My friend, Ifeoma just relocated to Nigeria after a long sojourn in the UK. We met for lunch at a restaurant in Lagos. I studied her carefully as we sat down while waiting for the waiter to take our orders. I had not seen her in ages and I was weary about this meeting because of the general attitude of Nigerian returnees to other Nigerians. I was pleasantly surprised at her disposition. She appeared relaxed and it was as if she never left the country unlike some of my other friends who suddenly developed an attitude because they had lived abroad for a while. As we took our seats the waiter approached us to take our orders.
“How long will that take?” I asked.
“Thirty minutes” the waiter answered politely.
“That means one hour” I responded sarcastically.
“No o madam it will only take thirty minutes.” The waiter said confidently.
“I will remind you when you bring it later than thirty minutes”. I replied smiling.
The waiter left after taking our orders.
“Why did you do that?” Ifeoma asked
“Oh! Don’t mind me. It is more of preparing myself for the delay. I hate to wait for anything. He has said thirty minutes anything after that will get me worked up but I have told myself one hour so it doesn’t really matter. I won’t agitate until an hour.” I explained
“Interesting” Ifeoma said. “So you mean it may take up to an hour?” She asked
“It may and may not but the truth is most waiters don’t have sense of timing and in order to placate the customer, they give you any time that comes to their head.” I said knowingly.
We nursed our drinks.
“So how does it feel to be back home?” I asked after a while. This wasn’t her first time back since she left about 20 years ago. But she, like many Nigerians, who left the country in the '80s, are coming back to Nigeria to stay for good.
“The weather is killing.” She said. “But it is expected. Takes getting used to though.”
“Apart from the weather?” I asked
“The change takes getting used to but I really don’t want to complain. I decided to come back.” She said shrugging.
“I really wish people will stop fussing over me though. I can’t find my way around true but I hate to feel as if something evil will happen to me the moment I step out alone. I was born here and I lived here for 25 years before I traveled so I can’t understand the fuss.” She complained
“The Nigeria you left twenty years ago is different now you know. I mean the crime rate is high and night life is not safe at all.” I said trying to explain people’s reaction
“Ose, there is crime everywhere. Nigeria is not the worst place in the world. I remember when I first got to UK, my bag was snatched at West End. My sister and I went shopping. She had warned me about hanging my handbag loosely and I was like please, I lived in Lagos before I got here. Before I could spell my name,” she napped her fingers together “my bag was napped I was so surprised. We have been brain washed to believe that crime doesn’t happen in those places.” She said amused.
“I know what you mean but then a lot has changed in this country.” I said
“ It’s irritating the way people fuss over me. I know they are being nice but I simply find it difficult to get used to.” She said smiling. “They struggle with me to carry my bag, pick after me, I can’t even make my own meals.” She said exasperated. “Who cares about all that in London. My neighbours and I hardly see each other. I am sure I might not recognise them on the street. The warmth here is good but overwhelming. I went to see my mum the other day. My God!” She said rolling her eyeballs, bemused.
“She invited the whole neighbourhood to come and greet you right?” I said laughing.
“Oh yes! It wasn’t funny at that time” It was as if she had told the whole village that I was arriving that day.” Ifeoma started laughing, shaking her head in amusement. “I couldn’t believe it. It was like I was on display and by the following day, she started distributing stuff I got for her to them. The three days I spent was suffocating to say the least.” She cackled.
“You know we are very warm people. This is our culture.” I replied laughing too. I could just picture the scenario.
“I know” She said shaking her head “but maybe I have been away for too long. It’s a totally different culture I am used to now but I intend making the best of it if I don’t get crazy before I get used to it”.
“I know what you mean” I said to her. “My uncle once told me a story when he went to UK for a course. He made friends with a British and they were quite close. Sometime during the period he was there, his friend lost his father. My uncle went with him for the funeral and after the event, my uncle handed him an envelope containing some pounds. His friend was extremely upset with him when he found out the content of the envelop. He said ‘Victor you insult me. Why are you giving me money? No please I can’t take this' he said as he returned the envelope to my uncle and walked away angry. My uncle was extremely embarrassed and stood there with his mouth agape, not knowing if he should pocket the envelop or not. To make matters worse all eyes were on him so he quietly walked away not understanding his friend’s reaction. Few days later, he saw his friend and tried to explain it as part of African culture. We love to support our own on any occasion.” I narrated
Ifeoma burst out laughing. “Poor man” she said. “I can imagine how he might have felt.”
“He said the first shock he had when he got to the funeral was that just finger foods, tea and coffee were served at the reception. Coming from Nigeria, he couldn’t understand it. We throw big parties!” I said giggling.
“I remember also my first experience with snow.” Ifeoma said. “I had gone to the pay phone to make a call. I noticed people were running and I wondered why. I opened the door of the pay phone and I saw white flakes. I didn’t understand what it meant so I started running. I ran for dear life back to my sister’s house. I was out of breathe by the time I got to her apartment. My sister asked me what the problem was. I pointed towards the window as I was too breathless to talk. She looked out and noticed that everywhere was white. ‘Oh it’s snowing’ she said. ‘Quite early this year I must say’. I looked at her and started laughing. I laughed so hard because I thought the world had ended.” She giggled.
“Oh mine!” I exclaimed laughing too.
“I felt foolish when I realised my errors.” She laughed again
“Talking about foolishness,” I said lowering my voice. “I recall my first visit too. I was inside the London bus and I was perplexed at how I would indicate that I had reached my bus stop. I noticed there was no conductor and no one calling out the names of the bus stop. I was so worried and I didn’t want to show off my ignorance. So, I sat there praying fervently that someone will probably drop at the same place with me. Someone pressed the bell and I got down at where I had assumed was my stop. I mean I was coming from Lagos where the conductor calls out the bus stop and no bell to press.” I said chuckling.
“So was it the right bus stop?” Ifeoma asked
“No o! I realised I was at the wrong place and I had to wait for another bus. I mean I was silly. I could have asked someone but it was my first time in London and I was a bit uncomfortable with the way I was being stared at.”
“I guess that’s probably how Europeans felt when they too came to Nigeria back then. I remembered when my cousin came back with his wife in the '70s. He brought her to the village to see my folks. The villagers came out to in drove to look at the strange woman their son brought from obodo oyinbo. The children sang for her and also tried touching her. Then one day, she and my cousin decided to have a picnic at an open field in the village. She had on a bikini and the whole village came out to see a naked white woman.“ Ifeoma said laughing.
“Poor woman.” I said sympathetically
“Oh! That was the last time they tried that nonsense. My father had to explain to my cousin and the wife that the village is not UK and that people are not used to seeing naked bodies.” She said
“I guess it is different strokes for different folks. What we consider as strange is norm somewhere else.” I said smiling
“ You are right.” Ifeoma said. “My American classmate when I did my second degree, had a Nigerian boyfriend. She came to me fuming one day because she felt her Naija boyfriend had insulted her.”
“What happened?” I asked curious.
“My Naija brother bought her a blender as a birthday gift. She was so furious because she had expected bunch of flowers and box of chocolate or a candle light dinner. The guy came with a blender.” Ifeoma recounted. We burst out laughing. I almost choked on my drink as I could imagine the perplexed look on the poor guy’s face.
“The poor guy must have been thoroughly embarrassed.” I said still laughing. “Nigerian guys don’t have any romantic bone in their bodies. That’s why they think of giving out the useful and essential gifts. What is it with chocolate or bunch of flowers. Please!” I said chuckling.
“I had to explain to Louisa, my American friend that the guy meant no harm. I told her that most Nigerian girls will probably not appreciate a gift of box of chocolate anyway. Louisa was shocked but eventually they made up.” Ifeoma said laughingly.
We kept quiet as I thought of the differences in culture and the way of life.
“I wish there is electricity though. I was told things have improved but really…”she said shaking her head. I think we Nigerians are so used to blackout that it has become more of norm than an anomaly.” Ifeoma said interrupting my thoughts. “ I remember sometime again when there was a blackout in my area of London. It was not funny. It was in the middle of the night. I was so scared. I ran to switch off all appliances. I took the key to my house and sat down by the door near my kids' room ready to bolt any second. I was so worried. Electricity was restored almost immediately but everybody was in panic. At least I sat in my house but my neighbours were on the street.” She said.
“I guess you are right. We just got used to not having electricity and we think it is normal. Meanwhile you experienced one blackout in over ten years of living in UK and you guys were scared silly.” I said deeply in thought. “It’s sad. One shouldn’t get used to a bad experience". I said solemnly. “In fact we get worried once electricity gets frequent as if it is an omen that something evil may soon occur.” I said shaking my head forlornly
“Your meal madam.” the waiter served our food quietly. “ Madam I brought your food within thirty minutes,” he said mischievously.
“I guess you did.” I answered smiling.
“Enjoy your meal ma.” He said bowing slightly as he left us.