Month: January 2011

I Really Must Discipline My Body Parts

This morning the hunger that visited me was like none I’ve ever entertained before. I tried. I tried really hard to banish it and was doing well till a colleague unravelled a chicken and bacon sandwich. Before I could stop them, my feet fled from my office building and sought asylum in Burley’s, a sandwich shop a few yards from my office.

Most of the ready made sandwiches on display were the equivalent of eating starch and banga soup for breakfast. Hungry though I was, I was conscious of the extra pounds I’m trying to get rid off.

“Do you do made to order sandwiches?” I asked the guy behind the counter.

“Yes we do. what would you like?”

“A ham sandwich please.” I didn’t want anything too heavy.

Just as he was about to pop the sanwhich in the toaster, I spotted a plate of avocados.

Oooh!

“Can you please add some avocado to that?” But avocado without chicken and bacon?

“And some chicken and bacon too.”

Hmn, since he was going to toast it, he might as well chuck in some cheese.

“And cheese please, cheddar” I added.

I compared my ‘light’ sandwich to the others staring at me through the display glass. They looked malnourished compared to mine.

The guy gave me a ticket and directed me to pay at the till.

“That’s quite a sandwich you’ve designed,” the girl at the till joked.

Shut up jo, who asked you?!

I laughed politely.

“That’s £7.20 please.”

I caught my jaw before it dropped. I’d avoided the ready made sandwiches because of the calories AND becasue at £4.95 a piece, I thought they were over priced. I stared at the coin purse I’d snatched up as my feet were bailing on me. I knew I only had £4 in there.

I began to pat my pockets in despair.

“O dear me, I’ve left my card at work! I’m so sorry. Hold that ticket, my office is only a few doors away. I’ll be back in 2 minutes!”

Before the girl could respond, my ever fleeing feet raced out of Burley and into Bagelmania where my incorrigible mouth ordered a plain bagel before I could stop it.

“What would you like in it?”

“Just butter please.”

“That’s 89 pence please.”

My proud hands spilled the contents of my coin purse on the counter before handing over the requested amount, lest anyone thought I couldn’t afford a measly bagel.

xxx

Waila Caan

p.s.

While writing this, I tried to find the official term used to describe someone who makes sandwiches. Apparently they are called creative deli professionals or sandwich artists or delicatessen specialists or sandwich artisans or sandwich designers. No comment.

Tales From My Motherland: Always Convert

I think in sterling. It’s the currency I get paid in and settle my bills in. Other currencies mean nothing to me, not unless I convert them to sterling. Whenever I cross the borders of the United Kingdom, I commission my mental calculator. It’s the only way I know whether or not I’m getting a good deal.

“How much do you charge to shape eyebrows?”

“Waxing, razor or tweezing?”

“Razor.”

“Aunty it is N1,500.”

250. 500. 750. 1000. £4. 250. 500. £2. £6. Marginally cheaper than the £7 I grudgingly pay at my local salon when I can’t be bothered to trek to Upton Park. I decided £6 was a small price to pay to trim the bush masquerading as my eyebrows.

Oya, come and shape it for me.”

…………………………………………..

“Julie Julie! How much will you charge me for twists? Not too tiny, medium sized.”

“Aunty na N10,000 you go pay.”

250. 500. 750. 1000. £4. Multiply that by 10. £40. In London, yes, but in Abuja?!

You be thief?!As I dey here so, if you shake me, that kind money no fit fall commot for my body. I beg call better money make we start.”

I ended up paying £20.

…………………………………………..

“My friend, this big bottle of Dettol, how much?”

“Madam na N3,000.”

250. 500. 750. 1000. £4. Multiply that by 3. £12. *dead* WHAT?!

Na gold you melt pour for inside bottle?! Una like to make person vex for this market. Which kind price be that?!

Madam na so we dey sell am. The price don go up e don reach three months now.

“You ,’ I said pointing a finger at the trader, “YOU, you fit buy Dettol for N3,000?”

“But madam, no be me wan buy am,” he giggled.

Cheeky monkey.

“That other size nko, 750ml, how much?”

“That one na N1,500.”

“Chineke! £6 for that small bottle?!” Sigh. “Oya bring that one but na N1,200 I go pay o.”

Wetin man go do? I was desperate.  

…………………………………………..

“Do you do hot food?”

“Yes, we do Panini’s and toasted sandwiches.” The waiter handed me a menu.

House Special Panini, N2,000. 250, 500, 750…£8 for a Panini. Everytime I pay £3.89 for one at Starbucks, I curse Tesco for being so far away from my Office. I flung the menu.

“Madam, you’re not ordering?”

Not on your life mate, not on your life.

My friends couldn’t stop laughing at me. I didn’t care. No one, NO ONE was going to cheat me in Lagos.

Nonsense!

Tales From My Motherland: Don’t You Just Love Family?!

Everytime I visit Nigeria, I meet a family member I’ve never met before. This time around I met my cousin EverReady, whose mother is my mother’s second cousin. Fortunately for him, his parents didn’t name him EverReady, I did.

On my first day in Lagos, I was awakened by the scent of EverReady’s cologne. He was dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and leather slippers. I wondered where he was going but I’d only known him a few hours so I decided to mind my business. He didn’t go anywhere, he was home all day.

On day two, I woke up to find EverReady dressed like P-Diddy (or whatever he calls himself these days) on his way to the Grammys. His grey and white striped shirt was starched to stiffness and tucked into a pair of black trousers, held in place by a handsome looking belt. The black leather shoes that imprisoned his feet were polished to mirror. This one wants to confuse all the girls in his office, I thought to myself. I wondered where he worked but didn’t ask. I barely knew the guy, cousin or not. We exchanged polite good mornings and then he proceeded to roam around the house all day, moving from room to room like a ticket inspector hunting down fare dodgers.

Day three. I woke up and headed for the living room. I opened the door to find EverReady in a pair of jeans, a dazzle-the-chicks shirt and the black shoes he had worn the day before. I had to say something.

“If you know you’re not going anywhere today, I beg you, go and change.”

“Why?” he asked, obviously confused.

“Who are you trying to convince that you have things to do? Every day you dress up like a betta person and then sit at home watching movies. If you know you’re not going anywhere, off your cloth and stop oppressing me!”

 He burst out laughing. I fell in like with him.

My family were the best thing about being in Lagos.

KFC smothered Efiko with constant displays of affection and Efiko pretended KFC was the most repulsive creature to ever grace the face of the earth.

I harassed Efiko every time I walked past the dining table where she sat furiously tapping away on her keyboard, notes scattered all around her. ‘Are you the first person to go to school? I beg stand up from there jo, efiko!’ ‘I’m not an efiko!’ she would protest, eyes still glued to her notes.

EverReady provoked CousinR every time she questioned his kitchen etiquette. ‘You’re not happy I help you in this kitchen. When you go to your husband’s house will he help you?!’ CousinR, the gentlest soul you’ll ever meet, always lacked a fitting retort. ‘Erm erm…you’re not serious! It’s not your fault!’ she would squeal in her high pitched voice.

Efiko and I relentlessly teased KFC about his expanding waistline. We would have left him alone if like me, he humbly accepted his reality and vowed to go on a 40 day fast. ‘I’m not fat,’ he would object, ‘I just have big bones and plenty of muscle.’

I teased my Uncle T mercilessly when he dragged KFC and EverReady out for an early morning walk only to come home and devour a huge mound of semovita and banga soup for breakfast. ‘I play tennis at least twice a week,’ he defended himself, palm oil dripping from the corners of his mouth.

I felt loved every time CousinR called home from work to check if I wanted or needed anything.

‘I’m in Shoprite, do you want a pizza?’

‘No thanks Cuz.’

‘Burger?’

‘No, thank you.’  

‘Nandos?’

‘Nah, I’m okay.’

‘Ice-cream? You can keep it in the freezer for later?’

I gave in. Isn’t she a sweetheart?!

Being in Lagos reminded me just how important family is.  In spite of all the migraines they induce, I love them, most of them, dearly. The same blood runs through our veins and that blood as they say, is thicker than water.

For Blood’s Sake

My brother G is potentially the most annoying person on the face of the earth. He asks too many questions, never washes his dirty dishes, floods the whole house every time he steps in the shower and eats like a famine is looming. He also spits like a pregnant woman and cleans his ears like the tiniest trace of wax will render him deaf.

I have no choice, blood says I have to love him.

He is a walking encyclopaedia. He knows everything about everything before everybody else. He watches and read the news from the moment he opens his eyes in the morning till nature forces them shut at night.

They say he is inquisitive but personally, I think he’s just an amebo.

They say he is intelligent. I say he surrounds himself with dim people to make his light shine brighter.

They say he is a budding politician, full of integrity. I say when he gets in there, he will steal all their money.

They say he is generous. I say he’s trying to buy their votes. His kobo does not fall in our compound.

They say he is sweet. I disagree. I’ll tell you why.

Last year my flat got burgled while I was at work slaving away to pay for the things the thieves stole. The world was concerned about my safety. ‘Don’t stay at home alone,’ everyone said. ‘Why not?’ I responded defiantly. I wasn’t going to let anyone rob me of my sense of security. Yet for a whole week I slept with a piece of wood by my bedside, ready to clobber anyone that ventured into my flat.

‘I’m coming to London,’ brother G said to me.

‘Why?’ I asked. I didn’t want company. I was trying to prove to myself that I wasn’t scared.

‘I have to work in London on Monday and I need somewhere to stay.’

Ooohhh, I moaned to myself. Which stupid work is this one doing in London?! I couldn’t leave him stranded. I said it was fine, I’d be home.

He showed up the following day, a Sunday, and unusually, stayed home all day. No friends to visit, no dinners to attend…nothing. It wasn’t till he left early on Monday morning to go to work in his village that I realised he had nothing to do in London…nothing besides checking up on me, making sure I was okay.

I did tell you he is an amebo didn’t I?!

Happy Birthday bro. Love you…but only because blood says I have to.

xxx

Waila Caan

Tales From My Motherland: Touchdown

As I walked off the plane and into the airport terminal, I breathed in a familiar smell; heat. I don’t know about the sun that shines over the rest of the world but the Nigerian sun has a smell. “It’s the same sun,” I hear you say. In theory yes, but those of you that know, know what I’m talking about. A few other smells assaulted my nostrils; stale air, sweat, damp and bodies…loads of bodies. Deodorant don finish for market? I smiled as nostalgia embraced me. It smelled like a QC (Queen’s College) dormitory.  

There were kiosks everywhere, all selling epileptic looking chicken joints and leprous meat pies; the kind every parent warned would ‘purge you.’ The glass houses they were displayed in looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in months, if ever. In the distance a huge banner swayed to the rhythm of the breeze blowing from the ceiling fan above it; “Aqua Massage Before You Board.” To the right of the banner were two massage tables. Why anyone would want a massage at the airport, I know not.

Suitcases trickled onto the conveyor belt like drops of water from a dry tap.

“What is wrong with these people,” I heard a woman complain, “Do they think we want to sleep in this airport? They should free our luggage so we can go home.”

 “Madam we are doing our best. Una think say na machine dey carry the load commot from plane?!”

“Are you crazy?Who do you think you are talking to?! You are silly. If you like your job you had better shut up and go and learn how to talk to people.”

“Madam, you sef no sabi talk to person…”

And so the woman began to trade insults with a member of FAAN’s staff. “Customer is King,” many organisations preach. Not in Nigeria. “Respect yourself” is the gospel we subscribe to.

Madam, you wan use phone.” A young man shoved a battered looking mobile phone under my nose.

“No, thank you.”

You sure say you no wan phone the person wey suppose come carry you?”

I say I no want, na by force?” I responded, my tone laced with irritation. I’d been up since 4am and it was 9.30pm. My patience and tolerance were fast asleep.

No vex now, madam. Credit nko, you go buy?

 I stared at this young man desperate to get a few quid out of me. I reminded myself that all he was trying to do was make a living. I reminded myself of how much I despise ill-mannered people. I woke my conscience.

Oga, I no want credit and I no wan use phone. I take God beg you, I don tire, I no fit talk. I beg leave me.”

To my relief, he apologised and walked away.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw my cousin, KFC, approaching. Home at last…or so I thought before we got lost. My cousin, EverReady, who was driving doesn’t know his way around Lagos and his two co-pilots, KFC and Efiko, who claimed they did, didn’t. Apparently they got lost on their way to the airport too. We found ourselves heading towards Badagry, a town on the Border of Lagos. KFC and Efiko consulted Google maps on their Blackberrys for directions. Google maps, in Lagos? Gen gen.

Wait o.

Why are people running across the motorway? Do they want to die? Only in Lagos. Only in Lagos will a man stand and chat on his phone in the middle of the express. Only in Lagos do people drive with the flat of their palms permanently depressing their horns…hazard looming or not.

I’m about to change gear. Toot toot!

I’m about to turn left. Toot toot!

Yay, Rhythm 93.7 is playing that song I like! Toot toot!

Aha, ki lo n se were yi. O ri moto mi abi nkan se e ni?! Kuro jare, oloshi! Toot toot toot!

It’s a miracle I didn’t lose my hearing.

I tried not to worry about the trailers and tankers surrounding us, all looking like the wind of a mosquito’s sneeze would topple them. I was too tired to worry about the way people were driving, like they had taken leave of their sense. They changed lanes without indicating, crossed intersections without looking left or right. They made sure the centers of their cars were comfortably sitting on the white lines Governor Fashola painted to clearly demarcate one lane from another. Apparently, the lines are there to be straddled.

I slept and prayed that by the time I opened my eyes again, it would be to the sight of my Uncle T’s house, my home for the next ten days.

I thank God for answered prayers.

Tales From My Motherland: Introduction

I spent the last two weeks in Nigeria and boy do I have stories to tell you. I have so much to say that I’ve decided to dedicate this month of January to telling tales from my motherland.

I didn’t want to go on this trip, I really didn’t. So much so that I tried to cancel my ticket on several occasions….and told many lies in the process. I have since apologised to God and I hope that all those I lied to (my mother, my mother and my mother) will also forgive me.

I find visits to Nigeria quite stressful and frustrating. Nothing works the way it ought to and people don’t behave as they should. For someone who likes the simple life, it all does my head in. Flaws aside, I love it.  I get to catch up with family, meet cousins I’ve never met before, make new friends, buy ice-creams and shawarmas for Mr Yusuf our driver and speak pidgin.

I spent ten days in Lagos and four days in Abuja. I refused to visit Warri much to my mother’s disappointment, not because I don’t like the city but because I wanted to rest and I knew it wouldn’t be possible there. With my brother B spitting 100 words per second every second of every day, my other brother G asking questions from sunrise to sunset, my mother sending me on never ending errands and my grandma constantly schooling me on matrimony, it wasn’t the place for the R&R I desperately needed. I love them all but I needed some MEE time.

(Brother B, please do me a favour and DO NOT comment on this post :-p)

For someone who didn’t want to make the trip, I ended up having a great time. Not because I did anything exciting but because I got to rest, catch up on some reading, observe and think.

Welcome to the start of my series, Tales From My Motherland.

Expect plenty of pidgin.

xxx

Waila Caan

p.s.

For those of you who aren’t Nigerian or who don’t understand pidgin, feel free to ask what on earth I’m talking about. If you need any words or phrases explained, post a comment with your query and I’ll explain.

The Trials of Mama Waila: Part 2 of 2

You will have to search the archives for the first part of this story. Laziness won the battle against dilligence. Forgive me.

‘You are rebellious…but I don’t blame you. It’s my fault. We have not been saying our morning prayers as a family. The devil is trying to come into this house. From today onwards, we will pray together every morning. Go and call your brother and the two of you meet me in the living room.’

I stared at my mother in amazement. Even after a good night’s rest, she still blamed me?! She allowed the house boy get away with insulting me and then flogged me to add injury to the insult. How will I not rebel?!

I dragged myself out of bed and went to wake my brother.

If she thought prayer would solve the matter, she was in for a surprise. No apology, no reconciliation. Make that apologies; one from her and the other from Effiong.

‘Go and play the keyboard so we can sing.’

You want me to play after flogging me?

After five minutes of stumbling over chords, she realised I was still mad.

Is it because I beat you that you are playing nonsense?! Get away from there. If you don’t want to play, don’t play.

I got up and went to kneel next to my brother.  I’m not playing.

As was the custom, my mother opened the prayers and then my brothers and I would pray in turns and then she’d round up. After reluctantly singing a few worship songs, I said Amen to her ‘In Jesus name.’

‘Father we thank you for keeping us alive to see this new day. We thank you for you love and your provision for this family. Father we thank you for health. I commit each of these children into your hands. I pray that you will make them children I can be proud of. Children that will be obedient. Children that will be respectful. I pray against the spirit of rebellion… ‘

Oh, that’s how we’re doing it eh? Okay, we will allow God settle this matter.

As was the custom, the oldest child prayed first but before my brother could start, I kicked off.

‘In Jesus name. Father I thank you for everything. I thank you that you see all things and know all things. Father I ask that you vindicate your children. Give us a mother that will love us. A mother that will be kind to us…’

I looked up to find my mother staring at me in awe…and anger.

I’m talking to God o, I wasn’t talking to you.

‘What kind of prayer are you praying and is it your turn to pray?!’

‘Mummy, I have things I want to say to God. You told him you don’t want rebellious children and I told him we want a mother that loves us.’

‘Are you saying I don’t love you?’

‘Do you love me?’

‘Of course I do, what kind of question is that?! That I correct you doesn’t mean I don’t love you.’

‘Then why is it okay for Effiong to curse me?’

It’s not okay but it’s also not okay for you to curse him back or ignore your uncle when he calls you.’

‘Mummy I was angry. I’m sorry I ignored Uncle.’

‘I understand that but it’s no excuse. Will you apologise to Effiong?’

‘Yes, but not until he apologises to me.’

‘Effiong!’ she shouted.

I went over to where she was sitting and gave her a hug.

I won.

I Missed You

I’ve been away for two weeks. Fourteen days. Three hundred and thirty-six hours. Three hundred and thirty-five hours, xx minutes and xx seconds. I’m sorry but admitting I know exactly how long I’ve been away, down to the last second, would be pathetic. Oops, too late.  

I missed the snow. The same snow I cursed as I slid on it many times, in my attempts to leave my house. The same snow that disrupted public transport and parcel deliveries for weeks. The same snow that attempted to ruin my sister full stop’s wedding to my in-law times two.

I missed my Uggs.

I missed my million and one pairs of tights.

I missed my winter coats…especially the black one that’s torn in so many places, the fabric could pass for mesh.

I missed the many cups of Earl Grey tea I drink every day. And Carnation evaporated milk.

I missed microwave Indomie noodles. Cooking it on a hob just isn’t the same.

I missed my colleague Bob, the only person in my office capable of stressing me out.

I missed the sickening smell of sardine that has been lingering in my flat since my friend Akuezue Amuche came to visit.

I missed my blackberry messenger and all my cyber friends I chat with but never call. Whatever, you don’t call me either.

I missed my neighbour banging on my wall everytime I open my mouth to speak.

I missed the door of my flat that doesn’t shut until it feels the full weight of my body pressing against it.

I missed my dirty red fabric sofa cover I’ve been meaning to wash for months and still haven’t.

I missed the dust that likes to visit my flat. It visits everyday without fail and I chase it away…once in a blue moon.

I missed my guitar. The guitar that leans against my keyboard, the two gracefully playing host to the dust I scarce chase away.

I missed my shower that likes to release bursts of ice cold water in the middle of a hot shower.

I missed Stylist and Daily Mail online.

I missed Spotify.

I missed blogging, I really did. It just wasn’t possible out there with the snail pace internet access I was cursed with. After I spent 15mins trying to upload a post, I gave up.

I missed my life, life as I know it. It’s not perfect but hey, what is?!