Life In America: Cowfoot By Candlelight

by Ikhide R. Ikheloa (Nnamdi)

For you Uche… wherever you are…

I am thinking of going home to Nigeria to visit my papa, Chief Papalolo of Nigeria. I miss the old man very much. America has been very good to me, I can’t complain. I learnt all my bourgeoisie ajebutter habits here, you know, like using fork and knife to eat ice cream, cleaning my ajekpako peasant lips with paper napkins, stuff like that!Before America, my foray into the rich man’s world consisted of occasional trips to supermarkets like Leventis and Kingsway to munch on”sangwages”, “scottish egg” and eh “meat pipe” washed down with odeku, Guinness Stout. How many of you remember those days? Let’s form a mailing list!But I miss Papalolo very much…

About my dad, Papalolo, I am the son of a man whose education never went beyond Standard Six, which was the height of primary school in those days. Like all our fathers, he was always first in his class (there were apparently no dunces in those days). But my father never went beyond Standard Six. A bright man nonetheless. Who was fond of talking wistfully about an illustrious education interrupted by a marriage (to my mother, Mamalolo) and the birth of Babatunde (me!). Why Babatunde? Well… I was born somewhere in Lagos three weeks after the death of my grandfather. And our Yoruba neighbors promptly nicknamed me Babatunde (the old man is back!) to my father’s disgust. He had heard a vicious rumor that I was so named because I looked like an old man with wrinkled skin and sad eyes sunken into a cow’s head. But Allah is great; I turned out to be handsome. More on that later…

Anyway… in the early fifties, my father was fond of taking me to the wharf to watch the traditional dancers and masquerades welcome the new African oyinbo white men and women, the new Nigerian intellectuals arriving in the big ships after sojourning in England. In those days nobody went to America (Except the great Nnamdi Azikiwe). Everybody went to England where they visited Trafalgar Square and took grainy black and white pictures of themselves in winter clothes with thousands of plump pigeons doing the unthinkable all over their head and other body parts. They came back home to Africa with something called the Golden Fleece. Papalolo would watch with envy the arrival of these Nigerian graduates, the Tokunbos that Chinua Achebe talked about in his books “No Longer at Ease” and “A Man of the People”. These tattooed Nigerians would step gingerly into the steamy hot tropical sun, wearing thick winter coats, and hand gloves. They would fan their sweating faces with a London Daily and exclaim in their British-Nigerian accent:

“Eet is rada het!”

English Translation:

“It is rather hot!”

And Papalolo would turn to me and say with extreme bitterness:

“Son-of-your-mother! If not for YOU and YOUR mother, I would have been one of them!”

I have such fond memories. When last I visited Nigeria twenty years ago, it was with great excitement. I was going back to the Festac pepper soup joints, to all my friends, maybe they were still sitting on crates of Gulder beer just the way I left them. Ah, to taste Gulder beer again! I love America but eh American beer leaves a lot to be desired. I was going back to my girlfriend, the one who swore at the airport in Nigeria that she would wait for me, no problem. I was going back to her and we would buy piping hot plates of rice from Mamaput the fleet-footed food vendor on two wheels (her two feet!) and we would dine on cow foot by candlelight while listening to Rex Lawson, Chris Okotie and Jide Obi… Just like the white man taught me. Boy was she going to be proud of me! And you thought African men aren’t romantic! This man is one exception to that unfortunate generalization. By the way, there are more men like me where I came from… nine of us, if you are interested, wink, wink! Be warned: IF you do not possess a green card or your citizenship papers, do not even think of responding to this solicitation! I shall call Homeland Security on you! Love has its limits!

On landing at Murtala Muhammed Airport, there was a slight problem. Actually, there were quite a few slight problems. The air-conditioning wasn’t working, and the luggage chute was now being operated by manual labor in the shape of several skinny guys, something about a late arriving spare part.But I found the immigration officials to be exceedingly kind and helpful. They kindly offered to relieve me of all and any electronics equipment in my suitcase plus all unnecessary American dollars on my person. They seemed disappointed that I had none of the above on my person. One of them asked me after an exhaustive and disappointing search of my suitcase revealed that it was filled with old underwear and books: “Oga, are you sure you are coming from America?” I could hear his colleagues muttering under their breath: “Nor be di better America dis one go!”

So I miss my father Papalolo. The last time I visited him things didn’t go very well. I neglected to bring him the VCR and Mercedes Benz [v-boot] I had promised him. My father found this lapse in judgment extremely distressing.He made a point of taking me around the village to see other proud papalolos who had color pictures of their sons and daughters abroad posing by Mercedes Benzes they would be shipping home as soon as they could take a lunch break from their jobs as CEOs of McDonald’s corporation. Until then, I didn’t know that McDonald’s had so many Nigerian-American CEOs! Allah be praised!

I will also point out that at the time of my visit home, it was fashionable to fry one’s hair to a greasy mess, and speak double negatives as in:

“Sheeet men! I ain’t gonna do no sheeet!”

When I left to visit Nigeria, I had only been in America ten years and so I hadn’t acquired the accent expected of a Nigerian-American. As for my hair, even in those days I had so little hair left, I was afraid that if I fried my hair, I would go bald! So I went home nappy-haired and with my original Nigerian accent. Unknown to me this was a major source of embarrassment to my dad.

Whenever Papalolo needs to tell me something important, he interrupts my sleep at 3:00 a.m. in the morning. This he accomplishes by coming into my room at 3:00 a.m. armed with a lantern and nothing really important to say. Why does he do this? I don’t know. I suspect that he picked up this habit from reading Chinua Achebe’s books where the heroes are fond of waking up their sons at 3:00 a.m. to tell them things like:

“He who swallows an udala seed will pay in the latrine!”

So this morning, he woke me up with his lantern. “My son,” he began, gritting his teeth, “people are talking!”. “Talking about what? Who are these people” I asked clearly irritated at being interrupted from my beauty sleep.”People are talking,” he repeated, ignoring my scholarly inquiry. “They are saying that you don’t look like someone who really went to America!You did not fry your hair, and you do not begin and end your sentences with ‘men’!”

“Son-of-your-mother, tell me, is it true what Akpeteshie our village drunk is saying about you? Have you been hiding somewhere in Nigeria all these years? Apkpeteshie says his brother Saturday once spied you in Sokoto!”

So, if you are thinking of going home to Nigeria soon, your first challenge is to find a travel agent who won’t take your money in return for not giving you an air ticket. Good luck! By all means necessary, get rid of that Nigerian accent. Next, you must find a barber who will give you the latest haircut in the ‘hood. Also have both your ears pierced, why pierce just one? K-Mart has some good ear-rings on sale. It helps also if your brother or sister waiting for you at the airport is “immigration” or an interloper posing as one. And please whatever you do, when you get home, begin your sentence with “yeah” and end it with “men!”. They like that! As for a Mercedes Benz with a DVD player in its trunk, do not even THINK of leaving America without one!

Oh, about my

girlfriend… she was waiting for me alright – with eight children and a hefty husband named Johnbull!

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BronzeElegance July 14, 2006 - 9:46 pm

This article was a delight to read.

Ngozi June 30, 2006 - 8:17 am

I found this very funny. This article cheered me up during ny lunchbreak at work on a very miserable day in Scotland. It is great to see humour in situations that might be somewhat annoying

Anonymous March 14, 2006 - 5:59 pm

Dear Mr. Ikheloa,

I have thoroughly enjoyed your article. I am a Kenyan lady married to a Nigerian man. I am in the process of trying to put together a magazine for the African Diaspora that will have a publication date of Jan 2007. I am soliciting stories from people such as yourself for publication. I am very interested in communicating with you as far as you submitting stories for publication…I really like this one please contact me

thank you


chinonye mba February 17, 2006 - 11:59 am

very well written and interesting, it's very funny and true about Nigeria, it's real and it still happenening. Bt the way i'm writing a school essay, the topic is "Write about you community from a social point of view, it's problems and triumphs and how it has molded you into the person you are today". Can u give me a few ideas im a Nigerian student here in NY, US.

Anonymous February 10, 2006 - 10:56 am

Hilarious. Its been long since I read something like this. This is the true picture of the 80's expectations of 'Nigerian Americanas'.

Anonymous December 18, 2005 - 12:17 pm

too much!

Anonymous December 15, 2005 - 5:33 pm

Loved it.Very refreshing.Keep it up!!!

Anonymous December 14, 2005 - 9:29 am

Nice one well written please do more

Anonymous December 12, 2005 - 5:37 pm

That was hilarious. I just could not stop laughing. I think you would make a very funny comedian. But my fear is that there would be few audiences. You know now "Oyinbo or akata people no sabi our jokes" Nice reading your piece. Peter from Pennsylvania

Anonymous November 12, 2005 - 12:20 pm

very funny i laughed a lot.

Anonymous November 5, 2005 - 10:32 am

omo i love ur piece;u are just too funny;keep that kind stuff in u up.thanks jude

Anonymous October 24, 2005 - 11:03 pm

Shwo!….omo u don make ma pikin' wake up ooo!! i don laff taya no be small oo!!! make u keep doing wat ya doing….we need more!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous September 29, 2005 - 6:41 pm

I am not gonna die laughing….old boy this ur article no be joke. Anyways we go survive for America.


Anonymous September 29, 2005 - 9:36 am

OMG this is so fcukin funny i cant stop laffin. nice job

Anonymous September 26, 2005 - 11:32 am

This was an excellent article. I am dating a Nigerian and it confirms all his fears about going back home. It was very refreshing.

Anonymous September 20, 2005 - 12:04 am

It captured authentic Nigerian feelings and sayings. I really relate to the starting and ending sentences with 'men' and 'sheeet'(sic). Down to earth very down to earth. Me likey.

Anonymous September 18, 2005 - 12:14 am

I have lived the author's experience and laughed at the folly and values of new crop of ('80's and '90's) Naija arrivals to the USA

Anonymous September 17, 2005 - 5:06 pm

humorous and true

Anonymous September 15, 2005 - 11:11 am

this is very hilarious

Yemi Lawal September 8, 2005 - 7:33 pm

This is interesting and funny. It depicts the feelings and expectations of an average african father about thier children living abroad. Its important that they are invited abroad and see firsthand that dollars and pounds are not picked from the floor that guys work like a labourer here to earm their living. I reside in Nigeria but due to the nature of my job I travel to UK and USA for at least 6 times in a year. Anyone should know that this is a fiction- I like to read more of your article.

Yemi Lawal

styze September 5, 2005 - 12:41 pm

an xcellent piece a reflection of the at home peoplefunny and as always wit write ups from obodo oyibo.."forgive them for they know notmuch"

Anonymous September 2, 2005 - 10:43 am

Excellent piece. Keep it up. (yoruba man)

Anonymous August 24, 2005 - 5:50 pm

ha ha ha ha ha ha ha . my bro i thank you working in this damn country i have not laughed in so long God bless you

Anonymous August 21, 2005 - 6:08 pm

yeah men i think you are telling us the truthgod bless yaa men.SUNKY

I. Okonta August 19, 2005 - 10:41 pm

Dis na wicked story – O! E don dey take style dey restore my faith in Nigerian writing. But am still enjoying my leave of absence so make no body send me any email – O!

Anonymous August 19, 2005 - 8:11 am

Beautiful piece well written briliant and very comical. But the only catch-Nigerians back home have gone way beyond genuflecting before any yankee brother; perhaps fleeting excitment may exist coming from way out of town. But 'coming from America' do not amount to much when millions of young nigerians are making it in the corporate world and government. If you don't know money plenty for nigeria.

Anonymous August 18, 2005 - 12:28 pm

Very very funny and also very true. I couldn't stop laughing.

Anonymous August 17, 2005 - 11:19 am

Wow. This was a great one. Nicely written and funny as hell. Wish you were wrong though.

Anonymous August 9, 2005 - 5:36 pm

The authour seems to have great talent and wit. Way past my bedtime but I couldn't resist reading it to the very end. Well done!

Anonymous August 8, 2005 - 8:53 am

Culturally astute honest and funny

Anonymous August 5, 2005 - 11:34 am


Anonymous July 31, 2005 - 1:38 pm

becuase it is extra-ordinary funny and it shows exactly what nigerians mentality look like toward their naijas based in america.

Reply July 28, 2005 - 1:27 pm

This author has a great sense of humor and an amazing way of taking you back to certain times and memories. I can't wait to read more of his experiences so similar to mine. And if he and his friends are interested I have two Nigerian girlfriends (citizens)wink! wink!

Anonymous July 27, 2005 - 9:47 pm


Edir July 27, 2005 - 7:27 am

the story is very funny and normal arround here but lets be factual Nnamdi having lived abroad for as long as "10" years should have changed as expected by his father…because for example even within Nigeria here we have different cultures and when you leave your state to live in another state for as long as "10" years you would have adapted one or two of their cultural habits unknowingly

Anonymous July 27, 2005 - 12:15 am

Excellent reading very funny I had great fun reading this article!

Anonymous July 26, 2005 - 10:49 am

very funny article indeed. I like the being 'spied on in sokoto. classic

Nina July 26, 2005 - 9:14 am

Always enjoy reading your articles. Great write up..You had in me in stitches (and at work for that matter!!)Cheers and keep writing.

Anonymous July 24, 2005 - 6:53 pm

excellent article.i can't wait to read his published books.

Anonymous July 24, 2005 - 1:30 pm

I enjoyed the humor. The article was easy to read and fun.

Anonymous July 23, 2005 - 7:58 pm

Yeah!Man that was hilarious.Keep it up and don't let the hypocrites hinder your good gesture .You made me laugh throughout the whole story and it doesn't really matter whether it is true or fictional.As somebody living here in USA also I know what you meanI feel you and you know whatsuch a story would eventually sell if you try something similar on BET or Comedy Central.Anyway keep up the great work-Jossy

Anonymous July 22, 2005 - 10:42 pm

Interesting read…..boy did u get me all cracked up or what…..Ronke

Anonymous July 22, 2005 - 12:10 pm

Ace! Straight up between the eyes!

Anonymous July 20, 2005 - 12:25 pm

Real funny and typical of Nigerians. Always expecting too much from our brothers in 'obodo oyibo'. Was the author really expecting his girlfriend to wait for him He's a Joker. All the same this is a beautiful piece.

Anonymous July 19, 2005 - 9:49 pm

OmG this is so real n it's funny too. lol i like this article keep it up!

April July 19, 2005 - 9:00 pm

I enjoyed this story. I really like the author's style of writing.

Anonymous July 19, 2005 - 8:58 pm

This is interesting and somewhat true April

Anonymous July 19, 2005 - 8:49 pm

Funny! Hit me @ ..I'm currently in the states will be in nigeria in december…this is funny!

Anonymous July 19, 2005 - 11:15 am

I loved this article… good sense of humor…

Anonymous July 18, 2005 - 8:24 pm

hilarious….great writing style

Anonymous July 18, 2005 - 5:32 pm

Real funny and original.

Anonymous July 18, 2005 - 3:00 pm

Loved it! Excellent writing! Good sense of humor with reality!

Anonymous July 18, 2005 - 11:47 am

This is a great composition. Abijossy

Anonymous July 18, 2005 - 5:28 am

I agree with Obi (the commenator 9). I think this writer's father has long been dead. I went back and re-read his other writings since 2002. Literary or poetic license is fine. But when your readers start feeling sorry for you and expressing sympathy for you you should let them know that you are writing fiction. Otherwise you are commiting fraud.

Anonymous July 17, 2005 - 2:43 pm

Entertaining informative… would have been suprised if the girlfriend did OTHERWISE!

femi July 16, 2005 - 11:27 pm


the fact that he uis using papalolo as his dad should hint you that the author does not expect you to take the story and complete truth.

shee…. Lighten up men 🙂

Anonymous July 16, 2005 - 5:19 pm

i did not find the right up funny it is not unusuall to come back home from abroad with one or two new character aquired consiously or unconsiously for some its the accent and for some it is the character we do not want to see you like you left but would like to see a change that is the essence of going abroad!

Sola July 15, 2005 - 4:52 pm

Mr Obi why do you asume someone using a style that's autobiographical is automatically writing a TRUE story Whatever happened to literary license

Obi O. July 15, 2005 - 2:05 pm

I have a very serious question that credibility and integrity demand that this author answer: Is the above story fiction If it is not fiction why is it that on 7/20/2002 this same writer Nnamdi published an article on this website titled "Life in America: Rising Sun" in which he indicated that his father died in the Nigerian civil war of 1966-1970 In his own words he wrote "My father died for somebody's dream of one Nigeria. Every morning he would go out to fight. And every morning my mother would cry. One day my father did not return felled by the bullets of the thug that has Ikeja International Airport named after him. I am the new warrior ashes born of the massacre in Asaba." His father must then have died even before he came to America in 1982. I have put two and two together and it is not adding up to four. Why Is something wrong with my math

Anonymous July 15, 2005 - 3:45 am

Hilarious!!!!! The best thing ive read in a while. Good job! Ha! Ha!

WayoGuy July 14, 2005 - 9:14 pm

From begining to end a masterpiece of design of structure and of delivery. Well done.

Anonymous July 14, 2005 - 7:48 pm

funny cos i'm here too and i know what people at home thinks when you are abroad.

Anonymous July 14, 2005 - 3:44 pm

Extremely funny and interesting to read on the the African Culture. Please do more.

Anonymous July 14, 2005 - 2:40 pm

Oh my Gosh!! This is very funny and indeed true!! Well written too. I knew the part about the girlfriend was coming. Like she was really going to sit and wait for you for ten years Uh huh!! I LOVE this article Great Job!!


Anonymous July 14, 2005 - 2:22 pm

I truly enjoyed your article I laughed all the way through reading it as an Africian American woman I love studing Africian culture and reading articles. I really enjoyed reading this article it made my day; in between laundry and cleaning it gave me a boost for today and to think I was about to take B12 for engery. I think your article should become a comedy on film.


a board American as we all say we are

Anonymous July 14, 2005 - 12:45 pm

Really liked it and laughed at just about every paragraphmore at the the paragraph about the girlfriend.Hahahaha!!!!

Anonymous July 14, 2005 - 11:40 am

yeah men!

ain't that very American. You forgot about the mansions that you built.


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