by Femke van Zeijl
My landlady is beating the talking drum clasped under her left arm. When she sings her voice sounds half her age – the Yoruba lady is over 80. ‘Iya Funke, don’t go o! Iya Funke, we will miss you o!’ My mother is sitting next to her on the couch in my dollshouse. It is Saturday morning, my mum’s last day in Nigeria, and the landlady’s aubade is dedicated to her. I will miss my mother terribly, but must admit in a way I am also relieved she is leaving.
The two weeks she spent with me were amazing. I am telling you: if you ever want to visit Nigeria as a tourist, go as an elderly white lady who is also someone’s mother. You will be treated like royalty. My mother got invitations I could never dream of, she was dressed up as if she were a mannequin taking 6 gorgeous African dresses home to The Netherlands with her and my people cooked her the best meals Nigeria has to offer, from amala till pepper soup, going easy on the pepper just for her. Everyone was so sweet to her. She left Nigeria reassured, knowing there are plenty good people in this country.
Also, for the first time in Nigeria, I played the tourist. We took a road trip to Ibadan and Abeokuta, spent a lazy afternoon swimming and eating pizza at the Koko Dome pool, went through Bere, the old heart of Ibadan I think deserves to be completely renovated and declared World Heritage and in Abeokuta we climbed Olumo Rock. It was a proper summer holiday.
I did not publish anything about her being in Nigeria until she had returned safely to my country of birth. Drawing too much attention to two oyinbo women roaming the streets of Lagos just before the holiday season did not seem a good idea to me. Because that is the other side of the picture. Every moment my mother was here, my mind was on how to protect her from bad things happening.
One evening we walked down my street to get a cold STAR at a local joint (yes, Iya Funke also loves STAR). I hadn’t realised she had brought her handbag. It was slung over her right shoulder, up for grabs for the okadas droning by, so I quickened my pace and took her by the right arm, shielding her side. I did not want to scare her by laying out all the risks, but some things I had to explain. Please mum, do not photograph at random from out of the car, especially not in a hold up. Do not take your camera to the market, however colourful the images might be. Do not walk around like a European pedestrian claiming priority, because you will get run over.
And please, ignore all law enforcement officers on the road because looking them in the eye seems to be an open invitation to be stopped over (I learnt that the hard way).
Having my mum over, who had never been to Africa before, made me realise how security conscious I have become over the ten years I have been travelling Africa South of the Sahara. It also made me appreciate how Nigerians sometimes feel towards me: overly protective maybe, because you are proud of your country but also know that not all is well and want to guard the visitor from harm.
That is why I was so upset with the idiot taxi driver who smacked into the passenger’s side of my car the penultimate day Iya Funke was in Lagos. I did not care that Wilma got yet another scratch. But my mother, who never got used to Lagos traffic, cried. I was furious. I felt guilty. What kind of daughter puts her 66 year old mother in such a situation? It was the one time I begrudged inviting her to Lagos. I did not even get out of the car to scream at the taxi guy, as I would have done had I been on my own, creating a hold up the entire neighbourhood would gist about. Instead, I downplayed the incident to my mother and drove off, just thinking of how to get her home safely.
It was the only dissonant in her fantastic two week vacation in Lagos.
She has gone back to The Netherlands, but things have changed. Now when I call her and tell her I am going to visit my neighbours, she knows who I am talking about. She knows the lady I get my tomatoes from at the market – the one who does not overcharge me. And most of all, she knows my dear beloved friends around me who care for me and are there for me.
For that, I am truly grateful.