They provoke a double take having in a world seen as men’s, chosen to earn a living doing ‘women’s work.’ In this report, Waka About Africa walks into the hearts of these special breeds and reveals what makes them tick.
His business address is not on a highbrow area of Lagos State. In fact, such places hold little or no attraction to his kind of business. And, without a business name with which to remember his trade or a roof overhead to serve need for corporate branding, residents of Abule-Egba, a suburb of Oke-Odo local government council of Lagos State coined the name, Puff-Puff Stand, a traditional Nigerian food similar to a doughnut. Strategically located at a corner of the Abule-Egba – Command road, off the ever-busy Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, Lagos, Puff-Puff Stand is one business point everyone fights so very hard to look away from. Conspicuous as it is increasingly popular due to the enticing aroma oozing out from the forever stewing puff-puff and customer traffic, everyday on ends, it has continued to serve the food needs of travelers and people doing business in the vicinity, 10 years on.
Welcome to Jibola Oladunjoye’s world. Trained as a fashion designer, Oladundoye, 23, has since put the sewing trade on the waiting mode as, according to him, “puff-puff is what I do for a living now.”
In an interview with Waka About Africa, the Ona Ara locaI government council in Oyo State, Nigeria-born school certificate holder, described his work as tasking and challenging, but says it puts food on his table all the same. “Having food on the table is the reason we strive so hard in life. Everything we do is about the stomach. It is the most important thing of all,” Oladunjoye says. “I started this puff-puff business at Idumota market in Lagos State more than 10 years ago shortly after my secondary education. Having known that without a degree in Nigeria, you cannot get a good job; even as I am aware also that those with chains of degrees can hardly get a well-paying job, I persuaded myself to seek ways of surviving outside the paid job circle. I was actually doing well at Idumota market, but was compelled to relocate due to undue extortion from street urchins, who tax people doing business in the market as if they were slave masters,” he tells our reporter.
For Oladunjoye, the first in a family of four, the puff-puff business is not all smiles. Indeed, as with all other business ventures, his is not without challenges. If eking out a living on the roadside has been rough and tough, staying close, willy-nilly, to a stewing oil everyday of the week, has only added to the discomfort. Yet that is the least of all Oladunjoye’s worries. His main is defined either by the dry or wet seasons. “Really,” he says, “it’s a hard job. When it rains, we begin to run helter-skelter. It is even worse when it is dry season as you can see. We take all the heat from the sun. It takes perseverance to do this kind of business; not just because people look at you differently being a man, but mostly because of the trouble involved. But we are made up to earn a decent living,” he says.
Many thanks to Habib Abiodun, Oladunjoye’s business partner, who by helping him mix the baking flour, has brought a little relief his way, every business day. He describes Abiodun as a brother and partner. “We share the burdens of the business together. We live together in the same apartment and watch each other’s back. That is how close we are,” he tells Waka About Africa. While he could not be drawn into revealing the business’ peak or off periods, Oladunjoye, who cuts the picture of an extrovert as opposed to Abiodun, shy and reserved, says they make between N1, 500 to N2, 000 daily. “All I do is to always ensure I save at least N800 every day. This is because apart from my plans to go back to fashion designing later in life, I have a younger dependent in school.”
Tough, the puff-puff business, Oladunjoye says, but he is enjoying it. “We resume here every day at 12 noon and close at nine in the evening. It is not easy but my joy is that working hard has made me responsible as a young man.” Indeed, while Oladunjoye’s work may not come cheap for a man, it will probably place miles away from the everyday routine of men, who work in beauty parlours. Lucky Odeh is one of them
His outfit, Lucky Hair Braids, located in Ikeja, the capital of Lagos is a beehive of activities, including women who make up over 89 percent of his clients.
Unlike Oladunjoye, who abandoned what probably qualified as his first love, Odeh confessed to loving the beauty work. “I have always loved anything related to beauty and fashion. So, for him, I am not surprise at myself how I came into what I am doing today. Really, it did not come by accident; I craved it. I wanted to make people look beautiful. It is a passion that had been in me since I was a child. Therefore, after my secondary education, I started making efforts towards it. I enrolled as an apprentice in a big salon where I learnt all I needed to know about hair dressing and beauty generally. After my training, I started off my own salon and I have not looked back since the last 12 years,” he says. Odeh admits to difficulties at the beginning, as according to him, “it was not so easy when I started. But I was determined to succeed because that was all I wanted.” He continued. “Some of my peers were wondering why I decided to go into a field that was female-dominated. They did not encourage my adventure, but because I believed in my dream I sustained my drives and efforts. With time, I was able to drive home my point by the success I have achieved ever since and today, they are all proud of me,” Odeh told Waka About Africa.
Lucky pays his bills. “I am not married yet, so the business is doing well for me. I am able to pick my bills and meet the needs of the many people who count on me. “When I look back to where I am coming from and where I am today, I see a better tomorrow. I may not be where I want to be, but I am not where I used to be. So, I am moving forward, if you ask me. I can only thank God for coming this far,” he says.
How about Oluwasegun Olaleye, popularly known among his teeming clients as Segun Gele? His specialty is tying of gele, a Yoruba South West, Nigeria word for broad-fitted traditional headgears.
A Texas, Huston, United States of America-trained Olaleye counts among the few earning a living working the women way. A study in learned skills, in seconds, Olaleye would whip a two-yard fabric into a head-turning, vertiginous shape that left women queuing for his touch of class. “I earn approximately $60,000.00 per annum just from tying geles. I have travelled far and near, every weekend for events since I started. My skills speak for me and I love what I am doing. I am different from others, because the styles come naturally to me,” he says. He told Waka Aboiut Africa, “I learnt some of my skills from my mother, who exposed me to the gele tying skills early in life. As a child, I always watched my mother struggle to fit the gele for hours, especially on Sundays before we go to church. And, as she tried hard enough, I always assisted her. At the time, I was not too good, but over the years, I have improved on my skills. Now, I can tie gele perfectly and effortlessly and fit it on my head. Really, it got to a point where my mother’s gele was a way to tell if I was home for the weekend from school, because it was exceptionally different. I am hired to dress people for traditional weddings. I have come a long way since 1995,” he says.
In 2003, Olaleye moved to the United States from Nigeria and laments the decline in the quality of the head-wrap these days. “I mean, you would not find a woman wearing a ‘good’ gele. They would rather wear jeans to a Nigerian party,” Olaleye says.
He told Waka About Africa that he charges $650 to tie gele for brides for Houston weddings, and $1,000 plus hotel, rental car and airfare for out-of-town weddings. “It’s the only business I have done and today, I have people who pay to train and I fly in from around the U.S, London or Dublin, depending on where I am. Really, as long as gele remains a fashion statement for Nigerian women, I will remain on the job,” Olaleye says.
David Onyedike swells the ranks of men doing ‘women’s work.’ He is a makeup artist, a job predominantly dominated by women. Dave, as he is fondly called, in an interview, told Waka About Africa that his passion for makeup art and art generally, has a root from his growing up years. “I have always been a creative and artistic person from childhood, so delving into makeup artistry did not come as a surprise to me or my family. As a kid, I always designed clothes, made curtains, throw pillows and sketched clothes. Before I got into the university, I was already making hair, redesigning clothes among other things. My first major breakthrough was Miss Theatre Arts in school where I designed the dress of a contestant. I also styled her from hair to toe and did her makeup. She won the contest and the news spread like wild fire about this new first year boy that glamorizes girls. I became an instant celebrity in school. Suddenly, I started styling and making up so many girls, who were going in for contests in and outside the campus. It was while doing this and judging from the passion and attention my skills generated that I gave a thought to making money off these campus girls. That was how I started my trade. I also realized that girls were more comfortable having me ‘glam’ them up than their fellow women. I immediately embraced the opportunity,” Onyedike reveals. A self-made professional, Onyedike has continued to improve on his arts. “I did not attend any makeup school. I am self-trained. My life experiences taught me all I know today, even though I studied Theatre Arts where we had a course on make-up. The truth is that I read a lot of articles and books on makeup and put them into practice. I assist Bayo Haastrup, the renowned makeup artist, whenever I come on holidays in Lagos. Over time, too, Bobby Signature mentored me. So, I acquired some skills from them on makeup and hair-styling. I consider myself lucky, because these two men are power houses in the field,” he says. Like others learning through the ‘tongue of the fire,’ Onyedike had faced several challenges on his road to the top. Not only was he criticized severely by those who would have provided him the support, he was not given any chance of making it to the top. Looking back, today, Onyedike describes his fortunes as well-improved. “The story has changed dramatically. I have had my rough times when many people called me names and questioned my abilities. Beyond the job, there were many men, who thought I was taking their women from them. But more than anything else, the major challenge I had at the beginning was balancing my job with my studies. It was a huge challenge, but like I said, it is a different story all together, today and a better story for that matter,” he says.