It’s my sister M’sa’s birthday. The plan is for brunch in the city (NYC) and ice-skating. It’s frigidly cold and if the meteorologists are correct, it will be the first significant snow day of the year.
I have just driven a few hours from my home to join the birthday party prior to departure. To my surprise, our mother is coming along. I wonder if she knows what brunch food consists of and if she plans to ice-skate as well. Doesn’t she need to rest for work?
But I don’t ask. I’m a guest and besides I’m tired. We are running a bit late. I comment that New York City restaurants tend not to seat partial tables. That’s my way of asking what’s taking so long. Just as we are about to walk out the door all bundled up to brave the cold, the landline rings. It’s our father in Ghana. Did I mention we are running late? The mother picks up the phone and we head on out to the car to wait…
We arrive at the restaurant about 25 minutes late. It’s in East Village. I don’t think I’ve ever been to this part of New York. It looks sketchy and the restaurant itself like a dive bar. I’m wondering, why did my sister choose this place? I see I’m not alone in my thoughts. Why did we drive all this way to come to this lungo-lungo place? I pretend to not hear my mother’s question. The party is seated but no orders have been taken because we are not all there. The restaurant is tight on space, dark, crowded, lively in the bar area, DJ playing music, and we are in the back, in what is usually an open garden in warmer weather. Needless to say, it’s cold, despite the portable heater in the room. Our table is wobbly. My mother is still wondering what is so special about this restaurant that we had to bundle up, drive about a half hour into the city, to sit at a wobbly table in a cold room. And to top it off, the menu is a single narrow piece of paper. Is that all?
Sadly, that was all. One pancake option, one burger option, several poach egg concoctions, and a couple steak options…with unlimited drinks. I see now why M’sa chose this place. The mimosas just kept flowing.
The usual wrangling as to what to order for the mother took place. She’s a very picky eater, you see? She settled on the steak sandwich, well done. She was the last to order and the first to receive her plate. It was sent back to be cooked further but it still looked medium well when it returned. As I sit across her eating my meal, I’m privy to her facial expressions and the way she is picking at her plate. I could read her thoughts as well. After all she is my mother. I bet she is still wondering why we are eating nyama-nyama food in a lungo-lungo place. I bet she is thinking that Americans are funny people, to come out en mass on a cold day like today to eat in a place like this. Actually she had used those exact words earlier. Why am I coming all the way here to eat in a place like this?
As brunch draws to a close, she asks me if my food was “nice” then after much thought, ahe asks if anyone has any plans for the following weekend. I can tell she has decided that if a birthday is to be celebrated, then proper food needs to be served. Her grand plan now is to cook for the current guests at the table at her place the following weekend. I can tell she’s feeling better now that she has an opportunity to set things right.
The bill comes and we each start to take out our cash. But why? She asks M’sa, why do you invite people to a birthday brunch and ask them to pay? Shouldn’t you rather take the bill? M’sa of course is thoroughly befuddled at the seemingly ridiculous question. I am amused at the exchange but I remember that when I went to Ghana in 2007 and had my birthday lunch with a group of peers, I did indeed pick up the tab. It was gently suggested then by my friend, and I did so without hesitation because I knew it was far more affordable for me than for each guest to even pay for their own meal. I realize now that it wasn’t because I had come from abrokyire that I was to pick up the tab, it was because it was my party and they were my guests. How very different.
No, when you get invited to a birthday lunch/dinner, you should expect to pay for your meal, and probably even chip in to pay for the birthday person. And what if you don’t have money?, my mother asked incredulously. M’sa and I answer in unison, then you don’t go! Ah, I see, was the response, then silence until she see’s the bill at well over $200 and shakes her head. I know the lungo-lungo, nyama-nyama thought is going through her head and it isn’t long until she asks no-one in particular, so don’t they have a place that serves food like this where we live? She says food like this with a hint of disdain. No one answers because no one really hears it over the din of the restaurant and I am still tired. She repeats the question when we are outside the restaurant. She accepts the answer of because we are going ice-skating afterwards, as I burst into laughter. She calls me a bad girl.
It was a very interesting study. Today I have learnt that:
– When you invite a party out to dinner, you foot the entire bill.
– When you invite a party out to dinner, you don’t eat nyama-nyama food and you certainly don’t go to a lungo-lungo place. ie. if you are not going to eat home-cooked food at home, please make it a 5 star restaurant in a posh place.
– Where you decide to invite your friends and family to is a reflection of who you are. Choose wisely or be prepared to be embarrassed.
– Finally, when it is frigidly cold and you have to travel a half hour or more or battle NYC traffic, doing any or all of the above is pure insanity.
nyama-nyama food: finger food such as burgers, sandwiches, chicken tenders, you know the usual American fare
proper food: food that requires hours to prepare on a stove eg. light soup, jollof rice, etc.