She is a wife and a mother; a blogger and author of the Desperate Naija Woman Diaries; a blog-to-book series about her life and relationship with God. Abimbola Essien-Nelson aka ‘Salt’ is a role model to African women seeking to balance a career, raise a family, serve God and yet undertake other extracurricular pursuits! For Salt, blogging is a mental spa to unburden the weighty issues of life; “I want people to come to my spa and leave knowing they are not alone in their struggles to be authentic Christians,” she says. She also shares her time-tested tips for organising her many pursuits, overcoming challenges and stepping out of her comfort zone to do the seemingly impossible!
As you head into a new week, be sure to learn from Salt’s experiences which I dare to encapsulate thus; ‘Obey God, and live life according to His leading.’
KA: You have a white collar job, and still manage to run a home, blog and publish books… what is your secret?
Bola E-N: God is my Secret PLUS for as long as I can remember, I have always used a ‘To Do list’ to plan my days (even my weekends). Yes, I work with a daily list of things that I want to do in that ONE day and what you will find is that as I take care of those daily goals, I end up accomplishing 80 to 90% of my main goals for the year plus some things that I never even thought I would do. And you know, for fifteen years of my life I worked as a Personal Assistant organising other people’s lives. There is no way God would have given me the gift without ensuring that it would work for me. If I may say so myself, I am a very organised person. You can ask my husband aka mighty good man [mgm;] *Laughs* Be that as it may, as a working mom and wife, I am juggling so many balls at the same time and sometimes, I drop one or two. The key thing is to realise that and go pick them up again. As God is helping me, I am getting better and better at juggling…….
KA: Take us on your blogging journey? How and why did you decide to put yourself out there online?
Bola E-N: Okay, I began blogging on the 14th of January 2009. You see how I remember the exact date? That’s because I see this date as pivotal to who I am today and what I do. I have always loved writing and one day I shared this with a lady I met just by sending her feedback about her column in the Lawyer’s section of This Day – Funmi Akinnosi. She encouraged me to do something more with my love by sending me the link to Blogger. I created a blog – The Diary of a Desperate Naija Woman and as they say, the rest is history! That blog became and still is my mental spa. A place I go to relax my mind, to unburden, to share my journey as a woman desperately seeking Christlikeness. When I started the blog I really did not think anyone would go visit it and so I was always free to be real with my issues. When it became clear that I would be publishing my blogs, this was something I had to work out with God. Long story short, God told me the lives of people who would read and be positively impacted by my ‘genuine-ness’ was more important that my ‘PR’ (Personal Reputation)! He promised to be my cover and I tell you, he has not failed me once. There is so much that is ‘fake’ around us and I really would rather not contribute my own quota to it. If I cannot be real about anything, then I would rather be quiet. I want people to come to my spa and leave knowing they are not alone in their struggles to be authentic Christians.
KA: In a world that has awakened to online writing in a huge way, how do you stand out and make a difference?
Bola E-N: You know I was about to say it might be better to ask blog followers and commentators how I stand out for them but another superior answer dropped into my spirit as I was about to speak. By the grace of God, I stand out because I am ‘Salt’. There is no other Bola ‘Salt’ Essien-Nelson out there. God has created just one of me so my style of blogging cannot be copied and that is how I stand out. This is why it is important not to try to be or do anyone else. How I make a difference? How do I add value to the people around me? I do so by speaking out! I make a difference by not allowing anything mute my God-given voice. I believe I have something to say that will positively impact people and as God helps me, I shall say it. My objective is really simple. If one person, just one person comes to my blog today and reads something that made him/her think about their walk with Christ or decide to be a better version of who they are or just smiles at something I have written, if that happens, then I have made a difference. If I can get just one person on a daily basis to chase God more intently, I am good.
KA: From Desperate Naija Woman to Salt… What’s in a name?
Bola E-N: Names are very important especially in our culture and even more so for me as a Christian because I believe that a name is sort of like a blueprint for what one is meant to or going to be. In 2009 when I began blogging, I came up with the blog title, The Diary of a Desperate Naija Woman, because that is what my space was going to be: The online journal or diary of a Nigerian woman desperate to be like Jesus Christ. It was that simple really. Now, in January 2012, God himself gave me a new name. He called me Salt. The first name was self-given; the second, God-given and that makes it very special to me. God gave me that name in response to my despondency about my spiritual state at the time. I had fallen so horribly that I wanted to just give up and ‘free fall’ into hell basically *smiling wryly*. But God would not let me. I called myself trash. He said I was Salt. Today, I hold on to this name with all my heart because it’s not just a name to me. It’s a daily reminder of God’s love and mercy AND a divine affirmation of who I am and what my purpose in this life is now: To add ‘flavoursome’ value to the world around me via my writing and any other way God chooses for me to do so.
KA: We like to have some background on our stars…who is Bola Essien-Nelson? What’s her ethnicity? Where was she educated and what did she study? What does family mean to her?
Bola E-N: I am from Ekiti State by birth but from Akwa-Ibom by marriage and the food you will eat should you visit my home will attest to the truth that I have lost all my Yoruba-ness completely *laughing*. You will find Afang soup and Ekpan Kukwo and not one smidgen of Ewedu soup! I spent the five best years of my academic life at Queens College Yaba from where I went on to the University of Uyo in Akwa-Ibom where I acquired a degree in French and a husband! *laughing*. Yes, I met my husband in my year 2. We both obtained our Master’s degrees from the University of Ibadan.
There is a Yoruba saying that basically says the ‘People are the cloth we tie around us’. This is how I see my family especially my immediate family: My mgm and my three children. I call them my four reasons for being. God uses them to ‘make sense’ of my life. God uses them to make my ordinary life extraordinary. God gives us family so that we can use them as an outlet for the love He pours out on us. This is how I see the equation: Only after you come to a place where you fully understand how much God loves you can you truly love yourself. Only if you love yourself can you love anyone, your family included. And only until you show your immediate family love can you truly go out there and love the ‘family’ God has placed in the world around you.
KA: Given your proclivities, did it ever occur to you that someday, people would refer to you as a ‘Writer?’
Bola E-N: Never and I mean it. At no point in my life, from the age of 10 to 40 years old, did I ever think I would publish a book. So it just goes to show that sometimes you don’t even have to know what your life goals are, you just have to do what you love to do and trust God! In his mercies, He will put all the puzzles of your life together and even you will be surprised at the outcomes.
KA: What informed your decision to go from blog-to-book?
Bola E-N: Somewhere around August 2009 or so people began saying I needed to do something with my blogs but I did not pay them any attention because I am very careful not to allow myself believe ‘my own press’. But I did decide that I would publish the blogs in a book form as a keepsake for my children but then God came knocking and basically commanded the book into being. I was to publish them and I was not even allowed to edit out any of my ‘stuff’. And the rest, as they say, is history. So, the idea to publish for the public was really a God thing.
KA: How many books have you authored? Are they all blog-books? Is there anything new in the pipeline?
Bola E-N: There are three books in ‘The Diary of a Desperate Naija Woman’ series, in the year 2009, 2010 and the last one, 2011. These three were all blog to books in the same diary/journal format. I also published a collection of poems that doubled as an interactive prayer journal titled ‘Pride Must Die & Other Random Poetic Musings of a Desperate Naija Woman’. I am very excited about my new book coming out next month [August 2013] by God’s grace. It’s titled True Confessions. It is not in the diary format and is not like anything I have done before. The main part of this book is a collection of stories for grown-ups that I call Salt Fables. I thoroughly enjoyed writing them and I am hoping people will enjoy reading them.
KA: You once had a bookshop for Nigerian female authors; what became of that venture?
Bola E-N: Yes, the NaijaSistas Bookshop. I miss that little haven! It is currently on recess. I do hope to re-open it sometime in the future. I was juggling too many balls back then and I needed to let some balls go and re-focus.
KA: Talking about women, what are your thoughts on the raging issue of underage marriage in Nigeria?
Bola E-N: I am totally, with every fibre of my being against under age ‘anything’ talk less of marriage. I think for me, what hurts the most is how blind these people are to the physical abuse they are inflicting on these children over and beyond the actual act of having sex with these babies. Do they not see how many of our young girls are living with the effects of being pregnant and having babies before their bodies can cope with this? How does anybody stand up and say this is right? I don’t get it and I am prepared to stand with right minded people to fight this crazy law that more or less legalises paedophilia and child abuse!
KA: How can Nigeria and Africa grow beyond such religious and societal malaise in your opinion?
Bola E-N: That is a big question and I honestly don’t know the answer but let me try. When it comes to the religion part, I think what we need more of is Tolerance. So I believe this, you don’t. Fine. You believe that, I don’t. Be OK with that too. At the end of the day, we shall both meet our Makers and it will be settled then. Mix in with Tolerance a little genuine love and respect for others, things will get better. Societal malaise? Where do we even begin? Greed, Lawlessness, Corruption and Bad Leadership! All around and at all levels! Until people begin to see people being put in jail for their wrong doings, until leaders begin to think more about the people than their own pockets, until we the people begin to fear God…until we get people in Aso Rock that will fear only God and not man and rule decisively over this nation……..I don’t know how we shall move on…..And same goes for all the other African countries because truth is our ailments are all the same. I guess I didn’t really answer your question, did I? Sorry….one thing for sure, I will continue to pray for Nigeria and for Africa……
KA: Life is full of challenges, and of the overcoming of challenges, a writer once opined; what has been your greatest challenges to attaining your purpose, and how did you overcome them?
Bola E-N: I hate challenges as believe it or not I am not a fan of change. But the truth is most change comes via some form of challenge or another. So I agree with your statement and at the end of the day, a life without challenges will be quite boring. No test, no testimony, right? Looking back now, I can honestly say that most of the really tornado like challenges I have encountered in life have actually made me who I am. How did I overcome them? I chose to. It’s always a choice. Of course, initially, I wallowed in self pity and defeat but God being my helper, he dragged me up and made me see my ‘way out’. But he could only show me, I had to choose to walk through the door. I have also grown to be able to recognise the truth is this simple quote I keep on my desk; Today is the Yesterday I was anxious about, yet all is well! Things will always come up as only the dead live challenge free but God has promised me that nothing will come my way that He has not already given me the ability to overcome through Jesus Christ and I believe him.
KA: From your experience, is it safe to say that one should never be restricted by their degrees/professional qualifications?
Bola E-N: Absolutely! You should never be restricted by anything or anyone. What God has put inside each and every one of us goes way beyond anything we can get from man. Did I study writing in school? Did I attend any creative writing school? Did I ever train to speak in public or acquire any degree in Human Resources? No! No! No! But look at where I am today. All of it is God so while it is good to go to school and I cannot over state the importance of a sound education, still we must know that God does not need any of that do what he wants with, in and through us.
KA: Life is…
Bola E-N: Beautiful. Regardless
KA: Inspire an African Youth with one sentence…
Bola E-N: You have a God-given ‘Voice’. Please don’t let anyone or anything mute it.