I've thought about what she said, and I guess I'm more Nigerian than I think. I'm known for wearing African shirts - in a European country. This would be seen as extravagant by any tiny stretch of the imagination, yet I cringe at thinking that I'm extravagant. What the shirts attempt to betray though, is a certain flamboyance, rather than extravagance. There is a difference, and this is where I part ways with money shower offers. The shirts I wear are quite cheap when you compare them the badge of honour TM Lewin, and Thomas Browne. Or should that be Thomas Pink?
It is the idea that what I'm wearing is somehow indicative of how much money I have which sticks in the throat. I'm very uncomfortable with the idea that I can be sussed out as loaded from the shirt on my back. I do agree that Nigerians are flamboyant, but this doesn't always have to mean show offy. There's a distinct difference, and that's the crux of my argument. I can hear all my friends bellowing that I'm only carping because I don't exactly have Oprah's bank balance.
Which brings me finely onto the topic of the post - kids' birthdays in Nigeria. When I was growing up, there was always a feeling of one upmanship with regard to birthday parties. Did you go to Uche's tenth birthday party? They had Ken and Barbie dolls in the party pack, they must have spent so much money. Wole, from now until your birthday party, we'll eat just two meals a day. I refuse to be disgraced as the only mother who couldn't put Transformers robots in the party pack. Every gathering becomes an ode to "mine's bigger than yours", a kind of penis envy for parents.
Naturally, the greatest cardinal sin of all is the first birthday party. All the bambinos sleep through the whole thing, sucking on dummies, or dazed wondering what all the fuss is about. Meanwhile, the parents are dancing the night away, spraying (abusing) naira like it's 1999. It's supposed to be a day dedicated to the children, but instead becomes an ode to parental extravagance. Why? We couldn't possibly let the Adeyemis, Okonkwos, or the Abdulahis get one up on us.
Whenever children's birthday parties are planned, the people furthest from the parents minds are the children themselves. How will this make me look. Imagine my shock, and I suppose, slightl elation at finding out that this disease isn't exclusvely Nigerian. Americans are also afflicted. (Then again, it is America, land of the bigger is better). Listening to this item on the Today programme made me wonder about my Nigerian prejudices. I wondered if I judged Nigeria too harshly for sins that are universal, and not particularly unique to Nigeria, but which I sometimes insist is a thoroughly Nigerian ailment. I thought, " I should lay off Nigeria for a while, we're not the worst people in the world". And then I thought, nah...
Image from Anne Karinglass.