irabor (Digital Marketer, Illustrator, Animator), Ire Aderinokun (Front-end developer, UI Designer, Buy Coins Co-founder), Timi Ajiboye (Full Stack Developer, BuyCoins Founder), Lade Tawak (UX Researcher and Design consultant), Shola Lawal (Journalist and Filmmaker), Sarah Sanni (Muralist), Eniola Olanrewaju (Writer, Model, Videographer), Efe Oraka (Singer), and Olarinde Olayemi Ayanfeoluwa (Scribble Artist and Photographer). I still wish for a sit-in with the President to recount the many nights I have stayed up reading Lade’s blog, stalking Ire all the way to her Youtube Channel, reading Justin’s fiction from back-in-the-days, rooting for Sarah as her murals take her around the world.

When I left Nigeria in 2016 to study in Mauritius, I distanced myself from a lot of things pertaining to Nigeria…by default. The more exposure I got to pan-African and Western achievers – history makers, entrepreneurs, the older generation of successful Western professionals – I became less aware of what was happening in Nigeria’s professional and political scene. I even momentarily shoved aside my “young, female Nigerian writer” fantasies…my self-assigned Chimamanda protégé identity, and I nurtured dreams of academic and entrepreneurial achievement beyond the shores of Africa, and of course, outside of Nigeria. I didn’t have a lot of people to look up to in Nigeria (youths were not even in the picture) considering how bleak and marred by injustice, corruption, disregard for humanity, suffering, pain and stagnation Nigeria’s image was and still is. I would often think of how impossibly backward my life would have been if I had never left Nigeria, and I would remind myself to be grateful for the place I found myself in…an Africa that works and rises…a Mauritius.

I was in Mauritius, chilling, literally. For the most part, I believe I was unlearning some toxicities and negativities from my early teenage years, and putting on a fresh skin smoothened by enlightenment and exposure to global success and pan-African diversity. My classmates were some of the brightest young Africans, judging by our school’s tough admissions process. We were meeting some of the most accomplished professionals from top companies like BCG, McKinsey, Bain and Company, Standard Bank, PWC, Deloitte and more. We had professional success on our “life-goals” list, and for someone like me, I couldn’t indulge alternate realities which were not in line with the wealth of professional exposure I was getting. Creativity became less of a mantra for me. I was on the path of professional achievement, so a career as a consultant with McKinsey but NOT-THE-ONE-IN-NIGERIA was the dream.

So, you can imagine the sort of childlike awakening I had when the word, “Zikoko” popped up on my Facebook Timeline sometime in 2016 and I decided to take a look. Gosh! I saw Nigerianness described, depicted, narrated, illustrated so beautifully, honestly, humorously, relatably I couldn’t stop my heart from longing for the place that will never be replaced as “home.” In the midst of a near-complete disintegration from most things “Nigerian,” I found myself reading Zikoko’s meme series touching on all sorts of Nigerianisms. I had to forcefully remind myself that missing Nigeria was not an option. Zikoko reminded me of the power of creativity to bridge gaps and bring a reader home. My first exposure to some of the Nigerian techies and creatives I now follow on Twitter was from Zikoko’s work. The writers, photographers, directors, cast, and crew behind Zikoko’s steady stream of Naija- themed content were young Nigerians who (I didn’t know then…until Twitter later) were blazing their chosen trails, and accomplishing creative and technological feats from Nigeria to the world, not the other way round as I used to think was the ideal. Timi, Justin, and Shola were one of those I first saw on Zikoko.

Following these young Nigerians on Twitter, I have seen way too many of their stellar works than I can possibly describe in this piece. I have followed their accomplishments, seeing how possible it is to be a young Nigerian who is not a lawyer, a medical doctor or an engineer (African parents kwenu!) attaining significant career success as a journalist, software developer, UX designer, writer, muralist…These are unconventional careers in the Nigerian professional scene, and most of these young Nigerians started very alone on their journeys to where they are today. Now, they are constantly learning, building, speaking and sharing their stories of personal and professional development in spite of the structural obstacles that abound in their country…our country, Nigeria. Now that I know this crop of Nigerians, I am less enthused by the types of professional spaces I used to set my sights upon in my early university days, especially because I know that little Chisom never cared much about management consulting or the likes (she didn’t know it but still…). She just wanted to write and dance and act and sing and maybe discover something more “stable” but still “life-giving” she could pursue on the side to keep the forces of “hand-to-mouth” away.

So yeah, I consume the content shared on Twitter by Nigerian techies and creatives because they remind me of the child in me who wanted to take a path less trodden. By aptitude, I might lean more towards the creatives than the techies, but there is no way I am not checking out Ire Aderinokun’s Youtube channel or opening up her beautiful slide decks…or attempting to read her technical blog posts (I can spell javascript and define accessibility). Last month, Tech Cabal Nigeria celebrated 50 powerful women in the Nigerian tech industry. I looked through almost all the content they posted for the portrait series and exhibition, and I must say that I am exceedingly in awe of the accomplishments of young Nigerians in Nigeria. This is far from patronage. I do gush and laud and praise a lot, but this time around, the impact I am describing is so deep I am questioning all the paths that I had conceptualized for my future after my college graduation. I am thinking of taking some time out to understand my own path, dig up my ambition and pursue it with grit, purpose, and resilience like the young Nigerian creatives and techies I know from Twitter.

I would love to add my own footprint to this path of youthful inspiration and Nigerian possibility. (The latter has never really been doubted. Nigerians have been known to attain great feats in all works of life). I would love to inspire younger generations of Nigerians to believe that they can choose any (literally any) path their hearts long for, pursue that path, grow in it and make a name for themselves…and well, their country. For a long while, I was in the dark about the strides of fellow young Nigerians who dared greatly and quite differently. But, thanks to Twitter, Elizabeth, Zikoko, late nights of a-hundred-and-one open tabs, I am now fully aware of the power of youth to thrive in a country that tries way too hard to shrink them.

Navigating nebulous “niche” Nigerian social media communities. Part 1: Discovering Young Nigerian Writers on Facebook

facebook
Source: William Iven on Unspash

The first time my life looked back at me blankly, like a new notebook with an empty first page – “name” “contact information” “presented to” “by” – and even more empty pages in succession, I decided to give social media a try. This was 2014 and I had just graduated from secondary school. I had spent six years studying, doing assignments, getting flogged for not cutting my nails; for being late to school; for leaving a textbook at home. I had spent more than half a decade glued to an institution with the mission to guide me towards “rising to the highest” (Sursum ad Surmum) and now that it was over, I had no idea what to do with my life. In the brief not-actually-restful period of just chilling after our graduation ceremony, I started to panic about my future. I had to take aptitude tests for the university I had applied to study Law in – the University of Nigeria, Nsukka – but I had feelings of defeat even before I sat for the exam. I felt like a zombie, waltzing along to the path most-trodden with no sense of what I actually wanted to do, who I truly wanted to be. With so many imaginations of the familiar past that I had just walked out of and the strange future that I couldn’t truly conceptualize, I sought distraction. So, I opened a Facebook Account. I think this was October 2014. (I know – late bloomer much.)

When I joined Facebook, I started searching and stalking all the names I had committed to memory from different parts of my cognitive existence…people from my school, people from church, my extended family, celebrities. I sent a couple of requests. Got some acceptances. I sent out a bunch of “thank you for accepting my request” (so glad, this is oldfashioned now, or was it then?) and when I did get a significant number of friends such that my newsfeed became less of an oligarchic reportage and it no longer looked like a scroll of unfamiliar pictures, I grabbed a seat and devoured content – written content, lots of it. There was one particular friend who seemed to share a lot of interesting content in the form of stories, book reviews, opinion pieces, poems…a wide array of writerly shebang. I was hooked. I would read his shared posts, track the original writer and then follow that person. I would end up doing this for many other posts. These were posts by Nigerians, young Nigerians who wrote, who knew they wrote and who owned their writing on Facebook. I was intrigued, to say the least. Then, I noticed a web, a noticeable but not-as-glaring halo which seemed to encircle the different Facebook writers I had come to find out one by one, shared post by shared post. “These people know each other,” I mused. Moreso, they got to know each other on Facebook and now, they write to each other, with each other, for each other, off of each other…on Facebook. I felt like I had just been exposed to a special digital cult of young Nigerian intellectuals, writers, and thinkers and I wanted so badly to join.

These writers I had discovered on Facebook were a nebulous niche community who thrived in the consciousness that they were being read, being praised, being challenged, being noticed by a small country of Nigerian literary enthusiasts on Facebook. I was one of the budding enthusiasts. There were many more like me, hovering around the comments section, saying “wows,” “what a lovely read,” “you are a great writer,” “I can’t stop reading this.” There were the more passionate enthusiasts who would go on to comment with their own short stories and prose pieces as rejoinders to the original posts by the Facebook writer(s) who were the subject(s) of the directional attention. I interned in the comments boxes of these writers. Oh, I did. I would make sure I read every single piece of written content they churned out, and I would comment on them as soon as I could construct some fine lines to show endearment and also shed light on my growing intellect. At some point, I did get noticed through my comments. Someone reached out to me asking a few “literary” questions. If I remember vividly, they asked me to describe whatever was physically in front of me. I looked out of my phone screen and my street lay there, dead, muddy, narrow. So, I described my street to this Facebook-veteran-writer. That birthed a writing friendship that eventually led to my own writing…on (mostly via) Facebook. I wrote a piece which was published on my veteran-friend’s blog. Then, I also became a steady contributor to another friends’ blog – this very friendship was borne out of me sliding into the dm of that very first writer who shared the posts that exposed me to the wider community of young Nigerian writers on Facebook.

I think this was the point in my life where I ditched television, and settled into the edutainment my phone – specifically Facebook – offered. I wasn’t fully a part of the community (more of a small country, really) of Nigerian writers on Facebook but I was within their vicinity. I was reading, commenting, doing my own bit of writing (in the safe haven of blogs though) and I never got bored or tired or less enthused by the wealth of talent, passion, and skill that I got to witness every single second with just a scroll on my newsfeed. I watched these writers grow themselves, through consistent writing, competitions, meet-ups and literary festivals. They even started an official flash fiction competition completely organized and conducted on Facebook. I longed to contest in one of the flash fiction competitions but I never got around to writing short pieces to submit for selection. It was at the point where the flash fiction competition became an institutionalized annual event, when sponsors got into the picture, when people realized that this Facebook writing could actually translate into real-life returns, it was at that point that I retreated….because university came calling and consuming.

When I started university in 2016, I was charged up to keep writing due to my proximity to the biggest young and booming community of writers, literary enthusiasts, bloggers, intellectuals, poets, speakers, in Nigeria who operated out of Facebook as a convenient digital space but were also emerging in different (literary) physical territories as forces to reckon with. Hymar David, the convener of the Flash Fiction competition, shared the good news of getting corporate writing gigs in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja. He has published two stellar books – “The Gundown” and “I for done blow but I too dey press phone.” Romeo Oriogun, the deep poet whose words pierce the skin in their journey towards a reader’s heart of hearts, published his chapbook, “Burnt Men” which paved the way for many other successes, currently climaxed in his fellowship at Harvard University. Caleb Somtochukwu Okereke, the sublime writer whose words move me in ways I cannot fully describe, has gone on to take up journalism, writing for Aljazeera while studying at Cavendish University Uganda. Jennifer Emelife, lover of Maya Angelou, teacher-like-no-other, sister-like-no-mother, has successfully merged her love for writing and teaching as a Literature Teacher, and recently, her education organization, Teach for Change Nigeria, was shortlisted for the 17th British Council ELTons Awards for Innovation in English Language Teaching. Uzoamaka Doris Aniunoh, a fireball of literary depth, truth, and reality steeped in history, originality, and identity, has spread her wings into her day-one interests: acting for MTV Shuga (et al.), writing for BBC Igbo and modeling big time (think all-day, every day).

I didn’t write a lot in university. In fact, if I am being brutally honest with myself, I would say I didn’t write in university. Considering the pace at which I was being exposed to fine writing by my country people, the convenience of learning so quickly, so consistently from a lot of young Nigerians whose stories and thoughts were as relatable as “Mary Slessor stopping the killing of twins in Nigeria,” I would say that my writing took a severe hit. This hit…halt…I can understand in retrospect because I attended a different kind of university, the kind that soaks up your full attention because it calls out to you to stand for something bigger, something different from the normal course your life has taken. So, I heeded the call and took an unplanned break from writing whilst I tried to grapple concepts of entrepreneurship, data and decisions, project management and a host of courses which add up to the 21st century employability-themed curriculum. I remember nights when I tried to fill up my screen with fresh words of fiction and my muse laughed at me from abyss. I just couldn’t. Somehow, I managed to start this blog sometime in 2017, and I have a few patches of words and titles to show for it. I am grateful.

Now that my university days are drawing to an end, I am more conscious of what my life was about, immediately before university, and I am looking back at the community of Facebook writers who showed me that I could make sense of my life outside the walls of a school, estranged from the conventional institutional pathways that society has built and maintained for eons. With graduation two months away, I am now having a lot of introspection, asking myself “what’s next?” I wonder if I want to have another “Facebook writing” gap year before I hop onto another conventional institutional train, say grad school or corporate work. The truth is that times have changed. Even the Nigerian-writers-on-Facebook community isn’t as strongly webbed as it used to be…in a good way and a bad way. The good: people have discovered wider interests, wider means of expressing their thoughts and ideas. They have turned to film, photography, music…painting. The bad: the community grew toxic. Disses and subs became staples. A bit of intolerance came to the fore. The unearthing of deep secrets, broken alliances, destroyed friendships all littered on the floor of what they tend to call “Zuckerville – the country of Nigerian writers of Facebook.” But it seems I do not have to limit myself to the lived-and-loved experience of writing by young Nigerians on Facebook because I have discovered a new space, a new small country… Basically, I have found myself in that concentrated mental space of discovery, enlightenment, and intrigue which I had in 2014 when I discovered the Nigerian writing community on Facebook at the dawn of my gap year post-secondary school. Guess where I found it? Twitter. Yes, you heard that right. I found it on Twitter. There is an entire nebulous “niche” Nigerian community (call it nation for some good alliteration), fresh to me, long- brewing to others, of creatives and techies who are doing the most literally. They are creating, collaborating, teaching, speaking, learning, growing and generally shaping Nigeria’s digital landscape. Just like the Facebook writers community, they know each other. I will be writing about them in the sequel to this post. You should definitely look out for it. I am so high on them right now. You can’t imagine.