Category Archives: childhood

Random Afropolitan Childhood memories

Sometimes I am random and to celebrate this I would like to share a silly selection of childhood Afropolitan memories:

  1. Rice stored in the margarine container in the fridge rather than tupperware.
  2. School pack lunch placed in an ice cream tub, much to your embarrassment, whilst all your other friends had nice, child friendly tupperware.  To be fair, this only lasted for a short period of time (thanks Dad for the intervention).
  3. Sandwich fillings – when your mum decides to make your packed lunch for a school trip and  includes sardines, mackerel, boiled eggs- basically the smelliest fillings she can find deliberately designed to embarrass you. Meanwhile all your friends are eating Dairylea and cheese and ham.
  4. Old clothes used as floor rags.
  5. Always had a tin of ‘African milk’- condensed milk in the cupboard just in case.
  6. Old tights being used as a bedtime scarf.
  7. Mum styled your hair in threads because it grows your hair quickly but really it’s just an invitation for ridicule.
  8. Parents generous with their wisdom and their backhands too.
  9. You had to ask before you could help yourself to a snack at home.
  10. Saturday morning was spent food shopping and the dreaded visit to the market.
  11. You remember using the ‘broom’ even though you had a Hoover that worked perfectly fine.
  12. Having to do chores on Saturday before going out to play and feeling like you are missing out even though eventually the parents would let you- FREEDOM!
  13. Child of the 80’s living in London, I guarantee your front room had one of the following; brick wall paper, beaded curtains or a random cocktail bar.
  14. Visiting that one relative on the weekend when you really didn’t want to but had no choice. Felt like temporary imprisonment /punishment when all your friends were out playing and you were made to go against your will. Worst of all that person’s home was so BORING- nothing remotely child friendly about that environment but you had to suck it up!
  15. The ice cream van in the summer- 50p- screwballs/ Feast or the 99 – ice cream with the strawberry sauce and chocolate flake – brought many a smile to my face as a child!

What random childhood memories do you have? Would love to hear them x

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Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Nigerian party gifts

We Nigerians are a generous bunch; whether it is a wedding or a funeral, we enjoy giving gifts to our guests. Our generosity is legendary simply because the range of commemorative goodies given at parties range from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous.

My uncle and I recently spoke about the most memorable random gifts we have received, some of which are featured in the list below. So in this vein, welcome to the weird, wonderful and sometimes, extravagant world of Nigerian party favours! How many items on the list have you been given?

Commemorative Tupperware– I have countless childhood memories of stumbling across new Tupperware in the kitchen. It usually had the face of some random Aunty or Uncle emblazoned on it along with a message ‘In loving memory of ‘ or ‘Happy 50th Birthday’. These gifts are usually given to be practical- you can take food away with you from a party, but are also useful much later on.

A mug– complete with a mug-shot (get it) of the celebrant.
A Calendar– As much as I love people, I can’t help thinking – ‘why would I want to stare at your face, everyday, for the whole year?!’
A keyring– cheap, cheerful and useful- #YesPlease.
A watch– this is more likely to be given at an  ‘upmarket affair’. I once went to a party where I was accidentally given this, but had to be returned unfortunately as it was gift for the men.
A bubble bath set– this was a gift for all the women at the same party. Some might call it sexist / gender stereotyping but I quite liked it. #smellinglikeroses
A box of salt– I know, I know but on the plus side salt has many uses like cooking, cleaning, preserving etc.
A bottle of washing up liquid– Again, don’t judge this is a very practical gift and probably one appreciated by the older women- my grandma included.
A mini clothes rack complete with pegs– again, interesting choice of gift, wrong demographic (another one for the aunties methinks).
A pen– this has to be one of my favourite gifts. Why? Because the last time I received this as a present (which was a few years ago), it was no ordinary pen; it was a GIANT one which I still use! Practical, cool and quirky, this has to be one of my favs.
Packets of noodles– You hit the jackpot if you got Indomie.
A tray– this is one of the most common and traditional gifts you will receive- again very useful.
A bottle opener– practical for popping open those bottles of Supermalt or Nigerian Guinness.
A Fridge magnet– everyone loves a fridge magnet right?
Perfume –Oh yes please.

It is customary for families and friends of the celebrant to donate gifts and put their name on it where possible. Some might consider this egotistical – (why couldn’t it have been anonymously?) but that is not how Nigerians work. We want you to know, in no uncertain terms, who is responsible for this public gesture of generosity.

What has been the most ridiculous gift you have ever received?

 

 

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Eat like a lady, NOT like a man!

“Kem, do you want to take a break?” My best friend said, gently urging me to back away from my dinner plate. We were dining at a friend’s house and I was clearly struggling to finish my second helping. She approached slightly tentatively as if she were negotiating in a hostage situation, expecting to receive a hostile reception.

“Break? No that’s for sissies – this mountain of food will not defeat me – I will be victorious, muahaha! I am going to eat this food – no waste.”

“OK, no one is disagreeing with you re. Wasting the food, but Kem- just take a little rest then come back to it.”

To be honest, she had a point; I was eating as if I was at an ‘All You Can Eat’ buffet with a two hour time limit. But with a natural propensity towards stubbornness and greed, I ploughed on.

“Um sorry that is NOT how I work; if I stop eating then I won’t come back to it.” ***(Returns to food)***

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This is not the first time I have been told to slow down whilst eating….either by my best friend or by an acquaintance!

I have come to a realisation that I need to eat like a lady and not like a man. This is a) partly due to how I appear to others b) the little discomfort I get after eating too quickly or eating too much or both c) my increasingly slow metabolism; they weren’t joking when they said it changes at 30 d) I am significantly decreasing my chances of marriage (no joke).

Book needs to get rewritten!

Book needs to be rewritten!

Before I continue, I want to set the record straight – I don’t always eat like this. Oddly enough there are many occasions when I am the last person to finish a meal even when eating at a fairly rapid speed. However something happens when I’m in the presence of copious amounts of food; especially when the environment is super relaxing with ‘no restrictions’.

So what makes a young lady eat in such an eager manner? There are several thought processes governing this behaviour – here are just three of them:

The ‘scarcity’ mindset– I.e. “this food is going to run out and if I don’t get to it it will be gone.” ( totally illogical food FOMO.)
Weirdly ironic, reverse gluttony / ‘hate waste’ mindset – I.e. “there’s so much food we can’t let it go to waste (as if fridges and freezers don’t exist), better get stuck in and finish it, even if my belly hurts.” (Again, ludicrous behaviour)
‘All by myself’ mindset I.e. ‘I’m so use to living on my own, I eat not for enjoyment but out of necessity, therefore I eat quickly. I forget this is not acceptable when in social settings.’ (Potentially pardonable)

My relationship with food is strongly linked to childhood. There was a zero tolerance food waste policy in our household and my mum was the main enforcer. One of her favourite mantras was to constantly remind us that there are ‘starving children across the world’ and that we have ‘no right not to finish our dinner’; A complete and utter guilt trip which I often wanted to counter with “so why don’t we airmail it to them then?” (But for obvious firmly remained as thoughts in my head).

Her request sounded very reasonable and one which my siblings and I largely acknowledged. However bear in mind that we were almost given the same portions as our dad, how on earth could we finish all that food? And to make matters worse, it was usually robust meals like eba and stew, rice and stew or pasta and guess what? stew. These sorts of meals should be restricted to those exerting a lot of energy (like doing hard labour or running a marathon).

Nigerian cuisine: Eba and stew

Nigerian cuisine: Eba and stew

Most times, I didn’t have a problem finishing dinner ( I love my food) but I would often eat beyond the the point of contentment; I ate until my belly ached just to avoid my mum moaning! This behaviour became the norm; ‘if my stomach isn’t hurting then I am not finished’. I now believe this was and is a weird and unhealthy place to be.

The reason my mum was so insistent on overfeeding us was because, as with many ethnic households, food = love. Feeding (over feeding) is a clear demonstration of love and care; it’s just sometimes taken to extremes!

So what do I plan to do now? Having been in a few social situations recently where I have been the recipient of odd glances whilst scoffing down my food, I am now on a mission to ‘hold it down’ (aka maintain some decorum). This will entail: only eating to the point of contentment and not beyond; taking my time and enjoying the process of eating leisurely and making sure if I am invited somewhere to eat, not to go on an empty stomach! I have got to keep it classy -at all times- and eat like a lady, NOT like a man!

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Good rule to dine by!

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SIR MIX A PLOT (Sorry I just LOVE books!)

‘I love my books and I cannot lie- my mother got it oh so right’… Yes I remixed the song and I am not ashamed. I can’t help it. I love books.  As a child, there was no greater pleasure than losing myself in stories or filling my mind with facts.

Recently my mum was clearing out her home and getting rid of lots of old things including books. We had so many- literally suitcases full to dispose of, of all genres.

My bibliophilia is inherited- (it comes from my mum) as she was and is still a voracious reader who read to me often as infant. I have early memories of my mum taking me to the local library, which is now a posh set of flats (the joys of gentrification) and even at that young age I just adored the variety, the smell and comfort of being surrounded by books.

In my teens, the library continued to be my favourite place to be and on almost a weekly basis, without fail, I would take out the maximum number of books -eagerly walking home to begin my reading marathon. Such was my love, that when I misbehaved my mum would threaten to take my library card away as punishment! I even dreamed of being a Librarian when I grew up (yes, it is a cool profession- didn’t cha know?)

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My two loves: music and a good book.

During the clearout I found many old books, some to keep and some to give away. Books from my youth, time at university and perhaps my favourite- gems from my childhood. Amongst the goodies were the Beatrix Potter collection, Disney Classics and my all-time favourite children’s book ‘Bimwli and the Zimwi’. Even though it is threadbare, fallen apart and with no front cover, twenty odd years later this Swahili inspired tale still makes me smile. It is the story of a little black girl called Bimwli who is left behind by her two older sisters whilst at the beach. Due to her beautiful singing, Bimwli attracts the attention of a magician called Zimwi who kidnaps her and places her in his big drum. He then travels around the local villages tricking the locals into thinking he has a ‘singing’ drum but is soon caught! It sounds sinister but it is incredibly funny and entertaining.

Being naturally sentimental I have decided to keep hold of some of these books to pass on to my own children (when I have them!) who I hope will inherit the same love of books as I do.

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All time favourite: Swahili inspired tale, Bimwli and the Zimwi.

I also kept several boxes of books I’d planned to donate overseas to create a mobile library ‘back home’ or in another country where I felt ‘led’. And it is still pretty much something I definitely intend to do in the future.  However as God would have it, my eldest sister was over from Nigeria and just so happens to be the head teacher of her own primary school. She told me how expensive it is purchase books out there and was absolutely delighted to take them back to her school- Result!

Box of goodies: childhood gems, now residing in Nigeria!

It feels so good to know that they will be going to a ‘good home’ where they will be well used and loved. What hidden treasures have you got lying around that could be a blessing to somebody?

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Thrifty Afropolitan Meets… The Molo Street Children Project

Street children are some of the most vulnerable in the world- a silent majority of almost 100 million, populating the streets of developed and underdeveloped nations. They are often stigmatised – labelled as petty criminals and considered a nuisance to the establishment and mainstream society. Street children are often not orphans but victims of extreme poverty (where their families can no longer provide for them) or of (physical, sexual or emotional) abuse. And despite the obvious perils, the streets are the only place they can go- finding a sense of belonging, ‘security’ and a source of much needed extra income to support their families- often entailing great risk.

This year's theme: The International Day for Street Children started in 2011

This year’s theme: The International Day for Street Children launched in 2011.

To coincide with the International Day of Street Children, I wanted to interview an inspirational couple who, for the past 12 years, have given hope to some of Kenya’s most deprived children in the Molo district of Kenya.

Meet Chris and Sonia Donnan, founders of the Molo Street Children’s project.

Q: What is the Molo Street Children Project all about?

Molo Street Children Project (MSCP) is a Christian, community based, not-for-profit organisation working with street children and poor families in the Molo area of Kenya. Our aim is to rehabilitate former street children into productive members of the community and to support families to look after children at home, to prevent them from going on the street. We do this in three ways:

  • Education: We provide school uniforms, pay for school fees so children can go to school, with additional follow up support. We also offer vocational training and informal schooling for children and adults.
  • Family support and guidance including access to basic healthcare, spiritual nourishment and counselling.
  • Employment – We provide income generating opportunities and casual work for some families.
In the beginning: The Donnan family in the early stages of MSCP.

In the beginning: The Donnan family in the early stages of MSCP.

Q: How did MSCP begin?

My wife and I, along with our three children, went to Kenya in August 2002 so that I could take up a teaching post at a local secondary school. My wife, Sonia was also working part-time at the same school and so had the opportunity to make friends out in the community.  Sonia became increasingly aware that although primary education was free following a change of Government, many children were still on the streets during term time. Upon investigation she realised that the children were often on the streets in order to get food as they came from households with little income. But she also realised that the children weren’t at school because their families couldn’t afford to pay for their school uniforms which was compulsory.   We began to provide uniforms and equipment for children to attend school and soon after founded MSCP, almost a year later.

Q: What is happening with the project at the moment?

We currently support approximately 160 children and young people, including over 100 children in primary school, 34 in secondary and 11 in University, with another 2 due to start this September. 30 of the children in primary schools are sponsored; the remainder are supported to varying degrees, according to the needs of the family such as provision of school uniforms, exam fees or with meals.

Q: You have supported over 300 families and countless numbers of individuals during the past 12 years. What is your favourite story of transformation?

Kirio dropped out of school during Year 6 and started coming to the project after being on the streets for about 8 months. He has dwarfism and is about 4ft tall. His mother was around earlier in his life, but has turned to extreme drinking and left Kirio and his two sisters to fend for themselves.

Kirio decided he wanted to go back to school, so we tutored him and he re-joined Year 7 after a two year hiatus. He achieved excellent results in the Primary exam at the end of Year 8 and a sponsor was obtained for his secondary education. He did very well, despite some difficulties. He is now in his third year at University studying Actuarial Sciences. During the holidays he supports the project by doing various tasks and also encourages the younger children, who may have experienced emotional trauma.

Q: What are your plans for the future? 

Our desire is that the project will be run and fully financed by the Kenyan people in the long term.  We are actively working to increase the amount of money generated within Kenya- working with individuals, businesses and developing income generating projects to sustain the future work of MSCP. Ultimately, our hope is that MSCP will continue to care for vulnerable children and families, advocating their cause to the educational establishment and the Government. We strongly believe that only persistent pressure, prayer and dialogue will change the plight of these children and their families.

Beautiful children: Here are some of the children that have been supported by MSCP.

Beautiful children: Some of the children that have been supported by MSCP.

Q:How can people support your work?

You can support the project in a number of ways. Through volunteering; regular giving; child sponsorship or hosting a one off fundraising event. We would also love for people to spread the word about MSCP, sign up to our newsletter for regular updates and to pray- we believe in the power of prayer!

To find out more about the Marvellous Molo Street Children’s project visit http://www.molostreetchildren.org.uk 

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12 items you will find in an old school Afropolitan Living Room

It’s the end of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend and for many, undoubtedly a time of numerous visits to extended family. And if you are lucky enough, you might just have that one old school relative whose household is literally frozen in time circa 1980’s / early 1990’s. So in honour of these folk and for the sake of taking a trip down memory lane, here are some of things you might find in an ‘old school’ Afropolitan living room (I think everyone will be able to relate) but especially if a) you were were born / raised in the 1980’s and b) West African or Caribbean heritage.

1. The display cabinet filled with ridiculous amount of ornaments– I remember my dad having a collection from his various travels including mini porcelain figurines of random things like animals.

2. The net curtain– We like our privacy and they also look pretty.

Net curtains: This standard in an Afropolitan home.

Net curtains: This standard in an Afropolitan home.

3. The faux brick wallpaper- This was the pinnacle of interior design amongst London based Nigerians in the 1980’s I kid you not. My dad was a trendsetter but also painter / decorator and was one of the first in his friendship circle to rock this. Shortly afterwards a number of his friends began to follow suit.

Brick wallpaper: Love it or hate it this was very popular back in the day.

Brick wallpaper: Love it or hate it this was very popular back in the day.

4. The mini bar– A strictly ‘no go’ area for children because of all the pretty crystal, but I have fond memories of my parents entertaining their guests ‘behind the bar’.

5. The pot plants or fake flowers There is always some sort of foliage (real or fake) usually with a slight tropical twist in the living room.

The pot plant: this is standard in an Afropolitan home.

The pot plant: this is standard in an Afropolitan home.

6. The beaded curtains– This is one of the abiding memories I had of visiting my best friend’s house (she is of Caribbean descent) and the authentic brown beaded curtains in the hallway (a touch of ‘back home’.)

Old school: Brown beaded curtains

Old school: Brown beaded curtains.

7. Religious iconography– If you grew up in a culturally ‘Christian’ household there will almost certainly be some item conveying this. We had the image of a ‘White’ Jesus, the serenity prayer carved in wood and the rosary hanging near the front door.

8. African wood carvings-beautiful (sometimes not actually-a few could be downright scary), hand-crafted, mahogany carvings and statutes like this one were everywhere in our living room.

African wood carvings: courtesy of Positive Arts

African wood carvings: courtesy of Positive Arts.

9. A sound system with the gigantic speakers – ( i.e. A record player or  CD/cassette player combo)- A true Afropolitan would have at least one of these in their music selection. A) Country music: Jim Reeves for Christmas B) Motown classics: Stevie, Four Tops, Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye C) Reggae: Bob Marley/ Dennis Brown D) Original Afrobeat: Fela / King Sunny Ade / Ebenezer Obey /Dr  Orlando Owoh E) Soul: Luther Vandross/ Barry White / Alexander O’Neal F) Pop: Bobby Brown / Madonna (yes Marge think ‘Into the Groove’ ) UK: Aswad / Soul to Soul.

Christmas:  A serious Afropolitan household will be playing this during the festive season.

Christmas: A serious Afropolitan household will be playing this during the festive season.

10. Mirrors- Growing up we had mirrors in EVERY room except the kitchen.

11. Family photos- whether they be on the wall, on the mantle piece or in photos albums, there is always a family photo collection containing, but not limited to; the dreadful standard school photo (with mum always quibbling about the price but paying it anyway ); the cheesy pose I.e. Your parents looking into the distance, hand on hips or leg hitched on a raised platform or better still donning the trends of the day – think Shoulder pads, Jherri Curls and Afros.

Old school: Me in the late 80's

Old school: Me in the late 80’s.

12. The ‘pregnant’ TV– the bigger the better (those born after 1997 won’t understand the struggle).

Pregnant: The old school TV

Pregnant: The old school TV.

What do you remember from your childhood? Is there anything I have missed?

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Remembering Dad series: Mr Cheesy Feet

My Facebook feed is flooded with references to feet. No I am not a secret member of the ‘I love feet’ fetish society, but I am a Christian and this day is one of Biblical significance – commemorating the Last Supper and the ceremonial washing of the Disciples’ feet by Jesus.

Feet mean a lot to me; they remind me of my dad. And strangely enough I have his exact same feet (except a feminine version- never thought I would be so grateful for that) serving as a comforting and funny ‘memento’.

As children, my sister and I would often wash and massage dad’s stinky feet after a hard day’s work (he worked 2-3 jobs). We did this in the hope that he would ‘show us the money’ as he normally ‘paid’ us. My sister and I were no more than 8 & 12 years old. We would take off dad’s socks and massage his notoriously cheesy feet with any concoction we could get our hands on- cocoa butter, Vicks, Baby lotion you name, we used it. We would happily crack his toes, one of which had been broken years before in a football match and had the scar to show for it. He loved the pampering (who wouldn’t?) and we loved listening to his banter.

Blue cheese: Dad's feet had a similar fragrance! (Just kidding )

Blue cheese: Dad’s feet had a similar fragrance! (Joking! )

More often than not, the session would end with my sister getting paid £1.00 and I, 50p despite doing the same, if not more work. “How come she gets paid more than me even though we have done the same amount of work? That’s child slave labour!” Knowing full well it was because of the age difference, my dad, renowned for his mischievous nature and witty sense of humour would respond “It’s the minimum wage but at least you don’t get taxed!”

Fast forward 20 odd years later and there I am kneeling down by the bedside, massaging my father’s feet but this time he is bed bound. Sickness is ravaging his body and sapping what little strength is left, but the cheeky charm and twinkle in the eye still remains. Each time I visited him in the last 18 months of his life, it always included giving him a foot massage with drops of peppermint oil, accompanied by the sounds of smooth Jazz, Soul or Gospel music to soothe him and provide temporary respite from the suffering.

I will never forget the last time I massaged his feet. Dad was in hospital and was placed opposite a grumpy old man who had mental health problems. The man, in his anger, had upset dad the day before through his ill conceived words. Clearly annoyed because of the level of coughing and constant beeping emanating from dad’s bedside the other patient said ‘why don’t you just die’. This was wrong and not the words of a pleasant human being- especially when directed at a man only days away from death (thankfully the situation was promptly dealt with by the staff and the man’s cater /minder.)

But Dad not one to take things lying down, determined to make the man jealous and annoy him further, asked me to massage his feet whilst my sister massaged his scalp. “I want you to massage my feet so he can see. I want him to see. Bloody Idiot- you see, he will never get this kind of love and attention, miserable man-you see no one visits him.” I didn’t want to partake in this petulant point scoring but dad was not in the mood for my ‘mature and measured’ response- he meant business! My sister and I couldn’t help but laugh at him, seated on his hospital bed like a King on the throne, being attended to by his ‘servants’ all whilst transmitting the dirtiest looks known to mankind in the other man’s direction.

Dad's face: This captures my dad's behaviour that day!

Dad’s facial expression:  This captures my dad’s demeanour perfectly that day.

I miss sitting at dad’s feet and my godfather Brian’s swollen, porcelain feet whom I also had the privilege of massaging in the days before his death. They were oddly enough ‘happier” times.

Yet despite the natural sadness which comes with losing loved ones, I am assured and pleased that they have now entered His rest -literally putting their feet up in Heaven, having run the race well.

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‘Remembering Dad’ series: The Love letter

Today I had a blue day although I tried profusely to be positive and as thankful as possible, it didn’t work; The frustrations of work, pain of loss and the general weariness of life left me feeling utterly overwhelmed and blue. Truth be told my family and I are in the process of planning my dad’s funeral and though I have ‘professionalised’ my way through organising it i.e. treating all the planning as though it’s my day job, it is impossible for me to remain unaffected; the prelude to the final goodbye hurts.

I began to reflect on how much I  missed him even uttering the words ‘I love you and miss you’ on repeat whilst approaching his flat after work. And as if on cue, God sent a message to reassure me – a shop front called ‘Precious Memories’ glared back at me as if to say- ‘treasure those- that’s what matters’.

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It was my turn to visit his home to ensure that it hadn’t been broken into and make it look ‘lived in’- deterring any potential thieves. The flat was in a state of disorder; my mum and sister had begun the painful process of dismantling his worldly goods and bagging them up to be received by their new owners. I have opted not to be part of this and thankfully they haven’t asked me to be. I hate mess even if it is towards a positive end  but more significantly, I just can’t face going through his possessions and the finality of it all.

I began searching through his belongings and was particularly drawn to a beautiful leather briefcase which contained some of dad’s old paper work. What was inside truly was hidden treasure: historically important documents like an old Nigerian passport;ID from when he lived in America and the order of services for my beloved paternal Great Grandmother and Great grandfather were all in one place!

I also spotted a few beautifully weathered leather wallets and passport document holders –classic, quality items, some dating over 20 years. My dad loved quality over quantity and had a strategy for acquiring expensive, timeless goods at a fraction of the price. He would regularly visit the shop until he saw the desired item on sale; and even then he would wait until it was significantly reduced before buying it but not being so thrifty that he missed out on the opportunity all together!

Amongst the ruins I noticed a wallet stuffed with paper and being naturally curious, forensically inspected all its contents including dated receipts. What happened next truly was God at work. I took out an old piece of infantile looking paper covered in polka dots which I recognised from almost 20 years ago.  Inside was a love letter I had written to my dad.  I could have been no more than 12 at the time and 18 odd years later it remained. The message simply put was:

‘Dad I love you and you have a special place in my heart’.

Other treasures found included a little leather diary featuring a potted history of key Nigerian states / kingdoms accompanied with wonderful paintings of important historical figures. I couldn’t help but laugh remembering the times when my dad tried, on more than one occasion, to teach me about Nigerian history as a child; suffice to say it didn’t work as his ‘unique’ impassioned way of teaching (shouting out of frustration and passion) sometimes had the reverse effect even for the most eager student! Here is some of the artwork from the diary below:

The day brought such comfort and was a timely reminder that precious memories are the things which matter most and will be one of the keys to keeping my family and I on this painful journey of loss. But on a lighter note, I also learnt about the importance of investing in quality items- things that will stand the test of time that I can pass down onto my children; New Look just won’t cut it!

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Saturday mornings in an ‘old school’ Afropolitan household

Saturday mornings as a child were not what I considered ‘fun’ although looking back it wasn’t mean to be! Yes we had cereal and watched cartoons but I mainly remember the obligatory Saturday morning routine of cleaning, polishing and going food shopping with my parents.

Captain Planet: 'By the Powers combined...'

Captain Planet: ‘By the Powers combined…’

I remember one Saturday morning – that I didn’t want to participate in the normal routine- I wanted to ‘sleep in’. Now to be clear, in our household on Saturday morning everyone knows the deal. My dad was a soldier in the Nigerian Army and ran our household on a fairly tight schedule; you get up, eat breakfast and relax for a short while then you better go and strip the bedding and get assigned your duties for the day. Washing up, polishing, hovering take your pick but everyone has to fall into line. However, on this occasion I continued to ‘sleep’ even though I could hear full well the loud conversations and various activities happening around me and boy did I get a rude awakening!

After our chores, followed by getting washed and dressed, we (my siblings and I) would then have to go food shopping with my mum. The journey was a twenty minute walk to the local shopping area, complete with the shopping trolley and market (aka Ghana must go) bags in tow.

Going shopping with my mum was an experience- entertaining, frustrating and very educational. My mum is a BARGAIN shopper- thrifty Afropolitan defined. She will literally go from shop to shop, stall to stall checking for the best price for items. An item may vary by 10p between two shops within a ten minute walking distance but know that my mum will walk back to the shop where the item is cheapest because – in her own words- ‘It’s the principle’. Similarly don’t ever try to short change my mum- if an item is £1.99- you’d better give her back that penny do not ‘assume’ you don’t have to because she will ask you ‘out of principle’. It’s only a penny- adds up over time!

Ghana Must Go: The original shopping bag

Ghana Must Go: The original shopping bag

First stop was the market- to the fruit and veg stall, to the man selling fresh eggs and then to the African Caribbean shops to buy what my Caribbean friends would call ‘hard food’; the yams, sack of rice, Gari (ground Cassava) and plantain (who remember the days of when you could buy five or even six for a £1?).

For the occasional treat we might pop into the local clothes shop. But woe to any store that gets into my mum’s bad books! I recall on one occasion, she bought an item of clothing which ended up being faulty when she got home. But because of the returns policy they wouldn’t acknowledge this nor exchange the item despite her loyal custom. So my mum the campaigner (her mantra-‘know your rights’), stands outside the shop- on a busy Saturday- telling people to boycott the shop (so embarrassing!). Shortly afterwards, they call her inside and settle the matter. The next week everything returns to normal as if nothing has happened- best friends again!

My mum's favourite mantra: Ingrained from an early age

My mum’s favourite mantra: Ingrained from an early age

Next stop was the Butchers, which I am not a fan of for obvious reasons (body parts and the stench of blood not for me), but found it fascinating because of the banter, the haggling along with the percussive sounds of meat being manually and mechanically chopped.

The Look: No it's not one of love it's the 'have you lost your mind' look

The Look: No it’s not one of love it’s the ‘I am going to count to ten, you better take that out of the basket before I do something’ look

The trip always ended at the big supermarket. And if you were lucky enough to be selected to accompany mum to push the trolley – thumbs up. But to be clear- you are literally just pushing the trolley. Don’t ever for one second think this entitles you to select items from the shelf to put to into the trolley because you will be greeted with the speechless stare communicating the  ‘have you lost your mind’ message;  the lecture- ‘So you have money?’ ‘You go to work?’ ‘Whose paying for this?’ (Word to the wise, it’s a rhetorical question DO NOT ANSWER!) ’. Or worse still- the lecture PLUS the walk of shame where you are made to take the item back to the exact place where you took it from. My mum has a shopping list and best believe we are not veering off course. She has accounted for every single penny and nothing over what she has put on that piece of paper is going into the trolley unless she authorises it.

If you weren’t lucky enough to be selected for the supermarket sweep it felt like an eternity of waiting at the set of chairs by the tills lumbered with the market shopping. Why? Because you know approaching early afternoon- it’s prime time for playing out with friends and you are ‘missing out’ (whatever that means). What seems like hours later but probably no more than one, mum would finally emerge at one of the checkouts.

But before you start getting excited, you are not home and dry yet because now comes the ‘packing’ issue. If your mum is anything like mine it’s never just straightforward packing- there is a strategy. My default position is to always help with packing because if you don’t you get in trouble, but as soon as you help for every bag you have arranged my mum is there rearranging- so why bother!?

Waiting for mum: How I felt when lumbered with the shopping

Waiting for mum: How I felt when lumbered with the shopping.

More often not, we would get a cab home or dad would come and collect us. But if my mum is feeling particularly thrifty and she doesn’t ‘think’ there is much to carry be prepared to walk it!
How many of you can relate? What is your favourite childhood memories of Saturday morning shopping with the family?

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‘Where the party at?’ Why I love African parties!

It’s the aftermath of Valentines weekend and as predicted, I have seen a number of happy couples announce their engagements on social media. Similarly this year will see an unprecedented number of my close friends getting married, (who happen to have West African connections) and I am delighted for obvious reasons but also because this can only mean one thing;  there will be some serious times of partying ahead all with an Afropolitan twist! Here are just a few things I love about West African parties- whether it is a celebration of life or death- we know how to have a good time and honour those in our midst.

The Native attire– I love seeing the variety of outfits made of beautiful bold colours, intricate patterns and lovely fabrics. I particularly love the variation of geles (head ties), the matching shoes and hand bags, and bold jewellery worn by the ladies.  Similarly I love seeing men wearing agbadas- looking all regal and stylish; here comes the chief!

Regal: I absolutely love seeing traditional Nigerian outfits. Everything about it  communicates infinite swag!

King & Queen: I absolutely love seeing traditional Nigerian outfits. Everything about it communicates infinite swag!

The Tunes – Alongside modern Afrobeat (think Whizzkid or Davido), no party would be complete without hearing traditional, family friendly Afrobeat. At least one of these artists must be played Orlando Owoh, Sir Shina Peters, Ebenezer Obey or King Sunny Ade, without fail.  Unfortunately Fela-the rebel’s favourite is too rude to play at most family functions.) Check out this extremely popular track from the 70’s /80’s by Sir Shina Peters – big tune!  [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fag5ItyoYp0]

The (atrocious) Time keeping- This is a contentious one as some will dislike this generalisation, but almost all the African parties I have attended do not start on time nor do they make any attempt to. It is a well- known secret that if an African party is supposed to start at 7pm- most people will not arrive until at least 9 pm.

Nigerians on arriving 'fashionably' late!

Nigerians on arriving ‘fashionably’ late!

The Live band – This is one of my favourite parts of a proper traditional party. The band usually consisting of a singer, drummer, percussionist, guitarists and key board player-will ride melodies and sing songs of blessings in the native tongue ( i.e. Yoruba) heavily incorporating improvisation. If you pay them they might even give you a musical shout out by including your name into a song! A lot of the time the keyboards / melodies are frenetic and the rhythms varied and unpredictable but they always make you dance. (See video above for live band in action).

The Dancing- As a child I always remembered two distinct phases of dancing. Phase 1- everyone is able to dance- particularly the young people, as the DJ plays the popular tunes of the day, followed by phase 2- what I call ‘Big People Time.’ The Aunties would emerge, rotund, robust and agile ready to get down to the Native music selection- showing the younger generation how it is done! Check out this fantastic impression of an Aunty cutting some serious shapes! [/www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oACcj6Y8qA]

The Money changers– they will exchange your pounds into dollars (US) or Naira so that you can spray the wedding party for example. Money changers are easily identifiable because they are usually men with stacks of cash at the door.

money changers

Show me the money!

The Gifts- I love the range of commemorative goodies / favours you get from the parties; random Tupperware with someone’s face emblazoned on it that you don’t know, calendars, key rings, pens, trays, box of salt, washing pegs, mugs, packets of noodles, toiletries, watches- you name it- I have seen it make an appearance in a ‘party’ bag. No product is off limits.

Generosity: The goodies you might receive from an Afropolitan party.

Generosity: The goodies you might receive at an Afropolitan party.

The ‘Characters’– There are no shortage of characters at Nigerian functions i.e. the big mama aunty, the ‘chief’, little children, elders commanding respect and ordering you around to get yet another can of drink – even if you don’t know them etc. Random strays no one knows but you can’t turn away-you know the one- a friend, of a friend, of a friend who always seems to be ready to eat.

The Cuisine– I love party rices. Yes it sounds stupid but what is normally standard jollof or fried rice, is given extra special treatment by caterers. Another treat is moin moin (bean cakes)- a rare commodity that always seems to be scarce at parties- reserved for adults only. Other standard dishes you are likely to see are coleslaw, endless trays of meats, fried fish, stew and plantain etc., Infinite buckets of canned soft drinks and super malt will also be on offer.

For adults only: Moin Moin (bean cakes) it seemed was the only food reserved for adults! This is essentially a vegetarian dish but is sometimes made with bits of fish, egg or corned beef included.

For adults only: Moin Moin (bean cakes) it seemed was reserved for adults only! This is essentially a vegetarian dish but is sometimes made with bits of fish, egg or corned beef included.

The Prayers- praying is an essential part of our parties whether it’s at weddings, a celebration of life (celebrating the newly deceased) or a naming ceremony giving thanks for new life, The prayers are typically said in both English and in the native tongue of the celebrant (s) and are normally led by the elders.

 The Spraying This is one of my favourite traditions in Nigerian culture. For example, at a wedding reception the bride and groom are ‘sprayed ‘during their first dance (when guests place money on the couple- usually on the forehead). This generous act of public giving is a way for family and friends to openly bless the couple and give them a good financial head start as they begin married life together. This can be very lucrative as I know of several couples that have literally made thousands of pounds from this; it can also be a nice little money earner for children- if this is permitted. As a child, (I was a bridesmaid for my aunty’s wedding aged 10) my cousins and I were assigned the glamorous task of collecting money which had fallen on the floor during the spraying session. We picked up the seemingly never ending flow of notes and decided to ‘reward’ our efforts by pinching a tenner at the end (no we didn’t ask permission). We got caught by some aunty and needless to say we got ‘taught’!

Spraying: The act of publicly bestowing money upon the celebrant (s. This can be for any occasion, not just weddings.

Spraying: The act of publicly bestowing money upon the celebrant (s). This can be for any occasion, not just weddings.

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