Although 99.5% of our relatives live in Nigeria and have therefore never been around for us to hang out with on a regular basis, I can’t say we don’t have family around us because everywhere we have lived, we have always managed to find a Nigerian community and become close to families who treat my parents like siblings, and who treat us like their own children. I remember one woman who had two sons back then who used to take my sister and I out because she didn’t have any girls of her own (yet). Even though this was almost 20 years ago and we haven’t even heard from them in at least 15 years, I remember thinking it would be cool if the older boy and I made a match of it (Afamdi: if you’re reading, look me up!).
Anyway, one of the many families we became very close to was the D family. They’re almost ten years younger than my parents, so they were our auntie and uncle growing up, and they spoiled us. They had their own children, three boys. I remember their oldest child was the chunkiest kid ever! When you held him, you felt his solidity right through your arm, or thigh, wherever you were leaning the child on.
The D family’s sons and my two youngest siblings (also boys) are close in age so the boys grew up together for a short while until one of us moved over five hours away…by plane. But then the one family (us I think) moved, so we were “only” eight hours apart by car, and as often as we could, always in the summer, each family would coordinate the schedules of all their children and make the drive to visit the other. In typical Naija fashion you host your family and friends in your own house, whether you’re expecting four people or 14, whether you have a five bedroom 4 bathroom palace or a condo, and even if that means giving up your own bed and doubling or tripling up with another family member. And every good guest will protest that they don’t mind sleeping on the floor of their host’s house and do some back and forth until they lose the fight. Going from six people sharing two bathrooms to 11 was never pleasant, but it was part of the fun and we relished these visits, complete with late nights, discussions between our auntie and uncle that never failed to make us laugh because of the way they interact with each other. This family is as close to blood as it gets.
When my auntie celebrated her 40th birthday, my family traveled there to support them, not as guests but helping with the cooking and the cleaning for days before the event. And when my mom celebrated her 50th birthday, they were there for us too. Their presence was especially touching as they sat at the head table representing family because my grandmother, who was supposed to be there in time for the party had trouble getting her papers in Nigeria (sound familiar to anyone?) so she missed the birthday party.
I should say that I am not the most hospitable person if I am not given time to prepare for a visit. I don’t like being caught unaware, especially if I will be hosting someone. My dad’s simple solution to that is if we keep the house neat and well stocked, when someone drops by unexpectedly, it’s only an inconvenience if you have other plans and therefore don’t have time to entertain, or are not at home. I’m trying to do this in my own home but I haven’t mastered it yet. However, one person who can drop by any time is this family. We got a call from my uncle several days ago, letting us know that he’d be in town with a couple of his sons and that they’d be staying with us for a few days. I was happy that he was coming and even happier that in his message he wasn’t asking if it was ok, but letting us know. The tone was so casual, the perfect blend of knowing it’s ok for them to stay with us if we’re in town, expressing appreciation for the friendship that allows such things and a sense of looking forward to seeing each other again. I know to some this would be an imposition and not be welcome but it’s one of those things that family members do to each other from time to time, so it’s a blessing for our family when we’re able to get a little idea of what it would be like if we lived in Nigeria with all our family around.
Without a doubt I probably wouldn’t be this excited at the thought of the visit if I was surrounded by family members that were regularly dropping by unexpectedly but that’s not the case. Instead, I look forward to it, and thank God for the blessing that is friends who are like family, especially in a world where you have family members, actual blood, who treat you worse than others treat their enemies.