Children are for Show

We all know that the Nigerian ostentation is not limited to material possessions.  From the little things to the big things, we can flaunt with anything and everything.  One can even venture to say that Nigerians have children for show.

Our show with children is subtly embedded even in the unseen things.  Children are for a man to show that he is indeed a man and his swimmers are potent.  They are for a woman to prove that she can push a human head out of her body and not have to bear the patronising pity of society and have her uterus become a prayer point among family members and religious circles.  Most of all, they are to show that your marriage is indeed compatible.

You have children to show that you are a responsible person, translating to you being eligible for that well-paid promotion that has the unspoken criterion of being attainable only by a parent.  You are a great, responsible parent if your offspring live in fear of you and consistently come out top of their class.  Everyone knows they do well in school because you broadcast it to the whole world.  From nursery to university, you tell people every single detail of your children’s grades.

Children are for showing off wealth.  You have a head start on this if you jump on the child-birth tourism train to America.  The school your child goes to has less to do with their welfare and education but more about letting people know how much you can afford.  You are a boss if all your children attend one of the top 20 most expensive schools in Nigeria.  Most importantly, your children have to go abroad every summer so that they can tell their friends –  who will in turn tell their parents – that they shopped on Oxford street during the long vac.

You have children to show how cool you are, and the best way to do this is in the school birthday competition: the winner is the parent that gives out the fanciest treats and party packs to intimidate other parents.  One parent brought ice-cream to school for their child’s birthday; someone else did better and gave out cake and ice cream for theirs.  Yet, you can do even better by adding barbecued drumsticks to the mix and tablets in the party packs.  Every year has to be an upgrade on the previous one.  However, you must reserve some of that energy for your children’s weddings.  Forget about your retirement fund or your life’s savings, those weddings have to be the talk of town.

Pride is not necessarily in the number of children you have, unless of course you have seven sons then you are an absolute winner.  It doesn’t matter whatever else you achieve in life.  You’ve done well.

(By the way, Happy Children’s Day!)

 

Image|Source: Steven Depolo, Flickr

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Radio Therapy

In a grin and bear it society where one is reluctant to share that a job interview didn’t go well or that they are childless or single, I find it amazing that we love spilling out the gory details of our lives to the general public on radio.

In the frenzied hustle that is Lagos life, people waste away their mortal days in the standstills of traffic as they journey from one potential business opportunity to the other.  Thus, the radio has become a therapist, doctor, dear friend and even a family member to the average city dweller.  We try to keep up appearances in the presence of our visible family and friends; but on radio, we abandon discretion and exhibit a weird – and amusing – openness.

The radio knows all about that nasty divorce and the terrible affair.  It knows that you are not sure if your girlfriend’s pregnancy is yours.  You tell it about those horrid stepchildren that hate you. You cry to it asking for prayers for your only child that has terminal cancer.  Trying to seem calm and brave, though the frustration and defeated tone of your voice is unmistakable, you confess to it that your wife hits you or that you haven’t had a job in two years.  Absolutely anything that would normally cause embarrassment and shame elsewhere is welcomed and shared with trust on air.

One evening, I listened to a caller describe in detail how her husband’s sisters kicked her out of the house.  She recalled how they had given her hell until she got home from work one night to find her bags packed and the two women ready to get rid of her.  All the while, the husband didn’t do much to stop them.  You wouldn’t hear her say any of this to friends and colleagues, but to the whole city – no problem.

The charm of radio is that the caller is not seen so there is no shame or risk of losing face – reminiscent of Roman Catholic confession.  If you’re fantastically paranoid, you could always take the extra precaution of putting on an accent to make sure your voice isn’t recognised.

Both presenters and listeners offer possible solutions for a caller’s troubles.  Their comments can be rather questionable so one wonders how people fare with the advice they receive.  Then again, it’s less about counsel and more about finally opening up and telling someone your plights.

We restrain ourselves so much from expressing our worries and pains that we often find ourselves in desperate need of an emotional outlet.  That’s why we break into spontaneous fights that have no concrete cause; why so many people go to church just to dance and cry; and why we love the radio.

 

Image|Source: BBC

Striving for Simplicity in a Flamboyant Society

I fell in love with simplicity some years back.  I was drawn to the idea of having no attachment to a place and people’s opinions.  I started working towards this fuss-free life in everything from interior décor to travel luggage to celebrations.  Achieving this from the opposite end of the spectrum has been a tortoise paced process.

In the course of things, I stopped desiring to be fashionable – I never was any good at it anyway.  I’m happy to just be neat.  I completely abandoned the idea of makeup going everywhere au naturel even parties, interviews, weddings and graduations.

However, my quest for minimalism is yet to successfully invade my library.  I love reading.  I love the sensation of paper.  I can’t stand e-books.

Now, I am in Nigeria where simplicity is uninvited.  Nigerian society is built on the cakey foundation of ‘show’.  If you’ve got it, flaunt it and accessorise it with gold.  This tends to be viewed as a modern phenomenon, a by-product of an emerging middle-class, but a look at the 1950s-1960s pictures of Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh proves that flamboyance is not a recent development.

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Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Minister of Finance during the First Republic

Perhaps this is all a side effect of a poverty mentality mingled with colonial mentality.  We were so used to being supressed that once set free, we became like lions in a Roman amphitheatre.  Or maybe that’s just our nature.

Every aspect of Nigerian life is designed for show and our ostentation knows no bounds.  From Italian leather everything, to the luxurious SUVs and residential mammoths called homes that anyone who’s ‘made it’ just has to have, the elaborate weddings that cost millions though the couple can’t afford a place to live, the gold trips to Dubai, and the mandatory annual holiday abroad (Dubai is not overseas. It is an eastern extension of Nigeria) with the intimidating return luggage over packed with presents to give out just so people would know you went out of the country.  Show off or stop living.

Speaking to other Africans, this is the one thing Nigerians are both loved and disliked for.  “You people show off too much”, my Namibian hairdresser back in London would complain.  She was always surprised that I didn’t want small waist length plaits.  “But that’s the way Nigerians like it”, she would say.

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Ladies at a wedding

“I expected you to look more like a lady”, people tell me.  To be a lady, one adorns human hair weaves, tightens her dresses and catwalks in heels.  Most of all, her mannerism is governed by self-consciousness, an awareness that she’s on display. I’m fine with not being a lady.

Recently, I was described as being ‘simple-minded’ because I was perplexed that a particular wedding was so expensive.  I couldn’t help but revert to the dictionary definition which is also an abuse teachers love to render to their students: having or showing very little intelligence or judgement.  I began to wonder if that is how people really view me.  The brainless, naïve girl who doesn’t wear makeup and show her ‘figure 8’.

Naïve or not, as long as it remains in the eye of the beholder, I see matchless beauty in simplicity.

 

Image|Money Spraying|Source: 9jaolofofo.ng