On Bride Price and Wife Material

I hate marriage talk. I swear, I do. But being Nigerian, it’s something that one can’t avoid. It’s like a rite of passage; the minute you turn 18, that’s all anyone around you talks about- older aunties gather around to trade marriage anecdotes so that the “younger ones can learn”, people advise you to drop certain behaviors so that you’re seen as “wife material”—one time, this woman told me that I should stop reading so much so that men wouldn’t be scared off. Good times—, people caution you about choosing certain career paths because your marital clock might tick, tock and die while you labor away in some high-powered career that’s not “suitable for marriage.” It’s marriage-talk-o’clock every damn minute, and I’m sick of it.

I’m sick of the emphasis placed on marriage in Nigeria. I’m sick of people acting like marriage is the sole factor that legitimizes one’s achievements as a woman. I once heard someone say “if you like, get a PhD. Your most important degree is an MRS”. (Yes, really. To make matters worse, she felt so clever with her dead joke). Nigeria is a society in which a woman’s essence is predicated upon her being adjoined to a man. You can cure cancer, you can go to the moon, you can eradicate malaria and Nigerians would still ask where your Mrs. tag is. It’s ridiculous. We should know better, yet the entire social fabric of Nigeria is built on such stupid ideals.

The process of marriage itself is another part of Nigerian culture that I fundamentally disagree with, especially with the issue of the bride price that is paid by the groom’s family to the bride’s. This can range from 1 Naira (as a symbolic gesture) to millions of Naira. I’ve always found it an absurd tradition. Why should there be a price paid for the bride? Why does the price seem so arbitrary? Doesn’t this bride price give the groom the upper hand in the marriage; won’t he feel like he bought her and she’s indebted to him? In many instances, I’ve heard of husbands shutting their wives up by saying “shut up, I paid your bride price!” (I have sonneted, memorized, and rehearsed my retort for the hapless man that dares to say this to me. No, seriously, I have). It’s a useless tradition that puts a bounty on women’s heads and vests a sense of ownership in men. In my opinion, if we are to maintain this tradition, it should be merely symbolic (1 Naira?) and not as exorbitantly monetary as it is in many cases.

I stumbled onto an app called BridePrice and, given my reservations about marriage in Nigeria, I was ready to be enraged. How dare they make an actual app for this archaic tradition that subjugates women and makes them chattel for men to trade and haggle over? By digitizing this tradition, they were basically telling us that this tradition isn’t going anywhere. I ventured onto the website with my latent anger boiling under, waiting to implode. I turned out to be a satirical simulation of the arbitrary calculations that go into deciding a bride price. Metrics such as the shape of a girl’s legs [Sexy Bow Legs (Beyonce)/Okocha/Straight]; facial beauty [Just Fine/Normal/Complete No Try]; Skin Color [Half Caste/Lupita/Whitenecious]; Residency [Nigeria/The Abroad]; Education Level [PhD/Masters/Bachelors]; Cooking Skills [Calabar/Indomie/Boiling Egg] are included.

It all seems like a joke until you look at the figures beside each option. Why should fairer skin come with a higher price premium over darker skin? Why should a PhD come with a 100,000 price deduction (which hearkens back to a culture that says a woman can be educated but not too educated, else she intimidate the man), why should a woman’s facial features being more Eurocentric attract a higher price valuation than more “Afrocentric” features? This app is telling of a culture that valorizes certain characteristics over others, and dictates to men and women alike what’s desirable in a wife and what’s not. It is indicative of a culture in which we tell girls that they can never be too domesticated, too light-skinned or too beautiful, but there is such a thing as being too educated. It is indicative of a society that tells girls that their prime achievement is tied to a shiny piece of jewelry on their ring finger and what they can toss around in a pan. It is indicative of a culture that tells boys that they are perfect just the way the are, but holds girls to impossible superficial ideals. Despite its flippant nature, this app highlights some of the wrongs in a very pervasive yet extremely normalized culture. It starts a conversation by simulating the superficiality that we, as a culture, are subjected to. One way or another, Nigerians are complicit in this ridiculous culture. This app is us, wether or not we choose to admit it.

ANYWAY, in case you were wondering what my bride price is, after consulting with the elders, it came up to *drum rolllllll*:

Image

That’s right, ladies, gentlemen, haters, lovers, friends, well-wishers and under-g bad-belles, I am of PREMIUM status in this bride price game. Nobody believed in me, but I made it! I am wife material, cord lace (whatever that is) to be precise! I should send this image to all those aunties that have secretly (and overtly) banished me to a life of spinsterhood. “Who is smiling now????”

Excuse me while I burst into some celebratory dance moves

#LookMamaIMadeIt #TeamPremium #AhNeverEsperredIt

 

 

Home (2)

I was going to hate Lagos, and I was going to be miserable. However, somewhere along the line, my hatred betrayed me. I found absolute joy in the little things around me- the luxury of my mum waking me up every morning and asking me “what do you want to eat?” (seriously, my house is a fattening room), the joy of having my not-so-baby brother gleefully recount his run-in with area boys (street thugs that harass people for money), the convenience of having a Mr. Biggs around the corner (their doughnuts are trash, but I can’t stop eating them. Blame nostalgia). I even started to find joy in the grossly grammatically incorrect Nigerian-isms such as “on the gen”, “have they brought light?”, “is Madam on seat?”, “let me flash you”, “reverse back”, “turn your hand! cut your hand!” etc.

Along with all of this came a feeling that I’ve never had in Lagos, or anywhere else for that matter- a feeling of being grounded, belonging to a place. The feeling of driving past Silverbird and remembering illicit meet-ups with childhood boyfriends I could swear I was going to get married to, or past a certain intersection where a popular movie star threatened to to “fuck up” my 11-year old friend because she flipped him off from the back of the school bus, or running into family members and old friends that told me long-repressed, embarrassing stories about my reckless childhood self. These people knew me, and they loved me for me. That feeling of having people who see right through your bullshit, through your determined efforts to re-brand yourself, who call you embarrassing pet names derived from your childhood indiscretions, people who love for who you were, who you are and who you’re going to be. With them, I could be the worst version of myself, or the best version. It really didn’t matter. All of this started to grow into a tolerance for Lagos. I could still hate the city, I said to myself, but I loved the people and they loved me back and that was all the home I needed.

However, somewhere along the line, I even started to love this city, every bit of it. There’s no city like Lagos in this world. Lagos has a particular character that makes it unique. Where else would you find someone frying and selling akara right outside a billionaire’s palatial mansion? Where else would you be able to buy breakfast, lunch, dinner, clothes for work, furniture for the house, and a puppy for the kids, all while sitting in traffic? Where else would you find a vulcanizer dutifully spreading tiny sharp objects on the road, so that unfortunate drivers can “need” his help? This is Lagos, which has managed to find the sweet spot between absolute chaos and sustained disorder. This is my city, and I love-hate it.

In fact, at the end of the three months, I got on a plane and felt homesick for the first time in over 5 years. I sat in my seat, and cried, longing for this city that has become my old-new home.

 

Home (1)

“Where we love is home- home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts”- Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

I have a love-hate relationship with Lagos.

Growing up, my relationship with Lagos wasn’t as polar as it now. I don’t know that I had any feelings towards the city at all; I tolerated in the way one tolerates that annoying never-married aunt that seems to have an endless supply of relationship advice. I had a healthy apathy towards Lagos- the power outages, the endless traffic, the pollution, and the default state of chaos all melded into a mass of indifference in my mind. It was my city, and I was stuck with it.

2009 was the first time that I left Lagos for an extended period of time. Upon my next return, my routinely practiced and mastered apathy was replaced by a temperamental impatience, followed by a burning intolerance that then flamed its way into a full-blown hatred for Lagos, for home. Everything was wrong with this place. The power went out for too long, and the resulting the power generators bellowed with a determined clamor that was almost too surreal to be real. The traffic raged on for hours, lulling to sleep whatever plans you had for the day. To make matters worse, everyone around me had changed. New traditions had been formed and new alliances had been made, none of which included me. If “home”, by definition, is meant to elicit a sense of place and a feeling of communion with people around you, then I definitely wasn’t home. I was surrounded by all these people that I could recognize but didn’t really know. I felt like a stranger in this new home, and that feeling was, at best, unsettling and, at worst, slightly depressing. It then seemed easier to channel my being lost into an exaggerated hatred. If I hated and denounced this city, it wouldn’t matter that I felt lost and that, secretly, I felt like Lagos itself had disowned me.

Given my official hatred for home, I avoided going to Lagos. I almost had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, the next time I was forced to go to Lagos. Who can forget the “hearty” welcome I received right from Murtala Muhammed Airport- the almost palpable humidity that hits you the second you step off the plane, encircles you and threatens to cut off your oxygen supply; the sole croaky fan by the corner, which is squarely positioned on the immigration officer who asks you ridiculous questions while you melt from the heat; and the carousel that doesn’t work so you literally have to fight, push and shove to get your luggage. It was like a holy triumvirate of fuckery saying “Welcome home!”

What’s worse? This time, I was stuck in this deplorable city for 3 months. THREE.

Loose Ends

The hardest breakups are with people you never really dated.

How do you move on from something that was never really there? How do you let go of something that you never really had? How do you conclude something that never really started?

I think what makes it so hard is the very nature of these non-relationships- the unspoken words, the tacit suggestions, and the non-binding promises. There is something intense about this extremely precarious state of likeness, lust “love”, or passion- being wrapped up in this thing you can’t explain with this person that’s yours but not really yours. So you convince yourself that this inexplicable thing—let’s call it a situationship—you have is enough, and that you’re ok with this nebulous bond, this grossly inconclusive arrangement that you’ve gotten yourself into. It’s enough, you say repeatedly. Until, one day, when it—this illusion, this meticulously constructed castle that you’ve built in the sky—all comes crashing down and you’re forced to go through the painful process of breaking up with this person that was never really yours.

Some call this process an “uncoupling” (thanks Gwyneth and Chris Martin), but how to do you carry out the said uncoupling if you were never really a couple? Uncoupling, I think, involves a dissolution of agreements, a voiding of pre-existing obligations, setting someone free from all the things they owed you and freeing them from the explicit or implicit promises they made you. In a conventional relationship, this might be straightforward; you have the ever-useful, albeit lame and painfully unimaginative, platitudes such as “it’s not you, it’s me” (by the way, if anyone ever says this to me, I’m just going to assume that it is, in fact, me), “I think you deserve better” (quite a lofty assumption; who are you to tell me what I do or do not deserve? Do I get any say in this?) or the more pithy “I can’t do this anymore.” But how do you say these things to someone that you were in a situationship with? How do you dissolve agreements that never really existed in the first place, or void obligations that you were never really owed? How do you set someone free when they were never really bound to you in the first place?

Given the complexities, it seems easy to assume that, just like the tacit agreement that defined the said situationship, there can be a tacit “uncoupling”. You convince yourself that you can break up with this person without really breaking up (after all, you were a couple without really being a couple). So you “move on”, maybe find a new love interest (formal, this time, given the stress of your previous “arrangement”). You’re happy, you tell yourself. It’s so much better to be with someone that’s legitimately yours, someone you can lay claim to, someone that’s obligated to you. With this person, you never have to wonder what you are or where you stand and the certainty that comes with this knowledge envelopes you in a warmth of security that seems impossible to trade for anything in the world. You’re happy, and you’re “home.” Or so you think. You ride this wave of happiness and security for a while until, one day, a strange feeling starts nudging at you, lightly at first, but slowly increasing with intensity. You ignore it; you’re happy, you tell yourself. But the feeling never really goes away, that feeling of longing for the words that you never said, the answers you never got, and the conclusions you never reached. You wish you could go back, you wish you could ask for answers, you wish you could tie up those loose ends that continue to gnaw at the current state of happiness that you’ve so dutifully built for yourself. But at this point, you’re stuck; you can’t go back and re-write the story. All you get are the shoulda-woulda-couldas to keep you warm at night.

So you wait, patiently, for the day you wake up and these loose ends are not there, staring you in the face and demanding for closure.

You…wait…