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African Journal #4: Sala'am Alla'am

Posted Dec 12 2008 4:30pm

April 4, 2008

#4: Mythbusters & Discoveries

It’s so incredibly hot right now with the sizzle from the hot desert afternoon sun that it’s become unbearable to just sit around by myself in my dark bedroom counting the hours until there’s a spark of electricity and I can get back to my cool as a cucumber routine and be able to do several errands online while the air conditioning blares on. But right now, the only thing I could think of doing was sitting at my desk typing away as the laptop charger whittles down from an hour’s worth of energy to none and get in some free-thinking journalism Coco style. Zach’s gone off to the internet café where they have cool air conditioning, running electricity and delicious mineral (they call it soda in the States)… while I’m here in the house all by my lonesome. No point in paying for more internet hours while I have my own system at home.. which doesn’t run when the electricity’s off, pfffttt.

Last night, Zach, the school’s principal Umar, and I took our out of town guest, Liz Gupta of VSO Nigeria, out for some grub at the Mami Market by the military base. Liz’s my VSO supervising officer, so she was in town to do a checkup as part of a routine she will be repeating every two months to ensure that my placement is going along effectively and my safety is of top priority.
The fish we had was incredibly spicy, covered in pepe (the spiciest Nigerian pepper). Liz and I could not stop breathing as if we had severe asthma with some spontaneous laughter and overflowing tears in between. The tough guys kept at the skins while I had to wash my burning tongue out with some ice-cold Star beer.
I had an interesting discussion with Umar, who is Muslim himself, about a variety of things associated with the Islamic law in which Kebbi State governs itself, and the Islamic religion that is practiced by nearly 75% of the population in Birnin-Kebbi. Umar stressed that many things we hear about Islam and its people outside of their religion are mostly propaganda, falsehood and myths. For instance, when I arrived in Abuja, someone told me these following shockers: if I was caught with alcohol in my hand on the street in public in a Sharia state, my hands would be cut off; if I was caught with any drug paraphernalia, I would be placed in jail for my entire life! Umar assured me that there are several Muslims who drink alcohol, and that it was a complete falsehood about chopping off hands of law violators. People who desire to drink alcohol may do so, they usually come to the Mami Market, where Sharia law is not applied, and drink a few, even buy some bottles to take home. It is not encouraged to drink in public, as it displays respect for many Muslims who choose not to drink. For Muslims who do drink, the religion is not vindictive when it comes to discipline, rather, it encourages Muslims to avoid drinking alcohol; but when they do consume some, it is advised they do not come to pray during the five times of prayer in the day after. Muslims can drink during celebratory ceremonies, it is not taboo in their religion as many non-Muslims think.

As for drugs, while a variety of substances may bring harsher punishments in America such as jail time for possession, in Kebbi State, if caught with marijuana or a softer drug, the police usually demand some thousands of Naira (1,000 N = $8.50 USD) and then let you go. That’s it. But if you continue to abuse it, then there might be harsher punishments.

Later on in the night, I was feeling a little sore from having pulled a muscle in my lower back earlier in the day, and electricity wasn’t running and we were out of clean water so I had to boil some water to fill the water filter tin and go to my sauna bedroom and try to sleep. On the way from the kitchen to my bedroom, I had completely forgotten about the box with the new A/C on the floor in the hallway and I tripped, dislocating my shoulder. Oy vey! Thankfully, I brought my black sling in case these things happen so I put it on to restrain my left arm from being displaced again. It marked the 16th time that my arm had disassociated itself from my shoulder, they have a love/hate relationship indeed!

Guess what? I’m thrilled to announce I dropped a whopping 20 lbs in my first month here in Nigeria – that is how hot the country is, I’ve continuously broken out rivers of sweat and downed hundreds of large water bottles to replace the lost water in my body, as well as eating small portions since I felt full immediately from the searing heat. I have hooked up with a physical therapist in town and he has this small gym – I became a member on Thursday and look forward to the miracles Sanjo can perform!
Me frustrated with the high-starch foods here. The cheapest and most common foods we could get here in Nigeria would be rice, rice, rice, potatoes, enriched white bread, pasta and more rice. When we go to restaurants, usually they have four choices: white rice, fried rice, jollof (spicy) rice and semovita (mushed rice). I prefer jollof or fried rice but sometimes I choose to have some chunks of beef with Nigerian-style salad (chopped lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, baked beans, egg with some kind of white cream). Then there’s the Top Ramen that is easy to cook and affordable and that’s what Zach and I usually have for lunches. I’m getting wary of starches, and with the limited choice of vegetables and protein out there, I have to focus more on portions of veggies rather than high-starch foods. A while ago, our Hindu-Muslim friend, Sadit, brought us to a delicious bakery not far from my home – Oasis Bakery – and they serve many delicious desserts, French loaves, cookies, meat pies, chicken or beef burgers, andddddddd wheat bread???? One huge loaf costs 100N which is around 80 cents! So I’m deliriously happy and munching on wheat bread for breakfasts or having wheat sandwiches with tuna. Mmmm. I surely took healthy foods in America for granted and when I return I’m going wild on these herbs, organic foods, plenthora of green veggies and of course wholesome oranges and cheap apples! Apple by individual price cost 100N – a small apple has the price of a huge wheat loaf?? Could be a rip off or it could be the market price as in the desert it’s impossible to grow apple trees so they are imported from the South so hence higher prices.. maybe.

Have mercy, I stink! Skipped the shower this morning to sleep in a bit and wash the dishes (even with my injuries) and a lazy afternoon – so I’m going to lug a heavy bucket full of tank water with my good arm and give myself a good scrubbin’. There is no running water for showers & sinks here, so we have a medium sized scoop bowl for washing ourselves, and we use fresh bottled water for brushing our teeth. I’m used to this routine, but look forward to the day I have a long, relaxing bath with a glass of Merlot and delicious baked Ghirardelli brownies. A cold, running shower sounds so good and heavenly right now but I’ll settle for a scoopful of warm water with some cockroaches sitting by the sidelines having a good peep show!

One more thing before I close off – please do not believe everything mainstream media tells you about Muslims – ask one, talk to one, experience their religion for a day and you’ll be surprised that most of what you hear is false. Umar said there are many different sects of Muslims and that they have different ways to worship Allah and how to behave, think and talk. Come to Nigeria – especially a Sharia state – and see for yourself that they’re not that bad! I think they’re cool, actually.

Tactile love,

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