Tag Archives: smells

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

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What or Who Was I in My Past Lives?

I was reading a book this weekend just gone and the main character had hypnosis to remember her childhood. This reminded me of the popular BBC day time show which put celebrities through ‘regression’ and re-enacted their past memories to try and establish who these celebrities were in their past lives. Before I write down my thoughts, I have a disclaimer. I do not belief in reincarnation and living multiple lives. Sometimes I think it would be rather nice to have another chance to do it all over again but then again, if you come back into a worse situation what is the point? One life is long enough for me, thank you very much.

I figure the biggest clues to what or who I might have been comes from the things I love instinctively. So first of all, I love physical contact. As a child, I would literally drape myself all over my mama whenever she was seating down. I also loved to climb and sit in tree tops. I was light on my feet and despite many falls, never broke a bone. I have always loved hugs and being stroked particularly on my back. Remind you of anything? That’s right: a cat. I remember loving the Jungle Boy, the film adaptation of Disney’s Jungle Book and my favourite thing was when Mowgli came face to face with ‘Shere Khan’ the fierce tiger and stared him down. Since then, I have loved big cats as well as the domestic ones we kept and tried unsuccessfully to keep safe from our dogs. I loved seeing the white lions and tigers at The Safari Park and I know that if I could choose to return as an animal, my 2nd choice would be as a lioness.

My 1st choice animal would be a horse. My granddad has a farm and when my mama moved back to Yola, I was less than a year old. She was the farm manager in those days so being a baby, I naturally spent a lot of time on the farm with her. The stables were full to bursting with mostly polo horses in those days and my mum likes to recount that I learnt to ride before I could walk. What she means is that I loved the horses and whenever there was a stable hand with any spare time, I would be popped onto the back of a gentle mare and walked around. I never had proper lessons but I watched my uncles play polo and I always knew I wanted to ride horses. When I was old enough, it came as naturally as breathing for me to be on the back of a horse. Of course in those days, I couldn’t handle the frisky younger polo horses but there was 1 in particular called Sofia that I favoured and every chance I got, I rode her.

So why do I love horses so much? I think they are absolutely gorgeous creatures. I love their soft velvety noses especially when they brush it across your palm as they take sugar cubes from your hand. I love their large teeth and long lean faces. I love their beautiful manes especially when they are shaved and plaited before polo matches. I love the deep brown of their eyes and their ridiculously long eyelashes. When they look at me, I feel like they can see into my soul and read my thoughts. They whiney at exactly the right moments in a tale. I love their foals with their ungainly long legs and how they skip around and play as their mums graze. I love watching them breastfeed then lean contentedly into their mums’ flanks. I love watching the adults gallop and seeing their muscles ripple under their glossy warm coat. I love to brush them down after a ride and watch the shine on their coat. I love their smell which lingers on my jeans for days after I have had a ride. As I have got older then moved away to England, I don’t get as much opportunities but I still go back to the farm and ride when I visit.

Fulanis are cow people and nomadic in origin. Beef is in general loved universally by the Fulanis and the more, the merrier. There is nothing my granddad loves more than firing up the clay barbeque pit and roasting beef straight from the abattoir. My sister is also a big meat eater and could eat meat all day every day. I on the other hand, like my mama, prefer seafood. I would eat seafood all day every day. I love it all except slimy oysters and odd mussels. The other love that goes hand in hand with seafood is being by the sea. I cannot recall ever being stressed at the seaside. Not even when I thought I was going to drown once. Not even in a little speedboat in the middle of a turbulent ocean when I can barely float in the shallow end of a swimming pool. I honestly feel the happiest when I am by the sea, hearing the waves crash onto shore, having brine sprayed onto my face and burrowing my bare feet into fine sand. Maybe in another life, I was an islander.

There are some smells I love with an intensity I cannot explain. I love the smell of coffee and did so from a very early age despite hating the taste (my granddad was addicted to it so I naturally I stole a taste). I used to add a pinch to my black tea so that I could smell coffee without its taste. Every time I walk past a coffee shop, I want to go in and sit just so every breath I inhale, I am immersed in the smell of coffee. Yet I can go months without drinking a cup of coffee. I also love the smell of freshly baked bread, particularly baguette and tiger bread. In comparison to coffee, with bread, I cannot wait to tear into the loaf and devour the piece. I do not even need butter or jam. Just fresh bread is enough for me. This makes me think of Belle in the little market town street in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. That fact in addition to the relative ease with which I navigate French makes me think that perhaps in a former life, I might have been a French girl.

Lastly, I wonder about my love for certain tastes. Sweet and sour fruits are a particular love for me. I especially love tamarind which I started eating when I was about 4 years and over the years, that love has never waned. And since then, I have found many other fruits with the same sweet and sour nature. Sour sop (or guanabana), mangoes, chappulle and mboye (found in north-eastern Nigeria), agbalumo (found in Central to South-western Nigeria) and tsamiyan biri all over the north. When I couldn’t find something to satiate the hunger for sweet and sour, I would cut one lime into 2 halves and dip the top of each half into a plate of sugar, allowing it to soak up the sweetness then suck on it. I can feel my taste buds tingle now as I remember the sweetness giving way to sharp tanginess that made me tingle all over and screw up my face even as I revelled in the taste sensation. The other taste I love is chilli pepper. There is rarely a time when I feel that no chilli is a good idea. Sometimes I crave the heat of scotch bonnet peppers so badly that I get up and cook up a scotch bonnet chutney. This chutney is so fierce that just opening the jar I store it in makes my eyes water and draws an unexpected sneeze from me. I must have 5 or 6 different chilli containers in my spice shelf yet every time I see a different form of chilli, I am tempted to buy it. This all despite the fact that my gut has decided that it is rather sensitive to chilli and the older I get, the less tolerant it gets. However, I am so passionate about chilli that I could not live without them. That combination of loves to me brings in mind Thai food…which means I could have been Thai in another life.

Of course I have many other likes that make perfect sense. Like peppermint. My mama’s main craving whilst pregnant with me was Trebor peppermint so I think her blood had high levels which became the norm to me. As far back as I can remember I have always loved Trebor peppermints and buttermints which are still ever present in my home to this day. I love all small animals and people and for me, the smaller the better. But who can resist a small helpless creature with massive Irises and total innocence? I also love vanilla ice-cream but only in an ice-cream cone. Without a cone, the experience just isn’t the same. I think it is the contrast in texture between crunchy and soft creamy ice-cream and the contrast of room temp cone with freezing cold ice cream. I love pancakes, thick and fluffy as the Americans make them. I love pies with mash, mushy peas and gravy. I love the colour red. I love elephants and camels and riding them. What I am trying to say is, even with a long list of likes and dislikes, there are some irrational ones that make me think for a second: what if I like them now because I loved them in another life and it is the leftover memories making me feeling the love? I wonder…