Chinonso Oham, known to her American friends simply as Chi, is one of four "Chi Oham"s...four sisters, hailing from Nigeria, who love and laugh and even though their names all start the same, stand out from each other in unique and special ways.
This Chi, my Chi, one of my closest friends in New York City whom I bonded with over silliness and her ability to roll her eyes at me and our mutual love of writing, is, like her sisters, beautiful inside and out, with a heart of gold and no desire to take nonsense from anybody.
A close friend of hers, Jesam Usani, said, "We both have a no b.s. / no sugar coating attitude so our friendship is awesome because I can be 110% real with her about literally everything."
Rachel Wheeler, another friend of Chi's from her church, Hillsong NYC, agreed with Jesam and expanded on that: "Chi is rational, levelheaded, and grounded in reality - she always knows the right thing to say to calm me down and counter my crazy."
But Rachel added that this no-nonsense attitude comes from a good place. "She also has a knack for speaking the truth with love," Rachel said. "Even when she is hitting me with some hard truths that I don't want to hear, I can't be mad at her - because she delivers it so lovingly."
This idea of speaking hard truths to her loved ones — something I experience literally on the daily — goes all the way back to her childhood in Nigeria.
Chi and her sisters attended boarding school in the country; according to younger sister Chiamaka, Nigerian boarding schools are a hard place to live
"If you ask me, I'd say it's a lot like prison," Chiamaka said. "It takes a lot of resilience to survive, and I don't know if I would have made it without my sister. She took care of me so well that some people called me spoiled."
Taking care of her sister meant Chi would wake up early to gather hot water for Chiamaka to shower with; save food for her when her younger sister was late for her favorite meal of the day; and in general have her back in times of trouble.
"I can't count how many times she saved me from getting beaten up by older girls," Chiamaka said. "Or how many times she was there to comfort me when I ran to her room upset about something. She truly was always there for me."
My Chi is the oldest of her three sisters, and she has fond childhood memories of her household home, which was always full of aunts and uncles — in Nigeria, family friends are referred to by that familial term. Her house was always full, she said.
"I’m pretty sure I have the funniest family — roastings, one-liners and all," Chi said. "We laughed a lot and we still do. Side note: don’t play cards with my family; there will be lots of yelling and a good chance you’ll get swindled."
In 2009, when Chi was a young teenager, the family moved from her childhood home in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria to Abuja, where she attended the American International School of Abuja and lived full-time at home.
Chi has accomplished many things in life: graduating from Rutgers University last year, for one; however, in true-writer fashion that warms my heart, she listed her blog as her greatest accomplishment. "The Peach Pit" is an online home for Chi's writing, and sharing her writing is something Chi has long felt trepidation toward, she said.
"There’s a good chance I stopped breathing for the first hour after it went live," she said. "I still get heart palpitations when I share a new post. But there’s no turning back now."
Writing came from a love of reading and beautiful musical lyrics, Chi said. She still remembers the first time she allowed the thoughts in her imaginative brain to run wild.
"On a particularly moody day at boarding school in year 10 (the British equivalent of 9th grade), I put pen to paper and some of the hoopla in my head poured out," she said. "It was a rush. I was 14."
She describes writing as "my mind on paper," calling it a very personal exercise. She's always written both prose and poetry and kept it for herself. But the more she writes, the greater her writing dreams have grown.
"In the past few months...I’ve started to lean more towards poetry and the rhythm of verse," Chi said. "And I started toying with the idea of having a collection of poetry published. It’s a scary thought, really. A little thrilling, but scary all the same. Since I’ve grown increasingly attached to writing, I’ve desired more to grow in it; to get better. To maybe submit a few things to literary magazines and just maybe be published. My fingers trembled as I typed that last sentence."
Chi described herself as sometimes averse to opening up, a sentiment that was echoed by Chiamaka.
"She's not very quick to open up to people, and those who don't know her see it as her being cold - which is far from the truth," Chiamaka said.
Rachel echoed the sentiment that Chi is far from cold. "She's an incredible listener and is always willing to lend a sympathetic ear to her friend's problems, without complaint - EVER," she said. "I don't know how she puts up with all of our ridiculous problems."
Another friend, Matthew O'Donnell, described Chi as "recogniz[ing] the significance of having two ears and one mouth," and listening before she speaks. In addition, he said, she is "able to put people in their place with grace."
Putting people in their place with grace; tough love; it's a theme her friends have repeated and one I've experienced. Chi is loving and will always be there for a friend; last October, she spent over an hour on the phone with me as I sobbed and wandered aimlessly through midtown Manhattan at midnight. I was desperate, despairing, contemplating death. And she listened and saved me. I will never be able to repay her for my life, but I plan on loving and encouraging her as much as possible throughout our friendship, which I dearly hope will last forever.
And as a writer — Chi has an ability to weave words together in surprising and beautiful ways. Her poems are evocative and lovely.
"She expresses herself through poetry and musings with brutally vivid description and imagery," Chiamaka said of Chi's writing. "It's pretty personal, and that makes it easier to connect with readers."
You can't follow Chi on social media at the moment, and you can't buy her poetry books — yet, but what you can do is follow her blog. Someday it'll be the website of an acclaimed poet and writer, and you definitely want to be along for the journey.
Oh, and in case it wasn't clear already: Chi, I love you. You mean so much to me, and to so many others. You're a literal gem and gift to the world.