Archive | October, 2010

Public Transportation in Ibadan

27 Oct

As an American, when I hear the words “public transportation,” images of buses, subways and trains appear. Now that I’ve become a true “omo-Ìbadàn” (child of Ibadan), I think of the three most common forms of transportation here: okadas, danfos, and taxis. An okada is a motorcycle taxi. Okadas are by far the fastest, but also the most dangerous way to get around the city. Usually okadas carry one or two passengers, but I am always entertained by how people push these limits.

Oakada shenanigans

It is not uncommon to see a husband, wife, and their new-born child strapped onto the woman’s back with a piece of cloth (this is how all Yoruba women carry their babies for the first year or so of their lives). I have also seen more strange sights such as people balancing everything from semi truck doors, to a pack of goats tied up, while riding two-deep on the back of an okada.

family okada ride

Okadas are the preferred method of transport by many, as they can weave in and out of cars during traffic jams (which are atrocious at times in Nigeria due to lack of infrastructure and urban planning). Even when there are not traffic jams, the speed of traffic is very slow, as speed bumps are used in place of speed limits, and massive potholes are rampant as well as other obstacles such as goats and chickens that are ever-present on the city streets.

Danfos are extremely old and haggard vans usually crammed to double their intended capacity. The danfo consists of a driver and a conductor, who gathers customers and collects money. In the video below, the conductors are the ones with the throaty voices yelling out the names of neighborhoods (Sango, Mokola Dugbe! Sango Mokola Dugbe! or Beere oja-oba! Beere Oja-oba!). Danfo rides are very uncomfortable to say the least. Passengers alternate between leaning forward and backward, as there is not enough space for everyone to sit in a line.


When the danfo is not moving (a majority of the time), body odor, diesel exhaust, trash-fire smoke, smoking fish, urine, and gasoline quickly find their way up your nose nostrils. I always quickly sweat through my clothing in danfos, not only from the heat outside, but because the heat from the engine is enough to make you hold your knees tight to your chest to keep your feet off of the scorching hot floor. Nonetheless, riding a danfo is an experience. Danfo drivers are often illiterate and have no drivers lisences, so sketchy flirts with car accidents, colorful language on behalf of the driver and those the driver has offended, and jerky, jostling movement from the gear shifts and turns of the steering wheel never fail to add to the excitement.

Taxis, although they sound fairly civilized, are more like mini-danfos. They are packed full-two passengers in the single front seat, usually someone on someone else’s lap in the back. They rarely start by the ignition, usually by hot-wire or a push start. Gages, radios, air conditioning, padding on seats and doors, and functioning door handles are almost never present. Despite all of these scratches and dents I’ve described, this public transportation system suffices to meet the needs of Ibadan’s 5 million citizens everyday. Most everyone uses public transportation somewhat regularly. Even though my family has three automobiles, my mom still scoots all around Ibadan on Danfos as it is often difficult to find a place to park cars, and overheating of cars is a huge concern here (most people turn off their engines when they are driving downhill, or stopped for ANY length of time at an intersection/in a traffic jam). I am highly impressed by the fact that although there is no organized single entity that makes up pubic transportation here, individuals have stepped up to fill in the discrepancy in social amenities left by Nigeria’s horribly corrupt and ineffective government. It is yet another example of how chaos breeds creativity. I would argue that danfos run more regularly than New York City subways, and although they may take longer sometimes, they are much more personalized.

The video below highlights my daily routing going to my internship in the morning-a radio and TV studio about 4-5 miles away from my home. The journey usually takes about an hour, but i’ve condensed it into a six minute video. Hope you enjoy!


Videos from my bday party

22 Oct

courtesy of Cara Titilayo Harshman…

Yoruba Traditional Court

18 Oct

It is no secret that Americans love to sue each other and that civil court cases are a part of our culture. You don’t really even need to have a good reason to sue in America; perhaps you have a lot of free time and want to sue Starbucks for not warning you that their coffee is hot. Perhaps you want to sue MTV’s show ‘Jackass’ because you attempted one of Steve-O’s stunts at home and got hurt. Maybe you just want to divorce your husband. As Americans, we also have the luxury of access to a well-established court system run by our government that is intertwined with and synonymous with the law. For example, if you win a civil suit and the party you sued doesn’t pay their settlement, the law has consequences for them and entitlements for you. Obviously this option/comfort doesn’t exist on the same level in Nigeria. Yes, there are courts run by the government but due to Nigeria’s political structure and development, there is simply no room for any type of civil dispute in their government court system. Police are also often overworked and untrustworthy, so going to the police when you are the victim of a crime isn’t always the best option. Thus, Yoruba people have their own traditional court system that has been in existence since the origins of the tribe in small villages. In the city of Ibadan (population circa five million), this is obviously not the same as the traditional meeting of town elders practiced in the olden days. I had the opportunity of attending a modern, yet traditional Yoruba court proceeding last week. It occurred, of all places, at the local TV station.

When I arrived at my internship last Thursday morning at the Oyo state radio and television station, BCOS, I didn’t really understand what was about to happen as my boss led Lauren and I down a hall explaining we would be going to a court. I was expecting the Nigerian version of Judge Judy. We walked outside, crossed a grassy field, and arrived at an old building with no walls or electricity (it reminded me of something at the Wisconsin State fair). There was a large mass of seemingly disorganized people inside. We were instructed to sit at a table and observe what was going on. We were sitting with the panel of TV station employees, who were also apparently court clerks. Various citizens of Ibadan were waiting patiently for their turn to speak to the clerks. The came forward one at a time, explained who they wanted to “sue,” their reasoning, provided any relevant details/documentation, and then left. The clerks then scheduled a date for a hearing and that was that. The TV station would notify the person being sued of the hearing. If the person doesn’t show up for the date they are subpoenaed for, BCOS has the power to put their picture and all other relevant information needed to thoroughly humiliate and embarrass on TV for all of Oyo state to see (ah, so that’s why its at the TV station!).

The complaints brought fourth ranged from a market boy erecting a cell-phone card stand on someone’s property without permission, to someone stealing a car from a mechanic, to a woman being a victim of a horrible 419 scam. The 419 victim appeared to be about 60 years old (she could have been much older, people here hardly show age), and showed up with a contract from a realtor.

The old lady who lost all her savings

The contract explained that she was entitled to a house and a piece of property and that she had paid in full for it. After spending her life savings on a house, she was never given keys by the realtor, and after doing more research, realized that the house did not actually belong to the relator and that someone else already occupied it. The house was never actually for sale. She was extremely emotionally distraught, as the “realtor” had vanished and ditched his phone (obviously). I felt horrible for the woman. She was just an honest, hard working person who wanted the best for her kids (she was currently helping to raise her grandchildren at home). She had previously lost her husband, and now all of her savings too. Even more disturbing is that this so called realtor had had enough meetings with this woman to know exactly what kind of situation he was putting her in-all for his own selfish gain. This just goes to show the level of poverty, economic disparity, and desperation that exists here. People who are desperate take drastic measures. Although this scammer was most likely a well-versed con-man who has done financially well for himself, the motivating factors present in society here attempt to help you understand why people go to such drastic measures to make money.

After an hour at the intake table, Lauren and I were escorted to an actual proceeding. The “courtroom” in this case was an old office/storage room. There was a plastic picnic table with eight plastic chairs facing each other. Two elder TV station employees sat at one side, and five people sat on the other side. The elders acted as the judges, and both parties on the other side represented themselves. The dispute was trespassing.

waiting for registration

The accusing party said that a contractor had unlawfully used their yard to carry cement to a neighbor’s house, and that it has destroyed their property. The accused party brought along the cement man himself as a witness, and the accusing party brought the landlord. Both parties requested money from the other party. The proceeding was surprisingly tame and civil. Based on the level of enthusiasm presented by locals at church, I was expecting an all out yelling riot. No one spoke out of turn however, and everyone was very patient. Lauren and I had to leave, so we didn’t get to see how the case turned out, but I was quite fascinated by this alternative justice system locals completely rely on and put faith in. I am very impressed with how citizens take matters like this into their own hands. Just because the government can’t provide the instructor doesn’t mean it can’t exist. The level of creativity demonstrated here is inspiring. If only this creativity could be used to bring some running water to my house!

the intake pannel

Waiting to register

A memorable 21st birthday

13 Oct

**disclaimer-any misspellings, incorrect synonym usage (i.e. preying vs. praying), sentence structure or other types of poor English grammar usage are not intentional and are purely result of the ratio of Yoruba to English use in my life over the last month**

Although many college students in America have a hard time remembering their 21st birthdays, I will have a hard time forgetting mine. As I eluded to in my last entry, I knew it would not be a minute occurrence based on the perpetration I witnessed in the days before the big event. Starting last Thursday (the day before my birthday), my family was frantically scrambling around making last minute arrangements for my party-assembling a program, inviting “guests of honor,” picking up our new clothes from the tailor, picking up my birthday cake, writing invitation letters, etc.

Bday Cake

One interesting cultural observation I made relates to the formality of invitations. Last week, I casually invited several friends and acquaintances to my party, some by choice and others by default (if a friend hears from a friend you’re having a party, they’ll sarcastically whine to you like a little girl until you give in and invite them). Many of these acquaintances I invited asked for invitations, and were quite perplexed when I said I didn’t have any yet.

Okadas (don't worry there were no goats on mine)

Several asserted that they would not come without an invitation. I remember one man asking, “In America, if someone invites you to a party, you don’t just show up without an invitation do you?” “A lot of the time, yes,” was my response. He thought that was so strange. Due to the fact that my dad finished the invitation letters on Wednesday night, I woke up early Thursday to scurry around campus on my feet, okadas (riding on the back of a motorcycle), and taxis to make all of my deliveries before my morning class began.

Friday, the big day itself, unfortunately provided me with no opportunity to sleep in. I was first awoken at 5:15AM by eight continuous phone calls. I didn’t answer until the last, and realized it was my older host brother calling to wish my a happy birthday (I wish I could learn how this culture survives on so little sleep). At 5:50AM, my younger host brother came into my room and wanted me to read the program for my birthday party to make sure it satisfied me. If you haven’t already caught on, its hard to satisfy my with anything before 7AM except a shot of espresso (nonexistent here). A half hour later, he came wanting to know what I wanted for breakfast. Just as it is in my culture to sleep until the sun comes up, it is in theirs to be as hospitable as possible, and I tried to repeat this over and over in my head as I sulked out of bed at 6:30. I went outside to turn on our running water supply (which I can use usually twice a week to shower as an alternative to the bucket shower), and returned again after I showered wearing only a towel.

Lookin' Spiffy

As I was navigating between two banana trees to turn the water back off, my towel fell off. I heard “Òyìnbó n rín hòhò!” (white person is walking around naked) from across the yard. I quickly returned the towel to its proper place and scurried back in the house without turning my face toward the direction of the voice. I came out of my room wearing the outfit my family chose as my “birthday fabric,” but this was apparently not appropriate to wear until the party started, so my mom made me go change into the other outfit they bought me. I never really mastered this growing up at home, but I’ve definitely mastered doing what I’m told without asking anyone but myself why (a very frequent occurrence). To my embarrassment, about 10 minutes after the towel incident outside, my host brother took me outside to introduce me to the woman making all the food for my party, who turned out to be the one who saw me naked.

The day passed by quickly, and before I knew it I was suited up in my new guinea fabric traditional Yoruba outfit. My parents arrived ten minutes after the party was supposed to start to begin setting up the food, etc. Although I still had a slight inclination to worry that none of the other guests had yet arrived , “africa time” has pretty much settled into my daily routine. I don’t mean this in a negative way at all, but things in Nigeria rarely start on time. This isn’t because people aren’t punctual, or because they disregard schedules. More accurately, the common American saying “time is money” is highly frowned upon here.

Opening Prayer from my mom at my party

In fact, there is a Yoruba proverb that states, “Àìfarabálè, olórí àrùn ni,” which means the frustrated/impatient/not calm/in a hurry person is the chief of disease. The pace of life here is very relaxed, and events are arranged (usually last minute) by relative importance in a spacial method of organization, as opposed to a pre-determined linear time schedule. Everyone has their own reasons for not showing up on time, but usually people are still focused on not being late. One of the most common farewell greetings in Yoruba you hear countless times per day is “E má pé o!” which means don’t be late, and is almost synonymous with goodbye here. I chuckle to myself overtime I hear this, as it turns out to be highly paradoxical in practice. I realize I just went out on a tangent, but it suffices to explain why I waited a little over an hour longer for the party to start. When it finally began, only half the guests had arrived.

Experiencing a traditional Yorùbá party in its natural cultural habitat is really something to see! As the program stated, the schedule for my party went as follows: 1.) Beginning prayer (if you haven’t caught on by now, Yoruba people are ‘incurably religious’). 2.) Introduction of the important guests by the master of ceremony. 3.) Short speech from the head of the household (my host father).

Cutting the cake

4.) Important speech about the meaning of a birthday from Mr. Yisa Oladele Gbadamose, Former Registrar, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Oyo, Nigeria. 5.) Lecture by Dr. Matthew Olawale, Bolarinwa, Professor of Yoruba Language on language usage as a means of bringing peace and unity to the world. 6.) Short speech and toast to the celebrant by Keegan Kolade Adekola. 7.) Eat dinner and drink refreshments. 8.) Various speeches from the guests about the celebrant. 9.) Presentation of gifts to the celebrant. 10.) Take photos outside in the park. 11.) Thank you from the celebrant.

dancing with the mc

12.) Closing prayer. This is no joke! This agenda also resembles pretty much any other formal event I have attended since I arrived, whether it be a wedding, birthday party, retirement party, or religious gathering. My parents also hired two photographers (very common here), one to take video, and one to take still shots of the entire party. Cara also took a video so once I have access to these things you can see what happened for yourselves.

Needless to say, this party left me feeling like I got hit by a bus. I had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs, but it’s not easy being the center of 50 peoples’ attention for three hours. Another contributing factor to my exhaustion was the fact that I knew less than half of the people there, and I had pretty much no say in what was happening nor when it happened. Events began to transpire when someone commanded me, “Kayode, dance! Kayode, walk to the front! Kayode, unwrap the knife and cut the cake! No! That’s too much, don’t spoil it we still have pictures to take!,” etc, etc. I passed out feeling drunk as a skunk from exhaustion, even though I hadn’t consumed a drop of alcohol the entire night.

Most 21st birthday celebrants who pass out at 8PM wake up kneeling down to worship the porcelain gods; I woke up alive, awake, alert and, enthusiastic! Saturday, I was fortunately able to sleep in. I had fun all day. I played drums in a wedding in the morning, went for a relaxing 1800 meter swim in the afternoon (that’s right, University of Ibadan has an olympic-size pool albeit it’s hard to see more than a foot beneath the surface), and went to a second birthday party for myself in the evening.

beautiful sunset as the party was wrapping up

This party was thrown by Glenn, a professor from America here for the year on Fullbright to teach courses. Glenn, us five Flagship students, and Matt and Sarah (a UW grad student and his wife here doing research) have bonded as we are some of the only white people around and have had many experiences adapting to this strange and new culture. This party was slightly more of a traditional American 21st birthday party, and it was a nice change of pace from the formal Yoruba party I had the night before. All in all, I am honored and feel so loved by my family and everyone here. I’ve never been treated this well in America for a birthday and it is certainly one I’ll never forget! I’m also relieved that “Kayode-fest” has finally come to an end and the spotlight isn’t on me anymore.

guests of honor (whom I'd never met before)

my neighbors

faculty of arts staff

the oyinbos

flagship staff

Program for Saturday's Party (we didn't actually follow this in case you were wondering)

The Element of Surprise

4 Oct

Nigeria is constantly keeping my on the tips of my toes and the edge of my seat. Not a day goes by where something completely unexpected and surprising doesn’t happen at least once. Last Friday was Nigeria’s 50th anniversary of succession from Great Britain. Due to the unrelenting pride that Nigerians take in their country, this day was not a minute occurrence. As an expat, I was merely looking forward to the possibility of being able to sleep past 8 (which I haven’t done since I arrived over three weeks ago), and the possibility of watching an American movie, exercising, and attending to other personal, independent, and self-centered activities I no longer have much of an opportunity to partake in. At 5:45 AM, my younger host brother kicked my door open and came to wake me up. “I want to sleep, no class today!” I muttered in half Yoruba and half English. He respectfully left, only to return 3 more times within the next 10 minutes. “O yá ó yá, oúnje ti délé oooo!” (hurry up, breakfast is ready). “I don’t want to eat, I’ll wait ’till lunch, please go away,” I repeated in Yoruba. After a half hour of this nonsense, I swallowed my pride and decided that a warm cup of coffee was more realistic than getting anymore sleep amongst the roosters, dogs, cats, goats, blaring TV’s, car engines, generator noise, and unrelenting greetings by my brother. After a breakfast of yam and eggs, my mom sat down and explained that I woke up early because they were taking me to the market to buy me traditional Yorùbá clothing to wear on my birthday (this coming Friday)! My groggy and irritable 6AM demeanor quickly faded into a delighted, humble, and excited state. My family hopped in our V-Boot Mercedes Benz and we were off to Gbagi, a huge outdoor textile market in Ibadan.

Gbagi market is like any other in Ibadan-extremely congested, lots of feeble shanty’s, hundreds of sellers approaching you and grabbing you to entice you into buying fabric.

Gbagi Clothing Market

My mom wouldn’t let any of these people get near me though, as she was on a mission. We weaved our way through the seemingly logic-less infrastructure of Gbagi, until we reached a small hut that was locked up. My family’s usual cloth seller had not yet arrived. The sellers in the surrounding huts quickly approached me when they heard me speaking Yoruba, and brought me everything from water satchels to Jolof Rice. Nigerians are so accommodating to visitors! I didn’t partake though, partly because I had a yam-baby in my stomach, and partly because the sanitation of dishwashing I observed in the surrounding areas didn’t exactly tantalize my palate. Finally, the cloth seller arrived. I was instantly instructed to sit on a big and comfy lazy boy style chair while the cloth seller and her workers quickly scurried a plethora of cloth options past me. I finally settled on two types of fabric.

My dad and my family's tailor

Not only did my mom insist on paying for them, she bought enough fabric for our entire family to have matching outfits (this is a huge deal in Yoruba culture, for families to wear matching outfits to special occasions)! After we left the market, we wove through the dusty and congested streets of Ibadan in the V-boot until we reached the house of my family’s tailor. When you buy traditional clothing in Nigeria, you must first buy the fabric, then take it to a tailor to have clothing made. By the time the tailor completed my measurements, a horde of the cutest Nigerian kids had congregated outside the shop, as they saw me get out of the car earlier. I hung out with them and played with them for a while, which brought me a lot of joy. Nigerian kids are so mature, funny, and well behaved.

On the way home, we spent a considerable amount of time stuck in traffic on a divided-highway style expressway. Suddenly, there appeared to be a lot of commotion outside-people screaming, running, and women taking off their geles (head ties) and swatting themselves. Mere seconds after comprehending this observation, our car was filled with wasps as we slowly creeped into a black cloud that engulfed the entire road. The chaos spread to the car-stinging, yelling, swatting, and preying (typical Yorùbá reactions to adverse situations). After a minute or so, my dad broke into english (typical of him when he is angry), “This is bullshit!” Within seconds, the V-boot was cutting hard left straight across the muddy, grassy, and litter-infested median. Feelings similar to those I usually experience on the first drop on a roller coaster overtook me, but the stakes were a little higher this time. We were driving down a two-lane expressway going the wrong way on the wrong side! My mom was preying out loud in the front seat, my dad was calmly driving with his arm out the window to wave the on-coming highway traffic aside, my younger host brother was busy swatting wasps, and I was freaking out. Of course, as soon as we crossed the median, nearly every other car in the wasp-cloud followed, so now there was a caravan of cars driving the wrong way on the wrong side of the road. This was another one of those unexpected events where all I could think was “this would NEVER happen in America.” A mere six minutes later, the commotion subsided as we finally re-crossed the median and impatiently budged our way back into the gridlock traffic. I can’t help but to wonder what a typical “behind-the-wheel” session in driving school is like here.

The third significant unexpected event this weekend occurred outside of a church on Saturday. I went to the church for a rehearsal for their music group, as I am in the process of learning to play the traditional Yorùbá talking drum (ìlú omelet àti ìlú gángan) and will play in their band after I have achieved a little competency. I was standing outside of the church talking to some of the fellow band members, while in the meantime, a wedding reception was happening in an adjacent building (that was also part of the church). Suddenly, a circular glob of about nine people busted out of the main entrance yelling and screaming. The 50 or so people in the parking lot who were leaving the ceremony instantly set their eyes on this mass of people. When my eyes finally focused on these people, I realized this mass of people was actually eight guys-against one in a brawl. Four people were holding the poor man in the middle still, while four different men were wailing on the helpless victim. Punches, slaps, spitting, you name it, this group angry wedding attendees was showing no mercy. After about 30 seconds (this was very difficult to watch), one of the men kicked the victim in the crotch so that he was completely incapacitated. Another man swiftly kicked his legs out from under him so he fell to the ground. Meanwhile, people were running out of the church and the reception room, yelling “Stop it for christ’s sake this is a church! What are you thinking!?” as they approached the fight. I turned to my fellow bandmates and asked “what is going on?” They casually replied, “ah, he must be a thief,” and then quickly resumed conversation amongst themselves. Although it was hard to watch, I couldn’t look away. The semi-unconscious man/thief, now on the ground, was humbly accepting kicks to the ribs and heel-stomps to his face. Finally, the group of men dragged him into a car. “They’re going to the police station,” one of my bandmates calmly remarked me. I couldn’t get this scenario out of my head for the rest of the day. When I returned home, I explained what happened to my family with urgency, worry, and surprise. My mom’s reaction led me to believe this is something very common here-“ah, a thief,” after I was only one-third of the way through my explanation. While the communal society attitude towards thief’s here is comforting in some ways (if you yell thief and point at someone in the market, it is like a death sentence for that person), it is still hard to witness this unique version of “citizen’s arrest.” This experience is yet another that sticks to me like fly paper, yet locals brush off their shoulders. Thus is Nigeria. I guess the moral of the story is if you’re going to crash a wedding in Nigeria, don’t steal anyone’s cell phone.

more kids at the tailor's place and my younger brother Azeez (right)

cute kids!

My family's fabric dealer

Gbagi Market

All of us at Prof. Olateju's House for an Independence Day Party

kids at the tailor's


Familiy's new compound

From the balcony of my family's compound

My family outside of their new compound

happy birthday Nigeria!

me, my mom, dad, and younger brother

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