I Don’t Need Help Anymore…Thanks, Friends

My previous blog created quite a stir and brought up such strong
emotions among not only my readership but also within me, that I
couldn’t just leave it alone to fester in all of our minds. I had to
find the answers to my questions.

And as life often does when we ask something of it, the answers were
given to me in bits and pieces through heartfelt emails, deep
conversations, and inspired self-reflection.

I don’t feel guilty about being privileged anymore, nor do I feel
lucky, nor do I feel like I don’t deserve what I have. In fact, it’s
not even a question of guilt, luck, or deserving. It’s  not even a
question at all. Let me explain.

Tonight I spoke with one of my expat road contractor friends. You
know, the one with the nice house, the fancy cheeses, the driver, and
the poker nights. He, too, was moved by my blog, not only because he
featured in it, but because he featured in it twice. You see, he
revealed to me that not only was he the expat character, but at one
point he was also the okada driver. Not literally, of course, but his
story mirrored that of so many men and women who have found the
strength and means to pull themselves out of a life of hardship to
provide for themselves, their families, and others.

When he told me this, my heart and stomach curled right up like a
sowbug in a child’s hand. I was stunned, to say the least. While I
didn’t have the words to express my thoughts at that moment, I have
luckily found them now.

It occurred to me that rich and poor is not a permanent state of
being. One can start off rich and end up poor, or start off poor and
end up rich. One can start off middle-class and go in either
direction. One can start off upper-middle and step down to
lower-middle. The combinations are endless, and they can happen to
anyone. But this doesn’t answer my questions: How do I get rid of the
guilt? Am I just lucky? How do I become more compassionate?

So taking it one step further, I discovered that if our state of
privilege can change in one lifetime alone, how much can it change
during the course of multiple generations? Sure, I’ve personally lived
and benefited from a life of privilege, but how about my father or
grandfather? Or my great grandmother? Or my great-great grandfather?
Were any of my ancestors dirt-poor? Did we ever struggle? And where is
the guarantee that my children’s children will never face devastation
or poverty?

Before British rule, were the Yoruba people inhabiting this land we
now call “Nigeria” considered impoverished? Who were my okada driver’s
great-great-great grandparents? How did they live? Can I really, truly
believe that throughout his entire family history runs a continuous
line of poverty?

It seems to me, that if you look at all this from a macroscopic lens
rather than a microscopic one, it becomes evident that we are all just
part of this cycle and circle, swirling around, taking turns,
oscillating like waves where the peaks and valleys are the rich and
poor, the luxury and the hard-knock. Sometimes you can witness
various cycles in one lifetime, like that of my expat friend, while
other times it may take generations for the crests and troughs to
reverse position.

Right now, it’s not my turn to be in the trough of the wave. That’s
not good nor bad, not guilt-laden nor lucky. It just is. And I won’t
lie and say I don’t enjoy this life of abundance. I love and
appreciate it a great deal. But realizing that I’m part of this
continuous cycle, that I’m not an isolated being, and that I’ve – at
some point – come from nothing (so to speak), I can clearly see that
we’re all in this together. And we always have been in this together.

So while we’re stuck in this seemingly out-of-whack and unbalanced
mess, can we not just do our best to hold each other’s hands and lift
each other up, in whatever way matches our spirit? Knowing that
somewhere down the line we’ve all been there, are presently there, or
may even be going there, we can unlock that door to compassion and
say, “Hey, I know your predicament. And I got your back. So
come…take my hand.”

We can help to balance the scales in our lifetime, to give what we
can, receive what we will, and share in the wealth that belongs to us
all. My expat friend told me that by building roads in Nigeria, he is
not only employing Nigerians and providing them with means for
shelter, food, and security, but he is also paving the way for okada
drivers like mine to ride safely over smooth and quality roads, which
is something Nigeria desperately needs. He’s stabilizing the scales in
a way that jives with his spirit.

And now I know why I’m here. To share what I’ve got and to help
balance out this madness. While my way of balancing may not primarily
involve my actual job here, I know that I’m doing it in countless
other ways. And now that I’ve emerged from the water and shaken off
the heavy weight of guilt, I feel light and free. I don’t feel bad
about being me; instead, I feel honored to be me because I have been
placed in a position to give. What a noble and worthy assignment! I
guess this is my burgeoning Mother Theresa/Dalai Lama/Jesus
Christ-ness pushing through. We’ve all got it in there somewhere. Dig
it out and let it shine!

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I Need Help! Loving It Here, But…..

Sometimes I love being tightly pressed between the bare metal door of an outdated taxi and the strong body of a cologned Nigerian youth, dressed in blazer and jeans, wiping the sweat from his brow with a washcloth while texting sweet nothings to his girlfriend.

Sometimes I love chilling in the comfort of an air-conditioned SUV, listening to Lebanese electronic music, checking my Facebook from a Blackberry phone, and being chauffeured to my hometown by an official driver…luxuries of which I never even had at home.

Sometimes I love buying little sachets of salt and detergent from one of the countless wooden shanties with their notoriously rusted corrugated tin roofs. And if I’ve got any change, I – not sometimes but always – love to buy candies and biscuits for the neighborhood children whom are milling about their mother’s shop, still wearing their thin and tattered school uniforms and dusty white socks.

Sometimes I love eating chevre chaud and saucisson, brought fresh from France, drinking Grey Goose cocktails in preparation for a night of Texas Hold ‘Em in the generator-powered house of road contractors. It’s a night of easy gambling in which we begin with 500 Naira each: Pennies or Prosperity, depending which Nigerian, volunteer, or expat you ask.

Sometimes I love careening down the road on a motorcycle, screaming a conversation with my okada driver, my dear okada driver, who often makes only four dollars a day and has to support two baby twins and a three-year-old. And my dear okada driver’s wife, who spends each and every day carrying a baby on her back while nursing another, handwashing the clothes of a family-of-five, preparing three laborious Nigerian meals, and only ever escaping the street on which she lives to attend Church on Sunday.

Sometimes I love giving trainings to the vibrantly enthusiastic teachers at the primary school, who laugh and listen politely as I share with them the crazy ways we teach children in the west. I still dare not really broach the subject of beating as a form of discipline, which is not only accepted, but generally encouraged. As of yet, I lack the courage, the strength, the conviction. Sometimes I don’t know what to think anymore.

Sometimes I love waving to the large group of young men lounging around at the (male) tailor’s shop across the dirt road from my house, gossiping about all the neighbors and especially gossiping about me: my jogging, my clothes, my way of speaking, my house guests, and surely far more than I will ever want to know.

Sometimes I love that the strike at my college allows me to run freely in the evenings through the empty campus, striding to the beat of local Portland music from my Ipod Touch, jogging between abandoned lecture halls and deserted offices. Running towards the setting sun amongst palm trees and bush, leaping over narrow ruts being carved out by millions of marching ants: I know I have this place all to myself…but in a differently deeper way than I do during regular business hours.

Sometimes I love hangin’ with the expat crew, eating delicious food, drinking cold drinks, laughing merry laughs, bemoaning the nature of life in Nigeria. T-I-N, as we say when something doesn’t work, doesn’t happen, reflects injustice, or falls apart. T-I-N. This Is Nigeria.**

Sometimes I love the gratifying rush of stepping out of a stuffy old bus after an 8-hour trip (rather, mad-dash) from Abuja. An adventure full of potholes, police checks, prayers, near head-on collisions, and sights of past wrecks littering the road. And as I deboard I’m thinking, and I mean seriously thinking, “I’m Alive!”

And the truth is, there are so many things I love about being here. But as you see, my experiences range from rich to poor, privileged to pauper. One of the things I don’t love here, one of the things that jolts me into reality and scrapes at my heart, is The Gap. The gap between the rich and the poor. The gap between my life and theirs. The gap between these Nigerians and those Nigerians.

Sometimes this gap feels as passable as a crack on the sidewalk, where one could reach her toe across the line separating the two lives and connect them both. Like when I depart from my okada driver’s house after a nightly visit only to go home, open up my Apple laptop, and type up a blog about his story. But this always happens with the subconscious knowledge that his life experiences are different than my own. To put it more crudely and accurately: I never have – and probably never will – face the kind of poverty he faces. Ever.

Sometimes this gap feels like a 10.0 magnitude earthquake has ripped the world apart. Like when I go to work and see that nearly every single day a child is throwing up or sick from some kind of food- or water-borne illness, that every day a child is chastised for not having an ironed uniform (talk less of the fact that their uniform is ripped and tattered), that every few hours a child has to go to the bush to urinate or defecate, that every day a child who has the potential and brains and spirit to soak up all kinds of knowledge is left to learn the most he can from teachers who often do the best they can with no more resources than some textbooks, chalk, and their own minds. And I think of the old schools where I used to work, with resources aplenty, highly skilled teachers, money, toilets, break rooms, clean rooms, hundreds of books, dignified treatment (of teachers and students), organization, technology, electricity, windows, safety plans, heating and cooling, and the list goes on and on.

And sometimes I feel so distant from it all that I wonder what on earth is wrong with me. Where is my inner Mother Theresa? Where is my emerging Dalai Llama? Where are you, my budding heart of Jesus?

I feel for them, I care for them, I give to them, I spend time with them, I appreciate them, I befriend them, I work with them, I enjoy them, I even love many of them. But the problem in all of this is that I can’t shake the “them.” I catch myself sometimes living my life here as if it were a play: Act I, Act II, Intermission (possibly involving a trip to Europe), Act III, then hop on a big jet plane and go home.

I am starting to find that I will never “live like the people,” as they say in VolunteerLand. But what I’m constantly reminded of is that I “am the people.” We are all the same human beings, just raised in different worlds. How do I let go of the guilt of being raised in my own world? Am I just lucky for being born into my circumstances? Is it really so offensively simple as luck? How do I cross the safe distance I keep which blocks true compassion and empathy? Or do I come to terms with this distance…this distance which allows for gated-community compassion?

Well, just things to think about, I suppose. If you have any feedback, I’d love to hear it! Thanks again for your bloggership and positive support!

**I recognize the harm in using this expression and have committed to stopping. Let it be understood, though, that the elongated version, This is Nigeria, is commonly said by Nigerians themselves in most conversations regarding said criteria.

The Job.

Enough people have asked about my job and the work I do here for me to actually feel enough pressure to let the cat out of the bag. I tend to skim over it or not really include it in my blogs simply because I don’t know what to say about it, or more appropriately, I don’t know how to talk about it without sounding a bit sullen.

So here’s the nitty gritty, broken down in plain text:

I work at the Kwara State College of Education (CoE), which is one of three CoEs in Kwara. This particular CoE is dubbed the “reform” college, meaning it has undergone serious administrative, curricular, methodological, and logistical changes in order that it will become the model CoE in Kwara, and theoretically in Nigeria.

My job is multifold. The bulk of it at this point has been training the existing teachers who work at the on-campus Early Childhood Development facility (ECD) and the Primary School. I train them primarily on learner-centered approaches involving the use of a variety of participatory activities and teaching aids. Most teaching practices in Nigeria still consist of “chalk and talk,” which is where the teacher lectures the students and writes a whole bunch on the chalkboard. This style of teaching has its time and place, but it is not an effective method when used all of the time.

So my job is to teach them other ways of teaching. I facilitate weekly training sessions which I attempt to make fun and interesting, and then I observe their classes throughout the week and give detailed feedback and suggestions for improvement. I really love the primary school teachers and and their students, and they seem to adore me, so this aspect of the work is quite enjoyable.

My work with them relates with the CoE because when the college students training to become teachers go out for their student teaching/practicum, they will have solid role models on which to base their observations and practice. At some point I will be going out to the remaining teaching practice schools in the area and provide support to them as well, but up to this point I’ve only been working in the two schools on campus.

Some other jobs that will likely happen in the future will be to work with the Early Childhood and Primary Education professors (called “lecturers” here) and support them in teaching the college students about learner-centered methods and techniques. This has not happened yet due to the strike.

Alas…the strike.

Read my last blog titled, “Riots, Broken Windows, and Naivete,” for more details about the hows and whys of the strike. The college staff and teachers have been on strike for half of my duration here. This doesn’t bode well for feeling like I actually have a real concrete job, especially when I walk around campus to the sound of bleating goats and my own footsteps. In fact, I’ve felt akin to a plastic bag whipped around by the wind: don’t know where I’m going, don’t know where I’m gonna land. Sometimes I feel like I have a real direction and purpose, other times I feel like I’m just grasping at an amorphous, cloudy goal of which I myself can’t even define. Some weeks I’ll have plenty of work, other weeks I’ll have next to nothing. Recently, it’s been erring toward the “next to nothing” side.

In several ways this is okay. The downtime has allowed me to take several trips to Abuja to work on a side project with the organization I’m here with, VSO. It has also allowed me to spend more time with my neighbors and other friends in the area. And since there is a strike, I can use the empty campus to go on my runs without being stared at like a lunatic oyinbo. On the whole, however, if I had to state a preference, it would be nicer to have everyone back on campus with the college up and running, keeping busier, and having a bit more direction.

But as all plastic bags in the wind do, I’ll just continue to go with the flow and see where I’ll land after all of this (if I land at all)! It’s not like I’m doing nothing, but I’m certainly not plowing through any 10-hour action packed days like I did back in America!

So that’s The Job. I’ll make sure to update you as things progress/regress!

Riots, Broken Windows, and Naivete

Do you ever have those mornings when you wake up and think, “something big is going to happen today”? I do, but yesterday wasn’t one of them. It was just your average roll-out-of-bed-and-schlep-yourself-to-work sort of day. But joy of joys, yesterday was actually much more exciting than I had anticipated! Unfortunately, it wasn’t exciting in a good way.

I’ll start from the beginning:

When I first arrived to Nigeria, the staff at the college I work at went on strike due to the perceived low teacher salary paid to them by the Nigerian government. They were on strike for nearly two full months (most of February and all of March). Finally, the government promised them a raise and assured the teachers that the new salary would be instated by the end of May. So in April the teachers’ union cautiously suspended the strike and returned to the college for work (but please bear in mind the word “suspended”).

So the students gradually trickled in and life at the College of Education settled back to a quasi state of normalcy. Semester exams had been delayed due to the strike, but were rescheduled and had just begun this past Monday, May 30th. Hmmm….May 30th….End of May….I see that your wheels are turning, right?

Bingo! You got it! The government did not come through with the new teacher salaries as promised. The teachers, as of June 2nd, declared that they would resume their strike indefinitely. Right in the middle of exams. Now, it doesn’t take an Einstein to imagine how the college students must feel right about now. They have already paid their tuition, they expect an education to be delivered to them, they can’t finish the year or earn their certificate if they don’t complete their exams, they’ve already had to deal with the previous two-month long strike….feeling angry yet?

So the students rioted.

Today I happened to be in the Administration Block, which is the main building where all the head honchos have their offices. We were right in the middle of a meeting when all of a sudden the Provost shot up and moved quickly to the window. Obviously the administration had been anticipating this. Within two seconds, every single person in the room was huddled around the windows. The one other VSO volunteer and I were just looking at each other with the naive, “Am I missing something?” look.

Sure enough crowds of students were forming in front of the building. Many had broken off large branches from trees, whipping them back and forth. Others were pushing around the security guards. Mostly, though, there was just a lot of yelling. The room cleared pretty much instantly, until only the other VSO and myself and another man were standing there wondering what to do (everyone else seemed to know already).

The other VSO and I went to the window and stared out at all the people. I could recognize several familiar faces of student acquaintances I have. They all began to yell, “NO MORE STRIKE, NO MORE STRIKE!” The provost was outside at that point, likely trying to calm them down. I took out my cell phone and snapped a few photos, considering I had never seen anything like this before, and assuming that the students were “cool” with me and knew that I merely represented the curious and harmless outsider.

Then, without any warning, I heard a huge BANG! and then a shatter. I instantly jumped back with a scream and realized that a rock had been chucked through the window we were standing at, missing our heads by a couple of feet. I then heard a succession of rocks being pelted at the building, probably about ten in total.

After a little while, the rioters settled down and many drifted away. When we felt it was safe to go outside, we did. I was escorted to my office by one of the undercover guards whose job it was to write down the names of anyone who threw stones or caused trouble. He told me several times, “No pictures! NO PICTURES! YOU UNDERSTAND ME?” Okay, OKAY! Got it!! No pictures!!

On our walk down to my office, he bent over and picked up two shiny balls which to me looked like little marbles from a Discovery Toys game or something. Turns out they were bullets! Could’ve fooled me! I quickly collected my things from my office and was given a ride home by a teacher at the college.

The situation is calm now, but the strike is on, which means the exams have been cancelled. My heart goes out to everyone in this situation, really. It shouldn’t have to be this way. I’m not going to share my opinion on the matter more than I already have due to the nature of a public blog, but it’s just so unfortunate. Thank goodness no one was hurt, as far as I could tell, except for one student who I saw holding paper to a wound on his eye.

As far as my work goes, I am still able to go about my business teaching at the Primary School and Early Childhood Development Facility located on campus, but the college has once again resumed “ghost-town” status, and my primary counterparts will not be around.

Today, as I was buying bread from my favorite campus shopkeeper, two male college students approached me, yelling at me in Yoruba. All I could understand was, “Yelling yelling yelling CAMERA yelling yelling CAMERA!” I understood what was happening, but played dumb and asked them to please speak to me in English. They told me that it was by the Grace of God that I wasn’t hurt yesterday and that the students pelted the stones at me intentionally because I was taking pictures. He continued to say that Nigerians hate picture-taking because they assume the snapshots will be used to implicate them. I told them I certainly meant no harm by it, that I’m not going to use those pictures in any negative way, and to please apologize to their friends and fellow students for me. They asked if I was just curious because I’d never seen anything like that at a college campus before, and I emphatically confirmed. As is typical in Nigeria, things went from tense to light-hearted in about five seconds, and all of a sudden they were shaking my hand, laughing, introducing themselves, and asking me to take them back to America, the “powerful country” where you can “take pictures freely.” Sigh.

All this to say that I am not happy nor proud about my naivete. I should have known better than to take those pictures. In fact, part of me did, but I ignored my instinct. I assumed that since I’m this cute, nice American girl that everyone likes, people would without a doubt understand and overlook my innocent and ignorant motives. This is not the case. I guess part of the reason I came out here was to learn about the “other” real world: the one that isn’t so peachy keen and ice-cream-dream. But what needs to happen is that I learn about this environment responsibly: not by testing the limits and expecting others to react the way I think they should, but by being cautious, observant, and sharp. Gosh, all this learning is starting to exhaust me!

Until next time, dear friends. Take care 🙂

The First Three Months Were Hard…

…and then they were over. I’m now into my fourth month here in Nigeria, and things are looking quite a bit sunnier (though I wish the real sun would simmer down a bit; it’s so dang hot here)! I have discovered something very important recently: the toughest thing about the first three months was that I felt strongly attached to my life in the United States and blatantly detached from most things Nigerian. I identified with home so deeply that Nigeria felt like an alien planet. I was assigned a position as teacher trainer, which in itself is pretty alien work to me. My colleagues and neighbors also felt like aliens, but aliens that spoke English and were really, really nice.

But as Month Three slowly passed me by, I started to feel strange…like I was becoming a bit alien myself! My house that once depressed me has started welcoming me each day after work. My Nigerian neighbors whom I barely knew have become true friends with whom I regularly engage in laughing fits and silly gossip sessions. My work has shifted from dismally intimidating to rhythmically productive (I promise that soon I’ll write a whole blog about my job; I’m just waiting for the right moment and mood). The ways I’ve touched people’s lives in one manner or another have already become evident. The expat friends I’ve made in the nearby city of Ilorin, ranging from Canucks to Brits to Lebanese to Indians to Finnish, have webbed together to form my perfect community safety net. I’ve become more and more active in VSO as an organization, proudly participating in a strategic planning project which will determine VSO Nigeria’s future.

For all these reasons, Nigeria is slowly morphing into a home of sorts, and I’m beginning to identify and connect with it on seriously deep levels. This by no means implies that I’m disidentifying from my life in the United States, especially from my amazing friends and family who have helped me weather the storm of the past few months. It simply means that I’m adding another wing, building a new extension to my life’s construction.

All of this makes me realize that when we as humans feel connected to something, we can justify it more easily in our hearts. Connecting and identifying with our surroundings enhance so many aspects of our lives: our happiness, our relationships, our work, our everything! The reason the first few months were so hard for me was not because of my circumstances, but rather because I had not yet integrated with my new surroundings. Nothing felt like me. And everything that did feel like me was thousands of miles away. This was a very isolating and emotionally searing experience, I kid you not. But as time went on, sticky little bits and pieces of Nigeria started clinging to me and absorbing into my identity and my heart. I’m starting to discover a brand new possibility of who I am hidden underneath, which is something that can only be brought out by new experiences. And it feels wonderful.

So here’s to the next twenty-one months!! Whatever will become of me??

St. Augustine’s Catholic Church: Not a Boring Post, I Swear!!

You know you’re out of shape when kneeling in church makes your thighs burn. You also know you’re at a serious Catholic church when you have the choice of kneeling on cement or on a wooden board. I choose the cement, not because I want to punish myself, but because the board is awkwardly positioned between the wooden pews and makes every muscle in my legs spasm.

St. Augustine’s is the Catholic church I attend here in Oro. I don’t know a single soul who does not attend some kind of Christian or Muslim service here in Nigeria. And yes, I am generalizing the entire country of Nigeria. And yes, I stand by that generalization 100%. So not attending Church was not an option for me, which of course isn’t the worst thing in the world. In fact, I quite enjoy going.

St. Augustine’s is a small red building (I have posted a photo of it in a previous blog) with steps leading up to it. The fourteen pictures of the Stations of the Cross hang around the inside perimeter, with the drums and choir stationed at the left. Candles are lit during mass, and since the windows have to be open because of the heat, the flames inevitably and regularly blow out, so the altar boys are constantly getting up and down to relight them. On a chair in the corner, there is a large, hard plastic suitcase which contains the holy cup and other Communion wares.

Our church, like most Nigerian Christian churches, is accompanied by an underage boy playing a drum kit. I think he’s about 8. He’s pretty decent, but mostly he’s just absolutely adorable. We also have a couple of bongo players, which adds a nice touch. It’s no Guster or anything, but its just fine. We sing songs during mass, mostly in Yoruba, so I hum along to their tunes the best I can. Nigerians sing in a different scale then westerners (not nearly as American Idolish, and quite a bit more nasal).

St. Augustine’s choir consists of about 8 girls ages 10 to 18. As is typical with girls this age, they’re always giggling and gossiping in whispers as if no one can see them. They wear black and tan graduation caps and gowns, which amuses me greatly. The other children sit with each other in the front pews, not with their parents. Mama Aina, my lovely neighbor and friend, will sit in the row right behind them, always with a thin stick close at hand to gently tap them if they’re acting up.

The mass is quite traditionally Catholic, unlike some of the other Christian services I’ve attended which I won’t go too much into here because I don’t know how I could describe them without sounding critical. Catholic churches here have masses which last about an hour and a half while the other Christian churches boast a shocking three to four hour service, so I’m very grateful to have been baptized Catholic. They also don’t speak in tongues at my church, which is okay by me, since I don’t speak in tongues either.

There are two to three money collections during the mass, though as per Rome I think we’re only supposed to have one. I’m cool with it though, as long as Pope Benedict is, because one is for a local charity and the other is to support a congregant’s family. Each week the charity and family rotate. When we donate, instead of passing around a basket, we walk up to a plastic dustbin which sits in front of the altar and drop in our naira. I’ve heard from a Nigerian that doing it this way acts as a form of peer pressure: if you choose not to contribute, everyone will see you sitting in your pew, selfishly not giving, which can be embarrassing. There is always a song for giving time, and if the drumbeats move the congregation, they will dance their way up to the dustbin.

Communion is interesting because even though there are usually only about 40 people at mass (and over half are children), we are issued these little plastic tags which say “Communion, Oro Parish.” Without this tag,No Communion Sacrament for You! So don’t lose it!! A designated woman stands at the left hand of the father collecting your tags right before you have to open your mouth to receive the Body of Christ. We don’t get the Blood of Christ at St. Augustine’s. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s the alcohol, perhaps it’s the cost, who knows. I should find out.

Our priest is great. He’s a smiley man who sings songs about things such as problems being plastic bags that we just need to throw away. He squirts holy water out of a plastic spray bottle right in our faces whenever we are within shooting range. I swear he purposely aims right for the eyes. It makes me cower like a cat who has just misbehaved. It always catches me off-guard, despite him doing it every Sunday. I try very hard not to react inappropriately (like snatch the bottle and scream, Water fight! and start squirting maniacally, to name one example). The priest has a lazy eye, and he’s always got one eye on me and one on everybody else, which means that I probably wouldn’t get away with any squirt bottle shenanigans anyway.

Our priest translates the sermons for me, and they’re usually quite interesting and inoffensive. At the other two churches I attended, the sermons emphasized heathens being of the devil (Western heathens being of the worst variety), and that women need to always submit to their men. I guess I had better start getting used to the idea of going to hell! It can’t be much hotter than Nigeria anyway.

So that’s my church. I’m quite happy attending, and it’s been a really great Sunday morning activity. As strange as this sounds, it’s one of the most familiar things that I do in this strange and beautiful place.

Of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Snakes.

The woman who told me back in Portland that Nigeria didn’t have snakes was just plain wrong. And she’s a Nigerian herself, for heaven’s sake! But since she comes from Lagos, I am forced to let it slide. Had I known that snakes outnumber mosquitoes here, I never would have come. Okay, okay, the mosquito thing is probably an exaggeration, as is the not coming, but since living here I’ve seen only a few mosquitoes (I don’t even sleep with a net) and four snakes. Granted, two of those snakes were nonthreateningly dead and one I didn’t actually see, but still! The fourth snake…now, that’s the one worth writing home about.

The other day as I came home from church and walked through my front gate, I apparently startled a nearby snake because both my security guard and I witnessed a frighteningly fluorescent green 2-footer slither rapidly into my garage behind an old dresser and other household junk. We gasped, shot a look at each other, and asked, “Did you see that?” Unfortunately, the answer on both sides was yes.

The guard immediately grabbed a long, thick stick, clutching it like a good ol’ fashioned American baseball bat, and waited. Nothing happened, so he started hitting the dresser with the stick, hoping to scare the snake out of hiding. When no sign of green appeared, he warily pulled the dresser toward him, sliding it out from the corner of the garage. Still nothing. He then bravely yanked out each of the 6 drawers from the dresser, one by one with his hands, leaping back each time he dropped one onto the floor, just in case our friend had curled up inside. Ko si. Nothing.

We both edged a little closer to the pile of junk and craned our necks a bit to see where this serpent had hidden itself. It was nowhere to be seen, so the guard grabbed his stick and with it started pushing everything away from the corner: old fluorescent lightbulbs, pieces of cardboard, dirty cooking pot lids, until the corner was bare save for a bucket full of miscellaneous metal parts. He rapped against the bucket. Nothing.

We then looked at each other, and as if our minds were one, we slowly and uneasily shifted our gaze upward toward the ceiling. Can snakes climb? Luckily this one couldn’t (or at least, didn’t) and we simultaneously breathed a sigh of relief. But where could it be?

My first thought was, “Hey, this is Nigeria, the land of juju, charms, and magic. Perhaps the snake is a divine spirit of sorts, an ancestor coming to give us a message!” Again, my guard completely read my mind, and asked, “You did see it, abi?”

“Yes, did you?” I said, uncertainly.
“Yes,” he replied, and we both looked to the corner again, scratching our heads as confusion overrode concern.

Then, all of a sudden, a flash of neon green flicked out of the bucket full of metal and disappeared. I gasped, pointing towards the movement. We exchanged glances and chuckled in wonder at the snake’s cleverness. But things got serious fast. It was go-time.

“Move out of here,” murmured the guard, tightening his grip on the stick.
“Is it poisonous?” I asked, not wanting to know.
“The green ones? Yes, of course.”

Of course.

So I moved just outside the garage, out of eyeshot but well within biteshot. For some reason I really wanted to be a part of the action. That’s Nigeria for you.

A few seconds later,

Clang, clang, clang!

Then,

Bam, bam! Bam-bam-bam! Bam……BAM!

The unmistakeable sounds of metal hitting cement and wood hitting snake echoed from the garage. At that moment, the snake’s spirit was probably hovering above its body, about to slither its way through a white tunnel of light to meet its maker. I went over to validate this notion only to notice that its head was still moving, its little mouth opening and closing slowly. “It’s still alive!” I squeaked, desperately wanting it to be put out of it’s misery. So the guard whacked it one last time, square on the head.

I won’t lie: I felt very sorry for the snake, and the whole thing made me quite melancholy (for a few brief moments). All the poor thing really wanted to do was get away from me as fast as it could when I entered through the gate in the first place. And it did a phenomenal job of hiding from us, as if it knew what its fate would be had it slacked off for even a second. Which unfortunately it did. But theoretically speaking, we should have let it live if for nothing more than its pure innocence in the matter.

But that would mean that a big, green, poisonous snake would be slithering around my yard or in the garage where my security guard spends the day. I quickly recalled what my eleven year old neighbor animatedly told me the day before: “Snakes can get into anything. Nothing is safe. They will get inside your house and make wahalla (trouble). Watch your shoes. They bite your foot and you never walk again.”

Lovely thought. Truly lovely. Vigilant is now my middle name.

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