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When faced with daunting writing tasks–including this one–that call upon me to convey uniqueness and summon eloquence, I have sought the assistance of a higher source: Intelligent Life. They beckoned to me from neon-bordered pages: Leaders whose policies were defining history; Russia’s biggest rock star; A cultural history of the porch. On the day I ventured to write this essay I had read an article about the return of Birkenstocks and the fashion industry’s current penchant for the banal. I not only realized that my personal “style” was temporarily enjoying proximity to a far greater mass of consensus, but also that I did have a captivating story to tell.
Mine begins with a traditional coffee table and four tomes which were heaped upon it. Two of these were photo-biographies of Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama, respectively. The third was a modern account of African exploration by Kingsley Holgate. The fourth was not to be considered a tome, but the complexity of the socio-cultural topics displayed on its cover dissuaded me from reading it as a child. However, the absence of electricity at home nor school activities during the scorching harmattan months compelled me to return . I discovered a magazine named Intelligent Life and the stories of a thousand global voices in between its unassuming pages. Regardless of race, gender, or creed, the subjects of these articles propounded a single message: “We all own the great ideas!”. I was eleven. Like most budding adolescents, I was struggling to define my identity. My personal conflict cut across the planes of nationality, gender, and faith. I was an African child in a British school and I had begun to take a keen interest in nuclear fission reactions whereas my country, Nigeria, could hardly muster the resources to sustain basic, petroleum-based energy systems.
Months passed, and ,inevitably, years too. The more copies of Intelligent Life I devoured, the less I felt the need to conform to pre-existing standards. I was a Nigerian girl who constantly argued the potentials of agro-based lignocellulosic wastes and prized Chinua Achebe novels as much as I did Oasis albums. I held my head of intricate cornrows no higher than that of my friend, Fatima, who wore the hijab, whereas differences such as these plunged my country into civil unrest. No mould existed for me and never would. Rather, there was a specific need my unique skill set could meet: creating sustainable solutions to satisfy the developmental needs of businesses and individuals.
Thus empowered, I began to forge my own path. I presented a project on the conversion of chicken wastes to biodiesel with a partner at the National Junior Engineers Technologists and Scientists (JETS) competition, winning the District Award. I donned a toga and gnashed and wailed in a dramatic monologue performance of ‘Contentment’ by Oliver Wendell Holmes. I stood as the Nigerian finalist at the EF Global Founders’ Scholarship and presented a portfolio of ideas that could improve the world and won the grand scholarship award worth 50,000 USD.
Months passed, and ,inevitably, years too. Due to rising importation costs, Intelligent Life gradually disappeared from Nigerian newsstands and, ultimately, my life. About five months ago I set out to find the publication which had greatly shaped my character. Instead, I discovered a death. Intelligent Life had been relaunched as 1843 magazine and this newer model mostly offered digital content. Although I miss the crinkle of the page, I regularly peruse the 1843 magazine website to broaden my perspective of the world. And to gain inspiration for great essays, too.
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