Friday, January 22, 2016

#6 Nigeria: Observations - 2 weeks in

We have been here for almost 2 weeks, and we are basically settled in. We're over jet lag (well, Grace still sometimes goes to bed really late and sleeps in), we're unpacked, and we've hired house help. I even ventured out to the grocery store by myself for the first time today, and only embarrassed myself by acting like a stupid American once! :) Even though about 75% of life in general seems different here, here are some major different things I wanted to record:

1. Greetings are a big deal. Maybe this is the happy bubble of the Chevron camp, but everyone greets each other. If they're in a car and I'm walking, we wave. If I'm walking with the kids and pass anyone, we say hello. Russ says that at work, it's a big thing to say hello, ask after the person's family, and say something else (like "You are welcome to Nigeria." or "Happy New Year"). It's kind of like in the US though, when you kind of automatically say, "How are you?" but don't actually expect the person to go into an in-depth explanation. But the biggest thing I've heard here is, "You are welcome." I don't know if they're only saying that because they recognize that I'm new, or if it's a common phrase they use all the time.

2. The names seem to mostly fall in 1 of 3 categories: attributes, Bible names, or hard-to-pronounce African names.  What I mean by attributes is, for example, our driver's name is Confidence, and some other names I've heard are: Glory, Blessing, Precious, etc. Also, a lot of names are gender-neutral. Russ told me about a woman at work whose name is Frankba, which means "daughter of Frank".

3. Nigerians value big families. They have lots of kids and when we tell them we have two, they wonder why we don't have more. They "like los of shildren. Babies. You unda-stand?" (that was supposed to show the accent :D).

4. There are multiple ways to do exchange money on the compound, but one is to call this guy, tell him how many dollars you want to exchange, and he comes to your house. The best part is that this well-dressed Nigerian man shows up at your door with a fat wad of Naira in a black bag. I don't know if this transaction is all above-board, but the whole thing feels very mobster-movieish. It's hilarious.

5. The power goes out on the camp at least once a day. Luckily, it only goes out for about 30 seconds at a time. It's not a big deal, but it has turned off movies, cut off phone calls, turned off the stove while making dinner, and freaked Sophia out once when she was in the bath before bed (since it was really dark).

6. I'd say that almost every other car on the road (or at least on the expressway) is a mini bus. They're basically beat-up 12 passenger vans, but from the looks of it, they're usually crammed with many more than 12 people (it's a little awkward to make eye contact with someone riding a mini bus as I sit in the SUV with just my family, and they're squished up against the windows). People kind of hang out in the roundabouts, the mini busses slow down to a stop, and people get on and off. There's a driver and another man who stands in the open van door or hangs out the front passenger window collecting fares. The first time we were driving around, we saw a driver arguing and almost fighting with people collecting a tax for the mini bus - because they have city busses, but they sit empty while people take these mini busses, which are run by individuals. The missionaries told us the mini busses are actually more expensive, but people take them because they're much faster. So I guess it's like a 3rd world version of Uber :)

7. We have lots of bugs and lots of lizards. There are also lots of bugs in the house, and we all have lots of mysterious bites on us - or at least we hope they're bites and not something scarier. But even they girls are diligently taking our malaria medicine. I'm not gonna lie though, every mark on and cough from the girls scares me more here than it did in the US, since there are so many different types of illnesses here. There is a clinic on the compound, though, and they seem to be very capable there.

8. The main language is English, which is nice, but it can still be hard to understand. I feel like I speak in broken English to them all day, and they probably feel like they're doing the same for me. I imagine over time that will get better. The way they phrase things is also different - more formal. Nigerians are also very direct and almost aggressive when they talk, which makes a lot of sense in a place where you barter and negotiate a lot, but if Americans talked to each other like that, people would often be offended or you'd think it was rude. That's partially why the maid/nanny (called "stewardesses" here) I employed is actually from Ghana. This is a stereotype and not a rule, but the people I've met on camp from Ghana seem a bit more gentle, which is better for me when I have an employee-boss situation.

9. I will write a whole post about having house help when I've had more time to experience it, but for now, I'll just say that it's part awesome and part extremely strange to have a driver and stewardess. I'm glad I've watched Downton Abbey because although it's nothing like that, it at least gives me a point of reference with "upstairs/downstairs" interactions. For example, when the driver is silent in the car, I wonder if I should say something to break the silence or if that's just what's done - maybe the driver doesn't speak unless spoken to. And if I put a dish in the sink and walk away, it almost always gets hand washed and put in the drying rack before I go back into the kitchen. It has motivated me to take the extra 10 seconds to actually put the dish in the dishwasher and save the stewardess from having to wash something *I* used. Also, everyone calls me "Madame" or "Mam" and Russ is "Sir" or "Master".


Carson said...

Very interesting reading. So different than what our every day lives are like. This blog will be an invaluable record of your time in Nigeria!

Lizzy said...

I love reading about your adventures in Africa! I spent 3 months living in Ghana so it's interesting to see the differences and similarities. Once you're making your travel plans back to the US you should consider stopping Ghana. It's similar to Nigeria culturally but much safer and American friendly.

Kadi Abel said...

I just read all of your Nigeria posts and I can't wait to hear more! What a cool adventure for your family!