To Be a Strong Woman in a Third World Country

   “The woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet.” — Mohadesa Najumi


Hi my name is Nwando, I am a strong woman living in a third world country and I do not require validation from anyone. I dance to the beat of my own drum, i have massive dreams for my life and i spend my days working towards making my dreams my reality, i work towards the creation of my life without much explanation or fear of judgement. I just do and for this simple reason i’m misunderstood. My mother often says i’ve seen too much of the world to just settle for the ordinary and in many ways she’s right. I struggle with settling. In this write up when i say strong i mean one that stands fearlessly in her pursuits regardless of all obstacles 


“Women have been taught that, for us, the earth is flat, and that if we venture out, we will fall off the edge.” - Andrea Dworkin


When you’re born and raised in a country where the president believes the woman belongs in the kitchen, the living room and the other room, that really tells you all you need to know about my sweet country Nigeria. Women are conditioned from birth to be domesticated and submissive while men are taught to be entitled, demanding and authoritative from a young age. Most women grow up believing they were trained solely so they can find and grab an eligible bachelor, so they go through life with this strong desire to find and keep a man so they can finally achieve status in society. On the other hand, the men grow up being reminded that they are dominant and must always be ‘men’ about situations in order not to show weakness. Growing up we are taught to act ‘acceptable’ around our fathers, to cook, clean and care for our brothers while they scream at football on NTA as they reach out for the small stout we have placed for them on the side stools, it is demanded that we dress decently and come out to serve guests when the family hosts dinner, walk politely and speak calmly, tie bows and ribbons on Sunday’s and sit in front of the church pew, to be educated but not have too much education so that men are not threatened, to have a traditional job but be content in mediocrity so you don’t intimidate men, to look, speak and walk in a certain way so that you’re not misunderstood by neighbours and family friends that are waiting to see how you turn out, to live a good life so that people will not laugh at our parents.


“Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, “She doesn’t have what it takes.” They will say, “Women don’t have what it takes.” - Clare Boothe Luce


It does not matter how liberal, intellectual or successful you are, if you don’t fit into the laid down rules of how women should be according to tradition then you are wild. You must dress a certain way, act in a particular way, work in certain industries that are perceived as acceptable, get married at a certain age (preferably 23), then move out of your father’s house into your husband’s house so people can respect you, have children almost immediately so that people will not think you’re loose (preferably a boy first). A strong independent ambitious woman is not one that is readily accepted or recognized; you might as well be a mad woman. 


If you’re fortunate or unfortunate enough to be a strong woman, then you must have broken the chain of control, oppression and endless lists of what you ‘should’ be and what you ‘shouldn’t’ be and you can’t be apologetic for who you are. God forbid that you’re a successful woman in your 30’s that is still single and seemingly happy (your happiness will be seen as a mask to shadow your certainly depressing life). I’m almost 30, i live on my own, work for myself and drive my own car so I’m an enigma to most people that think my ‘eyes have torn’ and are shocked that my parents ‘allowed’ me to live by myself. I was turned away by a woman at a very popular bar recently because i was part of a group of girls with no man in sight; how dare we have our own money to buy our own drinks? As women we are not viewed as individuals in our own right but instead we have to be under a family system to be recognised and respected; somebody’s daughter or somebody’s wife, moving from father’s last name to husband’s last name.


“Don’t shut yourself up in a bandbox because you are a woman, but understand what is going on, and educate yourself to take your part in the world’s work, for it all affects you and yours.” ~Louisa May Alcott


If you’re a woman that lives, breathes, dresses up, drives a car, walks down the street in Nigeria then at one point or another, you’ve been called an Ashewo. Ashewo a.k.a Prostitute is a person that engages in sexual intercourse for money. I’ve been called an ashewo for having colored hair, for wearing a dress, for being single, for living abroad, for going to the market; i’ve been called an ashewo by so-called educated elders (especially older yoruba women), by police officers, by men that don’t understand why i won’t succumb to their woos (the irony), by women that think surely i must be a ‘kept’ woman. Know this — when people don’t understand how you’ve achieved what you’ve achieved, they will fill in the blanks with whatever they choose to and there’s not much one can do about that. I’ve been conditioned to accept people’s opinions of me without the strong desire to ‘prove’ them wrong; believe what you must. 


We also live in a society where strong women are chastised for having ‘too much’ ambition and wanting to ‘be like’ men because ambition and success is by tradition a man’s trait and not the culturally accepted norm for the woman. This is shown even in curriculums taught in school to children; you are groomed from early on to know that men can be engineers and doctors while women can be nurses and secretaries.


“The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, “It’s a girl.” ~Shirley Chisholm


Culture is a way of life and as such culture is fluid, it changes with eras. The modern day woman is strong and ambitious but she is also soft in love and happy to care for hers. I can be wildly successful and hopelessly in love, own a thriving business and run a very warm home. I don’t believe in a world where it has to be one or the other. I don’t have to be anti-men to be pro-women. 


Today i’m preaching acceptance. Accept the women in your life as they are. Men need to stop comparing women to their mothers; time has changed, get with the era. Don’t try to change me into a woman that wants to be a kept woman and don’t try to change a woman that wants to be kept into an overachiever. We are who we are. I’m a strong woman living in a third world country and i make no apologies for who I am.




The Lost Ones

Someone has died again. Someone I know that is, because we all know that people all over the world die daily. It’s led me to the questioning of life. The why’s that keep me up often and make for heated conversations with loved friends of mine. Why are we here, striving to be when we’re all just going to die? That is the one thing that joins all of us regardless of race, class or occupation. You can be sure that we are all going to die at some point, maybe early, maybe late (hopefully later than earlier or not really, depending on who you ask). Steve Jobs was Steve Jobs and he had the capacity to create the gadget I’m writing this with but still, he couldn’t evade the masked no face force called death.


I never met my paternal grandparents pictured below because they died when my father was a teenager. They were pictured at a time when technology was not fair to photos in our third part of the world, so all I really have is a distorted face of my grandfather and a body that was his at least. 


I met both my maternal grandparents who are now dead. I met my loved sister who is now dead also, at an oh so tender age. To experience loss through death is to acknowledge that there is always the possibility of terror that can not be negotiated. It is also the acceptance that there is no expiry date on grief. Grief comes on notable days. like birthdays and the anniversary of the death but it also comes when it is not invited or convenient and it stays for as long as it stays. There is no negotiation. The thing about triggers, is that you spend your life avoiding them, staying in safe spaces around safe people until one day, something happens, related or not to your trauma and it bulldozes the fence of dissociation down in a way that can never be predicted no matter the amount of careful one applies in life and the next thing you know, you’re in a foreign country surrounded by foreign people and there’s a sudden break to your barrier that is followed by a flood that gushes through, one that is now all of a sudden, way past the point of dissociation. 

So why? Why am I in Kenya pursuing documentation of the others because for some reason it’s important to me. Why is building a thing that will outlive me so important to me when I won’t be here forever?

I’m not entirely sure after almost 3 decades on this here earth but what else am I going to spend my days doing if it’s not in the pursuit of greatness? I do not dwell in sadness because I do not have the capacity to, so instead, I dwell in hope, so that I can remain in a sense of wholeness. 

To die, is to cause loss to the people you leave behind. A loss that often changes them permanently. I read somewhere recently that the ability to hope for a better tomorrow should also come with the ability to be prepared for a worse tomorrow, because who knows really? Who knows?

That made perfect sense to me because I’ve had 6 years of dealing with the loss of my sister and in a lot of ways, there is a constant fear of pending doom that could very well just be around the corner because these things are not things that are logical in the here and now. When you’ve experienced loss so up close, you learn to be prepared for the worst to happen and that completely removes the capacity to just chill as though you’ve been untainted by misery. Happiness could very well be followed by sadness, gain could be followed by loss, when there is a high, there is a come down. So when I experience utter happiness in moments, I remind myself that happiness is here now but it could very well be followed by doom so I must be prepared for both to survive. 


In the last 6 years, I haven’t cried enough to roll down my face because it feels like in 2013, I cried all the tears I had reserved for a lifetime all in a period of time. I cried while my tears, rolled down the appropriated spaces for them, then I cried sideways and filled the tears from one eyeball into the other and double cried with all the tears I had, spilling from one eye into the other and rolling down one eye, two in one, rolling down unceremoniously. I cried it all

So back to the present, why do I try at the things I try at? Why? I choose a thriving life. That is my why. If I have one chance at it, I might as well make the best damn situation out of my one. If I was assured of multiple lives, I could relax and be lax because if one doesn’t work, then there’ll be another chance to try again, but all my brain tells me is that this is my one. So I’ve chosen that as my why. Why I try, to not just survive but to excel at it. That is my why. I want to be an excellent being that did all she could when she could, for myself and for the lost ones, because when you lose someone, you must live for not just yourself but also something bigger than you, something so much larger than life that it crossed over to the other side. The lost ones.  

The lost ones. 


What is your why?


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