Too Old for the Club

Last night we went to a birthday party for a friend at a club.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’m just too damn old for the club.  Yes, at 34 years old, I’m retiring from late nights, bottles of Hennessey, high heels and loud music. At around 1AM, I was like, hmmm…how long do I have to stay here before I can make an exit.  I love the music and had a decent time, but I just don’t have the urge to dance all night.  The hubster is also not really a dancer.  And to add insult to injury, he tries to mimic they way Nigerians dance (which is awesome by the way) and holds his hands out in front of him and makes these stepping motions, which quietly, is a bit embarrassing.  But he thinks he is doing it, and well, he’s the hubster, all the Nigerians hype him up and so I just have to go along with it.

The other reality is that I just don’t have a reason for the club anymore.  While I know this isn’t the “right” thing to admit, the club was my self-esteem booster.  I would start early, open up a bottle of red wine, turn on the Urban Beat station on DSTV and get ready for a night out.  I would take my time getting the outfit and make-up right, jump in the car with the remaining bottle of wine with my girl and it would be on.  We felt really high-class because we would sit in the back and just ride and drink wine as our driver took us all around town.  We would club hop – the best thing about Lagos clubs is no cover charge – and if the club wasn’t instantly jumping, we were back in the car and on our way to the next spot.

We knew quite a few of the “managers” of the clubs so we could pop right in, and it was instant boost of confidence. I liked it, the way men would acknowledge me, my height, my curves.  It’s not that we were fine, but we live in a place where men appreciate all different shades, body types and facial features in women.  Coming from a place like the Bay Area where you were lucky to find a black man working, let alone one that is interested in talking to a black woman, it was a welcome change.

I’ll also admit we also had quite a bit of expatriate privilege.  This privilege allows you to mingle in a class higher than your own in the US.  While we a solid middle class, probably upper, we weren’t necessarily hanging out with athletes and entertainers or folks that owned their own boats.  We also were able to moved to the front of the line, based on our accents alone.  And the fact that we are paid in dollars means that we have enough disposable income to afford food and drinks at the nicer places in Lagos (even though prices are 50% plus higher than the US).

But now, as a happily married woman, I get my self-esteem boost at home for free. I love dressing up and looking good for my man, but honestly, he thinks I’m fine in a tank top and cute panties.  And if I want to dance all night, I’ll just turn on Urban Beats and dance….until about 10 PM.  At that point, I’ll be taking my old ass to the club bed.

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Getting Gone

I may not have written it here but we are leaving Nigeria and moving to Houston in the next couple of weeks. Someone asked me today if I will miss Nigeria. After a quiet moment of reflection, my answer is unequivocably “no.”

This is my second time in Nigeria and I honestly feel blessed. It’s amazing to me that I’ve had the opportunity to actually live in a different country and travel around the world. I’ve made friends forl life here – both Nigerians and Americans. Bear and I have been able to pay off any debt from our wedding, save aggressively so we’ll be ready for a large down payment on our house and to purchase at least one car in cash. We are semi-agressively paying down school debt. We’ve gotten the opportunity to be with each other without the stressors of driving home from work, family interference, and unlimited social and consumption options. It’s been an awesome way to start a marriage because it’s just us.

Nigeria – Lagos in particular, is a great place to be young and have a bit of money. Being American gives you access to some situations that you might not have access to in the states. With the right connections, you can rub elbows with MD’s of companies, athletes, movie stars and in general a large group of people that have ideas and are making moves. Lagos has a number of good restaurants, great nightclubs, beaches… Once you find your crew you can have a lot of fun here. People are generous and have welcomed us into their lives. I’m grateful.

At the same time, I’m tired. The traffic can be crazy. Folks get aggressive randomly. Shopping is difficult – it’s not like I can just go for a quick Target run, or go to the store and get some fresh strawberries. I want some Chick-Fil-A. And quiet as its kept, it’s hard to have black folks treat other folks that don’t share your skin color better. Amazingly, even though this country is run by Nigerians, foreigners, whites in particular, are able to continue to walk around in a bubble of privilege. That bothers me. And it makes me tired…and sad.

So I’ll take this experience as it is and I truly appreciate it. I know that I’ve been blessed to have this opportunity. I’m grateful

Not Like I Imagined

Today was my first doctor’s appointment. I arrived at the hospital a little late to see the waiting room teeming with pregnant women. Big pregnant women. Frighteningly so. I thought, is this what I have to look forward to? Scary. I went to the reception desk, told them my name, which made them frown up. I was used to it, since I look like I could be Nigerian, so my accent and name often throws people off. I told them I was here to see the midwives. See, no one had told me a name to ask for, just “the midwives”. The receptionist looked disturbed and asked me was I here for the antenatal clinic. I said no, since I had never heard of the word antenatal and it sounded like after pregnancy. I was to find out that antenatal meant prenatal as the receptionist gave me a card with the letter P and the the initials ANC for Ante-Natal Clinic and told me to sit down.

Ten minutes later one of the midwives came and called all the women for the Ante-Natal Clinic into the conference room. I didn’t know what to expect as I walked behind the women waddling into the room. Surely I am not supposed to be here. I’m not even showing and these women are about to drop! The midwife asked for someone to start the session in prayer. Prayer? Really? After that we had a safety moment. Mmmmkay. Then the midwife started talking about perineums, episiotomies and epidurals. I thought, whoa. Aren’t they going to ease a sister into this. What is a perineum? It sounds painful. I started to feel sick. Next up was a presentation on family planning. “What is family planning?’ one of the midwives asked. One of the biggest women who looked extremely uncomfortable as she shifted in her seat half seriously answered, “planning to not have another baby.” The midwife met her answer with disdain. Of course it wouldn’t be planning to not have a baby, family planning is only for spacing of babies. Ooookay. She went through all of her options, male condoms, female condoms (which I had heard of but never seen), birth control pills, diaphram, implants, injections, etc. I noticed that she didn’t talk much about tubal ligation, which by looking around the room, some of those women probably needed to know about. One of the women asked why she didn’t recommend the natural method of determining your safe period. The nurse answered, “if your husband is on rotation in Escravos and he comes home and it’s not in your safe period, will you push him away?” I started to feel sorry for these women if this was the only discussion they were able to have around family planning.

During this discussion, I noticed that the midwife was having discussions with individual women, an interview of sorts. Every once in a while I would hear the conversation and I wondered, why aren’t they having these sessions in a private room. What if a woman had some private questions about her pregnancy? In the background, they had a movie playing showing actual childbirths. Oooh – the baby comes out and they lay the baby right on top of you, blood and fluid covered. Is this what the miracle of birth looks like? I want the Hollywood version where the baby comes out clean and shiny.

Finally, after watching women go in and out to the laboratory and other places, I asked one of the midwives what was going on and if I was supposed to be there. By then, I had been there for over two hours. She took my last menstrual date and calculated that I was 6+ weeks pregnant. She said that I shouldn’t have come until I was 8 weeks but she would talk to the doctor. My frustration happened over again. Why would they schedule me if I wasn’t supposed to come here. After another 30 minutes she said I should go ahead and get a scan (I had to figure out that this meant an ultrasound) and bloodwork. I couldn’t find the right room to go to and got sent to three different rooms before I went to the bathroom in tears. After a few more tear-filled conversations with one of the nurses that I had met previously, I finally got all of my bloodwork done, swabs taken and was ready to take my ultrasound.

The ultrasound was in a small cramped room with the bed crushed up against the wall. The room was only as wide as the bed, and my feet touched the wall when I lay down. I’m sure the sheets had not been changed from the last 10 women before me. The doctor/nurse put the gel on my belly with no warning. I jumped from the shock of the cold. Her and her assistant looked at the ultrasound pictures and murmured back and forth to each other. The one with the wand moved around my belly and I wondered what they were seeing. The assistant clucked that it was too small. Finally, they turned the screen to me and showed me the sack but the baby was too small to be seen. The doctor explained that the baby seemed to be smaller than expected so I explained that I knew the exact week of conception so the dates matched up. He answered a few questions that I had and I finally broke free, emotionally traumatized but relatively unscathed.

Upon reflection, this wasn’t how my first prenatal visit was supposed to go. I was supposed to meet other pregnant women in the waiting room, particularly other working women and exchange numbers and antedotes about the difficulties of starting a family and working. Not sitting in the middle of a free clinic session being traumatized by pictures of crowning babies and ignored by the other women. I was supposed to be led into a bright room with a happy nurse who explained what was happening and each step of the process. Not wandering around the hallway dazed and confused. I know this much. I can’t have my baby here. I have to go back home. For my own sanity’s sake.

Same Ole, Same Ole

So I’m back in Lagos working now. I’ve been here for about three months and it’s really much better this time around. My own house, my own car. I’m more independent than ever. But that also has its problems.

Last week, a friend and I went to salsa class and then decided to to go The Ice Cream Factory. On the way out, I turned the wrong way on a one way street. As soon as I started driving a police vehicle drove up and blinded us with their lights. Four of them jumped out of the car and walked up to the car, AK47s slung across their shoulders like schoolboys lazily carrying their backpacks, no thought to the possible danger of them accidently shooting a round. They were young, bored and saw us as an easy way to make some beer money.

One of them approached the car and yelled, “Wind down! Wind down your window.” I cracked the window slightly, taking care that the button did not automatically roll the window down too much allowing them to stick their hand through. I had been through that one other time, giving them the opportunity to unlock the door and get into the car. I wasn’t going to take that chance again, especially at 10 o’clock at night.

“Wind down! Wind down!, ” the officer continued to yell, upset that I didn’t open the window more. I told him that I could hear him. He continued to yell and I got exasperated. There was really no talking to him. I called my company from my mobile phone. Security answered and I told them that I was close to the Law School and that the police were holding me. They asked me a couple of more questions about my car and my location and told me they would call me back.

I could hear the officer still yelling at me to wind down my window and I shook my head. The officer turned to his mates incredulously, “She is on the phone like she’s calling her boyfriend.” He turned back to me. “So you won’t wind down your window?” He nodded to the guy on his left. They started to let the air out of my front tires. The crowd was starting to show up and watch the officers. Seems that watching the police harass citizens is better than watching an Africa Magic movie.

My company security arrived in about 20 minutes. They rolled up in a vehicle that looked just like a regular Lagos police vehicle and told me to wind my window down. I refused. For all I know, they could be these jokers’ friends. That pissed the lead company security officer off. He walked to the car and asked to see my ID. I asked to see his. He said, “Don’t you see the emblem on my shirt.” I told him that anyone could get a shirt like that. I refused to roll down my window any further until I talked to my company dispatch and they confirmed it. Needless to say, the security officer wasn’t very inclined to help.

He went and talked to the police and they did what they do, talk, shout, beg, agree, repeat. Finally the security officer came over and said, “You know Lagos police consider driving the wrong way a serious violation. So, I’m going to talk to them and settle this thing but you will have to bear the cost.” I said okay, and called my friend N and her husband to come with some money since we didn’t have much on us. The company dispatch called and asked what was going on so I told him that the security officer was going to negotiate a deal. Dispatch blew up!! They cursed that security officer out something bad. By the end of it, all I had to do was get out of the car and apologize to the police officer for disrespecting him by not rolling my window down.

The security officer, clearly pissed off because now they are in trouble for trying to organize a bribe, sulkily went off to find someone to inflate my tires. They did that I followed them home. Again, clearly pissed since they are supposed to follow me. My friend was nervous the whole time but since I’ve been through this a couple of times, to me it was just the same ole, same ole.

Laziness

I’m supposed to be packing to go to Nigeria tomorrow but I am so lazy. I need to paint my nails, pack what I’m wearing, get my paperwork together and finish cleaning up the house. Well, my plane leaves at 10:50 AM tomorrow, so I have about 15 more hours to get it together. Let me go ahead and get it done.

Nigerians for Obama

Today I had the awesome experience of attending a pre-Obama inauguration party. In Nigeria! Ever since I got here, there has been a group of staunch Obama supporters that have engaged me, defended America, pushed optimism to the highest level, and completely lost their minds when Obama won. These people were serious. I would have to watch CNN constantly to keep up with them because they knew more about American politics than I did. They were on all the news feeds, reading all the blogs, discussing with their families back in the States. The expectation was that I could keep up. Honestly, I was never able to.

In honor of Obama being inaugurated, they held a luncheon at a nearby hotel. There were about 25 of us in attendance, and I was the only American. I felt privileged that they would include me on something so obviously important to them.

As each one stood up and shared what Obama’s presidency meant to them, they were emotional. They shared tales of how they felt Obama was ordained by God, and how Obama’s message of persistence and dedication until they reached their goals affected them personally. They hoped that the message of change would cross America’s borders and infiltrate the people and government of Nigeria. And then they asked me to speak.

I talked about how when Michelle Obama said, “First the first time in my adult life, I am proud to be an American…” that white America was up in arms. And even in that crowd, I heard a few grumbles of disagreement. But I kept talking and told them that I understood. And I knew that all over America, Blacks were nodding their heads in agreement. For people that were used to being disenfranchised, scapegoated, and excluded, having Obama as President-elect was the first time we saw America as something that we could relate to. I told them that I was excited, because my 88 year old grandmother, whose own grandfather was a slave (only 5 generations away people), who lived through the dehumanizing days of Jim Crow, was able to see a black President in her lifetime. That my mother, a kindergarten teacher, who was told that because she was black, the only thing she could aspire to was to be a teacher or a nurse, could really see one of her students as President of the US someday. That while I have been made acutely aware of being American since living in a foreign country, I could really be proud of that fact.

The luncheon ended up with a round of pictures, us taking pictures standing between the Nigerian and American flags. I just marveled at the fact that I had to travel all the way to Nigeria to actually understand exactly how American I really am.

Get Over It

Have you ever had a married man try to guilt trip you because you told him that you don’t deal with married men?

That’s just me? Okay then…

One thing that is not cool about Nigeria is the rampant and blatant disregard for marriage vows, particularly on the part of the men. I would say oh, about 85% of the men that have approached me have been married. Ain’t there is no bluffing, no hemming and hawing, no sliding rings off fingers – it is straight up, “yeah, I got a wife. and…”

So I met this one guy at a party, let’s call him, Moving Parts. I didn’t see a ring so we exchanged numbers. We have talked briefly on the phone but with the vacation and all, it hasn’t been consistent. I also wasn’t really trying to pursue it either. He had been temporarily transferred out of town on a project and was persistently calling me and text me. I finally just asked him my favorite question for finding out if a man is married, “So, where is your family?” He answered that his family was in Lagos. For those not familiar with the culture, if homeboy didn’t have a wife, he would have clarified really quickly what family I was referring to. Since he didn’t, I knew the deal. Uhhh-hmmm….

Moving Parts continues to call and text even though I am not answering calls, not returning texts. Finally, I just text him and say, “I’m flattered but I know that you are married and I don’t deal with married men. ” He writes back:

Morning Melodi. I felt that you came down hard on me. I like you very much which is why I wouldn’t lie to you as regards to my status, but you sure made it sound like being married is like having leprosy.

Are you serious? Are you really trying to act like I was wrong? I know that in Nigeria, for man that is intelligent, good looking, and highly paid, being married is just a slight inconvenience. But for me, your marriage is more than an inconvenience. It’s a barrier to me ever being more than just a fling. It might mean a couple of dinners, a couple of cute bags and even a weekend trip somewhere. But it also means showing up to events alone, spending holidays alone, and eventually ending up alone. I think I am going to pass.

Guess what? He will get over it.

Happy Founder’s Day!

Wishing a wonderful day to all my lovely sorors of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Last weekend I went to a Founder’s Day party – well, actually, the wife was an AKA and the husband was a Kappa and the plan was the celebrate their Founder’s Days, but since so many other organizations were founded in January it worked for everyone. There were representatives from other organizations (read: Deltas and Alphas) and some non-Greeks. It was actually an opportunity for black Americans and some Nigerians that have lived in America to get together. There were probably about 20 Greeks there so it was pretty impressive for Lagos. I think we know of about 30-35 Greeks in the area – we are everywhere!

Tonight I am going to a Founder’s Day dinner with my sorors – there are nine of us here. That is sooo cool. Back in the day, one of my line sisters said on her application that she wanted to join Delta so she could have “sisters all over the world.” This was kind of an inside joke when we were on line and we always cracked up because she was so overly dramatic with it. At the time, we were barely imagining having sorors in the next state, let alone world-wide. But now, I really do have sisters all over the world. That’s amazing.

A Little Piece of Home

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.