Archive for December, 2006

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Messed up in the Muthaland

December 26, 2006

Where shall I start people?

……….First off let me say that I am sorry that I haven’t been able to reply to peoples emails personally, but as I have said before my internet access here is slim to none and my last internet session was used for sending a email to the one med school I applied to accepting their invitation to interview (merry Christmas to me!!!)…..and after that my internet went caput.

So yesterday was Christmas, Christmas for Nigerians is alot different than Christmas in the States. For one, there is no Christmas tree with tons of gifts for overindulged spoiled American children………its more like a party season. So you make the rounds from party to party to party over the course of several weeks. Instead of Merry Christmas people say “Compliments of the Season”, it sounds awful cute and British like. Christmas day itself is actually met with little to no fanfare itself which for the record kinda sucks because I feel like I skipped Christmas day (No Donny Hathaway “This Christmas”? no Honey Ham? No Cinammon rolls? O hell no!). Yesterday we woke up and had breakfast with friends of the Oguntalas then came back and rested and played as if it was any other day. Then we went to two more gatherings in the evening……. drinking and eating roasted turkey (that was alive earlier in front of my very eyes only hours before) and ram. Or I should say that they went to two more gatherings……..I myself was in the throws of pain in the bathroom where I had been for the past 24 hours. Dayo swears it was dysentery…. I swear it was just the Triple I….. International Intestinal Issues, that everyone gets from time to time when they travel outside the country. I get it absolutely everytime I leave, usually last 2-3 days and then just as it started with a sudden bang it ends just as quickly. I wasn’t going to take anything for it but pepto and not worry too much about it until after a couple of days but Mr. Oguntala gave me some stuff that seemed to do the trick and though i haven’t eaten anything but bread crust for the past two days I think that as of about 4pm today I am in the clear.

……..ok, now enough about my intestines. But let me say this, there will be no more culturally sensitive and tolerant American…..if I don’t recognize it, I ain’t fuckin eatin it (sorry ma:) but its the truth. Even on my psuedo hunger strike I was still attempting to try things as best as I could swallow it……….but thats it, I’m not eating any more suspicious meat held under questionable refrigeration, with little electricity how can you keep it cool anyway? Good question, because you can’t. It doesn’t seem to bother people who are from here, but as they say my “constitution” isn’t made for such things.

…………..The power? ok, now here is where it all gets very interesting. First let me say that I am in what those of us in the West would consider “da bush”. Dayo’s father lives in a rather palatial estate in the bush…………..but the bush no less. I was under the impression that we would be in the city of Lagos, but what I didn’t realize is that Lagos is a State of Nigeria with the city Lagos contained in it, much like New York State and New York City…….so yes we are in Lagos State but about 30 miles outside of the city. 20 or 30 miles outside of the city makes very little difference in the States, but it makes a big difference here. They live in a small village called Ejigbo (pronounced Eee–geee—bO). How far you live outside the city seems to determine your access to power, and here we are lucky in that we seem to have power 25-35% of the time…….. so little that we might as well not have it at all. Most people who can afford it get around this by having a generator or two…….which the Oguntalas do, but they only run it from about 9pm11:00, and 5am-9am. So from midnight until 5 in the morning sleeping can be real tough. Its not so bad if thats the time when the power (Nepa) comes on because at least the fans can blow, but if not (which is usually the case) you are just assed out and its hotter than whorehouse in Thailand.

Honestly people, I was not prepared mentally to be in da bush. The electricity issues, the water issues, the raw sewage everywhere with livestock feeding in it, the dysentary in the dark…….. I must admit there have been times where its all been a bit too much, I thought I was prepared for Africa…. but maybe not.

In some ways Nigeria is such a lovely country……. the people (once they get over you being a white stranger from “Da West”) are incredibly lovely, impeccably dressed in fantastic colors and fabrics, and parts of the country are incredibly beautiful………… but in many other ways, far too many to count…….Nigeria is an absolute logistical disaster.

Par example……. traffic. Every city has traffic right? What causes traffic? Too many cars, not enough lanes, not enough flow in the right directions, etc……. Ok please picture it with me people, a city with 8 million people, at least 1 million (Im guessing) cars, motorcycles, buses, and taxis on the road……….. and not one single stop light in the entire country. O and driving lanes? little dotted lines that say “this is my lane you stay in yours and I’ll stay in mine and noone will get hurt”……..those are a foreign laughable notion as well in this country. NYC or LA has no idea what gridlock is till they come to a place such as this. The only way gridlock becomes untangled is when drivers of vehicles or pedestrians get out of their cars and start playing crossing guard………. but these are people who want to go as well so everyone who gets up to direct traffic does so with their own agenda of making their “lane” go as quickly as possible. There are also always several people trying to do all of this at a time, it only works out when a reasonable one begs and pleads people “you scooot here…now you scoot back here….”. …………..O and did I mention the fuel (they pronounce it foil here) shortage?

Yea Nigeria is a country with oil as a plentiful natural resource (3rd most oil in the world I hear) ……..so they pump it, and refine it here…………yet there is a shortage. Sadly this seems like a problem that the ugly West has its hands all over. As we drive around, one can’t help but ask what the hell all the Texaco stations are doing in in a country like Nigeria with its own oil? Anyway, so people wait in line at gas stations for 4 and 5 hours trying to get gas and this is part of the traffic problems as well because the lines get out of control, are backed up so far, and then people converage created a blockage of sorts trying to but ahead of people………..its a friggin mess. Yet, as 350 million Americans go through the daily business of filling up their Hummers and various other gas guzzlers complaining about escalating prices …. people in Nigeria are dying trying to tap into fuel lines.

……..O and guess what you need to power generators?………….. you got it! fuel

……….so just one of the ugly infrastructure situations here in Lagos goes like this….::clearing throat::………you have no stoplights because you have no reliable power source…….since you have no realiable power source you have generators……….. the generators run on fuel so the country burns through massive amounts of fuel between running vehicles and houses of 8 million people………….their is a fuel shortage……….which backs up traffic, which makes you use even more fuel because you are sitting idle in traffic for hours and all the continuous stop and go.

If I sound a little bitter and hostile please keep in mind people that all of this is going on in the dark…………and I ask one of you to struggle with dysentary in the sweltering heat, and the dark and we’ll see who isn’t a little hot.

……….All of that being said I’m getting through. I have had many unforgettable experiences here that will again forever change the course of my life and my outlook. I went to church on Sunday…….a Christian Church by all accounts with clear footprints of Islam, and paganism. In alot of ways it felt very familiar to Black Baptist church……..with the exception of their praise and worship dancing looks like someone dropping it like its hot in slow motion….. for those of you who dont know how to “drop it likes it hot”, let me just say that its a whole lot of ass shaking that I wouldn’t do in front of my mother……..much less a congregation. But hey if you droppin it like its hot for Jesus than who am I to judge? Colonization and Missionaries did their dirt and robbed these folks of so much………..gone head and let them do the stripper dance for da Lord.

The poverty here is so choking in a way that I cannot describe, and the fact that it is so widespread breaks my heart. They say that it is the luxury of the West to feel guilt in the name of humanity, and I try to keep that in my as I travel in order to keep my overprivileged bleeding heart in check……but I cant help feeling a little taken aback. I have seen the slums in developing countries………but nothing like this. New Orleans after the storm would be a come up for most of these people. I am living like a princess in this castle like compound……and I am embarrassed that at how I have secretly struggled. This is definitely one of those places where you are either pretty damn well off, with servants to preform every inane task thinkable……… or you don’t have a g*ddamned thing to your name.

It’s a little odd for me being waited on hand and foot here………..there is a person assigned to do everything you can imagine around here. And what someone hasn’t been hired to do, one of the thousands of kids running around her do ………being a Nigerian kid (particularly a girl older than 10) is rough………its almost like you are a indentured servant until you get married and have your own kids and then can get them do every mundane thing you can think of. Very interesting cultural concept. We do a little bit of it in the U.S……but nothing like this.

There is also alot of bowing going on. The gist of it from what I can gather is you bow to those that are older than you an those whose status is higher than yours (status is MAJOR here…I mean MAJOR…… being a snob is completely appropriate and even looked upon highly). And then there is a time where you get on both knees and give a full bow to people……. Im not sure exactly when to do it and noone has been able to really explain the whole ins and outs of bowing so I have abstained from it for the most part (must be the egotistical American in me, if I dont get on my knees to bow to my own mama, then I dont get on my knees for anyone). So I do a combination curtsy- waist bow……….which seems to elict plenty of giggles from the surrounding Nigerians. I think that as a foreigner they dont expect me to bow at all…..and I never know when I am and when I’m not so I just bow to everyone….even folks I know Im not supposed to like the kids (when they get on their knees in the morning the least I can do is bend a little eh)……….Im trying my best to be respectful and “culturally sensitive” but I it gets tricky sometimes.

I’ve taken one roadtrip about 150 miles away, and went into Lagos city once (for church)…but other than that we pretty much hang around the compound. Mr. Oguntala…the kind, sweet, diplomatic man that he is very overprotective………especially of his foreign daughter who doesn’t speak Yoruba and her friend that has proved to attract waaaay too much undo attention as the town lepar (that would be me). We were supposed to go on an outing with Dayo’s Nigerian sweetheart (they really want her to get married to a Yoruba man, good luck with that)…….but utimately it fell through, a combination of fuel and fear issues. I have some friends from college coming in town this week hopefully that means I will get out and really see Lagos. I’ve mostly just hung out with middleaged folks and kids under 10…..which brings to a funny story that I’ll be brief about. Yesterday at a party in walks a man who spots me and immediately starts asking questions about who I am (funny how most people know exactly who I am before I ever walk into a place here…it interesting being the lepar)………..so he then sits next to me like “I live in London…..” …….ummmm ok. “No really I live in London“……coo, I live in Kansas. “have you been to London?” “sure have, it was nice” “I really live in London……….” ok am I suppose to care? and further more if I am a simple midwestern gal who made it all the way to Nigeria……….would you really think that London (which is New York with shorter buildings, cleaner streets, and an accent as far as I am concerned) would be a big honkin deal to me? puleeez……give me a break. So after no more than 5 mins, this man goes to Dayo’s father………and instructs him to tell me to let him bring me to London. Can you imagine the nerve? My meetings with men over 35 have all been like that. I was polite to him anyhow, and even took the piece of turkey he COMMANDED me to take even after I tried to explain my stomach issues……because when in Rome, do as Romans……..women dont talk back in public and I was trying not to cause a scene. But after talking to Mr. Oguntala and having him express his digust, when I see him again on Thursday at the big event here at the house………he will definitely get a piece of my very Black American Feminist mind. O HELLL NA…………. Shelly don’t play that. Got me messed up in the mothaland!!!………..please don’t let the green eyes fool you, I will go Gully when pressed.

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Aduke is here!

December 19, 2006

People my People! ahoy Africa!

…………I am here for those of you who I haven’t spoke to, (which would be everyone except for my father). After being stuck in Paris for a day because we missed a flight (damn delta!!and damn Air France and the Charles De Gaule airport!!!…but there are worse places to be stuck), but we arrived here safe and sound on Saturday. At least I did…………my luggage was not so lucky. Because of the flight problem it was sent the next day (supposedly, still trying to figure that one out), and then held for ransom at the Lagos airport. They wouldn’t let anyone except me go back to the luggage claim where they very nicely asked me for money. UUmmm….how about no nice Nigerian man. I didn’t understand what he wanted at first and then he started speaking to me in French…………to which I replied in French. So somewhere he got the idea that I was French and didn’t speak much english. Anywho, I got my luggage and got out of the airport without giving him money by playing the dumb french girl (huh??… what?? I don’t know, I’m here visiting my mother…). Anyway, Nigeria is as shady as they say. However, the pleasant surprise was that they are not hostile about it. After refusing to give him money, he then helped me carry my luggage to the door and waved me off as if we were friends. Afteward I almost felt bad for not giving him the only money I had on me 100 Nira…which is about equal to .75 cents US….. who am I to deny a man 75 cents? Especially since I was so happy to see my luggage.

Being the light skinned green eyed monster in town has created quite a spectacle that started at the airport and has continued into the village. Word travels fast and though they speak Yoruba around me, they mix in enough English for me to figure out that they are talking about me, in wonderment about the girl who calls herself Black American. By day 4 I am almost use to the stares and the way people look at me as if to almost fear me….Ive been other places where I wasn’t black…..thats not new, but Ive never been somewhere where people seemed really leary and suspcious of me. I asked Dayo on my first day here if it seemed like I was making a spectacle to which she replied “I was hoping you didn’t notice”…I was hoping everyone else didn’t notice. We took a road trip out of town to a village about 350 miles away to pick up her brother at boarding school and were stopped by a police man and her stepmother kept insisiting that they were only stopping her because of her “babaoyo” daughter…. ummm does that mean white? unsual?…..did they think that I was smuggling drugs? or being smuggled myself? who the hell knows. The shit is wierd for real.

Other than the wierd reactions from people and the food struggles it has been very good so far. By day 3 I had already been rechirstened “Aduke”, meaning the family pet, the one in the house everyone wants to spoil and pamper, not sure if thats a good thing or a bad thing. My biggest difficulty is I think my stomach has unofficially declared a hunger strike consisting of water, rice, and plaintain with occasional recognizable goat and beef parts. What part of the animal you get just depends on the part that ends up on the spoon……….. I have already lucked out way too many times and received the asshole. They didn’t even have to tell me, I know asshole when i taste it….never had a chiterling in my life……but everyone who has smelled it knows what the hell it is when they taste it. I have beeen a good sport so far and gone out of my way not to offend and be a gracious host………….but I absolutely draw the line at goat asshole. Even if it is called something cute like “tripe”, o hell naw. “Just rice for me please”