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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!

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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.

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)

A Close Call/Flirting with Disaster

20 Nov

There is a Yoruba proverb that states, “Jàkùnmò kìí rìn dé òsan, eniabíire kìí rìn ní orú,” which means, “thugs don’t walk outside during the day and good people don’t walk outside late in the night.” This proverb describes not only the danger of going out at night in Nigeria, but also the traditional Yoruba belief in spirits, witches, and wizards among other hazards one can encounter by going out in the dark. Even though I live in a city of five million people, it is often pitch black at night out in the city. Due to almost constant loss of power and poor infrastructure (no streetlights, etc.), candles, kerosene lanterns, and lights on motorcycles (when they are working) are the only sources of light at night. It is pretty crazy and overwhelming walking around in complete congestion-body to body and car to car, at night in Ibadan as it is very difficult to see anything. It also gets dark around 7PM every night and has since my arrival two and a half months ago. (Interesting fact-daylight savings does not exist six degrees away from the equator). The culture of not going out at night has been odd for me to adjust to, as most college students in America are just starting to make plans for their Friday and Saturday nights when 8PM rolls around.

Last night, I had first hand experience with the dangers of being out at night. Yesterday, my family and I traveled to Ile-Ife, a town about an hour and a half to the east of Ibadan for a child naming ceremony. My older host sister gave birth to a baby girl a week ago, so following Yoruba tradition, all of her fiends and extended family came to her house to help name the child (I’ll explain this tradition in a later post). The road between Ile-Ife and Ibadan is horrendous to say the least, even during the day. There are frequent pot holes/obstructions int he road the come up without any warning whatsoever. These can range from three-foot deep holes to treacherously rough patches with no asphalt lasting for 20 yards or more. Extremely thick and tall foliage grows right up to and sometimes over the road, so it is impossible to see upcoming curves and dangers in the road. Furthermore, based on my observations for the last two and a half months, the rules of driving on Nigerian roads are as follows: 1.) Be as selfish as possible. 2.) You own the road and have the right away no matter what. 3.) Beep your horn all the time. 4.) Make a lot of close calls, dangerous moves, and flirt with the possibility of having an accident as much as possible. Therefore, it is impossible to relax while on a Nigerian expressway. Treacherous bumps, jostling from sudden hard breaking, painfully loud semi horns, and back-and-forth wobbling of the car from the lack of grade in the road make the experience far from peaceful.

Come nightfall, all of these difficulties are exponentiated. Last night on the way home, the beautiful sunset over the vast jungle of palm trees and other tropical foliage suddenly gave way to an ulcer-causing experience in the back seat of my family’s Nissan Pathfinder. My older brother Ibrahim was driving and my mom was in the front seat. I was in the back with Lauren (another American student) and a family friend who is also our age. The sky became pitch black. Although the expressway is a divided highway, a steady stream of cars was coming at us the wrong way due to dangerous conditions on the other side of the road. Therefore, the expressway had become a two lane highway. The implications of this diverted traffic pattern were less than calming, as rough patches in the road leave room for only a single file line of cars once every mile or so. Furthermore, many of the vehicles in the oncoming traffic were huge oil tankers. Many cars in Nigeria don’t have working lights, so it is extremely difficult to see them. Those that do have lights (especially the semis) have extremely bright high beams that are completely blinding.

Suddenly, there was a break in the oncoming traffic and the cars in front of us cut into the left lane, most likely to avoid an obstacle. Ibrahim, my older host brother slowed down suddenly, but not too much as he expected the cars in front to quickly speed up after passing the obstacle. Instead of continuing, the car in front of us swerved off the road to the left and stopped almost completely. We were now less than 30 feet behind, so my brother quickly swerved to the right to attempt to pass. As soon as we could see to the right, we realized that three massive logs were sitting the road making it impossible to overtake the car to the right. My mom screamed and my brother slammed on the brakes. Nonetheless, it was way too close of a call and we slammed into the car in front of us going about 35mph. Thankfully, the Pathfinder we were in has a huge metal ram bar on the front that prevented the airbags from going off, and also prevented too much damage to our car. The car in front of us, however, lost its trunk as it was completely smashed into the back seat.

Now I was really freaking out, as there was only a 6 foot window to pass between the bush growing over the left side of the road and the logs in the road. A huge oil tanker was quickly gaining behind us showing no signs of slowing down, its ear-piercing horn and painfully bright high beams blinding all of us. My brother pushed forward a little further and the truck whizzed passed us missing our car by less than six inches. The car shook as the truck brushed past us. Had that oil truck been where our car was, the truck and the car in front of us would have become one of the several burnt skeleton remnants that line Nigerian expressways.

We inched forward a little more following the car we had just hit, and conveniently placed about ten feet in front of the logs were four Nigerian policeman on foot with AK-47s dressed in the typical garb of a helmet and an all black uniform. They were talking to the car in front of us and directed us off the road down a gravel path cut into the median between the bush. My brother and mom were yelling in Yoruba “Why were they in front of the obstacle, what good does that do!?” As they were directing us off the road, the seeming coincidence of the placement of the gravel path, the policeman on foot, and the logs seemed all too fishy to me. My mind flashed back to meetings with State Department security officials both in Washington and the Lagos Consulate about how Nigerian police (many times robbers dressed as police) put obstructions in the road at night to get cars to stop, then harass them for money and steal things. There was no way of knowing whether these police were real or not. They ordered my mom and brother out of the car. A fifteen minute yelling match insured where the four cops, my mom, my brother, and the husband and wife in the car we hit were all screaming and flailing arms at each other and the damaged cars. The three of us in the back seat were in the car hoping the police couldn’t see our white skin through the tinted backseat windows and that we would all make it home okay. My brother then stepped to one side of the car and called my dad. I heard him say in Yoruba, “The poise caused it wasn’t my fault! They put the logs in the road to take advantage of us!” The girl in the car yelled, “Is he crazy!?” My mom also started yelling at him. After about twenty-five minutes of arguing, the other car finally agreed to leave, as there is a general consensus to avoid police at all costs in Nigeria-especially considering it was pitch black out and we were in a fishy situation. The police let us drive away, but all parties involved had to agree not to file any report and not to let the insurance companies know. This is a way for the police to ensure they were “punishing” us for not using their services. Had we filed a report, they would have asked for a large sum of bribe money. Since both parties involved were Muslim (this provided a sense of brotherhood/sisterhood) and it was strikingly obvious that the police had put the logs in the road to cause problems, we agreed to go and settle it the next day amongst ourselves. We exchanged numbers and drove away.

For the rest of the drive home, I was freaking out as this was the closest to a near-death experience I’ve ever had in my life. Images of that oil tanker just scraping by our car, and the angry police yelling at my mom and brother with their AK-47s were burned into my retinas. After several more scares with sketchy road conditions and other erratic drivers on the way home, I made a vow to myself to avoid highways at night at all costs from now on. I also kept thinking about how unfortunate it was that my family, and more so the car we hit got completely screwed over when we fell victim to the corrupt police officers’ scheme to collect bribe money. My brother kept muttering, “Had I only been able to see his number. The officers covered up their ID numbers so we couldn’t see. Had I seen it, I would have put it in my phone and immediately reported them to the Osun state police commission.” I asked, “Why can’t you just ask for their number?” My mom and brother immediately and authoritatively answered, “Hey-ah! They would have instantly shot all of us and made it look like an accident!” I could’ believe what I was hearing. I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for Nigerian citizens, as they are subject to this type of harassment every day. Due to the fact that we all agreed not to get insurance companies involved, we took on the cost of the accident ourselves, in order to avoid further police harassment and excessive bribe collection. This whole experience is such an injustice but it is a good experience to highlight how distant the theory and practice of government are so distant in Nigeria. Roadways, TV’s and radios are filled with propaganda and praise for various politicians about how they will fix this and that, do this and that, and how they have accomplished this and that. When traveling on the road and having first hand experience with corrupt Nigerian police officers, however, it is not hard to see that while many of these politicians and government officials have their hearts in the right places, a large majority of this is complete bullshit as the practice is so out of line with the theory.

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.

Danfo

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!

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)

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