Moments in NYC

Originally posted April 2018.

New York City is one of my favorite cities in the country to visit. Brooklyn is usually my choice of location to stay. I find the flavor, characters and general atmosphere to be so distinct from the rest of the city. I get a sense of neighborhood and belonging. It’s a place where the strange and normal mix in so well like the perfect cocktail. And everyone’s so friendly contrary to popular belief. I’m the type of person that doesn’t mind getting into a conversation with a complete stranger. In fact sometimes I embrace it because I see it as a learning experience. How will America get passed its prejudices if we don’t take time to know our neighbors, to sit down and listen to all types of characters that make this country great? Everyone has an experience, a story for every minute they live that ends up defining their characters and way of thinking. I believe we all should take time to understand the perspectives of others before condemning their views, opinions and choices. Anyway, I digress. I had a lot on my mind that I needed a distraction, so I spent more time experiencing than documenting. 

I entered Central Park for the first time ever and I’ve visited the city at least 3 times prior. I’m a huge fan of romance and Central Park is probably Hollywood’s most romantic location. The view of the Plaza had me in my feels!

Also came across a group of people looking up at tree with so much awe. The crowd slowly got larger and larger as other curious minds were drawn to the congregation. I ask “What are we looking at?” as I search the tree. The man next to me replies, “It’s a rare bird sighting. The first of it’s kind to visit the park and third sighting in the state of New York”. A minute passes by as I then join in trying to spot the bird in the tree. “What are we looking at?”, a man on a bicycle asks me. He also then joins in looking for the bird, a kirtland warbler. And so on.

Taste of Senegal in Detroit

Originally posted March 2018.

So my friend had mentioned a Senegalese restaurant last year. It was fairly new at the time. Actually, it’s not even up to a year old. But this year in January, Maty’s African Cuisine made the list of the top 10 restaurants to visit in Detroit 2018. First of all, AYE, AFRICA MAKING A STAMP ON THE FOOD SCENE!! #WAKANDA #AFRICAISNOTACOUNTRY #FORTHECULTURE.

My sister visited me from Atlanta and she had never been to Detroit, so I used her visit as a reason to go check this place out. I invited two of my closest friends, a Nigerian and a white American, along for the ride. 

One of the reasons I love to try different cuisines is that it forces me to research the area associated with it. Knowledge is power. And I love learning about different cultures. So of course after dining at this restaurant, I went online to learn about the history and culture of Senegal. 

Senegal is a coastal French speaking west African country. It also is a predominantly Islamic nation. So when you go to Maty’s, the menu is filled with dishes of fish, lamb, chicken, couscous, and of course rice and  plantain (two staples in west African countries). There is also claim that the famous and controversial jollof rice was created in Senegal by the predominant Wollof people.

Side Note: Remind me to try the jollof next time I visit. As a Nigerian, I need to know who has the better jollof. 

So Maty’s is located in the city of Detroit in the Old Redford neighborhood. The area is pretty sketchy as most of the city of Detroit, but not too sketchy for me to be worried. Sheltered suburbanites won’t be able to handle it out of fear. Majority of the customers weren’t African. Talk about a melting pot; white, black, Asians, Africans etc. My heart was jumping with joy. The restaurant did look like your typical African restaurant in America. If you know, you know

Nigerian in Paris

Originally posted December 2017.

My sister and I decided to stop in Paris for a couple of days between our return trip from Nigeria back to the States. My sister insisted that she must buy her kids winter clothes from Europe. I’m not sure if the clothes are cheaper or warmer across the pond, but we sha ended up in Paris. It was also a nice break from the hectic and exhausting events we left behind in Nigeria (Grandpa’s funeral). The last time I was in Paris, I was about 12 years old. That’s way over a decade ago. So we decided to revisit some of the staple tourist attractions. 

By the end of the first day, I had fallen ill. Possibly from stress, possibly from the drastic change in weather. So by day two, I couldn’t do as much. I had to force myself to go outside. I figured I shouldn’t waste a day in Paris in my hotel room. Instead, I would deal with my sickness when I return to America.  

First and probably the only thing I have to say about the french is that they were all really nice to me. Very friendly and warm, the exact opposite of the weather we experienced. I think it’s because my sister and I actually attempted to speak french to those we encountered and were eager to learn the language. 

I noticed certain characteristics of Paris. From the French baroque architecture framing the city streets to the quaint cafes on each corner.

From the pigeon infested squares to crows sat on statues…they could be ravens. I honestly don’t know the physical differences between the two birds. *Takes a break to spend 2 hours on the black hole that is Wikipedia starting with crows and ravens.

From the Eiffel tower always peaking above and in between buildings to the Seine river and it’s many bridges.

From the fashionable beings treading above ground, those trying to make a living to the every day individuals commuting below the city.

A Party Like No Other

Originally posted December 2017.

As I look through the photos I took of the night party we threw for the village, my mind time travels back to the most fascinating night I have ever experienced.
I had never been exposed to this part of culture, my own culture. This was the night before my grandfather’s burial ceremony come morning. It’s part of the tradition to host such a party. This was a wild, bizarre, and mind opening night. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t even get to experience it’s full capacity. You see I have a very protective father. My sister and I were sent back to our hotel at around 10:30 or so, just as the night had begun. Masses of people from the village and other neighboring villages flooded the streets en route to my grandfather’s compound, as we were leaving to head back to “safety”. The most hardcore individuals entered in. The party animals, the drunkards, the touts, the “ladies” of the night, gang members, young children, old men, youths, gentlemen and ladies. They all congregated to the compound and celebrated till the sun came out.

Musicians battled to see who could play the loudest. There was the young traditional band, the DJ, an extra band that randomly showed up (tbh there were a lot of random uninvited attendees) and a old local legend.

The most head tilting individuals I encountered were the “ladies” of the night. The question of the night, “That one na man or woman?” Translation: Is that a man or a woman?

I Went Home

Originally posted December 2017.

Life is very uncertain and impartial and throws curve balls at you every now and then. I had planned to visit Nigeria with my brother in December to visit friends in Lagos and spend Christmas with my parents in Rivers. But life had different plans, as I unexpectedly had to return to Nigeria in November to bury my beloved grandfather. 

It had been four years since I stepped foot in the country and even longer since I visited my mother’s village, the resting place for my grandfather. It was a surreal trip, an adventure filled with a roller coaster of feelings; sadness, excitement, jubilation, confusion, embarrassment etc. And that was all in one day. 

I embraced each moment, a day at a time. And of course, I tried to document as much as I could, except the day of the actual funeral. That day I wanted to fully experience without missing a single moment behind a screen.

I visited the south-south region, Rivers State, to my hometown of Port-Harcourt, and my father’s village in Kono, then made my way east to my grandfather’s home in Owerri and finally my mother’s village in Umukabia to bury my grandfather. Throughout the journey, I documented the everyday life of the people. 

As you guessed Rivers State got it’s name from the number of rivers surrounding it’s borders. It also happens to be a coastal state, facing the Atlantic ocean on it’s southern border. So it’s no surprise that a lot of the cuisine within that area contains a lot of seafood. Rivers State is also made up of tropical rain forests, producing some of the most delicious fruits in the country. In my biased opinion, I truly believe Rivers State has the best tasting bananas and plantains in the world! 

Best thing about visiting home is getting to eat the best food on the planet. Going to the village is extra special because everything is extra fresh and made with extra love. I am a quarter Igbo through my grandfather who recently passed away. While in the village for his burial, of course I dined on some Igbo cuisine.

There’s something about being back home. I can’t really explain it. There’s just this energy in the air. Maybe it’s the nostalgia or maybe it’s the sense of belonging. I truly care about Nigeria and I wish things were better than they are, but home is still home.

Abandoned Houses

Originally posted September.

I walked through one of the abandoned neighborhoods in Detroit one afternoon. Thankfully there are many organizations working on bringing the streets back to life.  I strolled with one of the volunteers who spent her childhood in the West Davison area and listened as she blissfully reminisced on a place that no longer exists.

Autumn.

Originally posted September 2017.

The aroma of pumpkin spice lattes consumes me as I walk passed every coffee house. The leaves are beginning to lose their vibrant green color. The air is finally getting cool. Time to fill my closet with sweaters and booties. If you couldn’t tell from the large pumpkins on display at every grocery store, or the crowds visiting apple orchards and pumpkin patches, well the autumn season is upon us. 

Africa World Festival

Originally posted August 2017.

This summer I attended the 35th African World Festival held in Detroit.

One can imagine my excitement and expectations of this event especially with me being an African (Nigeria) living in America. From the title itself, one would expect a congregation of the different African cultures showcasing their individual arts, music, fashion, cuisine, literature, history etc. You know, because Africa isn’t a country. Let me say it louder for those who fail to listen: AFRICA IS NOT A COUNTRY!!! What goes in Morocco has no effect on the culture in Swaziland. The food eaten in Djibouti I’m sure is quite different from what is eaten in the Ivory Coast. Not every country has lions and elephants roaming about, not every country eats jollof rice, not every country wears Dashiki. 

But somehow the planners of this event yet again revealed what most Americans – looking at you African Americans – do. They shoved the entire continent into one vague, Hollywood devised country – thank you Coming to America. And in my opinion, they did a poor job at it. 

There was nothing to identify the individualism of the different nations of Africa. Nope! I felt like I had just stepped out of the airport to be greeted by tourist targeted shops that sell what you think is merchandise native to the country of Africa at an overpriced mark because they sellers know very well that your image of Africa is what Western culture has given you i.e. Dashiki, head scarfs, wooden jewelry, huge wooden masks, and more Dashiki. And how could I miss the huge section of pro-black, pan-African vendors selling “Black Live Matters” shirts, Africa shapes on any item, and Egypt.

Anyway, my friends and I came across a tent that had musicians playing what sounded like Atilogwu (a dance from the Igbo culture) music. To our dismay, what we saw looked like a dance troupe of middle aged women rocking head scarves and flowing skirts dancing barefoot with moves reminiscent of again, Coming to America, nothing like the Atilogwu dance, all being led by the instructor who probably took an African dance course taught in her American university. We were not impressed. 

As for the food…DEAD. I don’t understand how majority of the vendors were selling fried chicken, fries and greens. I didn’t know that was an African staple. Caribbean food was also pretty popular too. And don’t get me started on the sad looking yellow rice with vegetables that they tried to pass off as jollof. What disrespect!! The thing is that I know there is a diverse demographic of Africans in Michigan. One of my favorite restaurants in the area is Ethiopian. Did the Africans not get the memo about this festival?

I guess not enough Africans were consulted. The whole festival just seemed like an event planned by African Americans for African Americans in an attempt to get in touch with their “African” heritage because hell, we all come from Africa, right? I should’ve known better when I saw that the musical headliners were African American gospel choirs, jazz musicians (an American genre) and Eric Benet. Yes, Eric Benet. I wouldn’t be mad and probably would’ve enjoyed myself more if the name of the festival was, I don’t know, African American Heritage Festival. But no, it’s the African World Festival. And somehow, I, An African, felt like a foreigner out of place in the midst of it all.