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Archive for March, 2011

Nigerians are particular about food. They prefer to eat at home and hardly eat out at restaurants. They like food that is plenty, has lots of pepper and is piping hot. If they eat outside the house, they like to eat something familiar, food they know is good quality and satisfying. Hence the success of the Nigerian fast food restaurants that serve pounded yam and traditional soups like egusi and efo riro. So when a Nigerian finds him or herself in traffic in Lagos, or running around all day without time for a real meal, he needs something portable, dependable and filling. The answer: the packaged beef roll.

Beef rolls. Gala, Meaty, Chopsy and Bigi


Beef rolls are the most popular, practical snack for the hungry Nigerian. Take ground beef, add a little pink food coloring, wrap it in a doughy, salty, pastry-like bread,

A sausage roll display.

throw it in a plastic wrapper and bam, you have a snack sold on virtually every street corner in Lagos, every traffic jam, and expanding to markets all around the country. Galas roll off the conveyor belts in the factory in Lagos by the thousands everyday and wind up in boxes on top of young boys’ heads selling them in the middle of bumper to bumper traffic. Unlike other snacks on the highway packaged by someone sitting in a market, Gala is a snack Nigerians know they can trust.

Step 1. Grab the roll. Step 2. Slam it against your knee like shown to open it. Step 3. Consume.


The beef roll phenomenon started with Gala, the first brand of packaged beef rolls. Gala was the one on the market and was sold exclusively in Lagos until the 2000’s. My friends in Ibadan tell me that whenever their parents went to Lagos, they always looked forward to the parents bringing back Galas.

Before biting. Notice the different colors and shapes.

In the last six or so years, my friends say the beef roll market has greatly expanded, and Gala is sold in other cities besides Lagos. You see young boys in Ibadan hawking Galas from boxes on their heads in the middle of traffic or the side of the road. Women stack them like Lincoln Logs at their stalls. There is not one place you don’t see Gala or it’s imitations, Meaty, Bigi, Chopsy, etc. I think the consensus is that Gala is still the best, the original beef roll. All my friends detest Bigi, claiming it’s way too hard and the meat is bright pink.

After the taste test.

When I first tried a beef roll, sitting in absurd traffic in Lagos on the way to the U.S. Embassy, I was very apprehensive. The thought of pink ground beef that just does not look natural, wrapped in a thick pastry shell didn’t sound too appealing to me. We Oyinbos threw it around the back of the van like a hot potato. After six months of Nigeria-fication, I accept the beef roll when I am hungry and cant get my hands on other real food. I even enjoy it.

I hear the best combination is Gala and SuperYogo (yet another Nigerian treat). People say La Casera or Fanta with Gala is delicious too. Next time I’m in traffic, I know what I’m eating.

Me conducting the taste test.

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Planting inspiration in the hearts of Nigerians to revive their native languages was not my goal when I sat at the registration table as a wide eyed, naiive freshman (fresher) with the first semester Yoruba language class schedule in front of me. Honestly, taking Yoruba for six college semesters with one summer of 5+ hours of class per day, all with the same group of 6 students was challenging. It was dulling at moments, wonderful at others. I persevered because my heart was in it. Nothing felt better than conveying a complex thought, like the dangers of nuclear weapon proliferation, in Yoruba. I am an adventurer, curious by nature and not afraid to take risks. Taking Yoruba was a risk but I knew that if I committed to it, I would see it through to the end. I consider currently living in Nigeria for 10 months the middle.

A film I just had the chance of viewing is bringing all of these thoughts to life. It was a fluke I actually made time to see it. A random guy at the Faculty of Arts invited me to the showing, saying he would really appreciate my input. “I will try to be there,” I said half-heartedly. I felt his pleas sincere so around 11:15 a.m. I moseyed through the wet, late morning heat to the Post-Graduate room in the Communications Language Arts department. Le Maletendu Colonial directed by Jean-Marie Terio is a documentary about mainly the German colonization of Namibia through the lens of Christian evangelism. It highlights the 1904 German genocide of the Herero people (something I had never even heard of before this film.) It talks about africa as a whole and how the colonial rulers destroyed the foundations of African culture in place of more “civilized” European methods. It left the impression that Africans need to do something to rediscover and develop their African-ness. I don’t think it took an Oyinbo from America speaking Yoruba to plant the idea in people’s heads that promoting Nigerians’ own roots and maintaining culture is important, but I am definitely a scare tactic.

Professors and teachers talk a lot about how Nigerian youths are not paying enough attention to their own cultures. Even your blog comments point to Nigerians’ widespread disregard towards speaking mother tongues. People say something needs to change, but what exactly and how? Is a blend of cultures bad? Descend the plane at Murtala Mohammed airport in Lagos and you will immediately see that Nigeria is a hybrid society, a combination (amulumola) of Euro-American with African. This is not a bad thing. After all, we do live in a completely connected, globalized world. People wear jeans, suits and ties in every country on this earth. This is all well and good as long as Nigerians don’t forget about their own cultures.

I am worried though. Iro and buba, hair weaving and amala are dissolving and being replaced by jeggings, wigs and french fries. Students in UI only wear “native” clothing, the beautiful, bright outfits made out of ankara fabrics, on Fridays.

If a Nigerian revival is necessary, what does it need to look like? What is lost that has to be found?

In the discussion after the film, a Nigerian girl said, “I agree with the fact that we need to do something to support our own cultures, but what should I do? I need specifics.” I don’t think the key to awakening Nigerian cultures lies in ephemeral, materialistic things, politics, religion or economics. You cannot just denounce Christianity, start worshiping all the Yoruba deities and call it a day, o pari! I think the change needs to be individual, personal and deep. It should be a deep conviction of the heart to be proud, passionate and persuasive about Africa’s goodness. In other words, I think Nigerians need to remind themselves about the Yoruba concept of “Omoluabi”. An omoluabi is a child of good breeding, peaceful disposition, good behavior, educated in traditions and an overall good person. An omoluabi definitely knows his native language and can converse well. He has utmost respect for elders–like his culture dictates–is not selfish, knows stories about the Ijapa (turtle) and helps out with housework. It is a compliment for any child to receive this title, a complex, deep definition of a good African child. It will make the parents especially proud, a testament to their parenting. Respecting and striving for Omoluabi is a honorable goal and I think it can be a specific thing Nigerian youth look to when they think about reviving their culture. It is okay for an omoluabi to wear jeans and Ed-Hardy t-shirts, as long as the Nigerian personality is still there under the Euro-American veneer…

I have unintentionally propelled myself into the international Nigerian stage as a a catalyst of a Nigerian culture renaissance. I am happy to be here and hope I can help make real changes, whatever those changes might be.

What do you all think about the concept of Nigerians losing their cultures? Do you think it’s true? if it is, is it a problem? What can people do to retake their cultural roots?

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It took months of reminding and asking our coordinator but we finally made it to Badagry as one of our “cultural tours” of Nigeria. Badagry is a coastal city on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Guinea, between Lagos and the Republic of Benin. On entering Nigeria by road, it is the first city you pass through. It is one of the many historical sites in Nigeria, known for being the major slave port in West Africa. Hundreds of thousands of captured Africans passed through this city on their horrific journey to be sold in America, the Caribbean, South America and Europe. The first Christian missionaries also landed here in 1842. Today, the city looks like a typical south-western Nigeria town but it is more slow paced compared to the hustle bustle of Lagos and Ibadan. It’s placement on the beach makes it ideal for tourism, so I was glad to see the early stages of construction of a massive boardwalk that would spark a tourist industry there.

The most interesting part of the trip for me was touring the Heritage Museum, a museum of artifacts and information about the slave trade in Nigeria. I was moved and almost shed tears when I picked up the left cuff of a real wrought iron wrist shackle slaves were to wear on their wrists at all times. I strained to lift it with one hand. Curriculum about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is mandatory in the U.S.

Wrought iron wrist shackles. I picked it up and was disgusted and appalled at how heavy it is.

I have listened to many lectures, read books and seen movies about it. But all those secondary sources paled in comparison to lifting one shackle or listening to our tour guide explain in Yoruba and demonstrate how slaves were to drink out of the deep cone shaped iron drinking pot without using hands. When we finished the tour of the rooms we came out onto a balcony overlooking the Gulf of Guinea. It reminded me of finishing the tour of the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem and coming out onto the balcony overlooking the land Jews call their own now. Our guide pointed across the water to an island covered in trees.

View when you finish the tour of slave history in Nigeria. The bridge across the gulf is the "point of no return."

“Se e ri afara funfun yen? Do you see that white bridge? We call that place the “point of no return” because once the slaves are transported from the mainland across to that place, they are boarded into the ship and there is no way they can escape.” Thinking about the brutality that took place on the very ground I was standing on is chilling but it is a very important history to understand so it can never happen like that again.

Feeling inspired, we went to the beach along the highway towards the Benin border. Except for a few souls, palm frond houses and fishing boats, the beach was desolate. The dull turquoise water receding fast down the shore crashing back with foamy tops.

The beach at Badagry.

Our teachers would not even let us put one foot in the water because they feared the strength of the current would pull us, all experienced swimmers, out to sea. I found fun in taking pictures instead.

That makes the cities I’ve visted: Abeokuta, Badagry, Osogbo, Ilobu, Oke Omu, Sekonna, Ilesa, Eko, Oyo. We still have to get to Ife and many others. Hopefully soon!

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We weren’t exactly sure why we were there. The five of us sat with straight faces and glassy eyes around the shiny conference table, listening to the voice of the CNN reporter discuss the implications the natural disaster in Japan will have on the electronics market. We were tired–Oyinbos dislike waking up at 5:30 a.m. All we knew was we had arrived at the girls’ college in Ikeja, Lagos to do some sort of speech that required us to wear Yoruba outfits. Finally a Madame entered, wearing a lovely collared shirt, black skirt and high-waisted belt-a stark contrast to our brightly colored long ankara outfits. She hugged each of us, told me she loved my latest video on YouTube and passed out the programs for the day. This woman turned out to be the director of Vivian Fowler, Mrs. Funke Amba. After that day, I now refer to her as Aunty Funke.

Yoruba Day sign

Yoruba Day at Vivian Fowler and we are the special guests.


Thursday, March 17, 2011 was deemed Yoruba Day at Vivian Fowler Memorial College for Girls–a day for us, the Yoruba speaking Oyinbos, to plant a little seed of shame, amazement and most of all motivation in the hearts of ajebota secondary school children who don’t care to speak their native language. Yoruba Day started with giving us a tour of campus. Once you enter through the main gate, just past the hedge trimmed to spell V-i-v-i-a-n-F-o-w-l-e-r, you cast your eyes upon a impeccably kept courtyard with more impressive bush shapes–a horse, a man and woman are among the bush figures. The tour, led all in Yoruba on Yoruba Day of course, brought us to the fully stocked chemistry labs, home economics rooms, art gallery full of works of students’ art, a full court basketball court, and the peaceful, sparkling library with an impressive collection of worldly books. I was impressed. Students in tidy, well ironed light orange and blue uniforms greeted us politely in English as we roamed the campus. Any child would be lucky to go to a school like Vivian Fowler.

The program started like all Yoruba events, introducing the important guests. Among them were very important people in education in Lagos State, the King of Lagos’ chiefs, and us! We sat on couches on either side of the stage-boys on one side, girls on the other-covered in adire cloth and stood up to wave to the audience when they introduced each of us. We heard speeches from University of Ife Professor Wale Omole, one of the king’s chiefs and Mrs. F.O. Erogbogbo, the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Education in Lagos state. After a few interludes of Yoruba entertainment we heard speeches from students from each of the secondary schools present. When it was our turn to speak I was nervous, as usual. I wanted to make a comprehensive speech that not only impressed people, but also conveyed a serious message to the students about reviving their native language. I started by going down on my knees to greet everyone, a proper Yoruba greeting. I spoke about our experience in University of Ibadan and how we really shock people when they hear Yoruba come out of our mouths, but they still speak English back to us. I told them that they should use us Yoruba speaking white people as an ipenija, challenge. N ko fe ki oju ti won, mo fe fun won ni imisi lati ko Yoruba sii. I told them to watch Mainframe movies, listen to singers like Asa where they can hear ijinle Yoruba. They can also read books, but sometimes Yoruba books can be very difficult to get through (I’m reading ‘Alo Ijapa’ right now and it can be hard for me to fully understand at moments.) I think I spoke well for not having any time to prepare or practice. I left the stage feeling pleased, like I said something that might actually ignite a fire in some of the students’ hearts for the Yoruba language.

The event went smoothly, as to be expected from such a fine school like Vivian Fowler. Mrs. Funke Amba, the director of the school, organized event after seeing us in the Punch newspaper and saw that it did not fall victim to too much Africa time. They gave us beautiful cloth as gifts (adire for the girls and guinea for the boys). After the program we moved outside where we stood in one spot smiling for almost an hour while groups of students and adults filtered through and clicked obscene amounts of pictures. All the while, journalists and camera crews stood by desperately trying to interview us. I felt a little like an animal in a zoo, but it was all for a good cause. Right before we got in the car to leave, a young girl, she must have been no older than 12 ran up to me and asked, “can I hug you?” She wrapped her hands around my waist, pressed her head into my chest and gave me the tightest hug. Hopefully that’s a sign we got through to them.

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A time for mangos

It’s hard to believe we have passed the half way mark of March. The second half of my 9 months in Nigeria feels completely different from the first. I spent the first half having Yoruba classes daily, becoming familiar with Ibadan and sitting around the house a lot-in other words a lot of play. The second half is filled with classes at the University of Ibadan on top of our daily Yoruba classes, reading books for class and taking trips around Nigeria-in other words, a lot of work. In my opinion it is not good to live a life of extremes: always playing or always working, always suffering or always smiling. We need moderation. O ye ká se gbogbo nnkan ni iwontunwonsi. For our well being, balance is imperative. These days time is flying by me like a danfo on an expressway because there is so much work to be done. Everyday I look at my watch around 11:30 a.m. and the next thing I know it’s 4 o’clock. Where did those 4 and a half hours go? I probably spent them walking around UI sweating, attending class or talking to people who are interested in me speaking Yoruba. I even received an email from our program coordinators today asking us about our return flights to the U.S. No! Not yet! With so much to look forward to–national elections, my mom visiting, Fela! the Musical, new dresses to sew–I think time will escape me more. Coming from Chicago, where we have drastic weather changes in each season, it is hard for me to differentiate time here because the weather usually so monotonous. True there is the rainy season and dry season, the harmattan, the mango season (which we are entering right now), corn season, it is not as pronounced as snow and sun. Nigerians might say the rainy season is worlds different from the harmattan, but anyone who has lived through a winter where you see nothing but ice and snow for weeks, knows what I mean. That homogeneity of weather is making time go even faster for me. These days, I use the sweet, succulent mangos plucked right off the tree in my backyard to mark the season. I have no reason to complain.

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Nigeria is suffering from an epidemic that it doesn’t have a vaccine. To date, no known researchers are trying to find a cure, but the outbreak is rampant and unavoidable. Surprisingly, the ailment has a comprehensive Wikipedia page, legitimizing it as an acknowledged phenomenon. The case is known as African Time or more specifically, Nigerian Time. No one has reported any deaths resulting directly from African Time, but thousands of people report headaches, delays, missed opportunities and schedule changes daily.

African Time is the tendency to a relaxed, indifferent attitude towards time and starting events or arriving at meetings/classes/parties at their scheduled times. It is the acceptance that nothing will start at the absolute time indicated on the schedule. It is holding a University class for 10 a.m. and the professor repeatedly showing up at 10:15. It is going to see a play at the theater that says 7 p.m. on the ticket, and characters take the stage at 7:30. You will never see an event in Nigeria that starts at 9:15 or 5:45, none of those odd number times. Events are scheduled on the hour because it is simply understood that the chance of people arriving exactly 15 minutes past nine is miniscule. People indicate start times on posters or invitations a full hour before they intend to really start anticipating people will be that late. You frequently see “6 p.m. prompt” on invitations- a valiant effort to curb the tardiness. Ironically, Nigerians love watches. Boys are always walking through traffic selling sleek knock-off watches, but apparently the time pieces don’t serve such a practical purpose. Not every institution or person runs on this leisurely clock, but it is clearly visible everyday and sometimes inevitable because of society here.

Africans are not always to blame for showing up 30 minutes late to the group meeting. Sometimes there are good excuses out of a person’s control: public transportation is one of them. The chaotic route of mini-busses (danfos) and motorbikes (okadas) that constitutes public transportation does not operate on a schedule. You cannot go to http://www.Danfo.com and see a to-the-minute schedule of when a certain danfo will be arriving at a given bus stop. You go to the bus stop, or the side of the road and wait until you see one of those dilapidated white busses zip by. (For the speed racer way the bus, taxi and okada drivers drive you should think Nigerians would be on time for everything. One of the ironies of African Time.) Traffic poses another problem. Unexpected stand still traffic jams caused by trucks that break down in the middle of the road are frequent. I have learned that the term ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) does not work here because anything could happen on the way and we don’t have the luxury of continual traffic updates to keep us privy to road blocks. Then there is the problem of constantly losing electricity that puts a damper on plans overall.

In the U.S. and many other countries, we live our lives by the hands on the clock. They tell us when we are busy and when we are free, when we need to be somewhere and when we can leave. In Nigeria, time adapts to the situation. If Yoruba class is scheduled for 3 p.m. and there is a massive rain fall at 2:50 p.m., you can be sure no students will show up on time. The tricky thing about African Time is you know it will be late, but you don’t know exactly how late. 10 minutes? 20? 40? It can be a very problematic guessing game sometimes.

The U.S. has it’s mini-version of African Time, we call it being “fashionably late,” but it applies strictly to parties. It’s common knowledge that it is not cool to be the first one at a party. But if you showed up to a meeting at your workplace 20 minutes after it stared and said, “I am just running fashionably late,” your co-workers would look at you like a crazy person. In Nigeria, if you arrive at the meeting 20 minutes after the scheduled start time, it is likely it still won’t have started.

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Yorùbá Proverbs: Chickens


This proverb, one of the hundreds Yoruba’s have about chickens, tells us that the feathers of a chicken hides the fact that it sweats. This proverb helps us understand that what you see on the surface is not the complete story. A man drives who drives a nice car and wears expensive clothes might be working extremely hard to achieve that image. A person can behave in such a way that hides real ailments of the heart.

Proverbs are part of what makes the Yoruba language so rich. Although most people don’t use them in everyday conversation they are still a quick way to convey warning, encouragement or reproach the way fusing many sentences together sometimes cannot. To honor proverbs and show you dear readers a bit more about Yoruba culture, I like to make these illustrations.

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