EXPECTATIONS

This is my first rant, don’t worry, they’ll be few and far between.

Originally this post was supposed to be very whimsical about a boy trapped in a molue bus on a hold-up on Third mainland bridge observing other people interact. That isn’t happening any more. Why you ask? Because, if I’m going to write about what I think, it has got to be personal to me, right? Let’s talk about expectations.

I’m a writer (or at least its somewhere on my to-be list). I write a lot of fiction and the occasional poem. I don’t think I’m above average, and I’m always looking for critique wherever I can get it. But a lot of people who’ve read my stuff tell me I’m really good, say I should take this seriously and I think they actually mean it. But somehow, somewhere in the conversation/analysis/commendation this line comes up “but I wish you sounded more Nigerian/African.” That little line cost me the biggest prize for creative writing in my school. I’m still pissed off about that. But I’ve moved on.

The problem is not that this line is a lie, hell, its not even an exaggeration. I get told by everyone I meet that I don’t have a discernable accent, that I speak like I’m regurgitating a dictionary (e dey pain) and that my interests and sense of style betray my African heritage (I haven’t worn a kaftan in nearly two years). All of this is most likely true, but I do speak fluent Hausa and all kinds of pidgin and I can convincingly fake most Nigerian accents. So the big questions are, Is it my fault that I do not seem Nigerian and what does it mean to be Nigerian in my generation?

Lemme attempt to answer both questions. First of all, I’d like to think I’m not any less Nigerian than other people my age, we all pride ourselves in having accents, care about our social status, ostracise people based on what social network they’re currently addicted to, dress like we just walked off a plane from the US and all want to be singers, actors and footballers cos it pays more and you get to be ‘famous’. And if I really want to be hypocritical and blame someone (or something), I’d blame tradition or superstition, call it whatever you want. Growing up, I remember being told specifically not to eat anything given to me by neighbours the two times I went to my ‘village’. My parents are from different states so every holiday was a big argument about which side of the family we’d get to see, and each side considered it an insult when we didn’t see them. One year, my father just gave up and banned going to the village and even speaking his or my mom’s language. ‘F*** ’em all!’ He said and proceeded to teach us Hausa which is the language of where we live. I didn’t learn pidgin till I was 12 and even that was by ‘strong head’.

What does it mean to be Nigerian in my generation? For one, it’s called Naija or 9ja not Nigerian. Being Nigerian means going to Britain for summer holidays and saying ‘even though I sound British, actually I’m from Nigeria’ to the white kids you meet at the mall. Being Nigerian means listening to Wizkid and wearing Boys are not smiling t-shirts, carrying BB’s around. And exchanging twitter handles whenever you meet someone new. Being Nigerian is using the words ‘toh bad, sinzu, swegs, akpako, TROLL, Rolling, LMAO, Yimu, and Hian,’ to punctuate your heavily accented statements. Being Nigerian is wearing skinny jeans and Toms and following the latest trends in fashion and technology. Even my ‘village’ where I’m supposed to go to get in touch with my ‘culture’ is now a proper township with its own clubs and bars, they started wearing skinnies and having Mohawk haircuts before I did. Being Nigerian is repping team naija and having a bumper sticker on your Japanese car to prove it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to decry all I’ve described above or make change oh! At all! That isn’t anywhere close to what I’m trying to say. I just want all of us to wipe the mud off our eyes and see that no matter how hard we try to deny it. Nigeria is no different from any other morally deficient, youth driven society. And that this the reality I live in. This is the only Nigeria I know. All I want is for people to stop telling me ‘Why isn’t your story more Nigerian?’ when I write a piece. The Nigeria of rustic scenes and women in shuku hairstyles and bodies painted with cam wood is (mostly)gone (that Nigeria pops up in every primary school during cultural day). This is the Nigeria, of today and a writer can only write about what he knows.

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6 thoughts on “EXPECTATIONS

  1. I grew up in Glasgow at a time when it was not at all cool to come from Glasgow, or indeed Scotland. Things have moved on a bit and I think young Scots are a lot more confident about who they are and where they come from.
    The weird thing about Glasgow is that most Glaswegians think its the be all and end all of Scotland, whereas mopst non-Glaswegians tend to think of Glasgow as being some alien entity that was grafted on to Scotland by mistake.
    I should probably add that most Glaswegians tend to be virtually bilingual in that they learn to speak Glaswegian amongst their freinds and family while they tend to learn a more standard English when they’re speaking to anyone in authority. (This dichotomy probably isn’t as severe nowadays because regional accents are generally considered more acceptable than they were when I was a lad).
    My particular problems with cultural identity were compounded by the fact that my mother was English (Cornish as she would have had it) whioch meant that my accent sounded English to most of the kids I was growing up with which made me an easy target for anyone looking for someone to bully.
    All I’m saying really is that I can recognise a lot of the issues you’ve raised and I believe you’re right. All you can do is find your own voice.
    I would add, as a fellow aspiring writer, that although it’s better to know what you’re writing about, with a little skill you can make a little knowledge go quite a long way if you try. Write what you know if you can, but most of all write about what interests you. You can make almost anything interesting to other people if you care about it yourself.
    Hope this is helpful.

  2. I totally get what you’re saying man. Im told the same thing. A Nigerian boy writing about Shangri-la. i have always believed that art is a universal thing and I’ve always believed that no matter where we are born or raised, we’re human beings first, citizens of our various countries second.
    I keep telling myself that the being picture is the picture painted of the world as we feel it, see it and (for the more perceptive ones) as it really is. I respect those who can show culture and tradition in their work but in my case, I’m something of a western sellout. I’ve been exposed to very little of my culture. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Bottomline? My imagination doesn’t know anything about borders or flags.

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