The process that led to the discovery of the cool Nigerian mademoiselle in me happened after having my first daughter and leaving my job to become a full-time mother and housewife. It was during this emotionally tender but crucial time in my life that I discovered and learnt that a hip girl resided in me.
This cool and hip girl got lost the day I stopped being myself. The very day I decided to be someone else. That day, I clearly remember.
It was my first year in secondary school in Nigeria. There, I met and became very good friends with a confident and intelligent girl. Let’s call her Bola (not her real name). Bola was very different from everybody else. She was the first girl who learnt how to drive in the school. Bola’s school bag, stationery set, and pencil-case were immaculate, pretty and very pink. Almost everything she wore was imported from England. Most of mine were purchased from Sabon-Gari market, Kano.
I really wanted to be Bola. She was softly spoken and delicate looking. Almost all the boys fancied her. She lived in a cool house with a beautiful and well maintained garden. Everything about Bola – I was the opposite.
In my senseless and unwise ways, I started imitating her. First, I started with her handwriting. Next was the way she spoke and moved. And finally, the style of clothes she wore. Copying her fashion style was a disaster since she was stick thin and I, a beach ball.
I remember one time when she wore a plain white shirt and a black tie to a party, she radiated glamour and panache. I loved that look so much that I decided to carbon copy it for the next party I was attending. This was her birthday party.
Some days before Bola’s party, I was still in search for a tie that looked exactly like hers. But luck was not on my side. Instead of giving up on my idea of reproducing her outfit, I pressed on and borrowed my brother’s velvet maroon bow tie and its matching jacket. And with my pocket-money, I bought a second-hand white shirt and a pair of ill-fitting black trousers from the local market.
On the day of the party, I honestly thought I looked elegant and stylish but felt a bit uncomfortable. Being a strong-minded person, I was not going to give up on what I had planned wearing so I pressed on… and off I went to the party.
With the hot Saharan sun penetrating the velvet jacket and the layers of clothes I was wearing, I arrived at Bola’s party looking like a newly baked chicken. I was perspiring and very sweaty. When Bola opened her front door, her face said it all. Only then did I realise I had made a big mistake. She looked awkwardly at me and in her gentle and delicate manner asked me to take off my jacket and my bow tie.
Did I learn from this experience? Of course I did NOT. I carried on copying other people. For me, it was easier being other people than finding out what makes me special.
But then after having a baby and becoming a full-time mother and wife, an internal battle within me begun. The battle helped me find out what I was about and what made me different from other people. I was now tired of wanting to be like everyone else. I was worn out trying so hard not to be me.
Then, one day, my guru Oprah Winfrey spoke to me. She spoke to me through the medium of daytime television. She was talking about feeling like a phoney when she copied Barbara Walters. Oprah went on to explain that when she made a decision to be herself, she felt fab and her viewers appreciated her better. That’s when she understood she was a better Oprah Winfrey than a pretend Barbara Walters.
And I grasped that; I can be a better Yvonne than a pretend Bola.