A Day With My White Yorùbá Aunty



“Bí ó pé títí, àlejò á di onílé.” Yorùbá Proverb
(In time, a sojourner becomes a native.)

I usually keep to myself when I take public transport in London. The usual drill would be to grab a copy of any of the free newspapers available. If I am lucky to get to the station before rush hour then I can get the Metro. With the Metro, although you may not get the full package, you are at least sure of getting a glimpse of what is in the main stream newspapers.

In these days of gloomy economic forecasts, when all you see on the economic segment of the 24 hour media at home are predictions of job losses and the rise in the number of people queuing up for unemployment benefits, the inner fear is not if you are going to join them but when you are going to.

The thought of queuing up at job centres, facing that authoritarian customer service personnel to prove you are entitled for benefit is not an appealing one. Well I had better make do with what I have now, spend the whole day chasing that daily bread and making ends meet. The consolation is the reward that you can still be counted as one of the employed.

I was to meet up with a long time friend from Nigeria. You can describe him as the Nigerian “Big Man”. He was on a return trip to Nigeria and had to spend 6 hours in transit. We had in e-mail exchanges decided to meet up at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Three – that way we could hang out for at least 4 hours within Heathrow and catch up on old times. I was particularly keen on meeting him as he was one who had always insisted on me returning home. Each time I visit Nigeria he would keep hammering in repetitive terms, “I wonder what you people are doing abroad, don’t you get bored? See we live well here, fresh fish, ‘asun’, brokoto. You can make it within a short time – all you need is luck and connection, and for you sef it won’t be a problem – you sabi people”.

It was my friend who insisted this particular meeting was important, so I took time off work. Taking one day off your paid holiday in the United Kingdom and I guess in any other part of the world to “chat” with a friend is no mean effort.

Grudgingly I decided to take the cheapest means of transportation available to me – the long winding blue line, Piccadilly from the Finsbury Park station. Anyone familiar with that line to Heathrow would understand how frustrating it is to travel to Heathrow in the restrictive underground for over an hour.

Related News

At Finsbury Park, I hopped on the Piccadilly line. My usual routine is to scan through the coach to look for a comfortable seat. Comfort to me is making sure I seat beside people of middle-age on their way to work. They usually keep to themselves and would barely acknowledge your presence. I avoid groups of youths as you would in most cases be subjected to chattering from the start of your journey to the end.

As the coach was almost full I did not have that luxury. I found myself a seat in between an elderly Caucasian lady and a glass panel – not too bad, I mused. As I sat down, I thought I heard her say hello but all I wanted to do was to close my eyes, take a quick nap and endure the ride until I got to Heathrow.

However, I felt a tap on my shoulder and she said “I just said hello” I apologised and said hello back, in my mind, cursing my seat choice. Now I was trapped with an elderly lady, probably would be fed with her life history – well so I thought, until she gave me that curious look and then “where are you originally from?” I felt like replying Haringey, (a north London borough). I have always found the use of “originally from” a bit funny. Why can’t Londoners just ask where you are from rather than “originally from”?

I am originally from Yoruba Land in Africa until the British merged my ancestors with our African neighbours and made me Nigerian. You see, I intended to confuse her and possibly make her feel guilty enough not to pursue the conversation – if I simply said I was from Nigeria, I knew she would start telling me about the 419 scam letters, or probably remind me of fraudsters, or ask if I had met Farouk AbdullMutalab the “under pant bomber” forgetting about the hard working Nigerians in the United Kingdom mostly in very respectable fields and some in other fields all contributing to the economy of the United Kingdom. “Oh you are Yoruba?” My new ‘friend’, almost screaming, facing me, she stretched her hands forward, offering a hand shake. “I am Yoruba too, you are my brother. My name is Wendy, Wendy Omotayo. “That was when she switched from English to Yoruba – not my kind of Yoruba, but what we refer to as the “Ijinle” Yoruba.

We conversed for almost 30 minutes in Yoruba. She had gone to “Biafra” (refusing to acknowledge South East Nigeria as being part of Nigeria) as a volunteer service person to help out Igbos during the Nigerian Civil war. She could only spend 4 weeks in Biafra but rather than return to the United Kingdom, took up a teaching appointment in Shaki, South West Nigeria (Shaki is located in the Northern part of present day Oyo State in Nigeria). Wendy had fallen in love with a native of Shaki who was also a teacher. Now back in the United Kingdom having lost her husband, she is teaching British children Yoruba. She is not only teaching them how to read but also to write.

Wendy insists the Yoruba language is one of the richest in the world. She told me she feels a sense of sadness that children of Yoruba migrants in the United Kingdom do not speak Yoruba well enough. She is using her life savings to get materials together and pushing for a campaign that Yoruba should be included as a language that must be taught in boroughs with high population of Yoruba Nigerians in the United Kingdom. I thereafter asked if I could interview her as I believed we needed to publicise what she was doing. She replied, “In life our works should speak for us”.

Taking time off work to meet a long time friend at Heathrow had turned out not to be waste after all. In fact, it ended up becoming one of my most fruitful outings till date. A message was being sent to me through an elderly Yoruba Caucasian lady, and that message was to pass on the language of my ancestors to my children , that if I fail to do that, I would have failed in passing on the bond between myself and my ancestors to my offspring.

By the time I got to the airport, the most important discussion I had with Dele Oladokun was for him to get me as many copies of “Alawiye” and other Yoruba texts as he possibly could. The books and many more have since arrived the UK and it is now a compulsory 2 hours per week lesson of Yoruba culture, ethics and tradition with God’s gifts to me.

Load more