I played a Nigerian Bride In #TheBiggestWeddingShoot Ever

Okay!!! For those of you who follow me on social media, you might have seen my post about my new hobby – modelling. I played the role of the bride in the #BiggestWeddingShootEver, directed by the incredibly talented stylist and jeweler, Gbenga Artsmith, in collaboration with a number of other fabulous vendors (full list below). It even got featured on Bella Naija today.  Mama, I am arriving gradually 🙂 

I think I'd make a gorgeous bride *blush*
I think I’ll make a gorgeous bride *blush*

I have gotten numerous congratulatory messages and phone calls from people I know and people who I have not even spoken to in ages. I am gladly accepting the congratulations and keeping them for the not-so-distant future when it will be actually real. (Baba God, pick up, pick up!)

Disclaimer: I only met the ‘groom’ on the day of the photoshoot, and I have not seen him since then. He was so shy (hahahahaha) but he did a great job. I have newfound respect for actors. Playing make believe is not the easiest job in the world.

Kemi O takes on modelling

Pretending to be sooo happy! Lol
Pretending to be sooo happy! Lol

Why did I do the shoot? I could not let an opportunity to play dress up and get a free photoshoot pass me by, lol. Okay, I kid. I did it because I thought it would be interesting to express a different side of me, the side that likes to act. I did because I was trying to keep my dream alive.

You see, I have always had a love for drama – not TV, but stage. I am called a drama queen every now and again by my close friends. Right from my primary school days, I have always been a member of the drama and arts club. The only person that could see right through my acting back then was my Mum. Mama Kemi for CIA President.

In secondary school, I continued my acting career with the high point being when I played the leading role as Ogwoma in Zulu Sofola’s ‘Wedlock of the gods’. (Fun fact: Zulu Sofola is the first published female playwright from Nigeria). I remember spending my entire mid-term break rehearsing my lines. I remember falling ill with a fever the day of the performance and how I insisted on going on stage regardless. I remember how the fever disappeared as soon as I got on stage and I remember the feeling of fulfillment that overwhelmed me as the curtains fell (okay, they were manually drawn by my classmates) and the audience gave a deafening round of applause. I think I cried sef. Yes, I am one of those people who cry when they are too happy for words!

Behind the scenes
Behind the scenes, feeling like a Princess

I am not sure what happened in University but between classes, tutorials, planning and executing events and trying to look good for the boys (just keeping it real, hehe), I managed to act only once in the 4 years I spent there.

After graduation, in a bid to keep the acting dream alive, I joined an independent theatre house called ‘Dream Play House’ (Ifeanyi Dibia, where are you?). We had big plans and several scripts lined up but between work and life, I managed not to get on stage. In 2010, we worked on a play called “To Love a Ghost” written by Ita Hozaife, but the closest I got to getting on stage was hosting the red carpet interviews. Close enough, NOT!

On the red carpet with Ita Hozaife
On the red carpet with Ita Hozaife

When I realized I might not get on stage anytime soon, I decided to continue to fan the flames of that dying dream by indulging in watching plays at Terra Kulture at least once a month. I don’t even want to calculate how much I have spent on theatre viewings. I remember saving up to watch Lion King on Broadway, Fela on Broadway, and other shows. I am always the first person to go and watch a musical (Saro, Waka, etc) or any other plays showing in Lagos. Every time I sit in the audience at such shows, I am inspired and reminded of my dream to be on stage.  I am not on stage yet – but I will get there. In the meantime though, I know that my life is a stage and everyday I am given the gift of life, I have the opportunity to play any character that I want. I could be Kemi the Consultant, Kemi the Ajala Traveller, Kemi the Aspiring Dancer, Kemi the Coach, Kemi the Writer, and now, Kemi the Model.

This is not my real face, lol
This is not my real face, lol
One of my first attempts at modelling -circa 2012
One of my first attempts at modelling -circa 2012

This photoshoot was my attempt to revive that dream of being on stage. An attempt to rekindle the flames of acting. I figured playing the role of a bride would be quite challenging as I had never been one before. The shoot was fun and it was quite a challenge too. Try looking happy to be with someone you have only just met. Try smiling when your ears hurt like crazy from the pain of gele. Try being joyful when you can imagine your mother’s voice asking you ‘’ta ni eleyi’ (who  is this? ) as she sees the pictures on Instagram (yup, Mama Kemi is on Instagram o, hehehehehe). Try giving the photographer a genuine smile for the 50th time. I really had to overcome my shyness, my fear of what people would say and the random congratulatory messages,  and just give the shoot my best shot! And I think I slayed it, if I must say so myself.

Suffering and smiling
Suffering and smiling

Do you have any dreams that are comatose, lying low or dead? I don’t think dreams die, they might have been asleep for a looong time but they don’t die. Fan the flames of your dreams today. Whatever it takes, keep your dreams alive. Keep your eye on the prize, don’t let your dream die. Step by step, little by little, poco a poco, you will get there. 

Cheers,

Kemi

Credits:

1st outfit: Asooke @ceomaniaalasooke, Makeup @doyinadunfe, Jewelry/Styling @gbengaartsmith, Photography @raremagic_gallery Event decoration @lavishbymichelleevents

Second outfit by @teethreads, Fabric from @remio.fabrics, Lemon green asooke gele @depeju_tribesasooke

p.s – I now know that I will not wear 2 geles (head-ties) on my wedding day. The pain I felt when the second gele was being tied was deep. I didn’t know when I started crying. I wonder how all these brides do it and still smile and look happy. Respect!

p.p.s – Photoshoots take forever!!!!! Why???

p.p.s – No more free photoshoots o! Henceforth, I will be accepting payments in cash and goods. Thank you!

My YALI experience with Uncle Barack and Aunty Michelle Obama in the USA

In 2014, I got an opportunity of a lifetime to hang out with the first Black president of the most powerful country in the World, Uncle Barack and his enthralling wife, Aunty Michelle Obama. Yup – you read that correctly. I got to see President Obama in person, and got a hug from Michelle Obama. No, it was not on Google hangout or via Skype, it was real! Live and direct, in the flesh, with my ‘korokoro’ eyes and actual hands, I saw and hugged Michelle. I am sure you get the point now.

You might wonder how I got this rare opportunity to hang out with one of the most admired couples in modern history who have continued to give us #couple goals year in, year out. You might wonder if I really mean it when I say that spending time with the Obamas was not even the highlight of this experience. The real kicker on my YALI experience was the opportunity of spending 6 weeks with 24 amazing young Africans from 17 countries, and being instructed on matters of public governance at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Minnesota, one of the top 10 schools of Public Policy in the United States.

With my classmates at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and Congressman Keith Ellison
With my classmates at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and Congressman Keith Ellison

I want to help you stop wondering, by telling you all about this fantastic opportunity for everyday Africans to develop the skills and networks needed to build brighter futures for our communities, our countries and our Africa.

YALI is an acronym for the Young African Leaders Initiative, an initiative launched by President Barack Obama in 2010 to support young African leaders as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa. Quite a mouthful I know, but a very value-adding mouthful.
The first major programme of YALI which I was lucky to be part of was the Mandela Washington Fellowship, an initiative to bring together 500- 1,000 young African leaders between ages 25 -35, across civic organizations, private sector businesses and public sector institutions for six weeks of academic coursework, leadership training and networking at U.S. universities. The last part of the program, a Summit held in Washington DC, was led by President Obama and other leaders from the public and private sectors across the U.S.

With former U.S VP Walter Mondale
With former U.S. VP Walter Mondale

 

Before I go on, I want to let you know (just in case you did not know) that YALI 2017 applications are currently open on this page here and will close on October 26,2016. There is a LOT of information on the website about eligibility, selection criteria, how to apply, tips to strengthen your application, etc, so I encourage you to go and explore the website. I would have done copy and paste for you but I don’t want to be accused of plagiarism – it’s too early in my blogging career to be entering trouble, lol.

Sometime toward the end of 2013, I heard about the fellowship through a very good long time friend of mine Stephanie Obi (Hi Steph, e-hugs and kisses to you),a beautiful soul and online courses expert who teaches women how to package their knowledge, skills and life experiences into profitable online courses so that they can be free to do what they really love. Trust me when I say that the quality of information you get is closely related to the quality of your network (your people network, not mobile phone network, lol). She knew about my continuous search for personal development programs and knew I would probably be interested so she sent me a blog post link to the advertisement and asked me to check it out.

I read up the information on the website and the very first thought that crossed my mind was ‘naa, they are not looking for people like me. This is for really accomplished and established people doing great things already’. Then I read the questions and the spirit of laziness set in ‘ah ahn, this is too much work please. Aint nobody gat time for this’.  I must admit that I was wrong thinking that way.

First, the Fellowship is not looking for already-made superstars who are making impact in the public sector, private sector or social sectors. No, the Fellowship is looking for young, passionate Africans, who want to make an impact or change in their respective sectors. People who want to be solution providers, people who want to move from whining and complaining, to doing and giving, people who have decided that there is no backup plan for them and so Africa must work and rise to its full potential. The Fellowship is looking for people who have started taking steps (no matter how small) towards their dreams and goals of a new Africa (a new Nigeria or our respective countries), and need some training/education to be equipped for those assignments. The premise of the Fellowship is that the solutions to Africa’s challenges lie among Africans, and the program’s intervention is really about equipping young Africans with the skills, resources and networks they need to bring those practical solutions to life and make change happen in their immediate communities and countries.

The Fellowship is looking for people who will be selfless enough not to keep this valuable experience to themselves but come back home to share the insights and knowledge they have gained with other young people who could not participate directly in the program. The YALI Network is a platform that goes beyond Mandela Washington Fellows and includes a wide network of young change leaders. Essentially, the Fellowship needs YOU!

With classmates outside the Minnesota Legislature Building after a private tour

I finally got over my initial inertia and laziness with regards to completing the application a few days to the closing date. Not cool, if you ask me. I put myself and the ‘poor’ people I selected to be the reviewers for my essays under a lot of unnecessary pressure due to the really short timelines. This is why I recommend you start the application earlier, rather than later. Don’t be like me – be smarter and be kinder to yourself and your reviewers.

I had to take time out to think deeply about the 3 questions (now, they have 6 questions – sorry) and just write out all my thoughts. I had to dig deep to think about all my experiences and begin to write down my thoughts. In my opinion, writing a long rambling essay is easy but trying to make major sense in 150-200 words is not. That said, you will be surprised how much you can uncover when you take the time to dig deep into your past experiences. That seemingly random volunteering exercise you participate in in your estate or on your street, that community outreach project you did in church, that difficult project at work – all those experiences are part of your story. Do not discount them- you will be amazed at how important they can become as you fill out your application.

If you need some more help, there are tons of resources on the YALI website, within the YALI Network, on the YALI Network Nigeria Facebook Page and at the various YALI rollout events happening across Nigeria.

I will not be able to finish this post without talking about a few of the exceptional people I met during my YALI experience. Starting with my amazing classmates at the Humphrey School – the Zambian entomologist working with cotton farmers to empower them, the future First Lady of Zambia who does great work with the Youth and Sports ministry, my long-lost Burundian twin who runs a leadership academy in addition to running 2 airtime businesses, the Cape-Verdean guy who wants to run for Mayor in a few years,(now you all know who I am going to visit in CV), the Seychellen Member of Parliament who schooled me on how laws are really really made, the Swati prince who patiently explained the similarities and differences between South Africa and Swaziland to me, a Namibian beauty queen, my South African champ working on integrated infrastructure that will bridge socio-economic gaps, the Ethiopian scholar who is investing his life to affordable housing, and so many more amazing people that I cannot mention here due to space constraints including my brothers and sisters from the Nigerian contingent. I have very fond memories of my time with these people and a good number of them have remained good friends till date. My kids will have exotic godparents and ‘cousins’ from all corners of Africa.

With some of the beautiful MWF Nigeria ladies
With some of the MWF Nigeria ladies

So, if this opportunity resonates with you and you’d like to give it a shot, get started on it right away. Don’t think you can do it next year – who knows who will be in the White House next year! Act now – procrastination is not only the thief of time, but the murderer of opportunities. I cannot even begin to tell you how many things I missed or almost missed because of procrastination. Deep Sigh.

During your bathroom breaks at work today, actively think on your experiences and start penning down your thoughts on your phone notepad app (please abeg, remember to wash your hands after  and wipe your phone too). Open up that Microsoft Word document or Google doc and start writing. Take it to the Lord in prayer to ask if this is the right thing for you to do (but still apply anyway). Just start your application today! Applications close in exactly 2 weeks on October 26 – delay is dangerous! Grab your copy NOW!!! All the best! Make me proud 🙂

Cheers,

Kemi

p.s – Not every time play, sometimes serious work

p.p.s – I got my first TV interview (and so far, the only TV interview) when I got back from the Fellowship (Pt 1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYqoYFA3ruI

Pt 2 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0-SVy9vatA

Pt 3 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAFVinqCzmk

Pt 4 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7kHvtu-s6Y )