A Vacation with My Big Fat Extended Igbo Family: Here's What Happened
It would be easy to say I've never been on holiday with my larger extended family. But that wouldn't be the exact truth. It would be true only to the extent that I hadn't been on one outside Nigeria. But spending Christmas with the larger family in our hometown in Nigeria had occurred a number of times. Typically, many Igbo families who lived in Lagos loved to visit their hometown (often called "village") with their families for festive holidays. And oh goodness, it's often such a blast. The festivities, the food, the display of culture. Absolutely nothing like family.
But I'd never actually had such experience outside Nigeria. Until my maternal cousin got married to his South African bride. The wedding was in Johannesburg and so our family was set to attend, with many of them coming in from Nigeria. I really looked forward to it and so glad we were all able to make it.
In total we were:
- 16 adults - 7 parents (3 of whom are grandparents)
- 5 kids under 4 – the youngest of whom was 5 weeks!
For the most part, we were together all the time - in two houses close to each other. Asides the bride-to-be and Tee – we were all Igbo. So yeah, it did feel like “My Big Fat Igbo Holiday”. If nothing else, I feel like my spoken Igbo definitely improved and my husband probably picked up a few words as well. But there were more highlights worth sharing:
1. Convinced the 'Elders' we millennials could fly with babies
My cousin who at that time had a 5-week old daughter didn't quite understand how she would have missed her brother's wedding - while everyone else went a-grooving! And I could totally relate. Remember our unsuccessful attempt at flying with our son at 5 weeks?. But she scaled through; and even before the actual flight from Nigeria, she had to fly with the baby at just about 2 weeks in order to obtain travel documentation. So now that we've won this 'battle' and dispelled the myth of flying with babies, all the new mums in the family coming behind us wouldn't have to. So yeah, I felt good. The grandparents helped with the babies a lot as well! I hear that's what grandparents are for - but these 4 travel items came in handy too.
2. Explaining the concept of AirBnB
So, our large party was split into two. Party A was at my cousin's home and party B (some of the parents) were in an AirBnB next door. I remember them telling me that the owner of the house, an older white South African lady in her 70s who was quite friends with my cousin was so lovely, that she let them stay for the period. In welcoming them to her home, she chatted with them for over 3 hours - showing them photos of her family. I kinda thought "hmm nice lady. So sweet". But alarm bells still went off; I really thought it had to be an AirBnB arrangement. And then when I saw the number of white towels she had in her guestrooms and how everywhere seemed "guest-ready" with a daily cleaner keeping it sparkling. I knew it had to be an AirBnB arrangement - and explained how you could rent out rooms in your home. The parents then kind of felt disappointed - they had indulged her chatting as they thought she was being lovely, and would probably have moved on if they realised she was being paid. But apparently, no freebies in SA, probably not even in Freetown (bad pun?).
But I found it interesting how we find ourselves explaining more stuff to the parents these days. You have to be patient with that sometimes...
3. The Igbo cooking was epic:
It’s no surprise that I’m a foodie, but even I did not expect that much cooking of native Nigerian and Igbo food. I did not expect it. It was much more than I definitely cooked back in the UK, and perhaps much more than I did back home in Nigeria. Almost daily, we had proper soups like Oha, Nsala (white soup) and Onugbo (bitterleaf) served with semovita. Little wonder the makeshift outfit I had planned for the wedding didn't zip (read this post for more background details!) even though I had tried it on before we left. I wouldn’t be surprised if I gained 2kg from that food alone. And while cooking these soups were not too far-fetched, what further surprised me was that Okpa and Ukwa were actually made from scratch. It doesn’t get any more Igbo than Okpa – honestly. Okpa is made from something called blended Bambara groundnut ( had no clue - had to google this) and it's steamed. Very similar to the Nigerian Moi Moi. Ukwa is porridge made from breadfruit. I don’t actually eat either of these but those who do definitely enjoyed it.
4. Igbo Songs and Prayers:
When I was about to get married, my sister said to me “oh, you wouldn’t experience that family time of singing and praying in Igbo”. First, this Igbo communal time wasn’t exactly a thing in our own home, so I wonder where she got that from. But even if it were, I see she had such little faith in me actually incorporating Igbo prayers into my new family routine. I really should prove her wrong. But yes, it’s a thing for many Igbo families and so right here in South Africa it was actually lovely to still have prayer time filled with Igbo songs and expressions.
5. Shopping and more Shopping:
What is it with Nigerians and shopping? Phew. Literally every day, we’d hop into two minibuses and head to the malls. Sometimes, twice a day. It did get exhausting for me. But I appreciate that shopping in Nigeria and access to quality items at decent prices can be a bit of a hassle. So I indulged – most times; but chose to stay home and sleep other times. Actually not sleep - but just hang with a little baby and play baby songs. Oh and speaking of shopping, the cutest part was seeing how my uncle who is married to his wife for 40 years kept looking for stuff to buy for her in the stores. And she didn't even bother shopping - she said her husband knew what she liked and would buy. Goals, yes?
There were a lot more lovely moments from this holiday that would be hard to simply put into words. We had a typical South African Braai late into the night with music and dancing. Of course, just like what I noticed at the Nigerian / South African wedding reception the former group of people ignored unfamiliar food but pounced on the meat. Some people still went out to the clubs late into the night - and the parents couldn't stop them. I guess there are a few perks of adulthood; realising that even when with your parents, they don't exactly call the shots anymore!
Have you / do you often vacation with your larger or extended family? How does that go - any highlights?