Shortly after immigrating to Canada, my parents became friends with a Yoruba couple who were a few years younger than them. They had no children when we first met them but within a few years, they had a couple of boys. Then we moved across the country, or maybe they moved first. Anyway, we ended up about 8-10 hours drive from one another.
Every once a while in the summer, we’d drive over to visit each other, and our parents kept in touch through the year by phone.
In 2001, our friends called us to say that their friends in Lagos (another couple) would be coming to our city to take a course and they (our friends) wanted to know if we could host their friends. The Lagos couple didn’t know that they would be unable commute from our friend’s place to their course daily since the two locations are 8-10 drive apart (in one direction). My parents of course agreed to have this couple stay with us. These people were strangers to my parents, but any friend of their friends is welcome, and that is how Nigerians operate. We readied one of our rooms for them (mine I think) and my parents let them use our house as needed.
My mom and sister were leaving for Nigeria during the time these people would be staying with us, and promises were made to try and meet up when the couple returned to Nigeria, since my mom and sister would still be there. Our guests stayed with us for some time and after my mom and sister left for Nigeria, my dad made sure their needs were met.
My mom, sister and these new friends managed to meet up while they were all in Nigeria. The wife’s sister is a judge so my sister said she got to go to court and see the judge preside and enjoyed that. Our new friends were very helpful in making the trip back smooth for my mom and sister. My parents were in Nigeria in 2006, and I don’t think these friends were around when they were there, so they didn’t meet up. Fast forward to our trip in 2008 and these people were a Godsend: they came and picked us up from the airport and we stayed with them in a room that was prepared for us (we don’t have any family in Lagos). On our way back the husband made checking in at the airport go as smoothly as possible. The trip back home was actually terrible, especially the hours spent in the airport, and I really meant to document it sooner but now most of the details are gone from my memory. Let’s just say that there was a stage where both husband and wife were telling the officials (and by telling I mean yelling at) that “these kids”, pointing to my sister and I, haven’t been to Nigeria for years and these officials that are giving us such a hard time are not giving us a good impression of the potential of Nigeria. They really fought for us and it was much appreciated.
When we returned, I kept in contact with the couple mostly by email and since then, the husband has been in North America a couple of times. The most recent time was last week, when he sent me an email to let me know he was in our part of the world and although he couldn’t meet up with us, he would like to talk on the phone. He and my parents talked, and then I talked to him, and he was happy to hear that my mom, sister and I are hoping to come to Nigeria again in the next year. He asked about the time we were thinking of coming, and he said he and his wife wouldn’t be around at that time, but he was going leave us their house and a driver, and make sure we were picked up at the airport!
I was humbled by their generosity. You see, when I was younger (and when I was not so young), I often criticized my mom especially for her hospitality. She has always been a warn and overly generous person in my opinion, and we were constantly having to tidy the house an extra bit to prepare for someone she had invited over on very short notice. She once heard a couple in the store she works at speaking in Yoruba and went up to them, found out they were visiting their son in our city and invited them over for dinner! When she came home and told us, my response was “You don’t know these people and you’re inviting them over? I don’t understand!” and the truth of the matter is that I am unfortunately “Canadianized” when it comes to hospitality. It’s something I have been trying to work on. I’m not yet at the stage of working on being more welcoming to strangers; I just want to feel comfortable throwing my home open to friends and acquaintances more often.
My parents are not wealthy, their home is furnished with some second and third hand items in addition to some new pieces that are now over a dozen years old. The food she provides is excellent since she’s a fantastic cook, but she’s not serving luxury food items. But every guest that leaves their house goes home with a huge smile on their face, having enjoyed true friendship and warmth. This sort of things comes effortlessly to my parents.
I truly believe that our lives and our belongings are better shared. We’re on this earth for such a short time and when we are gone, we will be remembered by what we did for others. If our life is all about accumulating stuff, being comfortable and not stretching our necks out sometimes for our fellow man or woman, our deaths will not fill many with sorrow or true mourning. I’m not saying you should start being generous and welcoming because you want a huge turnout at your funeral, but just think about how much fuller your life is after you have shared it with someone.
There are a lot of bad things that have been said about Nigerians collectively, but I would like to add this positive to the mix: there is no hospitality like Nigerian hospitality. Even those who don’t have much will happily leave it at your disposal. I am thankful for the many examples of this hospitality that has touched my life and I continually aspire to be like this.