One aspect of Yoruba culture that always impresses me is the relationships between customers and those that they regularly do business with. My family, in particular, has truly exemplified traditional Yoruba roles in interacting with nearly everyone they call on to purchase a product or perform a service. I’ll now give you a few examples of my observations that have led me to this conclusion.
Two weekends ago, I dragged myself into our family room after waking up and saw a stranger sitting on our couch. His face had several dark red lacerations, each oozing some sort of appalling puss substance. I quietly greeted him and continued into the kitchen to boil water for my coffee (always my first priority after waking up). Ten minutes later, my dad and the man left. When I asked my mom who he was, she explained that he was a driver that my family occasionally uses when they don’t want to drive themselves places (for far trips, etc). She explained that he was driving a car the day before, and started it via hot-wiring (many cars here don’t have working ignitions) after filling the car with fuel. A residual spark caught a drop of oil that had spilled on his hands, and the entire car was soon in flames after water-bottles full of extra fuel in the backseat quickly ignited. As a result, the driver had horrible burns all over his body. My dad immediately called him to our house when he heard what had happened so he could take the driver to the doctor.
The same weekend, on the way back from a birthday party, my dad accidentally drover over a sharp metal object and popped a tire. Within ten minutes, three different mechanics*, our family tailor, and a leader from my family’s mosque had ridden okadas from all over the city to come to the rescue (it seemed a bit excessive to me). Even though most of them ended up being of no help (there are only so many people that can help change a tire), I was impressed by the fact that all of these people immediately dropped whatever they were doing to come and help us.
Recently, I accidentally ripped a pair of pants while getting in a danfo and although it brought a nice breeze between my legs, I needed to have out tailor fix it. When I asked my mom how much it would cost she said, “nothing, our tailor always fixes stuff like that for free for us,” as though it was out of the question for me to even assume that I had to pay anything.
One day last week, I went to go by bread from our usual “bread lady” at the market, and when I returned I greeted my mom for her as she told me to. My mom was washing dishes, scooping water out of a bucket on the floor, and said, “Oh, that reminds me, the bread lady gave us this bucket last year as a gift!” I think it’s pretty novel to exchange gifts with people you casually buy bread from.
Another example is the “peanut lady.” There is a lady that always stands outside my mom’s school selling peanuts. My mom buys a big bottle of roasted peanuts (usually in a used gin or whiskey bottle) every few days so we can have snacks at home. Last week, the peanut lady had taken a trip to visit her family in their village. Due to the fact that the peanut lady was gone, instead of going to one of the other million or so peanut ladies in Ibadan, we didn’t have any peanuts at home. Now that’s customer loyalty!
One final example occurred two Saturdays ago, while on my usual early morning coffee mission, I noticed another stranger sitting in our family room. My mom explained that it was the wife of one of our mechanics*. My dad was mediating a fight between the husband and wife. I left shortly thereafter to run some errands out in the city, and when I returned three hours later, the husband was there and my dad was playing the role of the mediator. My dad spent an entire Saturday morning to help out our mechanic and his wife get over their fight!
“Yorubaland,” or the southwest region of Nigeria is very much a communal society, and the implications and ways in which this societal structure manifests itself is very apparent. I have a hard time envisioning a mechanic from the local Midas coming over to my house in America with his wife on a Saturday morning so my dad can spend three hours helping them mediate a fight.
*You may have noticed I made a lot of references to mechanics. I was also initially perplexed by the fact that my family has several mechanics. In America, when you bring your car to a shop, one mechanic can usually take care of any problem. In Nigeria, however, I have observed that different mechanics specialize in different types of repairs and different brands of cars. My family has three automobiles, so depending on what sort of difficulty may arise, they have a different mechanic to handle any possible situation.