Saturday, October 1, 2011

Nigeria: A Scattered Travel Log (part 1)

The plane landed
I paused, inhaled and tried to feel like I was at home.
But I didn't.

The interesting thing about being away from a country for so long is that when you arrive, no matter how strongly you want to embrace the culture, people and everything else that comes with it, you still feel foreign. To be true to yourself, you would have to admit that the food tastes strange in your mouth, the smells catch you off guard and the surroundings have you spending short bursts of time just standing and staring to take it all in. It didn't help that the security man's face twisted into a retort as I handed him my passport. "Ah ah, what brings you to Nigeria?" "I'm here to see my dad." "Oh kayyyy... so he's a diplomatic somebody eh?" "No, he's Nigerian." "So, where is your Nigerian passport?" "Well I don't have one, my mom is Gambian and I..." A swift reply "My friend, you are a Nine-gerian, what is Gambia?! Come, you have to get a Nigerian passport oh!" I laughed genuinely at his tactless, yet goodnatured humor.

Street in the Village (which is pretty much a town now)

The official language of Nigeria, contrary to popular belief, is not English. It is Pidgin. Pidgin is a sort of "broken English" that everyone in Nigeria speaks. I love the language, and have managed to keep my fluency away from my Fatherland. I held an entire conversation with the taxi driver before the 6 hour bus ride to Ibadan. Everything is funnier in Pidgin I realized, as the man quipped, "Officer want take all my money finish, say im no get lunch, see im belle like oil rig" shortly after delivering a bribe to a jolly looking police officer. The police are something like the scum of Nigeria. Their pockets go deeper than the frequent potholes that decorate the highways and they will ask for a bribe as easily as they will ask for licence and registration.

As we started off on the highway, a passenger surprised me. "Make we pray" he said loudly and bowed his head along with the other passengers on the bus. I was the only one looking puzzled, and so I quickly copied my fellow bus riders and bowed my head. What followed is best described as a Sunday church service - nothing exluded. The volunteer prayed and prayed and prayed, quoting various scriptures that were applicable to journey mercies, safety, protection, and other related things. At the "Amen", I began to look up, and another passenger cut me off with a prayer of her own. She covered all the things Volunteer One had covered and then some, and ended her prayer by leading us into a series of songs. When the worship was over, I wanted to be like the rest of the passengers and settle into a comfortable position but I was too stirred. I spent the rest of the ride trying to figure out who had gotten the whole "freedom of religion" thing right; we or the western world. 

Craft Market - that's snake skin :-/

The most fascinating thing about returning to Nigeria after fourteen years was going to the market. I had not completely lost my ability to haggle with prices, so I was able to leave the country with some money in my purse, but I could tell I was getting ripped off. You can only ever get them to go down as far as half of the "original" price, so the first price they give you is enough to let you know whether you will be ripped off or not. Of course, being a visitor, I couldn't bank on being able to buy whatever it is that I wanted later, so it was then or never. It didn't matter whether I dressed in traditional garb or intensified my accent, somehow they could tell that I did not run fluidly with the rest of the nation, that I was out of sync, albeit by a few milliseconds.  

 I bought a painting (another sure sign of being a tourist) from the craft market for double of what any God-fearing individual would have charged and beamed as I took it home. Somehow, I felt that they were justified in charging me so much. After all, here I was, able to travel abroad and able to shop and have an expensive cell phone, and they were only trying to make ends meet. This is another touristy trait. The sense of guilty pity you have for the true sons of the soil that causes you to smile and shrug as they bleed every penny out of your pockets. I had not been cheated, I reasoned, I had only done my share of alms giving for the day. In reality I was not doing anyone a favor. Not my dad, who had dished out the cash, and not even the seller. Who was I to make someone who was working for his living into a beggar for my own self satisfaction?

Obviously a foreigner.

(To be continued)


  1. nice!! really liked it

  2. I smiled all the way through on my gals kept staring at me the story hihi....

  3. This is a beautiful piece. I love it!

  4. you are so funny....#kamy