Archive | September, 2010

Nigerian Educational System

29 Sep

I woke up bright and early (more pitch black and early) this past Monday morning to go to my mom’s school. She is a teacher of English and Yorùbá languages. She works at a public school in a neighborhood called Mokola, here in Ibadan. I made a video so you can get an idea of what the school is like (see below). I thought this would also be a good opportunity to describe how the education system here works. Nigerian kids grow up going to a primary school (like our elementary school), followed by a secondary school/grammer school (similary to our middle and high schools). Secondary school, also referred to as grammar school is broken up into to segments, each lasting three years-junior secondary school (JSS) and senior secondary school (SSS). After successful completion of senior secondary school, students are required to undergo extensive testing called “WAEC,” which stands for the West African Examination Council. This group provides a standard and administers testing for much of West Africa. Upon successful completion of the WAEC exams, students can then apply for a university, polytechnic university, begin an apprenticeship, or begin work elsewhere. The school campus my mom works on (see video below) houses both primary and secondary schools.

The Nigerian education system closely resembles that of the British. Although not as common nowadays, teachers still use physical force against children in primary school. Perhaps this explains why the kids that I have met here have been so seemly patient, well behaved, and mature for their ages. Another notable difference from the American educational system is specialization. In Nigeria, students usually complete their senior secondary school around age 16. From here, if they choose to go to a university, they must choose an area of specialization immediately. In American universities, there is a noticeable emphasis on liberal arts, or breadth of education. This concept is foreign in Nigeria. If you choose one discipline when you enter the university and decide to switch to another after two years (quite common in America), you must start over fresh at the 100 level. In general, Nigerian public schools are much more formal than those in America. Most public schools have mandatory uniforms. At the university level, people dress much nicer on a daily basis than in America. You certainly don’t see sweat pant and hoodie-wearing hungover and unkempt college students slumping to 8:50am classes. People dress much more formal and in general behave much more formally. There are also noticeable differences with grading, especially at the university level. The Oxford style of lecturing that is coveted here throws a large amount of information at students in a passive-learning style (i.e. no discussion). This results in overall “lower scores” than American students are used to. For example, a 70% in a class at a Nigerian university is approaching a validictorian state. In an American university, a 70% in a class can give the illusion that you spent way more time at the bars than at the library last semester. The academic calendar in Nigeria is year round. There are several block breaks lasting usually about three weeks, but there is no such thing as summer vacation (or summer at all for that matter). There are only two seasons here-the rainy season, and the dry season. I hope you enjoy the video.


Cell Phone Culture

28 Sep

Cell phones are extremely popular in Nigeria, dare I even say coveted. Much of West Africa is this way, as land lines never really reached a point of prominence here due to infrastructure difficulties such as frequent power outages. Cell phones, however, have considerably decreased in price over the last few years. Price decreases in conjunction with a rapidly expanding world wide 3G network have created the ideal incubator for cellphone growth in Nigeria. Due to the fact that landlines did not develop as extensively here as they did in America, the introduction of cell phones to West Africa was a huge technological innovation for an area that was shortchanged by the previous generation of telecommunications devices. From my observations, the typical Nigerian has about three cell phones (one of my professors has five, all of which are in his pockets at any one time)! Cell phones are without a doubt a significant part of the area I am living in, I would even say more so than in America. There are several notable differences, however, in how Yoruba cell phone discourse varies from that in America:

1.) Contracts-In America, you are usually roped into signing at least a year long contract when you purchase a cell phone. This type of system does not exist in Nigeria. Every phone network is pay as you go, and you are usually never more than 100 yards away from someone walking around with a stack of phone cards to recharge your minutes. Some of these touts will even come up to your car at an intersection, load the minutes on your phone for you, accept money, and see you on your way all before the light turns green (although this can be a considerable amount of time in Ibadan traffic). A huge advantage to this is you can buy a decent phone for $30-70USD and have the freedom to change networks as often as you want if you are not satisfied with your sim card purchase.

2.) There is a distinct cell phone etiquette accepted in the U.S. that is non existent in Nigeria. In America, it is generally considered rude to answer your phone while in the middle of a conversation, meeting, or other intimate gathering. It is also a taboo to answer your phone at large gatherings where it could potentially disturb others, such as plays, weddings, and funerals. If, for some reason, you do need to answer the phone, it is polite to apologize and excuse yourself from the situation before doing so. The vibrate setting is also a common courtesy when around other people or in one of the situations described above. Picture the exact opposite of everything I just stated, and that is exactly the etiquette (or lack there of from an American standpoint) in Nigeria. I speculate that due to the rapid growth in significance and availability, these novel handheld conversation devices are more important that just about everything. No matter what type of situation you’re in, if your phone rings, you answer it. It doesn’t matter if your the dean of the university in an important meeting, or a guest at a play surrounded by people trying to listen to the actors, its totally legitimate to answer the phone (and have your ringer on loud for that fact). Furthermore, if you don’t answer your phone the first time someone calls you, Nigerians will get seriously concerned that something is wrong with you because there are very few situations where people don’t answer their phones. Perhaps this helps explain why I fall asleep with the standard Nokia cell phone ringtone blaring in my head from its unrelenting prevalence in my recent memory.

3.) I have seldomly had anyone bid me farewell on the telephone here. It’s always a mystery to me how and when the conversation is going to end. Usually I’m in the middle of a sentence and hear a click, the sound of the person hanging up. Due to the fact that all phones are pay as you go, people are very efficient with their minutes and waste no time saying goodbye. Most phone calls are also one minute or less for the same reason, unless you are discussing something very important and complicated. “Flashing” is also a common occurrence (see definition 3a below).
3a) Flashing-The method by which you use to get a hold of someone when you are out of cell phone minutes and you need to talk to them. Flashing consists of dialing a number and letting it ring only one time so that the other person has no time to answer, and thus needs to call you back and spend their own money. Ex. “Crap! I don’t have any minutes left…oh well, I guess I’ll just have to flash him again.” “Oh no! You don’t have any minutes left? Flash me when you need a ride!”

4.) One difference that is very nice, is Nigerians love to call you just to greet you. A greeting phone call goes something like this…”Hi how are you? How is your work? How is your school? How is your family? Send my greetings to them.” CLICK…end of conversation. Although these 20 second mere greetings can be confusing at first, I feel there is a very genuine and warm-hearted intention behind all of them.

I feel like I’m finally getting used to some of these differences, or I can at least laugh off the one’s that are still taking time to sink in.

Suffering and Smiling

25 Sep

Another student from UW Madison named Matt is doing research for his PHD dissertation here in Ibadan on a Fullbright Scholarship. Last Saturday, he and his wife invited the four of us to his house for dinner (spaghetti and garlic bread never tasted so good!). After dinner, we were comparing stories/experiences we’ve had in Nigeria (finally speaking English!), and Matt mentioned the title of a song by Fela Kuti-Suffering and Smiling. These lyrics have really resonated with me this week, especially on a little trip we took to Lagos.

Last Sunday and Monday, we went to Lagos to register with the American Consulate. We were supposed to do this the day we arrived in Nigeria, but Nigeria’s federal government declared the date of our arrival a national public holiday the day before we left on our journey, due to the end of Rammadan. Therefore, the embassy was closed and we had to return on Monday to register, etc. Since we arrived in Ibadan, many of those who have welcomed us have extensively elaborated on the peacefulness of Ibadan, and the general welcoming attitude that its people have. When hearing remarks like this, I normally put them in the back of my mind, as I didn’t really have any concrete evidence from my experience that proved this was true (at least not enough to warrant it a principal point of conversation). After spending a mere 24 hours in Lagos, I am thoroughly convinced that this notion is true.

Getting to and from Lagos was perhaps just as impactful as the city itself. Although we had made this journey when we initially arrived in Nigeria, the Lagos-Ibadan express way is a completely new experience every time you travel on it’s tattered, cracked, jagged, ridged, and chaotic surface . I am continually overtaken with awe whenever a Nigerian tells me they make the commute between Lagos and Ibadan daily on this unforgettable highway. Perhaps what is most surprising, is the amount of energy these people must have to make the commute. This ain’t no Jersey Turnpike, Eisenhower Expressway, or “the 5.” I have heard numerous stories about horrendous 8-hour excursions at a snail’s pace (the normal trip between Lagos and Ibadan is supposed to be “1.5 hours;” I use quotes because this is rarely the case).

public transportation

This expressway has the power to completely suck the life and energy out of you, even if you are merely observing your surroundings from the back of a spacious, air-conditioned, and clean brand new Toyota van-much less crammed 20 deep in a dilapidated 12-passenger ‘public transportation’ van that most of these native Nigerians make the commute in. Or perhaps, if you are one of the really brave, (dare I say stupid or desperate) truly seasoned-veterans of this unique and dynamic expressway, you will join the 5 or 10 people on top of a semi trailer, or just plain holding on to the back ramp of a step van as your mode of transportation.

Fortunately, on our way to Lagos, we weren’t on the expressway for very long because there was an awful accident that brought traffic to a standstill. We quickly exited and took a detour on beautiful, narrow Nigerian country roads. Vast, lush green landscapes littered with palm-trees and other exotic foliage for a white-skinned westerner such as myself kept me locked in on the scenery.

Beautiful Nigerian Countryside outsdie Ijebu

It was also nice to not be constantly surrounded by more people in your peripheral than you have the capability to fully take in with your senses.

When we arrived in Lagos, the landscape made it very evident that we were in a different place. I have read and heard much about Lagos in the past year-how it is considered one of the UN’s “mega cities,” cities with such rampant population growth that they provide concerning implications for everything from health and safety to infrastructure (Lagos’s population has grown by an estimated 5-10 million people in the last 7 years). Seeing this type of Mega-city in reality is really something else. I realize this is extremely cliche in blogging, especially about study abroad trips, but words do this city no justice whatsoever.

Lagos Traffic

It is impossible to reiterate the things I saw and experienced without taking you there so you can experience it for yourself. One of the principal thoughts on my mind during our entire stay in Lagos was “wow, I can’t relate this to ANYTHING in the western world I have ever seen or experienced before. The roads are scattered with deep potholes, and are merely wide enough for 2 cars to squeeze by each other. This has serious implications due to the fact that the gridlock traffic in Lagos is among the worst in the world. Rickety and rusty shanties/huts spill out into the road. These weak dwellings are home to everything from residential homes, to bars, to hospitals, to clothing shops. In addition to the gridlock traffic (including okadas, or motorcycles whizzing feverishly through every tiny crack between cars, usually carrying 3 people), there are people everywhere. These people are doing everything from walking, to singing, to dancing, to building fires (Lagos is probably the world capital of fire hazards), to just plain lounging and hanging out. After about 45 minutes of persevering through this true chaos, we arrived at the home of a friend of our resident director. When the gates opened to let us into the compound, I felt as though I had just resurfaced from a breath-holding contest in a murky lake.

The home we rested at and ate dinner ate was very nice by Lagotian standards, perhaps average by American standards. The 10 foot concrete fence, topped with razor wire and an electric gate that surrounded the house is a sufficient exemplification of the dichotomy of class that exists in Lagos, and pretty much all of Nigeria. There is an upper class with extremely rich, almost elitist people, living on top of (literally and metaphorically) an extremely low class. The implications of this sharp dichotomy are not difficult to imagine, but thus is Nigeria.

outside the house we rested in

I’m certainly not saying that the upper class is uniformly snobby, rich, or elitist (although some of them certainly are); however, if you can afford to have a house, you better have the 10 foot concrete wall and razor wire to protect yourself and your belongings. After watching a few annoyingly similar and cheesy juju (magic)-packed films on Africa Magic (is this the only fricking tv station people watch here!?), we ate a delicious dinner of chicken, rice, fried plantains, and tomato-pepper stew.

After a mere 3 hours of sleep in a very nice (again, relative, this time due to cockroaches) Lagos hotel, we were awake and our noses were once again pressed hard against the hustle-bustle grindstone of overcrowdedness at 6AM in Lagos. I’m not sure how far we traveled between the hotel and the embassy, but it couldn’t have been more than 20 miles. Lagos traffic made this close to a two and a half hour trip. Much of this was spent on an expressway in gridlock traffic. This expressway is slightly more organized than the Lagos-Ibadan road in the sense that there are lanes and people seemed to stay in them (for the most part). Of course, this is Nigeria so there is always something that surprises me. This time, it was the large amount of touts walking through the gridlock traffic selling everything from beef sausage rolls, to Abba cds, to dan brown novels, to monopoly.

Touts selling everything from Dan Brown Novels, to monopoly, to candy on the highway in Lagos

I found this quite humorous, but also crazy, as I’m still used to the tame and organized driving culture of American interstates. The expressway also provided an extensive view of Lagos. Seeing some of the residential areas really struck me. I was shocked by the number of neighborhoods built literally on the water! Small rowboats were parked outside of each one of these rustic and feeble dwellings. Clotheslines scattered about the floating homes confirmed my suspicions that indeed, people inhabited these small and decrepit shacks. This sight is something I have been pondering constantly since that day.

After our meeting with the Regional Security Officer (an ex-secret service, beefed up, bald federal agent with a “This ain’t AmUrica and I don’t go anywhere in this country without 3 armored Suburbans and a whole lotta guns” mentality) at the consulate, we went to the Nigerian Federal Government’s radio station (Radio Nigeria) to be interviewed for a program. This experience was yet another indicator of how unique and unheard of it is for white Americans to come to Nigeria to speak Yoruba. Most of the questions were along the lines of, “Why did you want to come to Nigeria?” “What opportunity do you see in Yoruba if any?”

We were on the radio!

“What advice do you have for Nigerian parents who are no longer teaching their kids indigenous languages?” “What advice do you have for the Nigerian government about the advancement and development of indigenous languages?” Some of these questions are a bit too intense for me, and I don’t really feel comfortable advising a country full of parents and the Nigerian federal government on anything at all after only spending nine days in Nigeria thank you very much.

After we left the radio station, a second reporter hopped in our van with a tape recorder and interviewed all of us again for a different radio station. It just never ends! As we traveled back to Ibadan on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, I was once again completely enamored and captivated by the sights of the road-the over packed semis with clouds of thick, blinding diesel smoke behind them, ‘semi-camps’ with dozens of semis on the side of the road so drivers could wash clothes, buy food etc., various ‘church camps’ (large big-box style church worship establishments meant to hold hundreds and sometimes thousands of people at a time), charred cars (remnants from previous accidents on the roadway), and of course the endless tailgating, speeding, slamming on brakes, and suddenly weaving around potholes.

Old car wrecks on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway (notice charred automobiles on the left)

As the sun began to set over one of the most dangerous highways in Africa, the image of these small shanties kept resurfacing in my mind; it is not only an attestement to the rampant population growth in Lagos, but also the level of suffering that many Nigerians deal with every day of their lives. The seeming paradox here, is every Nigerian I’ve interacted with since the day I arrived has been nothing but overflowing with joy, excitement, and care. When judging peoples appearances and attitudes, I am not always led to believe they are suffering even though I’m sure many of them are. As darkness finally fell over the highway, we entered the first police checkpoint we’d encountered in Nigeria-tires thrown on the road to narrow traffic to one lane, so two policemen (you never know if they’re real or impostors) with AK-47’s could collect bribe money. The suffering aspect people are forced to deal with everyday here cannot be ignored. This brings me back to Fela’s song, “Suffering and Smiling.”

so much exhaust

I really believe this holds true in all of society here. The widespread sense of humor, willingness to take in and feed/care for strangers, and genuine affection for all human beings has been more than apparent to me. For this reason, the ‘smiling’ that these people exemplify on a daily basis has not ceased to amaze me and has brought about my own smile that originates from deep inside me.

Lagos Hustle Bustle

Lagos Dwellings

in the middle of the city!

More Highway Commerce

busy busy


results of rampant population growth

Victoria Island from the highway

The Group outside and art gallery on Victoria Island, Lagos

Host Family

17 Sep

I finally moved in with my host family Monday, and moved out of the hotel we had been staying in for the weekend. I had talked to my host father on the phone a handful of times, but our conversations were short and I really had no idea what to expect beyond very basic information that I knew. My father just retired from a job in the Bursar’s office at the University, and my mother teaches English at a high school in Ibadan. I couldn’t have been happier with the family I have. My father and mother were ecstatic that I finally came ( I was originally supposed to come in June but my trip got postponed). They immediately gave me a huge hug, and explained how they were so heartbroken when they found out I couldn’t come in June. Their overwhelming excitement was beyond evident. When I entered their small 3 bedroom flat, they immediately apologized for the ‘mess.’ They were in the process of renovating the entire flat-new flooring, new paint on the walls, and best of all a newly renovated bedroom and bathroom all for me! The down side, is that the plumbing doesn’t work, so all of our water comes from large basins scattered about the house. Since I had already gotten used to the bucket-shower concept, this was not a big deal. Although nice, I feel bad that my family went to the extent they did to prepare for my arrival. They immediately grabbed my hand and arm (Yoruba people have a very different concept, or lack there of, of personal space and privacy) and led me to my room. My room is beautiful! It is bigger than my room at home. They explained they had bought everything new for me-a new desk, bed, nightstand, etc. I also have my own private bathroom! WOW! Thats a first in my entire life! I especially feel bed considering my two parents, younger brother, and older sister (who is here sometimes) have to share a tiny bathroom. I explained my reserve to Moses (our resident director), but he assured me they would have it no other way and it would be insulting to suggest otherwise. As I mentioned, I have a 15 year old younger brother who took an instant interest in me when I moved in, and didn’t leave my side until I went to bed. I like him a lot. He is very intelligent-he speaks 4 languages fluently and wants to become a lawyer (COOL!). My older sister is recently married and lives with her husband, a dental surgeon, in a city about two hours away called Ile Ife. I also have an older brother who lives in Kano State who is a lawyer (again, COOL!). I gave my parents and brother the gifts I had brought for them-Wisconsin Badger T-Shirts, Bread from a local bakery, and Time magazines. My mom and son immediately ran to their rooms to put the shirts on. We ate omelets for dinner. I unpacked my things and went to bed.

I had a little trouble sleeping, probably a combination of excitement, jet lag, and rapid and drastic environment change. I was woken several times during the night to the different loud big-city noises of Ibadan. Perhaps most unsettling was the firecracker like gunshot sound followed by screaming. One of my teachers assured me this morning that it was probably security chasing away theirs or large animals, or that it could also have been a car backfiring.
I woke up at 4:45 AM when my family woke up to prey (they are devout Muslims) and started cooking, washing dishes, etc. Just as I had fallen back asleep, my younger brother came into my room at 6:30 to wake me. He had toothpaste in his hand and said it was for me, but I assured him that I brought plenty with me. I awkwardly sat on the couch (my family was busy getting ready, and the one working bathroom was occupied) watching Africa Magic (Nigeria’s favorite TV station featuring a plethora of strikingly similar Yoruba Drama shows/films, and an occasional music video). FInally, after I had an opportunity to take a bucket shower. I ate rice, tomato-pepper stew, and beef for breakfast. Thankfully, I also have a six month supply of Starbucks Italian-roast Ready Brews to satisfy my strong caffeine addiction (unfortunately for coffee snobs like me, NesCafe instant coffee is pretty much all you can find in Nigeria if anything). After breakfast, I went to the Flagship center (our class building) to continue checking things off the to do list-purchasing phones, opening bank accounts, registering with the dean’s office, etc.

I returned home around 630PM. Shortly after, a photographer stopped by the house to give my host parents the photos he took at my host father’s retirement party the previous week (he was the chief accountant for maintenance and grounds in the Bursar’s Office at the University of Ibadan). My host mom, my father, and myself sat in the living room reviewing the pictures. The photographer explained that he was a teacher on campus in the agriculture school. After we had reviewed all the photos, the issue of price came up. As to be expected, the photographer and my host mother quarreled calmly over the price (unless you are at a modern Nigerian big-box style retailer, pretty much everything is negotiable). The mother pointed out minor mistakes and pitfalls in the pictures, as the photographer defended them and explained that he had the lowest price, made excuses about inflation, etc. My host father then entered the room. He sat down and reviewed a few of the pictures and asked my host mother how she liked them. The photographer immediately started to quarrel with my father as he tried to haggle. All of a sudden, the calm conversation turned into a yelling match; my host father raised his voice, and the photographer followed by raising his. The yelling match didn’t last more than 10 seconds when my father started mixing more and more English into his discourse. Finally he stood up with a fierce and angry look on his face and shouted “calm down” in Yoruba. The photographer was still trying to plead. My father was using all English now, explaining how he understood the photographer needed to profit, but his prices were ridiculous. He explained a basic rule of business logic-the more quantity of an item you by, the more of a discount you should get. He charged the photographer with doing the exact opposite. The photographer still tried to plead and still standing, my father finally shouted in mostly English, “Nnkan to n she pissing me the hell off!” (This thing you are doing is pissing me off). His furiousness, forcefulness, and tenacious body language made me sink further back into the couch. Since I hadn’t even been with my family for a full 24 hours, I began to wonder if I had moved in with some irrationally angry and violent man. The father than sat back down and with intensity said he wouldn’t hear another word. You could still see the blood rushing through the veins popping out of his head. His unyielding frown combined with his traditional tribal marks/scars on his face mad him look like someone I would never want to mess with. He turned his head toward the TV (of course, African Magic was on again) and pretended to be interested (even though he was watching credits from a movie he didn’t even watch). The photographer immediately started to respectfully and calmly plead for the father to listen, but my father wouldn’t even make eye contact. My host mother, who had left the room to help the house maid do something in the kitchen, returned to the room. She spoke Yoruba to the photographer, stating many proverbs communicating good character and morals a seller should have in a haggling situation. Finally, my father agreed to talk. The photographer refused to look him in the eye (as it is disrespectful to look an elder in the eye when they are angry with you). The photographer looked like an angry 14-year old girl who’s mother had just told her she couldn’t get her ears pierced for the 1,000th time. He signed loudly and heavily, rolled his eyes, and still wouldn’t make eye contact. My father calmly reiterated everything he had previously stated, but in clear, plain, and perfect English this time. His argument seemed very logical to me even though his initial reaction appeared to be a little irrational. After he finished his explanation, he said the photographer had lost his chance to sell any photos at all, and re-zoned into the Africa Magic movie credits. The mother calmly spoke with the photographer for quite some time, and in the end, she finally talked him down to a better price. The fact that the father would no longer acknowledge the photographer was a huge insult to him. Finally, the photographer agreed on a lower price, but was reluctant. The mother explained that they would give him no money today because of his behavior (at this point I thought, his behavior??). He asked if he could return tomorrow or the next day and the mother said that would be way too early. Finally, he left. The father apologized and explained to me that this was a typical Nigerian transaction. He had heard from several colleagues that this photographer was somewhat of a conman who likes to cheat people into paying ridiculously high prices for pictures. He said a few of his friends who had advised him had been ripped off. He explained that in Nigeria, if you don’t watch out for yourself in transactions like this, many sellers will try and cheat you. Due to the fact that my father had reliable knowledge about this particular photographer, he said he needed to show him (using cultural cues and norms) that he had absolutely no patience for his behavior whatsoever, and would not tolerate being ripped off. He calmly apologized several times and explained how he understood how I must have been feeling. He also acknowledged what he thought of as a good character in me that I had the ambition to live with a host family and learn at every possible opportunity. This consolation made me feel way better, and the feelings of care and love I experienced the day before immediately returned. The father and mother both calmed me and explained the situation for nearly a half hour until I was well beyond the point of feeling better and understanding. These are truly great people, especially because of their ability to communicate bi-lingually and bi-culturally. They really have an active interest in seeing me learn and grow which is very evident by all of their actions. I am once again excited and eager to live with them for the next 9 months, experiencing every thing their family may experience with them, and growing alongside them.

Ibadan Rush Hour

Ibadan (Àdúgbò Mókólá)

UI Campus

My Bed

My Desk in my room

My house (Bottom Floor, Front View)

My House (Bottom Floor, Back View)

Kids Playing Soccer Behind my House

Dining Area/Family Room

Kitchen (Ilé ìdànná)

My mom and I frying plantains (A n dín dòdò)

Sweet Beans and Fried Plantains

Host Parents at Dinner

My older host sister

My Younger Host Brother (Azeez Adéwólé)

Semofita (yam-like thing made of corn flour), Obe ewédú (leafy green stew), obè àtà (tomato pepper stew), ejà gbígbé (dried fish)


15 Sep

I have finally arrived safe and sound in Nigeria. I left my home-Neenah, Wisconsin 10 days a go. Me and the 3 other students from UW-Madison spent 3 days in Washington DC for an orientation. Last Wednesday, we began our extremely long journey to Nigeria. When we finally arrived, Keegan and I calculated that we had been awake for 50 out of the last 55 hours.

We finally arrived in Lagos, Nigeria nearly 30 hours after we left our hotel in Washington DC. My first experience with a bribe occurred no less than 3 minutes after we got off the airplane.  There were 3 women in uniform checking CDC immunization cards (which everyone must have with their passport) before they let you go through customs.  They were speaking Yoruba so we all spoke Yoruba in return.  The woman would not let me pass and inquired about the gum I was chewing.  I asked if she wanted a piece in Yoruba and she said yes.  I hadn’t even taken the pack completely out of my pocket when she snatched it away and all the other uniformed ladies started laughing.  I ran past them quickly and got the hell out of there before she mentioned anything about my ipod or camera. 

The baggage claim area at Murtala Mohammad Airport only has 2 conveyor belts, and of course one was broken.  There were 4 flights ahead of ours in que on the one working belt.  There were people EVERY where. The complete body-to-body gridlock reminded me of a mosh pit at a rock concert.  After about 20 minutes, the working conveyor belt completely stopped.  After the crowed stopped yelling and singing, there was about a 30 minute delay before anyone did anything.  Finally, Moses (our resident director from Nigeria who traveled with us from DC) took it upon himself to climb up on the conveyor belt and walk down it to get across without having to push through all the people.  Within seconds, about 30 more people followed suit. At this point, I was already thinking, “there’s no way this would ever happen in America.”  He was talking to some airport employees who were trying to crawl down the conveyor belt hole our luggage was coming from to carry it up the belt manually. This process was not without delays and setback of its own. As we were waiting, I talked to many people who were on our flight in Yoruba. One Yoruba man, who had been very friendly to us since we met him at the gate in Frankfurt, told me something that has really stuck with me. “Kayode, in times like this you must remember that even though Nigeria may appear shabby, America may seem more efficient, or things in western countries may seem ‘better,’ that is not necessarily so. We just have a different way of doing things and it works for us.” I first pondered this as I was watching airport employees and civilians crawling down the luggage conveyor belt hole with a crowd of about 50 impatient sleep-deprived Nigerians swarming them, leaving no space to breathe. I decided this was a point I would need to ponder, but I would consider it. This jerry-rigged process took about an hour and a half.  Finally, 2.5 hours after our arrival, we could leave the airport after we had gotten our luggage at last. I continued to think about what the man had told me, and I realized there was mechanic or technology available in the area that could have been of help in a timely fashion. Given the situation, the immediate ‘teamwork’ exhibited by the tired Nigerians showed me that it was just a different way of doing things. We still got our luggage in the end.
On the way out, we were stopped by 3 customs officials asking what we had (the 5 of us had a total of 10 large bags on a luggage cart that more closely resembled something at a circus used to cart animals around, complete with rickety wheels caked with mud that left a trail behind it).  Moses told them with authority in Yoruba we had books and clothes, and that he would not give them anything.  Finally, he told us to give them old baggage claim tags from our flight to Washington (they wouldn’t know the difference).  The outside of the airport was not your conventional airport…no security, fences, or roads.  Just a dirt road and about 75 people swarming the entrance yelling everything from “taxi” to “Oyinbo” (white person) to “obo oba” (King of monkeys, a nickname our teachers call Keegan).  We met up with two of our teachers who were in America teaching us last year who had been waiting nearly 5 hours for us.  We walked about 100 yards down the completely dark dirt road and passed under the bridge.  Finally we saw the “university of Ibadan” toyota van-our ride.  It was parked next to an intersection (more like sloppy dirt road junction) with another dirt road that lead directly to the runway.  There were no fences, only 2 police with AK-47s standing between the runway and the outside world.  That’s Nigerian security for you. 

We stayed at a pretty nice (for Nigeria anyway, everything is relative here) hotel in Lagos that night.  I ate some of the best Yoruba food I’ve ever tasted.  At 4Am, some strange guy knocked on our door and was speaking Hausa (another widely-spoken Nigerian tribal language) so we didn’t understand him.  We had no idea what he was saying.  Keegan and were so tired and flustered that we felt intoxicated, so we pushed all the furniture in front of the door, put our money under our pillows, and I slept with my knife in hand.  It turns out our bus driver had parked in a car and it was just the driver looking to leave.  Haha paranoid much?

 The next day, we drove the infamous highway between Lagos and Ibadan which was everything its cracked up to be-total chaos, no lanes, people ‘easing themselves’ on the sides of the road, mountainous piles of garbage, and potholes everywhere.  Its a total different style of driving here-people use horns for nearly everything. There are at least 9 different patterns people use when honking their horns, each with its own distinct meaning (everything from I’m passing you, to I call this intersection my right of way, to fuck you). When we were driving I asked Moses, our teachers, and our driver if red lights had any meaning in Nigeria (in Yoruba). They all laughed and Moses replied “rárá o!” which means not at all.

When we arrived in Ibadan we hadn’t been off the highway for more than 30 seconds when I heard something that sounded like firecrackers.  I looked left and saw 6 police dressed in all black on the back of a moving pickup truck firing AK-47’s in the air.  This was the first time I’d ever seen a semi-automatic weapon fire live.  Everyone in the market around ducked and started sprinting in every direction.  We were all freaking out a little, but Gabriel (one of our teachers who was in America) replied calmly in Yoruba, “they’re just chasing the thief’s away.”  yikes!  Ibadan is super jam-packed and crowded.  There are constantly about 10 people coming up to your window trying to sell everything from twinkles, to bread, to beads.  The crowded streets are filled with people in traditional Yoruba clothing, and it is not uncommon to see women balancing what seems to be 100 pounds of freshly harvested yams on their heads (no hands!). Finally, we arrived at the University of Ibadan.

We stayed at the University of Ibadan Staff Club hotel for the weekend to rest and recuperate.  I had my first experience with a Nigerian shower (bucket shower)- there is a bathtub with one spigot, a bucket, and a bowl.  You fill the bucket, then bathe yourself using the bowl.  Its different but taking a shower is a lot more fun I think. I also met my first Nigerian friend, Towo, who is Moses’s nephew. We spent several hours over the weekend in his 1970’s diesel powered tan/yellow Mercedes Benz as he took us all around the University of Ibadan campus (which is literally a city in and of itself).

Saturday, the day after we arrived in Ibadan, we attended a 40th birthday party (more of a formal ceremony). This party was HUGE! It was also very formal. Everyone was dressed in traditional Yoruba attire. The party began with a 2 hour worship service, complete with a sermon by a pastor (Yoruba people are incurably religious). This was followed by a performance by a band interjected with random speeches by friends and family of the birthday queen. I had a feeling the party might get long when I realized there was an 8 page program to accompany it. A full meal of Jolof Rice, Fried Plantains, coleslaw salad, and beef was served. We only stayed at the party for about two hours, because we were invited to the Vice Chancellor’s house for a barbecue. We met the dean of students and some other faculty members there. The VC’s house was nicer than many in America. He lives in a large solar-powered gated compound complete with a new fly ‘Benz and a private security force.

Living and trying to survive in a new culture is absolutely exhausting. Even though I’m thoroughly enjoying myself and we are being treated like kings and queens, speaking and listening to nothing but Yoruba all day and night definitely is taking its toll. Combine that with new and strange foods, a totally new visual environment, intense heat and humidity, and living among total strangers, it is a recipe for physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. I never really realized how tired your brain can get from thinking in a foreign language 24/7. All in all though, I feel strong, well, and excited to continue my adventure.

Here are a few photos:

The 4 of us ready for an adventure!

Fried Rice, Fried Plantains, Chicken-My first meal in Nigeria

Ilu Eko (Lagos), Agbegbe Ikeja

The infamous highway between Lagos and Ibadan

The City I live in, Ibadan

A husband and wife get showered in Naira. Nigerians know how to make it rain! (The wife's 40th birthday party)

My class building-the Flagship Center

Funmilayo ati Moses

Nigerians Love PIctures with Oyinbos (white people)

Emi ati Kolade

Dinner at Vice Chancellor's House

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