Bringing home, home.
I sat on my office chair, the metre and a half stiff material for the gele outstretched before me. An inch of its edge folded over as the YouTube video instructed. Holding it to my forehead, I attempted to wrap it from my left ear to my right, passing it under my arm and drawing its length behind my head.
I hadn’t realised how noisy the fabric would be as it ruffled over my ears. I felt deaf, drawn into its cocoon. The fabric folded over my head. I was forced to trust the instinct of my hands and the guiding voice from the video as the woman described the next steps.
My arms began to ache. How do the women of Nigeria do this every day? And even as I wondered, she told me that she couldn’t understand why people commented on how difficult it was. Disheartened, my arms slackened. Mistake. I lost the strength behind my grip and was forced to start again.
‘Near to the end of the fabric, hold it tight across your left ear,’ I heard her say as I replayed it again. ‘Bring the material across your forehead and draw the material around your head.’
Huh?! I don’t have three hands! How am I supposed to hold the left ear, hold the right ear and draw it under my right elbow to bring it around my head for the next loop?! Frustrated, I held the material tight to my left ear and tried to draw its massive length around my head. I knew it was too low, but I was determined to get one complete circle.
I pulled the material tight, pushing its excess over my head as I’d seen on the video. My ears felt the tightness of the material as I attempted to force the second loop. It fell across my eyes. My arm slackened again; the fabric fell to my shoulders.
Tying the gele had now become a point of stubborn pride. One I wished I’d practiced days before Sanni’s friend’s wedding. Instead, the morning of, with a mere hour to go, I was hitting replay on the tutorial over and over.
After multiple attempts, I could feel myself growing desperate and defeated. I couldn’t work out how to get the material under my arm and keep it taught.
I woke Sanni.
‘Puppy,’ I said, ‘I need help.’ I stood before him in my stockings, my unzipped top hitched around my waist, my hair tied in a bun on my head with my face made up. In my arms I held the fabric outstretched. His sleepy face looked up and with a small, wiry smile that said, ‘babe, you’re cute for trying.’ He quickly realised just how much help I needed.
Together, we watched the video again and again, talking through her technique occasionally looking over the fabric and trying steps intermittently. Over and over we practiced, quickly time was ticking away… I could feel my impatience building.
I looked in the mirror. Was this really necessary?
For this wedding, did I really have to wear traditional Nigerian attire? It was the first time I had attempted to do so, and instinctually knew the Australian bride would not be attired as such. I feared the repercussions of out-dressing her. I feared the western response to the white woman flagrantly attempting her husband’s culture in a country that barely accepted its immigrated existence.
Most times, when I get frustrated, I get exasperated and give up, akin to a child that simply cannot get the knack of tying ones shoe lace so decides velco laces are better anyway. My Sanni though, he knows me too well. He knows to ‘not hear’ my outbursts. He pursues and encourages me to keep trying; ignoring and supporting me simultaneously.
Together we became a team, in a way we rarely get to experience (mostly because we’re both stubborn and both think we’re right). As I held the fabric taught to my temples he guided and folded the material over my head. Finally, after many attempts, we pulled the ends in a tight knot, removing all hope for my ears to experience blood flow for the rest of the day.
He folded and scrunched the material, pushing the folds, fanning the tails and shaping my face in a way I have never seen before. I couldn’t wear my glasses because I couldn’t fit their arms beneath the folds of the material. My eyes were blurry and yet, clear in the difference of how Sanni looked upon me. His eyes glistened and I realised, this was a piece of his culture I was wearing. In that moment, after nearly nine years away, I’d taken him home.
And then, in true killjoy form, the zip of my top broke.
The glistening dissolved as he immediately went to work fixing it as I proceeded to panic about my skirt. This tailored-for-me outfit was so tight, how on Earth would I eat? I wondered. ‘Heck,’ I said out loud, ‘how am I going to sit?!’ Designing it to my hour-glass figure hadn’t exactly accounted for the practice of actually wearing it!
Together we manoeuvred the safety-pinned top over my head, careful to not snag the gele and pull it off. The safety pin hurt as it dug in to my armpit. ‘Suck it up,’ Sanni told me in good humour, slapping my prominent backside as he bolted for the shower.
Arriving to the Old Treasury Building in true African time (late!), we walked through the registry doors to see our Nigerian friend’s face light up with the same glow Sanni had earlier. He blew me a kiss of gratitude. As the only guests representing him and his family, he told us later that by dressing traditionally we had honoured him.
We’d brought home, home. I felt like my African’s Queen.