Don’t Sing My Praise

I am hungry. It happens a lot these days. I have nibbled on enough snacks to conclude that no amount of food will fill the longing in me.

Giving up on food I seek company, not just anyone’s, only from minds that can sate a fraction of the hunger. I keep my phone close, staring at it with longing and wonder why no one has reached out yet. I consider reaching out then check myself. I won’t grovel. That which is not given freely I do not want. Continue reading

That Borrowpose Life

One of the advantages of having siblings of the same sex, within the same age range and body size is that you often get to flaunt more clothes than you really have. When you have someone like me in your family it means it doesn’t just stop at siblings, this ‘Olivia Twist’ goes as far as borrowing from her mother.

ọgọdọ nṅuṅu ejighi ya agbasi egwu ike. You should not dance your best with a borrowed wrapper, my mum would warn before she lends me anything that belongs to her. I don’t fail to tell her the same when she comes to borrow my makeup or purse too.

Whenever my mum buys something new for herself I admire it with her and begin a mental calculation of how the item can be of use to me. From a time when my mates were still wearing flat shoes and I was already standing on borrowed high heels – who cares that my aunty said I walked like a willowy tree blown by the wind in them? – till now that she has to hide her perfumes and jewellery from me, though she knows it’s a waste of effort, I have never stopped seeing the personal property of every female in this house as public property.

Early in the year 2010, we had one of our usual ASUU strikes and I came home with only the basics. One Sunday morning, wearing a new dress, the ashoebi for a neighbour’s thanksgiving, I looked down and noticed the flare of the dress was very transparent. My underskirts were in school. Black tights didn’t help. My sister was in the North, serving. Last resort was my mother.

“Mummy biko give me your half shimi. See.” I show her how exposed I am through the gown. She didn’t bat an eye at the request, just reached out and gave it to me.

Who among those who praised my style that day would have known that beneath the lovely dress I wore was an oversized underskirt, worn as a tube from chest to knee, rather than from the waist down? Which of them would have guessed that the fine brooch nestled to the left of my bosom was there, not just for aesthetics, but to pin the underskirt to my bra and gown so that my Garri would not pour and expose me in public?

The things clothes can cover ehn. The Yoruba people say; A she o pọ to yi, asọ lo fi bo. So it’s plenty like this, na dress you use cover am.

In the spirit of borrowing, I was in my mum’s room to steal ulor (Bentonite clay) from her stash when I noticed something colourful catch my eye. A new jacket. I think it is lovely and it would go well with my yellow hand bag. I am upset that it cannot be my size then I remember Rihanna wore a similar oversized jacket and we all called it fashionable. I know I am not crazy enough to wear it out but who says I can’t take a picture and save for posterity?

In the past, oversized jackets were fashionable. This fashion seems to be creeping back in, if it does then my children can look at this picture tomorrow the way I looked at a secondary school picture of my mum in a modern ish top and trousers and say “So mummy was this fashionable in the olden days when this type of fashion was not even out?”

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But is that all there is to this post? No way! Now, I want to tell you a story. Sit back and get your popcorn ready.

Some years ago, in year two thousand and eleven precisely, a certain young woman went to a volatile state in the Northern part of Nigeria to serve her country. It turned out she enjoyed it more than she anticipated. Close to her lodge was a church and in the mornings she went for morning mass. While returning from mass one morning a certain good looking young man approached her. Though he was cute she scrunched up her nose at the thought that this one was going to try to woo her that early in the morning, but on getting close he said something along the lines of “Hello dear. I don’t know why but God has been troubling me to send a message to you.”

She felt special. It was not the usual generic message of “Sister, God loves you.” This one was a personal message sent from God specifically for her. It gave her joy all through that day. Subsequent mornings she would meet this same man and he would always have the right Godly thing to say. One morning he was waiting for her with a book. A book with the title ‘Unleashing your potentials’ by a very popular speaker.

“God has very big plans for you,” He said “but you have to prepare yourself for it. Read this book.” Though she had a professional exam at about that time she read every page of that book and returned it.

On the day she was to return it though something unusual happened.  This man of God relayed to her a very heart touching story, kind of like I’m relaying to you now, but its content was different. His money was tied up in a very big business, his pastor who would have given him the physical cash he needed to live on had travelled, so he needed the help of this corps member regarding raising funds. She wasn’t stupid, far from it, but she also had a conscience. Her conscience and her sense fought a serious battle so she sought the advice of a fellow corps member who was also into all those church things. Eventually she gave him the money from her meagre government allowance. Afterwards, I’m sure you are not surprised to hear that the story changed.

First, by chance or design, he quit running into her so often, then when he did, rather than discuss the money, he proposed marriage to her. Yes he did!

Gradually the end of her posting and the time to leave the North came. She hadn’t seen him in weeks. Whenever she called he had an excuse ready. The night before she left she called again and he showed his true colour, it was the same hue as the angry flames seen in those pictures of hell; Red and black. The morning she was to leave the North he switched off his phone. She sent text messages which were not replied and calls which went unanswered. And that was the end of her money. But did she learn? No.

Some years later, she got a call from someone else who hadn’t called her in years.

“Please I’m on site, there is no bank around and my pastor asked me to send him some money. Can you help? I’ll pay you back the Monday after the presidential elections.” The word pastor rang a warning bell.

I’ll take a break from this story to warn you. Whenever anyone asks you for money and puts in the word pastor in same sentence they are manipulating your conscience. Don’t do it!

Now back to the story. She warred with her conscience again, but chose to help. One week passed, then months. He wouldn’t pick her calls, wouldn’t reply her texts or Whatsapp messages, but when she called with a different line he picked and rather than sound repentant went on the defensive.

I’m sure this isn’t a peculiar story. We all have met such people who borrow then will begin to avoid you when it’s time to pay up. When they run into you, the sky will suddenly look too beautiful to ignore and they get lost admiring it they fail to see you or acknowledge your presence.

No one has it all. Every one of us will have that moment when our Shimi is unavailable and we will need the help of our neighbour to cover our nakedness, but there is an implicit rule to borrowing.

Do not wait for the lender to call you. Be the first to call and let them know that you are aware you owe them, express your remorse for being unable to pay up just yet and promise to pay up as soon as you can. And by all means try to pay up, even if it’s just half! You are soiling your good name if you owe people and go about living large while ignoring them.

Uzọ di nma a ga ya nga n’abọ. If a road is good we take it twice. If you destroy the road you took earlier how do you plan to pass next time?

Don’t be about that borrowpose life except you are borrowing from your nuclear family.

Preserving the Family Jewel

Humans are not equal, same for body parts. Some body parts we can survive without, but the loss of some we perceive as a loss of one’s identity.

This is why certain parts are treasured enough to be given endearing names. Lots of men name their genitalia. One calls his AK47. Family jewel is a well known title.

Nothing scares a man more than becoming what is commonly called a “Vegetable” or losing the potency of his balls. But it isn’t only the men who dread this disaster, their women dread it almost as much.

Doctor: Madam we are sorry your husband’s accident caused him to lose his memory.

Wife: (Hands on head) Mo gbe! Memory loss ke? But can he walk? Can he still function?

Doctor: Yes.

Wife: Ahh, Ope o. Memory can come back later.

In this part of the world we value a man’s ability to be a stallion. After all we do not want our women to carry placards like the women in that other African country and begin to protest their husband’s inability to be ‘men’ and satisfy them.

That I do not believe a man’s worth is tied to his balls or he is any less of a man if they do not function is not the topic of discourse for now. There are needs and the channel to fulfilling those needs have to be kept in good working condition.

Health professionals have warned that letting the testes get too warm or tight can lead to Erectile Dysfunction. Our men have come to take this warning seriously. Never mind that they have also warned that persistent alcohol use can do same. At least one of the warnings is being heeded.

It becomes a problem though when in public spaces, especially in Lagos buses. Lagos drivers and conductors are experts in maximizing space, so that a space meant for four average sized people will suddenly be expected to fit five people.

“Four lepa, one orobo. Shake body o. No be your papa house you dey.”

What can we do? It is their office and we have to obey, right? You can choose to revolt but only if you have enough money for a taxi or are not afraid to be late.

Unfortunately while some people have only one aim; to get to their destination in time, some have multiple; get to your destination in time but make sure the boys do not get cooked in the process. This is when preserving family jewels becomes a problem.

I am all for keeping safe and healthy that which is important, but there is a line between health consciousness and selfishness. This line is crossed when you pay for one space and while others are yet to get half their behind into a seat you are manspreading. Those who do not take public transport will never understand the injustice of this.

A plea to adjust usually results in varying outcomes; the ‘nice’ ones will wiggle and pretend to adjust without actually moving from their spot and with their legs still splayed, while the other more troublesome types will either ignore you completely or start a confrontation.

I agree jewels are worth protecting at all cost and that includes paying for the next space if you are going to take up more than half of the space paid for by another. Let’s stop this selfish behavior. A woman’s jewel needs air too.

Sitting cross legged looks responsible
Sitting cross legged looks responsible

In related news, above are our counterparts in other countries and how they sit. Some would argue that is why their divorce rate is high, because their women are dissatisfied, but that too is debatable.

PS: in case of any grammar error, biko gbaghara, oyibo biara abia (please forgive, English is foreign to us.)

The States of Island and Mainland

The city I live in is a large one, not just based on square meters but on population and the contrasting lifestyle.

 

I feel it should be made into three different states. Amuwo Odofin, Surulere, Ikeja, Maryland, Ojota, Oshodi… Should be called Mainland state. Lagos Island, Ikoyi, Victoria island, Lekki and VGC should be Island or Atlantic state. Ajah upwards should just be called Cameroon and anywhere from Ojo barracks down towards Badagry, after Iyana Ipaja down to Abule-egba, and areas from ojodu berger and beyond should not even be termed Lagos at all. Let’s just leave them as Ogun state.

 

This way when you live in the Mainland state and are working in the Island state your employers would be more understanding when you come in late.

 

For real, someone living in Aba and working in Port Harcourt will get to work in a shorter period than someone going to work from one part of Lagos to another. This morning I left home before nine A.M. for a twelve P.M. appointment but arrived by one P.M. I practically spend eight hours in traffic daily; four to and four from.

 

Distance aside, the lifestyle between these areas is also greatly different. The energy too. I live in the mainland, in an area where I can claim ‘local champion’. Where I walk down the street and wonder why I am receiving too many appreciative stares. Where I speak pretty normal and they say I sound like one who just returned from overseas. It is easy to feel like a mini celebrity here.

 

I have big dreams, very mighty ones that make people shake their head and call me “Onye ocha nna ya di oji” (a white person with a black father) because blacks like us ought to be more realistic and leave the fairy tales to the whites.

 

Sometimes while riding on the high pedestal I have been unwittingly placed there is a false sense of fulfillment that lulls me into complacency. I feel like I have arrived, then I relax… until I visit the Island.

 

The Island life is the one I always envision for myself, where I live in a neighborhood with clean streets and smooth roads beautified with flowers, where I can jog boldly with my ear piece on and my phone in my pant pocket (the last time I tried bringing out my phone at night in my neighborhood I received a deafening slap and my phone was stolen from me), where there are the kinds of secondary social amenities reserved for the high class; manicured lawns with chairs made of concrete, basketball fields… where rather than discuss NEPA woes with my neighbors we discuss our last trip abroad and how UK visa is now so hard to get.

 

Once on the Island I’m a different person. I cease to be the celebrity with all eyes on her and suddenly have my eyes on everyone and everything. There are so many beautiful people and things to see I get lost just observing. I feel so small here. No one notices me. There are too many things worth noticing to focus on just one.

 

Then the discontent hits painfully, leaving a part of my core feeling empty and lacking, making me wish to achieve something worth being noticed for, reminding me of all I dream to be, exposing me to the numerous achievers this area boasts of and revealing to me all that can be achieved. I usually leave the Island realizing how far I need to go, how much work needs to be done.

 

On the Island I believe I can achieve it all. On the mainland I feel it is not in my hands but up to God who sits above and decides who will be great and who will be a beneficiary of the great ones. Even our church in this area differs in the way they preach.

 

My mainland church teaches us to be content and take consolation in the reward the bible promises the poor, how hard it is for a rich man to enter heaven  and how Our Father in heaven hears the cry of the needy, though I wonder why it is the rich who get their prayers answered faster. The church close to my house, that keeps us awake most nights, bind and cast every spirit holding their destiny. The spirits seem so powerful if they have to be bound every week and still remain free. However the church I attend when on the Island preaches in a way that leans towards motivation and encourages parishioners to dream, achieve, use their talent and in turn give back to God by helping our poor, needy brethren and treating our domestic helps right.

 

Most times I am caught in a web of confusion and contradictions, a kind of tug between my Mainland self and my Island self; between being contented and living for heaven alone or aggressively going after my earthly dreams and being fruitful here on earth.

 

Irrespective of how conflicting my two selves are, ultimately they want the same thing; to have that moment, the type made in Hollywood heaven where I give a world class, skin tingling, heart swelling performance, take a bow and smile breathless into a cheering crowd, crazed and awestruck by my performance. A performance excellent enough for both the Island and Mainland crowd. My personal wow moment.

 

Maybe then the governor of Lagos will grant me audience to discuss my suggestion for Mainland and Island states creation; though I know it will never be considered. The joy will be in knowing he recognizes me.

 

 

P.S: in case of any grammar error, biko gbaghara, oyibo biara abia (please forgive, English is foreign to us.)

Celebrating A Once Troublesome Kid

The plan had been to post this on his next birthday but seeing him returning from work, respectability oozing from his features, I couldn’t help moving this a bit closer. He is looking all gentlemanly and could even pass for one. Sometimes I don’t believe it and expect him to go back to the little rascal he’s always been.

He no be gentle man at all o
He no be gentle man at all o

No child gave my parents as much headache as he did and trust me I do remember too many troubles he caused us, but one that stands out the most happened when he was only eleven years old.

He had been asking some unusual questions like; “So if somebody gets to Upper Iweka they’ve reached to our village ehn?”

My mum being a teacher and a very attentive mother who tried to turn every question into a lesson of some sort answered his questions in-depth and even over answered it without knowing what she was doing to herself. She must have been excited that at least one child was showing interest in his roots.

One rainy day, we were given mangoes to share. If you are from a large family like mine, sharing will become as natural as bathing. In fact, if you were given anything without being asked to share, check your body temperature. It’s likely you are sick and everyone but you has noticed. We shared everything even down to N1 sprint bubble gum and that day I was to share one mango with him.

“Go and bring knife and water let me share this mango.” I told him immediately he returned from school, but he asked me to give him the mango to go wash instead. I waited for long and I saw neither mango nor boy then just slept off. When I woke it was dark already. My parents were back, everyone was home, mango and boy were still missing. We began asking around but couldn’t find my brother.

My parents were already ranting about all they will do to him when he finally returns and my dad was wondering what gave him the audacity to be away that late.

“O ga agwa m ihe kara ya obi.” He kept repeating but as the night grew older and it became obvious that my brother wasn’t coming home, anger was replaced with concern. The police got involved. That night was a long one, everyone couldn’t sleep wondering where he had gone, but I was wondering why he was so greedy not to have given me my half of the mango before leaving. The more I thought about it the more convinced I was that he has cheated me on purpose and I got angrier.

While we worried, Eleven year old Ebube was on his way to Alafia with a bagco supersack containing his clothes and our mango. On getting there he asked for a bus going to Anambra and asked to meet the conductor. Now, he might have been a lot of things but he wouldn’t steal, so it happened that he had no money. He explained to the conductor that he was a house boy being maltreated by his madam and he was returning home to his parents in the village. Just imagine!

Trust Nigerians to take sides with the seemingly downtrodden. They all cursed his wicked madam, took pity on him and gave him free attachment seat and so began his very first night travel. By morning, he was already at Upper Iweka, there he asked for a bus going to Adazi-ani and gave the same sub story. You might be wondering why they were all so gullible. All you have to do is look at his face now, then imagine how much gentler and sympathy evoking he must have looked back then. Let’s just say Nollywood is missing a great actor.

The traveller
The traveller

Getting close to Adazi-ani, he asked them to drop him at the Catholic Church there which they did and even wished him luck for good measures.

Once inside the church, everything became a breeze, he called my grandma’s name, though that was unnecessary. The face had already spoken for itself and they went to fetch my grandma.

Prior to this my grandma had been begging them to bring us kids home for her but mhen, I’m sure she didn’t want it to happen this way.

So many questions and exclamations later they tried to reach us. There were no mobile phones at the time and though I like to call my village ‘small London in town’, getting a landline in my small London couldn’t have been easy.

Meanwhile you can just imagine the state of those of us in Lagos. Mango forgotten, I had joined in praying for him. Some neighbours explained that they saw him leave with a sack. Somehow those from the villa got through to us and told us he was there. While my parents were different degrees of relieved, we the kids were awestruck; we could never pull that off even given enough fare to travel. I didn’t even know any motor park in Lagos and I am four years older than him! He was something of a legend to our small minds.

He was also the first one to ever drive my dad’s car out in his absence. None of us had the courage to even consider it let alone actually do it. I remember how we all stood round him as he got into the car.

Agozie: Hehn, Ebube, are you sure you can drive it?

Me: You better come out from there. I’ll tell daddy.

Dindu: (Wrinkles his nose at him, daring him.) You cannot.

Joshua: I will tell daddy o (all the while smiling, visibly excited in expectation of an adventure and hoping he does it.)

He did it and when my dad returned no one said anything, until he stretched his luck thin by beating Joshua who finally reported him in vengeance.

Let’s just say this guy  has done things; some I remember only in bits, most too long to include in one post. He should just pray that Karma is merciful to him because if his kids do to him half of what he did to my parents… Well, it’s his innocent wife I pity.

This is his birthday week and since all these came to mind i thought it might be a ood idea to wish him a happy one this way.

As for the moral lesson; if your child is troublesome today, worry not, they could be better tomorrow.

 

Much Ado About Home Training

“You were trained. Most Lagos girls will not know how to do that.” A Yoruba man said to me today when i displayed some sort of domestic skill.

Now, a Yoruba man’s standard of what constitutes the behaviour of a well trained child is definitely higher than that of any other tribe in the world. For instance; smile and greet a Yoruba man, lacing the greeting with as much humility and sweetness as you can muster and he will still consider you ill trained all because you did not bend at the knees to show respect. So you can imagine my pride at the compliment. I felt like my wife material had the most yards in the world – enough to sew agbada for the fattest man in the world for his entire life – and the only man whose husband material could ever match mine was Errol Barnett. In fact I was ready to ask the Yoruba man to repeat the compliment while I record it and share with Errol on twitter. Forget Beyonce and Nicki, I was feeling myself!

Then it occurred to me that that particular domestic skill will not be useful to Errol and I mellowed.

Even if you do not keep up with the Kardashian/Jenner girls on TV, bloggers like Linda Ikeji have ensured that we have no choice but to keep up with them one way or the other. Though I boast that my time is too precious to waste it watching KUWTK, I won’t claim to remove my eyes when I see stories about them on blogs. One such post revealed one of the Jenner girls saying she doesn’t know how to wash clothes and has never had to wash anything in all her life. Ehn? But she can knack shop!

Nzuto! Was my first thought and when I scrolled through the comments section everyone there shared my opinion.

Thinking about it now brings to mind my first time cooking soup in Adamawa state where I did my NYSC. It was Egusi soup and after buying my melon, i went around asking for where to grind it. The girls I met in the first stall laughed so hard and regarded me like a lost UFO. I left feeling they probably didn’t understand English. Several stalls later and one person finally answered me.

“Go and grind it by yourself nau.” Then it was my turn to regard her as an alien. Who grinds Egusi without a machine? I left for another stall where the woman told me that she could grind Egusi. Sweet relief! The relief died immediately I saw her bring out mortar and pestle.

” What of your machine?” She returned my Egusi to me and told me to go grind it myself, pointing to her little daughter and saying the girl could grind Egusi. They too laughed me out of their stall.

This continued until I saw an Igbo woman who directed me to the modern market where I could find other Igbo women like me who blend melon with a machine. I felt like I had travelled back in time and for the first time I doubted all the home training I always prided myself in having.

To those northerners I was a spoilt city girl who will definitely mess up in my marriage.

Other than having a white Christmas, being in Adazi-ani  is the next best way to spend Christmas. One holiday while in the villa I went to visit an aunt and found her cooking with firewood. The smoke troubled my eyes so much and my aunt noticed when I tried moving away and asked;

“Ogo, have you learnt to cook with firewood?”

“Ha, aunty! No oh.”

“As you are learning to use gas you should also learn to use firewood because you never know the kind of marriage you will find yourself in and what will be available for you.”

The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent taketh it by force. In that instance, in my heart, I was more violent than the fiercest terrorist as I rebuked a firewood husband from my life and claimed an electric cooker one. Ahn ahn, we should be going higher not lower jare.

I’m sure my aunty and the Fulanis must have thought I lack home training just as I thought of the girl who cannot wash clothes.

Unlike Kylie Jenner, I can wash. Like her, I hate washing clothes, so why will I be able to afford a washing machine and choose instead to hand wash a clothe that can be washed by a machine? Is my name afufu? Why will you come to the world and choose suffering over an easy life, especially when the life of suffering isn’t making you better in the areas that matter?

So, no, I do not consider ill trained anyone that does not wash because they have a machine and will always have enough money to afford a machine.

Don’t tell me that in times of suffering they will not cope. Truth is some people’s future is insured such that even their tenth generation will not see suffering. Come to think of it, where has the Masters degree in grinding and washing taken us to? While we are busy washing for hours a rich child will leave his clothes to the washing machine and use that time to do more productive things; like invent another machine. Or why do you think Kim kardashian became a millionaire and an entrepreneur from selling sex tapes while our runz girls are there washing?

Don’t get me wrong, training a child to learn all they can is important, but the truth is that times are changing and what is considered important is changing as well. A time will come when you can survive without pounding and washing skills but will be lost without IT skills. So what’s the big deal about domestic skills anyway?

Home training has gone beyond being able to kneel  and mop floor. Move with the times and get yourself an electric mop and if anyone calls you ‘Spoilt’ call them ‘Sufferhead’ and move on.

What this long post is simply relaying is that proper home training does not equal being domesticated, but is simply inculcating the right values and necessary skills in your child. If the ability to pound is necessary for your situation, then by all means teach them that, but don’t condemn another who never needed that skill hence doesn’t possess it.

The Outcast

Uncertainty is one of the attributes of life, such that one starts a day not knowing how or where it will end or that it could be the turning point that changes everything forever.

At the back of our compound is a square concrete water tank. By the top right corner is  a small square opening, with a steel door through which we fetch water.

Along the edges of the roof covering our house runs a shallow trough we call ‘Gutter’ which terminates in a funnel attached to a pipe built into the tank. When it rains, water runs down the roof into the gutter and straight into the tank through the funnel.

Most families have a round shallow well, Umi, dug in their compound which produces water, orange in colour. This they cover with palm fronds. Only few have tanks like us.

It is to the top of this tank that I go whenever I want to be alone.  On a hot morning, as the sun took its place, I lay on the top of the tank and stared straight at the sky and the trees beyond our fence. Squirrels raced between palm trees and the owls hooted loudly. Every thing came alive with the new morning, except me. I felt logy. I had begun having a very restless feeling. I was not sure what it was, but I felt a strong need for change and deeply resented the fact that from sunrise to sundown it was the same things I saw; same trees, animals, people…

It was especially because of the people that I wanted to leave. The sound of cutlass hitting a tree in the distance alerted me to the presence of Odumegwu. I made an effort not to look at him strapped to the top of the tree but soon lost and peeped with my side eye.

Two moons back he had returned from the city and to everyone’s surprise settled into tapping palm wine and harvesting palm fruits like he did before he travelled. No one could comprehend why he felt the need to condescend to doing such tasks rather than live the life of luxury  his rank allowed. As he hit at the root of the palm fruit the muscles of his arms and legs bunched and flexed. Sweat glistened on his skin causing his grey sleeveless vest to cling to his chest. No doubt, there were other maidens, like me, watching him from their homes.

One heavy head of palm fruit fell with a loud thud and others followed until everywhere was silent again. I looked up wondering why he was not making any move to come down and there he was, leaning against the thick rope tied round his waist to the tree, his feet against the trunk.

He smiled and beckoned. I looked away convinced he was communicating with someone else, probably someone walking past below. He whistled loudly and when I looked at him he beckoned again. I put my hand against my chest, with a questioning look.  He nodded. He was indeed referring to me.

“You can’t be seen with me.” I warned when we met on the road, a great distance between us, and then asked the question on every villager’s mind. “You have servants, why must you climb the palm tree?”

“How else will I get to watch the girl I plan to marry lying on her tank?”

“You can never marry me.”

“I can’t? Why?”

On hearing footsteps i sprang further away from him and quickly turned to find Olugbajieboys rounding the bend with her elder sister, ugomma, supporting her weight.

Olanma was the most beautiful girl in Ejiochi. Some believed her to be the reincarnate of Sister Rosemary, a caucasian Reverend Sister, who had come to our village on mission duties and died of meningitis. Other Sisters returned to England after a while but Sister Rosemary remained with us, even after she became sick.

She had said “Wherever the work of the lord still needs to be done, that is my home” and stayed  till she breathed her last, lying on a mat in Olanma’s great grandmother’s hut. It is said that she had also requested to be buried in our land but the white men wouldn’t have that and took her body home.

When Olanma was born, she had hair the colour of the sun and skin like an over ripe pawpaw fruit. Those who came to visit at her birth upon seeing the child exclaimed “Ewoo! Sister Rosemary has come back to us.”

Her beauty was such that everyone who saw her stared unabashedly and kept turning to take several looks. She had gotten the nickname ‘Olugbajieboys’ when a freeborn had been staring at her so much that he failed to notice the ditch in front of him. He fell and broke his neck.

Now, Olugbajieboys didn’t seem like her beauty could possibly turn the head of any boy to the point of breaking. She had lost all form of comeliness and her veins and bones strained against what little flesh she had left.

She and her sister regarded both of us with a mix of suspicion and surprise as they paid courtesy to Odumegwu.

“Daa Ugomma, anya gi. It’s been a while” I greeted

“Anya n’ibe ya. Yes, it has.” She agreed “It is Olanma’s health that has been carrying us about.”

“Kedu nu? How are you doing?” Both sisters seemed startled by  Odumegwu’s question and saying nothing, nodded in the affirmative to show they were well then turned back to me.

“I am fine.” Olanma spoke slowly “At least I believe I will be better now that these have been removed from my body” She opened her hand to reveal a number of short black pins, some were rusted and she went on to explain.

“We are just coming from Nneosa village where their dibia, Onwanetiriobodo, is one like us and also very powerful. Just one tap at the affected areas and the pins fell off like rain.”

“Hmmm. Evil people! So they poured pin in you and that is what has been making you this sick? I suspected. Thank God you didn’t go to a medical hospital.”

“Ha, thank God o.” Ugomma raised both hands and eyes heavenward. “Those hospitals that for just ordinary cold they will inject you. By now she should be dead. You know needle and needle cannot go together. When their modern needle meets our native needle in the body, that is immediate death.”

“Of course.” I agreed, shivering at the thought of how close Olanma had come to dying.

By my side Odumegwu scoffed. He didn’t need to say anything. I knew he didn’t believe in pins and other diabolical events.

“What do you have to say?” I challenged.

“Nothing. Just that I am convinced that it is these native doctors who manufacture the pins and make you believe it is coming from your body. This business of sending pin into people’s bodies through the air is a lie cooked up by them to stay in business.

“Then how will you explain the restoration of good health afterwards?”

“Simple, the native doctors cause you to be sick so you can come to them for a cure then they collect your money and make you well again.”

“You see? So if you believe that a native doctor can send sickness to people why can’t you believe that there are other evil people who can also do same?”

He opened his mouth to argue again but I deliberately looked away bringing an end to the conversation.

Trying to convince people like him who have everything going well for them that evil exists in the world is impossible, but it still doesn’t change the fact that there is. Some we understood; like how someone could help uncork your drink and flick poison embedded in their finger nail into your drink. Others were beyond our comprehension. It is such as these that cause us, at gatherings, when not sipping our drink, to cover the bottle with our thumb pad to safeguard our drink from being poisoned through the air. It is also in this same way that pins are being sent into people’s bodies. This, however, is incomprehensible to foreigners like Father Maxwell and well-travelled natives.

Ugomma and Olanma said their goodbyes and left.  After that, we stood quiet for moments; I, looking everywhere but at him and he, staring at me without looking away.

“What?” I asked sharply.

“You still haven’t answered my question.”

“Except you want to claim that your memory was washed away in that city that you went to, you know the reason.”

“Yes, my memory was refined by the city. So go ahead and tell me why.” I noticed that during the course of our argument he had moved nearer and we were closer than was acceptable. I took several steps back.

“What has your mother done for you to choose to kill her?” He looked at me confused while I continued “Go and find someone else, one like you, or if you can’t, tell your mother to find one for you. We have no business together. You are a freeborn and I, an outcast.

Surprise transformed his face “You mean you are an ‘Osu’?”  I nodded in the affirmative waiting for the withdrawal. The freeborn have no business with outcasts. We are the scum of the earth and the merest communication with an Osu could turn a freeborn into one of us.

Like lepers, we are avoided, with separate markets, hospitals, schools, even Church, from the freeborn. At first the missionaries tried to integrate us but they would not have it and stayed away from church altogether and from the God who encouraged them to mix with those of us who owe our lives to the mercy of the Oracle.

When one who faces the danger of being killed or being sold into slavery runs into a shrine for protection, his life is spared but he becomes a property of the Oracle. He, his family, descendants and livestock become Osu. No one can kill him or his family else they will also become contaminated.

Father Maxwell, while trying to encourage us said we are like Cain in the bible on who God placed a mark so that no one would kill him while he wandered on exile. He asked us not to lose hope, that someday, like Cain, our exile will end. I seriously doubted it.

Marriage to an Osu also contaminated a freeborn so I expected Odumegwu to realise his error and walk away any minute and was surprised when he didn’t.

His surprise turned to anguish.

“I will have another talk with my father to end this segregation.” He promised and it was my turn to scoff.

“Just go. The Igwe’s power does not extend this far. Even if he could end it in our village we will still be despised by other villages.”

“Then go with me to the city. No one cares if you are an Osu there.” My heart beat faster. I wanted to go but feared the wrath of my parents and his parents, the Igwe and Lolo.

Without giving me time to retreat, he closed the space between us thus putting a chink in the walls of my resolution. “You are going with me to a place where there are no pins and black magic. I will show you the white man’s magic which is amazing and harmless. Don’t you want to know how it feels to be treated as a freeborn?”

I needed no further encouragement.

 


 

It has been five years since we eloped to the city and for the first time since then we are home bound. Ugegbeze, Odumegwu’s sister, and her husband, Peter, are also riding with us.  Emboldened by her brother’s action, she had equally defied tradition to become an Osu by marrying one and had been faced with the same fate as he, disownment.

But a father’s anger can only last for a while. And where pride wouldn’t let a man go back on his words, sometimes love prevails. Odumegwu’s parents have asked us to return for reconciliation and an integration of the Osu people into community.

I believe it is the birth of their grandchildren; twin girls from me and a very new baby boy from Ugegbeze that has softened their heart towards us enough to want to change the status quo.

Looking around the car at my family, all of us Osu- the first royal Osu family, but not for long- I know that there is no battle that cannot be won with bravery. Odumegwu and Ugegbeze braved the part no royal dared take and paved the way. The wind of change is sweeping through Ejiochi, even Olugbajieboys has been touched by it. She, an Osu, is married to Anyannaya, the freeborn lad who fell into a ditch watching her. I hear he said that though he came out of the physical ditch he fell into that day, he never wants to get out of the emotional one he’s fallen into since knowing Olanma.

I am happy for us all, but of all the joys of victory, the greatest is the knowledge that none of my children will have to grow up like I did; an outcast.

Why I Went Natural

As at the time I went natural, I hadn’t noticed Chimamanda’s hair.I had just retured from NYSC. Now, all through Youth Service and University, I didn’t have access to TV and whenever I returned home for the short holidays, rather than watch TV stations where I would have got a glimpse or such information about her, I would binge on all the movies I missed while away.

It may also come as a surprise but I never read any of her books till after I had my hair cut. I had named her as my role model in my final year year book, not because of her books or her looks but because she was postively popular and that I wanted to be.

Chika Unigwe and Nnedi Okoroafor, I came to know even much later.

When I went natural, the only naturals I had noticed were mostly deeper life women and the state of their ‘naturalness’ left nothing to be desired.

My grandmother was my push. I had never seen my grandma’s real hair because it was always threaded. She would go to the saloon in Oye Neni, there they will loose the old one, wash it and make a new one, so that she always returned home with the same hairstyle, the skin of her forehead stretched taut against her skull and shiny, the only testament to a new hairdo.

Then she became ill and couldn’t make her weekly trips to Oye Neni. My cousin and I had returned to spend the short break from school with her and my cousin offered to thread her hair. The mass of coily, black, wool, when set free from the thin thread which bound them was unbelievable. Her hair was just too much, nothing I had ever seen on a Nigerian woman’s head could compare.

Yet, that wasn’t her full length. Each strand of hair lengthened as she threaded. That day I truly believed that relaxer is indeed a chemical and does more harm than good to our hair. I decided that as soon as I could, I would start afresh.

Feminism is also not the reason. I do not like being  dictated to. Being associated with a certain movement or school of thought places people in a box which expects them to act by the precepts of that movement and gets you criticized once you deviate. I cherish my freedom. I like being able to do what I want and change my mind when I want to.

Some believe as a true ‘naturalista’ you can’t have weaves and other attachments. Not me. I eat my cake and have it when I can and with my natural hair, I can.

So when next you see me sporting my afro, can you just stop with the “Chimamada protegé” please? You can call me “Nwanyimaluogo protegé” though, I won’t mind at all 🙂

An Unusual Affair

For the first time I’m in love. For as long as I can remember I have anticipated this occurrence. While little girls and boys went through a phase where they detested the opposite sex and the idea of marriage, I never did.

It was a lively street I grew up in. I still live there but it is no longer the same, with families now less communal. At the time, individuals did not have the luxury of generators. Once night falls and ‘NEPA’ seizes power we would all come outside. The parents would lounge in wooden reclining chairs which almost every home owned while they enjoyed the fresh air. Sometimes they relaxed as a group, inside of our corridor, which is the largest and closest to the street, hence more breeze. Other times they just sat in their respective corridors and watched the kids. We, the kids would play every game conceivable.

‘London Bridge is falling down’ bored me easily. ‘Orioma, Danger’ held my attention a bit longer due to the heady feeling of letting myself go completely and being caught before i hit the ground. However the night was never complete until I had played at being a bride. I would tie my scarf the way we were taught to do in block rosary; holding the scarf vertically in front of my face, I would pass it round my face to the back of my head and knot the two edges then lift the hanging part of the scarf covering my face over my head. This was the best way to achieve length and I would have my veil no other way.

Any one of my neighbours usually held my veil while a  visibly bored boy would act as my groom, walking me down the aisle to the voice of kids singing ‘Here comes the bride’. I remember now that the boys never liked the wedding games. They preferred ‘catcher’ or ‘police and thief’ but Nnenne, who always played the officiating minister, was a bully and always got them to co-operate.

Way into my teen years, my fantasy continued. “State wedding” was what I told everyone I will have. It had to be, because my groom will be prominent just like the princes in my story books.

After most of the families moved away and more private families moved in, I had become too old to play wedding games. After meals I would make a hole in the middle of my meat, pass my wedding ring finger through it and wear it for the rest of the day. Once I slept with it and while bathing the next morning felt great pain on my finger. Rat had had a feast.

Soon the kids I grew up with started getting married. It began with Fatima. While other kids were shocked at the news of her wedding, because we had yet to leave secondary school, I was upset. I was meant to be the first bride on the street. Everyone knew. Not long after she announced her wedding and stopped coming to school we were taught about VVF in GEM club meeting and they played a movie clip for us to watch in the school auditorium.

“We need to save Fatima.” I suggested to our GEM club matron once the movie ended “We can’t let her get married and have VVF.”

I don’t believe my concern was as noble as I presented it to be, but for some reason my fourteen year old self felt it my duty to reclaim my place as the first bride.

Then Zainab got married and Awele followed. I received all their wedding cards and treated it dismissively. Ugly card! What kind of name does her husband bear? Their wedding venue is not even nice. It’s not even as stately as mine would be… I would think as I tossed the wedding card aside.

Soon I began actively searching for my prince charming; every outing my parents took us on was an avenue and rather than bond with my family, I would walk away making friends with the boys. Sadly these friendships never blossomed into proper relationships because of Dauda.

Dauda is my father’s faithful driver. He has been with us now for over twelve years. My father would always joke that Dauda keeps to time because he is from Togo and Nigerian time doesn’t apply to him. Tell Dauda that you have an event for 5:00 am and he will be there ahead of time. Lagos traffic never held him back. He was also very loyal to my father and followed his instructions without question or conscience.

“Once lectures are over, bring her back home immediately.” My father had instructed when I got into the university. He answered by blinking his eyes. He rarely spoke. My mother says it is because of the way he was mocked when he newly came into Nigeria and tried speaking English. He spoke it so badly that the entire ‘umu boy’ on the street teased him. Since then he mostly blinks or gestures.

Perhaps it is because he doesn’t speak that is why I can’t get through to him. I would try to bribe or cajole him into letting me stay longer after school to chat and he will simply stand holding the door ajar and looking at me with a straight face like he was dumb. Once I defied him and stayed on and without a word he drove off and returned much later with my father, looking thunderous.

Sometime in January, a week after Christmas, I had a test in school. Dauda had travelled to his home country to spend the holiday and was to return before school resumed however I got a call asking us to return to school earlier for a test.  I had to call for a cab to take me to school.

It was a cold harmattan morning and the red cab arrived late, to my annoyance. I was used to Dauda and his timing that the three minutes delay seemed unforgivable. I scolded the driver as I got in and nagged him for almost the entire journey from Victoria Island to Yaba.  He was silent, occasionally glancing at me through the rear view mirror. After he dropped me at school he inquired if he could come pick me after wards. I agreed grudgingly. He began arriving before time after that first incident. When Dauda returned I begged my father to ease Dauda’s stress and leave him to drive my siblings while Anthony, the cab driver, drove me.

It was my final year and I needed to be in school at odd hours and for longer periods, so he agreed. Anthony was a ‘guy man.’ He would let me stay after school and even drive me to visit friends, soon I made many friends, most of them male and because I could not share my adventures with my siblings for fear that my escapades be reported to my father, I shared with Anthony.

I would give him the full history of a boy and he would tell me if the boy really liked me or not and logically give reasons as to his conclusion. Soon we formulated a game. We would both lean against his cab when he comes to pick me and each guy I point at he would give me a history. He was almost always correct.

“Play boy!” he exclaimed when I pointed at Chukwuemeka. He was right. Every girl knew Emeka’s reputation, yet yearned for him. Too shy, he said of Godspower and he swore to me that Akpabio was a cultist and warned me not to go near him.

A day before my final exams were to start, I called for Anthony not to bother coming for me since I was ill. 9:35 am, after my parents left for work and siblings for school, he was at the house.

“I thought I told you not to come” I said to him as I let him in.

“I couldn’t stay away.” He answered sympathetically handing me a black nylon bag. “What are you doing falling sick? Don’t you know your final exams starts tomorrow?”  He knew my calendar that well and knew about my exam but rather than answer I was looking uncomfortably at the content of the bag.

“Why did you buy me stuff? You know you don’t have money!” I scolded him and he laughed so hard that I was laughing too, not minding that it worsened my headache.

“I know you are an undergraduate of banking and finance but surely you haven’t started spying on my bank account.” He spoke English so well for a cab driver and I had mentioned it to him earlier. He explained that he had the hopes of completing his education and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

“I know you are an undergraduate of Philanthropy but you shouldn’t start your charity work with me.”  I teased, then added “How sweet of you.” I kissed him then, briefly. Then again, deepening it.

Our relationship began that beautiful day, two years ago. In two months’ time, Anthony and I will be married. The invitation cards in my hand are proof of that, but I am having great issue addressing the cards and deciding on whom to invite or not to.

I know my friends and even my parents’ friends. They will want to know who I am getting married to; what he does, who his father is… and many more questions of the sort. I know because I had asked similar questions from friends when they gave me their invitation card. For the information too inappropriate to ask an intending bride, I gathered from the gossip mill and the final ones, like whether he is handsome and his personality, I decided for myself by attending the wedding.

I never liked attending people’s wedding. It reminded me that I was yet to fulfil my own fairy tale dreams, but I did all the same, just to satiate my curiosity. Now it is my turn.

I am proud of Anthony and though he has vehemently refused to quit his job just yet, I know the best of him is yet to come and it doesn’t bother me that he is a taxi driver. I hope everyone else will mind their business and not care too.

If you marry taxi driver, I don’t care. As I have chosen to marry a taxi driver, just let us be.

The Way To A Man’s Heart Is … Not His Stomach.

When a woman is getting married, our people gift her kitchen wares because it is our belief those will help her fulfill her most important role; succeed in your kitchen and all will be well with your marriage.

I am certain  this lie was invented by the side chics and concubines of those days who are well aware that once the man’s tummy is full, the eyes is now free to roam in search of eye candies.

Some things have substitutes. Thanks to fast foods and home delivery, if a man’s stomach is empty he can order take-away but, if his eye is hungry what does he order? The substitute for that one will lead to serious heart break.

If he turns to porn kenebechigi (thank your God) it could be worse. (Note: This is not an endorsement from me.)

On this note, if you care about me and want to be invited to tie gele and komole the best your aging bones will allow on our fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration, kindly get me these for my wedding and it will be a happy married life indeed;

  • Celine Dion CDs: There were some kinds of songs our parents listened to which made them birth seven, eight children. Those kinds of songs that put you in the mood to love, not the Iyeyeye of today that will leave you jumping around and tired in no time. There is a reason why most couples today have only two or three kids. I want a lot of kids so just give me music that will help my mission. You can add other blues you know will help.
  • Pole: Don’t ask what for. Just get me better strong pole, not the one I will fall from and move from being eye candy to eye sore.
  • High Heels in different colours: Try watching a woman strutting in heels and another on flats and you will know why this is important.
  • Dance Workout CDs: You don’t want me dancing like tolotolo on that pole while the subject of my moves will have his eyes elsewhere, say on TV watching Beyonce. I have to learn to out stunt her.
  • Lingerie, Lingerie and more Lingerie: My people, I hope you know that there is a difference between lingerie and underwear? Don’t ask Google, they don’t know that one. Just watch Nicki Minaj’s video a lot and you will get it. Plus lingerie is lighter to carry than Odo or microwave.

If you are still not convinced these are the right wedding gifts for me, my last argument is this; a man can reject the tastiest food when he is vexing but can he reject a woman looking like the one below? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.

Lingerie

Thanks for your future co-operation. Cupid bless you as you help make his work easier.