April 19, 2009

This seems to have been a week for my friends’ weddings. A friend left the UK earlier on to attend her sister’s wedding, which took place in Nigeria on Saturday 18th. On the same day is the wedding of Ex Lancaster student, Dami. I gather several of her friends from Lancaster made their way to Joss to celebrate, just as they had done in Lagos at Lawunmi’s wedding on Easter Monday.

I couldn’t get to any of those, but I was at Seun and Tunji’s wedding. I’m writing on the train back to Lancaster, having just had a most wonderful time in Barrow-In-Furness. This small town has just been Nigerianised for the weekend. I wonder what all the hotelliers made of the invasion. I didn’t get the chance to find out, being one of the lucky ones who stayed with someone. On the small train from Lancaster to Barrow, I heard unfamiliar Yoruba voices, and I was quite sure that we were all going to the same place. That was Friday afternoon, and I went early to be at the letter exchange.

That was a real privilege. It’s a family thing, but the Overseas Fellowship of Nigerian Christians in Lancaster is a family, and after all, Seun’s dad was past Area Secretary. Plus, I had the official job of playing the piano, playing whatever song came to someone’s head, in whatever key they happened to be in at that particular time. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know half the songs they sang. Some of these songs are quite distinct and what they would sing in Ondo (where I’m from) would be quite different from the Egba and Egbado songs that flowed, or perhaps I’ve been away so long, I don’t know the songs anymore .

For those non-Africans who are not familiar with this, it has been called several names, but it is just one of a series of celebrations which may or may not take place in a Nigerian wedding. I should really try to describe what happened yesterday, but must warn that this isn’t what happens in all cases.

We were all happily listening to music in the hall, as the family of the groom gathered themselves outside the door. They were stopped by a lady, whose role was to pretend to be as formidable as possible. Having asked what they were doing, and been told that they’d come to deliver a very important letter, she kept them waiting outside and came to consult on whether to let them in. Eventually, they were allowed in, and their spokeswoman introduced the “very top members of the family who had come to deliver this important letter”. Her role is to be as expansive as possible. If her story is to bee believed, Tunji and family were at their morning devotional, when, during the praise and worship session, Tunji started singing songs about Seun. When he was asked what was happening, he made it abundantly clear that he’d met this girl, and the whole family must do something about this immediately. Never mind that the date for this event was set months in advance. Anyway, this beautifully decorated letter has to be presented to the bride’s family, and read publicly by someone. Again, the language is very adjectival, the sort of letter where 20 words would adequately do the job of 5 words. Apparently, there’s a lovely flower that Tunji had been admiring all this time and when he enquired, he found it belonged to this particular garden. His family members, knowing the wellbred, intelligent son they have are so honoured that he’s found such a beautiful (more words) girl, etc. Would Seun’s family do them the honour … you get the message.

Our formidable bride’s minder then tells the groom’s family that further consultation is required. In this case, the grandmother has to be consulted in Nigeria; the plane bringing the Nigerian envoy has been delayed, but it appears that there is good news on its way.

Well well! Let’s bring the bride in then! Only it’s the wrong lady. This isn’t the girl we expected they cry, she’s taller than the one we know. Ok, we’ll try again. It’s all very good humoured bullying of the groom’s family. It took me back to the last time I was at one of these, in 2001 when my brother got married. I think he was laid prostrate more times than he was up. And I know my brother doesn’t do much of these ceremonies. I was thinking the other day that when I get married, I couldn’t have any other best man but my brother. For one thing, he’s the one I trust most to understand me. For another, I can count on his organisational skills, sharpened by respect and brotherly love. But I’d politely ask him to delegate the best man’s speech to someone else. That is unless the guests don’t mind being treated to a one minute speech, delivered at breakneck speed.

Oh I didn’t think he liked that bit very much, but he had to bear it., But where was I before I started to wander. Yes, it’s all very good natured; although I have heard of stories where the humour broke down after a while. The groom’s family couldn’t take it anymore. On This occasion, the fact that both families are committed Christians and had developed a relationship during preparations meant that they probably had some sort of agreement beforehand. What should normally happen is that if the groom has an equally good negotiator, the audience will be laughing all the way. On this occasion, the groom’s family informed us they could have come with a cityload of family members, but for home office restrictions. I can imagine British Home Office staff at all major points of entry, ticking off names on the list and then informing other Adeoguns of how sorry they were that although this was such a big occasion, they just couldn’t let the city in.

. We had a great time, more food, more music, family introductions from both sides, words of advice, all that sort of thing.

On Saturday morning, we were in church for the wedding. I worked with Idrees, who normally plays the keyboards, but had to go to the drums, because I couldn’t play anything else. And Philip on congas, and Uche and wife accompanying me on vocals. And there was this fantastic 17 year old guitarist I met for the first time on Friday. I spoke to him onthe phone in the morning, and he sounded so quiet and so unsure, but when he picked up the guitar and started to play, … He played on Friday as well, but it was really hard, because we were always chasing songs after someone had started, always looking for keys. Today was different, we knew what we were doing, and he sure did know how to play. We did some hymns, and then we took them through some praise, Nigerian style, as the bride and groom went to sign the register. Even singing and playing the keyboard, I was moving. A friend had once said how he liked to watch me during praise and worship, playing the keyboard and dancing on my seat. By the time we finished, I was sweating. Idrees on the drums just kept pounding the beat, Eniola on the lead guitar was playing great solos, and I was just enjoying myself tremendously. Such fun shouldn’t be allowed, really.

Then, it was time for the reception. British weddings have a small reception, only for family and friends. I now know why this is the case. When Seun and family were looking for a venue, they discovered that most venues were reasonably priced, until they were informed by each in turn that the venues provided catering and the charge was a set amount per plate. I’m sure that most people at this point begin to count the number of people they’d be inviting to the ceremony. After they’d protested that good as their chefs were, they’d require specialist knowledge to prepare Nigerian food, they simply found a school hall, decorated it and set to work preparing Nigerian food..

It worked beautifully. After we’d eaten and eaten, the live band kicked in and we danced. Well, the others did. A Rwandan friend, Shani, who had been in Lancaster till about 2002/2003 dragged me onto the dance floor. I danced a bit and met up with Seun and Tunji. Seun said to me in Yoruba to get really dancing, so I tried even harder. But after a while, I got back to my seat, and nobody could bring me out again. I prefer dancing on my seat.
To all my friends getting married in the last week, I pray you have a really wonderful married life.

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April 7, 2009

Flying is a strange experience isn’t it? If I’m flying long distance at night, all I can hear is the sound of the engine, everyone’s asleep or watching something. Sometimes, you can’t even feel the plane moving. It feels like I’m in a really wide cage, with loads of silent people, and a humming sound all around me … isn’t that what it really is if you can’t do anything but go to the loo, watch a video or go to sleep?

I travel a lot by train, and by coach, and by car, but those all feel different. Somehow, you feel you’re more in control. In a car you can tell the driver to stop at thenext service station; with a coach or train, just wait till the next official stop and get off. The truth is, as far as I’m concerned, aeroplanes force me to rethink my logic. The pilot talks about flying 30000 feet, as though that’s the most natural thing in the world? Is it? Then, my logic would say that when you’re flying, smaller things should feel more secure than bigger things, and yet, I always feel more secure in those huge planes than in the much smaller ones. But the biggest challenge to my logic is turbulence. How different is it from a potholed road? Yet, having traveled on many or these, I notice that drivers slow down when approaching a pothole. Aeroplanes don’t seem to. You feel this jarring and wonder why the piolot Is still moving at the same speed, or sometimes you even feel him moving faster … yet you bope he isn’t planning to slow down, in case that means more trouble.

I remember when I was a teenager, on one of my first long distance flights, we were going through some turbulence, perhaps over North Africa. My dad, as calm as a scientist, (which he is) was telling his frightened children that air travel was the safest form of travel. He said that the most difficult times were during takeoff and landing, and there was absolutely no problem, no matter how turbulent the flight felt. Of course, being my dad, I tried very hard to believe him, but I’m still not sure how convinced I was then. I’ve had two pilot friends confirm those words and tell me that even the smallest plane can withstand an enormous amount of turbulence. And I’ve watched enough programmes on discovery wings. So against my own logic, I actually believe this now. In any case, I can feel it when a plane is taking off. First, there’s the speed, then you feel the plane rising. Sometimes, I can feel the pilot willing the plane higher and higher, and all the force pushing the plane up from underneath. You can tell, much more than when a plane is in mid-flight, that should that force give, you’re going straight down.

Somehow, maybe because we’re close to our destination, I prefer landing. After the turbulence of going through the clouds, the pilot slows the plane, the tyres come out, and then you land. I even play a game, trying to guess the exact moment the plane will touch the tarmac. Then, you feel the speed, and the force. Maybe the pilot is applying the brakes, the engine is so very loud. Then the plane is slowing and just coasting till it reaches the gate. Mobile phones are coming on and people are telling their relatives that they have landed.

I was thinking these thoughts the other day as we flew in one of those smaller planes. I was also thinking of those days in the 80s, (maybe it still happens) when, if a flight had been particularly rough, the passengers would clap heartily as the plane landed. These was just an ordinary flight, just the odd bump as we flew, but nothing to worry about. We were preparing to land, the wheels had come out. Then, suddenly, with a scream of engines and accompanying movement, we were going up … and up … and up again. When we were stable at cruising altitude, the captain made an announcement. His tone was so soft that I didn’t catch what he said, except that we would now be landing in about 25 minutes.

It might have been all in a day’s work for him, but as I don’t fly every day, it was just a little disconcerting. That, and an incident on a flight a few days before had convinced me that pilots have nerves of steel. It was a very small thing really. I was on another small plane and the flight attendant had come over to me to go through the safety procedure. There was a pilot on his dayoff, sitting on the other side of the aisle from me. He said in such a calm voice to the flight attendant, “if there’s any trouble, I’ll look after him”. First, I prayed there would be no trouble, then I marveled at how he’d spoken as though I was a child going on a walk and he was going to make sure I didn’t hit my foot on a stone. He was so calm and assured that if I was ever in any danger, I wouldn’t have trusted any other human to look after me.

I had a friend who was once cabin crew for a Nigerian airline. She told me about how they were constantly trained and examined to ensure that they could face any danger. When you see them serving food and drinks, never forget that these people are brave beyond belief. We’ve heard of two incidents recently where planes were crash landed without loss of life … one was in Heathrow and the other on the Hudson river. Both pilots said in a matter-of-fact way that they were just doing their duty. This is my salute to all cabin crew and flight crew. Well done.