A lot of my friends are oyinbo (white) but I have friends from other cultures too. One of my closest friends happens to be Serbian and from the moment I met her over 12 years ago, she has always gotten me involved in her culture: at dinners her family would host, they would have just as many Serbian dishes as Canadian dishes. I hate trying new food sha so I would generally avoid the Serbian dishes. There’s a certain celebration called slava they celebrate and I am invited every year and expected to greet them with Srechna slava! or “Happy Slava” when I see them. I have absorbed/learned a few Serbian words from hanging out with my friend. Since they follow the Orthodox calendar when it comes to holidays, their Easter and Christmas is always a week behind the current calendar and this is something I know.
When she got married, I was the maid of honour and I said five words in my speech in Serbian: “Unfortunately, I don’t speak Serbian”, and the crowd went wild that I was able to speak that much.
(I know what you’re thinking: is this a Serbian blog or a Nigerian blog? I’m getting to my point though, I promise!)
I am the opposite about sharing my culture with my friends. When I go to Nigerian parties, I never invite my friends because I think they’ll find the concept of Naija time lame (it irritates me sef, why would someone else put up with it?!), they’ll hate the food and they’ll find the event too loud, crowded, and disorganized (maybe this is just how the events we’re involved in are here o! I’m not saying Nigerians can’t throw swanky affairs!). Their senses may also be assaulted by folks who bathe regularly but don’t believe in wearing deodorant.
(And yes, I went there. Is it only me who notices this? I know for a fact that Nigerians are very clean people: as children if you didn’t properly bathe yourself you had to go back into the bathroom and do it again but wearing deodorant regularly? This is not yet a habit of all Nigerians. I think it should be.)
Back to the topic: basically all my friends know about my culture is:
- GNG is Nigerian
- GNG goes to these “Nigerian parties”
- GNG (and others) eat a lot of food that is deep fried
- Nigerians are generally loud (I think they have made this assumption because when they call my house it always sounds like there’s a war of words going on, even if people are just asking each other how their day was)
and I feel bad about it because I am responsible for their lack of knowledge. I love being Nigerian and I know the culture is very rich. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know a lot of it, but I love:
- how Yorubas show respect for their elders (kneeling, dobale)
- the music
- people’s names and how full of meaning they are
- the naming ceremony for children when they are a week old
- dancing, and how so many of the women our mothers’ age can dance the entire night away while I’m begging for mercy after 15 minutes
Only once have friends of mine witnessed some of my Nigerian culture. When my mother turned 50, we held a party for her. It wasn’t a strictly Nigerian party, but there were a lot of Nigerians there. I didn’t want to tell any of my friends about the event, but finally I told the Serbian friend I mentioned above. She was so excited to be invited and she and her fiancé were happy to come. They had a great timeâ€”loved the beautifully patterned clothing the Nigerians wore, the music and they enjoyed the food too. It was funny because the girl kept asking how to make certain things (chin chin, dodo, akara, puff puff), and each one had the same basic instruction (deep fry it!).
The problem is that I have always compartmentalized these two aspects of me: the North American part and the Nigerian part. I do my “Nigerian stuff” with the Nigerian community, and when it comes to hanging out with my friends, I keep my cultural background out of it. When asked, I’ll talk about Nigeria but when it comes to bringing Nigerian food to potlucks or parties that are oyinbo, I never do it. When it comes to sharing the latest Naija track that I can’t get enough of, I hesitate. Even though my parents regularly share aspects of their culture with people and have only received enthusiastic responses.
I think this separation that I have imposed between things I do that are Nigerian or not may be why I feel like I’m caught between two cultures instead of blending into that person who easily accepts both sides of the coin that is her.
For those of you living where Nigerian culture isn’t the reigning culture, how do you share your culture or introduce your non-Nigerian friends to your culture? Is doing this a priority for you? Have I overthought the matter?