Naija Girl Abroad (Part 3): Who Phoneh epp??

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

(This is the third part in the 'Naija Girl' series. The preceding part is here)

The way my day went that day, I never imagined it could take a more dramatic turn that it had already taken.

For starters, there was the man with the smelly, smelly cat.

Then the co-passenger, who kept me inundated with (unsolicited) tales of how the Queen had sent her an instagram request, and she was not sure whether to accept or not.

As in... the Queen of England.

Mama Charlie.

*rolls eyes*

As I lowered myself into my work chair, I heard my trousers split at the very centre. Sure, slow... but very steady.

(Zeus... how did I offend you?)

That day was a blur. I spilled coffee on my computer, missed my lunch-break and pulled out the heel of my shoe. By the close of work, I was so hurried and harried, that I risked missing the 17.20 home.

So I broke my regular routine of walking to the train station, and took the subway instead, for the first time. I barely made it to the station in time, to hop on the train.

Halfway through the ride home, the transit officers (a.k.a conductors) embarked on one of their random checks, to be sure that people had paid their fares.

One of them approached me, and asked for my ticket.

I casually gave him my transit card, even as I continued pressing my phone buttons. I had to finish that post before I got home.



(Let me back up...)


Growing up, Daddy did not let us speak phoneh. His only pre-occupation was that our words be voiced audibly, and loud enough for “those at the back” to hear.

For the benefit of you wondering what 'Phoneh' means, it is a Nigerian urban slang drawn from the word “Phonetics”, but in this case, reference is made to adopted ‘foreign’ accents used by the speaker (usually in Nigeria) to indicate that they have been abroad.

Sometimes, it is genuine.

Most times however... it could have been picked anywhere; from Tejuosho market to Onitsha Bridge.

(Google is your friend)

But there is something that moving abroad subtly does to one.

One would often find one’s self under some (unacknowledged) pressure to blend in as much as possible, and avoid sticking out like a sore thumb; to reduce the (unwanted?) attraction of being easily recognisable as an immigrant.

For starters, you do not want recruiters over phone interviews to hear your deep African accent and easily conclude that you are the heir apparent to that fetish native doctor in “Bleck Pentha”.

(The sheer horror of having to deal with witnessing you holding a lifeless chicken, and spraying incantations all over the office, everyday)

You also get tired of that same dreary question: “Where are you originally from?”

(Surely, even the adventurous Mr.  Columbus came from somewhere... did he not??)

So to make life easier, you ‘lose’ the accent. Or at the very least, you ‘soften’ it. Your 'Sugar' becomes "Shewgrrrrrrrrrr".

The end result overtime is what becomes ‘phoneh’, albeit genuine(ish) in this case.

In the split second however between that “Bleep!” of (death by) shame, and the realisation of what (might) have happened, the foregoing analysis became the least of my issues.

What really happened?

You see, I never took the subway from the station to or from work. I enjoyed the twenty-minute walk each way, to count as my cardio for the day.

But my day that day had been the craziest. And while I had used my transit card to pay at the machine before getting on the subway, I had not bothered to clarify if I was still required to use the card again for the transfer to the train.

It was an honest case of I did not know. (And I did not find out)

But how was I to convince this fierce-looking, scowling conductor that this was the truth?

Surely, this fierce-looking man would not believe that with all my Peruvian hair and spider-fashion glasses, I was a ‘JJC', who did not know her left from her right, and was barely two weeks in the province.

With that “Bleep!”, my life flashed right before my eyes. 

My busy mind fleetingly imagined Daddy collapsing from seeing the apple of his eye on CNN, being led away in handcuffs by the train conductors.

Barely two weeks into the start of my abroad journey. Because of a $7 train ticket.

(Chukwu aju!)

My only recourse to proving my truth to this man who was prosecutor, judge and jailer all at once, was by throwing off every shred of ‘Phoneh’ that had gummed to my tongue in the short time since I landed, and adopt my true vocal heritage.

Uncle Conductor (with the scariest scowl ever in the history of scary scowls): “Ma’am, it appears you did not pay for this train ride. Why is that?”

Yours truly: “Chineke’m lee!

Uncle Conductor: “Said What?”

Yours truly (With the thickest Igbo accent the ancestors bequeathed to me): But I flashed the machine with the card that time I enter the subway”.

Uncle conductor: “But you should also use the card when you cross from the subway to the train”

Yours Truly: “Aaaaaaah! Eziokwu’m, I did not know. Diz my first time using subway and train together”.

Uncle conductor (Scowl softens slightly): “Are you new here?”

(Finally! He sees the honesty in my eyes)

Yours truly: “Yes. Iz last week I came. The transport system here is really different from my own, and vely confusing”

Uncle Conductor (Still holding on to my card, and the “Bleep!” machine. But in gentler tone): “So what do y’all use over there??”

Yours truly: “Emmm... we have bus. But we really use keke and okada. But they make plenty noise, and you will fall down if you climb small stone, or heavy breeze blow you”.

Uncle conductor: “Ok, so I don’t know what those are Ma’m. But I am going to let you off with a warning this one time. So note for the future that...”

He proceeded on a well needed lecture on how the transport system works, which I listened to intently, while internally holding my ears wide open the whole time.

As I thanked him for the kind gesture, and he continued on his municipal way to inflict nemesis on another defaulter, I remembered the wise words of the Holy Book; that there is a time for everything.

How would I have explained this to my countless relatives, who have been using “my sister is a big woman in the Abroad!” to receive all sorts of favours (that they have no business receiving)??

Thank heavens for the ability to know the right time for the right thing.

Especially when to throw away that thing called ‘Phoneh’, and embrace my true vocal heritage.

In all of its glory.



Post-Script: Do NOT try this at home. It will not work for you.

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  1. This got me rolling on the floorπŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

    1. Az in eh!!!

      Meg kpachara anya gα»‹ dia. Our hanty in the abroad biko coman go for confession.

      Very interesting piece. Love the flow.

  2. You are just not well.... mmbanu. Not well at all. *rollingonthefloorcrying*

  3. This just reminded me of Jenifa in London and also Osuofia in London....Meg you are very funny. I just wonder the conductor's facial reaction where you are igbonizing you engEngl. Nice write up. Keep it up

    1. πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ Thank you! Keep coming back.. 😊

  4. πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚
    I enjoyed reading this.

  5. Hilarious and entertaining.. Your facial expression at the machine bleep would have been epic. Well done jare

  6. Our hanty in the ablod this is a very interesting piece. daalu!

  7. πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ interesting piece.this just made my day

  8. Lol my head is blown away! Mummy why nowπŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚please attach a videoπŸ˜‰ Good one again!

    1. πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ I'll put it under advisement.

  9. dear meg, I just discovered you. forgive my lateness. I'm glad @eketiette rt'd u. I Herby report that this beautiful blog of yours will be stalked by me o. can't wait to see #meetmybusymind blow.

  10. πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ Chai mama schinneel. Haff died of laughter.