No, there is no boy

The person(s) who this post is directed at know themselves.

Since I returned to university, I get asked this annoying question too frequently, “Who is the boy?”, often prefixed by, “Nawa o, where have you been?” or “Why aren’t you answering you phone?” and “Answer your WhatsApp messages!”. Somehow my elusiveness could only be down to one thing: “She finally has a boyfriend”.

First of all, I feel offended that you think the only possible reason that I, a woman, could be preoccupied is some male individual of our species.  As a matter of fact, I am busy doing the thing I said I was coming here to do. I am immersed in dead, fossilised fish. I see and smell them everywhere I go. They are consuming my life and I haven’t even started doing any real work on them yet. I have just been trying to figure out what exactly fish are.

Clearly, I underestimated them. How hard can studying fish be? They swim, some fly. They taste nice when put on a grill with garlic, pepper and a squeeze of lemon. That was painfully naïve thinking. These things are swallowing me whole.

I am discovering that fish are probably the most complex animals ever to have existed. Their skull anatomy alone supersedes that of humans. The myriad of tiny bones and structures (oh my goodness, their dentition!) in their heads is driving me to constant migraines and stress eating. Not to talk of their diversity. When I think of how many different types of fish there are, I want to bury myself under a blanket and never come out. They make up half of all vertebrates today; but how many and what sort of fish there were is my interest as a palaeontologist in training.

I have spent the last four months staring at fish teeth, particularly that of pycnodonts which originated about 228 million years ago and went extinct between 56 to 33.9 million years ago. Although there are a number of full skeletons, most of the fossils we have are of their robust grinding teeth. So I’ve been attempting to learn how to identify different pycnodont species just by looking at their dentition. It’s been hard but certainly not boring. And I’m not just saying that because my supervisor reads this blog sometimes. I am really enjoying my work.

Examples of pycnodont fossils showing a near-complete skeleton and different types of teeth .  All images from Kriwet (2005). Scale bars = 10 mm.

So, there is no boy. For now, pycnodonts with their freaky teeth and pachycormids – giant fish that went extinct about 66 million years ago –  have my heart. And if I don’t pick your calls or answer your messages, I sincerely apologise. I am probably nursing a headache or so engrossed in work that I didn’t hear the phone ring.

Image|Leedsichthys, a giant pachycormid that reached up to 9 metres in length.

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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.

 

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.

Seaweed, Dinosaurs and More Seaweed

Image| The beach before we cleared it. Buried beneath the buffet of seaweed are dinosaur footprints.

So, I have just returned from the Isle of Skye in northwest Scotland, where we spent hours standing on a rocky beach in the cold, windy rain trying to study dinosaur footprints. I have a confession to make: I hate fieldwork. I  don’t like the climbing and falling and having to spend ages outdoors, especially in the winter. I am quite sure that I was next to useless to the team. Yet, in spite of the horrid weather, this trip wasn’t half bad. I enjoyed it.

It was a crash course on dinosaurs and ichnology. People think that as a palaeontologist I work mostly with dinosaurs. In reality, I know very little about them. They simply don’t turn me on. I am more interested in  mammals; although, at the moment, I am working on Jurassic fish (a story for another time). Ichnology is the branch of palaeontology that studies traces of organisms. So rather than looking at actual skeletal remains or anatomical imprints, the focus is on things like burrows, coprolites (fossilised poo; and yes, there are scientists who dedicate their time to studying this) and in this instance, footprints. From a dinosaur’s footprints, you can tell what sort of creature it was, its size, its manner of walking and whether or not it lived in a herd like elephants or was solitary like a tiger.

The footprints are fossilised on rock outcrops next to the sea. We had to clear tons of seaweed to actually see the tracks and work quickly to avoid being covered and drowned by incoming tide. I am still trying to get that fishy seaweed smell out of my life. Working in variable weather, we saw more than enough rainbows for a lifetime, and for the first time, I saw the end of one. Sorry, there was no pot of gold.

Anyhow, enjoy this picture of beautiful Skye!

161119_skye-hills2_rationalnigerian

 

 

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.

When I look at Nigeria, I want to run away

Finally, when I look at Nigeria, I want to run away. I want to leave all traces of my heritage and this country behind and flee this madness.

I want to run far away from these people that seem to enjoy being crazy, and have passed their heated insanity to me. An insanity that blinds the eye to the true state of things and leaves the mind wallowing in false hope saying, “E go better”. Well, good for you. Wait for your better. As for me, life is way too short to keep deceiving myself.

I want to run away from a nation that is uninterested in helping itself. From one that says that it wants to build and develop itself but no one is interested in being a bricklayer; everyone wants to be the construction manager. We are waiting for someone else to do the heavy lifting. So we sit around the building site, singing the national anthem “This Nigeria sha, it is well”, watching one or two people break their backs as they lift the heavy blocks.  We are waiting for a better which will never come because one person cannot build a castle. One person cannot shoulder a nation.

I want to run away from lawlessness. I want to flee all the melodrama and trouble that seem to follow everything to do with this country. From the Olympics, to the budget, to Chibok and paying salaries, there is no smooth sailing.

I want to run away from the inherent anger that flows through our veins, an anger that has saturated my blood, that makes us ever-ready for an outburst. That creates vast storehouses of tears that flow out without warning when it all becomes too much.

I want to abandon this identity that seems to cause so much inconvenience wherever I go. I just want a quiet, simple life without all this stress and disturbances; without this chaos and lunacy; without so much death around me. I don’t want to manage life, as people seem to do here, constantly hurdling over one Nigeria-made obstacle after the other. I am tired of seeing us only surviving life, not enjoying it to the fullest.

Yet, I want to love my country. I am happy and excited to leave but there is a sadness I cannot shake off, one that’s very difficult to express. It depresses me that I want to escape the place of my birth. It is sad that my departure is a necessity (not just a want) in order to pursue my dreams and be well-trained in my field. I am upset – no, angry –  by the fact that there are so many things I am excited to run away from. So desperate am I to get away that I care little about leaving my friends and family behind once more. I wish it were different and Nigeria was normal and functioning, that I didn’t have to look elsewhere for an education, for peace and stability, for a life.

When I look at Nigeria, I wonder if we will ever get there.

 

Image|Runaway Bride|Source: buzznigeria.com

When I look at Nigeria, I want to laugh…and cry

When I look at Nigeria, I want to laugh and cry.  Like when the 2016 budget documents got lost, the most incredible mixture of emotions flooded my mind as I watched the ensuing soap opera that was more riveting than anything Telemundo and Zee World could ever offer.  If it were a film, I would have laughed my head out; but it wasn’t television.  It was real life.  Worst of all, it was my country.  How depressing.  Anyway, I did laugh hard with tears streaming down my face, pretending it was come Asian country far away.  When someone got arrested for naming a dog after the president, who still thinks this is a military regime, I did exactly the same.

But how can a place be so heart-rending and hilarious at the same time?  So annoying yet adorable?

When I look at Nigeria, I want to cherish it and detest it.  I love the blue skies, the birds, the flowers and trees.  I hate the smoke and fumes, the noise, the dust and litter.  I hate the days without electricity.  I love the hours spent with a good book, away from technology.

I adore the languages, the cultures, the art and colours everywhere.  I hate the shouting, the evil eyes, the showing off and the gra gra.  I am amazed by our innovation in the midst of adversity.  I am utterly perplexed by this underdeveloped mentality we have that I can’t quite put my finger on.

I admire the amusing boldness we have to do certain things; I can’t stand the rude audacity we have to do others.  I love the family, helping hands and sympathetic lamenters with their bottomless wells of advice.  I hate the gossip and the lack of respect for personal space and privacy.  Really, half the time I just want to rip people’s heads off; half the time I want to peck them.

Ahh!  When I look at Nigeria, I don’t know what to feel.

 

Image|Source: Nairaland

When I look at Nigeria, I want to be a doctor

When I look at my country, when I assess its perpetually sorry state and all its struggles, I want to become a doctor for Nigeria. I want to provide effective remedies for ailments that kill more than they should, and offer my services free for all. I feel like going back to school to study midwifery, and perhaps a few less children will die before they open their eyes.

I want to enrol at Law School on Victoria Island and be called to the bar. Eventually, I will become a fair, incorruptible judge. I want to be a police officer. Maybe I will be a commissioner someday and train up a selfless, competent force, pay and house them well so they don’t have to collect bribes.

I want to become an architect and design buildings that are environmentally friendly and won’t collapse with the slightest rainy season breeze. I want to be an engineer and finally fix that Third Mainland Bridge; to avoid the massacre that will come when it eventually gives way.

I want to be a teacher and perhaps secure a saner future generation. I want to be a farmer and run a kibbutz-style community, so people are well-fed, sheltered and have gainful employment.  I really want to create good employment, and be a fair employer. I want to be a boss at a top financial institution and give all my staff 4-day weeks and free medical check-ups, so that fewer of them die from stress. They will have paid maternity and paternity leave for a year and their jobs will be secure, waiting for whenever they wish to return.

I want to be the Minister of Tourism. With tourism, improved safety and security and better public infrastructure follow. I want to put us up on display for the world to see and celebrate our cultures, our languages, our vast history and diversity. I want people to dream of emulating our way of life the way they do Bali.

I want to be a philanthropist. I want to invest in people’s lives. I wish I had the means to sponsor our athletes, artists, archaeologists and historians; to fund key scientific research and watch the findings come to fruition and improve our quality of life.

Above all, I want to do all these things well, not for the sake of my pocket or for pride or to make a name for myself, but so that people finally live long, happy lives. I am tired of seeing unnecessary deaths, of seeing us take reckless risks with our lives, of hearing about robberies by people who are just hungry and desperate, of seeing the innocent trampled upon and the guilty praised.

When I look at Nigeria, I want to be a comfort and joy in this dark pit that is unattained potential.

 

Image|Source: 100r.org

 

When I look at Nigeria

Intro

My year-long episode in Nigeria is drawing to an end and I am drifting back to the UK for a year of research, but really I am realising that it’s just another year of postponing the future.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not afraid of the future. I’m just not excited about it.

I tend to be a lot more positive about the country while I’m away, mostly because people like to edit out the bad news from home. So look out for the upbeat figures of speech in my writing from September. Maybe this time it would be different and I’ll be more realistic because I’ve been here for long and not just a brief holiday as is usually the case.

I have learned a lot about myself and this country, and I find myself pausing in moments of reflection over the past year. I started this blog with the Straws on the Camel’s Back series, which detailed certain things I had been trying to get used to since arriving in Nigeria. Now, as I leave the country and resume a short but much anticipated life abroad, I find it fitting that I should start another series: When I look at Nigeria. I still don’t like writing in the first person and I hate writing about me; but I feel it the best way to express myself and connect with others. So I will be more personal and not my aloof self so that you can understand me.

This new series is about what I have learned and my current opinion of Nigeria.  It’s up to the reader to decide whether or not my sentiments for my home country have changed with time.

Look out for posts over the next couple of days.

 

Image|Source: RationalNigerian 🙂