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.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Nigerians have a very distinct way of speaking. It is a result of having a very complex system of languages interwoven throughout history and contemporary society. Nigeria has over indigenous languages. It also has a history of colonialism which brought British English to the country, and before English was widely taught in schools, communication between colonizers and natives developed as it often does in "baby talk" or simple communication, which eventually turned in to a much more highly developed system of language called Pidgin English. Nigeria has one of the most sophisticated systems of Pidgin in the world. So much so, that some linguists believe that Nigerian Pidgin should be classified as a Creole (for non-academics, just ignore this's deeper than I'm sure you care). So the current status of language and communication in Nigeria is a complex mix of British English, Pidgin English, Native Languages, and even a bit of American slang thrown in (as a result of Western influence through media and globalization).

There are certain phrases and words that are uniquely Nigerian and I wanted to give you some examples...
  • I am coming - I wrote a whole blog post about this previously, but basically it means, "at some point in the future, I will be back"
  • Off de [light, a/c, etc.] - This phrase is used instead of saying "Can you turn off the [whatever]"
  • Dash or dash you - If someone is going to dash you something, it basically means they are giving you something, so "Please, dash me 1000 Naira" means "Please can you give me 1000 Naira?"
  • Ahbeg - Literally "I beg." It can be used in two different ways. The first is with genuine sincerity, like "Please loan me 1000 Naira, ahbeg." The other is used in a sarcastic way, like "Please! Leave me alone, ahbeg!"
  • The boot - This means a trunk of a car. If you say "Driver, open the trunk," they'll look at you and have no idea what you are asking. But if you say "Please, open the boot," they'll totally know what you are asking. This is a leftover British saying as the British call the trunk the boot to this day.
There are many more examples but these are just a smattering to give you an idea. It's kind of amazing how quickly little sayings and idioms take over your normal style of speaking. Part of it has to do with easing communication. Americans speak much faster than Nigerians (on average) and many Nigerians find it hard to understand our "thick American accents" so instead of repeating what you mean over and over, sometimes it's just easier to give in to the local expressions even if it isn't how you would normally speak or is completely grammatically incorrect. I just wanted to give everyone a heads up before I come home...if I come home and it sounds like I'm speaking gibberish, just give me a few days and I'll return to normal.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Decisions, decisions

Food is a curious thing in Nigeria. Nigerians LOVE their food, but for most visitors we can’t figure out why. Not why they love their food necessarily because some of it is very tasty, but because really they do not offer the most diverse choices even when given the chance.

Take a look at my daily lunch decision at BIU: I could have chicken with fried rice, I could have chicken with jollof rice, I could have fish with friend rice, or I could have fish with jollof rice. Wow. Such choices! But since I really don't eat meat, I can chose either:

Fried rice with fish (notice this is a center cut piece)

Or jollof rice and fish (this is a tail piece)

If I was really lucky I could have fried plantain with my rice & fish/chicken, but that’s rare. It doesn’t happen often at BIU, but elsewhere I might have a choice of white rice. And the fish cut...I don't usually get a choice, but if I do, definitely the tail. Let's bones to pick through. And it's easier to remove the skin. Which, by the way, causes LOTS of looks. Nigerians eat it all, except the bones. The way I dissect my food is totally bizarre to them. But what's new right?

These are the daily lunch choices EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. No variation. Ever. Seriously…there’s no desire to ever deviate from this menu apparently.

And it would be one thing if Nigerians were like “We’re not food people. We eat to live, not live to eat” BUT THEY TOTALLY AREN’T. They love food! But they only have like 10 options in their entire repertoire of food options. Try and suggest something new and they look at you like you are crazy. It’s like living with a strange version of my sister, with much stranger food that she would ever eat.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Growing Up

This year seems to be a year of great changes. Of course, I'm living in Nigeria for 5 months which is a huge change, but besides that obvious yet temporary change, lots of other things have changed at home as well.
  • Though it was really last year my baby sister has really and truly moved away from home. When you are in your undergraduate years you may go away to college but home is really still where your parents are. Hilary went off to vet school which is a 4-5 year commitment and now she is living on her own in her own house with bills and roommates and responsibilities. I've tried to make a conscious effort to not refer to Indiana as home (as in, "Hey Hil when are you coming home?" meaning Indiana) but it's still hard and I slip up. I know my dad is still in denial that she may be living in Michigan for a very long time, so part of my effort is to get him used to the idea that Hilary's home is now Michigan and we just have to be happy when she comes for a visit in her former home.
  • My mom moved away to California. Of course that is a huge change, but I realized right before she left that this was the first time that she was moving away from us and it coincided with the fact that I was leaving for Nigeria and it was just a weird feeling. No matter how many times I've left and gone places (Pennsylvania, China, etc.) she's always been there when I got home. But not this time. This time I'll go home and she won't be there! It will be fine as we'll be in just as much contact through lovely technology, but it was just a really weird thing to think about for the first time in my life!
  • As I am in my last year of school I am looking for jobs for next year. When you have a PhD you are in a unique position of getting very good jobs, but having little choice as to where those jobs will be. Faculty positions are not something that just open up wherever and whenever. If you are lucky you'll get a job somewhere desirable and nice, but you really don't have much of a choice. I have my priority areas I'd like to live, but only time will tell if I will get a job in an area in my top picks or if I'll be somewhere that I am not all that thrilled about. The one thing I know is that it is very unlikely I will be staying in Indiana, which of course brings a lot of mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am not that fond of Indiana...mostly because it's way too conservative and the weather sucks. However, the majority of my immediate family lives here as well as most of my dad's side of the family. In addition, all of Ange's family lives here. The thought of not hanging out with my family, particularly my sisters, is almost devastating. The main reason I would stay in Indiana if given a chance is to be close to my family. However, the likelihood of my getting a job here is very small. It is very rare for a university to hire a recent graduate, so my chances at IU are almost nil. Most of the other universities around do not have public health programs so getting a job at any of those is unlikely. The only small hope I have is IUPUI which would be ok. Both IU and IUPUI are moving from Departments of Public Health to Schools of Public Health which means a large increase in faculty. If either school advertises for faculty I will of course apply, but hiring a recent graduate (this next year for IU, and 2006 for IUPUI) is not a usual practice. I know that if I get a job anywhere outside of Indiana it's going to be a HUGE change. I'm trying to prepare myself mentally for it, because I know it will be hard. Besides Indiana, my other big priority is California. That way I would be at least close to my mom's side of the family, and hopefully my mother as well. We'll just see what the future holds!
  • Those less dramatic than the above, another big change is the fact that our dogs are getting older. In the past year the dogs have had more health issues than ever before and it is a reminder that we are going to have some tough years ahead of us. Of course Duke and Stone are older and that is not surprise, but seeing mortality right around the corner is hard. They are both older than the average lifespan of German Shepard's, and they've both had some big health challenges in the past year. I cherish every day I have with them but know that time is ticking down. That's one of the hardest parts about being away from home right now. I think about those two constantly. That's not to say I am not thinking about the others as well. I tend to think of Daisy and Caramel as puppies still, but the reality is, they are becoming old ladies themselves. Daisy, crazy beast that she is, has been showing definite signs of wear and tear. She used to be able to hurl herself head first into a fence and bounce right off. In the past year she's hurt herself to the point that she's been in pain and moving stiffly. 8 years old is no spring chicken anymore, and I think both she and I are having trouble adjusting to that. Carmie still acts like a total baby, but of course her epilepsy is always a big concern in the back of my head. Not that it means she's old, but she is only a year or so behind Daisy so I'm on the lookout for signs of her showing her age as well. The only young one in the bunch is Sam, but being that he is the only pure breed in the house, and a pretty dainty breed at that, his life expectancy is less to begin with. Added to the fact that he's a big fat dump truck, I'm of course concerned with his health as well. Every time I've had a pet die I think "No more pets!" But of course I never follow through. I love animals too much. It's just so unfair that their lives are so much shorter than ours. Well, except maybe a tortoise, but who wants to snuggle a tortoise?
Of course many of these things have elements of sadness in them and there are many happy changes to think about (new job! new house! babies!) but happy things don't usually bring apprehension and don't usually involve much pondering. We'll just see what life has in store for me (& us!) in the next few years.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Slowing things down

You will begin to notice a bit of a slow down here at the blog in the next few days. I'm going to try and do a blog post every other day rather than every day. There are a few reasons for this:
  • My life is not all that exciting. Now that I've settled into a normal routine, which basically includes hanging out at the university, home or church, there isn't too many exciting stories to tell. I'm sure little bits and pieces of funny things will happen, but overall, I'm just living a normal life like all of you. Normalcy usually means nothing blog-worthy.
  • Now that I am really settled, more and more of my daily routine will be stuff that I actually can't write about. Anything that has to do with details of my research will need to be protected for privacy sake. Additionally, because my day-to-day life is more settled I am hanging around a lot of the same people, and these people's lives are very enmeshed with mine and it becomes difficult to talk about my daily life without featuring their lives in my stories, and I want to keep their lives out of my blog as much as possible. None of them have asked to star in my blog so I am respecting their right to privacy by not posting anything related to them as much as possible. When I have stories that are interesting and can be told without too much involvement of those around me I'll be on top of it, but hopefully you can understand my need to keep some of my daily life undocumented in the public sphere.
I'll also be writing about things non-specifically Nigeria related. In an attempt to fill in space created by the above points I'll be writing about some other things. Hopefully all interesting to readers!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Welcome to My Home!

Well, my home for the next 4 months.

After the non-negotiating with the University Guest House I elected to stay on the compound where I've been and just relocate to another room in another building. It's still close enough to the main houses, but gives me a little more privacy and peace so I can focus on my work.

I checked out the room and it looked like perfectly fine accommodations, and definitely better than paying $800 a month for even lesser accommodations! The room had been used by an American for many years but she went back to the US to work on a graduate degree and has not yet returned so we figured it would be a great place for my temporary but slightly lengthy stay. Since it has been sitting for a while it just needed to be cleaned up a little bit. I told A I would work on it the day after we looked at it but she was insistent that she would do it, and boy oh boy did she! She cleaned it to death! Scrubbed everything until it sparkled. It still had a little bit of a mildewy smell to it but after consulting with L she thought it might be the clothes the former resident had left behind. Apparently with the heat and humidity in Nigeria, if you leave clothes uncovered for lengthy periods of time (almost 2 years in this case) they tend to capture a strong odor. In her infinite wisdom, by golly she was right! I packed the clothes away in some containers and the smell vanished. L also had one of those reed diffuser air freshener things and that has given the room just a slight pick-me-up as well!

I moved all my stuff over and finally unpacked EVERYTHING for the first time in a month! It felt really good. After a day or so I realized there were a few finishing touches I'd like to put on the room, so I consulted with my best shopper A and decided that on her next day off we'd borrow a driver and do some running around. I finished it all yesterday and now I room!

Here is the shot of my bed, little sitting area, my new rugs, and the door. You can kind of see the dresser where I leave a bunch of H&B crap...but I cut it off because it is kind of messy and I didn't feel like cleaning it up!

Here's my desk & closet area.

Here's the inside of my closet. See my cute little laundry basket?

The other side of my closet. See how crafty I was with buying fabric and making a shelf liner?

My bathroom. Again, crafting with my new "curtain." Love that fabric!

And my new mop, mop bucket, broom and dust pan! We'll see how much use I get out of those ;)

So there you have it! My cozy little room for the rest of my time here! Now when you think about me you can picture me here!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Different Business Model

I’ve heard before that business is a universal language. Whoever said that has clearly not worked in Africa. Business operations and models here operate very differently than in the US. Let me present a case study:

I went to the University Guest House to see about possibly renting a room for the next 4 months. When I got there it was pretty much dead. I was shown 3 available rooms that look like they haven’t had a guest in a while. The other people currently living there are the head of University security (whom I’m sure is living there free or as part of his compensation package) and 1 other guest. There is a staff of at least 3 that I saw, possibly more in the kitchen/restaurant. After looking at the rooms and deciding they were decent enough standard that I could live there I inquired about their costs. They run on a daily rate, kind of like a hotel, and for the three rooms I was shown the rates were 4,000 Naira per day, 4,500 per day, and 7,500 per day. This is equivalent to $800, $900 and $1,500 per month. Seriously. That’s WAY more than they are worth, considering all of them were a bedroom and bathroom only, they don’t have hot water, and the only difference seems to be amount of space per room. Also, because there is no kitchen I would have to buy all my meals either from their restaurant or elsewhere. Not cheap. So I said I might be interested in the 4,000 Naira one but I would need to get a discount. I explained that I would be here for FOUR MONTHS and that I would be paying cash. First they said they’d prefer that I stay in the 4,500 Naira one because it has a fridge and a more spacious bathroom. Whatevs. I still wanted to know the discount. They said they would have to call the Manager and ask and they’d get back to me. So they call me back a few hours later and say “The Manager wants to know what you’d like to pay.” So I said 2-2,500 per day. The girl gasped. “Oh no Aunty, that is only half of the rate of the room! I was thinking we could offer you 4,000 for the 4,500 Naira room.” Seriously? That’s $100 a month discount for a room worth less than half of that. If they are to let me stay they are guaranteed (at my higher rate!) $2000 over 4 months. And that doesn’t even include the money they would make from me ordering from the kitchen everyday, which could easily add up over time! But instead they will make around $0 because I’m sure they will have nearly no visitors in the next 4 months. Even if they have one guest who stays 2 days every week (which I’m sure is a gross overestimate) they will only make $240 a month instead of the $500 I would be willing to give them (just for the room) and I’m sure I’d order more from the kitchen. I have the ability to give you some serious money and you want to try and gouge me for a sub-par room even though you will probably not be able to make anything close without my patronage? No thanks, I’ve got other options.

The same thing happens when Emil & I travel with the Juniata students to Senegal & The Gambia. We usually have a lot of students for a total group around 25 or 30. Emil tries his best to negotiate discounts but the restaurants won’t budge. They without fail will say “Pay full price this time and I’ll give you a discount next time” knowing that we either won’t come back or if we do, the “discount” is usually free cokes for me and Emil. Hardly a discount. After pondering this for many years Emil postulated that these businesses are so used to not making regular money that rather than making a discounted amount of money (which we would generally regard as good) they’d rather take the risk not making any money at all on the off chance you actually end up patronizing their business and then they can charge you full price and therefore make more money. Seems like a big gamble to take to an American, but clearly we have a different business model. We kill ourselves to make the customer happy and attract more customers, but in Africa, they seem resigned to the fact that you won’t make much anyway, so if you do make any money it’s like a bonus. It can be very frustrating to Americans who aren’t used to working with this frame of thinking.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bustin My Chops

So I was in church yesterday, as per usual for a Sunday. We were well into our third hour and I was desperately trying to fend off the sleepiness threatening to overtake me, so I was looking at my iphone and deciding if I would randomly read the bible or if I should catch up on some notes in my research journal (I use Momonote, a truly awesome app). In general, I try and be respectful in church even if I'm not totally into the 4 hour service so that's why I stuck to these two options. I didn't really feel like reading so I decided to write some notes.

Now three additional notes before I carry on. The first, like many churches, this church has ushers that assist with various things (offerings, seating, etc.). Unlike some churches they stand at rapt attention for the entire length of the service. We have the same guy in our section, the Minister's Stand, every week. We, meaning me, M, A, T, Baby F & D, sit in the back of the section and try to stay out of the walking path that is right in front of our chairs.

The second note is that Nigerians are some note taking fools. I don't know if I just never noticed this before or if it's particular to the people I'm hanging out with, but seriously, nearly everyone in church takes detailed notes about the sermons each week. They write down all the bible verses, who spoke that week, and key messages. Like the most conscientious students ever.

The third and final, is that M got a new Blackberry this week. Blackberry is the BIG thing in Nigeria. For some reason the cell phone companies have special deals for Blackberry phones, but no other Smartphones. My iphone works but I have to pay the same rates as any other joe with a junk phone. With Blackberry you get unlimited data usage for 5,000 Naira a month (about $33). And Blackberry, if you weren't in the know, has a private text messaging like system that was built by and for Blackberry exclusively. It's called BB Messaging, or "pinging" for short. Nigerians love some pinging. M has been using an iphone but since he is here for another 4 years (he's going to University here) he decided it would be a better investment to use a Blackberry. I'd have to agree. If I were gonna be here for longer than 4 more months I'd probably get one too. But for now I'll be conscious with my iphone use and not get as much bang for the buck. Anyway, long story to say, M is OBSESSED with his new phone and is pretty much glued to it.

So I am writing away in my notes and I think M is goofing around (he also is not a fan of the 4 hour services) when the Usher for our section comes over and hisses at us "Are you MESSAGING???" And I'm like, whoa, back the truck up Chuck, why are you in my biz? And I flash my screen and say "NO, I'm taking notes." So he decides to leave me alone and harass M instead. I didn't hear what excuse M gave, but I was really like, UGH. Don't try and call me out! Everyone else was taking their notes, but they just happened to be doing it with a notebook and pen. I was using my phone. I mean, I wasn't exactly taking notes about what the sermon was about, but still, I was paying more attention than I would be if I were dozing off, which is what I would have been doing otherwise. I was a little annoyed. I didn't even get in this much trouble when I was in Catholic Sunday school!

And with every story in Nigeria it seems, there was a funny twist at the end. As we were leaving church the guy says "Hey, remember I told you how much I like you bible?" My CATHOLIC bible that I used to bring every week before I downloaded my iphone bible app? Ah yes, I remember you telling me you liked it for whatever reason I have no idea. He says "Before you leave, I wish that you would give it to me." Seriously? Besides the fact that it is a Catholic bible and you are not Catholic, YOU WERE JUST TRYING TO BUST MY CHOPS DUDE. I gave him a non-committal answer and told him I had to go. Some people!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Why Nigerians Love to Hear Themselves Talk: My Hypothesis

One of the things that I am constantly thinking about when I hang around a bunch of Nigerians is “GOD, these people LOVE to hear themselves talk!” or “OMG, shut up already!” Of course that is a totally bitchy and culturally condescending thing to say, and with all cultural issues I encounter I always want to examine why these things happen or why they are the way they are because I feel it helps me to be more understanding and tolerant and usually helps with my irritation levels.

I’ve been thinking about this over the past few weeks trying to come up with some reasons that whenever a microphone seems to be near, everyone and their mother feels the need to use it and offer their opinions for hours after everyone is done listening and ready to move on.

After some serious thinking I’ve come up with my answer. It may not be the right answer necessarily, but it makes me satisfied and helps me to be more understanding.

Nigeria is place full of rigid social customs and a very corrupt government. People are not allowed to freely speak out (for the most part) due to strict social norms about decorum. “Free and fair elections” are not really present here. Once a government is in power there is no system for checks and balances nor a system for feedback on how the government is doing. All of these conditions I believe set up an atmosphere where people are rarely allowed to speak their opinions and have anyone listen to them. So when they are offered an opportunity to speak and be heard, they are dying to utilize it. So it doesn’t matter if everyone has sat for hours and hours and are tired of whatever program is running, people won’t be done until they’ve had their turn at the mic and had their opportunity to speak their minds.

So I am trying harder to be sensitive to this, and to always remember how lucky I am that I can speak my mind whenever I want in a variety of different venues, vote for whomever I want on regularly scheduled intervals, and basically know that my government is at least partially held accountable to the people and aren’t totally corrupt.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

How to Create a Scene Without Really Trying

Step One: Fly to Nigeria.

Step Two: Wait until it's rained for about 3 days straight. If half of the streets in the city are flooded then you are on track.

Step Three: Put on a pair of flip flops and some clothes you don't mind getting a bit dirty. I prefer my Walmart $2.50 brand, but I'm guessing any pair will do.

Step Four: Go to the market and walk through the wet and muddy streets. Make it known that you are American. Being white will do just fine (sorry to my friends of might need to open your mouth and speak in your oh-so-identifiable American accent).

Step Five: Be careful that you don't get in the way of the "Indiscipline Police" who are likely smashing the tables and slicing the umbrellas of the vendors who dare spill out of their booth space.

Step Six: As you walk you will become more and more muddy. This is when people will start to lose their minds. And point. And stare. And say "OH NO AUNTY! YOU ARE SOOO MUDDY!"

Congratulations, you've successfully created a scene with very little effort.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Please, I want to marry you!

In my 5 years working on African issues and in Africa the one thing that I find frustrates most females going to Africa is the ever-present annoyance of men trying to get in your pants. I know that is blunt and it sounds harsh, but in my personal experience (anecdotally of course) this goes across all African men I have ever met, be it Nigerian, Congolese, Gambian, etc. I really hate to generalize, particularly across one of the largest and most populated continents on the planet, so please know I do not do this lightly.

Luckily it is usually done in a light and playful manner and not in a scary, threatening manner. I have NEVER felt like I was going to be assaulted, just oogled, sometimes in a manner we would call “sexual harassment” in the US. Here it isn’t. It’s just standard practice. Particularly given the fact that American girls tend to send unconscious signals to the men they are interacting with on a daily basis. Those “unconscious signals” are being overly nice (which is very American), always wanting to help (Americans love some underdogs), and just being an American (but particularly a larger white woman). I know, I know, that’s pretty much an all inclusive list. So pretty much, if you are an American woman, you will be sexually harassed, or at least intensely flirted with.

The interesting thing is that for the most part, this behavior continues even outside of Africa amongst the African men I know. I have been hit on or propositioned by the majority of African men living in the US that I know (or really, even meet). Not every single one, but nearly. It seems that it’s a hard cultural habit to break. It used to drive me nuts, but eventually I learned to ignore it and deflect. It still bothers a lot of newbies, and it used to bother Ange a lot, though now that she has traveled with me and has met lots of Africans herself she’s becoming more used to it and not as upset. It’s probably the number one thing that drives new visitors to the brink of losing their minds. If they can move past it, their experience is usually a great one. If not, they get caught up and really annoyed.

This has been my experience up until now. However, for the first time in my history of working with African men and living in Africa I am basically free from this. I didn’t really notice it at first, but one day I last week I went to the market and got a marriage proposal while I was trying to buy a set of plastic drawers. After explaining that I was already married, he basically said any white American girl would do. I had to promise to send him one in exchange for the deal I negotiated with him for my drawers. So ladies, there is a man in Benin just waiting for you. Sorry I had to sell you out, but 1000 Naira was at stake! After that experience I all of a sudden realized that that was the first time in the 2 and a half weeks that I’d been here that I’d had that happen. I had to think really hard about it, but nope, hadn’t happened. Of course now that I am conscious of it I am looking at for it. And still, a week and a half later, it hasn’t happened!

Of course it is refreshing for me to not have to constantly be on my guard but it’s also interesting from my research perspective. Why aren’t men flirting/harassing me? Is it really their staunch religious views? In the past I’ve worked with men from a variety of different religious backgrounds (from Catholics to Muslims) and no matter what their religious beliefs about sex and behavior are supposed to be, I find they very rarely “walk the talk” when it comes to obeying religious doctrine.

So, on the one hand it is surprising that in this Pentecostal environment people are (so far) obeying their religious beliefs and guidelines, but on the other hand it isn’t surprising because that is what you would (stereotypically) expect. And if it isn’t the influence of religion, then what is it? It could be that I am in a really weird space in terms of age…most of the people in church are older and married so perhaps I am too young for them (though this has NEVER stopped anyone before)? And my prospective interviewees, students, are all much younger than me, so maybe that has something to do with it? Right now I am leaning towards explanation #1, which is of course very interesting and relevant to my work. I’ll have to keep thinking about this one.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I can’t do it Captain! I don’t have the POWER!

I’ve mentioned this before in the past, probably several times, but one of the biggest problems facing Nigeria is power (followed closely by security & roads). The national power company is NEPA which technically stands for National Electric Power Authority, but colloquially is referred to as “Never Expect Power Always.” Because it’s completely true. It’s hard to get a real estimate of how much power NEPA provides, both because they would never give realistic figures and because Nigerians have circumvented NEPA (at a high cost) which doesn’t give you a real idea of how often the power is off. Based on past experiences where it was a little easier to estimate (being in a “village” with less money to operate the circumventers) would be that NEPA works less than 30% of the time. Pitiful.

The circumventers currently in wide-spread use are diesel powered generators and invertors. When NEPA switches off wealthier homes and businesses automatically switch to generator power (or as it is locally referred to “the gen”). If a gen should fail (run out of diesel or other instances) then an inverter kicks on and supplies power. After some stealthy sleuthing on Wikipedia, it seems like an inverter is just a giant battery (BIL can correct me if I’m wrong). It is only recently that I have had much experience with inverters; in the past no one had them, but recently both the M’s and the Children’s Home have them. The downside to an inverter is that it only runs low electricity things (e.g. NOT the fridge, microwave, air conditioners or even the water heater). It is probably only once or twice a day that the inverter turns on and it’s usually for less than half an hour. Of course I don’t know how much these things cost and I would not ask what the budget is for them because A. the gen runs the entire compound so it would be difficult to get an estimate of a realistic cost, and the inverters are house by house (or lacking such as the case in my guest house—if everyone is else on inverter then I have no power…well none except flash light!) and B. it seems a little too intrusive of a question.

I think the lack of stable of electricity is one of the things we most take for granted as Americans. Even as I tell people about it, they can’t quite understand it until they come here and experience it for themselves. After you’ve lived with unstable power for a few days all of a sudden you think “Ah Ha! Now I get it!” It is really more than just an annoyance. It affects safety, health, and overall quality of life. It increases the costs of many things (generators are much more expensive to run), pollutes the environment, and on and on and on. You have to live in the environment and talk to local people and think deeply before it really starts to sink in and you get a bigger picture of things. It's one of the most challenging things for Americans to understand and yet can really have an impact on how our views of the world are shaped.

Now I'm going to go off on a semi-political/philosophical academic tangent here, so if you aren't here for the academics and just like it when I talk about getting electrocuted and making a fool of myself you might want to bow out now.

Still with me? Ok!

One of things about working with college students that is most frustrating is their (here I am generalizing) limited world view. Charming and idealistic, but also maddening when having a conversation with them. Though my most relevant experiences relate to Juniata College students and traveling in The Gambia, the basic concepts are still relevant. Juniata is a liberal, peace-loving, die-for-democratic-ideals kind of school. I know this of course because I went there and I love these things. However, in the face of reality it is often hard to reconcile these things we believe and have learned with the actualities of how people live their lives. Sitting in a technology-driven, comfortable classroom we can discuss passionately our love of democracy and how fundamental it is to human existence, but when you get out in "the real world," or at least the world that again is not quite as comfortable as the easy existence we have in the US, you find out that democracy and "ideals" have much less value. What really has value is having dependable electricity 24 hours a day, have a safe place to live without fear of robbers and kidnappers, having roads that you can drive on without worrying the next dinosaur-sized pothole is going to snap your car in two, and having access to educational and economic opportunities. If you don’t have these, things like “freedom of speech” and “democratic elections” hold much less value. It isn’t to say they aren’t important, but if you don’t have the basics, you can’t begin to think of luxuries.

Now many students would say “But this is the reason you NEED democracy and freedom of speech! You need to hold leaders accountable!” but again, this is first-world thinking. In many parts of the world if you speak out against the government you, your family, and your friends are in real danger of death. Not just someone will be mad at you, but they will KILL you. As much as I love free speech and voting, if someone tells me that if I talk about these issues they will kill my parents, my sisters, or my partner, then I’m out. Maybe braver souls are willing to die for these ideals, but I am not. I've been near the tip of a gun held by a soldier shouting at someone very close to me (physically and emotionally) and I would have done and said anything to get them to go away and never come back again. I know this happens much more often to people who live in dangerous countries 24-7 and are not just scared visitors like me. So I won't die for those things and I think I can safely say neither are the majority of people living in countries with corrupt and inefficient governments. You hope (and pray) for change, and deal with the daily struggles of living doing the best you can.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bless Me Father for I have Sinned...

It's been 678 years since my last confession. So sue me.

Anyway, I thought it was an appropriate title given my current lifesyle (e.g. Church maniac) to discuss the current state of my eating affairs in Nigeria. The sad and shocking truth is that I've been eating meat. Not much, and not enjoying it, but eating it nonetheless. It was one of those other things I thought might happen but I neither dwelt on it nor mentioned it because it was too depressing to think about.

Given that I am a guest in some very gracious people's house, I will do anything to be the least bothersome guest possible. Also given that Nigerian social customs lie somewhere stuck in the 1950's, I knew if I said I didn't eat meat I might people falling all over themselves to accommodate me (it's happened before). So I made the decision to eat whatever was served, and if I had a choice, to stick to vegetarian or fish meals. It works some of the time, but definitely not all of the time. One night we had Shepard's Pie for dinner, and that is impossible to eat without ingesting meat. We also had spaghetti with meat sauce another night, so that was out as well. I started out with very, very small portions (like 1 oz. of meat in a serving) because I knew it would likely make me sick otherwise. All in all I still eat less than 3 oz. total in one sitting, but still, it makes my heart hurt. I try not to think about it and instead focus on eating healthy balanced meals so I don't get sick (again). I think of it as protein and nothing more. Because if I start to think about animal welfare in Nigeria is makes my stomach hurt and I get very sad.

I know it's probably hard for some of my readers to understand (namely my sister and mother) but being a non-pain-in-the-butt guest is more important to me than anything, even eating things I generally abhor. It's mind over matter, and it's important enough to me to make it happen. When I get back to the US I will return to my normal veggie/pescatarian eating habits, but for now I will focus on being a gracious guest and a healthy person in physical being (probably not in emotional since I'm conflicted with the meat) which is the most important thing to surviving this trip. I just thought I'd give you an update so you wouldn't be too in shock. Sigh. 3 years down the tube.

**The above picture isn't meant to imply that Nigerians eat Monkeys or Dogs. I just googled "sad animals" and that was the worst decision ever. So I picked the first sad one I could stand and there you have it. Seriously, if you love animals, don't make the same mistake. Horrible.**

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Banana Bread Party!

L asked T to make some banana bread yesterday because one of the (local) guests from the women's conference wanted to take some home to Lagos with her. I got home from the airport after dropping off the American guests and told T I'd help. Apparently I was more of a pain than a help however.

There was a bag of bananas and I said "Should I mash these?" and she said yes and went about measuring flour and other things. I peeled all the bananas and started to smash them when Tracy shrieks "AUNTY LINDSAY! Do you think we are having a party of something??? In the history of banana bread making no one has ever smashed as many bananas as that!" Ok, she didn't really say the history bit, I made that up, but that's pretty much what she was saying. I told her not to worry, that it would be ok, they'd just be extra moist and banana-y. What I didn't realize is that T is a baking perfectionist so NO we couldn't just have extra bananas in the double batch, we now had to make a triple batch. Oops, sorry.

Then I was measuring sugar. I spilled a little extra because they use grocery sacks to package the flour and sugar rather than paper like we use in the US and it slipped a little. You would have thought I killed someone. So at this point she pretty much thought I was a complete disaster. I tried to stir the batter and apparently I wasn't doing that well either so she said "Oh just give me that, you look like you are stirring a pot of noodles or something." Epic Fail.

The funny thing is, although I am a crap cook, I am a REALLY good baker. But apparently I was not up to T's strict standards. Oh well, that means next time she'll have to do it herself! Ahahahaha

Monday, August 9, 2010

Baptism by FIRE!

I know many of you have commented on and been concerned about my frequent attendance at church. No worries! I am fine and I haven't joined a cult! A big portion of my research centers around the influence of religion and church on students lives and their sexual decision-making process, so it would follow that I would spend a lot of time in church. I down-played this aspect when discussing my trip because I knew everyone would likely think I am even crazier than you already thought, so while it may be surprising to you, it isn't to me.

So on top of my research interests you have the added aspects of I am living in Nigeria and I am living with and researching Evangelical Pentecostals. Both of these generalized groups go to church a lot and it's basically multiplied by two. So church, a lot. A LOT. Regular Sunday service is between 3 and 4 hours long. And then there is Bible study on Wednesdays and a Friday evening service for good measure. When school is in session the University has a student led fellowship on Tuesday afternoons and mandatory Friday chapel service. So yeah, lots of church. These people are SERIOUS about their faith. The Church is located on Faith Way, and their house is located on Redemption Ave. No messing around here. I am not required to go to anything and I have the free will to do whatever I want so if I am attending church you can be sure it is my choice. Part of it is research related and part of it is courtesy to my hosts.

The past week has been their annual women's conference. The conference is 5 days and basically runs from 5:30 am to 9 or 10 pm with 2 breaks (2-3 hours) during the day. I did not go to ALL of the sessions, but I tried to make 1-2 per day. Needless to say, even with skipping I spent about 40 hours in church this week. I learned a lot about their personal religious beliefs and witnessed a lot of different things. Overall it was good. The only real downside is that I have been exhausted all week! And add on the overwhelming heat inside the church and the lengthy periods of sitting and listening it made it very hard to stay awake sometimes. But I managed! All in all though, it really helped to give me some perspective on the role of faith in people's lives here, a good solid view of the beliefs of the people in the church, and access to a lot of different people who talked to me at length and gave me some new perspectives on different aspects related to my research.

Anyway, no worries, all is fine with me!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Nosy Neds

One of the most interesting things here continues to be the lack of personal privacy. I've known this for as long as I've been coming here, but it never ceases to amaze me. Right now, I'm trying to casually turn my computer because one of the other house's nannies keeps reading my screen. People have no problem sitting down next to you to start reading your email with you. Uh, hello? This email is not to you, so bugger off! Usually it's not that bad and I can ignore it, but sometimes I just want to say GET AWAY FROM MY STUFF! I had to put the screen lock on my iphone because everyone was just always picking it up and playing with it. It extends throughout society, not just to me. I went to the hospital 2 weeks ago to visit the HIV team and they invited me to sit in on their consultations with the patients and I was like "Uh, I don't want to violate anyone's privacy" and they LITERALLY CRACKED UP AT THE NOTION. They were like "Oh you Americans, you are so funny about privacy! The patients won't mind at all!" Uh, are you sure? Or you just assume they won't because "that's the way it is" in Nigeria? Next time, I think I'm' going to get one of those privacy filters for my laptop screen. It will at least cut down on the people sitting next to me. Now if they can stand behind me they totally will...

Friday, August 6, 2010


I think yesterday was the first day that I didn't post anything since I've been here minus the few days we had no internet. Things have been CRAZY here this week. This week is the Church's women's conference and that means not only do we have approximately 30+ international guests (some from various places across the US, but also England & Cote I'vore) but also there are three sessions a day at the church. Luckily I do not have to attend them all or I might drop dead. The evening session alone lasts between 5 and 7 hours. Seriously. Then there is the early morning session (from 5:30 am to 8 am) and the mid-day session (9 am-2 pm). The other good thing is that since we are international guests we usually miss the first hour which is just praise/worship singing. Even still, exhausting. Yesterday I joked that I could never be Pentecostal because I just don't have the stamina and energy. One of the Americans said "I didn't think anyone had this amount of energy!" and they are Pentecostal too so that made me feel a bit better. The conference will be over technically tomorrow, but as we know, it really leads in to Sunday service. The groups leave on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning so after that normalcy will resume and hopefully I'll get down to business. I was lucky to catch the University's chapel service today and said hello to some students. Next week I'm going to try and do some more meeting and greeting so I can start gearing up for interviews. Can't wait to finally feel like I am making giant leaps of progress rather than just small steps.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"I am coming!"

A phrase used in many parts of Africa that is maddening to many Americans until you get used to it: I am coming!

To an average American "I am coming" probably means I am on my way to you RIGHT NOW and I will be there shortly.

To an African "I am coming" means that a some point in time I will get to you. Maybe in 5 minutes, maybe in 3 hours. Only God knows when apparently. More often than not someone will say "I am coming" to you as they are walking away from you which used to make me irritated, but I've since given up hope of ever convincing anyone that more exact phrases may be helpful ("I'll be back in 5 minutes" or "I have to run to the market and then I'll come back"), it just makes me laugh. And anyway, even if they have every intention of coming right back, they will probably get delayed because they will have to greet the 25 people they pass by on the way to and fro and then they might have something else to do before they get back. So really, "I am coming" in the most general sense is the most fitting.

Let's practice: I am coming (with a new blog post)!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Another reason I love Nigeria

I'm used to being called a "drama queen." I can't help it if I express my life in colorful ways. My family doesn't always appreciate this quality. However, I have found that in Nigeria I fit in perfectly. Let me tell you an illustrative story:

This past weekend was the marriage of one of the people from the compound where I live. In Nigeria you don't just have a ceremony and call it a day. It's a several day activity that includes two wedding ceremonies (a native one and a "traditional white wedding") and some other native customs that go along with it, including a sort of "welcoming ceremony" to welcome the new bride to her new house. Since traditionally many brides move into their husband's compound this symbolizes that the woman is leaving her family forever and now becoming part of her husband's family. Since the husband lives on this compound I got to see the whole affair unfold. It was really cool. The biggest part of the ceremony is that the "first wife" (whoever that is depends on the family) washes the feet and hands of the bride, dries them with a cloth, and blesses her into the family. L is sort of the acting "first wife" of this compound so she was going to be doing this. However, L has never done this herself and has only seen it done a few times before. So understandably she wasn't positive about what to do and asked a friend on Saturday what supplies she needed and what to do. The man (first clue) told her she needed to buy two bowls (one for the feet, one for the hands) and a scarf to dry with. He told her what kind she should get and she sent A to the market with another girl to get the items.

They came back with the goods and after discovering a very flowy satin scarf L said "Are you sure this is the kind? I don't think it will dry anything..." But A and P said that this was the kind 3.5 (yes, that is the name the guy goes by...second clue) said to get. Ok, she'd figure it out and make it work.

Later, T, one of the other house girls, came back from doing some errands and looked in the bag. She said "WHAT IS THIS?" and I said "That's the scarf Aunty L is using for the ceremony tonight." And she nearly died. Then A came out and they were arguing about it and T finally said (in a completely dramatic and exasperated fashion) "If she uses that scarf it will be the first time in the history of marriage that a scarf like that will be used!!!" I just laughed and laughed and laughed for the rest of the day. It was the funniest thing I've heard anyone say I think since I've been here. And now it's one of our favorite jokes. Everything is "in the history of..." And T is embarrassed I am writing this, but I told her it is ok because none of my blog readers know her! Hahahaha.

As you can see, I fit in nicely here. Dramatics are welcome!

(Epilogue: We ended up getting an appropriate cloth for the ceremony. And the bowls were also too small, but we dealt with that. It was lovely anyway.)

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Thing I Miss Most About the US: Being a “Normal” Person

I am having a great time here overall. Of course things aren’t perfect and there are certain “comforts of home” that I miss but they are things that will be waiting for me when I get home.

My past few blog posts have been about the formality of daily life and the amount of people I interact with on a daily basis, and this blog sums those up succinctly for me. The one thing that I miss most is not really a tangible thing, but more of a metaphysical thing. I miss just being “me.” No one fancy, just me. Being my “normal” laid-back socially invisible self is an impossibility here. Everywhere I go I of course attract a lot of attention (who’s the big white lady???) but in addition to my physical difference I am also the guests of the M family which means I’m even more elevated than normal. And being in an elevated position means more formality and more responsibility. I meet and greet people all day long, get special treatment wherever I go, and basically feel like I have to be “on” at all times so I don’t embarrass myself or the M’s by making any missteps. It’s exhausting. I know it’s a small complaint in the grand scheme of life and it’s something that I fully expected and prepared for (mentally at least) but it doesn’t make it any easier.

All of this is just to say, when I get home expect me to spend a lot of time lying on the couch in my sweats and grunting at you.