This is Binaebi ‘Taking it Easy’

It’s been four months since I last wrote in this blog, which is a travesty. I promised I would post images from my sketch diary of my trip to Nigeria, which I will do, but after I give you a quick run-down about what has happened in the last four months.

  1. I got a job. It’s full-time. Pretty sweet.
  2. I finally founded my micro-publishing company.
  3. I re-released my first fiction book with the new micro-publishing branding.
  4. I wrote my second book/novel, which I had put on hold for seven years so I could get my undergraduate and graduate degrees.
  5. I hired an editor, printed, and published said book. I write fiction under a different name to keep things easy for me to distinguish.
  6. I had my first book launch party, and it was pretty successful.
  7. I received my first positive review. Cue spontaneous dance party!
  8. I went to the alumni day this past weekend in Bloomington and re-energized myself for work. I’ll admit I was getting a bit low about the validation test after validation test as a usability analyst.
  9. They are transitioning me to take over this particular subset of test moderation, which means changes are a-comin’ because I have big plans.
  10. I made two websites for Ava Misseldine of Sugar Inc, a local gourmet tea and cupcake salon. You can check them out here and here.

I’m not sure I had announced this, but after graduation, I told myself I was going to “take it easy.” Yeah right. Those of you who know me knew this was going to happen, I’m sure.

Anyway, onto the photos of my sketch diary from Nigeria!

So sad. So true.

When we showed up at Ukpe, 26 years of relatives descended upon us. Our arrival is something they will talk about until… well, they’ll probably talk about us forever.

I have never slept so little in my life. We were eight hours, I think, off of our normal schedules. And the local villages were so excited that we were there, they were dancing, singing, and playing their drums at all hours. All. Hours.

My primary concern was to not get sick while on this trip, because I was scheduled to begin my first day of work the Monday after we returned. I had no time for disease of any kind, and I didn’t try very hard to fit the time shift from traveling to Nigeria. With the ridiculous amount of bug bites I received with no relief because I kept sweating the anti-itch ointments off, I was in a benadryl-induced haze for about 75% of my time in Ukpe.

My relatives, my younger siblings told me, gave me the nickname “Sleeping Beauty.”

Nigerians are self-governing. They don’t take bullshit from anyone, and tend to live by Hammurabi’s Law. You know, an eye for an eye? Normally that would have worried me a little. But knowing that if anyone had attempted to harm me, my family would swarm like a pack of hungry sharks made sleeping much easier for me.

There really are no words for the torment I felt. Those bugs thought I was a delicacy. They hardly touched the rest of my family. And why would they, when I was there for the tasting??

And then there’s my motion sickness, back with a vengeance. You see, I made it the entire trip without getting physically ill. Until the last leg of the trip. Where I lost what little I had in my stomach because I can’t handle a manual transmission without drugs that put me to sleep. I felt really pathetic. And I was fairly terrified, because after I vomited (into a towel, thank god, so I didn’t ruin my cousin’s car), I shoved my mother out of the way. I fell out of the car because my legs felt like jelly. I sobbed air and tears were streaming down my face while my hands seized. I couldn’t get my fingers to straighten out and I couldn’t breathe… and then I felt hands patting water onto the back of my neck, my face, forcing me to drink water. That’s when I caught my breath to whisper, “My hands, my hands!” My mother couldn’t understand me, but the strangers by the side of the road began pouring cold water on my hands. For whatever reason, that helped me gain control.

I don’t care what Americans think of Nigerians. When complete strangers stop what they are doing to help a woman who has puked all over herself and seems to be seizing, they have my gratitude.

Every time I saw this child, I smiled. I couldn’t help it. When he walked, he walked like a man. He couldn’t have been more than three years old, at most. But he strutted around quietly, seriously, observing the world around him for it was his domain.

He was king of the Ukpe babies.

You can see the entire set at Flickr.

Ethnographic Methodology

If there is one thing I have learned from my trip to Nigeria, it’s that ethnographic methodologies are to be respected. It is not an easy endeavor to forgo all of one’s cultural assumptions to fit into a foreign culture. Having a father from said foreign culture certainly helps, as he was able to translate, roughly, what everyone was saying. But goodness, it is so very frustrating to not speak to one’s extended family! Even worse, I know French well enough to have a stilted conversation, and the fact that one of my relatives also spoke French, is the only reason why I didn’t go crazy with a sort of odd loneliness.

We were, at all times, surrounded by family. The house that my father had built for us wasn’t finished in time for our arrival. The original plan was to have a visiting area downstairs, and private quarters upstairs. When we arrived, the first floor was a floor, and the second floor had no doors. This meant that when we woke that first morning in our tents (to prevent mosquito bites that could bring malaria), our extended family was jabbering at us in a foreign tongue, peeking through the tent windows wanting to see us.

You see, in Nigeria, I’m white. I was literally called “whitey.” You have no idea how surreal that felt. There are no words to describe the battling emotions of confusion, amusement, surprise, and partial insult. I’m neither black nor white, I’m a pretty little mixture that my relatives simply couldn’t get over. They thought our skin was so clear!

This is because they were spared my pubescent years. My acne was horrendous, I assure you.

I am not very good with crowds, so more often than not I spent my time in my tent trying to sleep off my misery from having countless types of bugs bite me. I was, literally, a delicacy. My mother and I were ravaged; the remainder of my family was ignored. It was absolute misery. I was afraid to scratch the bites in case I broke my skin and got an infection, but not scratching meant I felt like I was going nuts. A quarter of the time I was in a Benadryl-induced haze, trying to cope. When I was out in the visiting room, I did my best to learn Ijo (ee-jaw) from my relatives, and take photos of the children.

The children were hilarious. You pull out your camera and they are immediately posing like veteran models.

And that’s it for today. I’ve uploaded a sample of my photos to Flickr, if you’re interested. I need to take photos of my sketch diary. I’m planning on making a Blurb photo book of the photos and diaries from the entire family so we have a comprehensive memorial of our adventure.

Unplugged – A Mind Dump

I announced on Twitter two weeks ago that I was unplugging, to detox from online life. This is a partial truth. The fact is that I went on a family trip to my father’s home country, Nigeria, and there is no internet available in his home town.

So I said I’d be unplugging because there was no better way to describe how cut off I would be from the rest of the world. By the end of the trip, we were making jokes about how the Gulf of Mexico probably wouldn’t exist anymore. It’s not like we knew, in our village there weren’t any radios, newspapers, televisions, or Morse Code, now that I think about it. There aren’t even roads. In fact, his town is lacking several things, which I took the liberty of listing below:

  1. Roads
  2. Police
  3. Stores
  4. Plumbing
  5. Electricity
  6. Outhouses

Number six was a sore point for my sister, mother, and me, to put it delicately. I never thought I’d be so happy to see a toilet once we got back to modern amenities. It was beyond bizarre to travel to this village, which you can only reach by boat. Depending on your boat, it can take you one hour to get to my father’s “complex,” or three. And that’s after driving from the airport for five hours along the freeway. Which brings to mind another list…

  1. There are no lanes on the freeway
  2. The shoulder is the extra-fast lane, if you assume the general flow of traffic is kind of in lanes
  3. There are no speed limits
  4. There are many pot holes
  5. There are no road signs
  6. Amazingly, there are no car accidents

I assume the final point occurs because when you’re driving, you’re driving. No talking on the phone, etc. You adopt a defensive driving mentality when you realize it’s an “anything goes” situation.I didn’t even see bruised/bent bumpers, or lights blown out, or anything. Just cars zipping past me at speeds I was afraid to contemplate.

Also, because I get motion sick, and I was a passenger in a stick shift car for five hours, I spent most of my time concentrating on not making a mess of myself. I failed on the return trip, much to my embarrassment and shame. It’s amazing how easy it is to feel like you’re seven years old again, shocked that you’ve emptied your stomach into your lap and wanting to sob from the overwhelming sense of dismay and mortification. But hey, I only made a mess of myself, and didn’t ruin the car in any way. Which is good, because it was the personal car of my father’s cousin. Pardon if I’ve just supplied far too much information.

There is trash everywhere. If there was a case for recycling, waste management, up-cycling, reuse, and any other sustainability buzz word that you can think of, Nigeria is a prime example. It’s quite amazing how the western world has completely screwed up a region of land like this. I mean, there are American products EVERYWHERE. We were in the middle of nowhere, and I mean the middle of nowhere, but Beyonce was on the radio. There were Coke products and McDonald’s knock-offs. There were plastic bottles everywhere because we live in a throw-away world. The only problem is, there is no designated place to throw anything away in Nigeria. So they throw the trash to the side of the road. Out of sight, out of mind? More like “If I don’t look at it, you won’t see it.”

I don’t mean this post to be negative, for there were a lot of things to love about Nigeria and my experience there. But as of now, I’m still suffering from a sort of shell shock over how all the modern conveniences of consumption have made its way to this country, without any of the modern waste management systems.

But then, it’s so hot there, considering we were in the tropics… you don’t care about anything except how hot it is when you realize there’s no escape. No electricity, remember? That means no air conditioning. That means no fans. That means talcum powder because your bestest of best friends.

I promise to write a far more coherent post soon, a far more positive and summarizing post, with photos of my sketchbook and time in Nigeria. I’m still transitioning from the six hour time difference, and the time change was not in my favor. Ergo my writing this at three in the morning. Curse you, oh befuddled biorhythm!