The Young and Disenchanted

Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

I haven’t written on this blog for a long time, mainly because the past few months have been ridiculously hectic: finishing an epic thesis, graduating from college, driving/setting off fireworks across the United States… you know, those standard coming-of-age traditions necessary for a recent graduate trying to figure out who they are/what they want to do with their lives/how to pay the rent without having to resort to eating Ramen every night. These past few months have been full of so many events, thoughts and conversations that have shifted my perspective on life – as, indeed, have the 4 years I spent at college in New York City – and I feel incredibly grateful, terrified and excited for my past as well as this next stage of my life.

With all of that in mind, I think it’s time for me to be on to the next – and by that I mean that this will be my last post on the Young and Disenchanted. While I’ll still be writing, this blog is a snapshot of the person I was a year ago: curious, cynical, college-age. I’m absolutely still curious and a touch cynical, but part of shaping my post-college identity requires a break with the past and a chance to rediscover passions I’ve left latent, or to find new ones all together. I feel decidedly less disenchanted than I used to be… And while I’m still fascinated by many of the same questions I addressed on this blog, particularly those of a more global/universal nature, I’m ready to be rid of all the bullshit emo-ness of university life that came with them (and also to stop cursing as much). I’ll be writing on a new blog that’ll be driven by my loves (Africa, books, politics, music and photography) and which will be hopefully a little more polished and definitely updated more regularly.

Looking over the trajectory of my posts, I’m actually pretty amazed at how much I’ve grown and I’m excited for this next new chapter of my life and all of the fuckery, love and wonderful souls it will undoubtedly contain.

Signing off,

Miss Young and Disenchanted

P.S. I saw Ms Badu in concert last week and she KILLED it. The title is from one of my favourite songs of hers (and which she also performed).

It’s that time in April when jaded and exhausted college seniors are slowly beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The sun is (generally) shining, we’re more or less certain of our future plans (more the latter than the former, to be fair) and there are tons of activities planned for the next month or so intended to strengthen our bonds of friendship and fill us with nostalgia for our days as wide-eyed and optimistic freshmen drunk off the joy of living in New York City (and by that, I mean drunk off free Natty Light at frat parties). On this list which defines the life of a graduating senior, the “future plans” segment has become more and more prominent in conversations on my campus. It’s kind of like the “What were your SAT scores/what are you majoring in” of our first year (ugh, I HATED those questions). Suddenly folks you haven’t spoken to since a couple of awkward encounters during sophomore year in a dorm elevator are curious about what you’ve been doing for the past four years and how you plan to apply the skills you have supposedly gained in the “real world.” Now, being the disenchanted young woman that I am, I tend to view these questions when fielded by anyone I don’t consider a close friend avec – how do you say? – le side-eye. My cynicism seems somewhat justified by a recent document I was made privy to in which, essentially, my classmates entered information about their post-graduation contact details, summer plans, starting salary, potential spousal requirements… you know, the standard things one frets about in the “real world.” Personally, I believe that if you want to know what I’m doing after graduation, we should be good enough friends that I’ve been telling you about my plans in person since last summer, not entering these myriad details into a form as a means of keeping in touch. Perhaps I’m just being idealistic, but this somewhat depersonalised approach makes me uncomfortable.

This is not to say that such an activity is entirely driven by base motives: if one has a large social circle, perhaps it’s easier to have everyone’s information in one easily-accessible place as opposed to struggling with lingering memories of half-forgotten conversations a year later. However, I think more people are concerned with the “networking” aspect of such an enterprise – knowing where your classmates will be working may help you to make connections and plan your ascent up the corporate ladder accordingly. I’m sure anyone reading this must be thinking: “Um, no shit, Sherlock – what the fuck else did you think you were going to college for?” Well, pardon me for my unconventional thought, but I had hoped that I would leave college with an expanded mind and drive to change the world. I guess I fucked up… which is why I don’t have a job with Merrill Lynch. Epic fail.

Or so it would seem. You see, there is an underlying assumption on this dear campus of mine that pretty much everyone wants to follow the same path to fame and glory: that all of us would like a penthouse in Manhattan, a red Ferrari (personally I prefer a black Mustang) and a name – you know, that recognition amongst an elite group of people that you are the unequivocal shit, an outlier, da best (shout out to Drake). After all, this is what the American dream was built on (although back in the day, this was probably closer to a townhouse in Chicago, a tricked-out horse and buggy and a shiny plaque at the Episcopalian church down the road with your surname on it). However, mes petits chou-fleurs, not all of us had the good fortune to be born and raised in this wonderful country known as the USA. Some of us who are attending college here were raised in the hot and sweaty tropics, deep in the heart of darkness, as far away from the shining citadel as you can get. Where I come from, it is a precious few of us who have the luxury of being individuals in the sense that your personal success reflects back on you and you alone. Oh, no – if I am successful (which the meaning of my name promises me I shall be), it is a success for my family, my village, my tribe and each and every Nigerian boy and girl who hopes to one day go to America and also become a success. In the words of Lagbaja, it’s always “we before me.” Sure I can go ahead and get that Mustang, but I had better make sure my mother isn’t struggling through the streets of Lagos in a broken-down Kia before I drive off the lot. Before I do well for my own sake, I have to be aware of the duties that I have to fulfil to those who came before me and those who will come after (i.e. the ungrateful brats adorable offspring I shall one day give birth to).  Of course I want to be successful, but where I come from one’s individual achievements aren’t just about you and how you compare to others: it’s also about improving the conditions of those who aren’t as fortunate as you are and helping those who helped you get where you are, no matter how indirectly.

Now I realise that this is somewhat tangential to my original train of thought, but one thing that has struck me in my four years of college is the extent to which the mantra of “American exceptionalism” has shaped the atmosphere on my campus. There’s a certain “we’re the shit (up in this bitch)” swagger that I guess I’m supposed to adopt because of the fact that I’m going to hold a diploma with this university’s name on it and because I got the chance to rub shoulders and share dining hall meals with the future leaders of tomorrow (or some other such eulogistic language that may be bestowed on us at graduation). And that’s wonderful – after all, this is the country that brought us the car, modern democracy and the atomic bomb. All my country has apparently done is introduced the term “419” into popular lexicon. However, I worry that all of this individualism is breeding – again, what words to pick? – self-obsessed twat-heads who only see other people as stepping-stones to a bigger house and a brand new iPad. This is not to say that all Americans in any way, shape or form are all like this, or that my country is full of people who care about each other and who want to lead us down a path of peace, prosperity and progress – there’s a whole rack of military thieves who disprove that claim time and time again. But even they hook up their brother’s child, their grandmother’s maid and their old school buddy in the name of family and community. And those connections are, for me, far more important than the ones that make me money. It is important to me that I remain humble about my achievements and take nothing for granted because, in the end, I’m not that special, and there is so much in the world that is bigger than me and my egotistical existence.

The depiction of rural Sudanese life in Tayeb Salih’s novel Season of Migration to the North always underlines this for me: despite the foreign education that the narrator receives and the turmoil that the Western world has brought him, the caravan of life continues to go on regardless of his angsty musings. I guess it’s a matter of perspective, but as long as I’m able to build meaningful relationships with the people who are taking this ride with me, I’m actually pretty okay with being average i.e. realising that I’ll never be the CEO of a company (although I will not be telling my parents that those are not my future plans – trust and believe). The people I admire the most are always the ones that are seemingly simple, who don’t treasure outward appearances but rather possess the kind of self-knowledge that would make even this last stressful semester of college easy to bear, and who recognise that it’s not the job you have or the money you make that determine your real legacy.

P.S. I was originally going to go with Erykah for this post, but then this Mya joint randomly popped into my head… damn, memories. Shout out to Sisqo.

I haven’t written in an incredibly long time because I’ve dedicated all the words my brain has held over the past 2 months to my senior thesis which, hamd’Allah, is FINALLY done. Even so, it may take me a little while to get back to producing my usual epically long treatises on Africa and love and all that goodness. So I’m easing back into the groove with something simple: music. I went to see the Fela musical for the second time yesterday, and it gave my soul some sorely-needed comfort. For those of you who don’t know, Fela Anikulapo Kuti is one of the greatest musicians to come out of the African continent (and by that I mean of all time, Naija for life!!!!) and there is now a Broadway show dedicated to his life. I have an incredibly deep emotional attachment to Fela and his music: apart from the fact that he fought for social justice in my home country of Nigeria, I grew up listening to his hits “Zombie,” “Yellow Fever” and “Gentleman.” Both my parents are huge fans of Fela, and I can only imagine what it must have been like for them as young people dealing with the repression of successive military dictatorships and the legacy of colonialism and its distorting effects on Nigerian society. Hearing his music takes me far away from the stress of New York and being a senior in college and puts me back in Surulere with the Lagos heat warming my back and the smell of roast corn in the air. And, most importantly: he made jawns to shake your nyash to (ugh, typing that out, I see what my sister means – that IS a gross word, but it’s also the most apt one to describe Fela’s vibe).

Besides the point: his music, along with that of musicians ranging from the Roots to Faithless have gotten me through some pretty tough times (and transformed some regular ones into incredible memories). And as it’s been a minute since I did a list of 10, here’s one of the songs that are making me smile, dance and feel right now:

  1. “Migraine Skank” – Gracious K: I’ll actually be writing a piece on UK Funky for Idaya this week, so it’s pretty perfect that a dear friend from England recently put me on to this tune.
  2. “Rude Boy” – Rihanna: Sigh. I’m not meant to like this track at all, but that beat is infectious and it sounds like the summer I’m craving right now (New York, this cloudiness is not a good look – can we get back to 90 degrees? Kthanksbye).
  3. “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” – Fela Kuti: This song’s lyrics get me kind of emotional, but those afrobeat drums make me dance without fail.
  4. “Face in a Crowd” – Kosheen: This brings back memories of modern dance performances during secondary school… SUCH good times.
  5. “The Blast” – Reflection Eternal: Brooklyn in the springtime, Talib and Hi-Tek… need I say more?
  6. “Honey” – Erykah Badu: I haven’t had time to listen to all of her new album, but I love “Window Seat” and “Jump in the Air”… I may dedicate this weekend to reacquainting myself with Ms Badu. This track’s off her last album and always cheers me up.
  7. “Lady” – D’Angelo: Those lips. That voice. That laidback jazz vibe. Enough said.
  8. “Acapella” – Kelis: I’ve loved Kelis since “Caught Out There” and even though I’m still devastated that she and Nas are no longer together, this dedication to her son is infectious (and the end of the video is SO cute!)
  9. “Go Deep” – Janet Jackson: I saw Janet on her Velvet Rope tour, which solidified the massive crush I have on her (alongside the rest of my family). I love the understated sexiness of this track.
  10. “My Sweetie” – Wale: I love this Bunny Mack sample SO so much – and Wale laced the track perfectly. I’m sure Fela would approve.

P.S. Had to go with some classic Gaga for the title… this track DEFINITELY gets me dancing every time I hear it.

In the past couple of years, I have become increasingly aware of a tense conversation emerging on my campus around February between African and African-American students. This conversation deals with the question of “blackness” and how it relates to identity, and becomes even more fraught during Black Heritage Month. It usually plays out in a meeting attended by members of the African Students Association, Black Students Organisation and Caribbean Student Association (the three biggest black groups on our campus), where two factions stand on opposite side of the issue: the (for lack of a better word) FOBs who don’t necessarily identify with the word black as it is used in the American context, and the Americans who do. I belong to the former group, and as a result have heard everything from “You’re running away from your blackness” to “Maybe the ASA shouldn’t participate in BHM if you guys don’t think you’re black.” Le sigh. Instead of cussing out a motherfucker the people who misunderstand why I feel the way I do about the word black, I’m going to take a minute out to explain my relationship with it and maybe shed some light on the way some people of African descent feel about the concept of race and how it plays into their identity – or at least, this woman’s perspective on the subject.

From what I have observed while studying in the USA for the past 3 and a half years and from talking to African-Americans, the word black here is a highly loaded and politicised term. Not only does it refer to a particular phenotype, but it also speaks to a specific cultural, political and historical identity that has evolved alongside the United States itself and in many ways is shaped by its representation of a numerical minority asserting itself against a hostile majority. It has been a stigma, a badge of pride and is almost always at the forefront of conversations about self- identity.  While I understand and appreciate that, I am not an American and I did not grow up in the same social context most of my fellow students, which means that the word black carries totally different connotations for me.

Nigeria’s population is pretty much 100% black. This means that growing up, race was clearly not at the forefront of my identity formation because everyone – more or less – looked like me. I didn’t go to a primary school where I was the only black kid. There was no need to section out a month dedicated to the achievements of our race. There was no celebration of our first black president because as long as we have been an independent country, they’ve all been black (although I wouldn’t describe the military dictators as “presidents,” per se). This is not to say that I wasn’t aware of the fact that I was black – it just wasn’t that important. Growing up I would never have used the word to describe myself – it was usually applied to people with that extra-midnight-dark-chocolate skin tone (I, being lighter-skinned by virtue of a random Scottish great-grandfather, was called “yellow” or “oyinbo” which is a term in pidgin for “foreigner”). No one in my immediate family would be called “black” as the term is generally understood in Nigeria – as the shade of your skin tone rather than as a denotation of your race or political identity. Other things were more important to my understanding of who I was: my ethnic group (Isoko), the state from which my family originated (Delta), the city I grew up in (Lagos). My parents never failed to remind me that I was an Isoko girl, a point that was reinforced every time I digwe’d for my grandmother when she came to visit. I think this same grandmother best illustrates how differently race is applied in the Nigerian context: she is half Caucasian (and honestly kind of looks like an old white lady), but ask her what she is and she will resolutely reply that she is an Agbor woman. I understand that in the USA ethnicity and race are often used interchangeably but, as my grandmother’s case shows, at least some Nigerians separate these two concepts and, because of our particular social and political dynamics, generally place more emphasis on the former.

Fela said once that he did not know he was African until he left Africa. This quote more than anything explains my relationship with the word black. When my family moved to England, I suddenly became black because I was in a minority and that was the easiest way to mark me out. At that stage of my life, it was never a huge deal – most people accepted it when I said I was Nigerian and used that term instead. I do remember once having to fill out a census form and searching for the “Other” space where I could write “Isoko – Nigerian” instead of ticking the “Black/Afro-Caribbean” box – not because I had a problem with that label, but because I felt phony identifying with a group that had a totally different story to mine. After all, I wasn’t descended from people who had migrated to Britain in the 1960s from Jamaica. Still, I was becoming increasingly aware of a separation between how I saw myself and how people outside Nigeria saw me.

Moving to the USA only further emphasised this disconnect. When I tell people that I don’t necessarily identify with the word black, I get everything from bemused looks, to side-eyes, to hurt glances from African-Americans who think that I’m disowning them and their connection to Africa. Let me categorically state that I do NOT, in any way, shape or form, reject the fact that I am black. My kinky hair and name with more vowels than consonants proclaim that before I even open up my mouth. And I love it. However, I refuse to hang my entire self-identity on my race. Even though it’s important, I shouldn’t have to subjugate other aspects of myself to my race, whether it’s on the basis of being from a third world country, or my love of jazz or the significance I place on being from the African continent. I don’t want to limit the ways in which I form coalitions with other people by always privileging the colour of my skin or my facial features over these things. I understand that in the reality of the United States race is an important tool for alliance building, but in the reality that I grew up in and for the most part still exist in, that simply isn’t the case. Even more problematic for me is this notion that black = Africa. If that is the case, then where does that leave the people of Berber, Arab and South Asian descent who are Africans like me? As a friend astutely said, race is a social construct that was used for many years as a tool of oppression – and, some may argue, is still being used in a similar vein today. I can’t help but be cautious about choosing an aspect of my identity that can be manipulated for sinister purposes – not to say that my ethnic identity cannot be similarly exploited, as is often the case back home, but I am talking specifically about my experiences living in the USA.

Maybe if I end up living here for an extended period of time, my race will begin to be a bigger deal for me than it is now. For right now I’ll say this: growing up black for me was a radically different experience than for those who grew up in the USA. Our different understandings of and relationships with the word black should not lead to contention, but rather to an expansion of our cross-cultural conversations. Black isn’t a monolithic concept – let’s eke out the many shades and hues during this grey ass month of February.

P.S. Gotta love a chill ass Common joint

Sometimes I crave the taste of pepper on the tip of my tongue. Maybe it’s my West African upbringing, but there is nothing more satisfying and sensual than that hot-fire-burning-sharp-but-sweet sting of a cayenne seed grazing my taste buds. No meal ever tastes quite right without a bright red smear of hot chilli paste on the side of the plate (a habit I picked up from my father), especially if it’s a meat dish. Oh Lord, and meat: the tender flesh of a curry-yogurt-marsala-simmered chicken breast, that juicy, burst-in-your-mouth satisfying bite of steak or the fatty succulent depth  of slices of pan-seared duck. .. Mmm. Heaven. And all the other good stuff: squidgy sweet plantain, sweet slippery mango, bread fresh out of the oven that’s crisp on the outside and so so soft on the inside with butter dripping off its edges….

Just in case you hadn’t noticed from my little soliloquy, I LOVE food. Someone once said that in every fat man there is an even fatter one trying to eat his way out – well, my inner fat woman is one insatiable beast. Food is my fun, my comfort, my high. I love preparing it, I love consuming it, I love exploring it – I recently discovered that NPR has a food section which, essentially, has made my life complete. I recognise that, generally, people enjoy eating (you know, with that whole staying alive aspect of being a human being and whatnot) but food goes beyond that for me – this shit is on that spiritual tip.

Let me expand.

A couple days ago I was in a foul mood for no understandable reason. I was throwing my stuff around my room, stomping on the floors and blasting my de facto angry song (Nas’ “Get Down” from the God’s Son LP) and probably pissing off my neighbours. I had promised a friend I would make him lunch, so I grabbed a knife and got to chopping some onions. As I started heating the oil and gently sautéing the chicken, I could feel the tension easing out of me and transforming into a spicy peanut stew in a vibrant reddish hue. By the time my friend came over, I was considerably calmer – and my stew and coconut rice hit the spot so correctly that it gave my friend the itis (as in, he had to legit take an hour long recovery nap). Something as simple as cooking a meal has the power to transform my mood (and knock out lanky Bolivian men). I’m not sure, but maybe it has to do with the act of creating: anger tends to be a pretty destructive emotion if it’s left to fester. Channelling it into something productive, whether it’s painting à la Jackson Pollock or carving racks of lamb like Gordon Ramsey, sublimates all that negative energy into something deliciously beautiful. Or at least, that’s how Freud described it to me.

More than being a mood-changer, food and its preparation also serve as a uniting force. A day after the peanut stew, my roommate and I turned our apartment into a dumpling-and-chicken-yassa factory to celebrate Chinese New Year (and the fact that I’m African, which is always cause for a party). We had a good twenty people over all eating and cooking at the same time, Fela blasting in the background, folks breaking out into a two-step in between bites of vinegar-soaked-doughy-meatiness and sipping on some apple cider… The only part we planned was the food, but like bees to honey everyone gravitated together and arranged themselves into a busy little hive of happy productiveness for a few blissful hours.

Certain foods also invoke specific memories. Apricot jam takes me back to the age of five, visiting my grandmother in Benin City and getting a jar to take back home to Lagos with me (she used to keep it in this fridge outside her room – standing on the pink carpet waiting expectantly for that little glass vessel that contained that magically fruity sweetness is a memory that will stay with me forever).  Roasted potatoes soaked in gravy remind me of boarding school Sunday lunches after Mass – so perfect on a cold February afternoon. Milkshakes (chocolate preferably, although I have recently discovered the sweet tanginess of banana) recall late night conversations over hip hop beats and hookah smoke.

These three aspects of my relationship with food – its mood-soothing properties, its community-building power and its role in my history – take it far beyond the physical fulfilment of a bodily need. It’s part of my emotional make-up too. Both aspects are closely intertwined, because to me it only makes sense that something that feeds your body in some way feeds your soul too. And my soul is hungry, and craving that hot-fire-burning-sharp-but-sweet sting of a cayenne seed just as much as my tongue.

P.S. Taking it way back with the title.

As a college senior so much of my time is supposed to be focused on my future. Everyone keeps asking me, “What are your plans for after graduation?” “Are you moving back home?” “What about grad school?” And it’s funny, because when I think about how best to answer these questions and, course, the ultimate, “Who are you?” I feel the need to seek recourse in my past and in my home. As much as I have loved my college experience and living in New York City, sometimes I worry about the fact that there’s a disconnect between the person people see on my campus today and the person I see looking in my mirror when I’m home in Lagos. A friend once told me that we all unconsciously (or perhaps consciously) project a certain image that aligns with how we would like to be perceived, but that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story of who we are. Yesterday, I had a moment like that when I started speaking pidgin English to someone and they remarked that it seemed like my whole demeanour had changed. To me, I hadn’t “changed” – it was more like the “me” that exists outside of the context of American college society broke out in the middle of the library.

But I’m leaving that context in a few short months. My self-projected image may change again depending on where (or if) I move, what job I get and the people around me. But where I’m coming from remains constant, and that dominates more than any other factor the way that I see the world. Yes, I studied literature here but that seed was sowed when I was a 3 year old living in Lagos – not in the USA. My understanding of culture and tradition is rooted in Africa. This kind of refers back to my post on identity, but I do find it interesting that because the people who know me best would probably describe me in a totally different way to acquaintances. Yes, I am loud and prone to making violent threats but I can also be quiet and still when carrying one of my nieces. This “misunderstanding” of where I’m coming from isn’t anyone’s fault but my own, but when your mother tells you that the world is set against you succeeding, you choose to go out swinging because failure isn’t an option. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have to articulate myself differently in the context of the USA because it’s an environment that’s still relatively new to me, as opposed to when I’m in Nigeria.

This isn’t really a full post, but rather what’s been going across my mind lately. Part of this is remembering stuff about my childhood and my life in Nigeria and England, stuff that I haven’t really shared with that many people but which, I think, show a slightly different side to me than what people normally see. Stuff like how I loved Enid Blyton books as a child (ultimate form of escapism – reading about the green English countryside while sitting in the dusty heat of Lagos), or how my father the first person to introduce me to hip hop, but it was my older sisters who nurtured my love for the music when we moved to England, or how I unconsciously became an athlete when I went to secondary school, playing on a school team for a solid 7 years. Small things I need to work on sharing…maybe because in order to figure out where I’m going, I need to come to terms with where I’m coming from. Or some other such clichéd phrase.

Anyways, I overslept and need to read Othello, but I’ll be back soon with some more ramblifications on Nigeria/retarded men/food.

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.