I miss home and it worries me that I would be stuck in this ancient but beautiful city of Ibadan for many more months. Where is home? Twelve hours away by road if the Benue links vehicles I love to use run smoothly.
I would never forget my first contact in this city back in 2014. It was a whole new world and it still is, though I love this world better than the one I met before. I’m an Igede girl from Benue state, most of you may be wondering what tribe that is. The closest shot most ever got was that I was Igbo or Hausa, others commented that my accent did not match with any of the three major tribes in Nigeria.
Who ever said that? I’m neither of those three. They may be “major” due to the large population of speakers of these languages but this is definitely not a classification that groups every tribe. Despite similarities that exist, languages cannot be shrinked into just three groups. But I digress.
When they finally got the pronunciation of ‘Igede’, the best they could offer was a story of a maid they once had who did local and irritable things, or a tale of the workers who tilled their father’s farm land. I never faulted the possible truth of these statements but I judged their judgmental tone, though I have long forgiven these gaffes.
It felt like everybody had to be Yoruba to live in Yorubaland. You don’t want to count how many times I had to say I don’t understand the language. Each time I said that, the change in tone, the questioning look and disbelief I got, sometimes a scolding, was enough to make me learn every simple word or statement for everyday interactions. In addition to that lay the huge possibility of being gossiped about. In fact, it happened – they did not know I understood that much – but I kept mute as I lacked the will to confront anyone.
I wanted to be called ‘Omojo’ but my name was so wrongly pronounced that I stuck to my first name. My friend Chisom never failed to mention that I was the first non-Igbo in school to correctly pronounce her name. Regardless, you don’t dare pronounce a Yoruba name wrongly, or you would be up for a long phonetics lecture which most times you never bothered to give when crimes of same magnitude were committed against you. These days, I make people pronounce stuff for me while I repeat after. It hasn’t been a huge success. Each time I pronounced names with the stress on the wrong syllable or forget to stress any syllable, the laughter from my friends who know I’m a non-indigene, makes me want to be better.
I never ate beans and bread back at home but the moment I tasted the combo, I never ate beans without bread. You don’t want to know how backward I looked when I mentioned that I had never tried it till I met them. That was my mistake though, everybody talks about ‘ewa agoyin’ so I should have heard about it before. Okpa, which isn’t my native meal, became a smelly, bad-tasting moi-moi look-alike when I introduced it to a friend. I was hurt; I grew up loving okpa too much to stand the outright disapproval. Well, we haven’t settled on the meals yet. Ewedu and gbegiri is still strange, but who says meals in Benue are not strange too?
I still haven’t learnt the art of buying stuff in the market. Once I heard a long queue of market women insult a man. I don’t know what he did but I know many of the women who joined in the rain of insults didn’t know either, even the woman I was buying from. Don’t ask me how I manage to bargain, do I? Fear grips me every time and I usually prefer to do my shopping with an indigene.
One day they asked me if I could marry a Yoruba man and I screamed a resounding ‘no‘. Ask me what my reasons were if not for mere speculations I still have not verified and if I wanted to mention the cultural differences, I’m sure other cultures have their reservations about mine too. If you ask me again, I do not know, but i’ld definitely not make any general statement about an inter-tribal marriage.
To survive, I bonded with my Benue friends, sharing lamentations and experiences of our odyssey in another land. My only inter-tribal friendships were with non-Yoruba speaking persons or those who could not speak the language fluently. It was as if I was antagonising these people until I went home that year and made my comparison.
Upon my return, my mind was renewed and ready. I made new Yoruba friends and learnt new words. I joined the choir and stopped chopping mouth when we sang native songs. I tasted new soups with an open mind. I learned to pick my battles. I accepted most generalizations made about me, refuting some and leaving others for my actions to debunk. The ones not covered by my silence or behaviour were left to NYSC or Google. I stopped looking for flaws. Instead I found a spot to fit into.
Don’t take this as the whining of a girl beefing another culture; it is merely an observation from a limited sample space. It’s me telling you to “travel as often as you can to a new safe place, learn their culture with an open mind and never ever forget (permit me Chimamanda) the danger of a single story”.