Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nigerian Parties: Then and Now, A Two-Part Series

Happy Holidays everyone!

With Christmas Day fast approaching, we're all gearing up to wind down with family and friends. The holiday season is bittersweet time for me, because as much as I enjoy spending time with my nuclear family (read: parents, siblings, and a few nearby cousins) I miss spending time with my extended family. 

And with what seems like the majority of my Twitter timeline leaving for Nigeria the past few weeks I must admit...I'm hating. Hard. I see y'all posting about packing and passports and parcels and I'm just...jealous. (Also, thumbs up for that alliteration, and another for me remembering the word alliteration! Alright freshman English!) 

So to cheer myself up, and those of us not lucky enough to be spending time with loved ones back home this year, I've decided to share a few memories I have from the best part of the holidays, the parties. I'll do it in two parts, this week discussing parties when I was younger, and next time, present day parties. 

Now, I touched on this very briefly a few weeks ago on twitter, but I've got a love-hate relationship with Nigerian parties.

I can remember going to them as a child, and being so excited to see everyone. The entire process of going to a party was just buildup of suspense and excitement. First, you had to hear about it. Usually from a family friend or parent, sometimes from another busy bodied child. Then I would pester my parents about their weekend plans and whether or not I had been good enough to go. I would carefully make sure all my homework had been done and my chores completed satisfactorily. No speck of dust or uncompleted math homework was going to keep me from a tray full of my Auntie’s meat pies.

Then, once I had received the okay from my parents, it was time to pick out my outfit. It didn't matter if it was the day before the function or a week before, as soon as my parents said we were going, I went to my closet. Sometimes, we were lucky and got to get new clothes for the party, but usually, I had my own pieces to mix and match and play fashionista with. Chei, if you could see my room those days, I don’t know if I thought I was Barbie or Princess Diana or Foxy Brown. I wanted to wear all my clothes to the party. Sometimes my mom would come in, at the last minute imagine, and try to “help” me pick my outfit. I don’t know which dictionary Nigerian parents learned from, but help means guide, not force.

I would have my outfit laid out, ready to wear. I would go and bath, washing carefully so as to not disturb my hair which had probably been pulled and twisted into some style by my older sister earlier in the day. After scrubbing up, I’d apply a generous layer of Vaseline, so as to look healthy. I don’t know what it is about Nigerians and shiny kids, but apparently a dry kid is a sickly one. Anytime we were to go out in public my mother made sure to smear our faces with “crème” so that people will know that we were healthy and well taken care of. I remember a friend of mine and I laughing years later as we shared stories and she told me how her father used to glob on the Vaseline on picture day so that they could send home pictures of their “healthy” children. Whatever shoddy doctors the British brought to Nigeria that told them health meant looking like a Thanksgiving Day turkey need to be brought to trial and made to answer for their crimes against comfort. But, I digress.

By the time I slipped and slid my oil covered feet down the hall (don’t ask me why I lotioned the bottoms of my feet…just…don’t.) and got back to my room, my mother would have changed out the outfit on the bed. Sometimes I’d "Risky Business" my way through the door just as she tried to slink out and I'd just stare at her. With respectful yet astonished disbelief. (Which meant I looked at the floor and tried not to blink because Jesu Christi if she even got in her mind to think I was rolling my eyes at her…*looks to the heavens*)

“That clothes doesn't look good,” she’d explain, pointing to the new outfit she’d picked. “Wear this one,” she said as she’d close the door and go check on the status of my little sister’s bathing.

Cheiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!!!” I’d mutter as I sank to the door. “This dress is not going to look nice! No one is wearing this! I don’t want to wear Nigerian clothes! You can’t play in lace!” I panicked. How would I run? How could I jump? I mean, when was the last time you saw someone win the Olympics in Vlisco? It’s not possible!

Mommyyyyy! This dress is itchyyyy!” I’d cry out, hoping she’d take pity on me.

YOU HAVEN’T EVEN TRIED IT, TELLING ME YOU’RE ITCHING! OYA, MA ISUGHI YA I GA ESO ANYI AGA (wear it or you’re not going with us)!” she’d answer. (Looking back, I don’t know why I tried that lie so often, like she was a new woman each time. She birthed me; I've literally known her my entire life. She didn't care if I was itchy or not, red tulle was just going to be the move that night.)

After fighting with myself (and my mother, in my mind) I got dressed and headed out, pulling on my stockings the whole way. …Which devil invented pantyhose anyway? And who was evil enough to make it in children’s sizes? Why? Why would you do that to us? What did we do to you? If Africans ever get reparations for colonization, I’d like to request that in lieu of currency, I’d like every pair of pantyhose removed off the shelves. Which royal do I need to talk to to make that happen? Does George have power yet? Or is it like the Lion King? Does Mufasa need to be sacrificed? Who’s the Mufasa of Windsor? Eya confusion dey.

After ripping my pantyhose in several places and sliding around on the cold leather seats of momsie’s old-school Volvo, we’d finally arrive at the function. And what a function it would be. You could always tell a Nigerian party apart from any other celebration on the block. Children would be milling about in the parking lot, playing games and running random 100 meter races around the block, until someone’s Big Auntie came and shut the fun down. Teenagers would be sitting on cars, making moon eyes for each other while chugging Fanta after Fanta. The sounds of Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Brenda Fassie, Magic Systeme, Awilo Logomba and others could be heard down the street, willing mamas and papas to shake nyash from the car door to the dance floor.

If the party had a gate fee, there’d be a line of adults at the door trying to argue the price down, as if they themselves didn't set the price at their last meeting. All types of stories were told at those tables. “Ahn ahn! You see these children! They cannot feed themselves, you want me to starve my kids for dance party?” or “What is this? This price na Naira or dollars? Which president is here that you can charge this price?” One time I heard an uncle yell out, “Pahdin?! 20 dollars just to dance? Two-zero dollars? For simple party? I don’t have that kind of money!” he said, as if we didn't all see him pull up in a brand new Benz.

After muttering their way through the line, we’d shuffle our way through the crowd at the door and make our way to an empty table, all the while eyeing the food line. When it reached a suitable length, my sister and I would shuffle our way over to the tables, scanning each offering thoroughly before allowing any auntie to put it on our plate. It's not everyone who can make good jellof, you know. After snarfing down plantain and goat meat and sneaking a few sodas, we'd make our way outside. 

Now, I don't know if it's just the parties we frequented, or if it's a worldwide thing...but the parking lot at a Nigerian event is just a breeding ground for danger. Kids would be playing tag around the parked cars, teenagers would be sitting in or on said parked cars, and someone always ended up running straight into the street after a ball or to escape being "It". Or somebody got in a fight cuz some one's shoes got stepped on or tagged out too quickly or accidentally on purpose got mushed while getting tagged...

...inevitably right as some Big Auntie looked outside. Then we'd all get herded back inside and had to begin our fun inside.

Kids mehn, kids can have fun anywhere. We played in parking lots, bathrooms, waiting rooms, hotel lobbies.....churches (don't loud it)...anywhere we had enough space to play a hand game or throw a ball...or some one's shoe. Someone always lost a shoe.

I think that was my favorite thing about parties growing up. Besides the fact that I was surrounded by family and friends, good music and better food; I got to have fun with other kids who were just like me. I got to be carefree and throw my head back and laugh and tell stories to kids who wouldn't judge because we lived the same reality.

I miss that feeling. Being able to talk without fear of judgment, to laugh with abandon, to feel that sense of home, not because of where I was, but because of who I was with. I don't know if it's because of how old I am, or because of where I live, but things just aren't the same. I've spent years searching for that feeling and haven't found it yet. I'm left cherishing memories of events long past, and people long gone.

The holiday season is a time to reflect on and review the past 12 months and spend time with loved ones as the year draws to a close. It's a time to spread joy and happiness, to bond over nostalgia as you create new memories. Here's to hoping this finds you all well, and that you're able to find your sense of home this season. 



  1. Couldn't have said it better myself :')
    Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year to you and yours!

  2. You actually write beautifully.