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Pounded yam for Okey Ndibe


Okey-NdibeLet me tell you why I will pound yam for the American based Nigerian novelist and columnist, Okey Ndibe, even though I’ve not pounded yam since General Muhammadu Buhari was a head-of-state.

A few weeks ago, I limped into New York city from Lagos, the Dollar to Naira rate had injured me terribly. I was in New York for meetings too important to cancel as well as attend Teju Cole’s reading from his new book, Known And Strange Things.

I’d called Okey earlier to let him know I was in visiting US and also to congratulate him on his new book, Never Look An American In The Eyes. Coincidentally, Okey was also in New York and we all happily agreed to attend Teju’s reading, then hang out afterwards.

Before I continue my story, let me tell you something. As soon as I left Nigeria, the naira kept falling like a drunk and our government was dolling out financial policies to stop the bleeding like a firefighter using a cup of water to put out a petrol station fire incident. The Nigerian forex system and budget had gone south, except for the pilgrims who were lucky to have bought dollars at a rate three times less than the rest of us non-pilgrims, talk about pilgrims’ progress. I applaud the move by government because importing prayers that will feed a nation and move things from awry to alright mustn’t be played with.

Anyway, our beloved Naira was getting pummeled by the dollar, which meant without spending a kobo from your savings, you would still bleed like Julius Caesar after Brutus stabbed him. Even my banks betrayed me right after I traveled. Suddenly my Orange Bank (not real name) became bipolar, my card would work in one store and in another store have the attendant announcing to the whole world “Your card was declined sir, do you have another card!”. To save face, I would scramble and bring out my Lemon Green Bank card, same story. Now I don’t even want to talk about my Half Elephant Bank, which had taken the position a grandmother would take when taken to a disco dance – find a corner and snore away. I don’t remember when Mr. Half Elephant worked for me outside Nigeria, but that’s a story for another day.

After Teju’s reading, greetings, back slapping and congratulations, someone announced we were all going out for dinner and drinks. My heart sank. I knew in America it is not who announced “let’s all go for dinner and drinks” that paid. Americans always go Dutch- it’s everyman for himself. I could have done the honorable thing and dismissed myself nicely, but the evening was electric and this called for celebration, money in the pocket or not.

Honestly, I had no other plans that night except to go and lie down in my budget hotel room and think of our 2015 general elections, the hopes, the promises, the fanfare, Buhari’s smiling in campaign pictures where he wore a suit and posed with a young lad, his Igbo attire that made him look like Natty from The New Masquerade, the packed arenas that screamed themselves hoarse yelling “Sai Buhari!”, the hope (I have said that before right?).

To have no option but to go and be thinking of how the Nigerian state was receding fast into recession was unthinkable, hence I chose to go with my people and celebrate the Nigerian things worth celebrating these days.

At the posh oyinbo restaurant that was chosen, we formed groups immediately we got there. We had some non-Nigerians who would rave about burgers as if a piece of bread with mashed meat, slices of tomatoes and onions was pounded yam and egusi. I was helmed between Okey and Siddhartha Mitter, a New York based writer/journalist and a good friend of ours who had moderated Teju’s reading earlier. As soon as we sat, Okey who has been described in his new book as “a gregarious person with a penchant for telling stories” was giving me one helluva gist. Teju was working the room, greeting other friends of his.

Some moments after settling down, they brought the menu and I honestly could have still excused myself and save the future embarrassment, but I also knew somehow, somehow I will survive the night, after all I was still a Nigerian – we are survivors. Although nothing was interesting on the menu, I found rice and salmon. Okey went for the same – anywhere Nigerians see rice in any Western restaurant we heave a sigh of relief. But this rice came burnt like Izobo (roadside sacrifice for the gods), but the salmon was okay. Okey grabbed a bottle of tabasco and emptied it on his plate as if by some miracle it would turn the salmon to a hot plate of Lagos fish peppersoup. I followed suit. Okey had given me the story of how he successfully cooked egusi with salmon in the past, so we both knew this was a waste of salmon.

Judgement time came, the bill arrived and the person that suggested we all go out was somewhere far away. Teju was on another table which had a separate bill. I was staring at the leather pouch with which the “embarrassment paper” came as if it was some dangerous animal. Siddhartha eventually opened it not to pay but to calculate each person’s share.

Even if you had a seed of groundnut you were expected to cough out the cost of that seed. I was sweating under my collar and had made up my mind to try my Orange Bank card once again, I was going to take a big gamble. Just as I was pulling out my wallet, a voice similar to when God called Moses in the burning bush came from my right flank declaring – “That is for me and Victor”. A Nigerian. A true son of his father that knows how to be a Nigerian, Okey Ndibe, dropped enough green backs on the collection plate. Somebody shout HALLELUYAAAH!

In Okey’s new book there is a chapter called “Nigerian, Going Dutch”. He’d had a similar experience when he first arrived America many years ago. He was dragged to a lunch he thought was going to be free, only to find out nor be who say make we go chop dey pay for America (It’s not the person who invites you out that picks the bill). Since that unsavory experience, he’d vowed to always “go Nigerian”, which means if a Nigerian invites you to dinner or lunch, he or she will definitely pay. And that was exactly what Teju Cole did in our next place where we went for some more merriment; he picked the bill before any of us brought out our wallets and calculators – that’s the Nigerian way.

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  • Benbella

    Nice write up, In Nigeria allot of people think as a Foreigner , you should pay for the Dinner ? , of Course they invited you for the Dinner , very smart and stupid idea, If i INVITED you for a Dinner , YES i have to pay its on me !!! , thats my point , its the other way in Nigeria , They invite you and you pay because you have the Yankee money , stupid !!!!! Funny People and Culture .

    • EyeServis

      The joke and insults is on you and your one-dimensional thinking. Much as i dont necessarily agree with whichever option on who should pay, i have to say though that your understanding of what the world is so very narrow-minded and condescending. What on earth would meke you think there has to be only one way of deciding which is right or logical? Perhaps such one-dimensional thought pattern has skewed your relationships in Nigeria, a country of possibly over 200 million people in the direction of leeches. Think outside your closed box if ever you can. It might help liberate your mind from from an obviously claustrophobic mindset and thought patterns. My 10 cents worth advice. For free ofcourse, and dont bother thank me. I feel charitable today

      • Benbella

        I would never thank you for what , Some Nigerian would not accept your thinking too, they love free ride to use people alright.

        • EyeServis

          My response to you is about your ‘smart and stupid’ idea hinged on your

          “Dinner , very smart and stupid idea, If i INVITED you for a Dinner , YES i have to pay its on me !!! , thats my point , its the other way in Nigeria , They invite you and you pay because you have the Yankee money” mindset.

          The assumption here is that your culture as you understand it is superior to somebody else’s which i am saying is a bit too narrow minded and i suggest that you learn to see things perhaps from a perspective other than yours. No culture is superior and more righteous than the other. Rather, they may simply be different or opposite of the other.

          • Benbella

            Sir it happen to me during business visit in Abuja at Hilton Hotel couple of years back , thats if you invite me,what about those who invited me for a presentation in respect to their own benefit , i pay for my hotel, Air fare and Dinner time i have to pay their bills for friends and him ? , for another supporting evidence relaxing after long day in Abuja, He went to the Pool with his Girl friend so called Governor Sister , and couple of friends, called me down to sign their bills , i have to say no, the guy have to beg me for more than an hour about how he forget his wallet in his House , i should rescue him by signing the bill in my room , whats your take on that , I am his guess in that Country , Next you are coming as a business partner , they next thing they want you to bring with you is iPhone and Laptop for them, BUT when i am going back they offer me nothing as a gift , hence i am talking about guys that drives BMW-SUV and Benz C350 and talk big , of course they will take you to see Ministers or MD or CEO of your related business no sweat yep.with respectful business discussion Yep, But they offer you nothing in return as a friend or business Partner visiting them, That why i wrote that in chat line . , i hope you are very clear .

          • Abidilagungun

            Sorry, you’ve obviously met the wrong Nigerians. But, it is likely they believed they were setting you up for some big business with government officials, for which a brokerage fee in paid bills is not too much, even if you didn’t discuss it.

          • Benbella

            Thanks , We dont need them for our services, they need our technical expertise yep with signed MOU also due diligent was done by the Embassy in respect to the Projects advertisement .

          • EyeServis

            And you need their money to improve your bottom line. I would be surprised if you came to offer charitable service in the name of “technical expertise”. So stop moaning and save the sour grapes.

          • Benbella

            Yeah, no issue , we know better next time , Thats why majority of respected None oil companies would not provide their expertise from North America in Nigeria, its very RISKY Country as listed yep. , later.

          • AZUGOJOH

            Very intelligent reply. He came to Nigeria to make money, and felt he needed not path with some ‘unofficial’ expenses? That’s cheating.. lol

          • EyeServis


          • EyeServis

            You had issues with those you chose to do business with. Your cross. A few individuals, in a country of over 200 million. How and why that makes the rest hundred of millions “stupid” with “funny culture” is simply incredible. Grow your mind a bit more is another of my advise (charitable me aint i?). It may help you realise that what you in particular see as (cultural) standard and the ‘norm’ is relative to your own world. Here in Nigeria, as is a few other places, people also have their peculiar ‘norms’ which could make them consider you and such (your) culture “stupid”. But, they are probably too ‘cultured’ to stoop to such (low) heights. I sincerely hope you (will) get my drift. Eventually. Adios!

          • Benbella

            Thoughtful mind . Thank you

  • Efeturi Ojakaminor

    I am not commenting on Nigerians here. I am only interested in the pounded yam. Will I be invited?

  • A great piece and very funny. It didn’t make sense to me too. If you are not going to pay, why invite people for owambe? Leave them alone!

  • Shokoloko Bangoshay

    Richly told. I’m unrepentant follower of Okey Ndibe and everything associated with him.

  • Ify Onabu

    Great piece, infused with a large dose of humour… that’s the Nigerian way. God bless the writer. I hope he invites me when the pounded yam [ati egusi and salmon] is ready.

    • EyeServis

      Not sure about the (highly over-rated) salmon though. Its big on name but small on taste