Thursday, 25 June 2009

Force of habit

When did you last change the way you did something because of your environment? When I thought about any instances of noticeable change in my habits before I came to Nigeria, I really struggled. I remember that I fought hard against letting the word ‘leverage’ enter my vocabulary when I began to work at Accenture, but quickly became accustomed to working 12 hours a day (6 days a week) during my MBA at IMD.

I think the need to change habits is a function of choice. In London, very few customs are so entrenched that you really need to follow them. Indeed in London, society is so diverse that it’s hard to even identify specific local customs which one might adapt to: perhaps not speaking to people on the morning commute? So many conveniences are available that you can basically choose to do whatever you want, without having the environment dictate what you do. Whatever food you want to eat, what television you want to watch, what exercise you wish to take.

That’s not quite the case here in Nigeria and I started thinking about the things that I do differently, but habitually (and, might I say, usually happily) now that I am here. Here's a short list (and for those I will meet on my return - forgive my strange manners!).

  • Greeting everyone you pass (including total strangers): not to do so would be an affront (and if for any reason, you miss an opportunity to greet, you will invariably be reminded)

  • Using new phrases with ease for example:
    - “on” or “off” the gen (turn the generator on or off)
    - Climb a machine (get on a motorbike taxi)
    - NEPA brought light (the electricity came on). NEPA took light (you can work that out).
    - “He really tried” (he did a good job).... just to name a few
  • Happily taking a cold shower every evening as well as in the morning. This is such a habit that I forgot to turn on the hot tap on a recent visit to an Abuja hotel.

  • Staying (relatively!) calm when things are late or don’t go to plan. Any progress is good progress. The fact it’s not what was expected is not necessarily bad. Most of the time you can’t control events and everyone else knows that too
  • Asking questions completely directly – I have almost discarded British diplomacy: unfortunately politeness in terms of making a request merely confuses people. You need something, you ask for it.
  • Not switching the lights on: more often than not, it’s the (rare) click of the stabiliser in the kitchen, and if NEPA is powerful enough, hearing the hum of the refrigerator, that reminds us we have the option of electricity
  • Never watching television and not missing it: we don’t have a television – there’s not a lot of point. It’s fun to watch football or Top Gear when it’s showing on a TV across the bar at the New World, but otherwise I don’t miss it.
  • Drinking beer: when I was in London, given a choice between a cold white wine, a G & T, a red wine or frankly most drinks, a beer will come last on my list. Now all I ever drink when offered is Star. The leading local lager (and I don’t care what you Harp or Gulder fans say). And, warm, cold or positively hot – it tastes great!
  • Drawing the attention of bar staff by hissing. "Excuse me", "oi" are completely useless. A subtle hiss will be responded to across a crowded bar!
  • Eating only farm fresh vegetables and virtually no meat (the experience of buying meat is traumatic, killing it beyond our capabilities).

As I said, virtually no meat.

A plate of shingge (shingay) our neighbour Mr Shinggu (no relation) kindly offered us. This actually was the second time we've tried them and, with a crunchy delicate taste, a little like sweet pork, they really (and I know you won't believe me) are quite nice.

We haven't drummed up the courage for certain bushmeats... yet...

A neighbour prepares a bushmeat from the previous night's hunt for sale: apparently this isn't brugu (bush rat or grasscutter - apparently 'the sweetest meat')... although it looks like it could be to me.


Uncle Peter said...

God appetit

Anonymous said...

Hi Cicely,

I've just been offered a post in Kaduna with the Lifeline Education Resource Development Centre.

I found this link to your blog off google and I hope you don't mind me reading it.

If you could send me any information about working and living in Nigeria I would really appreciate it.

My e-mail is

Thank you,

Charlotte Harman

Anonymous said...

Hey Cecil,
I can't quite make out what it is you are eating - looks like a bee or some sort of bush fly - sounds very's the constitution? The bush rat however looks positively horrible so please don't be tempted.
All in all you look healthy so I am sure no one is really concerned - and you are always smiling so that's fantastic.
Bon apetite!