Of Weddings, Cheesecake and Paper Planes

05 Wedding

The somewhat impromptu trip to Lagos was designed around three main objectives; making an appearance at a (self-proclaimed) protege’s wedding, dinner with the Lagos based elements of my old work crew and appeasing my father, who as early as New Year’s Day had begun to sound his dissatisfaction at my conspiring to avoid making what used to be an annual trip to Nigeria last year. For the wedding, the plan was to arrive at 10.00 am, 9.00 am invitation notwithstanding. That decision was one I rationalised away by assuming that as with all things Nigerian, a certain element of tardiness was expected. By the time I arrived at 10.30 am – sweating profusely following my ill thought out attempt to walk till I found a yellow cab – I was as undressed as I could be, my tie slackened to let what precious little fresh air there was get to my skin and my suit dispensed with. That meant I had to find somewhere to cool off for a few extra minutes and get my outfit put together again before popping into the venue. In the end I had to settle for the wing mirror on a parked car, studiously avoiding the gaze of the soldiers sat on the bench only a few feet away. Once in the building proper, I managed to find a seat next to a rotating fan to ease my pain.

The ceremony was in full flow by then, the sight in front of me a mix of colours aplenty; of which green and white stood out being the colours worn by the family and selected guests. The signing of the marriage register and the thanksgiving shuffle by the bride, groom and friends followed in quick order, for which I had to overcome my long standing aversion to dancing. The upside was I managed to catch a good glimpse of my friend, all glammed up for her big day, as well as shake their hands as we passed them once we had divested ourselves of our tokens of appreciation. Being doused in holy water was an unexpected bonus of sorts.

Picture taking and then the reception soon followed, the highlights of which were the food, the long speeches and dancing, elevated to the heights of an extreme sport. Part of me wonders if there isn’t a sense of competition between in-laws at these shin-digs; both sides of the marrying families being keen to not be outdone by the number and quality of guests invited, as indicated by the number of suffixes they carry. The MC was perhaps the singular blot in my opinion, choosing to walk a tight rope more than a few times with his joking. A chance conversation with someone I had not seen in ages highlighted the fact that I could pay for Uber rides with cash which considerably eased my movements thereafter.

My time at the wedding over, the next pit stop was the Ice Cream factory. I was there to meet my friend D and his wife whose acquaintance I was yet to make. I ended up waiting for over two hours before they showed up – poetic justice I suppose given my decision making around the wedding. His Mrs was his excuse – having dragged him to a wedding in a different part of town she had insisted on divesting herself of her wedding clothes before heading out to our meet up. For my pain whilst waiting, I dug into some cheese cake, appropriately sized for killing time. Across from me, a gentleman typed away on his MacBook, dipping into a tub of ice cream now again. By the time D and Mrs arrived, they were dressed very comfortably in Saturday evening, heat-appropriate wear whilst I still had my suit and tie from the wedding. A third friend F joined us eventually, making for a four strong group with a lot of catching up to do. In a tongue in cheek way, my friend D moaned about just how little a life he has had since he got married in 2014 – being driver, cleaner, occasional cook and two or three time punch bag. We both laughed knowingly; truth is he is a much better person than he used to be – more focused, no longer scrawny and generally happier, Lagos traffic issues notwithstanding. Somehow we managed to fit a conversation about loss, lostness, identity and the travails of living Lagos in the two hours and some we spent catching up.

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A quick catch up with my friend A with whom my paths crossed for the grand total of five hours – a logistical nightmare on any day – was quickly followed by a dash across town to the airport for my flight to Benin the next day. The final leg of the journey was made a whole lot easier by a ride from the brother in-law, the added benefit being the opportunity to reacquaint myself with niece number 3. For all the stories her mother relates of how she continually sings my name, our reconnection was muted. I suppose we can blame her being sleepy for that, not my sloppy uncle skills.

Ekpoma – home – this city of red earth baked hard by the relentless beating of the sun which I have come back to time and again since I first left for good as a seventeen year old in the late nineties was the same as I remembered it. By the time I arrived, it had already been three days since the national grid last supplied power to the area my folk live in. Fairly typical, with a chuckle, is how my cousin relates their ongoing ordeal with NEPA – or whatever the disco in the area is. To ease my arrival, we had the generator run for a few hours to charge up phones, laptops and get the fans whirling and moving air for a bit. The days when I was waited on hand and foot out here are sadly long gone, the joys of a cold shower – the first time since I had one here – did help me get to sleep.

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The next few days passed in a blur – eating, sleeping and catching up with family the subject of my days. The third day was spent getting to see nieces #1 and 2. The day itself, as unremarkable and indistinguishable from the rest of them in being boiling hot and powerless was greatly improved by all the playing I managed to get in with the nieces. The Peppa pig books I managed to travel with helped a sight, as did being able to google up how to make paper planes and origami houses. The day enjoyable as it was had a bitter sweet after taste to it. For all the fun and games we got up to, it was only a few hours long. Doting Uncle or not, I am missing the opportunity to be a big part of their lives. Hopefully the iPhone their mother managed to blackmail me into giving her will mitigate that. The other days were more of a pain, filled with difficult conversations skirted around, and visits to old friends of the family to keep up appearances. Not the most exciting stuff, but I suspect getting to see my nieces more than made up for that.

There was time to get back to Lagos, catch up with old friends, make a pit stop at chicken republic and tuck into some cake and ice cream at Hans and Rene – before I had to pack it all in and head to the airport to catch my flight back. All told, it was a largely enjoyable trip, one that put into perspective all the things I miss about Nigeria – family and friends mainly. Whether that lure is strong enough to save this lost son, only time will tell.

Seasons of discontent, a Nigerian wedding and other musings

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Although it is only September, there has been a certain nippiness to the last few Aberdonian mornings. If I believed the weather app on my phone – and the state of my ears when my brisk twenty minute walk ends with my bum at my office desk suggests that this is the case  – it has barely been warmer than 7 deg C on each of the last few mornings I have walked in to work. Besides the early morning chill, fall has remained frustratingly true to type; too warm to warrant breaking out the full shebang of a knee length winter coat, but yet too cold to be out and about with only a wind breaker for protection. If how many people already sport winter coats is anything to go by, I’m up there in the upper 10% in the hardiness stakes. When it slips out in an unguarded moment of banter with my mother, she thinks it is silly. I suspect all it will take to prove her right is coming down with the flu, if history is any judge, a clogged nose awaits me in the not too distant future.

One of those days, on my way back from work, I make a detour to the Co-op on Union to grab some mid-week groceries and end up running into an old acquaintance from a previous work project who has since moved on to other things. Hands filled with bags of fruit and all the other things a culinarily challenged single bloke stuffs himself with on a Thursday night, we stand just outside The Monkey House and chat. We eventually end up talking work, the people changes in my current neck of the woods and the prospects of pastures new further afield, and with almost his last words before he hops off in pursuit of his bus, he leaves me with a statement which is both true and depressing in equal measure; more depressing because a few weeks earlier a departing member of my work team – and there have been quite a few over this summer of discontent  – had said something similar in pretty much the same words.

Saturday brings some respite from the fall weather, and the sun peeks out long enough to brings some cheer and warmth. Encouraged by that, and enticed by the opportunity to eyeball dolled up bridesmaids, free food and hang with the lads, I make my way to the Music Hall to attend a wedding reception. The lad signing away his freedom is a friend from work, and if what we’ve heard is true, it promises to be a pretty massive celebration in the Egba tradition. After a close to two hour wait, we eventually gain access to the reception venue and find out I have the ‘misfortune’ of being sat at a table between my friend O, his friend K and two very married women with children. The closest thing to eye candy is a full table away, and is involved in a very animated conversation with a dapper bloke in a black suit and a bow-tie. When the party gets started it doesn’t disappoint. Each dignitary and family member introduced is led to the ‘high table’ with a song and a dance – the mother of the groom dances in from a side entrance to the rear of the hall before dancing all the way back up front and then onto her seat, flanked by her not inconsiderable entourage.  The bride and the groom dance in too, eventually, sashaying to a selection of songs topped off by the apt, if the worldview implications do not rile your sensibilities that is, P Square song  Chop my Moni. The rest of us with severely limited dancing abilities watch from afar and applaud the contortions and the agility with which they are performed, in what precious little space the various photographers and an iPad wielding family member afford us.

Food and drinks arrive in due course – catfish pepper soup chased down with apple juice and then a buffet of epic proportions containing rice in all shades and forms and – rumour had it – pounded yam and egusi soup for those in the know. The best man might have had a little too much to drink because when he kicks off the toasting his ramble segues into decidedly dodgy territory, the groom’s prior relationships and liaisons taking centre stage. He does recover gracefully though and completes the toast without spilling any salacious details.

It is a few minutes past seven pm when I nod my goodbyes to the people I have shared a table with, collect my things and head out on to the still relatively busy streets. There is a slight chill beginning to descend as sunset approaches and I stuff my hands in my pockets to keep them warm; my choice of a simple blazer proving not quite as wise as I’d thought at first. As I walk briskly down Union towards my simple lodgings, the one thought I have been trying to retrieve from the dark parts of my memory finally surfaces – it’s almost a year to the day since, running into today’s groom at a house warming party, he’d excitedly mentioned he’d met the One. As I recall, I had smirked inwardly at the time.

4. On A Nigerian PK Wedding

You know that the bride’s wedding gown will be ultra conservative as will be those for the bridal train. There will be no low cut, cleavage accentuating, eye candy-ish, strapless nonsense, and the hems will be at least an inch below the knee.

 You know that there will be at least ten different preachers – each with the belief that he is a colossus in his own right – and where both bride and groom are PKs, they might be nearer fifty than not.  You know that the program will be tweaked to provide an opportunity for every one of them to do something – give a word of admonition, pray, or lead the reading of the vows, or take a thanksgiving offering. You know that every speech and every prayer will be interminably long, as though there were an unofficial contest with a prize for the longest, most colourful speech. You know that it will be baking hot, and dry, because the powers that be have ‘decreed’ that there will be no rain.

 You know that there will be a whole lot of non-subtle symbolic references – the bride and groom feeding each other will be reinvented as a holy communion, and the first dance will be a thanksgiving dance, not just a dance.

 You know that the Mothers in Israel will be visible, and not just for the intricate whorls and loops of their obstructive head gear. You know that there will be oddly timed shouts of hallelujah, accompanied by hand clapping and the garish sounds of tambourines gone berserk. And when every one lines up to dance out to the front for the offering they will hold up the line by their unbridled dancing.

 You know that the lead Bishop will arrive late, sweeping in with his entourage of bible carriers and anointing oil holders. You know that it will be as though someone pressed a big reset button, and oblivious of the baking heat he will insist on laying hands and praying all over again.

 You know that the two hour service will stretch into three, and only some quick thinking will prevent it from extending even further. You know the picture taking session will be a full event in and of itself – the youth choir she once led will want a separate picture, as will all of the spiritual heavyweights who have ‘sown into her life’.

 And you know, that somewhere on row 76, in the crevice formed by the junction of the half open side door and a disused speaker, there will be a bloke slouched in a chair, his unruly hair the least of the oddities around him, alternately squinting and then stifling a yawn, and every now and then scribbling frantically inside his little black book.

Reluctant conversations…

The flight into London was uneventful, the only thing breaking my ear-phones-plugged-in-music-playing routine being an exceptionally friendly gentleman and his wife who I had the misfortune of sitting next to, on one of three adjoining seats. After tossing my knapsack into the overhead locker, I motion for them to make some space for me. He smiles, far too easily and obliges me, as I slither into the seat, somehow managing to do it without entangling my ear phone wires on the various odds and ends he has left on the seat. He is dressed simply; a North Face jacket from which a bland, grey shirt peeks through a half done zipper. I can’t help but notice that the woman on the other hand is much better dressed, the highlight being an eye catching, flowery, brown dress that stops well shy of her knees as she sits, and a full mane of blonde hair. I settle in, toss a mirthless, slit lip grin in their direction and proceed to detangle my ear phone wires.

Going home? Or holidaying, the man to my right asks.

Holidaying, I reply, hoping that my reply is sufficient brusque to stifle any further attempt at conversation.

Somewhere warm? He continues. I shrug inwardly resigning myself to losing my peace on this flight. I give him the cliff notes version –  a wedding in Oklahoma, a dash up to Chicago if I can manage it and a couple of days to meet up with old buddies in Dallas. Not boiling warm but warm enough given the weather forecasts for TheBZ. He explains that he and the wife, whom he indicates with a slant of his head, are headed westward too – California for four days and then Hawaii for two weeks. In the space of five short minutes, I learn that last year he did the Caribbean, and the year before some other exotic place. I murmur my compliments at their timing – they like me should miss the worst of the typically soul chilling TheBZ weather.

We make some more small talk, before I am rescued by the announcement of take off over the public address system. He turns to the woman at his side – who has passed the time thumbing through the high life magazine and chattering excitedly with her friend across the aisle – and they confer briefly.

He pats down his jacket, re-checks the buckle on the seat belt and leans back in his chair as the aircraft is towed on to the runway. In the few minutes it takes till we are airborne, I find that he has somehow managed to fall asleep. For the first time in at least ten minutes I am left in relative peace, enjoying the silence of my thoughts, and music. Across the aisle, the woman and her friend share a snicker at how quickly he has fallen asleep.

Postscript
OK was a blast – within minutes of my arrival I was treated to my very own steaming bowl of goat meat pepper soup. I toyed with heading out to Houston to meet up with my old Welding Engineering mentor, but the prospect of running into people I frankly had been trying hard to forget deterred me. Over all the only dark spot was being saddled with a couple of cry-y little children whose mother was only too glad to enjoy her new found freedom whilst I did my very best to keep them occupied. In a bizarre twist of fate,  I ended up bonding with them so much I suspect I caught a mild case of baby envy fever.  As for the wedding – I attended.

And no, I didn’t catch the garter.