Nimota Atanda, 21

Seventh Ave at 49th St

Nimota Atanda
Nimota Atanda

Photograph by Jay Muhlin

Have people been getting lei'd by you all day? Since this morning! I've been leiing all kinds: tall, short, dark, light...

Sounds exhausting. Don't you feel exposed, so scantily clad out here? Nah. It gets so hot you almost want to get completely naked. I'm a hostess at Hawaiian Tropic Zone. We come outside to tell people about the restaurant.

Where are you from? Nigeria.

I get e-mails from there all the time! [Laughs] I'm very familiar with those scam artists. They all seem to have friends who know me or my family.

Why is it such a common thing? In Nigeria, if the name of your family line isn't well known—no matter how hard-working or brilliant you are—you're never gonna find a job. The only people who do are average students from wealthy families or kids of people in power.

What brought you to New York? Growing up in Nigeria as a female, you're not allowed to do a lot of things that men are. I used to watch MTV and see what women were doing here. I wanted to come to the land of dreams. When I was 17, I bought a ticket to JFK without telling anyone. My father actually came to New York to try to bring me back to Africa, but I refused.

Are you living the dream? One step at a time! I want to be a famous actress. But being able to be independent as a 21-year-old woman, able to make my own decisions and say whatever I wanna say—that alone is part of the dream.

More thoughts from Nimota

"I recently saw Sweeney Todd. I love the lead woman; she was a little cuckoo. I like roles that force you to go out of your body and be entirely different from who you are. If I could sing—which I can't—I'd want to play a part like that."

"You have to be really outgoing to work at Hawaiian Tropic Zone. Men sometimes come in and ask if we're hiring. I tell them, 'Only if you look good in a bikini!' "

"If I posed naked for TONY, I'd probably do it on the subway during rush hour. People wouldn't even notice—everyone in New York is busy doing their own thing and kinda used to seeing crazy people."

--Kate Lowenstein