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  • Writer's pictureChika Oduah

NIGERIANS THROW THE BEST PARTIES IN ATLANTA

By Chika Oduah




…family parties, that is. The ones where your little brother is following you around with snot in his nose, asking you if he can eat another round of puff-puff while he’s still chomping on the one in his mouth. The ones where uncles come up and grab your hands, take you out on the dance floor and say, “Chai! You’re a fine gal!” with an enormous laugh, a jiggling belly and a charm that could melt ice. The ones where you watch your mom and dad giggling like forever-sweethearts and shaking their body in sync to the beat of Anita Ward’s You Can Ring My Bell, Felix Liberty’s Ifeoma, Bunny Mack’s My Sweety, My Sugar or Chief Osadebe’s Osondi Owendi. These are the parties where your cousins and the other ones you call your cousins sneak off to the back of the hall to talk about grown-up things like bra sizes and how to kiss with tongue. Where folks pile too much jollof rice on their plate and some of the greasy grains inevitably end up on the floor, mashed under high heels and dress shoes. These are the parties I enjoyed because there is love here, so much love that you can take it from the air and slather it like coconut oil on your body. It’s a love that I want slathered on my body, with a scent I never want to fade away.


“...these parties revitalized us every time, gave us the strength we needed to persevere in America, a place where it seemed like black people were perpetually on the bottom of the social order.”

Nigerians throw the best family parties in Atlanta because everything we do, as Nigerians living in America, is about family. We move in herds of five, six… eight. In my case, we were nine deep – seven kids and my parents. If you’ve got extended family, even better. On the weekends, we packed into the car. Sometimes, we’d all get in dad’s SUV. Sometimes, we’d split and some would ride in mom’s car. No matter what, we all left the house together to go to a party in town together, to be around our people and make merry, together.


Me with my siblings, mom, aunt and cousins

“Nigerians throw the best family parties in Atlanta

because everything we do,

as Nigerians living in America,

is about family.”

Town was metro-Atlanta. Six million people strong and growing. I cherish this place. The Black Mecca, as it’s known with a thriving populace of middle-class African-Americans who own businesses, graduate from universities and define for themselves what it means to be successful in this land, walking on the same streets that Maude Ballou, Martin Luther King, Jr., Shirley Sherrod, Claudette Colvin, Ralph David Abernathy and John Lewis and Joseph Lowery walked. Non-violent civil rights sit-ins, Black Panther rallies, labor unions, economic empowerment forums were planned here. Music stars are nurtured here. We’ve got James Brown, TLC, Gladys Knight, Ma Rainey, OutKast, Mary Lou Williams, John Mayer, T.I. Usher, Monica, Little Richard, Ludacris, Quavo and two of my favorites, the Indigo Girls and India Arie.

A vibrant community of us, Nigerian-Americans live in metro-Atlanta. My parents and their friends held professional jobs, as doctors and nurses at places like Emory Hospital; they taught as university professors; worked in chemistry labs; drew up prescriptions as pharmacists. Metro-Atlanta accommodated us very well. The weather was good, home prices affordable and Nigerian-Americans happily raised their families. This is the place I’ve called home ever since I was two years old, emigrating from Nigeria. I grew up on the east side (the best side) in DeKalb County where I could see the granite giant of Stone Mountain in the sky. We shopped at Sam’s Club over on Mountain Industrial Blvd. across the railroad tracks and churched at Covington Highway, among other places. I grew up around North Hairston and South Hairston roads, near Redan High School and Stonecrest Mall, which filled the void of the ill-fated South DeKalb Mall. I’d catch the Marta bus from the mall then make my way to the downtown bureau of the newspaper I used to write for. There’s a Checkers on Wesley Chapel Road that always looked empty. I got stuffed from the buffets at Piccadilly and Golden Corral, though I couldn’t stomach nearly as much food as my brothers, Patrick, Daniel and Arinze. The best grocery store in the world, DeKalb Farmers Market, is over on East Ponce De Leon, not far from Clarkston, a suburb rich in diversity. You go there and you see all manners of beautiful African people: Somalis, Liberians, Ethiopians. It’s the African Union. The big gray jail is on Memorial Drive – mom used to work there – just off I-285, the highway that loops around Atlanta in a gracious circle.


I enjoy driving through the streets of downtown Atlanta

I name these streets with fondness spreading in waves of warm tingles in my heart. These streets took me to places that I will never forget: school, the library, the park, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Piggly Wiggly, the beauty supply store, the eye doctor, the nail salon where the manicurists never stop asking if “you get boyfriend?” ….then of course, to parties. Nigerians throw the best family parties in Atlanta.


Party I went to many years ago

Parties for birthdays, graduations, wedding engagements, wedding anniversaries, church anniversaries, housewarmings, job promotions, Christmas holiday, celebration of life, celebrations of birth. We party for the culture. Living in America prompted us to find ways to stay connected, so my dad and folks from his generation created organizations and associations for Nigerians in America, then eventually my agemates established more. There are literally hundreds of them. I belonged to a few. My parents belonged to others. Ogbaru United, Nigerian Youth Alliance, African Student Association, Otu Umunne, Nigerian Nurses Association of Georgia, Anambra State Association of Georgia, Nigerian Women’s Association of Georgia, Umu Igbo Unite, Igbo Union Atlanta, African Christian Fellowship. These organizations taught us, Nigerian-Americans, so much about our cultural heritage. I cannot overstate the importance of them in my life. These forums regularly organized parties for the community and when there was a party coming up, I spent the weeks counting down. Socializing with fellow Nigerians nourished me, and I think other Nigerians living in America, too. We needed it.


Because we’re a social kind of people. Nigerians. We socialize on a hyper level, with arms wide open in embrace; we touch each other; we sit close to one-another. There’s nothing like personal space. Even your privacy is negotiable. We talk loudly and we laugh even louder. You will always know when a Nigerian is present in the room. That’s what I love about us. We’re a rambunctious bunch of joyful people celebrating life, counting our blessings, praising God and plotting how to achieve more because life is too short to live otherwise.

So, when we get together for a party, we show up.



Geles tied tall like papier-mâché in colorful peaks, the brightest yards of lace and ankara stitched with grace and skill over our bodies, sparkling in jewelry and sequins, hair laid slick back and gleaming. We are art. Nigerians, we dress to impress. Always. I had a mermaid-shaped summer green ankara dress that I loved. I wore it with the matching head tie.



Then there was my sleeveless black velvet dress with silver dots swirling around. I took my fashion cues from mom, watched her get ready for parties in the bathroom mirror. She knew how to match shoes with the right purses and the right set of jewelry. It was serious work.




We show up to parties oozing in this abundance, with smiles and perfect greetings. You gotta greet Aunty Grace, Uncle Emeka, Uncle Sam, Aunty Ada, Uncle Godwin. If you forget to go and greet Aunty Nkiru, she may tug your ear and ask, “Eh, so you can’t greet?”


You enter the room. It may be in a linoleum-floored den at the back of a church or community center lit by fluorescents. Or a hotel ballroom covered in carpet and textured wallpaper with plastic chandeliers dangling from the ceiling. Or it just might be in an event hall where the sign board out front literally says event hall. The Nigerians in Atlanta know all the best party venues in town. We keep that business alive. You get in and then you look for a table in the sea of colorful people. You inch past them, saying your hellos and excuse me’s and wondering why the adults have to sit so far away from the table, then you remember that they may be making room for their stomachs to expand when the food comes. Then you sit down. The MC is talking and trying to crack jokes but no one is really listening. Everyone is having their own conversations, waiting for Item 7 (the food) and the dance, dance, dance part. I saw people I hadn’t seen in a while and folks in town visiting a cousin. I could see people like Blessing who had just graduated from Harvard with a degree in medicine or Chukwdi who had just gotten accepted into Yale on a full scholarship to study aeronautical engineering. These hardworking youngsters got a lot of attention from the parents who would then look at us, their children with what that look: “Harvard. You can do it, too.” Parents bragged about what each others’ kids were doing.


“You know, eh, Ebube is now in his final year and will likely be the valedictorian for the whole senior class. He made a perfect score on his SAT.”


“Titilayo, my daughter will meet the governor of Georgia. She was accepted into a youth leaders program. Yes, the governor of the entire Georgia. The hand of God is just on that girl’s life.”


So these were places to swap stories of achievement and continuously build our confidence as immigrants and first gens, encouraging each other to aspire high and leap for the top.

In these parties, I was Chika, the whole Chika, the one who didn’t have to say my name twice because the person didn’t quite catch what I said the first time. I was the Nigerian-American girl with a crisp American accent who could tell you the difference between egusi, ogbono and okra soup. I wore my off-the-shoulder ankara blouses with pride, sitting beside my brothers and sisters and feeling totally and utterly free.



It is not always possible to feel freedom in America as an immigrant. I speak of an inner freedom, a freedom of mind in which your well-being is intact, your spirit blooms and you are not reminded that “you are not American,” that you come from “somewhere else” a place Americans call “Africa.” Parties in Atlanta kept my soul together in a country that often rattled it, seemed to challenge it left, right and at every other turn. A saving grace, a grace that saved, these parties were to me. As lively as they were, with music blasting, folks chatting, children joking and everyone smacking, I found peace of mind here.


“ It is not always possible to feel freedom in America as an immigrant. I speak of an inner freedom, a freedom of mind in which your well-being is intact, your spirit blooms and you are not reminded that “you are not American,” that you come from “somewhere else” a place Americans call ‘Africa.’”



Food flows. My cup runneth over. Nothing like ordering on a menu because that would be weird, tacky and just…off. We believe in the gift of giving you food until you are satiated to the brim. A spread of food sits on the buffet table of every single Nigerian party. Variety, of course you must have it. Of course, there is more than one type of rice to eat. White rice and stew, party jollof, fried rice, coconut rice, ofada rice. You’ve got your soups: afang, efo riro, vegetable, banga, oha, edikaikong, nsala and others. You’ve got snails, periwinkle and dried fish. Fried plantain, abacha (what we call African salad), beans and yam in palm oil. Made from grains, cereals or root vegetables, we have a plethora of heavy starches that we call swallow because you consume it in one big swallow (chewing it would just be weird): fufu, eba, amala, tuwo shinkafa, to name a few. But your stomach has to be right to take swallow. It’s not for the light-hearted. A few scoops in and you may not be able to stand up if you’re not used to it. We are meat eaters. The chicken needs to be on point, coated in a tomato-based stew. The beef is good when it’s fried and peppered. Fish is there too if you “want to eat light.”

My beloved mother watched every single one of her children to make sure we were eating, because:

“I’m not cooking when we get home.”


There’s no party without a feast like this. We take a lot of time to eat, swallowing it down with Sprite, Coke, Mountain Dew or…Malta! To feast is to make sure the person next to you is being nourished, too. This is communal. This is tradition and this is all love.

When the music starts, it’s time to get up.


My brother Daniel getting his dance on

At this time, I always looked for my dad. I loved seeing him dance. He liked to dance. He was good at it. My mom danced with a dainty air of cuteness. A lot of the women do that, don’t want to sweat out their hairdos, so they dance like so, in tiny steps. But the men went out, including my dad. West African men dance! Nigerian men get down. I’ve seen fathers bend backward and shoot their legs up in the air, twist around and rock their shoulders like so. The things they did with their hips, my God, I will never forget. So, when the music was right, I would go dance with my father. I loved being close to him.

“Parties in Atlanta kept my soul together

in a country that often rattled it,

seemed to challenge it left, right

and at every other turn.”


In front of him, I was in the right place, exactly where I needed to be, looking up at his bone straight white teeth and skin the color of bitter kola nut. He smelled like Mercedes Benz and Old Spice. My dad had moves. I caught ladies watching him with grins, and some of them would dance with him and that was OK.


Dad hitting the floor at a house party

My dad loves music and he usually knew every song the D.J. played. Like many Igbo people from Anambra State, like my family, dad loved Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, the king of Igbo highlife and an indigene from our place, Ogbaru. When Osadebe’s electric guitar riffs would start reverberating from the loud speakers, everybody got up. I found my own groove. These tunes got my blood pumping. My limbs took on a life of their own. I became a dancer and everything I spoke, I said it with the flow of my bones. You can’t sit down when an Osadebe song is playing. So there we would go, flapping our arms and getting low to give ourselves room to gyrate. When our hands go up in the air, it becomes a sacred space.

This is worship. This is culture. This is what our joy looked like. In these sacred spaces, we were safe to be our full selves. I was safe, even when we were stumbling out of the party at 2 o’clock in the morning. In school, among my American classmates, I was known only as the shy, quiet, African girl. At the parties, I was Chika Oduah.


In these parties, I found happiness. I saw people who appreciated me and pronounced my name the way my mother does, with the mouth spread open to say KAH, not KUH, like the Americans did. At the parties, I may still have been my quiet, shy self, but it was OK. I never felt weird. I was around my parents, friends of my parents who had known them for years. I was around my peers, fellow Nigerian-Americans who lived a lifestyle not far from my own: conservative, God-fearing and full of professional ambitions and family expectations. There was dancing, music, good food, all the elements of a good party, but there was also passion and a determination to thrive in this country without having to forget the land where we all came from. We were dancing with all of this on our shoulders, a beautiful load that we carried each day in our existence as immigrants, dwellers in a foreign land. So these parties revitalized us every time, gave us the strength we needed to persevere in America, a place where it seemed like black people were perpetually on the bottom of the social order. In these parties, we re-created what we knew in Nigeria. So essentially, we were bringing Nigeria to Atlanta at these gatherings. It was part of our survival. Take away the parties and I’m not sure if we would breathe right.

What makes Nigerian parties so special is the presence of family, the tangible, wholesome, feel-good sense of it. So even if it’s a party in downtown Atlanta for Nigerian singles and everyone is a Millennial or Gen Z and there are no actual parents in the room, that feeling of family is still so strong, so you commune with the others with respect. Profound respect is what you’ll notice in Nigerian parties. That respect is the foundation of our communal identity: I am because we are.


“In these parties, we re-created what we knew in Nigeria.

So essentially, we were bringing Nigeria to Atlanta at these gatherings. It was part of our survival. Take away the parties and I’m not sure if we would breathe right.”


From Monday through Friday, we put on our American hats and assimilated. But on Saturday or Sunday when we were at a Nigerian party, we brought the fullness of ourselves. I matured in these spaces. In these parties, I evolved into a woman with a solid consciousness of being a Nigerian-American who can say that it’s true, Nigerians throw the best parties in Atlanta. If you don’t believe me, then just go to one.





Chika is a journalist, filmmaker and writer living in Dakar, Senegal. She was raised on the east side of metro-Atlanta where she goes back often to visit her family. She is the Editor-In-Chief of DIASPORA.



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Guest
Jul 30, 2023
Rated 4 out of 5 stars.

This is such a beautiful read, Chika. As someone in the diaspora, it brings so much joy to my heart to see well you articulated our experience.


In deed, having a good community is as important as the process of migration for African immigrants.


Dalu nwanne m.

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Guest
Jun 03, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Party's not complete without jollof and Coke stains on the tables and floors.

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Guest
Jun 03, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

As excellent writing and memory!

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