Monday, March 10, 2008

My Drink with Goodvoice

The Kagoro Motel is a scary place. Even in the bright sunshine of a late Saturday afternoon, it can give one the shivers. Though still in full operation, there’s an emptiness here that suggests a checkout time of 11 am…..twenty years ago. Deserted hallways lead to lonely rooms, with an echo the only response received to a call for assistance. Norman Bates would have second thoughts about running this place, especially since the showers aren’t up to his standards. Despite its spookiness, the motel has become a central gathering place for the community. A neighbouring building houses the sole dance club in the village, although it’s unlikely to ever be confused with Studio 54. Its sound system is impressive, however, as it keeps the volume pumped on an extensive repertoire of five songs. I’ve drifted off to sleep to the subtle lyrics of P-Square’s “Do Me” enough times that the song is burned into my subconscious like some kind of macho brainwashing for bashful nerds.

At the entrance of the motel, a suya stand offers grilled meat to those who don’t ask too many questions. When I first arrived in Kagoro, I asked my neighbour whether the motel was a good place to eat. He cheerfully replied that all three of the previous VSO volunteers who ate there became sick afterwards, but he’d be happy to go with me if I wanted to try it. Well, sign me up! If nothing else, the motel offers consistent results, but any place that could promote itself as “No shirt, No shoes, No salmonella” is worth a miss.

The motel does offer a nice courtyard/parking lot at the rear of the main building where one can sit under a tree and enjoy a drink or two. There’s usually a handful of locals also taking advantage of the cool shade and cooler Star beer. My exchanges with them rarely go beyond the customary greetings and Queen Elizabeth waves, but every now and then, curiosity gets the better of someone and he needs to find out more about the batauris in their midst. This is usually when the fun begins. On this particular occasion, Kristel and I are waiting for our drinks and the day to draw to a close when a man walks up to our table and offers to introduce us to everyone in the courtyard. Since there are only four other people seated nearby, his shouted introductions only take a minute or two. Describing himself as being from the US, he also assigns a country of origin to Kristel and me, and I begin to doubt his geographical sanity, since Kristel looks about as Chinese as I do Ghanaian. He wishes us a good afternoon and disappears into the restaurant, only to reappear a minute later with a chair in hand and a look of determination on his face. Approaching our table, he asks us whether we would like some company, an offer not meant to be refused.

Sitting down across from us, he introduces himself as Goodvoice. A name like that is not uncommon in Nigeria, with many monikers straight out of a James Bond movie. Often, names are given according to the circumstances surrounding one’s birth, so someone born on a Sunday is named Sunday, for example. I've even heard of someone called Borntooearly, which either reflects a premature birth or his parents' displeasure at his arrival so early in the morning. Desirable attributes such as Patience and gracious actions like Comfort and Blessing also appear on the register. And then there's the security guard at the Foundation whose name is Black. I had to check to make sure I had heard that correctly, since calling him Black by mistake would likely cause him to take offence and lead to my immediate demise, given that he’s the size of a small SUV. I was assured that it really was his name; according to one of my coworkers, his parents looked at him when he was born and said, “Well, he’s black”. Let me pause here to express my appreciation that similar naming conventions aren’t usually followed by parents in Canada. I’d hate to have to introduce myself as Baldbaby or Shitsalot.

But getting back to Goodvoice. Not surprisingly, he identifies his chosen career as artist/singer/radio personality. He pulls a form from his pocket and shows it to us. For the reasonable price of 100 naira, I could have him dedicate five songs of my choosing to whomever I want. I even have my pick of radio shows where the dedications can appear. I briefly consider the possibilities: “Folsom Prison Blues” for Conrad Black; “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” to Hockey Night in Canada; “Fool on the Hill” for Stephen Harper; “Mr. Cellophane” to St├ęphane Dion. But instead, I just hand the form back to him with thanks. Smiling broadly, he folds the paper and returns it to his pocket while moving on to the next topic of interest to him. “Have you eaten Nigerian food?”, he asks. Kristel and I nod and list off the staples, including rice, beans and yam. Taking his cue from the strays wandering the courtyard, he leans in and asks conspiratorially, “What about dog?”

I admit that I haven’t yet tried that particular delicacy and Kristel shakes her head as well. Flipping the question back to Goodvoice, he says he hasn’t eaten crispy canine since he was a boy. At this point, one of the patrons at the neighbouring table, who had been taking a keen interest in our conversation, jumps in with a claim that Goodvoice is still indulging in a Scooby snack now and again. Aghast, Goodvoice cleverly plays the rubber band and bounces the same allegation back at his accuser. For the next five minutes, the two play tennis with escalating claims of hotdogging of a different kind, ending with each pointing a finger at the other as the worst betrayer of man’s best friend. None of this is serious, of course, and the two enjoy a good laugh before Goodvoice asks us about our experience with eating cats. At this point, we gently move the conversation to another topic, but not before I realize that I haven’t seen any cats in Kagoro since I arrived.

Eventually, our drinks come to an end and so does our time with Goodvoice. We thank him for his company and walk out of the courtyard, just in time to hear “Do Me” kick off the Saturday night dance party in style.


Anonymous said...

I have just returned from Monterrey, Mexico, and find this story of "food in foreign places" one of the best to date. It certainly beats the usual Canuck opener discussion of the weather. Whenever I meet Canadians enroute, I am astounded by the consistency of the conversation -- always about the weather. But I think I mentioned this fact in one of my previous comments, so enough said on that topic lest I be pegged one of those typical Canadians. I am Canadian, and the US actor rants in the beer commercial, but I would hate to be considered typical. Food, food, glorious food. I actually have a kitchen apron with that statement on it. I bought it in a major department store in downtown Sydney, Oz... couldn't resist. Dog and cat: since I'm in and out of Asia so much, I've been asked the same Goodvoice question...and I must confess, I have. Well, dog but not cat. Civet is common in Asia; it is a species of cat, but because of the Sars pandemic, restaurants are no longer allowed to serve cat. Most have been slaughtered and probably turned into fertilizer so as to ensure the disease is comfortably borne throughout the food chain without care or concern for the impact. Ah, life would be so much easier if we all turned to subsistence farming to support ourselves. The hell with the global food chain -- let's farm in our own backyards. Think of all the chicken shit we can recycle as natural fertilizer to grow our cukes with. And the crow of the rooster at dawn in Rosedale or Forest Hill would be a true touch of nostalgia for the overstuffed and wealthy -- a back to the earth kind of thing to counter the fumes spewed by the Bentley. Now snake, that's another food group all unto itself. You must tell us about the grubs and snakes. While traveling in Oz, I always avoided tucker. That's what aborigines foist down the throats of unsuspecting tourists who want to do some kind of eco-thing. If you really want to know what tucker is, go Google it. It is fascinating -- at a distance. Personally, I like my honey from a jar, not from crunching down on the backsides of honey ants, but then there is no accounting for taste.
Glenn, with this particular instalment, I felt for the first time a shiver of concern run through my spine. The hilarity of child-naming does not mitigate the scariness conveyed in your description of the person and his behaviour. While not threatening in the "usual" sense of the term, I can sense intimidation in the boom of the voice, the bigger than life personality, the domination of the day and time and place by the man with the chair who doesn't just sidle up to your table but plunks himself down in your face. There is no reticence here; there is just the touch of the bully or the bull elephant and the need to be Alpha in the herd. Wow, I felt fear for you both just reading the description. Of course, you set it up by your description of the hotel/motel/inn, with the reference to Bates. As I read it, I actually visualized Jack Nicholson axing the door and shoving his manic face through the newly created breakfront shouting Here's Johnny. The shiver up my spine was the combined result of your description, memories of too many horror movies and my vivid imagination. And this was followed by the boom-or-bust interplay with Goodvoice. From a stylistic point of view, this was very well set up. From an experience point of view, this was really scary. Keep well, be safe, and don't let the bed bugs bite -- actually, they would probably be the least of your problems. Best....victor

Nancy said...

Glenn, what a character! And setting! Don't know if you were laughing, but I was. Stay safe and keep the colourful updates coming.