Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tosyn or not Tosyn?

For some people, living with sickle cell is something to be timid about, to whisper about behind closed doors. It takes boldness to talk about it, but Tosyn is not just talking about it, she is also spearheading an organization called THESE GENES that is primarily set up to address what ordinarily the society would want to ignore. These Genes aims to create awareness about sickle cell towards building a better-informed society. Tosyn Bucknor is a young lady who has chosen to stand up and be counted, thus making a difference in her life and the lives of others. Here young Tosyn talks about her passion, writing, music and of course these genes!

Who is Tosyn Bucknor?

I have to be honest, every time I’m to introduce myself to people always depends on where I am and what is happening there. But I will say in a nutshell that I am a writer who is into media and entertainment…who is a singer-song writer. I’m very interested in not-for-profit. I run two but three projects. The first one is the sickle cell one; the second one is Share, which is a social network for young adults. Lately I have become interested in orphanages, especially one in Kogi State- Mama Ekundayo orphanage. I studied Law. I grew up in a family of four- my dad, my mum, my sister and I, and I am a daddy’s girl.

You said you studied Law but do you practise?

The good thing is I may not be practicing in the sense that I don’t go to court but I find that law is something that affects everything you do… the thing that law does for you is that it opens your mind to certain things, it helps you ask questions and it helps you to always know how to protect yourself and the things you do. Thus, I can do legal consultancy in the entertainment field.

What has been a major influence in your life that shaped your ambition?

I have a lot of things that influenced me. First of all, I was very influenced by the way I grew up. Now I realized that I grew up in a very bohemian lifestyle in the sense that my dad is a musician so all the things I love now can be traced back to the way I grew up. I have also been influenced by the fact that I live with sickle cell. I find that it helped shaped some of the opinions and views that I held while growing up. And, of course, coupled with a Leap Africa sponsored conference I attended in Ghana, when we were asked about what we are passionate about and we were told to start a change project in our environment, it opened my mind to the things that I knew, that you don’t have to wait to be a president to do something, you can affect the people around you. That conference was also a very important influence. Being passionate about what people are passionate about also influences me. Take, for instance, the Mama Ekundayo thing when I saw it in TY Bello’s documentary, I wanted to support that passion.

Tell us about this Mama Ekundayo

Basically, officially she is like ninety something, she is in Kogi State, she runs an orphanage…in the documentary by TY Bello, she was like how can she eat when her own children have not eaten? This is actually a woman who doesn’t work or have a stable source of income and she is running an orphanage home. Mama Ekundayo is very inspirational in the sense that she shows that you don’t actually have to have everything to help…

And you want to support this vision?

Yes. God-willing I want to go there in November, some people already volunteered to support. But I will also want to return next year and return with a lot more people. The idea is to go there and see for myself their areas of need and then go back with help.

What qualities will you say you possess that puts you at advantage over others?

Actually, I’m just an average person who refuses to be average. I am very passionate about showing that. In our society we seem to be very impressed with superlatives- you are the tallest; you are the best…but what about the people that are average? I’m very stubborn about being an average girl but not being treated averagely.

Was that what inspired you to start up THESE GENES?

When I was growing up, I would say the information I had about sickle cell was very scientific. Nobody was talking about how you feel, people weren’t talking; it was as if people were shy. When I was growing up and I tell someone I’m a sickler, they would say don’t tell people. Why? I’m Yoruba, I’m short, I don’t hide that. Why should I hide the fact that I live with sickle cell? What inspired me to start up THESE GENES was to be able to talk to teenagers because I think that is the age you are a bit confused about it… I was so fixated on the fact that they said I was going to die when I was eighteen, that I wasn’t living my life. Until I realized that it really isn’t how long you live but what you do with the hours you have…a lot of people who live with sickle cell are stigmatized…they are thought to be abikus, or seen as spiritual attack…

What has been some of the things you have achieved by talking about it?

In fact I was very surprised with the impact these genes has had so far. Even educated people are inspired to go learn more. We have a lot of people coming to ask us how they can help their friends who live with sickle cell not to be defeatist about life. We get emails from all over Nigeria, from people who just want to express themselves. We then also have people who just want to talk about it…sickle cell is something to talk about because the truth is practically everyone in Nigeria is affected one way or the other. If you are not, you might know a cousin or friend that is.

How about your other passions- the writer in you, have you published a book yet?

No I haven’t published a book; I have a lot of written books. As a writer, for a long time I just used to write, I never used to show people what I write. But lately, I have become more confident and actually want to publish. Not because I think it validates me as a writer but because I have a lot of books written and I just feel I should publish one or two. I wrote a book when I was growing up on my journey living with sickle cell, now it is being edited and proof read. Hopefully I should be able to publish it.

And your music?

Oh music. Music. Music. Music is very interesting. My stage name is Contradiction… I find music to be very scary. I don’t know if it is because my Dad is a musician so there is always the question of am I trying to be like him? Will I even match up? What will people think? Should I do music? Should I stick to writing? Music has a lot of questions for me but it is because it has a lot of questions that I know I have to do it. It is like I have to face my biggest fear, so I don’t want to look back on my life and see this whole music thing I didn’t explore.

Why the name Contradiction?

I wanted a name that will capture who I am. I’m like an old woman one day and then I’m a young girl. Sometimes, I’m a tomboy; usually, I like wearing jeans, T-shirts. There are days I wear short dresses and high heels. I’m a very nice person but can be very mean, especially if I want to get things done. I wanted people to understand who I was, it even reflects in the music… it is my different persona playing out.

And you are also an event planner?

No! That is my sister. My sister is an event planner. But I know why people tend to think I’m an event planner; it is because I do events. Like on THESE GENES, I wanted to do a fashion show, we called it Jeans for genes and we basically got five designers to work with denim materials to create outfit. We exhibited them, people bought the outfits and the proceeds went to These Genes.

Who is your role model?

I would say it is combination of three people- my dad, my mum and my sister. My dad because I’m naturally like him, all the things that come with being an artiste…he taught me how to sacrifice for the family, he is a wonderful guy and that is why I’m a daddy’s girl. My mum on the other hand is more practical, more businesslike, very into family. When she wants to do something she does it. My sister completes it. She thinks and she does. My sister is so giving of herself. She is focused, which is why she finds success in what she does. I find her very inspirational.

Are there factors around in your life that make life oppressive?

No. People always say I’m a very happy person. All the things that make life oppressive for me come from within. I’m a melancholic person, so I’m prone to rounds of depression so I have learned to just put one foot in front of the other…Depression is something else I speak about because in Africa, especially in Nigeria, we don’t talk about things and we sweep everything under the carpet. People don’t believe people can get depressed, they say you are sad and if you say you are depressed they say, “Oh I reject it for you in Jesus name…it won’t be your portion.” We can’t just close our eyes to the fact that people can be emotional…and feel suicidal. I’m a very sensitive person, very self-analytical…

What is your dream job?

I’m very pretty contented person. I’m enjoying everything I do now…when I was growing up and people ask me what do I want to be when I grow up, I used to say a star or I would say famous. I really want to get on top of the game in media and entertainment. Maybe I do have a dream job…My dream job is any job that allows me get people that also have their own dream realize it. In the sense that I don’t like the fact that in Nigeria now someone has an idea, for instance, for a television show and he has to sweat so much to get a sponsor.

What do you think are some of the factors that contribute to this?

I do think corporate Nigeria is too hard on creative Nigeria. It shouldn’t be so difficult for us to get our dreams out…people who have access to finance shouldn’t make things so difficult for creativity, and I don’t mean just art and entertainment. I believe there is a doctor somewhere, who wants to work on a cure for something, don’t make it so difficult. If you look at developing and developed countries, people are more willing to take chances, if you support ten ideas and two come to life, it is a good thing…but everybody wants the best but no body knows what this supposedly best is…we see this in our music, everybody wants to do popular music but we can do music that carters for people that just want to see you perform live every evening and it should be okay for you to do. I feel the opportunities arte there but corporate Nigeria say we don’t speak like them, creative Nigeria say “well we don’t understand who you speak”. Well, maybe we need someone who understands what we are saying and translate it to them and understand what they are saying and translate it to us so that we can get things done.

On your blog, you stated that you like living in Lagos, why do you like it in Lagos?

I love Lagos because I’m a Lagosian. I really wish Lagos were safer… Lagos is like the social capital of Nigeria and so it will be of Africa and the world. I like Lagos. I think Lagos has a good vibe because Lagos has a lot of different kinds of people. Wherever you live, there is always something happening.

What advice do you have for young people out there who have a lot of aspirations but think they are at a disadvantage?

I would say turn your disadvantages to advantages. The people that said when life gives you lemon, make lemonade, they knew what they were saying. They are not silly people; it is because they know it can be done. We don’t have access to a lot of things youths in developed countries have. So, are you going to whine or get some things done? That is what I will always say, do something…be something and don’t wait until it is given to you…don’t have a sense of entitlement. Whatever you do, be yourself within the boundaries of law…and be comfortable in your own shoes.

To learn more about Tosyn Bucknor’s work, visit www.thesegenes.org

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