Home Away from Home with Abi Adeboyejo
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There are many issues on my mind these days, one of them being the gradually colder weather. Summer is gone now. We get ground frost in the mornings and hazy, cloudy and sometimes rainy afternoons. But it’s all good, because it heralds the approach of Christmas and all the festivities that go with it.
You wouldn’t have thought summer was over, though, considering the amount of Nigerian parties I’ve had to attend in the last few weeks. I usually have to drag myself to the venues and eat very conservatively as I am on a weight-loss regime. It is with superhuman strength that I summon up the courage to dance for about one hour non-stop. (I also believe that good music must never be wasted!)
So while not being a party animal, all my friends and family seem to be turning 40, 50 and 60 in the last quarter of the year. Weddings too are common, perhaps because reception and party venues are cheaper once the summer season is over. Also, tickets from Lagos to the UK and America are not so expensive so why not select a lace material with giant holes as ‘Aso Ebi’ and get everyone to wear it in Mid October, thus enhancing the very likely attack of Swine Flu and other oyinbo-related illnesses that spread rapidly in crowded places?
Having moaned about having to (reluctantly) party every weekend, there was one party I attended in Nottingham that brought tears to my eyes. It was a wedding, the couple were young and oh, so in love (I say ‘wait till the kids come’!) and it was a small do by Nigerian standards, just over 50 guests. The food was amazing and the ambience was lovely. I went with my best friend because the groom was her cousin.
It wasn’t just about how humble and lovely the couple looked. It wasn’t the fact that the bride had decided to use normal girlie make-up, rather than the masquerade/stage make-up that some poor brides have been conned into believing make them look wonderful (wonderfully-not!). It was not because the couple smiled at each other every minute and the groom kept on holding his bride’s hand, like she was going to disappear. What brought tears to my eyes was the story behind this young woman’s life.
She was born into a family of four children. Her mother left her father for another man. Her mother was of the school of thought that sending children abroad for their education was a status symbol (even if you couldn’t afford proper private education in the UK). So, mainly to impress her friends, her mother sent her to live with her aunty in London at the age of 10. Her aunty ran a Nigerian restaurant and this girl had to clean fresh fish for cooking every morning before going to school. No one could understand why she smelt of fish at school, so she had no friends. Her aunty met and married a Zimbabwean who didn’t want her in the house, since he had three children of his own. Her pleas to her mum to come and take her to Nigeria fell on deaf ears and she was passed from relative to friend till she finished secondary school. By then her mum had stopped communicating and had remarried. She was in essence, forgotten.
This beautiful girl worked all types of jobs: from toilet cleaning in the early hours of the morning to working in a Kebab shop until midnight. She studied hard and financed herself through college and university while living with a family friend, who also used her as a nanny/au-pair for her kids. When she met her fiancé and decided to get married, guess who showed up? Her mother! She declared that her wonderful daughter was going to do her proud by getting married in Nigeria, in a big, lavish ceremony.
The bride’s mother was livid when her daughter insisted on getting married in the UK. This girl refrained from having a fight with her mother, who decided after about 10 years’ absence to reintroduce her now-presentable daughter to her high-flying friends. Her father, who had only been in touch about five times in 10 years, sent her a hefty cheque towards the wedding. The girl returned the cheque. He sent a message saying he would fund a wedding in Nigeria if the wedding took place in Nigeria. However he could not come to the UK for the wedding because he had important business commitments. Her mother barely made the wedding, arriving the Friday night before the wedding.
When the bride made her speech at the reception, she thanked us all for attending and acknowledged her numerous aunties and friends who stood by her in difficult times. Her eyes welled up as she mentioned her parents, and her mother stood up and rushed to hug her. The bride turned away from her and hugged her husband instead. The slight to her mother was very obvious and very painful to watch. Anyone unaware of the bride’s history would have concluded that she was rude to her mother, but I secretly praised her for being so forgiving of her parents’ lack of care and disregard for her. I am not sure I would have even invited my parents to my wedding if I were in her shoes, especially if they had behaved as hers had.
There are more and more children, particularly girls, arriving in the UK with an aunty or cousin under the illusion that they will be sent to school and will eventually become eligible for British citizenship. Some parents think they are doing what is best for the children by providing them with a foreign education. Some parents’ motives are purely materialistic: they want to boast to friends that they have kids in schools abroad. The sad truth is that the kids are usually sent to the roughest schools in London in Hackney, Peckham and Stratford to mention a few. They end up going to school with children of drug dealers, rapists and prostitutes and learn to be hooligans themselves. They are also made to work as childminders for their relatives and hardly get any quality home life at all.
Surely, it is madness to take people out of reasonably good schools in Nigeria; some even remove kids from expensive private education, only to send them to underachieving schools in inner London. This is not to say that there are no great schools in London but majority of Nigerian kids living with relatives have a way of ending up in the rubbish schools.
The loving care and attention parents give their children when they are together can not be replaced or compensated by living abroad with nasty relatives. If you don’t want your blessings to be reaped by someone else, think carefully before making decisions concerning the future of your kids.
And while I reminisce about this memorable wedding party, I must remember to collect my head tie for the next party in two weeks. I don’t really want to go but at least I’ll get to wear my new shoes and bag!