Category Archives: Family

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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Grief: the unwelcome but necessary Christmas ‘guest’

I have not been looking forward to Christmas. Not because I am bah humbug but because it is and has been painful thus far. This will be the first Christmas without my dad, the third without great uncle and the fifth without Brian, my godfather. No matter which way I look at it, it is going to be miserable.

Over the last two months delayed grief has hit me like a bitch. She has drawn out emotions in me I never knew existed. The extremities of anger and sorrow swinging like a pendulum has been physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting; interrupted by sustained moments of calm ‘acceptance’.

This may come as a surprise to some because I hide my grief ‘well’. And it’s true; most times I am actually ‘fine’ – I smile, I laugh, l live, I love – most times… But when I come home and allow myself proper space to decompress, not filling up my time with work, socialising and other meaningless activities to keep myself preoccupied, grief greets me in unexpected ways.

The only thing I can compare it to are literal waves of emotion engulfing your entire being threatening to take you under; you just don’t know which emotion it is going to be. I have even briefly entertained suicidal thoughts – the sorrow can be that overwhelming-but I would never have the courage to do it; I am far too cowardly.

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This is one of the many phases of grief which has to happen. It cannot be bypassed; you just have to go through it, one painfully agonising step at a time.

The countdown to Christmas has felt like a blur, days merging into each other. I hear the noise, excitement and buzz around Christmas but I just cannot partake in it. Something literally feels dead inside.

Flashbacks from last Christmas come thick and fast, despite my best efforts to suppress it. Facebook unknowingly complicit in torturing me with memories from ‘This time last year’ as if I need reminding. But that’s where I am going wrong; the emotions, the memories should not be suppressed but expressed. The healthy thing to do is to talk them through and be real. I have since parked the pride and opened my mouth with those I want to share the journey with and it feels like a positive step.

My personal faith in God during this season of grief has for the most part, been an anchor;  at other times, a noose. There are instances where I believe in Him with all my heart, His presence an undeniable comfort in the dark and unknown places. Yet there are moments when the anger comes and it gets ugly… Multiple profanities piercing the air, emotions raging, asking why a loving God would take away my three father figures one by one, back to back, just like that?

Unsurprisingly, He doesn’t answer because He doesn’t need to. And even if God did, the answer could never be satisfactory in my eyes. For a long time I thought peace would come if I knew ‘why’ , but it has literally ended up being one of the most frustrating and futile things I could have pursued. Since I have forfeited the right ( the need) to know ‘why’ it has given me unexpected, much needed peace. (I really recommend reading this article by Pastor Jo Naughton, which helped me come to this conclusion).

Grief has made me lack energy, lash out at loved ones, cry like a baby, swear like a trooper, be a crap friend who let’s everyone down at the last minute, a sloppy worker… It has undone me.

Equally it has also brought out some hidden gems like increased compassion and empathy for others and being an excellent worker on occasion (workaholics eat your heart out).

At times, I have felt guilty for grieving not just because of the obvious negative side effects but because it seems so selfish, so self indulgent. Why can’t it be over already? There are so many problems and sorrows in the world and you want to cry about losing a loved one? How many people lose loved ones every day in more tragic and trying situations?

But the thing with grief is that it is not rational, it’s not logical and it is perfectly fine not to be OK and to take all the time you need to adjust to life post death. Grieving doesn’t have a timetable, it just takes it own natural course.

A good friend of mine, actually several good friends who have lost multiple family members, have given me great advice to hold on to during times of overwhelming sorrow and that is to be grateful. Grateful for the lives of loved ones passed, your life, your health, your friends, family- there are endless things worthy of thanksgiving.

Truth be told, this is not always easy to apply, but I am trying and so far, it’s been alright.

 

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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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Review: ’42’ photography exhibition

42 is the name of an exhibition featuring photographs of women from Sierra Leone by British photographer Lee Karen Stow currently being exhibited at the Horniman Museum, South London.

The exhibition features women in a range of everyday settings but behind each image is a powerful and extraordinary story. 42 was originally exhibited in 2007, when Stow sought to document the brilliance and resilience of women from this previously war torn nation.

Having recovered from a civil war, the Ebola virus and now flooding, Sierra Leone (which means Lion Mountain in Portuguese), is unsurprisingly one of the poorest countries in the world but ironically one of the richest countries in terms of its natural resources. A decision to re-exhibit the collection, could not have come at a more opportune moment, serving as a reminder of the incredible strength and courage of Sierra Leonean people.

The exhibition’s title is a powerful and poignant statement because 42 was the average life expectancy of women in Sierra Leone when the photos were originally taken. Despite modest improvements, the average life expectancy is still extremely low, making it one of the worst in the world.

The exhibition features a broad spectrum of Sierra Leonian womanhood all within their ‘natural’ habitat: women boxers in action, fashion models striking a pose, agricultural workers tilling the land, faith filled women crying out to God, mothers and children in a variety of settings, nurses caring for those in need, brigadiers exuding power and disrupting traditionally masculine spheres, human rights activists -dignified, powerful and poised- the list is endless. It also managed to feature the First Lady of Sierra Leone – Sia Nyama Koroma.

At first glance, these seem like pretty ordinary images, but what Stow has done is to cleverly encapsulate an extraordinary breadth of women related issues, anchored by the accompanying blurbs. High infant mortality and maternal deaths rates, Female Genital Mutilation, girls education and gender equality, single parent households, women in work, women operating in traditionally male fields (I.e. boxing and the Army),faith as an anchor in everyday life, women pursuing their dreams despite the adversity – all of this and more is brought to life in 42. The photos also subtly promote some of the initiatives providing innovative solutions to these issues whilst also building solidarity and empowering the women.

Strength, perseverance, character, beauty and determination permeate these beautifully vivid and bold images of Sierra Leonean women. What gives this exhibition added poignancy is that a few of the subjects, are now deceased including one of the children photographed as a result of poor health care. Despite some of the grim subject matters covered, 42’s dominant narrative is hope.

The only criticism I have is of the location of 42 within the museum. Even though it is ideally placed on the upper floor (along the main balcony area of the museum) the area is dimly lit and in my view, limits the viewer’s experience. Similarly the exhibition is broken up by the museum’s permanent Romanian heritage collection which is slightly disorientating and disruptive.

42 is running until Sept 27th at the Hornimans Museum in Forest Hill, South London. The exhibition is free.

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Mind the Gap: “You want to take a what?”

“Dad…I’m going to take a gap year.”  “You want to take a what?” He replied, his perpetually smiling face instantly morphed into a frown. “A gap year.” I said rather boldly (have I lost my mind?!) “OK…OK…OK” he said repeatedly as I became increasingly unnerved with each utterance, then it stopped. Silence. What seemed like an eternity passed. “So you are not going to go to university?” he said. Oh dear I could see where this was headed. “Yes dad I will be, just not this year but definitely next.””OK…OK…OK… So what does that mean?” His words mingled with sadness and restrained anger.  This conversation went round in circles for quite a while and as you probably guessed, it didn’t end well.

Dad's expression: "You want to take a what?"

Dad’s expression: “You want to take a what?”

My dad was one of the most liberal, free-spirited people on the planet whose abiding mantra was ‘live and let live’. I could have told him I was a lesbian, entering a nunnery, joining the circus or any other random scenario and he would have been perfectly fine with it as long as it ‘made me happy’. However the concept of a gap year didn’t compute.

To be honest, I was fairly surprised by his response because our household was not especially traditional. However looking back there were elements – no matter how liberal – which will always remain such as respect for your elders and reverence for education.

I should have known no matter how ‘open minded’ dad was, in an Afropolitan household – especially a Nigerian household – gap years are as elusive as unicorns. Things may have changed now (though I doubt it) but over ten years ago, it wasn’t very common amongst the British based West Africans I knew. Gap year for what? For who? What have you experienced in life which warrants a ‘break’? What are you going to do? All these questions would be swirling round in a Nigerian parent’s mind in response to such a ridiculous proposition.

Getting a good education was and still is of the upmost importance because it equates to securing a good future for you and your family. Go to school, go university, study something sensible (Law, Accountancy, Medicine), get a good job, buy a nice home, start a family, take care of your parents in old age – the usual trajectory in any traditional BME household which highly prizes education as the route of all self betterment.

I could now see that my poor dad thought his super academic daughter was ‘going off the rails’ and with it all his hopes and dreams for me. What was he going to tell his friends and family? How could he explain this decision to them? I felt like such a failure in his eyes which I had never experienced before. My dad and I were extremely close, in fact he delivered me at birth and our bond had been apparent ever since. But this was one of the very few times in my life where I had disappointed him, almost to the point of disgust. He would not talk to me for weeks afterwards and refused to give me eye contact – he was that upset.

Daddy's girl lol

Daddy’s girl lol

Dad didn’t even particularly care what I studied as long as he could say I went to university. He himself didn’t go to university so was not so focused on what I studied as long as I went. I planned to study English and History (which is an entirely different conversation altogether and something which still confuses my maternal grandmother until this day) but in his mind, at least it meant a move towards progress. He wanted a better life for me than he had for himself and education was the key to securing this. Why would I make such a selfish decision as to delay it?

I didn’t take a gap year because I had grand plans to travel the world. I did it out of embarrassment and because, in my eyes, I had no choice. I received my A Level results and though I got an ABB, unfortunately it was not the right grades to allow me to study on my preferred course at a prestigious Red Brick institution. I remember results day like it happened last week – I didn’t realise how arrogant I was or how much my identity was bound up in my intellect until the day of the ‘rude awakening.’

After realising I got the wrong ABB (the A was neither in English Literature or History) I instantly ran to the careers service to see what could be done to ensure I could go to my first choice placement. I managed to meet the main careers advisor, who had a horrific reputation for being brutally honesty and in a nutshell, crushed any hopes I had. “Well judging by how competitive the course and institution is you won’t get in this year. If you are lucky they may offer you another course which you can take and hope someone drops out mid way on your preferred course so you can change over but it’s not guaranteed and quite unlikely.” All I could hear was bla bla bla and at one point I said to her: “But how can I not be going to university? I mean it’s me! I got all A’s last year.” My pride was completely crushed as a cloak of shame covered me, how could I explain to my friends and family that clever kem kem was not so clever after all?

My response to not going to university that year.

My response to not going to university that year.

In retrospect taking a gap year was the best decision of my life. I developed a strong work ethic – working two retail jobs, six days a week including one at GAP – (yes you couldn’t make it up); took up another A level because I always wanted to study that particular subject (super geek), took up singing in a choir, met some amazing people including session singers and actors who had to do retail when their craft couldn’t pay the bills, found my faith (in fact it was the first time I truly spoke to a God and He answered!) … It was nothing like I expected it to be but I grew so much during this time and saved quite a bit of money towards University too! And when I did eventually go to University the following year, God provided the right group of friends, the right course and I had such an incredible experience as a result.

Gap year employment: You couldn't make it up if you tried!

Gap year employment: You couldn’t make it up if you tried!

There are untold benefits to a gap year but one in particular, is that you realise more than ever whether university is for you or not. For some people taking the time out allows them to come to the realisation that they are ready to enter the world of work rather than accrue debt which might or might not lead them to their dream job. For others, myself included, I realised that I wanted to go to university, but for the right reasons this time (not just to party and be promiscuous as popular culture loves to remind us.) I didn’t want a life of low paid work to make ends meet – university was my route out of poverty and I was going to grasp it with both hands.

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The Perfect Blend

A friend of mine posted something a few months ago which had me chuckling- she is from a Guyanese background. Her mother is a great cook who is particular about food so my friend was naturally wary about cooking for her. However on this occasion her mother loved the food so much that she requested it two days in a row! In her words ‘I have graduated’ #wipestear.

How you feel when your parents approve of your traditional culinary skills.

How you feel when your parents approve of your traditional culinary skills.

I had a similar experience when my dad approved of a traditional African dish I made for him- red stew with Tilapia. I went to the market- bought all the ingredient and made it for him just as he liked. I won’t lie to you- I have never tried so hard to remember the preparation method and timings for this particular dish and it’s not because I can’t cook; I can BUT when it comes to  cooking for my dad or anyone who I know is a master of Nigerian cuisine it’s pretty intimidating. His palate was exquisite ( he trained to be a chef) so I couldn’t afford to mess up.

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With baited breath I watched him take a forkful of rice and my stew ….Looking intently I waited for his response and he gave me a genuine thumbs up. ***Sigh of relief and wipes sweat from brow***. One thing about my parents- Nigerians- we are straight talking. No beating around the bush- if you are not great- you are not great, if its good its good- we tell it as it is.

It has been a while since I have cooked traditional Nigerian food for anyone other than myself.  At University, I made the biggest faux pax; my friends and I regularly had cook ups and most of my friends in that group were of African Caribbean backgrounds. Eager as a beaver to demonstrate my newly acquired Nigerian culinary skills I volunteered to prepare jollof rice for the occasion knowing full well that there were several Nigerians in the mix. However what I ended up with was orange mush which I tried to redeem by including bay leaves for that truly authentic touch. Barely anyone touched it (I couldn’t blame them) and since then I have been reticent to cook Nigerian cuisine for anyone else.

Epic fail: My 'so called Jollof rice'

Epic fail: My ‘so called Jollof rice’

It was satisfying cooking that meal for my parents- seeing their positive responses. But it was even more so knowing that for under £10 I could cook a fresh, nutritious and tasty meal for 6-8 people #win.

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