About Town – Conversations, Nandos and Catching Up on Reading

Somehow last Friday, I found myself at Nandos. Somehow doesn’t quite tell the full story given it had more than a hint of conscious effort to it, and my history with the darned place. I suspect it had more to do with a sense of longing than anything else seeing as the last time I was here was in early July. Then, the closest thing to the distinctly autumnal chill I now felt was the distant memory of spring’s tail as she ambled past, urged on by our nearly – but not quite summery  – summer.  I managed to score my regular table, number 11, proceeding to order the self-same meal I have ordered on each of the 100 + times since May 2012 that I’ve been here – half a chicken in lemon and herb, and a mixed leaf salad.

Extra hot sauce and cutlery in hand, I managed to navigate the maze of tables and chairs to my seat before that odd feeling of being watched compelled me to look up, upon which I caught the eye of an old friend I hadn’t seen since his short sojourn in Norway back in 2010. Dropping all, I made my way to the table he was sat at, where his wife and children were digging into a bowl of olives waiting for their own order.We shared a chest bump, to the consternation of more than a few onlookers.

This man! You still dey do this your Voltron moves abi? It was a reference to my gift of invisibility. Enquiries with more than a few mutual friends had failed to turn up my current whereabouts. In my defense, the one friend who might have known was offshore, and had been for the better part of three weeks already. We made small talk – interspersed with regular rather loud handshakes – during which it transpired he had been in town for a couple of weeks already, holidaying with his family, taking the opportunity to escape from the bedlam that is Nigeria, most especially the old motherlode I used to work at. In the space of five minutes or so, I’d caught up on a lot – a steady stream of exits form the old mother lode, which expatriate was back in the country as a contract consultant and what high flier had earned a move to Houston, and of course the developing Ebola story.

The Scottish referendum – I am as yet still undecided – came up too. In theory, I’m in favour of a ‘Yes’ vote, but neither argument has been put forward particularly compellingly enough to me so far. His take was a cautionary tale – based on his experience of Norway – about high taxes, and the North Sea oil numbers which depending on who you talk to might not be so secure after all. That the SNP which has made a big song and dance of protecting the NHS actually has underfunded it, or so the fact checkers say, hardly builds any confidence me that they’ve got a clue. All done and dusted, we swap phone numbers with a promise to catch up properly before he heads off to Nigeria, leaving me to reflect on my way home on just how small margins of coincidence can be. Nandos does have a reputation for being the defacto Nigerian embassy in Aberdeen, at least so says Tolu Ogunlesi. One suspects he should know, even though some would disagree.

The theme of running into old acquaintances continues over the weekend. Sorting out my groceries at my local ASDA after my Saturday morning gym session, and the movies to go see Into the Storm, I run into another old chum – this time an old school mate from Nigeria. He wants to chat a bit more and offer commiserations, aisles at the mall chock full of people are hardly the place for that, and I am neither keen nor remotely interested in being dragged all the way back so I speed him up and move on with a promise of a phone call to catch up properly.

By the time I am headed home, my weekend has pretty much ended. All that is left is for me to settle in with my copy of Gay Talese’s Frank Sinatra Has A Cold, and while away what is left of the Saturday. By and large, it is pretty much back to regular programming at mine, not quite perfect but an ever more stable, new normal.

Day 7 – Reconnect with an Old Friend

Day 7 of the Better Man in 30 days Challenge – Reconnect with an Old Friend

The challenge was to reconnect with an old friend, by letter, email or phone (not Twitter). Cheated (slightly) as I did my reconnection over iMessage. A tad more in keeping with the spirit of reconnecting than a letter given the back and forth of instant messaging I think.. Or not.. Claiming this as done though, regardless. 🙂

House Warming…

09.july.2013-house warming

I was the first person in, just before 4.00pm. I had no choice but to RSVP in the affirmative when my friend O.’s invite to his house warming party finally arrived, largely because I had harassed encouraged him strongly into putting it together. He had just bought a house on the other side of town, and starved of hanging out time, I’d seized upon that as an excuse to badger him into setting something up.

Pumping his hand, as I kicked off my shoes and stepped onto his lush persian rug, I could just make out the silhouette of his daughter and her two friends playing in the back garden whilst their mothers put the finishing touches to the cow leg pepper-soup that would be our starter. The room was already infused with the smell of lemon grass and suya spice as the large cauldron of pepper soup just about began to simmer.

F., Uncle Seni’s here…. O. hollered  as I made my way to the back garden. I had to duck as an inflated rubber ball, a felele, bounced up in the air in my direction. The kids had been starved of attention before my appearance and seemed very keen to engage me in a game of football. I had to oblige, alternating between playing the goal keeper and the penalty taker as we ran up a small sweat in the back yard.

So engrossed was I that I didn’t know for how long the other woman helping with the cooking had stood in the doorway watching us play. She did clear her throat to get my attention eventually, simmering plate of pepper soup in tow for a first bite of the evening. At that time it was just past 4.45pm, and I was still the only guest around for a party that was meant to have kicked off at 4.00pm.

The next guests to arrive were N. and his wife, strolling in at ten minutes past five, a bottle of red wine in tow as their contribution to the festivities. Cork popped, and glasses passed we all stood round the kitchen table chatting and catching up on all things that we’d all missed in our corner of the world. Soon after, another young couple arrived with their rambunctious toddler in tow; sometime after that the first big plates of fried rice had begun to wing their way for us to dig in and savour; proper Nigerian fare.

Sometime after 7.00pm, we had a full complement , as with all things Nigerians, the men had somehow drifted away into a small huddle as did the women. The bottles of beer might have had something to do with the loudness of the conversation, the virtual table banging and the wrought emotions as the conversation segued into the murky waters of the intractability of the Nigerian problem, corruption and all the other safe topics fairly well-off people in the diaspora moan about their home country.

I found the noise a little too much for me, ending up in the extension to the living room, next to the garden. A few minutes later, baby K. sauntered in, extending her arms wanting to be carried. I obliged, just before she promptly fell asleep on my lap.

I may have fallen asleep myself because the next thing I remembered was Mrs N. plumping into the seat next to me. She, ever the gracious seeker of introverted partiers, had noticed I wasn’t amongst the guys talking loudly and gesturing wildly, and had taken it upon herself to find me.

She relieved me of baby K, laying her to sleep in her cot nearby and then returned to converse. I’d been itching to have a conversation with Mrs N. about B. the current cause of my latest phase of over-thinking :”>. She obliged, listening graciously as I moaned about her penchant for not responding to text messages in a timely manner or her extreme attention to work (she’s the one person I can safely say is more of a workaholic than I am, no mean feat).

It was past 9.00pm when the crowd began to thin out. Baby K. was still asleep, peacefully oblivious of the ruckus we’d kicked up. As I dropped off what must have been my third plate of fried rice, I remember being thankful that I would have no part in the clean up after the storm.

The weekend of debauchery (that wasn’t)

It was supposed to be the weekend that banished my 2011 troubles from memory and got me to let my hair down – something I admittedly do not do often enough. There was the small matter of needing to send in my passport to Mama Charlie’s lackeys for an extension to my residence permit, as well as navigating a week of water survival training (given my well documented aversion for large water bodies).

The plan was simple – jump on a flight to London and party hard. There was to be a surfeit of beautiful, intelligent women, pepper soup and music from back in the day. Surely nothing much could go wrong with the MO? Unfortunately everything did.

First off – uncharacteristically – I failed to get all the relevant details about the venue before leaving and ended up having to make frantic phone calls at Heathrow trying to locate the bus stop. This left me feeling drained by the time I arrived at the venue.

Secondly, my shocking inability to dance left me hugging my seat for dear life, meaning all the wonderful fabulous women around were left hugging the floor by themselves.

There are lessons to be learned.. My social skills need an upgrade, if the girl sized gap in the five year plan will be closed out. From the looks of it, my dancing skills (or more strictly the lack of them) needs reviewing ASAP.

A little piece of autumn, brain drain and chance meetings

It is the end of August, and the new crowd is in town. I imagine the cold, wet and windy autumnal weather can hardly be the sort of welcome anyone from warmer climes could have been expecting, but for those of us north of the border, it is our lot, and moan as we may, it is what we are stuck with.

Union Street is pretty much akin to Port Harcourt’s Aba Road, and every time a fresh batch of people hits town it swells like a river straining at its banks. As I pick my way through the human traffic I spot elements of the new crowd. It is always easy to spot them – either by the fact that they walk in groups of two or three, peering at maps, and chattering loudly in whatever their native tongue is, clearly excited at the new adventure they have set themselves,  or by the fact that they are dressed up to the nines, over coat, head warmer, gloves and all, even though it is barely September.

Just in front of the Primark store, someone calls out my name, loudly. It is the nickname I was known by a few years ago as an under grad, so I straight away know it is someone form that era. When I turn around, it is indeed a lad I knew from back then. Last thing I heard about him was that he’d snagged a job at Shell, and was doing great – BMW, a steady girlfriend and parties every so often at some Port Harcourt bar or the other. We shake hands firmly. He has to drop the bulk of the items he has in tow – duvets, pillows and a big brown bag which I imagine must contain some warm clothing.

O boy!!! You sef dey here? he asks. He has the unfettered joy of someone who has finally seen a friendly face amidst a milieu of strange, not quite friendly ones. His question is clearly rhetorical – I am here in person, not in spirit; of that there is no dispute. I motion for him to move his stuff out of the way, closer to the walls so the milling crowd around can keep flowing around us.

He gives me a rapid fire low-down. He’s joined an MBA program in one of the Universities in town. He’s hit a glass ceiling at work, and he presumes it is time to prove his mettle elsewhere, the MBA being the door to the switch he intends to make. Off the top of my head, he must the 8th person out of the top ten ranked grads in my class to have left Nigeria. The only two chaps I definitely know are still in Nigeria work for Exxon out of Lagos.

What are you doing in town?,  he asks. I explain what it is I do – some dead beat job behind a desk crunching numbers, hardly exciting stuff.  He nods, excitedly.

Good to see you man, we should meet up some time he says. I nod.. Give him a card with my phone number and then we part.

I didn’t ask if he resigned, I hope he didn’t. Out here, the hardest lesson we all have had to learn is that the grass on the other side only looks greener because it is synthetic…..

Thankful… for blokes who can relate

Between my two year itch arriving a couple of months early and a plethora of little niggling issues, I spent the last month battling a feeling of malaise. My default response has been to internalise it, suck it up and put on a brave face, but during a phone call with my friend A over the weekend I broke down and let it all out.

I wish I could say all the issues were resolved, but truth is they are not.. There is though the relief finally un-loading the tangled issues to someone who understands brings, and the improved clarity that has resulted. For that I am thankful for top blokes who are interested enough to dig beneath the façade, and then to listen…. If only they also had a wand to wave it all away… 😦

About Town: The birthday party edition

Given our propensity to moan about the little corner of the North East where we currently live, it is somewhat strange that I, and the four or so long term friends I have here, do not make time out to meet up more often. In fairness to my friend O, it is not for want of his trying; several attempts to organise a meet up have floundered, torpedoed by our wildly varying schedules and travel plans.

The one thing we do not scrimp on though – and our inner Nigerian might be to blame for this – is on parties, and celebrations. Invited or not – depending on our perception of closeness to the celebrant – we all congregate at those venues, downing copious portions of rice and drinks and catching up on who recently got married to whom, who has a new kid and all the other banalities that everyday life throws up. It has been a little dry on that front this year, bar a couple of weddings and an unintended meet up.

This weekend, O’s son turned one – a small fact I had completely forgotten. Thankfully, Mrs O – ever the efficient wife – sent out text message reminders to a few of us lads – which was how I ended up at the venue a full hour late. This was no small affair. There must have been at least twenty adults in the room, and that many children too, possibly more.

Scanning the crowd looking for a place to grab a seat, I am rescued by the waving arm of another lost friend motioning me to a seat next to him. I make my way through the crowd, careful not to step on any children – who are chasing balloons, and kicking up a racket – oblivious to the jokes the MC is trying to tell. The lost friend, K, stands up to welcome me – firm handshake followed by a fist bump, a relic from our days in undergrad study in Nigeria.

We make small talk, in between spoons of rice and bites of chicken. He’s in town briefly; a small break in the project he’s working on out of Brazil affords him the chance to share in our little celebration. I talk about work, a trip to Nigeria I am planning, and a couple of potential work opportunities I am chasing up in his sector. He offers his thoughts on what changes I need to make in my strategy. He’s chasing a few Nigerian opportunities himself and he shares his uncomplimentary views about doing business there. A woman comes over and whispers in his ear. He rummages in his pockets and comes up with a car key. She takes it and then leaves, four packs of rice in tow.

My fiancée, he explains. I nod and offer my congratulations remarking that he had always had an eye for really beautiful women. He laughs – self indulgently – the laugh of a man who knows he has a keeper on his hands. He asks about EJ – the one thing I can’t accuse my friends of is not staying up to date about happenings in our various lives. I give him the cliff-notes version: didn’t work out. He listens, head angled, fist on chin, looking directly at me – the affected pose of a bloke who is trying hard to understand my dilemma, but can’t relate.

We move on to other more recent matters, a new kid for another friend out of London, a distant acquaintance that has returned permanently to Nigeria, and his own wedding plans. Around us, a child cries after tripping over the outstretched leg of an adult engrossed in winning the battle with chicken bones. Out front, the MC waffles on.

Thankful… the kinda random thursday edition

Thankful for:

  • Top blokes: Met up for dinner with a chap I once worked for in Nigeria. He was one of the more senior engineers on my first job, was in town  participating in a design review and called me up for dinner. We met up at an Italian place in town. The nachos were delightful, the spaghetti and meat balls were awesome too, plus he paid. Now I know where to take the lasses I am eyeing to for a ‘spoiling’ session. 🙂
  • Fortuitous nose bleeds: I haven’t had nosebleeds in a long time, at best they are unnecessary irritations at worst they can spoil a perfectly good day. In a first for me, a nosebleed saved my bum in a meeting just before I was due to get a grilling, talk about unintended consequences…
  • Milestone birthdays: Someone really close turned fifty (not me). Thankful for the opportunity to have shared their life over the past few years.

 

Thankful… for unintended meet ups

Amidst the madness – sometimes controlled but largely tottering on the edge of spontaneous combustion – that has marked the last couple of months, it has become increasingly difficult to meet up with what few friends I have left in town. This week has been typical; planning a plant turnaround, updating the 2012 business plan and hosting a couple of blokes from Corporate HQ concurrently have combined to make this another one of those long arduous weeks. Leaving the office late for the umpteenth time, on a whim I decide to make a pit stop at the Nando’s next door. It appears fairly deserted for a Thursday evening. Usually the family friendly spaces are crowded on a Thursday evening – so it is strange that I find a seat without so much as a wait.

I get a seat in an open portion of the building facing outward unto Union Square, grab a glass of coke and proceed to wait for my extra hot peri-peri chicken and fries to arrive. Given the relative emptiness of the floor, I assume it will be routinely quick. Two glasses of coke and twenty-something minutes later I am still waiting – leaving me to inwardly debate the wisdom of my stopping by.

My miserable evening is saved when I catch sight of three blokes I know – two from Grad School and one from church. They get a seat next to mine, and after they place their orders, we swap stories about work, life in general and other random things. Eventually after about forty minutes (by my reckoning), my food arrives. Theirs follows soon after and we all tuck into it with gusto. Like a bunch of happy blokes having a great night out together we make small talk as we wolf down chicken pieces with cokes and orange juice.

The unintended meet up is a silver lining in an otherwise infuriating experience – something to be thankful for after all.

Putting More Men on the job

Amidst the continuing babble of concerned friends, I may have hit upon my very own final solution.  Granted it is decidedly more benign than the Nazi version, but as a strategy to buy myself much needed respite, it has worked like a charm.  When asked awkward questions about being single when hanging out with the lads, my answer goes along the lines of being too busy, but declaring that I am very open to recommendations from so-called ‘knowledgeable others‘.

That statement has a way of shutting them up very quickly. Something about making the ‘search’ a shared responsibility appears to force them to seriously consider their words before speaking the next time.  Perhaps it is the realisation that I appear to trust their judgement enough to want to draw on their network that makes them sober up quickly and ditch the nose-in-the-airbeen-there-seen-it-all pose.

Unexpectedly, it appears that being intentional is bearing dividends. Out of the blue, I get a phone call from a bloke I used to know. Turns out my friend K and he have been in touch and the small matter of my issue has come up. An unintended consequence of it all is that I am scheduled to make a trip down to London at the end of next month. The alumni from my campus fellowship are all going to be there in full swing, and word around town is quite a few of them are in similar shoes to mine.

Nothing major happened just yet, it will be just us old friends meeting up and faffing around over a weekend in a bigger pool. Fingers crossed. After all, when it rains, it pours, or doesn’t it?