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Boarding House Memories, Blue House Hostel A

We stand in a line just outside the entrance of Blue house. My heart is doing the thump-thump thing again. I had heard many stories about boarding house, some good, some downright scary. So far I have had two experiences of boarding school, the first did not count as it was when I was transported into the fictitious world of Enid Blyton while reading The Twins at St Claire’s series. Secretly I hoped my boarding house experience would be like theirs, never mind that I will not be brushing my hair at night till it shone or forming pigtails with it. Never mind too that I would not be needing a winter coat- ever. My 2nd boarding house experience was when I attended the school’s entrance interview. Candidates were required to stay for 3 nights in the hostel and have a taste of life without their parents. It was on that trip I met Funmi. I lay  on my side, back toward the bed where these giggling girls lay and tried to fathom what made them so happy. They were laughing? I was very homesick and every time I thought of home, which was pretty much every time, I burst into tears. I remember Funmi and her friends calling out to me to come play with them. They probably assumed I was tired since I didn’t respond. In actual fact I was crying. My brother who was a year ahead of me in another boarding school had warned me this would happen. “Toks you will cry“. “Absolutely not!” I retorted. I was certain I was such a big girl yearning for her independence that I would be doing cartwheels instead.

Back to the line. We are all dressed in exactly the same blue check  uniform. There is a general buzz of excitement in the air as people like seniors Ayo and Ronke busy themselves, walking hand in hand in twos or threes- they are the confident, very excited ones. I am to later learn that they are in the second year, seniors for the first time. New words fill my ears like kerosene lanterns, dining hall, morning piece of work, prep time and siesta. I struggle to figure out the meaning of siesta, I don’t want to come across as being too naive. I hear these seniors can take advantage of you in a heartbeat.

The soft spoken woman at the front of the door is calling out names and assigning the students to their hostels. I listen very carefully as I don’t want any attention drawn to me, you know the kind that results from everyone looking around as she calls the name a second time, wondering who Tokunbo is. I hear my name and hear hostel A. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not, but I squeeze past the girls, most of them bigger than me and make my way to the hostel that would become my home for the next five years. I am scared, I am excited and I’m uncertain. I miss my mum and dad. I miss my brothers and our dogs and cat. I miss Benin and I want to go back. There is something comforting about Mrs Udehin. She continues to call out names and I quickly realise that she is the first likeness I have seen of my mummy. She is very soft spoken so she must be kind, like mummy. The tears well up again behind my big eyes and I force them back down. I am becoming quite good at doing that. The method I use is to think of all the times mummy and daddy smacked me when I was sure I didn’t deserve it. That brings up sufficient anger to force back the tears. It isn’t a fail-safe method, but it’ll do for now.

In the hostel I find out that my wardrobe partner is a senior called Senior Shade. She is a  real mother figure, a bit plump which makes her huggable. But I don’t hug her, I don’t know what the rules are and I don’t want to start by breaking them. She tells me to arrange me provisions (another new term) on the left side of the single shelf wardrobe and her’s will be on the right. She explains that we put non-consumables like the kerosene lamps, buckets and soap at the bottom and the rest on the top. I love to arrange things, one of my favourite games at home was to arrange mummy’s dressing table. I would start with the tall perfumes and nail varnish removers; “You stay at the back” I’ll tell them. My role was a photographer arranging people for a group picture. The tears well up again and I force them back. The thought of being independent, grown up gives me good goose bumps and I smile.

“Hurry up, it will soon be time for dinner.”. Senior Shade reminds me of aunty Titi, she has a sing-song accent like that and I find myself warming up to her even more. I wonder what dinner would be. As if she can read my thoughts, she continues; “Friday night is Rice and Fish Stew, you don’t want to miss that”. Now we have a problem. I don’t like fish, I wonder if they’ll give me beef? Of course I don’t say that out loud, but I really hope they will. Oke and Folukemi stop by to inspect my “corner” This is nice they say; “let’s go we don’t want to be late.” All this clamouring for fish is doing my head in, what is wrong with these people? Oke and Folukemi were some of my first friends along with Mubo, Ijeoma, Ifeayinwa, and Funmi, who really talks a lot! I also become friends with Folake, Kehinde, Ashenedu, Aisha and a host of wonderful girls I will never forget.

Mummy had warned me to be careful as “They steal in boarding house”, hence the three padlocks she armed me with. So I clutch my cutlery, plate and cup and go to the dining hall with my friends. Another long line. This time there are boys there too. A man who is clearly an adult in uniform is calling out our names and assigning us to tables. There are about 13-19 people on each table and a head is elected to bring order to the table. The food is brought in in the largest metal bowls I have ever seen. Someone gets up to serve the rice, our plates are pushed to the front of the table. Mine is a large shiny metal one which I don’t like.  I see some of the plates I become quite satisfied with it. I try to tell the server not to give me any stew or fish for that matter, my attempted request is met with a threatening glance by the table head, so I withdraw my raised hand. The dining hall is huge and very noisy. I nearly jump out of my skin when someone hits the table 3 times, very loudly; these people know the drill for there is a sudden hush. The man prays out loud, “For what we are about to receive, we thank thee oh Lord” The “Amen” is swallowed up as spoonfuls of rice are shoved into hungry mouths…

The senior girls do not like to take their own dirty plates back to the hostel. In fact a lot of them act as though food, plates and dining hall are terms that should not be associated with their names. So we juniors have the sad misfortune of becoming plate carriers, along with other titles like shoe polishers, laundry girl, slave. This does not happen tonight,  it is saved for later in the week.

Back at the hostel I envisage my friends and I sitting on one of our beds and chatting quietly into the night. That of course remains a fantasy, instead I spend my time with my friends, going to other hostels. We are told night prep has been cancelled so people can unpack. From time to time someone will make an announcement, “Blue house girls! The person that stole my socks should return it or else there will be trouble!” I find it fascinating and long to be able to make a bold, public announcement like that. I don’t have to wait too long as my cup disappears by the next morning.

“Blue house girls return my cup!” I shout with pride as I stroll down the middle of the hostel.

“Ehn???!!”  Someone pulls me by my collar, “what did you just say?”

“I-I….someone took my cup” I manage to splutter.

Ohhhh! You are only a junior. You have no right to make an announcement like this. You can only say it to form one girls, understood?”

Then a bell goes, people start to move quickly. Someone counts very loudly but slowly to 10, the girls now start to run. It is almost chaotic as we scramble for our beds. I make it on time, the lights go out and she shouts “Lights out!!”

I cover my head with my blue blanket and give those tears free rein.

Thank you for reading, more to come 😀

Rumours & Urban Legends

Back in the DayRumours Album Sleeve

Nigerians are the world leaders when it comes to spreading rumours. Here are a few I recall;

The Sound of Music

That Gretel, the little girl died during the making of sound of Music 2. They were all jumping from the plane with parachutes and her’s failed to open.  Gretel is alive and well, living  in LA and is resuming her acting career after a long break studying. Plus there was no Sound of Music 2. Maybe it got cancelled after she died?

Bonney M

That the man was married to the lead singer, the one with braids was his sister and the fourth one was really a man who performed a sex-change operation to become a woman.

Heavy D

That he jumped from the 2nd floor of a building, and he died. Heavy D has since gone on to release more albums and is still recording. When Heavy D released his non-posthumous album, a follow up rumour said he realised his enemies thought he died so his new album had a rap on it that said “no, I’m alive”. We got our own thang!!!

Yar Adua

That the Nigerian president was dead.

Mariam Babangida

Now dead for what seems to be the second time in the space of weeks.

Bush Baby

I fell for this one hook, line and sinker. Boarding school. 1983 to 1988. Aparently a midget with a rolled up mat and a kerosene lantern walking around. If you could get a hold of that mat you’ll be wealthy for the rest of your life, but you could get killed or transformed into one of them in the process. I feared for my life during night prep, refusing to sit near the window. And it was no small commotion if someone got up too noisily from their seat as it was taken as a sign that a bush baby had been spotted. Time to flee.

Bongos Ikwe

That he had an affair with former president Bababgida’s wife- Mariam, they had a son and the song Marianna was really about her. Said son mysteriously died during her reign as first lady.

Ola Ray, Thriller

That she was Nigerian, her real name is Olanrewaju and she dated Michael Jackson. Didn’t she have a secret child for him as well?

Evelyn King

Also Nigerian, can’t you see her lips?

Rafael Cameron

That he was Nigerian, his real name is Rafiu Kamoru. The music video we loved so much was shot in Port Harcourt.

Lawrence Anini

Our very own infamous superhero. That he would drop a naira note, do a spin and pick it up again all while driving at 200mph. Lawrence Anini was feared as the most notorious armed robber in Benin. Then there was Shina Rambo.

That Nigerians are the happiest, most generous and most vibrant group of people you’ll ever meet. Actually, that’s no rumour, lol!

I know there are more but I can’t recall…Thanks for stopping by!

The Lady, Du Pain & The Perfect French Manicure

So there I sat on the Eurostar excited about my very short break away from normal life. The last time I was in Paris was on my first wedding anniversary. Hubby and I were so shocked and disappointed that everything was actually in French. The knowledge that they are French people did nothing to soothe us as we listened to the 60th re-run of CNN in our hotel room- the only TV channel in English. It annoyed us to see blockbuster Hollywood movies voiced-over in French. How dare they? Eventually common sense reigned and we agreed to enjoy our holiday so we did. Lots of french bread (du pain), ham and cheese, but we did.

Fast forward 12 years and I wasn’t too keen on the sights, I just wanted to see my friend whom I hadn’t seen in 2 years and enjoy my VERY MUCH needed break. Alone. Deciding I would need a dictionary, I wondered why Costa Coffee didn’t sell them, it was the only shop without a queue. I ignored the fact that the French customs sign at St Pancras Station in London was written in French first and then English. I even pretended not to notice that the announcements in the train were in French and then translated into French-English. What I could not deal with was the newsagents who had a section for foreign publications, aka English. That was way too much to bear. All was forgotten though when I checked into my hotel, kindly assisted by Ganiyu, the cheerful Nigerian who spoke Yoruba (yo-hu-ba) with a French accent.

I had asked for a single bed- when they said single bed, it meant single-side-of-your body only. But it was my room and mine alone. It was blissful, clean and smelt nice. All TV channels were in French without the luxury of CNN this time. But it was fine. I had an attitude as I went for a walk to the market and in search of MacDonalds, wondering why I felt so superior to the French that I was unprepared to sample their cuisine. For some reason I didn’t even try to speak the language, I couldn’t be bothered and had a strange feeling they should concede to me. I guess it was my irritation at the bewildered look on their faces when I asked where the nearest MacDonalds was. It’s no wonder they are not fond of the Brits. Or the Americans.
At the nail bar the entire pricelist was in French. Surely a French Mani/Pedicure cannot be that pricey, they are the originators. Wrong! these folks charged me 67 Euros! That’s $95 dollars y’all. When she told me the price I quietly prayed she meant 16 Euros. My prayer was ansered, answer- “No, it is 67 Euros!” The mani/pedicure was PERFECT.

On my way back to the hotel I decided against listening to music so I could soak in the sounds, scenes and culture of Paris. I enjoyed doing so. It felt surreal that I was in another country, surrounded by strangers yet was so peaceful and filled with joy. I thought it’d be nice to have some French food for dinner after deciding there may be French word for Chinese which I didn’t know. On my way to the French restaurant, the smell of something familiar wafted up my nostrils. Minutes later I was in the hotel room, watching a movie on my phone and eating the best kebabs ever, served by the friendliest Turkish guys… oh well, French cuisine will have to wait!
And then Shade and I met up, but that’s another story 🙂

What turning 30 did for me…

That was 6 short years ago, the effects of which I still enjoy today. My chat with dear friend F (happy 30th!) brought this to the forefront of my mind. I have always loved the end of the year. Mum used to get my brothers and I together to pray into the new year. At the time dad was a socialist- referred to in a newspaper article I read as a child as the marxist, military doctor. So church was out of the question for him, he found it funny when on mum’s insistence we’d invite him to church 3 times a year- easter, christmas and new year’s eve. Anyway mum’s annual new year’s eve prayer amongst many others would be “Lord God, please let 1986 (or whatever year we were in) go with all its bad luck. Let all the bad things that happened this year NEVA, NEVA repeat itself again, AMEN!!!” Amidst the new year’s festivities, riding our bikes, climbing trees etc, she’d shout at us if we were being over exhuberant or naughty and say “IN THE NEW YEAR??? You’re already being naughty??” So the start of the year has always held a major significance for me. I have always seen it as a clean new slate, old things have passed away, all things have become new and don’t stain the new with old, bad habits.

When I turned 30, the same held true for me. I’m an April girl so it was a 2nd opportunity for a new start. I decided to take stock of my life. I’m an adult now, I told myself even though I’d been for all of 9 years- 7 in my parents eyes as I became an adult only when I got married. I looked back at my life and noted the things I loved about me, from my handwriting through my hair to my personality. My handwriting isn’t all that by the way but it is mine- it’s always been with me and I love it! I love my life. I love my friends, I love my family. I absolutely love my childhood and every memory I have. I of course noted the things I wasn’t so fond of. There were a few of them. I tend to procrastinate. I am not confrontational. In fact when I turned 30 I realised I could be quite a pushover- not very attractive. So I made a decision to turn things around. I started saying “no”. Like being in church and the pastor tells you to “write this down” or “underline that scripture”. Half the time I don’t want to because I want to underline what speaks to ME at the time I read it in my quiet time, also I hardly ever go back to read the notes I’ve taken. Then I end up with a stack of notebooks cluttering my bedroom, and feeling guilty if I attempt to throw them away. God showed me that I was free. Free to make my own decisions based on the wisdom He gave me and not based on the opinions of man- not even a man of the cloth.
I have always been an avid reader but at 30 I started to read with purpose. I read books that will bless me and not simply to have another gist for my girlfriends at our next buzz session.

At 36 I still say “no”. I say it gently but firmly. I make decisions based on how it blesses me and mine and the persons involved, not simply to fulfil the status-quo. I get tested everyday. At the hairdresser’s 2 days ago I fought the urge to hold a conversation with my stylist when all I really wanted to do was catch up on my reading. It still feels akward sometimes, the need to make conversations that end up being peppered with pregnant pauses.

I pray I don’t stop being the sweet girl I was while growing up. Cynicism sometimes tries to usurp that sweetness but I have Christ in me.

Dear Lord, I thank you for creating me, just as I am. I love the work you are currently doing in me, making me more like you daily. And Lord I pray where I have lost that gentleness as a result of life simply happening, replace it with your fragrant presence. Lord I also pray that my life will immensely bless all those I come into contact with, in Jesus name Amen

Thanks as always for reading!

Naija Flava

Yesterday found me at Heathrow Airport Terminal 2. Dear sis in law and nephew where returning home after a wonderful holiday with us. There was no time to be sad at their departure as much of my time was spent being extra careful not to bump anyone with my runaway trolley. I’m never quite ready to have a barrage of Yoruba rained on me.
We had four very, very large suitcases as we are sworn patriots. As we approached the lift, this man promptly grabbed my little nephew and lifted him up. Words were not needed. He didn’t need permission to help as we struggled with the trolleys, known to have a mind of their own. He didn’t need to ask where we were going, we know ourselves. This man didn’t say much as he led the way to the Bellview check in desk. Truthfully, I really wanted to stay there just to remain in sync but sis was flying with Arik Air so we broke the connection. But it felt nice. It felt nice when I profusely thanked him and he brushed me aside like, there’s no need for thanks, this is how we do. I felt like a floater when I identified thoughts of concern that he might make off with our child. But the native in me was stronger and I “just knew”
I remember feeling like a floater when I went home in April. The general accent of a lot of our people have evolved into a cross between Naija, Yankee and Jand. Everyone has a mobile phone. I didn’t hear a single western artist rapping or singing, it was all homegrown folk. I can’t get the picture of Uche the driver dancing relentlessly to ‘you’re the finest’ out of my mind.  See more from my April ’09 trip here.

Hello Good People!

Welcome to my first post. I am so excited to put my thoughts out as there’s plenty to say about me! I am a born again christian woman, in my 30s, happily married with some really adorable children. I wouldn’t do much of an introduction as I hope you’ll come back again and again to get a glimpse into my wonderful world!