Archive for October, 2010

Halloween or lack thereof

Nigerians do not celebrate Halloween. October 31st is just a normal day where people wear normal clothes. I had the luck of eating more sweets than usual though because it’s my little host sisters 7th birthday tomorrow and she is bringing goodie bags for her friends at school. So happy halloween to all you crazy people out there, especially you Madisonians.

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Weekly Òwe

3 or 4 friends are good enough. More than that and one will be bad.

This is a warning to choose your friends wisely and not keep too many around. Yoruba people have a lot of acquaintances and can strike up a conversation with almost anyone, but they keep few best friends.

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Food–how we eat it, how we prepare it and who we enjoy it with is a window into every culture. Yorùbá culture surrounding food is quite different than the that in the United States and everywhere else I’ve been. The Yorùbás follow a certain set of customs when eating. While they are widely practiced, they are not mandatory.

1. The invitation to eat
Whenever you are eating in front of someone who is not, it is customary to invite that person to join you. The person without food could be a complete stranger but you will still ask them to come eat. You will say come eat, or “wa jeun.” That person can actually start eating your food if they are really hungry, or they will say may it go down well, or “A gba bi re.”

2. No drinking while eating
Many Yorùbá people wait until after they are completely finished eating the meal to drink. Not everyone does this but most older people I have shared a table with at the cafeteria do. They will shovel down their food and chug down a Fanta or Maltina (non-alcoholic malt beverage that is extremely popular here) in a couple gulps.

3. Eat with your hands
In order to explain why eating with your hands makes more sense than eating with a fork and knife it is necessary to understand the type of food Yorùbá people eat. A typical Yorùbá dish is something like a soft but stiff pounded porridge made from cassava or some type of yam (when I say yam yam, I don’t mean sweet potato). This porridge could be called amala, iyan, semofita, fufu, or eba. They are each pretty tasteless but each one definitely tastes and feels different. So you use this mashed potato like food to eat one of the many types of stews. This you do with your right hand, not the left. You take little bits of the porridge thing and mop up bits of soup, put it in your mouth and swallow it, chewing is not necessary. When you see Yorùbá people eating, it is almost always with their hands, unless they are eating rice. All the cafeterias have big jugs of water on the table to wash your hands with before and after the meal.

Amala (left) and Egusi with pepper soup (right). I wasn't up to the hand challenge that day.

4. Spoon not fork
If you do not feel like dirtying your hands, or you are not up to the challenge of eating with them, you can use a spoon. Spoon is the eating utensil of choice. Forks are rare.

5. No walking while eating
Eating or drinking while walking is taboo. You never see someone walking down the street munching on peanuts or peeling bananas (the most popular snacks here). Even drinking water while walking is not typical. It is considered bad manners to do this. People who were brought up well are expected to sit down when they eat.

6. Women only
Cooking is a woman’s job in Yorùbáland. Traditionally men planted the yams and did the back breaking work while a woman’s job was to cook for her husband. It is still the same today. I have never seen a man in a kitchen here. Women are the cooks.

7. Cole slaw pretends to be salad
The Yorùbá equivalent to salad is grated cabbage, carrots and cream, a.k.a cole slaw. So if someone asks you if you want salad, it will not be tomatoes, cucumbers and other veggies on a bed of lettuce, it will surely be cole slaw.

The list could probably go on, and over the next 8 months I’m sure I will discover more idiosyncrasies with food culture here. These are just some of the few I’ve picked up on so far. I’m just glad I’m slowly improving on taking the right amount of stew with each scoop of amala so I run out of both at the same time.

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Fried Plantains–Dòdò

Fried plantains are a staple food here and in many other countries around the world. We call it dòdò in Yorùbá. It is really hard to screw up dòdò but here is a rough explanation of the recipe. To make dòdò:
1. Buy plantains

2. Use a knife to cut open the plantain. The skin is thick so you will need a knife.
3. Slice the plantain into pieces, about an inch thick.

Slice the plantain into inch-thick pieces. You can slice the plantain length wise too if you like.

4. Pour about a cup of vegetable oil into a frying pan and heat to medium-high heat.
5. Carefully add the plantains to the oil, do not crowd in the pan. The oil should reach half way up the plantains.

Fry plantains until golden brown, continuously turning, about 1.5 minutes each side.

6. Cook them, until golden brown and tender, about 1.5 minutes each side.
7. With a spatula or slotted spoon remove from oil, sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.

Once you try this once you will be hooked. Fried plantains are delicious! This recipe also sounds amazing for making dòdò. Happy cooking!

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Four nights ago, Ibadan experienced a rain storm unlike any I have witnessed in all of the eight countries I have visited in my life. I knew the rain was coming when around 5:45 p.m. the sky started to turn a pastel shade of orange/grey, and a cool wind pulsed through the trees slowly at first then with such a force that it drowned out the sounds of the chickens. A brief serenity before the downpour. I arrived home just in time to no light. (Most of the University of Ibadan campus did not have light for 3 straight days last week.) Not wanting to sit in the darkness reading with my headlamp, the only thing to do seemed to be to lay in my bed and look out the window.

The rain started quickly and torrentially. Sheets of rain descended from the sky and cloaked the view out my window in a stark grey shadow. You couldn’t even see the green in the greenest trees for the rain was so thick. The grey gradually turned to complete black and I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. The darkness didn’t last though. Lightning illuminated the world like a strobe light. This lightning did not come in short, flashy bolts. It was continuous and all encompassing. It lit up the sky so completely that it almost looked like daylight. The thunder was a constant rumbling without the piercing cracks. Occasionally a roaring boom and a flash of light would simultaneously occur, stirring the peace from the rain slapping the leaves and dirt. One of the most enjoyable parts of the storm was the cool, dare I say it, cold breeze it brought through my window. The storm went on like this for almost an hour, not letting up one bit. I almost fell asleep a few times but the lighting I could see through my closed eyes kept waking me up.

The rainy season is on its way out, making way for the unimaginable heat of the dry season. During the rainy season you can count on it raining almost everyday usually in the early evening. Not many of the storms are of such caliber, but it is common for me to wake up in the middle of the night to that familiar sound of torrential downpour. The rain brings peace and a much needed cool off to the land here. I made it a priority to bring good rain boots with me only to find that no one wears them here. The few times I’ve worn them, people everywhere stare at me. I just laugh and jaunt through the gigantic, muddy puddles.

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When Kevin “Kayode” Barry turned 21, his host family threw him a modern-day Yorùbá birthday party. Naturally, I made a video. Enjoy!

Here is a video of Keegan “Kolade” O’Neil’s speech to the birthday boy, all in Yorùbá of course.

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Kettle corn is the only type of popcorn here. Even at the movie theaters, you can only find sweet, sugary kernels, none of the salty, buttery stuff. Movie theaters do not exist in Ibadan. We will have to drive the treacherous Lagos-Ibadan Expressway to see a movie at the closest theater, all the way down in Lagos.

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Believe it. I have cornrows and braids! The heat and humidity here does not agree with my long, curly white-girl hair, SO I decided to go to one of the many hairdressers here. With the help of my mom we explained what I wanted and now I am sporting a cornrow/hair style called two-step.

Caring for my hair with cornrows and braids is quite different than my typical routine.

  • 1) I cannot wash my hair, or get it wet for that matter.
  • 2) I sleep with a scarf wrapped around my head so the braids stay neat
  • 3) I put this gel along the scalp every 3 days so the braids stay shiny

    I will leave the two-step style in for 3 weeks then probably do another cool weave pattern. Having braids is so much easier than worrying about my frizzy mess of a head that I think I might keep it braided for a while. It’s a serious drawback that my head is throbbing with pain right now, and especially when I laugh (which I do quite often) but it should go away soon. Whether it’s a good thing or not, I turn many more heads now that I have braids. Hopefully the requests to marry me don’t increase as well…

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  • Facts: Nigeria population

    Nigeria is made up of 36 states and the capital city territory of Abuja. Comparatively, it is a little more than twice the size of California. Population is difficult to determine because representation on the National Assembly and distribution of wealth depends on population figures, so many local governments fudge the numbers. That being said, according to the World Bank, the population in Nigeria for 2008 is 151,212,254 people. It is the most populous country in Africa.

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    Photos: Sunsets

    A sliver of a moon hangs in the setting sky.

    A cloudy October sky at dusk.

    Trees in the shadows of the setting sun.

    Just a few pictures of what I think are beautiful skies over the University of Ibadan campus somewhere around 6 p.m.

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