I love telling non-Nigerians about (my experience) of Nigerian culture, especially things that some might find shocking, like how my mom (and many others) bathe newborns back home. I really enjoyed seeing the amazement (and maybe fear?) in my friends’ eyes, one a mother of a one year old, the other almost eight months pregnant at the time, as I explained that highlights of this bath include holding the baby upside down briefly, applying a hot water compress rapidly to the baby’s body, encouraging flexibility in the wee body by bending the arms and legs in various ways, and my favourite, the fake-toss of baby in the air, all of this during the bath (“fake” because the baby barely leaves the tosser’s hands though they appear to)! This last part is the most gasp-inducing part of the newborn bath story and I have the cutest video of my sister watching my mom bathe her newborn for the first time—the video is cute because my sister screams then giggles nervously when my mom “tosses” him in the air—those protective mother instincts are strong, even in new mommies! Not to brag but my mom has been invited to come and bathe many Yoruba newborns since we’ve been in Canada so she knows what she’s doing—I certainly wouldn’t attempt it on my own.
Parties are a another fun way to introduce non-Nigerians to the culture. Non-Nigerian family friends are always dazzled by how dressed up everyone looks in their brightly coloured lace and ankara, and of course the women’s geles steal the show (slightly less impressive is this African Time business, but it’s an ingrained aspect of the culture so I guess it’s only right that guests see it too!).
With parties come food, and in my opinion food is the easiest part of a culture to share. To a degree, food is a great reflection of a culture—it’s hard to eat a spicy or flavourful dish and see the culture as boring. It’s dismaying then that the only foods I’ve shared with my friends are akara, which my mom has been gracious enough to make for my Christmas parties, and chin chin. When my mom turned 50, I invited two friends to her party so they got to sample a wider range of Nigerian food than akara; at this year’s party for my mom I invited two friends—Ves and her husband—and she was a natural with the iyan and egusi stew (see above!). Ves had absorbed what I’d shared over the years about how we eat our main dishes, immediately unwrapped the iyan, and started eating it like a pro.
I have no problem talking about my culture but there are two reasons that I haven’t really shared my culture (especially the food) more widely with my friends. Both reasons are deplorable.
I can’t cook a full meal
I don’t (yet) have the skill to whip up a complete Nigerian meal aside from jollof rice, and this travesty is because I failed to listen to my mom. Do not be so foolish: when your mom who is an excellent cook is cooking, hang on to her apron strings and beg her to teach you everything.
Bonus confession: without a recipe I never salt or pepper my food adequately: it’s always too peppery and not salty enough and I can’t subject a guest to that, even if they are a friend!
I don’t want to be vulnerable
What’s the connection between sharing your culture and being vulnerable? Well, you’re letting people get a closer look at who you are and there’s always a chance that they might not like what they see, or think something you eat smells funny, looks weird, or tastes bad, and since food a part of the culture, it could feel like your culture is being rejected if someone hates the food. Mind you, I’m the pickiest eater alive and I won’t eat anything that smells funny—oh the irony!
As I improve my cooking, I’ll share more of it with friends and if they don’t like it, that’s ok: at least they were braver than I would have been and they tried it!