I’m going to interrupt my chronological play by play of our journey (I have a big Sunday to write about) and write a bit about Nigeria and it’s people from my perspective. Before I met Neal (a Nigerian in his own rite), I don’t ever remember meeting a Nigerian. From that point on I was intrigued and then grew to love the Nigerian personality. They are friendly, bold, generous, aggressive, fancy dressers, commanding, creative, natural born leaders, hospitable, ingenious and did I say generous? I know that sounds like a stereotype, and it may be, but I don’t believe I’ve ever met a Nigerian that doesn’t have several if not all of these qualities. And remember, I’m writing this from my perspective.
For the past 3 weeks I’ve been in Nigeria and have thoroughly enjoyed experiencing Nigerians in many different avenues. First, the greetings. I think most people are familiar with Africa and how important greetings are. And I live in that culture so I understand that. But when a Nigerian greets me they make eye contact and it feels like they really mean it. And they don’t just say ‘hey’, or grunt. They say ‘good morning’, ‘good afternoon’, or ‘good evening’, accordingly. I’m even hearing Tobi greet like that now. And they will greet you no matter what you or they are doing. You may be passing them while they are talking on their cell phone. But they will make a point to greet you anyway. And another example — I’m out running in the compound we’re staying in. Now I understand that when I’m running I don’t look good. In fact I just look bad. I get really red in the face and I sweat. A lot. I’m sure I look frightening and it might actually be more comfortable to just ignore me. But not here. Everyone from the gardener to the drivers to the cooks to the pastors coming in and out will not only greet me, they’ll shout out things like “Well done!” and “Congratulations!” And I just smile and pant and attempt to wave as I slowly jog by. And they seem seriously impressed. Now I’ve run in the US and have passed other runners on the same sidewalk who act as if you aren’t even there. We could learn something here…
Then there are what you might call retail settings. Shopping. When we arrived here we went to the local cell phone office to get SIM cards for our phones. That was quite a process in and of itself. It felt like we were applying for a job with the FBI. But I took the opportunity to observe. There are lots of protocols in place, but depending on how loud and demanding you are determines how much protocol you will be required to follow. We walked into a large but packed semi-circle room lined all along the perimeter with desks and were greeted by a young lady occupying the first desk whose job it appeared was to direct people where to go. We explained our purpose and were told to take a seat. It was so funny to watch people come in, cut in line, but always greeting. The squeaky wheel… Lots of people had taken seats. We made our way to the appropriate desk to register our SIM cards (fingerprinting required) and were told we’d have to be back there 2 hours later after our cards were activated. OK. We could do that. (This was new to us. In Niger you can buy your SIM card on the street, pop it into your phone and you’re good to go). We returned later that afternoon to an equally packed room and were told to wait for help from the desk we had previously visited (fingerprint desk). Neal decided to go to the welcome desk and explained – of course with a Nigerian accent – what we needed. Welcome lady had more skills than saying good afternoon and between directing other customers to appropriate cues and desks, got him set up. I then paid her a visit and watched while chuckling as she helped me all the while ‘handling’ the other customers. Did I mention that Nigerians are demanding? Umm, no. I think I said commanding. But let’s go ahead and add demanding. What I realized is if you are not confident, you get nothing done.
Then there are the expressions. We’ve gotten to know some of the people around here, and they us. Some of them are just realizing that we’ve driven here from Niger. To most of them, that’s unbelievable. Why in heaven’s name would we do something like that? Why don’t we fly? Well the answer to that question is two – fold. No, three-fold. First, flights don’t fly direct from there to here. You have to fly all over West Africa and it could take as many hours to get here. Second, you wouldn’t get to see and do all that we’ve seen and done and wouldn’t have transportation when you get there. Neal does not do well when he can’t get himself around. And third, it’s not cheap. And the fact is, our life has been a series of road trips. Always. I guess I could put together a book about all of our journeys. So this is just another one of those. Not a big deal to us. But to the Nigerians here – it’s huge! I’m not kidding when I say that we have been told we are heroes, we are unbelievable, we are amazing, we are extraordinary, and the latest comment – ‘you’re hot!’. Isn’t that funny? That’s encouraging to me though, in light of the 3 day journey home we have coming up this weekend. When I’m tired of sitting, bumping and swerving/passing massive trucks, I’ll just remind myself that I’m a hot hero.
Oh, and one more. Today we were talking with an educated woman. She loved that we were loving Nigeria and was telling us about how she heard an advertisement that said that South Africa was the ‘light of Africa’. But the thing that upset her the most was that the ad was written by Nigerians! I loved the way she expressed herself. She said “That just scandalized me!” Isn’t that great? And you’ve gotta love that loyalty.
Since my first visit to Nigeria I’ve been entertained by the creativeness of the names that are given to businesses. But I never remember the names. So this time I made it a point to write them down as I saw them. The following is the list I’ve come up with. I believe ‘creative’ was in my list of characteristics…
Peace Oil & Gas
Unity Car Wash
God’s End Time Taxi (this one is extra funny to me)
God’s Time Fishing Co. (this one is for you Dad!)
Ever Jolly Restaurant
God is Good Motors
Aroma Fast Food
Relief Clinic and Maternity
Madam Good Hope Beer Parlor
Fate Medical Center (I can only assume here that they really mean ‘faith’, which in Nigerian English comes out ‘fate’)
Worldwide Undertakers Inc.
Blessed Frank Barbers
Goat Head Car Wash
Ambition Engineering School
Flash Restaurant and Bar
Blessed Ventures Tire Depot
God is Able Restaurant and Fast Food
Mommy is Good Restaurant and Bar
Luscious Hair Shop
Royal Cot Day Care
Tickle and Giggle Children’s Home
God’s Right Hand Ventures
Be Fine Barbing
We Speak Barbing
God’s Time Pharmacy
Daily Need Supermarket
Why Worry Food Center
Thy Will Hotel and Suites
God’s Divine Grace Furniture Works
So, though not complete, this is a sampling of things I’ve observed and personally experienced these past 3 weeks. I’m aware that Nigeria has a reputation for scams and lots of other things that are less than attractive. And I can’t really deny those things. But I can say that I’m confident that there is more positive than negative. Nigerians are a force and are a people that can make things happen.
Our mission here this month has been to teach missions. I am fully convinced that if Nigeria wanted to do so, they could take the Gospel not only to the unreached in Africa, but to the rest of the world as well. They just have to decide to do it.