Sosi and Ominira

E ku ojo meta!

FIRST THINGS FIRST. I have killed horrifying bugs this weekend. Like… five cockroaches the size of a book and a bunch of spiders… Just want you to know…  

Other than that, my weekend was quite eventful! And four whole days long too.

SOSI

Last year at one of the many dance competitions I have entered in my life, out of nearly 15 people I was awarded first prize in the white girl dance-off. Basically this means I’m super awkward at dancing but I really love doing it and when I dance I like to put my whole awkward-white-girl heart into it. So juxtapose this with Nigerians dancing. Nigerians are amazing dancers and better yet they make it look pretty effortless.

A couple weeks ago I went to my family’s Baptist Church (Sosi in Yoruba) for the first time. An Oyinbo in Africa is funny. An Oyinbo in a small African Church is hilarious. An Oyinbo dancing around in the most awkward way possible? Now, that’s hyster-freaking-ludicrous. This weekend I was able to attend a different church for “Thanksgiving” or “Idupe” celebration. At the end of every month, churches celebrate a Thanksgiving for getting through the month. This was a double special service because Monday was Ominira or Nigerian Independence Day. Ominira literally means freedom.

Anyway, it was basically a three hour dance party with a ten minute break to talk about God and the bible. Now you all have this image in your head of a bunch of people swaying around and yelling praises to God and you think you know what I’m talking about. No. It’s more like singing, shouting thanks to everyone around you, booty-dropping-for-Jesus, and generally shaking it around all over the church and through the isles for like three whole hours. It was a lot of fun going to the Idupe service and dancing with strangers. It was also unimaginably the most awkward I have ever felt in my whole life. I’m not kidding, about ten people came up to me throughout the service with everything from a professional camera to camera phones to take pictures of me shaking it with the group of Yoruba women I was standing next to.

Church is not all fun and dancing though. It’s also an incredibly interesting cultural lesson in community. The first service I went to half way through dissolved completely into a town hall. The service lasted from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. The sermon was about explaining the important differences between marriage certificates (the whole service was in Yoruba by the way) and how to avoid the government taxing you multiple times for getting married. At this point the pastor takes questions but the questions turn into the various agbalagba obinrin (older, respected women) taking over the service to hold a town hall on the issue at hand.

 I also saw, at one point in the middle of someone reading a psalm or something, the following: a collection of people in the back of the church conducting various loan deals, people selling or bartering different things, multiple conversations occurring apart from the service, and various introductions for possible future newly-weds. This is also the service I had a dance off randomly with an 80 year old man who came all the way over from his section to greet me.

At the service this weekend we had “Testimonials!!!!” Testimonials is basically two hours of people sharing details of their life, how God has helped them, and then a lot of personal affirmation of close friends/relatives in the audience. This also at some point dissolved into an extended community meeting about issues pressing the public. Anyway, I like church. People are generally very nice and I get to dance a lot much to the amusement of everyone else.

As of Sunday, Mama mi was still away which prompted my father to call the family yelling “E gbianju! Nibo ni o wa? Ebi maa pa wa!” or “Try! Where are you! Hunger is killing us!”

Sidenote: In Yoruba, objects do you not the other way around like in English. If you’re hungry you say hunger is killing you. Thirsty? Thirst is quenching you. Fear is taking you, etc, etc. Happiness is expressed by saying whether or not you are hungry – literally – if that gives you any indication how important food is here. Inu mi dun (I’m happy) means ‘my stomach is sweet’ or basically that you are well enough emotionally to eat. When someone cannot eat, this is sadness aka inu mi ko dun (my stomach isn’t sweet).

For another example of the importance of food in Yoruba culture, the other day my incredibly strict teacher caught me slightly dosing off in class. “ki l’o sele, ayodele!” (what’s up with you), and I said “nnkankan ebi n pa mi die” (nothing, I’m a little hungry). She responded “o da. Kilaasi se tan. Lo jeun” (alright, class is over, go eat) and explained that students will never be able to concentrate if they are hungry, eating is too important to continue class – class wasn’t supposed to be over for another 30 minutes.

Unsidenote: I hope my mom returns soon so we don’t starve. But I’m beginning to make very good friends with the street vendors outside the gate (they all want me to marry their sons so sometimes they give me free sweet bread yummmm). Yeah, and my father keeps saying every day she’s gone “Naaaaa…. Se o fe je buuredi loni?” or “Sooooo you’re eating bread tonight.” So. Much. White. Bread. And. Street. Snacks.

OMINIRA NI NAIJIRIYA

As I mentioned, Monday was Ominira which some people switch the words around as a joke to say “omi nira” which means “water of discomfort” instead of freedom. This is because with neo-colonialism, corruption, and pervasive western values, a lot of people doubt that “freedom” has the whole truth in it. Alas, I felt kind of weird as a white person who looks European (oyinbo literally means ‘european white person’) celebrating ominira in full-blown style so I went to a movie with a couple of my Nigerian friends and relaxed on my day off. However, my friend Adeleke (also white) and I also ran into a huge mob of people with Nigerian flags on their faces playing drums and a jubilant parade. Unfortunately, this ended with me surrounded by nearly 30 men very interested in the fact I could speak Yoruba. Luckily a friend of mine in the crowd pushed a few of them so I could make an escape toward the women at the gate who sell me snacks and I made it out unharmed.

I talked with the woman for a while. One jested/asked me “Ayo, se o le mu mi si ile e?” (can you take me to your town?) to which I said “sugbon, mo gbe ni Ibadan” (but I live in Ibadan). She looked at me with surprise. “Fun nisisiyi, mo je omo-ilu Naijiriya nigba ti mo wa nibe, nigba ti mo je Ayodele” (For now, I am Nigerian when I am living here, when I go be “Ayodele.”)  The women laughed and hugged me. And most importantly gave me a deal on plantain chips.

I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom or ‘ominira’ lately. Freedom seems to be the thing people in America hold as a standard. Like, freedom’s what we got. It’s our torch: freedom of religion, speech, marriage, etc. But what I’ve been thinking about lately separates a country like America from countries like Nigeria is not freedom at all, but restriction that naturally comes from a steadfast commitment to freedom. When I think about the things that really separate America, its things like what my host father told me about this morning. When he visited America to go to school he was shocked that women could and would take men to their rooms, but that if at any point they wanted to stop, the men could be put in prison for trying to keep going or that it is even possible for a man to rape his own wife. Or that what my friend Funmi calls a respect for life, even the life of the thief or the murderer. In America, you can go to jail for killing a murderer whereas in places in Nigeria she has told me that it would be right to kill the thief to protect the community – kill him right in front of the shop he stole from. For me, it’s not the freedom of religion or enterprise that makes America so different, but freedom FROM religion, enterprise, etc. No religion can be forced on you or on others. People cannot exercise their freedom to infringe yours. As Viktor Frankel puts it “Freedom is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibileness.” So maybe instead of an Independence Day, we should celebrate Responsibileness Day. Freedom can be easy, but if Nigeria has shown us anything in the almost 50 years since they took their ‘freedom’ from the British, responsibileness is a whole different story.

Oh! I also went to the bar for the first time on Friday and it was quite lively – called “Spices”. All I can say is that I am really adding up these marriage proposals. My favorites are what I call the subtle ones when someone says “Yeah, so I’m pretty much just looking for an American wife at the moment” and then glance up to see if my reaction is like “ohhhhh for reals? I’m an American unmarried woman!” Secondly, I have found my people – the Palm Wine Drinkards Society. Our first meeting is Thursday and I’m pretty psyched so stay tuned for that.

O dabo awon ore mi. E seun pupo fun ka blog mi!

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