A flower doesn’t need to do anything extraordinary to be beautiful; it is beautiful simply because it is.
It cannot be anything else other than what it was created to be, nor does it aim to be; it can only ever be the most beautiful version of itself.
Her name is Bassey Ikpi; a mental health advocate, a poet, a TV producer. She has appeared in prestigious magazines; she was a cast member of Russell Simmon’s Def Poetry Jam; she has featured in South Africa’s Arts Alive Festival…the list goes on.
Over and above all she’s simply Bassey; one of my favourite flowers.
As we celebrate the few remaining days of women’s month in South Africa; making way for the first month of spring, I’d like to share some of the striking petals of a woman that myself and many others admire.
“I’ve always had this belief that what I had to say was important, like I had to say it right there and then and people had to hear it; but at the same time not in an arrogant way, I just felt like, ‘This is important, I’ve got facts for you’, they were really just my opinions but whatever”
Most people only find their voice much later in life, but Bassey was already speaking her mind at an early age. The only two times she went into a shell was when she moved to the USA, which was because her English was not so good,and when she attended middle school, which was because she was bullied. She finally broke her shackles of expression when she moved to New York; becoming more uncensored and less concerned with stepping on people’s toes for it.
“I just didn’t care anymore.”
NIGERIAN VS. AMERICAN
“I am Nigerian by nationality, but culturally I’m still very American”
Her life began in Cross River State, Nigeria. During the early years of her childhood she was raised by her extended family and neighbours, whilst her parents completed their studies in different states. When her mother had finally completed her course, the family joined Bassey’s father in America.
Living in the USA for practically all her life made Bassey’s recent long stay in Nigeria challenging. Being immersed in the culture left her feeling out of place, and she often unintentionally broke cultural norms.
She always considered herself to be purely Nigerian despite having spent most of her life in the USA, but she is now more comfortable with referring to herself as “Nigerian/American”.
“It’s more of an accurate description of who I am and what I represent.”
“He was born premature and he shared a space in my womb with a ten pound tumour. There was literally no reason for him to exist and he found the one spot that he could grow from; he found a way to bend his body to fit into that space. He was born early with this determination to be. Everything he has ever done has been about him trying and giving it his all”
When Bassey was told that that either she or her baby wouldn’t live, she still chose to give herself a chance at motherhood, and her baby a chance at life. They both won the battle, and her little boy, whom she nicknamed Boogie, became her greatest lesson of survival.
Today Boogie is not only healthy but also resilient in all that he does. He started learning how to walk when he was just six months old, and after three frustrating months of falling over himself he finally got it right.
She remembers how little he knew about soccer when he was first introduced to it, but he was still determined to learn the sport. He would wake up at odd hours of the morning just to watch the soccer channel and pick up on the techniques that the professional players used; within a matter of time he would be doing the tricks himself. He went from being clueless about soccer to being absolutely amazing at it.
“I wish I had just a tenth of his determination and resilience.”
He is only seven years old.
Just like Bassey, he is a sensitive soul. She recalls a recent heart warming moment when he came up to her crying; she asked him what was wrong and he affectionately said: “I just love you so much and I’m glad that you’re home.”
Her wish is simply for him to be a good person that the world will be glad exists.
“I just want him to be a kind and thoughtful man.”
“I like poetry that makes me feel something; that moves me in some way or calls me out saying ‘Ha! You thought that was a secret? I just wrote it down’.”
Poetry has always been Bassey’s way of making sense of things. Most of her work comes from the need to work through something, when she finds herself feeling uneasy about anything she writes it down to quantify it. That is her way of making it look like something that she can try to understand.
“That’s what it’s always been for me; answers to questions that I didn’t even really have yet.”
LIVING WITH DEPRESSION
“It’s like there’s no blood in your body, like you’re just stooped and shattered into these tiny pieces and you’re like that for a while until these tiny sharp pieces start poking you and then it hurts. From there it starts puncturing vital organs so now you can’t breathe. It gets bigger and bigger and bigger”
Bassey was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder ten years ago. She has learnt to get ahead of the depression before it gets big; constantly evaluating her actions to check if she’s going into hypomania. It took her a long time to develop control over the illness, and she is now able to offer support to other mentally ill people through The Siwe Project, which she founded after her friend’s daughter committed suicide due to depression.
“I’m generally a positive person outside of the illness, so I’m always very grateful. It gets difficult with an illness that just shows up and leaves whenever it feels like it.”
“I believe that everyone has people that get them. You run into the one that gets you, that understands the ins and outs of you, and you do the same for them. It’s mutually nurturing. I believe everyone has that, everyone except me”
She could easily be mistaken for a bitter woman because of her attitude towards love and relationships, however she is not at all sour about romantic partnerships, in fact she encourages people to go through the experience. Her personal experiences however have simply led her to a point where she admits that: “I’m not good at other people in that way,” and she is content with this.
“I’m very loyal and faithful; I’m just easily bored and distracted. I’m also very neurotic. I know these things about myself so I’m just going to stop putting people through that.”
THE JOY OF BEING A WOMAN
“I love the fact that I am permitted to be all sides of myself, whether or not it will be accepted is up for debate; but I can cry, I can be emotional and I can get angry. We are allowed to express every emotion that a human being is afforded”
Aside from the pretty things she can have, what Bassey loves the most about being a woman is the freedom to shamelessly express herself. The affectionate gestures of holding her girlfriends’ hands and hugging them are what keep her connected.
“Men would have more trouble doing that. They are limited in what they can express by societal norms.”
“When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar II in 2004 I was completely broken; on and off medication until I ended up in the hospital. I lost a lot of work, people and myself from my breakdown. I didn’t understand who I was because what I thought was my personality was really this illness. I had to relearn a lot of things about myself and rebuild a lot of things. I think about where I was then and where I am now; I went from being smashed by the illness to being on top of it- that’s huge for me. To go from all that to where I am now, where I really like my life, is a big deal”
She can now use the strength that she has built up over the years to help other people living with her condition to do the same. She is the living proof that it is possible.
Still on the topic of her greatest achievement, she adds this:
“I could have also said Boogie, but people get fall all the time.”
Bassey reminds me of a flower in the way she exudes beauty even through her imperfections. She embraces the very thing she was created to be, human. She lives through the experience boldly and passionately, it is the foundation from which her petals bloom.
These are the qualities that have made her mere being a gift to others.
My sincerist gratitude to Bassey Ikpi for the great chat.
Twitter : @Basseyworld
Instagram : @Basseyworld
Facebook: Bassey Ikpi Fan Page