Femke Becomes Funke: The big question on everyone’s mind.

Femke van Zeiji

The writer still keeps readers guessing on the ‘big question.’

‘Don’t stay alone o. It’s not good to be on your own,’ said my 80-year-plus Yoruba landlady. She came to talk to me two weeks after I moved into my Mainland apartment. ‘Fúnke,’ she said—unlike most Nigerians she emphasises the first syllable, thus combining the Yoruba version of my name with the Dutch—‘I am talking to you as a woman: a woman needs a man.’ I smiled at her advice and told her love was the last thing on my mind after just moving to a new country and coming out of a relationship of 19 years. She shook her head and gently reminded me I was not getting any younger. ‘There is no time o. Fúnke, you must find a man.’

My landlady is not the only one concerned about my being single. Ever since I came to Nigeria my relationship status seems to be the main subject on people’s minds. Strangers spend a polite twenty seconds listening to my response to their inquiry about what I came to Nigeria to do. Yeah yeah, journalist, blah blah, writer, sure, correspondent, whatever . . . Then they ask me the big question on their minds: ‘Would you marry a Nigerian man?’ From the Assistant Director at the Ministry of Information in Abuja (who immediately set herself up as a matchmaker between me and any of her Lagos-based male cousins) to the security officer who searched my bag at the Immigration Service—‘Are you a Naija wife?’ he asked; and the costumer who walked into the shop where I was photocopying the light bill I had just paid; or the Igbo market woman who explained to me how to cook ogbono soup; virtually every Nigerian passenger I ever sat next to on any national flight; and the FRSC officer who fined me for not having a fire extinguisher in the car: they all wanted to know if I would marry a Nigerian.

I have inquired with white men in Nigeria if they are also routinely asked whether they would marry a Nigerian. Turns out they do get the question once in a while, but not as a rule from every passing acquaintance, and certainly not in a working environment. That I do—even in the middle of an interview on Lagos State policy on urban development—tells a lot about a woman’s value in Nigerian society. She might be a groundbreaking journalist, she might have several PhD’s in her pocket, she might be on her way to finding a cure for cancer, but in the end her true life’s task is to get married and produce babies.

My parents never gave me the feeling they expected anything from me in the marriage or child-bearing department. All they wanted for me was to be happy. I never felt that I would be incomplete as a woman if I did not tie the knot or procreate; in fact, partly due to my parent’s influence, I became a feminist advocating the rights of women as individuals of equal value as men. Now I wonder if I would ever have been able to think so independently had the marriage mantra been impressed upon me all my life.

Some of my single Nigerian girlfriends seem obsessed with matrimony. With every new boyfriend, with every date, the main question on their minds is ‘marriage material or not?’ I vividly imagine how men must fear those women who start thinking guest lists, white lacy dresses and wedding venues after a first kiss, and yet I would argue this mindset is the result of a society stressing a single purpose in life as a woman. Men are just as guilty of supporting this mindset—and this is borne out by the disrespect with which I have heard some men speak of single women.

All this comes to mind every time I hear those five words: ‘Would you marry a Nigerian?’ Needless to say, I never reply with a feministic deconstruction of Nigerian society. Rather I try to wiggle my way out of the question, responding with an enigmatic ‘Who knows?’ or a more direct ‘If I find a Nigerian man I can trust entirely.’ (The latter answer invariably gets me knowing winks that tread a middle ground between ‘Clever girl’ and ‘Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.’)

To be brutally honest, I was not terribly eager to get involved with a Nigerian. I had grown suspicious of the ulterior motives of their approaches. Some men barely made an effort to hide the fact it was not ‘me’ they were after, but what I represented as an oyinbo woman, be it a ticket to the West or the money I was supposed to have. You will forgive me for not complying with this proposition sent to me earlier this year by text message: ‘Hello, I am sorry if what I will say will make you angry!! I just have to say it out. I like you, and I will like to have a relationship with you pls. What do you think?’ Signed, the driver I met the day before when I was doing a report and with whom I had exchanged not more than three sentences.

Apart from my doubt if it was always true love on their minds, there was a more important reason I did not see myself with a Nigerian partner: I hardly expected to encounter a man with whom I would be compatible. Which Nigerian would possibly put up with a stubborn, Dutch, non-religious feminist with anarchist tendencies like me?

I was proven wrong on all counts.

They say you are most likely to find things when you are not looking for them. If you ask me the big question on everyone’s mind these days, my response might surprise you. It even surprises me.

P.S. Yes, I know . . . you all want to know my new answer to the big question. Keep following this column, of which there are only two more to go. By the end you might get your answer.

Talk to Femke on Twitter: @femkevanzeijl


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  • Anonymous

    Ah Dutch women and Nigerian men…

    A few years ago, I drove into bauchi on a weekend and saw a Dutch lady and her naturalized Canadian friend ( who had emigrated from to Canada from Ruwanda where her father was a Prime Minister) walking around wunti roundabout located in the middle of bauchi town. My curiousity – and male hormones – got the better part of me, so I parked my car and offered the ladies a ride which they accepted. One thing led to another, and I found myself entertaining the charming ladies in Bauchi club, to the envy of quite a few male patrons in the club house.

    My friendship with the two ladies developed over time resulting in more frequent trips to bauchi from Abuja where I lived at the time. I disguised my intended target among the two ladies – who it turned out were volunteers (VSO) – as they were both attractive and it wad simply impossible to decide who to “chase” between them. Eventually, a decision was made for me when a sevond secretary from the Dutch embassy in abuja also became a frequent guest in bauchi where he began to date the Canadian whom he eventually married.

    The Dutch lady – health/social worker – became too involved socially with some of her local patients which presented a strain on our association, because unlike Funke, she was too naive to tell that her local friends viewed her as a potential meal ticket and visa to the Netherlands. Of course, I quit visiting and we eventually met in abuja where she told me she was getting married to a nurse who was her professional colleague in the local health centre in bauchi, and that they were leaving for the Netherlands with her new found hearthrob, who had secured the necessary papers, courtesy of her Canadian friends diplomat husband at the Dutch embassy. She introduced me to the “lucky” fellow and I wished them well.

    Many years later on a visit to bauchi, a hardly recognizable, unkempt and tattered looking man came to me and deferentially wanted to know if I remembered who he was. I replied in the negative. He then told me he was that guy who married my Dutch friend, and how they relocated to the Netherlands with her and where eventually, really set in for both of them leading to a break-up and his return to Nigeria where he was now jobless and a virtually destitute.

    I conveyed my sympathies and moved on..Dutch women and Nigerian men…

    • Enemona

      Well done. Your story is full of inconsistencies. At least, if you have to lie, you should go about it smartly. Good story though for my 5-year old cousin.

      • Anonymous

        No my fiend, I have no reason whatsoever to lie. I only refused to name the characters here. But I have identified them by their respective occupations. The Dutch man was second secretary (political) at the Dutch embassy in Abuja. He married the Ruwandan-Canadian as every one who was in the embassy in Abuja will tell you. They later relocated to Berne on posting and while on a private visit to Switzerland some years later I made effort to get in touch with them.

        As for the Dutch lady, of course we lost contact following her return with her lover to to the Netherlands. I visited Holland severally while residing myself in Europe but was unable to trace her. I ladt heard she was still in the Netherlands through a mutual friend who was country rep of doctors without borders in Abuja. As for her estranged lover/husband, I believe he has relovated to his village Tula, in Gombe state.

        Now what made you think I was lying???

        • Enemona

          I guess I was too hard on you. Honestly, I enjoyed the story but it looks too interesting to be true. I thought it was too much of a coincidence for you to still meet the man again after a long time and now a “a hardly recognizable, unkempt and tattered looking man….”. Someone who left as a nurse with a white woman to Netherlands, I do not expect it to be as bad as you made it look unless he had been involved in some serious crimes over there. That you met him in the same village raised some red flags really.

          Pls accept my apologies,this may really be true but it makes a good part of a fictional work. You should try writing fictions if you’ve not started yet.

  • Anonymous

    Actually am an academic researcher, which as you know is a far cry from fictional writing. Ive written a biography though of a very famous Nigerian where I raked in millions of naira!

    But I thank you for the apology.

  • Lanre

    Funke. Are you about to let the cat out of the bag, :). I am getting hints here o. If it’s what I am thinking, we go wash am. 🙂 What is the name of the lucky man? If he is Yoruba, I have suggestions for Children names. Oh Funke. You don’t know what the West has done and is doing to the destruction of core social values (like the sanctity of marriage) that some of us grew up with. It was not even political. It was almost like a religious rite. What you were expected to do. Waiting for your next two columns.