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Archive for September, 2010

Church on Sunday

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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The Nigerian lawnmower is a machete. Men hunch over and chop at the grass. The University of Ibadan campus takes landscaping very seriously so you see grass cutters out all the time.

This man cuts the grass in the backyard of my house.

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The Cloth Market

One thing stands between me and full Yoruba-ness, well maybe three if you count the color of my skin and the fact that I’m American. But that one important thing is clothing. Yoruba women dress in vivid, colorful, patterned cloths. In a woman’s traditional outfit, an iro and buba, the buba is wrapped around their waists as a long skirt and the iro is a loose long sleeve shirt. Then they wrap a gele around their heads with their hair tucked in. I love the way it looks and I would feel like my Yoruba assimilation is complete when I can wo iro ati buba. To my delight, my host mom took me to one of the biggest cloth markets in Ibadan this weekend, called Gbagi.

The Gbagi market in Ibadan. Expanses of cloth forever.


When my mom, Ossai (my mom’s friend) and I got out of the car cloth sellers, women and men, started flocking to me, grabbing my arms to lead me into their stalls. Once I told my name to one person on the strip of stalls where we parked, everyone started yelling “Titilayo! Come buy now. Come to my store. Come here now!” Names of the ‘Oyinbo’s’ who speak Yoruba spread like wild fire in Nigeria.

My mom and Ossai dragged me away from these people because middle men kept interjecting between the sellers and I, trying to ‘help’ me purchase cloth so they could get a cut of the price. Walking through the market was no easy task for us, seeing as I was so overwhelmed by the amount of fabric I had to stop and look at every other stall. It didn’t help much that my Yoruba skills astounded all of the sellers. If I approached a shop and greeted the women ‘greetings for selling’ I could be sure 20 other people sitting near that particular stall would hear that I speak Yoruba. The secret is out. Men would approach to observe the conversation before inquiring about my marriage status, if I would marry them and bring them back to America. All of this slowed our pace. I am bad at shopping as it is-my mom can attest to this- so me in a massive market with hundreds of different patterned cloth at my fingertips was a serious dilemma. I had to consult Ossai about every other one, asking her if the cloth was ‘fine’ enough. (Yoruba people say ‘O dat’s fine,’ or ‘Aso (clothing) fine,’ when they really like something. I know what I like, but I like to know that other people like it too. The options are so plentiful that I just had to say, I like this one enough, cut it.

You can buy cloth in 6 yards or 12 yards. Prices vary based on the quality of the material and the dye. I came out of the Gbagi market with two beautiful cloths. I bought 6 yards of each. The first one for 500 Naira, about $3.50 and the second for 1,200 Naira, about $8.

Now the cloth is with a tailor. The possibilities are endless of what you can get made. I am getting a iro, buba, gele and a dress that I designed myself made. All together, 2 new full outfits will cost me under $20. Success.

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Moin-moin

Today’s Yoruba dish: Moin-moin.

On the plate above, moin-moin are the two reddish things next to the egg.

Yoruba people have been eating the same dishes since beginning of their existence. We will get into other dishes later, but for today, I want to talk about Moin-moin, also called Olele. Moin-moin is made out of beans. The consistency is soft, like mashed potatoes, but is stiff enough to have shape. Today, Yoruba eat it with rice, but it is traditionally eaten with gari or ogi, custard like foods made out of corn. I don’t care for gari or ogi yet myself, so I eat moin-moin with rice. To make moin-moin (which I learned how to do this weekend) you wash black eyed peas until they are all white, then you blend the beans with water, hot pepper, onion, lots of salt and oil. You spoon a half cup or so of the liquid into a little silver cup, or traditionally in leaves, and steam it for 50 minutes. The result is a moist, spicy, bean pudding ball. Delicious.

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Daily life is slowly expanding for us on the University of Ibadan campus. We actually went to the bookstore yesterday and out after dark last night.

In the University of Ibadan bookstore, without light. Abike found a poster of the Yoruba Alphabet.

Granted we were sitting in a packed theater watching a play, we were still technically not at home at 8 p.m. Going out after dark is not common in Nigeria. There are many proverbs that warn about the dangers of being out when you cannot see your hand in front of your face. Streets lights are not common and people would rather sit in their house and watch movies on the Africa Magic channel then go out for dinner. Lunch is the most common meal to eat out. But go out last night we did, and we had a great time.

We saw a play called ‘Moremi.’ Moremi is a Yoruba Queen from the city of Ife, the origin of the Yoruba people. At the time of her life, the Igbo’s invaded Ife and enslaved tons of its citizens. Moremi went to the extreme of sacrificing her son to the goddess of river Esimirin to protect her people. Moremi is a important woman in Yoruba history.

At a play Thursday night on UI campus, the king (seated) and Moremi talking to their subjects about the threat of the Igbo's.

The play, performed in English, with Yoruba songs, was excellent, but what excited me more was the audience. First of all, people kept streaming in, climbing over others to find seats up until 20 minutes before it ended. Cell phone use is apparently not prohibited because people all around me were having actual conversations during the play. Whenever something good happened on stage, everyone cheered and yelled praises. If something bad happened people shouted insults at the characters. The audience experience is much more involved compared to the U.S. The Yoruba will speak their mind and answer their phones no matter what the situation is.

After the excitement of the play, my host brothers and sister and I returned home to a lighted house thanks to the generator (our light has been our for almost a week and there is no telling when it will come back). Since our generator was on, I was able to take a regular shower, not a bucket shower. Something interesting happened during my shower. As I started to wash the conditioner out, I suddenly felt my hair feel really hard, like it was frozen. I looked up and low and behold, dirt brown water was pouring out of the shower head. Apparently I had gotten the end of the water tank. Gross. I immediately got out, vigorously tried to comb my hair (which wasn’t easy) and went to tell my host mom. She laughed at me because I spoke English, not Yoruba for the unfortunate situation. She let me take a bucket shower in her bathroom with water from a different tank. Finally clean, I sat in the dark with my host mom to do my Yoruba homework. Good day.

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Naija Hip Hop

Since arriving in Nigeria I have hardly listened to any music in my extensive music collection except for a few new Nigerian songs. Two of them, featured below, are stuck in my head all the time. It didn’t help much that when we went to Lagos, the hotel we stayed at for one night had a late night pool party where they switched off playing “Implication” and a terrible house mix of “Put Your Hands Up in the Air” for an hour straight.


Innocent Ujah Idibia, aka 2Face has been writing and singing since 1996. He is from Jos, Nigeria. A good friend in the States introduced this song to me this summer and I’m glad he did because when I tell my Yoruba peers I love ‘Implication,’ I get a little street cred. Believe it or not, most of this song is in English. I had to look up the lyrics to decipher most of it though.

28-year-old identical twins, Peter and Paul Okeye, also known as P-Square were born in Jos, Nigeria and have been moving up on the African hip-hop scene since 2004.

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