Well, I’ve been living in Nigeria for about 2 weeks now, which makes me qualified to give my first impressions on the country, right? 🙂
So far I’ve traveled to Olumo rock in Abeokuta, Lekki Conservation center, Badagary, and Nike art Gallery in Lagos, as well as the Venture Mall, Cocoa Dome, Agodi Gardens, and a few other places in Ibadan. My mom was here for my first 10 days so we did a lot of sightseeing during that time. I’ve been living on my own for a few days now and started work. I’ve noticed a few striking differences.
I realized that each region of Nigeria is completely unique to it’s own language, culture, etc, so I will be referring to south-west Nigeria. Additionally, I realize that some of these observations may have only been specific to the individual or particular places I’ve encountered, so I’ll try my best to not generalize the entire region.
Okay, enough disclaimers, here are the 10 musing and observations I’ve had during my time in Naija so far:
- Rice is life, and amala is bae: Individuals take great pride in their food here, and it is very well deserved. My favorite dish here is a staple Yoruba dish called Amala with ewedu soup. Nigerian’s also have a staple rice called jollof which is absolutely delicious. It is prevalent all across west Africa with each country having it’s own distinct recipe, and often getting into friendly arguments about whose jollof is the best jollof.
- Things can be a whole lot healthier here: Speaking of food, there are far more nutritional options in southwest Nigeria than there are unhealthy options. On our road trip for example, I had locally owned, organic, roasted corn and walnuts, instead of the usual fast food I eat on road trips in the states.
- What is time? I recently watched a video about African Americans traveling to Africa, and they brought up a good point about the concept of “African time”. I had a good amount of African friends in the States who would show up very late to events, or would host events that started at 5:00 when they expect others to show up at 7:00. Well, African time is the same in Africa, except on steroids. Most people are really late to events and for little things such as picking me up to take me somewhere. Things also move a lot slower here than they do in the states. When I started work, I needed wifi access for my phone and laptop and needed to submit my protocol to the ethics board. This would have all taken about an hour in the States. However, it is much different here. The first day of work, they got my phone to work. The second day, they worked with my laptop, and the third day, they took my research protocol for review. I’ve been having to come up with things to do to pass the plethora of freetime I have in between, such as submit an abstract for a conference, and blogging.
- When it rains, it pours: During the rainy season it can be bright and sunny, one minute, and then an absolute storm like I’ve never seen before the next. Everyone can be walking down the street, strolling through the market minding their own business, and then all of a sudden run (I mean, run) to the nearest shelter once the first drop arrives. I thought it was hilarious the first time I saw a group of 20 or so people run to the nearest gas station that my friends and I happened be refueling at. I thought it was funny because Nigeria has at least a 4 month rainy season, and it’s surprising to see so many people ill prepared for the rain when it rains nearly every day during these months.
- Folks seem to be pretty protective of their friends: I’ve met a solid number of local folks here who have been the best in making me feel comfortable here in my new home. A lot of my friends are straight gangsters when it comes to haggling and sticking up for foreigners like me. Many have saved me a considerable amount of money by rescuing me from scammers, beggars and the average restaurant worker out to extort me upon hearing my accent and sensing my complete cluelessness. The most notable hero has been my friend Babatunde (yes, he’s comfortable with me using his name), who I consider to be my best friend here. One example is when my mom, Babatunde and a couple of his friends and I ventured two hours out of Ibadan to visit Olumo rock. As soon as the tour guide saw my highly US political shirt that read “I really do care, don’t you?” and heard my mom and me talk, he immediately ran up to us and helped us with everything. He was the kindest, most hospitable tour guide I have ever come across. However, once the climb up was over, my mom and I had agreed to pay him 1000 Naira which is about $3 USD and more than enough money for a tip in Nigeria. He insisted that we pay 5000. I was reluctantly ready to negotiate the tip down to 3000, but then came Babatunde.
Babatunde started yelling at him in Yoruba “Aren’t you on a paid salary? Why are you trying to overcharge us? The tip is optional!” Babatunde then held the 1000 Naira tip in his hand on our whole way back down the rock (about a 20minute walk) until the man graciously( and nothing less than graciously) accepted our tip, which he didn’t accept until we were all in our car on the way out! Babatunde also called on his manager and complained about him.
Mind you, this was all in Yoruba. My mom and I received a play-by-play on what was happening by his friend, and it was far entertaining, and we cheered Babatunde on the whole way.
- Holding hands with the same sex seems normal: I don’t have much to elaborate on this, but I thought I just share that I observed a lot of male-male and female-female hand holding here, which no one seems to bat an eye about. Being on the LGBTQ spectrum is also very frowned upon here so I assumed that the individuals holding hands are heterosexual.
- The Notorious Nigerian con-men are called “Yahoo Boys”: A lot of my friends here have been very curious to know what people in the states think of Nigeria. I honestly told them that, out of those that actually know that Nigeria exists and know that Africa isn’t a country, know Nigeria for the “the lovely clothes, the heavy amount of immigrants to the US and the Nigerian prince scams” One of my friends told me they were called Yahoo Boys here, and insisted that most Nigerians aren’t apart of it of course, but those that are make a decent living out of scamming westerners. He even invited me to meet one, which I declined since I’m not too sure how much the Fulbright program would appreciate me befriending a wanted criminal.
- Not everyone understands the concept of being African American: In most parts of Africa, the term African American is used for African immigrants in the United States, and the term Black American is reserved for those who were descendants of slaves and who’s family have been around the United States for centuries, like me. Nonetheless, a lot of people are very woke about the history of slavery and have welcomed me “home” and call me their long lost cousin. My research assistant even gave me my own Yoruba name, Adebola, when I told him my African Ancestry DNA matched with those of the Hausa and Yoruba people living in Nigeria. Adebola means “she comes the meet the world”, and when I told Babatunde, he added the word “ewa” meaning “beauty” to it, making my new given name “Adebola-ewa”.
However, there are also those that don’t seem to get it. When we were at the Nike art gallery for example, my mom and I were not permitted to wear the beautiful Adire that other Asian tourist were trying on, because they assumed we were not tourists, even when my RA insisted that we were American and not from here. Nevertheless, for every person who seems to not get the concept of being black American, there are at least three that do understand, and have made my first few days as welcoming as if I am coming on a pilgrimage.
- National Youth Service Corps: I’d like to think I’ve received a good taste of a lot of Nigeria because of the National Youth Service Corps or NYSC. After graduating undergrad, Nigerians have to partake in a year long program to serve their country outside of their home state. The majority the friends I’ve met here are currently serving or just came back from serving. I’ve met individuals who call home from Borno State in the north, Kaduna State in the middle, and many states in the east. It’s been pretty cool to learn about the unique cultures inherit to each state in Nigeria, and I hope to be able to travel at least further east in the future.
- The language barrier is a lot harder than I thought it would be: Since the official language in Nigeria is English, I assumed that I would not have a problem getting around. However, most people in Southwest Nigeria speak Yoruba fluently and learn English as their second language. The locals also often switch back and forth between Yoruba and English mid-sentence. I’m getting a Yoruba language tutor soon, but so far I only currently know standard greetings. It’s been really frustrating not understanding what people are saying half the time, and the other half when they do speak English is also difficult because of the heavy accent that I’m not used to. However, it goes both ways, most of my friends and coworkers here aren’t able to understand me either. The most frustrating moment was when I really had to go to the bathroom, so I asked my coworker to unlock the “restroom” and we walked 15minutes to go to the cafeteria because they thought I said “restaurant”. Additionally, most have a difficult time pronouncing both my first and last name, so they just call me Adebola instead, and I call a lot of them by their English or Christian name.
One of the best advice I received during my security briefing when I first arrived was to be cautious but not afraid. I’ve heeded that advice as best I can, trusting my instincts, exploring when I can, and of course, never saying no to a gathering or event. Ibadan is no different than any US city, even safer. I overall feel comfortable, happy and safe here and that’s all I could ask for.