Monday, November 22, 2010

Getting Old

I'm not one to spaz about getting old. I turned 30 this year. I have generally felt exactly the same as I have for the past several years. Everyone around me was asking me if I was sad and/or spazzing and/or other morose adjectives I can't think of at the moment (Alzheimer's? Not so much). Uh no. 30 isn't old. My grandma B is 83 and my grandma G is 79. I have more than double my life left to go until I get that old. Calm down people--you are way more concerned about this than I am. I had a blast on my birthday weekend and then I promptly forgot all about turning 30. Until recently.

I lost 15 pounds while I was in Nigeria (go me!) and I have managed to keep it off since I've been home. I've been trying to continue my health kick by joining the gym, going back to healthier eating and trying to stay in a healthy frame of mind. My sister and I have been going to the gym about 3-4 times a week (at 5:45 am!) and then I've been supplementing that by walking the dogs with Ange when we can. My goal is to do a minimum 30 minutes a day and more if I can. When Leslie and I hit the gym we usually do 35 minutes on the treadmill. I started out with just walking but have added in some short jogs (1-2 minutes at a time). Ange and I have been walking the dogs in two local parks, one is mostly flat ashpalt paths and the other is wooded trail walking. We much prefer the trails not only for the nature aspect but also because the unevenness of trails and the many up and down hills throughout the park help to give us a better workout. We've even done some light jogging on the trails though I have to be careful with that due to my spazzy falling down and tripping over air condition. 

This past week I've started to feel a weird feeling in my right knee. Not pain, but weirdness. Like maybe I could blow out some very important part of my knee. I'm trying to decide if it's just me being more than paranoid (very likely) or if I should do something pro-active to prevent any blowing out of important body parts. Like I said, it's not painful so I don't feel like I'm in any grave danger (and trust me, if it hurt I'd stop), but I just get worried that I'll be running and my leg will give out and I'll fall off the treadmill or tumble to my death in the park. I just feel like I need a little suit of armor to help my knee feel like it's got some back-up. 

So I thought maybe I need a knee brace. Then I did feel old. Only fat old ladies wear knee braces. Or super athletes who had a devasting injury. I am not the latter so I must be the former. Crap. 

Then I pull up and look for knee braces. God, I just aged some more. I did NOT need a bionic brace like this:

Like I said, I'm not injured! Just feeling a little paranoid about the ability of my knees to haul my big butt around for a few miles at a fast pace.

And then I stumbled on this:

Oh GOD. It's an Ace Brand knee brace. As in Ace Bandages. As in my mother is always wearing random ace bandages for her old lady pains. And I'm always making fun of her because A. seriously? Ace bandages? B. Like they really do anything. Some flimsy piece of cloth that you wrap a million times around something just to give it a little pressure? C. Only old people find Ace bandages to be of any use. And this is how I've determined that I am totally old now and apparently going down hill fast. I don't think my mom even started wearing Ace bandages until she was like 40-something. At this rate I'll be using a walker by 40. I'm doomed!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Super Duper

To answer my mother's question on my last post: yes I did get a new computer. 

Before I left Nigeria I gifted my old laptop to one of the girls that worked on the compound. It was an older Dell that had run its life course with me and I had been wanting to get a new computer anyway and I knew that my laptop would mean much more to A than it would ever mean to me again and she would likely make it last far longer than I would dare. I had already told Ange that I would be leaving my computer behind in Nigeria before I even left the US, I would just need to find the right recipient. It turned out to be a much harder choice than I thought it would, but in the end I felt good about the decisions I made. 

I had planned to order my new laptop about 2 weeks before I returned to the US, but with my premature departure that was not possible. So I returned home with no computer. That was kind of weird. While I was in Nigeria I had done some research on computers so I knew what I wanted, but I needed it to materialize. 

The people on the compound where I lived were all Mac people. After living with them for 4 months I started to develop a little Mac-envy. A little. Mostly I was jealous of the battery life they enjoyed..something like 10 hours on a single charge. My dying POS Dell lasted about 35 minutes on battery at that point. Their Macs were also light as a feather, unlike my clunker that weighed 50 skamillion pounds. I was also envious of how dang fast their computers ran. My Dell hobbled along at a turtle speed at this point. My Dell also had major issues with overheating. If it didn't have a laptop cooler under it then it would overheat and auto shutdown after 45 minutes. (Now you can see why I was ready to ditch it)

However, even after battery life, speed and nice cool cases I still loathed the Mac platform. I've used it sparsely over the years at IU (sometimes that's the only thing that's available) and I used it more frequently while in Nigeria helping my Mac-loving friends with various things. I know everyone says "You'll get used to it quickly and when you do you'll LOVE it so much more than a PC" but I actually really doubt that. I don't just prefer a PC I actually LOVE the PC layout. People also always say Macs are "so much more intuitive" and I have found that to be absolutely false. PCs are made for dumbies. It is infinitely more easy to use. I have little patience and am not tech savvy so I know that a PC is going to be the easiest thing for me to use. My Nigeria brother Matthew and I liked to debate about Macs vs. PCs (as well as a million other topics) and we finally arrived at the conclusion that Macs are easier for spatial thinkers to use and PCs are easier for linear thinkers to use. I am a total linear thinker. I need to see things in nice neat rows and columns. I can't stand things flying around in space. 

My other big hesitation was price. Macs are freaking expensive. Way expensive. Bottom of the line model with no customization was gonna run me $999 + tax. Yikes. If I built it the way I wanted it was gonna run about $1350 + tax. Now my POS Dell cost me around $300 when I bought it. Yes I realize I got what I paid for, but it actually worked well the first year and went downhill after that. In my experience, a computer has a shelf life of about 3 years before a new and fancy model is needed. Whether it be wear and tear or technological advances after 3 years I need a new computer. For the price of a Mac I could buy a brand new Dell every year. 

After doing some more research I also found out that the main data analysis packages I use for my research are a little more difficult to run on Macs. They WILL run, but you have to do modifications, etc. because they are not made for Macs. As I mentioned previously, I am not patient or tech savy so doing special tricks to get things to work is never going to work for me. That pretty much sealed the deal for me. I decided to look at other options. 

Ange is a huge fan of HPs. I don't really have much partialism to any brand so I was willing to be influenced by others. I checked out the Dell site and decided if I was willing to consider buying a $1000 laptop then I should not limit myself on looking at PCs. So when I got to the HP page I wanted to look for a laptop that was fast, light, and had a long battery life. I chose their "Ultra Portable" tab and started to look. I realized that I could chose the laptop with the longest battery life (up to 7.5 hours--not too shabby) and customize it the way I wanted (mostly 8 GB of memory for super fast processing) for around $1000. Pair that with some sales and an online coupon I ended up buying my fancy HP Pavilion dm3t for $930.

It took about 2 weeks for it to get built & shipped but it was worth the wait. It is LIGHTENING fast, super light and barely even gets warm even after hours of it sitting directly on my lap for hours. It's also pretty slick looking. It's not perfect...the keyboard took some time to get used to (it's kind of squeaky) and the touch-pad is still way annoying but I can get over those things way faster than I can get over learning how to use the Mac platform. Other than those two things, I love it. I've only had it about 2 and a half weeks, but I highly recommend it so far. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hello? (Echo, echo, echo...)

Oh hai. 

I know I have been totally MIA for almost a month. Some chaos and craziness has ensued and my life kind of went topsy turvy and it's taken a few weeks for me to settle down and adjust. I'm home in the USA. I left Nigeria a little earlier than planned but I'm not going to go into all the crazy details because it's a long story. Just know that I'm fine, my peeps in Nigeria are fine, my relationships that I built while I was there continue and my research continues as well. I am continuing to make adjustments as needed so that I will still graduate by May and other than that I am happy, healthy and whole!

I've spent the last few weeks finding my new "normal" back home. I struggled the first few weeks with figuring out a schedule for myself since I have little to no responsibilities in my life until January. But my boss re-hired me so that has given me some stuff to do. I have been attending my weekly PhD cohort meetings which gives me one day back in B-ton and intellectual stimulation that I've been longing for and that makes me happy. I'm still working on the self-discipline thing to continue my academic work (which is all personal and therefore has no actual deadlines) and I think I'm getting back into the saddle. I've been working out and continuing to eat healthy so I can continue the weight loss/get healthy thing I started in Nigeria. I have not gained a single pound back from the 15 I lost while I was there so that is a major victory! Ange has been joining me in this mission so hopefully we'll both continue to do well. 

I hope to be back to regular postings soon, so stay tuned!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Liar, Liar Pants on Fire

Ok this really has nothing to do with lying but I needed a catchy title. 

So Nigeria is a former British Colony. Many things in Nigeria are still impacted by this, namely the school system organization as well as language. I forget this fact usually until something funny happens. Like when I tell everyone in the world that my underwear is too big and baggy.

So yeah. In Nigeria they call underwear "pants" and they call what we call pants "trousers." I've lost quite a bit of weight and my pants/trousers are getting very lose and baggy. Well my underwear is too but that's not what I would usually tell anyone. So when people tell me I've "reduced" (which means lost weight in Nigeria) I say yes but I am not sure how much because I haven't weighed myself but I can tell because all of my pants are baggy. When I realize my error I usually say "Oops, I mean trousers!" and laughter ensues. If I don't remember then well they probably think I'm strange for telling them my underwear a big and baggy. Hahaha.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cross Cultural Sex Education

As I’ve mentioned previously, pretty much everyone knows I’m the “sex scientist” around here or the weird American lady who’s always talking about sex. But of course, since most people secretly want to know more information about sex (and just won’t admit it) I get a lot of private one-on-one conversations with people about the topic. I was hanging out with 2 friends the other day talking about this and that and they asked me about my research and how it was going (e.g. not at all). These two friends said they would like to know more about my research so I was asking them some of the questions I ask in my interviews. The first question is “Tell me what you think about abstinence.” This usually ranges from what they think about it personally to what is the meaning of it. This conversation became very intense around the definition of abstinence.

Before I go further I have to say that these 2 friends are quite opposite. Friend 1 (F1) is very sexually na├»ve and not experienced at all. Friend 2 (F2) is much more knowledgeable and I believe (though can’t confirm) is much more experienced.

So I say “what does abstinence mean?” F1 says “not having sex.” So I say “All kinds of sex?” and F1 says “I’m sorry Aunty Lindsay, but is there more than one kind of sex? I don’t know what you mean.” Oh goodie. This should be fun. So I say “Yes, there are different kinds of sex. Would you like me to tell you about them?” And she said yes. So I said “First there is vaginal sex, which is what you probably are thinking about when I say sex. But there is also anal sex.” And F1 says “I don’t know what that means. Can you explain it more.” So I say “That is when a man puts his penis into your bumbum (which is what Nigerians call the butt).” I seriously wish I would have had a camera to capture the look of horror and disbelief on her face. She shrieks “WHAT? Why would someone do something SO DISGUSTING???” So I go into non-judgmental educator mode and explain why some people think it is pleasurable and how some people like to experiment and spice up their sex lives. After a lengthy discussion F1 says “Aunty Lindsay, you have failed to present any reasonable explanations for why someone would do this. I could understand why if there was a benefit of some kind, like maybe it made you stronger or healthier but you didn’t. If my future husband asked me to do something like that I would think he had lost his mind.” In the meantime F2 had remained quiet about this and F1 turns to her and says “Did you know about this?” and F2 says “Yes.” F1 tries to remain insistent that it is an American practice and Nigerians DO NOT engage in this behavior. I assured her she was incorrect and F2 backed me up. Hopefully we have not scarred her for life.

So then she says “Are there any other kinds of sex I don’t know about?” And of course I had to break the news that yes there were. So then I explained oral sex. Again, horror. Her main thought was that your “private parts” are the dirtiest, filthiest parts of your body so why would anyone put their mouth on them? I assured her that your private parts are actually very clean and as long as you bathe regularly there is no harm. She remained unconvinced and again declared this as something Nigerians do not do (wrong again).

The next day when I saw her she told me that she couldn’t stop thinking about our disgusting conversation. She said she was brushing her teeth that morning and she almost threw up because she kept thinking about it. The even funnier thing about this all is that she is always telling me she wants to marry an American man (or perhaps a white European). After this conversation I asked her about her feelings on this topic and if it affected her desire to marry a white guy. She assured me should would find one of the “non-disgusting white men” to marry. She kills me, she’s so funny. All in all I guess I would consider the education session a win. Even if I can’t convince her to be less judgmental of a variety of sexual behaviors she is at least now aware and can hopefully build a successful relationship with someone who shares her opinion on these sexual behaviors. I hope she finds the non-disgusting man of her dreams.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Christmas in October

Alternative Title: America in a Box

My lovely partner Ange and dear sister Leslie put together the most wonderful care package in the world which I received on Saturday. L went back to the State for a few weeks and I had asked her if it would be ok if I had some of my peeps send her a shipment that she could check as excess luggage on her way back. Being the lovely person she is she said no problem. So I sent a list of goods and instructions for sending it to L and hoped and waited for several weeks. 

The wait was worth it.

Ange did all of the "easy" shopping, e.g. I needed more soap, hairspray, etc. Leslie was called in to help with the more difficult things which are mostly presents for my lovely extended host family here in Nigeria. Ange does not like to shop for things in which she has to make stylistic choices. So if I say "buy a necklace" it turns into a long list of questions about what kind of necklace should be bought. Luckily my lovely sister is like me and LOVES to shop and has impeccable taste so I knew she could handle that part of the list with ease. They arranged for a little shopping excursion and after a few phone calls of clarification finished up the hard part of the list. Ange had a few finishing touches to get and then she shipped it off across the country where it waited happily to be packed into a bag and dragged halfway around the world into my opening and eager arms. 

Since I had lots of gifts in my luggage I couldn't share in the immediate joy of ripping my stuff open. I took my bag to my room and had a private party. It was so much fun even by myself. Even stuff I knew was coming was fun to pull out and look at. It was like a little (or big really - 38 lbs. worth of stuff) box of America all wrapped up for me. I was of course super excited about all the new goodies for me but I was equally excited at looking all the stuff my sister and Ange picked out as gifts. I LOVE to give gifts and it was so hard to put them safely away to wait until I leave. I wanted to run screaming out of my room and say "LOOK WHAT I GOT FOR YOU MY LOVELY FRIENDS AND NIGERIAN FAMILY!" but that would make my leaving anti-climatic so I had to just enjoying them for a few minutes and then pack them away. It was so nice to see familiar American goods and things I haven't seen in months. I just wanted to roll around in everything.

Anyway, it was just what I needed to perk me up. Things have been generally not good at all here for the past few weeks so this was a shining piece of brightness in the dark pit of doom I've felt like I've been living in. So thank you babe and thank you sis for taking the time to send me some love. I needed it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Please Don’t Kill Me Mr. Lightbulb

As I have mentioned previously, electricity in Nigeria is kind of scary. I’ve recently developed a phobia of light bulbs. When I first moved into my new room a few months ago, the light bulb above my bed was burned out. A left me a spare light bulb and said I should change it since it was above my bed and she didn’t want to step on my bed to change it. After she left I got up and changed it. Now let me give you a close up of what this light socket looks like:

Yeah, sketch ball central, but trust me…this is how almost all lights look in Nigeria. Random wires hanging loosely from the ceiling and a dangling bulb. So after I changed the bulb I went to turn on the light and test it out. Whoa. Sparks flying, smoke coming off the wires, scary! I quickly turned it off and said a little prayer that the short didn’t start a fire in the wood ceiling. I waited a while and after no flames came shooting out I decided to turn on the fan to dissipate some of the smoke. Now the fan is in the same area as the dangly bulb. Apparently when I was changing the bulb I pulled it down further than it normally is, so when I turned on the fan it started violently whacking the bulb. Luckily I shut it off before there were glass shards all over my bed. Eventually an electrician came and fixed the bulb and all is fine in that part of the room.

Last night I was getting ready for bed and I turned on the light in the bathroom and the bulb blew. Since it was dark and I was tired I decided not to worry about the bulb and just change it in the morning. So this morning I climbed up on the tub and changed the bulb. However, I have to mention the bulbs here are different than bulbs in the US. They don’t screw in like ours. They have two little nubbins you have to line up in slots and twist. 

But of course all of the light sockets are hard to twist so I’m never really sure that they are secure. Today, this bulb was not secure. About 10 minutes after I changed it came crashing down into the tub. Scared me to death of course.  And then I walked into the bathroom and realized that the bulb had shattered completely in the tub. I wasn’t sure if I should be happy about that since it didn’t go ALL over the bathroom but was contained to one area, or worried since it shattered in the one place I am typically barefoot. Anyway, I cleaned up the bulb, changed the new bulb (and tried to make sure it REALLY was in securely but I’m still not convinced), and took a shower with flip flops on (which is perilous in and of itself, but that’s another story for another day).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Watching The Duchess: A Cultural Experience

Since I was sick all weekend I didn't do much but lay around, internet and match movies. A came over to my room one evening and we decided to watch a movie. We watched The Duchess starring Keira Knightly and Ralph Fiennes. Overall we both very much enjoyed the movie, but in addition to the actual story line I also enjoyed watching the movie with A because of the cultural ride and insight it gave me. 

**Warning, if you've not seen the movie and don't want to read and spoilers, stop now**

The basic story line is that Keira Knightly is a girl from an aristocratic family who is married off to The Duke of Devonshire (Ralph Fiennes) who turns out to be a major jerk in the husband and father category. He rampantly cheats on her, blames her when she only has daughters, etc. She befriends a woman who is struggling with her own marital issues (Bess) and moves her into their estate. Bess and The Duke end of starting an affair. The Duchess demands he kick Bess out and he says no. At this point I am trying to remain within the norms of the time period and realize divorce really isn't an option but I'm so irritated by The Duke I'm thinking of all sorts of ways for her to get back at him. In the midst of all this happening The Duchess rekindles her friendship with her teenage crush and so I say "Ok, she should totally sleep with him. Fair is fair." A on the other hand, being both Nigerian and a very conservative Christian, says "Oh Lindsay, that wouldn't help the situation. She would have to bear that sin and that would just make her life worse. She'll just have to manage the situation and find wisdom to deal with her husband." Hmm, interesting perspective. Eventually Bess ends up being like a second wife to the Duke, which as you can imagine is torture to The Duchess, and so the Duchess proposes a deal with the Duke that she can have an affair with her lover and he can have Bess live with him but they'll hold up the appearances that they are happily married. The Duke basically says "do as I say, not as I do" and then beats and rapes her. The Duchess sneaks off on vacation and starts her affair anyway, but her husband finds out and threatens to kick her out and never let her see her kids again. He tells her she has to move back in with him and Bess and just deal with it. At this point I am ready to forget social customs and all and am like "Heck no! She should seriously divorce him!!!" A steadfastly argues against that saying that divorce is just not possible and that a woman cannot leave her husband no matter how miserable he makes her. At this point I'm like "SERIOUSLY?" So even though her husband is forcing her to live in some weird polygamous marriage against her will, it would still be better to stay married and "manage" and use "wisdom" to figure out how to handle the situation? Wow is all I could say. 

It really put some things in perspective for me. No matter how crappy your husband might be, many Christian Nigerian women would stick it out. Very interesting indeed. I would be interested to know how she felt about watching the movie with me, as an American, but I don't know if she intensely analyzed the scenario as much as me. After all, she was there for the entertainment, and not as the constant researcher I seem to be.

Anyway, the movie was really good. I recommend it. Even if you don't have a buddy to watch it with like me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Culture of Corruption

The other night I was hanging out with one of my friends and I was reading an article on CNN about how Nigeria is one of the biggest oil producers in the world, and yet, they have some of the lowest consumption rates of energy in Africa because of the failure of the government to turn Nigeria’s wealth into practical solutions for the population. Now my friend is fiercely nationalistic. She loves Nigeria with a burning passion and can’t stand to hear negative things about Nigeria, even if they are largely true and commonly agreed upon. This always makes for very interesting discussions.

We were talking about the major problems with Nigeria and how they can be fixed. As it typical of many Nigerians her only solution to Nigeria’s woes is to “pray that God helps us.” Which I think is the laziest most ridiculous solution in the world. And I let her know. It’s not to say that prayer is not something she should do, but to rely on this as your only method to solve the very big problems of your country is just flat out ridiculous. Even if God decided to help Nigeria but snapping his finger and changing things, people still have free will and can continue to muck it up. Prayer will only help when paired with actions to back it up. And I told her all this. Her response is “Well what can we do? We are powerless.” I disagree that Nigerians are powerless though I do realize that starting a massive political movement is unlikely to be fruitful. The ruling party is very powerful, police and military are very corrupt and that is usually a recipe for chaos and civil unrest. However, I said that doesn’t mean there aren’t solutions that Nigerians can figure out in order to help the country. Nigerians need to figure out how to help themselves and their country. She remained doubtful.

I then mentioned that most Nigerians tend to blame only the leadership of the country for being so corrupt, which they are, but they are not the only ones. In fact, corruption runs from the very top to the very bottom in Nigeria. Whether it is cheating someone in the market, lying about any numerous things or cheating on an exam corruption is present everywhere. It is a part of daily life. My friend refused to acknowledge much of this and also said it is different than what the government leaders are doing. It is because everyone finds it acceptable to lie and cheat that the leaders don’t feel bad robbing the people of millions and billions of dollars. Sure it is on a much larger scale but it is still the same principle. She vehemently disagreed and therein lies our problem. Until all Nigerians acknowledge that corruption happens everywhere and that everyone is responsible for changing their own person behavior then Nigeria is going to continue to suffer with corruption and poor leadership. Things will continue to get worse rather than better, and that makes me very, very sad. Nigeria CAN be a great country, but right now I feel that they are lost. It is going to take a major cultural shift in how things are done and what is considered acceptable behavior and practices in this society.

Friday, October 8, 2010


I haven't had much to post as of late so the blog has really slowed down. I'm in a funk. I still don't have approval to continue with the last part of my study (interview students). A lot of people are out of town. I have been doing almost nothing for the past week. I was also sick. So yeah, not much to post and little motivation to write anything reflective and interesting. Hopefully things change soon.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Germs, Germs & More Germs

Well I am sick for the third time since I've arrived in Nigeria. Totally sucks, but I'm managing. I have another dumb cold. Hopefully I can wiz through this one faster than the last one. Getting sick for the third time in 11 weeks is unusual to me though I can easily attribute it to the germ warfare from which I am under assault on a daily basis. Shaking hands is a big thing here. It is customary to shake hands with your friends or acquaintances when you see then on a new day. That means every time I arrive at church I shake about 190813 hands, and then everyday at the University I shake another 20-50 hands, and randomly I see people elsewhere that necessitate a hand shake. And now that I've been here for almost 4 months people also feel comfortable enough to hug me and kiss me on the cheek. Oh how I love human contact (NOT).

While hand shaking has become all the rage, hand washing on the other hand...not so much. I mean, the majority of people wash their hands after using the bathroom, and they typically will at least rinse them before eating (often in a bowl of water that many people use so yeah, not terribly hygienic) but as I mentioned there is a lot of nose picking and other touching of things that goes on that often lead to germy, dirty hands. I actually got made fun of by the house girls for washing my hands so much! Like I was a complete weirdo for washing my hands after handling raw food or touching the garbage can. As much as I try and use my hand sanitizer, it seems like as soon as I am done applying some another person comes along and shakes my hand again (often with their sweaty, sticky hand that grosses me out). So try as I might I am often covered in lots of germs. Hence illness number 3 in Nigeria. 

However, the funny thing is, I was talking to two of the house girls this weekend and they informed me that I have a cold because I sleep with the air conditioner on and/or it is rainy season. We then had a lengthy discussion about germs and how a cold is caused by a virus and they said "Huh, interesting" and gave each other a look that said "Whatever, she totally has a cold because of the A/C." And without fail, no matter who notices I have a cold they ask if I've been to the doctor and if I am taking medicine for it. I've tried to have the discussion about antibiotics and viruses but most people quietly listen until I am done and then say "Well you should go get some drugs and take care of it." So most of the time now I just lie and say "Yes, I am taking drugs that I brought from America." Of course it's not a total lie but Nyquil and Tylenol aren't really what they are thinking when they say drugs.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Big White Aunty, Do You Like Nigerian Men?**

**Yes, someone actually shouted this at me at the market.

On Thursday A and I went shopping. She needed to get a dress sewn for the Church service on Friday and had arranged with her tailor to drop the material off early in the day and come back later in the evening. School was going to close down around noon anyway (Thanks to the Government declaring Thursday afternoon a sort of extension to the National Holiday) so I figured I'd skip out on my usual routine and go with Augusta instead. One of the drivers had the day off so F said his driver could drop us off but we'd have to find out way back. I was excited and up for the challenge. In every other place I've traveled public transport has been one of the more exciting parts of my daily routine. However, because of security issues here it's not always safe to rely on public transportation options. Luckily the M's are gracious hosts and usually are able to loan me a ride with one of their drivers to get me where ever I need to go. Since I've been here 11 weeks (almost at that point) and I've traveled here before we decided that on occasion I can do some running around without attracting too much attention to myself and getting in harm's way. I'd never go off by myself anyway and A is the perfect shopping companion.

So the driver took us to "New Benin" which is pretty far across the city from where we live. We arrived at the market and it was pretty chaotic. Much more chaotic than some of the smaller markets where we usually go. We made our way to her tailor and haggled with him for a while. A is the Queen of Haggling. She always gets the bottom dollar, well Naira. Her tailor is MUCH less expensive than the one I have been using. I'm sure some of it has to do with quality, but I'm also sure that A's tailor doesn't have many white clients and doesn't realize that he could probably make a lot more from me. A has a couple of really cute dresses & shirts that I said I'd like to also get so she was able to use me as a bargaining piece to get her one day custom order done for a deal. I am having 2 dresses and a shirt made (for almost the same price I just had my last ONE outfit made by the other tailor I am using). 

We then set out for the fabric market across the street so I could choose what colors I wanted. After wandering through the cramped stalls in the blazing heat I finally got what I needed and we headed back to the tailor so I could drop off my cloth. They will be ready in about a week. Another negative is that it's across town and the tailor I've been using lives right around the corner and will drop stuff off for me. I know, value added. But even going and fetching the clothes will be cheaper in the long run. And hey, I love to run around town anyway so really, it's like a bonus. The entire time we were walking around the market I was getting shouted to (not at) by nearly everyone. If someone was blind they could trace my steps through the market just listening to people lose their minds when they saw me. Tons of "White Lady!" or "Oweebo!" (which means white person in local language) and yes, even "Big White Aunty, do you like Nigerian men???" which made me giggle inside. When this happens I just pretend like I'm a draft horse with blinders on. I plod ahead and never look. Only once did someone say something that made me turn my head, and that's when some guy shouted an Ishan greeting at me. Ishan is the language that they speak in Uromi, where I have been doing medical work for the past 5 years. There is a substantial Ishan community in Benin but you would not normally hear that greeting just randomly. After I shouted back the appropriate response, without stopping my stride, I could hear wild peals of laughter as I continued one. I'm sure he didn't expect that one.

After we left there we wanted to go to this fancy store closer to our side of town so I could get some American goods. A asked if I minded stopping by a market off of Ring Road first (center of town) and if I didn't mind taking a public transport bus to get there. Public transport? Sign me up! So we went and caught a bus that was leaving for Ring Road. It cost us 20 Naira each ($0.13) and we stuffed ourselves in with the other 8 people already in the bus. Fun times.

We buzzed around the market for a bit and picked up a few things. I still had my "blinders" on and rudely snubbed a woman from church. I had to explain why I didn't hear her talking to me (i.e. I tuned her out completely) and she laughed. Then we decided to call the fancy taxi company that one of our friends uses to take us to our fancy store and then home. We negotiated a set price while we were on the phone, because once the driver saw who he was carrying (e.g. white woman) the price would likely double. They said it would be about 20 minutes before they got there so we ducked into a shoe shop that A was familiar with some we could "hide my white face." She was so cute. She was worried about people harassing me, although I'm sure some of it had to do with her own safety as well. The cab ended up taking FOREVER, no real shocker to me, but she was irritated. We finally walked down to the "bus depot" area where there are buses leaving for major cities (Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, etc.) and stood another 10 minutes or so. I could tell A was getting nervous but I just tried to make small talk while of course keeping my eyes peeled just in case. 

Finally the cab picked us up and it was nice and air conditioned and in great shape. The cab driver was hilarious; a younger guy with some foul, foul music but a great sense of humor. We got to our luxury shop and apparently as we got out the driver told A to remind me to buy him something. The nerve! But it would apparently be rude to NOT buy him anything (even though he was like 45 later than he said he would be AND the cab was going to cost ME a pretty penny) so he got a dumb Coke. A apparently thought I was being cheap (so what???) and bought him some candy. Dumb social customs. We had fun shopping in the store and then headed home, but not before I almost snubbed another person from the University. Luckily I had let my guard down so I ended up just doing a double take and not completely ignoring him. 

All in all I'd say it was a pretty fantastic day. I got to use multiple modes of transportation, missing only a motorbike ride, which I can say right now is never going to happen. I've seen enough bikes crashed on the side of the road to be petrified of riding one, and frankly the thought of hiking up my skirt (which is 95% of what I wear here) and hopping on the back of a bike is less than appealing as well. Can't wait to do it again!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

General Update

I've been posting mostly about cultural stuff and funny stories rather than actual my daily life so I thought I was overdue for one. 

I still have not received approval to start interviewing students which is of course frustrating. I've been here just over 10 weeks and I still have yet to meet with the committee who does the approvals and I'm not really sure if the entire committee has seen my documents. It's kind of hard to nail down exact answers. There are a variety of mitigating factors (various important events, internet at the University was down for several weeks, etc.) but I am getting really antsy. I don't want to run out of time and have to rush through my interviews. It's starting to turn into a scene from The Money Pit. I ask about approval from my contacts and the answer is always "Oh I think in the next week it should be approved." But I'm stuck in a sticky situation. Being able to do my research in this environment is a HUGE deal (both to me and in terms of precedence) so I want to honor my hosts (hosts both specifically & generically) but the bottom line is that I have a very limited amount of time left and every day that ticks by sends me into a panic. I've little by little been stepping up my check-ins and follow-throughs...trying to worry less about cultural politeness (though keeping it in mind) and more about actual facts of life. Hopefully I will have a happier update about this SOON!

I finally finished off my $11 box of Apple Jacks. They were excellent down to the almost stale last bite.

I have been doing lots of physical activity: walking, yoga, playing soccer with the teen boys on the compound, etc. I have lost some pretty substantial weight, though I'm not exactly sure how much. I don't want to feel disappointed so I've refused L's offers to use her scale. But my clothes are very loose and I can see a difference in the mirror. Let's hope I keep this momentum up and continue it when I get home. New me!

I am definitely integrated into the community as much as I will ever be short of living here for the rest of my life (which won't happen EVER). I get scolded for not following social norms, people ask where I am if I don't attend an event (or if they THINK I didn't attend something), and people generally don't give me too much special treatment. There is some special treatments that will always remain (L still gets special privileges and she's lived her 8 years) but people are less likely to wear their "best white people" behavior when I'm around. I have some real friendships that have formed. I know a ton of people. Students wave at me when I'm on campus. Different market merchants know me. In general, life is as "normal" as it's going to be. 

I've applied to 21 faculty jobs so far. I have 3 more in the queue that are waiting for various deadlines, etc. Keeping my hopes up that more will be posted as none of the current ones are in places where I have family. There are a number of them that are very exciting and sound great, but really, I would take a job I was less enthused about if it meant I got to be close to family. We shall see how it pans out. 

Other than that I'm just living life and taking it day by day. I'm kind of in a lull right now until I can get going with my interviews. I'm staying busy by helping out with various non-research related projects that people have asked for my help with. I'm just trying to enjoy the little things before I get totally absorbed in my work and head home! I'll keep you updated!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Good Job Parentals

This is off topic (mostly) to Nigeria. The only connection it really has is that divorce is very uncommon in Nigeria, and people who get divorced are judged very harshly. The few times I've mentioned the fact that my parents are divorced the announcement has been met with gasps, lots of "OH, sorry-o!" and usually a lot of (funny to me) questions. The funniest one ever (again, probably only to me) was the time someone asked how my father could have just left his family (and how all American dads could do that in general) and I had to say "Um, actually it was my mom who moved out and I've always lived with my dad so I don't really know why." I seriously thought the guy was going to drive the car right off of the road. There's also usually weird looks and funny questions when I mention either of my two stepparents because apparently in Nigeria the social custom is to hate your stepparent No Matter What. I mean, I know stepparents get a bad rap all over the world, but the extremeness that it's spoken with here is surreal to me.

All of this has really gotten me thinking about divorce & the aftermath that it often causes. And it got me thinking about how fortunate I am to have two parents who aren't complete dodo-heads and realized that just because they decided they didn't want to be married anymore it didn't mean that they hated each other's guts and should make their children suffer. Even in the US it's pretty rare for people to have a "good" divorce & aftermath story. I can truly say that the whole thing, though ultimately unfortunate, was for me mostly painless. My parents continued to co-parent like usual and probably did an even better job at it then when they were constantly under the stress of each other. Sure there was a learning curve but overall all family dynamics remained mostly unchanged. We couldn't manipulate one parent to get something from another, we didn't get away with more things at either home, and when we were is serious trouble mom came back to our house to help dad dole out the a parenting team. And they have always treated one another with respect which I know probably hasn't been the easiest thing to do when thinking about their differences and the things that led them to divorce. One of my most vivid memories is of my dad SCREAMING at my aunt (brother's wife) on the phone shortly after the divorce because she has bad-mouthed my mother in front of my two sisters. I can remember him saying "Don't you EVER DARE talk poorly about my children's mother in front of them EVER again." Apparently it caused some strife and tears on my aunt & uncle's part, but I didn't hear about any of that until I was much, much older. But the impact it made on me was huge. I knew that my dad would defend my mother no matter how much certain members of my family may have felt about her and that meant a lot to a 15 year old.

Even now, after they've been divorced 16 years we still do things as a family when necessary (e.g. graduations, weddings, etc.) and even enjoy getting together in overlapping fashions on holidays. Nearly everyone I tell this to thinks it's the most bizarre thing in the world, but really I can't understand why or how people would do it any other way. Before my mom moved to California we all lived in the same state. As my sisters and I grow older and our families grow it makes it more and more difficult to try and plan enough time to spend with everyone around Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother's Days, etc. So we do it all together in a neutral location (my sister's house) and we all celebrate together. When people tell me that their parents can't even stand to be in the same room together it makes me sad. If you parents were married (or together long enough to produce a child I guess) they clearly loved each other at some point. I mean, short of horrendous domestic violence (which is few and far between mostly), how can anyone go from love to vitriolic hate with one person? Sure my parents don't love each other anymore but they don't hate each other. They aren't besties and go on double-dates with their new spouses, but they can spend a few hours together (and funny enough, sometimes days) to celebrate the family they once had without gouging each other's eyes out. Hey, sometimes we even have fun! How novel.

And on another side note, not that you would expect any less from parents who did Job #1 exceedingly well, but they have also done a great job in selecting new partners that allow all of this mushy family stuff to happen. I always hear about new wives and husbands who act jealous and try and lash out at both the biological kids and parents in an effort to mark their territory. My stepparents have never done that. They happily join in with our big (apparently strange) family get-togethers and can even share a laugh or two with their counterpart about silly things that their partners do. They've even been known to help each other out with different house projects on occasion. Besides a few minor adjustments here or there we've never had to deal with any stepparent horror stories that you often hear so much about. 

Anyway, all of this is just to say, awesome job to my parents. If there were report cards in Divorce & Aftermath you guys would get an A+++. I am thankful that I can tell my oddball story to others and let them know that all divorces don't have to be horrible and wretched. Families can still come out successful even after they break apart into something new. All it takes is effort and determination, and to always keep in mind that sometimes, there are people and feelings more important that yourself that you need to look out for in the grand scheme of life.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Oh! Sorry-o!

In my continuing chronicle of things that Nigerians say that strike me funny or different I want to talk about saying sorry. In the US we generally only say sorry if we did something to cause trouble, pain, etc. in someone's life. But here in Nigeria you say sorry for just about anything and everything that is less than hunky dory. And it's not just "sorry" it's "Oh! Sorry-o!" In Nigeria the adding of "-o" on many, many words is both a sign of sincerity and also a little bit of Pidgin English flair. This phrase is so common that I find myself doing and saying it non-stop like everyone else. The other day I was talking to Ange online and she said she was tired. My automatic response was "Sorry." And she was of course perplexed so I had to explain this whole thing to her. Here are some more examples for when sorry is appropriate:

Someone drops a pen? Oh! Sorry-0!
You say you had a bad night's sleep? Oh! Sorry-o!
You trip and almost fall all because you are clumsy? Oh! Sorry-o!

I hear this phrase at least once every day. Probably more. And it seems to have completely infiltrated my thought processes (as noted to the conversation above with Ange). But really, I don't mind. When I said sorry to Ange she told me not to say sorry unless I really meant it. Which of course I actually did. I was sorry that she was tired, because that is unfortunate especially given it was the middle of the day and I knew she had a lot more to do that day. It might be a different kind of sorry, but that's ok with me. I can still be empathetic-ally sorry for misfortunes in another person's life. I'd rather everyone be feeling well and spry and ready to take on the world. And if you are less than that, I may just say "Oh! Sorry-o!" Ok, well maybe I'll keep the "Sorry" part and drop the "Oh!" and "-o" parts. I don't want to totally confuse everyone!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Interpretive Dancing

I'll say one thing...if interpretive dancing were an Olympic sport (and I'm not talking about lame-o rhythmic gymnastics) the Nigerian's would win piles of gold medals every four years. I have seen more interpretive dancing in the past 9 weeks than I've probably seen in the rest of the years of my life combined.

Church service? Interpretive dance!

Conference? Interpretive dance!

Talent show? Interpretive dance!

There's even a family interpretive dance show akin to America's Got Talent that is very popular right now. A whole family competes and the judges have to guess what the dance was about. Kind of "Whose Line is It Anyway?" meets "So You Think You Can Dance" actually. And there's randomly some American lady on the judging panel. Bet she never guessed she'd be a TV star in Nigeria! It's totally hilarious.

The best part of the interpretive dancing is the very authentic, but not so much, imitation "ballet dancing" that most people seem to believe is mandatory for interpretive dancing. I feel like there is a hidden market for ballet dancing around here what with apparently everyone and literally their mother sitting around watching old ballet dancing videos and trying their very best to imitate them. Throw on some gospel music and you have an award winning production. No literally, the talent show at Church has like 50 contestants for the dance competition and every single one of them was a interpretive gospel ballet dance. Both single contestants and groups. Everyone REALLY LOVES interpretive dancing. I might have to throw together a little routine for my dissertation defense just so I feel like I am accurately representing my research.

Monday, September 20, 2010


At home, Ange & I share the household duties. Mainly, she does the major stuff inside the house (sweeping, mopping, etc.) and I do the major stuff outside the house (run errands, most of the shopping, etc. ). Now, I know I am far from normal. And I am under the firm belief that non-normal people tend to attract other non-normal people, and in fact, mostly crazy people and crazy situations to them. I know that when I walk out the door in the morning I will get more than my fair share of crazbos trying to make my life difficult. I accept it and sometimes all I look for from my partner is a little validation. A little "sorry you had to deal with that." Usually I don't get it and instead get a list of reasons why I am probably misinterpreting the situation, overdramatizing the situation, or reasons I should give the person sympathy. Which of course I don't want to hear any of those things.

But times...they are a changin'.

My most epic struggle has been with the maroons who work in the Pharmacy at the Work Release Kroger around the corner from us. We started using this pharmacy because A. it was close to the house, B. we now have several dogs who are permanently or intermittently on drugs in addition to mine, and C. one of Ange's good friends used to work there. When I first started going there, if Ange's good friend wasn't there it always seemed like the most random ridiculousness would transpire. I would try to tell Ange about these situations but she apparently she did not want to believe that everyone besides her friend at that Kroger was a complete idiot. It was always someone else's fault, or a mistake, or I was imagining it...but never that everyone else was a nincompoop. I don't know if she was trying to stay loyal for her friend's sake or if she thought I was being my usual dramatic self, but whatever it was, I was just wrong and over-reacting.

Now here's the most delicious part: now that I am in Africa for 5 months Ange has to do everything herself. All the errands, pill picking up, grocery shopping, etc. All by herself. So now she gets to see the craziness I deal with on a regular basis. After experiencing the idiocy of the Kroger Pharmacy with her own eyes for the eleven-dy-ith time she in fact apologized for ever having doubted me. She realized they were completely incompetent and nuts. She apologized under the agreement that she never have to do "my jobs" again. I said I would be glad to resume interacting with the loonie tunes outside world under the condition that she give ME the benefit of the doubt in the future and realize that people are just plain nuts and love to torture me when all I want to do is run in and out of the store and when I bitch and moan instead of telling me why I might be wrong to say "I totally understand and I'm sorry you have to deal with that." Ladies and gentleman, we had ourselves a deal. Validation has never felt so sweet.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Somehow & Anyhow

One of my favorite, favorite things about learning about new cultures is language. I'm no linguist by any means, but I very much enjoy thinking about and trying to understand language and it's use in cultures. Language can often give deeper insight into cultural differences that you wouldn't necessarily think about. It's also one of my biggest sources of laughter and amusement. The things that come out of people's mouths (both others to me as well as me to their ears) can cause hysterical fits and private jokes for weeks.

Two of my favorite partial phrases that Nigerians consistently use are "(something) is somehow" and "(something) just anyhow."

For example, tonight at dinner we had spaghetti. It tasted different than it usually does and someone remarked "This sauce is different. It tastes somehow." Which when you really think about it from an American perspective the second sentence is saying virtually the same thing as the first sentence, and really neither one are giving you any clue into how it is different. Often when I try to press someone on what they mean by this "somehow" I get no further. "What do you mean 'somehow'?" "I don't know, just somehow." You quickly learn to stop asking for more information because you know it won't get you anywhere.

As for the other one, one of the kids was giving a summary of a book he read and said about 5 times "The main point of the book is that you shouldn't spend your money just anyhow." This phrase is a little more clear...obviously you shouldn't just spend your money with wild abandon but "just anyhow" is still pretty vague and it's used in other contexts where it makes a less clear point.

For me, as a naturally inquisitive person and a qualitative researcher, this sheds light on one of the more frustrating cultural differences that I've noticed about living in Nigeria. It's very hard to get people to understand that I really, really & truly want them to describe this "somehow" or "anyhow." For me, it speaks to how Nigeria is much less concisely verbally expressive than the US and that less value is placed on exploring specific meanings of abstract concepts. This is not to say that Nigeria isn't expressive because Nigeria has some of the most beautiful art and music in the world. It's just a different style of expression, one that does not lend itself well to the type of information I am usually seeking. Often when someone does try to explain something to me it is filled with round about stories with metaphors and analogies and I'm left with a blank expression and hours of thinking to try and figure out exactly what the person was trying to tell me. I want and am looking for 2-3 sentences telling me a precise definition where they are looking to create a visual scene in my mind and some kind of holistic understanding of the topic of hand. It's one of the most challenging things I have to work on while I am here. In the beginning I used to zone out after a few minutes of what seemed like nonsensical rambling and then just pretending to understand what the heck they were trying to tell me, but now I'm getting better at following through the story and grand picture and usually get what the person is trying to express. I'm sure I still miss nuances, but overall I'm getting their meaning. And more importantly I've learned I can't just ask questions anyhow and that sometimes I just have to accept a non-descript somehow or two and make up a meaning for myself.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Yeah, that's right, this post is about boogers. Ok, well maybe not boogers per se, but definitely about nose picking. Nose picking in Nigeria is very common place. You see it everywhere and pretty much it's not as taboo as in the US. And I'm not talking about children. I'm talking about EVERYONE. Adults, kids, teenagers, old people...pretty much you'll see any age engaging in some nose picking. And I'm not talking about a dainty little "oh I have something of the tip of my nose, I'll just rub it a bit." I'm talking full-on up to the second knuckle digging for gold nose picking. No efforts to hide it, no making it look less obvious, or even looking away from someone while it's going on. Nope, if there is a booger then it must be dug out IMMEDIATELY with the full force necessary to delodge it. And I won't even tell you what happens to the boogers once they are found. If you're lucky it involves a handkerchief...if not, stomach churns ahead.

Luckily I think this is a habit that is starting to change. You are much less likely to see this habit among the more educated, young adults and/or those who spend more time interacting with Western visitors. Perhaps someone along the way mentioned that it's considered impolite (and GROSS) to dig in your nose in public. However, as much as there are signs of progress on this social norm, I must report that just this past Sunday I saw someone digging their way through Church service. No shame whatsoever.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rain Rain Doh Doh*

* When my cousin was little she had some speech delays. One of the ways the pediatrician suggested helping promote speaking was singing songs. Her interpretation of "Rain, rain, go away, come again another day!" was "Rain, rain, doh, doh." She's totally normal now. normal as anyone in our family can be.

It's rained every day that I've been here except 2 I think. And as a reminder I've been here 59 days. It's rainy season so it's not a surprise, but seriously, Seattle has nothing on Nigeria. At least during the rainy season.

Rain here is different than in the US for a number of reasons.

1. The rain here sounds different. You can hear it trying to sneak up on you like a toddler learning how to tiptoe. It moves swiftly but has a distinctive sound that can stop you in the middle of a sentence so you can tilt your head and say "Rain is coming." Because most of the roofs here are metal and there is no need for insulation because it's never cold (and it would just get wet, moldy and infested anyway) the rain sounds different. If you are in a low roof building it can be incredibly loud when it's the middle of a downpour. So loud, in fact, that your conversations almost rise to shouting levels.

2. Rain is incapacitating here. The rain can be SO heavy SO fast that it's like instant flash flood level rain. Add that to the fact that there isn't much infrastructure for drainage and the like you quite literally have streets that become completely impassable within minutes of rain starting. And even if it only rains for a little while, it will rain again before the area has time to dry up. If it's raining really hard you know that whatever event or destination you are heading to will be delayed substantially. Hours even. Considering the major modes of transportation for the majority of people consist of either your feet or a motorbike you can see how people can't get places when it rains.

3. Leaky roofs are the norm and nothing to be concerned about. Due to both craftsmanship issues and harsh environmental conditions most buildings have leaks in them. When it rains hard or for hours on end the trusty standby buckets get dragged out and placed under the leaks to catch the water. No one bats an eye. It's just common and expected.

4. Rain is mostly a joyful events, even days on end. In the US we get cranky if it rains more than two days in a row. Here there is much greater perspective on rain. When it's rainy season people are grateful because they know it is feeding the ground for the plants and food that need it very much. You rarely hear anyone complaining about how the rain ruined their plans and is causing too many problems. It's a refreshing attitude and one I will try to keep when I am home in my comfy house with no roof leaks in the US.

5. My favorite, favorite thing about rain is that it keeps everything cooler and helps with pest control. As long as it keeps raining bugs tend not to reproduce (they hatch AFTER rainy season) and it stays nice and cool. In fact the past week has been particularly chilly. I had goosebumps in church the other day because it was so chilly and for almost the past week I've had to turn my air conditioner off at night because it's been too cold for it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I Don Tiyah*

*That's Pidgin for "I'm tired." I know, it's actually the same or more words to say it in Pidgin, but no one ever said there was a lot of rationale for some Pidgin words & phrases.

This is pretty much my mantra here in Nigeria. I don't know what it is or why, but I almost always feed exhausted here. In the US I am usually always on the move, running around, etc. I usually get 7 hours of sleep and feel refreshed. Here, I can get 9 hours of sleep and wake up still feeling like I can barely get up and that I could sleep another 5 hours. I mean, I think I know some of the reasons, but not necessarily all of them.

1. I am living a very superficial life here. In an effort to fit in with the community I have a very sanitized version of my life story, and basically I wear a facade any time I am outside of my room, which obviously is often. This is exhausting. I have to constantly be "on" and I rarely have time to vent or even just be candidly honest for fear of various repercussions (personal and research/professional).

2. My biggest foe in Nigeria is boredom. I know this sounds weird. I'm in a country much different than my own, I'm here doing work, I'm often busy and on-the-go, how in the world can I be bored? Well because the security situation in Nigeria is less than optimal, I don't really have much freedom of movement. I am limited often by transport and security issues. So this means I spend the majority of time either in the compound, at the university, or at Church. It gets tedious and monotonous. Being bored is natural and after a while, it is also exhausting. And sleeping also gives you something new to do to pass the time.

3. Stress. Due to the two above, I know my body is under a lot of stress, both consciously and unconsciously. One way that the body deals with stress is to shut down. If your body is too tired to do anything it is less likely to go places and do things that cause stress. So I'm battling not only circumstances but my own biology as well.

Luckily I recognize these things so I do what I can to maintain my sanity and push through the tiredness. I've been exercising a lot more lately (as opposed to none), trying to not take as many naps (even if there isn't much to do), and generally just being cognizant of this so I can take advantage of any opportunities to reduce the feelings of tiredness in my life. And thankfully, I'll never be in this position again so I won't have to battle it after 3 more months.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Post Dedicated to My BIL

There are five other outlets in this room. None of them except this one works. This is how we roll in Nigeria.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Time Warp

Whenever I talk to people at home one of the most common questions I am asked is if it feels like I've been gone forever. I am never quite sure how to answer this question because quite honestly I am not sure. I feel like I am an in strange time vortex where up is down and down is up. There are days where I feel like I have been here about 5 minutes past eternity and there are other days when I realize I've been here almost 2 months and I think GET OUT, no way! I feel like I've been here about 2 weeks. I think it depends on how my day is going, how much work I've felt I've accomplished at any given point in time, and other random factors like how many days in a row it's rained.

I think part of it has to do with the strange pace of life here as well. One thing I've always said about Nigeria is that it is a society based on "hurry up & wait." By this I mean that we spend a lot of time sitting around waiting for something to happen. In general there is not a sense of urgency for things, but often you'll get swept up by some frantic thing happening where everyone runs around screaming and everyone knows we're late and we all run crashing into each other to get to where we were supposed to be 15 minutes ago, and by the time we get there we settle down and sit for about an hour before anything happens again. It's a very strange way of living that I think affects your perception of time passing. You spend most of your time feeling like you are watching paint dry because everything is so not rushed and then these spurts of mania make it feel like you are always running late and running to do any anything. I can't really explain it better, but that's what it feels like to me.

Anyway, I've almost reached the half-way point (half-way based on my initial projection of how long it would take me to do my research with a leave date of December 18th) and I feel like I am in good shape research and mental health wise. I have good days and bad days (mostly good) and overall I feel like progress is being made and that I will have an outstanding experience overall. Now I just need to hurry up and wait until my work is done.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Thank you, Captain Obvious

So there is one thing that I can't quite seem to get used to no matter how many times I travel abroad. Well, I'm used to it in the sense that it doesn't shock me when it happens, but I'm not used to it in the fact that I still find it severely irritating even after all these years. This thing I'm talking about is the lack of politeness around pointing out people's flaws. It happened to me in China all the time...people would run up to me (and another girl in my group who was taller, but slightly thinner than me) and go "OH MY GOD YOU ARE SO FAT! Can I take a picture with you?" usually followed by a pose with their arms stretched out to show how fat I was in comparison to them. Yes, thanks for that, I wasn't quite aware. Well, it happens here as well.

The two biggest things that have been commented on during this stay are two unusual moles/birthmarks that I have. The first one is this reddish raised mole/birthmark that I have near my hairline. It's really noticeable here because I always wear my hair pulled back since it is hot and humid and that equals pouffy hair for me if I keep it down. Oh and the fact that I'm blinding white and it is dark-ish red.

I swear, the first 2 weeks I was here no less than 3 people per day pointed it out. "Aunty Lindsay! What is that on your head???" or "Aunty Lindsay! Your head is bleeding!!!" And then we'd have a 5 minute discussion about what the heck a mole and/or birthmark is (not common on darker skin) and about a thousand reassurances that it was not bleeding, a bug bite, or something that would go away we'd be done. Until the next person noticed it. I have become so self conscious over the dumb thing that I am seriously considering going to a dermatologist when I get home to have it removed. It's never bothered me before but I'm seriously at the point where I want to shriek at the next person who points it out. Get over it already!!!

Now that I'm more chummy with people I get arms thrown around my neck more often. Either in a chummy "hey, how's it going?" way or in the form of a hug. Unluckily for me, I have a big gross mole on the back of my neck that protrudes out a bit and as one of the dear kids pointed out "wiggles when you touch it."

It's times like this that I think...ya know, living in a stuffy, overly polite society is kind of nice. At home the only people who can rip on me like that are my sisters. And at least I know it's done lovingly. Here it's just kind of out there, and is usually done in a way to tell you there is something wrong with you and maybe you should think about being less weird or doing something to improve yourself.

This is not to say that it only happens to me. It happens to everyone. Just today one of the kids told one of the housegirls that she should stop eating so much rice because her belly was looking fat like she was pregnant. Ah, how charming.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


In Nigeria instead of saying something is your favorite you instead say it is your best. So instead of "what is your favorite movie?" it would be "what is your best movie?" Or instead of "Lady GaGa is my favorite singer" you would say "Lady GaGa is my best singer." I always thought it was the funniest strange expression and it always made me chuckle a little on the inside. But the other day I realized in the US we use the same expression in at least one way. You wouldn't say "My favorite friend is Ange" you would say "My best friend is Ange." So now it doesn't seem as strange, but I have to admit, I still giggle a little on the inside every time I hear it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Research Update

Ange and I had a discussion the other day about my research progress and it made me realize that many people don't understand what it is I am doing here and how to gauge my progress. This is not an attack on Ange (or anyone) but just an attempt to help my readers understand what I'm doing and how my research might be very different than what you are used to or what it is you think research is all about. I know it might seem like I'm goofing around a lot but I assure you, I am doing a lot of work in the mix of being goofy.

First of all, a quick and dirty reminder (or intro) to what I'm doing in the "big picture" way. I am doing qualitative research, which basically means I want to talk to individuals and understand their thoughts on my topic and then after I've talked to a lot of people I'll sum up what I find and say this research will tell you about this specific population. Quantitative research is often done with surveys or questionnaires and tries to talk to large groups of people in an attempt to generalize the info you find to large groups of people. Generally qualitative research has a smaller sample (e.g. people you interview) than quantitative. Many, many people (scientist/researcher people even) mistakenly have the impression that quantitative research is "better," "more true," and preferable. Often these people are stupid. Hahaha. Ok, just kidding. Just narrow minded. Qualitative research usually has a much different goal than quantitative research. They each have their value; they are just better suited to different projects. Quantitative is best when you want to know basically the who, what, when and where. Qualitative is best when you want to know WHY. I think you can't really understand the complex reasons people do things by asking yes or no questions, asking them to fill out scales, or check boxes. So my research, basically why and how people make decisions to enter relationships and have sex can only be justifiably answered by qualitative research.

Another thing that is equally important to me, and to my research, is context. Going back to the old "I am coming" phrase, if you don't know the context in which someone says it you will have very different interpretations of what that phrase means. If you were in America and someone said it you would say "Oh they will be here soon." But if you were in Nigeria you know that means "That person will be back sometime in the future, who knows when really." Same is the context of my research. Without knowing how the person I am interviewing currently lives and has likely lived their whole life I might not understand completely when they tell me something. Or I might miss a key idea because I am not in-tune with the hidden meanings of what they are saying. For example, people here often use "sweet" to describe something "sexy" or to imply sexual undertones. If someone told me "Oh, that girl, she is so sweet" I would think, "Oh that is a nice girl, she probably helps old ladies cross the street," rather than "Oh, I need to ask how she is sweet...does she dress sexy? is she known as a loose girl?" Context can be everything.

So I've now been here almost 7 weeks. What have I been doing in 7 weeks? I have first and foremost been establishing context. How do I do this? The easy part, is listening and participating in everything that's going on around me. This is called "participant observation" in researcher lingo. Basically I am living the life of an Evangelical Christian living in Nigeria. Now I can't completely be zen with the culture since a) I am not Nigerian b) I am a white woman from America and c) My living situation is unusual and not comparable to the "average" Nigerian. I recognize this, but it doesn't mean that I can't get a better idea of what my participants' context is like to better prepare me for my interviews.

The second way I have been establishing context is by talking to people who might have an interesting perspective on my research topic. These are called "key informant interviews." I have been talking to different staff at the University, different religious leaders, and a variety of other people who don't fit into neat categories. Every time I talk to someone I get new information that sparks my thinking and understanding on the topic. This helps me to better shape the questions I will be asking in my interviews with students.

Now my interviews with students seem like the "research" part of my study, but it is actually only one part. The above stuff is all data or research and believe me I've been doing a lot of it. I use a very cool iphone app called Momonote to keep my notes on my observations and interviews. I've made 97 notes on my project in the past 7 weeks. The interviews are more concrete so people tend to focus on those the most. I am working on getting approval from the University to start my interviewing (which is another part of my research, but I'll give you a break and talk about that later) and as soon as I have it I'll be able to add that into the mix of the other two parts I've mentioned.

Hopefully this gave you a little insight into what I've been doing, and given you some reassurance I'm not just goofing around over here. I am hard at work everyday and very much on schedule (if not a little ahead!). And of course I'll keep you updated!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Nigerian Idol

People around here LOVE to sing. I have heard more people singing in the past month and a half than I probably hear in a year in America. And it doesn't really matter how good (or not good) you are, unabashed singing is generally welcome here. It's not like the US, where we might sing in the car (with the music on loud) or maybe in a bar or at karaoke. People sing everywhere. In the market, in the office, in the street. Singing, singing, singing, all day long. For the most part people are decent or better, but every once in a while you hear someone wailing away and you think "Wow, you go boy/girl cause if I sang like that there's no way I'd ever sing in public!" But there in general seems to be a lack of judgment cast on less than nice singing voices. Or maybe it's the social decorum here that prevents people from commenting, especially since much of the singing is gospel singing. It would be in poor taste to dis someone singing about Jesus I suppose. Whatever it is, it's one thing that really makes it different from the US.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book Review

Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African VillageNine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village by Sarah Erdman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved this book. I started it right before I started my summer of chaos that included taking my qualifying exams, writing and preparing my dissertation proposal and jetting off to Nigeria to do research. Yikes. I read the first chapter and it got put to the way-side. For some reason I got it into my head it wasn't that interesting. But since I was loaded down with research books I could only take 2 non-research books with me to Nigeria. I figured I'd read it when I got desperate. Now that I've finished it I wonder what made me think I thought it was boring in the first place! Loved this book and thought it was very appropriate reading for while I was in Africa. The author gives you a good look at her life in Nambonkaha and it would be a great read for any prospective Peace Corps volunteer. I highly recommend it to anyone going to work in Africa.

View all my reviews

Saturday, August 28, 2010

To Creep or Not to Creep, That is The Question

One thing about this trip that I've never really had to worry too much about before is the high number of people who want to know details about my life that I am not readily willing to give up. Usually it's not a big deal where I'm living, who I'm traveling with, or really what I'm doing even. Most of the time, people already know, and if they don't it isn't a big secret or big deal. This time it is different.

It's no secret that the security situation in Nigeria is shaky. One of the biggest problems that they've had is with kidnappings. I know, crazy right? Kidnappings have been a lucrative business for the mass of unemployed people in Nigeria who can't find a job and have either gotten tired of 419 scams or find it "unethical." I know that sounds strange, they don't want to do 419 but they don't mind kidnapping. Trust me, getting into ethics conversations here can be perplexing sometimes. This is the reason the M's have a full time security detail and one of the reasons I've decided to remain living in their compound.

I'm very conscious of the fact that I might look like a great kidnapping victim. I'm American, I'm friends with the M's and I'd probably be worth a lot of money. My major solace in this scenario is that because of all these factors I'm probably too high profile and basically riskier than I'm worth. If I were to be kidnapped, the US government would not take that lightly, and that's more risk than they are likely to take for a payout. They want money and if you kidnap me you probably won't get money and will instead get killed.

However, I don't even want to risk it so of course I have my guard up like the Great Wall of China. I'm constantly on the look out for anyone asking too many personal questions and always trying to be vague when they come up. It's probably the worst thing about being here for this extended amount of time. I hate being guarded and I love making friends. I also hate lying or even really telling half truths and that's kind of what my life is like here. I am always judging what I can and what I can't reveal. But of course as much as I hate it, I do it. My life is more valuable than making deep connections. But it just really sucks to constantly be judging whether or not someone is genuinely interested in my life, or if they are just being a scary creeper.