It gets better! YNaija introduces you to Dutch writer and journalist, Femke van Zeijl who has been traveling across sub-Saharan Africa for about 10 years.
Now she trades her, um, nomadic existence for a permanent position in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. Follow Femke’s journeys through her new life in Africa’s most populous country.
The sweet smell of roasted suya – Nigerian beef kebab – mixes with that of urine in all stages of decomposure.
My right hand with the carefully kneaded little ball of amala is half way my to mouth when I look up. Three pairs of eyes are pointed at me. Apparently the personnel of this joint around the corner in Agege, Lagos, does not have a whole lot to do. The waitress with the shuffling pace brought me a bottle of water and then took a seat at the nearest table. She manoeuvred the plastic chair in such a way she now has an excellent view of the stainless steel bowl with okra soup in front of me on the table.
With great interest she follows how I dip the yam dough in the slimy green sauce and try to hoist it up without creating to many threads. I stuff the amala in my mouth, wipe the one unavoidable string of slime off my chin with a napkin and go on eating. Ten years of travelling in Sub-Saharan Africa made me almost immune to stares. Most of the time, at least.
The day after I walk down my street with a Nigerian friend. I concentrate on not tripping on the crumbling pavement and avoiding traffic. I routinely block the many ‘oyinbo, oyinbo!’ outcries coming from everywhere. Therefore I don’t hear what the skinny driver yells as he’s hanging out of the window of a minibus whizzing past. To the friend accompanying me it is loud and clear though. It is meant for him: “Yahoo yahoo!”
‘Yahoo yahoo’ is slang for the Nigerian scammers who find gullible white people on the internet to court and then chisel out of their money. I could die realising what my friend has just been accused of. But the loudmouth was only bellowing out what everyone else on that street was thinking anyway – it is what people here think to know when they see a black man accompanying a white woman. I would like to tell him the remarks will become less. But that would be a lie.
“Oyinbo ni? Albino abi?” The two okada drivers cannot make up their minds a couple of days later. I decided to wear a hat and sunglasses that morning, covering my short hair and eyes. It confuses the bikers. One inquires with the other whether I am a white person or not. His colleague shrugs. He does not know. On a hat-and-glasses day the street around me remains pretty peaceful.
Then comes Sunday evening in Agege. A local joint by the road side. Plastic tables full of empty beer bottles, surrounded by men – mostly – whose voices are getting louder with every sip. I sit in a corner, my back against the load speaker blaring Nigerian club music. For once nobody notices me, the oyinbo. There are more important matters. Such as a beer promotion: one STAR bottle for 170 Naira.
The yahoo yahoo guys at the long table celebrating a fruitful scam seem to be preferring Heineken. And the Yoruba lady in traditional dress quietly sitting next to her husband is holding on to her little bottle of non-alcoholic Maltina. The sweet smell of roasted suya – Nigerian beef kebab – mixes with that of urine in all stages of decomposure. A corrugated iron cabin placed directly over the open sewage serves as a makeshift toilet. It opens to the terrace, and the men relieving themselves do not even bother to close the door behind their backs.
I sit back and enjoy not being stared at. Agege for an oyinbo is best enjoyed at night.