Category Archives: Good Behaviour

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.

Beasts of every land and clime.

Human beings are the same everywhere.

Whenever an aunt or uncle or cousin visits the UK for the first time and marvels at how clean and orderly everything is compared to Nigeria, I laugh to myself. The older ones who’ve been before reminisce:  When I went to school in Wales-Jersey-Fife, there was such and such, they say. The British are so nice and proper. Afternoon tea and God save the Queen. Good Lord, what is this Peckham? It is too like Nigeria. Does nobody speak Queen’s English any more? and they turn up their noses and spit.

The younger ones see it as a stop-gap on the road to America, and the chance to hustle and be something. A place where nobody cares that their great-great-grandfather was once caught having sex with a  goat on a farm despite his six wives and now nobody will marry from their family and all their uncles and aunties have married foreigners  who do not know of the family shame.

Me, I just nod and smile. And I remember living in Enfield and waking up one morning to find that the traffic lights around Bush Hill Park had stopped working. In thirty minutes, the whole placed turned to Oshodi in Lagos. See oyibo people swearing and swerving, see them pulling up to the bumber, baby, driving up on the kerb, see black people blasting out music from their car speakers like it was Notting Hill carnival, see the zebra crossing become a place where cars played chicken with pedestrians. Nobody was spared; old men leaning on walking sticks, teenagers with high, tight baby-bellies, Hello-mummies on school run, kids on scooters…everyone joined the melee. Soon there was a gridlock and the police had to be called.

See the black Africans standing on the sidelines, identifiable by the babble of French and other non-Latin languages, crossing themselves, looks of terror and Quelle horreur! on their faces. The end of the world was surely coming; the First becoming the Third, and the Third becoming the First.

Human beings are the same everywhere, white or black. But people like to act sometimes like black people are the worst of the lot. African men are not spared – I have done a great deal of spearing myself! They are too backward, they do not cook, they are not romantic, – Flower? Can you eat it? Is it spinach? Waste of time! – they do not take care of their kids and they cheat. A lot.

But in my view, the expat male in Nigeria can be much worse given only half the chance. Kai, he is a frickin’ beast. Talk about unleashing the dragon.

You know when a man is jailed for many years and upon release the first thing he does is look for  a women to shag? (or so films would have us believe like we don’t know how they ‘manage’ in prison. As an aside, what did Madiba do? Hmm.) Well, that’s the expat in Nigeria, except that unlike our ex-con he has access to foreign currency, which thanks to our generous exchange rates, makes him a rich man instantly. It doesn’t matter if he is a Neanderthal with as much sense as a velvet tamarind seed, suddenly every woman is his to own. It’s only money after all. Everyone has a price.

I remember my cousins and I going with our uncle and his wife to chill at the Hilton in Abuja. He had lived there for a whole year while his house was being built and was sick to death of the place but he took us anyway because we were bored and were climbing the walls. We sat at the poolside bar taking in the sights when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed this guy giving me a look. I turned. He winked at me. I looked around to make sure it was me he was winking at. There was nobody behind me. I looked back at him. He winked again, looking me up and down sloooooowly. I crossed my hands over my chest, feeling exposed. My stomach roiled. I glared at him. He smiled out of the corner of his mouth and pursed his lips, miming a kiss.

In normal circumstances I would have meted out worse treatment, if I thought he was cute, which he was. He had all those muscles and sky-blue swim shorts and the hairs on his legs were dark and unidirectional. But  I was disgusted because I had noticed the baby  in his arms and the woman beside him. The pouch of her lower belly told me she was the baby’s mother. The way he had leaned back in his own chair so that he could wink at me behind her where she could not see told me he was her partner. The fact that he was doing this while carrying on a conversation with her told me he was a cad, a bad fellow. Never trust a man who can multitask.

I hissed and cut my eyes at him. He whispered something to his woman and in a minute they were off, him leading the way, studiously avoiding my gaze.

Or was it the time one of my big aunty-cousins had taken me to one of those ubiquitous garden places in a Abuja and and three expats had walked in with eight fresh-faced young ‘uns between them? Eight, I tell you. I counted. Unless you’re a vampire and actually depend on them for sustenance, I do not see what you are….OK, I see, but still. Eight! And this was the Abuja of 2003, not the cesspit of moral depravity I hear it is now. Now it would be more like eighteen.

Human beings are the same everywhere.

It is rules that keep us in check, they are the ties that bind, they make us behave. Rules, the Law, societal convention, The Norm, all these things do not really exist.They are foreign to our nature, so at the first sign of lawlessness, the masks come off and it’s survival of the fittest.  Teeth and claws and hair everywhere. Fight or flee. Kill or be killed. That is why (it seems as if a lot of ) African men cheat a lot. A lot of the time, they hold all the cards. In many of our societies, physical strength takes preeminence over other qualities. Throw in money and you can call yourself Yaweh if you want.  You’re sitting pretty at the top of the food chain. Different rules apply up there.

And this is why the COZA ‘scandal’ does not surprise me. It saddens me. It makes me angry, but it does not surprise me. The pastor involved was right: It does take ‘another level of grace’ to act the way he did. The same rules do not apply. Or rather, the same human instincts apply all too well. The strong will always prey on the weak. And people will always try to get away with what they can. As for the lady involved, Ese Walker, I hope she takes care of herself because it is apparent that nobody else will.

We are all beasts really. We seek things that give us pleasure, we destroy that which causes us grief and if we live to see another day we do it all again. This is the sad truth about humanity.

Gwam Gwam Gwam…

…Why my mother has taken to signing off her texts and emails to me with her name ‘Oby’? Is this a trap?

Look, I am not paranoid. I just know my mother and living with her has prepared me not just for rolling with the punches but rolling away from them. My mother was very Old Testament we were growing up; swift to take offence, swifter to act still, delivering those dreaded mouth flicks that made you feel and look like you pissed off a few hundred bees. It was as if Jesus never happened. She’s only little so we all decided that the best retribution would be to grow taller, away from the knocks on the head and those ear-yanks that made you suddenly realise just what spirits did with the ear of a dog.

(Okay, I still don’t know. But whatever it is, I’m sure it hurts like shit. I am not swearing. I mean one of those obstructive ones that make your day worse on coming out so that it would have been better if they stayed on the insidewhatamIdoingdiscussingthiskindofnonsense?)

I swear my mother once pulled my ear so hard that for a week or so I was like Spider Man. I could hear butterflies in flight and smell rain even when the skies were bright blue. When I told her I could smell the unwashed liver smell which was the sole preserve of our house help Petrolina on the carpenter Pius, she knocked me so hard that my hearing returned to normal.

“That’s for spying,” she said, before giving me half a bottle of coke as a reward.

You see why I am so well-adjusted. And why I became a journalist.

Nevertheless, I shan’t take to calling my mother Oby , thank you very much. When it rains my left knee still hurts from the first – and last – time I attempted it as a joke and she threw a high-heeled shoe at me.