Fellowship


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Jumoke, Deji, and James are Nigerian-American students from Virginia that received a fellowship to work at a technology company in the central city of Lagos, Nigeria. They have been tasked to pitch ideas for a new social media app. Realizing the flaws in modern day technology - the ability to only capture bits and pieces of life - they remain around the round table and discuss the tensions between stories and media. 

 

Jumoke, Deji, and James were walking back into the planning room after having lunch in order to pitch ideas for their new app. 

 

“Oh wait - I forgot to post something on my story. I promised my friends that I would keep them updated on my time here,” James said.

 

“Why don’t you just call them?,” Jumoke suggested. “Wouldn’t that tell them more about your time here?” 

 

Although a simple solution, James was taken aback by her suggestion. He responded and said, “It’s faster, and plus we’re about to get to work soon. We also haven’t even pitched an idea for the app yet, so I wouldn’t want to waste time.”

 

“Re-story,” Deji said.

 

“What?” Jumoke and James were confused because this was the first time he’s said anything since lunch. 

 

“Re-story.” He said again. “That should be the name of our new app.”

 

Jumoke and James both stared at each other for a minute. To break the silence, Deji tried to further explain his idea. 

 

“Remember when Clapchat came out with the stories feature and everyone was raving about it back in high school? Well...I noticed that over time people would make assumptions about people and the way they lived their lives. Now Fastgram a couple years later decides to add the stories feature as well, and it’s basically the same concept as Clapchat. I guess what I’m trying to say is the social media apps nowadays are all realizing the attraction to the addition of stories on their apps, but everytime that happens people are always perpetuating these false narratives of people that they will never understand just by being subservient to a plus sign in the corner of your screen that only adds a snippet of your life. So I think if we are able to combat that concept and reimagine what the media perceives as a story, we might be doing something here.”

 

Feeling attacked, James decides to excuse himself and says he’s about to make a phone call. 

 

Oga, how do you expect this to work?” Jumoke exclaimed.

 

“It’s simple. We create an app where the main purpose of it is centered around the story”. 

 

“That’s not how the market works Deji.”

 

“Please elaborate Jumoke”.

 

“They want your rhythm, but not your blues. Jumoke flails her hands in the air to further elaborate what she means. “....Your shine, but not the rain.” 

 

Deji still looked confused, so she explained through a saying her mother used to tell her. 

 

“My mother used to tell me a saying that helped her reclaim her narrative when she came to America in ‘96 - Gbogbo nkan ti o wa ni ita won fe gbo, kii se itan re won fe gbo.” 

 

Deji nodded in acknowledgement in response to their native tongue. “They want to hear what is on the outside, it’s not your story they want to hear.” 

 

Jumoke then continues to elaborate on her point. “...As much as we say our personal stories are important, the media somehow finds a way to always capture singular data points that don’t help us understand why and how people are the way they are.” 

 

As Jumoke proceeds to a flashback of her past, James walks into the room and joins in. 

 

“When I was in middle school, I hid the fact that I was Nigerian because the kids would say things like - “So is it true that you can speak African, and that the bongos sound like this?”

 

“The sound that erupted right after that was the most disheartening and offensive sound I’ve ever heard. And from that moment on, I decided to cover up the fact that I was Nigerian and of any African descent at all. For some time, the music of my motherland just became noise, and it was like I plastered the contents of my mother tongue into a temporary tattoo that was ready to be erased once it was exposed to outsiders. It was also the little things that crept up on me like shortening my name to a meaning that had no meaning. It wasn’t until 2012 when my Auntie came from Nigeria that I started to reclaim my narrative. When she came she brought her blues with her, and then the corners of my tattoo reappeared, but took a different form. Yoruba was something I wanted to learn and proclaim to others who didn’t understand. What I’ve come to realize is over the years the rhythm of Africa I’ve come to know in America was shaped by media portrayals and one-sided stories. I’ve also realized that while it’s hard to separate rhythm from blues, blues can build rhythm. I’ve always lived with rhythm that was out of context. There was no history for me to apply it to, and no community to share it with. This all allowed me to lose an identity I never had. Blues is what was introduced in my life to deconstruct the rhythm I’ve come to know and to construct the rhythm that accurately matches my blues.”

 

“Thanks for sharing Jumoke,” Deji said.

 

As Jumoke finished her story James shifts in his seat and decides to make a statement. “I first discovered what home... or rather my identity was when I was alone.”

 

Deji and Jumoke gave him the same confused glance that was given to Deji when he suggested the ‘restory’ app. 

 

“I’m being serious,” James said. 

 

“We’re listening,” Jumoke announced. 

 

“From my experience I started really grasping what my identity was when I learned to separate my wants from what my family wanted from me. I feel like a lot of the times when people think of home they think of a collective unit... which is understandable, but having a Nigerian family...it’s almost like everyone in that unit is supposed to have that same common goal to push the whole family forward in one direction rather than having the opportunity to branch out. My family wanted me to be a doctor, and I probably would’ve been in medical school right now, but I’m here.”

 

“So I guess what I’m trying to say is from what I have just shared with you guys, no one would ever expect that a few months ago I was about to apply for medical school if I didn’t tell you personally. If I was to post this on my story they would only see that I’m working at a company in Lagos, not the days and months I spent contemplating medical school.”

 

“Interesting,” Deji responded. 

 

Outside, the blueblack sky showed that the day was winding down. Jumoke, James, and Deji sat in silence as they pondered upon the stories they shared with one another. The fellowship they were given was a project that allowed them to fellowship with one another as well as share their recollected stories of identity. 

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