Category Archives: Girls only

I am tired of this hair, hair, everywhere.

Maybe I’ve always been a bit blasé about hair because mine grows so easily; I could always switch from natural to permed and back again.  But lately especially, I find myself tiring of the natural versus relaxed hair debate.

I understand all the connotations of having relaxed hair. Believe me, I do. I too have had weave itch, the sort that leaves you slapping your head repeatedly in public, with no thoughts whatsoever as to how mad you look.  No care either. Nothing but the desire to scratch that unreachable, infuriating, itch.  The near soporific effects of scratching it cannot be matched by anything in this world.

I have suffered the sores that come from digging too deeply with a pen or other handy pointy object under dandruff and sweat encrusted wefts. I have had my hair fall out from too much relaxing and traction from braids. It was not pretty.

Still it’s such a shame that black women’s hair is so highly politicized. I understand why it would be but it still is sad that it is so.  Because the truth is that I didn’t change the way I wore my hair because of any movement but because relaxers affected me really badly. It was just not worth it. To ME.

And that’s what hair boils down to in the end: personal choice. It doesn’t really matter what anyone thinks. Of course it is entirely possible that had I not been in Newcastle where African hairdressers were few and far between, or were not properly trained and expensive to boot, I might have continued with the weaves and the braids and the creamy crack. It is possible. After all, it costs twice or three times as much to have natural hair made in the market in Nigeria – unless it is isi owu. And even then,  chances are that they will use the wrong  comb  and complain so loudly about their fingers hurting  that you will feel you have serpents for hair like a gorgon.

The way we wear our hair is not only an expression of how we feel, who we are. It is also purely functional. With the hustle and bustle of daily life, not everyone might choose to have natural hair. Some women might prefer to wake up and run a fine-toothed comb through their hair before they leave for work. Others might polish their gorimapa with coconut oil and bounce. Because let’s face it, hair is work. Natural hair is work, even our ancestresses knew that. Hence the wigs and head-dresses they wore to give their own hair a rest in between styles. Relaxed hair is also work; anti-breakage this and placenta that and hair burning and sores and picking the scabs on your scalp and money, money, money.

So, I guess what I am asking is, can’t we all just get along? Shouting abuse across the (not-so) great divide isn’t really the way to be heard. That girl with long flowing Brazilian/Peruvian/Chinese hair might secretly wish she was another race. She might have received negative messages about her hair her whole life.  Or she might not even consider herself any less proud of her race. That woman with dread locks/an afro/bantu knots/a twist out might have her hair that way to prove she is a Sister. Or she might simply prefer the peace of mind that comes from knowing she can walk under the rain or swim any day without a huge freak out session being involved. (Or that emergency plastic shopping bag, shoved over her face like a masquerade!)

It’s a shame one side is considered more ‘professional’ to the other’s ‘creative’ and ‘political’. Does having weaves mean I can no longer write poetry and fiction? No. Would having locks mean I can no longer wrap my head around facts and figures in financial institutions? I don’t think so. And yet that is the way it is seems now. People are being forced into these boxes by corporations, society and even by themselves.

Let it be. Live and let live. [Insert choice of cliché here]. This post was not supposed to be deep (or even particularly well-writen, har har). I am just a bit tired of all the slings and arrows. How a black woman chooses to wear her hair should be her choice. She is entitled to it. Just like she is entitled to change her mind about her choice. That’s what it means to be truly free and that can only be a good thing.

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Ngwo-Ngwo vs Nkwobi

A friend asked me  ‘What’s the difference between Ngwo-Ngwo and Nkwobi?’ and I didn’t know what to tell her having never tasted Nkwobi before.

When I moved to London a few years ago it was all ‘Nkwobi-this’ and ‘Nkwobi-that’ and I approached it in the same way I do all faddy things – which is not at all. I have never tasted Nkwobi.

It didn’t help that men were just going mad over it like it was the new onugbu soup. You’d have barely said hello on a date before the guy would ask with ill-disguised desperation:

“You can make Nkwobi right?” Trying to contain the drool pouring out of his mouth. And failing.

Needless to say, when I lived in Enfield, women – and they were always women-  who could make Nkwobi were almost always elevated to superstar status. And even then I did not taste it. Even though it looked the same as Ngwo-ngwo. I could not understand the frenzy. Na jazz?

You can imagine how flabbergasted I was to realise that my suspicions were correct. The two are more or less the same. Hiss.

http://chichiscuisine.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/nkwobi.html
Nkwobi.

For those who do not know, this is a spicy dish made from goat or cow foot and/or tail, palm oil and in some cases goat brain. Mmmmmmmm….nice creamy brain. My mother never used the brain though and she would often scoop it out when she was making Isi Ewu – another delicacy involving a goat’s head.

*Just FYI, few things in life are as satisfying as scooping out a goat's mushy brain through a gash in the temple after it has been roasted. It looks like a cross between porridge and cottage cheese but it smells so divine! 
*Another FYI, maybe TMI. Goat's teeth are nasty if the cook is careless enough to get them in the dish. (Not my mother though.)

This is something my mother would knock out from boredom which is probably why I am so blasé about it.  I guess she was a superstar too. My father’s friends would eat it and drink palm-wine, laughing into the night while we forced our child-eyes to stay open so as not to miss any gossip.

Some people would say Ngwo-Ngwo differs from Nkwobi in that the former can and does contain other parts of meat/offal as well as the aforementioned limbs and I suppose that could be correct. But I think this is splitting hairs a bit because ultimately  they are both based around the same bits of animal and the technique is the same.

Anyway, I just finished a serious discussion on the subject (yes, this is a serious matter. Take note if you are married to or friends with an Igbo person because this is the stuff wars are made of!) and got sent a video.

Can I just be the first to say that this girl’s accent is making me all warm and fuzzy? I just want to marry her. Is she not the friendliest person you have ever not-met?

Rage against the machine or ‘Who are you even doing, sef?’

One of the many benefits to being self-employed – and some months, not even that – is the freedom to do as you please. It’s harder with a toddler but basically you work in short bursts or long stretches, depending on the time you have. You might watch a bit of TV in between or work out, or have cereal for lunch. Or blog. Or even go all day without a shower because you’re waiting for a parcel. Like I am right now.

You have to watch your behaviour a lot though. You don’t want to be that person that conducts Skype meetings in your pyjamas or does  radio interviews over the phone while still in bed because pretty soon, you are that guy. You know, that guy; the one that you see on your way to work, going to the corner shop in a slanket .

That being said, it really is freeing. But it has got me thinking about how much of what we do is for other people, be they of the same sex or otherwise. I always used to say I dressed and groomed for myself and I believed it too. But how true could it possibly be when I am sitting here in a pair of joggers a size too small, an oversized cardie, no underwear to speak of and the most extraordinary amount of underarm hair I have ever grown in my life?

Yes, you heard me. I am free to grow disproportionate amounts of body hair. Call me Cousin It.  Not for me the folly of depilatory creams, waxing, buffing and whatever the newest hair removal torture is. Pah! Why should my body be under the control of society and accepted norms? Take that, society! In your face, literally and figuratively. I am saving money! Think of the bungalow I could be building in my village while you’re getting your eyebrows threaded, you pleb. 

Back when I used to work outside the house, I would leave my very unshaven legs out in the summer and get pitying looks on the bus or tube. White people looking at me, shaking their heads like “Whoever doth inflict  madness upon this poor child, may good fortune forever elude thee.”  The black grannies cursing my ‘rass’ for showing them up in front of white people, wishing this godforsaken country had access to koboko and no police. I’d sit there pretending not to notice, singing ‘God is good, he has done me well’ and hoping that no one would jump me before my stop. (You know, to drag me off to the nearest salon, get the mess on my legs fixed. Black grannies do not play.)

It was such a faff. And that was when I my features were aesthetically pleasing.  Now that I am grossly overweight I am sure they’d put aside their differences, light some torches and  chase me with off like Frankenstein’s monster. So I just sit at home, writing and growing my hair in silent rebellion.

Whatever, man. I am standing up for feminism. Or motherhood, whichever. Because God knows this whole mess started because I couldn’t find my razor one very busy morning.  And now I am just too lazy.

Help me.

Somebody? Anybody?

Igbo dads and dangerous phalluses.

Once upon a time I was heading out to study for my final university exams with friends when my father called me back.

“Nwunye,” he shouted after going through the names of the other twelve of my siblings.

“Sah?” I answered, because I am a good child.

“Where do you think you are going at this time of night?”

“I am going to Ogo’s house, sah.” I looked at my watch. It was 5 pm.

“Which Ogo?”

“Ogo my friend, sah. You have met her sah.”

“I have?”

“Yes sah. She has big…brains sah.”

“Ah, the big-brained Ogo. So what are you doing in her house at this time of the night eh?”

“We are studying sah. Me and Ogo and Chiamaka and Ifeoma.”

My father grunted, picking  vegetables from his teeth with a toothpick. When he finished, he popped the teeth back into his mouth. “Okay. But this one you are always  going to study with those girls…” He fidgeted.

“Sah?” I bristled, thinking he was calling their character into question. Did he not remember who they were?

“Just know I don’t want any daughters-in-law. I want sons. Sons-in-law.”

I caught many flies in my mouth on the okada to Ogo’s house that day.

Yes. This really happened.  I remember relaying the story to my study group when I got to Ogo’s house. (And for those who are wondering, yes, I did attend university from home. If you’ve only known me as an adult, you’ve just had an ‘Ah-ha’ moment because shit just made sense.) My friends thought it was funny. Me, I was just dazed that my square to the power of infinity dad knew about lesbianism. I didn’t dwell too much on this though because I would have started to wonder what else he knew and my imagination cannot handle things like that. Every generation likes to think they invented sex after all.

But this is what I do not understand.  This is the same man that flogged the brown off my skin because I went on a date with a guy at seventeen. It wasn’t even a date if I am honest. Okay, it kinda was. But I was in my second year of university and for chrissakes it wasn’t like I lay down on the road and had sex with him. That came much later. I wouldn’t recommend it by the way. Vehicles are a bloody nuisance and Nigerian grit gets into cracks like you cannot imagine. Sometimes when I sneeze, a little bit of sand and coal tar comes out.

A good Igbo girl is not supposed to think of guys other than as things to beat in school which is unsurprisingly easy.  (Yeah, I said it. Heh heh!) Not even when the boys in question are your cousins. You get to a point when your breast buds appear and all male cousins suddenly become off limits.

You spend the next few decades learning that men are the enemy. You spit when they talk to you, your put-downs are legendary and if they touch you, it’s hi-ya! and out pops their eyes. Your parents applaud you, chaste Virginia, you. At what point are you supposed to stop using them for target practice and start seeing them as potential mates?  It was a wonder I even tried that first date on for size. (Such was the level of my inexperience with humans of the male persuasion that the first date became the start of a two-and-a-half-year stint.)

I know I have said all this before, but things keep happening that make my jaw drop. Some Igbo parents can really screw up their female kids.

At what point am I supposed to consider giving you (if I desire it) sons-in-law as opposed to daughters-in-law? After all the scare stories about the beastly nature of men, their dangerous phalluses and their fickle-mindedness in dealing with the consequences of their sexual actions (pregnancy, disease. Pregnancy.), when exactly am I supposed to think “Hmmm. I’d like to jump on that dangerous phallus and snare me a diseased baby or two?”

Cover up, close your legs, don’t whistle, don’t sit on a man’s thighs, don’t laugh with a man, he’ll think you’re cheap, don’t whistle, don’t wear rings on your fingers if you’re not married, don’t go anywhere once the sun sets, don’t be arrogant, don’t correct a man in public, don’t raise your voice, don’t argue and my personal favourite , don’t drive – he’ll think you’re feeling too big, then who’ll you marry?

No wonder some women cry at their weddings. Lucky me, I didn’t. My dad did though. Huge, splashy, snotty tears and much hysterical sobbing. My mother looked as if she wanted to give him Snickers bar.

I guess he was just relieved I ended up with a dude.

A Christmas Tale: On courtship and Karma

Back when the Hubster and I were courting…

Wait, before I start, let me just say that if you have just laughed at that you have betrayed your origins to be from species other than Homo Igboticus. It doesn’t matter if your name is Aloycius Nnemurumkuja, I put it to you right now that your mother needs to tell you some truths; you are not Igbo. For every Igbo child knows that Igbo people do not ‘Date’ or ‘Hang out’ or any other term that implies the time-wasting in couples so prevalent in this age.

We court. Everything has its purpose.

If you are coming to my house, it is not merely for the pleasure of my company but to taste my food. If your hands linger around my hips, it is to measure that they can bear more sons than you care to count. After all, those millions of seeds you carry about in your sack must be cultivated so that your ancestors will not visit you in your dreams.

Courtship is a dance that goes way beyond what you see in Nollywood films. If proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten, the language of  courtship is the ukpaka’s rich, meaty texture in said oil. It is an acquired taste, not for children. If music be the food of love, then courtship is the rhythmic jingle from the waist beads of an obu uzo egwu dancing to the beat. If all this I am saying is not making your blood hot just reading them then obviously courtship is not for you. Go and let the man take you to get  Mr Biggs ice cream or chop kanda  from Mama Cass. Go on. See if I care.

As I was saying, back when the Hubster and I were courting, I played my part to perfection by sending him on Herculean tasks. Tasks at which the mighty Anukili na Ugama might have baulked.  It was not wickedness. It was part of courtship. You tell me how you like the gap in my teeth, I send you to find a pair of shoes made from the foreskin of a castrated gorilla. It is just how it works. To do him credit, the man always returned with the things I askedfor which is one of the disadvantages of marrying a fellow journalist. We have people. I thought knowing a thief in Kibera was something but nothing tops having a gorilla-foreskin guy in the middle of London.

So, I’d set tasks and he would knock them down, and I’ll set bigger ones and he’d do those, and then I got on the WWF ‘Enemy of the Planet’ list and stopped sending him to procure parts of animals. And one day, as I was racking my brain to come up with a straw to break the camel’s back, and failing that, the actual hump of the camel, he said to me: “All these things you’re doing to me, I am going to marry you and my child will do them to you.”

I shouldn’t have laughed.

This morning, my son (whom we shall from henceforth refer to as ‘This Boy’ ) woke me up by hooking an index finger inside my mouth, pulling me upright and making me go out in the pouring acid-rain of London, in 6 degrees Celsius weather to buy him some milk. He also insisted on coming so I had to dress him in the dark knowing that to put on any lights so soon after reluctantly waking would render me blind for the rest of the day. I forgot my phone so I didn’t get a photograph, but this is my illustration of how I looked:

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1) Bear trapper hat. Because I am not nearly ugly enough in the morning.

2) Scowl. Maybe some drool.

3) White turtle neck. It was like a beacon in the dark. And I’m arty dah-ling.

4) Pompoms: This Boy is like a cat with string.

5) Skirt. I don’t know why as the coat was long enough and the skirt was barely a there. The waistband was on my bum to attain this length.

6) Leggings.

7) Boots. Actually, now that I think of it, I was wearing blue wellies with multi-coloured dots. This Boy is like a cat with dots.

8) Milk.

And This Boy skipping happily in his padded rain suit.

I have never seen the shopkeeper serve me so fast.

The moral of the story? Courtship is good, but Igbo women please be lenient this Christmas so that you will not reap what you sow. And if you do prefer to do the time-wasting dating thing, then for the love of God, don’t order a whole chicken when he takes you out. You don’t want to know how that will turn out ‘karmically’.