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Òkè Ìbàdàn

24 Mar

I apologize for the lack of entries. I attribute my decrease in correspondence to a combination of culture shock, heat, preoccupation with school work, and a slight loss of inspiration. For quite awhile after I arrived in Nigeria I was constantly mesmerized by new and shocking things I saw. Now hardly anything surprises me. I do, however find my self thinking, “wow the western world is so boring,” from time to time. There is never a dull moment in Nigeria that’s for sure. Although things rarely go as planned and are almost never on time, it is definitely always an adventure.

A good example of this is the first traditional cultural festival I have attended in Nigeria, the Òkè Ìbàdàn festival which occurred last week Wednesday. The origins of the festival go back to the 1800s during the Yoruba civil wars after the fall of the great Old Oyo Empire. One particularly noteworthy war took place between the towns of Ibadan and Ijaye from 1860-1865. During the war, when enemies would begin to charge the city of Ibadan, all of the people of the town would run up the highest hill in the town (the center of Ibadan is quite topographic) to take cover. Due to the fact that this was typically done in an emergency situation, there was no adequate time to prepare food for the stay. Sometimes the stay on top of the hill (in Yoruba òkè) lasted for over a week. Mangoes, oranges, and whatever else could be found in season on the trees at the top of the hill was what the entire town was forced to survive on. When the danger was gone and the citizens finally returned to their homes, they had a big feast to replenish themselves and celebrate. Men and women also began to copulate as they were unable to do so in the crowd of people for such a long time. Often times, due to lack of nutrition, their bodies didn’t respond properly so people went to visit babalawo’s (traditional herbalists/priests) to fix their problem. For this reason, the Òkè Ìbàdàn festival is characterized by heavy eating, drinking, fàájì (enjoyment), and singing songs about ojú ara (private parts). It is celebrated once a year in Beere, a neighborhood on top of a hill in the center of Ibadan-one of the oldest parts of the city.

I had heard a lot about the history of the festival before I arrived. For some reason I was expecting showy dances and musical performances. When I arrived around 4pm, I was instantly swarmed by a crowd of 10 people yanking and tugging at me asking for money. Some of them were desperately trying to please me by doing everything from playing bata drums to fanning me with a piece of paper the size of a post-it note. I gave two bata drummers who I was previously acquainted with 200 naira each and as soon as I dug the first bill out of my pocket an old lady screaming behind me grabbed it and it started to rip. I pushed her back and made sure it got to the person I wanted. After five minutes, it was evident that the chaos would not let up as long as I was there. Musibau, my bata teacher took me by the hand and led me down the hill into the “agbolé” (compound, a seemingly endless network of one story simple and ancient cement buildings tightly packed onto of a red-brown dirt on the hillside with the occasional water well in between). We sat under an awning of someone’s house he knew and within five minutes the entire crowd had found us and was screaming, those who got money were demeaning more and those who didn’t get any were demeaning something. Speaking Yoruba to them was mildly amusing and got some of them to go away. The stubborn ones didn’t respond to Musibau’s initial requests that eventually turned into insults. After a few more minutes, we started to hear a lot of commotion from the hilltop-a mere 25 yards away. People came running down claiming there were gunshots on the hill. A group of politicians was driving around campaigning in the typical style of a motorcade of old vans driving recklessly, blasting music through a crappy speaker system turned up way too loud powered by a generator, and hanging out of the vans with machetes, guns, and in this case brooms. We didn’t hear any gunshots but decided to leave just in case. We descended further into the agbolé until we reached the bottom of the hill and took cover in a dive bar for a while.

We returned around 7pm once it had gotten dark out and less people would quickly notice me. Things were a lot more tame. The festival itself looked like any other Nigerian outdoor party whether it be a wedding, funeral, or birthday party. The standard issue event tent, plastic chairs, plastic tables, rice and amala, and a highlife band filled the streets of Beere. We took a seat, ate and enjoyed the company of àwon elésin ìbíle (those who practice traditional religion). The traditional worshippers sat at tables and were grouped by which orísa (deity) they worship. Perhaps one of the most noteworthy observations I had was all of the women who were worshipping the deity Yemoja had goatee beards thicker than mine. Musibau took me around to greet everyone he knew and we also played bata drums for everyone. All and all I had a good time but it wasn’t quite the learning experience I expected it to be. I am going to Osogbo this weekend for another festival so maybe that will turn out to be more exciting.

Unfortunately, due to the chaos, I didn’t take my camera out before it got dark out and I only managed to take one picture:

various fàájì provisions old market women were selling all over the place

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)

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

Videos from my bday party

22 Oct

courtesy of Cara Titilayo Harshman…

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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