On Writing (I)

April 15, 2014

Its cool in side the bar. Outside the sun blazes with all the intensity that one would imagine appropriate to the desert. The Sahara desert or the Nevada desert or the Kalahari desert. Or the desert sands of the Arabian peninsula. We call it the Middle East now. The Theatre of War and Strife, perpetually dominating the evening news whether you live in America or Nigeria. But this isn’t the desert. Its central Nigeria, Abuja, the shiny bright new Federal Capital City. Except its not new anymore. Its beginning to look shabby and frayed around the edges . The paint gradually fading on the imposing federal buildings and private residences in the twenty years that I have lived here.


The condenser of the industrial fridge kicks in with a roar intruding into my reverie.  I look up and notice that the power is back on. It is 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The hottest part of the day despite what the geography books tell you. The heat has accumulated by 2 o’clock by 4 o’clock every body should be wilting in the shade but the natives never stop moving, bustling around, hustling. There are only so many hours in the day no matter how hot it may get. The desperate don’t rest and don’t wait for the sun to go down like the few of us lazy ones. The natives don’t like to go out at night. The dark has always held terror for them. Everyone wants to be back home or as close to his or her house as soon as possible after the sun goes down. Only the fool hardy elite and their sidekicks risk the malevolent night spirits to roam the numerous pubs and drinking parlors scattered in the dwindling green spaces left in the concrete city of wide bitumen roads.


I stare out of the glass wall into the parking lot. The bar isn’t open, I come here to work in the daytime till the proprietor my friend comes in at 6 pm to open for the evening customers parched from the heat and sun. Cold beer at the end of a hot day is the only slice of heaven they can afford. Its a neighborhood bar. A bit too upscale for the area its in. The customers are few but loyal. I pace around the small space like a caged lion or tiger.  Or maybe like a panther, a black panther. I always liked the black panther best. I pace a lot when I’m thinking something through, when I’m looking for a way out or a way in, whats the difference I wonder to myself.


I turn and stare at the Macbook Air sitting open on the table. Its bright screen stares back at me reproachfully. The light slowly fades as the power saver turns off the screen. Stories and ideas run around in my head but refuse to stand still long enough for me to capture them. Writing at the speed of thought is impossible and so is going back over the road I came. Rewriting is torturous. I don’t want to go back but I must. I stare back at the now black screen and resolutely turn it back on. The short story I have spent three months struggling over sits on my desk top.  I am not satisfied with it but I ignore it. Start something new.  Go somewhere else, in a different direction.


Sometimes I wish I could plug in a cable and down load all the stuff in my head, have someone transcribe it for me and read it 20 years from now. My writing always seems better after the passage of time. I’m never happy with anything I just wrote. Sometimes I forget a piece for weeks, months, years and when I come across it and read it again I look to see who wrote it. Was that me? Not bad.


Its hard to decide what to do. Work on my novel or work on that job application. I want to lose myself in my writing but I have to get a job. Paid employment is a necessity right now even though it is a luxury. Without an income life is drab and boring and monotonous. There are no options no choices no action only an endless pause. Like a car stranded in the middle of no where with no gas.  Or like a movie that has been paused. It will continue from the very place it stopped but the wait is interminable, agonizing to my restless spirit.


I decide to write. I just had a good interview.  They will let me know. The next application can wait till tomorrow.


I can never write fast enough, the words tumble out in a rush, incomprehensible without a rewrite and an edit. I will stick to it and let the words pour out. I may have a thousand stories echoing in my head but to retrieve just one would bring satisfaction, a single legacy that I can leave on my demise to say, hey I was here and this is my story.





Going to the Market is Always An Event

February 26, 2014

I haven’t been to the market in a long while. I could afford to buy groceries at Spars, Shoprite, Amigo and Dunes. I even disdained Sahad Stores because I bought a fake box of Persil there once. The convenience was worth the price.

This morning I went to Garki market with my bff. There is an electronic barrier at the entrance now. Someone stands there, punches out a ticket and hands it to us. It’s still early, the heat won’t be overwhelming for at least another hour.

The secret to going to the market – go early. Everything is fresh, the sellers are eager to make their first sale and believe it can give them good luck. Although some people prefer to go at the end of the day because its cheaper.

My bff drives into the car lot. We are here to buy fruits and vegetables. I see some near the entrance. She keeps driving.

“Why you parking here? The veg stall is back there.”

“We’re going that way” she points to an un-tarred dusty lane leading off the lot.


“Because its cheaper”

Of course it is. We walk in the direction she pointed. The road is steep and rough.

“No wonder its cheaper. This road is rough”.

We are going deeper into the market. I’m glad I wore my sun cap but wish I had used some sunscreen.

“Is it muddy?”


An open van stands at the end of the lane. It just delivered meat and is being washed down. Bloody water flows into the dirt lane in a muddy red trail. I feel like I’m wading through rivers of blood. I’m careful not to stain my white Birkenstocks.

But I’m still feeling magnanimous. I take some pictures. The market boys notice me. They start speaking Chinese at me. I smile good naturedly. To them all white people must look the same.

I remember going to the market in my village.

“Owu nwa Agwubuo. Nna ya kporo ya lota obodo oyibo”

Women would leave their wares to touch me, touch my hair. Pregnant women would rub up against me believing they could rub off some of my yellow on their unborn baby. Every woman wanted a yellow baby. Yellow babies brought good luck and wealth.

Then they would give me presents of food; smoked fish, akara wrapped in leaves, bananas, peanuts. Children followed me through the market and all the way home.

Father disapproved but I paid him no mind. I had no fear of these people and I did cute things like fetch firewood and water for old childless widows and give old men Father’s Schnapps to tell me stories. They loved me.

Eventually my bff and I get to the very heart of the market. The vegetables are fresh and the price is great. Here they usually sell to smaller distributors. I buy avocado’s, lettuce, cabbage, green peppers, tomatoes, oranges, mangoes, celery, parsley and potatoes for half the price I would pay at the supermarket.

How Brown Skin Behaved In The Heat

February 24, 2014

There was a heat wave in England last week; it was all too much sunshine for me

Coming from Africa recently but after a while I came out wondering what I would see

I met enough feminine flesh to make a good Muslim flee! Or make a black man happy

Give them a break it’s just how they were raised.  It’s called cultural relativity

They were told women were evil, encouraged to rape any female they find too revealing

They were told she’ll stir up the devil in Him. So they wrapped her up and blamed her for sin

Built her a cage and a prison to safely reside, made her swallow her pride

Told her the laws can’t withstand the frenzied lust of an unrestrained man

Men are powerless, pliant and weak in the palm of a feminine hand

Surely the Queen shouldn’t let such brutes into her land

Because her subjects aren’t allowed to surrender to mere notions of gender

When the sun shines they’re allowed to submit to the heat, encouraged to bare

Miles of pale limbs in shorts and no hair! Shorts everywhere! Shorts here and there

Short shorts. Bum shorts.  Cut off shorts. Bermuda shorts. Baggy shorts

Male and female shorts. Actually, I snort, they are male and white female shorts

When a brown woman strides past purposefully, I can see she’s not on a spree

She and her daughter dressed similarly, dressed like the winter is near

I expect innocence to find it queer and ask ‘Mama, why are we the only ones covered here?’

‘The End is coming against the infidels dear. The Jihad is here.’

So youth and goodness is indoctrinated, mis-educated, alienated, contaminated

Truism and individualism besieged by cynicism, populism, culturism, religionism

For the free, many a crisis there’ll be till the seed finally grows into that mighty tree

Meanwhile it seems to be that brown skin is hiding from me, covered in Modesty

A legacy of Victorian hypocrisy, a story full of chicanery, travesty and tragedy

Brown skin hides nervously, in ignominy and suddenly my pale skin fills me with Superiority

Because it privileges me, apparently, it could be the key

It lets me display my brown skin with pride, why should I hide when pale skin sits in the light

Trying to be superficially brown while my brown sister tries to be superficially white

And Brown skin hides. Saying I am retiring. I am religious. I am righteous. I am right

See brown sisters hold their men tight, ever ready to fight, for the right to share in his plight

While pale bodies go on display for a warm summer day. Looking for bargains to trade

The young the old, the not so beautiful, bodies of all attitudes are here on parade

Even age refuses to wrap itself in a charade while Brown skin shouts ‘I’m no longer for sale!’

My brown brother can’t look away, taught to feel yearning but not what to say

The change is complete, who is naked walking the street?  Where is the justice of peace?

Take me home, this is too much temptation for me, I haven’t learnt to be free

I rather live in the safety of my false piety or even blame my weakness on thee

Rather than take responsibility for my sexuality, I will hide my brown skin in a black maxi

I’m from Nigeria, across the sea, conservative and free, a reactionary rebels in me

My Brown skin is still searching for yours truly still asking itself “Who I be?”


Hi Honey, I’m Home – And the Natives Are Disturbing Me Already

February 13, 2014

They’ve started rolling in. The demands from my village people.

‘Its time for you to get an appointment’


‘Yes now. They’re looking for people like you.’

‘People like me?’

‘Yes now. They want people like you. You read book. You’re yellow. You speak well. You be woman. You can represent us there.’

‘I’m not interested’

‘What do you mean you’re not interested?’

‘I’m not interested in their appointment. I won’t be able to achieve anything. And they will kill me. You know I cannot smell shit and keep a straight face. I will blow alarm.’

‘What’s that? What do you think you’re talking about?’

‘I can’t follow them and do what they’re doing?’

‘What are they doing?’

‘They are chopping money, Nigeria money’

‘Ehen! Are you not a Nigerian?’

‘I don’t know how to chop government money. I’m not that sophisticated.’

‘Ah. You will learn now. They will teach you’

‘I don’t want to learn.’

‘You be better person. Oya. Go and change the system now’

‘You can’t change the system. The system changes you.’

‘Ehn? So you will change and chop?’

‘If I don’t they will ban me from the village. But I will have an open day every Wednesday and Friday. Any body that comes to see me will get a cash gift.’ ‘

‘Ehn? So you won’t chop but you will give everybody to chop?’

‘Yes. No one will believe that I’m not chopping anyway so I will let the people chop my share. At least dey no fit talk say I dey chop alone.’

‘You’re very funny.’

‘I’m not being funny. Anyway it doesn’t matter. I’m not interested in an appointment.’

‘So? Is that what your going to tell them in the village?  But you went to school now, we need people like you. Okay. So why did you go to school now?’

‘I went to school to get an education?’

‘Ehn? Is that what you think? Siddon dey do mumu. If I had a head for school I would have been there chopping o! And they want to put more Igbo people there.’

I wonder if I should bother arguing with her. A decade or two ago I would have. But I know she won’t budge in her opinion. In the village you are communal property. Period. They don’t understand individualism. They don’t understand you have your own life to live. Your life belongs to them. You are part of the collective. That’s how you survive. Why banishment was such a terrible punishment.

I feel a twinge of guilt. There has to be another way to do something for the people I left behind in the village. The rules changed before they could get to the finishing line. They had depended on the privileged ones (like me) who got a higher education and good work opportunities to come back for them and lead them to a better life. That’s what my father expected of me too. Perhaps that’s what the ancestors expect.

Nwa Agwubuo Duruabali


February 11, 2014

FEBRUARY 14 – Valentine’s Day. Lover’s day, the day of Love. I did the hand made cards, anxious hearts, chocolates and roses when I was young. Now I’m mildly embarrassed at my younger self.  Every time my new hormones reacted to the pheromones and fine genetic features of a male of my specie I thought  myself madly in love.

What is love?  Some people think love is the bond between mother and child, some think its the sexual attraction you feel when you meet some body, some people say that love is a verb – how you act towards some body.  Some people think its spiritual, metaphysical, magical, other worldly, inexplicable. Even the Bible says so, right?

I was as confused as everyone else till I read the January 2008 Time issue on the science of love. My life has never been the same. You can read a pretty good summary here. I wish someone had explained love to me a bit earlier. I can be melodramatic and intense. But I wrote some great poems in those days of ignorance. Find one here.

Some women are waiting for someone to send them a royal Valentine hamper from Fortnum’s or  buy them a trip to Dubai. Some will be happy to get dinner, a card or a plastic rose. Guys are running, avoiding phone calls. Runs babes are sorting the Big Boys from the men. Lots of boys and girls are regularly disappointed on Valentine’s Day.

According to a 2011 report more divorce petitions are filed in the US the day after Valentine’s Day than any other day in the year. In the absence of reliable records I’m going to track my blog stats to see whether I get more search engine hits and enquiries on ‘divorce in Nigeria’ on that day too. Is there more discontent in the air?

I’m a scientific kind of female.

“Events occurring in the brain when we are in love have similarities with mental illness.”

Don’t we all know that feeling?

So which do you think you are feeling? Lust? Attraction? Attachment? Or is it just plain need and fear that’s keeping you in bondage in a loveless abusive relationship? Abuse isn’t only physical. If your spouse constantly creates an atmosphere of rigid control and terror you may be in an abusive relationship. Even if he is providing everything.

Will your relationship or marriage survive Valentine’s Day?  Will that slap you receive, literal or figurative, when you innocently ask what he got you for Valentine’s be the final straw that makes you say ‘enough is enough’.  Will you finally realize that his isolating you from family and friends is abusive behaviour?

I’ll have a tweet meet @MzAgams on February 14th and 15 give some heartfelt and sincere marriage advice to the many broken hearts that may finally decide on Valentine’s Day – the day of love – they deserve better than an abusive spouse.  I’ll answer all your questions about family law, matrimonial causes and child custody issues. Is 8pm good?


Hi Honey, I’m Home – A Rant About Nigeria’s Middle Class

February 9, 2014

My friends are very bourgeois as my Moscow aunt would say. I’m just an unsophisticated village girl. Or maybe a working class Moscow girl. My father was a socialist. He believed the party line. He told me he raised me to be a revolutionary like Eduador Mondlane’s children. I read that book when I was 10. I saw that picture of Mondlane’s’s daughter Chudi holding an assault rifle. Her mother Janet sitting under a tree in fatigues. Powerful pictures. Powerful PR. Powerful propaganda. That’s what my father wanted me to be but he could never raise an army. And I eventually abandoned him for the joys of capitalism and city life. I always had ‘big eye’.

‘The thing wey dey hungry you no dey market’ my husband would often say to me. He’s a bourgeois beta male. I didn’t know any better when I married him. This December is our 30 year anniversary. I think its time to get a divorce. He never goes anywhere. He was traumatized by the civil war. Says he won’t live anywhere so far away that he can’t walk back to his village in a day. He moved from Orlu to Owerri (30 miles) kicking, screaming and protesting. I want to go spend another year abroad, this time in the Pacific Islands. Why the Pacific Islands? Sounds exciting and I hear the weather is good.

The bourgeois middle class in Nigeria are pathetic. All they think about is maintaining their middle class lifestyles. The  moment they can’t afford to go on their annual holiday abroad  or buy the latest Range Rover they sell their birth right for a bowl of porridge. They don’t question the status quo.  They are certainly not out to change it either. They’re THE heirs to the lifestyle their parents imposed on them in the 60’s and 70’s. They’re always talking about how they travelled to England every summer as kids and shopped in Marks and Spencer. As if that makes them better human beings.

Poverty porn? They’re the biggest peddlers. Always making a big deal about helping the natives while they live fat off the people’s suffering. Collaborators. Every last one of them has abandoned the village, their communities, their community values and blame the kidnapping. Kidnapping is just how the natives respond to the stupid isolationism the Nigerian middle class imposed on themselves. They buy vineyards in South Africa but can’t invest in local industry.

The natives still believe brothers help brothers. They’re obtaining because the bourgeois middle class weren’t sharing like they’re supposed to according to native law and custom. The natives can be unforgiving and harsh. Hunger and hardship in a land of plenty has made them extra mean and desperate. You better watch out for that guy washing your car and opening your gate. You boast about paying him $100 a month and tips but his wife and family live in one room inside a ghetto.

Hi Honey I’m Home! – And Why The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Law Is Suddenly Very Very Scary

February 6, 2014

I sit with them. Beautiful people. We sit under the open sky. Girls and boys. Big boys. And Big Girls. As they call themselves. And me. Drinks and red plastic cups litter the table. Loud music booms through ipod speakers. I’ve been back in Abuja a week. I’m enjoying the energy. Nigerians are boisterous. Like Russians. Especially after some devil’s brew. I’m as high as the rest. As loud as the rest. Competing to be heard. Unless you are telling a dramatic compelling story and capture their attention every one speaks at the same time. You got to fight for the right to be heard with wit, aplomb and high decibels. Everyone defers to the pretty young girls. Even me. I like to encourage them. One pretty young thing sits next to me. She is the color of a dark milk chocolate bar and has a killer figure. I praise her beauty and charms. She bats her eyelids.

Someone asks me ‘Lesley why did you chose to go to Brighton sef? Are you a lesbian?’

‘Shhhh’ I reply. ‘We could all get 10 to 14 years for even talking about it. Haven’t you heard about the Same Sex  Marriage Prohibition Law?’

‘Ah no. Lesbians are not among. We have told them to leave the lezbo’s alone’

I spent my first night back with my bff. She has a husband and 3 kids so we left them at home and went to her bar so we could be alone and undisturbed. She doesn’t open on Sundays so we locked ourselves inside. We were there for hours. Telling all the stories we couldn’t share over the phone. When we left there were some people outside. They watched us as she locked up.

‘These people must be wondering what we been doing locked  up inside since. They probably think we’re lesbians.’ she says.

‘Ah! That’s serious o. So if they want to make trouble for us they can call the police?’

Suddenly I feel very vulnerable. Me and bff have been bff’s for over 15 years. We get along so well. We think alike. Believe the same stuff. We finish each others sentences. We also kiss on the mouth like all Russians do with close family and friends. We both have Russian mothers. People have been asking if we are lesbian lovers forever. A gay woman once told me she liked my bff but stayed off cause she thought we were in a relationship. She didn’t quite believe me when I said we weren’t lovers.

‘Leave the lezbo’s’ the Big Boys and Big Girls joke and laugh. For the next hour we talk about the Same Sex Law, homosexuality, gays, Shola Rhodes, peadophilia, things like that.

“We don’t mind them so long as they stay hidden.”

“But they weren’t exactly coming out before you all started this battle.”

They are unapologetically homophobic. All the men talking went to British boarding schools. They’re the Nigerian middle class. I read about British and heard about Nigerian boarding schools. Even the seminary schools.  Its alleged that a lot of rape happened. I did not let my sons go to boarding school and I paid for martial arts lessons in primary school. But if I had a daughter I wouldn’t have let her go to boarding school either. In my Catholic boarding school they called it ‘kpokopi’ or ‘friend’.  The scorned girls were just as mean.

A senior girl once asked me to be her friend. She said if I’m her friend I could have access to her locker. She showed me. It was full to the brim with good things to eat. Her father had a supermarket. In secondary school I was perpetually hungry. And skinny. I said yes. Before night fall word had spread round the whole school that I had agreed to be her ‘freind’. During night prep some students from my village that my father had asked to look out for me called me outside. At first they were harsh and mean till they realized I didn’t understand what the senior or they meant. I thought friend meant what it meant in America. Someone you hang out with. I dumped the senior because she was really ugly. She never forgave me. She tried to torment me the rest of the year by my village girls stood up for me.  I got into trouble with a couple of boys too who said they wanted to be ‘friends’. I learnt that the English language is not the same all over the world.

“ ‘Leave the lezbo’s’ is our exit strategy. After a year or two we will tell Jonathan to amend the law and tell the west we have made a compromise.”

I smile benignly. I know them. They are soooo establishment. I’ve known them for years. I come to hang out and listen to the other story. And they let me tell my story too even if they disparage it as idealistic and unNigerian. We’re still friends. We help each other and our families when things get rough in Naija. Which is like always. The guys I mean. The chicks are mostly eye candy. Next time I go there’ll be a new set. All except for the chocolate cream pie sitting next to me. She’s a permanent fixture. I told her once I would happily become gay for her if she would marry me. Women do such things in my fathers Igbo village. That was before the Bill became law. I can’t say things like that anymore. Someone might take me seriously and tell the police on me. My enemies could use this against me.

I leave them still feeling vulnerable. I guess I have to get used to that feeling now that I’m back in Abuja.

Look Back the Way Which You Have Come

January 8, 2014


With my niece in Moscow Sept 2013

Selfie with my niece in Moscow Sept 2013

I’m still in a nostalgic and reflective mood. I think about the future I want. I think about going back to Nigeria. I think about my year abroad. I go through the souvenirs I squirrelled away this past year. Leaves from Moscow painstakingly dried in between the pages of my aunt’s big fat encyclopaedia. Match books and match boxes from hotels and restaurant in Moscow and St. Pete’s. Post cards from touristy land marks littered across the Sussex country side.


A pebble from Salisbury cathedral, a stone from one-thousand year old St. Martins in Westmeston, paper book marks from libraries and summer book fairs, my mother’s old frying pan, set of lead crystal goblets purchased at a farmers market in Ditchling. Coasters from quaint English pubs with names like The Bull, The White Horse and The Lone Hare & Rabbit. Pine cones. Old pictures to fill the gaps in my family album. Lots of new pictures. I feel very rich indeed.


I go through the memories and the experiences and I feel even richer.


How I walked the wind-blown South Downs and enjoyed the freedom of living without bars on the windows and doors. Cooking with new vegetables whose names I never heard of before – like kolhrabi, salsify and who knew there is such a thing as blue potatoes? I ate a lot of lamb, and salmon and scones filled with strawberry jam and cream. I ate a lot of cheesecake, and black bread, and KFC chicken. I ate lots and lots of blueberries, and I drank lots and lots of ale and Cherry Coke. And I gained 10 kilograms!


I went to Stonehenge for the summer solstice and danced all night on the sacred stone till the sun came up with my epiphany. I met some really cool people there. I visited broken down castles and forts in Sussex and heard echoes of lives past. I sang Christmas carols with the natives (I mean locals) at the village pub, volunteered to help the homeless. I enjoyed going out and blending in instead of sticking out like a sore thumb on a white man.


In Moscow I plugged into my matrix and visited my mother’s grave so many times she asked me to stay with the living for a while. But I went and visited Peter the Greats palace on the Ural seas, hung out for a bit in his back yard and had lunch with the ghosts that prowl Petergof instead.  My horoscope says I should live in the city of my birth for good health, long life and vitality. I will think about it.


I’ve also completed the first draft of the historical family saga I am writing. I visited lots of libraries, read lots of books about 19th century Igbo land. I even read an original 1829 account of an expedition to the Niger. I copied strange old school English names off tomb stones in ancient church cemeteries to populate my story with authenticity.


Not bad.


Selfie -January 5, 2014 

That Doesn’t Make Me A Bad Person

January 3, 2014

It’s over, 2013 is already being compressed for archiving. There was a new moon on the first day of the year for good joss. Meanwhile Venus is in retrograde so I am feeling nostalgic and reflective but I’ve been reading other people’s nostalgic reflections and resolutions instead. I’m not in a hurry to face mine. I’ve never kept a New Year resolution in my life. Besides MY New Year starts on my birthday a few days after January 1. I love to  indulge an extra day or two of festive hedonism. That doesn’t make me a bad person you know.

Even as I enjoy another glass of Pinot Grigio blush, for breakfast, I reflect seriously upon the intricate web that is my life within this web of life. An ancient web running backwards and forwards. Holding you in place even as you jump around in a delusion of freedom.  What patterns I am weaving  into this framework? Colourful? Interesting? What is the quality of my portion of this web? What has my web caught this year? What do I want to catch in my web? Does that sound spooky yet? And Machiavellian? Such is life. That still doesn’t make me a bad person.

I reflect on my weaving these 12 months past. Brutal honesty is required here. Courage is required here. Because we learn by confronting our fears, our insecurities and our failures and it’s really hard to face that shadow. However, successful entrepreneurs teach us to look for the lesson in every situation. So what are the top 3 lessons I’ve learnt this year? I will limit myself to the top 3 because this post and every post till further notice will be 500 words or less. There are many lessons of course, daily, weekly, monthly. I’m still waiting to grow up.

Why 500 words? I don’t read anything that is longer than 500 words anymore. If it’s more than 500 words and I have to read it I stop reading after 500 words give or take a dozen. I’ve started reading 20 books this year. I have half-finished books lying all over the house. I read them 500 words at a time. And like all bad managers I think everyone is like me so that’s how I settled on 500 words. Five hundred words are generous anyway. Some folks  that know about these things predict the future of reading is Twitter and all you get over  there is 140 characters. And I’m down 444 words already.

My horoscope says the planets are aligning auspiciously and I’m going to have a stellar year professionally and romantically. It says my love life will finally find harmony,well I hope so or it is war baby. I guess that means I should keep on dancing, drinking, writing, learning and loving you and me no matter how hard it gets. And none of  that makes me a bad person.

I go to reflect on my top three fuck ups and lessons of 2013 and what that means for 2014. Do you have any? Would you like to share? No? Good.

Christmas Was Here & Not Anything Like It Is Over There

December 29, 2013



Santa was generous! :)

Santa was generous! :)

I indulged in Christmas retail therapy – I was nice all year (frugal) and naughty all Christmas (profligate), it helped take my mind away from the fact that I am all alone in a strange country at Christmas. Now I have to spend the rest of next year making up for the indulgence of the past month. There is life after Christmas but what a dreary life it would be without Christmas. Most tribes have an all-important annual holiday they spend the whole year preparing for. In Brazil it’s the Carnival. In Islam it’s Ramadan. In Christianity it’s Lent. In the Capitalist West it’s Christmas. In Umuaka, my village it used to be the Owuh festival but now it’s Christmas too. Western capitalism is spreading.


I’ve had an amazing Christmas experience in England. Its is shopping galore! In Abuja when the supermarkets put out the Christmas decorations at the end of November it always seemed too early. Everyone was still hustling. For most people Christmas money didn’t arrive till the 22nd or the 23rd so there’s not a lot of buying going on that early. Even in Umuaka my village we never started shopping for Christmas till about a week or two before. There was no tree, no lights, no presents, no decorations. We shopped for rice, vegetable oil, tomato paste, maggi cubes, crayfish, flour, sugar, a cow or a goat and a half dozen chicken depending on how much money there was.  The men bought the drinks; White Horse Whiskey, beer, and minerals like Coca Cola and Fanta. The more money you had the more you cooked and the more people came to visit you on Christmas day.


On Christmas morning in our compound in Umuaka the men and boys would gather and take over the center of the compound to kill and cut up the meat. The women woke up at dawn to set up the kitchen, slice the onions, blend the peppers and tomatoes and wash the rice.  Each woman sat in her kitchen and waited for her portion of the meat to be delivered to her by one of the kids gathered in a circle round the butchers. The old men sat supervising the younger men making sure the cuts were appropriate and everybody in the compound got some meat.


One of my more prosperous uncle’s wife would gather as many young girls and woman as she could catch into the cooking area she had set up outside her kitchen because her kitchen was never big enough on Christmas Day and get the ladies mixing dough for chin-chin and puff-puff, while others boiled rice, sliced onions, crushed pepper and stoked the blazing fire to cook the feast. The gas cooker was never big enough for the pots she used on Christmas Day. Then she would appoint someone supervisor, go dress up and leave for church with my uncle and her youngest children.


Her older children either walked to church or more often than not they didn’t go to church at all and stayed close to the food and drinks with the excuse they were protecting it from the thronging native helpers while constantly taking more and more food and drinks for their friends who also didn’t go to church but came visiting instead. By the time my uncle and his wife came back from church half the beer and meat was finished and the natives helping in the kitchen would be blamed and banished with no Christmas plate and much bitterness. This was before my uncle  moved into his big new house with tall walls and huge gates that kept all but a select few of the natives out.


In the village I only bought fabric in early December for Christmas clothes, sometimes in November as the few village seamstresses were always inundated with orders in December and could never keep up. It was a process; select the fabric, choose a style, every season had its trends too or you could design one of your own, get measured and go back regularly to make sure she was working on your dress. On Christmas day I would proudly wear my new dress till I saw the township kids in their ready-made clothes. Sadly, the village seamstresses never could fulfill the promise of that bespoke experience with a straight seam and clean finishing.


I haven’t had a real live Christmas tree since I was 9 years old in the US


I felt both privileged and deprived, my father was single. He celebrated Christmas like a bachelor. He bought a turkey, a bag of rice, a tin of oil and give money to his sister in law to cook it and he didn’t really entertain or stay home much but that meant I could hang out with my various uncle’s and their families. We all lived together in the same compound so it wasn’t like I had to travel or anything. I ate Christmas rice in three, four sometimes five different places and had lots and lots of Fanta. No one needed an invitation; everybody had an open house and open kitchen at Christmas. I just moved from house to house eating and drinking. Much like I did in Abuja except I was moving from friend’s house to house eating and drinking.


So different than in England, where you’re either invited to dinner, cook or buy a sad imitation of a Christmas dinner at the local pub. In Umuaka my village it was unheard of to buy food on Christmas day. That would be like saying I don’t have friends. It would be shocking and pitiful and someone would invite me home for rice. Of course that changed once I moved to town. We township people buy food all the time, on Christmas day and any other day even if there is food at home. Its part of the higher standard of living we left the village for. And when we go to village nowadays we buy lots of food and drinks at the village square during Christmas because we can’t eat the natives food anymore for fear of the voodoo magic they put in food, they could poison you, you know, just because they are jealous and will get a free meal and beer at your funeral.


Last time I went to the village for Christmas I gave my aunt (the only one that I trust if you know what I mean) a bag of rice and the ingredients for stew and asked her to cook it for the visiting natives while I hung out with all my other town and abroad dwelling friends in the market. We are different from the natives now, we stay out late, we eat different food, and we spend money drinking and eating in the market, we wear trendy ready-made clothes, the latest Dutch wax wrappers, use the latest iphones and gadgets and gizmo’s and have the latest hair styles. Even our at home clothes are still new and shiny. And we know all the latest gossip and happenings in Nigeria. We are so sophisticated now. ‘Afropolitan.’


I don’t travel to my village for Christmas anymore, it’s too dangerous. My pale face is likely to identify me as a potentially valuable kidnap victim, who I am not nor can I afford the sort of security detail that is apparently required now to deter the criminally minded opportunists. At least that is what I am told my well-meaning family and friends. So I chose to spend Christmas in an English village this year. My flight was booked but I’ve spent the past 37 Christmases in Nigeria, the past 7 in Abuja. I know exactly what it’s like. I wanted something new. I wanted to enjoy my solitude this Christmas and be content alone far away from home and family.


I’ve opened all my presents, cooked a lonely English Christmas dinner, drank too much mulled wine, sang carols with the English natives and spent what was left of my Christmas bonus at the winter sales. The Boxing Day sales are addictive and dangerous. Everyone is doing a half-price sale, from Primark and H&M to Zara and Versace. This amazing Versace dress that almost led me into sin is going for half price even though the price is still more than the average monthly income for most Nigerians. It’s more than my average monthly income right now. I love it but can’t afford it so I opt for a practical blazer and some versatile shirts from Zara instead to dress up my jeans for those all important business meetings. Yes there are business meetings in my future.


Whether you are in Nigeria or England, ritual feasts are the same. Hedonistic. Christmas is beginning to look the same too. Do you participate? Or do you judge? Or do you just play Ebenezer Scrooge? Christmas is the biggest commercial event of the year after all. There were feeble attempts to remind us of ‘the reason for the season’ but mostly it was a time of media fuelled financial anxiety for adults and children gripped in a tidal wave of anticipation, expectation and trepidation strong enough to wash you screaming and flailing out into the choppy sea of capitalist consumption. But the messages were somewhat effective, they did help me think about what we were celebrating and why – consumption!

Now back to the hustle and frugal living till this time again next year.  Sigh

Chao bella






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