The Birthday Party
I celebrated my 60th birthday in Oshogbo. This year is 70, and I am back to mark another decade. The party will be at the Nike Centre for Art and Culture in Abuja rather than in Osogbo because Jenny and Jeff have started their new jobs at AISA and can't get away. Jenny invites teachers and staff from the school and Amy, the Director, provides a van to carry us all to the Nike Center off Airport Road.
The party is planned for 5 to 8 p.m. The evening gets off to an unpromising start. In the afternoon Chika, the new housekeeper/nanny Jenny hired and I go to the market. Unfortunately I misplaced my key to the front door and couldn't lock it, and so we bolt the door and exit the back using her key. Mission accomplished, laden with produce, we return to get ready for the party and find that Chika's key is missing. Jenny and Jeff return with the front door key but the door is bolted from the inside. We search every bag and parcel; no key. Time is growing short; the catfish is leaking; tempers are flaring. A neighbor arranges for a duplicate key to be sent from the school but not before the van arrives to transport us to the party, unwashed and unkempt.
The roads in and around Abuja are for the most part well maintained. The road to the Nike Centre is an exception. Another road is being built that will eventually smooth the way, but tonight he van rocks and rolls and clambers in and out of dips and gullies in the unpaved track. At last we arrive.
The rounded façade of the Gallery Nike designed and built looms over the wall. Relief sculptures by Adebisi Akanji enliven the surface of the building. The van stops outside the gate, and as we alight, drums sound and the welcome begins. Nike has brought an entire troupe of dancers and musicians all dressed splendidly in Yoruba indigo. Everyone joins the dance that takes the form of a conga line and then breaks up into individual displays of skill and prowess on the dance floor.
Finally the drums stop and everyone retires to feast on pounded yam, amala, egusi stew, meat and fish. Big bottles of Nigerian beer and soft drinks are on ice. The thwak thwak of an African mortar and pestle is heard from the cooking area. Nike wants our guests to see how the yam is pounded to make. She has arranged an exhibition of magnificent old and new Yoruba textiles for our enjoyment. The lights in the Gallery go on and people are invited to come and see the art inside. All the while, cameras are flashing and journalists are taking notes. Nike's events are well publicized. I do wish I had had time to change when ...
I am pulled inside the Gallery and a wonderful long gown pieced of many colors is pulled over my head. There is a clever little hat made of adire cloth shaped and stiffened to resemble an exotic flower. It has a rhinestone studded elastic band meant to hold it in place but my lank hair provides no purchase and the hat won't stay put. After much fussing, it stays on my head and there are more photos.
At last everyone is satisfyingly exhausted; I feel celebrated as never before, and it is time to go home. We are drummed and danced out of the compound and onto the waiting van. The AISA teachers are wide-eyed and smiling. Everyone seems happy. Thank you, Nike. I am honored. Next year, God willing, we will celebrate your birthday in Santa Fe - mariachi bands and red chile. Nike wants to make birthday celebrations an annual event. At this time of life, one can never be sure from one decade to the next ...