VIP TREATMENT, BANGER WARFARE AND HOW I LEFT THE VILLAGE
December 31st was the most fun I had on any village trip in my entire adulthood. Unfortunately we were once again awakened by the bloody village town crier who was going around at 5am with the gong reminding people about yet another church service. We also had to start the day by fetching water from the back yard well. Our GP tank had run dry. After all the early morning drama, we got all dressed up for church. Once again, although we tried, we could not avoid this one for two reasons. First my dad’s maternal uncle was doing a thanksgiving for his ‘Ezi-nna’ title and my dad’s brother’s wife was doing ‘itopu mkpe’ (ending her mourning period). So you see my friends, no amount of coy, sun, heat or dust could serve as an excuse for us not to be there. And to add to our grief, anything that involves my family is always the last on the list, I just don’t know why. We stood outside the entire time gisting and doing fashion parade like every one else. Gerda and Adanna were stuck with my parents, who have their own seat in church (if I had sat with them the other day, I may have gotten away with not covering my hair). It was hot as heck in there too. Immediately we were done with the obligatory thanksgivings, we went home to change and shifted to my dad’s uncle’s house in Umuduruehie, where there was enough food. This was a wonderful sight considering there was absolutely no food at home as my mother could not be in two places at a time. You know, this Christmas was somehow in our house oh. In the past we’d have food and drinks in excess and ‘out-the-wazoo’. You could go to the store and just grab whatever you want. Is it Star lager, Guinness small stout, odeku (Big Stout), Coke, Fanta, Gulder, malt, even palm wine. The best one you could find in the fridge this time around was UNILAG WATER. WTF!!!! We would kill chicken, goats and if we were lucky to have a good year, a cow would be shared amongst the different houses in our family. And my mother being the ‘Mother-T’ (a play on the words tea and Theresa, because she’s always serving ‘tea’ and serving food to everybody who comes, especially in the morning before she even eats) of the village, if any of the villagers were lucky enough to show up (we call it ukwu-oma or having the good leg) they’ll also get a portion of meat accompanied with rice and may be a tin or two of tomatoes so they can add that their holiday meal. But this year, hmh, the one tiny dwarf-goat that we found in the back yard awaiting slaughter ran away for 2 days and my dad didn’t even shout or over react. He was like, ‘Eh…well God must have rescued the goat, so go and buy mushrooms.’ Wow!!! But we found the goat later and made pepper-soup out of it. Back at my dad’s uncle’s party, we ate enough to last us the night and then we took Gerda and Adanna to ‘Okorosha’, the masquerade dance in the next village. This was the best ever.
In the past, going to Okorosha had never been fun for me. Since we ‘marauded’ in groups according to gender, my cousins, sisters and I always stood very far away and always near someone’s house so that we can run in if a masquerade jumped out. We always made sure we were not wearing trousers, and if we did in anticipation that we would have to run, we would tie wrapper over our pants or wear shorts under our skirt. Last time I visited, I was chased by the one called ‘Egwudo’, a rather wicked, scary and monstrous looking masquerade. I lost my brand-new nine west sunglasses that I bought for full price (Ok that’s no big deal since Dee broke her Roberto Cavalli goggles on Thursday). But this year it was very different. We drove to the Umu-okpara square unsure of what to expect. Me, Nene, Onyi, Gerda and Adanna got out and then the circus began. As sad as it is, Oyibo is good oh. I mean, can I walk around with a white person for the rest of my life? As we got out of the car, one unsightly masquerade spotted us and came over. At this point I would usually run away, especially since I was wearing trousers, but since I was with a white person, I had liver to form big girl and be confident, or were they going to flog me and the white woman. NEVER!! I told Gerda to ask before taking any pictures and did the translating for her. I found myself negotiating photo-ops with masquerades. That masquerade was lucky to get N200, but we got smart and went and got some N20 and N50 notes. We made our way towards the circle only to be greeted by one of the masters-of-ceremony who spoke to Gerda instead of us. He attempted to speak in what he thought was an American accent, ‘would like to have a seat?’ My eyes met with my sisters and the expression was ‘Are you serious?’ The man ushered us into the circle and seated us right in the front. Keep in mind there was no man with us, so this was a very big deal. The masquerades came up to us and danced in front of us and teased. They were not so scary any more. The masquerade that was supposed to be the flirty one kept on playing with us and wanting to collect our money without taking a picture with us. At some point one other MC came and started yelling at them to stop playing with us and taking pictures because we were women. But I had an agenda in mind. I was going to PUNK the masquerade that chased me. I am sure it was not the same dancer in costume, but whatever, I just wanted my picture. We could not get his attention or rather his guide was trying to pull a fast one on us by collecting our money first and asking for an exorbitant amount. I flashed a N500 but he refused to come, then I pulled out them N1000 bill and he seemed interested. I told him the only way he would get the money is if he posed with me for a picture. He obliged and that’s how Addy conquered Egwudo. After that I said a prayer and covered myself with the blood of Jesus because only God knows how many rituals they have to do before they come out on display. But thinking about it, all it took for me to get some bloody respect in my father’s land was to have a white-woman with me. It was fun but I could not help but analyze the conundrum of the situation. I guess until I start cruising town in some brand-new-tear-rubber SUV, build some duplex and starting dashing out mad cash, I’ll have to find a white-person-hand-bag. May be I’ll pick one up on one of my trips back to the States.
Later that night was the much anticipated ‘Ichu-Afo’, driving away the old year on New Year’s Eve. This is technically the part where fire works come in, but in our case it is noise to chase evil spirits. Ground Canons (egbe-ntu), double barrels, knock-out/banger, fire crackers even kids with sticks banging on empty tin-cans interrupt the musical orchestration that the crickets never fail to deliver every night. My sisters refused to go to the mission with me because they were tired, so I went with my cousins Adaobi and Chris. We bought N500 ($5) worth of banger; about 15 boxes with 10 sticks in each. We had to equip ourselves because New Year’s Eve at the mission is a war zone. We staked out one very dark corner and as people passed we’d throw the banger at them, watch them jump around and rave in Igbo, ‘Who is the ‘eeddiot’ that threw that banger? Thunder fire your head.’ Of course, we were dying of laughter and trying not to be loud. The madness however did not start till like 12.30. The new pastor at St. Andrew’s effed up on purpose I think, because usually church lets out at like 12.10. Anyways when everybody came out, it was crazy. Come and see hide-and-seek skills coming out. It was mischief at its best. I didn’t realize when my supply ran out. We headed towards home but my other cousins, some of whom were drunk decided to set a bon fire. They started singing Man-O-war songs like Obi Kerere Nke and some Tony-One-Week songs.
New Year’s Day, we had to go to church gain of course and show face in our ‘and-co’. New Year’s Day in our church is usually the biggest revenue collecting day so we were bound to be there a while. As I said earlier, since I was a kid this church has been collecting funds for a new building or one thing or the other but the window panels, the fans, ceiling and even the paint are more or less the original. They called my father to come and speak small grammar and open the floor for donation. My sister looked at me and was like ‘if this man should give out our flight ticket money in this place it would not be funny in that house.’ He spoke some grammar, being the ‘prof’ and then after a little bit he was like ‘kpana-kpana-kpana ** naira…and I would match the highest donation.’ WHAT? There were a bit too many zeros for my comfort and it ain’t like we are loaded in the sense to be giving out that chunk of money at a time. My sister was like, ‘you better go and tell your father to stop misbehaving.’ Other people came and gave their own. Then ‘Aunty Queen’, who for unexplainable reasons gets the gold medal for most liked, and I say that in sarcasm, opened the floor up for women with a few motivational women-empowerment words, ‘kpana-kpana-kpana ** naira’. Chris’s father came and dropped his own and the church went wild with standing ovation. OK, seems like business was good for some people in 2006. Then what did we hear next, a woman’s voice, ‘Praise the Lord…kpana-kpana-kpana ** naira to build the house of the Lord’. It was my mother.
‘Aw hell no...We are so freaking flying to Lagos, on first class if we can.’ I said as I looked at my equally flabbergasted sisters. I went to the window near where my dad was sitting.
‘Bros, I hope that is not our ticket money you are dashing out?’ tapping him on his shoulder.
‘C’mon gerrout my friend.’ He was obviously irritated by my question.
‘Is it me you are telling to gerrout? OK, it will do you like magic when you wake up tomorrow and don’t find me and your wallet.’ I had my own back up plan just incase plan A would no work.
We grumbled the entire drive back home and talked as if they were not there just to annoy them. I guess he didn’t think we were serious until we woke up at like 4am and started taking our bath and packing up our stuff. We went to him and he was like,
‘So what time does ABC first bus leave?’ He said when I went for collection and to greet him in the morning. I had to gather myself because it was too early for that sort of bad joke.
‘Err excuse me, I am going to the airport o and I need money for my ticket.’ My sisters quickly corrected me.
‘We…we need money for ticket.’ I had never seen reflexes in action like that.
My brother Chiwuike had laughed at us the night before when we’d told him how we were going.
‘Yeah right, you want to collect flight money from your father. Which father is that? You must have the wrong father in mind because it is not the same one that gave birth to us,’ he didn’t realize that we were very serious and had sworn that ‘levels go change in 2007’.
‘So how do you people say you are going?’ Chiwuike asked as we came out with our bags and headed for the car.
‘By air now’ I replied.
His eyes went wide and his face cracked in disbelief, ‘Ehn….Me nko? You did not collect for me? I see how you people are behaving in this house. Me that I have been here since begging and banging my head on the wall to collect and you, you just come from no where and you are collecting money to fly. Why? Because you are nnunu...pigeon....ehn? It's not your fault, Ada-Ugo (Eagle's daughter) or is it Egbe...hawk...answer now...which one…Nonsense!!!!’ By now he's rolling his eyes, demonstrating and ends with a very long, loud and deafening hiss. 'Psheeeewwww!!’
‘You didn’t say you were interested in flying.’ I had to laugh at his ‘half-joke-half-seriousness’. It was too late to include him or even go back to collect funds on his behalf.
We got to the airport and found that Aero Contractor had cancelled all its flights and Virgin was fully booked. Chanchangi was the only option but the 9.30 am and 1.30 pm were fully booked, according to the ticket agent. The 3pm flight was available but they would not start selling that until the other flights had taken off. The Harmattan haze, which is truly air-pollution and smog, was causing major flight delays that day. While we were waiting Dr. Alban, Sound Sultan and Nkiru Anumudu, all wide eyed and Gucci’ed out, rolled in. After a long wait, I decided to go and speak some grammar and phonetics at the airline office to get on a waiting list for the 3pm flight. But when in my conversation I purposely dropped one or two media giant names the agent miraculously found us seats on the flight that had been scheduled for 9.30am. Much to my surprise he turned down the token (not bribe) that I had given him for his ‘kindness’ because truly I just wanted to get on the waiting list for the 3pm flight.
The plane did not leave till 3.30pm and believe me when I say that was the scariest flight I have ever been on. I was nearly pissing in my pants. The roof of the plane was rattling the entire time. The image that kept coming in my head was the promo of ‘Snakes on a Plane.’ The engine sounded like the rickety motorcycles/ okada that ply the highways. It was not funny at all, however I was glad to be back in Lasgidi in a journey that took less than an hour. I could not take one more day in the East nor could I envision myself enduring the trip by road.
I came back and crashed till the next morning only waking in between when someone brought some suya. I woke up the next day, strong enough and well refreshed. That week I met Wild Child of Rhythm FM (He is truly wild) and my other favorite naija musician for 2006, African China. As I escorted folks to the airport, it dawned on me that I would not be going back to America for a while. Hmh… don’t know how I feel about that yet but I do know that if I was leaving there would not have been a dry eye at the airport. I am sure I would have cried all the way to California. Truly there is no place like home, even if it is not as comfortable as one wishes it to be. Right now I am trying to make some new friends to add to the old ones and of course settle into my new environment. I am already driving on the crazy Lagos roads and without a license if I may add. And is it just me or is MNET AFRICA MAGIC channel just not addictive. It is the Nollywood movie channel and once my remote lands on it I just can’t seem to get away.
COMING UP—PICTURES FROM THE TRIP(I HAVE TO GO TO COOL CAFE TO LOAD THEM UP, MY SERVICE CAN'T CARRY THEM) AND ADDY’S ENCOUNTER WITH AREA BOYS—YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS IT.