Archive | January, 2011

Naija’s hottest new comedian, Laf’Up

31 Jan

Something completely unexpected that I’ve encountered since my arrival in Nigeria is a part-time career as an amateur comedian. My good friend Segun Ogundipe (most commonly known as Laf’Up) asked me to do a show with him back in December at the University of Ibadan. I didn’t really understand why/if people would find it funny, because I basically just speak Yoruba and either make fun of things I see in society here or talk about things that irritate me. I think its more the novelty of a white person speaking Yoruba that makes people laugh, but either way it’s been a very enjoyable experience. I have done three shows with Laf’Up now, and have another coming up this week. The video below is from his end of the year show which occurred on Boxing Day (December 26th last year). There are no subtitles, but the humor would be hard to translate so try to find a Nigerian friend to interpret for you! Enjoy!

***Re-blogged from Cara Titilayo Harshman (http://northoflagos.wordpress.com):

My good friend, Laf’Up, hosted this Christmas comedy show in Ibadan. He brought in about 10 different comedians and Kayode, one of our students made his debut in comedy at the show. Kayode’s part was all in Yoruba and it was the only part I really understood because the rest were in thick Pidgin. I put this video together of some of Laf’Up’s comedy and Kayode’s part. American followers, you probably won’t understand most of it, but you will be interested to interpret the Pidgin. Happy viewing.

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What is corruption?-Part 1, The boiling hot current state of politics in Oyo State.

24 Jan

*Disclaimer-The following entry is based on my personal observations, conversations, and compilations of the opinions of people I know, am close to, and respect in Ibadan. Due to the fact that I am not a citizen of this country, I do not claim to have any opinion or affiliation with any sort of opinion relating to politics here. These are strictly my observations and reiterations of the news.*

The governor of Oyo state (the state I live in, Ibadan is the capital city), Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala is not very well-liked by his constituents. For four years he has been embezzling money intended for Oyo state projects into his own bank accounts.

Adebayo Alao-Akala, the Oyo State Governor

Akala is an appropriate case study of a Nigerian politician-he is extremely highly paid, enjoys his swagger in the form of fancy motorcades, expensive clothing, and expensive real estate; he is self glorifying and propagandized billboards promoting himself are all over the state). When a horrendously weathered and haggard road in Ibadan finally and miraculously makes it in front of Akala’s attention, he publicly claims he will spend say 50,000 Naira to fix it. He finds cheap laborers and sand, spends perhaps 5,000 Naira to make a cheap and weak fix, and keeps the rest of the money for himself. The result is a quickly deteriorating road and unhappy Ibadan residents. Public school teachers in Oyo state have not received a paychecks since last May. I would be surprised to find one public school teacher in this entire state who has anything positive to say about Akala.

This upcoming april, “By God’s Grace,” as Yoruba people say all of the time about everything imaginable, Nigeria will hold a presidential election. This election will pose an interesting dilemma as Nigeria’s current president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was the former vice president and came to power last year after President Yar’Adua died. When Nigeria reviewed and edited its constitution in 1999, there was an agreement that the president’s position would switch off between each of the three main ethnic groups in Nigeria-Yorubas from the southwest, Hausas from the north, and Igbos from the southeast or “south south.” Yoruba’s first president after the constitution, Obasanjo was Yoruba from the southwest. Yar’Adua followed (a Hausa from the north), but many Hausas from the north argue that because he did not complete his term, it is still deserving of the Hausa people of the north to elect the next president. Goodluck Jonathan, who is running, is from the southeast. Due to this complex, racially and ethnically charged situation, tensions are high in the country over politics. Despite this discrepancy, it is looking more and more certain that Goodluck Johnathan will win.

Tensions are no less pertinent at the state level. Due to Akala’s corruption and governing style, it is unlikely he will win the next election-that is unless he brings his own lawless ways into the picture. On December 31st 2010, the Transport Workers’ Union Director for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP, Akala’s party) was murdered in Ibadan. A senate majority leader, also a PDP member, Teslim Folarin was accused of his murder. Folarin was Akala’s biggest opponent in the primary PDP elections, which occurred two weeks ago. To make a long and complicated story short and simple, Akala actually originally ordered thugs and hit-men to murder Folarin. Folarin’s posse members were tipped off and intercepted the threat before it was too late. They then paid off the same thugs to instead kill one of Akala’s party members and supporters. Despite the fact that Akala caused the entire situation, Folarin was charged with murder-Akala didn’t finish him off, but he did ruin his reputation and send him to court for a murder trial. After he was thrown in jail, thugs and supporters of Akala protested by firing automatic weapons in the air in a neighborhood not far from where I live-Eleyele, Ibadan. The story doesn’t end here, however. After a mere two days in prison and on trial, the court pardoned Folarin of his crime and gave him complete amnesty. Why? A rumor has been going around that Goodluck Johnathan himself pardoned Folarin because he was the senate majority leader, also a PDP member, and Jonathan (a PDP member himself) needed the vote from Oyo state. More accurately, it is assumed that the court pardoned him as to prevent more violence and fighting as the elections approach. Folarin’s supporters’ violent demonstration in Eleyele was enough to send the message that they were willing to go to the extreme. It is said that he was released on the condition that he will not cause any more problems.
Politics in Nigeria more closely resemble that of a mafia rather than a democracy. Guns, machetes, and money hold much more power and importance than anything else. PDP primary elections were held both at the state and federal levels two weeks ago. Of course Akala won in Oyo state and Goodluck Johnathan won the presidential primaries for PDP.

These excercising Americans are so bizzare ooooooo!

17 Jan

Although there are people that work out in Nigeria, exercising isn’t nearly as common here as it is in America. I have been keeping a regular running schedule as a way to help use up the gratuitous amounts of palm oil and yams I have been consuming. Every time I go for a run, at least once during my run a group of little kids starts chasing me singing the ever popular jingle, “Òyìnbó pepè, chúgúchúgú pepè,” which means “White person sweet as a pepper, looks like a pepper” (referring to the fact that white people get red in the sun). Other times, people stop in cars and yell, or stop me when they are walking past to ask various questions like, “Oyinbo, what are you running from? Where are you going? Where is the fire? Let me pick you!” Similarly, those who choose to say nothing as I pass usually glare or look at me with a half-frown on their face to display their sheer inability to understand why I am running. Others will yell, “Oyinbo! Well done oo!” Normally I turn my headphones up loud enough to ignore these types of distractions. Therefore, early Sunday morning on my usual jog I didn’t think twice as I was approaching a very old hunchbacked man from behind. I was crossing a bridge over a dam in a quiet part of campus not highly frequented by pedestrians. As I was zoning out enjoying the jams on my ipod, the man suddenly turned around with a wicked grimace on his face. When I was about six feet behind him, he drew a machete from his left gbada (a long robe men wear) pocket and held it in the air ready to strike! I quickly stopped, prostrated, and began to apologize profusely with whatever Yoruba words I could fit in between gasps. Once he realized I wasn’t the thug he though I was based on my heavy breathing and pounding footsteps, he quickly dropped the two-foot long blade and also apologized. His reaction certainly did nothing to calm my heavy breathing, but after a few minutes of thinking about the situation after I continued to run, I burst out laughing. Although I felt bad for scaring the crap out of the poor old man, I found it hilarious that someone casually exercising was so strange to the old man that his first inclination was to draw his machete in defense of a possible oncoming thug-at 10AM on a Sunday morning. Nigeria ooooooo!

Malaria and crazy dreams (àìsàn ìbà àti àlà tó sàjèjì)

13 Jan

Malaria is an unfortunate fact of life here. Before entering most countries in West Africa, you are required to show a yellow CDC immunization card to prove you have received the arsenal of vaccinations to protect against the plethora of diseases one can contract, as well as proof you have brought prophylactic drugs to protect against malaria. Despite the fact that there is a great deal of effort perpetuated towards visitors, not much is done for the citizens of this country, who many of which have no vaccinations available, and no prophylactic drugs at their disposal. Consequentially, people here accept malaria as a fact of life. There are several different strains of malaria, and depending on the type one contracts, symptoms and consequences can vary. Malaria is not necessarily always the fatal disease some make it out to be if correct treatment is sought early enough. Symptoms, however, can still be absolutely brutal and miserable. Since I arrived in September, both of my host parents and my resident director have had to deal with malaria. Even though one may take prophylactic drugs, it is still possible to contract malaria. Keegan, a friend and colleague in my group fell victim to malaria that landed him in Jaja-the less than comforting hospital (from an American perspective considering things like sanitation and electricity) on the University of Ibadan campus for four days. He said it was one of the most miserable experiences of his life.

Thankfully I have not yet contracted malaria, however it is possible. I make sure to take my pills everyday. One unfortunate side effect of prophylactic drugs is their psychotropic abilities to effect your dreams. Prior to coming to Nigeria, I have heard horror stories about others using prophylactic drugs and stopping because they couldn’t stand the nightmares. I haven’t had too many nightmares, just extremely strange and vivid dreams. A good example happened to me last week-in a dream (I don’t remember the circumstances), I was about to swallow a pill. I put the pill in the mouth and suddenly it felt very strange. I suddenly woke up and realized the “pill I was swallowing” in my dream was actually my earplug that I had taken out of my ear and put in my mouth all while sleeping. Not one of my proudest moments.

Civil Service-Ise Agunbaniro

11 Jan

Something I find very interesting about this country is that despite it’s challenges, difficulties, and struggles, there is an institution in place called civil service that seems to work very well and be well respected. Anyone who attends a university or polytechnic university in this country must perform a compulsory year of civil service for the federal government upon completion of their education. The National Youth Service Corps sends youths to a place usually quite distant from where they grew up to experience other cultures and help those in need. Civil service can range from helping out in a local government office to building infrastructure. All NYSC participants are required to attend three to four weeks of training prior to beginning their work. They are then sent to their destination (usually unknown to them until about two weeks before departure) to begin work. They are given a very small stipend for living expenses, and must manage an extremely limited budget for the year to feed themselves, etc. Civil Service work is not easy-days usually begin around 5AM and last until the evening. NYSC resembles the armed forces in a way as members are required to wear uniforms and are frequently lined up in military-style rows. I can imagine the national response to an introduction of a civil service requirement in the United States-reactions would range from outrage due to lack of freedom, to servitude, to a waste of government spending. Although you could make the argument that this Americanized argument would be justified, I find it incredible that citizens of Nigeria willingly complete their civil service requirement with pride, despite the fact that the government situation in Nigeria has completely tired and exhausted many of its citizens and left the country abandon with little glory.

National Youth Service Corps Members

Nicholas Kristof, a writer I really respect summed up what I’ve been trying to say in a different way in his most recent book Half The Sky: “But to tackle an issue effectively, you need to understand it-and it’s impossible to understand an issue by simply reading about it. You need to see it first hand, even live in its midst. One of the great failings of the American education system, in our view, is that young people can graduate from university without any understanding of poverty at home or abroad. Study-abroad programs tend to consist of herds of students visiting Oxford or Florence or Paris. We believe that universities should make it a requirement that all graduates spend at least some time in the developing world, either by taking a “gap year” or by studying abroad. If more Americans worked for a summer teaching English at a school like Mukhtar’s in Pakistan, or working at a hospital like HEAL Africa in Congo, our entire society would have a richer understanding of the world around us. And the rest of the world might also hold a more positive view of Americans.” -Kristof, Half the Sky p. 88

A Royal Naija Visit….”and then Nigeria happened”

3 Jan

After not seeing my family for nearly four months, I was delighted to finally see their glowing white faces stick out of the endless sea of dark skinned Nigerians frantically milling around outside Lagos’s Murtala Muhhomad Airport the night they arrived. They showed up a day late due to the massive blizzard that struck most of northern Europe the week before Christmas. Although my mind was racing trying to figure out how to squeeze the already to long list of things I wanted to do with them into a short 7.5 days, I also felt a sense of relaxation to see some of the most important people in my life-people who automatically relate to me, understand me, and hold me close to their hearts. Although I have made some amazing friends since I arrived in early September, I am still generally a stranger to this society, its customs, and its cultural norms. There is nothing like a taste of home and familiarity.

Taking my parents around Ibadan and Lagos helped me remember the true shock and awe I experienced when I first arrived in Nigeria.

Ibadan

I’m sure now they will actually understand what I’m talking about when I say going to Nigeria is literally like warping or teleporting into another world-the culture, the language, the infrastructure, the government, the weather, the food, the risks, and the enjoyments all contribute to an experience that is truly impossible to describe with words, pictures, and even videos. The sights, sounds, smells, feelings, and realizations you experience here all combine to form your perception. Without actually being here and feeling this place, it is near impossible to truly relay the experience in words, especially from a purely American perspective. Yet, I regress and make an attempt.

Instead of a moment-by-moment itinerary of what I did with my parents and younger brother, I want to use this opportunity to explain one of the reasons the Yoruba culture is so deep, rich, and enjoyable: “àpónlé.” Àpónlé means a combination of hospitality, appreciation, love, and sharing. I hesitate to use just one word to translate àpónlé as its implications reach much deeper than a meager one word definition.

A wedding engagement ceremony-we quickly became one with the crowd

Nigerians, particularly Yorubas are some of the most caring and hospitable people I have ever encountered or heard about, even towards complete strangers. Somewhat amazingly, there is a uniform sense of care and hospitality these people exemplify that I believe is difficult to match anywhere else in the world. Although I expected some degree of Nigerian hospitality, I told my family to prepare to stay in hotels and pay for a lot of meals before they came. I tried to paint a rather uncomfortable picture of their to be experience as I didn’t want inconveniences that have become a part of my daily routine such as a lack of running water, constant power outages, cockroaches, spicy and often fish-stanched foods, the constant haze and smell of trash fire smoke, and relentless obnoxiously loud noises everywhere.

BBQ Snail-a delicacy here

Many of these preparations turned out to be unnecessary and useless (excluding the noise, cockroaches, power outages, and trash fire smoke which are nearly inescapable here). Even though I have been here for four months, I was still shocked and impressed by the degree of generosity, love, kindness, and graciousness shown towards my family during their time here. Nigerians, and particularly Yorubas take visitors in as their own without the slightest bit of hesitation.

One example of the àpónlé phenomenon is my family’s first day at the University of Ibadan. I intended on introducing them to a few of my teachers and my resident director. My host family was out running errands and therefore we had no opportunity to see them that day, so I calculated the visit wouldn’t last more than an hour or two and we would have the afternoon to explore greater Ibadan.

My family and resident director with the Dean of Students, Vice Chancellor, and Registrar of the University of Ibadan

As soon as Moses, my resident director met my family, he began making preparations for a royal welcome-we were brought to the four most senior university officers’ offices and received with nothing but warmth, kindness, and a touch of humor, even though our arrival was more or less unannounced. Nearly everyone we visited from the Vice Chancellor (the highest ranking university officer, as the Chancellor of every Federal Government university in Nigeria is the president of Nigeria) to the Dean of students invited us to their personal homes for Christmas. There were lots of photos taken, and everyone we met was so happy to see that my parents and brother came all the way to Nigeria. The Vice Chancellor even offered to pay for our hotel rooms and meals for our stay in Ibadan! We were then taken to a wedding engagement ceremony on campus-an overwhelming experience if you’ve never been to a Nigerian style party-countless women in matching lace fabric dresses and large geles (head wraps), copious amounts of noise from a band, and gratuitous amounts of food and beverages. No later than five minutes after our arrival, the MC recognized us in front of the entire party (probably close to 400 people) as “the groom’s friends from America.” None of us had any idea who the groom was. After what I originally intended to be a quick hour or two long visit, my family and I returned to our hotel as we were exhausted from all of the unexpected visits.

One of the coolest things I have ever experienced was facilitating the introduction of my real family to my host family. It was heart-warming to see the mother that gave birth to me meet the mother that has been taking care of me like a child of her own (which is no small task in Yoruba culture).

Two families became one

Just as my family from America brought gifts for my Yoruba family, my Yoruba family showered my parents with new outfits made of African Cloth. In addition to driving us around town, my mom and older host brother took us to a cloth market so my American family could buy traditional fabric. That day was a public holiday (the day after Christmas) making it difficult to track down my family’s tailor to turn the fabric into outfits. Due to what I have previously written about customer loyalty, finding another tailor was not an option as my family has been using the same tailor for nearly 40 years.

at the cloth market

Unfortunately his phone was switched off for the two days before we tried to go find him (we found out later that he was at church for three straight days, the quintessentially Nigerian way of spending the Christmas holiday). Of course, after we went to his shop and couldn’t find him, some neighborhood kids told us he was at church. After a full search of the church by my host mom, she emerged from the gate of the outdoor church (several tin roofs with a loud, static-filled, and archaic looking sound system amplifying the endless hours of bloviating and proselytizing by the preacher) with the tailor. Of course, the tailor was armed with his tape measure and a tiny razor, so he took the measurements in the parking lot, accepted the cloth and a meager 5,000 Naira ($35USD) with a promise to complete the work in less than 24 hours even though its a holiday. Now that’s service!

In addition to the àpónlé’s I described above, a local government chairman (the equivalent to a mayor) in Ibadan had us over for breakfast and gave my family his private SUV to use for the day. Nigerians are obsessed with cars, and image is very important here. Thus, all politicians have “official” vehicles, usually dark SUV’s with tinted windows (the most common model is the Toyta Land Cruiser Prado made in Dubai) and a tiny Nigerian flag hanging in the windshield. I felt strange cruising around the crowded streets of Ibadan in his car as people began to prostrate, bow down, and greet us as we drove by, thinking we were Honerable Olaywola himself (not seeing us behind the tinted windows).

One of my favorite new phrases to use in everyday speech has quickly become “…and then Nigeria happened.” “And then Nigeria happened” quickly became a reoccurring theme of my family’s visit. This phrase is incredibly versatile, as it can help to quickly and effortlessly explain the plethora of reasons that things didn’t go as planned, didn’t happen on time, or never materialized in the first place in this country. Perhaps the quintessential example of “Nigeria happening” is when my parents and I returned to Lagos to spend a few days there prior to their departure back to the United States. A friend had recommended a good hotel for us, and he talked to his brothers who lived nearby who also confirmed that the hotel would be a good and safe fit for my family and I. I trusted the recommendation and paid a driver to take us there. When we got to the hotel, we found it had gone out of business permanently, and our “back up plan,” a hotel next door, was way over priced, had no running water, and had no car services (which were crucial to make sure my parents could get back to the airport). In other words, we were going to go to this hotel, “but then Nigeria happened.”

I was starting to feel slightly stressed as our driver needed to leave immediately to get back to Ibadan (he had prior engagements, but I was beginning to think he may have to go back late as “Nigeria was about to happen” to him also). I started phoning friends I knew in Lagos and my friend Dami coincidentally happened to be a short ten minute drive away from us (very short in Lagos terms). Dami quickly came to our rescue, and “Nigeria happened again”, this time in the form of a blessing.

Dami and his wife Tosin

He insisted we stay at his sister’s house in Ikoyi (one of the nicest residential areas in Lagos, and perhaps the most expensive in the entire country). We pleaded and explained that we didn’t want to barge in, and that we had prepared to stay in hotels. Even after being here for four months, I still find it hard to completely shake my American tendencies and my parents presence and influence only encouraged my instant apologizing and insisting that we go to a hotel. Once again, àpónlé stepped in and we had no option. “Nigeria happened again” on our way from Lekki (a peninsula in the Lagos Lagoon CHECK) to Ikoyi (the neighborhood north of Victoria Island where Dami’s sister Tope lives), which should theoretically be a fifteen minute drive without traffic. Lekki is a newly developing area, so there was insane gridlock traffic all the way back as they are still building and expanding the main road. Dami proclaimed in his always jolly voice that this is just the reason why he drives an SUV.

stuck in the sand

He took a hard left and headed straight for the beach! Within five minutes, we were cruising in the sand along the Atlantic Ocean to avoid traffic! In other words, we were going to drive on the road and wait in traffic like most Lagotians, but then “Nigeria happened” and we decided to drive on the beach. This is yet another example of how when things don’t go your way in this country, you do literally whatever the hell you want to satisfy yourself. I was getting a kick out of the Nigerian beach-there were surprisingly few people-just white sand and a vast, endless ocean. As we approached a cluster of lean-tos and huts, we began to hear Nigerian hip-hop blasting and we saw people dancing. All of a sudden, the Land Cruiser got stuck in the sand and every attempt Dami made to drive it out just sank us further down. We spent nearly 45 minutes trying to get the car out, and fell victim to “area boys,” the Lagos term for local thugs (people without work who cleverly cheat and deceive innocent civilians to make a few bucks) who we paid 5,000Naira ($35USD) to help dig us out. It was ironic because the area boys are probably the ones who dug the hole we fell into. As a “nice gesture,” they lowered their original asking price or $120USD after I had a brief conversation with them in Yoruba and they started claiming “tiwantiwa ni yii o!” (he is one of us!). In other words, we thought the beach would be a better alternative to waiting in traffic, but “Nigeria happened” and we ended up spending 45 minutes hanging out with some area boys.

Everyone in the Bamiro family was so overwhelmingly gracious to us, throwing more àpónlé’s our way than we could handle. Dami’s sister Tope had just moved back to Nigeria from the Netherlands (nearly a week before our visit), and still was awaiting her shipping crate with all of her belongings.

Our gracious hosts-the Edun's

Therefore, her family’s house was sparsely decorated with rented temporary furniture. Again, I felt like we were imposing, but then Nigeria happened and all of the àpónlés their family showed us made me forget. Dami gave us his driver and his car for the remainder of my family’s stay in addition to wining and dining us. I was glad my parents got to see the contrast between very different Nigerian class lifestyles, even though both were a cornucopia of the the warm, caring, and unavoidable àpónlé element of Yoruba culture. Yoruba people are so easy to get to know, relate to, and laugh with because they are so open and willing to share everything.

The entire time my family was here, we were all recalling the struggle we went through to try and persuade UW-Madison to look at my abroad program from a fair and non-politicized perspective. I distinctly remember the director of International Academic Programs at UW-Madison saying, “I would never go to Nigeria, and I would certainly not send my kids there,” during a meeting with my family and the Chancellor of UW-Madison last spring. Replaying this scenario in my mind literally makes me laugh out loud now, especially seeing the treatment my parents (complete and total strangers here who don’t know the language or culture) received throughout the entirety of their visit. UW-Madison spent countless hours and a great deal of effort trying to convince my family and I how dangerous Nigeria is and how it was unfit for a UW student to pursue academic interests there under the university’s name. We knew in our hearts there were obviously a great deal of political and opinionated topics being brought into the issue that had nothing to do with me or the other students. Anyway, I’m no longer a registered student at any college in the United States, but at least my family and I can have a good laugh over it.

I will be here for five more months if anyone else wants to come visit and experience this completely crazy and different world I call Nigeria for themselves!

My two moms

my parents and younger brother in their new native wear

The Government Chairman who gave us his car

Meat in Nigeria is rarely refrigerated and sold on the street where it is susceptible to diesel and trash fire soot, flies, and whatever else nature throws its way-all part of the experience (and initial shock)

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