How To Eat At A Nigerian Party By Oluwole Leigh

published on Sunday, 9 March 2014

‘The Reward of eating rice at a Nigerian party is an honour to which the greatest of men aspire‘ – Julius Caesar (1777)

Dear Son,

You have set out on a noble quest. You seek to understand that which others have found impossible. You seek to receive the hidden knowledge behind the consumption of food at a Nigerian party. This is a mystery which many sages have sought to unravel. They have travelled far and wide in order to seek this knowledge but you have chosen to sit at my feet and listen. Many a night has been spent crying and weeping because of hunger, many a stomach have been left rumbling. Wipe your tears, my son. Your crying has come to an end and your sorrow is no more. You will need to listen attentively to my words for therein you will find help. My area of expertise is limited to the people of South Western Nigeria, popularly called Yoruba people a.k.a Ariya People. This ethnic group was born to party. All the dynamics, variables and permutations of the party lifecycle has been sorted out by them.

You need to be aware of the ‘Aso-Ebi‘ Factor. ‘Aso-Ebi‘ is more than a piece of cloth. It is a psychological link between the celebrant and the guests. The celebrant derives some sort of affirmation from coercing innocent people to put on a particular piece of cloth. The celebrant looks into the party venue and is filled with joy at seeing his/her guests looking like members of a Village army. More often than not, servers are inclined to serve those who put on ‘Aso-ebi’. Herein, lies a major lesson- Do your best to get the ‘Aso-ebi’. The servers tend to be young boys and girls who have been forced to do a job by society. They have to make quick decisions and you don’t want to make their work harder. If you want them to serve you, look and dress like you deserve to be served. In the unlikely event that you are not able to buy the ‘Aso-ebi’, turn out in resplendent white native attire with a cap that has the colors of the day.

Also, ensure you stay away from any church service or ceremony that precedes the main party. Those who go for such services are people who have strong ties with the family and want to appear in pictures. On getting to the party venue, you have to put on your shades or dark glasses. It doesn’t matter if the party is held at midnight or in the noon-day sun. The shades must always come up. Apart from the feel-cool factor, it helps you to scan around the party and conduct quick assessments without being noticed. If you need to determine your co-ordinates in relation to the ‘service points’ without being detected, you may need to cover your eyes. It could also help you to check out some ample female bosoms that may be on display during the event. But focus is required my young man, do not exchange your birthright for a meal of porridge. Let the bosoms be and concentrate on the food.

You must have a copy of the day’s newspaper with you. Saturday Punch is the most preferable. Usually, you sit at a table with a bunch of strangers. Everyone is trying to look important or feel disconnected from the immediate environment. The newspaper serves two purposes. The first is that it helps you look older than you are.  The second is that it is an excellent ice-breaker. I can assure you that the moment you place the newspaper in front of you for five minutes, someone will ask to read it. The whole aim of this Newspaper business is to help your brand/image. Servers and those around you are constantly evaluating you. Painting a good impression of yourself will make your chances of being served brighter. Also, the people sitting around you will also ensure that your seat is not taken by others when you have to stand up.

You must be located within 2m radius of any food serving point. The truth is that food service at Nigerian parties goes smoothly for 30 minutes before a breakdown of law and order occurs. This breakdown of law and order is as a result of the actions of individuals who want to show that they know better than the caterer. They usually give the caterer about 30 minutes of grace before they strike. This is why you must sit close to the serving points. The 30-minute window period is real. You must take advantage of it

You may need to greet the celebrants. The moment, the parents of the bride/groom step into the hall. This is when you need to strike. Usually, they are swamped by a lot of friends and family members who have come to felicitate with them. They are often unable to distinguish their friends from their foes. You need to make sure you approach them immediately after their close friend or family member greets them. This is to ensure that the affection they transfer to them rubs off on you. More often than not, they will not realize that they don’t know you. They will hug you and thank you like their lives depend on it.

Sometimes, the previous tactics may not work. You may not be located close to the serving points or may have come in late to the event. This is when you activate the backup plan. This backup plan is a lesson in deferred gratification. The concept is ‘others first , I last‘. Look around you and locate where family members and important guests of the day are seated. Stand up, walk to their table and ask them if they have eaten. They will probably say no. You should inform them that you will ensure that they are well fed. March back to the caterers and inform them in a loud and alarming voice that important guests are going hungry. You may even announce that one of them needs food in order to take some medication. The caterer will immediately assign a server with a tray of food to you. Ensure that the server follows you and you hand over the food to the guests. This process may be repeated a couple of times. The aim is to show you as a trusted member of the house who is interested in the welfare of others. On the 3rd or 4th run of this social experiment, you will be able to lift off a few plates of food and settle down with them.

Usually, drinks are usually more available than food because of the recent Nigerian ‘fear of sugar’. You may need to establish a good relationship with the drinks’ servers for reasons I will disclose later. You may do this by calling one of them any name that comes to your mind. He will correct you and give you his real name. Ensure that you get the name of 1 other server as part of a backup plan.

These days, most Nigerian parties go beyond the normal one course/two course meal scenarios. Some parties even offer three course meals. You need to decide which of the meals will be forfeited by you – Appetizer, Main Course or Dessert. You cannot afford to be seen as a hungry person. This is because a lot of party organizers have plain clothes security men and volunteer vigilantes who seek to point out party crashers. The easiest way for them to catch you is to see that you are consuming everything within reach. When the servers bring ice cream, chocolate or small chops, let everyone on the table know that you are not a fan of such foods. You can even throw in a little talk about their sugar levels and how fatty foods must be avoided. In spite of the fact that you just downed a plate of pounded yam, let them know that you eat only vegetables during the week.  You have to endure the pain of loss because of the joy that is set before you.

Every major victory in life comes with its own struggles. Jesus had Judas to contend with while my mentor Julius Caesar was betrayed by Brutus. You have to watch out for enemies of progress. These enemies are just like you. They also came around for free food. Kindly make sure you scan around for people like you whenever you sit down at a table. You cannot afford to have two individuals implementing the same ideas in close proximity. If you cannot quickly come to an agreement with such a fellow, change your table.  The final part of the party would involve the distribution of wines and expensive spirits. At this point, your aim is to share one bottle with others and take one bottle home.

Do not be in a haste to jump on the bottle of wine set before you. Usually, the cheap ones are the easiest to get. The very expensive spirits are usually kept in an ice drum and are usually under lock and key. They are reserved for close friends of the family. At this point, you would need to apply a little bit of intelligence. Usually, the caterer in charge of the drinks is different from that of the food. Your sacrificial acts are probably known to the food servers and not the folks serving the drinks. Remember where I told you to get a few names earlier? Get in touch with one of the guys and let him know you intend to get one of the expensive wines. He will inform you that the drinks are reserved and have been locked down by the celebrants.  You can encourage him by slipping a N500 note into his pocket. Be assured that he will ‘do the needful’. That bottle of VSOP is going home with you. When you receive the expensive drink, do not put the expensive wine on the table; place it in between your legs. You want to avoid unnecessary questions from your neighbours. They may want in on the action and word may get back to the family member that their reserved drinks are being shared indiscriminately

Finally, you’ve had the first and second course, shared a bottle of wine and collected another one to take home. You have to make your exit with the expensive drink in your hand. Whip out your phone for an imaginary phone call and tell the imaginary caller that you can’t hear them. Make your way to the exit with the phone on the side of your head. If you get any greetings from the guests, make a few hand signs showing that you are coming back. Ensure that your phone call lasts till you are clear of enemy territory. When you are assured of safety, find your way home.

In closing, there are different tactics for different occasions. Do not attempt to apply the strategies that are used for weddings at burials or birthday parties.  Such misapplication may backfire. Always rise to the occasion and take each party as it comes. I will leave you with the words of William Shakespeare ‘Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust on them’


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