December 26, 2007

Every Christmas is different. This year, I learnt all the words to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. In the past I used to stumble through verses 2 and 3, until we got to “Born that man no more may die”. This year, I could sing every line of every verse, even “offspring of a virgin’s womb”. Wow!

I suppose it helped that we sang it everywhere I went. Somehow, I don’t recall singing that many carols this year. On the Gospel hour, I’d been playing carols for four weeks before Christmas, but I didn’t sing that many. And because I knew the words, I could think of them a little more, think of the angels singing Glory to the newborn King, of His purpose on earth, of the miraculous nature of His birth. I listen to a lot of contemporary Christian music, but those old songs still have great messages.

Again, on Christmas day, I did the usual things, but in different ways. Since 2004, I’ve held a party for Nigerian students at my house. We did it again this year. I had cause later to reflect on how different each party is. in 2004, we had a great time arguing Nigerian politics, with a focus on the Niger Delta. 2005 was quieter, but 2006 was a real party. We danced and danced, as I experimented with my laptop connections to the hi-fi. This year, we had a great time too, lots of food, political talk and Nigerian showbiz gossip. Then all 12 of us watched two movies.

I reflected on the different years as I took my annual stroll through the quiet streets of Lancaster. This year was later than usual, because we’d had such a good time, the party finished late. No matter how different it was, we all shared the same thing in common, we want to enjoy Christmas. One of the students said how different Christmas is in Nigeria. In England, all the noise happens up till Christmas eve. In Nigeria, everyone’s outside; the Christians in church in the morning and everyone visiting family and friends in the evening. They didn’t understand until that morning why I’d insisted that I needed to know numbers so they could get lifts; I kept telling them that there’d be no buses, that taxis will be running at double time, and that others will be sacrificing time to pick them up.

You know why I like to stroll through Lancaster on Christmas day? It’s so quiet that you could dance in the middle of the road. It’s such a contrast; on Christmas eve, I joined the throng looking for last minute stuff. I even went to those supermarkets that’d be closed for two days, to get their reduced cold foods, etc. It’s a mad rush on Christmas eve, someone might even think the country is about to be invaded and everyone’s picking up last minute stores. But from about 4 PM, all shops begin to close, and by the evening, the city is quiet. Everyone’s indoors.

My last Christmas in Nigeria was 1992, and I still remember the differences. On Saturday, I remarked to some people that Jesus came for all. At His birth, there were humble shepherds and the wisest men. In His life, he met lepers, tax collectors, fishermen and even converted pharisees. So, it really doesn’t matter if we have a quiet Christmas or a rowdy one. Ian, my pastor (who doesn’t like being called Pastor Ian) always says there’d be a multi-ethnic heaven. I think so too. There’d be a multi character heaven, a multi language heaven; the only thing that won’t be is a multifaith heaven. For it does say that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Merry Christmas

I met an amazing woman on Sunday

December 19, 2007

I spent last weekend away from home. I’d been invited by a pastor to visit his church on Sunday morning. In the evening, we went to a pub to sing them some Christmas carols. I’d been invited to sing a few songs, say a few words, etc. In fact, the first miracle was that I could sing; if you’d heard my voice on the previous Tuesday, heard me coughing, and seen the expression of pain as each cough exacerbated my terribly sore throat, you’d have decided I couldn’t sing by the next weekend. But I did, thank God, to only a few coughs.

At the end, I spoke to this amazing lady. Three or four things struck me. First, her son. She has a son whom she so adored. You know as she talked about him, how everyone loves him, how everyone said he was so well mannered and she so lucky, how he so loved him in return … it was so touching. She told me of how he’d sat on her lap the other day and just touched her cheek. She said they were so close, it was as though they were really one, not two separate individuals. I actually had a thought I was too scared to voice, that should anything happen to this boy, she’d have nothing else to lean on.

Then she told me of her man. They’ve been together for two years now and they’ll get married at some point. He’s the love of her life too, and all she ever wants is her son and her man.

Then she told me of her sister who works for the Lord in some capacity. She doesn’t understand these things, but she’s so full of pride for her sister. Apparently, this lady’s been in the newspapers for her work ferrying drunken late night revellers home at the end of their adventures in the nightclubs. When she heard of our event, she texted her sister to ask if she knew about these happy clappers who were coming to invade her pub. Her sister didn’t know, but when they talked, the one sound advice she gave was that it must be from the Holy Spirit, or she shouldn’t even get involved.

Now, here’s where I get confused. She said her sister’s so wonderful. She knows why. I just kept wondering, if her sister’s so wonderful, why doesn’t she want some of that wonderfulness. She said she was so content. Sadly however, she had an accident and lost a baby. I think that accident has caused her some permanent physical injury. One day, at this same pub, her sister came with some friends. They prayed for her and she said she had such an amazing 24 hours, she’d never felt so good. So I asked if she’d liked that time so much, and it was so temporary, doesn’t she want it to be permanent?

At this point she goes back to talking about her sister. Her sister’s really wonderful, but she doesn’t preach to her. She does drop DVDs when she visits, in the certainty that they’ll be watched; and they are. Maybe I’m beginning to make her feel uncomfortable by telling her about permanent joy. But I don’t stop, because I still can’t work it out. I still can’t understand why she sees something better, but is content where she is.

To tell the truth, I wasn’t the confident preacher. I just kept going back to the things I didn’t understand about her story, and each time I did, she baffled me even more. Maybe I should have given her the scriptures about being a Christian; I didn’t. In any case, she has enough DVDs to tell her that. I simply told the pastor who’d invited me and a few others around the area to keep praying for her. Actually, she had a friend in that church. She thinks her friend is wonderful too.

Well, what more can I say? I’m still praying for you.

Provoking Damola

December 10, 2007

I’ve been reading through my most recent posts and noticed I’ve written Damola’s name several times. She’s my cousin and she lives in Nigeria. She has a great habit of reading every posting and commenting on the telephone or via email. Doesn’t she want you to see what she’s thinking?

I’m doing this at great personal risk, but I’ve decided that we need to know who Damola is. If you agree, please comment here. I’m sure she’ll see it one day soon. I’m expecting her to scream down the phone or via email, but if the protests are long and loud enough, she might be tempted to write a line.

Actually, I haven’t heard from her in a while. Last time I thought she was hiding, I discovered that she was ‘serving’. She’d gone on the 4 week orientation that Nigerians go for after university. It precedes a year of working for minimal pay in the service of the fatherland, or if you’re well connected, in the service of some institution that will further progress your career.

But she’s back now, and still hiding. Actually, so am I. I haven’t written here for a while, and I haven’t rung her. But here’s my chance to cause some trouble, and I’m enjoying it tremendously.

It was exactly a month ago

December 10, 2007

All right, it’s been a while. Despite my promise to keep in touch. I’ve done a really bad job about it.

The year is coming to an end now. Damola was right, (check my last post) I was about to turn 40. I did exactly a month ago, on 10 November. It was fun.

I remember walking into church on Sunday 11 November. I usually arrive early for the worship group meeting. As I entered church that morning, I noticed it was quiet. Then I walked through the door, and suddenly, the place erupted with “happy birthday to you!” I was about to turn and run, but they’d anticipated it, someone was behind me to block my exit.

No, it wasn’t on that day, it was the day before. That Sunday morning only capped a fantastic weekend. When I woke up on the morning of the 10th, I knew something would happen. How? I’d threatened to travel that weekend, and everyone had raised such a storm of protest, I just knew that it would be rude to leave. In any case, I’d only slept 4 hours. I was still taking calls after 1 AM. My dad had been sending texts 9 hours before the day. And as for Damola, she rang at midnight Nigerian time, which was still 11 PM here; well, I was born in Nigeria after all.

So I got up at 5 AM to phone calls, and they just didn’t stop. I remember a call from my friend Vanessa in Exeter. She just kept wishing she could be around to spend the day with me, and I just kept telling her thanks, but it would be impossible. The engineering works on the rail network, all that. But she wouldn’t stop saying how she’d have loved to just spend the day with me. I found out later that she was part of the conspiracy. She knew something was afoot, and she just couldn’t be there.

Oh I do call it a conspiracy. It was real intrigue, the stuff of spy stories. I’ve tried to piece it all together. Even now, I haven’t managed to say thanks to all those who were involved. My own detective work has been good too, but only after the event. There seems to have been three independent groups working together. One spearheaded by Anthonia in London. She doesn’t know many of my friends here, but she knows Olu Ojedokun in Nottingham who knows a lot of Lancaster folk. So, they approach the Lancaster people. They had their own plans too. But a few days before the day, both groups discovered that the students at the uni had a plan for a surprise party of their own. So everyone combined to totally encircle me. Honest, that’s exactly how it was, a circle of love, surrounding me and ensuring I had the time of my life. You can’t imagine how many people were detailed to find out what my plans were, and to prevent me from leaving Lancaster.

I still like to think I rumbled the plan to organise a surprise. But that didn’t stop me from feeling like a major celebrity. Students I’d only known for a month were planning a surprise party for me! Anthonia left her husband and 4 children in London and came for the day to Lancaster. Olu Ojedokun made a triangular trip; as regional manager of Friends International, he’s a very busy man; he left Nottingham, came north to Lancaster, then went further south to London for a weekend engagement. The MC was British Council international student of the year 2006-2007, Akanimo Odon. There were so many people who are my inspiration, turning out to say I am their inspiration.

The cake was baked in the shape of a piano keyboard! The head of catering runs the local African food store! The sheer numbers of people that were involved! You know, friends from all over the country told me later that when they were asking me what I’d be doing that weekend, they were reporting to the organisers! My minders were a brother and sister, living in my house while they sorted out their accommodation.

And then, there were the calls! They just didn’t stop coming, all through the weekend. Those who knew of the surprise party but couldn’t make it called, first in the morning to wish me a happy birthday, then in the evening to hope I was enjoying the surprise. I got calls from everywhere, from people I hadn’t spoken to in years.

My dad, Yemisi, Akin and Bibi must have rung at least 6 times each. Damola, probably 4 or five. First just to wish me a happy birthday, then when they learnt that something was happening, to get regular progress reports.

It’s nice to hear such nice things said about me. Sometimes I didn’t recognize myself. So thanks to you all, because the truth is that the last time I organised a party for myself was in 2001 when I graduated. I even arranged for someone to cook some food, but I forgot to tell people I was holding a party. I had such good party food to eat for weeks after that.

So, now you understand why I feel like a superstar. Thank God for you all!Thanks for everything! I still can’t get over it.