Conversation With The Barber III

Previous hair cuts – Conversation I & Conversation II

Tired of looking like I was auditioning for the title role in the sequel of Django and also tired of my mother thinking I was heading to Turkey to cross the border into Syria, the other week, I decided to have a long overdue haircut and a beard trim.

The following conversation took place with my barber, Emenike. As usual it was in Igbo language.Read More »

Mum’s Soup

Thought I’d share this e-mail from my cousin Nduka, a few days ago……

Cousin Kere, how are you? I see you are in Lagos and it is turning into quite the event. I can’t wait for you to supply details when you get back to London. Meanwhile, while you were away I think I have finally come out to my Mum, or at least she is now officially aware.

Kere, you know my Mum (your older cousin twice removed on your father’s mother’s side – We Nigerians, We like kinship) – is an indomitable, forthright, God-fearing Christian woman and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. As a typical Nigerian mother, she instilled a lot of discipline in her kids. Anyone one of us that misbehaved got our well-deserved punishment, especially if we disgraced her outside, as all our behaviour reflected on her. So things like sex outside marriage was not tolerated and homosexuality was something we talked about. But she is quick to fight our corner if we are right. God help the person who falsely accused us of any wrong doing.

Along with her reputation of being a strict mother, she is also renowned for her traditional culinary skills. In the 1980s, whenever it was our family’s turn to host the village meeting, attendance was always higher than for the other meetings hosted by other families. People looked forward to her cooking and attended en mass.

Need I remind you of her soups? Ofe Egusi (Melon Seed Soup), Ofe Ugba (Oil bean seed soup), Ofe Onugbu (Bitter leaf soup), Ofe Okro (Okra Soup) all eaten with Eba or pounded yam (collectively known as “Swallow”). Not to mention her Jollof rice, Yam & Plantain pottage and Beans & Plantain pottage. All dishes made with fresh ingredients, assorted spices,  beef, goat meat and fish.

Egusi

She knows my favourite breakfast is sweet ripe fried plantain and egg sauce, served with Akamu (Fermented maize) doused in sweet condensed milk. Oh the sweetness could send one into a diabetic coma. Those were the days when I didn’t bother about my then 28 inch waist-line. Now that my waist line is size…..I digest digress.

                                    Fried Plantain

In the early 1990s Gen Sani Abacha assumed power and Dad who was a permanent secretary in one of the Federal ministries had to leave the country, because he was being investigated and he was tipped off that incarceration was imminent. I don’t know why people don’t believe that a senior  civil servant on an average salary cannot afford to have property abroad and a few hard earned US dollars in foreign bank accounts….. Anyway, we had to move to the UK from Nigeria.

Well the voluntary exile to the UK did not impede Mum’s expertise in the kitchen. She sources the ingredients required for the Nigerian dishes from Dalston and Peckham markets. She continues to slay in the kitchen.

Jollof Rice

Though we have all left home, we still visit Mum regularly to get fed Nigerian food and take some home. The thing is Mum’s food is moreish and one serving is never enough. And that was the crux of my dilemma.

Mum knows I live with a “flat mate” Jeff and that we cook separately. But the truth as you know, is that Jeff and I have been a couple for over seven years. Jeff though English from East Anglia, an Old Etonian and a Cambridge graduate, whose grandmother’s mannerisms reminds me of the Dowager Countess Grantham in Downton Abbey, has taken a shine to Mum’s cooking.

He looks forward to when I go and visit Mum because of the variety of Nigerian dishes I bring back. And when I don’t go, he cajoles me into visiting her. Jeff can roll the swallow in between both hands, before expertly transferring it between his fingers, dipping it in soup and then passing it into his mouth. Villager. A technique, I swear I did not teach him, as I eat swallow with cutlery. I think he got this eating technique from watching Nollywood films supplied by my sister,  which to my chagrin he has also taken a liking to.

The thing is Mum gives me enough food for 2 servings. As she thinks I eat it by myself, she only gives enough for me to eat twice. But with Jeff I can only have it once and like I said, one helping of Mum’s food is never enough.

I have been enduring this food deprivation since Jeff and I started dating. I know I should see it as a means of portion control, but it is a concept not compatible with Mum’s food; and I don’t mind doing the extra cardio session in the gym to burn off the calories.

So on this particular day – at Jeff’s urging – I went to see Mum. She packaged the food in Tupperware containers and labelled each one with its contents. And as usual it was enough for one person to eat twice.

I hugged her, said goodbye, headed for the door, got into my car and drove off. I think I was so overwhelmed by the thought of watching Jeff (expertly) devour the other half of the food  which was, for lack of full disclosure to Mum, rightfully mine – that after driving a few meters, I stopped the car and reversed back into the parking space I just vacated.

I went back into the house and walked into the kitchen. Mum was cutting vegetables with a knife. She looked up still cutting the vegetables and said in Igbo, “Ah, Nduka what did you forget?”

I took a deep breath and said, “Mum, you know Jeff right?”

“Oh yes” she answered. “That your flat mate. How is he? You guys have been sharing a flat for over 5 years now. These days that is longer than most marriages. How is that his girlfriend I saw at your place last year? (She was referring to Jeff’s University female friend who was visiting from Canada last year and stayed with us. Totally platonic)

“He is fine. It is just that, we share everything – bills, the cleaning, cooking, clothes, washing and we sleep in the same bed, like married couples do.

He likes your food and when I bring it home we share it. But it is never enough for both of us and we always crave more. Please next time can I get an extra serving of food to take home?”

She stopped cutting the vegetables. Knife still in her hand, she looked up and gave me a look that I see as a precursor to me getting an ass whopping from her when I was a kid, or a stern rebuke now that I am an adult.

With the knife still in her hand, I wondered maybe asking for extra food portions wasn’t a good idea after all. A bit like Oliver Twist asking for more.

Then she smiled and went back to cutting the vegetables and said,

Which soup does he like?”

I am glad to say, I now get more than enough food for me and Jeff.

Now, I just need to teach that villager how to use cutlery to eat swallow!!

 

Conversation With The Barber II

The last time I mentioned my barber was in January, it is now August. That doesn’t mean that I have been running around looking like I am auditioning for a part in a Blaxploitation movie. Quite the opposite. I have been to see him and been having my hair cut, just that we haven’t had any gay related conversations, until yesterday when I paid him a visit him.

50-Cent-Afro-Hairstyle-30494

The following ensued and like the last time, which you can catch up on here the conversation was in Igbo.

Me: How now? How is the family? (He is married with two daughters)

Emenike (Em): I am fine my brother. We thank God. How is work?

Me: Its going well, thank you. I have a big presentation on Monday; please give me a nice haircut – I need to show them that I haven’t come to sell groundnuts.

Em: Don’t worry I will take care of you, he laughed

He prepared me for the haircut and as he draped the barber’s cloth over me, he stopped mid-flight as a rather voluptuous lady walked by the shop window and attracted his attention. The other barbers and customers in the shop teased him about being happily married man and shouldn’t be gawking at other women.

Me: How is that your townsman you were telling me about?Read More »

Conversation with the Barber

Went to have my hair cut on New Year’s Eve by my regular barber. His name is Emenike. Good looking, average height, well-groomed beard, with a lean physique you get from hard labour – he hardly has any fat on him. Naturally, I have checked out his butt and he has absolutely nothing to be ashamed about.

Ngo Okafor

When I go to see him, I tell him what I want done and he does it. We never have any conversations. He hardly talks anyway; he just gets on with it, unlike other barbers who like to give their unsolicited opinion of everything they see on TV, Nigerian Politics and outside the shop window.

Half way through cutting my hair the following conversation ensued:

Emenike: You no travel?

This is not an unusual question to ask between Nigerians around the Christmas holidays as it is customary we travel home to celebrate with our families. It is also an opportunity to show real or often imagined affluence and showcase ourselves.  In the process  single straight Nigerians get future spouses. Being a gay man and not being out to my village, I am not prepared to spend £££ on a 2 week trip to be bombarded with questions about my marital status and be subjected to a long array of potential brides to choose from. So I use Skype to stay in touch during the festive season and feign bad connection when the question of marriage comes up.

Me: No, I didn’t. Work has been too busy.

Em: What part of Nigeria are you from?

Me: The East. Imo state.

Em: Eziokwu!!? E na su Igbo? Really? Do you speak Igbo?

He said this with the joy of a proverbial shepard who has just found his long lost sheep. Igbo is the language spoken by the Igbos  from the Eastern part of Nigeria, where I come from. 

Me: Ehe nu. Ofuma ofuma (Of course I do. Very well for that matter) 

The rest of our conversation is held in Igbo.

Em: Did you know I am Igbo? Why haven’t you spoken it to me before all this time you have been coming here?

Me: No real reason. Most times I just want to cut my hair and go. Ndo biko. I am sorry.

Em: Ok, no problem. When was the last time you went home?

Another question we tend to ask each other to ascertain if we have the correct documentation to allow us back into Britain or we just don’t have that many family ties left at home.

Me: 2008. My family (brother and sister) are here. My parents visit every year.

Em: Are you married?

Me: No?

Em: Eh? Why?!?

There was shock in his voice. Like it is a mortal sin to be male, Igbo and living in South London.

Me: It just hasn’t happened.

Em: You have a girlfriend?

Me: No

Em: Ah ah? Why now?!?

Now he is really worried for my existence on this earth

Me: Women don’t interest me.

WTF?!! Did I just say that in a testosterone filled  Nigerian Barbers’ shop??

Em: What interests you then?

Me: Men.

Em: Ok. I wouldn’t have guessed. You don’t look it.

Igbo

Em: Are you proud? Do you hide it?

Me: I am telling you now, aren’t I? If anyone asks me I will tell them. I have come too far  to start denying.

Em: Are you male or female?

Wow…that threw me a bit…He is asking if I am top or bottom. Is he interested? Going by all my escapades both published and unpublished on this blog and my recent failed attempt to bottom, my response wasn’t a lie.

Me: Male.

Em: There is a guy from my village who lives around here. He is like a brother to me, so we talk. Everyone knows he is a female. The way he carries himself, but he is still hiding it. I told him he is here now in the UK, he can live freely. He got married to a white girl and got his papers then the marriage ended. The other day he told me he went home and got married and the girl is pregnant(!) I really don’t know why he did it?

There was even more disappointment in his voice than when I told him women didn’t interest me. He was genuinely concerned. This touched me.

He took out his phone and showed me the guy’s picture. Yup he is fem. I recognised him. I have seen him sashaying on the high street. A blind dog would know he is gay. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It is just the way he is built.

Me: As long as our people continue to demonise homosexuality, you will find people like your kinsman all over the place. They will continue to hide because they are scared of the fall out and the shame they might bring to their family.

Em: Do your parents know?

Me: They know but we don’t discuss it. They have stopped asking me about a girlfriend or when I am getting married.

Em: Are they happy about it?

Me: Probably not. A few years ago my mother asked me again, I told her I wasn’t getting married to a woman just to make her (my mum)happy? It would be unfair on the woman and I wouldn’t be happy. So she just has to deal with it.

Em: Hmmm. Have you had girlfriend’s before? Don’t women “move” you? Isn’t it a choice?

Me: Nwokem, my friend, it is not a choice. It is how God made me. Yes, I have been with women, but they don’t ‘move’ me as much as men do. What is a choice is how I have decided to live my life. I can either be happy being myself or unhappy trying to make my mother happy and my ‘wife’ unhappy.

Em: Do you go to church?

Me: Yes.

Em: But not our Nigerian Pentecostal church?

Me: No. I attend Church of England. In Nigerian Pentecostal churches, everyone wants to know your business and being gay is not acceptable. They will start binding and casting out demons on my behalf.  Meanwhile the church elders are either in the closet or committing adultery. I have no time or offering for closet cases or blatant hypocrisy.

Em: Nna, I hear you. Our people hide the thing well.

Me: Please continue to support your kinsman. Let him know you are there for him. With open minded Nigerians like you there would be hope for us all.

With that I paid him and shook his hand and left.

I thought to myself, he is quite open-minded and reasonably vast in the ways of western ways of life. He mentioned a couple of other gay Nigerians clients of his, so he is reasonably comfortable and exposed to the gay way of life. He is not saying “we do not have gays in Nigeria”

I just wonder if he would be the same if he went back to Nigeria and settled down. Society has a way of changing us. Maybe I am just being cynical.

Time will tell…..