07 Jan


It is pronounced Nam-astay, with the inflection you use when you say ‘Princess Ann.’ You can tell I had a ball bringing my hands together like this 🙏🏽 and bowing slightly. Namaste. There is no exclamation mark, like hello! or ekaro! They don’t shout.

The airport in Delhi is impressive. That’s another thing. No one refers to it as New Delhi, it’s just Delhi. The culture is different, a rich kind of different. People don’t seem to make eye contact, robbing you of the opportunity to smile. I suppose there is no forced politeness here. Maybe they don’t make eye contact with strangers. Maybe they are giving our eyes a chance to get used to the dimly lit room, a chance to fall in love before they start getting personal. It’s not like we blend in, even though there are skintones as dark as ours, our hair quite simply cannot disguise the fact that we are visitors from another continent.

I need the loo. They didn’t feel the need to hire an artist to generate globally accepted, spartan symbols of the two genders. No. The gents loo is depicted by a large colourful picture of a turbaned male, and the ladies, of a bejeweled, bollywoodesque woman. There’s a queue. People seem to take awfully long which increases my reluctance to remain in the queue. It’s not that I can’t wait, it’s just that my fear of the collective number ones becoming number twos is directly proportional to the time it takes for each cubicle to be exited. I leave the queue as my imagination reaches new heights. We arrive at immigration and strut to the diplomatic counter. We hope the crowd can see us, that yes we are different, but not in a demeaning way. Our line has two people and not hundreds like the common majority. We spot our contact, I jump for joy. We reach the counter to receive our special treatment, for we know people in high places, you see. Then the record screeches to a halt. I hate that sound- along with metal cutlery scratching porcelain and pieces of polystyrene being rubbed together. Since we have e-visas we can’t use the diplomatic exit. We must go through the e-visa line. They are very sorry. Egos deflating, we walk to the line for commoners.

Nearly an hour later we emerge on the other side, hug our family member and go grab our 14 pieces of luggage sans the orange and black one. Once established that it did not contain our precious edible cargo, we fill in multiple lost-luggage forms and exit the impressive Delhi airport. That’s when it all starts to feel surreal. I am suspended between two worlds. Europe, which I know I left behind- the door closed softly behind me- and Asia, which though physically present in, my mind is yet to make its entrance. So it feels weird. We spot an old-fashioned car that reminds me of part daddy’s purple volga, (circa 1981) and part 1970s political movie. We are in India. The air is foggy and we meet the acquaintance of Johnny, assigned driver. ‘He speaks so well’ I think to myself as I tick for the second time in as many weeks the ‘White British’ box. The drive home invites us to draw comparisons with Africa. The shops on the sides of the road. Untarred roads. Beggars. Guys, culture is a powerful thing. There are, what appear to be beggars, looking regal as they sit turbaned on the central reservation in- please join me and trip over this- the lotus pose. We go past a large school with tons of school buses parked outside. I ask an obvious question, ‘is that a school?’- because I feel the need to speak but my brain is busy absorbing the beauty of this new culture. The billboards show a disproportionate number of military-related ads. Boeing, weapons, references to power.

The military is a major part of the country’s infrastructure, right?’ I’m not even sure that my question makes sense but it’s 4am in the morning.

Yes, it is.

Interesting. How come?

Because of our enemies. Cue ‘something scary is about to happen’ music.

Who are your enemies?

China and Pakistan.

OK, people, I knew that. The whole world knows but I have never lived in a country where it’s citizens are acutely aware of their enemies. There was something about the way he said it that made Suzy and I nudge each other at the same time. The last time I heard a human make casual reference to enemy territory was when my boys played Call of Duty on the Xbox. The UK map does not have its perimeter dotted with threats of war. Yes, there is the threat of terrorism, but it does not sit on the border of Coventry and Birmingham or Skegness and Sutton on Sea. The French are rude, is the extent of our threat. They jump queues and eat too much bread.The rail network is the pits!‘ Is another one, or ‘This weather! I can’t believe it’s 10 degrees in December‘. Those are the threats we have as Brits. We. Do. Not. Have threats that involve boeings, guns or other weaponry. Suzy and I condense an entire service complete with praise and worship into two minutes; thankfulness that we live in a safe country, request for forgiveness for not daily acknowledging it. After clarifying with Johnny that Kashmir is nowhere near Delhi and we are not minutes away from the Pakistani border, our conversation segues into the more palatable topic of fruit and vegetable exportation.

I will not, cannot, describe our home for 10 days. Let’s just say my mind remains blown as I write this. We are blessed to be reunited, the family under the same roof, all in excellent health for the first time in a long while. In two days we’ll be visiting some sights, Taj Mahal included. I’ll be sure to share some pictures.

05 Jan

The Flight to India: Seat 27A

Previously, on Pawpaw & Mango: India, we may have a problem.

As I strolled past 26 rows to get to my seat, my soul was gifted with a new experience. I have never been on a flight where its passengers were made up of 93.2% Asians. The other 6.8% consisted of our large family (8 in all) and the Italian cabin crew. Not once have I sat and wondered what it would be like to be in an aircraft full of a particular ethnic group. It’s not something one works towards. A flight full of Nigerians is a natural and justified fear. One full of caucasians is expected when you live in the west. So I added and then crossed out ‘Aircraft full of Indians’ to my bucket list. There, done.

Mealtime was where the real trouble began. We were aware that beef wasn’t eaten in India, scratch that. Beef did not exist in India. Cows did, but their flesh did not make the shortlist of foods available to non-vegetarians. So get this; it’s okay to be vegeterian or even better, vegan. I have friends that wear that title with grave honour. But what you shall not be, my friend, is an omnivore that eats beef.

“Rice or Pasta?”

The perfectly coiffed flight-attendant offered.

“What’s the accompaniment?” I started deciding between chicken and fish while she gathered her response in her perfect little mouth.

“They are both vegetarian”


Not me, hubby. He jerked his head forward and asked her to repeat herself in the tone reserved for our teenage boys when they casually admitted to some foolishness.

“There are only vegetarian options on our Indian flights”

America, Africa, Britain… it was clear that the whole damn world had crossed this bridge with her over the years because she did not explain apologetically the way you do when you deliver important news that you don’t agree with,. No. it was robotised, devoid of emotion.

“Oh, wow”, I countered. That was my polite way of showing disapproval. ‘Oh, wow’ meant you should be ashamed of yourself. ‘Oh, wow’ whispered; the whole world has moved on, why are you still in the stone ages? ‘Oh, wow’ said how freaking dare you decide for me when I should or shouldn’t eat meat?’

“The pasta is lasagne and the rice is a vegetarian fried rice,” she rubbed it in.

With pictures of rice made yellow with turmeric, I told the whole country off by choosing pasta. There, in your face. I choose the Italian, not you. I reminded hubby that we’d had a juicy burger only hours earlier, so we can sort of travel back in time and re-live it while we ate our meatless lasagne. I didn’t say the travel back in time bit, his emotions were still raw. Meanwhile, I chuckled to myself because what they didn’t know, people, was that underneath my seat, in the cargo compartment where our 14 pieces of luggage lay, were vacuum packed frozen meat (including beef) that we, as any self- respecting African would, were sneaking into Delhi. India, we are ready for you. Bring it on.

05 Jan

India, we may have a problem.

India TripThe journey to the journey was an exciting, yet arduous one. It wasn’t without its frustrations- and I don’t mean the drama encountered from attempting to renew my passport. No. That drama belongs in another post and heaven forbid I drag it into this one, which deserves its own title, it’s own space and it’s own audience. Suffice to say, the Nigeria High Commission messed up my names which unbeknownst to me for the last 14 months had been poised patiently to have a knock on effect on my British Passport renewal. So we found ourselves in December 2017- toppled pieces and all- scrambling to rearrange my life.


Yes, we were/are/always will be happy to visit India. We have never been to Asia, but more importantly the entire family will be together under one roof! Three generations with our spouses and friends that long ago became family. What’s not to love about that? The frustrations began when I realised that impressing acquaintances with this news was not going to be an easy feat. First was Mohammed, my ex-delivery driver. Oh he was impressed alright but He is Pakistani, not Indian. Prior to reading ‘White Teeth‘ by Zadie Smith, this distinction would not have earned even blurred lines. There wouldn’t have been a distinction. It would have been a mono-truth, (like monolith, only instead of an unbroken stone structure we had structured truth) Like a glass of filtered water. No colour, no sediments, no taste. But Zadie schooled me on the importance of drawing a very thick line, a gully, if you will, between both countries. And I did so respectfully. Mohammed was happy that I was heading to India. He put on a broad smile and I think in that moment, we liked each other more. The schism between the black (wo)man and the Pakistani (or Indian) was levelled slightly with some soil. Not so much that it had become a line, but enough to stop you falling in if you crossed over to shake hands. Unfortunately, the threadbare cloak of Mohammed’s awe and respect wore off the day he told me he didn’t want to do a delivery because he disliked Chinese people intensely. Yes, all he had to do was assemble their furniture but no, he didn’t like them because “they didn’t like brown skinned people. “They”, he insisted “thought they were better than us”. That was the last time he worked for me.

More Stress

The next few weeks involved weaving a tapestry from the stress over my passport, pre-Christmas customer deliveries, (including a white nursing chair I feared would have turned brown by the time it arrived in Denmark. I mean, I don’t know how to wear a white shirt for more than 6 hours) that, and looking for people to impress with my upcoming trip. I suffered and still carry this notion that ethnic people living in England see it as a sign of respect and solidarity when another person of colour chooses to visit their home. In that moment, the visitor is seen as helping to hold up the person’s arm leaving them free to give the finger to the media who showed images of Indian children in reference to ‘world poverty’. You can just hear it. ‘Children all over the world are suffering..‘. Or, ‘Hamid has no clean water…‘ Come to think of it it was either Hamid in the rice fields of India, or Ngoya in the African plains.

Not Impressed

Are you Indian or Pakistani?” became my greeting of choice when I met suspected Indians. “Where are you from?” was the tactic I used when less confident. The previous method of informing targets that I was traveling to India did not work. I’d deliver the news and step back, waiting for them to be impressed. It never happened. Like what went down with my either Indian or Pakistani uber driver:

Me: “Where are you from?”

Him: (Heavy Indian or Pakistani accent) “London”

“Oh cool! Where are you from originally?” ‘Originally’ is slightly emphasised and my ethnic origin is starting to shift towards ‘White British.’

“Docklands. You know docklands?”

“Yes.” My stubborn streak stretches into a rather wide band, I want to impress him with my upcoming trip to India. If he is Indian. I hope he is Indian. “Where are your ancestors from?” I continue.

“I live here 17 years. Long time” long uncomfortable pause…and then; “Do you like Indian food?”

Feeling pleased. ‘India’ has finally featured in our conversation. “Yeah”, I lie. “I like Indian food. Are you from India?”

“No. How about you, you from London?”

I don’t answer.

He continues; “I have an Indian restaurant on Burnt Ash Road, do you know it?” He tells me the name.

“Ah! I know it, so you are Indian!”


“Well, I’m going to India” I try to sound casual like a child trying to hide her feelings after being bitten by the long snake on ‘Snakes & Ladders’ This one has bluntly refused to be impressed.

“I have some menus, I give you one.”

“I’ll tell all my friends about your restaurant”

So, friends. Please visit spice Garden on Burnt Ash Lane. Done.

Next: What went down on the Flight to India

25 Nov

Basia: A Childhood Memory

In my early teens, I spent some time with my great-aunt. You know the type that is revered and feared by family and friends alike. The one that everyone, the entire adugbo defers to. She was a staunch Catholic and I can only write about her now because I know she is miles away in purgatory. Or heaven.

My visit stretched longer than the one week or two it was supposed to be, during which time she felt she had worn my mother’s shoes long enough to earn her the right to change a few things about me, like the fact that I spoke English and not Yoruba.

“I have no idea why you don’t speak Yoruba, from this moment on, there shall be no English in this house.”

“Yes, ma.”

I didn’t mind, it would be a burden removed if at last I spoke fluent Yoruba like everyone around me. I understood Yoruba fairly well, my trouble was with the intonation, I struggled to get it right and was self-conscious about the fact.

She was the first health freak I met. She drank Swedish Bitters,  brewed herbal teas and concocted strange drinks. She was big on personalization too for she had her initials LYM, printed, engraved or embroidered on most items as the case may be. She had her personal printer, the way most people have a seamstress or a family doctor

We were seated at the dining table, where she strained an organic yeast tea. It stank. I had heard her lauding its healing properties to anyone who visited. Being a pretty woman even in her 70s, many offered their two cents worth on her rare beauty, sometimes attributing it to her drinking of the tea. I doubt that she regarded any of it as she was aware of the spell she placed her minions under. They’d say anything to sweeten her up. Who’d want to fall under the wrath of my great-aunt? She had a quiet laugh and her eyes twinkled when she smiled. Her speaking voice was equally quiet, deliberate and some worth threatening. She shifted about in her chair, looking first to the left, and then the right. “In my room”, she said partly to herself. Quietly.

Lọ mu basia wa. 

(Go and bring the basia.)

What the hell is a basia?

I dared not tell her I didn’t know what it meant since she’d rain down some choice words on me. With one foot placed carefully in front of the other I made my way to her bedroom.

What is a basia? Toks think, think! What on earth is a basia? Baaasiabasiiaaa… I dragged out the word slowly hoping that its translation would be squeezed out if I stretched it long enough.

Once in her room my search began for any item whose name in Yoruba I was unaware of. I spotted a large rosary, a small chair, stack of Manila folders, a photo album, statue of Mary the mother of God, 2 Cherubim. None of these items seemed like a basia I thought to myself. Could it be the name of the latest lace? She had some bundles of muted coloured lace fabric on her bed and Nigerians are known to accord their fashions exotic names.

I returned, lamb-like to the slaughter and opened my mouth to tell her I couldn’t find it. I don’t remember how the words formed themselves.

Basia bantu bantu???!!!”

I didn’t know what bantu bantu was either. She said something  unsavoury in relation to my eyes, ( I have big eyes and my eyes often became the subject of conversation when I was with adults who’d run out of clever things to say). She also spread her arms out wide to demonstrate how sizeable it was- that,  being either my eyes or the basia.
She was already impatient and this was only my first trip. My plan had been to make several trips each time presenting a different item until I got it right.

“Ooh!! Of course ma!” I feigned realisation.

I went back slowly but with a bit more confidence. What’s the largest item in her room? Besides the bed? Surely she didn’t expect me to drag her bed out did she? Or did she?  I stared at her bed, feeling very foolish yet knowing I was intelligent. I looked around some more and then wandered into her bathroom. It was the first time I’d been in there, the shiny tiles were in navy blue and being an en-suite with only a tiny window, the bathroom was quite dark. The eeriness matched the fear that was brewing inside me. I prayed for the phone to ring, to buy me some time. I retreated to the bedroom, could it be in the wardrobe? I’d have some explaining to do if she caught me in her wardrobe looking for a large basia, besides  didn’t she say it was in her room?

She is going to call my name any minute.

Another sweeping glance around the room this time grabbing chunks of courage with which I would tell her I didn’t know what a basia was. As I walked out of the bedroom I bumped into a large metal basin. I thought of the uncanny coincidence. Basia, basin..basin, basia... could it be? Or was God making fun of me? I ran out of time playing tennis with my own thoughts as she yelled my name.

With the large basin in the crook of my left arm, I steeled myself for big trouble and made my way to the dining room. With each step I reaffirmed to myself that learning to speak Yoruba fluently wasn’t worth this trouble. I didn’t miss the look of disdain on her face that said;

“What is wrong with you? I thought you said you didn’t find it the first time?”

My sigh of relief would be heard many years later in 2015.

That wasn’t the last time I got lost in translation, there were many others, including the time I made  amala so soft, she had to eat it with a desert spoon. Hubby says I can write an entire book on the period I lived with my great-aunt, he is right. My experience spanned months and it was decades ago but the memories of what most would call a formidable woman makes an appearance every so often. I’ll be sure to invite you for a natter whenever that happens.


29 May

Packed Train: Thoughts on the Undergound 2

  Internal dialogue with girl on the train whose headphones have some serious audio leakage:
“Do you have any more Lauryn Hill? I’m not feeling this track, I don’t do garage music.”

Why do people going to the airports have to take the train? Can’t they just…walk?

Sloane square. I pray everyone gets off and no one gets on. Great. Everyone gets on, no one gets off.

That woman with the white hair is so irritating. Do you think the girl with the blue floral blouse has a catching disease? Move closer in Jor. It’s a packed train!

*offers seat to senior*
“No thanks I’m getting off soon”
So am I- but I don’t say that. It’ll give the impression that I only offered because I was getting off anyway. But I promise you that’s not the case. I was on my phone googling …. I didn’t see her, honest. I don’t know why it’s so important to me to hope she knows this, that I really wanted to give up my seat for her.
The guy next to me. His ring tone is the theme song of The Good, The Bad & The ugly. If you’re under 40 years old, just let this one go over your head and gracefully move on to the next.

One day when I have a PA, she’ll go through my inbox and delete every email. Then I’ll put my nose up, pout my lips and strut like I’ve got it going on. Okay i won’t put my nose up, I’ll just pout.

Justjoxy has finaaaaaaly written another blog post- she writes mainly about food or fiction. Exceedingly good read, always. Check out this chicken recipe.

This guy looks like a venture capitalist- the type that invests in tech startups that gross £1m in revenue in the first year and then suddenly goes bust. He will then go on to launch 2 further companies, make an undisclosed amount rumoured to be around the £2bn mark then retire to raise ducks in the countryside. 

Man in the lilac paid shirt. You must have enjoyed your lunch. I can tell you had Mediterranean sauce with your chicken salad. The issue is, if you happen to be single, and tonight you meet the girl of your dreams- you’ve probably blown it with that stain on your shirt. Next time, be sure to wear navy.

Smart & trendy guy in the grey blazer, black and white check shirt and dark denim jeans. Nice attire!

Just seen a newspaper article headline- Bank Holiday traffic will be ‘worst in 3 years’. I promise you, if there was nothing bad to report, the news will read like this;
‘This morning, everyone in the world could have died in their sleep but they didn’t. It was however, a very close shave”. They’ll then dig up some old scientist who lives behind Tesco to come and explain how there is a 0.000000000000000001% chance of a meteor wiping out life on Earth on Monday morning. 

Have you read Thoughts on the underground 1? That was on the Jubilee  line, I think my thoughts vary per tube line. Next time we’ll venture on the central line and see what happens! Thank you for reading, have a lovely long weekend!

08 May

Surviving The Nigeria High Commission, London

“Madam please off your phone we don’t allow phones on.”

“Excuse me, do you not have manners? Ah ah? Who raised you? Why don’t you let me enter before you come out? Ehn?”

“Mama please e ni suru, it’s okay.”

You guessed it, I’m at the Nigeria High commission Northumberland Avenue, London. If you want to test your levels of dignity, visit the Nigeria High Commission. If you think you’ve arrived, that you, an adult cannot possibly throw tantrums and totally lose it, I dare you to go there.


There is a small crowd outside. People are just… standing. They’re standing outside the closed entrance, a heavy brown door- no different from the door of a UK government building. Some are on their phones, others simply staring. I feel compelled to join them and stand, yes, l know sheep mentality. I ask a lady in a red and blue Ankara,

“Excuse me, what’s going on?”

She looks at me like I have two heads; “Nothing.”

“Are they closed?”

“No, you just need to knock.”

“Knock?” I start to walk towards the door, my fist balled up ready to knock. People step aside as I walk up the three or four steps, they are staring at me, and you know our people can stare!

I am beginning to feel like a right idiot as I knock. I’m not sure the woman in Ankara was being sarcastic or not, she had a stern look.

I knock, gingerly. Expecting the crowd behind me to roar with laughter.

To my utter surprise, the door opens.

Yes. At the Nigeria High Commission in London, you knock like it’s a private residence and the door is opened by a man I presume to be the security guard.

An exchange about my phone needing to be switched off occurs and I quickly call my contact. I have a contact who will help me. It is common knowledge that official matters transition better when you have someone on the inside. My contact was referred to me by another contact and we’ve been conversing over the phone but it’s the first time we’ve met.

His eyes light up when I ask if he is Donatus*, “ah, Toks?” Huge smile.

I stretch out my hand to shake his, he takes my winter cold hand in him warm one and refuses to let go- even as we start to go upstairs to his office.

I hover between two minds, do I snatch my hand away and be condemned to hours in the sweltering heat? There’s a crowd and all heaters are blazing for in my country we don’t have winter. The second option will be to use style to sneeze and cover my mouth in which case he might think I’m feigning damsel in distress and he’ll attempt to catch me.

We arrive at his office. His ringtone is Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing and he lets it ring and ring until the chorus plays and plays. He switches it off. It rings again. Awkward. This happens one more time and then he answers; “I’ll meet you downstairs.”

I would have asked if he was anyone’s beau, cos as you know, I’m on the hunt for a beau for my friend, if you know anyone worth interviewing for the position, holler! – but I’m not feeling him so I don’t bother.

Finally, he returns, finishes helping me out with the forms and tells me to follow him downstairs. I was not prepared for the daggers I received mainly from women who assumed I had given him something in exchange for jumping the queue. Their stiff eyelashes chart the path we walk on and my new friend leads me to the end of the room, points to the interview room and tells me to wait, that the guy in the green check shirt will interview me.

“Ehm, w-when?”

“Soon na.”

“Ah, I have to pick my son at 3 o, I hope I can be out by 2pm”

“Haba, of course na. Maybe, maybe,” he shrugs.

There’s a young girl standing in front of me, she looks Igbo. Lovely figure with a perfectly round bum. I notice because I follow my contact’s gaze. She isn’t wearing a ring, her weave is halfway down her back and she isn’t heavily made up, but is very pretty. We strike up a conversation and I start to wonder about her accent. She hasn’t got a pure British accent but it isn’t pure Naija either. I ask her where she’s from.

“My parents are Nigerian.”

“Yeah, I guessed. What part of Nigeria are you from?”

“Ehmmmmmm ehmmmm Ijebu.” She says with a definitive nod and a smile suggesting she is proud of herself for remembering where she hails from and even pronouncing it. Her intonation is so off, an Oyibo would have done a better job of saying Ijebu.

She has a few scars on her neck and I determine she got into a fight with her ex-husband or ex-boyfriend. The pretty ones, they say tend to be the fiery ones. Plus she’s no more than 5ft and as you know short people have a temper.

Another man joins us. His face is covered in neatly cut tribal marks.

He is worried he won’t get a passport because his birth certificate is missing. An official walks past us and he taps her;

“Sister, please. Err err my birth certificate is missing. Ma.”

“Ok, do you have your passport?”

“Err yes and no”

“Yes and no bawo? You either have it or you don’t.” She turns her nose up and raises her head slightly. She is tall, about 6ft and the man is no more than 5’6″. So when she looks down at him, she does so in every sense of the word.

“Well er, you see, the issue is this. I don’t have a Nigerian passport.”

“Ok, so what did you come to the UK with then?”

“I’m British.”

“Ok so you came to England with a British passport?” She says ‘British passport’ with a little laugh.

“No, I came with my Kenyan passport Ma”

“Oh, you’re from Kenya?”

“No, from Nigeria.”

“How did you get a Kenyan passport?”

“My uncle got it for me.”

“So you have Kenyan, British and now you want Nigerian?” She sneered.

“Y-yes” it’s almost as though the same words now proceeding from the woman’s mouth have been stripped of all confusion and now the simplicity in the meaning is laid bare. It is as though for the first time in his life, he understands himself.

She eyes him up and down. “No one will give you a Nigerian passport. You have to revoke either the Kenyan or the British one.”

“Ha?! I’ve been here since 8am! No one told me. Will I get me money back? What do I do now?” He is visibly shaken.

She leans very closely to him and whispers: “See ehn, when you enter, just don’t say anything about Kenya.” She waves her hand left and right to emphasise her point. “Don’t just mention Kenya. Just say you don’t have a Naija one, you have a britico one. Simples.”

I spot an old, old friend. I’m not sure if I should try and get his attention- he fell out with my friend’s friend and we haven’t seen him in nearly 20 years. From his teeth and his mannerisms, I know it’s him. He hasn’t changed much. Pudgier, bald, a bit darker but that’s all. It’s definitely him.

I avoid making eye contact, people are strange he may decide to take up his anger against our mutual friend on me. Eventually, We cross paths in the canteen where you go to get a signal on your phone. I call out his name. I am at peace with whatever his reaction will be.

“Ahhhh!!!! Tooooookkkkkssss!!” Big hugs, back clapping etc.

We catch up in all of three minutes all that’s happened in the last 15 years. Family, work, life. His ticket number is called and we part ways- he goes upstairs for biometrics while I await my fate.

My number is called for the interview. Seated across the table is a bespectacled woman whom you know if she were in Naija would have drivers, house helps and a gardener.

“Why are you here?” She doesn’t waste her glance on me. The contents of her handbag seem to interest her more.

“I’m applying for my Nigerian passport.” I speak slowly and deliberately, an attempt at infusing the utmost respect into my voice.

“So you don’t have one?”

It is both statement and a question so I don’t answer, one does not want to come across as insulting and thereby lose one’s place in the queue.

“You have applied under a different name.”

“Yes, my maiden name”

“Are you divorced?”




“So why don’t you want to use your husband’s name?” She looks at me like I just crawled out from under a molue. As though I don’t realise just how privileged I am to be able to use another man’s name legally. After all, in our culture are women not meant to aspire towards becoming Mrs?

“I chose my maiden name because the only link I have to my heritage is my surname, which isn’t a typical Nigerian name, my guarantors (parents) share the same surname so I was hoping this will be smooth sailing.” Even as I speak I realise I have confused her more. a simple “because I wanted to” would have sufficed. Cost me my place in the queue, but still sufficed. Their website had called for a letter from my local government area in Nigeria to prove I was indeed Nigerian. That in itself opened another can of worms because of my surname.

“In that case, you have to start the application from scratch”

“Ok fine, married name then please.”

I have never had a conversation this long about my own names and my choice to use either.

“If you’re using your married name, you need a letter of consent from your husband as well as a copy of his passport as proof that you share the same name.”

“Not to worry,” I beam with confidence and whip out my ammunition, “I have my marriage certificate.”

“You still need a letter of consent.”

“Letter of consent?”

“Of course na, to show that he consents to you using his name, that he has permitted you.”

“Even though his name is on the marriage cert?” Here’s me thinking the maiden name would eliminate this extra drama.

She looks at me like I have no sense.

“Yes. Even. though. his. name. is. on. the. marriage. certificate. Ok please wait outside to be called for biometrics.”

I plunk I myself on the grey metal chair feeling really sorry for myself yet thankful that I have crossed one hurdle. Of course I have no idea how many more are left.

Soon after, an announcement is made for us all to go upstairs exactly 4 hours after I arrived at the high commission. I am greeted with a seated crowd of seething Nigerians. No one is smiling. Everyone stares blankly at the flat screen TV which is trying hard to broadcast what appears to be a light-hearted documentary. The presenter is clearly living her dream, it consists of holding a mic and speaking into a 30-year-old camera. I know the camera is that old because the audio and visual are so fuzzy, you’d think it was a visual and audio effect going on, I assure you that’s not the case.

My friend invites me to sit with him. My headache which started brewing an hour ago is now gathering waves. My neck aches from staring at the monitor, checking for my number. And he begins to talk. And talk and talk. He tells me about his daughter who is leading her school in the top girls netball them in the country. His son who has just won a scholarship and the youngest who just passed his 11 plus. Due to a ‘technicality’, he didn’t get into any of the schools but they have appealed and the case will be won. After all, the council are familiar with his name having won an award in the past. I had forgotten how well my old friend could brag.

He tells me about his friend who was invited to speak at W.H.O, and how the said friend’s experience in Belgium is proof that ‘the present administration is failing’. Why else will other speakers from Nigeria be late for the event? He proceeds to show me a picture of the letter headed invitation as proof. That this administration is failing. And Buhari is a fraud.

My headache is worsening.

A suave looking guy with pointy, snake-skin shoes strolls in. “Ladies and gentlemen, good and bad news. Our server is down in Abuja. This means those of you with epassports are affected, you can choose to wait, or return another day.”

Sounds of frustration begin.

“So when you say wait, how long na?” The man with a thick Igbo accent asks.

“Oga, na server na, how we go no when server go start to dey work again? No one can predict these things.”

Clusters of conversation begin to merge into one loud noise.

“This country, ehn?”

“In Nigeria it’s not even this bad.”

“Welcome to naijaaaaa!” A joker chimes in.

“This is preposterous!” The one in the suit and tie adds.

“My children haven’t eaten all day,” moans the woman with a buggy in front of her, a baby asleep in it. Her toddler’s standing a few feet away, chewing on her doll’s foot.

Me? I’m fed up. The headache has reached the level of ice-cold cloth on my head, dark room and no noise.

My friend on the other hand who I forgot to mention, jabs at you when he’s making a point did not stop talking. “This our country, when will it change?” Jab jab jab-jab, jab jab jab jab.

I decide I can’t take any more of this. It is nearly 6pm and I’m stuck in a packed room. I go to the biometrics room where 5 men and women spend 30 mins each taking one photograph.

The woman with the baby and buggy is in there moaning about being there since 7am.

“Madam there is no way you’ve been here since 7am, no way”

“Are you saying I’m lying?”

“Habaaa madam? What’s your number?”


He starts to laugh and all the others join in. “If you were here at 7 your number will be a lot lower than that. Anyway sha, sit down I’ll see you soon.”

I can’t be bothered to tell you about the drama that erupted when an Igbo man dared to tell a Yoruba woman that she was courting favours. I won’t even go into her acidic reaction and the way the man backed down quick, quick.

I was told the 64-page passport that I applied for was out of stock, and even though when I applied online it was the other way round. I was told that the 32 was out of stock and I was forced to pay the higher price for the 64-page passport. I didn’t tell her that. I didn’t ask for the difference to be returned. I just wanted to get out.

So I did.

Tips for survival:

Go with cash- for food. There is a lovely lady that sells good food in the canteen at the back. It’s a precursor to your arrival and walking into mama Bimpe’s buka in Ikeja.

Be prepared to beg, but it might not lead anywhere.

Take some tissue and your entire makeup up purse, you will cry- real tears.

Be nice to every single official, you don’t know what side your bread is buttered.

Blank out your entire day. Sort out school runs, babysitting, dinner, everything. It really is a whole day affair.

It helps if you know someone who works there, it’ll raise your hopes up but it may not lead anywhere.

If you’re in a bad mood, it’ll only get worse. You are better off starting on a high so by the time you’re done all you’ll feel is extreme irritation and you won’t actually lose your mind. Alternatively, change your appointment date.

That said, I love Nigeria, I love Nigerians and totally love being Nigerian. Other embassies may not have you literally knocking on the door but we have got to be the coolest people God created. Bar none.








10 Apr

Why I ate a 120g Bar of Cadbury’s Whole Nut Chocolate.

It wasn’t always like this. I used to think that large chocolate bars were for a certain group, those with overhanging stomachs and fat cheeks that sported scraggly beards. I thought it was for those whose future lay in a reality TV show which involved very large clothes and  the title, “My 300 Lb life.”

I had just had a successful business meeting. Even the terms I was reluctant to request were offered to me on a platter.

I left their head office with a spring in my step and felt my tummy rumble- all I’d had for breakfast was lemon water. I felt sufficiently hungry- and deserving- of a decent lunch, like Wagamama’s or Nando’s. I craved sautéed vegetables and well-seasoned chicken. Or breaded prawns dipped in mayonnaise. Or fried rice with mixed meats (and the meats not cut too finely). Armed with my phone map, I pulled up directions to the nearest Wagamama and began to make my way, all the while having a debate with myself on what reaction I’d have should I walk past Nando’s. I can never have enough of their fino creamy mash. Plus I like chicken too- although I’ve switched to turkey and lamb as our meats of choice at home. Perhaps I’ve missed having chicken, maybe that’s why I was already feeling powerless against any upcoming Nando’s sign.

Wagamama had a large board advertising Ramen. The play on words said come ramen in. (Come right in). That was a problem. My mind skated back to a YouTube video I watched last year where an endoscopy was done on a person who had just eaten ramen. It apparently takes twice the time to digest as normal food does. As I type this I still don’t know if ramen is the same as noodles, I only know that hubby’s colleague is supposedly ‘nuts over ramen’ and university students ‘live on it’.

I try to peer through the cracks of the tourist family of 5 who have spread themselves in front of the menu board outside.

I scan the area for another menu board and my eyes are drawn to a large poster advertising succulent steak. Right beneath it are the words; “Lunch Special, £7.95.” My fate is sealed with that glance. Like a sheep to slaughter, I make my way into “Steak & Co.” I wait in anticipation for my meal. I’ve ordered The lunch special- Chicken on a Bed of Fries. It arrives.

Now I have a problem with sauces that match the main meal. Chicken, fries and now this white mushroom sauce are all shades of the same colour. It does nothing for my appetite. I pray fervently that it tastes good. I start by dousing my meal with black pepper and salt. I can tell by just looking at it. My fork locates a piece of chicken hiding under a thick blob of sauce. My mind immediately conjures up a picture of Chef Gordon Ramsey as he goes to those failing restaurants to revive them.

“What’s this?” He barks.

“It’s our lunch special,” the trembling waitress replies.

Chef Ramsey is known for his temper and foul mouth.

He digs into it, tastes the chicken and shouts for the manager.

“When did you buy this chicken?!”  He is now tapping his fingers on the table.

“Err 2 months ago.”

“What?!!! F;%#%”

“Chef, it’s frozen and hasn’t expired..yet..”

“Are you telling me that you, a fine-dining restaurant serves frozen chicken? It’s a wonder you’re still in business.

“This is absolutely, absolutely disgusting.” And he slams the table with his white napkin before announcing; “Right, we closing this place down”

The above scene is played out by me, except I am Chef Ramsey and I don’t actually call for the manager.

“How’s your meal madam?”

I offer a fake smile, “Not good.”

I surprise myself. Ever since hitting 40 I say what I think. It is so liberating,

“Really? Why?” The 5ft 3in waitress feigns pain.

“It’s bland, not very nice at all.” I use my fork to show her the drenched fries, the sickly sauce and the obvious puke-factor of the meal.

“The only reason I’m eating it is because I paid for it. Can I have the bill please?”

“Sure, I’m so sorry, I’ll tell…them.”

Toks, why are you eating it just because you paid? Isn’t that double jeopardy? Bad enough you’ve lost £10 now you want to create a horrible memory too? Who did you offend?

I push the food away and wistfully long for the age when I’ll be brave enough to ask for my money back.

The waitress returns with the card machine.

“So!” She starts cheerfully, “where are you off to next?”

I want to tell her I would have gone to Nando’s but it wouldn’t be fair for their waitress to mop up my mess since I’ll be projectile vomiting the Steak & Co ‘Lunch Special’ at the next place I step into.

I don’t. Instead, I say, “Home.”

“How nice!” She chirps. “Very lucky, so work is done for the day then?”

Can this heifer not see that I am pissed at their crappy food? Did she not hear when I said it wasn’t nice? And did she not say, “Sorry I’ll tell them?”

I leave the building after fighting off the urge to advise the American couple on my way out to run before their food arrives. But then again who knows? They may love it so much this might be the reason they saved thousands of dollars for a trip to London. This might be their star attraction.

And that’s why I bought and ate a 120g of Cadbury’s Whole Nut at Victoria station. To erase the taste and the memory of the steak co, and to pacify myself after the loss of £10 and 35 mins.

03 Dec

How to Rock the School Run

You dash out of the house cradling your coat, your brown belt, bronze lipstick and bag. You snatch #4’s coat out of his little arms as he struggles to walk with his lunch bag and rucksack. You get into the car to discover you left your phone plugged in by your bed. That’s when you nearly trip as you bound up the stairs to retrieve it. You tell #4 to put his seatbelt on, wonder why your annoying neighbour chose to shout her greeting today rather than say it, do a quick 180 degree spin of the car and leave a cloud of dust behind.

You ask #4 what lessons  he has in school today while mentally searching for the person you offended that has now cursed caused you to end up behind the Peugeot 205 that’s driving as though it’s in a parade of some sort. This appears to be a deliberate ploy to rile you. But you resist the temptation and hold on to your joy as you drive. Slowly. You grit your teeth- a mixture of irritation and relief as the car pulls to the right. Now you are left to nurse the guilt that’s rising like bile at the realisation that the driver is a pensioner. Anxious thoughts of ageing start to cloud your mind- but you push those out too. Because you know if you don’t you will begin to recall foods that cause ageing. You’ll remember the last thing you had for breakfast yesterday. Bread. You ate bread with a slab of butter and sliced mushrooms and scrambled eggs neatly arranged on like they do at Carluccio’s. Did you not say you’d stop eating gluten and dairy? You will then begin to make new vows to change your diet and start exercising again. So you refuse to think about ageing. And health. And looming changes in your appearance. You don’t imagine your mostly black hair becoming mostly grey. You choose instead to chat with #4 by answering his random question; “how does a woman know when she’s meant to have a baby?” Not so random really as you’ve just gone past the heavily pregnant mum who was due to have her baby last week, and you just exclaimed ‘the baby still hasn’t arrived!’

Your left hand rummages through your bag for your eyeliner which you are sure you threw in as you left the house, the green shoulder bag your friend Aji bought you from Spain.

You drop off #4 after a failed attempt at kissing him. He says he just doesn’t want a kiss when you ask him if he’s okay. He says it with a small smile. You remember his teacher’s words last parents evening, that he is a ‘very factual’ boy, he is not dreamy. You smile at God’s blessing as you release him from your grip and rush to the car praying the traffic warden hasn’t showed up with his oversized uniform and parking ticket paraphernalia.

Off you go for your first appointment of the day following the school run. You are accompanied by the songs of India Arie and presently being stirred up by the words;

” You inspire me the way you make me feel inside is amazing
Your honesty your artistry is engaging
You are everything I hope to be”

You take in the ‘rolling hills and glowing trees of Kent. Kent, which you love so much. Only 8 years ago you were sad to move back here. Now you love being surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation.

You dither at the mini roundabout as you doubt your own right of way since bus 216 is racing down like its the one with the right to pass.
India Arie is now singing Video– you admire her sheer guts at singing the naked lyrics- sometimes I shave my legs and sometimes I don’t…Such courage. The song has you glued to the seat of your car as you rock from side to side singing at the top of your voice. You have arrived but you are not about to deny yourself the joy of singing. So you sing. And sing. And sing. And you knock on the door 7 minutes late.

10 Oct

Toks goes to Downing Street

First you touch your hair after receiving the invitation. Like most black women, my confidence is unevenly distributed and linked to my hair. So you touch your hair as you wonder if it is Downing Street worthy. Next you mentally scan your wardrobe and the department store occasion wear section all in the space of one minute.  Then you wonder what you’d say in conversation? My extent of global politics begins and ends at ‘should I do the laundry now or wait till the kids get back from school, that way they have an extra clean shirt for the week?’ Or ‘Did I remember to take out the chicken for the freezer before I left to do even more grocery shopping?’ I wonder what clumsy spirit will take hold of me. After all wasn’t it me who spilled water on a news anchor’s shoes at a posh event at The Waldorf? Will I sneeze and stuff fly onto the lapel of the  prime minister’s Saville row suit? Or will I drop my plate of canapés on the ridiculously expensive yet muted coloured carpet of the Prime Minister’s drawing-room? And when that happens do I wait for the staff to pick it up or do I do so myself? If I choose to clear the mess will I not be viewed as subservient? Won’t it cause all black people to be seen as so low that we automatically switch to servant mode when the opportunity presents itself? And if I decide to leave it to the servants, what do I do during that eternal minute before they arrive?

The night before.

Since you don’t want to appear ignorant you find yourself reading the genealogy of the Prime Minister and his wife. You were meant to only read about their parents and children, so you have an emotional platform for conversation but the spirit of Wikipedia possesses you and takes you six generations off course. You discover they both come from influential, wealthy families. That’s also when you learn that as at the last election we no longer had a deputy PM. You conclude that a commoner cannot possibly become PM as they all seem to come from very good stock. You wonder what juju Obama used to get into office and if Jeremy Corbyn has at yet been introduced to the same babalawo.

How about the journey there?

Do you simply walk up to the door, no 10 Downing Street,  the black door flanked by two policemen as we see on the news- do you just walk up there like I walk up to Suzy’s house and… knock?

Enroute and I begin to wonder if RSVPing twice was such a good idea after all. What if the second email cancelled out the first? Thankfully I’ve kept the news quiet so it’s only about four people that will be made aware of my klutzness (Hubby’s word of the month) should I arrive and I’m denied entry. But really what would I do? How would I wear the shame on my face? Will I smile it away or just cry it out? I decide I should cry. Crying is a better option in this case because years from now as the story is told about the Nigerian girl who couldn’t even RSVP to an invitation from the Prime Minister, it wouldn’t end with ‘would you belive she was smiling sheepishly when they denied her entry?’ Tears it will be. My confidence picks up once that dilemma is settled.

The man sitting behind me on the train is on the phone ordering 4kg of dry ice and a large block of ice. He is very insistent and stresses the urgency of the dry ice. What do ordinary people use dry ice for? I want to ask him why. Oh wait, he’s giving out his phone number. Should I call that number and ask him what he wants the dry ice for?

Mum just called. She’s screaming with joy. ‘Is it true my daughter? You are going to see the Prime Minister? Ehen! God is great o!!!’ The phone suddenly dies, and then autotune-like  sounds start to emanate instead of my mummy’s voice. I knew it. The thought that I was being bugged did cross my mind, after all wouldn’t they have checked me out and ‘swept’ my house and phone to make sure I had no links with Boko Haram? or Jeremy Corbyn?  At this point I’m so glad I don’t allow negative words on my Facebook page. Imagine if I was one of those who curse out the PM and his cabinet regularly? Can you imagine if I chomped on the hand that will be feeding me canapés, ( I later find out) today?

The walls in the hallway are mustard. Very mustardy, and there are massive portraits of predecessors long dead pressed onto the walls. The lady in that picture looks familiar- it’s The Queen! In black and white? I wonder why. Such a natural looking picture of her majesty. Up the second flight of stairs and into the drawing room. Canapés. Juices. Wine. No wine for me, wine is what causes me to spill drinks on people’s shoes or start talking about my Brazilian ancestry when asked the meaning of my Nigerian name. Wine might cause me to start referring to the PM as Dave or DC or even’D’. So no wine, just juice. I look around and feel very chuffed at the company I’m in. I chat with a few friends and acquaintances and meet some new folks. I start a conversation with a woman who introduces herself to me with her first and last name. She does it the way it’s done when someone tells you their first name and they don’t get a roaring applause, then they add their last name so that recognition first dawns on you, then shame overwhelms you as you realize that in your own stupidity you didn’t recognize them. Only in my case I really don’t know her.

Off I go to chat with another lady, a solicitor. She notices a closed door with flashing lights coming out of the gaps and we decide our man Dave must have landed. We saunter towards the door. Sure enough, he appears. Skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom. So soft you want to stroke his cheek. Taller than I imagined too and very warm, personable and friendly. He makes his way around the room and eventually reaches me. Power is good o! See everyone calling him ‘Sir’. A firm handshake and a smile. ‘So where do you fit into all of this then?’ He asks what I do. I tell him my profession and there’s a hint of the surprise I see in most people’s faces when they find out for the first time what I do. But his hint is so controlled it’s almost not there. A fleeting shadow if you will. This room is packed with the who’s who of entertainment, sports and business. And there’s me. Toks. Oswald Boateng needs to eat a bit more I think, but I don’t tell him that.

David Cameron gives a speech and immediately afterwards I find myself talking to a lovely guy-  I begin to court him mentally for my bestie. I start to get annoyed in advance should she tell me ‘she isn’t feeling him,’ he’s not the one or there’s just no chemistry. My anger dissipates slowly seconds after I discover he is married. I want to ask him if all is well in his marriage, but I change my mind. He’s an ex-Royal Navy officer and I’m sure he knows just what nerve to pinch and finish me off. The phrase ‘all the good ones are taken’ snakes its way around my mind, I shake off that thought and keep my eye out for an available suitor.

I spend the second half of the evening chatting with my new friend and catching up with a few others. It’s time to go home. More than half the folks are gone, but here I am still basking in the very shocking fact that I am in the PM’s residence, and leaving to go home would erase the truth. It’s not like they’ll let us back in if we stepped outside and changed our minds to come back in. The security and process to come in was like going through Stansted airport without the loud Ibiza holiday-clubbing crew. As I leave, I know I’ll be back someday for something, I just don’t know when. Down the stairs, I retrieve my phone which they took from us and I get my coat.

On the train, I gist with Joxy and Suzy. The train is packed and the guy standing in front of me has such thick beautiful hair, it’s egging me on to grab a fistful just to confirm its real. When you’ve been to number 10 you start to think anything goes, even grabbing strangers’ hair on the 19:18 train to Orpington.

My key fits into the lock of number 17 and I am met with reality as my number 3 greets me with; “Hi mum, I think I need a doctor, I hurt my foot whilst playing football.”


08 Jun

The Mother-in-Law ‘saves the day’

It isn’t often one receives a phone call at 00:40, the very early hours of Monday.

imageI needed to do some thinking and get rid of some negative energy. One way I do so is by writing. Another is by cleaning, my choice if it’s heavy stuff. I chose cleaning. I felt there were aspects of my life I had left unattended to and now the chickens were coming home to roost. Cleaning and decluttering my kitchen wasn’t just expending the bad energy, it was symbolic too. As I tossed one old newspaper or expired birthday greeting card, I was removing old information and expired viewpoints. The icing on the cake would be using the scented solution I just happened on to wash the kitchen floor, hmm!!

Imagine my surprise when the home phone rang. At 00:40. I stared at it, I didn’t have my glasses on so couldn’t see the number display from where I stood. I said a quick prayer as my mind flew to my parents in Nigeria.

It was a UK mobile phone, a familiar number that I’ve refused to memorise. I picked it up.


“Yes mum, are you ok?”

“They say a cosmic wave is coming. Don’t sleep with your mobile phone next to you. It will happen tonight between 12 midnight and 3am.”

“Mum?” I know she’s ok physically, I’m now wondering about her mental state. She was fine when I spoke to her this morning so where is this coming from?

“Yes, did you hear me? Don’t put your phone near your body tonight even if it’s off, cosmic waves are being released and it is very dangerous. I just got the text.” She delivers that last sentence with an air of importance, the type that’s used when one has been privy to classified government information.

My mind instantly becomes a war zone. Should I enjoy the pleasure of telling mother-in-law that she is seriously mistaken? That this is a hoax that’s been going around- I later find out- for a year? Or should I give her the pleasure of knowing she saved our lives by feigning relief and gratitude that she delivered us from death by planetary explosion?

I decide to try a third unrehearsed route;

“Mum! You scared me, I thought something had happened!” That way I come across like the caring daughter-in-law

“Is this not something? This is the something that has happened now! You don’t think this is serious enough?” She has now taken on a condescending tone, but carries on; “Do you think I should call your sister-in-law to warn her?”

“No, no, no”, I toss in a chuckle. “Don’t mum, you can tell her tomorrow”

“But it’s happening tonight! That’s what I’m trying to tell you Toks, the cosmic waves are coming tonight.”

“Mum it’s not real, these things are circulated often, it’s a hoax.”

“Anyway please go round to all the boys” (like there are 10 of them) “and check their phones, you hear?”

“Yes mum.”

She didn’t hear that part, she’d already hung up.

There are several reasons why this is worrying. If the hoax creators have taken to spreading their messages by text, then they have just discovered their PR candidate. This means there’ll be many more middle of the night phone calls.

And it’s not like I can switch off the phones in case there’s a real emergency.

On the one hand I want to set her straight in case she falls for a riskier scam, but on the other hand why take away the feeling of martyrdom that swaddles her as she saves our lives, one hoax after another?

Tell me, what should I do?