Monday, July 13, 2015

My Chimamanda Moment

I recently opened up an African clothing and sewing store with some partners next door. A few days after the opening, a good friend and professor from the university came in to check in on me and how everything was going. In barged an awkward looking guy who came in to talk to the professor, ignoring my presence completely.

I noticed they spoke in one of the dialects from my country and got interested. There are extremely few people from my country that live in the same city as myself (I can count them on my fingers), so whenever I meet someone from my country, I get VERY happy. I kept my distance though, didn’t want to intrude on their conversation, even though they were talking about the Pan-African Struggle – something I’m severely passionate about. What amused me the most about the guy was his childlike enthusiasm talking to the professor. He kept stoking the professor’s ego with phrases like “Wow! You’re so smart and brilliant,” or “I really need to learn more from you. You’re blowing my mind,” or “Man, you’re really amazing.” Not to fault him, but after hearing similar phrases following every coupl
e of sentences from the professor, it got tiring. He kept getting(and mostly ignoring) calls from his wife, who was in the van with their 3 kids waiting for him past half an hour.

I walked by them and said to the professor in our language, “I’ll be right back, please keep an eye on the store.” To which he replied back in the same language “Alright. I’ll watch it for you.” Truth is, I had nowhere to be. I just wanted to escape the young man’s over enthusiasm and what seemed like a yes-man or suck up attitude. But most importantly, I wanted him to know we were brethren from the same country. He didn’t flinch or even look my way. Just kept gushing over the professor.

I came back again and said in the same language “I thought you said you were leaving around an hour ago? Don’t pretend you don’t love my shop.” The professor laughed and said he would leave soon. Again, yes-man said nothing to me, or even looked my way. I suppose his wife waited long enough and came in with all 3 kids to see what was keeping her husband. He then introduced his family to the professor and pointed out that his middle child was the “problem child.” He then let the kid down from his arms and the child started to run around, with his dad following him saying “If I don’t follow him, he will tear this place up.” Being obsessed with kids, said with a smile in our language “Don’t worry, if he pulls down anything, I’ll just put it back. Customers do that all the time, just let him be a bit free.” He looked at me and said nothing. After speaking some more with the professor, he left.    

Less than 5 minutes later, he returned again saying “Sorry, didn’t mean to disturb you”. This was the 5th time he did that in about an hour since he came in. He stared straight at the professor and said to him “I have a friend who is very good at business and is an entrepreneur looking to go into African beads and things. Maybe I should take YOUR(the professor) information and pass it to him and maybe you can have her(ME!!!) call him and arrange something together. I don’t know if she will be interested or not, but I wanted to run it by you and I will also talk to him.” I was standing less than ten feet away from him. His body was pivoted, one leg towards the professor, the other towards me. Looking directly at the professor and pointing his hands towards me.

You have gotta be fucking kidding me. I run the damn store, the professor is a guest and he knew that very damn well. I was FURIOUS. The professor, being a good friend who knew me well and sensed my anger said, “It is her store(gesturing towards me), she runs it. So talk to her.” The young man paused. almost in disbelief that the young woman standing less than ten feet away from him was the one running the store. “Oh Ok. I will let him know and I will get in contact with you” he said to the professor. I just stood there in shock.
The ONLY thing I could think of in my moment of fury: “Wasn’t this the same shit Chimamanda said she went through in a Nigerian restaurant."
Each time I walk into a Nigerian restaurant with a man, the waiter greets the man and ignores me. Each time they ignore me I feel invisible. I feel upset. I want to tell them that am just as human as the man; that am just as worthy of acknowledgement.
After I announced the store, several people men asked me how I was planning on balancing that with school and if I planned on going on with it if when I’m married.


Thankfully, being stationed at a strategic attraction for the African community I am constantly exposed to new cultures, countries, and religions. Unfortunately, I am also forced to deal with the constant stream of unsolicited advice, misogyny(also, surprisingly, from women), and disrespect. The one phrase that manages to get under my skin more so than any other is this rubbish "The man that will marry you will never have to worry."




Under certain circumstances, that will be received as a compliment, but when I reply "I'm not sure about marriage just yet, and I'm a career woman before I am a wife" all hell breaks loose. As if it is an abomination to want to be able to provide for myself. Even more infuriating is the underlying message: "how dare I not build myself up to aspire to be the "perfect African wife?" The mere fact that this comes not only from men, but from women, disturbs my soul to the core. We speak so much on how oppressed African women are culturally, but continue to perpetuate these internal strong holds that continue to hinder us from moving forward. 

I’m not going to be ignorant enough and call out all African men, but c’mon now. Is a woman allowed to stand alone without male support? Is here mere existence to be a prop to a man? Why is it so damn hard to  Y’all need to pray for me because if I verbalized everything I need to say, I will be filing for bankruptcy by next week.


(Rhoda is the editor of her own blog forum dedicated to conversation about growth, challenging conventional society, and Africa. Check her out at rhodaradar.com)

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