Angie wistfully refers to any wealthy country outside Africa as “the other side”. I want to go to the other side, so I can see what it is like, she says to me as she irons while watching Bondi Vet. I love this expression and the manner in which it captures her sense of wonder about other nations and their inhabitants. I feel the same way about Nigeria. To me, Nigeria is also the other side, a country so different to my native Australia I can never hope to understand it.
I don’t really live in Lagos, Nigeria. Living in a secure apartment complex on Ikoyi is a different experience to that lived by the other 20 million inhabitants of this bewildering city. We can’t visit the mainland without a police escort so our experience of Lagos is limited to torturous trips to the airport past shanty towns built on the lagoons, vertical markets piled with goods and decaying hotels. And people. People everywhere. I have never seen anything like the mass of humanity thronging the streets in Lagos.
To learn more about this complex country I skim Nigerian newspapers. My preferred read is Punch, written in the quirky Nigerian style where one word can’t be used if the writer knows another 20. My favourite Nigerian-ism which I intend to drop frequently into conversation this week is, Many questions continue to poke the mouth… It’s gloriously reminiscent of my younger sister who when trying not to blurt out an inconvenient question, would contort her mouth with the effort of suppression.
The Nigeria news app on my ipad includes 46 national newspapers with up to date coverage of the major stories. Much of the reporting is unintentionally amusing. Punch describes the antics of a gang of robbers, who before robbing an apartment complex sent letters to all the residents advising them of the impending robbery so they would be sure to have cash ready. Understandably, the residents were upset by the cheekiness of the robbers and the lack of police concern.
Changing social customs are also discussed. An article by a female columnist deals with the issue, Polygamy – is it really wrong? and invites reader input. The situation described by the columnist was that recognised by women everywhere- a wife discovering a younger “other woman” and not “polygamy” as it was once commonly practised throughout the country. Like a lot of readers, I thought it was a bit rich excusing everyday adultery as “polygamy”. Polygamy is still a feature of social life in Nigeria but Christianity and the acceptance of romantic love as the basis for marriage is changing its acceptability.
The most disturbing article concerned that of the “home help”- Home help- necessary evil or evil necessity? I read this article with interest as we employ a “home help” who comes two mornings a week to shame me into doing some housework.
My concept of “home help” is, it appears, completely wrong. In Nigeria a home help is a young, impoverished girl or boy taken into a home as a servant. It was unclear from the article if these young people work for their keep, or if they are paid. This issue was in the news as a result of recent court cases where home helps had reacted to abuse by killing their employer.
Most commentators condemned the system of servitude endured by home helps who “should be in school”. Many male commentators asserted that home helps would not be necessary if husbands helped their wives with housework and childcare. In the absence of a social security system young, poor and uneducated Nigerians have few options besides hoping for kindness in a family of strangers.
My morning read would not be complete without an incongruous breaking news alert. Today it was Justin Bieber facing assault and dangerous driving charges, listed below the ebola update. Why do Nigerians care about the Beeb’s rush to ignominy? Don’t Nigerians have enough to worry about?
It is indeed a question that pokes the mouth….