Now that I have been in Nigeria for 12 days, some of the true societal differences between here and America have become very prevalent to me. Some things are easy to adjust to and have become apart of my daily routine. For example, last Saturday it didn’t phase me that immediately after waking up, the first thing I did was spend a half hour outside in the mud and pouring rain helping my host father re-fit pipe couplings in an attempt to try and fix our running water system (I haven’t had running water in my house at all during my stay). After several failed attempts to fix it, we began to carry large basins of water from the outside water pump into the bathrooms for the day’s use. After a short “wall-gecko massacre” in my bathroom (with a jagged, old, wooden stick) , I could finally bathe and get ready for the day. Another example is I find that I’m not even noticing when the power goes out anymore (several times a day, sometimes for hours at a time). As someone said yesterday, “you know you’ve become a true Nigerian when your conversation doesn’t pause when the room becomes pitch black.” Hooking up generators, doing everything by the light of my headlamp, the constant smell of diesel fuel and kerosene (nearly everything here from cars to kitchen appliances to generators runs on one of the two), food so spicy it makes your eyes and nose run, and the lack of toilet paper, napkins, and paper towels are things I’ve gotten used to. The unyielding nose of roosters at 5am, Africa Magic tv blasting, baby screams, horns beeping, cars backfiring, singing, drumming, and other noises I can’t quite Identify have quickly worked their way off of my conscious radar, as they are so frequent and prevalent, and unending. A few things I brought with that have been invaluable to me to help me adjust to these factors are earplugs, my headlamp, duct tape, and a pocket knife. Another thing I think is cool is that everyone’s cell phones here have a flashlight on them (also, the typical Nigerian also has at least 3 cell phones, all on different networks).
Some things, however, are more difficult to adjust to, as I am having trouble letting go of some of my American logic. One particular source of frustration that I’m constantly trying to numb/dull is the pace of life here. Although I have been here for 12 days, it feels like at least a month. This is in part due to the fact that I’ve experienced so many new things each day, met so many new people, and learned so many new things about Yoruba, people, and life in general, that it feels like my life is on fast forward. Conversely, another reason is that things move very slow here. In America, time is money and efficiency seems to be one of the largest mechanisms that keeps our society moving. This is not the case in Nigeria at all. Things here move at a completely different pace, and without a sense of humor and ability to be extremely flexible, you would literally go crazy. Perhaps the quintessential example of this has been the process in which we’ve followed to register as students. Last week, we spent nearly all day every day working on this seemingly simple task. There were really only a handful of basic tasks to accomplish-meet with the dean and get a letter admitting us as students, register at the hospital, obtain student ID cards and library cards, and open a bank account. Although we started on this to-do list 8 days ago, nothing has been fully completed. Why? This is a question i’ve been pondering every moment of everyday. My typical day last week looked something like this-1.) arrive at our class center and sit around/browse on the internet while our teachers figured out a ‘plan for the day’. 2.) Go to the dean’s office to have a meeting (which we scheduled with him on the phone). 3.) Wait at the deans office for 45 minutes (he was “running late from a meeting”), then decide to leave and come back later because he wasn’t going to arrive for quite some time. 3.) Go to the student ID card office and attempt to obtain an ID card. 4.) Realize that the ‘boss’ wasn’t in his office, and without his approval, we can’t obtain student ID cards. The 10 or 15 employees sitting around in the office laughing and talking didn’t really seem to be doing anything, certainly nothing that could help us obtain ID cards. After the 4th day of visiting this office, when one of the secretaries stated, “by god’s grace, the boss will see you tomorrow,” I couldn’t help thinking, “Actually lady, I’m tired of needing to rely on ‘god’s grace’ to get this stupid ID card…how about by your grace and by the work you do in this office the boss will see me.” 5.) Go to the library and attempt to get an ID card. After receiving the card, we were told we couldn’t use it yet because we needed to take it somewhere else to basically have a type-writer put our names on the card. 6.) Go get our names put on the card. 7.) Return to the library to find out we still couldn’t finish this unnecessarily long process, as the power was out so the card laminator wasn’t working. 8.) Go eat lunch at a cafeteria on campus (about $1USD buys you a huge plate of rice and beans, tomato-pepper stew, fried plantains, a soda or Schwepp’s bitter lemon drink, and a bottle of water.) 9.) Return to the dean’s office to find out he is there, but won’t be able to finish our letter until the next day. 10.) Give up because its 3:30 PM and everything on campus closes at 4PM so it is too late to try and accomplish anything else.
Pretty much everyday last week had an itinerary similar to the one above. Another example of the pace of life here is my bank account. We went to the bank last week, I deposited most of the money I have here. Seven days later, I still don’t have a bank account number, debit card, or 100% assurance that I wasn’t just a victim of some financial scam. My older host sister and teachers have assured me that the bank is reputable and that I will be able to obtain the number soon. Yesterday, I got a call from the banked saying they couldn’t finalize my information until I gave them my student ID card. Of course, due to the convoluted daily routine I described above, I still have not received the card. Patience is more than a virtue here-it is a way of life. One thing I’ve come to realize is that if you can accomplish one thing per day here, you’re doing pretty good. Last Friday, for example, was a successful day because we accomplished one thing completely-we had a meeting with the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, and all the department heads. Our meeting was an hour long-half of it was spent introducing ourselves and saying thank you, and the other half was spent preying. We also ate and took a group picture. That was the entire meeting! It was a success though, because we got everyone together at one time.
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a traditional Yoruba wedding. I didn’t know I’d be going to the wedding until Keegan woke me up with a phone call and said him and his host father would come and pick me up in 45 minutes. We walked through the muddy roads of Agbowo (the neighborhood outside the UI campus) until we arrived at the church. Stepping out of the busy, dirty Ibadan streets and into the church was like teleporting into another world. The Church was beautifully immaculate, and full of various wedding decorations. Like every other formal Yoruba event that I’ve attended, the wedding was extremely long and formal-there was a 20 page program accompanying the ceremony. As usual, most of the people there were interested in greeting Keegan and I, and hearing us speak Yoruba. As we were waiting for the ceremony to begin, another cultural difference between America and Nigeria became evident-there is a complete lack of subtlety in Yoruba culture. Keegan and I were sitting next to each other, and when one older women greeted me, they asked if Keegan was my wife. I speculate this was because of his long hair, but it still confused us, as he was wearing a tie and obvious male clothing.
The wedding ceremony was long, and sometimes a little dry and boring for me. Right as I was about to lose interest, however, the band started playing. This was by far the best live music I’ve seen since I arrived in Nigeria, and by far the best music I’ve ever seen at a wedding. At American wedding’s you’re lucky to see a DJ paling the latest Lady GaGa hit mixed in with some AC/DC and 80s hits, or perhaps a lame Tom Jones cover band. In Nigeria, the bands not only play original, fresh music incorporating the traditional Yoruba Ilu Gangan (talking drum), they get the entire room up and dancing! Whenever the band started playing, the entire room got up and got down (at the church during the ceremony)! The traditional Yoruba style of dancing is to keep your feet stationary, stick your but out, make fists with your hands at chest level and shake them, while gently rotating your body two and fro with the beat. Then, you get as low as you can, with your rear end leading your body. The deep beat we could all feel in our hearts drove every buba-wearing man and gele-wearing woman in the room down to the ground and back up again. It was truly a sight to see! The musical interludes were surrounded by prayers, sermons, and of course the marriage ceremony itself. After the ceremonial stuff was finished, the band played for 45 minutes in sort of a jam fashion. The preacher traded in his authoritative public speaking stance for a rapper/performer stance on the podium, and began a loud and energetic call and response dialogue with the audience. This was by far the most fun I’ve ever had at a church. I couldn’t wipe the ear-to-ear grin off my face, or nullify the goosebumps all over my body I was feeling from the power of the music. This is a moment I will never forget. Another thing that really struck me is how people here actually FEEL music. The over-presence of over-produced and heartless/feelingless pop music in America has created a culture of music listeners who listen to music only. Seeing all of these traditional Yoruba people truly in their element who were FEELING the music, dancing and singing along was the quintessential example of the power that music can have, and how many Americans never experience this. I am so thankful that I was able to go to this wedding. The hair on the back of my neck still stands up when I think about it.