Friday, June 30, 2006

A Letter from Ife

Dear friends,

One week after my arrival at the esteemed Obafemi Awolowo University at Ile-Ife, my preliminary conclusion is that educated Yoruba people are a danger to the world and need to be contained as soon as possible. Or maybe it’s just the ones that are seemingly too well-educated. I don’t know. But I know that the lecturers I have had the opportunity to come across are a very special breed, with very special quirks that I would like to share with you. And forgive the sarcastic bite that will probably accompany this whole email. I have nearly reached the pinnacle of my frustration with this place, and it’s starting to show in everything I do and say. Anyway, so we enter the part of this letter that I call: What I Have Learned About Yoruba Lecturers.

They truly enjoy writing on the blackboard, or whiteboard, as is the case with my classes. Despite the fact that they take the time to type out five pages of notes, complete with Yoruba diacritics (which requires a healthy amount of effort, I must say), print, collate, staple and disburse said notes to the entire class, they still re-write these notes—in full—on the board as they deliver their lectures. They also write their spoken sentences down, adding to the redundancy of the whole experience. It is truly fascinating.

Their love for writing on the board is not even halted by the lack of a working marker. Indeed, even if the marker is squeaking against the whiteboard, parched and searching for a drop of ink with which to deliver a legible line, my dear prof will press on, undeterred, oblivious to the fact that nobody can read the supposedly important notes that have been rendered invisible and, thus, imaginary.

They cannot stand any interruptions from their students, even if the student is interrupting to ask a question or go to the bathroom. While they will not necessarily say anything, the glares they shoot our way could kill. Many of my colleagues are walking around with singed hair in the backs of their heads as I type.

They are not allowed to be colorful in speech or mannerisms once they stand in front of the board. The board is the epicenter of the teaching experience, you see; it is what proves that they are indeed lecturers and supposed to be in the front of the room. It’s probably the reason they need to write on it, actually; it solidifies their authority. Without the board and accompanying marker, we may not be sure he is a lecturer. And monotonous speech is another requirement for the position. It’s amazing, really. A woman or man who is great fun outside the classroom suddenly has all the vivacity of a dead fish once they step within ten meters of a blackboard.

Only when singing is introduced to class time does life again enter the lecturer’s body. And boy do these Yorubas love to sing! We spent thirty minutes in my morning class singing the same three songs repeatedly. First, the teacher sang it about three or four times, then invited us to echo each line after him. We did this about three or four times. Then we sang it all together, then again one by one, then again together, each try punctuated by his loud, “Again!” vibrating in the air, as he gleefully hopped from one foot to the other to the beat of the song. We did this on Monday. And Tuesday. And Wednesday. Shocking!

Suffice it to say, my classroom experience here has been somewhat trying. Amusing, but trying nonetheless. It might be more bearable if I were actually being taught something I’ve never heard or before, but as it is, we have spent the past 4 days covering material that I mastered almost a full year ago. Today, we spent an hour and fifteen minutes studying pronouns. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

In other news: two of my classmates have already fallen ill from drinking palm wine. Yes, they are American and yes, they are white. I would have felt sorry for them, but they drove right past my house to go and get the palm wine and didn’t stop to ask me along, so a hale and hearty “Ha-ha!”, a la Nelson, do I send their way! They haven’t been able to eat for two days because they’re scared. Ntooo!

I’ve been given a nickname by one of the teachers here, Mrs. Faleye: ẹlẹrin ẹyẹ. It means that I have a fitting smile/laugh. As you can probably guess, she met me during the first two days that I was here, when my annoyance with Ife in particular and Yoruba people in general hadn’t gotten to this level. Ah, people! I have been very homesick for two days now and counting. Not for America, by the way, but for Port Harcourt. I just want to see my people. It all started when a gecko crawled all over my slippers right in front of me. It didn’t even have the courtesy to seem slightly nervous at my presence in the room! And it mightn’t have bothered me so much if it were still that pseudo-transparent peach color that they usually are, but this one had just come from a dark place, I assume, so it had those black spots on it that make it look even more disgusting than usual. It just reminded me of all the other things I’m not accustomed to experiencing and have been forced to undergo over the past seven days.

On a good note, though, I am a VIP in the household of one of my program mates. I’m not even sure why, but they have been asking for me to re-visit their house for the past three days. It’s weird. The first and only other time I’ve been there, I humiliated one of their cousins in a brain contest, and I think now he’s got a crush on me. But I’m enjoying the fact that I can go somewhere where the combination of my intelligence and fiery temper are welcome entertainment, and even attractive. I’ll be over there tomorrow. I hope I don’t disappoint. Oh, the pressure!

And finally, I spent the night on campus watching Man Talk, Woman Talk, a play by the great Ola Rotimi. I actually don’t think he was that great, but I still enjoy his plays. Anyway, it was put on by some of the drama students with whom I am lucky enough to share a space on this huge campus. I should make friends with some of them. They’re great performers, and they brought a life to the play that must have been pretty hard to do, given the dialogue. It was a little hard to follow their accents—that was new; have I been away THAT long??—but I laughed so hard, especially at the end. If you ever come across the play, go watch it!

This seems like a good place to end. Good day, good night, and take care of yourselves.

Much love,

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Original Sufferhead

Na wa o! I have really suffered today in the name of "I want to go to Nigeria"! I have seen orisirisi wahala since I left my sister's house at 4:30 this morning and only now, almost 12 hours later, have I gotten a chance to slow down. Before I start this story, let me first take a few moments to properly 'wash' American Airlines: may their fathers and their father's fathers not find peace in the afterworld and may their children coming hear 'wen' every time they set foot in an airport to travel anywhere! I would also like to insult those FOOLS who decided that they had the talent and the right to create that stupid website, Mapquest, whose only purpose seems to ensure that anyone who uses their website shall get lost, even as they are taking the scenic (i.e. LONG ASS) route to their respective destinations! I am now ready to recount my travails of the day.

I went to bed around 1:20 this morning because I was packing. It was an unfortunate occurrence that I had to sleep so late since I knew I had to wake up at 3:30 in order to make sure I had enough time to shower, pack last-minute items and make it to the airport in time for my flight to JFK. However, I planned to make up for all of it on the plane, so I managed. Fully awakened by the magnificent pressure of the water from my shower, I proceeded to wake up my lovely sister, who agreed to take me to the airport. We actually made it out of the house on time, Mapquest directions in tow, and set off on the dark, deserted roads. Within 15 minutes, it became clear that Mapquest had no idea how to get us where we wanted to go, and this is, I now realize, is when the cosmic universe shifted and determined that all laws were void except Murphy's law. We got so lost that I didn't think we'd make it to the airport in time for me to make that flight. But, by the grace of God, we did and I breathed a sigh of relief. Everything was going to be all right. I just knew it.

That was before I saw the line through security that reached one end of the terminal to the other. It was ten minutes before my flight was supposed to begin boarding. There was absolutely no way that I was going to make it. And then I had the luck to be standing in front of this Jamaican woman with her three sons, the oldest of which kept on whining and whining about...everything! From the fact that his youngest brother, who I later discovered was 12, was too tired to stand and so went to sit off to one side, to the fact that his other younger brother brought his PSII on their vacation. I mean, I stood in that line for 20 to 25 minutes and it's this boy I was constantly hearing. The same grainy-voiced whine just grating on my eardrums; when his mother turned to me and said, "Don't get married and don't have kids, right?" I almost hi-fived her. I finally get to the security people, and put my laptop in the bin. Who should I hear behind me but Mr. Whine, who is bloody 19 years old for crying out loud, telling me that I should put the laptop on the conveyor belt because they said nothing should be under the laptop. I was confused first, so I had to ask him like twice what the hell he was talking about. Ajayi Ajasco said that the bin that I put the laptop in must count as something being under the laptop, so they were going to ask me to remove it. See my trouble. A whole seasoned traveler like me...I wanted to ask him where his own laptop is, so that he can show me how to do it. But it wasn't even 6 o'clock yet, so I didn't want to fight. I just said, it's supposed to be in the bin and turned away.

So, wonder of wonders, I made it on the flight. Again, I breathed a premature sigh of relief. In fact, I should have known that everything would have k-leg today from the moment I saw that I was sitting in front of a very hyper child that kept kicking my chair and screaming for no good reason so that I couldn't catch any precious, much-needed Z's. But I decided I'd just sleep it off when I got to JFK; after all, I had 8 hours to kill before my next flight. People, I really thought this would be the end of my problems. When I got to JFK and only one of my two bags came off the already-empty conveyor belt, it took sheer spiritual strength to help me keep my sanity. I went to meet the American Airlines baggage people, and they were giving me attitude upon the fact that they are the ones that lost my bag! We finally agreed that I should come back at 11:30 to get the bag off the next flight. I decided to enter NY and try to do some last minute stuff.

When I phoned these people to find out if the bag made it, they told me with glee that it had indeed arrived and that I could get it at LaGuardia Airport. LaGuardia??, I asked incredulously. How did the bag reach there when you told me that it would come to JFK? Oh, that's where the flight landed. So how am I supposed to get the bag? You should go to LGA and pick it up. Will I carry the bag on my head or what? I am one person with two giant bags, and how am I supposed to get to LGA, then back to JFK?? See trouble o! They started saying they will deliver the bag to my NY address, then to my Nigeria address, then they kuku reneged on everything and said that it's my fault for not filing a claim that they did not even tell me to file. Chineke God of Allah! Then they added insult to injury when I remained adamant that they are the ones that messed up, so they need to fix it: "Ma'am, since you're pressed for time and have another flight to catch, I suggest that you go to LGA and pick it up because we can't help you." I didn't even know when I called the woman a fucking bitch and hung up. But I carried my korokoro leg and went to the LGA to get the bag and by the grace of God (again) I managed to get to JFK in time for my own flight.

That is, until I noticed that my flight had been delayed by over an hour and a half, which I discovered after having stood in line for over an hour waiting for them to start check-in. Oh, by the way, Sista Girl had not eaten or drank since 10pm the night before o, when all this was going on! I was weak. I was numb. I couldn't even complain. When the guy called me to the counter and asked for my passport then greeted me, I couldn't even answer him. I gave him a half-hearted smile and looked at him, eyes glazed over, then asked him what would happen now that I was going to miss all my connecting flights to Nigeria. I had to fly to Detroit, then Amsterdam, then Lagos. Dude said he would check for me. I didn't even have the strength to imagine what I would do if he told me that there was nothing he could do for me, that I would have to trek from Lagos to Ife since the group I'm going to meet there would have left me by then. But every sad story has some redemption. Imagine my shock, relief and deep gratitude when he handed me a boarding pass and a brand-new e-ticket receipt and told me that he had put me on the direct flight from JFK to Amsterdam, so I shouldn't worry about it. If I had had any water in my system, I might have shed a happy tear or two for him.

So here I am, with new ticket and food and Sprite bubbling in my shrunken stomach, sharing this very hectic day with you. I have only one wish: that the plane will be empty enough that I can stretch out on a three-seater and sleep the whole way to Amsterdam. But I have more sense than to ask for that out loud, before it turns out that what I thought was lo mein was actually cocaine noodles and I find myself in Guantanamo Bay with the other "enemies of America's progress".

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I'll Die An Old Spinster, Thank You

I've been having an ongoing discussion with a good friend of mine about what exactly might be wrong with us in the couples department. We're both in relationships (of sorts), and it took a great amount of effort, perseverance and patience on the part of our men to even get us to the point where we could agree to call the liaison a relationship. Now that we're there, the struggle for power is everything. Actually, it's not so much power as self-assertion, and it's constantly making an appearance in our daily lives. It's even present in our imaginary lives. I'll explain.

We were talking about a young African woman who recently married the love of her life. Before their wedding, her man would cook for her, clean the house, wash dishes...atypical courtship behavior for an African man, but perhaps we could call it typical for this age of enlightenment we live in. After the wedding, of course, he remembered that he was African and all the good behavior he used to snare her in his trap ceased abruptly. It got to the extent that she traveled to Africa for a six-week internship at a refugee camp and came back to see that he had not done anything while she was gone. Hadn't washed a dish, hadn't washed a shirt--his shirts--hadn't vacuumed a room. He was waiting for her. I can understand her washing the dishes and cleaning up the house, cuz she has to share that space as well, and if she's anything like me, the dirt just won't fly. What tripped me out was that she actually washed his damn shirts. This is where my--and my friend's--imaginations came into play.

Now, we had the same reaction to the fact that she actually performed what some would call her "wifely duty". I just call it gracious, because I imagined that my next move would have been to say, "Ah ah, darling, haven’t you grown tired of looking at your dirty clothes just piled on the floor like that over the past six weeks?" Then I would have stepped over his clothes, washed mine, folded them neatly and put them away. It's not so much that I don't believe in doing my man's laundry; anyone who knows me knows that I enjoy cleaning up anything dirty. But I don't do lazy people's work, and that was just a gross display of sloth as far as I'm concerned. In marriage, one has to pick one's battles; this wouldn't have been a fight, not on my part. But I'll be damned if anybody expects me to turn myself into a maid/mumu simply because I was convinced (deceived?) to be handcuffed to you for all eternity. The man has would have to have balls of steel, and even then, he'd have to make sure I don't have a blowtorch within reach to melt those suckers.

My friend laughed when I expressed my sentiments on the issue to her, and said she felt the same way. Then she asked me a question that I had to pause and think about. She said: "Why aren’t we submissive? What's wrong with us?" My answer at the time was that I guess we are just un-marry-able, and if we remain focused on marrying your average African man, I suppose we are. In a world market where young bachelors are already trying to exert themselves over single girls in a bid to find the obedient wife, my opinions and behaviors are certainly not amongst the most desirable. Un-marry-able? Hell, I’m un-date-able! It’s not that I mind being told what to do, but there is a time and place for everything and the respectability of the approach is paramount. My fellow Nigerian males are forever trying to control the way I speak, the way I choose to do--or not do-- my hair, even the pictures that I post on MSN Messenger. I once put up a big hand giving someone the finger, just for kicks, and two of them said they weren't going to talk to me anymore until I took it down because it was "un-ladylike", to which I responded: refer to my picture for further comment. When I took the picture down a week later, they had the audacity to express satisfaction at the "fact" that I saw fit to listen to their advice. Advice or orders?? If I were five years younger, I'd have put the picture back up and told them to sit on it and spin. But I digress. The point is: why do I, and so many other young women I know, remain so averse to being submissive to our significant others?

There is definitely a control element to this issue, but at the crux is the more important matter of respect and equality. Young African women are finally starting to see and understand their worth in the world as human beings and individuals, not as commodities to be sold and distributed by the male figures in their families into meaningless, soul-stripping marriages. We are intelligent (oftimes more intelligent than our partners--let's be real), we make more money, we are self-sufficient--and the Japanese are making sure that we become more self-sufficient every day with the creation of new and innovative "toys", if you catch my drift. We like having men around, sometimes, but we are realizing more and more that we don't really NEED them, per se. And the men, instead of understanding that what needs to happen now is for them to heed this Bible that they like to misquote when it suits them and treat us like the partners that we were created to be, choose instead to behave like giant children and throw tantrums in all colors and sizes. They want us to stop demanding exclusivity in our relationships. They want us to have as many children as they want, never mind our feelings on the issue. They want us to kneel before them in front of their friends and family and feed them cake, because surely that means that we believe they are our gods, or at the very least our masters. And I look at these men, thinking to myself, "I'm smarter than you, you loser!" and choose to walk away rather than parade myself as a spectacle, a spectacle with nothing to gain from false displays of humility.

And suddenly it makes so much more sense why no one is getting married young like they used to: the men are waiting for us (women) to reach our "desperate age". For some, it's 29; for others, 33. Either way, they're waiting for us to be so desperate for a partner that we'll put up with just about anything to get that ring. I may not even be 24 yet, but I say ha! to that, and know that I will still be saying ha! if and when I’m 34 and single; I will not mortgage my happiness and freedom for a piece of jewelry. My people need to re-educate themselves on what marriage really means. After all, what's the use of the title without the substance to back it up? African men still see marriage as a forum for them to display their "manliness”: wives should be docile and obedient birthing machines, unquestioning and non-provocative, and ready to satisfy their husbands' lust whenever the mistress(es) are unavailable. He brings home the bacon, she cooks it and feeds him the lion's share. And even if she's bringing home a leg of ham versus his strip of bacon, she better recognize that it doesn't mean anything but that she better kneel when she's serving him his pork, so further show that she doesn't consider herself better than him for making more money.

That's what I have to look forward to? I mean, I'm sorry, but if I must choose between that and a life without a partner, I choose my independence. At the very least, I know what it takes to make myself happy and I will do it without complaint. My former pastor tried to convince me that everyone had to get married; it was God’s wish for all of us. I don’t know about all that. I think God would prefer my happiness above all else, and I might just be happier as a single, independent woman. And, ultimately, I'd rather just get a dog.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

It's Hard to be Nice to People

Man at the bus stop, handing out water and pretzels and trying to converse with anyone and everyone
- revving motorcycle
- woman with "tina turner" legs and her "lucky husband"
- america is a place you can do whatever you want and nobody can stop you
- deaf guy "you could stand to lose a little weight, but you'll be all right"
- toasted by the sun with blue eyes and blond hair; unshaven but clean-looking; early 50s maybe
- relentless, despite the lack of response

Do I LOOK Like A Whore?

Interesting experience yesterday. I was supposed to meet Paul, an old friend, for dinner at TopTwins Faze II, a Nigerian restaurant on Georgia Avenue in DC. I had spent the entire day wondering if there was a "Faze I" anywhere else in the world and was looking forward to asking someone at the restaurant--even though they would probably have shot me either a bewildered or a withering look and gone on their business, muttering curses under their breath...would probably have spat in my food, for good measure--so you can imagine my utter disappointment when I got to TopTwins's door and discovered it was closed! My sister, who gave me a ride, was very saddened by the news as well. She had given me her (very specific) order about 4 hours earlier, so you can imagine how excited she was that I was planning to dine there. Anyway, so my buddy hadn't shown up yet, but I told my sister that I'd be fine and he'd be there in five minutes, so she could go on her merry way. I don't know WHY I didn't think anything of the fact that she hesitated for a considerable amount of time before agreeing to drive off. But after she left, I began to look around and take in my surroundings. Only then did I realize that I was in "the ghetto".

Now, I hesitate to call it that only because it's hard to tell in DC sometimes whether you are truly in a dangerous place. I figure this couldn't be all that bad cuz it was still in NW and there are clearly parts of DC that are much worse, but when I looked up and saw a lot of very...interesting-looking people and stores, I tensed up a little bit and put on my best mean face, figuring that I'd be left alone as I usually am when I'm not smiling. And it worked. For the first three minutes.

It started slowly. A man walked up in my direction and proceeded to lean on the trash can in front of me. Actually, he was almost leaning INTO it. I was disgusted, but I figured I was safe so long as he didn't turn around and try to touch me or something. So I stood. Shortly thereafter, more men started showing up, some walking into the liquor store beside me (of all places for TopTwins Faze II to be located), some walking past me. The trouble didn't start until one of them came out of the liquor store and, as he passed me, said, "You're real pretty," which I rewarded with a look of irritation that stopped him from making any additional comments. But he had already set off the cosmic forces. The next guy that came to the liquor store saw me and said, "Heyyy! You're pretty, come here," and motioned with his finger for me to come to him. To say that I was shocked would be an understatement. I fumbled for words and a tone to convey how insulted I was; the best I could come up with was, "Do not talk to me like that!" He said, "Come here!", motioned again with his finger. I said, "No! Don't talk to me like that!" He instantly lost interest and walked into the store, leaving me huffing and puffing outside. The guy in the trash can was pretty amused.

I tried to make myself seem busy by talking on the phone, but nobody I called could talk to me. Meanwhile, I had noticed a group of crackheads about half a block away making their way towards me. I started calling on Jesus, Sango, Amadiura, Captain Spock--I just didn't know how I would deal with all of them if they all decided to come to me at the same time. They were a most intriguing, motley group; they actually seemed organized, like all they were missing was a set of matching members-only jackets. Actually, they reminded me of the monsters in the Thriller video: one short and tiny one with a cap, one very tall one without shoes, a chubby woman with short hair, a skinny woman in a purple T-shirt who wouldn't (couldn't?) stop dancing, and a burly one in a tight T-shirt that was once black and now looked like dirt caking his blubbery body. They all stopped just short of me, except Tiny and Slim, who walked past me and stopped to my left, a few yards away from me. They all looked at me with interest. I did my best to appear disinterested and unfazed, but I still walked to the edge of the curb so that I could run into the street and get hit by a bus if a more dangerous (and potentially more embarrassing) incident seemed imminent. I also made a mental note--for the umpteenth time--to get that switchblade I've been meaning to buy for three years now.

Meanwhile, more "normal" looking men had gathered on the street and around the liquor. Some of them greeted the crackheads by name or nickname--which was worse, I don't know--and others just stood there and ogled me. One of them, a fat Latino, walked up to me and said hello. I ignored him. He leaned heavily against a nearby wall and said, "How you doing? How you been?" I'm thinking, ah ah, have you seen me before?? But I said, "Don't stand near me and don't talk to me." It was then that I realized that he was drunk off his face. He says, "Why not? You got a problem?" I repeated myself, tried to increase the level of firmness in my voice, which was hard to do without yelling, which I definitely didn't want to do, lest I awaken the crackheads' "senses". At the time, I wasn't entirely sure whether they could actually see me, or maybe they just weren't sure if I was alive or that I existed. I wasn't going to be the one to prove to them that I was indeed there. The drunk one then said, "What, you don't like me or something? Come on, let's go somewhere." I didn't need any further confirmation about what was going on on that block. It hit me like an anvil falling from the sky: the "normal" men were gathering in the hopes that I was actually the new girl on the block and were just waiting for me to break down and "go somewhere" with one of them, and the crackheads were wondering when I was going to stop playing like I was somebody else and join them on the pipe. I added pepper spray and/or mace to that mental list of weaponry I was keeping.

Then I called Paul. "Where are you, Paul?" I asked. I'm surprised the words formed clearly through my clenched teeth. The joviality in his voice further infuriated me. "I'm three blocks away, I'll be right there!" I still had the presence of mind not to cuss him out, but I made sure to tell him to hurry, though I didn't tell him why he needed to be in a hurry. I just needed to get in his car and be whisked away from my impending abduction, rape, and murder. The crackheads were closing in, and I was starting to feel suffocated and unsafe. As soon as I got off the phone, a man with a giant, glittery ring on his right pinky finger and a cell phone in the other smiled too-widely at me and said, "Hey, you need a ride?" I all but screamed "NO!" at him, and started looking around wildly for an oncoming bus. Just my luck--Georgia Avenue was almost empty at that moment.

Then my guardian angel gave me a break, and allowed Terhemen call me. I have never been so happy to hear my phone ring, and his voice on the other end. Unfortunately, I was too agitated to express my joy and then I had no time to show my gratitude and unload my worries because Paul chose that moment to suddenly appear beside me. I hurriedly got Terhemen off the phone (sorry, my dear), said hello to Paul and started walking away quickly in the direction he appeared from. "Man, am I happy to see you! Where did you park?" I asked. "Oh, I walked!" he said, beaming down at me. I didn't appreciate the levity with which he said it, nor could I control the level of incredulity with which I said, "You what?!" He didn't even seem to notice. "Yeah, it was such a great day, I just thought I'd walk and I'd have been here sooner, but someone thought it'd be fun to give me the wrong directions, so I've been walking away from you for the past fifteen minutes!"

I rubbed my forehead wearily, inwardly asked Buddha to give me strength, and heaved a sigh loaded with anger, relief, confusion and prayer. Then, as I recalled the fear that I no longer felt, I decided to leave the anger right there in front of TopTwins Faze II and count my blessings. I hadn't been robbed, I hadn't been physically touched. There was some damage done to my dignity, but it wasn't permanent and ultimately, I know that I couldn't have resembled any kind of whore since I was wearing a loose, loose cotton top with plenty of coverage and long, long jeans--not a curve was hugged yesterday--it's not my fault those drunk assholes were hoping beyond hope that I was something I was not. I looked up at Paul, smiled a little and proceeded with the small talk: "So, how you been? How about that match today...."

Friday, June 16, 2006

Cracked the Chrysalis

I've spent the past hour trying to set up this page just the way I wanted it, and I'm still not there. Ergo, my introduction to Blogspot will be quite sloppy, but this is merely another step in my journey, as I emerge from the familiar virtual territory on Yahoo's 360 to the ever-so-popular and colorful Blogspot. You may disregard this entire entry. i'll make it up one day soon, I'm sure.