Friday, February 23, 2007

They Could Have Been Me

I grew up in Nigeria and like everybody else we always had house girls. As children, we had two most of time because my parents both worked and there are three of us. We had our share of house girls who stole from us, house girls who were lazy and didn't do what they were hired to do and house girls who beat us unnecessarily. We also had three amazing house girls who all stayed with us for a long time and became part of the family; Rose, Asabe (our absolute favourite) and Rifikatu. Throughout my childhood though, I can't remember thinking there was anything odd about having house girls. Or drivers, or gardners, or night watch men.

I went back to Nigeria last year for the first time since I'd left 9 years ago and all of a sudden I was filled with an overwhelming sense of something resembling guilt. But isn't guilt only applicable when you've done something wrong? My aunt and uncle’s cook would cook for us, bring our food to the table and come and clear up after us. Not only are my sister and I not used to people doing things for us, but I guess we're pretty domesticated so when we'd finish eating, we'd clear the table, take the plates to the kitchen and attempt to start washing them, only for Mr. Roman to protest and refuse our help. Whenever I needed the driver to pick up something for me or drop me off somewhere, I'd ask nicely probably to give myself the illusion that I was asking as an equal rather than as someone he had to obey. One of my aunts treated her house girl really badly and it really, really bothered me. I also found myself making an effort to use the staff’s names rather than their titles when talking about them to other people. After a few days of feeling like this I tried to analyse my thoughts and I realised the reason why all of this bothered me is because the only difference between me and a house girl, or a driver is that I was born to parents who were - quite simply - richer.

I realised that it's not just the fact that I'm not comfortable with someone doing things for me (though it is partly this but that's an issue for a whole different post), it's the fact that the people who occupy these positions in Nigeria do not have a choice. They never had a chance. In the developed world, if someone is a maid, there are laws that dictate you have to pay them a minimum wage. But more than that, they have a choice. For the most part, there are other career paths they could have chosen. Take the UK for example, education up until university is free, and even in University, if your parents earn below a certain amount of money, then the university fees are waived and you receive a larger loan and often a grant to help you with your living expenses while you get an education. You have a choice about your future. I truly believe that in the West, anybody can become anything they want. I'm not saying it's easy but it's very possible, it's just a matter of how much you want it.

In Nigeria on the other hand, if you are born in some remote village where the nearest school is 10 km away and you're the only boy in your family so your father needs your help on the farm, then no matter how brilliant you are, you will never get an education and never learn about the world beyond your immediate surroundings. And this isn't just an obscure example. In Nigeria, the majority of the population will never achieve anything near what they’re capable of. Any potential you might possess is snuffed out the moment you're born on the wrong side of the gold paved tracks. And it is damn near impossible to work your way out of your social class in Nigeria, and in the rare occasions that it happens, it's usually out of stroke of luck rather than ambition, determination or hard work. Because those things that mean so much in the developed world, (ambition, determination, hard work) aren't worth a kobo in Nigeria, unless you have money.

So I figure that's why I feel guilty when I'm in Nigeria; because any of those house girls or drivers could have been me, and I them ... I'm only where I am because I got lucky in the parent lottery.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What's different this time?

His were the first eyes mine met when I walked in
He came over immediately and gave me a hug
He held on several seconds too long
There's nothing different about that

We've known each other about twelve years
We've been attracted to each other ... oh, about twelve years
We see each other a couple of times a year
And those few times, it's as if we're the only people in the room
The tension in the air between us is so real
I avoid his eyes for fear of what I might see, or what I might reveal
He always has a girlfriend
There's nothing different about that

We laugh a lot
Then I go and find my friends and he walks back to his
I'm lost in conversation when I see him fall into the seat beside me
"Why are you sitting here when you could be talking to me?" he asks
We talk. We flirt
There's nothing different about that

We start to dance, very closely
It feels very intimate and for the first time since I met him, I'm at a loss for words
I was a shy twelve year old with a big crush then
What is my excuse now?
This is definitely different

He leads me away from the crowd
Alone now, I feel like his gaze is burning into me
I can't look at him
He pulls me into a hug, to reassure me
Then very softly, and so briefly that I wonder if I imagined it
His lips touch mine
This is definitely different

We go back to our friends
Except for furtive looks and the occasional sly touch of our hands
We are as we always are
We say our good byes and head home
The next day we're back to being friends
Friends with a history, but friends nonetheless
There's nothing different about that

Monday, February 12, 2007

Kunle is Back!

My friend Kunle, who I blogged about in my previous post, has started up her blog again after a really, really, really long hiatus. Check it out here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

I'm glad we're friends again

My title might give the impression that D and I stopped being friends but that's not very accurate. D and I met in school and to be honest I don't think either of us were particularly big fans of the other. It's not that we actively disliked each other, more that we didn't care for each other. But we were part of the same group of friends so inevitably we hung out.

Then I moved to England and a few months after, out of all the people I would have loved to also move to England, sods law would have it that it was D. You know how when you're somewhere different, you turn to familiar people for comfort, I guess that's what D and I did because we started talking a lot on the phone and soon we were really close. We didn't see each other very much because she was in London and I was in Birmingham but for two years, we would talk on the phone all the time. We knew every detail about each other's lives, the big things as well as the stupid little mundane things. Even though we were both broke students, if one of us bought something for ourselves, we'd buy one for the other too. Thinking back, I don't think I've ever been that open with anyone ever.

Then we went to university and we drifted apart. It's completely my fault because I got caught up in a whole new life and with a whole new group of friends and I admit I neglected my old friends a lot. It was only when one of my neighbours told me that my mum was upset that I never took her calls or returned her calls that I realised just how much I was neglecting the people that mattered to me. It wasn't on purpose, there was always something going on and I was always going to call them back later, except that later wouldn't come around for a really long time. D and I drifted apart and I didn't really notice because I had lots of new friends. However, she would still be the one to call me at 11:58 on the eve of my birthday and leave me a really long message so she could be the first one to say happy birthday, and I'm ashamed to say, I never remembered her birthday. I remember once we spoke and she was telling me about something really important that had happened to her a couple of months ago and I was only just hearing it a couple of months later. There was a time I would have known about it the very moment it happened. I don't think I even made the time to talk to her properly about it.

Fast forward about three or four years, we still saw each other occasionally and spoke once in a while but we weren't anywhere near as close as we once were. I guess maybe she stopped making the effort too and she obviously had lots of new friends. In fact, I don't know anyone as popular as little Miss. D. She knows and is known to everyone! I moved to London and we started talking occasionally and went out once. About 9 months later, we worked together for a couple of weeks which was nice and in the last couple of months, we've started emailing and talking a lot more. I'm finding myself opening up to her the way I once used to and I hope she's doing the same. Maybe we'll never go back to how we used to be, but I just wanted to say, 'D, I'm glad we're becoming close again.'