“Promise you will stay one more year. We are so happy with how you relate to us. And you are happy, yes? You are getting fat.” Looking at Mama Ami, I know she is quite serious. How would she know that where I come from, being called fat isn’t exactly a compliment? My mind jumps full speed into a rapid analysis of how much I may have changed in the months since my arrival in Nigeria – a diet primarily of okra or bitter green soups with starchy porridges; the occasional dish with beans and crayfish but general deficiency of good protein; the dearth of fresh produce in our market, the lack of refrigeration and my waning interest in learning the labor intensive traditional methods of preparing their dishes – anything was possible. Snapping out of it, I let myself simply feel pleased that they are comfortable with my presence.
Truthfully, I wasn’t sure how comfortable I would be here – a country of over 200 different ethnic groups, a mixture of Muslims and Christians, an international image well ensconced in corruption and scams. But here I was, living in a small town, working for a local organization whose office was housed on the family compound. The business’ fish tanks and hatchery edged one side of a large dirt yard otherwise surrounded by the homes of the cousins, their families, and the elder mamas. Sitting on the porch with Mama Ami and her husband Joshua, I know she is right - I am happy. The contentment has been unfolding so slowly I barely noticed it; made up of hundreds of tiny milestones of recognition and inclusion.