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Through Her Eyes…with Titilope Sonuga: The Girl Next Door

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Photo Credit: Lakin Ogunbawo

She Will Connect is an amazing initiative by Intel aimed at empowering and inspiring girls and women. BellaNaija is excited to share ‘Through Her Eyes… with Titilope Sonuga“. Titilope is Intel She Will Connect ambassador for Nigeria and she’s an award-winning poet, writer, actor and civil engineer whose work has graced stages and pages across Nigeria and internationally.

Experience the first article in the series below.

***

The little girls on my street spend most afternoons sitting idle under an unforgiving sun.

The youngest ones are naked or clinging to the panties that droop on their tiny bottoms. The older ones wear salvaged dresses that barely cover their thighs or wrappers tied carelessly across their chests. Tucked between the towering houses, with fences lined with barbed wire, are the empty plots of land where they live with their families. They have cobbled together a settlement from scrap metal and wood, to make a home were the landowner has not.

I don’t know exactly how many of them live there. Some days they roam the street in packs of two or three, other days when I catch a stolen glimpse between sheets of metal, it looks like a small village. There is a carefree innocence in the way they play on the street in varied states of undress that worries me, young bodies left vulnerable in the mix of construction workers, gatemen and gardeners. They do not go to school and no one cares that no matter what day of the week it is, the girls are there, a row of sitting ducks.

I’m thinking about them in the waiting room of a local radio station where I am waiting to go on air to talk about my new role as the Intel She Will Connect Ambassador for Nigeria. It is my first week on the job and I am eager to get the message right. I flip through notes with statistics about the online gender gap, I learn the names of the NGOs working with women and girls across the country. I mumble to myself, barely noticing the man sitting beside me.

He starts to make casual conversation, something I’m terrible at, but I decide to indulge him. I already know he will ask me what I do and he does. I tell him I’m a poet. He pauses. I smile. He waits. I go back to reading my notes. He shifts uncomfortably in his seat wanting more; surely no one is just a poet. He wants to know if it is the “rap poetry” kind, the one you say without reading from a book. I nod. He looks crestfallen.

The loaded gun of the question “what do you do?”  is one I have struggled to handle in Lagos. I have only recently become accustomed to the dangerous way it falls from the person’s mouth while they do a full Robocop scan of your body. The questions behind the question are: “What are you worth?” “Who do you know?” “How can you be useful to me?” When you are a woman in Nigeria, there are several other layers beneath that question all rooted in an order of things that must not be disturbed by too much ambition, too many opinions and too much independence.

The man in the waiting room is still pondering my matter like a JAMB exam question. Now he wants to know if I’m married. Since the first qualifier has failed him, he wants to know that in the very least I have managed to accomplish the simple task of being somebody’s wife. I tell him no. He smiles like whatever he has been turning over in his mind now makes complete sense. He says “Of course! That’s why you have time to memorize poems, you don’t have anything else to worry about”

I open and close my mouth waiting for a quick-witted response to fall out. Nothing. The words pile up in my brain like Lagos traffic until I’m called into the studio for my interview.

On air, I talk about how millions of women and girls are simply not a part of the global online conversation because they have no access to technology, how so many ideas die at conception because they have no means of sharing them. I talk about empowerment for women and girls in Nigeria, how it is important to reinforce the idea that a girl can be whatever she chooses in a world that tells her she cannot. The radio host smiles while I speak, like he is mildly amused that I actually believe what I am saying.

On the ride home I watch a group of girls talking excitedly as they walk home from school. I wonder what lives they have imagined for themselves and how possible their dreams feel within their realities. At a traffic light, a girl bangs on the car window, jolting me from my daydream. She holds a small hand to her mouth and pleads inaudibly through the glass, her mother watches from afar balancing another baby on her hip. Dreaming is a luxury many girls and women in Nigeria cannot afford.

My neighbors are still on the street when I get home. One of them who cannot be older than twelve years old is cradling a crying baby, I want to believe that it is her sibling, but I know it could just as easily be her child. I lie awake in bed that night feeling small beneath the mountain of real work that needs to be done. I wonder which of the little girls next door holds in her hand a seed of magic that may never have a chance to grow.

For the ones who eventually push through, who get an education and take up spaces in arenas no one ever imagined for them. Will the society we live in rise up to receive them? Will we celebrate their voices and their ambition? Or will all of their accomplishments still be measured by the weight of a ring on their fingers?

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Sponsored by Intel – learn more at www.intel.com/women

26 Comments

  1. Rayva

    June 2, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    I wish we could meet…….

  2. Bodunade

    June 2, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    Madam ambassador, if you really cared, you’d know if the child on your street is the mom or sibling. Charity begins at home.
    I hope this is fiction because you sure sound detached from the reality you are trying to present.
    Besides, people try to know how much you are worth by asking what you do. Men and women do it, that he asked if you are married might just be him trying to break the ice or start a conversation. The following statements and assumptions are clearly a figment of your imagination.
    Tramp – Otis redding, that’s my jam

    • Max

      June 2, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      You’re clearly a very silly fellow. I hope you apply more critical thought in your actual life.

    • bodunade

      June 2, 2016 at 3:06 pm

      You are clearly a ‘pepperbody’.
      Is it your silly, who you epp? Mr critical thinker. Eku Ipale mo.
      Oya mop lagoon.. Hahaha.

    • Boluwatife

      June 2, 2016 at 2:50 pm

      I always knew you were a village man. I was expecting to see your aburo Egghead here with his flailing attempt at logic but you beat him to it already. Like someone else mentioned, critical thinking is key. And please try and apply some compassion and empathy as well. You’re always especially condescending on women, telling them to calm their titties and making them look like purely emotional and hormonal creatures. You are actually pretending like Nigerians don’t care about being married, was it not you on a previous article that was mocking your ex and other women who “pretend” not to care? Abasha

    • Yeyeperry

      June 2, 2016 at 3:59 pm

      I think it begins with us. If there are people who need to be empowered around us, let do our bit by reaching out to them. The NGO’s can’t reach everyone. So i agree with @Bodunade that if you really care, instead of of letting thoughts of ‘the little girls on your street’ bother you, why not take a step and reach out to them? Same goes for us all

  3. Oma

    June 2, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    Applause applause, such beautiful writing, and such important message too. Well done Titi!

  4. serendipity

    June 2, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    Titilope is just amazing, after seeing her on Ndani tv’ s Gidi up, her acting was superb especially the scene where she did a poem – ‘Rock bottom is a perfect place for rebuilding, that quote has been stuck in my head. It spoke to me and I’m not going to lie I love literature but I’ve never paid much attention to poetry, but she got me interested, well done!

  5. Abuja Bored Girl

    June 2, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    I love this. This article right here is the truth.

  6. Princess P

    June 2, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    Well written
    The girl child needs more empowerment and attention

  7. @ Bodunade and Max

    June 2, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    What is so silly about what Bodunade wrote? You all should allow for some criticism, it is not everything that should be totally praised.
    I quite agree with Budunade. That is what I thought as I read through the article.
    Nice article Titilope but I think you should look at what Bodunade said. I am not the best writer but I believe if people take time to say, I don’t quite agree, it is because they want better.

  8. [email protected]

    June 2, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    How can I get involved with this project. I really want to. There is so much to share. My email address is above just in case.

    Dear Bella Naija,
    if someone sends you an article at least send a feedback. Don’t just leave people under the sun. If you notice grammatical errors at least send a brief email telling the person to go through their work again.
    If the subject matter does not sit well, please also send to the person. You people go ‘dead’ silent on some of us when we send you our write-ups. At least let us know what is wrong. A feedback should do just good.
    I have sent countless articles to Bella Naija, I never even get a ‘no’ we cannot share this. Just absolute silence.

    • Atoke

      June 2, 2016 at 3:21 pm

      Hello,

      What email address are you sending your emails to? We do not have a record of your email address in our inbox.

      Please send to features(at)bellanaija(dot)com.

      Thank you.

    • Bella The Dictator

      June 2, 2016 at 3:40 pm

      Thank you for this.
      One major thing that irritates the heck out of me with this site is that “click” mentality that goes on behind the scenes.

      It seems like if the individual does not know “somebody” at BellaNaija,behind the scenes,all efforts will be wasted.

      I know a fantastic writer who has sent countless delicious,YESSS delicious articles to Bella,but always silence.
      I have heard this is a common trend with you guys at bella.

      You people have NO idea how you go about killing the morale of those who just want a platform to be “read” so to speak.

      Then one comes on the blog and its a collection of dry articles most times,from the same recycled people whose articles cannot even garner decent responses in the comment section.

      You people no well at all.

  9. Bodunade

    June 2, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Boluwatife.. Only me, all these allegations Haba. Kuku Kee me nau. Lol.
    Bolu, it’s not that serious. Wrong impressions all over o. Never ever bashed anyone. If you feel offended by my comments e ma binu
    *one love *

  10. Noms

    June 2, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    Nice one, Titi

  11. bukunmi

    June 2, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    I hope this initiative will not be among the many others that die on the roadside. Welldone Titi, the write up is quite captivating and it resonates deeply. I pray the society will be more accommodating of the girl child, her dreams and aspirations.

    something new and fun is on the blogosphere; kunmiintrigues.blogspot.com

  12. Cynical

    June 2, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    This article got me thinking. It made me especially really grateful…..shame on me for all that I take for granted esp when they are millions without clothes on their backs,food to eat especially little kids. God pls give us the heart of giving and when we do give,don’t let some selfish,heartless person misuse the funds.

  13. Cynical

    June 2, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    BN,what in Gods name is this error thing???? Ahn ahn,correct it ASAP.

  14. Osaretin

    June 3, 2016 at 2:25 am

    Deep! beautiful article…Got me thinking!

  15. sammiewolf

    June 3, 2016 at 8:38 am

    Good to see you on Bella, Titi. You were my favourite in GIDI UP S02. I’ve since then, read your poems, listened to your spoken words and eaten up your site, so I know what you are worth. (Pun intended) Stalker? Yeah.
    That said, I think most of the issues you raised are Humanitarian problems, not feminine ones. For instance, I should have been angry at the behaviour of the conductor of the bus I boarded this morning, but all I felt was pity because he was only a little boy who should at that time be on his way to school. And I’ll bet more boys have banged your windscreen than girls.
    Also, your conversation with the stranger seem rather scripted. Like someone pointed out, that sizing up goes both ways. In fact, in my opinion, women do it more.
    Was a good read still-as always.

  16. Johnson Adebowale

    June 3, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    Amazing piece, Right on point.

  17. Emmanuel

    June 3, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    I love this initiative from Intel. other multi nationals need to see that empowering various segments of their target market is lowkey a really impactful business starategy.

    A more empowered target is a more buoyant market. Its a Win-Win. Kudos Intel.

  18. Sayo Adebayo

    June 3, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Great Piece, I was fixated till the end, Thank you for this Titilope.

  19. Teawine Penner

    June 3, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    The last paragraph got me! On-point ending! Kudos Titi!

  20. Ivy Spiks

    June 8, 2016 at 8:44 am

    I read there is a radio show coming on air soon as part of Intel’s She Will Connect initiative. I’m privileged to be among those that “pushed through” and tried to get my voice heard. Yet still, I experience some level of discrimination when lined-up with my male counterparts. My ideas are not given fair consideration and it sucks! I hope the initiative truly achieves the aim and purpose for which it was designed and I am willing to support pro bono publico.

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