This past Wednesday evening, I was Skyping with my parents about nothing in particular when something detonated loud and close to our apartment. I glanced over at Sarah, who looked back puzzled, but we didn’t think much of it until the next explosion a minute later, just as loud and close. Sarah’s puzzlement turned to panic as thoughts of Boko Haram and Islamic insurgents filled the unspoken space between us and the sounds continued. “Mom, let me call you back,” I said, cutting off the phone call quickly. I put on my shoes to investigate, while Sarah started to put the apartment in lock down. She was going to bolt the door behind me and would only unlock it with a secret knock she demonstrated on the coffee table. It seemed dramatic, but I went along with it. I made my way to the nearest campus security guard, stationed at the gate that leads to our cluster of teacher apartments.
“They are firecrackers, sir, for the Holiday today,” the Nigerian guard replied when I asked about the noise. Oh, right- tonight starts Diwali. Great news, I didn’t have to call back my parents to tell them we’re under attack. This occurred two days before the attacks on Paris; sadly, the whole world is on edge.
With Nigeria’s population split rather precariously between Christianity and Islam, the Hindu Festival of Lights was an unexpected celebration for us in Africa. Lagos has a significant Indian community and the families hold an annual Diwali celebration at the school to share in their festivities. Observing customs of a third culture (not our own or our host nation) is one of the many perks and curiosities of living in an international expat community. It was surreal walking in from a local Nigerian grocery to our campus, stuck in ’80’s school Americana, to entering our gym, which had been converted through the day into Little India. Each of us were greeted formally at the entrance to the event, where bindi was applied to our foreheads and women were corralled to be wrapped in a sari. The Indians down to the young children wore their finest traditional attire from their region, and it was apparent they took pride in displaying their culture as much as they were flattered by our appreciation to participate in the celebration.
Our Diwali was quintessentially Indian- the colors were bright, the music was loud, one speaker worked intermittently and the entertainment ranged from traditional folk dance to melodramatic Bollywood tributes. The grand finale, of course, was the food, and except for being teased by appetizers of tandoori chicken, mini samosas and onion bahji, we had to wait for the buffet lines to start at the end of the performances. Savory dal and masala, an assortment of roti and an array of sauces opened quickly after the closing speeches. Sarah and I consider ourselves connoisseurs of Indian cuisine, and this Diwali dinner was top notch.
You’ll please excuse some of the foggy pictures and video. To give you a more authentic experience, I accidentally smeared samosa oil from my grubby fingers onto my phone’s lens.