Servants, Scrapes and Situations – An Academic in Nigeria

Deprived of cultural stimuli we appreciate every cultural artefact in a much more intense way.  Saturated with cultural stimuli that intensity, in one sense, is diminished. That’s not to say that this is a negative thing.  It’s just different.

Hence, Transformers 2 in Nigeria is brilliant, when the same film in the UK was utter shit.  I didn’t even mind the racial stereotyping, bad acting or general Michael Bay-ness of it when I watched it here.  Whereas in Britain I was left feeling somewhere between mildly entertained and as if someone was polluting a childhood memory.

Likewise, coming home clutching a copy of Bruno actually felt quite transgressive here, and I would genuinely love to show my students the cage fight scene at the end and see what they made of it.  Obviously I’m not going to do that, as I think they would just be depressingly homophobic, and I’d get sacked into the bargain.  But “I should be chained up to a 6’4” Norwegian with a PhD in sucking dick” is a great line in anyone’s book, if difficult to drop into everyday conversation.

coming home clutching a copy of Bruno actually felt quite transgressive here

However, cultural deprivation can’t excuse everything.  I was listening to “Let it Be” by The Beatles the other night.  Now, it’s a great song, which I love.  We used to listen to the John Denver version in the car when I was a kid and I still find it evocative.  But it’s also a classic example of why Ringo Starr was a shit drummer.  Just wait – honestly.  It’s a travesty.  Listen to the whole song and tell me it isn’t.

***

Someone drove into me today.  That makes it sound a little more dramatic than it actually was, but it was still bloody annoying.
I was sitting at a traffic light, waiting for it to go green when I saw some guy trying to squeeze past me in the wing mirror.  Unfortunately he wasn’t doing any squeezing, it was obvious that he was just going to drive straight into me, which he proceeded to do, scraping down the rear wing of my car.

Unfortunately my instant attempt at a forceful out of the window gesture was somewhat thwarted by the fact that I accidentally lowered the back window instead of the front one, and so ended up just ineffectually, and quite limp-wristedly, butting my hand against the glass.   The guy made some gesture as if to say I should have been further forward, which didn’t help my mood. But shortly afterwards  I did manage to drive across a junction with my finger in the air at him as he turned left, which has to go down as a win.

I’m glad that I’m going home in a month, for all sorts of reasons, obviously, but not least so that I can get a break from driving here. I’ve gotten used to most of the craziness, and certain things, because I’m now expecting them, no longer drive me quite so mental.  But there’s some stuff I just can’t get used to.

I’ve gotten used to most of the craziness

The first thing is – it’s all about inertia here.  No one wants to give up an ounce of momentum once they’ve got it, and this means they’ll do the most ridiculous things to maintain it, including driving into people, cutting across 3 lanes of traffic without looking, driving down the wrong side of the road, and going through intersections as if they were the Dukes of Hazzard trying to get away from Boss Hogg.

With the crap cars, I can understand this. I’ve driven a few myself, and when it takes you that long to get up speed, you want to make sure you don’t lose it unless you absolutely have to.  But even people in sparkling new 4×4’s do it, and 90% of the drivers here don’t seem to believe in rapid acceleration, or using the brakes, ever, unless absolutely necessary. There’s also an innate inability to wait, or queue, which obviously deeply offends my British sensibilities.  It’s also completely stupid watching how every 3 lane bit of road has at least 6 cars abreast at all junctions, all desperate to get one car length ahead, even though most of them will pull away like they’re in the midst of a particularly stately funeral procession.

Getting angry about it is pointless, and whilst I’ve pretty much come to terms with it, it still simmers away as a general background irritation.  What I can’t bring myself to accept, though, is the lack of people saying thanks when you let them out, or stop for them, or the lack of apology when they nearly kill you.  Part of the reason this annoys me is that it just does – it drives me nuts in the UK as well.  And whilst you could say that it’s not part of the culture here, I’m not sure that’s entirely true.  Because a lot of people do wave, or in some way acknowledge when you’ve done them a favour (even if you have to pointedly stare at them as they go past in order to make it happen).  Clearly people are aware of the concept and it is relatively common practise.

the non-wavers, are just a bunch of rude shit for souls

This just makes me think that the others, the non-wavers, are just a bunch of rude shit for souls, quite frankly, and no matter how much I try to dismiss it, it still strikes a peculiarly visceral note whenever it happens.  I think I need to let it go before I get into my first bit of road rage.  Trying to explain to an angry Nigerian that I’m shouting at them because they didn’t say thank you is probably not a recipe for less stress.

***

I miss, in no particular order: proper milk in tea; proper milk full stop (ie. not powdered or UHT but actual milk); cheese; HP Sauce (although I found some the other day and got very, very excited); an actual physical newspaper, particularly on a Sunday; University Challenge; rolling tobacco; bacon (what I would do for a bacon sandwich); bread that doesn’t have sugar in it; good sausages; the stupid happiness with which a nice day is greeted in the UK and good live music. I also am really looking forward to not having to deal with servants.  That sounds absolutely terrible, especially when you consider that I haven’t had to wash up, clean or do my own laundry since I got here.  But it’s true.

I also am really looking forward to not having to deal with servants.

Joy is generally quite sweet.  The other night, for example, I had some people round for dinner, and as I was reaching the final stages of cooking, she was buzzing around looking at me like I was even more mental than usual.  Finally she walked out of the back door, before walking straight back in and with a little shrug of exasperation asking, “well, should I help?!”

I think she’s genuinely offended that I don’t ask her to cook for me, and that when people come round I get things for them myself.  Julius’ reaction was the exact opposite.  He came in at the same time and started saying things like, “these are your friends.  They are such friends.  They come round, they hang out…”  All of which seemed highly amusing for him.  I gave him a beer to get him to go away, and that just made Joy’s mood even worse.  Not only was I subverting the natural order of things by cooking for myself, I was also leading her husband astray.

On that note, I was having a conversation with someone on campus about cooking, and she said that “she wouldn’t be able to trust” something I cooked for her.  I thought she meant that it was because I’d cook some horrid foreign muck, but in fact she meant that she couldn’t trust food cooked by a man.  She also told me that she wouldn’t like living in the UK because she didn’t like having to do things for herself, and tried to teach me some Hausa.  The fact that the first and most important word she wanted me to learn was “come” said a lot, I thought.

So the situation with Joy is just one of tiredness with the constant feeling of slight awkwardness that comes from me not really knowing how to deal with her presence.  This is not helped at all by the constant requests for money, most of which I know are lies, and the fact that she only understands about 1 word in 10 that I say.  Some of the time I just want to be left alone, and that’s not been possible here, particularly because Tominyi’s been living with me as well. And whilst she’s a pretty unobtrusive flatmate, she’s always there and in an extremely incommunicative, slightly passive aggressive way as well.

To sum it up, the only person who wanders round the house in their pants is Julius.  And that doesn’t seem quite right to me.  Surely if there’s one person with the right, it should be me, but I’m not about to get into that argument.

But for all that these minor things are starting to niggle a little bit, life here is basically incredibly easy, and pretty good.  But it’s all about that balance between anything-is-possible and nothing-is-easy, and when you get more of the latter it grinds you down.

the only person who wanders round the house in their pants is Julius.  And that doesn’t seem quite right to me

Unfortunately, campus life is an endless procession of nothing-is-easy.  We’ve settled down into a rhythm for this term, but I’m starting to get genuinely worried about the next semester.  Thomas is pretty close to quitting (and is taking next term off anyway), we don’t have a replacement for Keith lined up (or any qualified applicants), we don’t have any extra teachers lined up, and we don’t have any extra resources coming.  The elusive photocopier still remains at large.

There’s a meeting next week, and I’m going to bring all of this up then, but I think the chances of anything actually being done are minimal.  Things only start to move when Debare gets an idea into his head, and unfortunately the one area where he never seems to have any inspiration is the academic side of things.

His latest scheme has been the mosque that is now being started on campus, right next to the gates.  This is causing a bit of friction, because we’ve made a big thing of being a secular university, but one that respects people’s right to worship etc., and so the idea was that you would never allow a situation to develop where you’d built either a mosque and no church, or vice versa.  That is, until Debare decided it was a good idea and went ahead without telling anyone.  Peter is livid, and some of the Christian staff are muttering about how inappropriate it is, especially given the location.

I sense a situation coming

I honestly don’t care, but it seems to me like a very ill-judged move.  It also makes me wonder what it’s going to be like once we have a full time imam and priest on campus.  Officially they’ll have no right to affect any policy, academic or otherwise, but I bet they’ll try.  Equally, I’m sure there will be plenty of jockeying for position, and if the church doesn’t arrive for a long time after the mosque is completed I think we might see outright rebellion.

I sense a situation coming, and I think it will be, in the words of Richie Benaud, a schamozzle.  Nothing like a bit of religious conflict to liven things up.

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