For most of my summer, I was stuck in Lagos rush hour traffic. See, a standstill on Awolowo road is enough to make even the most optimistic patriot disenfranchised with this nation when nothing seemed to work. Chaos reigned, and the LASTMA officials looked more dejected than I felt. That familiar dissatisfaction rose up within me and reared up to begin my well-worn tirade about our corrupt leaders when I saw a man waving wildly at me. He pointed at his shirt and pointed at me. It took me a moment to figure out what he was referring to. I was wearing my bright orange dashiki shirt. He was wearing the same shirt. He smiled at me, gave me a thumbs-up, and walked away. That was it.
I recently reminded my brother of that occasion. He had been in the car when it happened. He remarked laughingly, “That’s Nigeria for you.” And then it hit me. That was Nigeria for me; a country where a man could pause his day (even just a brief pause) because he saw a girl who was wearing his shirt. Nigeria is a country where a woman could hand her new born child to a man she has just met in the arrival lounge of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport while she dashes off to look for a luggage trolley. Nigeria is a country where peoples’ intrusiveness straddle the line between curiosity and rudeness. In Nigeria, a stranger is your friend till proven otherwise; and every aimless man on the street will assist you in parking your car, whether you like it or not. And in Nigeria, the first price that anyone gives you is never the price you pay (except you’re a learner of course). In Nigeria, there is a lot of pain and disappointment; but there is also an immeasurable amount of hope, and pride. That’s just Nigeria for you
So being Nigerian sometimes means that I have unreasonably high self-esteem that is not matched by any actual accomplishments I may have made in my life. It means that when people refer to me as African (and make no effort to learn what country I’m actually from); I yell back “Nigerian” in a tone that some have described as “hostile” and “intimidating”. And sometimes, I answer people in pidgin or Ibo under my breath before I actually reply, so I don’t forget how they sound in my voice. Being Nigerian means that Dashikis are always my go to summer outfit. But alas, these are just superficial things.
In recent times, every negative event that could possibly plague a nation seems to have found their way to Nigeria. The visible symptoms, many say, of a nation that has sick for a long time. Nigeria is changing; and accordingly being Nigerian has changed for me. Being Nigerian simply has to mean more now than ever. Being Nigerian has come to mean that I have hope in situations that are laughably despondent at best. It means not giving up pride or hope in your nation when every voice has dismissed it as a lost cause. It means that I need to stop loving Nigeria simply because it gives me an air of exotic-ness (is that a real word?). Being Nigerian means that I might need to stop telling people that I like Nigeria because “you just have so much fun over there.” I need to start loving it like a parent loves a child, willing to do whatever it takes to make it better. I need to love it ‘despite’ and not just ‘because’. Being Nigerian in America has made me increasingly aware that others are too busy caring about their country to care about mine. And therefore, I must love my country even more than I did before.
I am in school in the United States, and I sometimes get lost in how convenient things are here. The water runs (in a wide variety of temperatures). The electricity (oh, the electricity!) is more constant than the knowledge that Monday night was Garri night when I was a child. I admit it; I get lost in these things. And then I remember the man in the Dashiki shirt; how he has changed my way of thinking without even knowing. Sometimes, more times than I care to share, I begin to think of reasons to abandon ship (ship being Nigeria). And then I remember, and can’t help loving, the country in which a man in a vibrant orange shirt stopped his day for me.
LASTMA: Lagos State Traffic Management Authority
Garri: Nigerian food made from ground cassava tubers
By Ugonna Iheme