I came to this big city of Austria where cold is so bitter that it bit deep into the soul of the skin. Usually because there are no direct flights from Lagos to Vienna, one always has to go through one European country or the other to get here. Owing to the length of travel, there is the general feeling of one travelling from Nigeria so far away to come to Austria. And so here I “so far away in Austria”
When I came, I was sure that for the entire four weeks duration of my holidays I was going to be more than far away from my normal Nigeria (Yoruba) meals. I was prepared for the long wait during which I would miss “eba” amala, occasional tuwo, fufu and lafun with their complementary “ewedu”, “gbegiri,” ila, and ogbono soups! I was therefore ready to eat leaves and fruits as these “white” people call it cabbage and sala. I was really ready to adapt my stomach to the dictation of the moments. My host came in and announced that there was an African and indeed Nigerian restaurant not far from where we stayed. At the restaurant, Pounded yam with its complementary egusi soup (the favorite dish for foreigners in Nigeria) was served. He described the place and i followed him with the “eyes” of my inner mind. Suddenly he suggested we go there and I became more than curious.
We walked to this little space and entered the room. It was filled with some friendly looking Africans, about eight of them. They were busy drinking, smoking and talking away the young evening. The kind of reports one got at home back in Nigeria was that “our boys” were suffering, missing home and missing all those things that make home, home. The reports were not friendly and they indicated Nigerians actively engaged in prostitutions, drug sales, illegal entrepreneurships and all sorts of sad news meant to portray “away” as indeed unfriendly and cruel. However, here were these young lads sitting down, relaxed and chatting away. Instantly I knew i was in a place organised and arranged by Nigerians. I felt at home immediately and no one needed to tell me that the local language that these folks were using was Ibo language. They stopped and looked at us as we approached further into the restaurant and took our seats. There were four of us and i was the only African in the group. On the back ground, music flowed from the maestro, Osita Osadebe. His guitar tunes reminded me that i could never have been more than fortunate to be born Nigerian. When I heard the drums, the familiar tunes of his rendition, i became a fool of my own nostalgia. I constantly shook my head in awe wondering how fortunate I could have been to be inside such familiar background. So, i listened, i smiled and continued to enjoy the moment that connected me straight and back to my roots. The room was warm, the folks were relaxed and completely occupied with each others company. I soon became part of them as my body became totally accustomed to the climate and forgot that i was in Vienna, the city with cold weather. (when we finished, my host told me he wanted to show me the easiest and fastest way to Nigeria, I was curious, then he opened the door of the restaurant, the cold air of the Austria atmosphere hit me, the silence of the street, the air of individuality and the structures of their composed city all confronted me and reminded me that i was still far away from Nigeria. Stepping out of the restaurant meant returning to reality: what the Americans will say “reality check”)
The waiter came to ask us what we would want to eat; there was egusi soup, bitter leaf, and one other soup i could not remember. I ordered for bitter leaf and silently wandered if i would get that or get some lettuce used as bitter leaf. Minutes later, my food came; it was white and fluffy pounded yam with bitter leaf and egusi for my other friends. There was water to wash the hands (as though they were never expecting any of us to use forks and knives to cut through pounded yam and egusi soup) complementing the usual friendly face of the waiter who served the meal. She was not wearing some idiotic service dress that would take her African looks away; she looked exactly like one of those ladies one would see at “mama Chinedu” or “Mama Oluchi’s restaurant with gratitude on her face because the customer accepted her food to eat.
My curiosity knew no bounds. I descended on the meal as though i had never ever eaten pounded yam before. I pounded the yam in my mouth with the ease of one who had been starved of such delicacies since weeks. Suddenly i was unable to follow or lead any coherent conversation, my concentration and attention were focused on the collapsing structure of the mountainous pounded yam in front of me. Meanwhile, i was having problems touching the soup with each morsel of the pounded yam I took; the various “orisirisi” meat that characterised the soup disturbed me fairly well and i had to start eating them one by one before i could make head-way with the soup. I nodded as conversations were going on to indicate that i heard, but my mind was on the beauty of the food i was demolishing.
In no time at all, my own ration was finished. I looked up and began to clean my nose which was already leaking liquid from the much I suffered as consequence of the chilly pepper inside the bitter leaf soup. I shook my head in appreciation of an excellent meal and thanked God that nothing could ever take my “Nigerian-ness” away from me. In far away Austria, pounded yam, took its day, it continued to add substances to the tread that tells a story about Nigeria. In societies where the horrific tales of the Niger/Delta is the only stories making headlines about Nigeria, in places where people laughed at our shallow politics and selfish interests over and above public good, pounded yam told a better story of a people, of a race, of a pride in a nation that stands on in spite of all. There are other things that add up to the thread. Each thread, woven together, form a tapestry of an intricate texture. The tapestry tells a story, and story is our past and present. If only Nigerians abroad can continue to be shining examples of the Nigerians at home…
Matters would have happily end up very well here. I would have mailed this article online and ended my free advertisements for this food joint except few days later, I took my wife, her friends and five other European friends to come and have a taste of our home. We went there, aside from everyone staring at us like we were in zoo, Nigerians came up with their usual pride; they started to sing out loud, they started to shout at one another, they were fighting and throwing utensils at one another. We quietly eased ourselves out and none of us ever went to that shop again nor did we speak about the shameful behavior.