When you leave the shores of your NAIJA, you can’t help but see your country with new eyes. You come to appreciate and love your nation as it is; or to reject it and call it ‘good-for-nothing’. Call me a dreamer, call me unrealistic, but even with the recession stricken state of my NAIJA, most days I can’t help but pine for it.
I suppose I can call you sir though it sounds so stiff – necked and boring … and oh so old fashioned to call the one you claim to love; Sir!
Well, dear sir. Here! I have written it again and I mean to stick with it, complain as you might. Katia has asked me to write you a – – – – letter. No, you don´t know her. She is my friend and sister from Eastern Europe. She herself is in love, in more than the widest sense of the word. She worships the ground where Anton Chekhov passed. She is in Dostoyevsky´s mesh and she has lost her head over Tolstoy. She eats him, has a never ending date with him and sleep – walks with him! Her kind are dangerous, I dare say; those in love with a phantom. I think of her and the intrigues of the ‘phantom of the opera’ comes before me.
Okay, what am I going to say? With all the sincerity I can muster – which doesn’t count for much as you know – I say that I have nothing to say. It’s a proven fact. Where best to establish it than at this very point, at the beginning. I wouldn’t want your imagination to fly, thinking of the rapturous love for you that I will profess. I will only rabble and gabble and from my nonsense, you will make great sense. After all, people in love just wink at each other and it’s enough. And as Nieves, my South American friend, told me the other day ‘where there is love (I think she said ‘trust’ but trust me, I don’t remember). ‘Where there is trust or love if you like, silence is not uncomfortable.
Back to Katia and the all-purpose – – – – letter. I think of you and the memories of my childhood come running in. My dear Ajayi Street in the New Benin area of the city of Benin. They call it the ancient city of Benin. Katia with her centuries old history will probably laugh at the title. But who says that the city is not as ancient as it claims just because we cannot prove its existence beyond the 12th or 13th century? Dear Sir, I haven’t come to start quarrelling over the age of a city with you. Life is much richer than that.
I think of you so much; so much so that I, who boast to have zero tolerance for sentimental bull shits, I almost feel nostalgic for you. For the days we spent together. From the New Benin markets to the dust coloured roads of Isu, Imo state. You remember the other time when we were planning a trip to Imo, I had my hair made. I was so excited to see you soon and to show you my new hair and clothes. I lost all sense. I never had much anyway. I started to spin endlessly on top of the septic tank just in front of our house. What started like an excited game with my feet on the tank ended with me, head down, apparently spinning on the ground. How you expressed concern for my ink stained scratches just below my eye! How you didn’t care to hear the story over and over again. How you gave thanks that it was what it was – just scratches – because it could have been worse. The thought of how big a fool I was then has got me in stitches. But it was all for you, for you my dear sir.
The other night while we were still in Amaizar. Ah! Amaizar. Just yesterday, I mentioned ‘my village’ while gisting with Jackie. She comes from the Big – Brother State, the USA. When I replied that my town was called Isu and my village Amaizar, she commented ‘I kinda like the sound of it. Amazing!’ My amazing Amaizar. That night, grandma and all the elders were having their evening chat. All of us young ones were in the living room eating akpu together, the Ede soup trickling down our palms to our elbows. You were there too. Where am I and you are not? Even when I’m so far away, supposedly out of your reach, you are with me. I carry you everywhere. Here I see many people who remind me of you. Though more than half of them have made a very bad reputation here, there is nothing bad or wicked about you. There are defects of course. I have mine too and I don’t pretend to be like the new wife who claimed her husband had no defects. No one makes such claims nowadays. People seem to glory in the defects of others. What does it matter if you have a pink stain and I have a dark blue one?
Where was I? What was I saying? Something about akpu. In Lagos, I barely ate akpu. They call it fufu there. We ate it once to celebrate our country’s independence. Another time, someone asked for akpu and nsala soup for her birthday. Man! What a feast it was. I am still licking my palms though they had nothing to do with it. Chai! We dug into it with our forks and knives. Nothing like the joy of feeling the consistency of the akpu with your curved fingers, of digging into the fish and beef scattered in the soup, or of the good belch that Daddy usually makes after he has washed his hands at the end of a sound meal.
It´s worse off here. The other day, we got together from far and wide in the capital just to soak gari! I will send you the pictures later of our Ijebu gari and groundnut feast. How those women in Ijebu land fry the gari, turning it over and over on the local stove. I used to like to visit them. Then our host would offer us gari, crisp and hot. And you would let the fine warm grains slip through your hand as you shovel some to your mouth, munching contentedly. The sweet sour taste which makes it Ijebu gari. I wish I have gari to slip through my cold hands now. You won´t believe me but you will. I now wear gloves and use hand cream each time I wash my hands; like a proper oyibo.
O my dear one, are you surprised at my nonsense? I am laughing again as your look of surprise floats before me. That day at Osisioma junction in Aba when you caught me in a stall eating a loaf of bread stuffed with noodles. Even the Chinese wouldn’t have gone so far. ‘Why not stuff it with egg?’ You had asked. And I replied that noodles was healthier and cheaper. Ah! The funny ideas I had and still have.
And now I have to go. Miriam is waving to catch my attention. She needs me. We all need each other. One moment Miriam.
My love, I don’t know what part of this letter will get to you. Katia has asked to read it before I send it and bring shame to the family. She would probably strike off some parts considering them unworthy. But in any case she would have caught a sneak peek at you and of how things used to be between us; of how things still are though they are changing fast. But her knowledge will be only a grain in my gari frying pan. A few places in a few cities and a few names are not enough to talk about the 36 states, the Federal Capital and the over 180 million people who make you up, my dear Sir, my Nigeria!
© 2016 Amaka Anozie
 A staple food made from cooked cassava. It’s called akpu in eastern Nigeria and fufu in Western and Southern Nigeria.
 The Igbo word for cocoyam.
 see foot note 1
 Another staple food, derived from fried cassava.
 The Nigerian slang for a European.