Archive for the ‘African Tales’ Category

Brrinnng brrinnng! Answer Your Phone Please

June 30, 2017

Once upon a time not so long ago there lived a small little king in a small little kingdom in the hot tropical jungle somewhere near the equator. Even though the king and his kingdom were very small the king had a very big ego. Ever heard of the Napoleon Complex?  The king never answered his mobile phone unless someone richer than him was calling and really rich people didn’t call him very often which meant he almost never answered his phone.

“The only people that call me are people who want something from me” he explained if anyone asked him why he didn’t answer his mobile phone “I’ll call them back when I’m ready.”

The little king had a poor court jester who had been with him and served him loyally for many many years. The court jester had many many children and the king through the years had helped the jester to pay school fees and things like that. When the jesters children grew up they worked hard and became rich men and took care of their father while the little kings children still expected the king to take care of them.

One day the little king was hungry and called the jester on his mobile phone.

“I hear that all your children are doing well now and taking care of you. You know I helped you raise your children. You are not a loyal servant, you are eating your children’s money all by yourself and not sharing it with me.”

And the jester who was a good man with a conscience felt very bad indeed even though his children didn’t give him that much money because they were still young men and building houses and families and empires of their own and didn’t have a lot of discretionary income yet. So the jester took the little savings he had and bought a smelly he-goat and some overnight palm wine just like he knew the king liked it and took it to the little king.

He got to the little kings gate and called the little king on his mobile phone but guess what? The little king didn’t answer his phone! The jester called and called and called and even sent a text massage but the king didn’t answer his mobile phone. So the jester took the smelly he-goat and the overnight palm wine and went away.

Some days later the little king called the jester.

“I just read your text message. Where is the smelly he goat and the overnight palm wine that you bought for me? Bring it over immediately” he roared at the jester over his mobile phone.

“My king! That was many days ago. I was ashamed to return home with my offerings for you least my wife and children see it and laugh that you have rejected me so I went to the fat king who is your friend so he would call you but he seized it and had a barbecue and feasted all night.”

And the little king was very angry. And still very hungry.

And the moral of the story is – every body may be calling you because they want something from you but one person maybe calling you to give you something you asked the gods for so stop being an arrogant little prick and answer the damn phone.

spider-of-the-evening

Sleep by Salvadore Dali 1937

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SUNRISE HOTEL

August 13, 2016

 

There is a hotel in the Village on the way to the stream; at least it calls itself a hotel. It’s a small concrete bungalow with a tin roof and a concrete courtyard.  A dented oil drum sits at the corner of the building to catch rain water. Dingy curtains cover the open windows and doors. Outside a big signboard says ‘Sunrise Hotel’ above badly painted pictures of green beer bottles and a goat head. At night red and blue light bulbs glow surreally in the surrounding darkness like Christmas lights.

Chidimma passes the hotel on her way to the stream every day. It looks modern and inviting in a village of mud huts and colonial buildings.  She wants to go in and maybe stay in one of their rooms. The hotel rooms she sees in Drum magazine have nice beds with head boards, closets and bedside lamps, not like the iron bed she sleeps on in a stuffy room with clothes hanging on pegs in the wall lit only by a dim kerosene lamp.

She asks her half-sister Eunice if they can stay there. ‘Only prostitutes stay there’ Eunice answers disdainfully. Chidimma read about prostitutes in the Bible, they are bad women that make men do bad things and go to hell.  She doesn’t understand what they do but she understands that they are paid to do it and they do it with lots of different men and that was really really bad. She’s been told that good women only do it with one man, they marry him and they never get paid for it.

Chidimma doesn’t want to get married. Married women always look unhappy. They talk different when their husband is around and they behave different too.  They look wary, like children trying to behave well in front of adults. And when they don’t behave well they get beaten or punished just like children too. Chidimma can’t wait to grow up, she doesn’t want to be a child and she doesn’t want to be a wife.  She doesn’t want to be a good woman.

Good women get up before sunrise to fetch water or strain cassava meal at the stream, sweep the compound, feed the men and children, weed the yam farms or go to the market to buy and sell with babies strapped to their backs or hanging on to their breasts. At sunset they come back to feed the men and children again and put everyone to bed. Sometimes there is a wedding or a burial feast to attend and break the tedium.

Chidimma feels a familiar wave of darkness threaten her as she imagines a life time of drudgery.  The darkness comes more frequently now.  She day dreams of life as a prostitute in Sunrise Hotel instead, of wearing nice clothes, of men who will love her, of sleeping in a proper bed, of having electricity every night, of watching television and having a drum full of water in front of the house.

###

Charlie doesn’t propose. He just starts calling Chidimma his wife every time he sees her. Soon everyone is calling her his wife too and she almost starts to believe them. He is a handsome and popular student at the only high school in the village. It is for boys only so Chidimma can’t attend and her father can’t afford to send her to a girl’s boarding school. The way Charlie looks at her and smiles makes her squirm but he doesn’t pinch her breasts or try to kiss her when no one is looking like some of the old men in the village.

Charlie and his brothers visit her brothers, their friends, often. Chidimma’s brothers make her sit with them while Anayo, a bus conductor, tells wild stories of the witches and magicians living in the cities he visits.

When the sun goes down they set up a portable turntable powered by a car battery and play music. They remove the speaker from the casing and suspend it over the mouth of a clay pot to make it reverberate like a woofer. A single bare bulb lights up the dingy room and their eager teenage faces. They sing along to Nico Mbarga’s ‘Sweet Mother’ .

Sweet mother 

I no go forget you 

For the suffer wey you suffer for me yeah

 

Chidimma’s mother died when she was born. She listens to the words of the song and wonders what a mother’s love feels like. She flips through her brothers record collection. He has about a dozen albums. His most prized possessions. He saves his kobos to buy records and music equipment. He’s in demand as a DJ around the Village and makes some extra money too.

Chidimma reads the names of the bands absentmindedly; Bunny Mack, Black Children, Ofege, One World, Wings, Semi-Colons, Comrades, Actions. The male bands look modern in afros, dark glasses, tight shirts, flared trousers and platform shoes on the covers. She flips to an album with a woman on the cover. ‘Nelly Uchendu’ ‘Love Nwa Nti Nti’ it says. The woman gazes into the distance wearing a traditional costume.

Anayo changes the record.

My sweetie my sugar my baby my lover 

So honey let me love you 

Let me love you forever wo yeah

Charlie comes over, sits next to Chidimma and holds her hand. Suddenly her father rushes in with a machete. He threatens to kill Charlie for defiling his daughter but everyone escapes through the window. A few days later her father’s half-sister Ahuekwe comes from Town and takes Chidimma away with her. She says Chidimma needs a woman to raise her now.  She promises to send Chidimma to high school and  to look after her like her own daughter.

Chidimma is excited. She’s never been to Town before but she’s heard it has tarred roads, electricity. and houses bigger than Sunrise Hotel. She packs her Sunday best in a plastic bag and waves good bye.

Chidimma is faintly disappointed to find Ahuekwe doesn’t live in a big house but rents a garage and two small rooms with a lean-to kitchen, a bucket toilet and a shower stall out back of a modest old building but its better than the Village. Ahukwe lives with her teenage son and daughter and runs a beer parlour in the garage. The garage is lit with red and blue light bulbs just like Sunrise Hotel. At night men bring beautifully groomed women wearing short dresses and high heels. Chidimma serves them beer and pepper soup.

———

It is late in morning and the rooms are stifling in the tropical heat. The beer parlour isn’t open yet. Ahuekwe has gone to the morning market to buy ingredients for her famous Chicken Peri Peri and Goat Meat Pepper Soup.

Chidimma sits outside and watches people go by on the busy street. The same people pass every morning. One is a young woman the street children call ‘Fela’. She is dark and skinny with a buzz cut. She wears chic clothes with flip flops and a mad expression on her face. They say she used to dance for Fela in Lagos. Chidimma saw a picture of Fela and his dancers in Drum magazine once.

Friday, Ahuekwe’s seventeen year old son comes home from school unexpectedly and calls Chidimma into the bedroom. He smiles, she smiles back. He’s a day student at a local high school.  She doesn’t expect him to pull her to him in a bear hug or to start grinding his erection against her.  She stiffens and tries to pull away but he holds her tighter. He only lets go when he hears Ahuekwe’s voice outside. Ahuekwe doesn’t ask why Friday is home from school or why Chidimma is trembling and shaken.

Every day after that Friday comes back from school when his mother is at the market. Chidimma tries to avoid him but he stalks her patiently. When she tells Ahuekwe she is accused of lying and punished. Anna, Friday’s sister returns from boarding school  and Chidimma tells her too but Anna just laughs. ‘Don’t you want to be a woman?’

The beer parlour is always busier when Anna is home.  She is beautiful with velvety chocolate coloured skin. She sits and drinks with the men that come alone.  Anna invites Chidimma to sit with them once in a while. Chidmma crosses her legs, smokes a cigarette like Anna and tries to look grown up.

Sometimes Anna leaves with one of the men and she doesn’t come home till the next morning. Ahuekwe doesn’t say anything till it’s time for Anna to go back to school and she asks her mother for money. Ahuekwe is livid. ‘Have you been sleeping with that man for free? Go and collect money from him. Foolish girl.’

Anna takes Chidimma with her to see him later and asks him for money but he says he doesn’t have any. They argue. Chidimma asks to use the bathroom. He gets up to show her the way. As soon as they are in the hallway he pushes her up against the wall and puts his tongue in her mouth. She struggles. Anna watches. When they leave he gives Anna some money.

——-

Next time Anna comes home from school she has a new friend called Nkeiru. Nkeiru is very glamorous. She looks like the models in Ebony magazine. Anna begins to dress and look just like her. One day Anna and Nkeiru dress Chidimma up and take her out with them. They go to another beer parlour and meet a man. They drink lots of beer and pepper soup and then they all go to a hotel together.

Its not like Sunrise Hotel. This hotel has four floors and many many rooms. The wood panelled reception area is five times bigger than Ahuekwe’s two rooms and garage. A cheap dusty cut glass chandelier hangs in the centre of the lobby, only two out of 12 bulbs work. The carpet is encrusted with dirt, thread bare in high traffic places and frayed at the edges near the wall.

The cracks in the over stuffed imitation leather armchairs to the left of the entrance make them look like giant turtles in the gloom. Plastic plants and flowers sit on coffee tables. Chidimma looks around in awe. They go into the bar. Uniformed waiters serve them ice cold beer in tall fragile glasses that aren’t chipped.

Anna tells Chidimma to go upstairs with the man. She tells Chidimma he will give her money to buy new cloths. He is middle aged and fat. He lounges in an armchair like a toad. His belly sits around his large frame like a barrel. His lips look thick and slack. His eyes are flat and cold. His face gleams with sweat and grease. He breathes with difficulty. Chidimma shudders and looks at Anna with a plea in her eyes but Anna ignores her.

She lies frozen with revulsion under him on a bed upstairs her face averted while he heaves, grunts and sweats on top of her.  She doesn’t let him kiss her. She thinks of the money he will give her but when they leave he gives the money to Anna and Nkeiru. They don’t give Chidimma any.

Nkeiru knows a lot of rich old men. She takes Anna and Chidimma with her to visit them. A lot more men come to Ahuekwe’s beer parlour too. They buy lots of pepper soup and beer and try to get the girls attention. Ahuekwe smiles broadly as she counts her money. Everybody is making money except Chidimma.

Then Chidimma gets pregnant  and Ahuekwe sends her back to the village.

—-

Chidimma’s father and brothers are mad. They beat her to make her tell them who got her pregnant but she doesn’t know and doesn’t say anything. Ahuekwe watches and listens, urging the men on. She calls Chidimma a stubborn, wilful and ungrateful child. When Chidimma, one eye swollen shut and bleeding from the nose collapses at Ahuekwe’s feet, she moves away with a scornful look on her face. “Stupid girl. I told you not to be moving about with men! Where are they now?” Chidimma tries to speak but Ahuekwe kicks her in the mouth.

Her father picks up a large log and takes a swing at Chidimma’s head. She scurries away just in time, gets up and runs out of the compound. “Don’t you ever dare to come back here again unless you are coming with the man that got you pregnant. Useless girl.” Her fathers words pursue her. She runs past a sea of faces gathered watching the drama.  Some came out of their huts to watch and listen, some stopped on their way to the market where they will tell the story later to those who missed it.

No one comes forward to intervene. No one wants their daughter to get pregnant before marriage. Its a disgrace, a sure sign of a bad upbringing and poor pedigree. So no one wants to interfere when a man disciplines his daughter when it happens. Within days Chidimma’s disgrace will be whispered all over the village as an example of what happens to bad girls that have sex before marriage.

Chidimma disappears down the footpaths that criss cross the village farmlands till she collapses near the edge of the forest that surrounds the village. Sobs rack her body for a while then she is still. She jumps when a hand touches her. A soft voice asks ‘What is it my child?’. Her eyes focus and she stares into an old woman’s kind weathered face. Chidimma recognises Alumma and collapses gratefully at her feet.

Alumma is a poor, childless spinster who lives in a small mud hut all by herself near the border of the village. Everyone calls her a witch. She is always quick to point out an injustice and she always knows whats going on in the entire village. She heard Chidimma’s story in the market.

Alumma takes Chidimma home and nurses her till she is strong enough to help her around the hut and on the farm. Four months later, just before the first harvest, Chidimma gives birth to a baby boy attended only by Alumma in their small mud hut. The rain hits the thatch roof and muffles the babies cries. Neither the spirits nor the people hear him arrive.

“The deities be praised. The vampire witches and wizards that prey on women at child birth cannot fly in the rain.” Alumma says as she cuts the umbilical cord with a knife.

Chidimma and her son recover well and quickly. She is so grateful for a speedy and strong recovery she calls him Ekene. No one comes to visit Chidimma and her baby. No one brings her fish and yam for her confinement. Soon she is back on the farm with Alumma, her baby strapped to her back.

Each morning when she goes to the stream she passes the Sunrise Hotel. Each night asleep on  a raised platform near the cooking pit she dreams of a big house, with a large busy kitchen, a tank full of water nearby, and plastic flowers decorating the coffee table in the living room.

—-

When Ekene is 18 months old Chidimma weans him. He is a strong stocky baby and loves to run around kicking a football. He calls Alumma ‘Nne’ and she dotes on him. Chidimma leaves him with Alumma and moves into the Sunrise Hotel. It took her a whole year to save enough money to buy a nice dress and a pair of platform shoes.

Alumma doesn’t stop her and Chidimma ignores the sad resignation in the old woman’s eyes as she leaves. They don’t speak about what she is about to do. They both know it has to be this way. For Chidimma there is no other way. Her desire for a better life flares into an overwhelming burden of ambition each time she looks at her son.

At the Sunrise Hotel she quickly learns to please the clients and ignore the taunts of the self righteous and soon has enough money to move back to Town. She rents a room in one of the numerous brothels. She is popular, vivacious and kind, she builds a long list of regular customers and the other prostitutes come to her for help, advice and counselling.

She sends money to Alumma and Ekene regularly and lives frugally. When she opens her own brothel the other girls rush to rent with her. She is always fair. She takes in only the highest paid most popular girls. Business is good and she treats the girls well. They make her President of their association. Chidimma is a long way from Sunrise Hotel.

In a few years she builds a big house in the village where Alumma’s small mud hut once stood and buys Alumma a ladies motorcycle to replace the bicycle she bought for her earlier. Alumma never  actually rides the motorbike unless she goes pillion with Ekene. She says she’s too old to learn but she likes to see it parked in the hall way of her new concrete and zinc bungalow.

Chidimma threw a lavish feast for the house opening. Villagers and relatives came from all over the state to see with their own eyes the house that Chidimma built.

—–

They all came back for her lavish Igba Nkwu wedding five years later too.

Chidimma met John at the Oriental Hotel in Town. She was sitting at the outdoor bar alone. Her pampered skin glowed in the light of the setting sun. As soon as John saw her he knew he wanted to marry her. John was a trader. He owned many shops in many Towns across the country and more than 150 apprentices and employees worked for him. He sold motor spare parts he imported from Taiwan.

He walked up to her and told her he loved her. Just like that. She laughed. ‘Love? I am a prostitute. Do you want to buy me a drink?”  He started seeing her every day, he paid to be with her all day and all night and wouldn’t let her go out with any other man. He bought her expensive presents. When he asked her to marry him she laughed him off but he kept on asking till Chidimma finally said yes.

But first she tells him why she didn’t want to be a wife, she tells him about the married women in the village. And he promises her they will never live in the village. He promises they will live in Lagos far away from the village. Then she tells him about her family. Her son, Ekene, Alumma, her father, Ahuekwe and her children. He promises to make her family proud of her.

The wedding party lasted well into the night. The whole village came to witness the nuptials and eat plenty jollof rice. A high life band played Ebenezer Obey’s hits. People danced in her fathers compound under the naked light bulbs strung across the fore yard for the occasion. He was the official host. And very drunk. He pointed at Chidmma with pride;

‘That is my beloved daughter. She is a great lady. She has brought great wealth into my compound.” he boasted with a wide toothy grin.

Chidimma and John, dressed in rich lace and brocades and traditional ivory and coral jewellery sit in plush winged armchairs on a raised dais at one end of the compound. John’s prosperous friends and business partners come up and present them with gifts of money, drinks, home appliances, fabrics and even a car.

———

Chidimma’s funeral is even more lavish than her wedding.

She was 57 when she died. John was inconsolable. Their five children were inconsolable.    Their three children-in-law were inconsolable. Their seven grand children were inconsolable. Alumma had passed away the year before. Chidimma had given her a befitting burial, feeding all the village groups and erecting a tomb stone for the old woman, something she was not  entitled to as an unmarried childless woman. She would have been buried in the garden.

Chidimma was buried like the grand lady that she was. She had made many friends and belonged to many social groups. In Lagos she had become a renowned business woman with John’s support and many of her partners, associates and clients, past and present, came to pay their respects and condole John and her family. Some just came to see the woman they had heard about. The great woman that was once a prostitute. They came in their colours. There wasn’t enough parking space and there wasn’t enough sitting space but the crowds kept coming.

“She died too young” they lamented “May those that cut short her life never know peace”

In the village her legend lives on and little girls still dream of being a prostitute and escaping to the city.

 

Agwubuo Talks About Lesley

June 23, 2016

You are welcome. I greet you. Please sit down, we must break kola together. He who brings kola brings life.  I am Duru Agwubuo, senior member of the Ndi Ozo ruling council of Umuaka Kingdom.

You say you are here to enquire about Lesley. She is a very foolish woman. She married for love. What is love? Who marries for love? A woman marries a man that can provide a good life for her and her children. She could have had any man she wanted, she could have even married the king’s first son. Instead she chose a weak thoughtless boy from a far away kingdom. His family is rich but they do not have a good pedigree. His father was a trader and his grandfather a mercenary.

Just like she insisted on marrying him she insisted on leaving him after two children. But she didn’t marry another man, she decided to live and raise her children alone in The Big City, Lagos. What kind of woman is that? Only immoral women live alone in the city. She said she was still looking for love. Her age mates married the eligible men and she was still looking for love.

It didn’t go very well for her in The Big City. She struggled to raise those boys. She ignored a lot of opportunities to be available for them and what money she made she spent to give them a good city life away from the village where she grew up.  Her aunts used to tell her to send the children back to the family that owns them and stop wasting her money on them. She didn’t listen. Maybe it paid off for her. She and her sons are very close. They dote on her.

As her children grew Lesley focused more and more on her career and she did pretty well for a woman. She was generous to her father, the big family, and the lineage and she was interested in kingdom affairs but as she became more and more successful she became less and less interested. She forgot her promise. Her promise to tell our stories. She convinced herself it was just – her imagination. After all who was she making promises too? She forgot the messages we sent her.

I am one of the ancestors now. Our descendants live in a different time, they have new ideas about how life should be. They say we are old school and out dated. In the ancient belief of the Igbo of south east Nigeria the worst fate for the dead is to have no one to remember their name. This is why men poured libations and recited the names of their fathers every morning and every night and taught their sons to do the same. But the world has changed.

Lesley has remembered me again and promised I will be remembered for ever more in her book which she insists will be in the Library of Congress. She would make me immortal!

 

 

THIS is Naija! Naija By Nature!!

March 10, 2016

Living Under the Patriarchy: Burying A Husband

March 8, 2016

My best friends husband died recently. He was from Oginibo in Delta state, an Urhobo. She is from Eket in Akwa Ibom state, an Ibibio with a Russian mother. It is easier to get from one to the other by boat through the creeks. We had planned a regatta for her traditional wedding. I guess thats never going happen now.

He died. Just like that. He was 52. Kidney failure they said. Most of us didn’t even know he was sick. I haven’t seen my best friend in awhile. Life. You know how it is. I only heard he was in the hospital a week before he died. When I heard I felt a worm of fear. He wasn’t the type that went to the hospital. If he had a headache he took paracetamol. If it persisted more than a week he took something for malaria. He was a big hardy stoic kinda guy.

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Daniel Mowoe Opuama (17 September 1963 –  23 February  2016)

According to Urhobo tradition he had to be brought back to his ancestral village for burial even though he never lived there. Even though his wife and children had only visited the place once in the 16 years they were together. Even though he told his wife during one of those conversations he wanted to be buried wherever he lived. Even though she is the next -of-kin. Even though this is the 21st century.

So off on a 448km journey to Oginibo we went last Friday. Oginibo is 17 km SE of Warri somewhere in the Delta near the Forcados River. A google search isn’t very helpful. There are no population figures for the place and it isn’t actually named on google maps. One site said it has a ‘small population’. I came across a picture of their town square. Real native country.

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Oginibo Town Square (Source Oginibo Community Facebook Page)

When Delita, The Duchess, heard the burial was to be in Urhobo land and not in Abuja as previously proposed she went into a panic.

“Maya, I heard all sorts of horror stories. I heard they will lock you up in a room for 3 months and make you shave your hair!”

Many other friends warned that the natives would use the opportunity to milk the bereaved family. They told horror stories of their own. Stories of shake downs, blackmail and child napping. It cost a lot to bury a man. (Every where in Africa it costs less to bury a woman.) Apparently the Urhobo have a taste for expensive burials.

“They will ask you how your husband died.” Maya’s mother-in-law tried to reassure us. We didn’t know what to think but it seemed easier to let it go and bury him where ever his kinsmen wanted.

It was like planning a invasion. Money is tight so we decided we weren’t going to feed or water the natives. None of our business. We did some research on Urhobo and tribal jurisprudence. A ray of hope emerged – Maya and Dan never had a wedding under tribal laws! They got married in the registry. If the natives tried to impose any repugnant widowhood practices we would remind them of that.

While Maya’s kinsmen could not formally attend her brother would come to represent and protect her. Max our brother from another mother was also coming. A woman’s greatest protection in her husbands house is her own kinsmen. Thats why no one wants their daughter to marry far away. How else could they keep an eye on her and ensure her husband didn’t sell her into slavery or abuse her. Or something.

We also called in some favours with a brother in law for some heavy calvary. Just in case.

The drive down to Warri was pretty uneventful. We spent the night in Warri and ate bang soup for dinner. The Jubilee Conference Centre where we stayed was built two years ago. The Catholic Bishops of Nigeria decided they wanted to hold their conference in Warri but there was no hotel good enough for them so they just built their own.

The drive from Warri to Oginibo was like a time warp. The jungle just got thicker and thicker and the roads narrower and narrower with each kilometre. Our men were late joining us and we had to leave the morgue without them.

I called Max.

“Max, where are you? We’re on our way to Oginibo.”

“Still waiting for our car.”

“Max. You people can’t do this to us. You have left three women and two children to go into the jungle to face the natives. You guys need to catch up. NOW. please.” I sounded calmer than I felt.

“Where’s the calvary? Weren’t they supposed to meet us along the way? Where are we sef?” Maya asked.

Compulsively I reeled off the names of each community we passed – Ovwian, Ukpedi, Jeremi, Ayagha, Imode. And invoked all the deities I knew – OkwaraAgu, Ezenwanyi, Amadioha, Jesus, God. Angel Gabriel, and Michael.

We arrived Oginibo and the deceased’s homestead escorted and surrounded by natives speaking in Urhobo. Then they said we should come in for a family meeting. We sat down in the hall while the natives argued. Ever so often they gestured towards Maya. It was pretty obvious what they were arguing about. I chided myself. Why didn’t I think of bringing along an interpreter!

“Please we are educated.” one elderly woman said to the squabbling men in English.

“Hian.” I thought to myself.

Then the call came.

“Madam, this is Captain So So and So with the Nigerian Army. What is your location please?”

Our calvary had arrived! Within minutes three Hilux trucks arrived with over 30 soldiers and took up strategic positions around the compound. We sat in the hall, relieved but still pensive and waiting. Their arrival seemed to bring out a couple more natives who walked in authoritatively, greeted us ever so briefly and said something to the squabblers that seemed to escalate the discord briefly before walking out again. Later we learnt they came and stopped what was indeed an attempt to make Maya undergo some sort of trial by ordeal.

Then I looked up and there was Max and Yuri standing in the doorway! Our men had arrived. They must have broken all speed limits to get there so quick. Sometimes relief is spelled M-E-N. The mood changed. Drinks, kola and money were brought out and presented in welcome. Women do not deserve a formal welcome.

It was smooth sailing after that and the burial proceeded without further ado. No repugnant demands, no strange and demeaning widowhood practices. They invited us back to the homestead for entertainment but we declined. The Army escorted us all the way  back to Warri and we high tailed it to Benin City to spend the night before departing for Abuja the next morning.

Mission accomplished. Thank you father. We are grateful.

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When You Eat Together You Stay Together

August 12, 2015

I been thinking about that age old ‘African’ custom that made siblings eat together from one plate…..

In the more enlightened Igbo-Nigerian homes I found that the eldest man sometimes made all the first cousins eat together. It made for some strong bonds. And healthy competitive values.

Observing the impact of the western practice of eating on individual plates, and first cousins that are frequently strangers. Living worlds apart, literally and figuratively. The loosening of family bonds, the hegemonic reinterpretation of ‘family’.

In Igbo-Nigeria nothing is worse than a ‘lost son’. They didn’t care so much for daughters except as a means to make good in-laws. Nothing is worse in Igbo-Nigeria than bad in-laws – distant, aloof, uncaring, don’t visit often especially on feast days.

Hence no one wants a daughter to marry further than a days return trek away. Besides, it was dangerous to marry too far away in the Slave Trade days. Your brothers had to be near enough to keep an eye on you, in case the husband tried to sell you.

There are still many families that maintain those customs in a modern world; siblings living together, first cousins like siblings. A tight family unit – your strongest protection against the exigencies of life. ‘The Group Mind’

My Igbo-Nigerian and Russian values meet harmoniously here. In Russian there is no word for cousin, the word for cousin is sister or brother. In Igbo there is no word for cousin either. The word for cousin is sister or brother.

Its not a peaceful conflict free zone, as a matter of fact a multitude will have a multitude of petty grievances but as my grand father Agwubuo would say – it is better to have a multitude that squabbles than a peaceful but empty homestead.

You will remember what’s important – family. Its more than DNA

A Multitude

A Multitude by photograph by Bosden

Alu Nwanyi Na Mma

May 24, 2015

Her name was Alumma. She was the first daughter of Agamekwe. She led a hard life. Her mother died when she was 15. She had three brothers, the youngest was just 7 when their mother died. It fell to her to cook and look after them. Agamekwe had four wives. Each wife took care of her hut and her children.

It was a heavy burden for a young girl. She was petite, just 5 foot 2, and slim of hip. She coped the best she could. She went to the farm, she went to the market, she came back and cooked for her brothers. When her older brother turned 22 he got married but the expectation that his wife would cook for them were never fulfilled.

Alumma got married at 25, a late age for a woman to marry in those days. Her slim hips made it difficult for her to birth a child. Her only baby died at birth but not before tearing her up so bad that for the rest of her life she leaked piss through her vagina. She never got pregnant again and her hut always smelled of stale piss.

Her husband beat her regularly after that. Her younger brother – her champion even when the teachers beat her in school came to her rescue. One day as dawn broke over the horizon, he arrived their house and trashed her husband so thoroughly she feared he would kill him. Then he took her back to their fathers house and promised to take care of her for the rest of her life.

She grew old there, subsisting on a small free hold they gave her to farm and the kindness of her siblings.  Hers was the only mud and thatch hut in the homestead. It was a single room ten feet by ten feet. Her doorway was so small you had to bend over double to pass through it. Her only window was just big enough to put your head through.

Her bed took up half the room, a clay pot for water and her cooking utensils filled the other half. She cooked in a lean-to by the side of her hut and slept with her chickens clucking under her bed. She was the poorest member of the family but she never ate without calling all the small children in the compound and giving them a morsel of her food.

When she was still strong enough to go to the market she sold roasted peanuts. Every few days she would gather sand in a large clay bowl and set it over a roaring fire. When the sand was hot she would add the shelled peanuts and stir them over the fire till they were done. Children would gather round her while she stirred and she would give each one a few hot peanuts.

She was a devout Christian and never went to the hospital or took medication, no matter how sick she was. She had the faith of a Daniel or an Ester. She would pray, drink her holy water, and anoint herself with her holy oil. If she got really sick she would go and spend a few days at her ‘mission’  where her church members would join her in prayer till she was better.

She died sick, poor and broken by a life of poverty and hardship just a few days after her brother – the one that rescued her.

Hell Is Being Stuck in A Nation Of Passive – Aggressive Malcontents

June 28, 2014

I’m tired of Nigerians that have nothing better to do than bellyache about everything. Criticism has become a national past time. We are a nation of dour faced malcontents.

 

“Nigerian ehn? See dem! How stupid is dat? Who gave dem driving licence sef? This country ehn?” says my very Nigerian friend disdainfully.

 

“Are we not Nigerians too?”

 

“I’m talking about the unwashed, ignorant, superstitious masses. You know, everybody else.”

 

‘Are we different from the them?’

 

“Why are you talking like dat? You’re a lawyer, you’re exposed, travelled, you see how its done in other countries.”

 

“So does that mean we are not Nigerians anymore?”

 

“Me, I’m an Afropolitan sha.”

 

“Ok. But no one taught them the the highway code. Their idea of driving is ‘move the car, keep moving’. Some dude was asked what he thought the broken white lines in the middle of the road meant. He said he thought the painters had run out of paint.”

 

“See. Its the governments fault. Nigerian leaders, ehn? They are so busy enriching themselves they don’t care what happens to the rest of us….”

 

He became one of the masses all of a sudden.

 

I tune out. This is getting tedious. Everywhere I go sooner or later the conversation veers towards all the things wrong with Nigeria and Nigerians.

 

“Nigerians are like this…Nigerians are like that….”

 

Try to start a business in Nigeria

 

“It won’t work here, you know we are different…”

 

Yeah we know you are different. We’re actually asking you to change you know.

 

When I’m driving in Nigeria – I just accept the fact that 99% of the other drivers probably never took a driving test or read a high way code and are prone to road rage. I put on my music and my sunglasses, say a prayer and drive carefully. I’m not about to spoil my day bitching about it and getting sick.

 

What would I rather talk about?

 

I’m obsessed with mechanising mass production of garri. Now that would be a revolution.  EVERYBODY in Nigeria eats garri. I’m obsessed with finding efficient distribution channels and harnessing informal markets. I’m obsessed with the human stories of Nigeria. I’m obsessed with justice.

 

Beyond a necessary analysis of the dynamics of a problem I don’t want to obsess on it. I want to obsess about solutions, case studies, best practices.  I want to talk more about the triumphs of Nigeria’s humanity less about its fuck ups. I’m imperfect too.

 

But scandal sells. Outrage reinforces the feeling of superiority.

 

“This is my opinion, the one I think everyone should have.” he tweets.

 

“Can you imagine! A man runs away from the scene of an explosion wearing a back pack and police shoot him because he ignored their shouts to stop. How stupid is that! How do they know he’s a terrorist? He could just be in shock.” She quips.

 

“Nice shot Nigerian police man!”  I think.

 

We’re all experts. We’re Nigeria.

 

Follow the Yellow Brick Road Photo Lesley Agams

Follow the Yellow Brick Road Photo Lesley Agams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

“Why?”

“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?”

“Nah”.

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.

Encounters Between Cultures – Oyibo in Africa VI

November 7, 2013

The other side of cooking for a multitude was eating like a multitude. An African feast is the closest thing to an all-you-can-eat buffet that you can find in rural Africa. Each person that came for a feast was just another mouth and stomach. The idea was to eat so much collectively that afterwards you and your kin could brag that the hosts were open handed and cooked so much that you and the rest of the guests couldn’t finish the food or to yap that they were stingy and did not cook enough. Everyone expected to take a doggy bag home, women came with big bags. Mine was the biggest, I actually had dogs, and most of the time the food was only fit for dogs anyway, delicately flavored with eau de perspiration.

Sharing the food to the collective generated a lot of commotion, the eldest got food before the youngest and if you let someone younger than you take food or drink before you, you would quickly lose respect so you had to make a big fuss if such a gross breach of protocol occurred. The age of co-wives was determined by date of marriage not date of birth.  Sometimes I gave my share to one of my co-wives, one in particular who was big, bad and mean. This ensured her allegiance and if anyone attacked me in the village (including the Three Witches) she would immediately leap to defend my skinny ass for which I am eternally grateful. My evolutionary reaction is flight not fight, I’m complete chicken shit when it comes to getting violently physical.

The size of the food box used to bring food to your group and the amount of drinks you got is a measure of your status and respect so if someone thought that what they received as a group was not commensurate to their status there were very vocal complaints, threats and no consumption until more was provided. If no more was forth coming the group would quietly eat what they got and then yap the hosts for the next year or so at every given opportunity. “Humph, there’s Beatrice trying to look important. Don’t mind her, do you know that when we went for her daughter’s wedding last year she couldn’t even feed us.”

My efforts at staying slim were mostly scorned. I used to get seriously berated for not eating enough! “Eat more girl you have to help us finish all the food.” Fat was good because it meant your husband provided well. Such logic survived the fact that one of the fattest wives in my kin group was married to one of my poorest ‘husbands’. They had six or seven children, I stopped counting. My attempts to talk to them about the virtues of contraception were dismissed with a casual “That is oyibo thing”. Children are an investment; you can never tell what they will be tomorrow. Nowadays they spend most their time moaning about how nobody wants to help send their children to school.

Feasting in Igbo Nigeria Copyright Lesley Agams

Feasting in Igbo Nigeria Copyright Lesley Agams