Work Chronicles

My colleagues take their lunch break between noon and 1pm each day. I prefer to eat after 1pm, primarily because I’m not hungry by noon, but also because I enjoy the solitude of the office kitchen when everyone is through with their lunch and I don’t have to deal with small talk. It’s exhausting trying to explain to my non-Nigerian colleagues what my lunch of Moimoi and Garri is. No, there’s no English name for Moimoi. No, it’s not Beans Pudding. Pizza is Italian (some say Latin, some say Greek) and we’ve come to accept that, but I digress.

Today’s lunch is Semolina with Okra soup, complete with stock fish, crayfish and every smell that accompanies those two guys. I’m happy when I get to the kitchen and meet just 3 people finishing up their lunches. I can reheat my food without people scrunching their noses. I also have plans to do justice to those chicken bones, and would rather do so without an audience. I’m not given to waste.

I settle down to eat and the kitchen is empty, save for one guy who just walked in. There are about 20 empty seats anyway, he would definitely choose one far from me. Nope, this dude chooses the seat right across from me. I look up to see if it’s a familiar face. Never seen this dude before. Didn’t he see the other chairs? “Oh well, I’m used to the smell of stock fish. Bros you’re the one doing yourself,” I think to myself.

We eat in silence, bros munching on his mede-mede, Iember ‘cutting’ her Okra soup with all the decorum she can muster. There’s no incident till I get to the end of my meal. I’m done eating my chicken, bone untouched just like my husband eats. I think that’s wasteful, but again I digress.

I get up to leave but the chicken bone stares at me and I look back at it, as lovingly as I look at Gboko mangoes. It feels like we have unfinished business, I can’t just up and leave. I begin with the soft cartilage, it’s a noiseless process. Bros and I keep chewing in silence. I’m done with that part, but remember I told you I’m not given to waste right? I proceed to crack the bones. Wow, I’m not prepared for the loud sounds that follow. Bros looks up from his plate and clears his throat. I clear mine too, since we’re all clearing our throats around here. “Remember I told you that you’re doing yourself when you came to seat here abi?” I think to myself as I clear my plates.

Bros-0, Iember-1

Tales from Boarding School

I can’t say I really liked boarding school but those 6 years away from the comfort of home left me with two things I wouldn’t trade for the world; firstly some of my best friendships, and secondly lifelong memories, most of them hilarious in retrospect.

Today I woke up to one of those memories;

Our school nurse while I was in Junior School was a middle age German lady, whose prescription for every disease was ‘drink a lot of water, and take a lot of rest.’ It didn’t matter if you had malaria, cramps, or even the flu. Drink a lot of water it was, much to our annoyance, especially on those days when you faked a cold just to get some chewable Vitamin C tablets. The nurse lived with her dog, Forschli. I don’t know what breed it was but it seemed just as Deutsche as its owner, with its exotic dog foods and non-aggressive ajebutter behavior, very different from the other locally bred dogs around, or so we thought.

We woke up one Saturday morning to news that a house parent’s goat was missing. A house parent was a staff responsible for the welfare of students in a particular hostel, and usually lived in a flat adjoining the hostel. Let’s call this particular house parent Mr Saloko. He was responsible for one of the boys’ hostels.

We welcomed the news of Mr Saloko’s missing goat with joy for two reasons; firstly it meant a break from our usual Saturday routine to search for the missing goat. There’s no telling what excites restless adolescents in boarding school, but i digress… Secondly and more importantly, we absolutely disliked his wife, and were simply happy she lost something.

You see, Mrs Saloko ran a business from home, making and selling chin chin, a well-loved Nigerian snack. If there was Instagram back then, her bio would probably read “wife, mom, entrepreneur, pastry chef”. We had no problem with her selling chin-chin or chop-one chop-two like she called it. What annoyed us was the way she ran the business.

Guys, corruption in Nigeria has been around for a long long time. I knew what it meant to be robbed of my money by the government of the day Mrs Saloko as an 11 year old in Junior School. We weren’t allowed to keep cash as students, so our moneys remained in the custody of the house parents who disbursed to us as needed, within reasonable limits. Records were kept for accountability, and all went well till Mrs Salako launched her chop1 chop2 business.

You could wake up thinking you had N200 in your account, go to the house parent because you needed cash for something urgent, only to find out you had a balance of N10. How? Mrs Saloko would mysteriously bill you for chop1 chop2 that you never knew you ate! This went on for a while, and there was so much we could do. It was her word against ours. I hope her chin chin business has given her a place on the Forbes top 10 list.

Anyhoo, on the morning of the missing goat, we were grouped in tens or so, and asked to scout the school campus for the missing goat. We checked everywhere, even the most unlikely places. The longer the search lasted, the angrier Mrs Saloko got. I couldn’t help thinking she was going to deduct the cost of her missing goat from our accounts, and once again blame it on chop1 chop2.

By lunchtime the search was put on hold, and we were told we would continue later. What began as a fun adventure for us was fast becoming a bore, and we cursed under our breaths, upset at the thought of spending anymore time on this ‘wild goat chase.’ Much to our relief, someone came running to the dining hall with news that the goat had been found. Our relief soon turned to amusement and bursts of laughter followed. The goat, or rather what was left of it, was found dead. In Forschli’s cage! This dog wasn’t the ajebutter German dog we thought it was after all. It enjoyed isi-ewu just as much as the next local dog.

As I go down memory lane typing this, I’m experiencing some mild bloating which has become a common occurrence over the past few months. I have done all sorts, made changes to my diet, taken some medication, but I find that the best solution to my bloated stomach remains the nurse’s prescription; drink a lot of water, take a lot of rest.

J is for Jump and Pass

This recent electricity wahala in my neighborhood is a son-of-a female dog,  but on the bright side I’m forced to spend some more time outdoors, away from my recluse AC life.

This evening my husband and I took a walk around the area. Architects that we both are, every building was scrutinized. The houses within our estate have low fences so it’s easy to see the house with mismatched wall paint, the house where the kitchen has been converted to another bedroom (don’t ask how we knew), and the one where the owner has decided he has no need for sunlight thereby mounting a humongous carport that occupies the entire outdoor area.

Hubz: This man’s cars must be very special to warrant such a carport.
Me: I wonder what their alternative source of vitamin D is seeing as they’ve shut off the entire sun.

We pass another house with rows and rows of pines and masquerade plants that make it impossible to see the building.

Me: Hehe, these people think they are building the walls of Jericho with all these plant fortifications. As if that’s not enough they now have a ‘BEWARE OF DOGS’ sign.
Hubz: As if anyone needs a ‘BEWARE OF DOGS’ sign to actually beware of dogs. Won’t common sense tell you run when you hear dogs barking?
Me: 😂

Then we get to this area where the houses are so unkempt. Trash strewn everywhere except in the bins where they belong, water from questionable sources draining onto the road. I hide my irritation and jump the puddles of water, literally ‘jumping and passing’ any lurking diseases, Naija style. Z can’t contain his irritation and spits.

Me: What’s with this poverty mindset that makes some Nigerians leave their houses so untidy?

Z spits again in irritation.

Me: Z, but you can’t just be spitting anyhow because you’re irritated.
Hubz: I’m not doing it intentionally. I think it’s just my body’s way of rejecting poverty.
Me: 😂😂 let’s go home abeg.

Of foreign accents and strangers visiting

I am certainly not the only 9-5er who wakes up most mornings, snoozes the alarm and spends minutes in bed contemplating how much I need a job. The past few mornings have been no different. It doesn’t help that the neighbour’s kids are on holidays, their voices disrupting my early morning musings, their childish excitement a reminder that I am now an adult with real responsibilities and a real career I have to face every morning. This morning their voices evoke childhood memories, leaving me nostalgic as I remember my own holidays as a child.

Most holidays were routine. A visit to or from our cousins. A visit to our Grandma’s. Then back home. Wake, eat, play, swim, eat, watch TV, sleep, repeat. One of those beautiful holiday afternoons, we had strangers visiting. They were so happy to see us, but we had no idea who these people were and our parents were not home. When they spoke, we didn’t understand diddly-squat so we did the next best thing; left them in the living room to watch the cartoon we had on. I gathered my sisters for an emergency meeting in our bedroom. There were no mobile phones in our day so reaching our parents was out of the question. At the end of the meeting, we came up with a strategy; sit and wait for Mommy to get home. Yeah, as if we had another option.

Our house had a peculiar design, with our bedroom window overlooking the living room. On the days when we were up to some mischief that window was a nuisance, giving us away each time our dad passed by our room. On the day the strangers visited however, this window became our best friend. My sisters and I huddled by the window, peeping through the frayed curtains at these people who looked a lot like us, but spoke in a language we couldn’t decipher. We could make out some English words, but this funee was nothing close to what we heard on TV.

“They are speaking like the people on TV”

“No they are not, the people on TV speak English and we understand them”

“They are Americans”

“But their mom speaks Tiv”

“No, they are from overseas or maybe abroad”

We argued back and forth.

I thought about the word overseas. Was this a country floating somewhere in the sky above us? When it rained, was it really the people overseas peeing on us? How long did it take to get there from Nigeria? What did the people there look like?

Oh the relief when we heard the horn of our mom’s car! We ran out excitedly to tell her about the strangers seated so comfortably in her living room. You should have seen the surprise on our faces when she hugged them, calling each person by name and exchanging pleasantries. It turned out these strangers were actually family visiting from Manchester.

The next few weeks of their stay were exciting times for us as kids. Having cousins from Manchester gave us bragging rights over our friends. It was a tad annoying that they were much older, and so we couldn’t take them out to play with our friends. This however didn’t stop us from interjecting every statement with “That reminds me of what my cousin from England did …” It did not matter if what was being said was totally unrelated or not. Brag we had to, and brag we did.

Their accent got easier on the ears as the days went by. We started to understand that buck’t was bucket and wo’ah was water. There was still a lot we could not construe, but nothing a little sign language couldn’t fix. On one occasion my cousin came to the kitchen asking for the dust’n. Oh the confusion on my sister’s face as she tried to understand what that meant! She looked at the plate in my cousin’s hand. On it was chicken, most of it eaten. Maybe this was meant to be trashed, but why were the bones still intact? It turned out dust’n was dustbin after all.

My neighbour’s kids have their cousins from America visiting this summer. Every morning I wake up to childish banter in a sing-song American accent, the kind that makes every statement seem like a question. Good morning? I’d have some plantain please?  It has obviously been an exciting holidays for the kids and I can’t help thinking their cousins’ visit will be a subject of many conversations with their friends when school resumes.

I used to have a colleague who spoke with what he thought was an American accent. This guy in question is Tiv and to the best of my knowledge schooled in Benue State, Nigeria all his life. This dude was always the loudest in the office, always had an opinion about everything, always wanted to be heard.  Whenever he got angry or excited though, the fake accent would take the back burner and he would sound like any Tiv guy on the streets of Katsina-ala, complete with misplaced L’s and R’s. The question of where he developed that foreign accent is beyond me. Maybe TV, maybe a visit to the American embassy, maybe a visit from his cousins too, who knows.

My neighbour’s visitors leave soon, and I feel like I have been a part of their holiday, shamelessly eavesdropping from the comfort of my living room. Agbaya behaviour, I know. I even noticed the kids have picked up some slang words and a bit of an American accent in the few weeks their cousins have been around. How long this new found accent will last is something  I am curious about. I’d be at the window of my  living room at the beginning of their next holidays, listening to know if the accent survived weeks of frustrating Nigerian boarding school.

 

 

99 days for the bully…

I had this classmate in primary school, let’s call him Boy-Alinco. I joined his class when i was in Primary 3, and for the next two or three years, Boy-Alinco was the bane of my existence! This boy bullied me to no end.  Till date i have no idea why I was the candidate for his bullying. I was certainly not a threat to anyone as I was the poster-child for a good student; I stayed in my lane, minded my business and was up to no mischief.

Of course my poster-child status was dented whenever i got home. Backed by the confidence that I could always run to my dad or my elder brother, I was up to no good occasionally. Like the one time my friend Doofan and I poured ice-cold water on our neighbors through their bedroom window. In our defense, they started it! They lashed at us for playing at their window when they were trying to take a nap. Don’t ask me what we were doing behind their house in the first place. I mean, why didn’t they want to play when we wanted to play? But i digress.

Boy-Alinco was on my case from the moment I got to school until the last bell rang for the day. He did everything to make me miserable;  tore out pages from my notebooks for no apparent reason, stole my snacks, pulled at my hair (probably the reason the hair has refused to grow), poured the water in my bottle away just because. This happened day in, day out! I would cry my eyes out, and he would sit there laughing like a jackass and would threaten to do worse if I reported him to anyone. I remember his favorite threat “If you like tell Dondo (my elder brother), I will finish both of you with just my little finger.” Why I never reported him to the school authorities is something I still beat my self about.

I got to class one morning after the general assembly and found my brand new bag ripped apart with a blade! I wept. You see, my dad spared no expense when it came to our school supplies, so this was some really good bag. It was also my first day of using it and I was so hurt. I didn’t need a diviner to tell me who the culprit was. This time around I decided it was time to put an end to his antics. I remembered his favorite threat and had an epiphany; why not actually report this kid to my big bro?

The bullying ended abruptly, Boy-Alinco kept his distance one morning. And the next morning. And the next. And every other morning after that. I had no idea why, and welcomed his new attitude with skepticism. What if this was all a ploy to step up the bullying game? What if he decided to add physical assault to the menu?

Several weeks after the bag incidence, I was with my brother when he casually said ”Did I ever tell you I met Boy-Alinco one afternoon on his way to our estate? I beat the living daylights out of him and told him never to go close to you or your property again.” Aha! That explained it all. Needless to say I walked to school each morning after that  revelation with a new found spring in my step. Free at last!

As Nigerians celebrate children today, May 27th, there is increased awareness about the rights and protection of children. Protection against a violation of their rights. Protection against abuse. But I’d like to ask, who protects children against abuse from other children? Are the Boy-Alincos allowed to unleash harm and go scot-free simply because they are well, children? What happens to those who have no elder brothers to run to? What are we as parents and adults doing to help our kids stand up against bullying?

And since we are asking questions, why can’t the Federal Government simply declare every May 27th a bank holiday as well? Wait, it won’t be right to have a holiday on the 27th, work on the 28th and have another holiday on Democracy Day the 29th. Why can’t we just have the entire three days off? These are pertinent issues my administration will address when you guys vote me into power. Nigeria 2035. Sai Iember.

Happy Children’s day to me and every child at heart!

 

New Wife bants: The search for ‘Ponmo’

I have learnt in the past few months that for a newly-wed woman in Nigeria, feeding one’s husband is a matter of national importance. From the moment I said ‘I do’, conversations with all and sundry have been laced with this recurring question “Have you cooked for your husband?”  Phone calls that begin as work-related switch to “You should go home and cook for Oga” faster than I can spell my new surname. These humans around me lack boundaries.

I thought my Mom was the only person unperturbed by all the husband-feeding hubbub, as she had never mentioned it. I should have known this was unusual. The other day she called, and after beating about the bush she asked “So, what’s for dinner?” Innocent question right? No. I could sense her tone of voice. That same tone my parents use when they want to subtly drop a hint. The tone they use when they want to ask, without wanting to sound like they are putting you under pressure if you have started praying to God for a spouse. The same tone with which they asked me several years ago, if the friend I said I was coming home with after my graduation from University was a lady or a guy.

Nigerians are the founders of nosiness sha! You would think with our joint interest in what my husband eats they have plans to make a contribution or something. The next time I’m asked if I have cooked for my husband I will kuku call out the items on my market list, complete with prices and all. We might as well do a joint contribution and plan his meals together.

Anyway, I told my Mom what I was going to cook and she added, “with plenty fish and ponmo right?” Same tone.

That tone of voice that pushed me to market that afternoon in search of ponmo. You would think this is a simple task until you go to Utako market. One would think ponmo sellers would simply stay close to those selling meat, as common sense would have it. No, they rather hawk upandan making us look for them like pins in a haystack. I walked about till I could take it no more, got into the car and simply drove home. My dear mother wouldn’t be around to inspect the contents of my pot after all.

You see, I absolutely dislike going to the open market. I don’t know which irritates me more, the human traffic and consequent body contact that I have little control over, or all that randomness of market stalls. I think it’s the randomness. I can’t understand why a fishmonger’s stall is sandwiched between someone trading bathroom slippers and another person selling bleaching creams. Totally unrelated wares.

When I become President *clears throat*,  the first thing my administration will do will be to arrange market stalls according to wares. Ponmo sellers will be given a choice location right at the entrance to make life easier for newly weds like myself. At least i will have a manifesto that i can deliver when you guys vote me into power. Nigeria 2035. Sai Iember.

But till then, if I find your nose in my business with regards to this husband-feeding business, I will not so politely hand it back to you.


Donatus my Valentine

I used to have this toaster, let’s call him Donatus. I met him when I worked at a bank. He came in one busy Monday morning to cash a cheque and was tossed from one teller to another till he ended up at my desk. One minute into our conversation and I understood why no one wanted to attend to him. It was difficult communicating with him. The little English he knew was spoken in a thick Igbo accent and a mumbo-jumbo of tenses. I found out later that it was his first time in a bank.

I helped him fill out an account opening form and do all the necessary paper work so he could pay in the cheque, a painstaking process that took almost two hours. He asked for my phone number and I obliged. I didn’t think he was going to call anyway. I was wrong. He called later that evening to thank me for my help. He told me he was 34 years old, a bricklayer and was in his words, ‘finding wife wey dey like you’. That was the first of a myriad of phone calls, boring conversations and an awkward friendship of some sort.

Dona made it a point of duty to stop by my office everyday, bearing gifts of course. Typically it was biscuits and bottles of soda. Once he even brought okpa. My colleagues teased me all day. The attention was become embarrassing. Whenever I sighted Dona at the revolving door I did all I could to run away and hide till I was certain he was gone. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I failed. I had to plead with Dona to stop the visits and only come around when he needed to carry out a transaction. He obliged me, or so I thought. A few months passed by, Dona didn’t show up in the bank, and I forgot all about him.

It was Valentine’s Day 2014. There was the usual cheesiness in the air, everyone at work was wearing a touch of red and making turn-up plans. I never understood the hullabaloo that comes with February 14th, so I  was simply going about my business and making my own plans to turn-up in my bed when Dona showed up at my desk with an elderly lady. It was his mother. There was an introduction, mostly in Igbo. From the little I could decipher, he had told her we had plans to see my parents soon. Apparently I was engaged and I wasn’t even aware. I have never felt more embarrassed in my life!

Fast forward years later, and I obviously didn’t end up with Donatus. Oh, did I mention that he asked me in the presence of his mom to come spend the evening of Valentine’s with him? Don’t ask me how he pronounced Valentine’s, and please don’t ask me if I said yes.

It’s Valentine’s Day 2017. As usual there is the cheesiness in the air, people around me wearing a touch of red and making turn-up plans. In the past few days, social media has been agog with all things Valentine’s. Date ideas, meal ideas, even special Val’s day make-up ideas. I hail all entrepreneurs out there who have somehow found a way to cash in some money on this day. I will be like you guys soon, after all who writing epp?

I still don’t understand the hullabaloo that comes with this day but it’s cute watching people around try to out-do each other with displays of romantic love; wether real, imagined, to spite an ex or simply to garner likes on Facebook and the gram.

Maybe my stance on Val’s will change some day and I will join in all the fuss but till then I’m deeply content going through each day knowing I’m loved, no questions asked. Loved by God, loved by the Bestie, loved by family, loved by friends, loved by you my dear readers.

Happy Valentine’s Day!