“Introducing the newest couple in town…”

The idea of a wedding, to some people and in some parts of the world, is a private and intimate event; two lovebirds surrounded by their closest family and friends. Not so in Naija, where a wedding is a sheer spectacle – in Nigeria, a couple is fortunate if they know up to half of the guests at their wedding. There is no amount of words that can describe the flamboyance and flair or the energy and exuberance that characterize wedding ceremonies in Nigeria, so we wouldn’t even try. As is our custom on Bellanchi, our focus is mischief: an examination of some of the more quirky aspects of Naija weddings.

Introducing the newest couple in town…

wedding 1So what aspect of a Naija wedding party is most memorable? I don’t begrudge peeps whose flat answer to this is: when the food gets to my table; you’d understand why a little later in this write up. Although there are quite a few to choose from, my high point of Naija wedding parties is when the couple dances into the venue. In many wedding programs, this aspect of the wedding is titled the Arrival of the Couple, but don’t be deceived by the blandness. The Arrival of the Couple is a big, big deal. The Nuptial Dance and the Toast are interesting parts of a wedding, no doubt, but they aren’t half as exciting as the Arrival of the Couple. The sheer euphoria that accompanies the couple’s arrival at the wedding party is, in the case of a church wedding, perhaps matched only by the delirium that follows the introduction of the couple to the congregation as the “newest couple in town”.

The Arrival of the Couple is highly anticipated for two reasons. First, it affords the vast majority of guests their first opportunity of seeing the newlyweds. I’d explain. One of our unwritten rules in Naija is that the only people that are expected to attend the religious ceremony at which a couple is married, if there is one, are the couple (for obvious reasons), the officiating ministers (for similarly obvious reasons), the choir and ushers (if the marriage ceremony is at a church), the couple’s family (both nuclear and extended) and a handful of their closest friends. Oh, and of course the photographers. For everyone else, the wedding party – or the “reception” as it is called in Naija parlance – is the soul and essence of the entire event.

Secondly, for some reason I don’t quite get, Nigerians are hung up on who, between the bride and the groom, is the better dancer. In essence, the Arrival of the Couple is a keenly contested, publicly judged battle between the bride and the groom. As with most contests in life, there is incentive to seek an unfair advantage, and I know of grooms that have taken a variety of substances ranging from a few shots of whisky to performance enhancing drugs shortly before they and their brides were ushered in. More often than not, such cheat moves are an utter waste of time. Here’s why: dance is an expression of inner emotions and it is a rarity for a groom to be happier than the bride on the wedding day – don’t ask me why. How then can a slightly intoxicated groom be any match for his ecstatic bride?

The Arrival of the Couple is as big a moment for the DJ as it is for the couple. That is when the DJ has to be at his scratching, turn-tabling (or should I say table-turning) best. God help the DJ whose equipment messes up whilst the couple is dancing in; if he hasn’t been paid in full already, he might as well kiss goodbye to the balance.

Beautiful Chaos

Chaos is an integral aspect of weddings in Nigeria, but ours is of a beautiful kind – a rioutous mix of people, colours and attires. The large number of guests –– is only half of the story. Chaos, it seems, is part of the Nigerian DNA. If there’s no chaos, it’s not a Naija wedding.

Where on earth did all the food go?

wedding 4It may have missed out as my choice of what’s most memorable about Nigerian weddings, but food remains hugely significant. Here are 3 reasons why:

  1. 1. There’s no guarantee whatsoever that you’d get anything to eat at a Naija wedding. This is not about having more guests than anticipated. It is Naija economics at work here. Naija economics is a theory that seeks to explain the impact of peculiarly Nigerian behavior on market fundamentals. Through Naija economics, we can understand why, at Naija weddings, even when there is more than enough, a combination of our ingrained scarcity mentality, hoarding and a lopsided allocation of resources results in there not being enough to go round. That it’s an expensive, big society wedding seldom makes a difference. The assumption, from the onset, is that the food wouldn’t go round, so even before the first pots and coolers are opened, some food has already been stashed away, probably never to be seen again. Every savvy Nigerian knows the first rule of enjoying a Nigerian wedding: ensure you’ve had a good meal at home before setting out. That way, if the food gets to you, it’s a bonus. If it doesn’t, you’re irritated but not angry.
  2. The quality, quantity and variety of the food you are served at a Naija wedding is a reflection of who you are or who you know. I can bet my life that you too have attended weddings where you’ve had a plate of bland tasting jollof rice shoved at you, only to look on in quiet rage as steaming bowls of goat meat pepper soup or platters of grilled fish and chips are handed out to other guests around you. There’s nothing unusual at our wedding parties for a few guests to have second or third helpings whilst others do not even smell small chops. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to assume that you are as important as any other guest. If you do, you’d be taught a quick and unforgettable lesson in humility.
  3. Nothing illustrates the chaotic character of Naija wedding parties better than when refreshments are being served. There was a time I used to think this chaos was the mere result of poor planning. I now know better. You and your caterers can plan to the last detail. All it takes for all the meticulous planning to go right through the window are one or two Big Aunties that get impatient with the seemingly slow pace at which refreshments are being served and so decide to visit the service points to find out what is going on. From there onwards, it’s chaos.

 Plastic bowls! You could have saved us the trouble

Once upon a time in Nigeria, newlyweds received nice, fancy items as wedding gifts. These days, except the bride is Goodluck’s daughter, the cash a couple gets sprayed whilst dancing is likely to be, in aggregate, the most valuable thing they get at or from their wedding. It beats me why MCs still insist on asking whether any guests have gifts with them that they wish to give to the couple. Trust me, half of the beautifully wrapped parcels that guests deliver to the foot of the stage where the couple are seated are pots and pans. The other half are food coolers. Again, a free tip for about-to-weds: don’t expect to receive many valuable gifts; the vast majority of them wouldn’t be worth the trouble of transporting them from the reception venue to your home.

Oh my gosh, is it Christmas?

No Naija wedding is complete without the distribution, by family and friends of the couple, of memorabilia. A wide range of freebies are handed out to guests; everything from cheap plastic wares to customized, gold plated iPhones. I have not been fortunate enough to attend a wedding where iPhones have been handed out, but considering the pandemonium I have seen associated with the distribution of handkerchiefs and plastic pens, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the scramble to get such iPhones often degenerates into brawls.

And finally, the Vote of Thanks

For soon-to-be grooms, a quick word of advice: don’t waste your time preparing a speech or thinking up some witty lines for the Vote of Thanks. No one listens to these things. Everyone’s too busy eating, or taking pictures or hustling for freebies. At my wedding, I thought I’d pre-empt the audience by opening with a remark about how no one pays any attention to what the groom says; I doubt anyone heard that too. It’s the same with the Chairman’s Remarks. Honestly, other than the prospect of using this as a clever way of extracting from the Chairman a wedding gift that is better than he would have ordinarily given, why does anyone still bother with having a Chairman at a wedding?

There’s no end to the oddities of wedding parties in Nigeria. This much we all agree on: there’s never a dull moment. I’m sure some of you have even better stories to share.

Follow us on twitter @bellanchi.

Photo credits: Ayede Film and Photography. To check out their website, click here

PS: It has been a struggle, amidst the depressing events in Nigeria in the past few weeks, to find the inspiration for lighthearted stories, which are the essence of this blog. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the abducted schoolgirls and their families #BringBackOurGirls.

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How to enjoy living in Nigeria

You’re still in Naija? Wow!

I don’t know how you do it; I’d have gone crazy living in that country.

If you had the opportunity to live elsewhere, would you leave?

 I get it all the time – family and friends abroad questioning the rationality of my decision to continue to live in Nigeria. I’m sure you do too. I often ask myself the same question: why I choose to remain in this dysfunctional place. It’s a question I have not been able to answer and doubt I ever will.

 What I have zero doubt about is that I love living in Nigeria. The trick to enjoying living in Nigeria is living in Nigeria long enough. You get better at it with time.

 Here’s what I think you need to do to be able to live happily in Nigeria:

 1.            Invest in good generators

Treat your generators as if your life depends on them. In reality, it does. Forget comfort and quality of life. Your sanity is what is at risk here. Don’t be deluded into thinking you can get by with one generator. Or one generator and an inverter. You can’t. You’re better off having only one functional kidney than having only one generator. Think about it: of what use is an inverter during a weeklong blackout? Your generators are indispensable.

Do not expect the power situation to improve. Further down, you would see why you should, as a general rule, expect nothing. Call me a terrible cynic and mutter “God forbid bad thing” under your breath, but Nigeria may never have regular power supply. Surely, you have seen that old newspaper cutting about a 1985 deadline for power cuts. I won’t even go into talking about how a generation of kids that shouted “up NEPA!”, each time power was restored, are now grown up and have kids that shout the exact same words.

Set aside a fixed percentage of your monthly income for the running and maintenance of your generators. Many of us don’t pay tax anyway, so quit grumbling about having to devote your hard earned resources to generating power. Yes, electricity is the responsibility of government, but don’t be silly. Even Aso Rock – the seat of the federal government – depends on generators. If it provides any comfort, think of the money you spend on your generators as the tax you pay to the government.

2.            For entertainment, look no further than Nollywood

It’s been a bad day. After getting reprimanded by your boss for letting a deadline slip, you call it a day and head home. But it’s one of those days when the whole city grinds to a halt for apparently no reason. After spending almost two hours in traffic, you have a headache by the time you get home. To relax, you decide to watch some TV before going to bed. You pick up the DSTV remote control and skim through the Guide. You are on a long thing. Why not just watch Africa Magic?

africa magicHold on! I know a lot is wrong with Nollywood; trust me, I can write a book on the subject. I am as irritated as you by the overacting and plots that are as obvious as a freeway. It upsets me that Nigerian script writers cannot tell the difference between comedy and farce. But we have to be realistic here. Living in Naija is so stressful that the less application of the mind your choice of entertainment requires the better for you.

Why compound your headache trying to figure out what Neo is fighting against in The Matrix? Do you really want to spend the few hours of sanity you have in a weekday unravelling the meaning of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Why bother with the suspense, convoluted plots and sophisticated dialogue of western cinema when you can enjoy a simple, delightful story of lover boy Ramsey Nouah falling in love with delectable Genevieve? Get off your high horse, pick up the remote control and change the channel to Africa Magic.

Same applies to music. I love alternative rock, but I must admit that it does not deliver the instantaneous, quick fix high that I get from Naija hip hop. I am no psychiatrist but I am certain of this: there is no kind of depression that a playlist comprising of Iyanya’s Kukere, Davido’s Skelewu, KCee’s Limpopo and Wizkid’s Caro, played loudly on a Saturday morning, cannot cure.

3.            Private or nothing

The only institutions that work in Nigeria are private owned. The sooner you accept that reality, the better for you. You have to be terminally ill and not believe in miracles to decide to go to a public hospital. Forget the myth about most people not being able to afford private healthcare in Nigeria. Many desperately poor Nigerians wouldn’t touch a public hospital with a ten foot pole. And it makes no difference to them that the private hospital on their street is little better than a shack. In a typical government owned hospital in Nigeria, you have to buy everything yourself – be it drugs, blood, IV, gauze or plaster. You end up paying as much as you’d have paid in a privately owned hospital. So what’s the point?

If it matters to you that your children graduate in your lifetime, you had better send them to private universities. If you can’t afford private tertiary education, please ensure that everything else is private: crèche; daycare; kindergarten; primary school; secondary school; summer school; extra mural classes; everything! PHCN has been privatised; the refineries may be next. Don’t be left behind in the private revolution. Embrace the private sector or perish. It’s as simple as that.

4.            Know the people that matter

Whoever invented the expression “well-connected” must have been a Nigerian.

In Nigeria, a simple phone call to the right person can get your son admitted into his university and course of first choice even though his scores were fifty marks lower than the cut-off, or result in a tanker of diesel being delivered to your home, notwithstanding a crippling, three-week long, nationwide scarcity. Being well-connected to those that matter can be the difference, after a blowout of your neighbourhood’s transformer, between enduring several weeks of blackout and the transformer being fixed by PHCN the very next day. On more than occasion, a contact on my mobile phone has spared me from spending a whole day at LASTMA’s office and forking out a N25,000 fine. One phone call to the Right Person, another phone call from the Right Person to LASTMA’s Oga At The Top and my impounded car was released without me parting with a dime. 

Knowing the right person can even result in the award of a multibillion Naira contract to the company you incorporated yesterday. In Naija, you can go to bed broke and wake up a billionaire, literally. Why on earth would anyone not want to live here?

 5.            Act like a Big Man and show off while you are at it.

 Nigeria is a showman’s heaven. There is nothing we don’t use in posing. Tinted car windows; bluetooth headsets; Blackberries; Brazilian hair; sunglasses, Ipads; contact lenses; number of followers on Twitter – name it! If you’re the notice me kind of person, Nigeria is made for you.

 Although you may not realise it, you are a Big Man. Being a Big Man is very relative. There is a guy in my neighbourhood who supplies me cooking gas. He rides a motorcycle. He is a Big Man. He does not have to trek or jump on buses like many others on the street. You should see him astride his bike; you’d think he owned the street.

 If you can afford an SUV, get one. If you cannot afford one, get an SUV all the same. You will find a way to pay for it. SUVs not only elevate you into the league of Big Boys, 4WD suspensions are your only chance against the potholes on Nigerian roads. Holidays are not for getting rest. They are for taking pictures that you’d show off on twitter and Facebook.

 In Nigeria, you are only respected if you are a Big Man. You’re a Big Man only if you act like one. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.

 6.            Acknowledge that there is a God

 For a Nigerian, nothing is more reassuring than knowing you have someone up there, looking after you. If not by God’s grace, how do you think you’ve been able to escape being killed by witches, road traffic accidents, “brief illnesses”, ritual murderers, armed robbers, kidnappers or plane crashes? In a city like Lagos, leaving your house in the morning and returning home safe at the end of the day is a little short of a miracle. If you don’t believe in God, to whom or what do you attribute your continued existence in spite of all odds? Fate? Yes, I know you are a rational, thinking being. This is why I should remind you of this statistic: the life expectancy of a Nigerian male and female as at 2013 are 49 and 55 years respectively. Should we then say sir that you only have 49 minus your current age in number of years to live? Oh, you’re over 50? Sorry sir, you are now officially in extra time. Aha!

I can understand why atheism or agnosticism can be attractive to the intellectual in the western world. There’s a certain predictability to life and death. Airplanes don’t just drop out of the skies. Gunmen don’t wipe out entire communities in a single night. Serious diseases are likely to be diagnosed early and are well managed if not cured outright. In the advanced economies, it is very easy to think one can do without God.

In Naija, you have no choice but to acknowledge and seek God. It is the only way you can find peace. The alternative is to live each day fearing it would be your last and sleeping at night with one eye open.

7.            Have little or no expectations and learn not to take anything for granted

Do not expect that there would be electricity when you get back home after a long day at work. If there’s none, you won’t be disappointed. All you have to do is take off your work clothes, wear something more comfortable, get the jerry can out of the boot, pour fuel into your generator and power it on. On the contrary, if there is electricity, you are delighted. Not only are you spared of the hassle of fuelling the generator, you can do without buying fuel tomorrow because you haven’t had to use the fuel you bought today. Now you can turn on the air conditioning and settle down to a nice Nollywood movie in your well chilled living room.

Do not expect the internet connection to be fast or the security guards at your place of work to be efficient. Do not expect that your newly hired driver knows how to drive or that your housemaid would not steal from you. If he can drive and she does not steal, you can count yourself amongst the luckiest Nigerians on earth.

Expecting things to work in Nigeria is a highway to frustration and disillusionment. If you want to be happy in Nigeria, don’t expect anything. And don’t take anything for granted. That way, you are overjoyed when power is restored and stays on for the rest of the night – it typically doesn’t last longer than an hour –; you are relieved that the Okada that was going the wrong way only caused a minor dent – imagine what could have happened to the pregnant passenger if you hadn’t slammed on your brakes –; you are grateful it was only a small amount of water the impatient driver splashed on you – you would have been soaked to the skin if you had been a few yards closer –; you are even happy that although it was a lackluster performance, the Super Eagles didn’t get beaten by the Mauritanian minnows.

To be happy in Nigeria learn to appreciate and cherish the simple things of life.

I am on twitter @bellanchi

Post script: A version of this post was first published as a note on Facebook on July 31 2009. That it remains as relevant almost 5 years on is a testament to both the enduring nature of the principles and how little Nigeria has changed.