Sometimes, I Tie Gélé is a story about identity, insecurities and the need to belong. We follow Sophie “Soso” Badmus on her personal quest to make sense of these things.
All scriptures mentioned in this post were taken from the New Living Translation unless indicated otherwise.
Read “Sometimes, I Tie Gélé – The Prelude” HERE.
Ecclesiastes 3 verse 1-8
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
THERE IS A TIME FOR EVERYTHING
The film began with everyone seated at The Reel Local Cinema and Bar in Chelsea. Sophie could not believe it! All her hard work had come together in more ways than she could have imagined or hoped, just as she had read in her Bible a few weeks back. She was anxious about showing the film especially with her mother and father both present in the audience, but this project was not about them. It was about her. What started out as an interest, turned into her dissertation research and now a documentary film being shown to her nearest and dearest.
“I just hope they all get this? I hope they understand why I did this?” Sophie had whispered as a sort-of-prayer. She had been saying these sort-of-prayers a lot lately, especially since coming back from Nigeria in January and it was now December, who would have thought Sophie “Soso” Abiodun Badmus to be the praying type? Tara would be proud.
Sophie Badmus was the overachieving child of Ella Louise Watson and Bankole Badmus who had grown up living the best life any parent could wish to give their child. Sophie was Bankole’s twin, only fairer in complexion, like the colour of a caramel macchiato frappe from Barstucks and had her Great Granny Rose’s piercing green eyes. Sophie’s full head of dusty-brown hair was an art piece of unruly yet beautiful curls that always appeared to be greeting people. No matter how many times Dee, Sophie’s best friend, taught her how to apply edge control to tame her hair, it never worked. Eventually, Sophie gave up and allowed her hair to match her personality – carefree. With a mother like Ella, of course Sophie was a fashionista, as if it were her birthright. Sophie found that the best way to express her love for fashion was via her YouTube Channel and Instagram page “Soso’s Steps”. Yes! Sophie was a “Content Creator” a very successful one at that, so it was no surprise when tickets for the premier of her documentary sold out within an hour of releasing them. For the night, she wore her hair up in a bun and added an ankara headband to match her ankara skirt, which she dressed with a fitted denim top and her mum’s classic Bucci pumps, thank God they shared the same shoe size. Ella had once told Sophie that she first met Bankole wearing these exact same heels.
Sophie to the Camera – Instagram Live Story Entry from backstage at The Reel Local Cinema:
Hey Guys! Today is the day! I’m backstage and I’ve just had my hair and makeup done by the lovely team from Samantha’s Afro Hair & Beauty Bar! The first Afro hair salon in Chelsea! Check them out! Please note that tonight’s event is SOLD OUT so please stop with the DMs for tickets at the door! If you were fortunate enough to get a ticket remember that the dress code is ‘a hint of African Print.’ Stay warm, stay safe AND PLEEEAASSSEE get here on time! Outfit of the night photos will be posted soon with all retailers listed! Pray for me guys! Love you! *blows kiss*
Watching her as she approached the front to give an introductory speech, Ella could not have been more proud of her daughter. She did it! Graduated with a first class in Psychology from UCL (if Ella had her way she would have made sure Sophie took that offer from Oxford University instead because it was the Watson family alma mater, but that was not what tonight was about). Ella refocused, taking in the beauty of her daughter who had just produced, directed, edited her own documentary and planned this event all by herself! Ella chuckled and shook her head in amazement because up until this moment she still did not know what the documentary was about; each time Ella asked about it Sophie would reply with a smirk and say “When you attend the premier, you’ll find out.”
The mellow Afro Jazz playing in the background had been turned low. Sophie was about to start and as Ella adjusted her seat slightly to get comfortable she heard his voice.
“Hello Ell-lah. I think the reserved seat next to you is for me.” Ella suddenly got warm, her pores opened as if rejoicing causing her to perspire all over and her face did that thing it always did when he called her name, it had turned blush red. Bankole’s Yoruba Barry-White-like-voice always made her heart skip, but tonight her heart was on a treadmill at maximum speed.
Bankole felt good within himself because even after all this time he still had it. He still had her. He chuckled before calling for her attention again “Ell-lah? Did you hear me?”
“So-sorry. Erm. Yes. This. Reserved. Yours.” She got up to allow Bankole to pass, and in doing so she had time to show off her black-midi Qarda knitted bodycon dress that hugged her like an old friend and her Bucci black suede knee length boots. She was dressed for the occasion, for the weather and for Bankole. She did not have any African print of her own, so she accessorised with Sophie’s yellow ankara fabric jewellery set that had a matching clutch bag.
Bankole caught her game while taking his seat and even though she avoided making eye contact with him, he leaned in slightly to her and whispered a compliment, “You look lovely tonight Ell-lah. You always look lovely.”
Ella did not trust herself to respond in a ladylike manner so she nodded and replied “hmmm.”
Sophie spotted her father taking his seat by her mother as she headed out to face the audience – it always bothered her when she considered the possible reasons why her parents never married each other. At times when her father came to London to visit she would ask and he would reply “your mother is the best person to answer that” and when she asked her mother, she would reply “it’s not something I wish to discuss.” It was not their lack of marriage that bothered her the most, it was the fact that their distance meant that she never really got the best of both worlds and cultures she was born into and that was the very reason for this project.
“Hello everyone! Welcome and thank you so much for being here this evening, I really appreciate you all coming especially considering how cold it is outside. Thank you! For those of you who don’t know me, my name Sophie and I have a YouTube channel called “Soso’s Steps” where I talk about life, fashion and travel. If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I graduated from “uni” during the summer.” The crowd applauded and Sophie smiled trying to continue her speech. They eventually stopped the clapping, whistling, and shouting of “you go girl!” from her best friend Dee, and then she continued.
“Thank you guys. So yeah, where was I? Yes, as I was saying, I graduated and part of my grade was made up of my dissertation submission. As I carried out my research I thought that the best way to document my findings was to vlog for my own use. The idea to make this documentary came to me when I watched all the footage to write my dissertation and then it quickly became a passion project for me. I told myself that I’ll release this as a present to myself in time for my birthday.”
A lot of people have been asking what the documentary is about and how it related to my dissertation so I’ll explain it a little bit without giving too much away. My dissertation was titled “The Psychological Impact of Cultural Association Amongst Africans through the use of Fashion” – basically, how do African people feel when they wear traditional clothes. The hope was to tie in my love for fashion, travelling and African culture because as you can tell I’m mixed-raced of Nigerian and English heritage. Much love to the seed-bearers!” Sophie pointed and waved at her parents as the audience laughed; both Ella and Bankole smiled and waved to the audience.
“I know a lot about my English side and I knew a few things about my Nigerian side, but it never felt like it was enough so I started my journey. I reached out to some amazing Nigerian women who were more than happy to talk to me about Yoruba culture and traditional clothes and in doing so I learnt much more than I expected. It wasn’t just the “fashion” that stood out to me, but the intricacies of life and the effects of our choices became more apparent. Each woman in this documentary unknowingly caused me to evaluate myself, my dreams and aspirations, my motivations, my present, my past and my future, the fragility of life, it’s joys and more; all from a simple question I asked. Their answers have shaped me unexpectedly for the better. This documentary isn’t morbid or sad, I promise you, but it is humbling and encourages self-reflection.
I’d like to thank all the ladies in this film, some of them couldn’t be here tonight but they’ve seen the documentary and they approve. Thank you to the owners of The Reel Local Cinema for offering us this space, thank you to Adunni’s Bites, for the Chapman Mocktails and Lagos Vibe canapés. To my mother, Ms. Ella Watson, Editor-In-Chief of Haute Magazine – I get my love of fashion and my monthly clothing allowance from her and to my father, Dr. Bankole Badmus, Africa’s finest Neurosurgeon – my interest in the mind and how it works and my accumulation of air miles, come from him, and to you all for being here tonight, THANK YOU AGAIN! That being said, I present to you, a Sophie Badmus Documentary “Sometimes, I Tie Gélé.””
The audience laughed at the jokes she made about her parents and applauded as she took her seat next to her father, reaching for his hand and held it firmly. She sighed deeply as the lights were dimmed and the documentary began to play. The first lady shown was her older sister, Mayowa Akinfenwa; Sophie had not told her mum or dad that Mayowa was one of the ladies in the film, as the title screen for Mayowa’s story popped up she gripped her father’s hand a little tighter.
ISỌMỌ ORUKỌ ~ NAMING CEREMONY
“Hey Soso, can you pass me the baby bag in the corner by you? I think your nephew has made a little mess. You want to practice changing him?” Mayowa laughed at Sophie.
Sophie turned her nose up at the request. “Sis, there are better ways for me to bond with Levi, cleaning his nappy doesn’t qualify as one.”
“Fine! Be that way! You’ll learn one day.” Mayowa warned.
Mayowa was Sophie’s older sister, Bankole, their father, had been married to Mayowa’s mum, Tina for fifteen years, before she passed away from a ruptured brain aneurysm – the irony, he was a neurosurgeon that could save the lives of many but he could not save his own wife. With Iya Ibeji (mother of twins), as she was often called, Bankole had three children; Temitope and Temidayo (the twin boys) and then Mayowa, she was ten when Iya Ibeji died. Mayowa was now thirty-two, married and at the time of the recording, had recently given birth to her first child a baby boy named Levi with her husband Afolabi Akinfenwa, an investment banker based in London. Prior to meeting Afolabi, Mayowa owned a cafe in Lagos called Break Time. Afolabi had been on holiday in Nigeria and frequented Mayowa’s cafe and that is how they met. The decision to move to London with Afolabi was not an easy decision for Mayowa to make, but she was confident that God would see her through, she decided not to sell the cafe, instead she left it to her business savvy brothers to manage and maintain, from which still got a monthly salary and according to the monthly reports business was doing very well.
Mayowa was a full-figured true African beauty with big brown eyes and long dreadlocks that reached the middle of her back. Looking at Mayowa it was evident that Bankole had strong genes because she also looked a lot like Bankole sharing his dark chocolate complexion.
“Ok, the camera is all connected, and I’m just going to clip this mic to your top and we’ll be ready.” Sophie informed Mayowa when setting up her equipment. “So sis, are you ready? Ok. When was the last time you had gélé tied and how did it make you feel?”
For a few seconds Mayowa held a blank stare and then looked across in the Moses Basket to take a peek at Levi asleep. “The last time I wore gélé was for Levi’s naming ceremony. How did it make me feel? Well it made me feel proud, it made me feel and look beautiful on the day and I remember looking in the mirror after I had my make-up done with my cheeks, nose and lips still puffy from pregnancy and it hit me, I’m a mother now.” Mayowa paused and gulped, “can I be honest? I was really scared. After Levi was born I was happy and joyous, and then when we left the hospital I realised that now I was tasked with looking after this child outside of my womb. I think that’s when the anxiety set in. I would question myself – how would I protect him? How will I know if he is comfortable or not? How would I know if he was hungry or needed a nappy change? How would I know if he was happy or sad? I found myself checking his cot numerous times while he slept because I wasn’t sure if he was breathing. I was so scared that something would happen to him while I was asleep. The house was a mess, I felt a mess and I just didn’t know if I was doing anything right. In moments like this I wish my mum were still alive, I’m sure she would have flown over and stayed with us to help out like other Nigerian mothers are known to do. I mean Folabi’s mum came after we left the hospital and she gave Levi the traditional bath, she made sure I was ok, and told me to rest, but deep down I was sad that it wasn’t my mum doing and telling me these things. I became a mother and all I wanted was my mum.” Mayowa wiped a tear from her eyes.
“Here you go.” Sophie said offering her sister a tissue.
“Thank you.” Mayowa placed her hand on her tensed forehead and sighed. “I’ve been doing this a lot these days, crying. I cried when Folabi’s mum left, because it was really just Levi and I at home during the day. I cry when Levi cries and I don’t know what to do. I just keep crying and most times for no reason. You know, at the naming ceremony each time someone touched or carried Levi I’d get tense and feel the urge to cry.” She laughed faintly, “it’s crazy, I didn’t like the fact that my child looked more comfortable in the arms of strangers than my own, I didn’t want them to harm him or pass on germs to him. It’s one of the reasons why I had limited visitors.”
Sophie was surprised at what her sister was telling her, she never noticed any of this, but did find it strange when Mayowa had told her she could not come over a few weeks after the naming ceremony. Now it was starting to make sense, but it saddened her that her sister felt this way. “I’m so sorry to hear that this is what you were going through, do you feel the same way today and what was or what is Folabi’s take on everything?”
“Folabi noticed everything. He found me awake one night looking over Levi in his cot. Folabi asked me if Levi had woken up, and I said no, I told him I couldn’t sleep. I guess he didn’t think too much of it that night, but that week, each time he woke up in the middle of the night he saw me doing the same thing, and then he got worried. He is so kind and thoughtful; God really blessed me with Folabi. The following week he took time off from work and forced me to sleep, which I never did because I didn’t think he could take care of Levi alone, but Mr. Afolabi Akinfenwa does not give up. He called Wura, a therapist friend of Tara’s who was in London at the time, and my midwife for an in-house appointment. After answering a few questions from them, they confirmed that I had Postpartum Depression. I laughed at the diagnosis, I told them that I’m a strong black woman, a Nigerian woman at that, we don’t have babies and get depressed, that stuff is made up by the West. I didn’t want to believe them. I couldn’t believe them – were they telling me that I was weak? I wasn’t weak! They were lying! They had to be. After they left, Folabi took Levi from me and placed him in his cot, and sat me down and went over everything Wura and my midwife had said and he prayed for me. I don’t know what happened while he was praying but I cried deep tears. I was in pain. I am in pain and the worse part is I don’t know why. We agreed that I’d go to therapy for as long as I need to until I feel I better and I am getting better, I mean I haven’t stopped to check on Levi’s breathing for a least an hour which is progress.
When I looked at myself in the mirror getting ready for the naming ceremony, my gélé felt like a weight on my head, it was the weight of my responsibility and then I concluded that I didn’t want to fail as a mother. When Aunty Peckham was adjusting my gélé was when it dawned on me that I didn’t have a mother to show me what a mother was – ‘could I really do this?’ is what I kept asking myself that night. I was there physically, but my mind was elsewhere trying to figure out the unknown territory of motherhood. Through therapy so far I’ve been able to identify that my main fear is my ability to give Levi something I never truly got to experience myself.”
Sophie pitied her sister dearly, Mayowa was the best big sister ever, Mayowa looked out for her even when she lived in Nigeria and to see her brave, strong, ambitious, fun-loving and caring big sister confide and reveal all this to her was a tough pill to swallow. Mayowa was her blueprint, Mayowa was her example, and Mayowa was ill and she never sensed it at all. “What kind of sister does that make me?” Sophie pondered.
“Ok.” Sophie sniffled, “I think I’ll stop recording now. This should be enough for now.”
Sophie pressed the stop button on her camera and rushed to embrace her sister, “I’m so, sorry sis! I’m really sorry.” She leaned back to see her sister’s face, Mayowa’s robust face was full of love, and Sophie could tell, that this session had brought about some healing to Mayowa.
“Soso, you needn’t apologise, you couldn’t have known, but I appreciate you so much for actually listening to me. My therapist was right, sharing this with you has made me feel better. But do me a favour?”
“Yeah what?” Sophie said eager to help her sister in anyway possible.
“Don’t tell Baba Mi. I want to be the one to tell him when he comes next week. PROMISE me you won’t tell him?” Mayowa insisted, knowing how close Bankole and Sophie were because you would have thought they were friends from school – Sophie was a real daddy’s girl.
“I won’t. I promise.” Sophie meant it, but it also meant having to avoid her dad’s phone calls for a few days because she could not trust herself.
Sophie to the Camera – Vlog Entry from Barstucks Coffee, Oxford Street:
My sister’s gélé became a weight of territory unknown. Her gélé reminded her of everything she didn’t have but needed. Sis became a mother without a mother and now she is ill. How could I have missed the signs? As my mother says to me often, “Soso, you’re gifted, but you need to be more attentive.” Now I have to avoid my father’s calls for a few days, if I don’t I’ll end up telling him and I can’t break my promise to Sis.
As Mayowa’s scene ended, Sophie stole a look at her mother. Ella had placed her right hand on her mouth, Sophie could not tell if she was in shock or upset, but she did notice that her mother’s eyes were moist and that Bankole had Ella’s free hand in his.
IPARI ẸKỌ ~ GRADUATION
WAZZAPP Alert ~ SOSO😍: Hey Dee! I’m 20 minutes away from your house. Please tell me your mum made jollof this week?
WAZZAPP Alert ~ Doyinsola🌸Dee: Soso, my mum isn’t your jollof rice dealer, it’s about time you learnt how to make it yourself if you love that stuff so much. But you’re in luck there is jollof rice because she always has some ready for you. I’ll tell her that her Nigerian daughter is on her way. 😜
Sophie to the Camera – Vlog Entry from inside her Roober Taxi:
So I’m on my way to Peckham to have lunch at Dee’s house – totally unplanned of course, but I think it’ll be a great opportunity for me to talk to Dee as part of my research. I mean she grew up in Nigeria for some of her childhood and her mum makes the best jollof rice I’ve ever tasted and she lives in Peckham so Dee definitely qualifies.
Doyinsola Williams and Sophie had been best friends since they were teenagers, Doyinsola was fifteen and Sophie was fourteen when they met. Their meeting for the first time would have never happened had Sophie not “run away” from her mother’s Chelsea home one afternoon, finding herself in her aunt’s shop in Peckham. Sophie had asked Ella to find a salon where she could have her hair braided with hair extensions but Ella was caught off guard by the request, “I don’t know of any hairdressers who could do such, my love. Why do you want your hair braided?”
“Because I’m black, and black girls have braids and I believe I should start embracing my blackness. Don’t you agree?” Sophie said so sure of herself.
That discussion quickly turned into an argument, with Ella trying to reassure her daughter that being black did not mean having braids. Sophie was not convinced, after all, what did her mum know about being black? So she decided to leave the house while Ella was on a work call. Sophie was a smart child – she had planned this day a long time before asking Ella for braids, she had the directions to Aunty Peckham’s shop printed a week before. When she arrived at the shop, Teni (popularly known as Aunty Peckham) was really happy to see her and at the same time extremely cross with Sophie for “running away”, she made a call to Ella and Sophie was pretty sure she heard her mum scream over the phone when she heard the word “Peckham”.
“Mama Soso, calm down ehn. We thank God that our daughter is safe oh, I will talk to her and I’ll bring her home myself once I close the shop. Ok? Here’s my mobile number – nought, seven…” Aunty Peckham had a coolness about her that Sophie loved. People, including Ella Watson, always listened to her, they never argued with her, because she was always right.
Sophie had explained to Aunty Peckham that she ran away because she wanted her hair braided (something she had never had done before) and that her mother was clueless about it. Aunty Peckham listened to her fourteen going on forty year-old niece intently and offered a wordy-reprimand to Sophie about safety and her mother’s fears. Once satisfied with the words spoken, Aunty Peckham called one of her shop assistants, Big Bisi to install the braids, next to her in the other seat was Doyinsola, having braids done too by Small Bisi. Doyinsola looked like a puppet pulled in any direction her extensions were being braided and she also looked liked she was in pain, which caused Sophie to have second thoughts, but then she reasoned “it can’t be that bad?”
When they had their hair done, both Doyinsola and Sophie sat with their eyes wide open giving themselves knowing looks of stress and pain, that’s when Doyinsola asked “first time?” Sophie nodded ever so slightly, for fear that speaking or nodding too hard may cause her braids to snap. “Don’t worry. It’ll feel like your own hair in a day, and you’ll be able to move your neck and head freely. You may want to sleep standing up tonight though.” Doyinsola chuckled then stop abruptly when her scalp reminded her of her own pain. They exchanged BBM Pins and stayed in touch and ever since then became the best of friends and anytime Sophie “ran away”, (which was frequent) she’d message Doyinsola to meet her at Aunty Peckham’s shop.
“So now that I’ve explained my dissertation to you, do you mind answering some questions for me as part of my research?” A full-on-jollof-rice Sophie asked Doyinsola.
“Yeah sure, but wait, let me just fix my wig. I have to look presentable for the camera.” Doyinsola smirked and she smoothed out her 24-inch-Malaysian straight hair wig. It baffled Sophie often that Doyinsola rarely wore her own hair out and her natural hair was gorgeous from what Sophie could remember.
“I have here with me Doyinsola Williams, my best friend, aged twenty-two of Nigerian descent. Dee, for the benefit of my research I’ll ask you a few questions which you are to answer honestly. When was the last time you wore gélé and how did it make you feel?”
Doyinsola laughed, “Never. I’ve never worn one and I don’t ever intend on doing so. Soso! I don’t even own African clothing. Are you sure you’re my best friend you should know this already?”
Sophie was a bit confused by Doyinsola’s response, she paused the recorder and reiterated the terms of her research to her friend, emphasising honesty as a requirement. Doyinsola gave a Sophie a mocking look and asked, “Soso, think about it, properly. Have you ever seen me in anything remotely African?” Sophie struggled to dig through the archives of her memory, her search proved futile.
“No. No I haven’t.” Sophie responded sounding defeated.
“But, I can tell you of the last time I saw gélé on my mum and how that made me feel.”
“Well, I guess that could work.” Sophie replied looking unsure when she pressed the record button.
“Like I said before, I’ve never worn gélé before, but my mum does. She wears them to any function she feels worthy of a gélé, church events, work events, parties, my graduation.” Doyinsola looked away from the camera and away from Sophie as if trying to muster up the courage to say something she had never said before.
“My… my mum dressed up in full Nigerian attire, gélé included, to my graduation and I was embarrassed. I was so upset that she showed up dressed like that to Cambridge University of all places! I wanted her to come looking presentable and not like the Christmas decorations on Oxford Street.” Doyinsola looked at Sophie for a response but she said nothing so she continued, meanwhile, Sophie was in shock at what she was hearing. Here she was on a mission to “reclaim” her blackness and yet her best friend who had access to so much culture was embarrassed by it.
“I told my mum that she couldn’t take any professional graduation pictures with me, and to be honest I don’t feel bad about it at all. It’s just so…” Doyin was about to finish her sentence when her mum barged into the living room where they had been filming.
“SO DOYINSOLA! This is what you think of me? Ehn?! You think I’m an embarrassment? You think being Nigerian is embarrassing? OH GOD! OH GOD, OLUWA OH!! TA NI MO SE!! WHO HAVE I OFFENDED OH?!” Iya Doyin shouted, Sophie was sure the whole of Peckham could hear her. Sophie thought about stopping the recording before it turned into a Nollywood production, but Iya Doyin stopped her.
“Soso! Let it continue recording, since Doyinsola has already told the world that I’m an embarrassment, I might as well demonstrate it abi? CHAI!! Doyin!! DOYIN!!” Iya Doyin gripped her iro, a cotton cloth draped and tied like a skirt around her waist, while staring at her daughter in utter confusion, she never once thought she would hear such words from any of her children, and what made her hurt worse was that Doyinsola did not look remorseful, or ashamed of what she said.
“Let me sit down before I allow this child to kill me from hypertension.” Iya Doyin was sweating and shaking with anger and then her eyes began to fill up with tears of hurt.
“Mum! Relax! It’s not that deep. I was just telling her my truth.” Doyinsola said without looking at her mum. Her truth right then was that she was too scared to look at her mum.
“Soso, do you mind if I give my side of the story, maybe it will help your friend to actually appreciate me.” She said looking Doyinsola up and down, daring Doyinsola to reply her again. If looks could harm then Doyinsola should have been KO’d by her mum’s looks alone.
Sophie looked to Doyinsola for some sort of permission to continue, but she looked like she did not care, “erm, yes aunty, that… that should be fine.” Sophie knew she was like family, but this was the side of the family she never expected to see.
“What Doyinsola doesn’t understand is that seeing her graduate was a proud moment for me, and as the true Yoruba woman that I am I celebrate proud moments by dressing up in my best and I feel my best when I tie gélé to mark an occasion. When I tied my gélé I felt victorious, I felt as if my hard work was definitely worth it. My gélé was my crown. My gélé that day was the degree certificate I never received and I strutted around the campus to let them know that as my child was graduating, I too was a graduate, a graduate of life and all it’s hardship. Was I wrong to celebrate? Eh, Soso, was I?
The night before the graduation, I was so excited. My daughter passed with a first class in Politics and International Relations, a whole me! I was so thankful to God because it has not been easy. I brought Doyinsola and her brother David here to London when they were young; I think Doyinsola was nine at the time and her brother seven. Getting them to London was a task. You know, in Nigeria I was a PA to a well-known businessman, but when my husband left me with the children with no mention where he was going or why, I had to re-evaluate my plans. I was supposed to go back to school to get my degree, but I couldn’t because everything became about my children and our upkeep.
Seeing how I struggled to make ends meet, with the children’s school fees and bills, a cousin of mine suggested that I come to London to find work that would pay well and help the children. I wrestled with the idea because I didn’t have the funds and even if I did, I knew I couldn’t bring David and Doyinsola along with me. My cousin offered to pay for my ticket, on the basis that I paid her back and suggested that I leave the children with my mum and send for them when I had the money and paperwork sorted. It was a hard decision but I was committed to it because I truly believed that coming to London would provide better opportunities for them. I worked so many odd jobs and saved so hard all for them. Thankfully I found a job as a receptionist, and to make more money I applied to be the office cleaner. So I’d wait till everyone had left before I started cleaning the office. On the weekends I worked at the McDanny’s by Peckham Rye station, and this was my life, my routine for four years before I could even afford to bring them to London. They were my motivation, they kept me going and they kept me sane. My mum would press me to come back home and start afresh, and I’d tell her no, because she always taught us to finish what we start.
Before David and Doyinsola arrived, I had managed to secure a one bedroom council flat for us, I cleaned the flat, had it painted, bought a nice bed from Home Store for them and a sofa bed for myself, I made the place feel like a home. I was determined to give them the best.” Iya Doyin was recollecting her memories as if she was reliving them all over again.
“I remember when they arrived they only spoke Yoruba and Pidgin, which was great when at home, but they needed to learn fluent English, and thankfully they arrived during the summer, so they had time before the school term started. I bought them assignment books and storybooks. We watched TV with English subtitles, and when I spoke to them, they had to respond in English. It was an intense time, but my children are brilliant, they picked up a lot quickly, I was proud of them. School started and they seemed to be settling in well. But I did notice something, David would always still speak to me in Yoruba and request for Nigerian meals, but Doyinsola only spoke to me in English, even when I encouraged that Yoruba could be spoken at home, she refused and she often requested for non-Nigerian meals, which I was fine with making. I remember when she got a full scholarship to attend St. Jude’s private secondary school in Central London I was so happy and it didn’t concern me at the time that she’d be the only black girl in her class, so long as she was getting the best, then it didn’t matter.
I remember a week or so after starting at St. Jude’s, Doyinsola came home and asked me why her brother had an English name and she didn’t, I explained that her brother had been named after their father, otherwise he too would have been given a Yoruba name. She went on to tell me that the students in her class couldn’t pronounce her name and that from then on she’s to be called ‘Dee’. I didn’t fight her about it. My main focus was that she got the best education and if shortening her name made her educational experience better, then I was ok with it. Now hearing her speak of me the way she’s done now and how she views our culture, makes me feel like I made a big mistake. I should have done more to teach them about retaining our rich culture because it is something to be proud of. It’s all making sense now, this is why Doyinsola has refused to travel to Nigeria with her brother for Christmas.”
This was the first time Doyinsola had heard about her mum’s struggles and efforts to take care of herself and David, all this time she knew her mum wanted what was best for them, but she also thought that her mum’s idea of the best was everything England had to offer them and to make the most of these opportunities she had to distance herself from anything that was not the best, starting with her mother tongue. Doyinsola’s face had been anointed with remorse at the realisation of her mum’s strength and pride so she got up, which startled Sophie because she had forgotten Doyinsola was in the room. Doyinsola sheepishly sat next to her mum then spoke up, “Ma mi. E ma binu. E ma sukun mo, e darigi mi.” Sophie looked at Doyinsola stunned. Did she just speak Yoruba? Every time Sophie had pressed Doyinsola to teach her Yoruba, Doyinsola had always said that she did not remember how to anymore.
“What did you just say?” Sophie asked as Doyinsola’s mum looked on at her daughter speechless.
“I said ‘my mother. Don’t be upset. Don’t cry anymore and please forgive me.’ I’m really sorry mum for upsetting you. You see, when we came to London and mum taught us English, my nine year-old self really thought mum didn’t want us to be Nigerian anymore. She was really strict with us learning English, and I mean, I was willing to do anything to impress her after all, we hadn’t seen her for four years. I never told mum this, but when we started school, I was bullied because I still had my accent and the bullying only got worse at St. Jude’s, being the only black girl in class was tough. I was picked on for my name, my hair and my packed lunch – which was mostly always Jollof Rice and Plantain. Things eventually changed in year nine, when I got my first weave as my birthday gift. The other students loved my hair, they told me I was beautiful with it and they even stopped calling me ‘Dodo face’ and called me Dee. Things changed dramatically, I was suddenly the cool girl and I didn’t want it to change.” She turned to her mum and continued, “Mum, I never told you about this because I didn’t want you to be upset and show up at my school to have a word with the teachers or students who were bullying me. I was convinced it would have made it worse. I struggled with fitting in and when I found a formula that worked I stuck with it. Mum I didn’t mean to offend you, I guess I still have things to figure out.”
Doyinsola cried on her mother’s lap as her mother embraced the confused pre-teen in a twenty-two year old body. Sophie stopped recording and all three women sat in silence, allowing the silence to soothe their exposed pain.
Sophie to the Camera – Vlog Entry from her room:
I hope my eyes aren’t too red in this? Sorry I’m looking away, I’m just using my mirror behind the camera.
My final thoughts about today – well cultural identity is emotional and I never knew till now. The gold crown on the Queen’s head wasn’t worth much to the heir, the Princess. Here I am a townsman, a visiting citizen, looking in wishing I could have buckets full of memories of living royally, just like a Princess.
Ahhhh… This has been an emotional day! I only went there for jollof rice. I didn’t realise that a simple question could bring up all these feelings. At this rate, between Sis and Dee, I might have to call my dissertation “The Tears that come with Tying Gélé… I just hope my next subject doesn’t leave me emotionally spent like these two… I’m tired. I’m going to bed.
With her head on her father’s shoulder watching on, Sophie could hear Doyinsola sniffing behind her. Sophie reasoned that looking back now would cut the screening short because between her and Doyinsola a river of tears would have flown. She could not risk it; there were still three more stories to tell.
IGBEYAWO ~ WEDDING
Sophie to the Camera – Vlog Entry from her dad’s home office:
Welcome to Lagos! Can’t believe I’m ACTUALLY HERE!! OH MY GOSH! OH MY GOSH! I have been waiting FOREVER to come to Nigeria, and what better place to be at to conduct my research? This is going to be amazing! I would have done a house tour for you guys, but my dad said his house isn’t my studio and that I should do my ‘Tubing’ elsewhere – he meant YouTube!
It was January and Sophie had just arrived in Nigeria for the first time, for her cousin Tara Badmus’ wedding. Tara was getting married to an Adetide-Cole boy, a prominent family in Nigeria so Sophie knew that it was going to be a real showstopper of a wedding, well two weddings – a Traditional Yoruba Engagement Ceremony and a Church Ceremony.
Sophie could not contain her excitement boarding her flight, thinking about what Nigeria would be like and the fact that she would meet family members she had only heard of, it was almost surreal to think that she was finally setting foot in the Motherland, maybe now she could feel really Nigerian.
While packing for Nigeria, Ella had come into Sophie’s room to see how she was getting on, “Mum, can I ask you a question?”
A curious Ella replied, “Yeah sure. What is it?”
“Why is this the first time I’m going to Nigeria, why haven’t I ever visited before now? I mean dad has taken me on countless trips around the world but never to Nigeria, why is that?” She stopped folding her clothes to look at her mother. Ella had turned red slightly and the red seemed to be turning blue, as if she was going to be sick. Ella looked away and responded “I don’t feel too good darling, let me get some water from the kitchen.”
“Let me call Lucia to bring some up for you?” Sophie offered.
“NO! I… I mean no darling. I’ll get it myself.” Ella had to escape Sophie’s question one way or another. “How did I raise such a questioning child?” Ella mumbled to herself after she closed Sophie’s bedroom door. Little did she know that Sophie had heard what she said. Sophie resolved within herself that she would get to the bottom of “this” sooner than later, but for now Nigeria was beckoning. Home was calling.
It was the morning of Tara’s church wedding ceremony and Sophie could not have been more excited. The night before at the rehearsal dinner, Tara had invited Sophie to get ready with her and her bridesmaids at the hotel suite in the morning even though Sophie was not a bridesmaid; Tara had referred to Sophie as “my honourary bridesmaid” when introducing her to people. Sophie definitely felt honoured at the recognition.
Everybody was ready when Tara asked the ladies to leave the room so she could speak with her best friend Wura. While standing in the living room area of the suite, Sophie could not help but wonder what it was they were talking about and rather than wait and do nothing, Sophie reminded herself of the traditional wedding the weekend before and the fact that she got the chance to wear gélé for the first time! Nigeria was proving to be an experience of firsts. First Yoruba Traditional Wedding, first time eating suya and drinking palm wine, she paused on the palm wine “an acquired taste for sure,” she mumbled to herself. First time with gélé on, which thankfully, was not as tight as Doyin’s mum had told her it would be. First time being noticed by a cute Nigerian guy.
“Hmmm. Maybe I’ll see him at the wedding today?” She pondered.
“See who today?” A smirking Tara asked. Sophie had not noticed when Tara entered the room and she had not realised when she spoke out loud.
“Erm. Nobody. I was just thinking about… about my father.” Sophie lied even though her rosy cheeks had already given her away.
“I see you Sophie!” Tara laughed. “Ladies, let’s pray before heading out.”
Sophie was still trying to comprehend Tara’s peaceful and jovial nature. Whatever Tara had, Sophie definitely wanted, but was it really as simple as Tara had said earlier in the week?
“Just put your faith in Him. He’ll do it all for you.” Tara’s words had been ringing in Sophie’s ears and heart from the day they met to record Tara’s segment for her research.
EARLIER IN THE WEEK
“How are you so relaxed about everything? Aren’t you a slight bit nervous?” Sophie asked when connecting a lapel microphone to Tara’s Ankara print top.
“No. Not at all. I’m excited not nervous. I’m excited because both Adeiye and I have chosen each other and I’m excited to see how our journey unfolds. The past weekend was just the start of this journey.” Tara offered a peaceful and hearty smile.
“I’m even surprised that you have time to film with me today. I really appreciate it.” Sophie smiled back.
“Anything for my sweet Soso.” Tara replied.
“Would you like to introduce yourself for the camera?” Sophie asked
Tara considered the question before replying, “Yeah. I don’t mind introducing myself.” She paused again and then continued, “do you mind if I say a prayer before we start? Dear Amazing Father…” Tara had not waited for Sophie’s reply before starting her prayer. Sophie knew that Tara was a Christian and that her faith meant a lot to her, but surely, God did not care about how she would answer questions about wearing gélé? Sophie was sure, that if He existed He would have better things to do, but out of respect for Tara, Sophie kept quiet and closed her eyes as her cousin did, peeking every few seconds to see how excited her cousin seemed to be “having a conversation with God” as Tara once told her.
“Thank you for today and thank you for making time for Sophie and I to sit and film for her dissertation. Daddy, I kindly ask that you will inspire our words this afternoon and that you will ensure that Sophie does well on her dissertation. Regarding all the stories she has gathered and is yet to gather towards the task ahead, I pray that they’ll bring about healing and constructive life changing discussions. In the perfect name of Jesus we have asked. Amen.” Tara held her head up and opened her eyes “Ahem… Amen! Sophie! You can open your eyes now!” Tara giggled.
“Shall we? Ok so my name is Taraoluwa Badmus – not for much longer though,” Tara fluttered her long natural lashes at the camera almost imitating Betty Boop. “I’m Sophie’s cousin based in Lagos, Nigeria and I just had my traditional Yoruba engagement slash wedding this past weekend and now we’re gearing up for my church ceremony this Saturday.”
“Thank you for the intro Tara. As you know my research is about African attire specifically gélé. The last time you wore gélé was last week Saturday. What did it mean for you and how did it make you feel to have your gélé tied?”
“Wow! I felt excited, nervous, anxious, but more excited than anything else. I’ve worn gélé many times before and I’ve always felt gorgeous but something about having it on to be announced as someone’s wife for the first time, wow! It felt like I was carrying my new name on my head. “Adetide” literally means “the crown has arrived” and I wish to be my husband’s crown – after God of course. Imagine me, his crown? A priceless beauty that adorns him. What an honour for him and an honour for me.” Tara spoke as if she was actually reliving that very moment stepping out to see Adeiye at the ceremony.
“But don’t get it twisted, I am my husband’s crown, but he will be responsible for maintaining my shine,” she brushed off imaginary dust from her shoulders, “because if I, as his crown should appear dull and unpolished, he won’t look good with his crown on. In other words we’ll both be a reflection of how we care for each other and most importantly our reflection of Christ and our belief in Him. We desire to do marriage His way and that means involving Him in every area of our marriage. Having my gélé just made me realise that it’s not just about Adeiye and I, it’s about God using us an example of Him.
The same way we were watched through the night completing endless ceremonial rites is the same way people will spectate our marriage. Crown and all, having my gélé on did bring to my attention that marriage is a gift that has great responsibilities, and it has pleased God to gift us with these responsibilities. Let me tell you now, marriage shouldn’t be entered into lightly and with the help of premarital counseling, I discovered I wasn’t all the way ready for everything that comes with marriage. I realised that his fears, hopes and dreams will now become mine, and mine his and I questioned if I was actually ready for this and that’s when God reminded me that I’ll never be ready if I don’t include Him. The inclusion of God is what has kept me sane and chilled throughout this planning process, last week’s celebration was just affirmation for me, that Oluwa is truly involved and He is ultimately the crown of my soon to be home.”
Throughout the week, Sophie realised how much of a deep thinker Tara was, it was almost intimidating but she admired how Tara easily shared and explained her thoughts.
“Talking about gélé, your first time wearing one was on Saturday too. How did you feel about wearing it?” Tara asked.
“How did this become an interview about me? You’ll have to read my dissertation to find that out.” Sophie laughed. Honestly, she had not given much in-depth thought on how she really felt about having a gélé tied, she was clearly excited about it, but so far she felt that her Nigerian experience was yet to fulfill her completely. She had a few more weeks in Lagos and hopefully it would be enough time to find her true self.
“Fine! Be that way, but I know Dolapo was feeling you with your gélé on. Looking like a well seasoned snack. Aye! Soso! A real Badmus child!!” Tara knew exactly how to tease Sophie.
“TARA! OH MY GOSH! Yeah, that ends our filming for today.” Sophie was red in the face and definitely not laughing, days like this she wished her complexion was a little darker so her embarrassment or nervousness would not be made evident by the way her skin colour changed. Operation avoid Dolapo at all cost was now in effect. “I came here to celebrate you and do my dissertation, and not to like a boy.”
Tara got up laughing and hugged her baby cousin, “My sweet Soso, I never said you liked him, but I see he likes you. Let’s get going, we have to pick up the dresses from Lillian’s.”
Sophie to the Camera – Vlog Entry, her dad’s home office:
Just got back from spending the day with Tara and a few of her bridesmaids. It was cool. Wedding is this Saturday… I’m excited… I’m sorry my mind is…
Today was an eye-opening day. Tara and I had a conversation in her car and it really got me thinking about my motivations for doing this project and a whole lot more stuff. I haven’t been myself since then and I think she noticed. Oh, it’s Tara calling me. I’ll have to get back to this a little later in the week.
“Hello, Tara. Yeah, just a minute, let me just turn my camera off.”
Both Ella and Bankole turned to look at Sophie hoping her eyes would give away a few clues as to what that ending was about. Sophie did not flinch but she kept her eyes fixed on the screen waiting for the next woman to show up. They’d have to sit through two more stories to find out what that was about.
Read the concluding part of this story and Ella’s diary entry in next week’s post because the story is too long for one post.
Read Part Two HERE
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