The Little Things That Make Me Smile and Scratch My Head

There are a number of things here in Nigeria that are just different enough to bring laughter and puzzlement to my days…

“Oyibo” – Wherever I go, people call out “Oyibo.”  Naturally, I initially thought this meant “hello” or served as some sort of greeting.  I suppose it is a greeting of sorts, but literally means “white person.”  It isn’t an insult, just a way to get my attention and a wave.  Generally oyibos remain in Lagos, the business capital, or Port Harcourt, where the oil flows.  I’ve seen two other oyibos in my first month here in Benin City – not many.  I’m certainly an anomaly. I wish I could capture the curiosity and discovery that I see in the eyes of the children I meet.  They look at me with a deep attention.  Every movement is watched.  Every action is noted.  For many, I am the first white person they have seen outside of the manufactured distance of a television screen.  They are excited and confused.  Some try to stay very still as not to let on to their interest.  Others creep up next to me and casually rub against my skin or run around giggling with their siblings, beaming smiles on their faces.

Divine Businesses – Nigeria, and especially Benin City, is a very religious place.  In the north of the country Islam reigns.  In the south, various Christian denominations rule, ranging from Pentecostal to Baptist, Catholic to Apocalyptic.  The seriousness of faith is evident just driving down the road passing signs displaying religiously themed business names.  Some are expected (e.g. Christ’s Bookshop and Religious Store).  Some make me smile in their randomness (e.g. God’s Time Aluminum Co.).  Others make me laugh out loud with comical plays on words (my favorite, God’s Power Electrical Supplies).

“This House is Not For Sale” – you will find these words scribbled in paint across houses throughout Benin (and probably Nigeria).  From a Western perspective this seems odd.  If it is not explicitly stated that the house is for sale, then why would it be assumed otherwise?  Why would the aesthetic of one’s home be sacrificed to clarify this seemingly intuitive statement?  The answer: fraud within the family.  Apparently it is not uncommon for one family member to try and sell the house out from under another.

Soup – Tired of eating a diet based primarily on an endless variety of starches, one evening I decided to order “soup and salad.”  Both of these words are used in relation to Nigerian food, however, “salad” is more of a cabbage garnish topped with a dollop of mayonnaise and soup is not spooned into ones mouth, but eaten as more of a sauce with pounded yam and other cassava-based starchy staples.  One orders their starch as the main and specifies which soup for flavor (like ordering rice with a side of salmon or a whole grain sandwich with turkey).  The difference is subtle, but important.  To me, my order of “soup and salad” seemed to me to be a smart alternative to a carb overload, but the looks I got were riddled with confusion and amazement.  The restaurant staff was so baffled by my order that it was on the house.  From what I can tell as a result of my questioning, an equivalent order in America might be a bowl of alfredo sauce with a side of parsley and an orange slice.


About the author