Life Stories

That Time I ‘Controlled’ My Husband

The dynamics of my marriage and household baffle my mother.

The dynamics of my friends’ marriages baffle my mother.

“You people and your London husbands,” is how she greets them when they come to my house solo, leaving her husbands at home with their children.

When my daughter was about two months old, my mother almost had a heart attack when I told her I was making a day trip to Paris for a bridal shower.

“Who will look after Pork Chop?!” she asked, like I was a single mum with no one to share the responsibility of raising my child.

I understand that my marriage and the dynamics of my household are not what she is used to. She is a sixty something year old Nigerian woman who was raised in a time where women did everything and men, nothing. Well, nothing besides being ATMs.

She pinches me if he walks into the kitchen to serve his dinner and berates me when he takes out the bin. She flies off the sofa when she hears him doing dishes and chases him out lest the water washes away his manhood.

On one occasion, she watched in quiet support while some twice removed aunt laid into him for carrying my handbag.

“What is wrong with you London people?!” the aunt asked as he helped me carry my bag into the house so I wouldn’t smudge my freshly varnished nails (you know that struggle!).

To my mother, his willingness to do household chores, serve his wife and be a hands on father are as foreign as his postcode.

She is consistent in her beliefs.

She frowned in disapproval the day I told her I was popping over to the petrol station to pump air into my car tyres.

“Shouldn’t your husband do that?”

She worried about how we would pay our bills when he was made redundant, despite my income. Yet, she managed to sleep at night when I was going on maternity leave, making him the sole/primary earner.

I am used to her lectures and pinches and I’m not mad at her because I understand that she is a product of the culture of her time just as I am a product of the culture of mine.

But one day, she stunned me.

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“Why are you controlling your husband?”

I stared at her in disbelief.

“Controlling my husband?”

“Yes, you are controlling him.”

My daughter’s name was the cause of the accusation, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I am Benin but married to a Yoruba man. The expectation (of the general public) was that my daughter would have a Yoruba first name or perhaps an English one. No one expected her first name would be a Benin one because god forbid she be identified by her mother’s tribe.

When we came up with three names for her (Yoruba, Benin and English), my husband loved her Benin name as much as I do. As soon as I told him what it means (and its significance to us), he was sold. When he suggested we use it as her first name, I was all for it.

It didn’t occur to me that anyone would have an issue with it till my mother accused me of controlling my husband.

For a time (albeit brief), she insisted on calling my daughter by her Yoruba name because she was concerned about “what people would say.” In her mind, there was no way a Yoruba man would choose to give his daughter a Benin first name so I must have beaten him into submission.

She wasn’t alone; one of my Uncles outright stated that he would only call her by the name her father gave her. It gave me great pleasure to tell him that I was responsible for BOTH her Benin and Yoruba names. He’s a traditionalist so I knew he’d rather lose a limb than use her English name…the name her father picked. 

They didn’t take into account that my husband is a different kind of man to the one they are used to.

He takes out the bin and does dishes.

He helps me carry my handbag when I need help.

He changes our bedsheets because I’m lazy with that stuff.

His culinary skills are pretty limited (the chink in his armour) but he makes a mean corned beef stew.

He bathes our daughter every night and derives great pleasure (the man is strange) from changing her poopy nappies.

He helps me take out my weaves…even though it takes him forever and a day.

He goes to the butchers to buy meat.

He looks after our daughter when I need baby free time.

He looks after our daughter because she is HIS daughter.

He listens when I speak and values my opinions.

He says ‘my wife and I have decided’ because we make decisions as a team.

These are some of the things that make my mother think he is being controlled.

I know I am opinionated and strong willed but surely, it is possible for a man to be a willing contributor to his household in every way and for a woman to have a voice in her own home?

Not everything is voodoo. Sometimes, they are just great men.

 

 

Dear Womb Watcher

Dear Womb Watcher,

You accused me of hiding my pregnancy. In your words, “We had been waiting for IMG_4752you to conceive and you didn’t tell us when it happened! Why were you hiding? You didn’t post any pictures on Instagram!”

First things first, who are the ‘us’ that I neglected to inform? Are you my husband? Mother? Father? Brother or sister? Friend perhaps? And why were you waiting for me? Do I owe you a child?

Secondly, I was hiding because you didn’t find out on Instagram?! Really?!

I am confused, I can’t lie.

You see, I got up in the mornings like all the other commuters in London and hopped on the train to and from work.

I patrolled the Canary Wharf malls on my lunch breaks (because assorted cravings) where I was spotted by many a friend and acquaintance. Shout out to the Naija massive in the wharf!

I was so robust, only lycra worked for me; so I lived in lycra dresses that advertised my ginormous bump.

I went grocery shopping, I went shopping. Heck, I spent half my pregnancy in Brent Cross.

I visited friends, I visited family.

I went to the cinema, I went to a few parties and weddings. At 32 weeks pregnant, I was in a club shaking my tail feather to celebrate a friend’s 30th. I even trekked to Winter Wonderland to chow down some hotdogs and gaze longingly at mulled wine.

I frustrated my poor husband because despite his concern, I was driving the streets of North London looking for everything and nothing…anything to get me out of the house.

I lived my life as normally as the fatigue, back ache and pelvic girdle pain would allow.

Yet, I was hiding because there were no pregnant pictures of me on Instagram.

You see that Insta life? It’s not real life. Real life happens OUTSIDE of Instagram. If you have been relying on Instagram to find out the intimate details of my life, I hate to tell you that there’s a hell of a lot you’ve missed out on.

If you had bothered to call me, you probably would have found out. Oh wait, you don’t have my number.

If you’d sent me a message to find out how I’d been, you may well have found out. Oh wait…

The crux of the matter is that you had no idea because it didn’t concern you. You need not have kept track of the length of my marriage. Telling me I’d been married long enough to have a couple of kids, who asked you?! Seriously, who you epp with your mathematics?!

And then you casually informed me that you’d assumed I was having problems conceiving! Some things are better left unsaid; that baseless assumption was one of them. Even if I was having problems conceiving, what a way to address the subject…not that addressing it is any of your concern.

I was so stunned all I could do was turn around and let you carry on the conversation with my back.

You would do well to focus on your business in the future and leave me to focus on mine.

Next time I won’t be so gracious.

 

All my love,

Waila.

 

P.s.

Your Instagram stalking skills are poor. I had a girl NOT a boy.

 

 

ONCE UPON A BOARDER: BANG GOES THE BANGER

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JS3 and SS3 were exam classes so if you were in either of those years, school holidays were non-existent. I don’t know what Jesus said to my mum but when I tried my luck and asked if I could be a day student during JS3 extension, she said yes! My mother, the chairman of the pro boarding association, said yes! It was a miracle. Every morning, I would take a cooler of food for my boarder pals (I gatchu girls!) and take a spare empty cooler for myself. I’d pick up my friend Toni, who lived round the corner from me, and we’d swing by Ghana High or Mama Rita on our way to school.

Directions. You are welcome.

Directions. You are welcome.

Digression…

Ghana High was THE BUSINESS! Their jollof rice, ewa agoyin and fried stew were out of this world. One morning we got there and they hadn’t opened so the driver (my mum’s office was in the area so he knew all the hot spots) suggested we try Mama Rita whose shop was right across the street from Ghana High. See discovery! It was thanks to Mama Rita that I fell in love with rice and stew. Some days we’d be so torn as to whom to patronise that we’d end up buying food from both places. Lord, take me back!

…End digression.

One day during a free period, a bunch of my friends and I went to hang out in the class directly below mine (JS2T). We were gisting and fooling around when someone brought out a banger and match box. Why she brought that stuff to school, I will never know. We started daring each other to light the banger. We passed it round and each person would pretend to ignite it and we’d burst into fits of laughter.

When it was yours truly’s turn, I lightly struck the banger against the match box, thinking it wouldn’t ignite. That was how I found myself holding a lit banger in my hand. In hindsight, I should have just thrown it on the ground and stamped it out but since when have panic and logic been friends? Not knowing what else to do, I flung it out of the window so it wouldn’t go off in my hand and blow my fingers into oblivion.

As you can imagine, the explosion brought staff and students flying out from every nook and cranny and my friends and I fled the crime scene as fast as our legs could carry us. The noise very obviously came from the junior block and some people who had been standing by the phone booth in junior block, spotted people running out of JS2T so it was only a matter of time before all JS2 girls were summoned to kneel on the gravel.

“Who threw the banger?”

It was one thing to get in trouble with seniors but when teachers got involved, it was a whole other ball game. I wasn’t too bothered though. They could very easily suspend one person but there was no way they would suspend the entire year group, not when we had exams coming up; we had a position on the academic league table to maintain. Worst case scenario, we’d probably have to kneel for a while so I figured my year girls could take one for the team. Apparently not. #alakoba

Shouts of “If it was you just confess o!” started circulating but I stayed silent. Seriously, what’s a little kneeling between friends eh?! 🙂 My dear BFF as usual had entered into a state of panic. Honestly girl, you owe me your liver!!! 🙂

My friends and I were kneeling in silence when a voice interrupted our peace.

“Are you Waila?”

I looked up to find one of the deputy head girl staring at me.

“Yes, I am.”

“Follow me.”

At this point, I knew that someone had casted me. As I walked with her towards the gathering of teachers that had amassed by the junior phone booth, she turned round and said, “It was you, wasn’t it?”

I had two options;

  1. Lie and compound my predicament
  2. Accept my fate

I weighed up my options and decided to accept my fate. I was enjoying being a temporary day student and figured worst case, I’d be suspended and be a day student for a bit longer…which was very alright by me. Ironically, I was terrified of fireworks so I knew that if the news reached my mother, she would at least know it wasn’t deliberate. It wouldn’t have saved me from a sound brushing but at least she wouldn’t have bought the idea that I had deliberately tried to wreak havoc.

Thankfully, the teachers who had gathered to behold the culprit were Z listers. There was only one A lister in their midst; an English teacher whose daughter might be reading this. Hi Aisha! J

Mrs Lawal was once my English teacher and I was not her favourite person. I was generally unloved by my teachers because I rarely paid attention in classes but still did well academically which really pissed them off! We had locked horns many times before so the woman hated my guts and thought the absolute worst of me.

“You! I knew it, I am not surprised! If you are not there, who will be there?!”

After telling all the teachers what a terrible child I was, she sent me to kneel in front of English room to wait for her. Thankfully, the day was almost over so I knew the driver would soon arrive to whisk me to safety.

As soon as I got word that the driver had arrived, I dusted off my knees, grabbed my bag and sprinted to the car. Between NEPA, traffic, armed robbers, mosquitos, NITEL, dodgy mechanics and all the other problems that plagued Nigerians then, I figured I’d be the least of her problems. But just in case, I offered up a prayer for God to wipe out her memory.

It must have worked because she never came looking for me. #thankyoujesus

Once Upon a Boarder: 8 Signs You Were a Bubbler

Disclaimer: Please locate your sense of humour before you read this post! 🙂

Being a bubbler was not a joking matter. EVERYONE wanted to be a bubbler. Those that hated bubblers, hated them because they wanted to be them. Really, have you ever met a child that doesn’t want to be one of the cool kids?!

There were a few ways to gain bubbler status in QC.

A few people had a natural swag that certified them as bubblers without any effort on their part. Those ones were called “bubblers by nature” aka BBN.

Then you had those ones that did everything humanly and supernaturally possible to receive the seal of approval. Those ones were called “bubblers by force” aka BBF.

There were also some people who met all the criteria but just did not have the personality required for bubbling. Those ones were on the border; not quite in but not quite relegated.

The vast majority of bubblers however, had a combination of the bubbler personality and most of the criteria listed below.

If you are feeling brave, feel free to take the bubbler quiz and see if you qualified!

  1. Did You Wear Pop Socks?

pop socksIt was not possible to be a bubbler without owning pop socks. Like seriously, were you kidding with your cotton socks?! There was also a clear difference between the janded pop socks and pop socks from Balogun market so don’t think you were fooling anyone.

It was one thing to own pop socks but did you roll them all the way up or fold them down?  If you folded them down, gerrarahere shawty and take a seat in the non-bubbling zone.

  1. Was your School Bag a Satchel?

satchelBackpack gang, please tell me, were you going off to climb Kilimanjaro?! If you did not have a satchel that you slung across your body, tell me what you are looking for here?

  1. Did You Have Fancy Folders and Refill Paper?

Refill paper was the most useless thing in the world…but you needed to have it. There was no argument paperthat notebooks were the sensible place to store your notes and you needed to have those but really, no fancy folder and refill paper? Your life was not complete.

  1. Did Your School Shoes Have Heels?

mocksNow this one is important, very important. If you had mocks with heels, come in and take your rightful place. If you had mocks without heels, enter but don’t feel too comfortable. If you owned any shoe that has not been mentioned here, don’t bother knocking, respect yourself and leave this place. But wait o, if you had the audacity to wear wannabe mocks, kneel down, raise up your hands and close your eyes…shior!

  1. Did you know KC Boys?

kcIf you did not know KC boys, really, what are you looking for here? I didn’t say A-Hall boys o, KC boys because they were allegedly the baddest boys in town. If you knew A-Hall  AND KC boys you can stand up but A-Hall without KC? I beg have several seats.  Your aje butter is too much.

  1. Did You Attend Parties with Names?

First of all did you attend parties? Not the types with bouncy castles and Uncle E o. If they didn’t do “all boys out” at you parties and there were no obtainers collecting shoes and shirts from awon boys, shift to the side.

Then did you parties have names? Certified? Let’s Play House? House Party? No? It was fellowship you were going to, not party. The lord be with you as you leave this place.

  1. Did You Jand in the Summer Holidays?

Wait first, did you have a passport? Because if you didn’t, I don’t care if you have pop socks or not, you had no business attempting to bubble. Any bubbler worth their salt janded during the summer holidays. If you janded every other year, we will give you pardon, but any less frequently than that and you are a joker… gerrarahere mate!

  1. Did You Date a Lag Club Boy?

Knowing KC boys was one thing but dating a Lag Club boy? Give us a minute while we all rise and clap for you. With your A-line skirt and beret, you managed to conquer the most coveted boys in Yaba. I beg open your mouth and chop knuckle.

If you scored 6 out of 8, well done, you were a bubbler. Any less than that and please, don’t disgrace yourself; just pretend you didn’t take the test and when your friend tells you about it, roll your eyes and say, “I beg, I beg, , I have better things to do!”

xXx

Waila

Once Upon a Boarder: Arrange Those Chairs

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JS2 was a fun year. Not only did my BFF become a boarder AND get posted to my dorm, her older sister who was in SS3 was also in our dorm #residentvoltron. I tell you, “Yea though we walked through the valley of the shadow of death, we feared no evil!” There was no trouble we found ourselves in that she didn’t rescue us from…and the troubles were many.

One Saturday evening after dinner, the furniture prefect summoned all JS2 girls to the assembly hall to arrange the chairs for the church services the following day. JS2 girls were responsible for assembly hall work. It was also inter-house sports season so marchers were marching day and night on the stretch of road that connected the school gates. It was dark and no one was interested in going to arrange chairs. Heck, couldn’t people just grab a chair off a pile and sit down?!

There was no night prep on Saturday nights so unless there was some sort of social or you were avoiding seniors, people tended to hang out in the boarding house area.  As a mass of us grudgingly crossed over to the assembly hall, some of us got side tracked by the marchers marching. For those of you that know, QC marching was so cool…at least we thought it was! Ha!

“Left, right, raise and stamp, raise and stamp!”

Instead of carrying on to assembly hall like we had been instructed to, we stood by the road watching Obasa marchers practice. The senior in charge of the marchers was not pleased to see us.

“Junior girls, leave this place.”

We shuffled a few centimetres and stayed put.

“Junior girls, I said leave this place!”

Again we shuffled a few centimetres and stayed put.

“All of you standing there, kneel down.”

Not good. Not only had we gotten into trouble with this senior, if the furniture prefect found us there, we’d be minced meat.

For those of us with liver, there was only one thing to do…RUN! As we made to kneel down, I whispered to my BFF, “run!” As if on cue, a number of us took to our heels and sprinted all the way to assembly hall, sharply blending in with those already there.

It didn’t take long for the senior to come looking for us. Lucky for us, it was dark so she couldn’t identify us.

“If you were just watching the Obasa marchers, come out.”

Beans!

A few people fessed up but I refused. I had no desire to serve punishment that night. My darling BFF, who I have had to borrow liver several times in the course of our friendship, began to tremble next to me.

“Should we just go out? What if she catches us?”

I eyed her in response.

Satisfied that she had enough scapegoats, the senior left with the fallen soldiers.

The furniture prefect, apparently fed up with having to chase us around every Saturday night, decided to punish the entire year group. After arranging the furniture, we were all summoned to quadrangle to kneel down. The hustle for the concrete was real! Quadrangle was a large square divided into quarters by stretches of concrete. If you weren’t kneeling on the concrete, you were kneeling on wet (think scrubbing water) sand/grass and whatever crap people had chucked over the balconies that day.

My BFF and I swung by our dorm to drop off our stuff before heading for quadrangle. As we were about to head back out, her sister asked us where we were going.

“We are going to quadrangle. Senior Safia punished all JS2 girls.”

“Go and sit down jo. If she asks you why you weren’t there, tell her you were with me.”

And that ladies and gentlemen, was how we escaped that punishment. #thanksbetogod

Once Upon a Boarder: The Beginning

QC GirlI vividly remember my first day in Secondary School. I woke up that Sunday morning with a spring in my step. I was finally going off to boarding school and not just any school, the famous Queen’s College aka QC! Every single item (useful and useless) on my check-list had been bought. Between my mother and myself, we knew that I didn’t need 12 dozen name tags or 10 dozen handkerchiefs…but if the school said I needed it, so be it!

I walked through the gates of Queen’s college in my oversize Sunday wear, dragging my matching suitcases behind me. I had bought the cases while on holiday that summer and refused to tear the protective covers off until that morning; I needed everything to be brand spanking new. The confidence with which I approached the check-in desk was impressive. I refused to let my mother speak on my behalf, determined to handle the process like a big girl. I banished her to a corner while I sorted out the formalities. I didn’t want her escorting me to my dorm room either but she insisted so I grudgingly let her. The corridors were filled with the sounds of JSS1 girls bawling as their parents left but no, not me. I all but shoved mine out of the door so I could explore my new found independence in peace!

The reality of my situation didn’t dawn on me until I woke up at 1am the following morning needing to pee. There was no light (power cut) and the silence that engulfed the boarding house area was deafening. All the stories I had heard about witches, wizards and some female spirit that wore stilettos (madam koikoi), visiting students in the middle of the night, came flooding in. For the first time I wondered why the hell I was not in my mother’s house where her fervent prayers were sure to keep demonic forces at bay. I didn’t want to be the newbie that wet her bed though so I grabbed my Rosary, flicked on my torchlight and sprinted to the toilet. I have never peed so fast in all my life. I raced back to my dorm and buried myself under my bedspread in record time. Clutching my Rosary, I chanted Hail Mary’s until God had mercy on me and put me to sleep. That was how I survived my first night.

My first shock came when I was woken up a couple of hours later to have a shower. I stared at the well-meaning junior dorm captain (JDC) like she had lost her mind.

“But it’s 3am!”

She patiently explained to me that junior girls didn’t dare venture near the bathrooms after 5am, especially not a fresher like me. Earlier was better if I intended to attend my first day of classes smelling fresh.  And that was how I found myself having a shower at roughly 3.30am. In the coming days I discovered that that shower had been a welcome present from the gods; for it was one of the only times that year, water flowed in the bathrooms!

If you went to boarding school in Nigeria, you will know there is a hierarchy and JSS1 girls are at the bottom of the food chain. I didn’t know this till I had my first encounter with a senior the very next day. I was lying on my bed hatching my escape plan when my thoughts were rudely interrupted by a senior shouting my name.

At first I ignored her, I really wasn’t in the mood for conversation, but the third time she screamed my name, I sensed danger.  It was too early in the game for drama so I dragged myself out of bed.

“Take this bottle to slabs and fill it with water.”

It didn’t occur to me that I didn’t have the right to refuse, so refuse is what I did.

“Sorry but I’m not in the mood to go anywhere.”

I knew I had said the wrong thing when all the seniors in the vicinity, who had been lazing in bed half naked, sprang to attention.

Shouts of, “Ehn, junior girl what did you just say?!” filled the dorm and in hindsight, I would like to thank God for sparing my life that day, for only He can explain how I dodged a bruising!

The senior, under the influence of grace, sat me down and gave me the lowdown on how things worked. In this new order I found myself in, I was the equivalent of a slave, the property of my seniors. If I dared disobey them or be rude to them, they would send me to join my father in the afterlife.  Once she was satisfied that I understood my place, she thrust the bottle in my hand and ordered me to find my way to slabs. The JDC pulled me aside and kindly informed me that slabs were the rows of taps by the Sick Bay, where students fetched water.

And that was my first encounter with a senior. Much as I hated the fact that I was rudely ejected from my bed without a choice in the matter, I like to think I won that round. If she looked closely, she may have spotted traces of saliva floating through her bottle of water. Or maybe not.  After all, I did give it a good shake!

New Series: Once Upon a Boarder

Hi folks!

Guess who’s back, back again. Waila’s back, tell a friend! #hieminem

Yes, we’ve been here before but let’s not dwell on that.

It feels good to be writing again but I must admit I’m a bit rusty. I don’t remember it taking me this long to churn out a post. I guess that’s my punishment for neglecting the craft for so long.

I’d like to thank the Twitterati for shaming me out of hiding. I’d been meaning to snap out of the funk and resume blogging but when one of my old blog posts suddenly started making the rounds on Twitter, I logged into my blog and was shocked at how long it had been since I had last published a post. I honestly thought it had only been a couple of months. Somebody say deluded!

Well, I’m back with a brand new series!

QC LogoYou know I like to document my memories and what better memories to pen than those I amassed at Secondary School?! If like me you went to a government boarding school in Nigeria, you will know that it was a life changing experience. For those of you that don’t know, I am a QC girl…that’s Queen’s College to my non Nigerian readers. It was one the most popular schools in the country and while I will admit it was one of the better government schools, there was nothing posh about it. Really, nothing!

Lack of ‘poshness’ aside, I don’t regret my time there. It taught me so much about the world and life in general. I always say that QC was a pretty good replica of the real world. There aren’t many schools where you will find the daughter of a driver sat next to the daughter of a multimillionaire. We had students cutting across the tribal, class and financial divides and it really did give you a glimpse of real life.

Many of the relationships I made there are still going strong and while academically I didn’t learn a damn thing, I did learn how to pass exams, iron without an iron and rebel without appearing rebellious!

In this series, I will share some of my secondary school stories with you. Each story will be complete so there’ll be no waiting for part two. It will be interjected with other posts though so if you find that next week I write about something different, be not confused.

The first story will be up this week. I am not active on Twitter so it’s not the best place to look for me. If you subscribe to this blog, you will get an email alert when the post is published. You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram for updates!

Facebook: https://m.facebook.com/waila.caan

Instagram: @wailacaan

Happy Wednesday!

xXx

Waila

SOME OF US ARE REALLY JUST HOT!

Many years ago I took a trip to Abuja to visit my mother. It was my first visit back home in circa 8 years, my first trip back since I left. Very little had changed but the things that had, had changed dramatically. For example, before I left, mobile phones were the preserve of elite business men and looked something like this.

 

IMG_1002

 

I arrived to find that just about everyone had mobile phones and you could buy one for as little as N5000. It really was revolutionary that my mother could call her ‘hair person’ in Wuse market to pre-order the hair extensions I wanted to cart back at the end of my trip. Let’s not try and understand why my mother, who has no hair, has a hair person.

At the time, she lived in a block of flats and unknown to me, everyone in the building was eagerly awaiting my arrival; rodents and household pets included. Such was her excitement. She could finally prove to people that she REALLY did have children. I spent more time than I cared to visiting neighbours and parading myself like a show horse so one morning, when she informed me that she had organised a play date for me with the daughter of a neighbour I was yet to meet, I was not impressed. It was one thing to pop in for a quick hello but a play date?! On what planet do parents schedule play dates for their twenty something year old ‘children’?! The family were expecting me though and it would have been rude not to turn up so off I went to meet my new play mate.

As we walked into their living the room, I spotted a girl who I figured was my play date. I smiled at her and said a hello that was accompanied by that nervous wave that we humans tend to do when we walk into a room full of strange people. Or maybe it’s just me.

“I know you. You went to QC didn’t you?”

Ah, she was one of the millions of QC girls roaming the face of this earth. I didn’t recognise her but she remembered so much about me for someone who wasn’t in my year that I was a little embarrassed. I’m pretty good with names and faces and I’m not one to pretend I don’t know people for the sake of seeming cool. Not that there’s anything cool about it. Unfortunately, try though I did, I just couldn’t remember the girl. She seemed pretty irritated by that and it annoyed me a teeny bit.

Is it by force for someone to know you?!

Aware that we’d gotten off to a shaky start, I turned on the charm and started asking her a load of questions. We got chatting and she asked the question I’d been asked by pretty much every soul I’d met since I’d stepped off the plane.

“How are you finding Abuja?”

Abuja was Abuja. I’d visited the city a couple of times before I was exported over the seas and while it was busier and more densely populated than I remembered it, it was essentially the same place. The only thing I hadn’t been prepared for was the scorching heat. If you’ve ever been to Abuja, you will know that the sun that shines there is not the same sun that shines in the rest of the world. If you venture there at the wrong time of the year, it is melt-your-skin-and-dissolve-your-bones hot. To compound matters, I’d broken out in heat rashes within 24hours of my arrival. All in all, the weather was dealing with me severely and given that I didn’t know what else to say to the girl, I thought I’d share that.
“It’s been good. The heat is crazy though, I don’t remember Abuja being this hot!”

“I beg jo, stop forming! Why are you behaving like you didn’t grow up in Nigeria?!” she replied, disdain dripping off every word.

“Huh?!” *confused face*

To say that I was stunned would be an understatement. Since when did being hot become something to feel superior about?!

“Sorry, I’m not allowed to be hot because I grew up in Nigeria?!”

That was the end of that. I stood up, said my goodbyes and went home. I was FURIOUS!
Umpteen years later, thinking about it still annoys me. I don’t remember the girl’s name and I wouldn’t recognise her if I saw her again but the stranger still has the ability to rile me. There is a perception of Nigerians who live outside Nigeria that like every generalisation isn’t true of everyone. The perception is that we are stuck up, fancy pants that live for opportunities to announce to the world that we have spent a portion of our lives living abroad and therefore deserve to be treated like crown jewels. I have no doubt this stereotype is true of some people, but to tar everyone with the same brush is not just unfair; it is ignorant and downright ridiculous.

My first winter in England, I was convinced the cold would surely kill me. I would stand at my front door for minutes trying to grip my keys with numb hands. I thought people were MAD for wearing skirts in winter, never mind that they were wearing tights. I honestly though I wouldn’t survive my first winter yet, thirteen odd years later, I don’t own any thermal underwear, live in skirts and 20 denier tights and wear peep toe shoes in the thick of winter.

What my dear playmate classed as ‘forming’ was far from it; I was simply being human. It really doesn’t matter where you grew up, it is human nature to adapt and acclimatise to new environments. That aside, even those that were born, bred and never left Abuja are surely entitled to be hot too!

I have written far more words than I intended to so I will end this with a few words for my play date.

 

Dear play date, not every “diasporan” you meet is “forming”. Some of us are really just hot!

xXx
Waila

Tales From the Underground: Silly Me!!!

The cutest little boy was sat opposite me on the DLR yesterday. He had the most gorgeous curly blonde hair and his eyes were a sparkly green. He had me all gooey even before he smiled at me. That smile! It made me want to rush home and create my own little heart stealer. Not that the son I will (some day) produce has any hope of having hair; blonde or otherwise. You should see his father and his grandfather’s gorimapa, all hope is lost I tell you. They didn’t try for my son at all.

When I returned Blondie’s smile, he giggled and buried his face in his mum’s jacket. And so our game began. I’d wait for him to look my way and then give him a mega watt smile. He in turn would giggle and duck behind his mother. After a few minutes, I thought I’d up the ante of the game so the next time he looked my way, I crossed my eyes and stuck my tongue out at him.

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His eyebrows shot up in surprised and he doubled over laughing. When Blondie managed to right himself, he held my gaze for the first time, shook his head and said in a rather adult voice, “That was REALLY silly!”

His mother looked mortified.

“Brian, that’s rude!”

“But it’s true!”

“She was only trying to make you laugh!”

“I know mummy and it was funny BUT it was also silly!”

At this point, I couldn’t hold back my laughter any longer. He did have a point, at my old age I shouldn’t be sticking out my tongue at people and making faces! His mother, obviously relieved that I wasn’t offended, offered an apologetic smile.

Funny as it was, he’s lucky we’re not in Lagos; I’d have pulled his ear and ‘konked’ his head!

The Case of the Walking Wardrobe

6a00e54fc798d0883401630338f9cc970d-800wiMany years ago my family played host to a friend’s daughter for a couple of months. Her mother was critically ill and her father had his hands full nursing her.  On the day her mother died, we took her home under the guise of going to visit her dad, as we often did while she was with us.  My mum had called me aside earlier and asked me to secretly pack up her stuff and put them in the boot of the car.  I will never forget the paranormal sounds that pierced the air when her dad broke the news to her. Till this day, I have never heard anything like it. I sat with her for hours while she wailed and I shed a few tears myself. My tears weren’t’ for her mother, they were for her. Her pain was palpable and I shared in it.

In the following weeks, we were constant visitors at their house; my mother, to help with the funeral arrangements, and myself, as a companion for my new friend. New because the few times I’d met her prior to her stay with us, I’d established that I didn’t like her. Her abrasive personality grated on my nerves. I groaned inwardly when I heard she was coming to stay but smiled and made her feel welcome. I knew better than to be ungracious.  My mother expected nothing less from me, and rightly so.  But seeing her breakdown and holding her in my arms as she wept inconsolably changed all that. Her shared pain drew us together.  I had just turned 13, she was 17.

I remember being concerned about her. I knew what it was like to lose a parent and I worried constantly about how she was dealing with it. Having her turn up unannounced one afternoon was a surprise as she lived an hour’s drive away. I was in the middle of a piano lesson so I told her she had to wait a while before I’d be free to hang out with her. She said she couldn’t stay, she’d only come to collect a few things I’d forgotten to pack for her. I couldn’t remember seeing any of her stuff lying around but I told her to feel free to head up to my room and grab whatever she forgot.  She left before my lesson was over.

The Sunday after her visit, I decided to wear a new dress my mum had bought me a couple of months before. I tore my room apart trying to find it. Running late for church, I decided to reach for my favourite cream brocade skirt with the black floral embroidery instead. That too was nowhere to be found. As I rummaged through my wardrobe perplexed, I realised there were quite a few items missing. I sat on the floor, confused, and it was there my mother found me. Before she could scream at me for not being dressed, I told her half my wardrobe was missing. At first, she thought I was being silly, surely, my clothes couldn’t have developed legs and done a runner?! Perhaps if I’d tidied up my wardrobe like she’d asked me to umpteen times, I’d be able to find things more easily? It wasn’t till I mentioned that my favourite skirt was missing that she took me seriously.

“The cream one with the black flowers? Didn’t you give it to Anita?! She was wearing it the last time I went to her house.”

I didn’t need to be a graduate of the police academy to realise what had happened to my missing clothes. Many of the clothes that were missing were new and I was determined to reclaim them. I needed to confirm my theory so my mum and I took a trip to her house. Under strict instruction not to utter a word, I sat quietly while my mum calmly asked if she’d helped herself to my clothes.

At first she vehemently denied it but after my mum gently reminded her she’d seen her wearing my skirt, she came clean. She went off to her room and returned with a suitcase full of my property. Underwear, clothes, jewellery, books, shoes and some random bits and bobs.

The look of furious shame on her father’s face is beyond description. He made several attempts to hit her but my mum stood in his way.  After calming him down, she encouraged Anita to apologise to me and her father, which she did.

What happened next shocked me to my core.

As we made to leave, I reached for the suitcase of clothes but was halted by the sound of my mother’s voice saying, “leave it.”

Leave it?! How could I leave it?! Some of my favourite possessions were in that case!  Besides, most of the clothes wouldn’t fit Anita (who was two sizes bigger) so what was the point?! I knew better than to argue though so tears running down my face I walked away from my belongings. I’ll never forget how hurt I was. I felt betrayed not only by Anita who in spite of my reservations, I had embraced, but also by my mother who had taken the side of a thief over her own daughter.

On the journey home, my mother tried, unsuccessfully, to console me. Whatever happened to justice? Didn’t I deserve to have the things that had been unlawfully taken from me returned? Surely that WAS the right thing to do?!

Understanding didn’t come till many years later. My mother’s actions were a lesson in mercy; compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.