Femke becomes Funke: How Nigeria has changed me

Pepper. Obviously. My taste buds have been adapting to spiciness ever since I first set foot in Yorubaland. Adapting as in: they have by now been spiced into oblivion.

After an overdose of cheese and coffee, I am getting used to being temporarily in my country of birth. Little things remind me of Lagos, and unexpected occurrences make me realise I am changing. Weird that only three months away can do this to you. Aware that this is going to be a continuing process, I decided to keep track on how Nigeria is affecting me. Part 1 of many more in the years to come.

Last week, in a ten minute drive to pick up a friend from the train station in the city I grew up in, I had my hand on the horn thrice already, realising just in time that honking in The Netherlands is an offence when there is no emergency calling for it. In fact, using your horn for no reason can cost you a 340 euro (N68,000) fine in this country. Driving on a busy Dutch highway now makes me slightly uncomfortable. I have started driving with my ears, like most Lagosians, and I wonder how my fellow traffic participants will know of my existence when I do not make them aware of me by honking aggressively.

Making a phone call, I don’t choose the number and put the phone to my ear right away – as everyone does in countries with a flawless mobile network. I look at the screen until I am sure the number has not only been dialled, but is also connecting. I did not realise this until a Dutch friend asked me what on earth I was looking for on that little screen.

I never had a lot of patience for spoiled children. Returning from Lagos, the majority of Dutch kids seem to be spoiled brats to me. Their whining about not wanting to eat their carrots, their loudness and demand for constant adult attention irritates me. Although I am not of the opinion that children should be seen, but not heard, I do appreciate the modesty in most Nigerian children.  I like kids who are not shy, but the effect of a toddler entering a room of adults in The Netherlands (from that moment all adults start talking about, to or with said toddler breaking up whatever discussion they were having be it on string theory or social democracy as if the world evolves around the bloody kid) irritates me more and more. I am starting to think the ideal way of bringing up kids might be somewhere in between Nigerian strictness and European liberty. Without the rod. But that is a subject for another column. Hey, I am still an oyinbo.

Pepper. Obviously. My taste buds have been adapting to spiciness ever since I first set foot in Yorubaland. Adapting as in: they have by now been spiced into oblivion. My last stay in The Netherlands my vegetable salesman only shook his head when I came for more pepper. Again. My mother is by now used to at least putting the pepper grinder next to me on the table. I have come to understand why many Nigerians think foreign food is bland or dull: subtleness is wasted on their taste buds that only react to shock and awe.

Curtains. I close them. At night. Though my friend Sola tells me that the short draperies I had made  are still too small for Nigerian standards, for a Dutch girl to close her curtains as a rule when the sun goes down, is nothing short of assimilation. Read what I said earlier on this important cultural issue.

Gradually even in my Dutch I have inserted more forms of politeness. My country’s egalitarian ways have partly done away with ‘Sir’ and ‘Madam’. I learnt how to use them again in Nigeria. I rather like it. You would not say it when you see them barking at each other in the streets, but Lagosians are actually teaching me cordiality.

Visiting my dear childhood friend, I had to wait at the traffic lights at a busy junction. It was an unusually warm Autumn evening. An elderly couple crossed the zebra, supported by a rollator walker, a combination between a cane stick and a wheel chair which the government subsidises for those who have difficulty walking. All cars stopped to let them cross. The orange street lights gave the well tarmaced road a glow as if the undergoing sun was still shining. All I thought was: ‘Wow.’ Just wow. Watching this little scene in which everything worked, a scene that most Dutch take as a given and would not even stop to consider, I was struck by the level of organisation of it all. I would never have noticed it if Lagosian madness had not grown on me. Rather than romanticising the chaos – even though regular readers know I like it – it had me thinking of the future of my new home town. Will I ever stop and stare at a junction in Nigeria, the way I just had?


P.S.: Next week, there will be no Femke Becomes Funke, due to my other activities here in the Netherlands.  I will be back the week after.


Follow Femke on Twitter @femkevanzeijl


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

One comment

  1. Very absorbing!

    What most xeno-philic Nigerians fail to realise is that in every culture lies the seed of success and failure.You have straddled both worlds and infering from this piece, each has its merits and demerits.An oyibo girl has come to appreciate the 'respect' and cordiality that exists here but those same elements contribute to the dearth of bold, courageous citizens.Meanwhile on the other hand, the social fissures that could appear from an increasingly 'cold' society could be its archilles heel.The point here is that,no culture is superior in my opinion.What is needed is a critical mass of citizens ready to build durable institutions.

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