Tag Archives: Ibadan

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.

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.

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)

Omolúwàbi…E se! A dúpé!

31 Dec

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

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

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

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

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.

Recent adventures in drumming

16 Nov

One of my biggest personal goals in coming to Nigeria, especially as a percussionist, is to immerse myself in traditional music and drumming.

My teacher Musibau and his wife at their home in Yemetu

Thankfully, I’m off to a pretty good start. Since the first month I’ve arrived, I’ve been learning the talking drum from my friend Emmanuel. Recently, I’ve also begun learning bata drums from a teacher I met at the Oyo State Cultural Center named Taiwo Musiaubata. Musibata (his shortened name) has travelled all over the world (Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela, Spain, England, France, and India) to teach bata drumming. His father and grandfather were both bata drummers. Traditionally, in Yoruba culture, children inherit work from their parents and start an apprenticeship with them when they are in their early teen years.

After taking drum lessons for close to ten years in America, the differences in the music, learning, and teaching styles have been really intriguing to me.

Plaing Iyalu for the king of old Oyo empire

Days when culture shock is getting the better of me and I’m feeling down, practicing my drum makes me feel completely rejuvenated. The fact that music is truly a universal language that the entire world understands (some more so and in different ways than others) has been extremely powerful and uplifting since my arrival.

I’ll quickly explain the two main families of Yoruba drums: the talking drums and bata drums. Each family is comprised of a set of three drums. My goal is to have a good understanding of all six before I leave, and be able to play somewhat competently. Talking drums are made out of a special type of tree (I only know the Yoruba word, sorry). The skin is made from cow or horse skin.

me playing an "iyalu" talking drum outside the King of Oyo's palace

Cow skin is also used to make the strings that run up and down the side. The drum is played with a stick/beater called an “òpá” and the pitch of the drum is constantly changed by squeezing the strings on the side of the drum, thus tightening the tension of the head. The talking drum and Yoruba language are inseparable. Due to the fact that Yoruba is a tonal language, the drum is literally used to speak. Prayers and proverbs are so well-known that whenever I play for a Yoruba person, they repeat the sentence I’m using the drum to say using words, even though the drum uses tones instead of words. The talking drum is a whole other medium of communication. It is impossible to learn the talking drum without an extensive background in Yoruba language The talking drum is made up of three distinct drums: the omele, the gángan, ati the ìyálù (translation-mother drum), in order from smallest to largest.

the various talking drums

The omele drum usually plays a repetitive pattern to keep time (similar to a cascara pattern in Cuban Rumba music). The gángan and ìyálu drums are used to literally speak over the omele pattern in a traditional ensemble. The gángan is played by squeezing your entire arm around the drum. The ìyálu, which is very large, is only played with your hands. One hand beats the drum and the other grabs usually four strings to change the tension. Ìyálu drums also traditionally have sets of bells on the front and back. The bata family resembles the talking drum family in the sense that there are three drums: omele bàtá, omelet LOOK UP, and the ìyálu (sometimes called bàbálu, or father drum), in order from smallest to largest. Omele bata drums (the smallest, group of three) are usually beat with flimsy sticks made of dried cow skin. The larger drums are beat with one stick on the small head and beat with a hand on the larger head. The video below explains in more details.

So far I’ve had the opportunity to buy an omelet bata drum and a gangan drum.

Jiroma, who made my talking drum

Both drums were custom-made by hand.They sound great and I’m really happy with them so far. I also have been fortunate enough to have two great teachers. Hopefully within due time I’ll become a true “àyàn” (drummer). I taped my first bata lesson and made a video (see below). Hope you enjoy!

Language as both an opportunity and a barrier to development.

1 Nov

Prior to departing for Nigeria, I distinctly remember people not understanding when I told them I was coming here. “Why?” “Why would you ever want to go there?” and “Huh?” were typical questions among other signs of shock. Many of these people I told were Nigerians, and they didn’t seem to understand any better. Furthermore, when I explained that my principal goal here was to learn Yoruba language and culture to the highest level of proficiency, their surprise and confusion only escalated. Although I have always been sure of my goals and my reasons for coming, from time to time I question what exactly it is I am doing here, what I hope to do with a full understanding and competency in Yoruba in the future, and the underlying reasons I care about this program. I know that everyone engages in this type of interpersonal exploration from time to time. On Wednesday of this past week, I had several profound revelations that completely solidified answers to each of the questions I have asked myself.

I met a man named Dr. Adegbola who owns a company working to develop technology related to African languages. He is perhaps one of the most interesting people I have met since I arrived and had a lot of knowledge and insight relating to the importance of indigenous languages. One of the biggest reasons to support indigenous languages is that people learn and comprehend best in their mother tongue. For example, rapidly growing and developing countries such as China, Japan, and Taiwan all teach science and technology related classes in their indigenous languages. Nigeria, on the contrary, teaches these courses in English, as it is the official language of the country (an attempt by the British to unify several very different tribes all with distinct languages). If you refer to the United Nations’ Human Development Index, countries that use mother tongues to teach science/technology based courses score significantly higher than countries that use a second language. Due to the fact that Nigeria falls under the latter, it regarded “behind” China, Japan, etc. in development, despite the fact that Nigeria’s economy has a lot of potential (it is the 17th fastest growing in the world).

Nigeria’s educational system actively tries to devalue indigenous languages-after primary school, students are not allowed to speak “vernacular,” or their indigenous languages at school. Mother tongues are considered as “poor grammar” and “slang.” Nigeria’s university system operates in English only. The fact that Nigeria’s educational system (especially higher education) doesn’t highly regard languages has profound implications, as it sets the stage for an astronomical paradox in Nigerian society: the theory and application of technology are completely separate. Nigeria has a large number of highly educated individuals in nearly every discipline under the sun (the theory side). The paradox however, lies in the application. For technology to be effective, theory and application must be one. In Nigeria, most of society still speaks indigenous languages, or at least indigenous tongues are what people understand, learn, and think in best. An example of this paradox is ATM machines. All ATM machines only operate in English here. Many men and women who make a living selling goods at markets aren’t always well-versed in the English language or computers, as many of us Westerners are and take for granted. Therefore, if they want to make a bank transaction, they either have to bring someone to the ATM with them (and compromise their pin number, an especially risky activity in Nigeria), or go to the bank and wait in notoriously long lines. Dr. Adegbola’s company is working with Microsoft (who has a monopoly on ATM software in Nigeria) to develop interfaces in Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo, Nigeria’s three most common tribal languages. This development brings the application to the same playing field as the theory, as all of these native speakers making a living at the market will now be able to use ATM machines, alleviating the horrendously long wait times at Nigerian banks.

Another paradox lies in the academic and societal branches of language. Unfortunately, Nigeria has relatively low literacy rates today (68% according to the CIA World Fact Book), in part due to lack of infrastructure/funding for a solid country-wide educational system, as well as the fact that many indigenous languages here have strong roots in oral tradition. Therefore, an individual may be highly educated in an indigenous language, but if they cannot write it down they are considered illiterate, even though oral tradition is as highly regarded here as the western world regards written literature. Due to the level of literacy rates as well as what I mentioned above about learning pace with indigenous languages, the English language really only has a strong academic branch here. The societal branch is convoluted and blurred by both the youth, who are more focused on the latest European and American fashions and mobile phones than real aspects of intelligence relating to the language (many disillusioned by the misconception that everyone in America runs around like 50-cent and Snoop Dogg), and the elders who still interpret and understand everything best in their mother tongues. How is a language supposed to be 100% effective without being firmly rooted in society? Yes, english is the official language of Nigeria, and most Nigerians I have met are bi or trilingual, however it is not difficult to see that English is considered superior to the other languages. Language is a dynamic entity, as it has every characteristic that a living organism has. If language is so capable of adapting and changing, and indigenous languages are clearly better mediums of learning, then why is it compulsory in Nigeria to turn away from indigenous languages? Other countries that have embraced indigenous languages have obviously experienced more rapid growth and development, so why doesn’t Nigeria fall into this category?

I have heard many people in Nigeria talk about how they are sick of hearing Africa and Nigeria constantly referred to as underdeveloped, lagging behind, sub-par, etc. These derogatory terms, unfortunately and paradoxically, just push people away from their own cultures, traditions, and languages. They simply cause embarrassment and resentment towards people’s’ own cultures. Language, culture, and identity cannot be separated from one another. If one is lost (whether it be intentionally or accidentally), you inadvertently lose all three. For example, I have observed that most of the youth here are extremely preoccupied with learning English language and culture. They think that if they are well versed in western culture, it will improve their chances of being able to move to America or Great Britain (the life dream of many people here). Learning English is also the only option for Nigerians who want to study at a university or learn anything about science and technology. The paradox here is that although those learning English think they are bettering themselves and their country (they are to some extent), they are actually digging themselves into a deeper hole as there is no firm societal root in the language here. I do not wish to say that it is bad for Nigerians to learn English, but when it is ultimately sought after to replace indigenous languages and cultures (often the case here), Nigerians have then shortchanged themselves of their best portal to learn in-their indigenous language, while simultaneously sacrificing part of their identity.

Consequentially, there is a small group of scholars in Nigeria who consider themselves “language activists”-advocates for indigenous language acquisition and support. One of these language activists is Professor Kolawole Owolabi, one of the directors of my program. Language activism is a bottom-up approach for international development. I completely agree with the notion that in underdeveloped and developing countries (I reluctantly use these words here), change needs to come from within: from the bottom-up. Outside sources coming in and taking control of a conflict, corruption, or poverty-stricken area rarely prove completely effective or worth it in the long run (unless someone in the equation gets completely cheated or short-changed). Essentially, top-down transformation is colonialism and I think that Nigeria is a prime example of this-only 50 years ago did it gain its independence from the British. Today, it is still ruled by a British-style, top-down government that is essentially completely ineffective and notoriously corrupt. I’m not trying got sound like an over-privileged white college student from a liberal university in America who goes to Africa and think he can easily solve all of the problems, because I certainly am not trying to be. What I do claim is my opinion, and that is that indigenous languages and cultures should be regarded highly and respected, especially by those whom it is their heritage. Indigenous languages are the most effective ways of communicating and learning, as they are deeply ingrained in people’s blood and hearts, and have been so for generations. In a situation like Nigeria, the decreasing regard for indigenous languages and cultures is obviously holding the country back from its massive potential (economy, population, investment potential, abundant natural resources, etc.).

So where do I fit in all of this? How does this help me answer the question, “What am I doing here?” If you followed me around for a day here, it would not be hard to figure out. I have now become completely desensitized to the complete shock, awe, and amazement experienced by nearly every Yoruba speaker I have met here when they hear me speak for the first time. It is extremely rare for a white American to come to Nigeria for the sole purpose of learning Yoruba language and culture.

Typical swarming scenario

Every time I get in a danfo, buy something at the market, say hello to someone on the street, or interact with students at school, people want to converse with me at length about what I am doing here (and to see if I can actually speak their language). My group of five students from America has been in newspapers and on several TV interviews in Ibadan, and this has made us quite popular. It seems that everywhere I go in this city of five million people, someone is shouting “Kayode! Kayode!” because they saw me on TV or in the paper. Two weeks ago, I got in a danfo in a neighborhood called Moniya, about 20 minutes away from where I live. Every single one of the nine people inside the van knew who I was and had seem the TV interview. I thought it was very strange when we first arrived that everyone was so excited to publicize us, put us on TV, put us in the papers, etc.

The TV interview that made us famous

Now, however, it makes sense to me. The fact that foreigners are taking an active and serious interest in a traditional language and culture here is a huge source of inspiration, in addition to shock and awe. It helps to show people that their native languages are important, and it is not as if the entire world completely disregards them. In conclusion, after hearing Dr. Adegbola’s lecture last week, something clicked and everything seemed to fall into place. I did my best to describe this epiphany above. Perhaps a more concise way to put it is that I have become a language activist, fighting for the importance of an indigenous language in a country where I am a complete minority in every sense of the word.

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