Month: September 2010

The Summer of 2006: Beware of False Prophets

I couldn’t stop fainting and the doctors couldn’t tell me what the problem was. Each time I fainted, I would get rushed to A&E. After running umpteen tests the verdict was always the same; we can’t find any irregularities.

Where I come from, every problem is spiritual. A cold is never just a cold. It is your grandmother’s cousin’s friend’s enemy’s spirit tormenting you. “I know what we should do,” said Aunty H to my mother, “let’s take her to see my pastor. He is a prophet too.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” I said to my mother.

“You have started. You are too stubborn. Is it not just prayer? Why do you always think you know best?” On and on she went. After receiving dozens of phone calls from concerned family members, I gave in.

As soon as I walked into the ‘church’, the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention. I knew I was in trouble. Dear God, if you get me out of this place in one piece, I will never disobey you again! We walked into the prophet’s office to find two characters waiting for us. Nollywood movie time. Prophet was sporting the strangest looking beard and his sidekick looked like something out of the Pirates of the Caribbean. God, I’m grateful you know how to handle jokers like this ‘cause I certainly don’t! I searched my memory for every scripture I knew on warfare. I realised I hadn’t been reading my bible as diligently as I should. God, I will change. I promise. Just deliver me!

‘Madam, what is the matter?’ asked the prophet.

‘She has been fainting and the doctors can’t find any reason for it,’ my mother replied.

Suddenly the sidekick started hopping around on one leg. “Argh, argh, argh!” he groaned.

Shut up my friend, what’s wrong with you?!

“There is a crown on her head!” the pastor screamed.

Blood of Jesus! I reject it! He who the son sets free is free indeed! Thunder fire you!

“There are rings on her fingers,” he continued.

God forbid! It is you that will marry the devil. Rabababarobobo!

“Release her now!”

Robosandarababa! No weapon of the enemy fashioned against me will prosper! God help me o!

“It is lifting, yes, it is lifting!”

Father, forgive me for coming here. Have mercy on me!

The sidekick, who had been hopping and groaning all this while, suddenly stood still.

“Madam, it is over now but there are two things she must buy, said prophet. The deliverance prayer book is £10 and the special oil is £15. There are some other things too. You can buy them if you have spare change. ”

Giving all present the dirtiest look my eyes could manage, I stormed out of the building.

Shababarobobo. I didn’t stop speaking in tongues for days!

Prophet, three words for you. YOU NEED JESUS.

xxx MEE

Dear Ken… Love, MEE

Dear Ken,

I am convinced the blood of my ancestors runs through your veins. Your resemblance to my Uncles Agbaya and Oju Kokoro is uncanny. Seeing as you’re one of us, I must award you the respect our culture demands I give to my elders.

Uncle Ken, I hear you are running for Mayor of London…again. You mean the 8 years you sat in office  is not enough for you? Let’s not forget the 5 years you ruled over the Greater London Council. Is London your inheritance? Haba, come on Uncle, don’t you think you’re being greedy? Leave a little something for the rest of us!

I hope you don’t mind me asking how you felt when Boris dethroned you back in 2008? Something tells me you were embarrassed but it’s okay if you weren’t. I was embarrassed enough for the two of us. I suspect you were and still are angry. Why else have you been writing column after column of insults to Boris in every paper possible?! You haven’t given Boris room to breathe for the last two years. Dignity Uncle, dignity. It’s obvious you’ve been in diaspora for too long. Such behaviour is beneath you. You should have ‘boys’ that do such things on your behalf. For a fee I might be able to hook you up. I know some Warri boys looking for work.

If you ask me, I think Boris winning was a clear sign that London was tired of you. Do you think they’ve missed you and forgiven your shenanigans? You’re my Uncle so I have to tell you the truth…I don’t think they have. Don’t mind me though, what do I know? I’m just a little girl that knows precious little about politics. Clearly your party still has faith in you. I can only pray for all your sakes that London is tired of Boris too. I mean, who won’t be tired of a man that refuses to brush his hair and tuck in his shirt properly?! On second thoughts Uncle, I think you stand a chance. You’re lucky your hairline has receded. Just make sure you tuck in your shirt.

Compared to you, Boris is a small boy. Like our people say, what an elder sees sitting down, a child cannot see if he climbs a ladder. I agree with them. What if the child climbs on the shoulder of the elder though? Won’t he have the advantage of seeing with two sets of eyes? Surely the elder will bear him up, no? I think that’s what Boris did. As the elder, I suggest you find a child in your compound to climb on your shoulders and give them the benefit of your eyes while you still can. As you know, an elder’s eyesight dwindles with time. Don’t wait until you go blind before you start wearing your glasses.

We are proud of you Uncle but we think it’s time for you to retire.

Love,

MEE

p.s.

Say hello to Aunty, Aunty, Aunty and the kids.

SHINGALINGA- A Brand New Concept

I lied. Shingalinga (sheen-gah-lean-gah) in itself is not a new concept, it’s just one I assumed had gone undefined till my friend Moin-Moin told me otherwise. It’s hard to define but by the time you finish reading this post, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

You wake up one morning, look round your flat and think ‘this place needs a good clean.’ You put your stereo on full blast, get out all your cleaning agents and draw up a plan of attack. If you’re like me, you start with your wardrobe. In one fell swoop, you empty its contents onto the floor. ‘Right, let’s get arranging.’ You fold all your jeans and stack them in a neat pile. T- shirts, another pile. Cardigans next. By the time you get to the flimsy tops that have no discernible folding pattern, the shingalinga starts to wear off. You grab your clothes off the floor and stuff them back in your wardrobe. Back to the storage cupboard the cleaning agents return. Shingalinga over. Flat is still upside down.

Moin-Moin and I went shopping in Paris and were horrified at the figures printed on the price tags. A drab shift dress for €50? We felt cheated. Surely it can’t be that difficult to sew? A quick Google search showed us the fabric hotspot in Paris and off we went to Montmartre. We were worse than kids in a candy store. After spending hours salivating over endless rows of fabric, we brandished our cards and headed home with fabrics, buttons and all sorts of tailoring bric-a-brac. We designed the clothes we were going to sew. Moin-Moin was determined to sew a beach dress for our beach holiday a few days later. All this in the heat of the Shingalinga. The fabrics are still sitting at the bottom of our wardrobes.

My adopted sisters and I decided it would be nice to do something different for Christmas this year. Caught up in the moment, I suggested renting a log cabin in the Lake District. Think Tyler Perry’s ‘Why Did I Get Married 1.’ Everyone bought the idea. I pictured the girls turning up with their respective boyfriends, playing in the snow, walking along the lake and enjoying the amazing scenery. We would have Christmas dinner in front of an open fire; turkey, potatoes, jollof rice, dodo gizzard, mulled wine, pudding… heaven! I had a clear vision of how the holiday would pan out. Intent on getting my dream cabin, I volunteered to plan the trip.

Girls, the shingalinga has worn off!

xxxMEE

There Are Levels. Make Sure You Know Yours.

For reasons that may be explained another day, my mother went through a phase where she decided going to one church was not enough. My poor brothers and I found ourselves going for 6am Mass and then trekking to the opposite end of town to what we Nigerians call a white garment church (WGC).

The church was interesting. Most of the service was conducted in Yoruba. I’m not Yoruba. To be fair to them, they often had a translator to translate the sermons into English. Given that the English still sounded like Yoruba, they shouldn’t have bothered.

We didn’t like this second church. Not only was it FAR from our house, the services lasted for an eternity and on the days my mother woke up on the wrong side of the bed, we had to wear the white dress thing too! We just didn’t get it. Wasn’t one church enough?!

My brother G was always the brave one. One Sunday morning we arrived at WGC cranky as can be. We were hungry and tired and G decided the time had come to put his foot down. B and I grudgingly got out of the car but G sat tight. My mother had gotten out and was talking to someone so she didn’t immediately notice he had locked himself in the car.

I stood well away. Blood was about to be shed.

‘G, get out of that car now!’

No response.

‘Am I not talking to you? Get out from there before I lose my temper!’

No response.

‘G, what has come over you? Get out now!’

‘Mummy I’m not coming down.’

 To my astonishment she turned around and headed into the church.

Ah, I thought, no blood? I can do this too.

B and G went away to boarding school so I had mummy all to myself. As had become the norm we headed from Mass to the WGC. That day I decided it was time to try my luck. As soon as my mother got out of the car, I slammed down the lock on her door. The central lock kicked in.

Aha! Today me too I’m not going inside that church.

‘MEE, what do you think you’re doing?’

‘Mummy I’m not going inside.’

My face was set like concrete. I needed the attitude to match the words.

‘You’re not going inside ehn?’

Before I could respond I heard the locks opening.

Have you ever been knocked before? Actually, not knocked, konked? My head was on fire!

‘You will tell me when all this nonsense started. Konk’

‘You are now too big to listen to me ehn? Konk’

‘By the time I finish with you, you will tell me who gave birth to who. Konk’

She grabbed me by my ear and dragged me into the building.

‘Ah, madam, ki lo n sele? What is happening? Ejo ma, e rora. Take it easy.’

Heeding the plea of the good samaritan, she flung me by my ear and said in the calmest of voices, ‘try this nonsense again and see what will happen to you.’

I never did.

xxxMEE

Meet My Random Friends… and Enemy

There’s a cafe a few yards from my house and in it usually sits this woman who works at the local Natwest Bank. She has breakfast there every day while she waits for the bank to open. If I walk past the cafe and she isn’t there, it usually means I’m running late. We always make eye contact but never smile at each other. Maybe I’ll say hello tomorrow.

There’s a guy that works at my local train station. He is every girl’s friend. Woman wrapper. Sometimes his friendliness crosses the invisible boundary I have set before him. He once tried to hug me. I don’t even know his name! I started to avoid him. During the ash cloud debacle I didn’t see him for weeks. I started to worry. Had he been fired? Was he ill? Just as I considered asking one of his colleagues, he re-appeared. I was so relieved to see him, I hugged him! He’d been stuck abroad. Absence made my heart grow fonder. I have now gone back to avoiding him.

There’s a guy that works at the Marks and Spencer near my office. He quite rapidly graduated from making eye contact to saying hello to shaking my hand to hugging me to air kisses. None of these actions I sanctioned mind you. He once gave me a free croissant. For that reason and that reason alone, I’m all smiles when I see him. I never know what awoof (freebie) is coming my way next. After all, it’s not just food, it’s M&S food!

There’s a guy who works in the kitchen at the McDonalds near my office. I went through a phase when I had their pancake and sausage every morning and now as soon as I walk in, the guy grins and shouts ‘pancake and sausage coming right up!’ Never mind that I might fancy a McMuffin instead. I never have the heart to correct him so whether I like it or not, pancake and sausage it always is. Bless his heart.

Now there’s one woman I don’t like at all. She always stands in my spot on the platform and like that isn’t bad enough, when she sees me coming, she grins smugly. ‘Ha ha, got here first!’ She really annoys me. One day I decided to teach her a lesson. I got to the station and there she was in my spot. No problem.  I made a point of standing really close to her. Close enough to whisper in her ear. She was visibly uncomfortable. She moved a little to get away from me. I moved even closer. She moved some more. When I was standing directly opposite the middle seats of the bench on the parallel platform, I stopped. ‘Aha, now who’s in front of the door? Muhaha!’

I haven’t seen her in my spot since.

 xxxMEE

Thou Shall Not Be Miserly

I have a surrogate big sister. Technically she is my aunt but growing up, she was the sister I never had. Sometimes I didn’t like her. She wouldn’t let me borrow her clothes, she’d scold me and most annoyingly, she had no qualms embarrassing me in front of my friends.

I have no idea where she went but on her return home one day, she arrived with a 1Litre carton of apple juice. Now I’m in England, apple juice is not a big deal but back then in Nigeria, it was. I begged her to put it in the freezer so we could enjoy it cold. She refused. She locked it up in her wardrobe. Miser.

Weeks went by and still she refused to open it. One day my begging turned to anger. Who turns apple juice into a souvenir? Was it not made to be drunk? If she wasn’t going to drink it, that was her problem. I would help her.

I didn’t dare open the carton. I had a better plan. At the time she was doing some biochemistry project at university that involved syringes and needles so she had a few lying around her room. I adopted one of each.

I grabbed a glass, inserted the syringe into a corner of the carton and began to extract the apple juice. After I had extracted enough to fill the glass, I returned the carton to her wardrobe. I put the glass of apple juice in the freezer and waited for it to chill.

Apple juice has never tasted as good.

I waited for her to notice. She didn’t. A few days later, I repeated the exercise. Again, she was none the wiser. And so I continued till I had emptied the carton. Mission Accomplished.

A few months later, we were playing dress up in her room when she decided the time had come. ‘Let’s drink that apple juice,’ she said.

Oh, now you want to drink it?! Smirk.

The look on her face when she lifted the carton was priceless. The seal was intact, there was no evidence of leakage, no obvious punctures. I was good.

‘Could it have evaporated?’

‘These rats have started again. We need to fumigate this house.’

She looked so confused…and so did I. What on earth could have happened to the apple juice?

Now you know Aunty, now you know.

xxxMEE

The Importance of Being Honest

I have two brothers. We’ll call them B and G.

G went through a phase in our childhood where he never told a lie. It wasn’t so much that he was good, he was just fearless. B and I on the other hand weren’t so brave. One Saturday afternoon my mother unveiled a packet of HobNobs. After giving us our approved rations, she lined us up, told us in no uncertain terms not to touch the rest of the biscuits and left the house.

A few hours later I found B hiding in our bedroom, his face covered in biscuit crumbs. ‘I’m not there o!’ I shouted at him. I didn’t think he would get caught though. Surely my mother wouldn’t notice if one or two were missing? I plunked myself down in front of the TV and forgot all about B and his misdemeanour. Fast forward a few more hours.

‘B, G, MEE, COME HERE NOW!!!’ Oh oh, Mummy was back. We sprinted to her room dreading the plight that awaited us. ‘I’m innocent,’ I kept thinking, ‘I’ll be alright.’

‘Who ate the biscuits I left in my drawer?’

Straight to business. She wasn’t playing.

‘Mummy it wasn’t me,’ we all chorused.

‘I’ll ask you again. Who ate the biscuits I left in my drawer?’

‘Mummy I don’t know,’ we chorused.

‘G, was it you?’

‘No mummy, it wasn’t me.’

‘You can go. I know you don’t tell lies.’

Huh?! I thought to myself, that simple?

‘MEE and B, if one of you doesn’t confess I will flog you until you turn black and blue.’

Silence. What can I say, I WAS a loyal sister. I now know better.

‘You don’t want to confess ehn? Okay, I will deal with you.’

Before we could plan our exit strategy, she picked up her koboko and the flogging began.

‘Who ate the biscuits ehn, who ate the biscuits?!’

With each stroke the pitch of her voice went up a notch.

‘Mummy it wasn’t me!’ I wailed.

‘I will not have children who tell lies. Today you will learn how to tell the truth.’

Unable to bear the agony anymore, my brother cried out,’ I ate six and gave her four!’

YOU WHAT?!?!?!

‘B, you gave me what?! So you even ate everything. Why are you now lying?’

My mother focused all her attention on me.

‘Your brother has confessed and you are still lying. You are still lying.’

I’ve never been flogged so much in all my life. When B saw that my mother was willing to go for the grave, he fessed up.

‘Mummy I didn’t give her any, I ate it alone.’

With those words I escaped premature death.

I still haven’t forgiven you. Watch your back B…and you too Mummy!

xxxMEE

Free Indian Hair…For Those Who Want It!

From chemical straightening to braids to weaves to natural twists, a black woman’s hair is hardly ever in its natural state. I’ve been at my current job for three years yet my colleagues are still in awe of my ever changing hair. In the early days, although common sense told many of them that it was biologically impossible for me to turn up in a short bob one month and 16-inches of flowing locks the next, they chose to believe that black hair must be special. Astounded by their ignorance, I decided to educate them about black hair and all the weird and wonderful things that can be done to it.

A few weeks ago, I walked into my office sporting a weave. It was my first foray into the world of REAL human hair. I could have passed for an Indian girl. Well, from my hairline upwards.  Anyway, I thought I’d share a conversation that transpired between one of my Indian colleagues and myself.

‘Wow MEE, your hair looks really different. I really like it!’

‘Thanks X,’ I responded.

‘You added extensions didn’t you?’

‘Yeah, I did.’

‘Is it real human hair or synthetic?’

‘It’s real human hair. Indian hair to be precise.’

‘Ooh, is it?!’ she squealed, her voice rising a couple of octaves.

I chuckled. She was so excited I was convinced she was about to tell me the hair on my head came from one of her relatives.

‘You know, when I was in India, a lady that lived on my street used to sell hair. She used to tell me I could make a lot of Rupees from the hair that’s doing nothing on my head.’

Too right I thought, that hair on your head is redundant. In the two years I’ve known her, her hair has been permanently trapped in a ponytail as long as my arm.

‘She used to try and get me to sell my hair to her but I didn’t want to cut it. Recently I’ve been thinking about cutting it though. If I decide to cut it, you can have it.’

I almost choked on the air I was breathing.

‘WHAT?!’ I asked in disbelief.

‘Yes,’ she said, barely able to contain her excitement, ‘If I decide to cut it I will give it to you instead. Free of charge, you don’t have to pay me!’

The look on her face put paid to any feelings of offence. She clearly thought she was doing me a favour. I laughed so hard my breathing became erratic.

Kai, I have suffered!!!

xxxMEE

Go On, Leave Me breathless!

I love singing. In the shower, in bed, at work, on the streets, mid conversation…I can’t seem to stop myself. I’ve wound up many a friend with my incessant singing. They’d be talking to me and I’d be humming. It’s not that I’m not paying attention, I‘m just a dab hand at doing both things simultaneously!

It was the summer of 2000 and the song ‘Breathless’ by the Corrs was all the rage. I knew every word, every beat, every musical accompaniment to it. I was addicted. I had it playing on repeat at home till my entire household revolted. Haters. I didn’t let them rain on my parade. I stuck the CD in my Discman and kept feeding my addiction.

One fateful afternoon I went shopping with my mother. As was the norm in my teenage years, we had yet another argument on the way home. I was walking behind her to create more than just an emotional distance between us. I wasn’t going to let her get me down.

‘Go on, go on, leave me breathless.’ I started to sing, my strides matching the tempo of the song. I must have sung the line a million times because the next thing I knew I felt the back of her hand connect with my cheek. Like my people would say, she wozed me!

‘Go on, go on,’ she mimicked, ‘ shut up and let me hear word my friend!’       

At the time it wasn’t funny but now, I can’t think about the incident without cracking up. The song has never sounded the same to me.

MEE