I don’t do Christmas. I mean, I acknowledge the holiday, but I don’t see any reason to specifically travel home to celebrate, much to my mother’s chagrin. I usually do some kind of celebration though. Last year, my girlfriend and I cooked up a good soul food dinner, roast, green beans and smoked turkey, macaroni and cheese, cornbread muffins, and peach cobbler made from scratch. We had our own make-shift family gathering of transplants in our new home in Oakland, CA.
This year was a little different. I’d been in Lagos, Nigeria for 4 months and I was starting to feel some kind of way during this holiday. I had hibernated in my room on Thanksgiving and was thinking about doing the same thing for Christmas. Burrowing under the sheets, covering up my homesickness with blankets and sleep. Pretending like this day was like all the other ones.
Luckily, one of the expats, another Black American invited me over for dinner and I volunteered to come early to help cook. Then one of my Nigerian co-workers asked me to come by on the 24th to learn how to cook some Nigerian food. I gladly obliged and spent the day, chopping up vegetables of which I can’t remember the names and learning the difference between soup and stew. I grimaced as I looked in the pot and saw the chicken head nestled comfortable by the thighs and legs. They laughed at me when I refused the offered chicken foot, telling me, “You don know,” while happily chewing the gristle. It takes all day to cook Nigerian food and I’m just not up to the task. I left around 8 o’clock. There were still soups to be cooked and eba to be made.
I went back on Christmas day to sample the results of our hard work. They had left the fish head for me. No thank you, madame! There were other women visiting also. If you have never watched a Nigerian movie with a bunch of Nigerian women, you are missing out an auditory experience. This movie was called Wedding Fever and was about a woman who wanted a big wedding and the issues that it caused between her and her husband-to-be. Cries of “Chai! This lady. Why she frustrate this man so! Hey!” The scenes where the family from the village, travel to the big city of Lagos to the wedding brought lot of laughter as they exclaimed that, “It’s true, now.”
I left there and went to my friend’s house. It’s comfortable to be in a black woman’s kitchen, no matter her nationality. There is the same comfortable ease that allows you to get in where you fit in, sautéing onions and celery for the dressing, cutting up fresh pineapple for the upside-down cake, setting the table. Conversation going back and forth about what’s going on back home, the latest gossip amongst the expats.
After dinner, we gathered back in the kitchen in order to wash the dishes. It was absolutely exhausting. When you have a formal dinner with china, nice silverware, water and wine glasses, etc, you can’t put all those things in the dishwasher. The dishwasher is you and your girls. One of our friends had brought his Nigerian girlfriend. We tsked that she didn’t find her way into the kitchen, didn’t pick up a single plate, didn’t even come to join in the conversation. I asked the others if I should invite her in, maybe she was hesitant, didn’t feel comfortable in the company of all black American women. I was told in no uncertain terms – if you have to invite a woman into the kitchen, clearly she doesn’t belong there. Well, now.
I finally left around midnight, utterly exhausted but happy that I had just experienced a little piece of home.