By Ekerete Udoh
He runs what one can rightly describe as a five star restaurant and lounge which he paradoxically calls “Buka”- a pejorative in the Nigerian restaurant lexicon which connotes anything but inviting ambience and classy surrounding that his own Buka exemplifies.
In place of the traditional ‘Buka’ in Nigeria, where customers line outside a usually flies-infested surrounding and where the poor and the harried quench their pangs of hunger, Buka Restaurant-the beautiful and well apportioned uniquely Nigrian restaurant located on 946 Fulton Street, Down town Brooklyn, projects class, style and an ambience that is deeply inviting and intriguing.
If you walked through its doors on any given evening, you will see a collection of all nationalities and racial mix-from Whites, to Asians, to Latinos to African-Americans and to Continental Africans-all celebrating and enjoying the decidedly Nigerian menu on display. You will be amazed to see other ethnicities eating African food-in all its spicy glory-from‘fufu’ to ‘pepper-soup’ to moi-moi- to ‘suya’. It is a testament to the oneness that we all share and the curiosity to explore and experiment with menus that are not what we were raised under. It all makes for a good cultural interactions and a sense of togetherness
The man who put this beautiful restaurant is the Kwara state born, Lagos raised Nigerian-Lookman Mashood- a man whose story depicts courage when the debilitating elements of life stare us in the face and we either stare back at them and rise above them or sink and be swept away by them. Lookman decided to swim and conquer the elements. “I was born into a fairly comfortable background, but early in life, I decided to branch out and stake out a place for myself. I have always been entrepreneurially driven, so at a tender age in Lagos, I bought a bicycle, and began to sell ice creams on the streets of Lagos. I was making money and even while I was in a carpentry school, I was self-sufficient, and it felt good.”
Determined to improve his life’s circumstance, Lookman told me he immigrated to the United States over a decade ago and again did what he needed to do, to get by “I used to cook the pepper soup at Odua African Market-Brooklyn, New York which in the late 90s into the mid 2000s was the place where Nigerian Diasporas congregated to discuss politics and other issues about our lives in the Diaspora. The pepper soup was the niche at that market, and when I left to upgrade my carpentry skills, a lot of people began to ask me when I would open my restaurant; they told me they missed the peeper soup. I started thinking seriously about it, and here we are-Buka is a fulfillment of that dream.”
Asked to specify what makes Buka different from other African restaurants, Mr. Lookman said “We are an authentic Nigerian restaurant. We don’t confuse our customers with that. We used authentic items straight from Nigeria. We wanted to show the world the beauty of the Nigerian cuisine and so far, to the glory of God, we have been able to achieve that. This place is what I may call “the People’s Embassy”- an embassy that showcases the rich cultural dimensions of Nigeria, especially our food. We are selling Nigeria to the world here, and I am always pleased when our customers tell me they have gotten a different perspective about Nigeria and its peoples after visiting our restaurant. We have played host to a number of mainstream American news media-such as the NBC who had visited our restaurant in their efforts to explore and understand the Nigerian cuisine and culture better. We are also lucky that we are located in Downtown Brooklyn which features an eclectic range of nationalities, most of whom are driven by the desire to explore and see experience other peoples cultures.’
According to Lookman, “Nigeria can create employment from its tourism potentials if the relevant agencies will explore ways of creating the right atmosphere for the growth of the industry. We have a lot of things that would enhance tourism if the if the right mechanics are put in place.”
Mr. Lookman credits his partner-Ms. Nat, for all her creative ideas that has turned Buka into the mecca of Nigerian hospitality.
Why divorces are rampant in our Diasporan community (IV)
Continued from last week
True enough, Jim (my later-to-be husband), was a good looking man. He stood at an imposing 6’3 and looked like one who took his physical appearance very seriously. I liked what I saw instantly and soon began to talk and laugh as if we had known each other for years. It was helpful that we both enjoyed a little bit of alcohol. The ‘Rose’ Champagne soon relaxed us thoroughly and by the time we left my friend’s place, we were in such a comfort zone that if I were not a very morally grounded person, I would have let myself go for anything that night. Jim was a gentleman, and when he saw me off to my home, he only kissed me on the forehead and flatly refused my offer for him to come inside my home. “You are a little tipsy and sleepy-go get some sleep and I will see you tomorrow,” he had told me, to my astonishment and pleasant surprise. What manner of a man was this that had refused to take advantage of my vulnerability which most men would have in a heart-beat? I found myself asking. Throughout that night, the thought of Jim was all that was on my mind, and I became sufficiently curious about him ‘I think I am going to date this man’ I remember telling myself as I finally lumbered to bed that night- a smile of happiness playing sweetly on my lips.
If I was sufficiently intrigued by Jim’s gentlemanly disposition the previous night, I was in for more surprises when I woke up later that night to see a sweet text that Jim had sent to me, in which he told me some of the sweetest things I have ever heard. “I had the best time of my life with you last night, and I am still on cloud 9 by your sense of humor, your beauty and the warmth you showed. I am praying that the moment would be permanent” Jim had stated in the text. Even though I had concerns with his syntax in some parts of the text, I found him a breath of fresh air and my curiosity got even more deepened.
The next day when we met again for dinner, it was apparent I was going to date him. We laughed and engaged in some PDAs-(public display of affection) and when we got to his hotel later that night, I knew the bridge of intimacy would be crossed. I had felt thoroughly comfortable with Jim and I had concluded that he was different from the narcissistic bunch I had met in the past who felt they were doing you a favor by escorting you to dinners whose tab you were likely to pick or sharing intimate moments with you, whose passion or electricity, you won’t feel afterward.
For the three weeks that Jim was in Nigeria, we were practically together and from the way things had progressed, it was clear Jim had found in me a soul mate and when he told me he was looking forward to settling down soon, I prayed and hoped that we would find between us, the reassuring impulse and compatibility to take on that journey together. And it happened faster that I had imagined. I had driven Jim to the airport for his return trip to the U.S., and on our way to the airport, he asked me to park the car close to a nearby church. He asked me to come out of the car and take a walk with him. I was intrigued. As we got close to the entrance of the church, he pulled something out of his pocket and as I stood there wondering what he was doing, he took out the item to reveal a diamond ring and quickly knelt down and I still remember those words vividly today “Mary, in the presence of God Almighty-the author and the finisher of our lives, the one I believe authored this meeting and is destined to finish the great work he has started between us, will you consider me worthy enough to be your husband- the one to love and cherish, the one I would share my life with-in good health or ill, till death do us apart? Since I met you three weeks ago, you have created in me a new layer of happiness and I wish to be drenched in that happiness forever. Will you marry me Mary”? Jim has asked still on a bended knee. To say I was shocked beyond words is an understatement. Tears coming down my cheeks and feeling excited beyond words, I proclaimed loud and clear “Yes Jim, I will marry you…yes, yes and yes.”
After I had seen him off, and driving back to my home, a sudden emptiness descended upon me. I have never felt such a surge of affection and deep feeling of love for a man the way Jim had ignited in me. Jim had told me he was an engineer in New Jersey, and had attended a prominent college there. That he was working for a Fortune 500 firm in New Jersey and that he needed a wife to complete the cycle of his blessings.
Even though his communications style was riddled with grammatical errors, I had dismissed that concern on the basis that engineers were not literature or English majors and that as long as he knew what he was doing with his hands, that was all that mattered. I was very concerned though, but the sharpness of that concern was blunted by the way he made me feel-his warmth, love and his simplicity. Looking back now, I wished I had been a little concerned with that gaping hole in the foundation of his communications. If I had asked questions, maybe, he would have told me the truth about who he was and what his circumstance in New Jersey truly was, and I would then have made up my mind to either marry him or tell him nicely that it was a pleasure knowing him, but I didn’t think marriage would be a rewarding enterprise for both of us. He fooled me, and for that, I found it difficult to forgive him.
When Jim got back to New Jersey, it was obvious he wanted me to join him in New Jersey as soon as possible. He immediately filed a fiancé visa for me, and it didn’t take time for the process to be bear fruit. Within six months, I had been given a fiancé visa with the proviso that we must get married within 90 days of my arrival in the U.S, failure of which the visa would be rescinded. It also helped that professionally, I was considered an asset. I am a physician with core competencies in internal medicine and had been working with a public hospital in Lagos for over seven years.
I had been told by my friends that a lot of less accomplished Nigerians Diasporas usually come home to marry women within certain professional lines and medical practitioners were on top of that preferred category. I had wished and hoped that Jim was marrying me for love and not for what economic elevation I could bring to his life, which in my playbook, was a given, after all what is marriage for, if not to help lift up your partner and vice-versa? But I hate to know that the motivating reason was economics as opposed to love. In my opinion, I didn’t think Jim was cast in that mold.
Two weeks after I joined Jim in New Jersey, my worst fears were confirmed. It turned out that I had been sold a bill of goods that were not available for delivery. I had been lured into a marriage that was built on quicksand of lies and manipulation and as I confronted the truth, I felt a deep sense of anger that was difficult to bear and internalized. To quote our eminent writer-Chinua Achebe, things had fallen apart between us, and the center could no longer hold. The tie that bind was severed and repairing it was absolutely out of consideration.
To be continued