“I detest being defined strictly by my colour…”
It’s time to leave the stage. The past year I kept you posted on the process of becoming Funke, about my experiences in this country. I told you about my love for Nigerian cuisine in general and moinmoin in particular; my baptism in Lagos traffic; the undeserved privileges I get for being white and how they make me feel; and about my heartwarming encounters with Nigerians, the reason I moved here in the first place. And the reason I am here to stay. But the outsider’s surprise at everyday (Lagosian) reality has worn off to be replaced by an attitude of survival in a place where a tinge of crazy seems to be integrated into every aspect of life. This last piece will avoid the many exciting Lagos issues and focus instead on some of the people who made me feel at home here. A boring topic, I know—except maybe for the big question on everyone’s mind. And so, to use a popular speaker’s phrase, without further ado . . .
To the readers of this column, first and foremost, I dedicate this piece. To the ones who granted me the privilege of shining a light on their country that I described as ‘very loveable, but not easy to love.’ I never minced my words and sometimes my analyses were harsh, but I think those readers understood that this came from an honest attempt to fully understand a place I care about. I also dedicate this piece to the readers who called me an ‘idiot oyinbo woman,’ who accused me of being a closet case Yoruba tribalist or denied me the right to discuss anything Nigerian on account of being a foreigner. (A confession: I had never really understood the meaning of ‘interactive’ until I started writing for Nigerian internet platforms, and I have since spent many hours reading the often interesting discussions sparked by my pieces.)
To Oka, who even when my plan to move to Nigeria was in its embryonic stage never dismissed the idea as bonkers. In countless drinking sessions on UI campus we analysed the differences in our societies, always coming to the same conclusion: that most of these differences can be bridged by communication (and some cold beers). I owe Oka for taking me seriously when I did not even dare believe in my own seriousness.
To my landlady: that goodhearted bully who insists on speaking Yoruba to me. She seems to think I will learn the language by osmosis and vows that I will speak it fluently within three months. She has been vowing this since last year September. She ignores my confusion when she explains in Yoruba why the water tank needs to be cleaned or where she wants me to hang my laundry, but eventually takes pity on me and downshifts into a mixture of English and Pidgin. She tries o. She even sang in Yoruba while beating the talking drum when my mother came on a visit to Lagos.
To those of my neighbours who do not call me oyinbo anymore. Whenever I walk around my Mainland neighbourhood and hear ‘oyinbo’ directed at me, I walk up to the speaker and say, ‘My name is not oyinbo. It’s Funke.’ Then I move on, leaving them with troubled looks on their faces. Now strangers in my area call me ‘Sisi Funke.’ They probably heard from the vulcaniser who heard from the lady who sells phone credit under the green-and-yellow umbrella who heard from the woman handling the copy machine across the street about this white woman with a Yoruba name. And I am grateful. I detest being defined strictly by my colour—just imagine a Nigerian walking down the streets of Amsterdam and being called ‘black’ at every corner. To be known by your name (or at least a derivative of it) is what makes a place your own.
To the lady selling moinmoin at the junction. She was on to my addiction pretty quickly, and every time I arrive home she waves an enthusiastic welcome. Whenever I visit her stall late at night and she has run out of moinmoin, she does not hesitate to reprimand me, shaking her head in disapproval. She always dashes me one extra piece of moinmoin when I buy many to store in the freezer. I feel bad for her though. Lately, my craving for moinmoin seems to have lessened: these days I don’t eat it more than twice a week. I guess I suffer from the ‘too much of a good thing’ phenomenon. Then again, getting used to the perfection of moinmoin with ice cold Ijebu garri might be a sign of true integration.
To Doris, a girlfriend in the true sense of the word, who taught me how to apply mascara and lip gloss at this late age and devoted herself to ‘babing me up’ but also taught me a thing or two about how to survive in the Lagos social jungle; to Yemisi, my self-appointed coach in all things career-related and with whom I hope to share many more Stars; to Sola, my guide through the turbulent process of finding a house in Lagos; and to Phemmy, the brilliant salsa partner with whom I dance off all the week’s wahala on Sunday night.
To Thessa, my one close Dutch friend in Lagos. I’ve come to realise that settling in a new place for good is not the same as paying a long visit. I used to look at expats with slight disdain, seeing how they flocked together and celebrated their own national holidays. But now I understand how being away from your birthplace makes you crave the things you used to take for granted. I am not going to become more Dutch than I was in The Netherlands, but it is priceless to have a friend here who understands my longing for Old Amsterdam cheese and whose cultural framework matches mine. As much as I want to integrate in Nigerian society, total assimilation has never been the goal. I will never become Funke entirely. There will remain parts of me many Nigerians will find hard to understand, like the fact that I do not believe in any god nor see homosexuality as a problem in any way.
And to Igoni. As it turns out, Nigeria is and will always be my home. Because it is where you are.
Talk to Femke on Twitter: @femkevanzeijl
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