It was a casual affair. More men and women in beige Euro-American attire than resplendent African fabrics. We arrived a bit late at 10:15 p.m. but managed to find a seat in the front most pew. Excellent, I thought as I made my way past hundreds of black faces in the pews, more people to see me in my native Yoruba outfit (iro, buba and gele). I was the only white person out of around 400 in chapel that last night of 2010 and for one of the first times since I’ve been here, I was not a center of attention. Not even the Yoruba-speaking Oyinbo could distract the ardent New Years Eve churchgoers from their prayer marathon.
For me, the church service that spanned from the last hours of 2010 to the early morning of 2011 was exhausting. It is remarkable how long and with how much vigor Nigerians can pray. It is a full body prayer, not just a bow of the head with closed eyes. Hundreds of hands are flying, lips moving, torsos gyrating. At the seven or so different times the Pastor invited the congregation to pray, a humming noise emanated from the pews and mixed with the whistle of the oscillating fans positioned every few feet. Mildly taking part in the prayer (I have a brand new baby niece at home to pray for) but mostly observing it tired me out. Without a Power Horse or Red Bull I don’t know how everyone was then able to dance for an hour straight for the thanksgiving. During this time, the entire congregation dances down the aisle pew by pew to give a money offering to the church foundation. The church band belts out songs about thanking God, Oluwa wa while the band pounds away on their instruments creating an offensively loud noise magnified from the blown-out speakers. Young men are the most amusing to watch because they come up with the most outrageous moves and even come around twice to extend their 5 minutes of fame. For one full hour I danced next to my Mom and little sister in my pew, alternating between laughing at the dancers and leaning against the pew for a dance break.
I’d say the whole experience beat popping bottles of Champagne while watching the ball drop. I reflected heavily on 2010–all my achievements, areas of growth in my life, good and sad memories. I also came up with what I think is a perfect goal for 2011, a year where I am expecting great transition as I come home from Nigeria and finish college. My goal–or resolution if you will–is to write something down in a journal every day of the year. So again, happy fourth day of the new year. If any of you, dear readers, made any resolutions, I hope they are still in tact. Mine sure is.
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Like the vast majority of people on the University of Ibadan campus, on Sunday morning I went to religious services. My family is Christian and attends the Chapel of the Resurrection. The chapel is not far from our house – about a 10 minute walk. I put on an outfit I considered Church-appropriate, a blue t-shirt and a flowery skirt, and by 10:30 a.m. Wura (my 6-year-old sister) and I found seats in the crowded pews.
The church was packed tight, each pew completely full with little children, teenagers, adults and elderly, quite a departure from the emptiness of the churches I’ve been to in the States. Easily 400 people dressed in all sorts of bright outfits filled the church that morning. It shocked me how involved young adults were in each part of the service. When the band and 3-person vocal group came on and started singing religious songs in a mix of Yoruba and English, everyone danced – and not just the sway side to side dull dance. These people were into it, butts shaking, arms up in the air, full body movement. I finally let loose, shook it a bit and even mumbled Hallelujah a few times.
After the songs, the pastors spoke a bit, we sang a few hymns (all in English) then they asked the newcomers to the church to raise their hands. Of course I put my hand up. The pastors beckoned me to come to the front to receive a special praise. On my way up I shook hands with everyone I passed, all of them kindly telling me “You are welcome.” To my surprise I met Kevin, a student on my program, also a first-timer at the church, at the front, and with a middle-aged Nigerian man. Our special treat was to sit in the first pew to enjoy the service. Kevin and I entertained ourselves by playing with pew of kids across from us who laughed every time we even glanced at them.
When the service ended, a woman led us Kevin, Kayode and I to a “welcoming room.” She handed us each a form to fill out with the basics: Our name, residence, phone number and reason for attending church today. It said to check one of four boxes for our purpose in attending church. 1) I want to commit my life to Christ. 2) I want to be baptized. 3) I want to be confirmed. 4) I want to recommit myself to Christ. These options posed a problem for me seeing that I am Jewish and have no intention of converting. I sat there for a while weighing the options and finally wrote in my own answer reading “I want to observe the church services,” checked it and handed in my form. Then I respectfully explained to the women welcoming us in Yoruba that I am a Jooo and wish to attend services but not any other religious groups. She said OK and proceeded to lead us in prayer for five minutes. My plan is to buy a bible written in Yoruba so I can learn the language and pretend I’m seriously following the church service.
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