Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How To Be a Nigerian

I just read the short little book entitled How To Be a Nigerian by Peter Enahoro, written in 1966. I borrowed it from a friend, and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The book includes 21 brief "chapters" (amounting to 1-5 pages each) covering such topics as Unity in Diversity, The Art of Grumbling, Taxi Drivers, and The Lagosian. I enjoyed seeing both how much was still relevant and how much was clearly coming from a shortly-after-independence worldview (independence was gained from the UK in 1960).

Here are two excerpts, the first is from a section entitled "Noise from the Soul"
In the beginning, God created the universe; then He created the moon, the stars and the wild beasts of the forests. On the sixth day, He created the Nigerian and there was peace. But on the seventh day while God rested, the Nigerian invented noise

No noise is ever quite like the Nigerian noise. If you were a good student of noise, you would soon find out that the solid, compelling monotony of Nigerian noise is something exciting and companionable; and after a while, that you really begin to miss this regularized, unabated noise, such as when you are temporarily abroad for instance.

A successful European buys a house in the country and spends the greater part of his life seeking solitude and quiet. He climbs mountains and joins a country club distinguished for its silent fun; where members do not speak to one another unless it is absolutely essential, such as when a brooding club-mate is on fire and hasn't noticed it.

In Nigeria you are regarded with suspicion if you seek solitude, climb mountains and have a house in the country.
And here the entirety of the chapter entitled "Patience Aforethought"
Nigerians are profoundly proud of their patience and you can win him to life-long friendship if you say to a Nigerian that you are grateful for his patient understanding. This monumental patience reveals itself in his phlegmatic nature.
There are few nations in the world where man and the clock have reached amicable settlement. Nigeria is one of them. Foreigners are often astonished that the Nigerian is completely indifferent to the pressure of time. The secret of this success lies in a gentleman's understanding, whereby each respects the other's province. If a Nigerian is late for an appointment he takes it with a sporting calm on the cheerful grounds that Time beat him to it this time. 
The mistaken impression is abroad that the Nigerian is unambitious and that his cool reserve for Time is evidence of laziness. Wrong. It is simply a matter of letting Time race with time- with the Nigerian as an unperturbed bystander. As the Nigerian often says, "The clock did not invent man." Give this thought. It is deeply philosophical. 
National holidays aside, nothing thrills the Nigerian and cements him in spirit with a fellow Nigerian faster than the unanimous disregard for Father Time. Should Time conspire against him, his countrymen will stand with him to the end against the common enemy.

You invite a Nigerian to dinner for 8 p.m. and he has not turned up at 9 p.m. Do not give up and begin to eat. He is sure to turn up at 9:30 p.m. the next day. If you don't wait, next day he will complain to a colleague in the office: "Do you know that couldn't even wait." His friend will mark you down as a potential enemy. In many parts of the world, life is mortal combat between man and ruthless Father Clock, with Father Clock leading by a neck. The implacable resolve of man to battle to the bitter end with time does not attract the Nigerian. 
He surrendered a long way back.

Hot tip for the foreigner in a hurry: Instant coffee takes only half an hour to brew in Nigeria. (I don't know if that is original).
So dry. So hilarious. Really enjoy this little gem of a little book. I think I'm a few steps closer to becoming a Nigerian.

1 comment:

AnnaBanana said...

wow very interesting. an enjoyable reading. i'd love to read more. maybe when my neighbor in Nigeria will lend it to me ha. it all makes sense now. i am curious how the New Yorker in you balances this.