Story of My Vagina: Socially Conscious Play or Feminist Propaganda?
Story of My Vagina is a forty-something minute play written by Joy Isi Bewaji and presented by the Crown Troupe of Africa. For the truly discerning; if you’re imaginative and you’re familiar with the writer, you know what to expect.
And either you agree with her or not, she meets your expectations.
Due to a confusing sense of direction and an equally confused Google map navigator I missed almost twenty minutes of the showing; however I saw enough to understand the message; the intent of the play.
SOMV is a thematic anthology of sorts that attempts to represent the many trails and travails of the Nigerian Woman. There’s the story of the woman who is sent packing from her husband’s home because the couple cannot have children. There’s the story of the woman who ends up in a cell because she dared report her husband for domestic violence. There’s the story of the woman who is molested by her male colleague and is told there’s nothing she can do about it simply because she is female and he is male; therefore he is superior to her – at least in the office. There’s a story of two female students; one who thinks the word ‘vagina’ is taboo and shouldn’t be mentioned in public, there’s the more self-aware one who doesn’t see anything wrong in calling a body part by its name. Fast-paced, littered with bright dialogue and a strong cast that brings the play alive with sizzling narrative strength, it is an interesting watch.
The play struggles to find a middle ground between painting a somewhat stereotypical (true nonetheless) picture of the Nigerian woman – a picture already popularized by your favorite Nollywood movie(s), and telling a different, often-neglected part of the female plight; women are just as responsible for the situation as are men.
One of the more-resounding parts the play is the vignette in which a woman is thrown out of her matrimonial home for the couple’s failure to conceive. She is not thrown out by the man (who is neither seen nor heard) but by the man’s mother aided by his two sisters. An interesting moment of this scenario is a scene in which the wife asks; “How do you know I’m the problem?” and the sisters respond with indignation. One of them says; “How dare you suggest our brother is the problem? Our brother that has large Cassava” or words to that effect.
I couldn’t help but wonder how she knows her brother has a big – but that is beside the point. And here’s my reason for choosing that particular vignette as my favorite – it brings something fresh to the conversation; how do we treat people of the same gender with us? Is feminism about blaming the other gender for your woes?
In the ultimate scene – the one in which a woman is locked up in a cell for reporting her husband for domestic abuse – a policeman rants about feminism; “You better forget this your feministic nonsense! Your feminism is nothing but a house divided against itself – it cannot stand!”
At the very least, what passes for feminism these days in these parts leaves many a man/woman confused. As I shared in a conversation with renown poet Dami Ajayi after the play, the question I want to ask most is, where does feminism end and misandry begin?
That particular vignette (the one with the thrown-out wife) and Joy’s closing speech emphasized what I believe the entire play should have been more about in the first place; man is NOT the enemy. These things happen, no doubt – but have we taken a moment to truly understand WHY they happen? No matter what you think, both men and women are victims of a construct called society, a construct constructed by both genders. I mean, what do we say about a society that makes it a compliment when a woman grabs a man in a certain way, but makes it molest/assault when a man grabs a woman in the exact same way?
Joy, in closing mentioned the truth that “You won’t hear men insulting other men of having small penises. No, these insults come from women” a hard, uncomfortable and often overlooked truth, something she herself did, either consciously or otherwise, in the play. Therefore, instead of provoking empathy and understanding from the average male, it is more than likely to spark a defensive reaction; “I’m not like that! I don’t grab or beat women anyhow…and this is the issue with feminism!” or similar denial.
However skewed the overall perspective of the play is, it is a strong presentation by a talented cast, a cast that takes everything but itself seriously. They dance through the lines and scenes like a fully-functional human being would dance through a day; normal or otherwise. And I would be remiss to not mention the audience; they were, at least at my viewing, a very quiet and attentive audience, following every scene and word with what I hope was contemplative and not offended silence.
If Story of My Vagina achieves anything, I hope at the very least it sparks a conversation – a much-needed conversation about gender and the things that truly matter.
I can get behind that.
In a few hours we will be breathing 2017 air.
That’s absurd, isn’t it? Does God refresh the air just because it’s a new year? If your answer to that is like mine, you will agree that New Year resolutions are just as much bullshit as my opening line. If you make a change in your life, it will be because you see a need to, and therefore decide to, not because the number on your calendar changed. I mean, doesn’t the calendar date change EVERY FUCKING DAY?
But that isn’t the point.
The point is; I have laid out a 24-hour plan for the last day of the year. Yup, everything I planned to do this year that I didn’t do will be done in the next 24 – no, sorry, in the next 19 hours. I started to write this at 4:46am.
I intend to be done by 5am.
So – on my 32nd day – which is the day between today and tomorrow, I will finish the book I started this year. I will call the first girl I met this year and planned to date; I met her at some social gathering, collected her number and promised to call. I’ve been quite busy through the year (as usual) but tomorrow, I will call and ask her on a date.
I will take what’s left of what was supposed to be a two-week vacation which I cut short because some client called and because money is more important than peace of mind to me. I will take the remaining one week and two days and go far away, leaving behind my phone and laptop.
Okay. Maybe just the phone. I’ll take the laptop with me. I could be inspired, you see.
I will reply all the mails and text messages I got; especially those I intended to reply, the ones I thought I had replied only to find out I only did so in my imagination. I will call all the people I was supposed to, I will make out time – more time – for my little girl and take her everywhere I said I was going to. I don’t know if her mother and I will ever mean anything to each other again; but we can at least be friends. I will see what I can do about that.
I will get started on my gym membership; working out at home doesn’t quite seem to cut it anymore. I will clean my room twice over, lay the bed and actually get some proper sleep. I will visit all the new couples whose weddings I couldn’t attend for whatever reason(s). I will dance, and eat – and then, I will call a toast and drink to their health – after which I will eat a huge slice of cake. What does it matter the wedding is over?
I will dance with someone – preferably the girl I bumped into when I went jollying with Dami. I bumped into her from behind and she turned, probably thinking I wanted to dance with her. I shook my head, smiled and returned to my seat – and my gaze lingered long on the suppleness of her waist. I will dance with her, dance because my life depends on it – and for a moment, I will forget the roughness of what it means to be Nigerian and focus on the beauty of it.
I will order a really large order of what; I don’t know yet – but it will be food, real good food. And I will eat to my heart’s content, eat; not because I need it to survive or because my stomach is screaming for repast – but because I want to enjoy the meal for its own sake. I will eat, and then drink cold water and then pick my teeth and pat my belly and belch.
I will post this; post this post and then – oh shit. I was supposed to do that five minutes ago.
Anyhow. I will post this post, and then crawl onto my bed and stare at the ceiling and blame God for the lack for a 32nd December date and state that as my excuse for not doing any of the things I said I was going to do this year.
Yup. That’s my excuse.
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I consider myself privileged to be born at a time Nigeria is blessed with onscreen gods and goddesses like RMD, Joke Silva, Ireti Doyle, Sola Sobowale, Uncle Olu Jacobs, Stella Damasus, Frank Donga…
And then, someone went and put four of those people in the same movie. What did they (Kemi Adetiba ashually) think was going to happen?
The Wedding Party is a freshly-done ‘familiar’ movie that follows 24 hours in the life of a newly-wed couple and the drama that follows people from a background as colorful as the one the husband Dozie Onwuka (Banky W) comes from. He is the hapless husband, a retired playboy about to marry the love of his life, virgin Dunni Coker (Adesua Etomi). Of course, we know there are several exs (a ‘just there’ performance by Beverly Naya) lurking in the shadows determined to ruin Dunni’s day because they think she does not deserve Dozie. Of course we know the best man manages to throw some chaos into what would have been a normally peaceful day. Of course we know the groom’s family (actually the groom’s mother; Obianuju Onwuka (Ireti Doyle) thinks the bride’s family (Tinuade and Bamidele Coker; Sola Sobowale and Ali Baba respectively) are gold diggers. And truly, as the movie progresses, events conspire to agree with her.
Actually, it does appear that; while the bride and groom both come from money, the groom’s parents are more refined than the bride’s. But; the question of who is actually the better parent is clearly answered.
In spite of all the ‘expectedness’ however; The Wedding Party is arguably the best movie from Nigerian studios this year, and one of the best worldwide. That might seem like reaching, but when you follow a script that takes you on an even ride, climbing steadily and approaching the climax with skill, grace and finesse, you just have to applaud.
Masterfully combining humor with drama and emotion, the movie sails seamlessly from one scene to the next to the next. Frank Donga is still a master of deadpan humor as; after a small accident leaves the bride’s gown torn he asks seriously;
“Abi I should call my tailor?”
I can’t tell you who the star of the movie is; everybody shined. Banky W should win the ‘Revelation of the Year’ Award, he plays Dozie with the skill and conviction of a one-time bad boy determined to go straight. I assume he’s had enough practice via his music videos, plus he did go to film school at some point. Ikechukwu aka E-Kills also – he kills (see what I did there?) the role of the emergency best man. I did think his reactions appeared contrived at some point – but overall, he was a master. Sola Sobowale outshines Ireti Doyle; but that’s probably because we’ve been seeing Ireti as the ice queen more and more lately, while it has been a while Sola Sobowale graced our screens (or maybe I speak for just myself). But I tell you, Sola or Toyin Tomato was born for the owambe.
She can dance – and not just that, she can play mother of the bride to perfection. You know Yoruba people can love to party; Sola’s character portrays that trait beautifully. Ali Baba is her husband, and his acting too is a pleasant surprise. You have to know RMD is still the class act he was when we all fell in love with him all those years ago. The man delivers a sterling performance; making it clear that the flop ‘The Grudge’ movie was no fault of his – or Ireti’s for that matter.
To enjoy more RMD, please see Three Wise Men.
The entire cast is amazing; they looked like they were having fun even when things were spiraling out of control. There’s a white girl who stole every scene she was in; asking for amala and gbegiri at the wedding reception, throwing it down with a dance troupe Tinuade Coker arranged for the Onwukas. As an aside, you see the classic Ireti Doyle in that scene; the dancers come in, dressed in traditional attire and colors.
Tinuade Coker: *waves at the Onwukas* “We ordered them for you.”
Obianuju Onwuka: *disdain is written or her face* “They are Efik. We are Igbo.”
Tinuade Coker: *looks at her husband* “And so?”
Bamidele Coker: *looks at his wife* “What’s the difference? Is it not both South South?”
Kemi Adetiba’s attention to detail is impressive. Seemingly insignificant happenings come together to show a consistent thread through the movie. There’s quite a bit of color in the pomp and pageantry; people abandoning the unpronounceable meals the Onwukas provided for the local dishes Tinuade Coker and Iya Michael provided. Laugh follows laugh in this movie – and yet, the emotion and drama are well-balanced.
The Wedding Party is an enjoyable movie. Take your family, your friends – but if your relationship is a month or younger, don’t take le boo. Trust me, you either will get married or breakup; and neither should seem like an attractive option yet.
I’m just saying.
Wait. What’s that sound?
Sounds like….yes…footsteps where there shouldn’t be any –
I jerk awake like someone unexpectedly electrocuted. It’s 2:14am. I know because –
Wait. How do I know what time it is?
But that does not matter. I’m awake, and that is the time. I fell asleep barely twenty minutes ago trying to start writing an article I’m supposed to submit less than seven hours from now. I look at the notebook in front of me; it’s covered in scribbles and crossed out sentences.
My chest rises and falls as I sigh out loud in frustration. I thought sleep would help unlock whatever block it is I’m having – but no such luck. I’m still stuck.
Maybe my entire approach is the problem. How about I start from the bottom, and then make my way to the top –
“How about you leave that article alone, come over here and kiss me?”
I freeze; half from fear and half from confusion. There shouldn’t anybody here. I live alone. There shouldn’t be anybody here; least of all a woman, and most of all –
Yes; just as I thought. It is her.
“What are you doing here, Ese?”
She rises from the couch, raises her arms and fluffs her hair. Yeah; it is Ese for sure. She knows how that…that thing she does with the arms and the hair makes my belly tighten into a cold, hard knot. She used to do it to tease me in the beginning – and then, when wanted attention.
But she hadn’t done that in six months. Don’t worry, she isn’t dead. We just broke up.
She’s standing across the table from me, and it is painfully obvious that the filmy white shirt is the only thing she has on – at least, as far as her upper body goes. Her honey-brown skin gleams in the light from the rechargeable lamp to my right; it runs white light-fingers up and down her thighs.
Her thighs. I blink and repeat my question.
“You called me, lover. You said you were out of your medication and crawling up walls. You said you missed me, you said you just wanted to hear my voice. And then you hung up.” Her voice drops four octaves; she delivers the coup de grace.
“I missed you too, baby.”
“That’s impossible. I couldn’t have called you – not after what happened between us! I’m not crazy! I’m not – “
My voice fades in my throat; my questing hand had found my phone in my right pocket and I had been checking my calls log as I was speaking. But now, the evidence lay before my eyes in digital white;
And below that;
01:49am 18 Dec
But it is there no matter how hard I shake my head. She’s the only Ese I know; the other one is a friend’s sister and I have no reason to have her number. Speaking of numbers, I could have sworn I deleted hers from everything the day I dumped her six months ago.
This makes no sense.
I flinch as something warm touches my forehead. It is her hand, feeling my forehead for temperature of signs of a fever. Impatiently, I brush her hand away – but she puts it back immediately, and dumps herself in my lap. My eyes close (I swear I didn’t close them) as she rubs my temples gently; some curious heady scent streams from her cleavage and clouds my senses. I lay my head on her chest; it fits somewhere above her left breast like that is its home. The spirit is resistant but my body betrays me.
“Tell me about this article. What is it for?”
I start to tell her about an old boss who needs me to handle his company’s recruitment exercise. He wants me to come in, sit with the candidates and screen them. I intend to do something different.
“That plan is what makes it necessary for me to write this article. I want the candidates to be in a practical setting, instead of just answering a set of pre-prepared questions. But it’s proving harder than I – “
“No. Stop saying that. It is you; it is writing. Just writing. How hard could it be??”
She gets me. And that was the one thing that had scared me; made me end the relationship with her just after a particularly beautiful weekend. She got me.
“Can I have that kiss now?”
It maybe be imagination – but my mouth was pushing against hers; tongue pleading to be let in before she said the ‘now’ in that sentence.She tastes as good – no better; better than I remember.
Imagine having an endless supply of your favorite thing to chew on in your mouth. I mean, let’s say for instance you like gum. And so, someone somewhere gives you a piece of gum that never loses its flavor, never hardens too much or becomes sour. It remains as you like it for as long as you want it – and the moment you tire of it, it becomes everything it should be normally, so you can spit it out.
Kissing Ese is always like that; and nothing has changed.
She nibbles on my lower lip – and massages the slight sting with her tongue, alternating between the lip and the corner of my mouth. Her hands frame my face; I feel like a cup filled with the best ambrosia – or at least cold fruit wine about to be drunk by an excited princess. She holds me carefully and kisses me passionately; saying as much as an epistolary love letter with a simple touch of her lips.
By now, I was deep in the scent that seemed to be drugging me earlier – but instead of feeling sluggish and lethargic, all my senses are alive. I am so aware; I see tiny droplets of moisture as they appear, like magic on the tops of her creamy breasts. The silver necklace with the cross I gave her on her last birthday nestles softly in the curve of cleavage, moving gently with every caress. I hear her sighs. Her moans.
Embarrassingly, I hear mine too.
She moves her mouth away from mine and opens her eyes. She wipes my lips free of lipstick stains; she smiles in my face. “I miss that,” she says softly and continues to wipe. I don’t know what to do with my eyes so I close them.
I feel her hands move away from my face and I look at her. “Now write,” she says, straightening her blouse, fluffing her hair and stepping away from me. “I’ll be over there,” she says, pointing to the couch. “Call if you need anything.”
Her…em…her derriere moves gently as she walks away. I clear my throat, pick up my red pen –
And just like that, I jerk awake like someone unexpectedly electrocuted. It’s 4:12 am. I know because –
Wait. How do I know what time it is?
But that does not matter. I’m awake, and that is the time. I fell asleep barely twenty minutes ago trying to start writing an article I’m supposed to submit less than seven hours from now. I look at the notebook in front of me; it’s covered in scribbles and –
It is covered in words; words of a perfectly-written article.
My glance shifts to the couch; but of course there’s no one there. The heady scent is gone too; I don’t smell of perfume or woman smells. I must have dreamed the whole episode.
Except that –
Except that my lips tingle, like someone – like a woman wiped them with her fingers after smearing them with lipstick. It’s happened many times before, so I know what it feels like.
My phone is lying just beside my hand. I pick it up and look through my call log. Of course, the last call I made is to my ex-boss to promise delivery of the article. I sigh – and then smile.
And then, I power up my laptop. There’s work to be done.
But as I type, I cannot help but think about a girl who got me so much she unnerved me, and I pushed her away for doing nothing wrong except loving me. And my fingers falter on the keyboard; my sight blurs.
And after six months I allow myself the luxury of tears.
When NEPA strikes and it feels like you’re stuck,
Hot, sticky and network sucks,
Know that –
Know that I love you,
And that’s enough
When you don’t have data and can’t browse,
When there’s nothing but a frown between your brows,
Be sure –
Be sure I love you,
Erase your doubts
When your ATM card is just an ornament, you’re broke,
And it’s hard to smile – you’re a quarter past broke
Reach out –
Reach and confirm, I love you,
Read these words I quote
When the past seems to intrude on the present,
Making lies of all the gifts; the present
Unwrap this –
Unwrap this package; I love you
That should make all the difference
And when, a few days to; you develop cold feet
I understand; marrying me is a feat,
Be brave –
Be brave; I love you
I’m with you all the way; victory or defeat
I know you no longer eat for one but two
You don’t have to try to please me too,
Just let me –
Let me do for you; I love you
Put your feet up darling, I’ll feed you
And when, you’re old, grey and all wrinkly,
You’ll still never have to ask; ‘hug me’
Baby, I love you
Whether young, old or dying
Say you love me too.
We will be talking about one of the things that matter to me the most:
You can tune in and be a part of the program – from ANYWHERE in the world.
Make it a date. I will be expecting to hear from you.
Thank you for the support!