Being a prodigal abroad, in a relatively small, close knit expat community has its perks, not least if you are Nigerian. Truth be told, more often than not, there is a risk of private spaces being invaded, but when they come through, they come through spectacularly. The most recent example of this was Easter Sunday, on which after dragging myself home from work my late evening reverie was interrupted by persistent knocking. At the door was M, the matronly mother figure from three streets over, with a bowl of piping hot egusi soup, some swallow and a tub of fried rice in tow. Whatever misgivings simmered beneath the surface at the intrusion vanished very quickly, wafting away as though borne by the steam still rising from the bowls of food.
Speaking of privacy, over the past year I have been slowly migrating my stuff away from Google, having not been on Facebook in years. Older, pre-2020 pictures though still live in Google Photos, which is why form time to time I get a pop up with a collage or the other of pictures from memory lane. Over the past few weeks, pictures from my early days offshore, of returning to Lagos and cathcing up with the guys and more than a few weddings have popped up. On a level, these are things I would not have remembered without the prompting from Google, all of which leaves me very conflicted. Is the value I get from being reminded worth the hassle of giving up my pictures to Google?
Having not been on here a lot of late, I am hoping to restore my practice of writing regularly. To kick tha off I started with a bit of spring cleaning, tons of spam comments and links in my sidebar getting culled. Amidst all the clutter was having to remove links to Al Mohler, to TA and a few others who no longer blog regularly. Particularly interesting was Al Mohler, who in the early 2000s was a fixture alongside Joshua Harris, CJ Mahaney and the Covenant Life crowd before that all went balls up. The very divergent paths they have taken since those days is real food for thought – Al’s doubled down on Trump and the Evangelical right in America, Joshua Harris has become the poster boy for taking deconstruction to the nth degree, whilst CJ became yet another example of the mega church implosion. It hasn’t been twenty five yet but nothing could be more divergent than that erstwhile group of playmates of sorts.
I may have waxed lyrical about taxis too soon, and in so doing vexed the taxi demi-gods, which is the only explanation of how on the one day I needed a taxi badly, I ended up with a guy who barely spoke English and whose understanding of Google Maps was minimal at best. Well, that or Sod’s Law. The fault lay, at least partly, with me. It had been my first full day back at work since the beginning of Ramadan and my hunger addled brain failed to register the fact that the bus which would ferry me back from the middle of nowhere which was my work station for that day would arrive 30 minutes earlier than usual. On the phone to the taxi dispatcher, he explained that the earliest he could get someone out to me was an hour and thirty minutes, which seeing as I had no choice I accepted. Although he had my location, he somehow ended up at a site thirty minutes away. There was much hand wringing, and plenty more oohs and ahhs when he finally turned up, a full two hours later than had first been envisaged. I could only sit and fester for the whole of the 45 minute back to semi-civility and the comfort of my couch. Truth me told, umbrage is a luxury only those who have choices can take. I still hold the view that taxi rides are underated delights, the one caveat though is that there isn’t an insurmountable language barrier.
It must be the time of the year. Having gone months without the joys of a party out here, two suddenly came along in quick succession. First was for a 6-year old, for which more adults turned up than kids. I got the call in the late morning inviting me along, and with nothing else to do I hightailed it there directly after work, expecting to be one of a handful of adults. In the end there were close to 8 of us, gate crashing the party and making the most of the opportunity to dig into pepper soup, peppered gizzards and multiple varieties of rice. Proper liquids may or may not have been spotted in what was a proper Nigerian party. A couple of days later it was the turn of the oldies to host a party, L’s missus springing a surprise on him to which we were all invited. A slightly different crowd this this time, things were a tad bit more sedate. Again, the full Nigerian culinary experience was wheeled out, complete with the requirement to be in the know in order to spot some of the prize delicacies. Efo riro, was the special sauce, reserved for those with access to those in the know.
Other less palatable news has had me going back to Christian Wiman’s wonderfully prescient poem, “All My Friends Are Finding New Beliefs”. A chance conversation with a friend with whom I had schooled near on 25 years ago brought to my notice that yet another school mate had passed on, after the proverbial brief illness. Said friend had also had a fairly significant health scare of her own a few months back which led to reminiscing about just how frail and fragile our once young and sprightly bodies once were.
The times and seasons are a-changing, sods law or not.
As though in the blink of an eye, winter out here has somehow slipped away, the halcyon days of pleasant twenty-five degree mid-day weather and leisurely late evening walks replaced by mid day temperatures in the low thirties. Whilst not truly hot enough to be unpleasant yet, the days leave one with a sense of borrowed time, a fleeting, finite block of time to be enjoyed before harsh reality hits. To make the most of it, and prepare myself for the long slog ahead, I pack the lightest bag I have and catch a flight back to London. Heathrow seems the same way it has always been – functional, frenetic, and increasingly arranged around minimising human contact. Trying to get cash from the ATMs for my taxi raises the spectre of having to pay a withdrawal fee for my UK debit card. A rude shock, and a first for me, if my memory serves me right. A mix-up with the telephone number they have on file for me means we spend the better part of twenty minutes trying to find each other, the blasts of cold, wet air a reminder of the stark difference between here and there. Several phone calls to the taxi company later, he gets my correct number and we find ourselves for the twenty minute ride home via the M25.
Taxi rides for me have always been one of the understated delights of travel. They are simple: two or more people, stuck in a man-made machine and beholden to each other by a transaction for a finite amount of time, have to make small talk, unencumbered by the weight of knowing and being known. Invariably, the driver is an immigrant or visible minority of some sort, which being what I am tends to create a certain element of shared experience. This trip, I get someone of Pakistani extraction who, when he finds out where I am coming from, proceeds to regale me with stories of a year he spent there working. He rode a taxi there too, his days spent ferrying military contractors to and fro airports, bound for Iraq in the days of the surge. I learn he has a daughter who is studying to be a Chemical Engineer, a wife who spends too much on henna and that he is planning to take his son and father on the Umrah next year. For my part, I nod sagely at the daughter who is studying to be an Engineer – I am after all that guy who thinks STEM is everything to an extent – and smile uneasily at the complaint about the wife. I suspect that in any other setting, this is not information that would be shared but being almost perfect strangers bound together for a brief moment, white lies and unverifiable anecdotes help pass the time.
The cul-de-sac on the banks of the Wey has changed quite a bit since I was last here. The houses which lay empty along the way now have occupants; a lady with a strong Geordie accent and her Swedish beau – both ex Airline folks, a Ghanaian couple two houses down and a Hong Kong repat amongst others stand out. The days are spent taking in what little sunshine peeks out from behind the clouds as I take leisurely walk along the Wey with podcasts for company, ferry L to and from nursery and catch up on sleep and TV when I get the chance. As with all days spent chilling they pass all too quickly. All too soon I find myself in a taxi speeding back to the airport and the onward journey of return. On the other side of the trip, Ramadan starts, and with that an extra hour of work without trips to the coffee stand to break the monotony.