A friend called me today to tell me this story (you know me and my naija’s at the airport stories). She had a guest who came in from Nigeria Sunday and who, when questioned at immigration about where she would be staying, said: “Presidential Suite”. The answer, of course, made her an immediate candidate for further close questioning. She was pulled into an interview room and asked, ‘presidential suite where’? To which she responded “Presidential Suite Liverpool Street” – I’m guessing she’s now referring to London’s Liverpool Street market just off Bishops Gate in the city).
Please, please, don’t even ask why she gave that retort. I’m inclined to believe that this was an extension of our nigerian ‘big-manism’, or, in this case, ‘big-womanism’, when we feel the more important we make ourselves out to be, the more respect we will attract.
Four hours later, and after intensive questioning including a meticulous strip-search, when they probed and poked places where the sun ‘don’t’ shine, they let her go.
The story above reminds me of a personal one. One of the closest friends to my ex-wife, who lives in Maryland (I know her well too as we were all at the old Unife together) had an older sister coming in from Nigeria for a course sponsored by her employer – the NNPC. As we are wont to do as Nigerians, she did not wish to pay for the hotel and sustenance for which she had received a foreign exchange allowance and decided to stay with us for the 6 weeks. I did not know the woman and kicked up a fuss about living with strangers, however, my ex did know her, having met her a few times on visits to her friend in Lagos before we all migrated to our various new countries, and it would have been awkward for her to say no.
Several peculiarities accompanied the woman into my house, one of which was her propensity to stand over me during my dinner if she wanted a favour and I said, ok, please wait until I finish dinner; and she always wanted a favour, and I always said ok, please wait. She would simply stand beside me until I finished dinner, which was extremely disconcerting, especially because she was over 6 feet tall and big to boot. Another was her staring at you for about 30 seconds after you spoke to her, like she was lost. After a couple of days, I was filled with enough disquiet to bring it to the attention of my ex. She had noticed some things too, all of which would take up too much space to put down.
The most annoying thing was that as a Muslim she insisted on playing tapes of the Holy Quran in the living room at 5am every morning. So I gave her a small tape player for her religious duties, but no, she was determined to use my music system with the resultant effect that the deep bass reverberated throughout the house like an avalanching rockslide every morning and we all came awake. I explained to her that low frequency sounds tend to carry and are louder elsewhere than from where they originate, to no avail, it was the big system she wanted. So I endured sermons in Arabic for six weeks, the noise bouncing off the walls like some techno party.
It all ended on a funny note though. Towards the end of her stay, my ex had earned a degree of freedom from her, as she now seemed to know her way around London a little. So she decided to go to Liverpool street market, yep, the same one from where you can buy ‘disposable’ shirts at 4 for £10, and wrist watches at 3 for £10. I described the train journey to her (indeed, I worked on Bishops Gate at that time, but since she wanted to get there for 12 and leave around 4pm, I could not help) – 'get to Elephant and castle, take the Northern Line to Moorgate station, ask anybody, Liverpool Street is literally 5 minutes’ walk'.
At 11.30pm that night, my ex had started to worry, as ‘sister’ had not returned. I could not care less and was only counting down the days for her to finally leave. Then the phone rang. It was her and after a confused 3 or 4 minutes, my ex passed the phone on to me:
I think I’m lost, she says.
Where are you, I ‘goes’.
I don’t know, she says.
Look around, I goes, there must be something
I think it’s a train station, she says
They have names, I says
It says, Canta…, Cantry…, Cantarry…
Spell it, I says
She spells Canterbury! I said: you’re in Kent. Then, we lived in Thornton Heath in Surrey, which is essentially South London. Apparently, when she got to Elephant & Castle, rather than go for the Northern Line to Moorgate in London City as I described to her, she asked a man who, in being helpful, thought she was going to Margate in Kent and prescribed the relevant trains for her, 85 miles away.