I said baby pink. They said pich (peach)
I said beige. They said khaki
I said grey. They said ash.
I said baby blue. They said sky blue
I said navy blue. They said navy blue - we cheered.
When Leaving Lagos for the 4 hour journey north to Iseyin in Oyo state, I didn't realise I would be entering what felt like a whole new country. I felt like a foreigner again. I was having to prove that it wasn't my first time back home in Nigeria and that I knew my taxi ride cost 4000 Naira not 7000, that I understood Pidgin and wasn't an onye ocha (white woman).
But still I felt like I still had a lot to learn by being in this new territory. Oyo state is predominately inhabited by the Yoruba tribe, the 2nd largest of over 300 ethnic groups in Nigeria. This small weavers community that I entered and its surrounds were were predominately of the Islamic faith and loved me that little bit more when I mentioned that my first name was actually Zaineb (Zainab) not Amy. (Seems like Mum and Dad gave me 3 names to attempt to make sure I could fit in and feel at home in as many places as possible).
A good chunk of Iseyin's main revenue is generated from weaving where most of the community gets involved and looks out for each other. Freshly died cotton in every hue are scattered throughout the village adding bursts of colour among the concrete homes and brown dust. There is a strong determination to make sure the weaves are done at the highest standard as their reputation as skilled weavers is extremely important to them, particularly for income generation.
When the day came to reveal my messily scrawled watercolour weave sketches, I felt very vulnerable as I didn't have a clue about what was the standard procedure. Everyone had their 5 cents worth that they needed to add and I welcomed the expert advice with open arms. At times, many of the weavers just couldn't understand why I liked orange, white and black together, apparently turquoise and maroon (wine) was the new hot thing (I pretended to force myself to gag and by this universal action they understood turquoise and wine wasn't my style).
The intricacy involved with weaving Aso Oke is no joke. We even sat down and did math calculations together to make sure we had the correct width and everything added up to a particular number determined by the length of the weave. Of course I incorrectly added everything up using my iPhone calculator while weaver Yekini correctly added using his brain. Yekini's 4 children were also involved in setting up the loom with him, one as young as 4 who knew how to twist the cotton in preparation for his dad. It was a complete family affair with locals dropping past to see what the commotion was all about.
After I showed them my designs, we then went through 2 hours of of explanations, jokes (at my expense) head scratching, more disapproval, confusion, chats about Nigeria's colonial history, me offering nuts to everyone forgetting they were all fasting for Ramadan, more head scratching, price negotiations, selfies, and then finally, general agreement. I was then told to return the next morning for the samples to make sure they were okay.
I'm due to return to this sleepy weaver town in a few weeks to continue with the larger batch. Until then they wished me well and I packed my bags for Aba. (Yes!! I finally made it to this rough as nuts but charming town). It was an 8 hour journey broken up into 2 long days which included 3 bribes, 2 undesirable hotels, 1 bus x 1 storm + 0 windscreen wipers, 3 flooded roads, a 3 hour hold up due to armed robbers, 1 case of gastro, more amazing food following the gastro, 5 selfless human beings, and 1 astronomically superb market. Don't get turned off - you just gotta take the good with the bad I guess (and by God I did).