This week’s “La Wlooo” entry is a bit different. For starters, I will not be mocking Lebanon or Lebanese people. So, put your guns and knives down, chill, and save your insults for another day.
I was raised in Nigeria; I lived and studied in a city called Port Harcourt for the first half of my life. After I moved to Lebanon, I never revisited Nigeria until a couple of weeks ago when I realized it’s about time that I returned to see my home and family. I must say, after two weeks of being here, Lebanon is actually very civilized and developed . . . well, compared to a “jungle” at least.
Although maybe ten to zero of my readers have actually visited Nigeria, I thought it would be interesting to share with you what life here is like . . . the funny parts of it.
Here’s my 2 cents:
- At the supermarket, peanuts are packaged in bottles and water is packaged in plastic bags. Do not frown upon this, simply accept it or ignore it . . . but move along.
- There is always tremendous heat and the highest level of humidity. This is usually accompanied by months of rain (raining season) or sand storms (Harmattan season) or if you’re lucky, a month or so of the dry season. In either case, you’re guaranteed to sweat like there’s no tomorrow. If you’re a woman, you can pray for a good hair day. If you’re a man, you can pray for not looking like a sweaty, shiny-faced brick layer in all your photos.
- Lizards look more like crocodiles. Nigerian lizards (black and red) will reach up to the size of your arm. They are everywhere; on the walls, on the grass, under your chair, next to your coffee. Best part is, they are terrified of humans; this is marked by their sudden movements attempting to escape from you – this alone would give Hercules a heart attack.
- Nigerian insects are on a league of their own. First, think of any insect you’ve seen in Lebanon – multiply its size by four. There’s also no such thing as a peaceful Nigerian insect. They all bite. Ants are the size of bees, and they bite . . . and they fly (yes, they have wings). They also never travel solo. They are accompanied by a swarm of other ants (that literally come out of nowhere) and deliberately seek refuge in places such as your bedroom and bathroom. Cockroaches are the size of tennis balls, wasps are the size of birds, and birds are the size of helicopters (okay, i am exaggerating a little on this one). Dragonflies are EVERYWHERE – I mean it. I still do not know if they bite, but I’m not willing to find out.
- Snakes: see Anaconda.
- Traffic is a disaster. I promised myself to never ever complain about Beirut traffic again . . . EVER. I have no words to describe how bad the traffic is here – especially on Friday. A five minute drive could turn into a two hour drive, depending on the weather, the time of the day, or simply for no reason at all.
- Every 3 meters, there’s a church in Port Harcourt. To the untrained eye, this is all faith and purity. In reality, the heads of these churches are the biggest mafia around (who also happen to own several houses, expensive cars, and are well connected to everyone in the country). How can they afford it? A certain pastor may ask one of his followers to “donate money” which he will pray on for three days claiming that in three days, this money will “multiply”. When this phenomenon doesn’t happen, it’s usually blamed on something even more ridiculous – like a goat possessed by a demon man . . . that ate the money and ran away. This goat could even be taken to court and charged with theft. Crooks, as such, are referred to as the “419”.
- As soon as you arrive to Nigeria, you are guaranteed to expand. Do not even try to weigh yourself. This will only end in disaster. It doesn’t really help that you feel hungry all the time and find yourself obsessively eating. It also doesn’t help that your feet won’t fit into most of your shoes, or that you look like a buffalo in most of your photos.
- There are three human needs in Nigeria: food, sleep, sex. At any given point of the day, you will be needing one or two or all three. Is it the climate? Is it the lifestyle? Is it the monstrous insects and the rabbit-sized lizards? I will never know.
- If you are unlucky enough to book an internal flight from one Nigerian
city to the other, your waiting time at the airport will span anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours. If there’s an increase in fuel prices, the flight will be delayed. There is always a reason. If you feel the need to complain, you might as well keep your mouth shut. There is no such thing as customer service or professionalism or even standard procedure. Your complaints will simply be ignored or frowned upon.
- Need rain? Call the Rain Doctor. Crazy much? For a certain fee, this rain doctor will conduct a ritual that will bring on the rain. This is a belief that has been passed down from one generation to the next. Do not try to mock it or laugh about it. How do they do this? Good old “JooJoo” (a.k.a. black magic). If you don’t believe them, they will make a believer out of you.
- Red Bull (or Gorilla Guarana) is not an energy drink; it is a sex
enhancer. All energy drinks are marketed and advertised as sex enhancers. How they drew up this association, I do not know.
- An avocado is called a pear. A peanut is called a “granut”. A Chiringuito or a beach bar is called a bush bar. Dog meat and bush meat (a larger version of a rat) are delicacies. And although Souya is delicious, do not attempt to buy any from the side of the road – you might just be eating your neighbor’s dog.
- At the market, you can safely bargain 20 to 30 USD off an item.
Whether you’re buying clothes, books, fruits, or tires, the keyword is BARGAIN! Even the salespeople love it! If you are a woman, you will also receive 15 marriage proposals from the locals – and if you have an older family member with you, he/she will be referred to as the “in-law”. In this case, no you may not react with a Lebanese-ish squeal followed by “Yiii! Ba3ed Na2is!” Instead, you must force a smile and say “another day”.
- Scenes from the streets: everything is carried on one’s head. Yes, they have very strong necks and impeccable balance. They can carry anything from peanuts to water to bread. Another sight to see is naked toddlers running around. By naked, i mean butt naked. You can also smell the delicious aroma of fresh corn being grilled on the side of the road – now this is something delicious that you must try!
- Nigeria is notorious for its local/native products, one being the coconut oil that is used for everything from cooking to tanning. I spent my best afternoons by the pool, covered in coconut oil . . . and mosquitoes. Apparently the mosquitoes and flies cannot resist the sweetness of the coconut (thus the fourteen mosquito bites on my left leg alone). The natural local honey produced here also serves as an excellent hair mask . . . that attracts flies from every possible corner of the city. No winning here I tell you.
- Popular Nigerian names are: Friday, Sunday, Monday (depending on what day you are born), Patience, Hope, Happiness, Joy (depending on what virtue your parents wish upon you), or something very local like Tunde or Ogbodo.
- The most genuine and respectful gift that a local can give you is a live
native chicken for you to have for dinner. Don’t you dare refuse it. Accept it with deep honor . . . but don’t you dare eat it later.
All jokes aside, just like Lebanon, Nigeria is home to me and I will love it for as long as I can help it. Even in the “jungle” or the “bush”, one can learn some very valuable lessons such as simplicity, value for money and work, modesty, the importance of family, acceptance of race, religion, and color, the power of kindness, patience, and good communication skills, respect, friendship, and an appreciation for all things earth-related (minus monster mosquitoes). Seeing hardworking people from Lebanon, Germany, France, Italy, USA, Australia, India, and beyond, mixing with Nigerians for several decades and learning to accept each others’ differences, understanding them, and benefiting from them is simply moving. I listened as an extremely modest German entrepreneur told me how he started from nothing and how he now owns half the world but has a dream to retire and live on a farm with the peasants; it made me realize how small I am. It also made me realize how our Lebanese society is slowly losing all its values and headed in such a materialistic direction where money and status are put before basic human compassion. Although at the beginning I did say that Lebanon seems more developed to me now, I wish I could say the same for the minds of its people. I wish that the “big fish in a little pond” people in Lebanon would wake up and realize that being a member of a fake sheep society is nothing to be proud of. And this holds true in any corner of the world.
“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” Lao Tzu