By Odolaye Aremu
I miss my grandad. For a lot of reasons, but more for the fact, that I was the steady designated deliverer, of his yearly lavish Xmas breakfast, to his house in days gone by. It's a funny tradition in my family that a man who never lived under same roof with me, got to be served food the first every Xmas day. He always had the first taste of that large scoop of pounded yam that came from the wooden mortar- a piece of equipment, that was said to have been a wedding present from my maternal grandmother to my mother. Therefore the history of that Mortar and its twin Pestles, indeed preceded my own birth.
The thick shadow of my granddad, who lived about a mile or two away from me, loomed the largest in my immediate household. I regarded Ol'Joe, as a patron saint of sorts. He had six kids, and on Xmas day these kids, in unusual turns outdid themselves to try to 'feed' him lovingly to 'death.' Think of him as a family demigod, and his home, a veritable shrine upon which lavish food sacrifices were bestowed, to receive in return, his love and good wishes. But I always managed to devise successful game-plans, yearly to be the first to get to his house; to set before him, a large and wide-brimmed, colorfully coated aluminum tray usually covered in a nice looking woolen shawl. Usually, three beautifully crafted Pyrex dishes sat on this tray. The largest contained the 'Egusi-Efo Riro' and other additives. The second largest held the very hot, fluffy and totally kink-less pounded yam. The last of the bowls held the different kinds of tenderized meats, appropriately cooked to go easy on the weakened dentition of a very old man. Three chilled bottles of Trophy lager beer accompanied the heavy meal or breakfast, as one would like to call it.
As soon as I arrive at his abode, he would sing my praise, give me a pat on the head, and go outside his room to 'brush' his mouth; while he chewed tenderly on a dedicated stick, rinsed out his mouth with water, and washed his hands in readiness to eat. I, at this time would be by his rows of wooden windows, which could be opened from the inside, by ejecting a couple of simple mechanisms of multiple iron rods berthed deep within holes, carved into the wooden inside rails of these windows. Two longer, slimmer iron with many tiny round holes within them, were used to keep the windows opened at desired angles. I loved fiddling with his Sanyo Transistor Radio, situated by these rows of windows. Radio OYO, must supply the fun as we had our yearly Xmas breakfast. Safe to say he never enjoyed eating alone. By the time, we were done eating, foods from other sources started coming along, but as usual, I had beaten everyone else to it. I had had my fill with my amiable maternal grandad. To say I was always happy at that, would be a grand understatement.
I miss my family as a Unit. My dad, my mum and all of my siblings, who I usually outmaneuvered yearly, to be the one to have the first meal delivered to my grandad. You see the family is the bedrock of any society. And that’s not totally different from where I am from. The dynamics of the African family is such, that love and good memories stay salient at the bottom like slices of yams in a pot, sitting on a hot stove. The scathing letter writings and silly cat fights come much later, it causes the pot to boil thoroughly, thus making it foam fervently at its top. An amazing irony, cueing in the Cook, that the yams on the stove are about well-done. For in Africa, or in Nigeria where I am from, success has its drawbacks. Our families are usually the first casualties of upward moves to the upper tops. However, make no mistake about it, what you see, sometimes could be misleading, cause families have the tendencies to close ranks in a jiffy, to merge, to combat a more lethal, more insidious external aggressor(s).
I miss the peculiar noises of Xmas. The cacophony of Xmas Carols. The originality of the multiple tongues singing songs they themselves never composed, in their own unique languages; thereby making a foreign festivity, all totally theirs. Xmas day could fall on any given day, but its sweet surrendering self, best mimicked Sunday of all days the most in Ibadan. I am sure the same applied all over Nigeria. I miss the renewed colors of our streets; the Multi-coloring(s) of our garments. One year, I was dressed from head to toe in a Cowboy get-up. Not minding that my footwear-happened scandalously, to be a pair of sandals. My Xmas present, for that year was a toy gun that could actually fire, or make a phony pop sound. I was the 'rootin'-tootin'-shootin' Son of a gun in raw-hide and sandals. The innocence of my generation, now looking way back, bordered on pure stupidity. But we loved it!
I miss my nation. I miss Nigeria. Though I am within its large space, but I somehow feel she's losing me, or am I the one gradually losing her? I think it no longer matters who's at fault. We all seem to be losing the singular entity that's brought us together here. Xmas in Nigeria used to be a predictable event, yet we fell hard for it like fools in lust. Lust and Love, to a fool, is just about the same thing. An event, where we knew exactly what shows would feature on TV. It was either "Jesus Of Nazareth" or "The Ten Commandments", or "Kings Of Kings", all morning on NTV Ibadan. The Igbos, with their kids on the way to Mass were as colorful as the Yorubas on their own way to their different shindigs. The Hausas, who were predominantly Muslims, were invited to join in the abundance of the seasons. The rest of the citizenry that were neither Igbo, Yoruba nor Hausa gladly, willingly became one with the madness of the Xmas joy. I made sure to give Sakariyawu Oni, as much as he gave up during the Eid- el-Kabir festival. We indeed have always maintained a certain wave of dysfunctionality, peculiar to a very large, multi-ethnically oriented unit, but it's never been this bad. Our successes, as in most active family, have overtime become an harbinger of sorts, for the myriad of unexplainable horrors, inexcusable tragedies and unpardonable sad stories that are currently plaguing, a once storybook bound Nation. If I want anything this Xmas, it will be a wish that can never, ever be granted. One that defies logic or common sense. A wish that resonates well, that I am indeed sick of Nostalgia. I can never be cured of this ailment. I would want time to freeze-up, rewind itself, take me back to a place in Nigeria in the 1950s...anyplace would do. North, South, West or East, any place would do me just fine. I want to kiss my LOVE yet again. I want to be on the dusty soccer fields playing 'Sets' again. I want to sit on the bare floor, in front of a black and white TV set yet again. I want to see my tiny hands, methodically dip tiny boluses of pounded yam into a bowl of egusi soup, altogether with another bigger hand that's my grandad's. I want badly to see all of the usual scenes from the 1950s all the way to the present time, to be contained in just one Xmas wish. If it's not too much to ask...I think I want my old Nigeria back!
MERRY XMAS TO YOU ALL;
FRIENDS, FAMILY MEMBERS
AND JUST ABOUT EVERYONE!
(c) 2013. Image of the process of pounding yam in a wooden mortar; with a wooden pestle by a brilliant, but unknown photographer.