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Isio Knows Better: The Struggle of The Smiling, Grouchy Nigerian



This is a story of how Little Me woke up one day and decided to be something else.
You know, one of those annoying people who always seem to have a soft smile on their lips. I figured it couldn’t be so hard… All I needed to do was make a conscious effort all-day, every day to smile instead of scowl.
This is the story of how fourteen years later Current Me is still consciously reminding myself to smile like an annoying person all day, every day.

Easy enough, I guess, but…

This lofty declaration of mine was made in those bleak post-secondary school/ pre-university days when Almighty JAMB was just tensioning us anyhow. It would seem I had become the skinny black girl in the estate who walked around with a vicious scowl. Understandably, I was avoided by all manner of living things- plants and animals included.

In truth, I had no idea that I had become The Lady of the Dragon Face, until one day, a son of Adam who had apparently had enough of my ‘dragon face’ shrieked with exasperation from a safe distance,

“Ahan! Wazz wrong with you sef?! Yuu just be franking your face efri’time!” he gave me a stinging hiss to buttress his point.

What was that?
I blinked at his outburst and chose to ignore the bend-leg English. Something wise people have said time and time again about focusing on the message and not the ibon of the messenger.

Like when you are in church and the fiery minister, filled with the Spirit of prophecy screams into his microphone, “Beloved! Close your eyes! I am hear the Holy Spirit spoking to me NOWWWWWWWWWW!!!”
Exactly. Don’t let Esu play ten-ten with your destiny. Just close your eyes and murmur Halleluiah and FOCUS on the message. God bless you IF you are like me, whose brain is on AAGBO (Automatic AutoCorrect of all Incoming Grammatical Bombs).
Anyways, thanks to Mr Franking-Face-Why, I decided there and then that I would try to smile more, NO MATTER WHAT.

And so, the next day, I rolled out of bed with this decision now rooted firmly in my mind. No sooner had I tried to visualize something that I am sure was deliciously important at the time, had Mother summoned me to the kitchen. She told me to do the dishes – something I especially hated- because not only did I have to single-handedly wash the dishes used by a full house, I had to rinse them all three times and then dry them with a soft cloth. Usually, washing everyone else’s dishes had me frothing at the mouth with great displeasure. On that day, I did so with a soft smile on my lips. A smile that still didn’t falter when just as I was about rounding up, I was handed two MASSIVE BOWLS of frozen tomatoes and shelled egusi seeds.
I was to un-shell all the egusi seeds, and then grind both items…
With a grinding stone.
“No, we are not putting on the gen for you, you are not to blend it, so start grinding…”my elder cousin explained matter-of-factly to me.
And I felt the smile drain from my mouth like syrup from the jaws of a shark.

And here I am, December 2014… I haven’t forgotten that I am supposed to smile like an annoying person.
I rolled out of bed on Monday morning feeling like I swallowed 10 kilos of tapioca and yeast-flavored agege bread and washed it down with a fizzy drink. I swear my tummy was doing bulu-bulu-bulu-buluuuu! Blasted lactose intolerance!!!! I felt like a Grinch but my mind told me I was still stately and majestic in her eyes… I yimu’ed instead of saying awwww, thank you like those annoying smiling people. I proceeded to walk and managed to ignore the crink in my back as I galloped/waddled myself to the kitchen like a constipated cow. I reckoned green-tea and yoga was just what I needed.

Monday was my day off work, and so I decided to conduct an experiment. I would go about my business and see just how much of a Grinch the average Nigerian was. After-all, the whole saying about “Nigerians being one of the happiest people on earth” had to come from somewhere. My experiment would tell me if the philosopher who came up with this somehow confused “celebratory” with “happy”. Because walahi, I don’t see many annoying people with permanent smiles on their frozen cheeks…
*chuckles… So says the Grinch with the Afro.
I decided to BE a smiling Grinch with an Afro. See whether my smile would evoke smiles from others of if it would annoy them further.
I chose three key locations to run my experiment… the market, the bank and a drive through the notorious streets of the mainland.

I hit the market like a boss… spring in my steps and all. Na so I just dey price their market in better English sef. I hadn’t even gotten far, I was just walking on my own jeje-jejely when one iya-alata who was apparently so irritated by my smiling face and springy steps yelled,
“Ki lon she e, t’on bo eyin oshi bi ewure ti won ti sun l’orun? Ki lon dun mo e, l’aaro kutu kutu? Jo, sun s’egbe k’o ma da oja mi nu jo oooo!”
(What’s wrong with you, that you are spreading all your teeth like a strangulated goat? What’s exciting you this early morning?” Please move to the side and don’t bump into my wares please!”)
HAHHAHHAAA! Grinch Alert! Thank you for participating in the experiment jare.
On to the next one…
There I was in the bank’s car park, seated in my car. From my rear-view mirror I could see a passer-by walking through… he was walking somehow sha. Zig-zag-shaka-shaka-ish….
Bros jam my moto sha. Walahi.
“Yeeeee!” he squealed as he rubbed his shin. And then the rant started.
I just dey smile dey go. And how he hated my smile. He demanded an apology from me on behalf of my car. The bank security men had to hurriedly remove him from their premises.
GRINCHIOUS-GRINCH… Nothing do you sef jare. Carry go.

I didn’t have to go far for the conclusion of the experiment. The shouting, horn-blaring, swearing and chaos of the Lagos commuters was enough research material. The driver of the car in front of me got into a road-dragging incident with one of those Keke-Marwa drivers. Things were said, and just like that…
The keke-driver delivered one hot, slimy kelebe into the face of the driver of the car and sped off like that tyrant of a mouse that always harassed the cat; Tom.
That night I snuggled into my duvet with what was left of the smile on my face.
Tomorrow was another day to try and smile through the daily dose of the chaotic intensity that was living in Naija. It wasn’t over yet. I might be a grouchy Nigerian, but at least I was alive.
I smiled some more.

Have a beautiful Tuesday!

Isio De-laVega Wanogho is a Nigerian supermodel, a multi-award winning media personality and an interior architect who is a creative-expressionist at her core. She uses words, wit and her paintings to tell stories that entertain, yet convey a deeper meaning. Follow her on Instagram @isiodelavega and visit her website: to see her professional body of work.


  1. chu girl

    December 9, 2014 at 10:42 am

    i love this…….got me smiling and laughing

  2. roli

    December 9, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Wow. I just stumbled upon ur write ups nd I will like to say u put a smile on my face nd I laugh so hard sometimes. Ur word are so tru. Smiling

  3. Personal Assistant

    December 9, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Kai, Isio you have made me remember those days of using grinding stone. I would choose to wash dirty plates over the tedious chores I had to do growing up. using grinding stone, pounding yam/other things, frying fish. In fact when I was in the university, they jejely kept fish waiting for me to come and fry whenever I come home weekends. The permanent scowl on my face when the head of fish is splashing oïl is indescribable.
    Many Nigérians (especially in Lagos) are permanently angry whether they are smiling or not. The things wey dem dey reason for mind too much. Example traffic and waiting endlessly at the bus stops, blackout (what ever food they have in the refrigerator might go bad), annoying boss, In fact some people are angry that someone looks finer than them.
    The ones who are really happy are few and I choose to join that few.

  4. bruno

    December 9, 2014 at 11:01 am

    u suffer from chronic ” B!TCH FACE”

    urban dictionary defination of b!tch face- a person, usually a girl, who naturally looks mean
    when her face is expressionless, without meaning

    nigeria is a hard country. if u are cheerful and always full of life and smiling, nigerians will take advantage of you. people will use you and disrespect you.

    thats why I advise everyone to bone face. if you bone your face regularly, people won’t mess with you.

    I am a very cheerful person but immediately I live my house, I put on my b!tch face. dont mess with me face, and it works very well for me.

    • GLB

      January 5, 2015 at 1:58 pm

      I think you are right. I prefer to smile and laugh and I’m beginning to believe that it doesn’t help at work. I am assigned other people’s tasks when they are slacking simply because I am approachable and work hard. Clients call you to sort out their problems even though they know someone else is in charge of what they want you to do but prefer to communicate with them through you and at the end of the day, the grunchies are put ahead of you because they are ‘older’. Occassionally, I squeeze face and redirect all jobs to responsible person while I face mine. Its really tough balancing the mean face = less work vs smiley face =dumpster. I am still working on smiley face = my work.


    December 9, 2014 at 11:05 am

    lovely piece Isio, God knows it takes actual effort to keep smiling from the heart not just the lips in a country like this. phew!


  6. PACE

    December 9, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Very beautiful write up Isio. Keep up the good work. I agree with you 100%, Nigerians are far from the happiest people in the world. More like the most celebratory people in the world. We sieze any opportunity to celebrate any and everything.

  7. Daisy

    December 9, 2014 at 11:27 am

    I used to be that person that always had a smile on her face until people started taking my niceness and smiling face for weakness. Trust me, sometimes game face is all you need. Too much smile will just cause even more headache for you.

  8. Laniks

    December 9, 2014 at 11:35 am

    Dear Isio, can we be friends? 🙂

  9. manb4real

    December 9, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Oh yeah, I sure can smile from my heart,but will frown if/when the situation warrants.

  10. KingRuth

    December 9, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    buhahahahahahahajahahahaaa! Isio! I laffed out so loud my 1month old baby woke up from sleep with a shriek! #OyaComeBackAm# make e sleep back oh!

    thanks for making me laugh gurl! and yea and the “Boner” of the crew, me no get time to dey post unnecessary smile for face oh!

    Inbtw am impressed at your fluency in the yoruba language, that’s one KONK yoruba sentence you wrote back there! keep it up

  11. Rosie

    December 9, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    heheheheh…..what a lovely write up, i also have that frowning/very serious face . i try to paste a smile on my face each day but it is difficult maintaining such smile when going through the hassles of Lagos.

  12. Owelle

    December 9, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Hahahahaa I understand what you went through but isio my dear it’s only like that in Lagos. I happen to live in both lagos and abuuja (complex work situation) and I’m telling you, it’s not like that in other places.
    Nice writeup as usual, made me laugh

  13. Avon

    December 9, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Telling me to use grinding stone would NEVER put a smile on my face especially when its onions or tomatoes. I could manage crayfish, pepper and pepper soup spices: erere and ere (the urhobos would understand). Not to talk of when you plead to use the blender and then hear stuff like ” you are too lazy, don’t you know that the grinding stone will make it sweeter???” AND I’m like oh yeaaa, tell me something!!!
    I usually tell me people that I prefer to iron the whole nation’s clothes than do the dishes. You won’t catch me smiling when a see a hard eba bowl that was forgotten under the sink or a dry akamu/custard bowl. Mehn! I frown or cry and put up the ” say a word and you die face” Call me lazy. But puleeeez! some things can’t make me wear a smile.

    • Nutella

      December 9, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      i remember having a best friend whose mother used to make her use a grinding stone when we were in junior secondary school. she used to grind tomatoes with tears pouring outta her eyes. one day she told her mum to be more like my mum who would allow me use a mortar and pestle. she got the beating of her life that day sha. i still thank god i never had to use grinding stones.

  14. Neo

    December 9, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    We all have our crosses. Mine is my full lips which are slightly upturned at the ends and chinko slit eyes which give the illusion of me smiling all the time. I get that “you’re always smiling” all the time. Instead of explaining my birth defect i simply expanded the auto-smile. All well and good till one day in Uni, in the middle of a heated atrgument with a saved seat stealer, dude stops in his tracks and says he’s sure im not really angry cos i’m still smiling. I swear i wanted to take away his future smiles by knowcking his teeth out. I have to seriously focus on keeping a straight neutral face half the time.

    • Easy n Gentle

      December 9, 2014 at 3:05 pm

      Picture please?

  15. Zeal

    December 9, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    Nice one Isio. Laugh wan tumble me throway for office sha. I too have such kind of facial expression. But I can sabi laugh when something is funny sha, I have also noticed that some people who have such hard facial expressions have tender hearts

  16. Que

    December 9, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    O walahi that iya alata would have made me pause my ‘smiley experiment’ to give her some clean words, b4 returning to my smiley n bouncy pose!….. I never get why people are so harsh!
    Na your life bad pass?….I dont let that kain transfered agression slide, unless the holy spirit followed me to the market and stayed awake all through! People need to get a grip!

    Smiling is good for the soul, and if I will have lines on my face then I’d rather the smiley cheek lines over the forhead frown lines….that settles mine, so smiling has become both unconscious and conscious for me.

  17. Yea

    December 9, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Forget, Nigerians are angry people, and don’t even talk about Lagos, people dey para for that side.

  18. lindo

    December 9, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    This is hilarious, the iya alata part is too funny…ewure..omg

  19. Miss H

    December 9, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Interesting topic Isio! Personally i think choosing to smile is an individual choice, an habit we must forcefully adopt and consciously choose to wear regardless of the situation that surrounds us. I’m the cheerful kind of person but then i decided to frown due to wrong mentality of being taken for granted. As time went on i realised that people recognise me better with the smile rather than the frown. Now, i smile anytime, anywhere and everyday. It doesn’t mean i am immune to the harshness of people…lol

  20. D

    December 9, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    The story of how my childhood joy was stolen from me…A friend of mine in high school was ill, fortunately her dad’s office was real close to the school, then no, MTN and co quite yet so I was asked to help walk this girl to her father’s place of work, which was a business he owned. Only to get their and the receptionist kept asking me why I was smiling? Up until that day I never realised that 1, I had a smiling face and secondly, it was wrong to smile. I was not trying to smile but I guess there it was. You would think this “Agbaya” would leave alone…Nooo she kept at it the final straw was when she said “you are not a clown stop smiling” so you know that made me upset and that wiped away any and all signs of smile. I wish I was older and wiser I would have told her to shove it but after that I started making a conscious effort not to smile and now I don’t smile “foolishly” anymore.

    The kalebe comment though….I was having breakfast and then there it was and there went my breakfast.

  21. lol

    December 9, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    lmso @ just murmur halleluyarrr…and keep your eyes closed….Ok I am guilty of opening my eyes at that point and looking around to see if anyone else caught that or was it just me…Lawd, I am sorry.

    • Nutella

      December 9, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      me too

  22. Noms

    December 9, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    I can really laugh when something is funny to the point where tears starts flowing non-stop but to walk around with a smile, i nor fit ooo. It just makes me look somehow . . . for those that smiling comes to naturally, well done.
    As an usher, I’m supposed to smile as the congregants come in ,4 where the smile nor dey come easily but when people I know walk in,ooohh, the smile can turn to laughter.
    Ahhhhh,about using grinding stone, my mum will buy buckets of dry pepper, pepper soup and banga spices at home(all in the name of the pepper in the market has sand or they add color or kolanuts . . .). Whenever its my turn to cook (banga or pepper soup) the spice is easy sha but the dry pepper nor dey funny. . . chooii, see face, no smile at all.
    Fast forward to after my NYSC days, see mumsie grinding everything(she still buys them whole and takes them to grind herself)then sends to us. Hehehehehehe,grinding stone era has past.
    I pray someday we will look back,and joke about how there used to be power outage, traffic jam (especially in Lagos) and lie lie and tif tif government officials and lots more because the thoughts of the deplorable situation of things in the country sef reach for smile to vanish permanently from person face. God dey!

  23. Easy n Gentle

    December 9, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    One time, my ex-flatmate’s new girl came visiting. I don’t know what her problem was but I felt her voice was pretty loud and she was disturbing my own reading. The babe now let her curiousity get the better of her, she opened my room to check what it was like not knowing I was inside. On putting on the central light, I don’t know what she saw ooo but she literally ran out and never came back again. She told my flat mate it felt like she was staring at the devil itself, me that I was deep into studying. She didn’t come back to visit for months till I went to her place to show her my smiley face 🙂

  24. slice

    December 9, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Lactaid works for lactose intolerance. PSA

  25. Meg

    December 9, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    It’s either we suck it up and smile, or we start crying. I believe that’s why Nigerians try to find humour in everything-it’s easier than dwelling on our plenty issues. So when we celebrate, we celebrate big because wetin man piken go do? Na to cry?
    Smile even if your heart is breaking, right?

  26. babygiwa

    December 9, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    I almost always wear a busy frown on my face but i make conscious effort to smile….. Plus i can laugh for Africa and two other continents

  27. Sisi

    December 9, 2014 at 11:05 pm

    I love this write up. My bitchy resting face is on when am out and off when I get home cos that makes people think twice before they approach me, having a smiley face all the time makes people want to sit all over your face. I ain’t having that biko

  28. Ben Wise

    December 10, 2014 at 2:41 am

    Sorry for my lust, but I just came to see her Isio’s face. That puts the smile on my face 🙂

  29. T. Babe

    December 10, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    well, I don’t really have any history of wearing a frown all d time sha, am just a normal person, I smile wen I must nd I laff wen I must but I do d smiling more sha especially wen am broke lol.

  30. Glowing Sapphire

    December 10, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Laughed to tears on this one Isio! lol.. The Market’s woman scare is funny but so true…#grumpypeople…hahaha…love you plenty!

  31. N. M.

    December 11, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Isio is a special person and a good writer too. I so love this because it relates to be. I do not smile o, because I don’t want insult. I don’t even talk to people on my street, how much more smiling at them.

  32. udoka

    December 11, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    Isio!!!! WOW!!! this is the second time im reading your article and im laffing to tears, especially after i read “. . . because not only did I have to single-handedly wash the dishes used by a full house, I had to rinse them all three times and then dry them with a soft cloth.” i recall each time im done doing the dishes, my mom comes with more dirty dishes. i usually feel liking jumping out of my skin.

    Great work dear. i want to be like you when i grow up.

  33. Frances Okoro

    December 12, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    No matter the condition, put a smile on ya face.
    Easy to say eh? Practise am intentionally, then we go know

    And Isio..”bulu bulu bulu bulu”? Seriously, looools.
    Love your articles as usual.


  34. Abominable snow girl

    October 2, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    Had a friend in Sec. Sch. who never let an arrow pass her by. She had a notebook where she dutifully recorded all the “bullets” fired by visiting preachers.
    Me, I still raise eyebrows and steal a glance at my sister when our Rev. releases his very frequent missiles,Baba God, please forgive us. Lol
    .??resting bitch face, iz allowed. You smile too much, might seem like you are slow or “special”.
    Isio, you are so cool. You should compile all these ur essays into a book naa. Weldone.

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