Soapbox

I work in a Multicultural environment with people from many different countries.  All the continents are well represented. For some of these people, they are new to Nigeria and as such have a lot of questions about our ways. I find that it is always important to answer as clearly and correctly as I possibly can because I realize that my answer will be repeated to other people outside of the country and this will help them paint a picture of Nigeria.

Of course some of these questions/comments that I get range from the serious to the seriously ridiculous but I still take my time to answer. After all, I am Nigeria’s ambassador…sort of.

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A good example of the seriously ridiculous would be when a colleague told me that he had been told that the reason why Nigerian men smelled so bad was that it was appealing to the opposite sex (Pick your jaw off the ground). According to this theory, the stronger a man’s body odor, the more attractive he is to the opposite sex.  In fact, I was told that I must be used to inhaling the body odor of others because it sort of appealed to me.  I asked him who told him that story and he mentioned another Oyinbo like himself. Just goes to show you how important it is that we tell our own stories.

I do the best I can to address all questions/comments but I am not sure I can always do them justice as the answers are sometimes more complex than what a few words can convey.  As such, I have decided to throw out the last question I got and have you weigh-in.

To give you a little back-ground, my colleague noticed that a lot of Nigerians do not mingle with Junior staff. That is to say, whilst he was on first name basis with cleaners, drivers and other junior staff, he came to the realization that many Nigerians that were on a lower pay grade than him never socialized with these junior/support staff.

So the question is: Why is there a big gulf between blue collar and white collar Nigerians?

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A year ago, my daughter would say things like “Mummy, I want my hair to look like Tiffany’s hair.” I was not alarmed when this started because her friend Tiffany is a black girl with natural hair and what my daughter wanted was for her hair to be styled with beads like Tiffany’s hair. No problem! She got beads.

When the requests started going something along the lines of “I don’t like my hair, I want my hair to be straight like Christie’s hair,” my own kinky hair stood on ends. You see, Christie is Caucasian and has Caucasian hair. And here was my African child wanting straight shiny, bouncy Caucasian hair like her friend Christie’s. I thought it was a one off request until she started saying that she wanted her hair to be like her nanny’s hair (her nanny wears a straight weave or relaxed hair most of the time).

This got me wondering if I was not being remiss in my duty as a parent by assuming that I did not need to speak to my daughter about how beautiful each person is in their different ways. Teaching her to love her kinky African hair and by extension other things that make her African/Nigerian. You would think that at the age of four, it is much too early for conversations like that. Especially as we live in Nigeria.

While my hair is natural, I am the only one of my sisters and extended family that has natural hair. Yeah, I stick out like a sore thumb but who cares? My daughter has grown up seeing relaxed hair and long weaves on her female relatives. She has a number of Caucasian friends (who she refers to as being white while she refers to herself as being brown) and for some reason she focused on straight hair as being her idea of “beautiful” even at her young age.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against females that choose to relax their hair. I am just wondering what sort of message our kids are getting and how that message spills into other things like what the accepted way of dressing, talking e.t.c. is.

I know Nigerian parents, living in Nigeria, that have sent their young primary school level children to boarding schools in the UK because they did not like the fact that they were sounding so Nigerian (you can’t make this stuff up). I also know parents, living in Nigeria, who flatly refuse to let their children learn a Nigerian language, insisting instead on English (our lingua franca) and a European language like French or Spanish…I am NOT kidding. No be say dem say. Suddenly meals like Eba and soup are being thrown out of the weekly menu at home and are being replaced by Indomie noodles, hotdogs and pizza. It never ceases to amaze me when I speak Igbo to my daughter in public places and people are dazed at the fact that she can understand me. Hello! She’s Igbo! It’s her language. Unfortunately she does not speak it but I am hoping that will change with time.

I do believe in exposure to different international cultures, but you really can’t expose a child to a culture if the people have let their culture die can you?  Can you Imagine a France where no-one speaks French or drinks wine and eats smelly cheese? What if they all decided that being white was not cool and got permanent tans or locked their hair? What if you go there and they do not maintain their old buildings and let it all fall to ruins….imagine no Eiffel tower? Now, think of Nigeria. What will we have 50 years from now that is representative of our culture? Of who we are?

So I guess my questions are: what are our children getting from the way we act? What will our legacy be for them? Is it really that uncool to be Nigerian/African? What can we do to right this wrong?

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The other day, I got into a conversation with a friend about the relationships between Nigerian parents and their child(ren). The question of the day was if parents should be friends first or parents first.

The sense was that Nigerian parents of yesteryears had the right formula by caning/beating/brushing/smacking their kids on a periodic basis. The alleged result was that children that were beaten would usually act right while those that were not would invariably stray off the path.

In direct contrast, today’s parents appear to be too concerned with being their children’s friends to give them the much needed dose of beating. The alleged result being that children of today are an undisciplined lot.

So, I would like to know, based on your personal experience and from stories you have heard: Should parents be friends first or parents first?

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