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Nigerian Party in New York

There’s time’s in your life when you remember adventures and try to piece together all the small threads that came together to make an unforgettable experience – this is one of those adventures…

I think it was June 2003 when I phoned my then girlfriend, soon to be wife, Kate to tell her that I’d booked a trip to New York for September. I remember her being very excited about the prospect of going to New York – she’d wanted to go there for years!

We touched down at JFK on Tuesday 16th September 2003 and after the $50 taxi ride, we checked into the Stanford Hotel on West 32nd Street. To say it was a small room would be an understatement. There was enough room for the 4’6” double bed and two suitcases and that was about it. We weren’t too fussed though – we were in New York! We didn’t intend to spend much time hanging about at the hotel – we had places to go and things to see…

It was on the 2nd day in New York when Kate decided to try and locate her friend Onome. Kate had originally met Onome in Warri, Nigeria when she was younger and the two had become good friends. However Kate hadn’t seen or spoken to her for around 4 years, but she was fairly certain that Onome was living in New Jersey, which is just a stone’s throw from New York. To Kate’s joy, the number she had for Onome was still active and she was able to speak to her for the first time in years. We arranged for her to come and meet us at the hotel so that they could catch up.

It was like long lost sisters seeing each other when they met, Onome swept Kate off her feet and they were laughing and screaming uncontrollably! Onome wasn’t able to spend a lot of time with us because she had to go to work, but we arranged to meet up on the Saturday so that we could spend more time together.

If there’s one thing that I can say about New York, it’s that there are not enough hours in the day to see and do everything, before you know it, the day’s gone. Every day that we spent in New York was spent walking around, seeing and doing stuff and Saturday was no exception. Onome had turned up with Bodi (I think that’s how you spell his name) to accompany us around the sights of New York. Bodi didn’t say much but he seemed nice enough. It was when we were taking snaps of the “Charging Bull” that Kate mentioned to me about a “Nigerian Party” and did I want to go. Never being one to turn down a party or adventure, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.

We spent the next few hours wandering around New York and doing stuff. It was late afternoon when Onome asked me what the time was, I told her that it was nearly 4 o’clock and she had a small fit and told us that we had to be at the Nigerian Party for 4:30. This seemed kind of strange to me, my idea of a party was turning up at someone’s house at around 8 or 9pm and then getting drunk! I asked Onome where the party was, it was when she told me that it was at the Grand Hyatt Hotel that I began to wonder what was going on.

The map was telling us that we were a good 5-10 blocks away from where the Grand Hyatt was, so we broke into what can loosely be described as a run consisting of 50 metre dashes and then walking a bit to recover, and then jogging a bit and then walking to recover! We turned up at the Grand Hyatt and stopped off at reception to find out that the party was being held on the mezzanine level of the hotel. When we got up to the mezzanine, there was a bar area with about 20 tables. There was a large hall adjacent which was closed off. Onome told us that we should sit at the bar for a bit.

As I looked around at all the people in their finery, either in expensive suits or in Nigerian national dress, Kate was exclaiming “there’s such and such a politician, there’s that guy who’s a famous mega rich businessman!”. I remember looking at Kate and saying “What are we doing here? They’re never going to let us in.” To put that in some form of context, the vast majority - 99% of the attendees were black and very well dressed. I was white, with dyed blond hair wearing a t-shirt and a pair of sweaty cargo shorts. Kate looked a bit more respectable in a pair of jeans and a top. Having been at the sharp end of very strict dress codes at much less salubrious establishments, I didn’t see a hope in hell of us being let in. Both myself and Kate (and I think Bodi too), were still in the dark about what was going on and Onome had disappeared off somewhere…

About five minutes later, there was a tap on my shoulder and a polythene bag was handed to me, “put this on” – I’d never met the guy before but Onome was with him, so I figured it was ok. I went into the gent’s toilets and put on my Nigerian “Chief’s” outfit, consisting of a pair of white/silver baggy trousers, a similarly coloured tunic and a necklace and bracelet made of large orange beads. My arrival back at our table dressed as a Nigerian chief resulted in much hilarity and surprise that it actually quite suited me! I still didn’t think we were going to get in though!

Kate and Onome disappeared to go and get changed, which left just me and Bodi sitting at the table with nothing much to say to each other. Just then the partition opened for the main dining hall and people started trooping in. The hall was huge and was filled with tables, probably around 80-100. Bodi and I didn’t move, we had to wait for the girls. About an hour had passed and there was still no sign of them, with Kate normally being a fast dresser I decided to go off and see if I could find them. I found the girls in what could be described as a large room, or a small hall, dressed identically in traditional Benin dresses and wigs. There were also around 20 or 30 other people dressed in a variety of outfits, practicing dance and acrobatic moves. I asked the question again “What are we doing here”?

The answer eventually came when I found out that Kate had been temporarily seconded into a dance troupe that was to perform a cultural Benin dance for the President of Nigeria! I mentioned that I wasn’t a very good dancer and that a scrawny Glaswegian would look a little out of place in a Nigerian dance troupe. I was told not to worry, and that I could just stand beside the drummer but then everyone started handing me the bags, so I turned into the bag guy! So, carrying half a dozen bags and cameras, I was ushered into the main hall.

The magnitude of the event struck me as I wended my way through to the table, being handed business cards from lawyers and judges – they were freaking out that I was a white guy (one of a handful), but the only one dressed as a Nigerian chief. I had only been seated for literally 10 seconds, when I felt a tap on the shoulder. A sharp suited gentleman with an even sharper haircut, dark glasses and an earpiece wanted to know what I was doing in that seat as I hadn’t been there 10 seconds ago! I guessed that he was Secret Service or something similar; there were a number of identically sharp suited, dark glassed agents all around the hall. I explained that I was with the dance troupe that was about to come on, but I couldn’t remember their name. He seemed happy with that and he left me in peace. In the course of the dinner, 3 other agents came and asked me the same question…

During dinner, Kate, Onome and the rest of the troop performed a Benin cultural dance for the President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria. After that, the President took the podium and made a speech introducing the inauguration of AIT (African Independent Television) in the USA. The room was rife with “big” people from the world of Nigerian politics and business to people from the world of entertainment including various famous Nigerian actors and singers.

After dinner had finished, everyone congregated outside the hall on the main concourse. I had only just exited the hall when Kate and I started getting interviewed for Nigerian television – probably due to the fact I was dressed like a Nigerian chief. For months, if not years afterwards, Kate’s family back in Nigeria made mention of the fact that they were still showing clips of us being interviewed on Nigerian TV.

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful, but I kept thinking about this big adventure and that it would never have happened had I not booked the holiday for a certain date, had Kate not known a certain person that was involved in a certain event on a certain day…


Visit the African Events website  to see pictures and a report on the event...


All content (c) 2008-2012 Mark Gallagher