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Posts Tagged ‘Nigeria’

A big event happened when I was in Nigeria– I became an aunt.

Me and my 6-month old nephew.

When I finally met the lil’ guy last week I was initially overcome with mixed feelings of love and disgust; that, after much thought, have transitioned into pure love. It was pretty much love at first sight when I saw my nephew. He is so well tempered and too cute for his own good, but he came with so much equipment! A play pen, fancy carrying devices, bags full of baby supplies, the list goes on. All of that stuff upset me and made me think about the difference between a baby’s life in Nigeria and America.

Walking into the parents’ house was like entering a friendly plastic jungle. Arranged on the floor of their Chicago condo was an array of bouncing contraptions, swinging devices, soft rugs below small canopies adorned with miniature, brightly colored toucans, snakes and butterflies. Everything is suckable, child-proof and might break into song if you touch it the right way.

The jungle gym living room, a baby's dream.

When I first got back, noticing the amount of unnecessary baby accessories in the United States made me uncomfortable.

A baby strapped to it's mother's back outside a church in Nigeria.

I compared the fancy strollers in America to the colorful cloths most African women use to carry their little ones on their backs and thought, why do we need all this stuff?

Babies in Nigeria and America play with many of the same little plastic toys, blocks, dolls, Barbies (a lot of Nigerian parents bring toys back from the UK). It’s not like Nigerian babies are living a deprived life with nothing but clay and sticks to play with. Babies, a documentary that follows the everyday life of four infants in four different countries,is a testament to the fact that babies will find anything to entertain themselves whether its a $100 contraption with sounds and twirly things or a spool of thread. In Nigeria,

Me and Mercy, my host-mom's friends gorgeous little girl.

I noticed babies have toy cars, rubber animals to suck on while they teethe, diapers and bottles, they just use fewer of them. So when I re-entered the U.S., it was a shock to me to see how many seemingly unnecessary items American parents surround their children with.

I pondered in the materialistic-ness of America’s babies for a while, then my good friend helped me realize something. The fact that some families spend lots of money on mother care and smother thier children with toys and things that will hopefully keep them from crying and stimulate their brain, doesn’t mean they are better or happier than the mother who ties the baby to her back and feeds the baby breast milk instead of organic creamed carrots. More stuff doesn’t make someone happier than another person, or one baby better than another. Both babies will probably not remember the toys they played with when they were 7 months old anyway…

There is no where a Nigerian mother cannot go with a baby strapped on her back. Some are even daring enough to ride 'okadas'.

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Wednesday was my last day in Ibadan. I had a last meal of amala with my host mom’s delicious ground nut soup. I cried when I said goodbye to my host family. I feel like a real member of the family and it was difficult to leave them. I know we will see again soon. I am in Lagos for now until I leave Nigeria on Tuesday. I will go to Europe for a few weeks and then finally return home to Chicago. For now, I am enjoying the fast-paced life of Lagos and suffering without a car. Èkó ò ní bàjé o!!!

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Naira notes.

Nigeria is a cash economy. If you want to buy a meal, you pay cash. If you want to buy a car, you pay cash. If you want to buy a cow (which is a very common item to purchase), you use cash. Finally, if you want to buy a house, you whip out a massive wad (you might need a Ghana-must-go bag) of cash. You don’t hear any Nigerians talking about payment plans, mortgage rates or credit card debt. When you buy something you pay for it in full, end of story. While credit cards do exist, they are used by the tiny upper class and only accepted at expensive hotels and restaurants. I’ve never heard a typical Nigerian (I’m excluding the upper upper class here) talk about how their stocks are doing, but I do see little stalls selling lotto tickets all around, although I’m not sure how that works yet.

Nigerian currency is called Naira. It comes in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 Naira notes. They also have coins called kobobut no one uses them anymore. I’ve been here for 9 months and not once have I seen a kobo. The current exchange rate from Naira to U.S. dollars is about 153 Naira for $1. So 1000 Naira is about $6.50. If you are buying a car for $12,000 dollars, you will pay about 1.8 million Naira. Imagine what the amount of cash would look like. Checks are more common than credit cards but they are still scarce. So as a tip for travelers, bring cash, not travelers checks or credit cards to Nigeria.

The vast majority of Nigerians do not have a bank account. An article stated that out of the 150 million or so people who live in Nigeria, only 22.5 million bank accounts exist. Many people cannot use banks because they are illiterate. If you can’t read, you cannot maintain a bank account. Many people do not want to deal with the wahala and stress of opening a bank account. When I went to open mine, I filled out my form, handed over my wad of cash then had to wait two whole weeks before I received my bank account number and my ATM card. When I returned a week later to see how far, the bankers said my money was in “ibi kan ti won n toju dada (one place they are taking care of it well).” Two weeks with no word about the whereabouts of my money? It’s no wonder many Nigerians distrust the banks and therefore choose to keep their money in a box under the bed rather than a bank account.

A recent report from the World Bank said $6 million worth of transactions takes place on the streets of Nigeria everyday. These are hand to hand exchanges of pure hard cash, no swipe of the plastic included. This probably explains why a lot of the Naira notes I get are totally brown and hardly discernible. But the Central Bank of Nigeria–the bank that prints all the Naira– wants to move away from the dependence on cash. They recently announced a plan to limit the amount of cash an individual can withdraw to N150,000 per day. That’s about $1,000 per day. The new policy aims to start June 1, 2012. While this is still highernthan the limits on ATM withdrawal in the U.S. of $200, $400 or $600 depending on the ATM, it might impact Nigerians who pay for everything, even their homes in cash.

I come from a country that covets the credit card, we even have key chain credit cards now. Many people don’t even carry cash anymore in the U.S. Living in a society that is entirely cash dependent is refreshing because I am never worried about paying my bills on time or my credit score. I still have my credit card here, tucked away in a safe place (I haven’t used it once). I don’t know if any other country is as cash dependent as Nigeria or what will happen to Nigeria as banks start limiting cash withdrawals and issuing credit cards. In the mean time we will watch with wallets open.

This is an interesting article on this topic.

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Dear Readers,

I apologize for not blogging recently. The reason I have vanished is I am in Lagos and have been running around getting muddy at markets, attending art auctions (I went to the Art House auction at the Civic Center last night) and sitting in traffic. I threw this video together from some of the short clips I’ve taken here. When I get back to Ibadan I will sit down and write some long, thoughtful posts.

Yours truly,

Titi

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If you ever find yourself conversing in Yoruba and don’t understand something the other person says, you can always answer with “amin” because it will probably make sense at least 50 percent of the time. Amin means amen in Yoruba. Nigerians are very religious people for the most part and you can be sure that in any conversation you have in Yoruba, one person will say a prayer. For example, I have been talking about my upcoming exams with my Yoruba friends lately. Whenever I mention studying for an exam, everyone says “e máa se aseyori / you will pass,” and the response to that is “amen / amin”. Or if I tell someone I am returning to the U.S. at the end of May, they say “aá de layò / you will arrive in happiness,” or “Olorun yóo sin e lo / God will be with you on your journey”. Once again, the only response to this is “amin or ashé / amen.”

Nigeria is an extremely religious country. Massive billboards that just say “JESUS” in bold letters span over highways. You pass a church or a mosque every few kilometers. Every party, meeting and event almost always starts and ends with prayers. Inserting “Olorun / God” into any sentence automatically makes that point important. For example, if you say “Mo fi Olorun be / I am using God to beg you” you will certainly get that thing you want. When my mom landed at the airport in Lagos, I used phrases like “E joo, fun mi laye lati wole nitori Olorun / Please let me in because of God” and the security man escorted me through the door that is usually off limits to people receiving travelers. “Lagbara Olorun / By the grace-power of God,” is another ubiquitous phrase. People say things like “I will be in my office to attend to you tomorrow at 3 lagbara Olorun.

The 180 million people who make up Nigeria are either Christian or Muslim. Most Christians are either Baptist, Catholic or Anglican. Churches are some of the richest establishments here because they do not have to pay taxes, one of the reasons there are more churches here than schools. You see pastors riding around in the nicest cars and wearing the finest cloth. Religion is overwhelmingly divided on geographical lines. Most of the north is Muslim and the south is Christian. Politics must take this dichotomy to heart by ensuring that any president/vice-president ticket is Christian/Muslim. A Muslim/Muslim or Christian/Christian ticket will never pass. I have had so many experiences with administrators or business people here saying “Lagbara Olorun a máa pari ise yen lola / By the grace of God we will have that work finished by tomorrow,” and I am thinking You either do it and finish it by tomorrow or you don’t, God is unnecessary in this circumstance.

Nigerians also love asking me about religion. Any time I am out of my house on a Sunday, people always ask me if I went to church and or which church I go to. Questions like this, which we consider private matters and off limits for casual conversation in the U.S., are questions people ask without even knowing you here. Politics is a more sensitive subject here than religion.

I am an open minded person; I accept believers of any religion and all peaceful displays of religion. Religion is a strong part about who Nigerians are and a part of identity. I think some people are too religious in Nigeria and leave things up to God to a debilitating extent. People also use the veil of religion to validate their criminal actions, like thieves or money launderers praying that their crimes go well. The way some people practice religion here undermines critical thinking and self-empowerment. Praying can only take you so far and after a while a person needs to take matters into his or her own hands. Many Nigerians are religious but not Godly and use “lagbara Olorun” as an excuse for actually doing work. I hope extreme believers can use their minds more and not leave as much for God to work out. When this happens everyone will benefit, even God.

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Yoruba traditional religion is something that always fascinated me while I was learning about Yoruba culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Reading about it in books is nothing like experiencing it in person. We had the chance to travel to Osogbo last month with Kayode’s drum teacher to attend a festival all about the Yoruba deities, called orishas. The title of this week long festival is Osunita. People from all over Nigeria come to Osogbo to honor Iya Osunita (the Osunita mother). Guests sacrifice to various Yoruba Orishas, including Iyalode, Obatala, Eshu, Osun, and Ogun. Yoruba traditional religion and the practice of Ifa divination is a huge topic and I am not attempting to delve into it right now. Today you hear people calling traditional things “fetish”. If something has characteristics of traditional religion or culture, people fear it and call it “fetish”. With the widespread reach of Christianity and Islam, the number of people worshiping Orishas and practicing Ifa is diminishing but from what I saw that day in Osogbo, there is still a strong population continuing the tradition. I want to show these pictures to help you get a sense for what a modern day festival is like.

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Ibadan Snapshots

A freshly tarred road leading down from the hill that takes you to Bowers Tower, the highest point in Ibadan.

Bodija, next to the train tracks in Ibadan. Women stand on the side of the road, near the quarry, maybe waiting for public transportation.

Red dusty earth defines the landscape here, even from thousands of feet above you can see the red earth clearly. This is an area for selling roadside market deep in the interior of Ibadan

You can braid hair anywhere. A woman does her hair on the roadside live chicken market.

Carrying loads outside Bodija market.

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