Sunday 27 August 2006

I take this opportunity

The nuisance of association

I have for years shunned gatherings of Nigerians for any kind of activity. The one I joined recently which pertains to my membership of the Nigerian chapter of students on my Masters course more or less ended up looking like subscribing to a SPAM generator and as if that was not bad enough, one email inadvertently sent to all included a squabble that was far from edifying to all concerned.

I was of the good mind of withdrawing from that chapter, however, the moderator prevailed on me to accommodate a few of those nuisances as part of what is Nigerian rather than protesting from a too Westernised perspective.

From buyer to guest

So, the proprietor of the African foodstuffs and goods store at the entrance to the Central Station Metro platforms in Amsterdam passed me an invitation to her 50th birthday celebrations which I gladly accepted.

We continually have all this idle banter about all sorts of events and issues that leaves us all with belly laughs that could leave some in tears too. When she said she was looking youthful, I asked for the secret and if it was on sale; exceedingly nice lady.

Hail Mary or Bloody Mary

The Africa House was to be the venue of the event which would have started with a Roman Catholic Service at noon, but since I was already going to my church, it meant I missed having to mouth my Hail Mary’s which might lead to the Mother of God streaming tears down from the eyes of a statue somewhere on the premises – Our Lady of Africa House might leave some thinking the shrine was animist rather than Roman Catholic.

Anyway, as I got there, it was obvious that we had gathered for a big party, most of the women in traditional wear with skyscraper headgear and antennas pointing in all directions.

Scruffy dressers in esteemed company

Many of the men were in jackets or suits, but the sloppy dressers with all buttons done up really irritate the dormant snob in me, I still cannot believe any well brought up person would do up all the buttons on their suits or jackets.

If one were to quote Sir Hardy Amies – one time dressmaker for the Queen, one would say, “How scruffy you look today, dear boy”. I do remember him saying you could not trust a man who did up all his buttons; somehow, subconsciously one takes a dim view of such appearances, if their conversation could ever result in anything better than piffle.

The look the problem

On the woman, I could not help but notice the ones who probably in the Igbo tradition had been fattened for marriage that they had a rolling or maybe revolving gait visible from behind, if that was not arresting enough, some definite accentuated the gyration, it was so deliberate they would be needing a hip replacement not too soon.

The men approaching middle age who had their hair shorn all seemed to have these double folds of flesh at the back of their heads, in fact, I did remember my father has those folds, they were substantially muscular and felt like Achilles tendons only that they were at the back of the head.

It had me feeling the back of my head towards the neck for signs and the silent prayer that if it is avoidable, then I do not want that additional feature as part of my pose in a silhouette.

Ceremony or cacophony

There was a programme distributed and the MC arrived a bit late, but as things got going, 30 minutes of getting people to the high table must be a record, because it Nigeria, it takes a lot longer with speeches from everyone that is anyone.

Every introduction started with, “I take this opportunity to invite …” from chiefs to untitled proletariats, space was found to be occupied by the honoured and privileged.

The celebrant all dressed up beautifully and flamboyantly made an entrance; a group of ladies all bedecked in the same attire waving white handkerchiefs surrounded her signing songs and dancing.

Then later the children of the celebrant presented her with flowers to the music of Prince Nico Mbarga of Sweet Mother fame, then I noticed money being sprayed – flinging, throwing, flooding or pasting of currency – on the celebrant.

Dollars trump the Euro

Ah! The Euro does not lend itself to this kind of hedonistic aggrandisement that characterises Nigerian parties, European notaphily begins with the 5 Euro note, and so, it was dollars (one dollar notes) which by the time I left had been gathered to fill a decent sized bin bag.

This, apart from the brisk business of money changers that could fill you with Jesus rage, only that one cannot go upturning the high table.

Food and drinks flowed along with situations where certain favoured guests end up with unopened bottles of wine to take home and I did attain favoured status in company.

The Master Chatterbox

The MC however never really got to excite or control the crowd, be it for getting up for prayer, or getting people to respond to chants of Praise the Lord or Igbo Kwenu, but I definitely did give apploss (sic) when it was asked for.

I never got to meet the celebrant but I got her daughter to deliver my card and present after attending for 3 hours in what looked like it would go on late into the night. Interesting event and strange practices, I think I have become a lot less Nigerian than I thought I was.

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