Last Sunday, the first day of our Lagos Vacation, we attended the best church party I have seen yet–an Ikeja church’s harvest party. Following the longest thanksgiving service I have experienced (and that’s not very many), the church goers convened under the shade of a massive tent where caterers in black and white outfits squeezed between tables serving heaping plates of rice, dodo, fake pounded yam and steaming hot amala.After we had eaten our fill for the meantime, our friend informed us we would be staying for three more hours, so we decided to make friends. Everyone wants to know the only white people speaking Yoruba at the party so finding people to talk to at these events takes no effort at all–they are hooked at “E ku igbadun,” greetings for enjoying yourself. I made it to the outskirts of the tent where a group of important looking men sat around small tables with Heinekens in hand, slowly chipping away at bottles of Black Label and champagne on the table. Obviously I went straight to this table, greeted the baba’s and the one woman, held out my Chapman (a special non-alcoholic Nigerian fruit drink that is delicious) and asked them to top it off with Black Label. Elated at hearing my Yoruba, they readily obliged. The woman at the table took special interest in me. She gave me her business card and told me to please call her. The white and green shiny card said “Mama Cass” along the top. I didn’t think anything of it except that I liked the design. I put it in my bag, picked up my spiked Chapman and merrily trotted over to see the dead cow slowly roasting on a stick.
When I remembered to mention that I got Mama Cass’s card to my Lagotian friend he shrieked with excitement. I came to find out later, while sitting in Mama Cass’s office, that she, Mrs. Charis Onabowale founded Mama Cass, a popular fast food restaurant in Nigeria years ago when the concept of fast food hit Nigeria. Mama Cass stands among the ranks of other Nigerian fast food joints like Tantalizers, Mr. Biggs, Chicken Republic and Sweet Sensation. McDonald’s does not exist in Nigeria…yet (but I did see a KFC in Lagos). Mama Cass is a successful, powerful businesswoman and also a loving mother with a kind heart. She insisted on us coming swimming at her house and fed us the best jollof rice I have ever tasted.
She is a Nigerian woman who was born in the UK and said she loves meeting non-Nigerians who come to Nigeria to live or study. Two young women, one from Peru and the other from Russia were living with her for a few days while on a yearlong internship with ISEC. I also speak Spanish quite well and through talking with the Peruvian girl realized how much immersed my mind is in Yoruba. I still was pretty proud of myself for sitting at a table and switching seamlessly between Spanish, Yoruba and English. We didn’t get to eat at any of her restaurants in Lagos and unfortunately none have reached Ibadan yet. But I plan on keeping in good contact with her through my time here and beyond.