Naija Women Tell Us

Of Grief, Loneliness, Seductions, Despair, Unbelief and More – Here Are The 11 Powerful Stories Nigerian Women Shared With Humans Of NY

   

Since 2010, Humans of New York, a photography project started by Brandon Stanton, have gone from city to city telling the stories and experiences of people. HONY  has been to over 20 countries, with Nigeria being the latest on the list. Brandon spoke to a number of Nigerians who shared their personal experiences about so many issues – from rape to police brutality to poverty, religion and other things.

Ten Nigerian women shared their stories, and they remind us that we are not alone in trying to navigate life and its challenges.

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“I had a lonely childhood. I didn’t have many friends. I spent a lot of time writing depressing poetry in my room. But everything changed the first time I saw someone perform a spoken word poem. It was at a fellowship meeting. I never realized that poetry could impact an audience like that. After the meeting, the girl invited me to join her poetry club. There were seven members. They met every Thursday under a guava tree in the school courtyard. It was a place for me to just write, and to read what I’d written. It was a place where I felt accepted and got critical feedback. I got better at writing. I grew more confident. Eventually I performed in front of larger audiences, and my projects got more ambitious. Now I’m working on a book. It’s been my main focus for the last four years. It’s about a little girl who’s misunderstood. She’s an artist. She wants to be recognized and understood. But everyone around her thinks she’s a witch. When I began writing the book, the character was based on myself. But I’m so different than her now. I’m not depressed anymore. I’m closer to my family. I don’t feel so isolated. But I’m not sure she’s gotten there yet. I’m struggling to not impose my growth onto her journey. As a writer you’re supposed to detach yourself from your character. But when you’ve included so many elements of yourself, and you’ve evolved so much—it’s really hard to do.” (Lagos, Nigeria)

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“They’re called Yahoo Boys. The name comes from the old days when they used Yahoo email accounts to scam people. I first started seeing them when I went to the University of Lagos. They form little gangs. They travel in convoys where all the cars are the same color. They’re always on their laptops. These days a lot of them are legitimized. They rent office space. They refer to their targets as ‘clients.’ They start charities. They put their fraud money into other businesses. Some of them have Instagram accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers. They post pictures of their cars and clothes. They never mention where they got their money– but everyone knows. A lot of them buy art from me. Since a lot of their scams are emotional fraud, they’ll even ask me for advice on things that women would say in a relationship. Or they’ll ask me to pick up their phone and pretend to be a secretary. I never participate. Recently I’ve even stopped selling them paintings. It’s cost me a lot. But I can’t take their money without feeling complicit.” (Lagos, Nigeria)

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“In my church you’re either Christian or possessed by demons. We have services four times per week. Luckily zoning out looks a lot like praying. I’m not saying that I don’t believe any of it. I just have a lot of questions that nobody will answer. Whenever I ask a hard question, they just show me a bible quote that says I shouldn’t ask questions. It doesn’t make sense to me. I think I’m becoming a Nihilist. Honestly, I don’t see any reason why people should be born. You exist, then you strive to attain something to make sense of your existence, and then you don’t exist anymore. Can’t we cut out some of those steps? It’s just too much work. I didn’t sign up for this. And when you finally die– instead of everything stopping, you have to become conscious again? Heaven doesn’t sound that great. Supposedly there’s a lot of singing and trumpets. That sounds exhausting. I’d rather be sleeping.” (Lagos, Nigeria)

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“You can’t just use Beyoncé to sell products in Nigeria. Well, maybe Beyoncé is a bad example. Beyoncé can sell anywhere. But most of the time you need to adapt your advertising to local tastes. So I help international companies create marketing campaigns for Nigeria. A few years ago I started my own company. I’d gotten tired of working for someone else. I was doing all the work on some projects, and I’d only walk away with peanuts. So I took the leap. My goal was to win a single bid that first year. I just needed one big name to risk a little money on me. Because a little money to them was a lot of money to me. I knew I had the technical experience. I had the ‘know how.’ I just didn’t have an office, or a staff, or a big name. But that became my pitch. I argued that bigger agencies take their clients for granted. I told companies: ‘I’m not relaxed like that. I’m hungry. I’m going to give you more juice.’ My first client ended up being Coca Cola. Maybe I didn’t have things quite as figured out as I allowed them to believe. But hey, that’s advertising. And I delivered.” (Lagos, Nigeria)

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“My mother won the visa lottery, so when I was young my family relocated to Minnesota. I think I’m the only one of my siblings who always viewed Nigeria as home. I participated in Model UN. I studied international political science. I admired Nelson Mandela. So I always knew I’d go back to Africa one day. After graduation I interned with an NGO in Northern Nigeria. During that trip I witnessed a breached birth in a village. There was no C-Section available, so the baby died. I knew then that not only would I be coming home to Nigeria, but I’d be doing something in healthcare. I’ve been home for six years now. I’ve chosen to work on the country’s blood distribution problem. Every year tens of thousands of people die while waiting for blood. Meanwhile there are blood banks discarding unused inventory. My company LifeBank is trying to close that gap. Most blood banks in Lagos are participating in our program. Every morning we take an inventory. And when blood is urgently needed, we use bikes to deliver. It’s not easy. Imagine New York City without the infrastructure and no subway system. That’s Lagos. Yet LifeBank has delivered over 10,000 bags of blood within 55 minutes. Blood shortage is a global problem. And if we can do it in Lagos, we can do it anywhere. In December we’re expanding to two new cities. But I see us all over the world.” (Lagos, Nigeria)

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“It happened in May. I was driving my friend’s Mercedes to school because my car had broken down. And suddenly I got pulled over. I turned on the interior lights. I showed the policemen my ID. I called my friend on the phone and asked him to explain the situation. But they said: ‘Not enough, get out of the car.’ They started calling me a prostitute. I told them I’m an artist. Then they saw my laptop in the backseat, and they tried calling me an Internet scammer. They asked me to open my computer and type in the password. I told them it wasn’t possible. Then they asked for a huge bribe, and I told them it wasn’t possible. That’s when they cocked their guns at me. One of them got in the front seat. He pointed his gun at me and told me to drive to an ATM. I brought him to this exact spot, and he escorted me to the machine. I left the car running. I maxed out one of my cards, and told him that I have go back and get another one. Then I locked the door and started driving away. That’s when he started shooting at me! All of this was captured on surveillance cameras. I sped away. I was taking short cuts and back roads. The whole time I was thinking I’m about to get killed. When I got home, I found four dents in the car from where the bullets hit. Afterwards I contacted the police, and they said they wouldn’t even speak to me unless I deleted the story from social media. I said: ‘I’m not doing that. I’m a law student.’” (Lagos, Nigeria)

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“I attribute my success to getting to know God early in life. Where I grew up, it was easy to go wayward. And it was risky to go wayward. Thankfully I studied the Bible enough to know the definition of sin. It taught me right from wrong. If I’d been out there trying to figure it out myself, I’d have taken too many wrong turns. I’d probably have gotten pregnant at a young age. I definitely wouldn’t be an architect right now. Maybe some people can do it without God. But not many people in my neighborhood were reading books about morality and ethics. We weren’t being taught the seven habits of highly effective people. But we did have the word of God. I relied on it. And it carried me through.” (Lagos, Nigeria)

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“I want to live a happy life. I’m tired of living a poor life. I’m trying to save money for school but nothing is working. I’ve left home three different times looking for work. The first time I found a job as a housekeeper. But every morning when I got dressed the man would try to touch me. I was only seventeen. He wouldn’t even stop when I threatened to tell on him. His wife blamed me for his attention. She beat me severely. There were bruises all over my body. She didn’t even allow me to eat. But I tried to stay because I wanted to go to school so badly. Then one morning he tried to rape me in the bath, and I finally ran away. When I found a new housekeeping job, the same thing happened. This time it was a pastor. So a few weeks ago I switched to a cleaning job at an art gallery. But they just fired me for speaking to the visitors. I don’t know why this always happens to me. It makes me so angry. I get mad at my parents for being poor. I get mad at my friends for going to school. When I see their graduation pictures on Facebook, I just start crying. I’m already twenty years old. I should be finishing school, but I haven’t even started yet. But everything has it’s own time. Hopefully my time will come too.” (Lagos, Nigeria)

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“The first time I was offered a journalism job in Nigeria, the newspaper owner suggested that I supplement my income with bribes. He told me: ‘I’m giving you a platform. Use what you have to get what you need.’ I knew then that the rumors were true. Journalism in this country was corrupted. There was no idealism. Reporters were writing stories for money. And even more damaging, they were killing stories for money. I didn’t want to participate. I felt it would be more ethical to just find a corporate job. But in 2008, I was given the opportunity to manage a new paper founded by Nigeria’s only Pulitzer Prize winner—Dele Olojede. The paper was called Next. And we tried to change things. We hired young people who were untainted by the culture. Half of them were women. We paid them well and we trained them well. Ethics came first. Accepting gifts was absolutely forbidden. Our paper survived for three years. During that time, we broke major stories every single week. We exposed all sorts of corruption. But we were targeted for our success. Our reporters were detained. Our board members were threatened. The government leaned on our advertisers, and they withdrew one by one. Eventually we were forced to close. But for three years we set the pace. We created a mold. And I believe we changed the media landscape. Investigative journalism is stronger now. Many of our journalists have gone on to start amazing publications of their own. The paper may have been short lived, but I know it had an impact. Revolution is too strong of a word– but we definitely shook the table.” (Lagos, Nigeria)

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“My husband is a mechanic, but his business is slow. It’s not enough. I’m selling this so my children can go to school. I want them to go above me. I want them to be a great someone in this country. When I see them happy, I feel happy. Every time I pay their school fees, they tell me: ‘Mommy you are the best mommy.’ So I’m out here all day in the sun. Then I go home, I cook, I bathe, I put them to bed, and then I go to sleep. I’ve been sick with malaria this past week. I haven’t been able to work. My husband wants me to rest but the kids are beginning to cry from hunger. The stress is too much for him alone. When I was lying in bed, I just kept praying: ‘God, help me go sell.’ But every time I went outside, my fever was too much. My body felt too cold. And I had to go back inside. Today is my first day back to work. I woke up with no headache, but it’s so bad right now. There’s pain all over my body. I’m just hoping to sell enough to buy tomorrow’s supply.” (Lagos, Nigeria)

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“It wasn’t sudden. He was born four months early. The organs didn’t have enough time to mature. He just wasn’t ready for life. But he held on for more than two years. He was such a happy child. He laughed so hard when you rocked him. We called him ‘Bibi,’ because his older brother couldn’t say ‘baby.’ Toward the end, he was learning to stand on his own. We honestly thought he was going to make it. But his immune system was just too weak from all the medication. And his lungs were too weak from all the machines. He couldn’t survive. I had a hard childhood growing up. This place makes you tough. Nigerians and cockroaches will be the last living things on this planet. I can remember being nine years old, and sitting down with my brothers to make a plan when we ran out of food. Our only idea was to drink a lot of water. So I’ve always had to be strong. When my brother died, I couldn’t mourn. I was the oldest in the family. I had to hold it together and make arrangements. But not this time. After Bibi, I decided that I don’t ever have to be strong again. That was my child. I can’t button this one up. Either I allow myself to be weak, or I’m never going to get through it.” (Lagos, Nigeria)

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