The Africa We See
May 25, 2022·
5 min read
“I’m sorry. I’m afraid we can’t grant your loan request at this time.”
The loan officer’s words echo in my head all through my journey back home from the bank. I can see her smile in my mind’s eye too: a stretch of lips over her teeth that did very little to hide the pity in her eyes. I don’t blame her; I would pity me too.
5 million Naira.
That’s all that stands between me and the life of my dreams, right now. On the other side of that amount, there is accepting the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend one of the most prestigious art schools in the world. There’s doing what I’ve always wanted to do with my life - painting - and not having to worry about bills. But all these things are on the other side of 5 million Naira. And here I am, on this side. Stuck.
See, I hate banks. On a normal day, they’re stressful enough to deal with whether or not you have to go to the banking hall. The other day, I had a failed transaction that took them months to resolve. Now, I need a loan and the collateral they’re asking for is outrageous. Don’t even get me started on the interest rate. To make matters worse, this is the “advice” the loan officer gave me after rejecting me.
“My dear, my advice to you is to try and start a business. In my experience, it’s easier for small businesses to get these loans and the interest rates are not so bad. In fact, recently, my niece was in this predicament and…”
I had zoned out as she started talking about how her niece started selling hair on Instagram to sponsor her Master’s degree abroad. On the outside, I was nodding politely and making listening noises but, on the inside, my brain had turned into a big question mark. Now, I don’t know much about business, but I do know that it takes a while for small businesses to break even and become profitable. I don’t have the luxury of time. Even if I defer my admission, it’s unlikely that I can defer my scholarship. Let’s just say some miracle happens and I can do both, who’s to say the exchange rate wouldn’t have skyrocketed and I wouldn’t need twice the amount I need now? All this even ignores the elephant in the room: I don’t know anything about starting, running or sustaining a business. The lady meant well, but she might as well have told me to give up on my dreams.
I have to snap out of my reverie to navigate the muddy, puddle-ridden street where the two-bedroom apartment I share with my sister is located. When I finally get into the house, I sink into the couch in the living room and have a good cry. At some point, I’m no longer just crying about not receiving the loan, I’m crying about everything: studying a course I didn’t enjoy in university because it was a “practical” choice, moving in with my sister because my parents couldn’t afford to put me through university, being in university way longer than four years because of the incessant strikes, the fact that the mud outside just stained my favourite pair of shoes.
Eventually, the tears give way to a quiet numbness and that soon gives way to sleep.
In this state, I am transported to an ideal world.
In this world, I don’t have to worry about loans and exchange rates and pitying smiles because my country has invested intentionally in the arts - enough to build one of the most prestigious art schools in the world, right in the heart of Lagos. That way, I don’t need to leave the shores of my country to study what I am passionate about.
This world is so perfect that I don’t even hate banks - and that’s saying something! - because my bank actually cares about me. They care about actively helping me build a healthy relationship with my money and not just adding another customer to their already long line of disgruntled ones. They help me make my money work for me. They keep me and my money safe.
In this world, I can start a business on my own terms, in my own time, with a true purpose and not just because I want to make a quick buck. And I can start that business, knowing that I can easily access the support I need to grow and scale it into something I can truly be proud of.
In this world, my ambition is properly catered to so I can focus on other aspects of my life. In this world, I can dream without fear and my dreams have room - ample room - to fly.
In this world, I make a meaningful impact and my contributions to society actually count.
I hear the thundering sound of a knock on the apartment door. It jolts me back to reality.
God! It’s my sister’s landlord.
“What is it this time?”, I grumble. But my frustration is short-lived as I reminisce on the content of my dream.
The ideal world is possible and I’m going to spend the rest of my days building it.
Watch our World of Access video where we spotlight the power of the African spirit to dream and to do.