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Archive for January, 2011

My good friend, Laf’Up, hosted this Christmas comedy show in Ibadan. He brought in about 10 different comedians and Kayode, one of our students made his debut in comedy at the show. Kayode’s part was all in Yoruba and it was the only part I really understood because the rest were in thick Pidgin. I put this video together of some of Laf’Up’s comedy and Kayode’s part. American followers, you probably won’t understand most of it, but you will be interested to interpret the Pidgin. Happy viewing.

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Weekly Òwe


Translation: It is not out of enjoyment that a woman says yes.

This proverb highlights Yoruba culture about courting a woman. Men think that when a woman says “no” once, that just means he has to ask again, and again, and again until she finally agrees to go out with you or even marry you. Quite different than the American dating culture. People use this proverb in circumstances when you have to struggle and use persistance to achieve something, something we have to do a lot of here.

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The haze of a harmattan season morning was just starting to clear as I approached the Yoruba Language Center. The dry red dust of the path dirtied my clean feet and sandals. I looked up at the entrance way ahead of me to see the director of my program staring at me as I made my way towards him. He was looking plump and cheery as usual, squinting his eyes even though a grey haze still hung in the air. “E kaaro!” Good morning! I shouted, slightly kneeling with one leg, greeting my boss. “Titilayo! Se daadaa ni?” Titilayo, are you well? He greeted me back. Before I had a chance to answer, he shouted, “Titi, se o mo pe o ti sanra lati igba ti o de Naijiria?” Titi, do you know you have gotten fat since you’ve been in Nigeria? I scoffed, looked down at my tummy and said “Moses, se e mo pe eebu nla ni lati so fun obinrin pe o ti sanra ni Amerika?” Moses, do you know that in America, its an insult to tell a woman she has gotten fat? Well I am definitely not in the U.S. anymore.

In Nigeria, a woman’s weight is just that, her weight, and nothing more. It is discussed like a matter of fact. It is not a delicate, sensitive subject that you would never dare bring up to a woman like it is in the States. The same thing goes for a man. In Nigeria, if your friend has gained weight, you tell him/her directly: Ah ah, Wetin you don dey chop? You don fat. Ah ah! What have you been eating, you’ve gotten fat. Then, you might pat his/her belly for emphasis. The receiver of this news should not get mad or feel bad about themselves because commenting about weight is just like commenting on your friend’s new hair-do. “Oh! You curled your hair–Oh! You gained weight,” same thing.

Nigerians respect bigger people, those who are somewhere in between thin and fat, just enough so you can tell they are eating well. With the spread of Euro-American ideals about the beauty of thinness, the Nigerian opinion on body image might be slowly losing weight. But still, young women don’t strive to be super thin. They don’t diet or deprive themselves of meals to attain a certain mark on the scale. Most young Nigerian women are naturally thin and have very slender, toned arms. The weight starts to come on after they have babies and from then they maintain a certain full-figure until they get really old. Nigerian men also, tend to develop pot bellies and rounder faces as they age. This is not to say Nigerians are overweight, not at all. Overall, they are average and follow the same pattern, unlike the U.S. where you can see an obese person and a skeletally thin person sitting in the same restaurant. Nigerians don’t deviate that much because they all eat more or less the same diet. A typical family doesn’t keep a pantry stocked with snacks fortified with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and coated in high fructose corn syrup. Carbohydrates like yams, rice and wheat, meat and vegetables are the fundamental Nigerian diet, which does not make it easy to actually go on a diet here. You have your junk foods like the popular Cheese Balls, but kids eat them rarely. A typical snack is bananas and ground nuts or little donuts called puff puff.

So can you blame me for gaining a few lbs? My Yoruba teachers, who all said it was good I gained a little weight, said it’s mandatory that I do so when I get back my mom knows they fed me in Nigeria.

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tree blocking gate UI

This tree fell in October, blocking the path between Social Sciences and the sports fields. I duck my head under the tree everyday to get to class.


Sunday afternoon study session on the bleachers. I have passed this place a few times when the bleachers were full and a class was in session.


A typical January day. The path behind the freshly painted faculty of arts.


Trees and bushes line the path behind Faculty of Arts at University of Ibadan.


The dusts from the harmattan season cover the UI tennis courts.


The yard of the Student Union Building quiet on a Sunday afternoon. During the week the place is filled with students, people selling phone cards, books, magazines and snacks.

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I was sitting on a bench mindlessly swatting flies away from my feet, waiting. I had already greeted all the people in the area and was just observing at this point, waiting for the tailor to finish sewing a dress. A mother was seated on the concrete porch leaning against the pillar eating and feeding her son. She took a piece of meat from the bowl and handed it to her son. He couldn’t have been more than 2 years old. He extended his little arm to grab the beef. His mom swatted it away but still held the meat in her hand for him to take. He reached again, again she swatted. Why can’t he take the meat? She grabbed his right arm and plopped the meat in his palm. Ooooh, he tried to take it with his left hand. Bad boy.

Yorubas have a complex about the left hand, owó osì. They believe it is the dirty hand used for dirty jobs like wiping after easing yourself. If you give someone a present with your left hand, especially an old person, he or she will give you an evil glare and refuse the gift. Accepting things with your left hand is taboo too. Always shake with your right hand. Yorubas have respect for the right hand as the hand you eat with and do other important jobs. The left hand gets no respect. Two of the students on our program are lefties and eating in public always brings many questions. This is not to say all Yorubas are right handed. Lefties exist, but they are not too common. In an effort to revive the use of the left hand and improve its reputation, Yorubas call it owó aláàfià, which means hand of peace. For the record, I am a righty.

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Hundreds of languages are spoken in Nigeria. Apart from the most prominent–Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and English languages–521 other languages exist that have significant numbers of speakers. 521 languages in one country about double the size of Texas, amazing. So how does a Urhobo man from Delta state converse with a man who speaks Edo? English is the official language of Nigeria because of British colonial rule. From the time kids start primary school they are learning and speaking English. The numbers are diminishing, but youth still hear their native languages. They learn Tiv or Igala in the classroom, just like they learn math and science, and of course if their parents speak something other than English at home, they will speak that. But wheat you hear students gossiping, it is not in proper British English or deep Yoruba. The language is called Pidgin, or Broken. It is Nigeria’s lingua franca, understood in all 36 states. It is how Nigerians in the most northern cities and those in the Nigeria Delta are able to communicate; yet, you will not find a classroom in the whole country that teaches it.

To condense volumes of academic writing into a short blurb: Nigerian Pidgin is a Creole language from the English Creole family. It follows the same basic grammar structure everywhere in Nigeria but mixes with native languages to differentiate and enrich it slightly. For example, the Broken vocabulary for two Hausas will be somewhat different than two Yorubas but not enough to prevent easy understanding when they meet. It is essentially simplified, slang-ridden English that is incredibly witty and fun to speak.

As my host mom says, Pidgin dey for blood, it na flow. Translated to English: Pidgin is in your blood, it just flows. You cannot sit in a classroom and learn Broken because it is always changing, adapting to the situation and the time. People coin new words every second so it is utterly impossible to write a comprehensive dictionary that encompasses the dynamic language. Some organizations have done really well with compiling words and phrases into a searchable online dictionary, like www.naijalingo.com but because of the ease and fluidity with which words are created or redefined, a dictionary can never be complete. People from the Niger Delta speak the best Pidgin, where it is many people’s first language.

I am by no means fluent in Broken, it will take many many returns to Naija to achieve that, but I understand it much better than when I arrived (when I thought “I don do” meant “I have not done”). If you don’t think too hard about it, it comes pretty intuitively and will just flow. Listening to Naija hip hop music helps a lot too because all the artists like D’Banj, MI, Wande Coal and 2face rap in Broken. Speak Pidgin well and you will be able to survive anywhere in Nigeria or West Africa.

A possible Pidgin scenario between two Yoruba guys in Ibadan

Bros, How far? Dude, how are you?
–I dey. How now? I’m fine. What’s up?
I dey on top. We thank God ooh. I’m doing really well.
–Where you dey go? Where are you going?
I wan go chop for dat new place in Bodija. Titi talk say dey get rice to make sense gan. You sabi am, abi? I want to go eat at the new restaurant in Bodija. Titi said they have delicious rice. You know the place, right?
–Ooooh ya ya, I don chop dere. Na correct place. Se you go climb okada? De place be far ooh. Yeah, I’ve eaten there. It’s a great place. Are you taking an okada (small motorcycle)? It’s far from here.
Se you fit carry me go? Can you take me there?
–Ah omo, I don tire for today. Ah, my friend, I’m tired.
Chairman, abeg. E jo. Please, please.
–Ah, I dey collect ooh. Fine, but I’m charging you.
O ya. No wahala. Alright, no problem.

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tedder hall UI

Tedder Hall boy's hostel, University of Ibadan

I appreciate the architecture around University of Ibadan so much because of how geometric it is. So many of the buildings build tessellations into their design. You see repeating shapes on buildings all over. They all catch my eye and add to the beauty of this campus.

UI library fac of arts

Tesellations. A front view of the University of Ibadan library and part of Faculty of Arts

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