If you’ve been spending a bit of time with Nigerians, you’ll probably have noticed some faint changes. For example, you now can decode subtle cultural references like “Fanta face, Coca-Cola hands.” You know what’s meant when people ask for folding or enveloped gifts. You can fathom at least the surface meaning of “Diaris God o” (although its deeper metaphysical interpretation might leave you perplexed).
But there might be some other things that have crept up on you unobserved.
- For example, you now have many, many more Aunties and Uncles than you ever thought possible. You’re not quite sure how they’re related to you but, if you’re lucky and appropriately reverent, they’ll smile indulgently at you at family gatherings.
- London airports are now like a second home. You go more often than the nerdiest plane-spotter. Even a stopover by Auntie or Uncle merits a visit. And only the most wayward, ungrateful son would expect any distant relation to brave the public transport system. Besides, you need to be there to hand over the aforementioned enveloped gift.
- Has your wardrobe filled with a whole new set of smart clothes? Your tattered jeans and T-shirt might be perfectly all right for your relations but not for your new-found Nigerian Aunties and Uncles. Not since your first attempt to visit in your Sunday casuals was met with a steely gaze and the tight-lipped question: “Are you actually going out like that?”
- Which is just as well, because you can wear them to the many, many weddings that you are now attending. You know, of course, that the purpose of your attendance at the wedding is not to meet other guests, talk to people; nor, even, to celebrate the happy couple’s special day (you hardly know them after all). No, you are there for one reason only: to criticise the food. But you also know that letting slip that you preferred the food at the Ghanaian party you all went to last week would be an unpardonable affront to an entire nation’s pride.
- Your attitude to your phone has changed. A ringing phone has a tone more plaintive, more insistent, more imperative than a newborn baby. The world stops for a ringing phone: eating, going to the loo, sex. Probably even open-heart surgery (either patient or surgeon’s phone). A failure to answer will be punished with an accusatory message, “I rang but you didn’t pick up”. Really, you don’t want to be in that situation. Especially if it was Aunty or Uncle calling.
- You are now used to being handed a phone randomly so that you can “greet” the attendees at some distant party across the globe. You will circulate virtually round the gathering as an honoured absent guest yourself. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never met the people at the other end or have no idea who they are. Similarly you know that a simple “Hello Aunty” will do – no need to make any conversation. Indeed, that would be strange – almost creepy – a bit like holding someone’s handshake for slightly too long. Besides do you know how much this call is costing someone?
- You are no longer surprised when Aunty or Uncle comes to stay and announces that she/he is staying for a month. Truth be told, you’re secretly offended that it’s only a month – after all, what exactly is wrong with your hospitality? This is in spite of the fact that longest recorded visit from one of your own relations was at most a day. Then, the strain began to make itself felt after a couple of hours. Shortly after, the conversation faltered, and both parties were secretly scanning the TV listings hoping for good film during the evening. By that time, the desultory conversation had turned to plans for catching the train home the next day, followed by a relieved early night for all.
So should you be worried about these changes? In the words of the US Ambassador to Nigeria, “Na wa o, wetin dey happen? No wahalla – it’s wetin u dey, o”.