On my first full day in Ibadan I went out to a place called “Tantalizers.” While a place with that name would scare off many customers in the US, here it is a main fast food chain. They sell overpriced Joloof Rice, Dodo, Moinmoin, etc. Smiling at his plate of rice, our vegetarian friend Adeleke commented on how he was only paying 100 Naira for the whole thing (about sixty cents). Adeleke and I have never been to Nigeria. Our Nigerian-American friend Bose, who upon looking at the prices was aghast at the expense, laughed at him and said these words “You can NOT convert!”
Ever since she said that it has been somewhat of a theme for my week. As I adjust to thinking 350 Naira (two US dollars) is ridiculous price for a soccer ball, I am also thinking about how you cannot convert other things like time, experience, and relationships.
It is impossible to not compare when one is abroad to things at home, to other people’s abroad experiences, to your own background. While comparing can illuminate distinctions you may have never seeing before, converting can ruin the whole meaning of the experience. Thinking for me that I’ve only been here for a week, or that by the time I’m back I’ll be a different age, have missed Halloween and Thanksgiving, and maybe have a new President is pretty worthless.
Relationships are the same way in the sense that I cannot convert my experiences with my host family to any living situation I have ever had before. Or convert the poverty and those people who are disadvantaged in this country to anything I have seen before. Or think that to me 500 Naira is nothing or that my 100 dollars could change lives. Here, for Ayodele while I’m in this country, 350 Naira is way overpriced and I should demand a lower sale. For Ayodele, poverty needs to adopt a marginal definition and let go of the immediate connotation of suffering. To be poor is not to suffer and its meaning is fluid, not to be converted against and out of its context.
This is the biggest mistake I think that people make in trying to adopt another culture as their own for a little while. They maintain this conversion machine in their heads. It’s like language before you begin to reach fluency, always translating to your own language before accepting the diction as truth or something tangible and solid.
So that’s the theme I am trying to uphold right now, “You can NOT convert”
Meanwhile this weekend I: went to the highest point in Ibadan, went to the market, haggled, entertained many many people by being an Oyinbo who can speak a little Yoruba, went to a four hour church service, had a dance off with an 80 year old man, was proposed to, played soccer with my brothers and sisters, went to a 60th birthday party of someone who lives on my street held in an auditorium with hundreds of people (I maybe will write more about this – Nigerian parties are crazy – just think people throwing money at everyone who dances, free booze, lots of food), and generally made myself exhausted by talking to a lot of people, forgot a lot of names.
Update on funny kids stuff: do only female cats have whiskers? This was at least a thirty minute yelling match between the youngest kids. The youngest boy saying “I have lots of boyfriends!” when asked to define the difference between boy-friend and boyfriend. I’m learning tons of slang. My favorite is “Dash me” which means “give it to me.” My football club formed between me and the youngest boy is called “New York FC” I’m still not sure why. In our league is the opposing “Kickass FC” formed by the twins. These were the best names they could think of at the time.
I have some photos. Those might go up if I have time.