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I apologize for the lack of entries. I attribute my decrease in correspondence to a combination of culture shock, heat, preoccupation with school work, and a slight loss of inspiration. For quite awhile after I arrived in Nigeria I was constantly mesmerized by new and shocking things I saw. Now hardly anything surprises me. I do, however find my self thinking, “wow the western world is so boring,” from time to time. There is never a dull moment in Nigeria that’s for sure. Although things rarely go as planned and are almost never on time, it is definitely always an adventure.
A good example of this is the first traditional cultural festival I have attended in Nigeria, the Òkè Ìbàdàn festival which occurred last week Wednesday. The origins of the festival go back to the 1800s during the Yoruba civil wars after the fall of the great Old Oyo Empire. One particularly noteworthy war took place between the towns of Ibadan and Ijaye from 1860-1865. During the war, when enemies would begin to charge the city of Ibadan, all of the people of the town would run up the highest hill in the town (the center of Ibadan is quite topographic) to take cover. Due to the fact that this was typically done in an emergency situation, there was no adequate time to prepare food for the stay. Sometimes the stay on top of the hill (in Yoruba òkè) lasted for over a week. Mangoes, oranges, and whatever else could be found in season on the trees at the top of the hill was what the entire town was forced to survive on. When the danger was gone and the citizens finally returned to their homes, they had a big feast to replenish themselves and celebrate. Men and women also began to copulate as they were unable to do so in the crowd of people for such a long time. Often times, due to lack of nutrition, their bodies didn’t respond properly so people went to visit babalawo’s (traditional herbalists/priests) to fix their problem. For this reason, the Òkè Ìbàdàn festival is characterized by heavy eating, drinking, fàájì (enjoyment), and singing songs about ojú ara (private parts). It is celebrated once a year in Beere, a neighborhood on top of a hill in the center of Ibadan-one of the oldest parts of the city.
I had heard a lot about the history of the festival before I arrived. For some reason I was expecting showy dances and musical performances. When I arrived around 4pm, I was instantly swarmed by a crowd of 10 people yanking and tugging at me asking for money. Some of them were desperately trying to please me by doing everything from playing bata drums to fanning me with a piece of paper the size of a post-it note. I gave two bata drummers who I was previously acquainted with 200 naira each and as soon as I dug the first bill out of my pocket an old lady screaming behind me grabbed it and it started to rip. I pushed her back and made sure it got to the person I wanted. After five minutes, it was evident that the chaos would not let up as long as I was there. Musibau, my bata teacher took me by the hand and led me down the hill into the “agbolé” (compound, a seemingly endless network of one story simple and ancient cement buildings tightly packed onto of a red-brown dirt on the hillside with the occasional water well in between). We sat under an awning of someone’s house he knew and within five minutes the entire crowd had found us and was screaming, those who got money were demeaning more and those who didn’t get any were demeaning something. Speaking Yoruba to them was mildly amusing and got some of them to go away. The stubborn ones didn’t respond to Musibau’s initial requests that eventually turned into insults. After a few more minutes, we started to hear a lot of commotion from the hilltop-a mere 25 yards away. People came running down claiming there were gunshots on the hill. A group of politicians was driving around campaigning in the typical style of a motorcade of old vans driving recklessly, blasting music through a crappy speaker system turned up way too loud powered by a generator, and hanging out of the vans with machetes, guns, and in this case brooms. We didn’t hear any gunshots but decided to leave just in case. We descended further into the agbolé until we reached the bottom of the hill and took cover in a dive bar for a while.
We returned around 7pm once it had gotten dark out and less people would quickly notice me. Things were a lot more tame. The festival itself looked like any other Nigerian outdoor party whether it be a wedding, funeral, or birthday party. The standard issue event tent, plastic chairs, plastic tables, rice and amala, and a highlife band filled the streets of Beere. We took a seat, ate and enjoyed the company of àwon elésin ìbíle (those who practice traditional religion). The traditional worshippers sat at tables and were grouped by which orísa (deity) they worship. Perhaps one of the most noteworthy observations I had was all of the women who were worshipping the deity Yemoja had goatee beards thicker than mine. Musibau took me around to greet everyone he knew and we also played bata drums for everyone. All and all I had a good time but it wasn’t quite the learning experience I expected it to be. I am going to Osogbo this weekend for another festival so maybe that will turn out to be more exciting.
Unfortunately, due to the chaos, I didn’t take my camera out before it got dark out and I only managed to take one picture:
*Disclaimer-The following entry is based on my personal observations, conversations, and compilations of the opinions of people I know, am close to, and respect in Ibadan. Due to the fact that I am not a citizen of this country, I do not claim to have any opinion or affiliation with any sort of opinion relating to politics here. These are strictly my observations and reiterations of the news.*
The governor of Oyo state (the state I live in, Ibadan is the capital city), Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala is not very well-liked by his constituents. For four years he has been embezzling money intended for Oyo state projects into his own bank accounts.Akala is an appropriate case study of a Nigerian politician-he is extremely highly paid, enjoys his swagger in the form of fancy motorcades, expensive clothing, and expensive real estate; he is self glorifying and propagandized billboards promoting himself are all over the state). When a horrendously weathered and haggard road in Ibadan finally and miraculously makes it in front of Akala’s attention, he publicly claims he will spend say 50,000 Naira to fix it. He finds cheap laborers and sand, spends perhaps 5,000 Naira to make a cheap and weak fix, and keeps the rest of the money for himself. The result is a quickly deteriorating road and unhappy Ibadan residents. Public school teachers in Oyo state have not received a paychecks since last May. I would be surprised to find one public school teacher in this entire state who has anything positive to say about Akala.
This upcoming april, “By God’s Grace,” as Yoruba people say all of the time about everything imaginable, Nigeria will hold a presidential election. This election will pose an interesting dilemma as Nigeria’s current president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was the former vice president and came to power last year after President Yar’Adua died. When Nigeria reviewed and edited its constitution in 1999, there was an agreement that the president’s position would switch off between each of the three main ethnic groups in Nigeria-Yorubas from the southwest, Hausas from the north, and Igbos from the southeast or “south south.” Yoruba’s first president after the constitution, Obasanjo was Yoruba from the southwest. Yar’Adua followed (a Hausa from the north), but many Hausas from the north argue that because he did not complete his term, it is still deserving of the Hausa people of the north to elect the next president. Goodluck Jonathan, who is running, is from the southeast. Due to this complex, racially and ethnically charged situation, tensions are high in the country over politics. Despite this discrepancy, it is looking more and more certain that Goodluck Johnathan will win.
Tensions are no less pertinent at the state level. Due to Akala’s corruption and governing style, it is unlikely he will win the next election-that is unless he brings his own lawless ways into the picture. On December 31st 2010, the Transport Workers’ Union Director for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP, Akala’s party) was murdered in Ibadan. A senate majority leader, also a PDP member, Teslim Folarin was accused of his murder. Folarin was Akala’s biggest opponent in the primary PDP elections, which occurred two weeks ago. To make a long and complicated story short and simple, Akala actually originally ordered thugs and hit-men to murder Folarin. Folarin’s posse members were tipped off and intercepted the threat before it was too late. They then paid off the same thugs to instead kill one of Akala’s party members and supporters. Despite the fact that Akala caused the entire situation, Folarin was charged with murder-Akala didn’t finish him off, but he did ruin his reputation and send him to court for a murder trial. After he was thrown in jail, thugs and supporters of Akala protested by firing automatic weapons in the air in a neighborhood not far from where I live-Eleyele, Ibadan. The story doesn’t end here, however. After a mere two days in prison and on trial, the court pardoned Folarin of his crime and gave him complete amnesty. Why? A rumor has been going around that Goodluck Johnathan himself pardoned Folarin because he was the senate majority leader, also a PDP member, and Jonathan (a PDP member himself) needed the vote from Oyo state. More accurately, it is assumed that the court pardoned him as to prevent more violence and fighting as the elections approach. Folarin’s supporters’ violent demonstration in Eleyele was enough to send the message that they were willing to go to the extreme. It is said that he was released on the condition that he will not cause any more problems.
Politics in Nigeria more closely resemble that of a mafia rather than a democracy. Guns, machetes, and money hold much more power and importance than anything else. PDP primary elections were held both at the state and federal levels two weeks ago. Of course Akala won in Oyo state and Goodluck Johnathan won the presidential primaries for PDP.
Malaria is an unfortunate fact of life here. Before entering most countries in West Africa, you are required to show a yellow CDC immunization card to prove you have received the arsenal of vaccinations to protect against the plethora of diseases one can contract, as well as proof you have brought prophylactic drugs to protect against malaria. Despite the fact that there is a great deal of effort perpetuated towards visitors, not much is done for the citizens of this country, who many of which have no vaccinations available, and no prophylactic drugs at their disposal. Consequentially, people here accept malaria as a fact of life. There are several different strains of malaria, and depending on the type one contracts, symptoms and consequences can vary. Malaria is not necessarily always the fatal disease some make it out to be if correct treatment is sought early enough. Symptoms, however, can still be absolutely brutal and miserable. Since I arrived in September, both of my host parents and my resident director have had to deal with malaria. Even though one may take prophylactic drugs, it is still possible to contract malaria. Keegan, a friend and colleague in my group fell victim to malaria that landed him in Jaja-the less than comforting hospital (from an American perspective considering things like sanitation and electricity) on the University of Ibadan campus for four days. He said it was one of the most miserable experiences of his life.
Thankfully I have not yet contracted malaria, however it is possible. I make sure to take my pills everyday. One unfortunate side effect of prophylactic drugs is their psychotropic abilities to effect your dreams. Prior to coming to Nigeria, I have heard horror stories about others using prophylactic drugs and stopping because they couldn’t stand the nightmares. I haven’t had too many nightmares, just extremely strange and vivid dreams. A good example happened to me last week-in a dream (I don’t remember the circumstances), I was about to swallow a pill. I put the pill in the mouth and suddenly it felt very strange. I suddenly woke up and realized the “pill I was swallowing” in my dream was actually my earplug that I had taken out of my ear and put in my mouth all while sleeping. Not one of my proudest moments.