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!