“So It’s a beautiful journey of life. Sometimes I think, ‘Okay, how many more years, or actionable years do I have to make an impact in this world before I move on?’. I guess those are the questions that you start having with yourself when you turn 50. I did a self audit, when I turned 50. Actually every birthday I customarily perform a self-audit. I have my time with my family at home and then I go off on an all day spa retreat to meditate. There, I have moments of gratitude by lifting myself up to receive whatever God has in store for me, as well as be grateful for the year prior, and whatever He has done for me. I like to spend my birthday meditating on that. “
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What is the importance of prayer and spirituality? What is self-care to you? How can you feel closer to God? How do Nigerian values and culture impact a child’s upbringing? How effective are Balinese herbs? Why is it important to learn about different cultures? How to break the ice with people of different cultures? How important are exercising and prayer in the morning? What is a must-see on a trip to Nigeria?
In this interview, we got to interact with the ever-so-sweet Sope Aluko, a devout Christian, mom of two, and an actress. Sope was born in Nigeria, raised in the UK, but she also lived on five different continents. She’s known well for her role as a shaman in Black Panther, which has a beautiful story behind it, a true miracle from God. Follow us through this interview to learn more about Sope, her Nigerian upbringing, her spirituality, the importance of prayer, her experiences of living on five different continents, and her view on acting. Let’s get into it!
Collective Drift has taken up AARP’s challenge to reinvent what it means to age. Remember, what you do after 50 can be just as amazing as what you’ve done before 30. It’s time to disrupt aging. This is the final episode of 3 episodes in partnership with AARP highlighting amazing women from around the world who have disrupted aging. Go to https://www.aarp.org/disrupt-aging/ to learn more.
Here are a few of my favorite parts of the interview:
Collective Drift (CD) / Sope Aluko (SA)
CD: How would you describe yourself?
SA: I would describe myself first as a wife and a mother of two wonderful teenage boys. I have three sisters. Therefore, I have an inbred sisterhood coming into this world, who are my best friends, and we all uplift and encourage each other. I would also describe myself as being diverse in every sense of the word because everything and all my experiences in life have had so much diversity. Starting from living all over the world up to the kind of music I like, for example, I like everything from rock to opera. I like to embrace other people’s cultures. I’m kind of inclined towards them, I just love culture. I have to say that first and foremost, I am a devout Christian, and I have a sisterhood of Christian sisters that I actually had a Bible study this morning with, and we pray together regularly.
CD: Who are you culturally? What bits and pieces have you picked up from each of the places you’ve lived in? (born in Nigeria, raised in the UK, but also lived in France, Tanzania, Trinidad, Indonesia)
SA: The thing I take away from all of this is just something that my father always said to me. Whenever you visit a person’s country, try and learn a certain word in their language, even if it’s just “hello” because it breaks the ice on so many levels. If you can understand somebody else, how they see things, what they do, and how to communicate with them, it breaks the ice. Also, I just love the idea of understanding people’s cultures. So, for instance, if I go to an Indonesian restaurant, I would say (in their language) “good morning”, “good afternoon”, or “how’s the food”, etc., and the minute I say that they just beam at you. You notice that if you ever talk to anybody, and they like it, then it’s a way of honoring them. It’s just a beautiful gem that I wish a lot more people in this world of division that we’re currently in, would learn. It’s really about reaching across the border and saying, I see you, I respect you, I respect your culture. We can laugh together and we can dine together even though we’re different.
CD: You’re from Nigeria but you didn’t get to grow up there. So did you miss out on traditional rites of passages or just things that you would have experienced while growing up in Nigeria?
SA: I’m fully Nigerian and that was one of the things my mom and dad always instilled in us. Even though we lived all over the world, they made sure that we learned our language and we prayed in our language, such that we were actually held to a higher standard than my cousins that lived in Nigeria. So, my parents always strived for us to do well, making sure that we respect our elders, we knew our culture, we knew what to say when to say it, and how to say it. Also, now when my husband and I go and dine out in restaurants, people that we don’t even know come to us and say, “Wow, you guys are doing a great job with your kids”, and we just beam because that’s the biggest compliment and it means that you are imparting goodness and respect, and all the good things about the culture and our values into the next generation.
CD: What were some of the things that you learned from your mom about self-care?
SA: Certainly first and foremost was my faith in God from my mother. My mother was a praying mom; she was a warrior. She would pray at 3 am every morning, and we would be praying as a family. That was how we grew up. My mother taught me how to be very strong in my spiritual life. The other thing was also health in terms of how she was always exercising. There was something called calisthenics back in the day in the 80s which Jane Fonda brought out and it was similar to Pilates. It was a lot of stretching and we used to go through all that. She also always used a form of yoga that was an extension of spiritualism and wellness.
I try my best to meditate very hard but I still haven’t mastered it, I’m still trying. I can’t still my mind as long as I would like to, and even sometimes, when you think you’re in that stillness, it just takes one thing to get me out. So, I’m still working on that, that’s a work in progress. Everything’s a work in progress in my life, you judge yourself when you shouldn’t be judging yourself. That’s a part of the whole ritual of just accepting yourself the way that you are, and allowing the universe to speak to you about what you need to do. Those will be the two things I would say that has helped me in terms of my ritual since I’ve been 50. I recollect how my mother taught me these things. I’ve now become my mom, I’m now a praying mother and a wife. It’s all my way of being close to my mom. Now, she’s passed on, if that’s a legacy, that’s a beautiful legacy to have for me.
CD: What would your mom say about aging? Are you the person that she would think a 50-year-old woman should be right now? And what does Nigerian culture say about aging?
SA: First of all, black don’t crack. But as I’m an actress, I struggled a little bit regarding whether I should reveal my age because you don’t want to be pigeonholed, like “oh, she’s too old” or anything. But I just felt that that would be so not me, considering that I’m a realist, and I am authentic. I also wanted to embrace those out there who are not embracing their age. I’m 50, I’m here, I have the same outlook in life, if not a little bit wiser. From the perspective of aging, my mother used certain natural herbs that we learned about when we were in Indonesia. When you’re in Indonesia and some of these Far East countries, they have herbal supplements that are just incredible, they call them Jamu. And they referenced it in “Eat, Pray, Love” as well. Jamu is great for your skin, your hair, there are even tablets for high blood pressure, and weight gain and they are all-natural. That was something that, when we were stationed out there, my mother fully embraced, and when she came back home to Nigeria, she started using a lot of those on herself. People kept asking her how does her skin look so great and she referred these herbs to them, she even made a business out of it by selling those herbs. So, that is something that I use for myself that I got from my mother.Also, I don’t like makeup, I think it’s too heavy. I’m very practical in terms of getting ready in the morning. This is something I picked up from my mom, just having that lightness and letting your face breathe. In fact, you wouldn’t even believe that I just use soap on my face and people ask me how is your skin like that? I think I got it from my mom who had the most beautiful skin till the day she died. I don’t go through any rituals for my face, I don’t cleanse. I know it sounds bad, but I don’t care. Is it really worth that work? I mean, honestly, God made us the way we are. We should just embrace what we have already.
CD: How did you prepare for your role in Black Panther?
SA: The way I would answer that question is through my faith. I’ve shared this story many times about that role in Black Panther because I’m a big believer in vision boards. I wasn’t originally in acting, I was I always wanted to be an actor, from when I was a child. But you know, things happened, where I, my parents, were not really happy about the profession, etc. I worked in corporate America for over 15 years. In my 40s, I decided to change course and become an actress, to the chagrin of everybody in my family.
In terms of preparation, I was very clear and specific with my prayer request to God. I wanted it to be something that highlighted and embraced my African culture in the global space. I wanted to be in a film that was a blockbuster, and I also wanted to be in a role that spoke to my faith and my belief in God. Those are the three things I got in my role as a shaman, which is a spiritual elder. Then obviously my teacher was Forest Whitaker, I was a person in training. So, God placed me there. I believe God placed the fact that Black Panther is one of the major films that highlight so much about our black culture, globally, from Africa to African American, for all of us. It was a representation of us, for the world to see in the best and positive way.
So, in terms of preparation, it’s just that God goes ahead of you, and he prepares things, he prepared that for me, and I just met it. It’s still something that confounds my faith in him that it became so because I auditioned for four roles until I got that role. It’s a step in faith in so many ways, and not knowing what it is, but feeling that you have a higher calling or higher purpose for something, and that’s something that I try to live with daily.
CD: What has been the most impactful travel experience for you, or the most impactful destination?
SA: I’d say it was Trinidad and Tobago, and the reason why I say that is because that was the first time I got onto national television. It was so important to me because I knew I had the desire to be an actor from a very young age. I had an opportunity to go on a show called “12 and Under”, and my father knew the host of the show, and the producer, etc. I remember very clearly that the host was coming over to our house for an event, and my father told her that my daughter watches your show and she would love to be on the show, etc. And I got to be on the show, it was just the biggest dream of my life. I was eight at that time but that was the most memorable time of my life that I got to be on this show that showcased my talent.
CD: If I were a Wakanda Princess, and I wanted to go to Nigeria and have an amazing experience, then what would I need to do?
SA: The first preconception that people, in general, have about Africa is that they’re not as advanced as the developing world but that is totally not the case. In fact, we are so much more advanced in certain areas than in the so-called developing world. We have beautiful beaches in Nigeria. You can go to Tinapa Resort, there’s the Inagbe Resort. There are the Lakowe Lakes and golf resorts, the Lekki beach, etc. We also have game reserves. Very similar to Trinidad, we have these mountainous regions present in areas of the states of Jos, Kaduna, and Kano, which are in the northern part of Nigeria. They grow apples over there and it is just so beautiful. In terms of the buzz, we have Lagos, it’s got everything there; spas, nightlife, etc. and most of it is on the island, which is in Victoria Island and Ekoi. I would recommend that you take a native with you on this trip as they’ll know all the ins and outs of the area. We have “Suya”, which is smoked meat with lots of pepper in it like a Jamaican Kebab Jerk. We’ve got so many restaurants, you can experience any cuisine here, Nigerian, Chinese, Indian, etc. We also have the Fela Kuti shrine, the shrine of Nigeria’s top musician. The shrine gives a whole experience of his music and beats with dancers and all. There’s a lot of cultures, as well, in terms of the museums, and not just the museums, we have the Arts and Culture Center, the dancing, the plays, we’ve got a lot of African stories that are coming out now. And they’re not just filmed, but they’re also in the theatrical productions as well.
CD: I remember you posting about a really luxurious, boutique type of hotel. Tell us a bit about that?
SA: That’s actually my sister-in-law and my brother-in-law’s business. It’s called NaijaBnB, and it’s like luxury apartments and homes that you can go and stay at for however long a period you want to be there. If you just don’t want to be in that hotel feel and you just want to have your own apartment, then you should definitely look that up.
CD: Why do you think it’s important for people to travel?
SA: It ties back to what I said earlier in terms of education and communication with people that are not of you. So, you need to know what the entire world looks like, how they eat, what their culture is, what their livelihood is. We are all human, and we all go through the same things, happiness, sadness, grief, etc. But understanding somebody else’s culture is the most incredible thing that one can do because it gives you a different perspective about life. It gives you a form of empathy about different people and different cultures, particularly in the world that we live in that, unfortunately, is so divisive and separate. It really gives us an opportunity to look at the world as one. Being able to communicate with somebody from a different nationality, religion, and culture is important. It would be ignorant of somebody not to at least try and learn about the space outside of us.
CD: What’s a question you would ask other women?
SA: “What happened in your life that impacted you the most? What was the tipping point? What was the element in your life that really changed your course and your viewpoint about life?”
CD: How would you define a woman?
SA: We’re so strong. I think we’re so multifaceted. We are, in fact, a superpower. We’re able to manage, juggle, and strive so much, love so much, and be so much and be strong in all aspects, even through our pain, our happiness, our everything. A woman is a major force.
Where to find Erica and Collective Drift
Collective Drift is now a part of Kadealo
Where to find Sope
Places mentioned in the interview
(Check them out click on the links below)
Eleko (Lekki) Beach
Fela Kuti Shrine
Arts and Cultural Center (Nike Art Center)
Trinidad and Tobago
The Collective Drift podcast was created by Erica Knowles to celebrate all women, the beauty of their cultures, and international travel experiences. I believe that women possess magic, that gives them strength and grace to change the world. We learn how to tap into our power in various ways based on our cultural backgrounds and our journeys. Join me and an amazing collective of multicultural, multiethnic, and multigenerational women that are artists, cultural leaders, and travel enthusiasts as they tell their stories about their culture, their tribe of women, their passions, their art, and their favorite international experiences. Welcome to Collective Drift.