Thursday, August 23, 2012
Party Like a Nigerian
Look! I finally got a chance to wear my Tanzanian kitenge dress! And my big, flashy green variscite Navajo necklace, which looked kind of African when paired with the dress. That's me on the right. My wonderful Nigerian friend, Hannah, is in the middle, and her friend, Enobong is on the left. (Notice Hannah's giant purse--it came into play later in the evening.)
Hannah has invited me to parties for Nigerian Independence Day in Salt Lake City, Utah a couple of times. Yes, Utah! There is actually quite a large Nigerian (and other African) community there. I really enjoyed the first one, a few years ago. I really enjoyed the second one, until the music started and it was rap--the 20-something's had been in charge of the music and dancing. Hannah and I slipped out early (along with everybody else over 40!).
When Hannah invited me to go with her to a combination 40th birthday/ 15th wedding anniversary party thrown by a Nigerian couple, I jumped at the chance. Well, first I had to check two details with her. Was it really okay for me, who was not invited and did not know the couple, to just show up at the party? Hannah laughed and told me that when Nigerians throw a party, everybody is invited and bring all your friends and the more the merrier. And would my Tanzanian dress, from East Africa, be appropriate for a West African party? She came over to my house to see the dress and gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up. So I volunteered to drive!
When I went to pick up Hannah, Enobong was there, too. She loved my dress. The skirt style of snug through the hips and thighs, with a swishy, ruffled drape from the knees down, is common to Tanzania and Nigeria. She twirled me around to see my behind, then said, "Oooh, you must have African blood!" She meant I have a big butt, but she meant it as a compliment.
We drove across town and picked up another Nigerian friend, Godfrey, and his American date, Jesse.
Here we are at the party. We arrived one hour late, but we were still about an hour earlier than most of the guests.
The party started off with prayers for the birthday girl, on the right, in her first fabulous dress of the evening.
Then prayers for the couple together, celebrating their anniversary. The husband's outfit was fabulous, too, but he only had one for the whole evening.
And then prayers for the couple and their children.
Hannah and Enobong got distracted and started telling each other jokes during the third prayer. Their excuse was that the prayer was in a different Nigerian language than theirs, and they didn't understand the words. So I guess I shouldn't have been so concerned about trying to be polite!
These regal-looking women are part of the ashebi. They are friends or relatives of the celebrant, and act as attendants during the party. They all wore dresses of the same fabrics in slightly different designs. Don't you love the gold head dresses?
Ashebi dance. The birthday celebrant is in her second fabulous outfit.
See the money on the floor? Guests danced up to the celebrants, and stuck dollar bills to their foreheads, as a gift. After a second , the bills fell to the floor.
Hannah had just danced up, stuck a dollar to the wife's forehead, and was dancing back to our table.
More people joining in, and the kids gathering up the money from the floor.
Love the bold, bright clothes--both the traditional Nigerian outfits and the western (or "English" as the Nigerians, former British colony, call them).
Some couples and families wear outfits of different styles in the same fabric. These cutwork fabrics are the most expensive and are called "lace."
Here are our hosts sitting down for a drink and a snack. The husband's outfit is lace and the kids are dressed in matching fabric.
Dinner time--promised for 8:30, but finally served at 10:00. I saw lots of women (including Hannah) putting an extra bottle of Guiness into their giant handbags. Also part of the Nigerian hospitality.
At my first Nigerian party, I discovered one popular food that I really don't like--a very strong smoked fish that is cut into coin shapes and used as an ingredient. At my second Nigerian party, I discovered that the smoked fish is used in different dishes in an unpredictable way. So, my favorite food at the first party, a cake of boiled garbanzos, was full of smoked fish at the second party!
When we went through the buffet line, I begged Hannah to advise me on which dishes had that fish in them. But she got distracted again and I ended up with soup full of smoked fish. Plus, I set my grilled goat meat in the soup and it also became infused with that smoky, fishy taste. I turned to Godfrey and said, "Hannah is useless to me. There's smoked fish everywhere!" But I didn't mean it, Hannah! The rest of the food was good! Although I had made the strategic error of carrying a small evening bag, and I couldn't fit any extra drinks in it.
And here's the wife's third beautiful outfit. (We viewed a slide show earlier, and the projector was left on and projected the date on all the dancers for the rest of the evening.)
Here's the wife with her ashebi cutting the birthday cake.
Even though we were celebrating the wedding anniversary, too, the husband did an admirable job of staying out of the spotlight, with his one lone outfit, and showering attention on his wife. That's a good way to make it to 15 years!
Two beautiful Nigerian women--our hostess and Hannah.
After all the prayers and speeches and dinner, we got to the main event--the dancing! The music was mostly Nigerian highlife--very upbeat and very fun for dancing. You don't have to wait for a man to ask you to dance. You just mix into the crowd, and somebody may dance with you while you're out there, or not, it doesn't matter. I'm usually very shy about dancing, and will sit on the sidelines all evening. But at a Nigerian party, there's just no reason to be shy. People welcome you out on the floor and are happy that you're joining in and not critical of your moves.
Hannah and Enobong cutting loose...
Me cutting loose! I watched Hannah all evening and just copied her moves. And yes, I was able to get back up all the way!
Hannah, Enobong, and I went out to the dance floor together, without any men, and just started dancing. Pretty soon, the man on the right came over and danced with me. Then a young guy kept dancing over to join me. He was dancing with his American date, too, and pulled her over, too. Hannah and Enobong were both dancing with one man. So no excuses to sit on the sidelines here!
Jesse and Godfrey out on the floor.
Even though Nigeria and Tanzania are on opposite African coasts, this party was such an exuberant, warm, happy shot of Africa the way I experienced it in my time in Tanzania. As we walked out to the car after midnight (which is really late for me!), all I could say was, "Wow! That was fun!" A few days later, Godfrey told Hannah that many men at the party had asked him which of the four women at his table was his wife, and said that he was a lucky man to be sitting at the most lively table in the room. He thanked Hannah for, "making him look good." And I thank Hannah for inviting me to share such a fun experience with her!
Here's a bonus shot from 2009. I'm wearing one of Hannah's head dresses. She was looking for a certain textbook in boxes in my basement, which she never did find, but she found a whole box of these and let me try one on.