Experiencing Nigerian Culture in Yagbaland

The area where we are in Nigeria is known as Yagbaland. The people here have their own language called Yorba. There are several hundred different languages spoken in Nigeria as many of the different villages and regions have their own language. There are a number of people who speak English and that has essentially become a common second language for people here. However, the way they speak English is very difficult to understand and they have a hard time understanding the way we speak English. Their native language is tonal; saying things in a different tone or with a different inflection means different things. These tones and inflections translate over into how they speak and understand English – if you don’t say something precisely how they say it, with the same tone and inflection, they don’t understand you. And it’s really hard to understand them as well. As a result, the best way to communicate is through short phases instead of sentences, and lots of hand gestures. And, learning just a little Yorba goes a long way.

Some basic phrases we use on a daily basis (which I’m sure I’m not spelling right, but hopefully pronouncing correctly):

Ecaro (Eh-Ca-Row) = Good morning
Ecushe (Eh-Coo-Shay) = Well done/good job (this is used interchangeably as a greeting during any part of the day as well as to mean you’re doing a good job at something)
Adupe (Ah-Doo-Pay) = Thank you
Lodaro (Low-Dah-Row) = Good Evening

The other word part of our daily vocabulary here is “NEPA”. That’s what the name of the national electrical company. The electricity here is extremely unreliable. It goes on and off randomly throughout the day and night. Sometimes it stays on for hours, sometimes only minutes. As a result, there are a number of generators on the hospital compound, which are used as needed when there is no power. For the construction sites, portable Honda generators are used. So the day is filled with phrases like “Is there NEPA?” “There’s no NEPA.”. “NEPA’s back on!!!”

Now, the very first Yorba word you learn here is Oyinbo – because people are yelling it at you everywhere you go. Oyinbo translated means “man of the peeled skin”. The term comes from the belief that all were created black but some had the black peeled off. It’s a little strange to think that people are yelling “peeled skin” or essentially “white man” when they see you, but it is in no way meant to be offensive. They just get really excited when they see a white person. There aren’t that many white people who come through here.

Our first Sunday afternoon in Egbe, we hired motorcycles to take us on a tour of the town. In under 30 minutes you can see just about everything there is to see around here. Instead of calling it an “Egbe Tour”, Abby calls it an “Oyinbo Tour”. And fittingly so, because the entire time you are riding around town, everyone is waving and yelling “Oyinbo” at you. It’s just as much about introducing all the new Oyinbos to the people of Egbe as it is introducing us to town of Egbe.

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The last picture above captures a common site around Egbe – water jugs where people go to get a bucket of water since they don’t have running water. It’s a bucket life around here. Water needs are met one bucket at a time. During my time here, I’ve learned how to shower using just one small bucket of water. The first go around, it took me a long time, but I’m starting to get the hang of it. Lucky for us, we do have showers on the hospital compound, but water is scarce and it’s only on a limited time each day.

Here’s what it looks like up close when kids are yelling “Oyinbo” at you. The video I took is better than this picture, but videos will have to wait until I’m back home on high-speed Internet.

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In Yagbaland, women carry babies on their back – secured in place by just two pieces of fabric. Once piece wraps around and the other piece wraps below to support the weight. One of the nursing students let me back her baby. The grandma did the wrapping. Once the baby was wrapped, they told me to start walking. I was scared the baby would fall out, and found myself doing this awkward and slow, stiff walk. It was pretty funny. But, truth be told, I can see why they back the babies here. It’s actually a very comfortable way to carry a baby and it leaves both your hands free to do things. Sadly, there are a lot of single moms here, so being able to work with a baby in tow is often a necessity.

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The Nigerian moms make it look so easy. You’ll even see them riding around on motorbikes with babies on their backs like this!

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The women are quite skilled at carrying things. It’s impressive how much they can carry around on their head. It’s a skill they learn at an early age.

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Below is a picture of Ronke (the lady who runs the kitchen here) carrying dinner for four on her head.

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One of the most memorable cultural experiences we’ve had here (although I wouldn’t want to repeat it), is the night our housemate Fred took us out to dinner in town. Fred is the Nigerian Engineer overseeing the building of the new OPD. We share a house with him and Chris from Toronto. Fred doesn’t eat meals with us, he goes into town for his food. He invited us to come with him one night. We went to a little restaurant where we had what they would consider one of the best meals here – cassava with soup and a plate of beef. When the plate of beef arrived we didn’t even recognize it as beef. We had to ask Fred what it was. That’s because the plate had one small piece of muscle and the rest was all organs – small intestine, large intestine, lung, liver, etc. Having meat is a rarity here and they don’t let any part of the animal go to waste.

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They also don’t let any animal go to waste. Case in point….during the “block party” when we were moving cement blocks for the OPD, a rat came running out of the stack of blocks and all the Nigerians started chasing it around, trying to stomp it with their foot. Less than a minute later, one guy had it under his foot. We learned later that whoever catches it gets to eat it for lunch; which is a special treat for them since they don’t get to eat meat much.

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With 10 more days in Nigeria, who knows what else we’ll see and experience during our time here!

5 responses to “Experiencing Nigerian Culture in Yagbaland

  1. Next you need to get one of those hat thingies on your head and demonstrate how adept you are at carrying something on your head! So fascinating though I’m sure dealing with the water conservation requirement is hard. Wonderful photos documenting your stories. What a blessing you both are to this project, and I suspect to your friends there too.

  2. Great blog! I feel like I learn so much each time you post one…especially liked the words and how they sound and what they mean…very interesting. I tried them all out too!! That must seem strange about the difficulty understanding each other in English! Oyinbo~glad the hear it isn’t meant in a bad way….you are a celebrity of sorts! I’m impressed that you’ve got the 1 bucket shower down~that sounds impossible to me! Have you forgone shaving of legs, etc while there?? The food doesn’t sound very appealing, and the rat sounded just plain disgusting! We take so much for granted in this wonderful country. Be safe & stay well~hope the temps have moderated.

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