Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Firstborn Son Syndrome

I was looking for a fitting image then I remembered Lion King
My father believes he is very modern in his thinking, but when it comes to inheritance hmmmm, I don’t even think he has ever thought, ever wondered “What can I bequeath my daughters?”. Females just don’t inherit and that’s that.
That attitude extends to so many things, e.g. His first son had access to the two family cars from age 17 and Dad bought him his own brand new car at 21. On the other hand, none of my elder sisters learnt to drive at home.  No! It is your husband’s responsibility to teach you how to drive and if he is ‘modern’ enough, he might buy you one (imagine then his consternation when my then single 4th sister bought herself a car in the 90s). lolss
Three Christmases ago, we traveled home to the hometown for Christmas, and Dad spoke about renovating the family house. He then asked his girls to rally round and chip in. Huh?? I love my Dad but we told him in no uncertain terms that his first son, the owner of the house should kindly attend to his inheritance.

This brings me to my topic for today male primogeniture. The customary practice that makes it acceptable - in the absence of a will – for the first son to be the sole heir to his father’s property. This is a normal practice amongst the Ibos of Eastern Nigeria - I don’t know much about other tribes in Nigeria. To be honest it has never really bothered me. After all, you can’t long for something you never had can you? But it is a depressing one. Men, Isn’t your daughter a part of you? Doesn’t she bear your genes? Are you not the supplier of her second ‘X’ chromosome? Why then do fathers forget all that when it comes to inheritance?

A commenter defended this sad tradition on a BBC report saying : IN NIGERIA, THE INHERITANCE IS PURELY MALE TO THE THRONE... WHO DETERMINES THE SEX OF A FETUS? IT’S THE MALE SPERM NOT THE WOMAN'S EGG (I have never seen such a  whacked understanding of Mendelian laws)...

This particular aspect of our culture has led me to term the malaise some Ibo first sons suffer from as ‘The Okpala syndrome’. A disease characterised by a strong sense of entitlement, never do wellism and abject disregard for other siblings. He is a son. A first born at that. Why work hard at school – what is the purpose of hardwork – to afford a home, a car, to be powerful? Well, the first born son has that offered to him on a plate. His father is proud to show off the fruit of his (cough) labours, his ‘Y ’contribution to mankind, so he is given all the material wealth he could ever ask for: nice wheels, the apartment, he has the opportunity to get the best of education, automatic VP position in his father’s business. 
Furthermore he is the apple of his mother’s eyes (Re: his birth cleared her of shame and reified her superior wife status); the son who can do no wrong. The younger female siblings are taught to defer to him, they wait on him hand and foot, when he visits the mom rushes into the kitchen to prepare his favorite meals etc etc. Among his kindred, he is feted, he is  given a seat among elders, he is allowed a say over issues affecting his family and community at large. All by virtue of being the first ‘Y’ bearing sperm that hit the target.

Now you understand how the Igbo society can produce the caliber of first born sons I write of?

What is the effect on the first son? He gets to think ‘why buy the cow when I’m getting the milk for free?’. He doesn’t have the incentive to work hard. To achieve more. What’s the purpose? He’s got it all.
I look around my neighborhood growing up, at family friends and the story is the same everywhere. A huge percentage of firstborn sons have become the black sheep of the family but their culturally elevated status insulates them from deserved insults and from acrimony from the rest of the family.

In the end it comes back to Why daughters think marriage is an escape; Why wives end up giving birth to football size teams in their search for the elusive ‘XY’ chromosomed fetus that will stabilize their position; and Why we have a lot of Efulefus (first born sons who have no purpose in life but to squander their inheritance).

My Sis adopted the neutral-gendered way in training her kids....well maybe not the no 'her' and 'his' style of the school in Egalia, Switzerland. She insisted that no one refers to her first son as Okpala or give him any special privilege as a first son. House chores were shared equally. I remember the weekly Sunday breakfast tradition wherein the kids and the father cooked, while my sister has a lie in. The cooking/preparation was shared equally between daughters and sons - yam peeling, plantain frying, vegetable washing and cutting, tomato grinding etc. The boys learnt early that, cooking isn’t girls' work. And their Dad made sure the girls were savvy with DIY and electronics.
My dear nephew (despite Sister’s effort) has gotten his fair share of reminders from external sources that he is a lucky young man who stands to inherit much. He is alright inspite of it all, but I think the greater success my Sis and hubby achieved was with their daughters. My nieces have grown up with a healthy sense of entitlement as daughters who have rights equal to that of their brothers and they will not be overlooked!!.

I look at them and I have some faith that someday in the near future, daughters/sisters will be bold enough to administer the best cure to the Okpala syndrome – kick ‘em to the curb.

What is your culture like? Do girls have a share?

Disclaimer - I know some of you have perfect first-born sons, brothers and cousins. I am not talking about that minority!! Also there are exceptions 1)if the family is poor :) 2) if the first son came after 2-10 girl siblings. Sisters know how to make a brother behave! lolssss

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Help! I want to be a better blog friend

Hi Blogfam,

How are you all getting on? Crazy week huh? Same here, but we survived it right? Yeah, that’s what matters.

So, I made the mistake of not checking-in online since Monday–no blog hopping, no facebook, only to sign in on Thursday to meet a deluge of mails, facebook notifications and bloggers' post updates. Golly I spent 8hrs yesterday blog hopping and I still haven’t visited all my favourite blogs. 
This post is a call for help; how do you do your blog rounds? Mom, Kitkat, Myne and NIL especially, this goes to you.

What is the best application to aggregate the blogs you read? I have tried Google-gears but it still involves opening links on different tab if you want to write a comment. Sometimes I have 20 tabs open at same time. This in turn slows down my internet speed and just makes bloghopping a chore. Is there another way? Something that works like facebook updates?

Email - For some blogs, I signed up by email and think those are the people I get back to fastest. Especially if I am online and the mail comes in, then off I go to comment. But again the post can get mixed up with other personal, junk and work mails and I forget.

Feed subscription – For some other blogs I subscribed through RSSfeeds on Outlook. That is alright mostly, but sometimes the feed and outlook don’t sync well and I don’t receive updates from a blog for 2 weeks, then I go check their site and notice I now have a backlog to go through.
For some blogs, I know them off head so I just check them on the go. but my memory is falling with age (what can I say??) and I forget till I see their comment on my page or else where then I remember how awesome they are.

Blog rolls – Aha! I don’t have a Blogroll. I tried signing up to that when I first started blogging but I must have done something wrong cause it didn’t work, so I have a list of my favorite spicy blogs (need to update that soon cause I have made some new spicy friends) on the side bar but it’s not the blogroll application which means I don’t get updates. Can somebody help please?
Till I sort that, I normally bloghop from Prism’s page or Kitkat. After commenting on their page, I check out for updates from my regular blogs(we have mutual friends) on their blogroll sigh..

Mobile Bloghopping - Is it easier when you have a phone that enables you check your mails or favourite pages like a blackberry or an Iphone? I have a trusty old beloved Nokia (don’t hate, you'll) which I browse the internet with when on the go. It’s good for reading, but making comments on it especially for sites that have CAPTCHA (Dear Adiya, I am talking you) can be off putting. Moreover half of the time, the comments don’t show when I check on my laptop. And unlike my laptop where I am automatically signed in as Ginger, on my phone I have to sign in on every page. So mostly I read a new post and wait till I get home then write a comment.

Time – I just squeeze in whenever I can. In between academic reading, after academic reading, first thing in the morning, last thing at night, on the bus.

The actual reading – I think I am a slow reader or how can you explain spending one hr reading and gbeboing on one site (reading comments with a gossipy intent). I guess I have to learn how to skim through a post and yet come up with an insightful comment. I don’t like writing ‘lovely post’ just to justify all righteousness.

Blogging peeve - I’d like to think Blogging is STILL about personal journeys. opinions. Journals. etc. A sort of more relaxed form of facebook. Even better cause readers have access to archives and can take their time to stroll through old posts, add their comments and have a feel of the person behind the blog. But now it feels like a sort of online realtime face book update status. Old news! Hot off the plate news! and there’s a pressure for readers to move with that pace.
I love reading new posts blogs but paradoxically I ‘hate’ bloggers that update daily; It’s like I’m always playing catch up, lolsssss. Don't mind my whining. I still love you all. Its just that I wonder if other people feel like this atimes?

I love reading, I love participating in the comment section, I love discovering new blogs but I think there could be a method to the madness.

How do you do it? What do you think about commenting on an old post? How do you feel when someone comments on an old post? Have you found it easy coping with blogging and other things on your plate?

p.s. And while we are at it, an Ipad or Iphone gift would bring sunshine to my life ;)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Will She Wear Prada?

I saw this vacancy advert below, don’t know why, but it reminded me of Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway in The Devil wears

Company: Bachmann and Company
Job Title: Right Hand to Well Known City figure
Closing Date: 30-Jul-2011

  • Extremely switched on ambitious assistant required to work for a well-known business woman in the City.  You will need to be a capable right hand with great communication skills and an eye for detail. Some work experience would be useful but to have initiative and a strong confident manner is absolutely essential.
  • You will be screening calls and often dealing with the enquiry
  • Building strong relationships with clients and contacts, quickly learning who's who
  • Database management - keeping the internal system right up to date
  • Organising meetings and arranging venues, arranging events, shooting, dinners, etc.
  • Researching new business opportunities and reporting your findings
  • Attending meetings with your boss - preparing and briefing and debriefing
The parts I feel that are missing:
Must 'love' snooty children
Must love dogs
Must love making coffee

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dame Patience again

Patience Goodluck is in the news again and this time my gloves are OFF!!
The University of Port Harcourt has conferred on her an honorary Dokitarate of Widowhood studies.

My first blame isn’t with her, it’s with Professor Ajienka the VC of Uniport who is understandably seeking handsome donations for the University’s N5bn endowment fund. I understand. Really I do. After all, it has become popular for academic institutions to sell their souls for lucre. University of London is still clearing the mess of a $300,000 endowment fund from Libya’s Ghaddafi. Even my own Durham University got substantial funding from Israel to do some wonky research in Palestine. So if pedigreed schools like these are doing it, why not Uniport?

Be that as it may, that doesn’t make it right Prof Ajienka. 
You could have thought of other creative ways to inspire her donation glands. I can think of a few: 
Name the school's Art/photography studio after her. If she isnt an inspiring muse (look at what she inspired in TY Bello!!) I dont who is. 
Name the English Dept's lecture room after her. If you are an English student wouldn't her grammar inspire you to do better? 
Make her the celebrity Face for the Cancer dept's Skin cancer cause. "Use your umblella and prevent skin cancer". Heck all umbrellas used in the state should bear her image. 
Change the school's motto to 'where patience is found, therein lies goodluck'.

See?? I didnt even have to think hard about creative ways that would have helped you achieve your aim without offending Nigerians and yet inspire her purse.  Why make honorary doctorate degrees a joke?
I am not in your school’s shoes, I don’t know how it pinches. I am not even sure it pinches. For all I know, the 5bn endowment fund may just be another bottomless project that keeps taking without giving back. I don’t know. But, I do know that last year, under the chancellorship of Prof Badiem, UNIPORT’s honorary degrees were given to a more deserving group of people: Renowned jurist and former Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Mohammed Uwais, Managing Director of World Bank, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, ex- governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke. Professor Sylvanus Cookey and Prof. Aniezonwu Okoro, a renowned professor of medicine.
I don’t need a visionary to tell me that you Prof Ajienka I fear, has thrown honor to the winds. If one’s choice is akin to one’s integrity or style of leadership, then yours is questionable.

As for the Dame, in accepting the honor you have joined in the deceit. I assume that before public announcements are made, the school would communicate with the receiver to be, intimating her of the award. If Patience had any humility if not honesty in her, she would have refused that degree, told them that she is unworthy of such an honor but thank them for they have spurred her to do even more. Since she didn’t do that and is probably rejoicing that her goodluck has prevailed once again, she will be the recipient of my rant.

What has Patience Goodluck done for widows? I am not talking of financial handouts loosely called empowerment given to a select few. Ordinary people can do even that out of their own volition. I am talking of a lasting solution to a widow’s experience. What has she done?
For someone who has some clout as the wife of a president she can do so much more. I want education for men. I want town hall meetings where she butts heads with elders about practices which dehumanise widows. I want bills which support a woman’s right to inherit even if her husband didn’t write a will. Bills which recognise a wife's contribution to a marriage. I want better support for legal organisations that do pro bono work for widows. I want ARV for widows living with AIDS.
I want her living and breathing widows. Look at Michelle the FLOTUS. Learn from her. She lives and breathes her cause to get American kids slim and yet without making as much noise as you, she is putting in place structures that will remain even after she is gone.

I would have wished the Dame to take on Maternal health which is dearer to me. but Widowhood is good. In fact it is a great point.

Last two years, I witnessed the plight of a widow close at hand, my cousin. If she had not been educated, had a husband who had been open to her about their properties and investments, had children who were adults and close kin, her story would have been similar to that of the millions of widows in Nigeria who lose both their ‘husband’ and a means to live ‘life’.
My cousin had to shave her hair when her husband died. She also had to chose between wearing white or black attires for 6 months.
Cutting the hair isn’t major, admitted, but it is a gendered tradition. Men do not cut their hair or make any physical representation of grief, heck in some places the guy can remarry in less than 6months. A woman dares not.

There are places where it is compulsory for a woman to stay locked up in a hut for 7 days without being allowed to bathe or change her clothes to show the extent of her grief…...a bit like using ash on your face and wearing sack clothes in the Jewish of old.

I know there are still places in eastern Nigeria where a widow is given to her husband’s brother to inherit. I exaggerate not. This particular lady didn’t have a child for her late husband so she was given to the husbands brother to impregnate. I met her in the hospital. Pregnant with AIDS from her new husband.

There are still places where a widow has to go to rivers and streams and swear before elders (mainly men) that she didn’t kill her husband. I should know, my great uncle God bless his soul, when he was dabbling in such matters used to be the chief priest in charge of such.

What has Patience Goodluck done to stop such practices?

In Nigeria, the typical advice given a woman if her husband dies is ; forget the crying now, mourn later. Go search his room, safe box, pack off all the documents you can find, if you own cars , find friends to drive them away to their homes or to some hideout, take away all precious items, jewelry, electronics in your home. When you’ve sorted that, then may you start mourning your beloved.
Ask the women whose in-laws took away all she and her husband had lovingly gathered – They were grief-stricken when the in-laws were spring cleaning. It’s not gold digging or greed. It’s war, it’s agency. It’s protecting your future and your kids future. And it shouldn’t be so.

Widows have a hard time in most communities in Nigeria and if Dame Patience has drawn a blueprint of what she wants to achieve with this pet cause, I will champion her. But she hasn’t and I don’t believe she intends to do more than slap the band aid of money when she feels like.
Interestingly her husband has single-handedly produced over a hundred widows, (help me do the maths and add up the number of married men who have died in massacres, bomb explosions, campaign stampede, riots in the past year under HIS tenure). Maybe she really is an Honorary Doctor of Widowhood (okay, that was a cheap shot but I’m vexed).

Dame, please, give it a rest.

I am really sick of seeing you in the news.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

An Overdue Thank you post

Forgive me dear Lord for I have sinned,

This was not the agreed date for me to write this post. I promised to write this thankful post at the beginning of the month.
But I reneged and attempted to blackmail you. I told you that I needed it to be a more rounded post. One filled with achievements and tangible successes. So I waited till I finished my exams (3 June), then I said I will write it after I get a job and/or after I hear from XYZ school.

But I have cut ties with Mr. Procrastinator and I shall say Thank you Lord in the midst of my friends for everything You have done. For using so many materials and mediums and people to bring peace and happiness to your daughter.

Thank you for Summer. After all my complaints about Winter's cold, It is truly wonderful to feel the warmth of the Sun again. Thank you.

Thank you for the job I had in April. It was only 6 weeks, but it came just when I most needed it, with the most amazing team members and Coordinator.
Thank you for all the wonderful people I met and interacted with during the job and especially for those who took out time to call my office to testify that I was the most charming staff they had met. Thank you.

Thank you for successfully finishing my exams. You know of the crisis I had 3 days to my paper which nearly destabilized me, but you answered me and I was able to go on till I finished. Thank you.

Thank you for the love of family. For their constant calls and words of comfort and support. It seems we are closer now, than we were when I was in Nigeria. Please continue to bless them and keep them for me. Thank you.

Thank you for bringing me into the midst of this loving group of young Nigerian families living in Durham. It has been wonderful meeting and relating with adults, eating semovita and oha soup and playing with their beautiful children. Thank you.

Thank you for my girlfriends and boyfriends IRL in Durham and abroad. Who worry about me. Who call me, chat with me, skype and make me forget we are a thousand miles apart. Thank you.

Thank you for my Blogfamily. It’s amazing that I was active on blogger more during my exams than after it. Reading their blog posts were great distractions in the midst of my crisis. They made me laugh, rave, cry. They shared their lows, they shared their triumphs, they shared the banal....but it didn’t matter the content it was just wonderful to be in a space that positively vibrating with love and humanity, to be anonymous and yet not anonymous. Thank you.

Thank you for all my followers –friends those who lurk, those who know me IRL but keep my identity, those who take their time to comment. Old, new. Young, old, writers, workers, students. I am always in awe like what made them come here, read, comment and click that button? May they never run out of ideas. And may they find the same joy and comfort I find online. Thank you.

Thank you for the bloggers I have met off blog. They know themselves. For making me laugh, for lending your ears, for sharing your knowledge, for sharing your experiences, for helping me forget. Thank you.

Thank you for a dissertation topic that speaks to me and fires my blood. May it lead to a publication, to opened doors to a degree with Merit (somebody say Amen!) Thank you.

Thank you Lord for the job I am about to get. I know the employer has inked down my name for an interview. I know he can’t understand why he is being compelled to choose my name but he will obey nonetheless. May s/he not wake up from the trance till the invitation is sent and the offer signed and sealed (now that s my kind of Jazz!). THANK YOU.

Thank you for my friend’s 2 yr old son who decided to show me PDA last Sunday. He had always rebuffed my attempt to carry him, but last Sunday as I walked into the Church vestibule, he sighted me from afar, turned on this beatific smile at me, and scrambled off his mum’s lap to run to me. Lord, you knew I was feeling downright unloved and rejected that morning as I walked into your house. But, you came to me in the form of a 2yr old boy to make me realize that you hadn’t forgotten me, that you were glad to see me. I hope you weren’t embarrassed by my shower of kisses and gratitude (I know the little boy was). Thank you.

For these and the million smaller details I cannot remember here, please accept my heartfelt thank yous.

It’s your daughter,

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Witchcraft, Juju and all that Jazz

I don’t believe in jazz/juju/melecine/remote control/voodoo.

I am not saying that there are no bad spirits, no possessions, no devil and his works.  
I am just saying that I have never spared more than ten seconds thinking, ‘Things are going so wrong in my life, and it shouldn’t be. It must be that (insert anyname you deem fit – Aunty, Uncle, Cousin, Mother in law, Brother in law, colleague at work, neighbor etc), who hates me, who is jealous of me, who doesn’t want my progress, causing it.
I don’t go looking for someone to blame cause I had an accident,  I missed out on a job, my fiancé jilted me, I lost a pregnancy, etc etc.
I don’t stop myself from giving to those less privileged cause I am thinking…If I give alms, clothes, food, the receiver will use some essence of me in the article I gave to perform rituals, impede my progress, make me ill. Come on people! In fact writing it makes me feel downright silly.

You wonder, what makes me bold to make these claims? 3Fs

Family values – I am a Christian, born of Christian parents. Baptised and confirmed in the Catholic Church. Not one day during my years of growing up did my Mom, Dad or any Priest I know, ever make such a claim. What I do remember her saying is ‘When God gives you a cross, lift it up and follow Him’. And boy have we had crosses! We still do.

Faith - Building on that foundation, is the simple Biblical truth that  – If I am for God who can be against me? Who? (looking around and beating my hand on my chest?) If He watches over the sparrow on the field, why won’t He watch over me? If I showed love to my neighbor because s/he bears the image of God and is my brother in Christ why would God let me suffer for that? If I miss out on a job, marriage, lottery – hey, it is not God’s time for me to have them. Or I need to work harder. Or there is a lesson to be learnt that would make me a better person, in readiness for the next opportunity.

It pains me to see this fetish culture being embodied among young people, who profess to be religious - Christians, Muslims. I see it as one of the reasons why Nigeria isn't moving forward. If you keep thinking that there are enemies out for you, someone wants to use your luck , then we stop loving our neighbour. We stop being good Samaritans. We stop being Christ-like. Do you think God exists in a society that does not show each other love? NO.

Alms giving especially, has been elevated to some negative spiritual realm that irks the heck out of me.
Fact - There are some fraudulent people out there posing as beggars true. A lot in fact (see my post here). There are also times when people genuinely in need, seek your help. If you must refuse cos you don’t have, that’s ok. But don’t stop yourself because of some fear of "my kindness being used against me" etc etc that's just bull. In fact that selfish thought is of the devil!!!

Money making rituals/ogwu-ego – I can’t believe, people still talk of money falling from severed heads, from a pot, a tree etc etc. lol. Come on! Show me one man who has made his money this way (I want pictures not hearsay) and I will swallow my words. The bad man makes his money by cheating, stealing, fraud, bribery and corruption. If it was through jazz, politicians won't endanger their lives by running for public office. Just behead one or two kindred, make some sacrifices in my bedroom and voila money rain.
Fact 1 - People have been kidnapped, killed and dismembered. There’s also a THRIVING multibillion dollar organ selling business going on globally. Harvested organs are being sold for transplants, for experiments and because of the lax laws in developing countries, we are the favoured harvesting site. Who remembers Clifford Orji? As far back as in the 1990s I think, he confessed to selling organs internationally.
Fact 2 – Even if they were being used by ritualists, my philosophy is that the murder of another human is not so much for monetary gain but a symbolic act of rebellion against God. The devil wants you to do ‘that’ which is so heinous that you will find it hard to turn back to God. It’s not that God won’t take you back but, ‘can you forgive yourself enough to ever go back’? I don’t think so. And does the money come? Of course not. Isn’t it the father of lies that made the promise. Hahaha you’ve been 419ed!
Fact 3 – So people have escaped these ritualists/killers and lived to tell the tale. True. Why ever not? If your time is not up, you ain’t going nowhere.
Fact 4  - The escapees usually tell of caves, forests, of men dressed in red/white etc. I don’t deny that they may have seen such, but I will bet on it that those were no ritualists. The smoke screen of rituals is what has kept that enterprise thriving cause it keeps the public in fear. The police are too chicken to investigate them, the kidnapped people too scared to fight, thinking they have super-human powers (my opinion….. feel free to disagree).

The legendary Jujuman -The juju man’s business has always been herbs. Ogwu. He may worship some deity, wear talismans, he may do some razzmatazz with stones and mirrors, but it has always been about herbs. He knows their potency and keeps this knowledge close to his chest. Why do you think they keep jaunting into the forest for? To visit with the devil? Don’t make me laugh.
He can prepare herbs that induce vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding from every human orifice. The subsequent death is caused by fatal chemical reactions not wizardry!
Herbs that are toxic to the liver and kidney. Given little by little over time, the victim develops oedema (swelling) classic liver/kidney problems!
Herbs that make you break out in rashes, cause itching, etc
Psychotropic herbs that can induce nightmares, even make one mad. No wizardry just chemicals!
Even psychoactive herbs that can make one 'fall in love' with someone (oneirogens, hallucinogens, coca – the cocaine plant). They are mood enhancers which make you feel eiree! and happy with your world (Jah rastafara!). So if I am a woman and serve my man with food steeped in this, he will be very happy to be with me. maybe even imagine himself to be in love with me. Nollywood never lied to us. The antagonist always puts some powder given to her by the jujuman into the food, doesn’t she?


Do you come into office and spend precious working hours 'de-witching and de-jujuing your office chair and space?
A childless couple come to you seeking advice. Do you encourage them to undergo IVF or foster/adopt children and turn their life around OR do you encourage them to seek spiritualists offering sacrifices, receive ‘pastorly’ anointing, and reject adoption cause who knows, ‘the child may be a witch’s offspring or a murderer’s son etc etc??

Please, please stop! Stop squandering the opportunity you have to be your brother’s keeper by chasing after shadows and thinking outta your arse. Be still and know that there is God.

Have a lovely week people!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

This is Oyibo Land - Where being single isnt a stigma

We were having a meeting in Hannah’s room the other day.
I notice Hannah has a new ring on her finger (I remember her talking about a relationship anniversary last week. So I ask ‘new ring?’, and she says yes, boyfriend just proposed to her. While I was drooling over her be-ringed finger(a gendered response), Rhoda at the other end of the table after congratulating her announces matter of factly ‘Hmm, I am not planning on marriage in the next 5 years’. She says this is so firmly and confidently that I don’t doubt her. And me, Nigerian girl that is fasting, praying, kneeling by my bedside every night crying, 'Lord, don't forget me’ I'm a bit shocked. I want to ask ‘why’ but I guess the question should be ‘why not’.
Welcome to Oyiboland where people do not define themselves nor are they defined by a wedding band or their fertility.

Scene 2 – This was at Loh’s birthday party that I went to back in March. Her British brother after surveying the messy room of kids said aloud, ‘I don’t think I am going to have kids’. Lawdy, the Nigerian ladies nearly lynched him. ‘Are you not a Nigerian?’ ‘Our brother has gone mad’, ‘It seems you are dating an Oyibo woman, if not where would you get such a hackneyed idea from’. When I rushed to his defence, a pointed glance at my unringed finger by one of the ladies made me thread softly…..very softly. See intimidation! Lol.

Scene 3 – I met an older course mate of mine recently on a train. We chose to sit together and an interesting conversation ensued, about hereditary diseases, children, adoption (he told me he was adopted). Somehow the question got around kids and the high cost of education, and he said how that wasn’t a worry since he and his wife of 15 yrs didn’t have kids. I asked why and he said they weren't interested.

Scene 4 - I attended a Church spring cleaning session last month. Partnering with me to polish the brass was a sprightly cheerful lady called Rosaline. During our conversation I got to find out she was 79. She didn’t look a day over 65. But more than that my nosey parker -“Nigerian assuming that every adult female should be married with 20 grandkids especially at her age”-self asked her about her husband. She chuckled and answered ‘Oh I never got round to marrying’. End of story. As for me, I furiously polished the candle stick in my hand blushing with embarrassment. Truth be told, it is probably harder to find a ‘single woman in her 60s’ in Nigeria than to find a needle in the haystack.

Don’t get me wrong, there are millions of women in the west who want the whole marriage enchilada too. They are depressed about their single status. About not being married. But, the huge difference is that society is not adding to your headache. Their marital status isn’t stopping them from getting jobs, attaining the pinnacle of their career, attaining political significance, becoming role models of the society. They are not being singled out for prayers at wedding receptions, in churches, single summits are not being held for them. They are not being asked questions like ‘How is your husband?’ (for the young woman who looks old enough to be married), Or ‘How are the children?’. Which leads to embarrassed answers of “I am not married” or ‘I don’t have children’ which then leads to prayers and/or criticism.
A fallout from that is that Nigerian women hide their ages unlike their western counterparts. If your age is public knowledge, it leaves you open for censure. The day you say ‘Nigerian men are unromantic’, someone will snidely remind you of your ‘advanced age’. (See how Genevieve Nnaji’s comment about ‘wanting a man with a personality of Johnny Depp was received).

Western culture extols individual choice above all, when you marry, who you marry is a personal choice.
As an avid reader of historical romances based in Western Society, I realize that it wasn’t always like this. Women had Best Before dates for marriage too.  Remember those stories of aristocratic Britain where the debutantes (16 -18years) were presented at court at the start of the social season? The sole purpose of course, was to launch them into society so they can be noticed by eligible bachelors ;). If after 2 seasons you haven’t been married off, you are dubbed an old maid and hidden at home (old maid is prolly 20 years of age). Queen Elizabeth abolished the ceremony in 1958...Go Lizzy Go! Guess she was a feminist in her own way?

Since I‘ve been here, I haven’t thought of marriage as much as I did back in Nigeria. Why? Cause nobody asks me those stigmatizing questions above. Nobody cares :))

Just saying…..

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Goodluck and family

So, since the presidential inauguration, the picture below has been making the round on Nigerian sites. This is a picture of our ‘young’ President and his perfect family of 4.
 I must say, that despite my deep loathing for the political party he represents, despite my doubt that he will achieve much during his 4 years of Presidential rule (I am willing to eat my words come 2015), my heart was warmed by this picture of family harmony. And that is why I am blogging about it..too tell you what this simple picture meant to me.

First, If you’ll could pause for a minute and think…you’d realize how unique this is…to see the president of Nigeria presented to us as a family man. Most other Nigerian presidents have been polygynists with the favoured wife reigning as Queen aka First Lady. Nigerians knew there were other wives, other children (in fact plenty children e.g. Obasanjo) and we knew Nigeria’s fortune was being distributed amongst them all(Office of the first son of Nigeria..etc), but when you don't know them, how can you point fingers? How can you hold the children accountable? How can you hold their Father accountable for them? We hear of Governors opening Swiss accounts in their 1st Lady's name. Now imagine when he actually has 5 wives' names to play with. Where do you start investigating.....just saying. So yes, this was a good move by Jonathan and I hope he has set a precedence for other Presidents..

Second, from the venomous comments made  on Linda Ikeji’s blog by anonymous vipers (aren’t they always!!), I gather that the kids are not Patience’.
Why that should attract opprobrium I can’t understand. If her reproductive organs failed her so what? When did that become a crime?  A reason for scorn? Isn’t this the 21st century? Is she less of a woman? Do young people, especially the young women commenting on that site really really still think like that? (shudders).
Today I stand Patience’ ally. Whatever her ‘plessing umblerric’ problems, I can empathise with a woman who has to go through childlessness in a judgmental society like ours….. And yet she walks with her head held high, basking in her husband’s love. Me likey!

A corollary to that is that I have also developed an admiration for Jonathan Goodluck. As a Nigerian man. As a husband. We know that in Nigeria, childless wives (be it your fault or his) are treated like the scum of the earth, and if your husband is rich, he is more likely than not, to send you packing while he finds a more fertile womb (or a chic who is sharp enough to present him with a child even if its not his...sic).
So, I find that the message his union with Patience is sending to me and hopefully to the Nigerian public, to nasty in laws everywhere is, ‘If I loved her despite…’, ‘If I treat her as my right hand woman’, ‘If I treat her as my queen’ then why can’t you do that to your wives?

Last but not the least…..there were scathing comments that the kids were born of a second wife/girlfriend/test-tube/surrogate mother/adopted, whatever. Isn’t that the reason why we have a myriad of assisted reproductive technologies, to help couples such as this? And really how is it our business? They are blessed with 2 beautiful kids..end of story!

Some people should just get their heads out of their fallopian tubes.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

This is Oyiboland - Where Hello is a complete greeting

You woke up last Friday morning feeling happy’s a sunny day. You walk to the communal kitchen with a happy jaunt singing ‘it’s Friday, Friday’ ala Rebecca Black.
Alison is sitting on the dining table with her eyes affixed to the morning paper.

Ditto for Steve whose face is buried in his bowl of cereal.
Tyler and Perry are chatting. Their conversation does not miss a step as you pass by.
Liz who hugged you yesternight saying she missed all week, stares with utmost fixation at her cup of tea as you pass.
Hugo passes by you in fact your eyes actually meet but it’s as if he didn’t see you. (actually he hasnt 'seen 'you in th epast 7 months).
Samantha who has exchanged a hundred Hellos with you and once in a while 5mins of chitchat, flashes a smile and walks by.
Peter says a quick hi, waves his hand and walks by.
Daphne who shares a cupboard with you says a quick hi and continues with her cooking. She finishes, transfers the food to her plate and says bye as she walks off to eat her meal.

Following these encounters, your song dies in your throat, your sunny mood is a bit dimmed, you feel slighted…you wonder if they are being racist?
No they aren’t, dear. Welcome to Oyiboland where self is king and these are typical British friendships , take it or leave it.
(You might wonder why I didnt say hi myself…and I would say ‘the other person must at least concede your presence before that exchange can take place’).

Sometimes I can almost swear that if I come into the common room with my eyes red and tears streaming down my bloodied face, either people will look away or walk away and generally pretend they didn’t see me. Maybe they will kindly call an ambulace when safe in their rooms.....

Jutta, an anthropologist and blogger who lived in Mali thinks it’s a habit born of western laws of efficiency whereby Westerners try to maximize use of time rather than spend it in chitchat. Hmmmm.

She goes on to explain that westerners often divide people in these three groups and treat them accordingly.
- The “scenery people” are for example those that we photograph during our vacations. We see them as decoration or objects on display, not as real people.
- The “machinery people” are those that we expect to function in a certain way, but again we do not see them as real people. For example, the gas station attendant or the cashier. On a good day, we might see them as people and connect in some personal way, but most of the time we treat them as “machinery” not as people.
- The “real people” are the small group we have a relationship with and care about. We see them as people with individual personalities, emotions, opinions, gifts and needs. On bad days we might expect even people in this group to just function and not require any “maintenance”: such as the burlesque husband coming home from work in the evening who expects his wife to have a meal ready, as well as the newspaper and the slippers, and be left in peace to watch TV by his children because he is tired. In this case he does not see his wife and children as people and does not treat them as such. They are not allowed to have needs.

Whom we expect to just be “scenery” or function as “machinery” is often culturally defined. And that is where culture shock often comes as a natural result.

Now let’s contrast the above to Nigerian culture if not African culture where time spent with other people is never considered time wasted.

In Nigeria, my singing would have been viewed as a FB status inviting likes/dislikes, teasing comments like ‘froggy voice’ ‘what bit you this morning’, ‘yes o TGIF’, ‘somebody is happy today’.
If I am cooking or about to eat and a friend/acquaintance is near. He must partake of my fare. A spoonful, forkful, sip, a helping from the pot. It would be rude if I didn’t offer even if we all know he’ll say No.
I cant think of any situation or person in Nigeria that is culturally treated as a tree or machinery. Be it the security guard, the driver, the cashier. ok maybe the Policeman :). You must greet or acknowledge his greeting. You must ask after his health or his family’s health. You must treat him as a living breathing man.
Hi is not a greeting in Nigeria. It’s a pre-fix. An entrée to the main meal. I may say ‘Hi’ when I pick the phone but it is quickly followed by the ‘proper greeting’: ‘Good morning/Good afternoon/evening if its someone older. I guess here in UK, it would be considered as a double greeting. (I confess to double greeting my lecturers. Its unconscious though. E.g. Marge, my HOD passes by and goes ‘Hi Ginger’ and I respond ‘Hi Marge’ quickly followed by ‘good morning’. Most times she responds but I notice she has this suspicious look…lolss).
With mates/friends, it is Hi Honeydame (yep, you know the name use it!!!) followed by variants of ‘how are you today’, ‘How was your night’, ‘How has your day been’ ‘Did you have a good day’. The beauty is when you ask the afore questions, it opens up conversations. It’s gives the other an opportunity to unburden/share their day (‘You won’t believe what happened to me today’). It creates bonds.
And If a housemate comes into the common room with eyes red and tears streaming….you are going to get hugged and fussed over by random strangers who will pray for you, curse out whoever made you cry (lol) Give you a hanky to clean your face before getting down to the juicy bit of what made you cry(gossip!).

When I compare Titi of North of Lagos’ experience of friendship and community in my Alma Mater, University of Ibadan and my experience in Durham, this difference in culture is so glaring.


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