By Ugonna Eronini
“Excuse me sir, are you the columnist on the back page of Saturday Sun? If so, I would like to thank you for being a huge source of inspiration to me as I grew up reading your articles. It became a part of my life and inspired me to not only express myself, but to do so in a relatable manner. Fast forward to a couple of years later, and here I am, a student, teenager and a blogger. I just want to let you know that by putting your words together and sharing your message to the world, you have changed a life, my life and possibly many other lives. Thank you, sir and God bless.”
Those were my exact words when I finally decided to do something I had always wanted to do but could not, because I had to overcome my fear; the fear of not getting a reply, because he obviously gets lots of messages on a daily basis from his Facebook followers. Somehow, I don’t know what came over me, like a force, I hit the send button. I’m usually very skeptical about sending such messages, but this time, I not only felt it, but I knew it would be worth it.
Hello, I’m Ugonna Eronini, a student, blogger, aspiring writer (well, this is because I don’t think am there yet), and I would like to say a few things about Mike Awoyinfa and how he unknowingly positively influenced me. The Nigerian in me is strongly moved to add a title: Mr., Sir, Dr., I don’t know which would seem fitting as he goes just by Mike Awoyinfa.
Growing up, I wouldn’t say I lived an introverted life or any of that life in isolation to sound deep or anything. I would explain it as a normal childhood of cooking with sand, and playing “tempe-tempe”—you know that game where you use your feet to count numbers, and if your playmate displays the same number, you lose. There should be another name for it though, but this is the one I have knowledge of. Well, school work wasn’t a problem for me as I was smart, and was always the best in class. I was smart, intelligent, neat, serious-minded yet playful, creative, thoughtful, but one thing was lacking. And that one thing was sometimes a hiccup in all my perfections.
It wasn’t a physical or a character flaw, it wasn’t an attitude, it wasn’t a bad habit, which I needed to change, it was the fact that sometimes I couldn’t blend in with my classmates. I didn’t feel too big or anything. I wasn’t proud, but most of the things I had interest in, no one knew any of it and therefore couldn’t talk about it. I wanted to ask them if they had read Alice in Wonderland, or the back page of the Sun newspapers. Did they read about that article on Saturday Sun written by Mike Awoyinfa? What did they think about it? Didn’t they think it brilliant? Wouldn’t they like to discuss it? I grew up as a Mike Awoyinfa avid reader.
My father used to buy the papers every day. He doesn’t buy them that much these days. Probably as a result of news made available on the smartphones and the Internet.
I think the reason why I found Mike Awoyinfa’s articles so interesting was the fact that they were all relatable and easy to understand. Unlike some other amazing famous columnists, I did not have to use an Oxford dictionary, or have the imagination of Chinua Achebe and literary understanding of what it entails to be a writer. Even as a child, I understood every part of it. His articles are not usually too serious, yet deep. He writes in a manner which everyone can understand. And by everyone I mean the primary school student who enjoys reading the papers brought home by her father, the secondary school teenager who reads the papers while waiting in the reception room to see the principal, the messenger to the commissioner who has to have the daily papers on his desk every morning and knows that he would only glance through the headlines, and so he takes them home weekly to read them and adds them to his collection, because he enjoys reading. To the doctor in the hospital who just got to the hospital and is waiting for the first patient to attend to, but still has to go through the papers before the work of the day begins. I mean every literate person, as long as you can read and have a working brain (if you don’t have one, well), you would enjoy every single piece by Mike Awoyinfa.
His contents are easy, original, eye-opening, educative, real, interesting, exciting and fun, yet straight to the point. You also get to learn a lot too. It’s like eating your cake and having it. I usually read his articles more than once for the joy of it and to learn. As a writer, I wanted to achieve the same effect his articles gave me using my own words. I would write short pieces and read them to myself to see if they had the same appeal his articles gave me. Practice they say makes perfect, so I wrote, and wrote, and wrote some more. I tried participating in some essay competitions in secondary school, which I never eventually applied for or win any. Apparently, I still didn’t think myself worthy enough. In my senior secondary school, I became a newscaster and editor, which gave me access to newspapers. So I still read and wrote some more. My friends knew I could figure out anything to write within minutes, so then I would compose exeat letter applications for my friends in minutes, fabricating different excuses for each person. From compiling news articles, to writing these letters, to becoming the top student editor for the school’s magazine and yearbook, to writing articles behind my exam question papers, to people telling me that they love my pieces on Facebook, to finally starting my own blog.
It’s been a long journey, and I am still on it. I feel really low sometimes, I feel like I don’t really have a voice, yet. I see some writers use big words and vocabulary I cannot understand and feel like I am still nothing. I compare myself to professionals who are way older and more experienced than I am, because I believe that the more I stress and challenge myself, the better and more limitless I become. I am still not a prolific writer, or even a good one, but somehow, somewhere I know that someone looks up to me, just like I look up to Mike Awoyinfa and know that I cannot let myself down. I read his latest article about the Notting Hill carnival and it still had that same touch of simplicity, yet complicated, perfection yet imperfect. It was beautiful. In that moment, I knew that there is still a hope and that I am on the right track, and that I cannot afford to relent, or feel less. I’m ending this with a deep quite almost as expected. Paulo Coehlo said in his book Eleven Minutes: ‘What does the world want of me? Does it want me to take no risks, to go back from where I came from, because I didn’t have the courage to say “yes” to life?’
Right now, I am saying yes to life because I need to stop being who I was and become who I am.
Thank you, Mike for being an inspiration.