A W.A.S.P. in Nigeria
I am a WASP – white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant. My parents rarely yelled, spankings were rare and more painful for my mother than me and requests were granted only when accompanied by the obligatory “please” and followed by “thank you.” On Sundays my family sat in well-ordered pews quietly listening to sermons, bowing our heads in silent prayers and rising (as directed) to sing hymns from notations in a book. At school my friends and I were scolded for being late in an effort to train us all in the expectations of the culturally dominant WASPs who value time commitments and punctuality.
For a WASP, Nigeria is a challenge. It is a harsh culture (by my comparison) with none of the comfortable social rules of home. People bark orders that pang on my eardrums. Daily prayers are shouted with chaotic fervor. Ten a.m. means noon…or one…maybe 3pm. People are friendly once one breaks through, but few smiles are plastered on to pretend that there is a fondness for you that is not there. In all of this there is good and bad.
At first I feared that I had signed up to spend 3 months among people who were rude – a people who had no respect for one another. Little things grated on me. Things like being told, “Give me your flash drive” when I expected a softer, “May I borrow your flash drive, please” or having “Are you getting me?” “Am I clear?” and “Do you understand?” snapped at me in between thoughts as if I were a mentally retarded child with an impatient teacher. I’ve come to realize that this is a Nigerian’s way of ensuring that their numerous accents, languages and dialects don’t inhibit communication with me as well as each other. Just as I have accepted that the tones in which people speak, constantly reminding myself that they are not mad, rude or intentionally aggressive…they are Nigerian.
Almost 6 weeks in, I’ve learned to accept and adapt. I’ve quickly been trained to know that the “diplomatic” presentation of my thoughts and/or requests will fall on deaf ears. I must be direct and blunt – using the kind of tone that my mother would employ when she caught me watching TV rather than doing my chores…after three requests. I am most successful when I am truly annoyed with the person to who I am speaking. In church or during morning prayers, I’ve concluded that closing my eyes, bowing my head and following my own tradition is still more comfortable. Waving my hands, knitting my brow and punctuating my prayers with an energetic “In the name of Je-sus!” is too distracting and feels forced. “My way” seems to be accepted. And when I’m feeling saucy, I’ll demand a “please” before submitting to a task or an “I beg-o” as they say in Nigerian Pigeon English. There is a happy balance to everything and I am finding that space and becoming a Nigerian WASP – my skin is thinker and I’m more likely to bite.