A couple of years ago precisely summer of 2006,I made a decision to go spend summer holidays in Nigeria. I was really excited after almost three years hiatus during the time which I spent most of my holidays within the Uk.
Symptomatic of diasporeans travelling back home after a long time, I was jumpy with a heady mix of joy elation shuffled together with a healthy dose of excitement, I was going to Lagos country club for ayamase sauce and local rice, I would reunite with the Vice Chancellor of University of Suya Faculty of meatology on Allen avenue .I could not wait to savour my favourite ewa agayin with freshly baked Agege bread, hard crust on the outside moist on the inside. I could already perceive the tantalising smell of that riposte from my flat in Salford all the way in ikeja Lagos.
Now that was the nice part of the story as it all goes downhill afterwards.
As anyone who has had to make travelling plans to Nigeria will attest to, Making such plans is not for the faint hearted. Yes you have to shop for legions of friends and obscure relatives, then pack and repack to make sure you are within the allocated luggage allowance, knowing how we Nigerians pack 100kg and still have the effrontery to try passing it off as “hand Luggage” then finally arranging transportation to the airport.
Thankfully I had sorted everything out with Military precision and fastidious planning, my luggage was at my brother’s house, which was closer to the Airport while my Passport ticket and money was in an envelope on my bed, I had clinically and efficiently covered all bases a day before my travelling or so i thought.
Earlier that day I had stayed at home cleaning and putting finishing touches to domestic stuffs, seeing as I will be away for 4 weeks. I did not bother to shower thinking I will do so before I set off for the Airport at 6pm the next day, which I presumed was my flight time.
I couldn't sleep due to the excitement so stayed up watching tv and talking on the phone with few friends till the early hours. All of a sudden something prompted me to go into the room and check my ticket ,as I did it suddenly dawned on me that I had made a fatal error one that could lead me to dispensing with at least a hundred dollars, instead of the next day at 6pm as I had thought all along it was actually 6am that same day, I had misread day and time of departure on the ticket, considering what I was parting with on this trip already with ticket costs, buying of gifts and other essentials I was not minded to spending an extra 100dollars. Hence summarily concluded in my mind that this was not an option, I got into a hybrid combination of James Bond and Tom Cruise in mission impossible mode rushing about like a headless chicken.
At this time it was almost 4:30am hence I had about 2 hours to get my things, make for my brother's house where I had left my luggages,wake him up get the luggage in the car and make it to Manchester Airport all before the check in counter for the flight is closed .Thank God I had a car, without taking a shower or getting ready I grabbed the envelope containing my travel documents and money, jumped in the car and off I went still in a pair of tattered faded jeans I had worn all day and a grubby zip up short sleeved shirt and Adidas flip flop looking overall unkempt. It was drizzling with rain and even then the car literally flew on the road to my brother’s Thankfully he is a light sleeper, so i roused him and we got my luggage in the car as he drove me to the Airport. I made it with barely 10 minutes to spare before the check in counter was closed and was airborne within the hour.
It was an Air France flight so short stopover in France where we joined by the boisterous and showy Nigerian American "I just came back" with their predictable outfit combination of a Nigerian top and jeans with the ten gallon cow boy hat always complaining and telling you how everything else is better “in the states”
We finally got on the plane for the final leg to Muritala Mohammed Airport in Lagos, arriving around 7pm. The warm blast of air welcomed us to good old Gidi town, the vibrancy, heady spirit and infectious optimism everybody seemed overrun with.As we all alighted from the Aircraft proceeding towards passport control a microcosm of all that was wrong with Nigeria began to patently manifest as overweight ladies pulling Louis Vuitton hand luggage, oversize Hermes bags hanging on left arms all stood to one side being swarmed by Immigration officers fawning over them, Big men both in status and girth peeled away from the queue, throwing their weight around both Physically and figuratively ,they were obviously the wealthy and connected, as the uniformed immigration officials shepherded them through a side entrance avoiding the long queue, some of the American "I just came back" began murmuring and complaining but the Immigration officers and the VIP took no notice while the rest of us economic class demographic began to navigate through the various counters with attendant bureaucratic nightmare, tiring and frustrating after a 6 hours flight, first immigration then ndlea,after the second desk I lost count mindlessly flowing with the deluge until I got to the final one met by a group of lads in black and white uniforms with berets, 3 of them looking at me all funny sort of quizzically
Hey big boy how was your journey….
Surprised but expected response considering the average Nigerian's sense of hospitality was second to none.
It was ok thanks …I replied really touched at their well-intentioned solicitations.
Having rewarded them with my best close up toothpaste smile, I proceeded to make my way out before the shorter of the three interjected
Big boy what do you have for us now any dollars? Probably assuming I was coming from the US….
I didn't need to be told twice knowing how things worked in Nigeria besides truth be told, it was flattering and an ego boost being called a “big boy” a term reserved for those in the exclusive black American express status, thank God I had some pound coins on me so as an emergency big boy I rummaged in my pocket and brought out the coins, while sorting through the pennies to pick out the coins intent on my task, I was not looking up but All of a sudden I noticed a gesture and looked up, one of them was whispering to the other, i didn't hear all he said but I heard the last part which was in my native Yoruba language
"Deportee ni bobo yi now,e fi sile ko ma ba tie lo ko lowo" loosely translated “This guy is a deportee now, he has no money, look at the way he is dressed allow him and let him just be on his way”
We had been conversing in English and while chatting I had unconsciously lapsed into my Nigerian accented British English a few times so they must have assumed I was non Yoruba or better still my acquired British accent was that good ,either way they assumed I could not understand Yoruba. As I paused in short lived bewilderment and confusion, not knowing what to do next one of them gestured with his hands
Big boy no worry just go ees ok thank you…making it clear they were not having my coins, all of them almost looking on in pity as I shrugged dumping the handful of coins back in my jean pocket, I picked up my back pack pushed my luggage out to meet the driver sent to pick me up outside.
As I left the Airport musing upon the bizarre incident I had just experienced I realised there is nowhere in the world where the saying "Dress the way you want to be addressed" becomes as poignant and compelling as in a society like Nigeria, where an Airport worker could Assess compartmentalise and relate with you based on your outfit, the English will define it in so many words but the Yoruba tribe where I am from sums it up in one word "Faworaja" which literary means to use a carefully crafted veneer to paint the perfect and acceptable personae and then project to the public for pecuniary gain and social approval.
What you have in your bank account, your intellectual acuity does not matter if you are not well turned out, dressing the part of the veritable Mack daddy the “Big Boy or Girl” for every occasion.Resplendent in a toga of sartorial elegance everyone in Nigeria labours and strives almost manically to project. An image, attempt at contrived prestige, which informs why an average individual in our society will ask after your car first before your wife or child. One’s level of credit worthiness, capacity to execute a job or contract is assessed not strictly by your quote or proposal but by the car you drive, hence it is perfectly normal for individuals to invest in a car which puts a veritable lie to their negligent bank balance, all under the "faworaja chronicle”
The moral contradiction in all of this is that I am also a proponent of the "faworaja chronicle” always fastidious in my attempt to project the right image, carefully chosen outfits co-ordinated with accessories understated elegance, hence have no right to mount the moral high ground in condemnation.
Perhaps the truth in all of this is that we all love the feeling the temporal heights of being the object of envy and adulation, raised eyebrow in respect or jealousy we are met with when out and about, resplendent in the coordinated outfits, accessories and luxury wheels complimenting each other.
A friend of mine will often remark to me the new mantra is to "Fake it till you make it " quite instructive to note that this chap hails from humble background but changed his last name to a posh sounding name, changed his personae and created a tailored outlook for himself, guess what? It paid off for him because he met the right kind of people, in time they were in business and he turned out to be a successful shipping agent. So maybe the “faworaja chronicle” is simply in context of how it is used after all.
From the glitzy streets of Los Angeles, the cosmopolitan city of London, Dubai and Hong Kong to the Nigerian city of Abuja and Lagos the Faworaja chronicle follows broadly same principle cutting across a cross pollination of languages,cuture,gender age demographic even religion.