So, my friend and I are having coffee a few days before I head to Nigeria for the holidays. We get along because we work together and we have become tolerant of each other’s anecdotes. We are ‘friends’ even if our friendship is restricted to reminisces and bad coffee in eclectic cafes. London friendship can be like that, restricted to the peripheral.
She tells me about her partner whose parents she will be travelling to Sydney to see, and the walking holiday they were planning. I tell her about my family and about how much I miss the food; epkang, wrapped in nkuwu and bush meat with mint sauce and unripe plantain. I moaned about how much I missed freshly plucked vegetables, the type my mother plants at the back of the house – the real organic food, nurtured with animal waste. She moaned about her mother who abandoned her when she was 12, and is trying to plot her way into her life, causing all kinds of problems. I show her a picture of my kids, she shows me a picture of her Beagle, Franca, who had just had her claws removed.
Did I see how cute she is? I said yes, even if I saw nothing.
When we were done gushing, we carried on with the reason we were there in the first place, my trip to Nigeria, and yes, the coffee …
The cafe we are in today is popular because they make the best patisserie on that stretch of road. We did not mind standing or waiting for someone to vacate a seat, even if it meant occupying their messy table, which by the way stays messy for at least 60 seconds before a bewildered waiter arrives with wipes and sanitizers.
The decor in the cafe is split in half. To the left is an array of grotesque looking objects, tree clumps rudely cut and twisted into various ritualistic objects. If this was a shop in Nigeria, it would have belonged to a modern, forward-thinking herbalist. The other half is an escape into the sumptuous Art Decor age. Shrouding the North wall is an expressive abstract composition, in rich, bold geometric display, lavish chandeliers hang from low ceilings. All together, I am unimpressed, my tummy churned, I wasn’t sure if it was hunger or distaste.
I rein myself in and try to appear eager, like my friend, who took in all the decor and squealed: ‘Niiiiccceee’
We sit beside a window, where the winter sunlight rests warmly on the side of our faces. A panelling prevents us from resting our hands on the low window sill. On top of it is a strange looking object with eyes, that kept looking at me like it disapproved of something. My German friend is having the opposite reaction, she is looking at the object and nodding, the cup of latte she ordered nods with her.
We attempt again to return to the trip …
‘Ooooooooo! You are going to Africa, you must be excited?’
‘I am going to NII-GEE-RIA!’ I drag the syllables out, hoping she would realise I was going to a country and it had a name.
‘I would love to visit Africa’, she says. ‘Imagine waking up and seeing all those animals.’ Her look is dreamy and it annoys me. It annoys me because she romanticises Africa. As if Africa is some abstract place, where hope and pain don’t exist. My belly boiled …
I want to say –
Africa is NOT a Country ooo! If you where going to New Zealand for holiday, would you say, I am going to Oceania? Mchewwww! I am going to Nigeria, not hunting. There are no animals walking around except you mean lizards and roaches or chickens.
Instead I say,
‘I am going to Abuja, it is very much a concrete jungle like Berlin. I will also visit the village, where you can find farms, like the countrysides of Germany, we have chickens and the occasional snake but if you want to see lions, you will have to go to a safari park.’
She looks at me and smiles with that distant but effective widening of the face, that unaffected expression White people sometimes wear and think they understand you, when they really don’t get it.
As we left the cafe, I pondered on some of the challenges of interracial relationships, particularly between black people and Caucasians. There is a tension between these races, and that alertness (on the part of Black people ) not to be taken for granted, often make us overreact. There is that basic distrust, which constantly threatens to distort otherwise healthy interracial relationships.
Many years later as I reflect, the conclusion I reached then is reinforced now: tolerance, (in this multi-diverse, multicultural world) should be what we all aspire to, especially at election time. Let us accept people’s ignorance (and I use ignorance here to mean lack of information) for what it is, ignorance. Let us accept that we do not have the theory to everything, for it is when we become masters of everything that we stop learning. Let us seek #peacenotwar
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