Monday, July 31, 2006

When Red, Itchy Things Happen To Sad People

Well, it has finally happened: faced with just two more weeks in Ife, and just one week after my soul itself made its own grand exit from this infernal village, my body has begun to physically reject my surroundings. Perhaps some of you were deceived into thinking that I was no longer writing because I was suddenly having more fun. Maybe you thought I had too much work to do. It is even possible you thought that I had lost the will or the drive to jot a few of my thoughts down. None of that could be further from the truth, because your dearest kulutempa has been shuttling back and forth between home, school and the “state of the art” clinic off-campus, namely Apex Medical Center. I want to be sure and identify that particular institution. Apex Medical Center—never forget that name. If you fall off your luck train, i.e. you are abducted by armed robbers in Kano who are trying to flee to Niger but lose their way, then suddenly decide that you are their only unwanted burden and choose not to kill you but instead, to your dismay, drop you off in Ife, you will want to remember Apex Medical Center as a facility to avoid.

On Monday, I woke up with a disgustingly painful headache. This, after a rigorous weekend filled with a near-beating experience by city thugs (which is indeed a story worth telling, but must be saved for another time), and then my return home to discover that my directors were trying to make sure that I would never be free of tension in this host home again. It was a headache, quite all right, but I knew that it was going to develop into something more. You see, I’m prone to migraines (relatively mild, but migraines nonetheless). Actually, I’m prone to headaches of many sorts, and it doesn’t help that my eyes are photo-sensitive, but I digress. I had a headache, and my body was incredibly weak. The directors of the program asked me to come to school, where they would pick me up and take me to “state of the art” Apex, where the senior doctor and owner of the clinic was German-trained and still gets most of his drugs either from Germany or directly from the manufacturer. I’m not one to take drugs for almost any ailment; I choose to rest, or to take herbs. But I must admit that I was relieved—the Nigerian in me was impressed by the fact that the word “Germany” appeared several times in the discussion about my treatment, because anything foreign in Nigeria is better than its native counterpart. In fact, I already felt cured, despite that, thirty minutes later, I could not even open my eyes because the pain in my head was so intense.

Nigeria is not a place to be if you suffer from headaches, migraines, or any such ailment. Even in my state, I was learning that lesson. At first, I was lying down in our “seminar room”, which is just a large classroom, bare of any furniture except some chairs that had been welded together in immovable rows. I had been helped there by my host mom, who had briefly forgotten that she wasn’t talking to me because I’m not eating her “food”, and the six cleaning women who were loudly sympathizing with the fact that I was immobilized by my headache. Each one of them was trying to make sure that I would hear her “Ah! Omo mi, se ara e ko ya? Pele o!” ringing in my head for the rest of the day, lest I forget they had shown me empathy when I got better. After they dispersed, I was trying to lose consciousness so as to avoid the pain, but then other visitors wanted to let me know how sorry they were that I had this crippling headache. When I fell asleep, they woke me up to tell me sorry. When I asked them to please lower their voices, they interpreted that to mean that they should talk in a low scream, right over me, as they hypothesized about what might be causing my headache. It didn’t even stop when I got to the hospital, where the nurses were cracking loud jokes as they took my blood pressure and temperature. I could have sworn that I told them I was in there because I had a migraine, but I couldn’t hear myself over the blood rushing through my head, so maybe I didn’t.

At any rate, one of the junior “doctors” was available. The first thing he did was ask me if I wanted a shot of something. I said no, I don’t take medication for anything. What I wanted was a dark room and silence. They all bustled about noisily looking for a quiet room, then returned to tell me that the only room they had available was a closet-sized space beside the toilet. I almost tasted the toilets in Ibadan (refer to Letter #2), so I declined the offer. Then the doctor offered me the shot again, telling me that it would give me immediate relief and why don’t I just take it? I caved.

That was Mistake #1.

I did feel better. Within ten minutes, I was able to open my eyes fully—it was a miracle! But they told me that I still needed to rest for about an hour or two. They moved me into a private room, and I tried to catch some Z’s. Not too long after, I heard the door of the room open and heard some steps walking towards the bed. I looked up and saw the grotesque face of an ancient man staring down at me. Half his face was comprised of his huge, red eyeballs. They looked like they were about to roll out of his head and I was briefly tempted to reach out and grab them; I wondered if they would feel as wet as they looked. He reeked of layers of cigarette smoke and last night’s beer—I remember thinking to myself, why is the town drunk in here looking at me? Turns out he was the senior doctor, the owner of the clinic, the German-trained wonder. He told me that I would be all right now that I had taken his medicine. I believed him.

That was Mistake #2.

Since you are not all doctors and don’t need to know the full history of this case file, let’s fast forward through the next couple of days. Tuesday: I wake up with rash on my chest. I think it’s eczema or something; I curse Ife. By afternoon, the rash has spread to my arms and back. By nightfall, it’s all over my thighs. Wednesday: the rash is now a bright red color and itches terribly. I am appalled and panicking; I’ve never seen anything like this before. I return to the clinic to ask them what they have done to me. They deny having any part in this; they blame the water, my bathing soap, the Ife air. I go and see the doctor in his dungeon of an office, where a second set of his giant eyeballs stare at me from a life-sized portrait of his slightly younger self hanging behind his chair. The picture was probably taken in a Nazi training hospital in Germany; it had all the life of a brick wall. From across his desk, he prescribes a new set of medications for me, telling me I’ll be all right. Thursday: rash is worse. A whole lot worse. It now looks splotchy and covers more surface area, from my scalp to my toes and I even notice some splotchiness on my palms. I feel like death. Friday: I can’t take the anguish anymore; I go back to the hospital to ask them once again why they are trying to kill me.

The Godfather rasps from across his desk: “Well, it is obvious that you are reacting to something.” Thank you, Columbo—are you also ready to admit that I am reacting to the drug you gave me for my migraine? “It cannot be the Piroxicam; it doesn’t cause a rash. The book says so.” This book he’s referring to is a handbook detailing various medications and their purpose; I saw one of the junior doctors flipping through it earlier and almost choked on my anxiety and dismay. I was prescribed even more drugs. Let’s note at this point that I have never been examined by any of the doctors at Apex; the doctor isn’t concerned with what the rash looks like; he just wants to make sure that I’m drugged senseless. I decided then and there that I wanted a second opinion. Finally, my brain was working again. He referred me to a dermatologist, whose very first pronouncement was that I was in need of an examination, which he gave me immediately. His next pronouncement was that my situation was grave, which made me extremely nervous and jittery. After interrogating me about everything I had been through this week, he told me to discard all the medications I had been given by the other “doctor” but one, which he would re-prescribe for me. Now, this medicine causes ulcers and shouldn’t be taken without food and an antacid; the Godfather had told me the opposite. Long story short, I felt more comfortable when I left the dermatologist’s office, and after my first dose of his prescription, I saw a marked improvement in my appearance. Praise be to God.

Later on that evening, I decided to go to the NIH website and see what they have to say about Piroxicam. What I saw nearly stopped my heart. In black and white, on the internet for the world to see, I read the following:

Piroxicam is used to relieve the pain, tenderness, inflammation (swelling), and stiffness caused by arthritis.

I swallowed spit. Piroxicam is used to treat arthritis? Could I really have been in so much pain that I said I had arthritis when I meant migraine? I mean, what kind of game were these people playing?

On April 7, 2005, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they are asking manufacturers of all prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to revise the drug labeling (package insert) to include a ''boxed'' or serious warning about the potential for increased risk of cardiovascular events (including heart attack and stroke) and serious and potentially life-threatening gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding associated with their use. Piroxicam may cause an upset stomach. Take piroxicam with food or milk.

But the Godfather said that I could take Piroxicam at any time, with or without food. Gastrointestinal bleeding?? Nobody said anything to me about GI bleeding; that’s a serious warning—shouldn’t I have been informed about that?

Although side effects from piroxicam are not common, they can occur. Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away:
upset stomach
stomach pain or cramps

Indeed, I had suffered from a dull headache for two days after I took the shot, and my tummy hurt a little bit, but it was the following that made my blood run cold:

If you experience any of the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately:
bloody vomit
bloody diarrhea or black, tarry stools
ringing in the ears
swelling of the hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs
skin rash

SKIN RASH AND ITCHING??? The very things the Godfather said to me could never have been caused by his Piroxicam?? It was in The Book, for Christ’s sake!! I was weak. I mean, they said the man was trained in Germany; I should have asked whether he was trained there during WWII. The Holocaust didn’t start in Germany for nothing. All I can think about right now is that he is going about, giving people shots and dispensing all kinds of prescriptions from on high all willy-nilly. Right now, someone out there is suffering from a mysterious rash, wondering how many of their clothes and bedsheets to burn, and considering bathing with bottled water for a few days because they don’t know that the Godfather is a quack doctor and is responsible for their ailment. There but for the grace of God go I.

I have said my piece, and the program directors have been made aware (in the kulutempa way) that they really could have done better with our choice for healthcare. In Africa, there is only one rule to remember in this sort of matter: follow the white people. If you want to get better, go where they go. And if you really want to help yourself, just don’t fall sick. And don’t come to Ife. Beg the thieves to kill you instead.

Update: My skin is fresh and brown again; I'm so happy and grateful to God. I'm leaving Ife on Saturday, and I spent all of yesterday packing my load. If I had to leave right this instant, I'd be good to go!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

my dignity...extra $100 in dignity...extra $100 in rent...

I’m having a bit of a problem. Ever since I moved to New Haven, I’ve been very impressed with my landlord. From the moment I met him, I felt like he was the friendliest, most considerate, helpful landlord/person I could ever have hoped to meet in Connecticut. When I expressed worry about how much the rent would be raised next year, he asked me what I would feel comfortable paying, and then raised my rent by only $25 a month. Even then, he asked me if that would be OK with me. When I told him I was spending the summer in Nigeria and was a bit worried about storage costs, he offered to store all my things in his office basement—for free. He was even willing to lose half his monthly rent intake for two months—at no cost to me—just so I would be able to lower the rent and find a sub-lessee for the summer. So you can imagine how excited I was, how blessed I felt that I had found this man. I can feel some of you shaking your heads, saying, “kulutempa, how can you be so naïve? Don’t you know that nothing comes for free?” I mean, I know all that, but dude never made a move; I just thought he was being a nice guy. He’s a big, burly Italian-American; I’m a little African girl—that combination does not a match make, in love or lust. But, as usual (and we can all chorus this by now), I was wrong.

As is normally the case in matters like this, it started innocently enough. During a succession of emails in which we were discussing the rent issue, he told me that he was impressed by how “classy” I was, and how seriously I took my education. I couldn’t help but think how deceptive appearances can be as I read that email, but I was also a bit taken aback that he would say something so personal when we were discussing money. But the fact that I was not going to have to find an extra $1000 to pay him this summer was enough to drive that niggling thought to the back of my mind with full force!

Then he started sending me “forwards”. Something about how rent prices were going up at least 25% around the country (a reminder that mine went up by only 3%, in case I wasn’t feeling enough gratitude, I suppose), then something about how women need to be more careful with their personal security lest they get raped, then something about how the Pentagon explosion of 9/11 is suspicious. Harmless enough, right? But since when did it become OK for landlords to communicate with their tenants like they are buddies? If this were his only property, I might feel differently. But he’s a big business, him and his flashy Escalade and his glittery jewelry. It was just too weird.

Then, the personal emails started coming. First, an email to ask me how my summer was going and whether I had left for Nigeria yet. At the time, I hadn’t, so I told him as much. He said he wished me a safe journey and a great summer. I said, thank you, I’ll see you in September. Then last week, he sent me an email asking me how I was doing, and how Nigeria was treating me. He said he would keep in touch and that he wanted me to do the same. I wrote him back, telling him that it could be better, but that I was hanging in there until I could start my real vacation in August. I also told him that I write update emails to my friends and family, which helped my mood. Then he sent me this:


I feel bad for you. I think about you often, and when I do, I envision you being on a beautiful beach, relaxing and having a lot of fun. I think you mentioned this program to me before you left, and that it would be very difficult. Well, on the positive side start thinking about your upcoming Europe trip.I would love to be included on your mailing list on updates.I am having a busy summer as usual, and have not planned any vacation yet. I will keep in touch, and please do with me also. Keep positive as you usually are, and never stop that beautiful million dollar smile.

[Oga Landlord]

It took me three days to figure out how to respond to this. In the end, I ignored everything he said and just responded with a “Cheers, [Oga Landlord]! Enjoy the rest of your summer and don’t overwork yourself!” How am I supposed to face this man when I get back to New Haven? Is he my friend or my landlord? If he’s my friend, should I feel annoyed that he is even charging me rent at all? If he’s my landlord, should I be worried about the fact that he has all the keys to my place and can let himself in whenever he pleases? If he’s my friend, how come he is always telling me how he’s very happy to have me as a tenant because I’m so responsible? And if he’s my landlord, how can he be telling me that I have a million dollar smile (which he recently upgraded to a billion dollar smile wey change remain in his latest email which I’m not even going to bother posting) and that I shouldn’t stop shining my 32?

All this question aside sha, this rent na all utilities included, plus free laundry, and anyone who lives in the Northeast knows that such a deal is not easy to come by. Me that my space heater doesn’t go off for even one hour during the winter…no be beans o! And all these free kickbacks I’m getting—forget that thing. I have my pride, but at $825 a month, I am content to play the mumu, provided Oga Landlord doesn’t suddenly start leaving small tokens of “appreciation” in my apartment when I’m not there. Abi una no agree?

This is why I need a job. I shouldn’t have to worry about such things.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Letter #2

Hello friends,

I’m starting to accept the fact that I’m here in Ife for at least four more weeks, but this has only resulted in giving me strange dreams. Last night, I dreamt that I had returned to my apartment in New Haven that very night and promptly went out for a night on the town with my sister and some friends. After a few bottles of wine and some caviar (this is where I should have realized that it was a dream, but I was too happy to notice), I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t taken the final exam for this program I’m in and started frantically trying to arrange for a flight back to Nigeria, hoping that the lecturers hadn’t noticed my two-day absence. Imagine my relief (and subsequent depression) when I opened my eyes and realized that I was only fast asleep under my mosquito net, and hundreds of miles away from even a teaspoonful of caviar. Life can be so cruel.

Nigerian news is pretty interesting. Since I got here, I have counted about fourteen aspirants to the presidential seat for the 2007 elections, and I hear about a new one almost every day. By my calculations, all that remains is for Bulus, the man who delivers our newspapers, to tell us that he will also be contesting the elections next year. The Northerners have all but vowed that the next president will come from Hausa/Muslim land, since they have been kind enough to allow a Christian Southerner to be president for the past 8 years. In their words, “it is time for control to return to the North; we have given the South their chance.” So we can all heave a collective sigh of relief, as we can see that democracy is thriving within Nigeria’s borders.

I’ve been watching a lot of Nigerian movies as well. My favorite one is titled “If I Had Known You Were A Witch, I Would Never Have Married You, Now You Have Come Into My House To Suck Me Dry and Destroy My Life, But Because of Juju (Voodoo), I Cannot Even See It So I Have Estranged My Entire Extended Family and Only THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST As Presented To Me By A Girl Who Is Younger and More Beautiful Than You Will Save Me From Your Evil Clutches!”--something like that. It’s great, sensational fun.

This past weekend, I visited the town of Abeokuta, which houses the great Olumo Rock. This rock is reported to have saved the Yoruba people of that area from annihilation during wars (I think) and so, from time immemorial, the people have worshipped the rock. The name “Abeokuta” actually means “under the rock”, which shows how important this bit of nature is to the people of that area. We climbed this rock—which is more like a rock formation, complete with caves and everything—and at the halfway point, we visited two shrines housed within it. One of the shrines was smeared with the blood of a black cow, which is responsible for the lack of deaths caused by falling from Olumo Rock. That was interesting. The other shrine was in the care of four barechested old ladies, who prayed for us for a token sum of money. I was more interested in what was left of their breasts than their actual prayers: their boobs looked like wet, wrinkled socks dangling from their chests to their hip bones. One of them had the audacity to wear a bra. It was using a hammock to buoy up a piece of string. I nearly slapped her for her impudence, but I was too busy mourning the future of my own breasts. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of them, and that’s probably a good thing; nobody needs to see that. I took pictures of the view from the highest point I was able to climb (I overcame a fear of heights to take these pictures that day, by the way), as well as pictures of the rocky passage we had to climb through to get to the highest point, and a cave that housed people during the war. It’s very low; you have to be doubled over in there, but they had grooves for grinding corn, pepper, etc, and 5 rooms that they built in there (though only one is left).

Oh, I nearly forgot! Yesterday, one of my lecturers fainted. This came just days after another lecturer got drunk and fell asleep in front of the class while one of my classmates was reading a composition he wrote in Yoruba. It was great! He slept for almost ten minutes and nothing we did could wake him up. We coughed, sneezed, clapped our hands, dropped our books on the floor, was shocking, to say the least. I mean, I’ve been in school for almost twenty years and I’ve never seen anything like it! When he eventually woke up, he said, “Oh my goodness, I nodded off for a little while. Did you notice?” Uh, yeah! You better believe we noticed! Anyway, so today, my other lecturer just up and keeled over in class; if we hadn’t been able to catch her, she would have hit her head on the floor, like WHAM! Then she began to pray, calling upon all the angels of God to counter this spiritual attack of the devil against her—it was so weird, especially since her spell was more likely due to the fact that she’s anemic and was also suffering from dehydration.

Suffice it to say, this has been the most exciting three weeks of my entire educational career! From dancing and singing, to falling asleep and fainting, Ife lecturers have proven that they are the most entertaining lecturers in the world! They almost make up for the fact that I have to share my room with that overly bold gecko. Have I mentioned that he has now graduated from crawling all over my shoes to crawling all over my bed’s headboard? If I have to wake up to that thing on my forehead one day, nobody will hear the end of it o!

And finally, we went to the House of Assembly today (equivalent of the House of Reps) to watch the proceedings in Yoruba. It was supposed to be a learning experience that we would treasure, but I’m sad to say that it was anything but. I might have known it would be a downhill experience when we first asked to use the restroom and they said they would take us to “the good one” since we were their guests. “The good one” smelled like urine that hadn’t been flushed away for a thousand years. I’m still wondering if all the liquid I saw all over the floor was actually water or just more bodily fluid. I didn’t/couldn’t use the restroom. This was at 8:30 am. After waiting for 3 hours to watch the proceedings, which were supposed to start at 9am, we finally made our way to the assembly hall. Our guide was very proud to tell us that this was the first parliamentary building in all Nigeria, but I couldn’t really understand what there was to be proud of. All I’m saying is: if after 50 years, the hall still looks like this, they might have to rethink this pride of theirs. Yoruba people are so proud of their heritage; I think it blinds them to the lack of progress they’ve made since the 19th century.

Anyway, so we watched the proceedings and couldn’t understand anything. We fell asleep, our program directors fell asleep, the parliamentarians (they call themselves “honorables”) fell asleep in between their long speeches to one another. Finally, at 2pm, they adjourned the proceedings. Then we were informed that the Speaker of the House was going to treat us to lunch in the conference room. All the members of parliament joined us there; apparently, news of free food spreads quickly. But before we could eat, the Speaker had to give a speech. Then his deputy wanted to give a speech. Then our program director gave his speech. And then some other random guy that wanted to hold the mic also gave a speech. I don’t remember what anyone said; I was still in dire need of a bathroom that I couldn’t smell from around the corner. After the random guy spoke, the Speaker took the mic back because it was crucial that he have the last word lest people forget that he is the Speaker of the House. In this speech, he told us that we could help the House of Assembly in so many ways when we get back to the States. He told us that we could start by dispelling all the negative impressions that people have of Nigeria, now that we’ve seen. I wanted to ask him whether he had considered that we didn’t really have any positive impressions so far, but it wouldn’t have been appropriate. He said that he knows many people in America think that Nigerians have tails, but now that we have seen that Nigerians look just like Americans we could go and tell them so. He added that we could send books to their library about good governance, which would also be very helpful. Then he capped off the speech by saying that the most important thing we could do to help them at the House of Assembly would be to send them invitation letters so that when they went to the embassy to get their visas, they would look more credible to the visa officers. Shame no gree me laugh.[*] I thought he was joking at first, until other members of parliament started accosting various female members of our group and asking them for their personal information in the States so that they could contact/visit them if they ever got there.

When I had had enough, I went in search of another bathroom. You may be wondering why I attempted this. Aside from the fact that you could see how swollen my bladder was through my clothes, I just really didn’t think that any toilet in the world could be as bad as the first one that I smelled (since I didn’t really see that one). I was wrong. As I approached the second restroom, I bumped into a woman who asked me where I was going. I pointed. She pointed in the same direction and said, “That one?” I nodded my head, “Yes.” She shook her head morosely and looked at me with a great amount of pity, then she shrugged her shoulders and said, “OK.” Why I didn’t just turn around then and there, I’ll never understand. Instead, I took off the sweater I was wearing, folded it in five and tied it around my nose and mouth for protection. I thought I was thinking ahead. I took three steps into the toilet when my eyes started to water, then my ears started bleeding, and then the smell exploded through the fibers of my sweater and assaulted my nose so badly that I could taste all the fecal matter that must have caked every surface of all the toilets in that room. Frustration no gree me cry. I was so angry, I became happy again. I staggered out of the bathroom and went back to the conference room.

I don’t really remember anything that happened after that. Nothing matters, really. I’m home now, and I have showered and relieved myself of all that troubled me today. I have to say, though: I know that I’m giving a really bad impression of Nigeria in my emails, but hopefully you’re laughing as well, cuz at the end of it all, I laugh too. And this is just one part of Nigeria—in all the years that I spent here, I’ve never experienced anything like this, so we’re all learning together (even though I’m gaining much more practical experience than any of you). I continue to pray that things will improve over here, so that these stories can remain just humorous memories of the past. Peace and love, y’all.


[*] I was too ashamed to laugh.

Calling All Women to the Kitchen!

Calling all New Millennium women! Drop your pens and paychecks—your place is in the kitchen! This is the news that disrupted my lazy Sunday afternoon. The conversation/dispute/debate took place at Pastor Afolabi’s residence, where his loud-mouthed, misogynist nephew had the audacity to look me in the eye and tell me that the word “COOK” had been imprinted on my forehead long before I exited the womb. Then the olodo used that same mouth to say that he was a progressive Nigerian man whose only call in life would be to make sure that his wife was always happy. In the kitchen, that is.

It began innocently enough. We had been watching Ukwa, a Nigerian-made comedy, and laughing heartily at Nkem Owoh’s witty retorts and comical mannerisms. The scene that started all the wahala was when Ukwa’s sister-in-law intercepted him as he was going to wash his clothes, gave him money, and said, “Ukwa, please take this money. Go to the market. Buy me fresh tomatoes and onions.” As she turned away, Ukwa called her back and said, “Susana, take these clothes. Wash them very well. My shirts, concentrate on [getting the dirt out of] the neck.” An argument ensued during which Ukwa insulted Susana thoroughly for trying to send him to buy ingredients from the market when there were other women in the house, despite the fact that these women were already busy doing other things, didn’t know how to drive and he had been hired by his own brother to be the family driver. The loud-mouthed nephew—oversized midget—then said something to the effect of: “How dare she send a man to market when there are women in the house?” Na here katakata come begin bust.

First, he started arguing that she shouldn’t have asked him in that manner if he wanted him to go, i.e. she was too brusque and therefore impolite. Fair enough, the ladies in the house agreed. She could have been a bit more polite. Almost all human beings are deserving of some degree of respect. That wasn’t enough for him, sha. He went on to say something to the tune of:

“She should have been less direct. She should have coated her request with more humility and more sugar because he is a man. She should have said something like, ‘Brother, are you going out? Please on your way, would you mind just branching by the market and picking up one or two small items for us to use in preparing your food?’ After all, it is important for women to cater to a man’s ego and manhood. It is a woman’s duty to go to market.”

Hm, this one pass all that talk of kneeling to feed your husband cake at your wedding reception o! (See Adaure's Spot) To say that I was disgusted would be to make light of the way I felt that afternoon. I talked until I was hoarse; my temperature rose until I got headache. I found myself having to unclench fists that I didn’t know I was making, because the temptation to rearrange this fool’s teeth with the force of my hand overpowered my own senses. The one that even annoyed me the most was when he said that he considered himself a progressive Nigerian man, whose only concern is to make sure that his wife is happy; after all, don’t I know what a happy woman can do to a home? He said, “I will cook for my wife, of course! I don’t see anything wrong in that. The only thing is that she will have to be there with me as I’m cooking, keeping me company. She can’t be watching TV while I’m busy in the kitchen!” I asked him if he would reciprocate. He said, very heartily, “Of course not!” Why? Because it’s not his duty to be in the kitchen; him spending time in the kitchen is as a favor to her. Not so in the reverse. And he couldn’t even see the double standard in that!

I didn’t even know whether to be angry with the young men in that house for having the nerve to feel that way about women, or whether to be disappointed with the women in the room for trying to convince me that it would be better for me to accept my lot in life as a woman than to try and change it. His aunt was in the middle of this whole thing, telling me and my girlfriends that this is the way men in Nigeria are, and unless we decided that we were not going to marry Nigerians (which would be a great travesty and a sin against humanity, of course), then we would be better off creating our own happiness in the midst of all the gloom, otherwise the man will go out and find another woman who will be willing to do all those things for him that we don’t want to do. The important thing would be to pray to God to give us a man that would at least understand our position when we verbalized them in the privacy of our bedrooms.

I can’t help but be angry, but I think the foremost sentiment in my mind is sadness. No, not sadness—despair. These people are the future of Nigeria, and this is the way they think—in the 21st century! They are going to grow up to be leaders, those who will mould the society, and yet they know no better than to recreate the mistakes of our forefathers and, in fact, improve on them so as to ensure that we don’t have to hear about this “woman’s equality” issue ever again. And young women continue to hide behind Jesus and Allah, using religion as an excuse to be inactive in determining the direction of their destiny. They join in the perpetration of their very selves as this society’s doormats and writing slates, where a young man can tell you that you were born with the word “COOK” scribbled on your forehead and you refrain from vocalizing your anger and dissent because you’re afraid that you’ll lose him to some other woman. Tufia!

I cannot help but feel that these misogynist attitudes of our men are directly correlated to rising feelings of insecurity at the onslaught of feminist awareness in the rest of the world. But, some of you will argue, in Africa, culture is what determines the way these men feel about women. Tradition does not allow for women to break free of societal expectations and decrees concerning their duties and behavior. And you would be partially right to argue thusly, but I put forth a different opinion. In the face of a rapid absorption of Western fashion, music, ideology and even culture, why is this the only part of traditional culture that must—and continues to—remain intact, or even regress? In all societies, culture is fluid and ever-changing, yet female progress is being held back. Why? Women play their part, but men also cling even more desperately to these archaic views of what womanhood means because they feel it accentuates their manhood and cements their right to be satisfied with their meager achievements. Grow up, people! That women are becoming more assertive, more powerful, more successful does not mean that they are becoming more masculine and you more feminine. If anything, I expect you to see it as a challenge. Step up to the plate and prove your worth. You’ve spent a lifetime being spoon-fed the fallacy that you were entitled to the good things in life without having to struggle; now, in the face of a group who is willing to fight until they prove that they too deserve what you have never had to work for, you cower in dark corners and call us names: bad mother, inconsiderate wife, dyke, don’t know your place, female equivalent of Jacob. With culture as your spear and societal pressure as your shield, you attack the woman and make her feel that she is nothing without you to validate her: “Do what I say, or you may find that you are no longer the only woman I share my bed with! If you’re going to start working and making as much money as I, those children will be yours to fend for; I will have no part in their upbringing!”

And women, I appeal to you as well: life is hard enough without us stabbing one another in the back. We’re the first ones to point derisive fingers at our sisters making waves in the banking industry, in medicine, in engineering: “Still single at 35? What a loser! No children, and she calls herself a woman?” I’m sick of reading Nigerian newspapers with articles that are supposedly about women who have become successful in their careers, but which choose to pay special attention to the fact that these women are also perfect homemakers who constantly defer to their loving husbands, who have been kind enough to give them the opportunity to pursue their dreams. Give me a break! Whose agenda are you pushing, ladies? Who are you really trying to help? Is the key to the revolution to keep men in this prepubescent stage of development, where a hungry man would rather sit and sulk as he waits for his wife to make him food, than go into the kitchen and boil himself an egg, or grill himself a steak? Or are we trying to help one another realize that maturity means developing the capacity to help one another, realizing that we may look different on the outside, but our needs are still the same? Nobody’s too rich, or too smart, or too male (or too female) to help out another human being where they need it, nor is it anybody’s right to keep another person down for one’s selfish interests. We all lose out at the end of such an egotistical exercise. After all, nobody is going to remember Christiane Amanpour for how early she woke up to cook her husband’s food before she went to work. Oprah’s name will not go down in history in recognition for how well she washed Stedmon’s underwear on Saturday morning. Think about it.

We all need to develop and grow and change. Stopping your wife/girlfriend/sister/daughter from being all she can be does not make you more of a man/friend/mother. I’m still swallowing the bile that rose in my throat from Sunday’s discussion, and while I’m sure I have more years during which I will have to tackle such narrow-mindedness, I still remain optimistic that my only two choices (on the off-chance that I decide I cannot live with a non-Nigerian man) will not be to either remain alone for the rest of my life, or carve out a narrow, meaningless definition of happiness for myself simply because my own people have decided that I don’t rightfully deserve wholesome peace and joy within Nigeria’s borders. Heaven forbid it.

*In unrelated news, I just watched a preview for a Nigerian movie called “Naked Sin”. I’m hoping beyond hope that what I saw was not the whole story, but it seems to be about what happens to a guy when he’s caught “raping a corpse in a mortuary.” If that isn’t the most disgusting premise for a movie that has ever been thought up, I don’t know what is. Is this the future of Nollywood? Have people suddenly grown tired of watching movies a la “If I Had Known You Were A Witch, I Would Never Have Married You, Now You Have Come Into My House To Suck Me Dry and Destroy My Life, But Because of Juju, I Cannot Even See It So I Have Estranged My Entire Family and Only THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST As Presented To Me By A Girl Who Is Younger and More Beautiful Than You Will Save Me From Your Evil Clutches!’?? I mean, if the industry is looking for something to boost sales, shouldn’t they just reconsider this their ban on actors like Genevieve and Ramsey Nouah, rather than take us down this depraved road from whence we may not return? Ugh!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Na Wetin Na??

I just had the strangest discussion ever with a man at the university’s IT center. Apparently, he’s a big fan of my father’s and it makes him do and say crazy things. Now, I’ve met fans of Ken Saro-Wiwa before, but never one like this. First of all, I ran into him on Monday at one of the departments on campus. He was in a hurry, but he was smiling and said, “We have something very important to discuss!” I was thinking that it had to do with the fact that I’ve been surfing the net for free illegally near his office and that he wanted me to pay for it pronto. As is usually the case in matters like this, I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I went to the IT center today to pay for my internet access because I got tired of having to look over my shoulder as I surfed. I figured it was time to make it legit, and I figured that I might as well stop over and talk to him since I was going to be in the building anyway. As I walked into his office, he extended his hand and called me “baby”. Nigerian men refer to women as “baby” all the time, so I tried, for once, to ignore the fact that I can’t stand it. I put it down to general lack of respect for womanhood. There is no end to the level of disrespect for womanhood in this place. Can you believe that I went to a play where the audience was actually cheering on a male character for commanding his wife to stay at home until he gives her permission to go out?? But that’s another story. Anyway, he then went on to say, “We need to have a serious discussion now, because you have offended me. Or maybe I have offended you.” I started to say, “But I’m going to pay for the internet right now!” but then he asked me to sit down so we could begin talks.

To cut a long story short, he wanted to find out about whether or not I was truly Ken Saro-Wiwa’s daughter. Like I said, he’s a big fan. He couldn’t stop gushing…in between all the conversational faux pas he was making, that is. First, he told me that it was about time I got over my father’s death, even though he’s sure I won’t get over it completely, but time has a way of healing wounds even though the scar remains. Yes, he said all that. Then he said that he often thinks about my father’s trial and finds it funny, though he’s sure it wouldn’t be funny to me since it was a personal loss on my part, but it was funny to him. To be fair, he did go on to explain himself, saying that it was because my dad used to put his head down on the table and when he was asked why he didn’t look up during the trial, he said it was because when he looks up and sees the trial judges, all he sees are kangaroos and it didn’t make sense to him that kangaroos should be judging a man, and then he’d put his head down again. That’s something new I learned today. Have I mentioned how much I love my daddy?

Anyway, the final blow to my composure was struck when he said, “Believe me, if I weren’t married now, I would have dated you!” You know you can see all my emotions on my face; I wonder if he saw the whole mix, or whether they all got jumbled up and came out as something more agreeable than what I was actually feeling. I flashed through feelings of shock, amusement, indignation and rage within 3 seconds. I should probably describe this man to you so you can understand a little bit of what I felt when he said this. He’s about six feet tall, dark, medium build. His eyes are brown and actually pretty soft-looking, if you get what I mean. They’re gentle eyes. And to be honest, that’s about all I can remember about him because his lips pretty much overpower everything else in my memory. They are both the same size and they are HUGE! They are huge and a bit misshapen, with an odd texture to them that makes them look bumpy, like mountainous regions on a relief map. And he has this very gross way of licking his lips where his tongue, which is a bright reddish-pink color, oozes out from between those gargantuan lips and forms a comparatively small triangle that slathers saliva over whatever surface area it can reach before disappearing back into his mouth. Those lips are what decided that I would be dated by their possessor. What impudence! He repeated that statement almost three times before he even considered the fact that there was a possibility that I had a say in the matter, at which point he added, “And you wouldn’t have been able to say no.” I burst out laughing at that point and said, “OK,” not because I agreed, but there was really nothing else to say.

Then he modified the statement slightly and said, “I’m not saying that I would have married you, but we would definitely have become emotionally involved.” Double blow. Not only do I not get a say in whether or not I would date this gross-lipped creature, but I’m not even good enough to marry! Then I remembered his wife, pregnant at home while this man, her husband, is going on and on about how he is struggling even now to control his emotions for me, and how he wouldn’t date me to take advantage of me but to show his love for my father. Hei! I don suffer for man pikin hand! When he invited me to have lunch with him one of these days so that we could discuss further, I decided it was time for me to go ahead and leave his office before it became another situation altogether. His ‘finishing move’ was to tell me that he was going to do his best to control his emotions regarding me now that he knows who I am and where I am. I suppose I should be grateful that this is all that came of our discussion. In the initial stages of his adulation, he had started to envision a publicity campaign to let the student body know that I was in Nigeria. Had to squash that with a quickness; I didn’t come to Nigeria to embarrass myself and let the world know all the things I haven’t done with my life. It was all very deep.

Enough of that though; I want to talk about how much my host mom is annoying me these days.

She keeps trying to force me to eat. And when I say force, I mean force! She only stops short of forcing the food down my throat with her bare hands. She thinks I don’t eat enough, but the truth of the matter is that it’s her food that’s putting me off food in general. Today, I had two pineapple slices for breakfast and a sausage roll for brunch and didn’t even feel hungry at lunchtime. If I were at home, that could NEVER happen…the food just tastes too good to let it sit in the pot! But here, I just lie and say that I don’t care much for food. Her food is just so bland! And even stuff that I think will taste good is starting to taste bad. So she badgers me repeatedly and it’s starting to get harder for me to be polite when I turn her down. And because she was expecting a very American guest and has therefore blocked her mind to my Nigerian-ness, she asks me questions that irritate the piss out of me. It's like "20 Questions" every single hour of the day! I’ve already told her a thousand and one times that I grew up in Nigeria, but she still has it in her mind that I’ve never been here before and therefore don’t know anything about the place. Take today, for instance. She came to pick me up from school and I asked her if we could stop on the way home so I could buy roasted groundnuts. She asked, “You like to eat them?” I’m already irritated by the question and I want to say, “No, I’m buying them just to look at them,” but instead I said, “Yes, but only when I drink gari.” Then she goes, “Do you drink gari?” I didn’t answer immediately because the phrase, “What the fuck did I just say?” was already on the tip of my tongue. I kept quiet, then she asked me again. I clenched my jaw and said, “Yes,” through my teeth, but I really wanted to smack her across the face for being so stupid and annoying, and for being such a bad cook that I can’t even take advantage of the fact that I’m finally back in Nigeria and have the opportunity to eat all the foods I’ve missed. If I don’t get to go home and eat some food with flavor, I’m going to call on Sango to strike this place! I’ve already lost 6 pounds and I’ve only been here 2 weeks!

I did drink the gari, which I was previously very excited to have, but it tasted like crap. I’m going to starve to death, I just know it. I’m going to lose so much weight that my skin will stop glowing and turn ashy, and even Big Lips won’t want me then! I wonder if I've wronged the universe somehow. Did I kill somebody's firstborn? Have I tief another person's husband? Well, clearly I've come close, but it's really not my fault that there is an invisible Pied Piper on my back that attracts these people to me! Sha, God de.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Invisibility Confirmed

We all get the feeling from time to time. We ask a question, nobody responds. We walk into a room, not one eye glances in our direction. When it happens to me, I tend to look for something I can gaze at that will reflect my image, just to be sure that I at least can see myself. I’ve often complained about feeling invisible—some of you can confirm that. But I’ve always felt like my invisibility was a bit different from the average person’s. Nobody believes me, though. My friends just say, “Oh, we all feel like that from time to time.” I tend to walk away from that explanation very reluctantly, choosing to agree with them outwardly, while remaining positive that my own invisibility is unique, highly disturbing, and more deserving of attention than the average person’s. Today, I got justification for my feelings. And if I weren’t so angry, I would be jubilating triumphantly and pointing Aha! fingers at everyone.

Now, as you know by now, I’m in Ife on this language study program. I’m here with nine other girls and three young men, and I feel pretty lost and frustrated most of the time. This is exacerbated by the fact that I don’t think any of them realize I’m actually there with them. This is more than just walking in a room where nobody says hi. In fact, it goes beyond my fellow classmates. My own lecturers don’t seem to believe that kulutempa actually signed up for this trip and comes to class just like everyone else. They will actually hear me answer a question in class then praise someone else for giving the right answer; or they won’t hear me at all then someone else will repeat what I’ve said three or four times—at increasing decibel levels—and get the credit for it. It’s not that it upsets my ego; I just can’t believe that nobody hears me, and even when they do, they don’t see me! Today was the last straw.

I’ve been really, really depressed being in this village of a town, and I just want to go home and see my family. They’re literally right round the corner (as compared to when I’m in the States) and these wankers are just not letting me go see them. My sister-in-law is pregnant for the first time and I want to see her, all round and barefoot, before she jets off to have the baby; I want to see my favorite big brother’s smile (his smile looks like mine J); I want to see my aunt, who isn’t very happy these days and cheer her up…I just want to go home. These bastards tell me that I can’t because if I go, then other people who have been asking to travel for personal research will want to go as well once they notice I’m not around (how they will notice, I have no idea) and that’s just not allowed under the program. They (the directors) want me to understand that they are in a tough position, having to turn down requests all willy-nilly. And you know, I actually tried to empathize with the fact that they have rules and want to stick to them for the sake of peace in the group. I was willing to sacrifice my own happiness, people—or at least just plan a trip without informing anyone and damn the consequences—until today. This fateful, wicked day.

It’s the fourth of July, so we don’t have lectures. Matter of fact, they planned instead to take us out on the town, then arrange a picnic for everyone to ease the pain of those who are homesick. Let’s forget that I’m very homesick right now and no fucking Fourth of July picnic that means jack-all to me is going to erase that pain. We went around Ile-Ife, which was an all right experience. I was pressured to pray at a shrine and “donate” 10 naira for the privilege; I saw ancient pottery and a giant granite pole; I went to visit the Ooni of Ife’s palace. It was decent. Then we came back to campus to hang out for about an hour before the glorious picnic. I went into one room, everyone went into another one down the hall. I was going to follow, but then I decided that I was tired of being with a group but still feeling alone. If I’m going to feel alone, I might as well be alone, right? So I stayed in my room, writing in my Yoruba journal, listening to music and singing along loudly just for the hell of it. I was jamming; I was having a good time. An hour and a half later, someone “flashes” me. One of the girls in the group. I “flashed” her back—who told her that I had credit to call her? Three minutes later, she texts me: Where are you? We’re on the bus going to the picnic.

I was naïve. I assumed she was saying that they were waiting for me outside. I got my things together and I walked outside. There was a bus there, quite all right, but it was empty. I text her back: What bus?

No response.

It began occur to me that I had been abandoned, but I pushed that thought to the back of my mind. There was no room for pessimism, at least not yet. I decided instead that they must still be in the other room and on their way out to get into the bus, so I went to the washroom to wash my face and hands of the sticky sweat that was all over them. In the back of my mind, I knew that I was just buying time to deal with the reality of the situation—my ass had been left. But I told myself that when I was done, they’d be ready to go and congregating around the bus in the parking lot. When I walked out, there was still no sign of anybody. Oddly enough, I couldn’t bring myself to walk to the room and find out if anyone was there or not. I never set one foot in that direction, not even after I was ready to go home. Instead, I phoned my “mom” and told her to come and pick me up. Fifteen minutes later, as she pulled up to the building, the good professor Ojo phoned me to say, and I quote, “Ah, [kulutempa], we are at the Park and Garden Unit.”

Yeah, that’s all he said. Now, I could have taken that a million different ways, which I won’t bother you with right now. This is how I DID take it, though: This motherfucker was informing me that I needed to walk down to this place that everyone else needed a ride to get to. And I say walk because either way he was expecting me to find my way down there, and since we’ve been warned against taking the motorcycle taxis, how else was I supposed to get there? Then this motherfucker wasn’t even about to apologize for the fact that he fucked up at his job at MY expense. No, he was going to act as though everything was fine, or maybe as though I’m the one that messed up. And you know, I might even have felt bad for being irresponsible enough to get left behind. Forget that there’s no way anyone could have looked for me before they left and I know it. No, I might have felt bad, if the good professor Ojo hadn’t given a very carefully-worded speech merely six hours earlier, for the benefit of those of us who had asked to be excused from the program during our free time, about how it was his responsibility to know where everyone is at any given point in time. Yes, the good professor Ojo informed us JUST this morning that he was not in a position to let anyone out of range of his radar because, not only does he need to make sure that he can produce us when the US government asks for us (because, you know, embassies just up and request to see random language students on a whim), but he is our guardian and he would feel just AWFUL were anything to happen to us when we were out of his sight.

But let’s forget the speech for a second and address another point. We’ve been on a number of group excursions since we arrived in Ife. I remember having to wait an hour for someone who wasn’t sure about the right time to meet for the trip. I remember being delayed for lunch because we couldn’t find Amber and Laura and we had to make sure they were OK before everyone else made a move. I remember headcounts, and names being yelled out, and concerned phone calls being made—all before everyone got on the bus. I don’t once recall having to suddenly realize that a member of our group was missing once we arrived at our destination. Or is it that I didn’t pay the same money as everyone else? Was I told to pay only $1000 while everyone else paid $5000, just so that it would be OK to disrespect and mistreat me?

This man had the GALL to pretend that he didn’t owe me an immediate apology! I might not even feel so heated right now if some of the first few words I had heard were along the lines of, “I’m so sorry...” But it’s all right, though. I plan to hold this gaffe over the head of the good professor Ojo when I again demand to be allowed to see my family for the first time since December 2005. He will be reminded about his infamous speech. He will be made VERY aware of how much I do not appreciate the misrepresentation that he will not be allowed to get away with. I can’t see my family because the other students will notice I’m away and complain, is it? I think not, Dr. Ojo. I think not.

They may not be able to see me now, but this invisible student will definitely have a voice at the program evaluation. Yeah, that’s a threat. Bastards.

**On a much lighter note, after a major WC upset, we find that the Fascist Spaghetti Eaters© will be at the final in Berlin!! In support of my boy who stands to win a big pot of loot in the office draw (I am also a winner through you, my dear—forget me not), I stand firmly behind the skills and talents of those Little Boys Blue, if you will, as I chant, “Viva! Viva Italia!”