This is the sixth and final chapter of Sanni and my journey to Lagos, Nigeria. This post has been written from our home in Melbourne, Australia.
Suffice to say, summing up the last month has been extraordinarily difficult. Surprisingly so. We arrived home very late Tuesday night (kudos to dear friend, Kylie from Kazique for the Epic Friendship Action of picking us up at 11.30pm!) and after resting Wednesday & Thursday we got back in to the swing of our individual lives again.
Being home is something I continue to feel gratitude for, there are comforts here I’ll never take for granted again. And yet, I miss my new family intensely. In true African-time fashion we were late to the airport, nearly missing the flight. Due to Boko Haram threats airport security is much stricter so the guards only allowed Grandma to enter the building. Fortunately, in the kerfuffle of being late and blocking the door Adeola slipped in undetected. She’s good like that. Cheeky gorgeousness.
We only just made it to check in before they closed it. I was intensely stressed, feeling a tightness in my chest that threatened to remove all air supply. We had to open the three padlocked suitcases to be inspected for weapons, an additional unnecessary step considering they hardly checked for anything. I felt like saying: “Patting the top items won’t find a bomb in the lining, dear Sir.” Hardly appropriate and surely would’ve guaranteed a missed flight.
And then, like ripping off a band-aid, I got ripped away from Grandma & Adeola. Last minute hurried hugs and a brisk walk away had me bawling my eyes out in a spontaneous outburst that caught us all by surprise. I was genuinely going to miss these people. It was not the way I wanted to say, “until soon.”
I don’t want to diss my biological family publicly, they’re good people who go about their lives, minding their own business but I do need to explain the impact Sanni’s family has had on me and the only way to do that is to compare it with what I’ve grown up with. My mother is the only person who has ever 100% without question supported Sanni and my relationship. No one else has. I’m now estranged from my father and purposefully distant from my four siblings. I’ve given up trying to be in their lives, they make no effort to be in mine. I feel like energy I expend is an exhaustive waste.
Many family’s have a black sheep. I feel like I am the one in mine. Hell, I’m a black sheep with a hot pink mohawk of incomprehension. They don’t get me and make no attempt to try. And simply accepting me for the way I am seems to be well & truly too much to ask. I live by the stance:
If someone is not willing to waste their time on me, I cannot waste my time on them. For true friendship begets no wastage.
I would bend over backwards for my friends. If they need something I think nothing of repayment. That gift is wastage, not a waste. The gain is in the giving, it’s an outgoing expense I’m willing to give generously from my heart. There is no such thing as altruistic actions. Everything has a win-loss-win relationship. As Kylie said when I thanked her profusely for sacrificing her sleep in exchange for picking us up from the airport: “It’s what friends do.” And she’s right. You simply do it because you know it’s the right thing to do for those you love.
Family though is slightly different in that we do not choose the parents or siblings we’re born to. If we draw the short straw we simply have to either suck it up or walk away. No matter the difficulties my family and I experience, I still love them. They drive me fucking crazy but I do love them. That doesn’t mean though I’m going to continue to put my tongue on the tip of a battery and be surprised when I get zapped. You reach a point when you simply cannot try any more. The battery is flat.
Sanni’s family welcomed me wholeheartedly. They didn’t take care of me just because I am Sanni’s wife, nor their new daughter/sister/aunt. They took care of me in the exact same way they took care of Sanni and how they take care of each other. Now, don’t get me wrong, they are no Brady Bunch. They’re is still conflict among the nine siblings and their children but at the heart of it all, they all accept one another for who the person is. And they accepted me one hundred and fifty percent.
The only downside I saw was in the hierarchy model of society. No one junior can speak to an elder sibling with disrespect. If the first-born, or any sibling senior to you, did something wrong only Grandma could say something, and even then she would temper herself so as to not rock the whole ship. Only those senior can speak directly of the fault of those junior to them, but that doesn’t mean that using diplomacy and tact the senior cannot be righted. It’s just done with intricate care, examples and humour. A hard one to explain without specifics that I can’t divulge.
It is the total acceptance of the person that I am that differentiates them from my own family. I’d like to think that I’ve made every attempt to accept my siblings for the adults they are today but I do not feel I’ve received that. No matter what my actions are they’re always heavily scrutinised and criticised. For Sanni’s family, I was mostly myself. I say mostly because I didn’t show all them my whole self, culturally it was practically impossible to do so. Only Adeola saw the near-complete me, and that’s because she made the effort to not see me as a wife, a foreigner or white woman but as a friend. I gave the family all that was needed to be understood.
Other than from my dearest friends and my mother, I’ve never known this depth of acceptance. This level of love. It is that love that broke the dam of emotions, flooding my squished up, slobbering goodbye face with hot, salty tears. Despite how happy I am to be home I do miss them so very, very much.
Your Questions Answered
I posted to my twitter account a call out for questions. My friends being both serious and playful came up with a few great questions. I’ve chosen only a few to answer here. The others I need to research further.
The attraction for African women to Western white men then has to be unique to that woman and usually she will be western educated, worldly in her thinking, and not heavily enmeshed in the cultural normalcy of a male-centric society. She would first need to know what equality means before knowing how to then achieve it with her white male. And, there are many white males who hope she never figures it out. The white, western male is not as exotic as the white, western female and so the attraction can be there but it may take longer to figure it out. Women are far more reserved with their affections. To act otherwise is to be labelled a prostitute.
Richard tells me: “I’m owed $7.2 trillion from royal relatives who have died and the executors of their estates have emailed me” And asks: “When can I get it?”
Perhaps what makes this statement and question funny is that Richard is South African. He knows exactly what this question means and that the answer is of course rhetorical. Note, he never once referred to a Nigerian prince.I think that’s important because the world has tarnished Nigeria as the one country in the world that sends these scam emails. The fact is, it happens from every corner of the world and will always stem back to people who simply want to do anything they possibly can to improve their present circumstances.
All I ask is that we collectively stop calling the scams “Nigerian” because they’re not. They are now a worldwide term that may have originated in Nigerian law codes but are now recognised universally. Call them 419s because that’s what they are now.
I wrote briefly about 419 scams in the last chapter.
Theresa wants to know quite a bit, so I’ve picked three:
I’d love to know what your favourite foods are (I’ve had fufu, but don’t know anything else about Nigerian cuisine)
In truth, eating local food made both Sanni and I sick. Within an hour both he & I were literally running to the bathroom to prevent southern explosions. At home in Australia, we typically eat reasonably spicy food and yet, we couldn’t eat in people’s homes. On the rare occasion I could eat at a local restaurant without being sick but that could never be counted on. We don’t know what it was that made us sick, most likely a bacteria in the meat or preparation process that our stomachs weren’t strong enough to process.
For the first two weeks we were constantly running to the bathroom. Embarrassing enough at home with guests but when in public or at someone’s home, downright mortifying. Especially as they thought nothing about announcing to the populated room of my problem, my needs and then discussing my requirement for toilet paper.
Suffice to say, I hardened to the atrocious bathroom conditions of some people’s homes. While most have the standard ceramic bowls, few had a flushing mechanism and none had paper unless I brought it with me or it was purchased from a nearby store. Like in Asia, water is used to clean your genitalia. And trust me, when you’ve got chilli bum, cool water is far better than rough paper! And I seriously cannot believe I just told you that but it’s true!
What I did enjoy eating most were egg rolls. They’re hard boiled eggs coated in thick donut-like dough and deep fried so the shell is super crisp and crunchy. They, along with Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and UHT milk, became my breakfast staple. I also brought with my T2’s Monk Pear loose leaf tea that saved my life. Coffee, as I mentioned in Chapter 2, was simply not an option. The only other tea option is Lipton. Let’s face it, that’s as offensive as Nescafe instant coffee!
I usually didn’t eat lunch or would eat a very late one that would also be dinner. Towards the end of the month I only ate Indomie, 2 minute instant noodles. I had settled with the reality that food was simply not an option. My body craved vegetables. I went from having a glass of fresh fruit & vege juice daily to not having any at all. We did have some fruit, like pineapple, oranges and apples though.
When I did eat my favourite things were amala and goat or turkey stew, which I described in Chapter 3. This style of dough with stew was the norm for most meals. The dough might change from amala, to semolina, pounded yam or gari but the way the food was eaten was the same. There’s really very little differentiation in the cuisine. With one stew there can be accompanying sauces, like a yellow bean sauce which is delicious or a green, fibrous sauce called draw stew for the way the liquid draws up in lengthy, strings. A little bit too much like drool for me to really enjoy, not that it tasted bad, it was just difficult to eat with the balls of dough. Very messy.
I also liked suya. It’s basically thinly sliced goat barbecued and then coated in chilli powder. I couldn’t have much chilli powder but it did become a late night staple when we’d not eaten all day. Once I tried to buy it with Adeola and the guy lost his sale for trying to charge me 2,800 naira instead of the normal 900 naira! When later made fun of by Sanni, he tried to say that he quoted 1,500 and said that I didn’t even barter. Ha! White Person Tax!
Fast food wasn’t Hungry Jack’s or MiccyD’s. And I can’t believe I didn’t see one 7Eleven or real fast food restaurant anywhere. It’s a good thing until you can’t eat the local cuisine. Fast food was the same kind of food as local eat but a hellofalot more expensive. A few additional items like fried rice, ‘Chinese’ chicken stew, or a curry. And there was a burger too. Pre-made, packaged in plastic and eaten cold. One day Sanni brought pizza home. It was cold and perhaps the best thing I had eaten all month. And I don’t normally like to eat pizza.
Next time we return we’ll have our own house, and I will have my own kitchen and fridge. I will be able to control a lot more of the preparation process and plan to learn how to prepare the food.
Has Lupita Nynog’o’s increased fame filtered to Africa?
Only kidding, the gorgeous Lupita Nynog’o is Kenyan and therefore doesn’t factor at all (for what I saw) in Nigerian pop culture media.
The disclaimer on this though is that where we’re staying no one really pays attention to Hollywood in great detail. They’re so busy trying to simply stay alive that what famous people are doing doesn’t really resonate. Musicians are slightly different. And Nollywood actors are talked about but again, their lives are not followed in the same way. There is an admiration but it isn’t something the people can relate to so the conversations I had were never about individual famous people. It was more about what they produced, the latest song and whether that song had a dance.
A massive hit right now is the song, Shoki, which I came to loath. I loath it only because it was played every single day, several times a day, by everyone. On one of my first days at the guest house they played a remix of it by a DJ that also embedded the sound of shattering glass and a baby crying into the track. And that was the only song they played on a giant speaker outside the bar from midday until about 8pm when I finally lost my shit (this speaker would boom until midnight every single day) and begged them to play some variety.
This clip is a remix of Shoki, which shows the dance that everyone’s learning right now.
Dance is core to being Nigerian so the fact that I dance like a chicken, with it’s head cut off, that has one leg, and appears to be stoned, was hilarious for all who tried to make me move with anything redeemably fluid.
What do Nigerians associate most with Australia? (Kangaroos? ‘Crocodile Dundee’? Oh wait, that’s the U.S.)
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. When we spoke of being from Australia there were no references at all about kangaroos, Dundee or anything else. The fact is, Australia is not on the radar because it’s simply too far away. The only countries people want to go to are America and the UK, and that’s because they’re obtainable. The link I gave above to Chimamanda’s book, Americanah, explains this quite well.
Conversations we did have about Australia had more to do with the cost of living and how wealthy we must be because we live in such a rich country. I made a lot of comparisons to how expensive Australia is in the local Naira currency. I would start by explaining the return airfare for us, then add the travel insurance, my vaccinations, purchase of new suitcases, etc and already we’re easily at one million naira. Then I would tell them that rent at home still had to be paid while we were away, and explained how much that was per month. Add all the tax and bills we pay for home and car and business and Sanni’s football, as well as sending money to them, and they began to see just how difficult it was to get there and why it took over two years to do it.
I love that our base is in Australia. I love that our home is in Melbourne. But, now I can confidently say that it will not be through living here that we make a life for ourselves. Only through building business in Lagos will be able to live comfortably in Australia. How odd that is.
Summary of requests
You asked me to:
- Dress in traditional clothing and eat local food – COMPLETE – See the gallery
- Francesco & Kristini: Send a post card home – Sadly, this is a fail but certainly not for want of trying. They simply don’t have a tourism market, therefore no post cards and they don’t use mail, so no post offices.
- Meg: Bring home traditional and modern Yoruba music – COMPLETE
- NEW! Mages: bring something (an object, a photo, a video, a song, etc.) that represents the essence of the journey. – COMPLETE – My hair! It is the one thing that represents before, during and after and represents outside my body how different I am now inside my mind.