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Posts Tagged ‘differences’

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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Halloween or lack thereof

Nigerians do not celebrate Halloween. October 31st is just a normal day where people wear normal clothes. I had the luck of eating more sweets than usual though because it’s my little host sisters 7th birthday tomorrow and she is bringing goodie bags for her friends at school. So happy halloween to all you crazy people out there, especially you Madisonians.

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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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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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Daily life is slowly expanding for us on the University of Ibadan campus. We actually went to the bookstore yesterday and out after dark last night.

In the University of Ibadan bookstore, without light. Abike found a poster of the Yoruba Alphabet.

Granted we were sitting in a packed theater watching a play, we were still technically not at home at 8 p.m. Going out after dark is not common in Nigeria. There are many proverbs that warn about the dangers of being out when you cannot see your hand in front of your face. Streets lights are not common and people would rather sit in their house and watch movies on the Africa Magic channel then go out for dinner. Lunch is the most common meal to eat out. But go out last night we did, and we had a great time.

We saw a play called ‘Moremi.’ Moremi is a Yoruba Queen from the city of Ife, the origin of the Yoruba people. At the time of her life, the Igbo’s invaded Ife and enslaved tons of its citizens. Moremi went to the extreme of sacrificing her son to the goddess of river Esimirin to protect her people. Moremi is a important woman in Yoruba history.

At a play Thursday night on UI campus, the king (seated) and Moremi talking to their subjects about the threat of the Igbo's.

The play, performed in English, with Yoruba songs, was excellent, but what excited me more was the audience. First of all, people kept streaming in, climbing over others to find seats up until 20 minutes before it ended. Cell phone use is apparently not prohibited because people all around me were having actual conversations during the play. Whenever something good happened on stage, everyone cheered and yelled praises. If something bad happened people shouted insults at the characters. The audience experience is much more involved compared to the U.S. The Yoruba will speak their mind and answer their phones no matter what the situation is.

After the excitement of the play, my host brothers and sister and I returned home to a lighted house thanks to the generator (our light has been our for almost a week and there is no telling when it will come back). Since our generator was on, I was able to take a regular shower, not a bucket shower. Something interesting happened during my shower. As I started to wash the conditioner out, I suddenly felt my hair feel really hard, like it was frozen. I looked up and low and behold, dirt brown water was pouring out of the shower head. Apparently I had gotten the end of the water tank. Gross. I immediately got out, vigorously tried to comb my hair (which wasn’t easy) and went to tell my host mom. She laughed at me because I spoke English, not Yoruba for the unfortunate situation. She let me take a bucket shower in her bathroom with water from a different tank. Finally clean, I sat in the dark with my host mom to do my Yoruba homework. Good day.

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A Slow Ebb and Flow

As of now, six days into my stay in Nigeria, it feels like two months have passed. This is not because we have completed many tasks, drastically improved our language skills or seen many new places in Nigeria. No, in fact we haven’t done much of that at all. Things go slow here. I don’t know if we are on schedule, behind schedule or ahead of schedule because our plans change by the minute. The places we need to go, people we need to greet and forms we need to fill out are plentiful, but everyday it takes a few hours of us sitting around our Language Center to figure out exactly what needs to happen. Don’t get me wrong, I am really enjoying my time here so far, but it’s a completely different pace of life than I’m used to at home.

Today, the four of us arrived at the center from our respective host family houses at 9 a.m. We all slept or worked on our laptops in the Lounge/TV room for over 2 hours before we were given directions. The four students and Gabe, one of our teachers, all got in the University of Ibadan van to go around to all the different departments and greet the department heads and professors to realize that the back tire of the van was stuck in the dirt. We all got out of the van and stood around for 35 minutes while the men figured out how to push it out. With a little rope, a massive truck and the hands of 8 men, we succeeded!

The sunken tire, while people discuss then plot a plan of how to get it out.

From the center, we went to the library to attempt to register for our library cards. After 10 minutes of sitting in a man’s basement office and greeting all the people he brought in to meet us, we found the librarian we needed to talk to. He gave us pink cards and said we needed to type our information on the cards. So we drove to the computer station and waited 10 minutes for Gabe to type our info on the cards. Then we returned to the library, gave him our cards, paid the librarian 100 Naira each (about $0.80) only for him to tell us we needed to return tomorrow to get our cards laminated. So it goes in Nigeria. We wait and wait to find out we need to return again tomorrow.

Cloudy cloudy Ibadan. The sky looks like this most of the day and it rains off an on all day.


A similar situation happened when we went to open bank accounts the other day. We deposited our money and left without an ATM card or account number. Apparently the bank is going to call us this week to tell us to come get our cards. Our Nigerian teachers and friends aren’t worried, so I won’t be worried… yet.

We stopped to buy water on the way to the bank and I greeted mama onisu (pronounced onishu). They were both incredibly taken aback that I spoke Yoruba.

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Pop Bottles

As I will come to learn more and explain more over the course of my time here, things are CHEAP-food and drinks especially. Everyday we eat lunch at the same cafeteria and never pay more than 200 Naira–about $1.25–for a full plate of rice, beans, meat and a glass bottle of soda. $1.25! Can you believe that? I haven’t investigated the reason the food is so cheap yet, but I have asked some questions about the drinks.

Cafeteria Baluwa on the University of Ibadan campus where we eat lunch most days because our director says the food is safe here.

In general, soda comes in a tall glass bottle. When you are finished drinking it, you need to return it to the lady who runs the restaurant or cafeteria. If you want to take a drink to go, you ask for a can of soda, but that will cost you more. A bottle is 60 Naira (about $0.40), whereas a can is 80 Naira.

Schwepes Bitter Lemon and Fanta in glass bottles. You drink it with a long straw.


You return the glass bottle, instead of throwing it away, because the restaurant sends the racks of glass bottles back to the bottler to be refilled and returned to the store. So when we pay for a bottle of Fanta, we are paying for the liquid content only. How efficient and environmentally friendly of Nigeria!

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