I have three mobile phones, so what? Of course, I have all my papers. How could I live and work in The Hague otherwise?
These phones, ah, in Nigeria, they felt neither heavy nor out of place when I laid them on the table in a restaurant, side by side, as if to compare their sizes.
Things have changed since I left Nigeria, they tell me. But I can only tell you what I know. That when my conversation with a friend ended because of network wahala, he called back on another network, blaming the earlier bad connection on heavy rainfall. That when I lived in Nigeria, rain was one reason I had three phones.
So that if rain melted one provider’s “wireless” wires, I could turn to another who might not be that unlucky. So that if lightning set one provider’s telecom mast ablaze, I could turn to others who could get their fire extinguishers ready on time. So that if Sango, thundered against South Africa’s MTN, I could turn to Glo, owned by a son of the soil, who might have been spared.
Network problems are rare here. These three phones? It’s a Naija thing. I am yet to meet any Nigerian at home or abroad who has less than two phones.
My first phone is my “official” phone. Friends call me on this number, as well as my boss, the tax office, the gas company, the police, telemarketers, and King Willem-Alexander. This phone from network operators like Vodafone, KPN, and T-Mobile, suffers one major limitation, which my second phone overcomes.
Because I call family and friends in Nigeria and the African continent from my second phone, the SIM card must come from Lyca, Lebara, Vectone, or Delight, providers that offer discount call rates to Africa. Any smart phone that accommodates Viber, WhatsApp, and the almighty BBM, will do because every Nigerian chats on BBM. Moreover, in Nigeria, exchanging BlackBerry PINs follows introductions and handshakes. Your blue eyes are widening; don’t you know what hyperbole is?
My third phone is the cheapest brand in the market. It’s only purpose is to rescue me. Imagine, if you can, that one day, you are in the Open Market, buying oxtail, shaki, cow leg, and real beef, from of all people, that Dutchman who eats vlees that you cannot eat, but has a stall where Africans troop.
This inability to acculturate, to do something as simple as buying and eating meat from Albert Heijn after twelve years in The Netherlands is your undoing for you bump into your distant cousin in this little corner of Africa.
He calls you by your Nigerian name, daring you to ignore him. You both register your surprise and long-time-no-sees. You dribble the chit-chat past where you live to you will call him. His protest drowns out the sound of the Moroccan fruit vendor calling, “Bananen, vijf voor maar een euro!” How can he expect you to call him when you are his senior—did you not come to Europe before him? His oyibo neva reach dat level, abegi! He will call you.
You give him your third phone number. The number your mother gives to your secondary school friends because she does not require your permission to do so. The phone that you switch on when you need to make obligatory calls to relatives who think you pick gold off European streets for a living.
My dear, the phones on the table are mine and mine alone. I am not a 419, na so life be. If you still don’t understand, I will explain in the morning. Switch off the light and snuggle close to me, I like to hold you when we sleep.
©Timi Yeseibo 2014
Wahala: (Nigerian Pidgin; perhaps of Hausa origin) Trouble or problem.
Sango: Yoruba god of thunder and lightning.
Vlees: (Dutch) Meat. Many African immigrants shun the “flat” meat in supermarkets, preferring the meat sold in Halal shops or the Open Market (oxtail, shaki, cow leg, etc.).
Albert Heijn: Dutch supermarket chain
His oyibo neva reach dat level, abegi: (Nigerian Pidgin) translates roughly to, living abroad has not made him forget his Nigerian roots or culture.
Open Market: Officially De Haagse Markt. It lies between Transvaal and Schilderswijk, districts populated mainly by Moroccan, Turkish, Antillean, Surinamese, and African immigrants. The market reflects the neighbourhood’s diversity.
Na so life be: (Nigerian Pidgin) translates roughly to, that’s just the way it is.
Photo credit: The Reboot / Foter.com / CC BY-NC
Original image URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/70292973@N07/7197724426/
Title: Mobile Phone Hanging from a Tree
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