She has a strict routine which all her 12 employees have to live by. The day starts with a 30 minutes devotion during which they all have to recite Psalm 23, sing praises, and give testimonies. After the devotion, the shop opens for business with Rashidat frying the fish, akara and dodo just outside the door of the buka to entice its customers.
Mama’s buka is one of the most popular buka around the Bariga axis. Located in an uncompleted building, many are surprised at how the buka stands the envy of all the restaurant owners around, even Bimpe’s “Brotherly food” that is opposite the Apostolic Church at Jagunmolu Street. Bimpe’s husband, who works for Skye Bank, invested a lot to make her restaurant amazing and giving it all the perks of a modern buka. It felt new, and always had that smell of lavender. The sitting area, furnished with white plastic chairs can also boast of three standing fans and table mats. All her employees wore blue and white uniforms. Bimpe’s shop was usually full during the church’s convention. It is only during that period that her restaurant has considerable traffic. For the rest of the year, the restaurant was empty and usually stayed the attraction of only Bariga’s “high-end” earners: drivers who work in one of the Oil Companies on the Island/white men, church owners and the children of big landlords. The common earners would troop into the simpler structure and enjoy the company of mama.
Mama’s buka has two sections both with un-cemented floor. The main section, which covers over three quarters of the floor space, is sparsely furnished with six wooden benches and tables for customers. On each table was a plastic white bowl and blue stripped kettles for washing hands. The other section partitioned by a small wall with a narrow entrance was the make shift kitchen. As plumbing had not started the kitchen traffic (to include receiving water from the hawker’s wheel-barrows or disposal of waste) was done through the extremely odd looking 62 x 72 inches window overlooking the back of the house. Right next to this section, you will find the exit and a seat for the makeshift cashier. Next to the main entrance you see a small seat and wooden box (which doubles as a both table and cash box) for the cashier.
Mama is one woman who has aged so well. You can tell the obvious signs of beauty in her face, but her eyes tell stories of one who has done a lot of pondering.
She has had to ponder on burning the candle at both ends to send Risi to Primary and Secondary School up to Osun State polytechnic, where Risi is to study Marketing;
Her thoughts are sometimes lost wondering which action to take against Risi’s irresponsible uncle Remi, who always seem to come up with some of the most outrageous money making scheme to get money out of her;
Sometimes she cannot help but worry about conniving employees, witty artisans and crafty sellers who seem to strive more to outsmart her rather than do the job they were employed to do;
But most of the time, her thoughts are in her native home, her place of birth, where she spent the first 25 years of her life.
Never the less, she is a still a beautiful woman. Her hair is thick and in signature cornrows, usually wrapped in Ankara scarf. Her buba sits well, but the bottom of her iro is never proportionate in length due to mama’s old fashioned method of storing money. Her money is always stored within the bulge formed by the layers of her iro around the waist. For her fiftieth birthday, Risi bought mama a waist pouch. “Mama, you so gats to upgrade” she says in her “American” (thanks to DSTV) accent. Mama’s response to her was “omo mi, aso yi lo ran e lo si ile-iwe, bosi wu mi maa fi se iyawo fun e" (“My child, this cloth that sent you to secondary school, and if it pleases me I will celebrate your wedding in it”).
After the rush from 5:30am to 7:00am, mama leaves the buka, under the care of either one of her most senior employee, Famous or Bose and then off she goes to the market. She makes every effort to get back before 12:00pm and return to her post as the cashier. In the buka, it is around this time the day ripens; then the commuters arrive from the east trying to avoid the chaos of Oshodi, and the people who work in the Bariga axis, the drivers, bricklayers, and the bus drivers all have one place destination; “Awa Naa” [which translates to mean “We too”].
Who named the buka “Awa Naa”?
As the story goes, the name to her buka “Awa Naa” was a result of a move by the spirit during its dedication. It was held according to her Christian religious rites. These rites dictate that a pastor blesses anything you have, names it (based on the name you decide to give) and dedicates it to God. After which there is a small celebration with feasting. But the story of the name “Awa Naa” actually started before the dedication; it started when mama (whose real name is Toke Ajisafe) came to Lagos State.
Toke is lady from Aba Adi, a small town not too far from Osogbo in Osun State. She was the daughter of Late Chief Akin Ajisafe. He like his father was a cocoa farmer, who, due to longstanding deals with the chocolate making companies like Cadbury, had made a lot of money which he used to purchase his chieftaincy title, married three wives and had sixteen children.
Everyone thought she was a princess due to her naturally sweet smile, the complicated plaits on her hair, and the red beads she always wore. During the annual Osun-Osogbo festival along the River Osun, she always does the “mystical dance of the sacred forest”. It was during one of the festival celebration that she met Risi’s father (who she never married) while he was still a driver for some multinational company. He brought some oyinbo men for the festival.
She got pregnant with Risi when she was 25 years old. It was upon receiving the news from her mother that her father vowed to publicly disown her as his daughter, a statement that led her to flee and run to Lagos. That was the last time she ever saw her father alive; she was present at his funeral.
She moved in with Daleko to his “face-me-I-face-you” apartment in Ebute-Metta. A year after the birth of Risi, the joint income they earned was able to afford them a self-contained apartment in Bariga where she lives till date.
For a long time after moving to Lagos, Toke could not get a job or a decent means of livelihood as she had no significant formal education or vocational skill. So she sold akara and fried yam. Daleko was out of town most of the time, leaving just enough money for her to cater for herself and the growing needs of Risi. She used some of the money he gave her to purchase a bigger “agbada” frying pan, spoon, and a big jerry can of vegetable oil. Because of her good nature, the mallams that hawked on her street became her friend. She used this friendship to purchase yam on credit. As business grew, she started visiting the market to buy beans and cooking condiment. With the money they made, she and Daleko were able to maintain a pretty simple home for themselves.
But alas, disaster struck. Daleko, became a tanker driver for an Independent petroleum marketer. He lost his life in a tanker fire incident along the Benin-Ore express way. Risi was only 3 years old. With the N500,000 received as compensation for the loss of her husband along with support from her few friends, she started a small poultry on the single plot of land in Bariga that belonged to Daleko, which was a stone throw from where she lived. The poultry expanded, but her efforts towards expansion reduced when Risi resumed secondary school. She decided to close shop shortly after a major incident in Risi’s final year. An outbreak of “lorun-lorun” (head twisting) disease killed almost all the chickens. Mama, worn down by the stress of managing the poultry and supporting her daughter in secondary school counted her losses and sold off what was left of the poultry. She added to the proceeds, her fifteen years saving ‘ajo’ money, and chose to invest in what she loves doing best, cooking.
The dedication ceremony for the buka began with the pastor giving a short sermon to extol the virtues of mama. He later called on mama to give a short speech and the name of the Buka for him to bless.
Mama upon hearing the speech was filled with flash-backs and thoughts raced through her mind “Se emi naa ni? Emi ni Oluwa ranti ? Oluwa e ma se o” (“Is this me? Is it me that God remembered? God thank you.”)
As these thoughts filled her mind, she was lost for words and became tearful and overwhelmed with emotion. What rolled out of a tearful Toke’s lips was the Yoruba song “♪Awa naa re Oluwa , Awa naa re Oluwa..a wa dupe ore atodun modun….♫”.
She hummed the song on and on, crying all through, with her daughter holding her. The pastor, who had seen Toke through all her struggles, was visibly touched and so was the crowd.
They were all present in that gathering; bus conductors, okada-riders, bricklayers, shoe-shiners and traffic hawkers;
These are people who the formal economy barely remembers, so they turn to the comforting arms of religion for solace;
These are people so pushed by families, hopes and expectation of a better tomorrow. The song couldn’t say it better….“WE TOO…. are somebody”