I have spent the last two weeks in the west African state of Nigeria. As this is where this weeks column is being written, I have chosen to replace my usual rant with a condensed version of my diary. Enjoy.
Day 1 –
“Mum, you do realise that 30 kilos is a maximum? You are actually allowed to take less.”
“Tayo!” My mum calls me Tayo, short for Temitayo. “I’m busy. If you are not going to help me to pack, then stop criticising.”
I’m smart enough to know that the ‘if’ in this scenario is not really a viable option, and I proceed to squeeze the bulging suitcases shut. 15mins behind schedule, we leave for Heathrow.
After arriving at Heathrow, now pretty much on schedule, we joined the queue to weigh our bags before we check in.
Now, I am being honest when I say that I hate the phrase ‘I told you so’, but some situations necessitate it –
“So you need to remove 14 kilos from this bag, 9 kilos from this one, and 7 from this one. This small one is fine.” The airline representative pointed at my bag wearing the weary expression of somebody who has been giving the same directions to everyone that he meets. I guess he must have drawn the short straw.
My mother and I proceeded to the area of the terminal where almost everyone that was due to get on our flight was re-packing their bags.
“I told you that you had packed too much, I warned you before you left. I mean 14 kilos overweight! You don’t even need half of the clothes that you have packed. Why do you always do this?” I didn’t really expect an answer to this final question, and I didn’t get one.
“Look around, am I the only one who has to decrease the weight of their bags? If you had your way, then nobody would take anything on to the plane.”
The banter continued… “If all of you had your way, the plane would be too heavy to leave the ground. So mum, good idea we didn’t pack that microwave in the end, no?” I didn’t expect an answer to this question either.
Day 3 –
After a 3 hour car journey from Lagos, we arrived in my grandparents’ home state of Ondo. My mum hadn’t told any of my family the precise dates that we were due to visit, so it must have been a real surprise to see us pulling up outside of their house.
Granddad has changed a lot in the last eight years; I suppose the strokes have taken their toll. There is a powerful sense of pathos associated with seeing a man, who used to dominate all areas in which his voice could be heard, become elderly. There is, however, also something humbling about it. No man, no matter how stubborn, forceful, dominant, can resit age.
“It is so good to see you.” He said, hugging me. Hugging isn’t really his thing, but I get spoilt.
“You too granddad.”
Granddad is actually quite short, I never quite noticed that fact before today.
Day 5 –
I don’t think that I have ever been as full as I am right now. My stomach feels like an anchor that is sinking me into the sofa. At this very moment, I would be happy if I didn’t see another yam or plantain ever again. Maybe this is all part of grandma’s grand plan: immobilise everyone in the house so that she can go about her business undisturbed. Until dinner time, of course. I mean, I love my grandma and, obviously, I love eating her food, but there is a strange dread that I feel when I am faced with a portion of food that would satisfy two sumo wrestlers and left with the phrase: ‘O yá, wá jẹún’ (roughly translated as: ‘Now, let us eat’). This menacing feeling doesn’t go away until I have cleaned my plate and grandma gives me the satisfied nod; I can now relax, for the next five hours or so.
Day 6 –
Chilled with the gramps all day today. We got settled in our chairs around 10 in the morning and didn’t leave until 8 in the evening. Spent the entire day on the veranda watching people in the street going about their business and falling in and out of naps. We exchanged a few anecdotes, and he passed on some age old advice – his advice on women was invaluable.
Day 9 –
I went to church today. As I’ve got older I haven’t really been that into church, since the whole atheist thing tends not to fly; I decided to keep that fact on the down-low. Anyway, it turned out to be really quite enjoyable. First and foremost, it reminded me of how much of a community it is. Everyone getting together on Sunday to hear about who has got married, who has got promoted, who is pregnant, who needs to re-park their car because it is blocking the traffic. For all of this, of course, God is praised. Furthermore, it is a cultural experience, because it doesn’t get more African than an African church. Ultimate respect being shown to elders, no matter how minute the age difference. Remembering that anyone even nearly old enough to be your parent is, by definition, your ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’. The singing, the dancing, the noisy prayer all done in heat that is only really conducive for a day-long siesta. I even got into the pastor’s sermon, which is really just like a jazzed-up chapter from a self-help book. In all honesty, it would be just as (perhaps even more) convincing without any mention of God at all. As he was striding up and down the stage, coming to the end of another crowd-pleasing anecdote, I realised how much he was like a pop-star or actor. The whole thing is just a performance: telling a story, conveying a message, keeping the audience entertained and interested. Maybe that’s why people get into it. The celebrity. The adulation. The women? No, of course not. That has got to be blasphemy. I hope that isn’t blasphemy.
Day 10 –
Shit! I forgot to take my malaria tablets yesterday. Shit! Shit! Shit! I really can’t get it again. Not for a third time. Once is unlucky, twice is minor buffoonery, Three times is something else. What happens if I do get it? I can’t tell anyone, that would be too embarrassing. I’ll just have to firm it. Maybe I’ll say that I have swine flu? That’s it, I’ll say I have swine flu. Perfect. Thank God for swine flu.
Day 14 –
Just got home. Rah, England is cold…