Summertime. Coconut oil and scooters Cocktails, barbecues, The air thick with accents And Igbo drop-tops line the streets.
I don’t mean in Nigeria where everyone likes to stick together to receive a larger cut of the national cake.
As the US Igbos are a special case (very organised, even down to their local governments at home) and I haven’t met any other Igbo people in my travels elsewhere, I’ll concentrate on Ndi Igbo in the UK.
Igbo people in the UK like to blank other Igbo people.
This is apart from during special events where there is a gathering of like-minded people such as the 2nd Annual Igbo Language Conference holding today and tomorrow at the School of African and Oriental Studies here in London. That will be full of thinkers, intellectuals and (wannabe) arty-types.
Igbo people on the street however are a different kettle of fish.
I am not saying that just because we speak the same language we should automatically bie oma and exchange phone numbers. It’s silly to assume that just because we come from the same ethnic group, we should be best friends. But we are a group that frequently moans about how few of us there are and how marginalised we are, wah wah, so unfair! A little nod of acknowledgement wouldn’t go amiss. Instead what is usually the case is serious blanking.
This snobbery is directly proportional to two things: a) How wealthy-looking/refined the prospective Igbo-speaking party is and b) How cosmopolitan the area is. Sometimes both things are related.
When I used to live in Newcastle, I was a blank-er. Apparently, not looking ‘Nigerian’ enough (don’t get me started on the ridiculousness of this) meant that I did not find myself leading a trail of homesick Nigerians back to my place like The Pied Piper of Hamelin.
These people were always male and viewed any Nigerian female as a potential mother-wife who could clean for them and provide them with above-and-below nourishment. They were open to a varied below diet but for above, only Nigerian food would do.White people do not eat food now, only potato-potato and bread-bread all the time; so their girlfriend-slaves had to go to Fenham to the only two shops that supplied African food and hair extensions and the odd boubou at astronomical prices.
(But as soon as it was graduation time, their boyfriends promptly disappeared to London, got great jobs, made tons of money and were never heard from again.)
Then I moved to London.
After meeting Liyonard and his ilk, I realised it was much worse. I was still the blanker but London is such a great leveller that everyone figures they have a shot at you. The average Igbo man has such a strong sense of self that he does not believe anyone is higher/richer/more knowledgeable than he is. If he is not as rich as Bill Gates, it’s because he hasn’t started yet. And Beyonce only settled for Jay-Z because she was getting old and hadn’t met Azubike/Chinedu/Emeka. If not eh! He would have eaten her like meat, true to God. He would have only touched her once and she would have borned seven children one by one (because multiple births are from the devil, tufiaa!)
In London, the men don’t so much follow you home, as expect you to be in their houses when they come back – they are a scarce commodity after all. So while I could speak Igbo on the phone openly, if a person got over-familiar and I told him where to go, he would because there were plenty more fish in the sea andwhothehelldidIthinkIwasanyway?
About four months ago, on my way back from church, I decided to nip to the shops with This Boy in his buggy. I took a quiet residential side-street home. At the halfway mark, I noticed this family standing around a vehicle. The man arranged some things in the back seat His wife locked their front door and stepped out into the street. She spoke in Igbo to her husband and he responded.
I had almost passed them when I thought, ”Eh, it’s Sunday. Let’s be neighbourly’. So I turned around and said in, “Are you guys Igbo?”
The man ignored me, lifting his daughter into the back seat. His wife quickly smiled.
“Yes, we are. How are you?” she replied, also in Igbo. She was polite but cool, swishing her Brazilian/Peruvian hair over one shoulder. As she tried to talk, her husband sent her on little errands; ‘Pass that’, ‘Tighten that’. Where before she stood by the door, preparing to get into the vehicle and no doubt rest her legs ahead of a long day standing around in heels, she was now forced to carry on a fragmented discussion.
“Ngwa nu, go well,” I said to her after about thirty seconds of stilted conversation.
“Stay well,” she said back. Her husband still pretended not to see me.
I assessed myself: Fifty quid buggy with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee emblazoned on it (hence cheap), sensible (boring) Anglican Church clothes and shaved widow’s head. Versus their huge black Jeep and shiny clothes.
I had become the blankee.
The moral of the story?
Igbo people, don’t blank your siblings . Blanking is bad, m’kay?
This message was brought to you by The Association of Ndi Igbo under Five:
I think my feelings about Valentine’s Day are well documented on this blog but just in case I haven’t made myself clear, let me say that I just never got the whole fuss behind the day. I still don’t.
Needless to say I have only ever attracted people who are as anti-valentine as I am; my first boyfriend didn’t care for it, my last boyfriend – now husband – doesn’t care for it and anyone else in between probably thought they struck gold when they found out I didn’t much go for the whole forced displays of affection malarkey with its exchange of material goods and expectation of directly proportional sexual returns. Since a lot of them were of the donkey persuasion (I was going through a self-hating phase. It was a long phase), it would have been hypocritical to single out one day out of 365 in which to pretend like they were Homo Sapiens.
So naturally when I found out my Estimated Delivery Date fell on the 20th of February plus or minus one week, I started praying not to have our child on the 14th. I intensified my efforts when I went into labour on the 10th.
“Please can you check me?” I asked the midwife, glancing at the clock. It was 10pm on Sunday the 13th of February, 2011.
“You’re still 4cm dialated,” she said, biting off the corner of her sandwich. I could see what looked like goat’s cheese mixed with saliva gathering at the corner of her mouth.
“Noooooooooo! This Boy why won’t you come out now?!”
He took his sweet time, arriving at 5.06am on Valentine’s Day.
“Okay God,” I prayed, holding the bloody bundle in my arms,”Since you are obviously having a laugh at my expense, please could you make sure that nobody starts calling him…”
Beep. Beep. A text from my father-in-law. ‘I name this boy Valentine’.
This Boy ‘made’ me a card at playgroup for Valentine’s Day. And even though all the other mothers gave me pitying looks when I remarked that it was my first VD card ever, I don’t care. Coming from This Boy it is the best thing ever because he is and today I finally have something to celebrate.
Happy Birthday, my darling.
I had to wait until This Boy was down for his nap before I could risk opening the package that these came in and taking a photo.
You see, it’s his birthday next week and This Boy loves books. If he had caught me, eh, I would have spent the rest of today reading and re-reading them until I was coughing up dust with every word.
I am so excited! I ordered them from a website called Amamife - ‘Knowledge’, how apt – which I have since nicknamed Ngwa-Ngwa because of their super fast delivery.
I also found some Pacesetters books Africabookcentre.com, which is great. I can finally finish my collection. At £5.70 they are more expensive than I used to buy them on Pacesetters.com (at £4.40) but the latter website – as of yesterday – has simply disappeared, so I’ll have to pay the higher price. Every Igbo bone in my body aches at the thought.
Back to the Eze books, I can’t wait to see This Boy’s face next week. Right now, mine looks like this:
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:
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.
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.
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’.