Archive | December, 2010

Omolúwàbi…E se! A dúpé!

31 Dec

Prior to coming to Nigeria, many people (particularly at UW-Madison) tried to paint the worst picture possible about this country. I was told about the intense and ever-present dangers of armed robbery, kidnapping, financial scamming, and other potentially life-threatening situations such as disease that I would surely fall victim to should I come to Nigeria. Obviously many of these adversities are unfortunately a part of everyday life in Nigeria, but they are also in America (just not at the same magnitude). In Ibadan, one of the more peaceful cities in Nigeria (that is if you don’t count traffic craziness, noise, and pollution), I have never felt unsafe. Most of what gives Nigeria a bad wrap happens in the Niger Delta (the oil rich region where oil companies have been uprooting native citizens for years, who have thus turned restless and began fighting) and parts of the north. Obviously these parts of the country are more dangerous, but it is not as if it is impossible or a bad idea to visit these places. I am constantly thinking about how I had to withdraw as a student from UW-Madison because of the so called “dangers” and “risks” in this program, and how the school absolutely could not be a part of something so dangerous. UW often quoted a former ambassador to Nigeria in their attempts to persuade me not to go, who like most of the staff I have met at the American Consulate in Lagos, holds a fearful stance toward this country, mostly because of fear of the unknown. This former ambassador was quoted to say things about Ibadan such as “the University of Ibadan’s educational facilities are sub-par and dilapidated.” True, the University of Ibadan does not physically resemble UW-Madison, but within the context of Nigeria it is a very nice place and achieves a great deal academically. I did not come here expecting to have the exact experience I had at UW Madison. Had I wanted the same type of experience, I would have gone somewhere in the western more-developed world, or perhaps chosen one of these programs-http://www.theonion.com/articles/report-more-colleges-offering-dickaround-abroad-pr,18092/. One of the reasons Nigeria is appealing to me is how different it is from America, and how little the general American population knows about this place (even some so-called experts working for the State Department here seem very out of place and out of the loop). Not to say these people are not educated, but as someone who has taken it upon himself to actually get to know the language, the people, and the culture here, you have a lot less to fear when you have built relationships with people and actually know how to read situations through their own cultural lenses. Coming to understand a place so incredibly different from where I came from is what has been the most rewarding, beneficial, and is what has really changed my view of the world and of people forever.

A fine example of a situation completely contradictory to the rumors people tried to scare me with happened to me about two weeks ago. I was in a danfo (“bush taxi” or public transportation van) in Ibadan going out to lunch with Keegan and Lauren, two of the other American students in my program. After I had paid the danfo fare, I put my wallet in my lap, thinking I would transfer it back to my pocket in a second. Suddenly, a motorcycle driver drove in front of us perpendicular to our direction of travel when we were traveling nearly 25 miles per hour. The danfo driver swerved, slammed on the brakes, and the driver began the usual shower of insults at the okada/motorcycle (O ti yà wèrè! Eranko! Ori e ti darú!), all of which are very common to hear on the wild roads of Ibadan. Somehow in this chaos, my wallet fell off my lap, on to the ground, and completely off my radar. I got off the danfo at Dugbe, the “downtown” area of Ibadan so to speak, and we proceeded towards the Koko Dome, our lunch destination. Totally parched, soaking wet from sweat, and very hungry, I was relived to finally arrive after the half an hour long van ride followed by a 20 minute walk in the hot sun. The smell of Lebanese mezzo, beer, and the sight of the cool clean Koko dome pool made me forget about the layer of soot from trash fire smoke and diesel exhaust covering my skin. I began to feel like I was in a 1960’s James Bond movie. I began to instinctively pat my pocket to make sure I had my wallet. I panicked when it wasn’t there, then remembered my stupid move of not returning the wallet to my pocket in the chaos of the okada cutting us off. I quickly ran back to where we got off the danfo, weaving my way between cars, market women, men pushing wheelbarrows, and the other usual obstacles of the crowded Dugbe market. Trying to find a specific danfo in Ibadan is literally like looking for a needle in a haystack. All of the haggard, old, loud, rusting late-model Toyota vans look the same, and all the drivers and conductors resemble each other. I remembered the danfo we were in had an unusually “nice” ceiling (a cheap peace of plastic taped to the ceiling that looked like wood grain), so I ran half bent over trying to look inside at the ceiling of each danfo I passed. So many people were yelling, “Oyinbo, kí ló n wá? Níbo ló n lo? Kí lo n se? Kí ló n se e?” Which means, white man where are you going? What are you doing? What are you looking for? What’s wrong with you? I didn’t care, I just wanted to find my wallet. After an inevitable lack of success, I reluctantly returned to the restaurant, feeling better that at least I had tried. I only had 300 Naira (2USD) in my wallet. Slightly more importantly, my debit card and University of Ibadan ID card were there, but I could replace them with time. I relaxed and ate a Lebanese chicken kabob and drank a cold Heineken, forgetting about my issues.

The next morning I woke up extremely early to get to the bank to cancel my debit card. On the way, Moses, my resident director called me saying someone had called him to let him know they found my wallet and were going to return it! I remembered that I had an “in case of emergency call this number” card with Moses’s number in my wallet. I quickly met Moses and we ran to Sango, a neighborhood in Ibadan to meet the man and collect my wallet. Unfortunately, this again was like looking for a needle in a haystack, as the man didn’t have a phone of his own and had called us from a call center. He gave us no specific place to meet him. Moses had to go meet someone else for a meeting so he gave me his phone and I waited for nearly an hour. Then, I began walking around Sango thinking that the man knew I was white (due to the picture on my ID card) and that he would recognize me (I was literally the only white man in Sango at the time, or at least that I saw). After another half hour of no luck, the man finally called me and after a few broken conversations we found each other! Everything in my wallet was there! He had taken a little money out to use to call me but obviously I was fine with it. I took him back to UI so I could give him more money to compensate him for the incredibly nice deed he had just done for me, and so Moses could thank him in person.

Although there are bad people in Nigeria, there are bad people all over the world. Unfortunately the bad people in Nigeria make it to the news more often than the good, even though it is strikingly obvious that the good outnumber the bad by far. As in any place as a foreigner, you must be careful. At the same time, Nigerians are so nice and so incredibly, overwhelmingly hospitable to visitors, I would almost (emphasis on almost) expect someone to return my wallet to me. I certainly did not expect it was beyond flattered that this nice guy had spent nearly 24 hours trying to locate me in a city of five million people. This man is a true Yoruba “Omoluwabi” (translation-child of god we gave birth to, the ideally perfect Yoruba child who exemplifies amazing character traits). This situation really made me think hard about the horrendous picture that was painted of Nigeria before I came, and my own mental picture I hold now. Although NIgeria isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing place (especially in Ibadan), there are some amazing people here. I will also think twice about leaving my wallet out of my pocket for any amount of time and probably be overly anal about making sure it is in my pocket.

Child Naming Ceremony-“Isomolorúko”

14 Dec

As promised two entries ago, I will now explain the Yorùbá tradition of the child naming ceremony. When a child is born in America, the name is often times chosen days, months, or even years before the actual birth. Although there are exceptions to the rule, a child born in Yorubaland doesn’t receive its names until about a week after the birth. Once the mother has had a bit of time to rest, the Yorubas hold a child naming ceremony to officially welcome the child into the world, give it praises and prayers to see it has a successful life, and most importantly: name it.

The new baby with her parents and grandparents

The child naming ceremony resembles a typical Yorùbá party type of gathering in that it usually takes place outside under a tent, involves a gratuitous amount of praying, and is full of celebration. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to help my older host sister Mutiat and her husband Taoreed (CHECK) welcome their new baby girl into the world. The event was held at their house in Ile-Ife Nigeria, considered to be the religious and physical origin of the Yoruba people.

In the week before the ceremony, my parents (who had recently become first time grandparents) were ecstatic and frantically preparing for the child naming ceremony from the moment my older brother came sprinting into our flat one morning (from the room he lives in down the road) to deliver the message that Mutiat finally had her baby. It was both joyous and emotional to see my parents go through such a life changing event. The day of the ceremony, guests started arriving at my house at 7:30AM to assemble the convoy that would soon depart for Ile-Ife.

getting ready to depart for Ile-Ife

My parents had rented dishes and made a lot of food to bring to the party. As is customary in Yoruba culture, everyone who saw my parents said special prayers and greetings for them about the new child and their new roles as grandparents, and my parents said traditional prayers and greetings back. Some examples of prayers (translated to English) include “God will watch over the baby,” “greetings for a hand in water (to wash the baby, from times before diapers),” “Joy will go all around for everyone,” and “others will soon see this day of their own.” I can say these prayers and greetings in my sleep now, as every single day between when the baby was born and the child naming ceremony, I woke up between 6 and 6:30AM to a new set of visitors in our living room who had come to congratulate my parents. I was beginning to feel like our house was the office of some sort of important business man given the volume of daily visitors.

About an hour and a half late (Africa time again), we finally departed for Ile-Ife. When we arrived at my sister’s house, we joined mostly family and close friends who were eating a meal inside. After waiting around and talking to people for a few hours, the ceremony under the tent began.

The Ceremony

My family is Muslim, so they followed Islamic traditions with the naming ceremony. Verses from the Koran were read, and Muslim prayers were recited in unison. I can’t speak Arabic, but after this day I can say a few things such as “Thanks be to Allah,” and “Allah willing” due to the gratuitous amounts of time I heard these phrases.

Naira!

The parents and grandparents sat at the front of the tent and passed the baby around as it was given prayers and praises. Money was also collected four or five times for various reasons: care of the baby, care of the mother, general donations, etc. Large silver platters were passed around and each person put a few Naira (or a lot of Naira if you were one of the grandparents) on the platter. After not giving money the first round, Abike and I were guilt-tripped into quickly giving a crisp 500 Naira bill when the MC called us out, “Oyinbo, how much have you given!?!?” when it was our turn. Finally, each of the grandparents gave the baby a name they thought would be fitting. Money was again given by the audience for each of the names that was called. Finally, a slip of paper was handed out with all of the baby’s new names-ten in all.

It is common for a baby to receive at least ten names at a child naming ceremony. Each friend and family member can offer a name. Over the first few months of the child’s life, the names that people call the child by the most are the ones that stick (obviously the parents also have a large influence on this). However, if an elderly person gives a special name to a child at a naming ceremony, he/she may call the child by that name for the rest of its life, even though no one elses refers to the child by that name.

Lots of names!

Names are an extremely significant part of Yoruba culture, and I am genuinely embarrassed to tell people I don’t really know the meaning of my english name. Names in Yoruba are like a sentence-they all have a deep meaning, usually having something to do with wealth, the crown (royalty), joy, or God. Numerous categories of names exist-there are praise names, names that describe the circumstances of the birth of the child (time, place, breached birth, etc.), special names for twins (the Yoruba people have a higher incidence of twin births than any other cultural group in the world), and many more. Names are believed to help predict the future of a child’s life, as well as giving the child an expectation and code to live its life by.

After the ceremony (which lasted about an hour) finished, every kind of Yoruba food you could imagine was available to eat. Various friends and extended family members popped in and out to greet the new parents, get a bite to eat, and socialize all afternoon. I brought my talking drum with me and entertained some of the guests. I met a lot of interesting people and overall it was a cool experience.

Socializing with Friends

My mom (right), a happy new grandmother

Guests during the ceremony

Inside of the compound where the ceremony took place

Èkó ò ní bàjé oooooo!

9 Dec

As some of you know, our group of students was planning on taking a trip to Ghana through Togo and Benin over the last two weeks. Unfortunately, the “Nigerian factor/mentality,” as our teachers call it (people lying to us, cheating us, taking our money, refusing to begin any work on time, seeing white people as an endless source of money to exploit, etc.), we were unable to accept visas or find any success in going on the trip despite the fact that we spent nearly four weeks working hard to get everything in place. Despite the frustration, a few of us were graciously hosted by a friend in Lagos, Africa’s most populous city. I had an amazing time to say the least.

Lagos is one of the most interesting places I have ever visited and I think I can say it is one of my favorite cities. While following typical paradoxes that hold true through out this country (i.e. everything is possible and impossible at the same time), I found it to be one of the most vibrant and charismatic places I have ever visited. As one of Africa’s most populous city, Lagos is often dubbed as one of the world’s most dangerous cities. It is also on the United Nations’ list of “mega cities” along with places such as Mumbai, India. Lagos’ population is estimated to be between 14 and 18 million people. Therefore, typical side effects of rampant and rapid urban sprawl are impossible to ignore-absolutely horrendous traffic, noise, complete congestion in every sense of the world, and a plethora of less than pleasant aromas. That being said, Lagos has a lot to offer that is extremely difficult if not impossible to find throughout Nigeria and much of West Africa. I have been to Lagos twice prior to this visit, but only very briefly (you can see my impressions in my earlier entries). Although it is an impossible task to try and put my entire experience over ten days into a tiny blog post, I’ll try and pick a few highlights.

Nigeria is very much a split class society-it is a unique country as there is virtually no middle class (by the American definition). Most of the country is slapped with uncontrollable unemployment, a lack of basic infrastructure that is sufficient enough to support the entire population, and a horribly corrupt government that hurls all of these difficulties into a self-fulfilling cycle that is extremely deeply rooted in society and nearly impossible to break. That being said, there is a smaller percentage of the population with such an excess of wealth, they can’t spend their Naira quick enough to keep up with the supply. Most of these people are given seeds to plant money trees because they are oil company executives or politicians. (Interesting fact-much of Nigeria, especially Oyo state where I live has no personal income tax or sales tax. Only businesses pay any sort of tax, which helps explain why social amenities are often lacking and the rich can get filthy rich with ease). There are two Yoruba slang terms to describe the two classes above- “Ajepákí” (literally those who eat cassava), and “Ajebótà” (those who eat butter). The Ajébótàs are often dubbed as elitist, exclusive, extremely condescending, and apathetic to their inferiors (the Ajepakis). Although the majority of Lagos is populated by the lower class of Ajepakis, but there is an extremely high concentration of Ajebotas, perhaps the highest in the country (approached by Abuja, the nation’s capital). The influence and quantity of Ajebotas, as well as the least corrupt and most respected state government in Nigeria (two thumbs up for Babatunde Raaji Fasola, the Lagos State Governor) has led to the creation of a very posh (or “tush” in Nigerian slang) area of Lagos. Although it is hard for one to look at this type of excess gluttony after living in a city like Ibadan, it was a great escape for an American to feel like he was on vacation. The brick paved roads, brand new Mercedes Benz’ and Land Rovers, humongous mansions, fancy restaurants, hip nightclubs, and finely dressed Lagotians swaggering left and right made me genuinely forget I was in Nigeria at times (that is until the power went out or someone approached the car window trying to sell a completely random product). It was also freeing to see other foreigners, as in some neighborhoods they seemed almost common. This was evidenced by the fact that I wasn’t continually hissed at, yelled at, asked intrusive questions from across the street (“White man! What’s your number? Where are you going? Give me money! etc.) like I am subjected to literally everywhere and all the time in Ibadan. It was nice to feel like I was no longer the center of attention for once, as not as many people were staring at me, yelling at me, or approaching me to touch me.

Espresso and Gelatto...was this a dream?

Some of the things I enjoyed the most in Lagos were going to a modern movie theater with all the new American movie releases,eating amazing food (Indian, Italian, Thai), drinking espresso (in a country where you are condemned to NesCafe, similar to drinking turpentine, if you look to real coffee for your daily caffeine fix), visiting one of the coolest jazz record stores I’ve seen in the whole world (in a country most people don’t know what jazz is),

Thai Food

attending an outdoor concert with close to one million people that went from dusk to dawn (I arrived around 3am and left at 5), walking through the most crowded and congested place I’ve ever set foot in my life (the market) to buy insanely cheap jeans and Prada shoes, and as anywhere else in Nigeria, being accepted by our amazing hosts as their own children.

 

Although we spent ten days in Lagos, I feel like there is a lot I still have not yet explored. Even though Lagos also sucked the liveliness out of my bank account (most things are extremely expensive, especially compared to the rest of the country), I feel a magnetic attraction pulling me back to the city. My parents are coming to visit me from America in slightly less than two weeks. Although I’m a little nervous about their visit (it can be quite intimidating and difficult to come to this country as a foreigner knowing little about it and not understanding any of the languages here), I’m also excited for them to see how I have been living and what I’ve been doing for the last three months. I definitely plan on taking them to this wonderful charismatic city that the Yorubas refer to as “Èkó,” so they too can get a taste of it. Èkó ò ní bàjé ooooo!

The group with our friend Afo (left), his mom (middle), and his grandfather who took us in as their own children

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