Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Tayters in the mould

Whenever Nigerians come up to me and ask me if I will ‘take them to my place’ I always say that they wouldn’t want to go there because it’s really cold. But do you know what? Despite saying that repeatedly I had actually forgotten just how cold it is.

As BA 082 from Abuja waited on the tarmac at Heathrow for our plane’s parking spot to be vacated I gazed out on the grey, drizzly twilight of 4.30pm on a English winter’s evening, having just been told that it was 1 degree outside, and turned to my Nigerian neighbour (albeit from Birmingham) and said: ‘Welcome to Britain’.

I can honestly say that the only culture shock has been the weather. But boy – has it been terrible. Apart from messing up two out of three of my plans to meet up with friends, it is simply depressing. I even failed to find the beauty in the snow-trimmed garden and clear blue skies.

Even cheese, chocolate, cable TV, and gin and tonic have failed to capture my excitement. Things that I was craving don’t seem to be so special now I’m here and I suddenly realise how it is incredibly easy to live on what you have rather that what you’re used to.

What’s more important are the people that you see and what’s been really nice is that we’re all just the way we were before I left. OK I probably talk even more than I used to (is that possible?) to tell people about Nigeria however after about 5 minutes that novelty wears off and it’s back to being just regular family and friends.

However I have found that my year in Nigeria has changed a few things about me:
- I burst out laughing whilst walking along High Holborn in Central London in the middle of a blizzard when the thought spontaneously popped into my head: “All white people look the same”. The bature residents of the Pink House know this as we’re continually getting mistaken for one another, but it hadn’t actually occurred to me before.

- I don’t get so angry or stressed any more: when the miserable Leather Lane hairdresser harrumphs audibly when I ask her if she could actually ‘dry’ my hair (as opposed to leaving it damp) before I step out into sub-zero temperatures, I just smile and put up with it. I was also not bothered by the fact that our preparations for Christmas ‘lunch’ meant there was no possible way it would be served before 7pm.

- I don’t need TV: I think I have watched about 3 hours in total since I’ve been in the UK. The slightly worrying thing however is that I do spend more time on the internet. It’s more interesting.

As I write this blog I realise that I haven’t taken any pictures of the family outside Christmas. In addition the camera didn’t make a single appearance as I visited my oldest friend Deborah and her family in the winter wonderland of her home in Chorleywood.

Thankfully though we had a very special friend with us for Christmas this year – who does snap like a true Nigerian, probably because he is one. We were very lucky that Billy, son of Mama Laraba, a nurse at Fantsuam’s clinic, was able to join us for Christmas. I travelled up to Luton to collect him from his digs at the University of Bedfordshire where we bumped into his neighbour Norman, also a resident of Kagoro, who was running the other ISP in Kafanchan before coming to do a BA at the same university.

We spent the whole of Christmas Eve all together – driving around the sights of central London (unfortunately not stopping as parking is too expensive and parking attendants too diligent), before making a trip to Canary Wharf (one of my favourite tourist spots of London!) and my local Sainsbury’s in North Greenwich to stock up for Christmas.

Billy and Norman standing yards away from the Greenwich Meridien that had unfortunately closed early for Christmas; Two freezing Kagorians standing on the edge of Greenwich Park. Slight warmer Kagorians on London Bridge with Tower Bridge in the background.

Showing off my very own Sainsburys at Greenwich Peninsula

Having dropped the shopping off at my father’s in East Dulwich, we returned to the City for the Christmas Mass and dinner at St Magnus’.

Billy tucking into his first Christmas dinner, and then snapping with my sister Belinda and Father Philip, priest of St Magnus.

My sister and I spent the next day taking our time to prepare a delicious Christmas dinner featuring roast goose, roast duck, red cabbage and all the trimmings topped off by a holly-trimmed and flaming Christmas pudding. And the assembled party spent into the wee hours opening presents... well opening my niece’s Susanna’s presents. And I have to say that she was an absolute angel: maintaining a lively and exceptionally good humour until 2 a.m. in the morning. Not many three-year olds you can say that about.

Belinda starts carving the goose... as the duck looks on surrounded by the trimmings; Billy with my father.

Pulling Christmas crackers across the generations: grandpa and granddaughter, as I present the flaming pudding (it is.... really).

On Boxing Day, we discovered that there was no way for Billy to return to Luton via public transport (so unlike Nigeria where I remember no problems returning from Gidan Waya to Kagoro on Christmas Day), so I travelled with him to visit his uncle and aunt in Stratford: the couple, who have been in the UK over 20 years and have 5 children, are ECWA missionaries. Much more needed in London that Kagoro, I can assure you. It was wonderful to spend the afternoon with them, discussing Kagoro and the family and I very much hope that they will visit the Pink House if/when they travel back to Kagoro next year

I’m finishing this blog from the Giraffe restaurant in Heathrow’s Terminal 5 departure lounge, enjoying ‘fries with skins’ and a large glass of a South African white wine after a tasty but very unsatisfying sushi salad. I’m looking forward to a big, filling semovita dumpling when I get back! And that’s not the only thing I’m looking forward to... I can seriously say that I wholeheartedly prefer a cold shower in a hot climate to a hot shower in a cold climate. Outside it’s 5 degrees centigrade and raining. Not allowing for delays, in approximately 12 hours I hope to be in Kagoro.

To be in the Pink House: next to no electricity, intermittent running water, kerosene cooking, screaming children and barking dogs, greeting everyone you meet with a smile, being asked (as I’m sure I will!) for a ‘Happy Christmas’ and having ‘baturia!’ shouted at you as you walk along the street.

Oh yes.... And the sun.... the warmth.... AFRICA.

PS for my readers who aren’t from London – ‘Tayters in the mould’ is Cockney rhyming slang. I let you guess what the last word rhymes with......


Anonymous said...

Hi Cecil,
Glad to hear you made it back safely and that although you hated the cold you enjoyed catching up with friends and family. It was lovely seeing you when you were here - I'm sure you and Lizzy loved the Curry Leaf curry as much as Jo and I did.
I do just have one more thing to add - of the 3 hours TV you watched - I'm glad Strictly and Top Gear were 2 of them.
Take care.
Love Jared

Sabine said...

Dear Cicely,

I remember when you told me you were worried you wouldn't want to go back to Kagoro once you've been to London for too long. I am glad this did not happen (and I never believed it would). Hope you had a wonderful Kagoro Day (where are the pictures?!). Please, greetings to your sistas!
Sabine & Markus

Anonymous said...

A happy New Year for you, Cicely. While England seemed cold, what about the minus 17 centigrades we had last night?
Grete is in Malaga, recuperating from a broken hip, Rasmus and Family is on the Côte d'Azur. But the rest of your Danish family sure have to wear gloves.

Your Uncle Peter