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.

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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?”

“No.”

“Separated?”

“No.”

“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?”

“233”

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

“Toks!”

“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?

31 Jan

Blurred Lines

I arrived at 11:30am to discover that the hospital car park was full and street parking limited to permit holders only until noon. I had 30 mins to wait out the ticket warden who was behind me a minute ago and is now possibly crouching low behind the red Nissan Micra ahead on the left side of the road.  Poor guy. He’ll have a long wait cos this chick ain’t leaving one minute before noon.

At 12:03 I exit the car and look around for Kofi and he is nowhere to be seen. I consider taking a photo of the windscreen of my car as proof that I didn’t have a ticket at 12:03, don’t laugh, I’ve heard stories and I know there is no limit to what the council will do to ensure you get a parking ticket. I’m talking drawing double yellow lines after you’ve parked and even recalibration of the GMT so that what’s 12:03 to you is actually 11:53 to them.

At the X-Ray department all seats are occupied. One becomes vacant as Mr Goddard is called in, I replace his behind on the soft red chair. Now I am seated next to a woman who is Romanian. Or Albanian. Or Latvian, you can tell a lot by accents these days right? She informs me that she needs to dash to the toilet, and can I please let the radiographer know she’s only a minute away if he calls her name, “Sofia?” I oblige.

She returns barely a minute later. I inform her of the obvious, that she hasn’t been called yet.
“Oh thank you. Because my bladder was very full”, she says thankfully with a smile.
Since I don’t know how to respond to that, I smile back and nod.

The woman on my right is being shouted at by a man, presumably her husband.

“…and you are very stupid”, he ends his tirade and lumbers off.

I am inclined to say something since fate, in cohorts with our sitting arrangement has shoved me to the front of the line of aghast onlookers.

“Is that your husband?”

Her shame is now overflowing and has drenched a part of my heart.

“Yes”

Men come in all sorts of species…”, I begin with a sigh.

She nods slowly, going ahead to soak in the words I’m about to say.

Now at the start of my sentence there was a clever and encouraging ending. That ending has now abandoned me mid-sentence and I don’t have a replacement. My attempt at being supportive is crumbling as the incomplete sentence may have suggested that ‘all men are dogs’, which I don’t subscribe to, or, ‘your man is a dog’, suggesting that mine isn’t. Either way, she doesn’t win and neither do I.

“I need to go again”

I wonder how I turned into Sofia’s pre-school teacher.

“Ok,” I nod.

Another 56 seconds passes and she’s back. I am baffled at her speed. She is wearing a tight pair of buttoned, zippered and belted jeans. She has to walk to the loo, wherever it is, yet she comes back so quickly all zippered, buttoned and belted up.

“Phew! I was told to keep it empty but not too empty. But I always feel I need to empty my bladder, and I was desperate. The last time I was here they couldn’t do the scan because it was too empty.”

 

I love being a woman. We share an unspoken bond that erases the lines of separateness. As strangers, we can hold full dialogues with each other about men- well most can- and we can talk about body parts. But I’m just not feeling this bladder talk. Because each time she says she needs to keep it slightly empty, my mind tries to figure out exactly how many teaspoonsful of yellow pee we’re talking about here.

A woman in a red coat waddles out of the X-ray room.

“It’s broken”, she says to her husband who gets up to meet her.

“Oh no!” He exclaims quietly but urgently.

Another patient chips in.

“It’s broken?” He is in dismay, just as I am, we’re clearly both wondering how long she has walked on her broken foot for.

“Yes, they told me it’s broken.” She responds directly to him, glancing at her foot no doubt waiting for some common human sympathy.

“Oh your foot is broken!” He breaks into a broad smile, chuckling as he explains he thought she meant the X-ray machine was broken. He doesn’t hide his relief as he returns to reading his paper.

“Mrs A.”
A cheerful Asian man calls my name and summons me with a smile into the x-ray room.

“Please take off your bra and leave just your blouse on, once you’re done meet me in this room.”

Did he just cross the line? Into our territory? There is something not quite right about that. I have always perceived Asian men as being conservative and I’m mildly surprised he even knows what a bra is, let alone allow that heathenish word to proceed from his lips. “Disengage any undergarments” seems more like his thing.

Or

“Disrobe, please madam, leaving just your outer garment.”

Or

Undo any paraphernalia that may or may not be fully connected to your upper body”. That covers the strapped and the strapless variety.

He takes the X-ray tells me to go back and change. I go back, stuff the ‘undergarment’ in my bag, put on my cardigan and coat and pray it doesn’t fall at the feet of a good-looking doctor when he asks me for my business card. I pray I might bump into him on my way out, he will inform me that his wife is expecting and they would need to buy some expensive baby furniture.
No such luck. My luck is more the type where I reach into my bag to retrieve my car keys and the offending undergarment falls at the feet of Kofi,  born in Accra under very interesting circumstances- another story. He will then burst out laughing through his gappy teeth at his two-fold fortune:

1) That he issued me with a parking ticket

and

2) That a bra landed on his size 11 work boots in the middle of the day on Croydon Road.

Thankfully I am spared all of that, because I stayed in my car for three whole minutes after the clock struck 12:00, to make sure I did not violate the parking rules. I drive off happily, leaving behind Sofia the bladder woman, the poor lady with the irate elk for a husband and of course, the Asian (possibly muslim) radiographer who dared to cross the lines of haram by mentioning an unmentionable.

Thank you for reading!

09 Sep

The Flight

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At the airport, I am surprisingly on the ball. I am quick, not wasting time. I’m enroute to see my beautiful family. I have missed them. A lot. Cannes is stunning, no one can ever deny it’s beauty or audacious wealth, but even the horn of plenty cannot compare with my own home. I realise I love my life, even with it’s challenges and there isn’t a lot I will change.

For the second time on my trip my mind flashes back to the pack of three pairs of colourful earplugs I saw at the counter in the pharmacy. I was staring at them while paying for my goods, wondering what circumstance would force one to wear them. Now I am being subjected to Norwegian airline’s pop music grating it’s way across my brain. The airline clearly thinks this is entertaining. We started boarding at 9:57am for a 10am flight. It is 10:39 and my line of vision remains interrupted by the tail of another marooned airplane.

A Norwegian flight attendant stumbles through the first paragraph of his script, welcoming us aboard the flight. He connects his sentences with a lot of erms and umms. In the middle of his speech, while uttering an erm, the English captain cuts in as if to show off his own ability to speak without struggle. He whizzes through the same speech in a flawless accent and in clipped tones. It is clear that had the Norwegian man carried on speaking, he would presently be stuck at an umm.

The captain decides to undress his crew member further by explaining in fluent English, no less, that there was a delay leaving Gatwick. Immediately I realise that my concern should not have been their tardiness. Was it terrorists? The terror alert in the UK was raised to ‘serious’ before I left for France. “No”, he answers my telepathic question. “It was fog”. This time he is speaking with ‘errs‘ between each sentence, but his carry a weight of certainty.

If God placed before us a buffet table laden with an assortment of world famous punctualities, I will pick Germany’s. I’m off to Germany in 3 days and I know if my flight says 10:31:33, it will lift into the aerosphere at 10:31:33. I also know that I won’t eat my words. The Germans are like machines, I know that because my best suppliers are Germans. We were once asked to design and source a nursery in 4 days. Our nurseries take 8 to 12 weeks on average. We could have chosen the Italians for the unique style and beauty of their furniture, but we chose the Germans, because we knew we could rely on them to be on time and not a millisecond late.

I sleep for half an hour and read for the second half. At a point the English pilot announces ‘for those who care’ that we are currently flying over the city of Paris and we can see it if we look to the left of the aircraft. The Norwegian is verbally absent, it appears he has been relegated to a non-oratorical task. The next time we hear him is when he is forced to make the “welcome to London” announcement. He is the natural choice since the descent onto the runway is as bumpy as his sentences. It’s the type that would have left you tasting your own blood, if the tip of your tongue wandered too close to the gap between your top and bottom rows of teeth.

I can’t wait to tell you all about my trip to the South of France, carried out in celebration of Shade’s birthday. In true Toks fashion, I share the gist in reverse.

24 May

Thoughts on the London Underground

First he sits down, moments later his stomach joins him- no, not on another seat but on his lap.

In my defence, it was a long train ride with no stop changes and I forgot my kindle. So I was left with no choice but to share my thoughts- every single one. With you 🙂

“How old do they have to be before you offer your seat? I don’t want to offend anyone.”

“Why did I choose to scratch my ankle at precisely this moment? If I get up I’ll certainly lift what’s left of her mini skirt right up.”

“I hope he doesn’t fart. I’d rather inhale smoke than someone else’s fart smog.”

“Dandruff on his jacket, ugh!”

“I wonder if she’s happy. Does she like her job? Maybe her boss is harassing her. Then again maybe she’s willing.”*

“A Blackberry?! People still use those?”

“Is she pregnant? I love newborns!”

“I wonder if they’re married? To each other?”

“Nice bag!”

Candy Crush? All that twitching for a game of moving jelly beans about. Big baby.”

“Jubilee line extension- you almost expect to hit a bump as the train transitions from the new section of the tracks to the old. But it’s seamless and you’ll never know!”

“Lovely dress but I’m not convinced that the coral goes with your red shoes. And army green bag. Then again what do I know?”

“Poor woman, all that effort just to get up from her seat. She’s probably going home to cook for her brood too. Lord, please give her strength.”

“I hope this RSI pain isn’t due to excessive dedicated use of my iPhone, it started in January. Funny coincidence?”

“I thought they said they now had wifi on the tubes. Someone definitely said.”

“There are so many people in employment. Just look at the crowded platforms.”

“City workers that wear trainers while dressed in skirt suits look so cool. Reminds me of Manhattan. Sadly no one ever invites me to a board meeting in the city. Or anywhere. So I won’t be able to partake in the fashion succès.”

“The Evening Standard. Must be the number one selling underground paper. Wrong Toks, it isn’t sold, it’s free. #justsaying.”

“Once upon a time only trendy people used white earphones.”

“I’ve never quite got the hang of a white jacket. It just seems so bare. Plus you have to be sooooo careful not to get dirt on it.”

“I could do with an iPad”. “Why Toks? Because the woman in the red jacket is reading from one?”

“Baker Street, yay! Only a gazillion more stops to go!”

“Woman in red jacket just sat next to me, she’s watching a movie!”

“I wonder if I can lip read. Hmm, she doesn’t seem to want to share”. Suck teeth.

“For all we know the man opposite me could be a paedophile. Or a collector of ladies fingers and toes, (he stores them in his freezer). He is wearing grey jogging bottoms and a grey hoodie. My question is why are you not dressed like the others? Look around what’s everyone wearing?’

“Cath Kidson, I love Cath Kidson. Reminds me of Mills & Boon stories. No, I have no idea why either”.

“So glad I seasoned the turkey before I left this morning.”

“Yowzers! Bright yellow trousers, you go girl! #confidencepersonified”

Three university students mosey into the carriage, chatting about their courses. “Oh to be young again! If I could go back in time, this is the moment I would march right up to my younger self and sit me down over a plate of macaroons- which I wouldn’t have discovered then. I would tell myself to stick with that business studies course which wasn’t compulsory, because I would be needing it later.”

Girl in yellow floral dress. “She’s pretty, a Caucasian version of my cousin Toyin”.

“There’s something mildly disconcerting about a man tying his cardigan around his waist. A pullover is fine but an unbuttoned cardigan that hangs down on either side like an A-line dress? Not cool.”

“No, no, no! You did not just pick up a newspaper from the bin? They are free and everywhere! Haba!!”

“Did someone say collagen? Why did you do that to yourself?” SMH.

Low battery, I’m staring daggers into the backs of everyone with a half or full battery symbol. Thank you for riding with me on my journey home 🙂

 

*Note to Women’s rights proponents:

I don’t mean she tolerates harassment, I mean she might be a willing party to a consensual relationship. Plus this is my blog. Filled with my thoughts. Random ones.

08 Sep

A Culture shift

Following CNN’s award of the 5th sexiest accent to Nigerians, I suspect change will be coming our way very soon.

Here’s the tongue-in-cheek comment;

Famous tongues: King Sunny Adé, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde
Dignified, with just a hint of willful naiveté, the deep, rich “oh’s” and “eh’s” of Naija bend the English language without breaking it, arousing tremors in places other languages can’t reach. Kinda makes the occasional phone scam worth the swindle.

Don’t mind them, we are not phone-scammers.

Do you think we may at last start to feel comfortable with our accent? I watched a Nigerian movie at a friend’s barbecue a couple of weeks ago. It was a Yoruba movie with subtitles in English. The entire movie was cringe-worthy especially when they kept spelling many English words with an “l” inserted in it. Dealth. Belthday. A guest explained to me it was the “aso” way of speaking. Dealth. Okay o!

I attended my friends baby dedication on Sunday. It was a proper naija affair, packed with hundreds of people with aso-ebi to go. You see, the fan-fare was necessary as the twins were waited for for 16 long years. An awesome, emotional testimony indeed. I noticed quite a few of us had on English dresses topped with burgundy gele. I’m so loving it and have started to acquire a collection of geles for future events.

The boys are back at school, yes school runs have begun. Child #2 will be going camping next week for 5 days. To remind you, child#2 is the fashion conscious, it-boy. I have threatened to pack up some eba and banga soup to take with him.

You should see his face, I keep a straight face whenever the conversation comes up.

So mum what am I taking to camp?

Sweets, biscuits and of course Eba and banga soup.

Mum! I can’t take Eba to camp!

Why? Are you ashamed of your culture?

No, of course not. It’s just that I’ll look weird. 

Do you look weird when you eat sandwiches?

No, but it’s..

Ehen! Nothing weird about eba and banga soup. You love it abi? Or do you want me to stop making it?

No, but…

That settles it then. Eba to camp!

It is very hard to keep a straight face but I’m able to pull it off every time! He believes me. I hear him mumbling to his brothers about it. A few minutes later he comes back.

How am I going to warm it?

That’s true, I didn’t think of that. You can eat it o the coach on the way to camp.

Horrified look!

Yep! I’m on a mission to increase cultural awareness, what better place to start than at home?

Thanks so much for reading!

Glossary:

aso: Westernised Nigerian, usually used as a form of ridicule

gele: African head-gear- quite sizeable

aso-ebi: Outfits made from matching fabric to be worn by a group of people to an event

Eba: Staple food eaten in parts of west Africa, sticky, heavy and very filling

Banga: Nigerian soup made from palm kernels. Whatever you do don’t get some on your clothes while you eat!

23 Jun

Business News Today…

It’s my 100th post!!!!!

I am very thrilled to post my 100th blog post on Pawpaw and Mango. I am even more pleased that you have stuck with my sporadic, random ramblings, your interest means so much to me and I thank you most sincerely.

So what do I write about? I want to share a part of my journey that I mention quite often, my business.

I don’t know if they are made or born but I know for sure running a business didn’t come naturally to me. I can tell you about a good number of my weaknesses- reasons I should not be doing what I do. Rather I want to share some of my challenges and how they have evolved over the years.

Emails.

Emails should never have been a challenge in the first place (except with their unlimited storage, the guys at Gmail have made me averse to deleting emails hence my 17,506 unread emails in my inbox. Yeah.) So my first emails when I started out in business went something like this:

Dear Mrs Blah,

Thank you for your order. Our customer service line is open from 9- 5:30pm should you have any queries, have a good day.

Yours sincerely

Kelly

Customer Services representative

Name of Company.

Then I came to understand that I needed to differentiate my emails from the perfunctory ones sent by department stores in Bond Street, like John Lewis. I was told people like to hear the sound of their names and have a more personal interaction. So email format changed to:

Dear Mrs Blah,

We are so glad you ordered your baby’s cot from us. We trust that little Miss blah is sleeping comfortably in it. Mrs Blah, we would love to assist you again in the  future Mrs Blah and hope you shop with us again, Mrs Blah. Thanks so much Mrs Blah, have a nice day Mrs Blah.

Kindest regards,

Kelly

I needed no one to tell me it was overkill. And then with the recession and businesses closing down, more and more people started to shop online. Not only was competition becoming rather stiff but consumers yearned for the personal contact once enjoyed. Consequently emails changed to:

Dear Mrs Blah,

Thank you for shopping with us. We are working hard to fulfil your needs beyond your expectations and would like you to send us your comments on our products or services. Also, we’ll send you a free gift voucher if you suggest us to your friends. They will get a voucher too. Please join our Facebook page on … and we invite you to follow us on twitter. Have you signed up for our newsletter? If not you can do so on our homepage (link). Finally please let us know if … And on and on I went.

I have since shortened my emails considerably; they are relevant, friendly and to the point. Plus this new-found confidence in who I am allows me to use my real name and not Kelly. Or Zara. Or Joelle or any of those names I wish my mother had named me.

Refunds

I hate refunds- I don’t like requesting them because it means I am unhappy about my purchase. Worse than that though is issuing refunds. I really, really hate that. I would much rather not have sold the goods in the first place. I detest it so much that I don’t let it linger. If a customer purchases an item that is out of stock or damaged or unsuitable for any reason, I give a refund within minutes of the request. Why let the pain drag on?

At the store we don’t give refunds for custom-made items and our terms and conditions clearly state that. So when Mrs Pain* returned item number 1 because she didn’t “quite like it”, I wasn’t perturbed. After all it wasn’t made just for her. I suggested some other alternatives as I always do but no, she wasn’t happy. I didn’t give a refund immediately this time because her second custom-made item was on its way to her. You see I had a bad feeling right from the start. I wish I had gone with my instincts and not offered to customise her second item for her. Needless to say it arrived over the weekend and she wasn’t happy either. I wasn’t surprised. So it was with a bitter-sweet feeling that I processed her refund a few minutes later. It’s not so bad these days as I rarely get complaints about the quality of products, I take the view that my items are great but just not right for that person at that particular time.

Shipping

This one has  the potential to cripple my day- if and when it goes wrong. What hasn’t gone wrong with our shipping? Missing items, check. Damaged items, check. Items damaged on purpose with a hammer, check. Illiterate drivers that don’t understand English and therefore cannot tell left from right on their sat nav, check. Items turning up more than a month after it was mailed, check. I could go on but I won’t. The thing about shipping is that a good shipper is hard to find, but once you find one, hold on tight and never, ever let go.

Social Media

This one is new. Yes I created a twitter account back in 2008 but didn’t do anything with it. Facebook was courtesy of Suzy. Linkedin, I don’t even know how I got on but somehow I ended up there. Thanks to my business mentor you can find me (with my picture!!!) on twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. The twitter one was rough going, I still struggle to understand why we are limited to 140 characters. Plus I had and still have a couple of pychos following me. Once psychotic behaviour is exhibited, I click the block button. Simple.

Marketing

I have written about my feelings towards sales and advertising here and here. My marketing used to be limited to placing a few leaflets in shops. I hated doing that at the beginning because I don’t like rejection. Maybe mum and dad spoiled me and gave me everything, but I don’t quite know how to handle rejection. So when I ask very nicely if I can place my flyers in your store for your customers as they would find it relevant, and you say “NO!”, I tend to run and hide. I am a lot better now thankfully. My marketing these days consists of- but not limited to- running away from advertisers and magazines. Yes they call me every day! I Thank God for caller display. I don’t mind advertising when budget allows it, and in fact I need to but I hate being sold to.

Competition

One of them left a bad taste in my mind as she stole images and text off my website, which was my introduction to “the competition”. I have since forgiven her (I hope) and have even added some (other) competitors to my network on LinkedIn. I tell them I admire their work and have sent some of my customers to them if I’m out of stock on a particular item. I learned that from Tony Heisch, The oh-so-cool Zazzle CEO.

That’s all for now folks!

Thanks so much again for reading, I am so glad to be back to blogsville! Missed y’all!

07 May

Bus 227

I’m on the bus on my way to work. I love going to work, I have to peel myself away from my desk each evening and the only reason I leave is because my beautiful family is at home waiting for me. Most days during my bus ride I busy myself building and connecting with my LinkedIn network or attempting to tweet something short and sensible.  Twitter is still a struggle because I’m not a woman of abbreviated words or sentences. Facebook, I have been running away from since I shouted from the rooftops that the new site was going to be launched today so I’ve chosen to bury my head in the sand and pretend I am not even aware that I uttered those words.

I sit at the back today as I must sleep. I haven’t had more than 6 hours sleep in total over the last 48hours, and I don’t function well in a sleep-deprived state. I have taken to drinking cold coffee- Espresso is too bitter to gulp down so I end up letting it sit. I have also cut down on my sugar intake thanks to Akunna, so the coffee tastes horrible. I can’t sleep because the engine is vibrating rather noisily, particularly when it stops and starts to move again. So I toy with the idea of moving to another seat but can’t be bothered to. A well-dressed lady gets on the bus with her pushchair. She rummages through her bag and finds her bus ticket, but it isn’t valid. She reaches for her purse and hasn’t got enough change. She then has to walk the length of the bus to exit with her pushchair.  don’t have any cash on me so I can’t help her. I wonder what sort of life she has. Is she broke? Does she have money problems or is it just one of those days?

The fat lady in the green, floral dress is on her mobile  phone chatting excitedly. I can’t hear the gist besides “you must tell him!” and I really can’t be bothered to today.  Two teenage boys come on the bus and take their place next to me. They are in uniform but I don’t want to ask why they are not at school during school hours, who wants to be stabbed? I realize my presumption of these two boys whom I know nothing about is rather negative. My thoughts go to my dear, dear friends who lost their 14-year-old son 2 weeks ago. I won’t go into that. I drag my thoughts back to the 2 boys and wonder if they are good boys like my friend’s late son. I decide to listen in on their conversation, they don’t swear or talk about sex, neither do they brag about how good they are compared to some other boy in their class. I think I really must sleep as Helen is coming around to help me with my marketing- I need to be on full alert as she is full of ideas.

I decide that if I get up only to sit somewhere else the boys might think I was running away from them. I keep eyeing the empty seat two rows ahead and decide to make my move, who cares what they think? Silly me, someone else grabs it. There is another in front of one of the boys. But what if  he stabs me from behind? While I’m sleeping? I finally make my move for a different seat when an older gentleman gets of the bus. At last. But wait, someone else comes on and stats to walk towards me. He looks a hot mess! He cannot possibly be normal I tell myself. He stinks andI pray silently that he doesn’t sit next to me. He sits behind me instead. Now I really can’t sleep because what if he pulls my hair? I mean what if he pulls my hair very tightly after winding the braids around my neck twice?  Didn’t he have a crazed look in his eyes as he walked past me? I know I must share the gospel with him but I quietly decline.

I start to plan my day, although it is only 10 in the morning, I might only be able to function for 2 hours. You wouldn’t know that to look at me. It’s one of those days where I look good and I’ll be happy to meet John Legend, my crush on him hasn’t ended. I look up the thesaurus for a new word that describes the sharp taste of coffee and I come across Piquancy. I like the way the word sounds so I use it in a facebook status update.

Finally the bus comes to my stop. I start to work slowly up the hill as I don’t want to use up any more energy than I need to. Today will be  good day, I just know it. The website isn’t up but it will be good.

And it was good! No website yet, nearly there but it was hugely productive and fun. Especially when Helen and I sat in the park under the sun and devoured a loaf of yummy coconut cake. I feel blessed.

Please like our facebook page at www.facebook.com/thepunkinpatch so you can be alerted when we arrive at Nirvana.

Thank you for reading. Thanks to the lovely Myne who unwittingly dragged me back to blogsville, and to the sweet,  health-conscious Akunna who has made me aware of what I consume. Thanks too to the glamorous Helen, my sister-friend for a great day yesterday!

Have a blessed day!

13 Mar

Steps

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Lao Tsu

Last week was a rather overwhelming one, physically. It all started when I decided to spend 11 uninterrupted hours last Saturday working on our new website- it looks simply amazing if I can say that myself! We are moving onto a new super- duper platform and iits like going to school allover again. I have been going to bed with html codes and various image editing softwares swiming in my head. Anyway, after my stint I was surprised at not feeling a huge sense of accomplishment, you know the way you’re supposd to after you have done a lot of productive work. That feeling was carried into Monday, the start of the week. At the time I thought perhaps it was because I did just one task. It was unbroken and unvaried, maybe that’s why it didn’t feel like I had done much. Nonetheless I still felt burdened as the week wore on.

On Wednesday the Lord gave me a vision. A simple picture of a person (me) walking on a mapped out path with round stone slabs. It is a winding road and there’s nothing but fresh green grass on either side. The yellow daffodils swaying in the gentle breeze are a sight to behold,  pretty. In the distance the path leads to a beautiful house on the hill, the only possible destination. I keep stopping and looking up to see how much further I need to go. That was when it hit me. Rather than taking one step at a time, I look ahead and see the seemingly insurmountable task ahead. I keep looking at the big picture and feeling discouraged because although I have come a long way- evidenced by the long path behind me- I am impatient and want to get to my destination, like right now!
Yesterday, following my boycott of the suddenly expensive Tesco, my quest led me to Lewisham in south London. Here you can get fresh vegetables and meat at much lower prices. I parked the car a distance from the shops and did quite a bit of shopping. As I walked back to the car with my purchases I longed for one of those trolleys the senior folks use. It was the bags holding yams in my right hand for the week’s planned yam peppersoup, the plantains that will go nicely with rice and stew, the pounded yam meant for monday’s efo riro and the large bag of onions. My left hand held my bags of meat- neck of lamb, goat, chicken and kidney, coconut milk, okro and spices. I looked in the distance and saw the car park so far away. I decided to look down and keep walking knowing I will eventually arrive- that’s just my coping mechanism folks. I don’t like pain or discomfort! I took my mind off the journey and planned out the rest of the day- doing my hair and eyebrows and suddenly I had arrived!
I learned some valuable lessons;

I have learned to stop to appreciate the journey. It is not a race to get ‘there’ the fastest. There is so much beauty on either side of our lives that we need to be thankful for. Yes pollen may bring you hayfever but if that’s all you choose to see, that’s all you’ll be ‘enjoying’.

Take one step at a time. There is no other way to arrive than to take it step by step. Place your vision in front of you but you have to focus on taking the next step.

Stop and relax. Yes I am a busy mum/wife/business woman but that doesn’t mean my life has to mirror a roller-coaster ride- which I think may be part of the problem- I love excitement, but it is necessary to stop to recharge, take a breath, and energize myself. Life is what happens when you are busy making plans. I certainly don’t want my life “happening away”.

So as I look forward to the start of a new week, I do so with the knowledge that I will arrive at my destination. All I need to know is what step I’ll be taking tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that…

Have a blessed week, thank you for reading!

 

12 Dec

Inspire Me!

I finally started the new blog I’ve been going on about. It is called InspireMe as I hope it will be an inspiration to all who visit. Please visit and subscribe here: http://wp.me/1ePG6

I hope your Sunday is going beautifully well. Mine is. Except that I am in such a lazy mood and can’t believe Monday is here already! The boys break up from school this week, I haven’t planned anything fun for them, we’ll be going to see some family movies and might make it to Lapland. Last year we went to winter wonderland and I was certain I had frost-bite and my entire being would become gangrenous. Thank God we survived. We did spot one man jogging in a T shirt and shorts in a sub-zero temperature. Some people are just mad. I don’t like the cold-at all. I don’t visit friends without my socks in case their home is cold. As a matter of fact I would rather go hungry than cold. How do I deal with winter? Well you know how some gurus offer these classes where they have their students walk on hot coals to overcome their fears? They get across the coals by chanting; “cold wet grass, cold wet grass!” Well I chant “hot red sun, hot red sun”! If I can make it to March I’ll be fine. And if I can get past December so that in January I can say next month winter ends….

Have a blessed week!