Onyinye OyedeleTuesday, January 31, 2006
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Ontario, Canada



ith my gele (headgear) looking like National theatre on one side and Niagara falls on the other, I was ready for a special ceremony. My gele was not as perfect as madam kofo's own in the popular series 'second chance' back home in the 80's. We were on our way to a friend's wedding and stopped for a washroom break at a fast food joint. As I got off the car making my way into the place, I suddenly became the centre of attraction and I gladly accepted the brief stage………….You look gorgeous, awesome………oh, I like your outfit……….it is so colorful………where are you from? I replied grinning from ear to ear, oh……thank you, I am from Nigeria, we wear this for special occasions. It is called lace, we have lots of it back home. And the headgear, I tied it myself, .yeah, it is lovely……….All this while, I blocked the entrance into the place, it was my stage and for that brief moment, an African woman was talking and must be heard oh ……….I am glad to be an African madam. As I made my way back to the car, I felt the eyes staring and I walked majestically so that they will have enough time to look, but I ran at one point because the cold was biting into my skin oh!!!!!!!!!!

As an African woman living abroad, I have found out that once in a while as the weather permits, when I dress in my attire, there is this glow and attention, which I can not really describe. Oyinbo's are in awe of our outfits and they also marvel at out hairdos and can't quite understand some intricacies. There are some parts of our culture, which they admire like carrying a baby on your back with a wrapper. I remember someone told me her church members were taking pictures of her and her child when she backed the baby. They kept asking, "how did you do that"? I have also spoken to a couple of friends here in Canada who back their children. It is actually good for light workouts.

I also remember receiving something from my pastor in Canada and making a little courtesy (slightly bending my knees), at the end of the service someone actually called me to say that I made them feel like kings and queens and they have not seen such in a long time. Somehow it has been engraved in my head that I should not stand like an Iroko tree when greeting my elders or people in authority. Some people have also commented that Nigerian children are very respectful, now that is very positive. Infact, one of our core values in Nigeria is Respect, so it is really no surprise.

One aspect of the Yoruba culture that I admire is the way they kneel or prostrate for their elders, it is a significant part of their culture and we were told that in social studies back in primary school. When we moved to Lagos, it was also one of the first things I noticed and I had to learn.

As a Nigerian woman in Diaspora, sometimes I do have my challenges……will we forget our values and traditions in a foreign land? As long as what I have been brought up with are there to guide me, make me a better wife and mother, friend and colleague, daughter and in-law then I will keep them. I may not be perfect in delivering all but the sincerity of the heart and the willingness to learn is what matters.

My dad is a very firm disciplinarian. He studied in the UK and he is very homely. When we were growing up he would warn us…… "all you girls in this house, you better learn how to cook, otherwise your husband will chase you away" , and we will laugh while he said that. He is a very good cook, the best porridge beans I have eaten in my life was prepared by him and he can cook a pot of soup with his mouth. He used to supervise us whenever my mum traveled. He was also very strict on our dressing. And sometimes when we display any stubborn attitude he will remind us of how he used to wash our dirty nappies and change us when we were kids. Now that just brings us back to planet earth. These are the classic memories I will have of my dad. I look forward to cooking his best food: fresh fish pepper soup when I see him. One thing I miss is the look of satisfaction on his face when he says thank you after eating that meal. The baton was passed from my mum to me and now to my younger ones.

I have learnt that as a Nigerian woman no matter the amount of Oyinbo (like the Queens English) and grammar you can speak, or the amount of degrees, masters or Ph.D. you have, or if you have an army under your command, when you enter that kitchen, you must know how to perform. Somehow you should know how to co-ordinate some ingredients and whip up something. It does not have to be a world class exotic meal or international cuisine with all the trimmings & toppings. You don't have to be perfect. I remember growing up with "Maggi Kitchen" by Madam Funmi Adeoye, every Friday. I will sit down with my pen and paper. It was a taboo to sit in front of the TV on Saturday afternoon when my mum was cooking soup. As soon as she comes back from the market, we all entered the kitchen and found something to do: pick the vegetable leaves, pound crayfish and pepper or just pass things to her. As time went on, she passed some of the cooking to us but she always cooked her okazi soup. Of course she always bought tapioca and coconut to keep us in the kitchen.

Sometimes I think every husband's secret and silent prayer before they get married is: "oh God please give me a wife that can cook!!!!!!!they won't ask you up front but they will give you little assignments that will reveal your work with time. However, they are also very willing to teach you if you don't know. When they get married they are signing off from all takeaway joints and they relinquish every shareholding badge. There is something about mama Ngozi's food that will make papa Ngozi run home from work to eat his ofe nsala and pounded yam. There is also something about baba Tola that will make him reject every other food outside because he can't wait to get home and eat his precious efor and Amala by his darling wife. Eating out is fine for the family occasionally but it is not economical on a regular basis. Although out here, we substitute quite a lot of our traditional vegetables with Spinach !!!!!Where can you find fresh ugwu, okazi, waterleaf, oha, Ewedu, bitter leaf etc?

I enjoy watching cooking channels just to learn something new because somehow the kitchen is one aspect of the home where God has given women unbelievable creativity and energy. I also think it is the engine of the home. It is also a place where mothers can bond with their children.

Some people might have grown up in autocratic and dictatorship homes and never really saw marriage as teamwork, partnership and fun. A place where laughter and peace can flow, so unconsciously you may carry that mental picture into your home when you get married. Some people never saw their parents hug or give each other a peck. There was really no show of emotions and their conversations were not fun either……….where is my food? Actually, our culture does not really permit us to show our emotions, which to an extent is not the best.

However the greatest gift you can give to your husband is respect…he is king in the home. It is simply unique when you see a king serving his family once in a while, it is the strongest and most effective message of leadership.

Life is short and at the end of the day what really lingers on our mind is the quality time we spend in our homes. You can make it enjoyable and fun. You can laugh and play, argue and reconcile, build and encourage each other. We are not perfect people, but we can accommodate each other and help one another to become the best that we can be.

As Nigerian families living abroad, we can be happy, we can stay together with God on our side and with the values and foundation that we have. The pressure of economic demands we shall overcome and remember that God is our source. We will continue to work very hard and be wise in our investments and spending.

God has also given women unique grace and softness, now it is in our hands how we use it to affect the people around us. If you have a husband in a position of leadership, you are that gentle voice that God can use to talk to him in difficult times or at critical decisive moments. You can speak to him to be accountable and selfless in his service. However the most important change can only be achieved through prayer.

History was made in Africa on the 16th of January 2006, when a woman became the President of War torn Liberia…President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. A 67yr old grandmother, an ex-student of Harvard University, an iron lady set to lead Liberia to the promise land. The first for the African nations and the whole world is watching to see what changes a woman will bring to this nation and the continent at large. There to support her were US secretary of State Condelleezza Rice and Mrs. Laura Bush whom I admire so much for her modesty, poise, elegance and humility.

In conclusion, I will say that being an African woman is a thing of pride, It reminds me of the qualities of a virtuous woman. We may not have had all the privileges and freedom that I see in the western world but I am glad that I still had some boundaries growing up and I will still treasure them. The drive to conform will always be out there but I have to constantly ask myself, will it make me a better person to stand out or to join the crowd and forget where I am coming from?

Onyinye Oyedele is a former BEN-TV London News anchor.