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: