Tag Archives: food

Neglect Has A Lasting Legacy

I was 5 years old when my sister and I went on a road trip with Baba, our Grandad, up North in Nigeria. It was not normal for just the two of us to go with him. There was usually my grandma too or maybe my mama. However, this time we got to go solo with him. I suspect it is because we begged and it was the holidays and my mother was busy at work with no better plans to entertain us. Whatever the case, we got to go and I remember my sister and I getting bored quite quickly (probably an hour into the 6.5 hour journey). Plus my grandad had taken to listening to boring traditional Hausa music (Mamman Shata and the like). So we sang every nursery rhyme and Disney song we knew. We sang for hours until our throats were sore. Must have driven my grandad and the driver mad but they bore with us.

When we got to the town we were staying the night in, my grandad took us straight to my ‘aunt’s’ home. I say ‘aunt’ because this is not my mother’s sister, my favourite aunty in the whole world aunty Bilky. No, this is someone who grew up with my mum and her siblings and is therefore considered a ‘sister’. I will call this aunty ‘Auntie’ henceforth for easy reference. Now, we had spent quite a few holidays with Auntie and her many daughters in the past so we knew them well enough and were quite happy to be taken to hers. One of her daughters is very close in age to my sister and the youngest was a year older than I was but we usually got on pretty well. I couldn’t tell you if there were any special circumstances at the time we visited but I think not because we would have known. My mama was always upfront if anything major was going on especially if she was going to let us visit. Anyway, out of the car we tumbled, tired and excited. It was well after lunch but not dinner time yet but we were already feeling the first pangs of hunger having had a late breakfast on the road but not stopped for lunch. We were all shown into a living room in their sprawling home and someone showed us to the ‘bedroom’. I use the term ‘bedroom’ loosely because although the large room had beds (I think it was 3 single beds), most of it was clearly a dumping ground for dirty laundry and other clutter and it looked like no one had slept in there for a long time. My grandad left whilst we checked out our lodgings.

My sister and I waited for what seemed like ages for someone to come and tell us what to do with all the mess if we were actually going to be staying in that room. We also waited in vain for someone to offer us a drink or give us a snack. Nothing happened so we eventually picked one bed and cleared it and the area around it. We lay on the bed listening to the noises of muted conversation until all we could hear was our tummies rumbling. The sun began to set and we were soon left in darkness. One of us hunted for the light switch and we resumed our waiting game. We might have dozed off or maybe just lay around in a hungry tired trance but eventually I remember saying to my sister that I needed something to drink. That spurred her into action and she led me hesitantly out of the room and we wandered down the corridors of the seemingly empty house, most of the lights off. We found a kitchen but our hunt turned up nothing to eat. We had some water and sadly found our way back to the bedroom and eventually slept on empty stomachs.

We awoke to the sound of voices outside, going about their morning chores. We could smell breakfast frying…I am not sure now what it was (because we didn’t get any) whether it was fried yam, potatoes or bean cakes (kosei) but the smell was right under our noses and we were so famished we looked at each other in hope. No one came to get us and being nice Fulani girls, we stayed put. I remember asking my sister if she thought they had forgotten we were there. ‘How is that possible?’ She replied so we waited and waited. We waited some more as all the noise died down and the house fell silent again. Had they all gone out without so much as a word to us? Were we home alone in this house we didn’t know, in a town we had maybe visited a couple of times before? We finally ventured out and explored the section of the house we were in. No one was there. We returned to the kitchen, probably assuming that they might have saved us some breakfast. We found evidence of breakfast in the dirty dishes in the sink but not a bite left for us.

At this stage, I thought I was going to die of hunger. It was getting close to 24 hours since we had breakfast on the road with Baba and there was no adult to be seen. We went back to the room and my sister rummaged desperately in the backpack we had brought with us. ‘Look’ she cried excitedly after searching for a while. She brandished a N5 note. N5 (five naira) in those days (around 1990) was actually worth something. We could certainly have breakfast on the street with that. Remember this was a town we were not very familiar with so it was with trepidation that we ventured out of Auntie’s house and into the busy street. Thankfully there was no one out to cause mischief and we were left alone. We followed the smell of kosei to a street corner nearby and found a lady frying the delicious bean cakes seated on a stool by the fire over which she was frying. We gave her the N5 and asked for kosei. ‘All of it?’ she asked and we nodded hungrily. She scooped the freshly fried kosei out into the traditional newspaper wrap, sprinkled on a generous helping of the chilli powder that comes with it and handed it to us. We walked a few metres away before we gave in to the hunger in our bellies and we tucked in. After a few mouthfuls, we felt good enough to continue walking and we ate as we walked back to the house. The portion was decent and we gobbled it all up within minutes. Finally satiated, we chucked the paper in the bin and went in to have a quick wash and get dressed.

When my grandad came for us around lunchtime, we were happy again. Still left to our own devices but happy because my sister had fed us. We looked clean and my grandad was none the wiser. Lunch was served with my grandad so of course we got fed. I remember picking at the food because I was still stuffed from our late breakfast and also because I was so disappointed my Auntie had been so mean. But we said nothing. Just very happily jumped back into the car for the 3 hour trip to Kaduna where we knew we would be treated by my aunty Nafisa like princesses. I was not disappointed!

For many years after that, I did not forget or forgive that episode. The daughters I didn’t blame so much because half of them were young like us. But the 2 older girls were certainly old enough to know that young children visiting should at the very least be given a drink and food. Auntie should certainly have known better. I made up my mind that she was no longer my auntie but only my sister knew this for the next decade or so. I found every excuse not to go back there and mostly, I didn’t.

The next time I went was unavoidable. My mama and I were on the way to Kaduna and from there were to catch a flight back to Lagos where I went to boarding school. I wasn’t really given a choice of itinerary because she wanted to say hi to her ‘sister’. I knew anyway that I would be treated well because my mama was there but the hypocrisy grated. I clenched my teeth and said not a word. The visit was ok-ish. It turned out her daughter was getting married and we had been invited but my mother neglected to mention it. I had nothing to wear for any occasion as I was on my way back to boarding school and being a teenager, it mattered to me. Bearing that in mind, the youngest daughter and her cousin/half-sister on night 2 were in the same room as I was but I was lying on the bed, my head buried in a book as I was usually found in those days. They were whispering loudly about the pre-wedding party they were going to the next night and how much fun it was going to be etc. Being close in age to them, I would have expected them to have the courtesy either to invite me or not to talk about it in front of me. They did not have the courtesy to extend an invitation to me. Party night came and they snuck out when it was time despite being chummy with me all day. What sort of a fool did they think I was? The morning after, they were giggling over events at the party but would fall silent if I walked in a room or turned in their general direction. What grated wasn’t that I didn’t go because to be honest, I wasn’t one for parties at that age and I certainly did not have anything to wear. What sucked was their meanness of spirit and being treated like a fool.

Since that visit, I have stayed well away from most of that family. Although I have forgiven them their neglect and meanness, I doubt I will ever forget. That amongst other things are major character flaws I really wish not to be associated with. I have not considered Auntie my aunty for very many years to my mama’s consternation. I have since told my mama about that episode and several other incidents not talked about in this blog. I know she was dismayed and even sad but perhaps a small part of her is hoping that me and my sister’s account of that incident is overly-dramatized as remembered by our young immature brains. Regardless, I sincerely believe that if we had been her actual nieces, she would not have treated us so carelessly when we were so young. And she would not have allowed that mean spirit to rub off on her daughters.

When I think of her, I think of two quotes:

“When someone would mistreat, misinform, misuse, misguide, mishandle, mislead… or any other “mis”… to others, they’re obviously missing something from their lives.”
― Donald L. HicksLook into the stillness

“I know it’s painful growing,
I bet the changes was painful too.
But nothing is as painful as being somewhere you don’t belong.
Obviously.”
― Touaxia Vang

The Magnificence of the Ocean

I love nature. The great outdoors (as long as it is not grey and miserable). Of the great outdoors, the ocean is my great love. Which is ironic because I cannot swim so really, I should stay away from ferociously powerful currents and the vastness of the ocean. But I can’t. I feel the draw like a moth to light. My heart beats stronger and happier when I am standing with my feet in wet sand, my ears full of the sound of waves crashing all around me, the spray of salty water on my face and very few people around me.

My earliest memories of the ocean are from holidays with my grandparents in Lagos which is on the Atlantic Ocean. Back then, Bar beach was still a place to go. Safe enough for children and I remember even then the huge waves which threatened to sweep me out into the ocean. My grandparents never came. My granddad was too busy for day time outings and I have no idea why Mammie, my grandmother never came. My mother would always prepare lots of sandwiches and an assortment of other snacks early in the morning and we would head out before noon and spend the whole day on the beach. My sister and I would build sandcastles, paddle in the water that foamed at our feet and watch the older children and adults swimming out into the deep waters to catch a wave back onto shore. I remember getting tired and having sand in every nook and cranny and sorely needing a shower by the time we were bundled into the car for home, all of the food eaten and all the excitement replaced by fatigue.

A few years later, Bar beach was destroyed by the power of the ocean so we found another beach. My mother discovered Takuwa Bay which involved catching a speedboat from a boatyard in Victoria Island. Takuwa Bay, because of its location off the mainland, was definitely much nicer. Cleaner water and sand, less crowded and the water less wild than Bar beach became. The speedboat was a new thrill and I loved the sensation of skimming across the water as the wind whipped past and we bobbed in our life vests, grinning like loons in pleasure. I remember one year we went when I was about 6 years old. My mum had just gone to London for work and came back with a beautiful swimming costume, a little swimming skirt and bandeau top in ivory silk. It was so pretty I couldn’t wait for our annual Lagos trip. Off we went to Takuwa Bay first weekend we got. I remember running around feeling rather grand. I think the headiness of my cool outfit went to my head and I forgot to pay attention to the ocean. Next thing I remembered was being engulfed by a huge wall of water. Knowing I couldn’t swim, I curled up into a ball, clasped my knees to my chest and held my breath. I don’t know how long I was under for but when the water washed back, there I was on the sand, eyes closed, breath held. My sister reports that she had seen me disappear in the water and thought I was a goner. Luckily for me, I was so young I didn’t let the fear overcome me. I was safe and unfazed. Within minutes, I was back playing the water whilst my sister stood guard.

When I went to secondary school, the tradition of Takuwa Bay beach days with my mum continued. The only thing that changed was the food we took. In the late 90s, we discovered the best chicken in the world. It was made on one of the street corners not far from Musa Yar’adua Street in VI. It was a small stall, very unassuming but damn! That guy could make chicken. We found out that he marinated it overnight and then grilled it to perfection on the day and on our beach days; we would often have to wait for the chicken to be done because he was aiming for the lunchtime crowd whilst we were trying to beat the lunchtime traffic and get to the beach before lunch. It was the juiciest, most tender delicious chicken ever. I have eaten a lot of chicken in a lot of countries since then and I swear that chicken would win a taste contest hands down. Makes my mouth water even today, over 15 years since I last one. I have no doubt that the chicken guy has moved on but the memory will remain with me forever and I often wonder where did he go? I do hope he is still making his amazing chicken and spreading that joy somewhere.

There was an annual ‘house’ trip in Queen’s College, my secondary school, to the beach where hundreds of girls packed into several buses and headed to the beach at Lekki. We all had to wear our Sunday wear out over whatever else we had with us that was more beach appropriate. There was always happy singing as we were liberated from within the walls of our school. We would save up our pocket money for the trip and gorge on suya, fresh coconuts and sweets. Despite the frustrations of the slowness of getting to and from the beach, it was a day we all loved and cherished and although I cannot remember much detail about any of the trips, I know it was a highlight and suya, sand and sea definitely had much to do with it.

Until this year, I loved my lie ins and there was no worse idea for me than to get up at the crack of dawn during holidays. I thought anyone that did that was rather balmy. That is until I went to Malaysia and was lucky enough to spend the night in a rented log cabin on the beaches of Kota Bharu. I think I was awoken by the first rays of light and whereas normally I would roll over and pull the covers over my head to block out the signs of morning, I was drawn out of bed by the gentle sound of waves crashing onto shore. I found myself heading out of the cabin and towards the vast ocean. I was all alone on the beach as the sky gradually lightened and the sun rose to greet the dawn. The fine mist of salty sea water coated my face and my heart raced in exhilaration as I stood with my feet in the warm water surging to and fro. I felt in that moment how small I was in this place we all call home. On earth. The ocean’s might and power was all around me and I felt like I belonged. Like I was part of this huge family of creation that did its function regardless of what we humans were doing. As we slept, the ocean’s currents were in constant motion, waves in continuous motion, forming and crashing. I savoured the moment of aloneness and silence. I felt my heart synchronise its beat to that of the ocean. I listened to the music of life and I wanted to be frozen in that moment forever. Eventually, after more than an hour of sitting and not thinking of anything but the now, another guest rose from their bed and took a morning stroll along the beach. The moment was over but in my memories, it will live forever.

Earlier this year, my husband and I went on Honeymoon to Mauritius. Mauritius is a destination I would recommend with all my heart. The Indian ocean is the best I have ever experienced. The water is so gorgeous, that beautiful turquoise colour that is neither blue nor green. And clean as can be. Despite not being able to swim, there was no way I was going to pass up being in the middle of the ocean swimming with dolphins. Off I went with George at dawn in the speedboat to Tamarind Bay where the unsuspecting wild dolphins lay asleep. I strapped on my life vest, stuck on the snorkelling gear and jumped in when it was my turn. And I got to be in the ocean with the lithe creatures we call dolphins. To be honest, being short-sighted with no glasses and being hampered by my inability to swim, I didn’t really ‘swim with dolphins’ but I was in the same strip of water as them and that was good enough for me.

When I got back on the speed boat, I was able to see them properly and even got a baby dolphin give us a little show – incredibly this show-boater of a dolphin did a series of leaps and spins as if he knew exactly what we were all hoping for. How lucky were the guys who took us out to swim with dolphins that day…what an amazing job it is to be able to jump into the ocean and cavort with dolphins. Le sigh. To round off the day, when we got back towards shore, we did a bit of snorkelling which even through my myopic gaze was the most incredible sight. The richness of the colours and the exotic fish blew my little mind. None of the images I have seen captured on camera compare to the real thing.

For me absolutely one of the reasons to believe in a higher power than in an evolution that happened completely by chance. The complexity of the ocean, its currents and shifts and rhythms. All part of an intelligent design for me but this blog is not about that. So yeah, the ocean. Amazeballs!!! If I could be anything or anyone, I would be a mermaid because as Sebastien says to Ariel in Little Mermaid ‘under the sea’ is where it’s at!

A Frenchie Couple of Days

Ebola is easy [to catch]. In the 1990s scientists in America put an [Ebola] infected monkey in a cage on one side of a room and a healthy monkey in a cage on the other. Two weeks later, the healthy monkey was dead. Following a spate of Hollywood films, most people believe the human race is at greatest risk of annihilation from a giant meteorite or some kind of religious nuclear war. But if Ebola ever gets on a plane, experts say that 90 per cent of us will be dead within six months. It is known in America, where they are good at names, as a ‘slate wiper.’

I am quoting directly from Jeremy Clarkson’s ‘The World According to Clarkson’. I have been trying not to lotl (laugh out too loud) as he brilliantly ridicules everything from the Lottery’s Heritage fund to the British Government’s then PM His royal Tonyness to the fact that Germans actually rule the world. Of course, the Ebola bit is not in the least bit funny. It is kinda scary in this period when Ebola has taken nearly 1000 lives in Africa. Having read half of Clarkson’s book so far and finding myself agreeing with him on things I never thought we would have in common, I came across this quote on Ebola and it prompted me to put the book down and write this blog. I am currently sitting in Charles De Gaulle Airport (Paris) and trying not to be suspicious of everyone that passes by me. I am especially trying not to be racist against my own race since majority of known infected patients are from West Africa like me. I am to my shame eating my first Mackey D’s meal in 5 years because it was a choice between a McDonald’s, something piggy or a dry bit of chicken for the price of venison in a Michelin-starred restaurant in England. In the end, it was an easy choice, if a little disappointing.

This is one of my main gripes with Paris. On British telly, all the chefs are always saying how all food French is simply amazing and many a guidebook or review will agree with that. Well, that’s a lot of kaka I tell you. The first time I went to Paris, I innocently believed in these chefs’ believes so imagine my horreur when I asked for a bit of authentic French fod (onion soup) and when it came it tasted like dirty boots with no salt and the texture was not much better. Now I am one of those people who once I make a choice to have a meal, I can usually eat a fair bit of it and remain positive even it is not the best meal I have tasted. With this soup, the crushing disappointment combined with the disgusting taste and I couldn’t manage more than a couple of spoon fulls. I had to resort to sharing my mama’s salad which thankfully was more palatable. Then on my 2nd trip this time with my mama and dear sister, we were on the Avenue de Champs Elysee when hunger struck and we decided to chance the overpriced restaurants there. What we got was edible this time but my good God! It really wasn’t worth paying an arm and a leg for. I mean my sister enjoyed her frogs’ legs but my badly done chips were not worth the plate they were served on. The best food I have had in Paris was either from a fast-food joint (mostly crepes) or from the home of a family friend who lives in the suburbs. Maybe the reviews should specify this salient fact. You can get good food in Paris if you like baguettes or crepes or if you happen to know any Parisians who would cook for you.

My 2nd gripe is related and is about how expensive everything is. A can of pop in England ranges anywhere from 50p to 80p. In Paris, and not in a posh area, I have just paid 1 euro. I walked past a plastics shop and a cheap tatty toilet brush would have set me back by 6.90 euros and a single croissant in the land of croissants was 90 cents or 1 euro. What a scam! My ‘cheap’ McD meal is 7.70 euros (compared to something like £4 in England). A single to the airport, their equivalent to Heathrow is just under a tenner. A simple phone charger was 25 euros and a £100 mobile phone costs 200 euros. Don’t even get me started on their ‘fashion’…the simplest vest top would buy me a lovely dress in H&M England. To be fair, my cousin dragged me into their H&M and I realised that H&M is amazing even in Paris and it has French fashion to boot so I know where I will be going for my ‘French fashion’ the next time I visit Paris.

My biggest gripe is the stench. Don’t get offended if you are Parisian and reading this but man alive! I stepped off the plane and 100m away from the first restrooms, I could smell the stale urine. I declined to use the ladies at this juncture because I thought this is because they are the first restrooms after getting off the plane so maybe that why they are so smelly. Not so! Just before immigration, I spotted a seemingly isolated Ladies and off I went. The stale urine smell was pervasive even though the floor looked clean and dry. As I really did need to go by then, I inhaled and ran in to do my business. I came out and joined the ‘queue’ for immigration. I use the term queue loosely because apparently people here do not know the term. After 2 families squeezed in front of me in the queue and I was forced to endure the body odour coming off them, I cottoned on to the technique and pushed and shoved with the best of them. By the time I got to immigration, I was sick to the gills with all the smelly people around me and hacked off by their disorderliness. I almost forgot I was there because my one supportive uncle had invited me to come and spend a bit of time with him and his family as they holiday in Europe for the summer. And over the past 48 hours, the only bathroom I went without the stench was in a mall at La Defense so if you have to use a public restroom in Paris, I suggest you hold it until you get to this oasis of true hygiene.

There are numerous other things I do not love about Paris but I shan’t go into them all for fear someone labels me an anti-Frenchie and tries to stab me to death. What I will point out is that there were not even cute babies and young children to soften the disappointment and lighten the heart. So where are all the pretty Parisian kids in their designer clothes, enjoying frogs’ legs and foie gras? Maybe they all go to the French Riviera in the summer and are not due to return until the school term is about to start. I did have a good laugh at some of the fashion though. Lots of uncool ‘edgy’ fashionistas on show but the one that made me pinch myself so I would not lotl was a middle-aged lady in knee high cream pop socks tied up using wisps of netty material worn with open sandals and a long flowing black coat of shiny pseudo-suede material. OMG! Give me our English goths and emos anytime. I did clock a cute white baby who might be Parisian in the airport but doesn’t matter, plenty of mixed race and African babies going through Charles De Gaulle to brighten up my day. So now I understand the comments of some of my friends who greeted the news that I was going to Paris with a look of bewilderment and quite a bit of amazement that I had been to Paris twice already and was willing to go for a third time. Je suis une ‘silly’ saucisson! Hehehe.

Straight Up Nigerian

Nigeria is a humongous country so I will not even attempt to write about it all in one little blog. It would take a whole book to make a dint in the story that is Nigeria. This blog will focus on my memories of growing up in Yola.

Yola City. 2 words. Enough said but just in case you have not sampled the delights of my hometown, I shall expand on the 2 words. Why do I love Yola so? Biggest reason is because my mother is the happiest there and whatever makes my mama happy, I love. Yola like me is full of contradictions. It is still small enough in Yola town (different from Jimeta a.k.a Yola North) that most residents either know me or my mama and will definitely know who my granddad is. So I cannot go round being naughty willy-nilly because they will come round to my house and make me feel like I am 3 years old again.

Knowing so many people is a great advantage. When I visit Yola, I get lots of food brought round and somehow these people know all my favourite foods, all the food I spend many hours daydreaming about back in Birmingham. Every morning is like a lottery and throughout the day, I intermittently check on the little dining table by the fridge to see if there have been any food deliveries. This time, I got at different times: Dan-wake, waina, masa, sinasir, dakuwa, kosai, gari basise, okro soup, this tapioca-type grain which I had with yoghurt, zogale (a.k.a moringa) seeds which were awful, a traditional kanuri drink made up of milk with bits of chewy yumminess in it, dambun nama, zobo and more. I was in food heaven. I ate small portions often in an attempt to get through a bit of everything. I didn’t remember half of those who sent the goodies to thank them but you know what? They probably got report that I stuffed my face with all of it and are satisfied they have done their bit to feed me.

Yola’s geography is awesome. We are in the North-east corner of Nigeria. In the old days, we were definitely in the savannah but now with all the aggressive deforestation by unethical businesses, we are part desert and part savannah. When you drive to Adamawa from Jos/Bauchi sides, you can see the more abundant greenery and exotic plants give way to Neem and baobab trees and green green grass in the rainy season dotted with low shrubs and anthills. I think Adamawa has cleaner crisper air and I can almost taste Yola when I drive into the Adamawa region. The river Benue goes through the state and is an amazing sight to behold in the rainy season. In the dry season, the water level is so low that the river Benue is reduced to a network of streams. In these months, you can see families fetching water, doing their laundry and bathing in those streams. I always want to stop the car and go down into the river bank, feel the sand underneath my bare toes like those families. In the rainy season, it is very different. The banks of the river are full to bursting. In fact more and more these days, we get floods as the effect of global warming is felt. Around Numan if you look carefully enough down at the river from the bridge, you’ll see how there is a clean side of the water and the dirtier muddier side of the water and curiously, the 2 seem separate as the river gushes past. I cannot remember the explanation my mama gave me when I asked decades ago but it doesn’t even matter to me. All I know is that the clean water somehow knows not to mix with the dirty water despite there being no physical barrier separating the 2. Incredible.

I love Yola market especially on ‘market’ day which has always been on a Friday. Back in the day, my mama banned us from going to the market unless in the company of adults. Most of the time, we obeyed that rule but not on Fridays. Every Friday, we would find a way to sneak out of the house with all the pocket money we had managed to save and head to the market. The biggest draw was the snake charmers who would display their trained cobras and even pick on members of the public in the audience to help them out with their tricks. My mama hates snakes so although I was less afraid of them, there was still a healthy dose of fear that I inherited from her. I used to have to look away from time to time during those displays as the excitement crossed the border into fear. However, I never turned down a chance to go there as long as my sister and I were in town on the Friday.

The other act we loved was the monkey owners. These people were less reliable and would turn up randomly. They even went house to house to perform and get given change. I loved the monkeys best and would pray for them to turn up every day during the school holidays. Sadly, my house was never visited. I am not sure whether it is because of our scary dogs or maybe my mum or stepdad were not receptive. Anyway, I was resourceful enough to catch them at the market or neighbours’ house. Another reason for my love of Yola market is the contraband fast food on sale. Contraband in my house meant any cooked food from a kitchen whose owner we didn’t know personally. Naturally I loved everything not cooked ‘at home’ so I was a regular customer and my favourite buys were Dan-wake and allele (bean cakes) cooked in tins with a drop of palm oil to make it glorious. Mmmm, these 2 foods are still my absolute favourite snacks from home.

Other delights I will never forget in Yola market include Amani who had a bad scarring infection on his face once upon a time and his vegetable stall. I loved the exotic fruit sellers sitting in the fruit section who came with their fruits picked fresh from the villages in our state. I loved the goruba sellers right at the back of the market especially because they had sacks of the thing and I always wondered if they ever sold it all and what sort of tree the gorubas came from. I loved the ‘odds’ lane where everything from nails to tree gum for charcoal ink and batteries were sold. I also loved the sweets man near the Fulani ladies with their fresh milk and yoghurt. I was a regular at his stall and especially loved it when he went to Cameroun and came back with the little pink mint balls with green stripes called bon-bon. On the rare occasion we needed to buy yoghurt, I would speak to the Fulani ladies and be amazed they spoke my language because these were the nomadic Fulanis (the bororos) and they were so pretty and different from us. I would watch in fascination as they tipped a ceramic dish of yoghurt into the one I bought without disturbing the smooth set of the yoghurt. I was so happy then. Le sigh.

I will finish on one final point about Yola. I loved the neighbourly spirit in the community when I was little. I rarely ate a proper meal at home in those days. I was always round one neighbour’s house or the other eating their meals because it was different from the meals at home. You know as a child, the grass is greener on every other side. There was always food in these homes and I was always welcome to it. I ate to my fill and said thank you then off I went. Mango and guava trees were abundant in those days (and I guess still are) and when those fruits were in season, I would forget about meals and just gorge myself on those fruits, sitting high up in the trees. So much so that I was constipated half the time because in my impatience, I would eat the fruits half raw particularly the guavas. I, of course, kept my medical problems to myself because I knew fully well it was self-induced and that actually my mama was clear on the rule that we should not be eating unripe fruit. One year, we discovered the delight of climbing up date trees and we were round Amadi’s home daily, eating so many dates that I still cannot handle more than 1 date at a time these days. I had a whale of a time growing up in Yola despite all the naughtiness. I have no regrets fortunately.

Sports Day in QC

I was in Abuja 2 weeks ago and took a cab to my friend’s house in a neighbourhood that apparently can befuddle even the best cab drivers in Abuja. My friend, let’s call her Nana, sent a text with directions and when I read them out to the cab driver, he was impressed. I laughed and said ‘she did go to QC so of course, she can give directions!’ His turn to be impressed as he appraised me. ‘You went to QC?! And I thought you were an oyinbo!’ Oyinbo (Yoruba) a.k.a bature (Hausa) is a white foreigner to you because I do not sound like a home-grown Nigerian anymore. I shook my head and smiled.

My husband carries the passport photograph above in his wallet or car as the mood strikes him. He claims to love the photo. I happen to love it too but for purely sentimental reasons. As an SS1 (year 9 equivalent) girl, I was finally loving being in Queen’s College (QC) and even liking a lot about the boarding house when my mama dropped the bombshell that she was relocating with my sister and I. The photo was taken for my British passport application when I was 14 years old. I remember my mother taking me out of boarding school to go and complete all the processes required to get a British passport. Medical tests. Passport photograph and I am sure something else too. I was excited, never having been to Europe and nervous because I would be leaving my friends and home and going somewhere that I didn’t belong. 

The picture was taken at the midway point of the middle term of the year just after Inter-House Sports Day. I can tell you this day was one of the annual highlights for most students in QC. It was a day of sporting competition where all the top talent in the school would be on display. There was calisthenics for SS2 girls. There was show-marching for all the 6 competing Houses complete with sexy cheerleader-type outfits, twirling batons, ribbons galore and some very sharp moves. Our families and friends were all there as this was an open day at QC. This also meant that the boys from all the big Lagos secondary schools came to check out the QC girls and play. KC boys especially felt entitled as they were King’s College and there was a bit of relationship between the schools for historical reasons.

The end of the 1st term was when all the excitement began as the calisthenics routine was planned and the girls began to audition for the marching. By the beginning of the middle term of 3, rehearsals would be in full swing and we would all sneak a preview of our Houses as they perfected their showpieces. Rumours about special twirl pieces would fly about. Girls would whisper about how the girl up front House A’s marching band had the highest knees and best pointed toes. Yet more whispers about how synchronised House B’s moves were and other whispers about how maybe House C was the dark horse that would triumph over the usual winning Houses. By the time the pom-poms were being fashioned for the calisthenics using plastic bags cut into strips, excitement was at fever pitch. None of us was able to sit through a lesson without whispering about some aspect of Sports Day. In the days before, half of the classes were put on hold as athletes, SS2 girls and marchers put the finishing touches on their game plans, their costumes and performances. We all got in the game on the Thursday before the Saturday.

In 2000, periwinkles (like the snails) were all the rage in QC hairstyles. That is what I have in my hair in the picture. Basically, you either braid hair or take a small section of hair then curl it about itself to resemble the shell of a periwinkle shells. I remember wanting that hairstyle all week and I was saying to Nana that I had no one to do my hair when she said she would do it. ‘Can you really?’ I asked and sure enough she could. I bought the small colourful rubber bands we used to secure the periwinkles in place and off I went to her dorm in Obasa House where we got to work. It took several hours to get it done but it was all worth it when she put the final band in place and let me look. I was ecstatic and I thought I looked great with my periwinkles and my brand new white sneakers with orange shoelaces in tribute to my beloved Obong House.

The day is a bit of a blur now but I remember the highlights. There were thousands of people all over the school ground, walking where they normally would be barred from, saying hello to missed family and a lot of excited giggling coming from us teenage girls. There were little cliques of boys strolling ‘coolly’ about, pretending not to check out the preening girls. There was the addictive smell of roast chicken and other foodie delights being prepared for sale by the vendors that were for this day only invited into our school grounds.

The first event was always the show-marching. I remember finding a spot where I could watch the marching unhindered and the butterflies of excitement as I waited with bated breath for the first of the girls to emerge. The 1st sighting of the marchers, previously well hidden in an undisclosed secure location would send a ripple of chatter across the Sports field. As the Houses came out in alphabetical order and more outfits were spotted, the chatter grew louder and I oohed and aahed with everyone else. I shifted from foot to foot in admiration of the beauty on display and watched as the marchers wiggled in anticipation of the marching they were about to do. I could also see the pride with which they held themselves. The way they walked taller and turned their be-ribboned braids from side to side as they checked out the competition and the admiring crowd. I caught 1 or 2 girls giving flirty looks to nearby boys. Then the call to order came and the marching began. I could have heard a pin drop in those minutes with the exception of the small segments where the baton-twirlers did their thing and drew gasps of admiration and clapping from the audience. This year, there were no dropped batons and every House it seemed topped the previous until it came to my House which surpassed all others. That year we won. For real. I took it as a personal reward for my loyalty and absolute belief in my House. Lol.

The calisthenics was another highlight which came towards the end of all the athletics. The SS2 girls strutted their stuff to a popular pop song, pompoms waving in unison. It was received rapturously. As the athletics continued, I joined other girls in the queues for peppered chicken then frozen yoghurt then meat pies. I stuffed my face unable to control myself as all the options beckoned. I ran around and took photos with other girls and admired each other’s hair and shoes. As the final medals were presented, we all started to mill about and congratulate those who took part and did well. Then the House that won the overall competition was announced  and given the trophy and the winning girls showed off in their house colours and celebrated loudly. As the day drew to a close, we all began to find our families and friends and say our goodbyes as the teachers and school Prefects began to round us up and return us back to the safety of our boarding House. Another sporting triumph!