Chapter 10 : Of Bukaterias and GSB
For Ibilola, the end of the relationship paved the way for her to gain new insight on her relationship with herself. Often when relationships end, we go through a retrospective, we ask ourselves these questions, “What did I do wrong,” “What would I do differently,” “Why did it end?” and so on. Ibilola did her share of questioning as well. But instead of staying at questioning, she found herself being led down another road, a road towards a deeper understanding of what it meant for her to be first Yoruba, then this thing called Nigerian, and finally what it meant to be an African. She now saw her experience with Constance and Oladehinde as an allegory of the war that goes on in the souls of Africans who find themselves in the West; fighting a battle of identity between the black and the new black.
She started unraveling how she felt about who she was, where she came from and subsequently, where her soul was forged. She started her journey at the bukaterias of her youth, the michelin star level mama-puts that can be found all over Africa. The home to a symphony of pepper snails, bokoto aka cow foot, skin, tripe, heart, kidneys, every one of them jostling for attention inside a massive cauldron of epic deliciousness. The place where the lawyer, the doctor, the thief, the vulcanizer, the driver, the politician, the prostitute, and the clergy worshiped together weekly.
On, her mind wandered to the great African kingdoms of the past, places that had been forgotten, written out of history, great Benin, great Zimbabwe, Lalibela, Nubia and so on. The breath-taking landscape that had become the defacto backdrop to the single story of Africa, cue the acacia trees. Nevertheless, when one is lucky enough to stand at the edge of the savannah, one feels as if one has just beheld the face of God. Or to camp in a Bedouin tent, gazing at the stars in the middle of the Sahara. Or the almost magical African night markets and their beautiful twinkling lights, whose beauty is only revealed to those who have learned to see.
On, her mind went, the next stop was New York City, Broadway to be exact, why? To pay a visit to Simba and Mufasa. Sometimes something is missing for so long that you don’t recognize its absence. It’s like living with pain for so long that you forget what health and vitality feel like. That is what happened when she saw that show; the same thing happened at Fela on Broadway, it’s hard to explain.
Ibilola understood that sometimes as much as others may love us, they have to step aside and let us craft our stories; unfortunately, sometimes they can’t even be supporting members of the cast. Like Chris Rock said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine about his movie Top Five:
“it’s blacker than The Butler or the Jackie Robinson movie, it’s blacker at its core. But it’s not about race. It’s really black, the way George Clinton’s really black, like the Ohio Players — ‘Fire,’ ‘Sweet Sticky Thing.’”
Sometimes, people misunderstand this stance and take it for African superiority or anti-Whiteness. Both are dead wrong. The problem is people are not used to seeing Black self-regard, Black self-love. One can be too in love with being oneself to hate anyone else; this, she now recognized was the vast gulf that separated their experiences. She had lived these experiences, she had tasted the uniquely satisfying taste of spicy suya in the African heat, Oladehinde, on the other hand, had not. The knowledge of self, separated the two.
She remembered something he said that made her smile, and was illuminating. He said, “when I came back from Africa.” That is something you often hear non-Africans say. To Africans, “Africa” is not a primary concept. Africans don’t think in terms of the concept “Africa.” They think in terms of their countries. Ibilola would have said, “when I came back from Nigeria.” For her, Nigeria is the primary concept. For non-Africans, the way they understand Africa is to link it primarily with the concept of country. To them, Africa is a country, and rightly so. Because she grew up in Nigeria, her conceptual understanding of Africa was linked to the conceptual superset “continent.” Africans think of Africa as a continent. Many Africans get mad that westerners keep making that mistake, over and over, and over, and over, and over again. It is not their fault that they think Africa is a country.
A sign of how important a place is perceived can be measured by the level of specificity associated with it, within the context of a conversation. “New York,” “Manhattan,” “Paris,” “London,” “Wall Street,” “Sand Hill Road,” “San Francisco,” these are places that have world importance. If you visited Nice, in France for instance, and you were in Lagos, you would say “oh, I just came back from France.” You wouldn’t say “Oh I just came back from Nice,” because, in that context, Nice has no importance.
Another example of the measurement of the importance of a places perception is when we talk about “GSB” or “HBS.” These are acronyms. They aren’t even words. It’s just three letters. GSB, in particular, is interesting, it translates to Graduate School of Business, it never even mentions Stanford! Stanford conceptually is so powerful that it can be completely omitted. At least the “H” in HBS, stands for Harvard. “HBS,” “GSB,” “Cal,” “Oprah,” “Obama,” “New York,” “San Francisco,” all these terms have been rarefied to primary concepts in our modern cognitive systems. Primary concepts are reserved for things that are important. Concepts that are vital that are primal, concepts like boy, girl, water and so on.
Ibilola realized that the Oladehinde that was born in Kano and grew up there no longer existed. Somehow, he had transposed himself into a European. He had become amongst the vast legion of those that the continent lost. She had mistakenly assumed that he was like her, that his soul was that magical black-sticky-sweetness. You see, sometimes in October, two people meet, their souls have a wondrous dance, and then part.