I once mentioned that I was probably not going to be spending any vacation time in Nigeria with my children this year (http://remembering-my-journey.blogspot.com/2013/03/no-place-like-home.html).
Well, I changed my mind. I’ve booked the flights, too, so there’s no going back. And I’m quite pleased with this plan. It’ll be a nice change for us all.
The length of the trip will be just right: not too long and not too short. But short enough for me to have to alert my in-laws to the fact that we will be arriving so we can schedule visiting dates. The news has been met with much excitement on their part. Even though I shouldn’t have been, I was still a bit surprised by the elation our impending visit has caused. Every single phone call I have made to announce our plans has gone the same way: First, they want to know if I’m actually coming with the children. I say yes. Then, they ask if I mean I’m coming with my son and my daughter (whom they haven’t met yet, and who is named after my mother-in-law). Each time, I’m very amused and I remind them that I have two children – a son and a daughter – and confirm that I will be coming with both of them. Then, rejoicing, they either tell me in advance what they’ll prepare for us (a goat, for instance), or ask what I want them to prepare for us (soup, for instance).
The truth is, I hadn’t planned to pay a visit to my ex-husband’s village. I plan to be in a central enough location where my in-laws can easily get to (one of them actually lives in the same city) so that those that would like to can see the children and spend time with them. Apart from the fact that I’m no longer married and don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression, I would rather not have my children making any long-distance road trips at this time. So I planned to just stay in one spot.
Of course, my in-laws are putting immense pressure on me (in the nicest way) to make that trip to the village, and their eagerness to see the children warms my heart. My mother-in-law is getting older, and it would be great for her to see her grandchildren.
I mentioned to my son this evening that it looks like we’ll be spending a night or two in his village. He immediately replied: ‘I’m not going.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Just tell them I said I’m not coming. You guys can go ahead, though,’ he said flatly.
‘Why would you say that? Where’s this coming from?’
He said something about how, with his father’s sparse involvement in his life, he didn’t see why this particular visit to the village was necessary.
‘Come here,’ I said. ‘Close the door, let’s talk.’
And I told him about all the phone conversations I’ve had in the last week and how his uncles and aunties were all beside themselves with joy at the prospect of seeing him and his sister. About how, when I said I was coming with ‘the children,’ they all wanted to be sure I meant I was coming with both my son and my daughter. (He was as amused by this as I was). I told my son that his family is much bigger than just me and his maternal relatives. I told him how much he is adored on both sides of the family. I told him that his father’s people are his people, and that they are good people. He comes from a large family of good people. I told him that if I had to choose in-laws again, I would choose the ones I originally chose.
I told him about my traditional wedding: about how, when my soon-to-be in-laws paid a visit to introduce themselves to my people, and later on, on the day of the bridewealth payment (a misnomer in my case, as my father didn’t believe in receiving bridewealth for himself), his father didn’t utter a word. It was ‘his’ wedding, but he barely featured in it because it wasn’t about him, really. It was about two families of good people coming together – and he (my son) was a part of this big, new family. I told him about his paternal grandmother, great-uncle, and uncles, who did all the talking that day on his father’s behalf. My in-laws came along with their in-laws, too, that day – men who had married their daughters. My father was very impressed by this and would later remark that they put together ‘a powerful delegation.’ I have always been pleased with my parents’ impression of my in-laws. They are truly people who know how to ‘do’ family.
I told my son that where we come from – where he comes from – a marriage is not just about two people. About what a good thing that can be because it means that he is protected and will always ‘belong’ somewhere. He will always have an intact identity, no matter what. I told him that in his culture, it doesn’t matter that his parents are divorced; this means little when it comes to him as a child. His parents’ divorce has not changed his location in his father’s village because his family is much, much bigger than just me and his dad. And this is why they were all busy twisting themselves into a pretzel trying to figure out how to welcome him.
I said a lot of other things that I can’t remember now. What I will not forget is the fluctuating expression in my son’s eyes, which went from defiance, to surprise, to pride, and finally, to respect.
‘Okay,’ he said, soberly. ‘I’ll go.’
So, Nigeria: here we come.