Gele Rising

To tie my own gele is to do the impossible and from talking to other women I’m not alone. Yet each time I go out to Nigerian parties and events, I see so many beautifully tied geles that make me feel like we don’t live in the same world. How is it possible that “everyone” claims not to know how to tie gele or even know someone who does, yet there’s nary a dull gele in sight.Next time I had to go traditional I remembered to ask a dear friend whose always-on-point and sometimes Margie-Simpson-hair-sized gele will either dazzle or frustrate you (if you’re unlucky to sit behind her). She gave me a number and just like that my ugly gele days were over. 

While Mama gele worked her magic, I lamented on how difficult it was to find someone like her which was all the more surprising considering how relatively close her shop is to my house. In turn, she lamented how her customers essentially value her as a secret weapon and they refuse to share her with others to maintain a competitive edge, so to speak. Many have told her so openly.

Mama gele might have other marketing issues holding her back, but she makes a point, many of us, if we’re being honest, recognize to be true. In fact, I was reminded of another time I complimented a friend’s sister on her lovely ankara dress. She happily gushed about her amazing tailor but when I asked for the tailor’s contact details, she let me know she couldn’t share her special tailor. Why? Because then everyone will start wearing the same clothes as her and we can’t have that.  

I’ve thought more about these encounters of late. You see, last year, I too joined the growing number of female African entrepreneurs. I have met some amazing and supportive African women thus far but not enough. As entrepreneurial as we are -- 41% of women in Nigeria are entrepreneurs -- I expected to see more support and collaboration and less exchanges reminiscent of my gele and tailor misadventures. 

I get it. We are afraid, overwhelmed and stressed, unsure of our once great idea and underfunded. We are stepping outside of our comfort zone and risking public humiliation if we fail. And so we keep a little more to ourselves than we should, you know, for competitive advantage.  But I believe we are also resilient, strong, resourceful, creative, wickedly funny, dreamers, sassy, and fiercely loyal friends who are fully capable of supporting one another without fear of losing out. 

If we are to rise and keep rising, we must learn not to pour sand in Mama gele’s garri -- recommend and share resources you find valuable, admire and compliment openly, untwist your face and be the one that makes others feel comfortable at the next event, introduce your contacts that you think can benefit from one another … be fair and be kind. 

As the oft quoted African proverb reminds us, if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together.  

Here’s to rising together. 

Nnenna Kalu Makanjuola is a public health pharmacist, and the founder and editor-in-chief of Radiant Health Magazine, Nigeria’s first women’s health magazine, on a mission to inspire Nigerian women around the globe to live full, balanced, healthy lives.

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