Identity

I don’t know what this is about yet but I haven’t posted in a while so I guess I should write something.

Much of what this blog has been about is someone returning home and discovering that it was no longer what it used to be to her. At first, she blamed the misfit and discomfort on home but then she looked in the mirror realised that she was looking at someone different from what she once was. So, this blog started off with me trying to understand my new self in old surroundings (or old surroundings through the eyes of a new self. I’m not quite sure which it is).

The subject of identity has been dancing in my head for over a year now. For some reason, it has become more intense in the last couple of weeks. Actually, I know exactly why it’s more intense – Valentine’s Day. Despite all my I-am-doing-perfectly-fine-without-love talk, I must confess that the advertising and hype of that day always throw me off balance. And this year knocked me down badly. Not that I was fantasising about sunset walks on a beach and a glass of Prosecco. Somehow the atmosphere of love led me to ponder more deeply the concept of home and that led on to the question, “What is home?”. Then, “Where is home?”. And ultimately, “What am I?”. I am a black woman with afro hair and a difficult name to pronounce. Beyond that, I am at a loss.

Returning to Lagos confirmed that somehow, I had managed to lose that wonderful bubbly essence that makes Nigerians instantly recognisable. I had no idea how to converse with Nigerians and I couldn’t relate to what excited them. I was no longer at ease in my birthplace the way people are when they are home and relaxed. I am certainly not British either – on so many levels, there is absolutely no way that I am.  For one, I hardly ever hang out with British people. Most of my friends are fellow internationals. If anything, I am more Asian and South American than I am British. I love the UK; but throughout my years here, there’s always that lingering feeling that I am just a guest. This undercurrent was one of the many things that drove me back to Lagos. I thought I would be free of it and finally be able to exhale, kick off my shoes and bask in that magnificent sunshine. But no, in Nigeria, I was still a guest because “Moji, you are too oyinbo”. I am too white.

I am hanging in this weird limbo. They say that having an international outlook on life is always an advantage. But for me, internationalisation has created this ‘factionless’ person. Since Valentine’s Day, all I’ve thought about is a place I can call home and it’s been all I dream about whenever I go to bed. Christianity tells me that my home is in eternity. I know this and I wholeheartedly agree with it but it just doesn’t register. I am looking forward to eternity but I feel so lost in this life.

Woah, didn’t mean this to be so personal.

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Blogging Is Making Me Confident

This year of blogging has made me more confident. I am now laying bare thoughts and opinions that I normally would never say out loud to anyone. Both in writing and real life conversations, I am speaking my mind more (though still rather reservedly).

The funny thing is I have been writing for years but never saw this change in me. I began writing sometime after my father died. It started with short (awful) poems on grief and fears of remarriage, a seven-year-old trying as best as she could to express worry in misspelt words and terrible rhymes (mind you, I think my poetry is still crap). Writing has always been my way of expressing my introverted self, especially when opinions are too delicate to voice and emotions are difficult to feel. So, when I found myself in Nigeria once again, it seemed like the most obvious thing to do. The difference now is that I am sharing words with people.

Writing poems and journaling are the best way of sorting through thoughts and having coherent, intelligible conversations with myself. With blogging, I am no longer talking to myself. I am facing an audience: The world. And that’s scary. Yet, I find myself sharing quite freely.

Some thoughts are idiotic. I often go back to read my older posts and I am like, “Moji, what on earth?!”. But I am glad I voiced those thoughts anyway. I am really learning not to be ashamed of my mind. I am also learning that just because someone disagrees with my opinions doesn’t steal/impede my right to have and express them. I am usually hesitant with my words because people not agreeing with me somehow translates to my opinions being rubbish. Now I say them and take pride in having them.

Writing doesn’t always do justice to what’s going on inside my head. When I read through some posts, I am disappointed that I haven’t been able to capture the key thoughts and ideas or what I have written is rather different from what I actually think. Sometimes, I trash those posts but most of the time I publish them because half-said is better than not at all.

I am loving this growing confidence. I am grateful for this opportunity blogging has given me. And I am thankful for you who bother to read my posts.

10 tips on being an international student in the UK

After years of international student life, I have been thinking a lot about the advice I would have given myself when I was preparing to move to the UK. Here’s my top ten.

1. Go to Canada

Canada is your best bet at having a comfortable student life. The weather is colder but you pay less for a warmer welcome and have greater job prospects after graduation. However, seeing as you’re reading this, it’s probably already too late and you’re knee-deep in the UK education system. If you still have some choice, go to Scotland, they are generally nicer.

2. Keep your name

Don’t change your name to an English one. When most westerners visit your country, do they change their names for you? Teach your new friends and teachers how to say your name. Tell them what it means and how you got it. While immersing yourself in another culture, be you.

3. Beware of Terror Tories

I have watched Theresa May ascend to the role of Home Secretary and then Prime Minister. She is an intelligent woman and I’m sure that deep inside she has good intentions for her country but her attitude towards immigration is seriously messed up. As long as she and the Conservatives (Tories) are in power, your student life is sure to worsen. She is out to get you.  So, always have a Plan B just in case she wakes up one day and decides to kick us all out.  Again, let your Plan B be Canada or pray hard for Scottish Independence. That being said, don’t let all the visa talk get to you too much.

4. Vote in elections and referendums

If you are a Commonwealth citizen, this is a little payback for the years of slave trade and colonisation. Really, the UK should be doing much more for all the pain and destruction they caused, but let’s try to forget the sins of the fathers and take advantage of this little perk the children have offered us. Have your say in British politics, it might make a big difference in your life.

5. Did I mention go to Canada? 

6. Mix with people from everywhere

Don’t just hang out with people from your country and don’t live your life in nostalgia. You paid thousands of pounds and went through the gruelling visa application process to get away from home. Take the opportunity to get to know people from other cultures, learn new languages and new skills.

7. Explore the UK

Britain has some of the most stunning sights in the world with its beautiful countryside and majestic historic buildings.  Don’t just sit in your university town or drift from one auntie’s/uncle’s house to the other during the holiday. Go on your own little adventure. My personal favourites: Ludlow, Bath, Skye and the Virgin Trains ride from London to Glasgow via the Lake District.

8. Learn how to smile and make sympathetic noises

For when your British friends complain about how expensive their £9000 university tuition fee is.

9. Harness your self-control and try not to slap people.

“Do you live in a hut?” and “Are you a Princess?” are still common questions even in the big cities.

10. Speak slowly, listen carefully

You’ll discover that communicating with people can be difficult especially if you have a thick Nigerian accent like fresh-from-Lagos me had. There’s no need to put on a fake generic British accent. Just slow down and be more patient. Plus, some British accents (<cough> Geordie) may be difficult to understand. Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat themselves.

 

2016, A Confrontation with My Mortality

Oooo 2016… You started with the deaths of Alan Rickman and David Bowie then went on to kill many more dear and famous ones – don’t forget the cockroach. And yet, you insist on bidding us farewell with even more death, the passing of the amazing George Michael and Carrie Fisher. As I watch these icons that seemed like permanent fixtures fade, you have made me confront the fragility of my own existence. How deceptive my life is! It seems so stable and unshakable but really it is always one heartbeat away from my departure.

I think of how it is going to be like. How I will close my eyes and drift to another world. Or will they be wide open looking into the distance, gazing at the brilliant blue sky once more? Will it hurt or for once in my life will I be devoid of pain.

I think of how we all go and leave with nothing. And how it all –the ambitions, the fights, the hates, the loves – doesn’t seem to matter anymore when one is thrown into the ground or burned to ashes. I wonder why we all bother at all. I see how useless everything is, all built up to be lost.

Staring at my death, I pause, breathe in deeply, exhale slowly and think of the golden rays of the glorious sun above us. How they stroke my face as its warmth kisses me. How its light embraces, enriches and purifies the very depths of me, the secret places of my being. As I see the sun, I smile and be happy and enjoy being loved. Really, there’s not much else to do in this useless life.

My faith and my science

I often get asked this question when I tell people what I study, “How does that affect your faith? The Big Bang, evolution and all”. That’s a very valid question and I will probably flesh out answers some other time. I know for sure that my work and my Christian beliefs are not mutually exclusive. To what extent they mingle and interact with one another, I don’t know. However, seeing that Christ is the most solid rock in my life, it is difficult to see how anything could bulldozer its way through (but that doesn’t mean I don’t doubt sometimes).

I tend to ask myself a different question, one that is very important for the success of my future career: Does my faith affect my science? Does the fact that I am a Christian somehow slow down my scientific reasoning? Maybe not hampered mental faculties but do I see things from a different angle to other palaeontologists? Does my faith stop me from digging deep and asking critical questions on life, its origins and diversity, or do I ask a different variety of questions?

My unprocessed, impulsive answer is: Yes, of course beliefs play a role in my work. Sometimes when I reach a difficult concept, instead of trying to work my way through the issue, my brain just stops, stares at the complexity and praises God for His intricate beauty. At those times, just knowing that God designed it all is answer enough for me and I don’t give much thought to the how and the why.

Does this mean I am incapable of critical thinking? Surely not. Many revolutionary scientists in the western world were devout theists. Think of Michael Faraday, Gregor Mendel and Isaac Newton. Moreover, for Faraday, his Christian faith was the driving force behind his science. He was fixated on the relationship between nature and God. Then again, a lot has changed since Michael Faraday’s day with the rise of the works of Darwin, Hubble and others. And perhaps his beliefs weren’t exactly as ‘conservative’ as mine.

So, I ask another question: Does my belief in Biblical inerrancy affect my studies? Should it affect my studies? It should and it definitely does; but not to the extent that one would presume because my subconscious is permanently engage in extreme compartmentalisation. From news from Nigeria to my love of British desserts to my friendships, everything gets its own mental box. These chests are only opened one at time. Never will you find two of them uncovered simultaneously. My Christianity doesn’t get a box. It is the very atmosphere that I exist in. When the science box is open and there are ideas and notions that are struggling to exist under the atmosphere of faith, I take them out real quick and dump them into a bin that’s always unlidded – the ignore it wastebasket. I don’t ignore the theory itself, just the controversy.  That’s how I deal with issues between science and Christianity. I know that this is not the best method. Not only because it makes me a coward but as I dump things into the wastebasket, I am also throwing away some associated critical thoughts (which are not necessarily controversial) that could help my work greatly – unavoidable collateral damage. This method also makes me guilty of faith that is blind and untested, and that’s not right

Well, I throw this question out to you. What do you think? Can I really be a Christian palaeontologist? Not the kind you see on TBN that are just out to prove people wrong with their extremely questionable research methods. As a person of faith, could I really work with my fossils and operate under the constraints of scientific theories?

Is science just a western cultural practice?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the West. More specifically, the dominance of western culture. I used to get jealous when I hear my western friends from various countries talk about the things they did as children, the places they’ve been, their hobbies, their ice skating, hiking, camping, water sports, and all sorts. Things that I have never done or thought of doing. I would feel ashamed and jealous as if I’ve missed out on life somehow. In reality, I have done things but not the same things my western friends have. Media also played a major role in how I thought life should be lived –  and it is governed by the West. So, to my younger self, western culture became the trademark culture and anything short of that was not living.

This train of thought on the West and its dominance has transported me to the field of science, as all things tend to do these days. A couple of weeks ago, I read in an article on SciTech Africa that Africans tend to see science as ‘white people’ thing. If this is true, if this is the way we really think, this would explain a lot of the apathy that I observe in Nigeria towards exciting scientific discoveries. As ice skating is a western thing, so is science. Of course, this is preposterous. Science has nothing to do with race… Or does it? Maybe not race but culture… Is science just another western cultural practice?

A lot of the time, the science that is taught in school is so obscure. I remember struggling with all the foreign, difficult names of scientists like Einstein, Pythagoras and van der Waals. Then there was all the Latin we had to learn and the binomial names we memorised while still grappling with purging Nigerian English from our systems with the Queen’s English. We had to understand the mechanisms behind the four temperate seasons and the scientific anecdotes like Newton’s apple falling from the tree –  I had never seen an apple tree in my life until I came to the UK.  I couldn’t relate to any of these things until I was shipped off to a western country and culture.

To be fair, the scientific method was refined in the West (though it may have Middle Eastern origins) so it is understandable that it has elements of ‘white’ life and culture. But what if this is the western scientific method and science exists – or once existed – in different modes elsewhere? At least, from southern Nigeria, the physics and engineering behind the walls of Benin and our precolonial mud houses, the medicine inspiring our traditional herbal remedies, the understanding of agriculture in relation to the movement of the moon, it would be unfair to say that all these are not science. Albeit in a different style to what’s seen in the West but it still shows the fundamental understanding of nature and the use of its laws for our livelihood. Could it be that the British colonials didn’t value any of this because it wasn’t what they were used to, so they termed it all as primitive?

Do you get my drift? Take the field of medicine for example. Over the past decades, Chinese medicine and other forms of ‘alternative’ medicine are gaining recognition. What we previously deemed as universal medicine is now seen as western.

Could it be that science is really, well and truly, too white for Africans to relate to and that’s why scientists and enthusiasts are so rare on the continent (well, at least in Nigeria)? The number one challenge I am facing now is how to make science appealing to the African mind. So much has been invested in my education that I want people back home to understand what exactly I am doing. That is why this issue is so important for me to address. How does one make science relatable?

Anyways, this is just me rambling at 22:49 after a week of running into mental brick walls.

Sincerest apologies for the silence

Sincerest apologies for the silence.

No, I haven’t been too busy to write. On the contrary, moving to a new city, joining a new university and meeting new strange and wonderful people have given me much inspiration. Plus, I constantly find myself in moments of reflection on my year in Nigeria. Trust me, I am writing.

I have been quiet because this blog is called Rational Nigerian. It was set up to be about Nigeria; but now that I am 5000 miles away from the country, I don’t feel I have the right to talk about it anymore. I don’t feel as if I am entitled to an opinion because living in the country is very different from observing it from afar. A year and a half ago, I didn’t feel this way. In fact, I would probably have been offended if someone said this to me. But now, I have realised that no one gets Nigeria unless you are living in it. I can laugh and grunt and complain about what the president said next to Merkel, but I have no right to talk about it with authority since I no longer spend my nights in paranoia that NEPA is going to take the light. It doesn’t matter if you grew up there. You don’t get Nigeria unless you are actually  experiencing it.

So, I haven’t been too caught up with work to write. I am just trying to figure out what to do with this blog. What direction is it going? What should I write about now? These questions have plagued me throughout this month of silence. I think I am just going to write about anything from now on. It doesn’t matter what about really, as long as I keep sharing my thoughts and letting my friends all over the world know what I’m up to. I should warn the less geeky viewers that I am probably going to post a lot about my research. My work is my little six-week-old baby. Like all first-time parents, I am obsessed with it. Palaeontology takes up all my attention. It keeps me up at night and when I do sleep, it’s all I dream about. It even plagues my thoughts when I’m out socialising with creatures that are still alive.

Anyways, once again, sorry for the disappearing act. I promise to keep on blogging.

Black Hair Woes

This wouldn’t be an African girl’s blog if I didn’t talk about my hair at some point in time.

Like all little girls, I dreamed of having long dark flowing hair like Pocahontas’ as she serenades John Smith with Colours of the Wind; but although I dreamed of another life, I slowly learned to accept the burden that has been placed on me as a black female. From the time spent as a child, sitting on a stool, sniffing the hairdresser’s underwear to the hours spent with an aching bottom on a salon chair as three people try to tame my extra thick, full hair into braids, I had no choice but to shoulder my yoke.

I have returned to university, and for the first time ever, I am refusing to braid my hair. My black hair has always been a touchy topic for me when I’m abroad. I can deal with the curiosity on whether or not I braid my hair every morning or how I keep them clean over the months; but you see, the problem is I am sick of the questions that come in January, when after three to four months of carrying them around, I loosen the braids. I return to school after Christmas with chin-length bushy hair rather than the plaits that stretched halfway down my back.

Then people are like, “What happened to your hair? Oh! why did you cut your long beautiful hair?”. Or they say nothing and give me that weird awkward look, I know what they are thinking about but they are too British to mention it. Or worse still, they don’t recognise me. Three weeks later, I show up with plaits once again and someone asks how my hair managed to stretch and grow so long all of a sudden (true story). Then I have to give my how-my-braids-are-made-with-extensions speech. And I watch the confused faces contort.

This time around, I have chopped off my hair. I hesitated a little before taking my seat at the barber’s because I was worried about looking masculine. I am not a fashionable person and cutting my hair seemed like a final nail in the coffin of my femininity. But now I have decided that I really couldn’t care less.

So, I am rocking my low-cut all the way through the year (well, now it’s becoming more like a baby afro). I’m really loving letting the warm water kiss my scalp when I shower, and I can’t get over how light and free my head feels. I am in love with my hair. However, I must admit that sometimes I do stare at the mirror, trying to reconcile myself to my new look, wondering if I really do look like a guy who doesn’t know where the barber is.

Cursed be emotion

Cursed be emotion

And its selfish demand to be felt

Its childish hankerings and thirst

Its longing to be held and embraced

 

Cursed be anger

And its bitter aftertaste

Its grinding teeth and love-spawn weeping

Its sleepless nights and hopeless horizons

 

Cursed be silence

And its deafening wait

Its heavy burden weighing the heart into stupor

Its nondescript words beyond interpretation

 

Cursed be pity

The worst evil of all

Its degradation of the heart to a sorry state

Its sad, quiet looks and awkward utterances

 

Cursed be love (I said, “Cursed be love!”)

And its prickly tears and unrequited glares

Its sharp dagger cutting through the soul

Its uncaring hunger, destroying all in its wake

Beer, Wine and Sinners

Nigerians seem to have the ultimate love-hate relationship with alcohol.  In a country with so much religiosity that makes one wonder if God is Nigerian, alcohol is often seen as something only the perverse and immoral would touch. Yet, we have so many empty crates of Guinness and broken bottles of champagne lying around.

People act all holier-than-thou in church, looking down at those evil drinkers in bars and clubs but I get to their houses to see bottles of Baileys and that horrible acidic South African wine (seriously, why would anyone want that?) stashed in the fridge.  The religious police in the North routinely destroy bottles of beer but one still sees these northerners drinking away on their visits to London.

Once, someone who’s always chastising me for drinking asked me – with excitement written all over her face – if I was planning to douse that year’s Christmas cake in brandy, as I usually do.  She looked so happy, like a little child anticipating candy.  Yet, she would never admit to liking alcohol; only sinners enjoy the taste of it.

Nigeria is probably Africa’s largest consumer of champagne but very few people I meet would admit that they drink alcohol. Perhaps it’s my circle, or maybe the few that do drink consume a lot. After all, I have witnessed, in broad daylight, a trio drinking half-pint cups of Jack Daniels as if it’s water and they had just finished running a marathon, and they looked like they could finish another bottle in the same fashion.

 

Image|Source: RationalNigerian 🙂