Archive for November, 2010

Kitchens all across the United States are filled with boiling pots, hot ovens, delicious aromas and anxious cooks hoping the turkey turns out right. The last Thursday in November is the same as any other day in Nigeria. People in America ask me, “do you celebrate Thanksgiving in Nigeria?” The answer is deep. American Thanksgiving involves spending the whole day cooking an outrageous amount of food, eating it with people you love and going around the table saying what you are thankful for. Every minute, every day in Nigeria is thanksgiving. People give thanks for everything, whether it be arriving at home safely, waking up, passing an exam, after eating a meal or taking a danfo ride. They will say “a dupe,” which means “we give thanks.” Nigerians acknowledge activities with thanks that many people don’t think twice about. Then you have the weekly thanksgiving at church. Families celebrate their own thanksgivings, just a special day to give thanks for your family.

Food preparation is another part of the American Thanksgiving celebration that happens everyday in Nigeria. I can speak for Yoruba culture best when I say that Yoruba take a great deal of pride in their food. Making a meal is a serious job. From start to finish, one meal takes a lot of labor and time. The Yoruba woman also takes a lot of care in the way she prepares it. Pounding yam, making the stew, it is an art and Yoruba know the way they like it. This is one of the reasons you see Yoruba people abroad always seeking out African restaurants wherever they are. Of course there will be exceptions but it is safe to say that Yoruba people love their traditional meals so much.

Celebrating American Thanksgiving is all well and good. I love the holiday myself because the food is always delicious and the company is even better. But being here and reflecting on what the word thanksgiving means in America and Nigeria is extremely eye opening. I wouldn’t trade one for the other, but I will combine the two into my own meaning of thanksgiving.

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A tortuous trip to Lagos and back in one day resulted in every transportation company informing us that is impossible for us to enter Ghana. Under our time constraints we could not acquire Ghanaian visas. No one had a concrete answer for us about whether we needed one visa, two visas, zero visas. The whole trip ti jasipabo (has fell apart/been ruined). So we are depressed and back in Ibadan. If you are an American traveling around west Africa, I advise you acquire your visas ahead of time or travel alone or in small groups. From what we’ve been told, it is impossible for us to get Ghana visas in Nigeria because we are not Nigerian. I don’t think it would be hard to travel throughout this area if you were alone however. Much of the problem, I think, lies in the fact that we are five whites traveling together. Some of the companies said that if we were one or two the driver could sort out the necessary payments at each border, but five people is just too many. Hopefully I will get to Ghana someday but I have no idea how or when. For now, we will resort to Plan B: traveling around Yorubaland, which has potential to be equally as fun holiday as Ghana. It’s a plus that we already speak the language anyway. After all, mama agba (my grandmother) said to me this morning, “In every disappointment lies a blessing.” I like to look at life from this perspective.

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After a grueling three weeks of planning, re-planning and hitting roadblocks at every turn, we are almost en route to Ghana for a vacation. It is not easy to make plans to travel by road to other African countries if you have white skin. We have to be wary of border patrol ripping us off or detaining us for hours. We have to make sure the road transportation companies don’t demand an outrageous price. Information about visas-whether we need them for passing through Benin and Togo or not-has differed from every person we’ve talked to. Traveling by road was our first choice so we could see the coastline and Benin and Togo. It has been exhausting planning this trip. It shouldn’t be this difficult to get five Americans to Ghana. After all the inquiring I did with road transport countries like Cross Country, we resorted to let the transportation director at University of Ibadan figure it out. Nigeria is a great country, you all know I love it, but it will be great to get out and see another west African country, especially one that I have heard is so safe, calm and welcoming to Americans. Hopefully we will be able to use our Yoruba there since I don’t know any Twi. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone at home! I will be posting from Ghana as much as possible. Ire o!

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Idupe fun àwon omo Naija

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Orúko mi ni Títílayò Àjoké Layiwola. (My name is Títílayò Àjoké Layiwola.)

Osu méjì ti lo ti mo ti wa ni Naijiria. Mo ti di omo Yorùbá bayìí. Mo ti fi orúko òyìnbó mi sílè patapata. Nígbá ti mo pade ènìyàn tuntun, mo máa n fi ara mi han bi Títílayò. Nigba mìíràn, wón máa n beere nipa orúko mi gangan, orúko abenibi mi. Mo máa so wi pé, “mo ti fi oruko náà sílè. Títílayò lorúko mi.” Inu won máa n dun gan lati gbo yìí. Léhìn náà wón máa beere lówó mi pé “Se o mo ìtúmò rè? Ki ni ìtúmò Títílayò?” Mo máa dahun pé “Ey now, mo mo ìtúmò rè. Mo yan fun ara mi. Ìtúmò ni wi pé mo máa ní ayò titi titi laelae. Ayò mi kò ni duro.” Won máa rerin tábì won máa so “patewo fun ara rè.” Mo si tun féràn bi orúko inagije mi se gbo, Títí. Mo féràn rè. Idi gidi wà tí mo yan orúko Títílayò bi orúko Yorùbá mi. Mo rò pé orúko yìî ba ihuwasi mi mu daadaa. Mo máa n saba rérìn. Inú mi máa n saba dun. Kò wópò pé inu mi máa baje. Nítorí náà, ní odún méta sèyìn, lojó kinni kiláàsi Yorùbá ni Yunifasiti ti Wisconsin, ni mo yan orúko Títílayò.

Àbíké àti emi n rérìn si aworan kan ti oun yan. (Abike and I laughing at a picture she took.)

Now, after two and a half months of immersion in Yorùbá culture and language, I feel myself embodying my Yoruba name of Títílayò much more than my English name of Caraline. Caraline or Cara (everyone calls me Cara) is a beautiful name, and I really do like it, but it doesn’t feel like me any more. Títí (pronounced Tee-tee) just fits now with my personality, the way I feel and the way I look. It is foreign to me to hear someone calling me Cara. It is harsh on my ears. Cara. Títí. I don’t know what will happen when I get back to the States, but I think I will be fine with any of my friends and whoever wants to calling me Títí.

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The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was possibly the calmest it could ever be yesterday morning as my host mom and I squeezed into a taxi bound for Maryland, a neighborhood in Lagos. Eid-el-Kabir, a Muslim holiday has almost entirely immobilized the hustle bustle life in Nigeria for the past two days. The University of Ibadan campus was like a ghost-town and thankfully the usually terrifying highway was calm (well as calm as a highway rife with potholes and crazy drivers can be). Even though I had no idea what I was in for, I begged my mom to take me along to Lagos for a chance to get out of Ibadan. She mentioned a meeting and an art collector. No words can describe how happy I am that I braved the early morning wake up call and public transportation to have experience this

After an hour and a half on the highway and a short okada ride we arrived early at an imposing, vine covered wall and gate.

The front gate to Yemisi Shyllon's compound.

A man peeped his eyes out a small hole to see who we were, my mom explained the reason for the visit and shortly the guard opened the iron door. What we beheld on the other side was a mix between a tropical paradise, mini zoo and a sculpture garden. We could not believe our eyes. My mom and I walked through the stone path passing life size sculptures of African women and men in various working poses. We passed male and female peacocks sauntering around the grassy lawn, in and out of the sculptures.

Female peacocks stroll freely around the garden.

A pen full of white geese with orange beaks and massive tortoises on the right side, my mouth agape with awe and utter shock. We found our way to the office to see the illustrious man who owns the outrageously stunning front yard.

An Andy Warhol style depiction of Wole Soyinka that hangs in Shyllon's office.

In his office we encountered a 60 inch flat screen T.V. on the wall surrounded by stunning pieces of African art–An Andy Warhol style portrait of Wole Soyinka, a 3-foot sculpture of a gold fish with jade eyes from the Philippines, carved wood statues to name a few.

The man of the hour is Prince Yemesi Adedoyin Shyllon, a retired engineer/lawyer, an avid art collector and most recently the founder of the Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF). He is a philanthropic, jet-setting father of three who lives for collecting art.

Shyllon and Layiwola pointing out art pieces in the backyard courtyard.

My host mom, Peju Layiwola is an artist and professor of art at the University of Lagos. She and Shyllon met to discuss the 6-day art workshop she is organizing at UniLag next year that will be sponsored by Shyllon’s art foundation, OYASAF. The scheduled meeting about the workshop’s budget turned out to be an all day affair, including a tour of the art museum that is his house and lots of friendly conversation.

A full size sculpture of a woman pouring water from a calabash is a fountain in his courtyard pool.

Shyllon started collecting art when he was a student at the University of Ibadan in the 1970’s studying engineering. He said he had to store his pieces in his friends dorm rooms as they kept piling up. He went on to become a very successful engineer in Nigeria and never lost his passion for collecting. He custom built the home he lives in now to hold all of his art, which today totals over 6,000 individual pieces.

Shyllon has hundreds of these life-size sculptures. Some are made from bronze, fiberglass or metal.

Six stalls scattered around the compound house all of the paintings and sculptures that do not fit in the house. As Peju put it, the amount of art in his house is a “serious matter.”

The tour started in the kitchen where a vase filled with real peacock feathers from the peacocks in the front yard sits on the counter top. For security reasons Shyllon would not let me take pictures inside the house so I will do my best to do describe the overwhelming amount of art that fills every single room of the house.

Male peacocks mingle with the art works in Shyllon's garden.

His art is literally so plentiful that every single bathroom in the house has at least four paintings on the wall and some even a large sculpture in the corner. His three kids, of which one lives at home, have no choice but to have paintings from prominent Nigerian artists adorn their walls. The Afrolisa hangs prominently in his daughter’s room. Shyllon collects mainly modern contemporary African art from Nigeria.

My host mom, Peju Layiwola and I listening to Shyllon explaining the painting we are standing behind.

He reserves the wall space on the main staircase for foreign pieces, so you can find his small Dali painting there. He has pieces from every well-known Nigerian artist, including a piece of my mom’s in his collection. He does not discriminate between authentic Nigerian art–almost none of which is left in the country–and contemporary Nigerian art. He buys them all, but his first love is sculpture over paintings.

He led us from the kitchen into the dining room from which we had a full view of the first living room. A massive crystal chandelier imported from Dubai cast a yellowy light on the unimaginable amount of wood, bronze, metal statues arranged on the floor.

The newest addition to Shyllon's collection. A sculpture of a person sitting in a chair made with nails.

A 12-foot carving from Lamidi Fakeye with the most intricate depiction of Yoruba orishas stood in the middle, surrounded by tens of tall, short, wide, long wood carvings of orishas from Yoruba traditional religion. Water trickled from the wall in a marble fountain to make the room sound like a rainy season storm.

“Do you spend a lot of time in this room,” I asked Shyllon.
“Let’s see the rest of the house and then you can decide,” he replied.

Up a few steps we passed into the Chinese parlor. Paintings made with tiny beads by artist David H. Dale spanned the walls and complemented the stunning white marble floor, walls and ceiling. This room led to a smaller room paneled in rich wood planks with more wood statues lining the walls.

Another view of his impeccably landscaped garden.

A flat screen TV on the wall felt completely out of place. Shyllon made a point to show us the bathrooms where equally impressive paintings and sculptures hung next to the toilet and the sink. Rooms upon rooms filled with layers of figurine sculptures of Nigerian market women carrying their babies, bronze heads of prominent people in Nigerian society, wood heads of traditional Yoruba gods, paintings of all scenes and sizes followed.

Shyllon and his wife posing with me in the garden.

A narrow path for walking snakes around the sculptures in most of the rooms. All of it is neatly arranged, consciously placed. Shyllons says his most exciting moments are deciding how to fit in a new work, what to take out and what to rearrange. He has 300 pieces in his bedroom alone.

The amount of art Shyllon has in his home is unfathomable; it is shocking and absolutely incredible. He has a personal friendship with all of the living artists displayed in his home. Suzanne Wenger’s handprint hangs framed on the wall.

After the tour we ate pepper soup his wife had prepared for us with a catfish from his own catfish pond. He personally took us around the compound, pointing out interesting facts about certain works. We saw his snail pen (Nigerians consider snails a delicacy.), his Chinese style temple where he attends to guests he does not want to welcome into his house and the playground for younger guests.

The garden that faces Shyllon's house made almost entirely out of marble.

My mom and I left Shyllon’s home elated. She had a very successful meeting and I had an unforgettable, once in a lifetime experience at maybe the most prominent African art collectors’ home. I spoke Yoruba with him of course and signed his guestbook in Yoruba. So with images of art for days in our eyes we once again ventured down the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway back to Ibadan. What a trip.

We were making record time on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and then we encountered this tipped oil truck holding up traffic in Ibadan. The trip went downhill from there.

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Internet is down but I am OK

Up until recently I have been extremely lucky to have a pretty stable although painfully slow internet connection. The brand new Yoruba Language Flagship Center uses the UI campus wifi connection but we have our own network. We used it freely, without any password or restriction for 2 months then all of a sudden, last Tuesday the internet started asking for a password. Almost a week later we still don’t have passwords to access it or any idea why this is happening. Hence, I have been without internet for the past week and not too unhappy about it actually. (But I have been upset I have not been able to post to the blog. I am using my host mom’s 3G usb stick on her computer right now, sitting in my living room. I just thought I should do a quick post to tell you why I have not been posting lately.) Sitting in the air-conditioned Yoruba Center, with the opportunity to mindlessly surf the internet for hours per day kind of depressed me. I kept thinking to myself, I am in Nigeria, I am here for 9 months to learn Yoruba ponbele (deep Yoruba), what am I doing watching music videos on You Tube? Not using the Internet for a while is strangely liberating. I am sort of glad this mishap is occurring because it is reminding me that open access to the Internet is something to be thankful for and not take for granted–even if it is only a stupid password problem.

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Food: Indomie

When it comes to a quick, grab-n-go meal in Ibadan, the options are scarce. Yoruba food is not something you pop in the microwave or throw in a toaster oven. Most people do not have these appliances at home anyway. All of the dishes require a pot, fire and preparation. They take time to prepare even though people can inhale them within 5 minutes. You have a few fast food places in the city (a post about them later) and snacks like ground nuts, bananas and kettle corn, but no quick meals except Indomie.

Indomie is the Nigerian equivalent of Ramen. Manufactured in Nigeria, the instant noodles are a quick, salty solution to hunger for college students, children and (desperate) adults. The package, which comes in regular and super pack, magnifies the words protein, vitamin A, vitamin B and calcium to appeal to the nutrition conscious shopper.

Nutrition facts on Indomie

The noodles come with a seasoning and chili packet inside. People usually add a scrambled or hardboiled egg too. My younger siblings eat Indomie for breakfast almost everyday! Can you imagine? Indomie is one of the most advertised foods around Ibadan, only competing with different types of evaporated milk, and beer. Massive billboards depicting a mother feeding her smiley child Indomie span roadways and the noodle logo covers market stalls and walls.

In my three years of college I ate Ramen noodles maybe once. Two months in Nigeria and I have eaten the local equivalent close to 10 times. The salty, pasta-y goodness is comforting when I am not in the mood for a heavy Yoruba meal. But still, I didn’t come thousands of miles from home to be eating salty, freeze dried noodles.

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I finally got out of Ibadan this weekend. My host mom invited me to go with her to a funeral in Ilobu, a village in Osun State, about 100 km north east of Ibadan.

A map of Ibadan to Ilobu

I was ecstatic at the idea of traveling to another part of Yorubaland, especially for a funeral. When an agbalagba (old person) dies, his/her children throw a huge celebration with lots of food, dance and music. A funeral for a person who lives a long life is cause for celebration here, not sadness. The burial ceremony for the late Chief Moses Ojo Anwo brought hundreds of people from all over Yorubaland to Ilobu to celebrate his “glorious exit” after 90 years of life.

We were five in the car to Ilobu: my host mom in the drivers seat, the wife of my dad’s brother in the front seat, me in the back squished between my host grandmother and the wife of my dad’s other brother.

My host mom, Peju Layiwola and I outside the church.

The road to Ilobu was in decent shape for the most part. You should expect to thrash from side to side on any road around here as the driver dodges pot holes. We stopped on the side of the road for 10 minutes when we noticed the temperature gauge on the car all the way up. I stood up outside the car, with my hands on the top to escape the heat inside the car and watch the heavy traffic pass around a semi-truck stuck in the mud. Wearing my traditional Yoruba dress, I attracted a lot of attention from drivers. It probably didn’t help that I was yelling “Good afternoon,” and “greetings for taking a trip” at drivers in Yoruba. A driver kept his eyes on me for so long, in complete shock at this Oyinbo woman dressed like a Yoruba and speaking Yoruba, that he lightly crashed into the car in front of him. The police man helping us tend the overheating car just laughed at this and the whole incident dissolved without a single argument or exchange of insurance information.

We arrived at the church in Ilobu just in time to miss most of the service. Every pew was completely full, so without space to sit we stood outside taking pictures and scrutinizing all the different traditional outfits.

Young girls hold their markets on their heads to sell to guests looking for something sweet or refreshing.

The church grounds were a flurry with activity. Young girls and boys carrying trays of sweets, sachets of water, little donuts and ice creams on their heads to sell to the guests, people greeting each other, cars coming in and out, demanding everyone move aside. I, as the only white person there, added to the commotion.

Dancing up to the front for Thanksgiving at the church with all eyes on me.

We did enter the church briefly to participate in the Thanksgiving; this entails dancing down the aisles up to the front to put 20 Naira or so to the donation bag. Of course I danced like a Yoruba woman does (video coming soon) and instantly all eyes in the church diverted to me.

Sellers, guests congregate outside the packed church.

After the service, all the guests drove a ways down the main road to a big field for the reception. Empty plastic tables and chairs arranged neatly under big tents covered the perimeter of the field and two band tents with huge speakers situated in the middle. Anwo, the man who died, had one wife with many children so different children sponsored a different band tent, conveniently located right next to each other, speakers facing the same way. The sound was horrifically loud. When we arrived drummers playing the talking drum swarmed me and started drumming the tune of “O-yin-bo” to amuse me and earn some naira.

My ear drums felt like they were going to burst from the bombardment of talking drum.

Three of them followed me all the way to my table, until finally after a lot of drumming my ear drums had had enough and I gave one 50 Naira. He promptly left my side. The caterers served us a choice of rice, moinmoin and beef or pounded yam with stew. I chose the pounded yam as it is becoming one of my favorite foods here. After eating, the lead musician invited the celebrants (the children of the deceased) to come and dance on the dance ground where their friends started spraying them with money. I wish I had pictures of this now, but it will have to wait for a later post. Basically people drop money, mostly small bills, on your face and all over you while you dance. Meanwhile someone collects the money from the ground in a bag for you. When I hear music it’s hard for me to stand still. I started grooving in my chair a little bit when my mom told me to stand up and dance. I did and she sprayed me with 100 Naira.

Guests of the funeral seated under the tent waiting to be served food.

All eyes of the guests seated under the tent were on me again. I must say, I can dance like a Nigerian woman pretty well. I have the arm/butt coordination down pat. Before long a man from the dancing crowd approached me to bring me into the crowd. My mom and grandmother encouraged me to go so I danced into the crowd of celebrants and within no time women and men started spraying me with Naira. I must have danced for no more than 2 minutes and I came out with 2,400 Naira, about $15. A couple women even sprayed me with 500 N bills, very rare for spraying! I am kicking myself now for not dancing longer.

So goes a typical funeral for a person who lived a long, fulfilled life in Yorubaland. Not one person at the event wore a black suit or a black dress. In fact, observing the clothes was one of the most incredible parts of the day for me.

Outside waiting for the church service to end, in aso ebi.

Each cloth is beautiful and bright, and of course an outfit is not complete without a gele or fila on top. Women wrap stiff geles that complement their clothing perfectly and the man’s fila sits proudly on his head, dropped to one side depending on if he is married or not. Then you see the “aso ebi” or family clothing. At big parties like weddings or funerals, families-men and women-will all dress in the same cloth. It will all be sewn in different styles but it is totally coordinated and is a stunning sight to see. Dressing is such a beautiful part of the Yoruba culture, I could never be bored at a party just for examining all the different clothing styles.

I am coming to love this country and culture more and more after every day that goes by, especially with every new Yoruba outfit I get back from the tailor. I may just come home with an entirely new wardrobe.

Women adorned in aso ebi at Anwo's funeral.

The Layiwola wives and me. I didn't have time to coordinate the aso ebi.

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Light Switches

Light switches work the opposite way here. When the switch is down, the lights are on. Flick the switch up to turn the lights off. That is all.

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