Friday, January 11, 2013

What I Will Miss (and Not Miss) About Nigeria

I arrived back in the U.S. 8 days ago. The first few days were deliriously happy and easy ones, filled with delicious food and wonderful reunions with friends. But the past few days have been frustratingly hard and overwhelming. I was talking to a friend and asked, "I am feeling inexplicably sad, tired, and disoriented. Did you feel that way when you moved home from Africa?" He said, "Yes, that would be culture shock." Ah yes, there it is. I don't remember feeling quite this way when I moved home from Romania, but this of course is a different experience altogether. In any event, I am sure there will be a cycle and process of easy and hard days over the coming weeks and months. And I need to learn to be ok with that and ride it out as best as I can. I am thankful for roommates and other friends who are understanding of this and who will support me through it. One way I'd like to process my time in Nigeria is to continue blogging about it and will aim to write one entry a week for as long as I need to do so. Don't be confused, I am back in NYC and will be starting my final semester of my MPH at the end of January, but I think continuing to write about Nigeria will be helpful for me.

Thus, my thoughts on what I will (and do!) miss and not miss about Nigeria.

Back in July 2011 when I left Romania I blogged about what I would and would not miss about Romania. As I was thinking about writing this post, I re-read that one. Interestingly, there is a great deal of overlap in the two lists. I know that many of my Nigerian friends both within and outside Nigeria read my blog, so please know that my intent is not to "bash" Nigeria in writing what I won't miss, but simply to share about both the wonderful and the more difficult aspects (for me) of living there.

What I Will Not Miss About Nigeria
~Stares. Honestly my biggest struggle with living in Nigeria was not the frequent power or water outages, not the bugs, and not the heat (though don't worry, they're on the list, too!), it was being stared at all the time. I blogged about it here, and will probably write about some more elements of my "white celebrity" in the coming weeks, as it's a multi-faceted issue that wasn't simply about the "stares" per se, but so many elements of being white, young, female and foreign. All that to say, it was a daily battle that sometimes I handled well, and sometimes not so well. But I am thankful to not have to battle that in NYC, where I am completely anonymous and unknown.
~Corruption. Bribery is blatant and expected in Nigeria. Corruption is the norm in politics. Schemes, trickery, frauds, 419. The list goes on. It's sad, disheartening and frustrating. Thankfully I didn't have to deal with it directly all that often, but it was all around me and a frequent topic of conversation amongst Nigerian friends. I felt like I always had to be on my guard and paying attention to every interaction and transaction to make sure I wasn't being taken advantage of. Which could be exhausting at times. Now, of course there is corruption in one form or another everywhere in the world, but I think when you're foreign (and visibly so), it just heightens everything. So, I am happy to have a reprieve from the ways it was present in Nigeria.
~Bugs. A frequent experience throughout my day was to think, "Gosh, it feels like something is crawling on my leg/arm/neck." And to look and find that yes, indeed, there is something crawling on me. Bugs were simply an ever-present reality of living in a Boys Quarters next to the bush/forest (and I will say, would NOT be the case in other places/living situations in Nigeria). Which is what it is, and I've definitely increased my fearlessness quotient because of it. But I'm perfectly ok to be back in a place where I don't wake up in the middle of the night to find soldier ants invading my bedroom or spiders crawling on me.

~Power and water outages. I actually didn't mind this as much as I thought I would. And I was fortunate to have power about 70% of the time and water flowing about 60% of the time (with a big plastic storage bin for when it wasn't running) since I was living on a University campus. In town it would have probably been about half that. But again, given my preference, I'd choose constant power and clean, drinkable always-flowing water that I can regulate to be any temperature I desire.

~Garbage. There is seriously garbage everywhere. It's perfectly acceptable to just throw trash on the ground. Finish a bottle of water? Throw it out the car window or just drop it as you're walking. It's overwhelming and sad. Of course I understand it takes a lot of infrastructure, equipment and education to develop proper waste disposal systems. Furthermore, NYC is unquestionably one of the dirtiest (and smelliest!) places in the U.S., so I'm not actually coming back to a 'pristine' environment. However, I will not miss the overt disposal of trash out in the open, not one bit.

~Sweating all the time. It's insanely hot in Nigeria. And my home was not air conditioned, and most people do not have or do not use the AC in their cars. As a result, I spent six months almost constantly sweating. I drank a ton of water to make sure I stayed hydrated, and one friend even joked that Aquadana stock would probably drop when I left the country. Of course now that I'm back in NYC in the middle of winter (going from 100 degree average daily highs to 40 degree average daily highs overnight!) I'm insanely cold all the time and longing for the dry hot sun of harmattan. But I do think the next time I live in Nigeria, I will splurge on a window AC unit for my bedroom. 

What I Will Miss About Nigeria
~Hospitality. Nigerians are the most hospitable people I've ever met. Hands down. Hospitality was also on my list for Romania, and indeed Romanians are hospitable. But Nigerians take the cake on this one. And they will probably feed you cake if you visit them. I invariably felt warmly welcomed into any home I visited, and was constantly amazed by how generous my friends, and even acquaintances were. I have a little bit of difficulty unwinding hospitality from generosity since so much of my experience with generosity was linked to hospitality, but I was often humbled by how freely people would give of the little that they had to bless another person. I could not visit someone without leaving with my arms full of food, drinks or fruit. Perhaps the most humbling experience of Nigerian generosity was when I went on a daylong mission trip to a remote village with some friends. As we were leaving, the villagers brought us (no exaggeration) hundreds of oranges, dozens of plantains, and probably ten yams. These people had almost nothing materially, yet they were sending us home with such an incredibly generous gift. I was inspired and encouraged time and time again to live my live in such a radically generous and hospitable way.
~Celebration. Nigerians celebrate everything. Often in a big way. Birthdays. Weddings. Funerals. Baby dedications. Graduations. All can be reasons for a massive party involving hundreds or thousands of people. I think Nigerians value life in a special way because they are confronted with the fragility of life in much more intense ways than we (for the most part) do in America. So they celebrate. And rejoice. And give thanks. And invite everyone they know to join in with their celebrating. I'm fairly certain that over my six months in Nigeria there were not more than a handful of weekends where I had zero invites to some sort of party. I will definitely miss this!

~Simple life. As in many places outside the U.S., life is simpler. Not so fast paced. Not so commercial. Not so go go go. As a person who is prone to over-committing and go-go-going, I appreciate living in a place where I don't have to battle against that every day. In NYC I feel like I constantly have 10 things to accomplish in a day, and am expected to do so. So even if I accomplish 7 (a perfectly respectable amount in and of itself), I'm still not keeping up. In Ife, logistically it is unlikely that I could accomplish more than 3 things in a day, and no one actually expects me to do so. I can take time for myself, I can rest, I can spend long uninterrupted time with friends, I can be present wherever I am, without a mental battle to do so. I will miss not feeling constant pressure to buy, do, be, read, have, experience, and accomplish more, more, more. Though it definitely took time to unwind from my NYC intensity at first, I am thankful for a season where I could (more easily) live a simple life.     

~Food. Oh my word I love Nigerian food so much. Suya, puff puff, chin chin, amala, and fried rice are just a few of my favorites. The fruit is also insanely delicious and fresh. Now I understand how papaya and pineapple should taste. I wrote blogs about food here, here, here, and here. So clearly I really delved into the cuisine of Nigeria. Don't get me wrong, I love being able to eat "familiar" foods again, but I really love Nigerian food and will miss it!

~Joy. It is rare to hear a Nigerian complain. I realized this when I was there, but I realize it even more being home in a culture where grumbling and complaining are rampant. Oh my word, we Americans complain A LOT! It was always so striking to me that despite having seemingly really genuine reasons to be frustrated or unhappy, Nigerians were so very joyful. Uncomplaining. Optimistic.  Hopeful that a better and brighter day would come. Choosing gratefulness over grumbling. Now, of course not everyone was like this all the time, just as not all Americans grumble all the time. But the overarching environment and culture was one of joyful appreciation and thanksgiving. This was hugely inspirational and instructive to me, and I already miss it terribly.       

Well, this post has certainly gotten quite long, so I'll bring it to a close here. Of course there's plenty more that I could include in both lists, and each of these is likely an oversimplification of the idea in one way or another. But it's my attempt to share a bit of the joys and frustrations of my time in Nigeria. Unfortunately now that I've reminisced about Nigerian food so much, I'm really craving some rice and stew... let me go see what I can do about that!  


Becky said...

Ah, the readjustment is so hard :/ I struggled with this after coming back from Romania, but it got infinitely better once I got a job and settled into a more routine and 'normal' life back in the UK. I'm sure that starting back with your studies will help to give you the focus, routine and distraction you need x

Joe & Kendra said...

such a great post, thanks for writing it all out and sharing it!