Saturday in faraway Texas, a US-based Nigerian, Mrs. Kpegekie Simmons, popularly called Peggy Lemon, an indigene of Gokana LGA in Rivers State and Founder, Arispop, an event services business in Texas, will host the 2017 edition of her annual cultural event tagged, ‘A Taste of Nigeria Festival’. The event projects not only the nationâ€™s rich culture, products and artworks but also projects the positive lifestyle of Nigerians in the Diaspora, writes Mary Ekah
A Taste of Nigeria which debuted almost 10 years ago in the United States of America, the initiator, Mrs. Kpegekie Simmons, a young promising Nigerian based in the USA, said emanated from her desire to showcase Nigeriaâ€™s rich heritage in the Diaspora.
The programme, which depicts the richness of Nigerian culture, will this year, feature a range of Nigerian food, culture and artistes like Kelly Handsome, Isaac and Nneka Moses, presenters of Goge Africa, a popular tourism programme on TV, amongst others.
â€œNigeria is rich in culture and my goal back in 2008 was to showcase Nigeria to the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas and eventually to the world at large,â€ the initiator, fondly called, Peggy Lemon, recalled how it all started.
Although her first outing, nine years ago, was not very impressive, she was not completely discouraged. She just took off a few years to strategise. Having backed off for about six years after her first outing, she decided to make a comeback in 2014. And then it was a bomb! And since then she has consistently made it a yearly event.
â€œThe first one did not go so well and so we took a few years off to make changes and restarted it in October of 2014,â€ she said, adding, â€œThe festival was a hit and hence we have continued annually till date and this yearâ€™s edition billed for October 7, 2017 at Air Hogs Stadium, Texas, USA, would be our 4th edition.â€
Speaking on Nigerian artistes expected to feature at the 2017 edition of A Taste of Nigeria and her target, Simmons said, â€œThis is the fourth edition and it is growing every year as we have added one thing or the other making each year different from the previous years.â€
For this year, she revealed that poetry and drama have been added to other features. â€œWe have Nollywood and we are going to actually have people watch Nigerian movies. It is always a unique experience for those who attend the programme. So, every year, we add a little extra in a creative way. So, we keep having more people and the turnout has been impressive,â€ she noted.
Simmonsâ€™ expectation for this yearâ€™s event is high even though the turnout for the event at the very recent has been so encouraging. â€œWe have more people showing interest and people participating from different areas. Usually, it was a Dallas thing but now, we have people coming from different cities. We showcase everything that has to do with Nigeria; music, drama, fashion, poetry, comedy. It is everything about Nigeria,â€ she added.
Simmons, who at birth was christened Kpegekie Popsira Lemon by her parents, along the line, reversed her native name, Popsira, to Arispop, which later became her business name. â€œMy company, Arispop, is an event services business in Texas and our goal this year is for our guests to experience A Taste of Nigeria via the food, music, dances, poetry, football game, Nollywood Cinema and much more.
â€œWe showcase everything that has to do with Nigeria; music, drama, fashion, poetry, comedy. It is everything about Nigeria, she noted further.
And for this yearâ€™s event, Arispop is partnering with Goge Africa who would broadcast it live to several countries to create more awareness. â€œWe want people to learn more about Nigeriaâ€™s uniqueness and perhaps intrigue them enough to pay a visit to our motherland.â€
Interestingly, apart from reaching out to Nigerians in Diaspora, the show has also caught the attention of non-Nigerian, especially those of African descent. â€œThe show actually targets Nigerians who havenâ€™t been in Nigeria for a long time. We also have a lot of people who have not been to Nigeria, a lot of Caucasians, a lot of white people and African Americans who come because it is a way of experiencing Nigeria. Interestingly, half of my audience are not Nigerians. When they come to experience the events, then they get amazed about the potential here and want to come to Nigeria,â€ she added.
Before coming up A Taste of Nigeria, Simmons had tried her creative hands on a number of things like event planning, weddings and other creative ventures, which she still does as business presently.
Having graduated as an Accountant from the University, young Peggy Lemon, as she is popularly called, while still in Nigeria, was inspired to go into creative world by her motherâ€™s creativity. â€œInterestingly, my mother, Mrs. Abigail Lemon, studied fashion design and when I finished my junior secondary school examinations, I wanted to get a teaching job but my mother encouraged me to come join her in her business.â€
Young Peggy Lemon then, got in and with amazing dexterity, managed her motherâ€™s shop and within a short while, she had produced a lot of undergarments which she took back to school to sell to her friends and that was how she hatched the entrepreneurial skill in her.
â€œI started my business about 15 years ago, while I was in school and so this had always been there. It is something that I am passionate about. My field of study and what I do as a business complement each other and every experience is useful for the other things that I do,â€ she said, particularly referring to how it was easy to switch from Accounting to being a culture ambassador.
In the next five years, Simmons hopes to see A Taste of Nigeria get to an enviable height. â€œMy goal for the event is for it to have massive audience and eventually to become more than a one-day event, say something for two or three days. Then eventually take it to other countries because other people have asked if it could be done in their countries. However, I want to get a very good base here first and then move on to other places and new areas,â€ she said optimistically.
She added that â€œWe have the cities that we are hosting it and they are very supportive. The Mayor and officials have all been supportive. But for the Nigerian Government, I have contacted them but there hasnâ€™t been any response. So we are waiting for them to give us feedback.â€
Asked if there were plans to hold A taste of Nigeria in Nigeria soon, she retorted, â€œI donâ€™t mind but I think it would be redundant. However, I am partnering with Goje Africa this year and I believe that the partnership would make things different and unique this year. It would be great because they are coming to televise the event and they will be broadcasting on the existing channels and I guess that would give more exposure to the event in Nigeria.â€
She recounted some of the memorable moments and what makes the passion very interesting for her. â€œI have a passion for different things because I want to reach a variety of people. Funding for the project is something we get from sponsorships, vendors and the tickets that are sold for the show. I am positive that the show would go a long way in recreating the country image abroad. We actually do a lot of things that Nigerians may not think of in Nigeria. We give them the different things that we see on a different basis but some are not Nigerians or have not been to Nigeria. So, they get to see our culture live and it has been very interesting for me. At our event we try to showcase the positives, we donâ€™t show anything negative about Nigeria. So when foreigners come to see our show, they leave with a positive outlook about Nigeria.â€
Simmons strongly believes that Nigeria is very vibrant, very positive and has very dominating people. â€œWe are always very caring without chasing shadows. We treat our culture as very important and it is reflected in the things we do, the way we live and relate with others. I would say that Nigeria is a country that deserves to be known because we are unique and we have countries that are like us. There is so much to showcase about our country.â€
Wondering why the tourism sector is not reaping from the potential in the industry. She noted, â€œWe are trying to do something about this from our end called Nigeria tomorrow. It is a four-hour talk and we hope to get stakeholders to have a great discussion on how to bring about the change that we need to make this happen.â€
Recalling her early life in Nigeria, she said, â€œI am from Gokana LGA in Rivers State but grew up in Lagos. I would call those days some of the best days of my life. It was a great experience from Central Bank Primary School, Satellite Town, to the Federal Government College at Ijanikin, Lagos before I eventually travelled abroad for further studies and then business.â€