Thursday, April 24, 2014

Femke becomes Funke: A Wazobia dinner table, By Femke van Zeijl

Published:

Femke van Zeiji

“The members of the social club also discussed Achebe‘s latest book… They did not necessarily agree, but agreed to do so”.

 

Needless to say it was the combination of beer at pump prices and the location – walking distance from my home – that initially attracted me to the little neighbourhood joint. Nothing fancy, just an outside terrace behind an inconspicuous building, under a low corrugated roof embellished with beer ads. Out of sight for passers-by, it is also the perfect hide out for a beer drinking oyinbo woman who does not want to be stared at. Here I have my STAR in peace, under the miniature silver and gold gyrating ceiling fan that whisks just enough air to cool my skin but not too much to blow my papers away.

I started frequenting the place when I moved into my Mainland apartment early September. The food is not always ready at the same time; it highly depends on when the buxom waitress cum cook has worked up the mood to go to the market. But the beer is chilled and the music not quite as deafening and conversation killing as in other Lagos joints. Even my mother – allergic to R&B especially at Nigerian decibel levels – agreed on this. On her last day of her stay in Lagos, she invited some of the friends she had met to this place for her goodbye party (or, as she put it, her ‘I will be back’ party).

As I gradually became a frequent visitor of that local joint, the looks on the faces of the other regulars changed from friendly disinterest to open curiosity. The little talks passing by my table became longer and names were exchanged. My mother visiting was the final icebreaker.

This is how I got to know Sir – let me call him by the name I addressed him with at first. He looks like a Sir, like a former civil servant – the bona fide old fashioned kind. Sir is in his seventies. His family lost everything they had after the Biafra war. Sir talks about his family history with a detachment you feel will break if you ask too many questions. So I just listen. We also discuss beer brands, weather in both our countries and climate change. When Sir invites me to the end of year party of my neighbourhood joint, I happily accept. It is organised by the social club that turns out to be attached to my favourite drinking spot.

I arrive at the Friday night party a couple of days later. I am surprised by the diversity of the company at the long makeshift table now occupying the bigger part of the courtyard. On the far end a Hausa man in traditional attire is talking to a Yoruba man with the typical floppy hat. Closer to the entrance I note Sir. For the first time I see him in the striped hat I’ve been told is called okpu agwu. He is flanked by two women, one who appears to be my age (she thinks so as well as she calls me sisi Funke) and one of my mother’s. The crowded dinner table looks like a 50 Naira Wazobia bill.

That night, I learn the names of many ethnic groups I haven’t heard of before. Ever since the club came into being in the eighties, they have been a mixed bunch that has seen many discussions, but never any ruptures. And yes, the members of the social club also discussed Achebe’s latest book, says the chairman. They did not necessarily agree, but agreed to do so. As the Hausa man leaves before his companions get too roguishly tipsy and the lady who calls me sisi mediates in an argument between what appears to be a PDP supporter and an ACN adherent, I fall silent and observe.

Maybe it is the STARs that keep coming or P-Square’s music we all dance to, or my need to believe in a future for this country some people so eagerly predict the disintegration of. But that night, I just felt happy to be part of the unity. I realise these are all upper middle class people, educated and ‘exposed’ as they say here, middle aged for that matter. They are not in any way representative for the entire population. And I am sure there are quarrels and petty fights amongst them I will learn of at a later stage. But that evening I can’t help thinking if harmony is possible at this wobbly table in a local joint, why not on a bigger scale?

So, I say yes when the chairman asks me to become a member of the club. I am not a club type of person, but this is a diversity I feel comfortable in, a miniature Nigeria I am honoured to be a part of.

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