Thursday, November 30, 2006

Proving myself Nigerian

I generally try to steer clear of race, religion and politics on my blog but this particular issue has been bugging me for a while.

In the UK, according to their equal opportunity and ethnicity forms, I am known as Mixed Race (sometimes I have the option of White and Black African), in Nigeria I am commonly and wrongly referred to as being half caste, in the slave days I would have been known as a mulatto, and I have even been asked what breed I am. Excuse me?

I, on the other hand, have always referred to myself as being Mixed. And sometimes, when I do not see an appropriate category on a form in which to place myself, I make up my own – Afro-European.

As nature would have it though, I have taken most of my physical features from my mother (who is the white – oops is that PC? or the Caucasian parent) – I am pale skinned, becoming even more so now that it’s winter and there is no sunshine in sight to tan me golden, I’ve got long straight hair (for which I was always the envy of my friends as I have never had to use any sort of straightening products), and all my life I have always been asked if I was Indian, Chinese or Hawaiian. When I was six months old and in Germany, my mum was congratulated on being brave and compassionate enough to have adopted a Vietnamese orphan!!

Sometimes looking the way I do has been an advantage. For instance, when I was in university and we had to queue up either to pay for hostel accommodation or at the bursary to pay the tuition fees, nine times out of ten I would be called from the back of the queue to the front to pay before anyone else. It was like the general thought amongst the university officials was that I couldn’t cope with standing in the heat so it was best to attend to me first – I was presumed to be an Aje-butter because of the way I looked. Did I put them right and behave all noble and wait my turn patiently in the sun for four hours? Hell no! (LOL).

At other times, it’s been a disadvantage. Most traders and market sellers always tried to rip me off. I was always a beacon in the dark for the area boys on the beach who just assumed I was loaded with ‘dolla’s’ and so hung around me like flies on shit – and were sometimes quite aggressive as well. But coming to think about it Area Boy and Aggression kind of go hand in hand. And last year, I was almost refused renewal of my Nigerian passport at the immigration office in Enugu because the immigration officer didn’t believe that I was Nigerian. As for the original passport that needed renewing? Well, he thought I had greased a few palms to get it in the first place, naturally. My husband, quickly sensing that I was on the verge of telling the officer where he could stick his non-advantageous green Nigerian passport, stepped in in the nick of time and soothed things over before I had a chance to explode and thus seriously jeopardizing my chances of renewing my passport EVER. I did get the passport renewed in the end but not before we were fleeced of a few thousand Naira.

And what always made me laugh was the little children who would run after me in the markets yelling ‘shpree- shpree- sphree’ through their noses in their imitation of a foreign accent I guess.

But the focus of this post is to do with my fellow Nigerians and their reactions towards me.

Whenever I find myself at a Nigerian gathering (for example a general meeting of Nigerians in Diaspora or at a Naija only party) I always notice a slight puzzled look fleet across the faces around me as they try and figure out what exactly I am doing amongst them. Then one person invariably plucks up the courage and asks ‘Are you Nigerian?’ and even when I respond that I am, I can still see the doubt and this is when I find myself adapting my language. I either start to intersperse my sentences with pidgin English, or I casually drop in some conk ‘you-will-only-know-these-words-if-you-are-Nigerian’ speak into my conversation. Only then do I see them visibly relax. Then the final question comes ‘But you are not full Nigerian, are you?’

The scene described above has played itself out many times over the years and I sometimes despair that I have to ‘prove’ myself Nigerian to my fellow country people. It’s almost as though because I have white blood flowing through my veins I cannot be considered a thorough bred Nigerian in spite of the fact that I was born and raised there. I lived there for 30 years for chrissakes, how much more Nigerian could I possibly be?

I adore African/Nigerian arts and crafts so every room, flat or house I have lived in has always been decorated with a strong African theme – leather poufs from the North, terracotta pottery, woven baskets, mud cloth throws and so forth. And so it was when I lived in Abuja, I had decorated my house in exactly this style. One day, I invited one of my friends from the office round for lunch. When she entered my house she looked around for a long time and then said to me ‘I love the way you have decorated your house, it looks so beautiful. But if we (Nigerians) do the same, people will say we are bush’. I was gob smacked when I heard this. Why would anyone consider you ‘bush’ for appreciating your own arts/crafts and having them on display in your home? I have never been able to understand this line of thinking.

I have also had my Nigerian friends tell me that I am able to get away with stuff that other Nigerians won’t be able to because ‘ah-ah, you are Oyinbo now’. What??? We have been friends since birth and you still consider me as being ‘Oyinbo’? Oh, and the mother of a guy I once dated told him straight off as soon as she saw me ‘Ah, me I don’t want any Oyinbo grandchildren O!’ Needless to say, that relationship was doomed from the start.

I could go on and on about the way some Nigerians view mixed race people – like the woman onboard the flight back from Nigeria to the UK earlier this year who declared to an inter-racial married couple who were having a bit of a problem getting their child to behave, ‘Eh, that’s how all these half caste children behave. They are uncontrollable. No home upbringing’. You know how your hand begins to itch when you want to just reach across and slap someone? If that wasn’t the height of ignorance, I don’t know what is.

And the thing is I never really consider what I am – it’s a non-issue for me. When asked, I always say I am Nigerian- whether I am being asked the question by a Caucasian or a fellow Nigerian. Only if they venture to question further, do I admit that my mother is white. Not because I don’t embrace my ‘white side’ but it’s just that I feel myself more Nigerian than anything else. But I realise that my being mixed race is an issue for some (hopefully a minority) Nigerians and I guess my inquiring mind wants to know…

If you are mixed race, have you experienced similar situations where you feel you have to ‘prove’ yourself Nigerian? And even then, do you feel that you are not quite accepted as being one?

And if you are a Nigerian, you do think mixed race Nigerians are not ‘authentic’ Nigerians? Do you think mixed race Nigerians are promiscuous and wild (oh yes, I have heard this said loads of times). Or do you think that we ‘to-do’ (heard this one as well)?

Keep it clean.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

My Scan

I am officially three months pregnant today and this is when most mums-to-be start to spread the word because the potential ‘dangerzone’ of having a miscarriage is now greatly reduced. But as you all know, I didn’t quite wait for the three month mark to break the news. I was too excited to hold it all in.

I also had my 12 week scan yesterday – yaaaaaaaay!! And I am pleased to report that baby is healthy and happy and bobbing about in my belly. I don’t think there is a more exciting stage of pregnancy (apart from having your test give you the positive blue line/cross) than having your first scan. There is something so exciting about it and seeing that little blob in your belly show up on the screen makes it all so real. I mean I know I have been pregnant for the last few months, but actually seeing the proof, so to speak, confirms it all.

My three day window of renewed energy and reduced sickness has closed and I am back to square one (head down the toilet bowl) again. I am really fed up with it but if I am to believe all the many ‘Your pregnancy’ booklets that I have been given to read, then it shouldn’t last for much longer. Fingers crossed. Hard to believe that something not quite 10 cm long is giving me so much grief.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

On Feeling Better, Being Single and the Reading Bug

For the first time in about 7 weeks I am actually beginning to feel like a human being again. The last few weeks have been really rough, as you all already know, so I am hoping I am coming to the end of it and I can finally settle down and really start to enjoy this pregnancy.

However, the by product of feeling better is that my appetite seems to have trebled!! For the last two days I have been eating for England and the funny thing is the only sort of food that calms my stomach is Nigerian food and I don’t mean rice and stuff like that. I am talking heavy ‘swallow’ dishes here. For instance, last night I had a bowlful of eba with a wicked Oha soup (or Ora soup, not sure how its spelt but it’s an Igbo/Ibo soup) I had cooked and then two hours later (at 9 pm!!) I was having another round! And when I am not eating a main meal, you’ll catch me snacking on celmentines, digestive biscuits, rice cakes or sucking furiously on a polo mint. At this rate I will balloon out of all proportion if I carry on like this. My salivary glands have also kicked into overdrive – but I think that’s a bit too much information, don’t you?

Moving on…

I was thinking the other day, as you do, that had I come to the UK as a single woman, just how easy would it have been for me to meet ‘somebody nice’ .. in other words a potential husband?

For a start I don’t do pubs, clubs or bars (popular places, apparently, for meeting members of the opposite sex). The office would also have been out of the question seeing as the men I have had to work with in the past have all been prats. Sorry. Church may have been an option but then again, not. So where would I have met someone?

And so I wonder about the single (Naija) women living in the UK. Where/how do they meet potential life partners? For instance, all my married friends (myself included) all met our husbands at University back home – which I believe is where most future couples meet. But many of the single women I know living here have either a) gone back to Nigeria to look for a husband/partner or b) are finding it really hard to find someone to settle down with.

From what they (my single friends) tell me good Nigerian men are in short supply – the operative word being ‘good’. If I am to believe what they say, most of our Naija men here know they are in ‘demand’ and so milk the situation for all it’s worth – in other words meet girl, start relationship, end relationship and move on to the next. Apologies to the sincere ones out there, I am only going on what I’ve been told.

I have also been made to understand that modern relationships i.e. 21st century relationships are a whole different ball game these days. Like many of my friends, we married (almost) solely for love – I remember I used to say to people that even if my husband had lived under a bridge I would still have married him. Aww. I am not saying that everything else was disregarded – a future, education, upbringing, beliefs etc – it’s just that they didn’t play that big a role when I made my choice.

However, it seems that these days things are very different. My young single university/just out of university female friends all say that they don’t hesitate to ask a potential suitor about his plans for the future – career or business wise, dreams and ambitions and most importantly, are they going in the same direction as them? Are you going to be able to provide for me? If not, it’s goodbye Jack! I guess it must be scary for a guy being asked on a second date for his Five Year Plan – but then a girl has gotta look out for number one I suppose. I also understand that dating has changed as well. Where in my day the man footed the bill each time we went out on a date, now couples tend to go Dutch. Now, I don’t know if it’s influence of being in Jand or the lack of wonga on the side of the men.


I have been bitten by the reading bug again – but I am not complaining. Reading is good for the soul, me thinks. I just finished Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila. A very good book – it stirred up in me so many emotions and though I was still living in Nigeria during the period/s that the book was set, I was amazed to realise just how much had passed me by. I sort of operated in a little sheltered cocoon back then so the deaths of people like MKO, Ken Saro-Wiwa and Dele Giwa where nothing more than bold headlines with I read with removed emotion. Selfish youth perhaps? What I do remember though is when Abacha died. I was working in Abuja then and it was as if a heavy oppressive blanket had been lifted. The air was suddenly lighter and the mood of the people around magically became jolly and relaxed. I also remember being warned on my first day at work to be careful who I spoke to and what I spoke of because one never knew if the person you were speaking to was an agent of the government. Scary when I think of it now.

I am on a quest of discovering some good books by Nigerian authors so if you have any suggestions please let me know. Thanks to UKnaija for the link. Most helpful.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Five Years and Counting

Five years ago today, my husband and I got married. Yes, today is our wedding anniversary.

Being romantic is not one of my husbands strong points so I was very pleasantly surprised this morning when he gave me a lovely potted plant (I prefer live plants which stay with me forever than a bunch of flowers which wilt and die after a couple of days – nice to look at but basically a waste of money) and this ring which I have been lusting after ever since I clapped eyes on it in Paris. I love it, love it, love it!! And it fits perfectly – When I asked how he guessed at my ring size, he said he tested one of my rings on his little finger to gauge my size. Isn’t that sweet.

But now I feel so guilty because I didn’t get him anything. Yikes!! So I shall be hurrying myself into the city today to get him something equally as romantic.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

My Changing Shape and more Cravings

So the waistband of my trousers are beginning to get a little tighter, my skirts are sitting a little snugger and my t-shirts are beginning to strain a little around the chest area. Yes, people, the little one within me may be only 10 weeks old, but s/he is starting to make it’s presence visible on my body. I can’t believe that I soon have to start stocking up on maternity wear and get a bra fitting at Marks and Sparks. Unfortunately, my belly is at that stage where it doesn’t quite look pregnant yet. It just looks like I have had a serious case of overindulgence of the culinary kind. You feel like telling people ‘No, no, I don’t need to go on a diet, I’m pregnant’. Ah well.

The morning sickness has still not abated (sorry for going on about it) on the contrary it seems to be getting worse and the result is that I am exhausted most of the time. Sometimes being in this constant state of ‘unwellness’ makes me quite annoyed because I know I am not sick and yet I feel sick, if you know what I mean. I have also become quite irritable – from having people touch me, to feeling the water on my skin as I take a shower, to having the duvet on my body – all irritate the hell out of me. Even the feeling of having my hair brushing again my neck is a constant source of irritation so I am thinking of visiting the hairdressers soon and going for an extremely low crop. I have been wanting to do this for ages so this is my perfect excuse. My daughter is going to be devastated though as she says I look like a princess with my long hair. *Bless*

I am also having these crazy dreams – being in a plane crash, having violent quarrels with strangers, and posting abusive comments on peoples blogs are just a few of the dreams I have had in the past few days. But the experts say pregnancy sometimes does this and when I think about it, I do remember having very weird dreams when I was expecting my daughter. I’m still having my crazy cravings and here are a few of the things that wander in and out of my mind.

1. Amuge – I have no idea what else this fruit is called but growing up in Benin it was always called this. They are little black velvet covered pods which grow in bunches and when you crack a pod open, it contains a little orange fruit which you suck on and there’s a tiny seed inside which you spit out, obviously. Anybody know what else this fruit is called or even know what in the world I’m going on about?

2. Otien (you’ve got to forgive my spellings here, I’m crap at native words) aka Cherry – I’m sure you guys all know this one. An orange coloured fruit with a brown plug like contraption on the top which you pull out with your teeth and then you suck on the fruit pulling out the soft sweet sour pulp into your mouth. It contains hard brown half moon shaped seeds. Sometimes, there is a bit of it which you can turn into chewing gum. Ring any bells at all?

3. Ube aka Black Pear – Ahh, you all know this one well! It’s popular during corn season. You either roast it or pop it into boiling water until soft. It’s greeny soft flesh is delicious on it’s own or sprinkled with a bit of salt. It’s usually eaten with boiled or roasted corn. And speaking of corn, can anyone tell me where I can get some REAL corn from? Not this sweetcorn crap that’s sold here.

Ah, I’d better stop now before I start to dribble down my chin.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Donald Dukes Blog

For those of you who are interested, Donald Duke, governor of Cross Rivers State has just started a blog. I must say, I admire the man.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Junk Food

Over the last couple of months I have become more aware of what I put in my mouth and now that I am eating for two, I am even more so.

I worry sometimes when I read food labels. There are so many additives, colourings and preservatives put in foods these days that I begin to wonder what’s real or natural about it in spite of a huge label which assures you that it’s ‘100% Natural’.

Have you ever read the label on a loaf of bread? If you haven’t then I’ll enlighten you. In an innocent looking loaf of store bought bread you’ll find it contains the following:

Wheat Flour, Water, Yeast, Salt, Vinegar, Soya Flour, Vegetable Fat, Emulsifier (Mono and Diacetyltartaric Acid Esters of Mono and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids), Fermented Wheat Flour, Flour Treatment Agent (Ascorbic Acid).

If that isn’t scary I don’t know what is. What the hell are all these things? All I wanted was a loaf of bread. Not a chemical time bomb! It seems that the word ‘Junk’ is not being confined to KFC or McDonalds only.

Even things that you think are fresh and natural and ‘straight off the farm’ – say for instance a head of lettuce – are not as fresh and natural as you might think. How natural can a head of lettuce be that can sit in your fridge for two weeks and still look as green and crisp as the day you bought it two weeks before? Back home (Naija), you’d be lucky if you can make a head of lettuce last for more than three days in your fridge. And anything which has a label on announcing ‘Sugar Free’ or ‘No added Sugar’ I avoid like a plague because although they don’t contain any sugar they sure contain a lot of sweeteners such as Aspartame. For information on Aspartame and pregnancy go here and for general info on Aspartame go here.

Granted, Nigeria may not have the huge variety of foods on offer (which coming to think of it may not be such a bad thing) that they have over here but one thing I must say is that the food in Naija, in my opinion, is much healthier. Most things are fresh and meals are more often than not cooked from scratch. Vegetables are (mostly) organic and most importantly, the food tastes better. I bought a mango the other day but had to put it in the bin because it tasted of nothing – absolutely no flavour to it whatsoever. And I remember when I first got here; I used to think the fresh chicken (you know the 2 for £5 ones?) was off because it had such a curious smell. It took me a long time to get over that smell, which I think is caused by the feed that the chickens are given. To this day I only eat that chicken if it has been heavily spiced.

So what alternatives do we have? Well, we could go Organic although that could work out to be quite an expensive endeavour. What I tend to do though is work out the difference between ‘normal’ food and ‘organic’ food and if the difference isn’t too much I go for the organic alternative. For example, the difference between ‘normal’ Weetabix and organic Weetabix is 50p – a difference which doesn’t break the bank. And I don’t know if it’s psychological or not, but it does taste different.

The other option is to buy your vegetables from open/farmers markets. They may not always be convenient to get to but most cities have them. I personally think the vegetables are better quality (if not organic) and far cheaper than the store bought ones.

And finally, although time consuming, cook your food from scratch. Fortunately this isn’t a problem for me as I always cooked this way back home. If you can’t stand to cook each and every day (or are too busy to do so) then cook over the weekends and stick it in the freezer (at least you know say NEPA no go strike).

So I encourage you to please be more aware of what you eat. You just might be saving your life.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

After one year of hearing all the hoopla about it and being bombarded with countless spin off documentaries on The History and Discovery channels, I finally decided to read Dan Browns The Da Vinci Code.

I found it to be a very mediocre book. It started off alright but lost me in the middle. The book sometimes read like a history book and I was left feeling overloaded with information. Mr. Brown was also a bit too eager to get the story out and so left nothing to the readers’ imagination. Bits where I felt he would have done well to leave the reader in a little bit of suspense, he just blurted out. For instance, already mentioning about three or four chapters before the event happens that the bad guy will escape. This really annoyed me – the fact that he left me nothing to look forward too.

I also found bits of the book a bit stretched in terms of believability. Like having the story of the ‘Holy Grail’ being embedded in Disney cartoons and almost everyone save the hero, being a baddie. It’s one of those books which leave you (me at least) wondering what the fuss was about. The end was an anti-climax as well.

Overall, a generally good story but I found Mr. Brown’s writing clumsy and too long winded. I am not surprised that the movie was panned.

Conclusion: Read it if you must, but borrow it rather than buy it.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Crime Gets Out of Hand in Lagos


Friday, November 03, 2006


Oh My God!! I've got this crazy, mad, insane, all consuming craving for Eko (Agidi)!!!!!!!!!! It's so bad I have dreams about it. Huge basinfuls of the stuff wrapped in fresh banana leaves, eaten with some fresh, hot palm oil stew.

Chei, I could just cry with longing.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

London and Ante Natal Care

I was away in London for the weekend visiting friends and it made a nice change from the same-same routine of home – I was able to put my feet up a bit and relax. But I must say, I am glad I don’t live in London.

I was intending to visit a few of my fiends who live in London and whom I haven’t seen in a long while but I ended up only able to visit one of them. Why? Because getting from one point of London to another is a major journey. Not wanting to use the tube as I had my daughter with me, we decided to drive instead – never again! The friends we stayed with live in Essex so getting to say Finchley or Isleworth is like travelling from Benin to Lagos. 1 hour later, and you’re still no closer to your destination. Utter madness. The only thing going for London, in my opinion, is the weather – which was beautifully mild and sunny compared with Birmingham which is about 0 – 2 degrees centigrade at the moment. But I guess the appeal of London is a bit like the appeal of Lagos – once you live there for a while you find it hard to live anywhere else.

Had my first ante-natal check up yesterday and I am officially 8 weeks pregnant (another 32 weeks to go, yippee) and my EDD (expected due date) is the 12th of June (isn’t that a significant date in Nigeria? Something to do with elections? My memory is a bit fuzzy). Anyway, I had a good moan to the midwife about my nausea (yes, I am still plagued by it) and she suggested that I eat a small meal every 2 hours to give my stomach juices something to work on constantly. Good idea, but can you imagine how much weight I would have put on by the time I come to the end of my first trimester? But, I guess now is not exactly the time to be worrying about weight, huh?

I had forgotten just how good the care is here for pregnant women (I don’t care what people have to say about the NHS. After you have experienced the (non existent) healthcare system in Naija, you’ll never complain about anything again). As a pregnant woman here, you are bombarded with all sorts of resources (for free), you are talked through each stage of your pregnancy, there are aqua natal classes available and if you happen to work on the days these classes hold then your midwife will write a letter to your employer asking for you to be let off work for the required amount of time (they are legally bound to do so). You are also given a special telephone number to call in case of emergencies.

Très bon!

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