Random Notes II (July2011)

Here they cut fingernails with a razor. They will scrape the nail on top to thin it and then gently press the blade under the nail and draw a thin slice off. I tried it once and lets just say I am glad I packed a nail clipper…and band aids.

When you drink the local spirit kai kai (distilled palm wine) it is a sign of manliness to “kiss” the shot. To kiss the shot one has to tighten your lips and suck the shot in as if trying to take the shot with the smallest amount of your mouth open and the most force. The result is a slurping sound and a slow mouthfull of powerful liqour. Some will even swish the shot in their mouth like mouthwash before taking it down. This is to signify that the liqour is good as well as show your manliness to take such a hot drink without flinching. Women do not kiss the kai kai. I try it now and then and I most frequently feel like I will vomit. Next time you take a shot of whiskey try taking it very slowly and rinsing your mouth with it and you’ll get the idea.
One of the personal hygiene standards is the practice of shaving armpits. Both men and women do this and it is genrally seen as unclean to have hairy pits. This would normally be a personal issue but because we exchange shirts before football matches (we have red vs. blue), my hairy armpits are exposed and ridiculed. Not only am I laughed at for having armpit hair but my armpit hair seems almost comically long compared to their curly (thus short appearing) hair. I explained to them that in my country it is mostly men who like other men that shave their armpits. I don’t suppose that was necessary as it generally confused them and I realized I was making an excuse for my irrational resistance to shaving my pits. It makes sense that they would keep their pits shaven; this is a very sweaty place. And it makes no sense that I would have anything against it aside from it adding to my weekly hygiene activities like brushing my teeth and bathing. After deep thought I came to the conclusion that it was some subconscious homophobic idea paired with me being lazy. It certainly doesn’t make sense in this context that I would remain unshaven. So I have entered the world of shaved armpits to keep myself clean and avoid public ridicule.
Speaking of, it has come to my attention that homosexuality is illegal in Nigeria. This is quite common in West African countries and is actually a bit more common worldwide than my liberal mind would like. So I come from a place where gay people can get married but have spent my last two jobs in places where it is illegal.
The most common insult here is to call someone a goat (epun). People will use this to indicate someone is being stupid, a smart ass, stubborn or any other frowned upon attitude. The cloest translation I can think of is ‘dumbass’. They also call people porcupine (edop) when they do not follow instructions clearly, as porcupines are hard of hearing. I would imagine they would call fat people elephants, but to my dismay there are no actual fat people here. Probably a combination of hard work and diet, it is unfortunate because I just learned the Iko word for elephant (edee) and I would enjoy the opportunity to use it at someone elses expense since most of the real elephants are deep in the forest. Guess I will have to wait for my American friends to visit (ZING!).
I was washing my boxers in the river and a young boy was amazed that I had so many pairs. He counted them in Iko and then again in English. Five pairs. I am sure he will go back home and tell his family that the white man is so rich he has five pairs of underwear. I asked him how many pairs he had and he said one. I did an informal survey and sure enough, the mean was about one to two with a maximum of three. Now I am kinda insecure about hanging them out to dry because I don’t like to give the impression that I live some lavish lifestyle. But then again, if having five pairs of boxers is the most excessive thing I have, I think I’m doing okay being a common man.
When I was at the airpot in Uyo I saw 50 Naira (about 33 cents) on the ground and I asked those around me if it had dropped from their pocket. Everyone said no, so naturally I picked it up thinking of all the delicious things I would buy. My traveling companions were shocked and asked if I didn’t know it was bad luck to pick money from the ground when traveling? They informed me that it is common knowledge that you would turn into a snake, goat or yam. I said, “Well, at least you can fill your belly if that happens”. They answered quite seriously that if I turn to yam and they cut the yam, it would bleed human blood. Whoa, awesome visual. When I got back to the village I relayed the story to my friends and most said that it was not true. However, a few had cautionary tales about their friend or brother who witnessed a stranger turning into a yam after picking money. I’m telling you, this juju shit is powerful.

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