At the border with voodoo medicine

Booming Nigeria has completely different touch than Benin. In Lagos airport every other security guy is begging for bribe. If he doesn’t suceed, then he goes soon on to flirting. And in the end it’s him who after all buys us a coca -cola when later sitting in the cafeteria.***

“And what’s that strange drink you’ve got here?”  the security demands to see everything from my bag with his own eyes.
“Eee… It’s voodoo medicine!” My heart was beating harder than my djembe could ever.
Security guy is giving me a suspicious look, shaking again the bottle, putting the green pieces flying just like Christmas snow.
“And what is this medicine doing?”
“Eee… Cleansing! It’s cleaning soul, mind and body,” i keep on trying to find my way.
A chick with hip hair style next to him is nodding.
“Yes, I have also heard than in Benin they have voodoo and there they sometimes use all kind of strange medicine.”
Security guard is putting the bottle back to my bag and asks for the last time some tip for the coming up weekend.
Then he wishes a good flight with a wide smile.

***

And we are flying. For the next two days all through Africa, Arabs, Britain, Scandinavia and we are not getting home, no way. Because meanwhile the temperature has dropped some 60 degrees Celcius and the snow is Helsinki is huge and djembe, paintings and our last coconuts don’t let us get away. So we miss our boat to Tallinn and have to spend a night in harbour in Helsinki. .
In secrecy.
With a help of voodoo medicine and reggae music swinging in my head.

A newly invented word – FREEBOARDING – imported from “the continent of starving children”

While global problems are discussed then usually famine is considered the worst. We all have heard how children in poor Africa starve. This is even brought out as an argument while talking pro genetically modified food – it should solve the hunger problem. Shortly before the trip, finding myself quite penniless, I imagined that I was going to Africa to starve.
It came out that one or the other doesn’t have to cope with starvation. At least in Nigeria the starving children of Africa are declared a myth, and on our tables we had notably moor food than we’d manage to carry in our stomachs.
There is food. Food is cheap. Servings are huge.
But there’s no choice, no gourmet. In Africa they give the food weight – a serving of rice is about a kilo, a serving of corn dish is comparable to a loaf of bread. And an innate commitment of every hospitable Nigerian is to feed their honourable guests as much as possible.

But at the moment my aim isn’t to analyse African food culture, I’ll do that at some other time. Now I’d like to introduce you a whole new phenomenon through such a new word, which invention was unavoidable when describing the following situation.

The word is FREEBOARDING and the situation was the following: We’ve been planning to take a hike from Lagos for two days already, but “in a cage and with baby sitters”, whose parasite phrases are “Let tomorrow come first”, it isn’t an easy task. We’ve been trying to go to exchange money for a half a day. What I mean is that foreign exchange doesn’t take place in banks or through those “official” exchange points where the currencies blink on an electronic board and a lady is respectably sitting behind glass.
Here we have professionals dealing with the issue. And a professional doesn’t need anything but a pocket calculator and contacts. Like this a currency professional can come to you or you have to find him at the money exchange boulevard. 

Since our boys are poor we have to count on buses and go to the money exchange boulevard. Usually Yinusa has a friend here but sadly he isn’t here today. Yinusa lets his sharp look travel over the army of the exchangers who are mainly Muslims and are laying in the shade, away from the cutting afternoon sun. But as soon as they see oimbus approaching, (who happen to be women!) they stand up and raise their voices.
Just like that we happen to the perviously mentioned “clerk” who tries to find a place for him in our suitcases. „Take me in your luggage!”

At first he makes each of his move more and more time consuming. (“The boy went to get the exchange money, it takes some time.”) Then he starts peeling ginger at the next cabinet. Then he tells somebody to go and boil some water, finally his colleague asks whether we’d like some coffee. Since the situation seemed unavoidable and as getting accustomed with African time showed its divinatory signs we decided to have this coffee with the gentlemen.
There was more hustle than the coffe would have ever been worth of. Immediately they bought us a pile of dried meat and then the new marker developed – FREEBOARDING.
Yinusa poured into his cup both tea and two packets of Nescafe. Then he added at least three pieces of sugar. Everything at at once since it’s for free. At the same time he munched the meat. Greedily, stingily, as if it was his innate commitment. He muched and continued munching. Until there was not a crumb on the table and even the last Nescafe had been drunk.

The three main tribes in Nigeria are hausa, ibo and yoruba. Stereotypically the hausas are belligerent, ibos do business and yorubas are smart. One way of distinguishing one from the other is to read their faces, literally. Yorubas usually have two vertical lines on their cheeks, these are scars from the cuts made in childhood. Ibos have the lines next to their eyes. Ljaw tribe has half of the face striped.

Yinusa is yoruba. His mother made the tribe signs when he was two, so that he wouldn’t cry. Yinusa hasn’t cried since. Of course, it is said the strongest men in Africa are Nigerians. Yinusa isn’t an exception. (And he continues munching the meat.)

But the “clerk” is hausa. He has “whiskers” round his mouth and one longer line on his cheeck. While having his coffee he says how hausas are allowed to marry up to four women. Four wives live happily under one roof. His father, for example, had three wives adn 25 children.
25 chilren! Why so many?
Hausa seemed to have a logical explanation: “You never know who could be blessed by God!”
Which child is blessed?
„Healthy, successful and rich.”
So you need to make new babies. For rising the certainty  of having The Chosen One in your family. If your lucky The Chosen One can take care of the well-being of the whole family.

From here you can only think what would happen if an ideology like that was rooted in Estonia. That would solve our population growth problem immediately!

Yinusa licks his fingers, nods and our freeboarding party is over. The huge pile of meat has disappeared.

***
And one more time
FREEBOARDING – a carving born from the “it’s for free” feeling to eat and drink everything that has been offered.

Everybody wants to marry me!


Although we had been in Lagos, the biggest slum in Africa, for only a few days it felt we’d been stuck here for an eternity. It was probably something a cage animal or jailed vagabund, which we basically were, would feel. But what we were protected from wasn’t the criminal Lagos – we lived in one of the poorest districts in the city where the infamous organized mafia of Lagos and other thieves have nothing to take. Ironically, the most feared gang in town is called Vikings.
But we, white women, had to be protected from suitors who surrounded us at every step. So, in the morning at a banana stall an enthusiastic boy with dreadlocks approaches and immediately goes:
„I want to marry you! I love you! I really love you! Marry me! Marry me! Will you?”
And then sincerely looks at me and waits for the answer. Doesn’t sound too convincing, my darling.
Or, a fancy car stops in front of Benin embassy, a window is opened and a man hidden behind dark glasses, without making any introduction, does his proposal.
Or, I hear in the middle of a hellish noise and hustle so common for Lagos city centre a hopeful voice: “Oimbu! Oimbu! (white person in Yoruba language)
 I want to marry you! Hey! Oimbu! Marry me!”

But when the manager of Yinusa’s favourite eatery – a chubby middle-age woman – says when giving us our food: „Take me with you in your luggage! Please! I want to see your country!”, tears in her eyes, so big is her wish; and when a money exchange clerk, three time as big, comes with the same wish, there’s nothing left but to draw a conclusion: Estonia is the American Dream of Nigeria.
And still there are dead rats in the swarm of flies reeking, and on the edge of drains there’s a fist-size cockroach next to a knee high child waddling. At night I see a dream, probably influenced by the malaria pills, of how there are long white roots growing out my mouth and there’s scale developing on my back. In Lagos there is no air, no space, no privacy and the smell growing from the filth doesn’t seem to bother the locals toiling in the everyday survival camp. If you want light (or lighting?), you need to get a generator! Otherwise you have to sit in darkness and sweat (your brains) in the suffocating heat.
If there’s not enough money for a generator you can get a book like „Winner’s Everyday Prayers to Success” or spend a night in a prayer club where you can pray yourself to trance.

How he made us cage animals

Despite of hearing all the scary stories of Nigeria, especially Lagos, we get in touch with the Nigerian from the internet who’d promised to offer us a place to stay, and sit, hoping for the best, into a rattling car, where three black men curiously stare at us, RnB volume turned to maximum playing in the background.

They are laughing out loud. It’s not dangerous in Nigeria, not at all! The media keeps talking about terrorist attacks and other things but this is in the south, by the coast, where they fight for oil. I turn and look out the window to see how some guy gets punched in a face. The guys in the car laugh again and tell that the boys are simply playing. I put a black shawl over my head to hide myself and sink into the car seat.

For the next days out home is where foreigners  wouldn’t dare to drive through – in a slumming suburb of Lagos. The contents of uncovered sewage system fills the street with a specific smell. We pass dead rats and a swarm of flies takes off from them. Goats baa between the sand stacks. From the same place ladies buy unpacked groceries. And we enter one of those big houses where doors are locked with padlocks and where the population density is higher than the laws of physics could allow.
The apartment, like Yinusa likes calling this 9 square metre room, has luxurious commodities if compared to others – there is a bathroom and a kitchen, too. Water, of course, has to be brought from the well and public electricity disappears at about seven in the evening. Yinusa locks us in and goes back to work. We can open the door only when we hear the secret code – five rhythmic knocks on the door with a whisper: Yinusa CS.
So we sit there in the dark and hear a real rebellion outside. We still don’t have the slightest idea what is happening here in Nigeria. Yinusa appears to be very if not over caring. There will be four of us living in his small apartment. Terje and me comfortably in the bed, of course, and Yinusa and Baby sitter on the floor like guard dogs.
Baby sitter is Yinusa’s friend who has been given an order to deal with us while the man himself is away. This means that we can’t do a single move without being guarded and whenever we want to do something we’re asked what we have in mind. Although Yinusa has given Baby sitter an order not to let us out until he’s back we manage to convince him to take us out for a walk.
We’re offered all commodities, although in a bit limited form, but not a single right. Every step is followed by a great concern.
For a long time they don’t understand why the Malaria pills are so important for us – what would this small fever do. To explain the situation we paint an extremely black and white picture illustrating how we die if a mosquito bites us. From this moment on they start using extreme measures for keeping the insects away from us. Pesticide and net isn’t enough – at night, in about 20 minutes, we hear a concerned voice coming from under the bed, “Berit, Berit, hasn’t a mosquito bitten you yet? Terjä, Terjä, everything all right?”. In the morning Yinusa wakes us with a flash light, grabs our cheecks and personally checks to see whether there are any signs of bites or not.
We also have almost no right when it comes to food. We have to eat three times a day, always in the same restaurant and fruit isn’t a meal. We can choose between the same selection of rice and meat in the evening, at lunch and in the morning. If we manage to eat only about a half of the serving, which is so big it almost reaches our chins, we’re given a lecture how one always have to eat until you have a full tummy and then every body in the table starts demonstratively shoveling yellow rice into their already munching mouth.
Bit by bit we start feeling like animals put into a cage, but we let everything to happen since we’re still quite convinced that it is as dangerous as they say.
Day after day the groundsills of our logic start collapsing. At night we walk the streets of Lagos as carelessly as in Estonia. When I take my bulky camera out nobody looks at it with a greedy look, ready to snap it from me, instead we see people interested in seeing the pictures we’ve previously taken. On a bus we witness a man finding a purse, taking it up from the floor and honestly handing it to the driver. Although the police is told to be the biggest thief in Nigeria they stop us and instead of asking for bribe give us a bottle of water because they say the one we have isn’t good for us. And when a lock on the door of Yinusa’s friend breaks nobody bothers to fix it, they simply take the door off.
Still each our move is guarded like we were cage animals, although we hear at our every step that it isn’t dangerous at all. All this paradoxicality remains mysterious until we bit by bit start understanding the role of a woman in a society like this.