On Being Nigerian and the Luxury of Hope

I’ll never forget the day Nigeria’s last military dictator, General Sani Abacha, died. Like many other Nigerians, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the news came. I was in the kitchen with my mum when she suddenly dashed out and ran into the street, dancing and shouting with our neighbors. I remember being confused as I looked on from our balcony, watching my usually poised mother dance and sing so hysterically at the news of someone’s death. At the end of that day, we had a dead dictator and a burnt pot of rice (which is a good enough trade, if you think about it). For many Nigerians, that was the end of a painful era that we thought would never end. Finally, we could believe that, indeed, things would get better. Regardless of how unfounded this belief was, we broke through our acceptance of the status quo, we reveled in this change and we collectively believed in something.

Now, 17 years later, Nigeria has given me my Abacha moment. Ironically, this moment has me celebrating a former military General becoming our new President. Nigerians headed to the polls on March 28 to vote for a new President. For many who voted, the choice was tough: a clueless incumbent with zero leadership skills or a former military dictator. However, this wasn’t the only choice we made that day. Nigerians also made a choice between a grudging acceptance of the status quo and hope. You see, hope is something we can seldom afford. We learn to cope with our government’s many failures: the inexistent power supply, the dismal education system, crippling corruption, the stolen girls, a spiraling Boko Haram (to mention but a few). Almost a year after about 200 girls are yet to return from captivity, we’ve learned to say a silent prayer for their return because it’s almost futile to hope in a government that bluntly refuses to be effectual. That’s what we do: we accept, we smile, and we pray through it all. “This is Nigeria”, after all, where the people’s will has historically been symbolic at best. So when elections come around, we wait for power to change hands so that we can go back to our usual business of jaded acceptance.

On March 28, this changed. Nigerians voted for hope, and we shocked not only ourselves but also the world. I never believed that “the people’s will” was something that would ever have any material manifestation in Nigeria. Many of us saw this day as a simple procedure; the incumbent would come back to power and we would accept and keep moving. I sat on my bed in America, thousands of miles from home, watching the election results being announced. I wasn’t the only one watching: millions of Nigerians stayed glued to their TVs for two days, watching and, for the first time in a long time, HOPING. My mother (and many others) crowned themselves election result collators, starting Excel sheets to tally the results and run analyses as they were being called. We tweeted, called and texted each other during announcement breaks as the numbers started to indicate a win for Buhari. Could this be happening? Were we about to unseat an incumbent and the ruling party since the democratic era? No, don’t get too excited yet; this is Nigeria, anything can happen. Let us wait until the final results come in. In the end, we did it. The people of Nigeria did what many, including us, believed to be impossible. Just like that day in 1998, I got to share this moment with my mother. She called me and shouted “It’s like a dream! This is like that day Abacha died!” before she broke into a song of victory. I stayed with her on the phone, stunned for the most part because I had just watched history happen from my bed in Durham, over 5000 miles away from home.

Throughout the nation, people are celebrating this moment and, just like when Abacha died, we are full of hope. Again, this hope might be unfounded but the fact remains that my people believe in something for the first time in as long as I can remember. The road ahead is long and brutal; Buhari and his government have a lot of work to do and we must remind ourselves that change doesn’t come in one day. However, in this moment of victory, I look at Nigerians and I have never been so proud to be part of these people who smile through the pain and get up every time we fall. Nigeria, I am proud of you and proud to be from you.

As my friend said, “the dictator of my mother’s youth is now the president of mine,” and I’m more than ok with that.

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PS: Speaking of mothers, mine just signed up for Instagram and leaves comments on my pictures with words like ” I am y2k compliant”. STRESS!

#SaiBuhari

That Time Jamie Oliver Made “Jollof Rice” #JollofGate

 

Yes, guys, it finally happened – they finally got their hands on Jollof rice!

Some context for those who don’t know what Jollof rice is: Jollof rice is one of the 7 wonders of Africa. The list goes: Nelson Mandela, Cape Town, Jollof Rice, Senegalese Twists, Lupita Nyong’o, Shea Butter, and P Square. People might disagree with this list (feel free to add your own list in the comments section. Don’t curtly state your disagreement and move on, ok? Don’t be rude), but the point is that Jollof rice is a BIG deal.(Horrible) songs have been written about Jollof rice. Case in point: this god-awful song by Fuse ODG:

 

Jollof rice has even caused  a diplomatic tension/Cold War of sorts between Nigeria and Ghana over who actually owns this dish (it actually originated in Senegal, but I’m sleep).

 

In Nigeria, Jollof rice is sacred. It is not just the holy grail, it is also the way the truth and the life. Jollof rice is who we are, it is woven into our social tapestry; if a Nigerian invites you to a social gathering and doesn’t serve Jollof rice, he/she hates you and might have sociopathic tendencies (Listen, I don’t make the rules).  You might find this canonization of RICE to be weird. You might sit there and smugly say “is it not JUST rice?” Well, no, it isn’t. It isn’t just rice, you blasphemer; it is JOLLOF rice!

Now that I’ve given you some context, you can then understand why my Twitter timeline went into an apocalyptic uproar this past week, when Jamie Oliver (yes, THE Jamie Oliver) posted his Jollof rice recipe.

You see, Jollof rice is meant to look like this:

Source: Lohi's Creations
Not exactly sure why this heap of Jollof rice is capped with a  plantain hashtag. People hashtag everything. EVEN rice. Smh.

Jollof rice is supposed to be reassuring in its plainness. You should see a plate of Jollof rice, sitting in its sunset-orange glory, and immediately know what you’re looking at. This is the essence of Jollof rice – its predictability and lack of complication.

However, this is Jamie Oliver’s version of Jollof rice:

I don’t even know where to begin. This, whatever this is, is a sensory overload

Nigerians/Ghanaians were furious!

It all started in the comments section:

Like, this person brought in their ancestors. He/She went THERE. You can see that this is not a joke
Like, this person brought up their ancestors. He/She went THERE. You can see that this is not a joke
This is an actual threat. I told you jollof rice is a diety.
This is an actual threat. I told you Jollof rice is a deity
Priorities
Priorities
Even Namibia weighed in. It was a continental emergency.
Even Namibia weighed in. It was a continental emergency

 

Someone even claimed that Jamie had Iggy Azalea-ed Jollof rice. Yes, it got that tense. Gloves came off.

It was deep, guys. We almost called in Iyanla Vanzant to bully-yell everybody into tranquility. There was basically a Twitter village square meeting, and the Nigerians and Ghanaians were not having it. And for good reason. How can you gentrify Jollof rice to the extent that it starts looking like paella? Sacrilege! We can share our children (Hi Brangelina, Madonna, or whichever latest Hollywood star just ordered their very own collectible in the form of an African child), our animals (for your life-changing, perspective-moulding Safaris), and our head-ties that you re-fashion into “urban head wraps”, but we will not share our Jollof rice *bangs gavel*

On a more serious note, I really don’t know how I feel about this issue. Some people claim that this is a clear case of appropriation, but I don’t know that I would make such an extreme claim. I mean, the guy didn’t claim to make Jollof rice, he openly admitted to adding his own twist on the recipe.

My main issue with this entire situation is that Jamie Oliver (or whoever wrote this) described Jollof rice as a “concept”—of ALL the bland nouns in the English vocabulary, you came up with “concept”? I mean, really???—, as though it is an abstraction that we believe in but can’t see. Excuse you, Jollof rice is as real as it gets! How would you feel if I described Thanksgiving turkey as a “concept”? Perplexed? Slightly insulted? Exactly, thought so.

 

 

 

Image Sources: Lohi’s Creations, Jamie Oliver, The Guardian

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