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An African Myth - Part I

I wrote this post in 2010. It's just me reminiscing about growing up in Nigeria. My attempt is to take you on this journey with me...

It has been only a few years since I moved to the Indian subcontinent. Before this, I spent over fifteen years of my life on the other side of the globe, and it is the memories of the times spent there that I cherish most! The country I was born and brought up in is one that I find most intriguing and peculiar at the same time and I always thought it to be an interesting subject to write upon. I shall do so in two parts and here goes the first... 

Just a little over two decades ago, a baby girl was born in First Consultancy Hospital located in the coastal land of lagoons, sandy beaches, palm trees and…petroleum reserves. The baby was me and the hospital was in Nigeria - Lagos city, to be precise. Yes, I hail from this busy and overcrowded African city reputed to be one of the most expensive in the world. Marred by stories centered mostly on crime and corruption, one sadly holds daunting notions about this West African country. Believe me, when people learn of my birthplace, the fright on their faces leaves me supremely amused. I vividly recollect one reaction in particular which was from a Nigerian girl I met in Australia. Ojonuka (now a dear friend) was only willing to believe that I too was from Nigeria on the condition that I swore upon the lord's holy name. 
That's Ojonuka on your left and Valerie from Nairobi on your right.

Did you know that Nigeria and India share a common piece of history? Both countries were colonies of the mighty British. In 1960 when Nigeria was finally liberated and became a country in its own right, 'Naira' replaced the 'Pound' with a dreamy exchange rate (1 pound = 2 Naira). Now however, the currency board will tell you a far dismal story (Google the figures if you are truly curious!). Yet today the Nigerian economy boasts of crisp and un-tearable polymer banknotes, the lure of which draws so many foreigners to its shores, all flocking there to there to realize their dreams of earning big bucks and quick bucks. 

For a country that has moved beyond ancient paper banknotes, it astounds me how some ignorant people still envisage Nigeria to be a semi-civilized and impoverished country. Allow me to shatter that myth; I did not live on a tree-top and I certainly never rode to school on an elephant-back. The Nigerian infrastructure is far more, let’s say, ‘sophisticated’ than that. The roads are replete with watered, muddy pot-holes, tap water flows only on its own accord and electricity supply is not just high but highly erratic. N.E.P.A., the National Electric Power Authority has mockingly earned its alternative full form - Never Expect Power Again! Most of my studying was done under generator-powered lights with the putrid smell of diesel looming in the air, occasionally replaced with the smell of candle wax if we ran out of fuel. So I am not lying when I say I literally had to 'burn the midnight oil' to study for my exams. 

But it is not the 'plush' civic amenities I miss about Nigeria. What I miss most is the food. Nigerians are big foodies and the country has made me one too. Food is central to Nigerian business interactions and social dos. Their local cuisine is a mix of spicy and wholesome dishes. My favourites are 'Jollof rice'

(parboiled rice cooked in tomato puree and red hot chillies) and 'Suya' (hot and spicy chunks of roasted, skewered meat…mmm…delish, my mouth is watering as I write). You may have spent your childhood munching potato chips but folks I grew up hogging crispy chips made from 'plantain' (like bananas but less sweet) and 'yam' (a gigantic potato-like vegetable). But more than their traditional dishes, it will surprise you that it is in Nigeria I have tasted Chinese food far tastier than that in China and authentic shavarmas and hummus that would give the Lebanese chefs a run for their money! On a lesser impressive note, the local markets are flooded with cheap imitation goods and nowhere else but here would you be privileged enough to eat 'Noreo' instead of Oreo cookies and 'Fars' instead of 'Mars' bars. 
Gigantic yams
Since multiplexes and shopping malls are only recent recreational hangouts in Nigeria, dining at the finest restaurants seemed to be mostly what we did for ‘entertainment’. Or sometimes, it would be long pleasant evening drives, or day-long picnics by the calm beaches. On other occasions, 'fun' activities
The National Arts of Lagos' iconic structures
included the weekly grocery shopping trips or visits to the bakery for freshly baked croissants and creamy pastries (again, the best I have ever tasted). Not only recreational but there was a dearth of decent clothing stores when I was little. So if not frilly frocks, I was compelled to wear t-shirts actually meant for boys because the only person doing our shopping was daddy dearest while he was on his overseas business trips! 

If you like what you read so far, stay tuned for the next part. I’ll post it shortly. 


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