Christmas for me was always exciting, most times I am already excited from the first of December and I start counting down eagerly. My family always took a trip to our home town Obosi in Anambra state Nigeria where all of relatives whom we haven’t seen for a long while would come together for the holidays.
My family the Okolies is a very large one; my dad has three brothers who are also married with children and live far and wide across Nigeria. My grandparents Papa and Mama Okolie were always eager to host us for the holidays from all over the country and even our uncle Emeka who lived in America with his Oyibo wife Lilian and their son Chidi who have only seen on skype video calls.
Mama Okolie had called us in November to inform us that Uncle Emeka would be bringing his oyibo wife Lilian to come and see us this Christmas in Obosi. My mum couldn’t stop laughing and when we asked why, she said she couldn’t wait to see oyibo join the other wives to cook our oyibo food and do other village activities whilst speaking ‘wanna! Gonna!’ My dad also joined in and we all laughed heartily.
My parents Mr Obinna and Mrs Chinyere Okolie were such a beautiful couple, everyone loved them and mum often prayed that we her children end up having a marriage as blissful as theirs. My dad was the first son, he grew up in Onitsha with his family up until he attended the University of Lagos and finally relocated to Lagos after his service year in Kogi state where he had met my mother.
Mummy on the other hand was a nursing graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife Osun state, she met my dad while they were in NYSC camp. My dad had taken ill and she was the nurse who attended to him and ensured he took his medication religiously, they had quickly gotten so fond of each other that their love grew and four years later they decided to take their vows to remain man and wife until death in the presence of loved ones and the holy priest in St Dominic’s catholic church Yaba Lagos. Their marriage blossomed and was richly blessed with three beautiful children. My father recalls fondly the exact time my mother informed him she had taken in for the first time which was six months into their marriage. My dad the first class chemical engineering graduate had just been granted a graduate assistant lecturing position in the faculty of engineering university of Lagos.
He twirled my mother around on hearing the beautiful news and proceeded to fuss over her throughout the nine months, my parents named me Obinna Junior and threw a huge party for my naming ceremony, friends and family were present. Papa and Mama Okolie hired a bus from Obosi to Lagos alongside all their well-wishers. My mum’s parents were also present and everyone claimed there was more than enough to eat and drink. Mama Okolie claims that everyone in Obosi was still talking about it till date after fifteen years.
My parents proceeded to have two more children a boy who came two years after me Chike and a girl who came three years after Chike, Adaobi was the baby of the house and my father never hid his adoration of her. Mum sometimes said he over did it but there was no stopping him, as Ada was according to him his “Golden Girl”.
Papa and Mama Okolie”s other children were Uncles Chukwuma, Chukwudi and Chukwuemeka. Uncle Chukuwuma lived with his wife Aunty Agnes in Calabar; they were both into various businesses and although they were both first degree holders they never applied for a white collar job. Papa Okolie always teased Uncle Chukwuma a lot about his decision to venture into business by asking him to refund the money he spent on his education.
Papa and Mama Okolie were both farmers who strived to make ends meet and educate their children because they believed so much in education. Uncle Chukwuma and his wife just had a child after ten years of marriage, it was truly a miracle and Mama okolie persuaded with them to avoid having a huge ceremony so that “evil people will not attack them”.
Grandma had so many superstitious beliefs, although she was the financial secretary of the Catholic Christian Mothers’ Association of St Gregory’s catholic church Obosi. She believed in protecting your blessings and hiding them from the enemies’ eyes. Mama prayed day and night for Uncle Chukuwuma’s family and she took several trips to Calabar to see them.
When God finally answered their prayers with a bouncing baby boy name Afamefula meaning “let my name not get lost”, it was all about celebration and joy which was the main reason why our grandparents wanted all of us in Obosi for Christmas. Mama had told us when she called to inform us about our oyibo wife coming that we would all be going for thanksgiving for the birth of our new cousin and all of us were to wear the colours purple and white because we had to stand out.
Uncle Chukwudi was my third uncle and he was married to a beautiful Hausa lady he met in Kaduna state which they both lived in. They were both doctors who had found love in the strangest of places and they had faced a lot of obstacles by deciding to embark on the intertribal marriage.
Papa and Mama Okolie refused to attend their wedding which held in Kano state two years ago, only dad and mum were the members of our family that were present and being the eldest, my dad stood as Uncle Chukwudi’s father and blessed the marriage. Aunty Laraba our Hausa wife was a beautiful peaceful woman who had the most beautiful heart and on the two occasions she came visiting in Lagos, the most beautiful smile too.
After school vacated, and my parents had been granted their leave from their offices, we embarked on our journey to Obosi exactly one week before Christmas. We took an eighteen sitter public bus which at least has Air conditioning because my dad didn’t want to drive such long distance that year.
We arrived Obosi at about 5pm after leaving Lagos by 10am that morning, we encountered a bit of police check points and we stopped to pee on the way severally and when we finally got to Obosi after Mama had called my mum four times, she was outside with her phone in hand dressed in a white cotton blouse and her “kri kri star” wrapper of the hollandaise series while her thick, long and beautiful hair flew about in the wind as she stood in front of the gate with a frown on her face and a crease on her forehead when she hadn’t seen us.
Immediately our taxi stopped in front of the family house, mama screamed for joy and ran to hug us. She carried Adaobi on her hip and hugged us one after the other while Papa came out in his white singlet, wrapper firmly tied around his waist and walking stick. He and my dad shook hands while we all greeted him before going into the house.
The sweet smelling aroma of Mama’s bitter leaf soup was too scintillating to ignore. Dad carried out things into the room along with mum while we all rallied round Mama as she kept touching, hugging and inspecting each of us. Mama always worried that we weren’t eating enough or that life in the city was too much stress for us.
She asked us to sit on the dinning while she set the table but we refused and went in to help her and a distant relative who lived with her Nneoma to set the table. While Chike and I were bringing the trays and Adaobi was scooping water into small bowls. Papa came into the Kitchen and stood by the doorway and smiling “umu oma’m unu daalu o!” He said, meaning “my wonderful children, thank you.”
As I was taking the plates to the dinning, I heard a vehicle approaching from the distance, dad and mum were already downstairs in the living room and as the sound grew nearer, dad asked Mama if she was expecting someone because it was already getting dark. Mama said she wasn’t expecting anyone. We decided to wait until we started to hear footsteps and people dragging their luggage.
Nneoma rushed in from the backyard excitedly screaming , “Mama! Mama!!! Brother Chukwudi is back!” Mama jumped as he was about to dash out her wrapper fell lose, she didn’t even spare it a second glance as it sprawled on the tiled floor. Adaobi ran after her, she only stopped to hold Adaobi’s hand… There were tears of joy running down Mama’s cheeks, it had been years since she has seen Uncle Chukwudi, and we all rushed after Mama to welcome him. Only Papa stayed behind with a look of utter disgust in his face…
We ushered in Uncle Chukwudi and Aunty Laraba, they both greeted Papa, to which he answered with a murmur. Mama announced that dinner would be ready in ten minutes so Uncle Chukwudi and his wife went in to settle down and freshen up while we joined mum and Mama in the kitchen.
Dinner was the delicious bitter leaf soup with stockfish, chicken, periwinkle, beef and garri. My siblings and I devoured the meal and Mama kept adding more garri to Chike’s plate and ignoring mum’s plea that Chike had eaten enough. Adaobi had eaten so much meat that when Mama tried to serve her another piece, she shook her head and started to cry.
This made everyone burst out laughing; Adaobi was such a delightful little girl and quite well behaved too.
After dinner, we cleared the table, Nneoma and I washed the dished while Chike carefully placed them in the rack. Mum and Aunty Laraba were also in the kitchen doing some catching up while unpacking some of the foodstuff they bought.
The next morning Papa called a family meeting with the adults and asked the children to go out and play, we all went to the farm with Nneoma to see how well our crops were doing and to also feed the fowls and fish in the artificial pond Papa built.
Back at the house Papa welcomed everyone and told them how sad he was that he didn’t attend Uncle Chukwudi’s wedding, he explained how his father had warned them about marrying from a strange land and he was appalled when his own son had decided to marry “onye Hausa” meaning “Hausa person”.
Aunty Laraba knelt before Papa and Uncle Chukwudi reluctantly followed, Mama followed suit in tears as she embraced Aunty Laraba, it was an emotionally moment according to Mummy as Papa wiped their tears and prayed for their marriage, touched Aunty Laraba’s protruding tommy and blessed their unborn child.
When we returned from the farm with Nneoma, we brought some fresh ugwu vegetable leaves and two fowls for egusi soup that afternoon. On getting home we saw a black Toyota camry parked inside the garage, we looked at one another in surprise because that particular car wasn’t there that morning when we left, so we went to the backyard to tie the fowls.
When we got into the house, we saw that Uncle Chukwuma and his oyibo wife were around we were so excited to see them as we rushed to hug them. Uncle Chukwuma looked very different in his face cap, oversized basketball jersey and his big jeans and his wife looked really beautiful in her Ankara gown and scarf. She smiled and said “nno nu” to us and we let out a loud shriek in surprise, our oyibo wife Aunty Lilian just told us welcome in Igbo, we were beyond excited.
Mama excitedly announced that Aunty Lilian was going to cook egusi soup for lunch as a surprise meal, mummy let out a loud cough and asked Mama to at least allow someone to cook with her. Mama refused and said it was tradition that every new wife single-handedly cooked for the entire family. We all left Aunty Lilian in the kitchen and went on a tour of the village with Dad and his two brothers.
We went to river Idemili the huge river that was the village’s major source of water which was believed to harbor “mami mater” meaning mermaids, Dad warned us not to go close to the river for safety reasons as most of us didn’t know how to swim. There were a lot of people at the river that afternoon; men and women washing clothes, people swimming, others were simply relaxing and having fun.
We stopped at the Nkwo Market, although it wasn’t a market day, we bought a lot of fruits and some vegetables on our way back, Chidi and Adaobi slept off in the car on our way back while Dad and his brothers continued chatting.
When we arrived home, Mama asked us to freshen up so we can have lunch. Aunty Lilian looked very exhausted as she started setting the table, Uncle Chukwuma asked her if she wanted to sit for a while which she declined.
Finally at about 3pm lunch was served; eba and egusi soup garnished with chicken, ponmo and some dried fish. The soup looked a bit watery but Mum had always taught us to say thank you politely whenever we are offered a meal so we don’t come across as ungrateful.
Mama was the first to have a taste of the food and judging from the confusing expression on her face which made it impossible to detect if she was smiling, choking or about to weep, I could tell the experience would be unpleasant.
Aunty Lilian smiled to mama and hungrily devoured her meal, Uncle Chukwuma looked helpless and he kept looking at Mama sympathetically, I looked around and I saw that virtually everyone was eating except me, Mum shot me a knowing look and I immediately started eating. There was complete silence and Adaobi was the first to run to the toilet, followed by Papa and then Mama….
To be continued…