I have been pondering on whether ex-pats in Africa actually start to develop and display a kind of ‘war-time mentality’ after being here a while. You stop taking anything for granted, assume you can’t get it without a degree of difficulty – like chicken with more than just a thin shred of meat on the bone, more than 5 chips to a portion, beans without the added protein supplement of free-range weevil.
Today we visited a rather splendid private school, Thomas Adewumi College at Oko near Omu-Aran. Driving up the avenue leading towards the main building, past colourful borders, and lawns that resembled the old and famous Wembley turf, was like stepping out of the TARDIS into a calmer, brighter, more disciplined, purposeful environment than I have experienced anywhere else in Nigeria so far – and many other places too! Uniformed gentlemen were trimming hedges, patrolling the campus, collecting litter and dead fronds from the many trees and flowering plants that made the site seem like an arboretum. The hostels, teaching blocks, chapel, and other buildings were well maintained and spotlessly clean; not a goat in sight, which explains a lot!
The Principal kindly showed us around this oversubscribed, International College where the children of the rich and influential are educated to an impressively high standard, many going on to University in the UK or US. There is a swimming pool and a full medical centre which the outside community may use, equipped with a maternity suite, full operating theatre and its own pharmacy.
After our tour we were treated to lunch in the Principal’s home on the campus. His kitchen boy, for want of a better description, had prepared a delicious chilli con carne and rice – with real carne! There was still plenty left in the bowls when I had finished my plate and Roy imvited me to a second helping – which I duly did, even though I was fairly full by this time. Not wishing to feel gluttonous, I justified my attack on another bowl by inwardly asserting that it would only go to waste and how long would it be before I tasted food as good as this again?
When we were kids my parents always drilled into us that we should never refuse a meal and always eat everything that was set before you – whether you liked it or not, because you never knew when or where your next meal was coming from. If we raised objections the next battery of guilt-inducing accusations would be fired at us: ‘Your mum/Aunty Pat has gone to a lot of trouble to cook you this meal ‘ or ‘Children in Africa would give their right arm to have a meal like this’, which begged the response ‘I’ll go and get an envelope then – they can have it!’ This cut no ice with dad – ‘you’ll jolly well sit there till there isn’t a scrap of food on your plate. During the war….(switch off time- can't remember what came next!)
So we sat there and often all the food got eaten – eventually - cold – unless our sitting there prevented something else from happening at the kitchen table – like our homework!
Anyway, back to the question as to the degree of my inherited parsimoniousness.
Never before has a toothpaste tube been required to yield so much of its contents, down to the last possible smear of Colgate or its Nigerian equivalent, Close Up – after all, I never know where my next full bristle load will come from; and I will only spit and rinse when I have felt that my teeth and gums have been scoured sufficiently to extract the maximum benefit from tonight’s centimetre of paste. Ditto for washing up liquid- except that I have not yet been known to drink it! When the almost empty bottle starts blowing raspberries, time to dilute it to eke out a few more washes – beyond the 30 that a full bottle is allegedly capable of delivering.
Ditto for baked beans – always swilled round with a desert spoon of warm, previously boiled water to obtain the last drop of tomato sauce – and woe betide any baked bean that tries to defy capture!
As for tea bags, 3 cups per bag is about my limit –I am not willing to compromise on this Knowles staple – and in any case, after the third cup, the brew looks more like the contents of the washing up bowl – and tastes like it too – trust me , I know! Drying it out first before re-immersing it is not a solution either – it gains an acidy sort of taste – depending on the quality of the initial tea bag, of course!
Used matches – handy for igniting that second gas burner without advancing the destruction of yet another tree from the fast disappearing Nigerian forests. And while I am on the topic, I reckon I can light four candles per match if NEPA goes off, before scorching my fingers.
There is a small alp of packaging in our kitchen – ‘just in case it happens to come in’ (voice of my Nan still in my head). I have recently discovered that the ring pull on a soft drinks can makes a serviceable replacement for that completely losable widget that comes with a mosquito coil – better than scorching the varnish or setting fire to last month’s copy of the Winner’s Chapel newsletter – then again…
So, my visual aids workshop for the benefit, hopefully of lecturers and students at Oro College is on the horizon. I am confident that my magpie/squirrel tendencies have enabled me to amass enough low cost/no cost resources to enable them to construct a life-size replica of the great mosque in Abuja. My parents philosophy lives on, and I’ll keep saving and maybe have that extra portion – just in case!