With varying degrees of disharmony, the six women sat down in a semi-circle in a small conference room at the Eko Le Meridien Hotel. They were assembled for the fourth meeting of Ashewos Anonymous, a support group designed to ‘cure’ nymphomaniacs and other women who were addicted to sex. Since its inaugural meeting, numbers had dropped significantly, with the deserters finding the AA’s twelve step program either too demanding or not demanding enough. For their needs.
Alhaja Silikat, for example, had to stop coming after her husband and erstwhile pimp, Alhaji Mushin, had discovered the existence of these meetings. Alhaji had gone into semi retirement many years ago after becoming partially deaf. He still sold gas cylinders for a living but this was not enough to support a growing family of seven children. It was unfortunate also that his wife’s full time job of selling boli contributed very little to the overall family income. He decided one day that it would be more beneficial for him to become his wife’s agent and began to advertise her sexual services. He charged roughly about 2000 Naira per hour per person. In a good week, Alhaja’s big yansh would bring in about 60000 Naira for the family. It was hardly the kind of income that Alhaji was going to jeopardise and he was livid on hearing of her visits to Ashewos Anonymous. He warned her that she was never to socialise with those harlots, those midnight walkers, those damsels of the night. Alhaja, meek and always subservient, had listened to her husband and put a halt to her AA meetings.
Of the six women that remained, each had a different motive for their continued attendance:
Hepritta Okolie, was the worst kind of ashewo, the unrepentant kind. In truth she only attended these meetings because of the free poff poff and minerals. If there was anything that Hepritta liked more than a big strong John Thomas, it was poff poff. She had recently secured a very lucrative patch on Sanusi Fafunwa and clients were steady. However, even after taking care of rent and tuition fees, buying food was a problem. Yes, she thought, when all these stupid ashewos finished talking opata she was just going to stuff as many poff poffs as she could into her bag before hitting the street. Tchhhhhw. Idiots.
Godwina Iriambong was not really an ashewo at all. She only came for these meetings in a secret bid to learn more about the art of being a successful ashewo in the hope that she too could improve her sex appeal. Sadly for Godwina, God was not in a winning mood on the day that he moulded her. Her teeth were small and sharp like that of a grasscutter and to compound matters she suffered from an inability to close her mouth for longer than one second which meant that her gnashers were always in full view. Her weight had always been a source of great distress. She had recently tried the award winning Akin’s diet which prescribed eating nothing but Banga soup day and night. Poor Godwina was usually so ravenous at night that she had once devoured about 3 kilos of Banga in one sitting. This was not quite what Dr. Akin had in mind. Her facial features may have been acceptable if she had a basic understanding of make-up arrangement. As it was, she had skin the colour of night yet insisted on a lipstick shade that was as red as uncontaminated blood. In addition to her unnecessary rouge and purple eye shadow, this gave her a rather freakish look which was responsible for at least two accidents and one small riot on the Lagos-Ikorodu expressway. Godwina would sit at the meeting nodding furiously at all that was being said, making copious notes along the way. For Godwina, therefore, ashewoism was not a malaise but an aspiration.
Funke Okunrinoletemilorun, founder of this society, was a young lady with genuine sexual neuroses. At the last count she had slept with no less than 127 men, not including the okada driver that would drop her later that evening. She came from a solid background and her parents were of considerable reputation. By the time she was 18 she had slept with all the male members of her household including the washaman that came once a week. At 21 she no longer felt any sensation during sex yet felt the compulsion to continuously seek new partners. At 25, she acknowledged that she had a problem and needed to proactively deal with it. She formed this organisation with the belief that there were other women who shared her predicament and that together they could help each other.
The fourth lady needed little introduction. I am referring of course to Chief (Mrs) Oladunjoye Akinpelu nee Harrison-Thomas, the socialite, the bon vivant, the collector of men, the lover of all things fiscal, and without much doubt the greatest fornicator of all time. She was now on her sixth husband and had amassed a personal wealth of some 1.2 billion Naira through various enterprises and divorce settlements. Her primary source of income remained her very successful brothel franchise which had started out as a modest concern in her boys-quarters in Ilupeju. Over the years it had grown into a national franchise and now boasted no less than 49 depots across the country. There were only four states in Nigeria that she did not have at least one brothel and development plans were already at an advanced stage. She had once bragged that if Mr.Biggs was the biggest franchise in Nigeria, then her brothels were a close second. Chief (Mrs) Akinpelu nee Harrison-Thomas was attending the meeting to make sure that none of her girls were attending. She had personally interviewed each of the 448 ashewos that were under her direct employ and she ran a tight ship. She was nothing if not thorough and did not want any of them to start getting ideas above their station by attending new fangled concepts like Ashewos Anonymous.
Mama Ikpamosa, septuagenarian, wrinkled, toothless and recently widowed was a peculiar attendee. Since Papa Ikpamosa’s death her life was of very little meaning and she had attempted suicide several times. At the fifth attempt she had doused herself in diesel but forgot that she had bought no matches that week and therefore had to curtail that particular effort. As she slept that night, smelling like a Mobil filling station, she had something of an epiphany in which some celestial voice advised her to seek comfort in the company of other women. She decided the next day that she would stop trying to kill herself and try and make some friends instead. Ashewos Anonymous was one of ten groups that encouraged female solidarity in which Mama Ikpamosa had become a card carrying member. Her darling husband, in his infinite wisdom, had always discouraged her from keeping female company, believing women to be the product of Satan and only good for their superior culinary ability and reproductive organs. For the first time in her life she was interacting regularly with other women and loving every second.
The last woman in this motley crew was Doorshima Mbanengen, the poor unfortunate who was the victim of a generational curse that compelled her to have sex with any man who asked her. Her grandmother had once angered the Mammy water by boasting that she was of the very strong conviction that she was the most beautiful woman in all of Tiv land. The Mammy water had overheard her and placed a curse on Doorshima’s grandmother and all her future offspring. The curse was, for a woman, the worst of all curses - constant consent. She and her future generation were unable to say no to any advances made by a male. Doorshima’s own mother had died in childbirth and was not able to advise her daughter of the terrible hex that was to walk with her for all her living days. Doorshima had grown up unaware of this curse until she began secondary school and word got around that she was a “girl of loose morals and even looser pant”. Her compulsion disgusted her and she tried everything to rid herself of it, including joining The Sacred Church of Indigo and Lavender in the belief that hers was a spiritual problem. She left the church after the priest discovered her little problem and used it to his advantage, repeatedly. She sought out this group as a means to purge herself and try and understand more about her inabilities to turn men down.
The six women would talk of their exploits, real and imagined, with a candour and openness that would embarrass a market woman. Over time, they all started to look forward to these meetings and although numbers fluctuated, the six remained constant attendees. They did not really socialise outside of the sessions but a great affinity developed between the six of them, and it was truly remarkable to see them helping and encouraging one another, reclaiming the word ashewo in the process to become a term of endearment.
In a country where instances of female solidarity are as rare as blue gold, it was Ashewos Anonymous that brought these women together with a (dis)united purpose. It makes it incredibly sad that Funke, the founder and chairwoman, died less than a year after the inaugural meeting from an AIDS related illness. The women still met once a year in her honour and today, in Onikan, there is even a small memorial stone with the inscription – Remembering Funke, the greatest ashewo that ever lived.