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Atoke’s Monday Morning Banter: Rice & Stew Very Plenty

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Here is how I spent my weekend: a wedding, where I was filling the role of a plus one for my relative; then I was suddenly thrust with a very important job. I was put in charge of ensuring that guests looked at their names and table placements on a board at the entrance, and then guided them to their seats. You come into the ballroom, you look for your name, note the table you’re assigned, and you mosey on over there. Sounds easy right?

Well, not quite; because you know when Nigerians are involved in things like this, there’ll be one or two things that will give rise to drama. It was a wedding of an English man, and a half Nigerian, half American woman. My job was going on rather smoothly, until they came in: thick set, round, and loud, in their high geles and ‘Mummy London Face Paint make up. One of them walked past me to look for where to sit. Sorry ma, you have to come and see where your name is, to find the table you’ve been placed at. She gave me that look I knew too well: “Who is this small rat and why does she think she can tell me what to do?”

She didn’t find her name on the list and turned towards her entourage “Won ni t’oruko wa o ba si lori list, a le ri’bi joko si” {They said if our names are not on the list, we won’t be seated} The woman beside her looked around, gazing pointedly at the empty chairs, slowly filling up with people who came after them.

E je’a ma lo nigba na. A kuku ti attend church service. That’s the most important part of the ceremony. If they don’t want us at the reception, let’s go

The Best Man, (White dude) who was clearly untrained in this Yoruba people style of reverse psychology was anxious to help. He asked if they had sent in their RSVPs. “I’m sure there’s a mix up somewhere. Did you send in your RSVPs?”

Poor guy! I wanted to tell him, for free, that there was no mix up. They did not send in RSVPs. It is not our thing. You’re having a party, people show up. If there’s not enough at your party for people to eat and drink and have enough to waste, or pour in a polythene bag, then your job as a host has been badly executed. As the host of a party, where you’re expecting Nigerian guests, you have to make provision for over and beyond the invited number of guests. All that nonsense of asking people to confirm whether they will attend or not is just simply… nonsense.

Atoke CheeriosThe idea of ‘counting food in the mouth of your guest’ is a clear index of a bad host – by Nigerian standards. When there’s a party, there has to be Rice*Stew Very Plenty – our own version of the RSVP.

Our selective borrowing some of these things from the ‘Big Bad White West’, often gives me cause for concern. We borrow their style of celebrating marital unions; we borrow their outfits; we borrow their style of lettering on invites – complete with the tiny Répondez S’il vous Plaît clause. Why won’t we finish the borrowing and actually confirm our attendance to the host? Surely that makes the planning process a lot more easier. I think!

In any case, more often than not, Nigerians usually make provision for the possibility that you may not have enough stomach entertainment, so they come prepared.

On Saturday, after the women, who had threatened to leave, spent 15 minutes waiting outside the hall; someone went to ‘beg’ them to come inside – provision had been made for them to sit on the balcony level.

I knew my people were not gonna leave. Heck, they were here for the drama that was going to come out of the fact that they attended XYZ’s wedding and they didn’t even get a chance to sit. Blame it on that American wife! Pah!

Shortly after they were sat, guess what came in tow? Yeap! Coolers of food. They came well prepared. Whilst the Oyinbo people downstairs were still busy giving hours of speech after speech – raising their glasses of champagne and drinking on an empty stomach – the party was going on upstairs. You people cannot come and use hunger to kill us here oh. We are Nigerians.

Dearly beloved, do NOT underestimate the importance of food to our people. In writing this piece, I tried to think of a reason why food is usually the bone of contention at every kind of social gathering we have. At the naming ceremony of my friend’s baby, some of his colleagues didn’t get food. They were quite upset with him, and told him off at work. Didn’t he know they were going to come? How could food finish at the event before it got to them?

“You know what pisses me off about that silly spat? It wasn’t even actually food per se… it was just small chops”

Ah! This my friend was a proper learner. How can he qualify ‘small chops’ as ‘just’… in a Nigerian setting?

“Ogbeni! Fights have been fought over the absence of puff puff inside small chops. You’re now saying why are they angry that they didn’t get small chops. Forget what you might have imagined about your new daughter being the celebrant. The food was.”

“The annoying thing is that I didn’t even know they would come. They kept saying ‘Let’s see how it goes’, so I just figured since it was a week day, it’ll just be family”

Well, he figured wrong.

I was going to conclude this piece by saying that it is bad behaviour to bring food to another person’s party, one where you may or may not have been invited. Then, I remembered the many years of my mother making back up rice, moin-moin and fried meat – just in case there’s not enough food at a family party. Watch that high horse crumbling beneath me… that’s a story for another day.

So here’s my actual conclusion: it’s really nice to get invited to events; when you do get invited, it’s nice to confirm your attendance. If you don’t get invited, please try not to throw a hissy fit. Think about it this way, it’s the person’s party, they get to choose who they want in attendance. Try not to see it as a slight on your status. “Chief Williams didn’t invite me to his 60th birthday party. Does he know who I am?” Please calm down. There’s nothing they’re going to do at that party that you haven’t seen before or won’t get a chance to see again. Please try to squash the spirit of pettiness. Just try.

Finally, on the matter of food. Let’s just have some self respect when we conduct ourselves in public – at all times.

Remember, try to live at peace with all men.

Oh, before I sign off..

Later this week, I’ll be announcing a giveaway I’m having for creative writers. Gbemi Olateru-Olagbegi has very graciously given me two pairs of Gbemisoke shoes which I’ll give two writers. I’m also giving out books and perfume. So, look out for that later this week. I’m pretty excited about it and I can’t wait for y’all to send in your entries.

Peace, love & celery sticks!


Photo Credit: Dreamstime |  Elena Elisseeva 

You probably wanna read a fancy bio? But first things first! Atoke published a book titled, +234 - An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian. It's available on Amazon. ;)  Also available at Roving Heights bookstore. Okay, let's go on to the bio: With a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Swansea University, Atoke hopes to be known as more than just a retired foodie and a FitFam adherent. She can be reached for speechwriting, copywriting, letter writing, script writing, ghost writing  and book reviews by email – [email protected]. She tweets with the handle @atoke_ | Check out her Instagram page @atoke_ and visit her website for more information.

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