Today I yield these pages to a smart 11 year old who made her first trip to mother Africa late last year. I trust you will find some of her observations of our country and culture poignant.
My First Visit to Mother Africa
12-7-11 My Big Family Trip to Africa
Today, we took off. I feel like I can see everything from up here. I love flying. I’m really excited to be going to Africa for the first time but nervous too. Exciting because I can’t wait to try new things and see my extended family for the first time but nervous because what if my family doesn’t like me or if something goes wrong at my Aunt’s wedding. I know this trip will change me in many ways but for the better or worse I can’t tell yet. (And my first stop is San Francisco).
12-8-11 Safe Landing in Lagos
Finally we’re in Lagos, Nigeria. The first thing I noticed about Nigeria was the heat at the airport-Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Ikeja, Lagos State Nigeria. Stepping outside the plane, you are immediately stung by about 91 degrees heat wave. You feel like throwing up. Your entire body convulsed into a broiling broth, finding a way to churn your entire system upside up. Strangely, not many of the Nigerian born travelers felt the sting. Perhaps they were not coming from frigid winter weather of inland northwest of the United States of America into a raging inferno and boiling cauldron of Lagos tropical weather. The comfort of the arrival lounge of the airport is no comfort; the wings where few air condition are working had open windows with airport staff standing nearby. The sections with malfunctioning air condition hummed like drones. Strangely, everyone took it in his or her strides; it was like I am the only one feeling the pinch. Everyone seems to be oblivious to the boiling cauldron of an airport. No one complained to the airport staff, they all seem to have accepted this normal. So off they go, as if this is expected of every airport in Nigeria. Even some who flew with us from Atlanta and saw the excellent service at Atlanta and Houston said little about the appalling condition of MMIA.
Stranger still is the treatment of those who carry Nigerian green passport. There is a long waiting line with few custom officials attending to them, whilst foreigners visiting Nigerian are quickly attended to. One Nigerian with US and Nigerian passport standing in front of us, could not bear it any longer so he tried to use his US passport to check in, but he was told that he needed to have obtained Nigerian visa before traveling. He tried to get back to same place on Nigerian passport long line but was rebuffed by others. Then the loud argument started. OMG! Everyone had an opinion on what should happen to him and they all want to express it at the same time.
The first member of my extended family I met in Nigeria, was my Aunt Kemi and her son, Daniel. Aunt Kemi drove us to her house at Surulere, behind the National Stadium. Lagos is a bustling city with modern houses and structures competing in a macabre dance with old dilapidated structures. Every thing points to a faint attempt by planners to impose their will on the city, even as its inhabitants and developers struggles to thwart all of such efforts. There are signs of government intent to demolish illegal structures on some building whilst new building are being built on the same drainage with government approval plan painted with black ink on the fence. One imposing billboard proclaims: “This is Lagos!” Welcome is a luxury every one-can ill afford in Lagos, every soul is on the move. Everyone is trying to get to some place in hurry and if they had to crush the car ahead of them to get to that destination they do not mind. The only one standing around is either selling you some China made wares or begging for your money.
My aunt Kemi drove like a New York cab driver, she yells at other road users who might not be paying attention and scream at men driver who may be trying to take advantage of her feminity. As she drove us to her house, I noticed most houses had gigantic gates and high fence; I asked her why? She said incase armed robbers comes to attack you. Later my uncle Yemi and Dapo came over and had dinner with us, and since it was Uncle Yemi’s birthday, we had cake. After the cake, we packed up our suitcases and luggage in Uncle Yemi’s car, since we are spending the night at his house. That house is where I am sitting on his couch writing this journal entry.
12-9-11 Nothing really happened
Nothing really happened today, Auntie Kemi showed us where to buy sandals, and then she took us to the mall. Shortly, after that we went to this interesting hair salon, which is bare of any equipment, and my mom got her hair done. Oh and earlier in the morning my Dad left to go to Ilesha, his village in preparation for his sister’s wedding. Tomorrow we are going to Ilesha and it’s a four hour drive and I wish we were flying.
12-14-11 Delicious Suya
I just got back from my aunt’s who lives in Akure, hence the gap in my journal from 12-10-11 to 12-14-11. She took Sam and me with her to Akure, Ondo State. When we got there, she took me to do my hair, it took three hours to make my hair pretty like an African queen. The three seemed like three years or at worst an eternity, but the folks who work there talked to me the entire time so it wasn’t that bad.
After they finished my hair we went back to Auntie’s house for dinner. We ate this awesome spicy red meat called “suya”, it was so delicious.
As soon as we finished , we start to watch T.V and play hide and seek in the dark with Sam, Feranmi (Fern), my 11-year-old cousin. It was pretty fun. We stayed up till 3:30 a.m. On the third day, I didn’t wake up till 2:00pm we ate lunch then we drove back to Ilesha. When we got there, I found an astounding sight, the house my Dad had been building for more than a year was now practically done, it looks really awesome and my Dad said I could paint my own room. And I am going to be a bridesmaid in the wedding. I’m not that surprised, I knew there had to be a reason why they kept measuring me before we left Ilesa to Akure.
12-15-11 Nigeria Standard Voltage is 120
After getting to the new house at Ilesa, all I did for a few hours is my homework and Kumon and read. Then I ate lunch. After that people started coming so I met a bunch of extended family members, most of them are nice. We tried to set up our Wii but I won’t work. My Dad explanation is that it carries US standard voltage of 110 and the Nigerian standard voltage is 120. There are frequent power outage and surges so that is why almost everyone including us has a generator connected to their home. Just before I went to bed for the night, I tried on my pink bridesmaid dress. It is actually more of a darker pink design all over it and it looks beautiful.
12-16-11 The Engagement Party
The engagement party was today, it was awesome! There was dancing and singing, it was so loud you had to shout to talk to the person next to you. Interesting enough, this do not bother anyone around, even some mothers with little infants tucked at their back went about the party with aplomb. I can just imagine the earplugs of the kids exploding. One nursing mother even sat in front of the public address system breast-feeding her baby with reckless abandon.
On a good note, I finally met my aunt’s “hubby to be” he seems okay. He is very quiet, and unassuming. I wonder what is going on in his mind. In fact what do spouses to be think about a day before their wedding….hmmm. (note to self: food for thought).
I also met Nifemi and Murewa, my cousins from Akure, which meant they are all Far’s siblings. Everyone likes Nifemi, but they all call her Nife, Nigerians are just like Brazilians-they gave their kids long names and then later devise a shorten version of such long names. I wonder why they don’t just named her Nife. When I asked Dad, he said something to the effect that African names must necessarily reflect the spiritual world Africa lives in (or words to that effect). Nife is 14 years old, cute, brainy and very quiet-which of course explains why many likes her. She had just got back from boarding house. She attends a gifted school called Federal government Academy in the northern part of the country. She told us that a bomb recently went off at a church near her school. The northern part of the country is notorious for religious clashes between adherents of Islam and Christians. Nife came back from boarding school last night, which probably explains the reason why I didn’t see her while I was at Akure. One thing I found out about her later is that she is bossy sometimes. I later understand that being older than you means that the elder boss the little ones. Nife’s brother bosses her so she boss they and me expect me to boss my little ones…on and on like that without end. Nife, however is also very blunt and I like her. She is also one of the bridesmaids, along with my other cousin and Yemi-Uncle Boye’s first daughter, me.
Murewa is 16 years old and also goes to boarding school, we really didn’t talk much to each other, but he’s cool. By the way, did I say I can’t wait till the wedding tomorrow.
12-17-11 The Wedding
The wedding “proper” (to use my Dad’s words) was a blast. The church service was super long and boring though. I felt like I wanted to sleep during it but the reception was WOW! They served Jollof rice and fried rice with chicken for lunch and on every table they had little blue bowls filled with candy – I still do not know why Nigerian called candy “sweats”. It was delicious and they also had this awesome punch that was to die for. As usual my nurse Mom, threw cold waters on my excitement by saying that the reason we all liked it is because Nigerian punch is extra sweetened by fattening sugar.
I also talked to some of my new uncle’s relatives- in case you are wondering, my Mom insist that I should called my aunt’s new hubby uncle. When I asked why, she said are you going to call him by his name? She said that is very disrespectful. It all comes down again to title. Why do Nigerians like titles before their names? Any way, my Aunt’s new family is fairly nice. They are from the ancient Oyo town, but the husband is a stockbroker based in Ile-Ife, another ancient town in Yoruba’s lore. In fact the Yorubas believed the whole world descended from heaven and landed at Ile-Ife. When I asked my Dad for veracity of that story, he said it is all mythology.
The dancing at the reception is probably my favorite part, since we got money from dancing. Here’s how it works, if they throw money at you, it is called spraying, but you have to make sure you pick it up quick, as there are street urchins called “area boys” who will quickly pick it up and pranced away. At the end of it all, I was super tired after the reception so as soon as we got to the house I fell asleep.
12-18-11 The Goodbyes
Today we said goodbyes to everyone that came for the wedding, since most of the people invited do not live in Ilesha. Most often came early before the wedding and stayed at our house until it was over and now we had to say goodbyes. We had got used to most of them. One thing about African is the togetherness, I think the idea of nuclear family is alien to the African culture. For more than a week, these folks had lived at our house and felt at home even though some had to sleep on bare floor.
After everyone left, we started to tidy up the house, there was dirt all over the floors, pounded yam wrappers, candy wrappers, water bottles et al. It took a couple of hours but eventually, trust my Mom everything was tiptop!
Then we (kids) got to pick our rooms, I chose the room next to the bathroom since I share with my little sister and she pees ten times a night (only kids room are not self contained, all the other rooms had bathrooms and restrooms enclosed). At about 6:30 pm my Dad got all of us together to take a walk around the neighborhood. We saw lots of forest but no animals. We came back around 7:00pm and ate dinner. I then had to do my journals, which is what I’m doing now.
More to come next month