I should have braced myself for a catalog of surprises from the time I was received by a mini-convoy of two cars – one of them being a police escort pickup – from the airport.
Instead, Lagos continued to play hide and seek with my imagination. The scorching heat at Murtala Muhammad airport ensured that beads of sweat had started streaming of every orifice of my body by the time I completed filling the immigration form. Lagos felt like an oven at 300 degrees.
This would soon be forgotten as I made myself comfortable in a seat directly behind the co-drivers’, a place one friend of mine jokingly refers to as the assassination corner.
I had traveled with a workmate who had been to Nigeria before. So I was briefed on the dos and don’ts, the places avoid and the food to stay away from. I felt set to face the land of the Ogas and Igwes.
I had seen a number of cuisines in some Nigerian movies. I had read about yam. I had heard of foufou and abacha. I had heard Flavour N'abania refer to Tiwa Savage as his Jolof rice in that remix of Oyi. So I looked forward to tasting many of these cuisines. The way they are pronounced makes you imagine you’ll not go to heaven if you’ve never tasted them.
My first meal largely went without incident. I did yam, which I found very delicious. Forget the flat taste from some of these species in Uganda. Nigerian yam tastes way better than our own Irish potato. It became an instant favorite of mine.
Yam was well flavored and looked easy on the eye. But I had been cautioned about making random choices, for one wrong pick could leave me nursing undesired side-effects. This is what would happen the following day, albeit the fact that it was not entirely my making.
On the fateful day, I strolled to the cafeteria and ordered for my new-found love, together with some Jolof rice and Turkey (which I almost missed because the fat lady at the other end of the food warmer pronounced it as Tow-Key). Such was my infatuation with Jolof rice that I couldn’t wait to have a bite. It would turn out to be a bite that I will live to remember.
As soon as I had swallowed the first morsel of my meal, a piercing barb shot through the base of my tongue, almost making me scream for emergency help. What had looked like shredded tomato skin in my meal was actually pepper skin!
You wouldn’t have wished to be in my shoes at that time. A stream of cold fluid suddenly flowed down my innocent pair of nostrils as I made a mad dash for my hankie. I remembered the previous day’s yam having had had no pepper. So I quickly dipped my fork into that side of my platter and into what I thought would be my haven.
Two bites later, things turned for worse. The yam had also been spiced with pepper. A stifled cough escaped my throat, like I was choking on some over-spiced chicken biriani. A blurry film soon floated over my eyes, making the contents on my platter appear fuzzy. It would be a matter of seconds before my eyes turned rheumy.
One of my office peers had cheekily asked if I was up to the task when he saw me line up at the cafeteria, minutes earlier. I remembered his comment and I didn’t want to look in his direction. But I was hungry, and the nearest place I could find food was probably an hour’s traffic jam away, yet I had a full desk to attend to before the day’s end.
I dropped the table knife and went traditional. Hankie in one hand and fork in another, I ate on. The water dispenser a few of meters across my table became my best friend. A couple of trips ensured I would have a full stomach within a couple of minutes.
I rushed to the washrooms and straight to the sink as soon as I was done with my harrowed date. In the mirror was a face that looked like mine, save for a pair of bloodshot eyes. One would have imagined I had just survived a forced rookie weed session.
My nostrils had eventually relaxed, and I now felt normal. But what had promised to be a mouthwatering afternoon with Jolof rice instead ended up becoming a sour date. Describing that meal as hot would be an understatement. I now know why our Naija brothers are aggressive. Naija pepper flushes every ounce of meekness in you.