The NYTimes says so… I second. Perhaps the most appealing aspect is that you can experience whatever Tunisia you want, based on what and who you want to see, as well as based on the kinds of stories you want to report back. These can range from up and coming extreme Islamists to the combination of the tightest skirt and highest heel you have ever witnessed. From the clearest beach, to the dingiest unfinished cement building. We have it all.
Nigeria may not be on the front page of world news this week, but it will not be surprising if news of nationwide protests flood news sources starting next monday, Jan 9th. On the BBC Africa main page today.
At the beginning of this month, the Nigerian government announced the removal of the existing fuel subsidy, making an already unpopular Goodluck Jonathan the principal target of many Nigerians’ anger. Fuel prices have more than doubled, even in the black market. This also led to the price increase of most essential goods.
If the removal of the fuel subsidy is not reversed, unions are announcing an indefinite strike and mass demonstrations starting Monday January 9th all over the country.
This article of the Sahara Reporter relays that the government will in no way consider reversing its decision.
The Occupy Nigeria movement seems to be building momentum all over the web, including Twitter, whose using the hashtags #occupynigeria and #fuelsubsidy. There is also a Facebook page, of course, Tumblr posts, and several blogs designed to keep Nigerians, in country and out, in the know. This blog by a certain lord Banks has some rather useful information and key links.
It is unclear to me what the ‘right’ thing to do is, but what is clear is that there needs to be more effective and honest communication from the government to its people. But I am often accused of being an idealist.
I often think of myself as quite a seasoned shopper. I’ve grown to hate malls, supermarkets are ok, boutiques on european style brick roads are ideal, and markets are by far the most interesting. Farmer’s markets, flea markets, street markets, all of them - best way to waste spend a few hours and revel in your finds afterwards.
Accustomed to, or as much as one can be, to the Tunisian souks that have brick roads, but are not quite European in style, I thought I could tackle any type of shopping experience (except American post-Thanksgiving Black Friday; I will never touch that one). You have to prove you’re not Spanish (in my case), be or go with a Tunisian, forget you have any sense of boundaries, not be a space cadet, and bargain bargain bargain.
Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the market we went to on Lagos Island. While there and when describing the market to people in Lagos, I would always get a different answer on which market I actually went to - twice. It’s one of Idumota, Balogun or Isale Oku, though it also could have been all three. This market is a city, not a shopping venue. Just like most other situations in Lagos, or the essence of the city itself, it is very difficult to capture on camera, but above is an attempt.
The first time Augustina and I went to the market, we went on a Wednesday to ‘avoid the crowds’ - there is no such thing in Lagos, but it’s all relative. We just went to scope out the goods, see how much everything costs, who was selling what, etc. We were doing research to best satisfy our NGO budget. It was hot, it was crowded, and it required a great deal of astuteness. This market is not for the faint of heart. There is mud, there are goods stocked in places you would never think existed behind tiny stalls, there are merciless merchants, there is loud music emanating from every which way, cars driving where they have no business driving, okadas incessantly honking, kids crawling at your feet, the stench of dried fish above your head (or below your nose if you’re a little taller), and it goes on. This is not a market for Sunday morning strolls, this is a market for shoppers with a purpose.
We needed to find yellow t-shirts, mosquito nets, soccer balls, tennis balls, whistles, sports bags, notebooks, nametags, and a few other items I can’t recall. We also needed a printer guy for our t-shirts. The first one we find made us follow him for countless streets and corners and into one of those back ends you would never imagine existed. This back end was sketchy - and could not have been our printer anyway because there is no way we would have found this locale again. We were able to get prices for everything, Augustina did the bargaining, and she is ruthless. By the end of hour 3, I, and I suspect we, were ready to go spend the fourth hour of our morning braving traffic sitting in an old, un-airconditioned, Koran blasting taxi cab.
Two weeks later, we were off on our second trip to the same market, and we were ready. This is when the pictures were taken, when I myself could bargain and even lead some of the way. We also managed to buy me some cloth to get dresses made. With forty soccer balls and an equal amount of everything else on the list in tow (ok - so we paid someone to carry them, but I did not reach the ‘carry things on your head status’ yet- not even close), we were out of the market in record time.
Now, I am a seasoned shopper, or, as Augustina said, I handle markets like a Nigerian. That says it all :)
ps: There are more “oyibo-friendly” markets, as they say, around town. Lekki market, in a more affluent part of the city, is notorious for selling goods to visitors. This includes jewelry, masks, leather bags, basically anything you might receive as a gift from ‘Africa’. It is extremely calm and far more manageable, i.e., way less fascinating.
Last Sunday was the Eid (arabic), or Sallah (yoruba), or the ram/lamb/sheep sacrificing Muslim holiday. Apparently in Nigeria, the really rich families even sacrifice cows. Somewhat happy I was away from the smell of lamb heads and feet getting grilled on the streets in Tunis, I still couldn’t avoid the carnivore parties. I was invited to a Yoruba muslim family’s celebration where more champagne and Hennessy were consumed than meat. When I got there, it was about 6pm and there were still two rams roaming around the garden looking somewhat dazed, as though they knew they would soon suffer the same fate their mates did earlier that day. Inside, the rams no longer had expressions, they were merely parts served with rice, or covered in peppery spices, being unmercifully devoured or sucked dry by the hungry guests. Thankfully, there were too many people for anyone to have time to be offended by my vegetarian ways.
When I first came into the house, which is the first villa type house I’d been to in Lagos (all others are flats), there were the women on one side and the men on the other, all chatting away while looking sharp in traditional garb. I was led to where the twenty-somethings were sitting, eating cheesecake and sipping on champagne in jeans and designer shirts. Kids made brief appearances while taking a breath from running around the entire house, uninterested in any other party goers or animal bones.
To say that this is how all Nigerian Muslims celebrate Sallah would be completely misleading. In fact, the only response I get to that questions is “It really depends on the family.” For this family, Sallah means expecting family members and friends of the parents, the kids, the cousins, etc. all day long and making sure they are fed and ‘watered’. This is completely different from how my family celebrates in Tunis, which is a lot more intimate, and definitely doesn’t include any alcoholic beverages.
The night ended with a performance by one of the female cousins, Sésu, who strung her guitar and sang about her brother surviving getting shot by Lagos police before moving on to light hearted Bob Marley and Sound of Music covers that guests rather drunkenly sang along to. She had an incredible voice but couldn’t sing more than four songs. She had malaria. When she told me, I refrained from gasping, which is really just an attempt to fit around here.
Earlier that day, I went to church. If it weren’t insensitive to pull out my camera in the middle of a religious ceremony, I would have had enough material to fill an entire reputable fashion blog. City of David is the church, it’s right across from my office and is also a partner organization to Grazrutsoka (why I’m here). As it was the first Sunday of the month, it was a Thanksgiving service. Over a thousand worshippers show up to this service every week. There are screens outside the already huge room where the priest preaches, so that latecomers can follow his sermon while sitting out on the balconies. Most people with young children occupied these seats, realizing that no baby in their right mind could sit for over three hours listening to a man talk, no matter how animated or inspirational he is.
After about two hours of learning about how I should be thankful, should praise the hands of my mother, etc. the song and dance began. A choir wearing matching dresses and head gear stood in front of their mics while saxophone and drum players took their places. The priest sang the first song with them and invited all those who wanted to wash their sins of the week to come forward so they wouldn’t face the severe consequences that would otherwise await them on judgement day. People stood up and started dancing to the music that is every bit as lively and energetic as you would expect to find in a Nigerian church. The lady who seated me told me that the dancing around and walking in circles was specific to the Thanksgiving service, after which she informed me of the meeting for first timers, a piece of information she handed me along with an envelope to put money in. I did not make use of this information.
The last hour I spent at the church, I watched people dance by, danced with strangers overwhelmed by their love for God, ogled the pleats, the jewels, the folds, the heels and the feathers that covered these worshipers, young and old, fat and skinny. It could have easily been mistaken for a black tie party if the music were without lyrics.
I’m just sorry I didn’t have an invisible camera to document this day.
Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was reelected
Local Lagos elections
Tunisia’s first free elections
Gaddafi was killed
Occupy Oakland turned violent
Hermain Cain raised $3M
Lagos Fashion & Design Week happened
Floods in Thailand
Palestine admitted as UNESCO member state
Pertaining to the local Lagos elections, “no movement” is demanded of the city. So unless you carry a voting card and do so where are registered to, you should remain indoors until the 4pm curfew. Apparently, if you are out, you can be stopped by the police and forced to pay an extra hefty bribe or take a little trip to jail. It seemed that this was a rule lagosians actually followed as peace reigned for the entire day. There was no honking outside, which is this city’s constant soundtrack. Around 4pm, curfew was lifted but it started to rain relentlessly. (Below: Attempt to capture the rain)
As it rains less, I am out more, and consequently write less often. With just a couple of weeks left, I will try to live, see, hear, and eat things worth reporting back to you. If there is anything you are curious about around here, now is the time to inform me about it.
Thousands of Tunisians gather downtown their capital to shout out their frustration and order their president’s husband to dégage the hell out. Just imagine, Ben Ali (Zaba) is Ray Charles and the protesters are the three female back up singers. Since they said so, Zaba had to pack his wife’s bags and go. Tear gas was thrown, songs were recorded, people were beaten, minds were scarred, military interfered, neighborhoods were watched over by laymen, gossip was spread, and blogs were bred. Basically, it was pretty rad.
January 14, 2011 | Philippines
I find myself in the land where the people overthrew their own dictator-like evil-woman loving country leader by shouting out their own frustration a couple of decades ago. (i.e. checking out the nightlife scene in Angeles, Pampanga with one Constance R.). All Filipinos I met expressed their sincerest solidarity to the Tunisian people and were keen on joining me in celebration.
October 20-23, 2011 | Tunis & Tunisian consulates all over the world
Tunisian nationals over the age of 18 vote for a political party they would like to represent them and include their views in the rewriting of the Tunisian constitution. Major. Huge. The stuff worth writing and reading about. 3alamia (roughly translated from tunisian jargon as ‘global’, or, amazing/cool/etc).
October 20, 2011 | Lagos
I find myself in the land where elections don’t go so well. Not registered to vote here (because I moved here so suddenly and already registered to vote in Tunis), no Tunisian is willing to tend to individual cases and find a solution to this issue. No reaching out, either through phone, email, twitter, and more, has changed this fact.
Pidgin english is so much more than ‘broken’ english. It is not turning a phrase like “I am leaving now” to “Me now go.” No. A whole other method of phrase composition is used, and perhaps what is most challenging for the likes of me is the accent and the speed at which these phrases are pronounced.
It’s been a little over two weeks, and I still have not been able to properly communicate in this local dialect. I hear it differs from one region to the next, with each city’s pidgin consisting of words used in the local language. In Lagos for example, most speak Yoruba, so the ‘Lagos pidgin’ uses a lot of yoruba words, like, “wahala” which means ‘problem.’
I’ve also noticed that many of the words or phrases used are so much more literal, making a lot of the words we use in the queen’s language, as they say, seem ‘fluffy.’ To say please, the term is “I beg.” It’s not an easy phrase to use if I think about it too literally. Or, “Go by leg" is to walk.
Most often, I am tempted just to add an ‘o’ at the end of each uttered word or simply change my intonation a bit to sound like everyone around me and hope to be understood. The word I now master is “wata" - they never get my order wrong.
Some words are repeated twice in a row for emphasis, like in the Tunisian dialect. So “a long time ago” will be “bifor-bifor" (hardly pronounce the ‘r’), "daily" will be "everyday everyday" and the best one, "fren fren” is to say “favoritism.”
There is one number that is very often used as a word, so like the connotation of a “92” in France, here it’s a “419" - a dodgy person or situation. Originally the number of the section in the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with financial fraud, it now covers any and all sketchy situations, or "corner corner,” which means “illegal.”
And that’s about the extent of my knowledge. There are no classes for this. It’s truly field work.
The work I am now doing here is extremely exciting! CSI+ (who I work for) is starting its own NGO, Grazrutsoka - or what the Nigerian officials registered as a Youth Empowerment and Development Initiative (YEDI). The reason it’s called this, though we don’t use it, is because the government workers chose it and our company refused to pay a bribe to have it registered as we wanted. They themselves don’t like our name. When I share this with Nigerians, they are baffled that we didn’t pay a bribe, uncertain of how we managed to get past any government official without handing over a few Nairas.
The story behind our own name is simple. Since we are the Nigeria program of Grassroot Soccer (GRS), an American/international organization, our name is how that’s pronounced in ‘Nigerian english’. This link goes to their website, and I highly encourage browsing through it.
As for the work itself, we are working on the pilot project. Essentially, we will select the trainers who will coach kids aged 12-13 in 6 public schools and 1 big church (City of David). The coaches will be ages 17-28. Once selected, we train them with a curriculum that is in the process of being developed by a GRS curriculum team in South Africa, with our help, the people on the ground. While that’s being developed, we will moderate focus group discussions and present our pilot program to various ‘youth groups’, either in schools, or to people just out of university who are required to do a year of service to their country, etc. Based on their interest in the program, they will volunteer to become coaches, who also act as mentors to the kids. They will be teaching them not only soccer skills, but life lessons through these skills. In South Africa for example, the focus is on preventing and dealing with anything HIV/AIDS related. Here in Nigeria, it will deal with HIV/AIDS, but also malaria, sanitation issues, illiteracy, kids hawking on the streets, etc. We will expand that in the coming weeks. It can’t be just HIV/AIDS here because it’s more of a taboo here and not as widespread, unlike in SA where it’s so prominent (1 in 3 ppl have known someone who died of AIDS in the past year kind of prominent) you can’t not talk about it. Here, families try to hide it for fear of what others might think.
In the south of the country, Lagos included, they are VERY christian. I might be going to one of the services where we will have some of the soccer practices - I heard hundreds of people go at a time, and sing and shout. Also, the church is right across from our office, so I’ve already heard songs emanating from their holy walls and been invited in when walking past their gates.
Estelle, my boss here, will be out for three weeks, so Augustina, Igwe and I will be running the show. Augustina will help do a lot of the program’s logistics and get some of the youngsters who want to coach, Igwe is a sociologist (with many master’s degrees) who will lead the focus group discussions and such. All together, we make sure this pilot happens successfully with constant collaboration with the GRS SA curriculum team, HQ and Charlotte, my boss at CSI+.
This should serve as a good introduction to life here and to what this blog will principally consist of.