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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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4 comments

  1. your ignorant generalistic statements leave much to be desired. you should desist from making braod sweeping statements about nigeria because u spent one lousy christmas with one family. we do have christmas trees here..yeah with lights and stuff and no not with monkeys swinging from it and yes we do have loads of presents for overindulged nigerian children. and we do say happy christmas, we just also say compliments of the season also. how naive can you get? like it is in whereever you come from not all families consider it a necessity…i’m sure even u can understand that. new orleans after the storm…you’re just insane for saying that. you just a fcuking bigot. and the worst thing about a bigot is when he/she doesnt realize he’s one


  2. I should “desist” blogging MY impressions of MY trip… which for the record was NOT a lousy Christmas, more like and enlightening one. I don’t remember where I stated that I was “voice of Nigerian Christmas” and it’s quite foolish of you to make the assumption that I was intending to speak for every Nigerian experience. Actually, this was never intended to be a blog post, but was a written email to folks back home. While I invite colorful debate, on what grounds are you calling me a bigot? In this post and others on my Nigerian experience, I mention over and over again how wonderful the people are. Maybe you are unsure of what a bigot actually is. I am critical of many things going on in Nigeria, but are you not? …. If my impressions of Nigeria were so ignorant and naive…..what may I ask in my post was so off? ….and who the hell said anything about monkeys swinging from anything? awful touchy aren’t we….


  3. So yesterday was Christmas, Christmas for Nigerians is alot different than Christmas in the States……that was not you trying to be the voice of nigerian christmas????

    and oh thanks for actually mentioning that your people are really very wonderful inspite of the poverty that makes posy katrina new orleans look like hollywood o easy street. your post is just one of the many pathetic condescending feeble attempts to presenting nigeria that only ends up misrepresenting us. but hey dont forget to add that the people are nice..it gives it a nice touch and helps to camouflage your bias.

    i’ve been to the states, albeit briefly …and i’ve been to several cities in europe…i’ve seen the bums and the food kitchens and the shelters. and yes i have seen the limos and the skyscrapers and the white house.

    in ur representation nobody asked you to solicit for world aid for us, just right a true representative story..cant you

    i wasnt born to rich parents but somehow i’ve made okay, i do have high speed internet access, i have a great job blah blah blah and i dont know where u stay but where i do i do have almost 24hrs electricity give or take. and its not in some snobby high brow area.

    please wen writing about nigeria or africa nobodys asking you to solicit for world aid. all we ask is u paint a clear picture. yeah we got poor folks here…and we got rich ….but please we also have a middle class…like everyother society.

    oh no light , oh no water, oh theyre poor, oh they’re corrupt, oh they need help , oh they’ve got issues, but hey ….they’re really nice people.

    whats nice about us? we would rob your arse like in anyother country if we meet you in the wrong corners…..its so frigging condescending..

    i dont mean to fight with you…but one more oof these articles that claim to know all about nigeria was more than i could take


  4. Ok, so what is your beef about, because I am unclear of your actual point. Again, what did I say about my experience in the area around Lagos that was false? ……… are you trying to act like electricity isn’t few and far between? are you saying that everyone in Nigeria can turn on a faucet and be sure to drink fresh clean water? that the pollution and chaos on the streets isn’t a crazy hot mess?….. If you think I was too harsh on your country, then I ask AGAIN….. what part of my description did I misrepresent? ….I’ve been to post-Katrina New Orleans, so I stand by that statement WHOLE HEARTEDLY…… the question is, have you been there to tell me that I am so wrong?

    ….It’s becoming more clear to me that you just aren’t interested in truth. I have traveled to many cities in many countries, rich and poor …….. and never before have I been so struck by so many of the things I saw while in Lagos. I was there for weeks, and spent plenty of time with many Nigerians, and for the most part it was THEY who couldn’t stop talking about the corruption, the crime, the inequity, and the poor conditions in comparison to other countries.

    It’s my blog, and I say whatever I damn well please so I have no reason to placate anyone by talking about how much I enjoyed the people. I earnestly did. I didn’t say that everyone in Nigeria was “nice”, and that I wouldn’t be robbed there……. where are you making these assumptions from? My trip to Nigeria is probably when I felt the least safest ANYWHERE I’ve ever been in the world, and I would never try to travel there alone ……. and I have NO problem traveling alone.

    My post was my experience from my Black American perspective. My intention was not to invoke pity for Nigeria, but open peoples eyes to understanding. You don’t know what people said to me before going to Nigeria, Africans from other countries who BEGGED me not to go and promised to pray for my safety. Nigeria and it’s people have a very specific reputation in the U.S. and in Europe, but clearly you have no idea the perception of your countrymen from this side of the pond. My point wasn’t pity, but merely that it’s a complicated multilayered situation in your country that is very hard to understand unless you’ve been there. I’m not even saying that I fully understand it, I’m not an expert, and I’m not sure where you got the idea that I was claiming to be one. However, I was enlighted by my trip and my posts were merely my thoughts on my experience.

    …..If you find my thought’s on my experience so wrong, I welcome you write your own truthful post about Nigeria…..or your experience and impression of America and I’ll post it. I can take the truth about my country….. the question is, can you?



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