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As Banky W appropriately said, “Ain’t no party like a Lagos party.” He could have sang something like, “Ain’t no traffic like Lagos traffic,” but I doubt that track would sell thousands of copies and receive plentiful airtime. You can fill in the blanks with almost anything and it will make sense. “Ain’t no blank like a Lagos blank.” The possibilities are endless because as I experienced from a week long vacation there last week, ain’t no city like Lagos.

It is impossible to see all of Lagos (pronounced Lay-gos, not Lah-gose like the one in Portugal, although the Portuguese did give the city known as Èkó, a new name of Lagos when they landed there in 1472) in a week–just like it takes months to really understand Manhattan, Chicago or London. I think it would even take years to master Lagos, the second largest city in Africa (behind Cairo) because of it’s ever growing density and pure madness. Driving around downtown VI, I felt like I was in New York City because of the wide streets, tall, not so sparkling buildings and people everywhere. People on the street in Lagos though are different than people on the street in NYC, Chicago or Rome (some of the big cities I’ve been to.) In the latter, the vast majority of people are 1) walking and 2) walking with a purpose. Plenty of people walk with a purpose in Lagos but a lot of other people are sitting or standing around the street selling things. Almost every street within the city is lined with women sitting on a small wooden stool with their market neatly stacked up in front of them waiting for someone to sell to. I cannot imagine what would happen if the city started requiring sellers to have vending licenses. The four of us who went, (three of us Oyinbos studying Yoruba and one Nigerian friend) were lucky enough to have our friend, a Lagotian, take us around the sprawling metropolis of islands from the comfort of the back seat of his Camry. (Lagos would not be an easy place to live without a car.) If we didn’t have him we would have been nose deep in our Nigeria travel book the whole time looking like dumb tourists.

Traffic in Lagos.


A main concern for us Americans while in Lagos was finding good food. The three of us who went, Abike, Kayode and I are serious foodies so eating non-Nigerian food that is hard to find in Ibadan was of utmost importance. We started at the Indian hotel on VI for overpriced Indian food that was satisfying, but not worth it overall. We had drinks at Bungalow’s on VI. I had a glass of cranberry juice for 800 Naira ($5.30), Abike had a bloody mary for 1,300 Naira ($9) and if we weren’t so full from whatever we ate earlier that day I would have gone nuts over the menu. They have sushi, pizza, hamburgers, nachos, sandwiches and calamari. As it goes in Lagos, everything was more than $10 a plate, but for the chic ambiance, (except for the 20-top of Indian people in the corner celebrating something and cheering every 5 minutes) comfortable chairs and AC, it would be worth it to splurge. If you are looking for delicious Thai food in Lagos, you must go to Bangkok on VI. Prices are reasonable for Lagos; each curry dish is about 2,200 Naira ($15). Rice is another 700 Naira. The service is good (they do proper wine service) and they have a nice wine list. We saw more American/European/Indian/Chinese/Lebanese people at all of these restaurants than Nigerians. On the whole, Nigerians do not like to eat out, especially at Indian restaurants.

As the week progressed, more and more Christmas decorations appeared all over city structures. The pillars supporting the different bridges connecting the mainland to Lagos Island and Victoria Island looked like candy canes by the time week was up. The Zenith Bank building looked like a rectangle X-Mas tree, covered top to bottom in string lights. I feel bad for the people working near the windows in that building. The Palms shopping mall in Lekki, an upper-class neighborhood on the eastern side of VI that is rapidly expanding, blasted Christmas tunes throughout the mall while shoppers robotically sang along.

View of the third mainland bridge from the University of Lagos lagoon.


We made it to the University of Lagos, a truly amazing bookstore called Jazz Hole, the Galleria mall, Balogun market (one of the most intense experiences I have ever had walking through a crowd) and last but not least we saw the new Harry Potter at the Palms. I am already planning my next trip back to Lagos.

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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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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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I condensed my 15 minute walk across campus into a 5 minute video to show you what I see everyday as I walk to the Language Center every morning.
And yes, the question ‘what did you eat?’ is very common for people to ask. Yoruba people are very concerned with how you are doing, if you are well, if there are any problems, so it bears the question what did you eat.

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