I’m almost 20 days into my nearly four month venture into Nigerian culture. I have been having a fantastic time and my host family situation is pretty ideal for me, even the challenging parts of it. Today I got a bit of a cold, but if that’s the only price I pay for adjusting to a new environment, I’m happy to have it. Otherwise, my health has been perfect and I’m really enjoying the food both familiar and new (mostly new).
My only ‘profound’ revelation for the beginning of this week is this: in this world there are jerks and saints. This may seem pretty simple but I’ll give you a couple of examples. Last week I was going to the market with my mother in one of the craziest public transportation experiences I have had in my life. On the way back from the fabric market we shared a car with this Nigerian mother and her baby. She overheard me talking to my host mother in Yoruba and began a conversation with us. She told my host mom something I couldn’t hear. My host mother told me the woman was offering to pay for my bus fare because I had taken the time to try to learn the language.
Conversely, yesterday at a writer’s workshop for Young Nigerian Authors held by my host father a man came up to me and asked me a question in Yoruba. When I answered he scoffed at me and said “you don’t even know Yoruba. You are not fluent. Your Yoruba is so bad.” While the women next to us scolded him the words stung a little bit. It’s made me think of all the times people in different cultures (and specifically people who come to America are on my mind right now) are chastised for not being “American” enough to be there, or speak the language well enough.
These two stories reveal a pretty simple concept: wouldn’t cooperation between cultures be much smoother if people were just a little bit nicer? If when Oyinbos came to Nigeria, they actually tried to learn the language or at least some of the culture, and when new people enter unfamiliar cultures, people welcomed them instead of turning them away.
Anyway, here’s a list of cultural mistakes/lessons I’ve had in the last couple weeks:
– Host Offers Drinks/Snacks: in the US we have this weird dance that when someone anywhere offers us water or something to eat we politely decline unless they ask again – it’s a formality. In Nigeria, it’s incredibly rude to turn down this offer. I made the mistake of doing this in the International Center upon my visit. I was quickly corrected and apologized for by my teacher thankfully.
– Honorific Pronouns: In Yoruba if you are taking to an older person or “agbalagba” you have to use different pronouns. For example, if you are referring to the person in the sentence “she went to school” you would literally say “they went to school” and so on. I’ve messed this up a couple of times.
– Greetings and Remembering People: It takes me 20 minutes to complete my five minute walk to school because I am answering morning greetings from people. Yorubas greet for everything from sitting down to sleeping to working and ask a lot of questions (even if you don’t know the person). Also you have to greet anyone you’ve met before when you’ve seen them but since I’ve met hundreds of people since I’ve been here, remembering them all is hard so I’ve resorted to greeting anyone who looks at me. And then talking to them for a while.
– Responses, Prayers, & Owe: Proverbs or owe are a BIG BIG thing in Yoruba culture. Often they are the response to questions and are sometimes hard to respond to. In English, if someone says a statement you usually just nod. But in Yoruba the response is usually a toss up between “ooo” “Amin!” “A dupe” “Bee ni” and “loooto ni” – I choose the wrong one a lot of the time. Every time I greet an older person they will pray for me. For my host mother, this usually comes in the form of a song. For example the first morning I woke up I told her “mo ji layo” or “I woke up happy.” She started singing this now popular song in our house “mo ji layo, mo sun layo, mo fi a foluwa, mo ji layo, baba mo dupe o” over and over again (dancing included – it’s 7 AM) which really means that she gives thanks to God we woke up happy and in a safe house, not in the hospital.
– Food. My host family is constantly cooking me food. This morning I didn’t want to eat because of my very light cold. I said “ebi n ko pa mi” and my host mom responded “ooo! se o fe lo si ile-iwosan?!” asking if I wanted to go to the hospital because I was turning down food. I tried to explain that I just did not want to eat.
Anyway, I’m going to post some pictures from playing soccer this weekend on my birthday. And thank you everyone for the well wishes! I had an awesome dinner of my favorite Yoruba foods: iresi ati ewa pelu dodo efo ati obe adie – rice and beans with fried plantains and spinach with a really spicy chicken stew on the side. Yum!
Cute kids moment of the week: Had the youngest boy in my family listen to Mumford and Sons on my iPod last week while we were studying and he really loved it. Then they sort of taught me how to azonto (W. African dance style).
Sad though, because three of the kids are leaving this week for school and to return to their parents so now I only have two eight year olds in my house. Seems very empty.