Sunday, November 20, 2011

Nigeria: A Scattered Travel Log (Part 2)

A store in the mall, with black manikins of course ;-)
On the bus, during the 6 hour drive to the village, I searched for a book I had bought from the mall, and remembered visiting it with some friends. Silverbird is the most popular mall complex in Abuja, the capital city, followed closely by Ceddi Plaza. It offers just about everything you would see in a western mall, with the obvious exception that it replaces snacks and foods with the Nigerian alternatives. When we arrived I was a little surprised that I had to stand in line to get inside. Wondering what the wait was for, I looked around the line to see a man entering through a metal detector and then collecting his belt, cell phone and some other contraption. It was a security checkpoint very much like the one at the airport. Confused, I turned to a fellow line-waiter and asked why we had to go through a security checkpoint to enter the mall in my now close-to-natural Nigerian accent. I was impressed with myself - the pidgin flowed out of my mouth as if I'd been speaking it nonstop for years. I smiled on the inside, reassured that I wasn't a foreigner after all. "You must be a visitor." the lady behind me remarked to my shock and dismay. "What... why?" I asked, laughing a little, trying not to sound too offended. "Everybody has heard about the bombings, its in all the local papers. These Muslims want to spoil our country." she continued. I turned around nodding. I had heard about the bombings.

They were carried out by members of "Boko Haram". Their aim - to instill Shari'ah law throughout Nigeria - is not popular among the general population, Muslim or Christian, so they gain attention through sporadic bombings. Nigeria's latest terrorist group was giving Nigerians a new reason to be afraid, Southern Christians a new reason to hate Northern Muslims, and Northern Muslims a new reason to be defensive about their faith. It is not as though they can't stand each other, on the contrary, the Muslims and Christians coexist well with each other, and are happy to do so. But there is always the random act of violence, usually spurred by propaganda and/or powerful people with ulterior motives, that rocks the steady boat of peace. To be honest, Nigeria's tumultuous history of Muslim-Christian hostility is complex, caused by numerous events dating all the way back to colonialism, and since nobody wants to deal with it, it is tucked away and labeled confusing - foolish to attempt an explanation for.  

Black soup & Pounded yam. Looks can be deceiving OK?
I couldn't find the book, so I looked outside the window. Buildings had started appearing, and people were bobbing up here and there. We were in Lokoja. We stopped for the 30-minute break at a popular inn in Lokoja rightfully called Lokoja Inn. We went in along a winding staircase into the overcrowded dining room and I looked at the menu. At my dad's suggestion, I selected black soup and pounded yam. What happened next can only be explained by facial expressions. I have never tasted anything so wonderful yet so unassuming in my entire life. Pounded yam appears as a white ball of fleshy, starchy stuff, kind of like an extra thick sphere of mashed potatoes, and black soup is quite literally black soup. The taste represented what every good meal I've ever had has tried to accomplish and fallen short of. It was extremely spicy, full of pepper in fact, yet I couldn't stop eating. I would pause for gulps of water and air and then resume - a most unattractive sight. Before I had finished, the bus was ready to go and I had to leave plate there. I vowed to return at least one more time.
On the bus

My favorite thing about rural Nigeria is the trees. Not because of their artistic loveliness's or their great contributions to the planet but because people can gather under them to socialize. The largest trees got to spread their generous branches over groups of people, young, old, male and female who would sit, fanning themselves, laughing and making small talk. One village woman had on a green t-shirt with the words "Talk less, say more" paired with a traditional wrapper. A wrapper is a beautifully designed African cloth, wrapped around the waist to form a long skirt. Somehow, these phenomenal women manage to tie it in such a way that they can still take long strides as though they are wearing trousers, without showing a bit of skin. Besides the extremely green trees, deep red earth and clear blue airs, something else stood out about this southern Nigerian village. Unlike in the sophisticated city of Abuja, the village allowed for small errors such as misspelling the name of your business. "Fate Medical Center", I was informed was supposed to inspire faith, not dismay. A large wall had graffitied on it "no yourinating please" and the local eatery offered "soft drins" and "supergetti" instead of their rightly spelled counterparts. After she glanced through the menu, I heard a woman at the next table yelling at the waiter for their lack of professionalism. 

Nigerians are a very "say it like you mean it" kind of people. An "uncle" I met held back none of his thoughts as he grinned at me, looking from head to toe commenting without reserve on how "sweet" I looked. I met a young couple who I was related to and as I took their picture for memories sake, the lady did not hesitate to tell her husband to change his pose because, and I quote "you will spoil the picture if you look like that". While it made things a little embarrassing if you happened to be on the receiving end, at least you knew exactly what everyone was thinking. It was hard to come across a fake smile or hear an "I love you" in that light, airy voice that belies its honesty. When it came to interpersonal relationships, at least the kind that don't involve money, the people just didn't know how to lie. 


  1. This reaction was supposed 2 be posted here but ended up elsewhere, lol, very good writing:

    OMG!!! How long did you stay in 9ja again!?! picked up a lot of detail. You missed "Pinky & The Brain Nursary & Primary School (Dutse-Abuja)" and (clears throat) "Rice & Beans Nursary and Primary School, Abuja." Yeah, I wrote RICE & BEANS ;P....but i'm lying!

  2. cul stuff Omonse...dis gives me a diff view of how things r in Nigeria..n i like d view:)..i enjoyed it...kip em comin:)

  3. keep doing your thing lady, writing is right up your finger tips....kamy