Tuesday, 23 October 2007

The Nigerian restaurant kaleidoscope - Part 2

Inviting others to ours

Many a time in conversation we mention the fact that we are off to an African restaurant and the curiosity of our Caucasian friends is kindled, they also want to visit. Continued from Part 1 .

We know the differences between local eateries and the ones that offer our African fare, many need to be polish up their act quite seriously, the vision of many of these proprietors is too narrowly focused when there is a greater clientele that wants an authentic taste of Africa.

Weeks ago, I went to Ghanaian restaurant in The Hague and there were quite a few locals lapping up the spicy meals, we once took one of our lady colleagues to the African Kitchen and she seemed better adapted to the spices than we were.

Besides, there are many Nigerian “restaurants” in Amsterdam South-East, a majority however are unlicensed illegal premises, so are in fact homes making a bit on the side.

Whilst the food is good, they constitute a public health risk if things go wrong, there is a regimen of training and application necessary to open a premises for the purposes of selling food, however, there is almost no difference with illegal hackney trade; they are convenient but not without unquantifiable risk.

Restaurants that do go above the bar to become licensed should do that little bit extra to become respectable and open to a wider demographic than the African Diaspora.

Preparing for them

These were issues that became part of a discussion when an “Alhaja” joined us after our meal; restaurants should have menus with standard prices, none of the Nigerian ones I have been to in the Netherlands or Belgium have ever produced one.

When drinks are served, one should not have to ask for glasses; the waiting staff should be professional and responsive to the clientele; the use of microwave ovens should better managed for heating and service – the number of times I have literally been scalded touching food, countless.

After the meal, provide a professional looking bill and make provision for other means of payment beyond money.

A worrisome mindset

Alhaja would have none of this kind of gearing up for greater things as she said we Africans hate to expose our intentions in business, rather we indicate we are an off-license and then indulge in activities beyond the remit of that license.

Bayo felt that was improper, we should clearly state what we are up to and legalise all those activities to become legitimate law-abiding business concerns.

The conversation drifted as we got to talk about bringing up kids and the way that parents in Nigeria are happier that they kids cannot speak Yoruba and are word-perfect in English, however, the idea that Yoruba was becoming just a functional category of differentiation rather than an embodiment of culture that stretches back for centuries could not be enhanced in the company of others.

The matter of the inordinate pursuit of wealth at the expense of honesty, trust, moral values, integrity and principle was a no-brainer, we were informed people, most especially relations would sneer if we offered advice without backing that up with money; in other words, you talk with money or shut up.

Bayo is dogged and determined, I had settled into the role of listener/observer and benign chronicler when he suggested ideas of tenant initiatives – like if an apartment block where the landlord was not resident needed emergency repairs, the tenants should band together and sort it out.

Altruistically, the landlord might be enamoured by those acts and be generous in tenement rates, but the mindset we were challenging indicated tenants might be cursed for repairing their rented homes when they should be building theirs, the landlord might also see it as an opportunity to raise rates and so on.

Prayers heard or prayers lost

Later in the conversation, I opined that with all the prayers, fasting, candles lit, prophecies cited and pilgrimages made, Nigeria should really be better than the state it is in, I was slammed down with the thought that the prayers have probably prevented a worse situation.

Many of the points we raised were interjected with that is the way we were brought up; it is something about us blacks and the way God made us; that was topped with it is in our blood. There is an aversion to change, we repeat the things our parents did wrong, badly or ill-advisedly; rather than change to what is the right thing to do, it is a vicious circle glibly called tradition when it is not anything like our core traditions.

At which point I felt I was not going to win any objective analysis of the facts and situation, when people begin to think that their situation is hereditary, genetic or destined without recourse, they are unpersuadable.

It would not have been long before we were accused of thinking like white men, as if it is the exclusive preserve of the white man to be objective and by the time she had said we are not familiar with these black areas, I was too shocked the only reflex available was to laugh.

Supporting the doctor

Here I was only a few days ago challenging the premise that intellectually blacks are inferior to whites genetically only to be met with people who have never thought different, a ready demographic for Dr. Watson’s gene science .

This is the problem, people, sometimes quite well educated, who arrive in the West but congregate in insular ethnic minority communities creating poor imitations of their indigenous cities – these become ghettos harbouring inner-city problems where children are brought up without cultural identity or an appreciation of the customs of their forebears or their host societies.

Alhaja for instance has probably never travelled up into Amsterdam to see anything, she is happy with her hustling in the "ghetto" of Amsterdam South-East where she believes qualifies her as a business-woman.

Black inferiority complex

When she capped it with the statement that in Africa we grew up in dirty and unsanitary conditions that what we have now is a greater advancement that does not need to be improved upon or tweaked for the better, I realised that 6 years on, these people have found a way to survive but are in a new kind of slavery – black inferiority complex.

This enslavement prevents many from seeking opportunities in formal or business settings; the self-defeatist complex makes every disappointment a racism issue when it is not. It also means that they are not exposed to everyday middle class indigenes, if at all they only know the customs and police for the wrong reasons.

As we finished our meal, I asked for the bill and once again, I offered a tip and the cashier thought I had paid too much - they probably never get appreciation in tips, maybe a mindset that fails to develop the concept of service and a clientele unable to commend quality, ambience and the self-same service.

I am really sorry that nothing has changed, all that seemed so different was really the same, but the question lingers, is this the Nigerian mindset and if it is not, where did they get this from?

It is in our blood is not the answer I am looking for.

Bayo and I are still working on the cadaver and the post-mortem examination would take a while.

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