The Young and Disenchanted

Archive for the ‘Nigeria’ Category

Yellow Fever

It happened again, you fell asleep on the wheel. You wake up to the sounds of cars honking around you, people passing by a shouting expletives and throwing finger signs and speaking in a language you dont understand, totally drenched in sweat, you look like you just took a swim in the lagoon. Sounds of the newest Dbanj song are blaring from your car radio. You look around quickly, say a word of apology to the passers-by, start you ignition and move your car forward. But alas, you only moved about 2 feet. Goddamn it, your air conditioning is not working, you are stuck in a traffic jam and you have to keep your windows down and enjoy the loud noise that surrounds you.

You look over at the danfo (small public transport buses) and you see a young lady, you would eye flirt but you are just way too pissed to work your mojo right now. On any other day, a sweat drenched lady with her shirt half buttoned down would be quite exciting to any heterosexual male. You look more closely at her and you see she is wearing a look on her face akin to someone about to take a crap, so not sexy. She looks squeezed like a sardine in the vehicle sticking her face out the window for a gasp of fresh air.

The young lady in question sits in the packed danfo, a slave to the sweat. She unbuttons the top two buttons of her shirt and looks at the window and notices a man in a car looking intently at her. She shrugs, whatever tickles his fancy, I m gonna try and get some air so she sticks her face out of the window. The guy sitting next to her has been basically copping a field the whole ride but she cant complain, 5 people are sitting in a row meant for 3, her thighs are so together they almost look like they are one piece. Behind her, an elderly lady continues to preach. She is shouting amidst the noise and in the traffic, she has been talking for the last 2 hours they have been in traffic telling the crowded bus to repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. The young lady almost has a good mind to tell her to shut up but she knows that the rest of the bus will tell her to keep quiet and ask her if she got not respect. So she sighs and continues to look outside.

Two motorcycles/scooters/okada manoeuvre past in between vehicles as they often do in such choked up traffic. One hits the other and it falls down with the passenger on it who hurts his knee. The man driving the okada and his passenger stand up and grab the man who hit them as he tries to make a quick escape on his okada. Its amazing how they just yank him and the motorcycle moves on hitting a car. They proceed to hold him by his shirt and keep yelling at him. In the meanwhile, the owner of the car that got hit comes out and joins in what soon becomes a brawl. The other people in the vehicles watch on as this further complicates the traffic situation that was at least moving an inch at a time. Eventually the man, whose car got hit, gets back in his car, no insurance exchanged or nothing. He is satisfied to have vented some of his frustration by hitting the okada man in the eye. The okada man and his passenger, who were hit, get back on their okada and continue to wade through the traffic congestion.

In the midst of this mayhem, you would be missing something not to mention the men and women who manage to sell their wares in the midst of this traffic in the hot sun. From the man selling sausage rolls, cold drinks and candy to the man who sells paintings, rat poison and cane chairs. The traffic jam is like a supermarket, visa and mastercard accepted although I doubt you will get it back if you decide to give them your credit card.

The traffic picture isn’t complete without the white couple in the jeep behind you. Their windows are wound up, they have their air conditioning working and they are being driven by a chauffeur and I kid you not they seem to be drinking white wine or champagne in the back.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a snapshot of what traffic in Lagos, Nigeria can be and is actually based on some of my experiences commuting in the city. Hell hath no fury like a traffic jam in lagos, stuck in a vehicle with no air conditioning. I think I ll take freezing cold Siberia for a $100.

The title of the blogpost is from AC/DC, as an 80s baby I love me some 80s classic rock. It your boy!

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This entry has actually been a year or so in the making… Recently I’ve been thinking a lot more about my relationship with religion. I was raised Catholic and although I believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I’m not so sure about little-boy-rapists, thieves and hypocrites. I’m not saying that any religion is perfect, but rather that one should strive for matter over content – that is, to seek spirituality rather than to constantly apply rules and labels to what some call “faith.” With that said, allow me to ruminate.

A year ago I went to a discussion on my campus about Islamophobia. While listening to the other people present (all of whom had grown up in the West), it became clear to me that the word Islamophobia can have very different connotations depending on the geographical and cultural perspective of the person talking. Most people think of the words “jihad” and “terrorist” in this post-9/11 world when the topic of Islam comes up, which makes perfect sense sitting in a brownstone on New York’s Upper West Side. However, as the conversation went on and the participants were asked to give specific examples of Islamophobia that they had witnessed, I realised that as a Nigerian my experience of this phenomenon was considerably unlike that of those who weren’t from my part of the world.

I was living in England at the time the September 11th attacks took place. I was there when the London bombings of 2005 happened. I had seen the television reports and heard the hostile comments that painted a picture of the average Muslim as a rabid fanatic hell-bent on destroying the values of democracy that make “Western civilisation” the best of all human societies. Although I could go further into the problems of this level of stereotyping, I think I may save that for another entry. The discussion actually made me think for the first time about the ways in which Islamophobia works where I come from. Because Nigeria wasn’t directly affected by 9/11, the whole “terrorist” discussion didn’t initially come up with regards to Islam (again, thanks, panty-bomber). What does seem to be a problematic issue back home is the relationship between Muslims and Christians. Nigeria is split roughly 50/50 in terms of religion between these two groups. The Muslims live predominantly in the northern part of the country, whilst Christians occupy the south. My city, Lagos, is probably the most diverse in the country because of its status as the commercial centre, and for the most part Muslims and Christians happily coexist side by side there. In other parts of the country, however, this isn’t necessarily the case.

The news has been filled recently with stories of “deadly religious clashes” in Plateau state, which is in the “Middle Belt” of Nigeria (the dividing line between the “Muslim North” and “Christian South.” The violence was horrific – burnt babies, men mutilated by machetes, women wounded in indescribable ways. Although this violence is labelled as religiously-motivated, other factors such as scarce resources, a lack of education and the consistent failure of the Nigerian government to build a cohesive national identity over the past 50 years are probably more central to the issue. Many people on both sides of the religion line see each other as so fundamentally alien, despite the fact that we are all citizens of the same country and the many intersections in our history, cultures and languages. I’ve heard Christians I’m close to call Muslims “uneducated,” “polygamous” and “close-minded” like these are terms exclusive to Islam. My cousin has told me stories of being called an “infidel” by her Muslim classmates as a child, classmates who just a day earlier had sat next to her and called her a friend. And when you’re struggling to scrape by as a farmer and water gets scarce, it’s probably easier to take your frustrations out on the person from a different tribe and village than on the gun-protected officials who don’t perform the tasks they were “elected” to do.

I was just reading an article by David Goodhart for a political science class in which he argues that the more diverse a society, the harder it is for it to be cohesive. This may be true, but I find it impossible to accept that Nigerians are so dissimilar from one another that they cannot possibly find a common ground. Islam and Christianity are no more radically different from one another than a Yoruba is from an Itsekiri. A friend invited me to Friday prayers on campus last week and listening to the lecture, I heard nothing that I hadn’t heard in a homily at a Sunday mass. I can’t speak for other places but in the context of my country, I think that these supposed “differences” between us – whether distinctions of religion, ethnicity or class – are being exploited and exaggerated by leaders seeking support for their kleptomaniac ways and bullshit “ideologies.” Of course, this is only politics as usual but seeing a man sob after his wife was buried in a mass grave with his children nowhere to be found, one may have to start rethinking some things. Nothing will ever change in the country if its people don’t have a sense of community with one another, regardless of whatever superficial differences we perceive among ourselves.

P.S. This Jill jawn right here is beautiful… even though it really doesn’t have much to do with this post, that line always stands out for me. Sura 31:18, by the way, reads: “And swell not thy cheek/(For pride) at men/Nor walk in insolence/Through the earth/For Allah loveth not/Any arrogant boaster.” Good advice to live by.

I have made my season of migration back to the heart of darkness. NYC is as cold as I left it – a sharp arse contrast to the balmy Harmattan heat of Lagos and Dakar. It hasn’t all been gloom and doom though – I’ve hung out with friends, touched Mos Def (yes I saw him – and it was amazing) and had that deliciously decadent molten chocolate brownie with ice cream from the diner across the street from me. However, it’s my last semester as a college student aka Knuckle Down Time. I have a thesis to write, a job to find and classes to ace so I can graduate with a decent GPA. This means that I will be spending the majority of my days locked down in the library – kind of depressing, but as I love pretty much everything I’m reading and writing, I’m actually very content about the whole life situation.

Except for this job business. Part of the issue is that I enjoy making life complicated for myself. When I first got to college, I thought I could be an econ major, enjoy the perks of investment banking upon graduation (aka wild money) and retire filthy rich at the age of 32 to pursue a life as a nomad photographer. Alas, I discovered that my brain was suited better to analysing literature than manipulating formulae, so I traded my calculator for a stack of novels (at last count, close to 200 of them) and chose to study English and Political Science. This made the past 2 years in particular incredibly fulfilling, but now the honeymoon period has worn off and reality has hit. I have to find a job – a good job – and generally try to figure out what the hell I want to do with my life. For a while now I’ve been fantasising about becoming an English professor… I could absolutely dedicate my life to the study of post-colonial African literature, get tenure someplace fabulous and school the yung’uns on Achebe and Senghor. Yes, it will take a long time to get there (and I will be pitifully destitute while getting there), but deep down I know that an intellectual/academic/creative path is for me. I need to be surrounded by mountains of books and papers, to have arguments over the smallest nuances of a sentence and most importantly, to continue to learn. This all sounds so incredibly perfect, and yet I am full of doubts.

You see, this little break for freedom I want to make hasn’t exactly come with precedent as far as my upbringing goes. My parents are both professionals, as are my older two sisters (although one is also trying to be a professor). While growing up I was given free rein to indulge my intellectual curiosity (something my father probably deeply regrets now), but it seems that as far as Nigerians go, I’m an exception in terms of the things that interest me. Most of us are taught to focus on what will provide the money to take care of your family: be a lawyer, be an engineer, work for an oil company. The glory days of Soyinka and Azikiwe are long gone – the leading Nigerian intellectuals are predominantly elderly men and in a country where civil society and intellectual debate have been decimated and restricted for so many years, it doesn’t surprise me. Being a professor at a Nigerian university doesn’t pay (literally) – working for a bank does. Why then, would anyone want to study African literature over Accounting? Ah – because they were unlucky enough to stumble across a comparative literature class their sophomore year, read A Season of Migration to the North and were unable to resist the germ of a deadly disease that assailed them a thousand years ago. I’m trying to make a life out of what most Nigerians would call a hobby. This means that if I really do want to go down this path, I may have to do so outside my home country.

However, this isn’t so simple. Although I love learning about other cultures, the problems that haunt Nigeria are tugging at me, forcing me to look closer at this place I call home and decipher just how much I know about it… which is actually pathetically little. I need to learn more about the complexities of Muslim-Christian relationships in the Middle Belt, where horrifically violent riots have been taking place, about the variations in rural and urban life in the North and South, about which societal structures survived colonialism and which ones are a product of it. But Nigeria hasn’t become a sexy topic for academia yet – as far as African countries go, Sudan is probably what’s hottest in the corridors of intellect, or countries like Senegal that have a rich legacy of scholarship. I’m not saying that there aren’t brilliant Nigerian scholars, but it saddens me that the vibrant academic communities that thrived at Nsukka and Ibadan (my parents’ alma maters) 40 years ago have falling victim to the systematic rot that plagues everything else in Nigeria.

But somewhere in the hot mess that is Nigeria, I sense opportunity. I see potential teachers and students on every street corner in Surulere. It’s not that we don’t have the resources to do better – to expand our horizons not only in terms of development, but also to rebuild our public forums, improve education and encourage political debate at the grassroots. It’s just that we don’t have leaders who have the inclination, bravery and balls to step up and actually improve the country. And that must change. We’re sometimes called the “sleeping giant” – maybe it’s time for us to wake the fuck up. And maybe, just maybe, with other people who feel the same, I could be the alarm clock… as long as I can get some decent moolah out of it (just keeping it 100). I think that would make for a pretty awesome life.

Now back to Mamdani and this chocolate muffin.

P.S. Not that it has a lot to do with this post, but I love this Erykah Badu jawn.