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Posts Tagged ‘assimilation’

Alarm clocks are useless to me in Nigeria. Every morning around 6:30 a.m., whether I want to wake up or not, the piercing caws of chickens wake me from my slumber. If you have never heard a cock crow before, it is not as pleasant as the fairy tale version cock-a-doodle-doo. It is alarmingly loud and obnoxious, especially when the cock is sitting directly under my open window. On the UI campus, neighborhoods in Ibadan and every city I have visited in Yorubaland, chickens (adie) roam free.

Chickens being chickens.

I have even spotted some brave ones dodging car, bus and okada traffic in Lagos. In the more peaceful cities, chickens mingle with foot traffic on the roads, scurry around peoples homes, bobbing their long necks as they walk. Usually you see them in groups of two or more, occasionally a pack of chicks trails behind trying to keep up.

Chickens are not the only non-humans I encounter on a daily basis. Goats are just as present, trotting around sniffing for food while leaving little pellet droppings everywhere. They come in all colors and sizes.

A goat and a chicken on the roadside inside the UI campus.

The baby ones are my favorite. Even though I have been here for four months and have become totally accustomed to sharing my surroundings with these friendly mammals, I still stop in my tracks whenever I see a baby goat to say “awwwww.” Goats are street smart. They are good at avoiding cars and okadas so you never see dead ones on the side of the road.

The chickens and goats we see all over town, which eventually make it into our soups and stews are actually someone’s property. Rather than caging them, the owners let them roam free during the day and when night falls they all return to their respective homes to sleep. When the time comes to sell or kill the animal, the owners go out and wrangle it up. Their ability to discern their black goat with white spots from all the rest baffles me, but I guess when you own a goat, you know it well.

The last creature that I see all over campus besides the standard mosquitos, flies, ants and cockroaches is lizards. Lizards–big ones with bright orange and black bodies–are everywhere! On average they are about 9 inches (23 cm) long. They dash all over walls and the ground. Smaller geckos even scamper on the walls in my house. These reptiles are harmless and petrified of humans, they just add to the whole experience.

I just thank God that I can manage to fall back asleep after the first cock crow in the morning. The ear plugs I specifically asked my mom to send from America help a lot too.

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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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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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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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Yesterday I made significant strides to becoming more Yoruba. Keegan and I went to the Cultural Center of Ibadan where we are supposed to be a month into our internship. When we arrived yesterday afternoon, the directors of the government-run center had no work for us not to mention a plan of what we are going to do for the next month and a half. We spent 30 minutes deciding that we will split our work into working with the performing arts department for 2 weeks and the visual arts department for 2 weeks. That was our ‘work’ for the day. Outside of the center we stumbled upon a dance troupe practicing for a competition later that day. Keegan, my teacher Segun, and I stood around, pretending to play a ‘bata’, watching until Sango (pronounced Shango) commanded me to join the team’s practice. I seized the moment and tried, somewhat unsuccessfully to follow the sharp, fast gyrating movements.

I'm on the far left struggling to follow the fast dance moves.

The girls and 2 men in the team didn’t seem to mind my presence and befriended Keegan and I after. I became fast friends with a 20-year-old girl named Precious. I recited a few proverbs, told her my Yoruba names (which she did not believe) and after 2 minutes she was stuck to my side, her arm interlocked with mine the rest of the day.

Precious and I. The girls helped me 'we gele' to blend in with the Yoruba culture.

It is common for girls and boys to hold hands here. Strangers are always touching me or holding my hand for a bit longer than is culturally accepted in the U.S.

After the dance rehearsal we went to the competition with the team. We sat and talked with them while they got dressed in traditional Yoruba clothes to perform, speaking Yoruba the entire time. This was so exhilarating for me because it was the first chance I had to speak Yoruba comfortably with new people my age outside of University of Ibadan walls. We sat down outside under the shade of a tree to watch the performance.

Sitting under a tree to keep out of the sun at the dance competition.

At any Yoruba gathering, it is customary to invite the important guests up to pray before the event starts, give a few greetings and opening words. The MC asked Keegan and I to do a greeting. I took the mike first and welcomed people then said a Yoruba phrase “Laisi ilu, ko si ijo,” translated to “without drumming there is no dancing,” then encouraged us to watch the dancing. This resulted in the MC making me dance for the audience. The drums played and I danced…

I decided to let my inhibitions go and dance for the audience at the dance competition.


All of the introductions, prayers and greetings took much too long and we had to leave before the dancers performed. Dance is a big part of Yoruba culture and knowing how to dance well, in addition to knowing the language and proverbs, is really impressive to Yoruba people. Shango is coming to our center to give us dance lessons and we will also learn at our internship at the Cultural Center. For now I might be making a fool of myself, but they will respect me soon enough.

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One month? Really?!

Exactly one month ago I left home. At the end of each month I (I think college students in general) tend to reflect on the past month and say something like “Woah, that went fast. It’s October already?” When September came to a close and it was time to celebrate 50 years of Nigerian independence from Britain on October 1, I did not have the familiar shocked exclamation at how fast the month went. On the contrary, it feels like I’ve been here for maybe three months.

The pace of life here has been super slow here compared to the U.S. I don’t have papers to write, hundreds of pages to read or big parties to go to on the weekends. At night I pass the time talking to my host family, reading the Wole Soyinka book I’m currently enthralled in, or reviewing new Yoruba vocabulary words. Most of the time we do not have electricity at night, more impetus to relax. Plus, students don’t go out much at night here. As far as I know, no bar or club exists on campus. The closest thing is a restaurant called Spices that serves beer and Suya, a Nigerian delicacy I will explain in a later post. I go to bed between 9 and 11 pm every night. It’s wonderful! It feels liberating to have no serious obligations or stress hanging over my head for the first time in years.

Even though we have seen a lot and as first time visitors in Nigeria, we have experienced new things, time still feels like its gone slow. It seems I measure time by the measurable achievements I’ve made over a given time. In Madison, one month feels like a week because we are constantly checking things off a checklist, meeting deadlines and making plans. In Nigeria one month feels like three months that constant pressure to accomplish things is not there. Except for the driving culture (cars speed everywhere and honk constantly), urgency is a foreign concept. Nigerians are not disappointed if plans don’t turn out because it’s expected. Transitioning from the fast-pace life I lived in Madison to the easy going, slow life here is a much welcome change. I think it will change when University classes start in November but until then I will bask in the slowness of life.

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