I’m actually in Nigeria. At long last, I am in the country whose people I fell in love with while living in Romania, the country I have learned so much about through countless conversations, the country I have longed to experience first hand for many years.
I wanted to wait until I was here for a few days to get a handle on things, but I think it will be interesting to write a bit of my first thoughts and be able to look back at my first impressions. Here are some random thoughts I’ve had since being here:
~It’s not as hot as I thought it would be. I think I had prepared myself for 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity PLUS no AC ever. In fact, it’s the rainy season and it’s only in the low to mid 80s in Ife, and while it’s quite humid, it’s not worse than August in NYC. And there is AC most places I frequent, so it’s totally bearable.
~There are little lizards everywhere. Like squirrels in America, but actually way more. The biggest one I’ve seen was only a foot long, but I’m still getting used to them scattering when I walk down a sidewalk lined with bushes.
~Yoruba is the default language. I completely expected the default of people’s interactions to be in English, but it’s completely not the case, at least in Ife. People greet each other in Yoruba and converse mostly in Yoruba, though most everyone speaks English perfectly well too. I have decided that I must start learning Yoruba immediately.
~I am the only white person here. I knew whiteys would be rare, but I guess I still thought I would see one occasionally. Since I left the airport in Lagos on Monday evening, I haven’t seen another white person. However, while I am obviously aware of my foreignness, it honestly doesn’t feel as odd as I thought it would. After a month or so I may think differently, but perhaps living in Harlem this past year helped me get over being a racial minority.
~It has been incredible to put sights, sounds, and tastes to everything I have heard about. While I’ve heard from a dozen people that “the road from Ibadan to Ife is terrible,” it wasn’t until I actually was on that road 2 days ago that it made sense. While I’ve been told that Lagos is a crazy place with tons of traffic and people everywhere, it wasn’t until I actually saw it that I understood. I couldn’t picture the landscape, couldn’t smell Africa, couldn’t taste the souya. But now I have and can, and it’s so entirely wonderful.
~I am truly thankful I know so much about Nigerian culture, food, and people. I’m sure that I will have culture shock in some ways, but having a good amount of experience already is incredibly helpful. I can walk into an eatery and not only know the names of most of the foods, but have tried a good number of them as well. I can pronounce and remember names. I am not bothered by the spice in the food. I have a reasonable foundation of understanding how people interact, and how that is similar and different to my own culture. I clearly have much to learn, but I am thankful for the preparation I have had.
In general, I am in a bit of a bubble at the university. Ok, a lot of a bubble. There is near constant light, running water, nice paved roads, window AC units everywhere, wireless internet that functions much of the time, and a high level of security. As in, the staff houses don’t have the massive fences or wall surrounding them that are ubiquitous in Nigeria. In fact they have no fences at all. Yea. That kind of bubble. The men who drive okadas (motorcycles) on campus have to wear helmets, have licenses, and can’t go above a certain speed limit. As in, I would ride on them and feel safe. This is in sharp contrast to okadas everywhere else- they are notoriously unsafe and have no standards. The university has a pool at the staff club, and I’m excited to be able to swim sometimes. Plus, they’re in the process of building an Olympic size pool that will be open in October. This is seriously incredible.
We drove into town last tonight to get me a phone, and I was snapped back into reality. Ife is just a big village of 200,000 people; the only thing here that distinguishes it is the university, and otherwise it has the feel of a small town. Many people told me as much, but to actually see what a “big village” looks like, it was very interesting. I’m sure I’ll write more on the town as I am there more, so I’ll leave it at that for now.
I’m still jetlagged, have a cold, and am often tired from so much new stimulation, but I am so excited to be here, so thankful that my supervisor and his wife have been welcoming and helpful, and truly looking forward to the next six months.
Guys, I’m in Nigeria.