Pius Adesanmi: Women versus woman palaver

by Pius Adesanmi

I should have known that there is no such thing as a sobolation-free, drama-free trip for me. Shuttle from the hotel to the airport in Istanbul was pleasant and enjoyable.

It had been pre-arranged but I was surprised that the shuttle service sent a gleaming, brand new G Wagon, allowing me to temporarily shelve the poor teacher part and pose as an Acting Deputy Nigerian Big Man.

We arrive at the airport. Tip time brings me back to reality. I tip the driver like a poor teacher. If he is unhappy, he does not show it. I disappear into the airport, to passport control, to security check, to my boarding gate, to chaos…

Every Nigerian based in Canada or the United States is familiar with this scenario. It scares us. You catch your flight jejely in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Houston, New York, Chicago or LA.

You are part of an orderly first world humanity until you reach Europe for your connecting flight. The moment you approach the boarding gate for the connecting flight to Nigeria in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, or Istanbul, Oja Oyingbo begins. This is when Ojuelegba begins. This is when Ikorodu begins.

There is hardly a US or Canada-based Nigerian who isn’t apprehensive of this situation. In our conceit, we hold Euro-Nigerians responsible for it as we do not arrive to contribute to the chaos.

You can tell the Nigerian arrivals from Canada or the US by their grimaces and winces and hisses of disapproval. They have just alighted from a flight in which they were a racial minority. On the flight from North America to Europe, you could hear a pin drop in the cabin because their fellow Oyinbo passengers whispered silently through their noses throughout the flight and called it conversation. Now they are at a European boarding gate with their own people in the majority and the decibel and chaos level is astounding.

As a writer and student of Nigerian sociology, I actually look forward to that European leg of the trip. My internal sensors are primed, looking for stories. Fresh from a G Wagon ride and still feeling temporarily like a big man, I sit on a bench opposite two thickset, very matronly Yoruba women. They are sitting beside each other but having a normal Nigerian conversation on top of their voices.

I tell myself that I have hit a narrative jackpot. I study them quietly. You can’t possibly miss the type. Seated opposite me is the Iya Kubura and Iya Kabiru type, recognizable all over Yoruba land. They look the part and are certainly speaking the part.

I had encountered their male counterpart on a flight out of Lagos last year. I conclude that these two must be shop owners in Peckham, selling everything from ewedu to dogon yaro chewing stick. I tell myself that awon Iyaloja London are probably going home to re-stock.

Miss Pepperless appears and interrupts my thought. She is also a type – the exact opposite of Iya Kubura and Iya Kabiru. She is the sophisticated type, everything designer.

She is speaking furiously into a gold-plated phone, her accept a chaotic hybrid of British and American. She finishes her phone conversation and takes an imperious survey of the assembled Nigerian humanity – her compatriots – her mien letting out that she is seriously considering whether sitting down among us will expose her to germs and other indignities. She looks every part the type of those sophisticated Nigerian pepperless ladies who have never peed, never farted, and never shat.

Her intrusion into our space without greeting or acknowledging us, all the accent, the airs, and the forming of superiority produce a predictable Yoruba cultural reaction from the two I have named Iya Kubura and Iya Kabiru. They exchange casual conspiratorial looks of disgust, shake their heads, followed by slight hisses and the sort of imoju that nature designed and placed in the care of traditional Yoruba women.

Our sophisticated female compatriot feigns ignorance of the hostility, finally sits down close enough to us, and resumes a very important telephone conversation in her rich rainbow of foreign accents.

From her new female enemies, Iya Kubura and Iya Kabiru, I hear: “shior, abajo ti ko r’oko fe”. No care in the world if the lady in reference understands Yoruba or not. At any rate, it will be too dangerous now for Miss Sophisticated to let it be known that any uncivilized Nigerian language has ever touched her tongue.

The comment by her traducers prompts me to steal a casual glance at her fingers: no wedding ring. Iya Kubura and Iya Kabiru have surmised that she must be in her late 30s to early 40s and no ring means she is not married. Naturally, they are attributing her single status to her oversabi, over-Oyinbo behaviour.

More rainbow-accented torrents of telephone sentences from the subject of gossip who is totally oblivious to the bile, resentment, and anger of her new enemies.

More audible insults and gossip from Iya Kubura and Iya Kabiru: “woin. Afi bi pe ilu oyinbo yi na ko ni gbogbo wa ngbe. Awon alaseju po sha. Awon omo oju o r’ola ri.”

I find myself agreeing with the two women silently. It is indeed true that we are all Nigerian diasporans, living in Oyinbo land. Why is Miss Sophisticated indulging in so much Oyinbo overdo and looking down on her compatriots?

We are summoned to start boarding and I begin to regret the end of the drama. As the business class section vomited us into economy in a single line, I hear a burst of triumphant laughter from Iya Kubura and Iya Kabiru. They have noticed that Miss Sophisticated is pushing and shoving her way into economy behind us.

Then I hear: “shior. Pelu gbogbo awuyewuye e. Ase economy na lo pada ma jasi!” Seeing Miss Sophisticated in economy is the best gift for the slighted egos of Iya Kubura and Iya Kabiru. Throughout the flight, I imagine them happily muttering “yokolu yokolu, ko ha tan bi”.

I tell myself that Miss Sophisticated will be the subject of rich dinner conversations over amala and abula in at least two homes in Ikorodu (Lagos) and Bere (Ibadan) when we land. And I find myself silently praying for Miss Sophisticated:

After all your forming, after all the accent that has been quarreling between Britico and Americana, after behaving like your compatriots will give you germs, you’d better be going to Ikoyi, Lekki, or Banana Island. May God not let whoever is picking you up mention Surulere within earshot of Iya Kubura and Iya Kabiru.

After praying for her, I struggle to concentrate on work and writing for the rest of the flight.


Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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