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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Friday, May 04, 2007

Turning the blade in. (long winded, takes no prisioner)

Two things that kill me about Nigerians. One, the insane search for Nigerian food once they step out of Nigeria even when they are returning to Nigeria the next day. The other is a similar lack of interest in the history, monuments, arts, culture and lifestyle of the places they visit. Now l know generalization is a form of intellectual laziness and there are many exceptions to this rule but most of those exceptions are not in government delegations. I have been to two Olympic Games, two world cup finals and several athletic meets around the world. When I'm lucky l get a company to sponsor a travelogue, other times l skimp and save to get there. Been doing this since l was 25. I am of course a failed athlete as l am athletic in build but never did any sports or exercised in my life until three tears ago. I love the unalloyed display of the great capabilities of the human body and spirit (not to mention the superb physiques on display, oh those swimmers' body) as well as the opportunity to experience other people, cultures, arts and life. At each and every such meet over the past decade and half l have noticed that most other Nigerians l run into especially those on government delegations neither attend the events nor have interest in anything other than shopping and whoring.

So it was that in 2004 we were surrounded with sports, culture, history, gastronomic excellence, and sensual stimulation of epic proportion in Athens but my 9ja brethren (ratio of 8 to 2) were usually to be found either eating pepper soup and haggling with human trafficked Nigerian prostitutes on the Idumota look alike, rather sleazy geroniom (renamed Nigeria) street or they were esconded with same at a certain island resort 45 mins from Athens. One such official mistook me for a Nigerian athlete and started to rub my knee under the table until l delivered a kick in the region of his groin. The plight of the Nigeria female athlete is a story for another day.Anyway, l thoroughly loved Athens, the hot weather, the beaches, the laid back sensual Mediterranean lifestyle, the food, the islands, the night life and of course the museums and the majestic Acropolis. Athens heaved with the living and the living dead but l couldn't find other Nigerians to experience it all with as most l spoke to did not share my fascinations for trampling around museums, flea markets,
restaurants, clubs and the notorious hedonistic nudist island mykonos. l therefore threw myself into experiencing Athens from a worms eye view all alone armed only with an expensive NIKON camera and a sun hat. Everyday l went from the different stadia to either the museums, the market district or the beach and by evening l ended up at the fabulous Psiri club district stumbling from jazz clubs to salsa clubs to hip-hop clubs high on nothing but adrenalin and the joy of being alive and of course incredible Greek cuisine which can still be bought at 4am side by side old couples holding hands right before l hail a cab to take me back to my apartment for a 3 hour sleep before l start again the next day. Not once did l feel unsafe as a woman on my own. Of course l had read about the seedier districts and stayed away from those but imagine a single young attractive female mostly in shorts and tank top, cavorting around town with an expensive camera slung around her neck in any part of Nigeria. It is one of the reasons l laugh when we begin to claim that we can hold such international competitions.

All of these thoughts came to mind recently when l was trying to explain how hostile the Nigerian environment particularly Lagos is to women, children and older people. It is hostile to all humans but especially hostile to the female humans. Once l was driving through Ebute Metta around 10pm and everywhere was dark as usual save for flickering lanterns from food peddlers near the mosque at Evans square. Most people had been scared off the streets by insecurity that is highly aided by lack of electricity. I remember Ebute meta of my childhood, where you can read by the street light at 10pm and there was hot tuwo to be bought at 2am on the way home from the cinema or disco clubs (ok so l was too young to do the club and cinema but l saw my sisters and their boyfriends go out with the afros and bell bottoms and longed to grow up so l could do same). That Ebutemetta is long gone, of the people on the street that night last week 98% were male. On any Sunday or public holiday, the spaces at street corners and under flyovers are taken up by boys playing football, no girls in sight. The question is where are the women? How do women (especially young poor ones) exercise, play or socialize in the city where you can't even walk? Think about it, how many public (where dem dey sef) office or even home toilets are designed with the woman's need in mind? When last weekend l, my designer friend Remi, married doctor friend Bose and young lawyer friend Tayo got dolled up and piled into one car around midnight to go dancing at LaCasa, it was the twitching curtains of our neighbours that reminded us of how unusual this was, of course our neighbours think we are either mad or immoral women going straight to hell. It is not only unsafe but not acceptable particularly with older or and married women. This is norm in many other places including Accra and Togo where young girls and older women dress up however they like and go out alone or in groups at night without fear.

I was transported back to my Athens experience when l saw the fabulous film 300 recently, in fact on the eve of the gubernatorial election. I sat there watching with mixed emotions. On one hand l was enthralled with the photography and the marriage of art and technology that went into the production. On the other hand l experienced the same eerie sense of awe l felt walking through the old plaka city and the Acropolis in Athens even as the story of the great brave Leonidas (my fav Belgian choc brand is named after him and the bods of the actors in that film was yummy), the Spartans and the Persians unfolded in cinematic beauty. The Greek myths, stories, gods and history would make great retelling in Yoruba. Imagine that scene where Leonidas kicked the Persian emissary into the abyss (cue KONGA's song "eju won si kanga", throw them in the well ) shouting this is Sparta! There are many parallels to that story and our current reality (as we have refused to leave 200BC in our mind). The paedophilic, immoral, amoral bribe taking spiritual elders, the patriarchal, sycophantic, easily manipulated state council, the preference of ceremonies over function, the strong but acquitisient women. The only thing we don't have or have killed are those great, passionate, thinking, strong Spartan warriors lead by a charismatic heroic leader. I sat and watched the film and l prayed to the universe for such a leader for Nigeria on that Night. However even more so l cheered at a scene that would resonate with most women in Nigeria and a scene l am convinced need to occur in Nigerian to lead a new reality. The devious prime minister
had trapped the queen into having sex with him to save her husband and the kingdom. As a woman, she had nothing to exchange for a chance to stand before the council and plead that they go against the advice of the bribe taking paedophilic (unknown to or unacknowledged by the people) elders and send in the troops to assist Leonidas and the 300 soldiers but her body which she humiliating did. On noticing that her words had begun to sway the council, he steps forward and accused her of adultery and whoring. Of course the council turns against her but instead of whimpering away in shame, she grabs his sword and impaled him to death spilling the bribe money he had himself received from the Persians along with his blood. This led the council to finally do the right thing. Look if you haven't do go and see the movie.

I, on behalf of all long suffering agreeable Nigerian women can tell you that we know how she felt, this society lassos you, reels you in and pulls you to the ground and then turns around to call you names. The average girl in Nigeria has even fewer opportunities to fully explore her physical, mental and creative capabilities; she is honoured for little else order than glorified slavery either to a husband, father, parents, siblings or society. Once she deviates from the norm or is forced to use the only thing (what is corporate marketing other than thinly disguised prostitution) society leaves her with, same society turns around and calls her a prostitute. Even the saintly education minister and former finance minister were called Baba's girlfriends. My question is, when will Nigerian women stop thinking that by being quiet, godly, wifely and unobtrusive, they will gain respect? It is only when we turn the blade in the flesh of the oppressor that all will know how we hurt and then we may be able to mobilize the young, the sane and even the reluctant by the sheer force of our refusal to bow no more to walk a new walk that might help build a society where a single female tourist can experience the beauty of our land and lifestyle without fear. A society where borderline statutory rape of minor is not considered cultural once the offending bastard offers bride price for the 13-year-old child.

Have a great weekend people and BTW,Mrs. Somebody you go girl, you can do it, l am watching and hailing you o.

Other pictures here


lolaojiks said...

Glad to be the first one on your blog. I love your post.

I totally get the part about Nigerians and foreign travels. Whenever, I go travelling to "strange places" (e.g. Malaysia, India), most of my naija friends (except the "overseas" based ones)often ask why. London or the US, they get (because of shopping) but they just can't comprehend the need to explore another culture and another country/city's history.

Anytime, I have tried to convince my visiting naija friends/family to visit a museum or historic palace in London. They mostly give me the "you must be nuts look" and ask what's in it for them as all they want to do is shop. I can't believe what they miss out on.

I really hope the future genrations will open their mind and explore more of what the world has to offer.

On the ladies travelling alone bit, a few years ago (after a successful solo trip to the NY) I got it into my head that i could safely visit Jos by myself. As you can guess, I had many close shaves and was very lucky to return home in one piece.

To summarise, I agree that women do need to take a stand but I think the society as a whole needs to radically change its thinking about the role of women.

Anonymous said...

Kai! O seun jare, your own go better pass. While Nigerians realise that there is a better quality of life out there, we seem to think that somehow we don't deserve to have the same. Your words echoed similar sentiments I feel when I find myself justifying simple acts of celebrating life to my 'conventional' Naija friends and relatives.

Me: "I'm going to Spain on vacation"
Friend: "Bring back better shoe and suits to sell o"
Me: "I'm not going to shop, besides I'm going to Barcelona to enjoy the beaches and surround myself with art, beauty and good food".
Friend: "Na u sabi. How on earth are you going to spend all that money on a ticket and don't bring goods to recoup? Abi we no get beach or food for Nigeria? You've come again with your 'oyinbo' wannabe self, na art you go chop?"

Good for you and your girls - married or not - going out on the town in spite of Lagos wahala, disaproving neighbours etc. And kudos to your friend's husband - 'I'm married' doesn't mean 'I'm dead'.

Thanks for your posts, I look forward to every fresh one.

Anonymous said...

are u my lost twin?
do they say u are a white woman in black skin too?
we have to gist..

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. We Nigerian women need to wake up and take control of our destinies in this country and not settle for the crumbs of the table that the useless men in Nigeria throw our way. We need to be less interested in Gucci bags and more interested in becoming CEO's et al. Funmi pls help spread the word we women need to empower ourselves in Nigeria, if the men will not give it to us willingly as in the western worlds then we should be prepared to take it by force. We have slept for too long while the men plunder our children's home.RISE UP NIGERIAN WOMEN, RISE UP FROM UR SLUMBER.

Unknown said...

Ah ah, Funmi, this is some long post, definitely born from lots of reminiscence. Where do I start commenting? OK, I feel you on the security issue, because even during the day, people are not safe talk of at night and ladies for that matter (hopefully all this will change with the new Government). Also, I believe women are gaining more prominence in the society today. Don't be surprised when in 4 years from now, we'll get female Governors.
Nice Pictures u took there, u obviously had a great time. BTW, you're looking darker in the pix than u look on TV... wetin happen now? Too much sun? and yes 300 - that movie ehn ... I'll describe it with just 1 word ... ehmmm... no such word exists yet!

Ms. Catwalq said...

About cultural immersions:

Any inclinations towards the fascination or interest in history or culture has been beaten out of us by the simple need for survival. How many people even know the real history of their tribes outside a mishmash of diluted myths. Our culture is handed down by word of mouth and so it can remixed at any point. The alphabets we use are derivatives of another man's language. How can we interested in another man's culture and landmarks if we don't have any of our own to instil in us that pride?

That is why we will continue to hold on to whatever elements of our culture we have...irrespective if they are backward or not.
I was fortunate to be raised by parents who schooled outside of this country. I grew up surrounded by music and books in Yoruba, English and French (which I neither read nor speak). My parents' friends were of the old ASUU ( you know before the government either crushed their spirits, bought their silence or had them shipped off to prison.

As a child, everyone told me I was bright and talented. i could speak well, could lie with a straight face so it was concluded that I would make a good writer or actress or both. Yet, when I grew up and said I wanted to study theatre arts, my parents thought i was pulling their legs. Somehow, I ended up in architecture and got into college.
After being introduced to another educational system where you were encouraged to try out many things till you found what you were good at, I tried to change to Fashion Merchandising. I was immediately shut down. I stayed with architecture and interior design.
Now, my mother is wondering when I will done with my five year programme and when I will get married and spitting out her grand children like a bilogical vending machine.

When you look at how many women are goaded on to "do whatever they want" by their families and then these same families turn around and put conditions on what the "whatever" can be, is it any wonder that they remain silent? Each time one rises up to be different, society slaps them down. If you are successful, it cannot be that you intelligently merit it, it has to be that you have earned it on your back or on your knees, especially if you are unmarried.

Don't speak too much. You will scare the men away. Go to school so you can bag an educated man. Study something good but don't take too long so that you are not on the shelf. Sometimes, I look at what future Nigeria offers me as a woman and weigh it against being an expatriate in another man's land.
But someone has to come and fight, and in my own way, I am doing what I can but we need women who have got the microphones of society to step up and speak on our behalf.

Ms. Catwalq said...

PS: I loved 300.
Have been in love with Gerard Butler since I saw him in Tomb Raider 1

Anonymous said...

Not trying to be an ITK but when you wrote geroniom you meant geronimo right? The three tears ago was a classic though

plenty palava said...

Na so Fumni, I gree with ya tori, but wetin Naija person wan do...many of us na hand to mouth we dey live. So wen opportunity come, na to pieces am with enjoyment. As 4 Naija women, thank God say people like you wey still dey carry ya head up still dey! Any way, we go survive!

Unknown said...

Well said on so many things. I had no intention of seeing 300 but having read your blog, I might just try it out. Thanks.


*sigh of relief* u would never guess the kind of looks i get when i tell ppl the countries ive been to, i mean how d hell would anyone expect me to go shopping in Australia? whats wrong with just going to walk on the sydney harbour or something???? but really i think younger ppl r starting to realise d joy in visting new places and learning more about culture and arts, well at least i am and a few of my friends too!!!! ive heard d line: *u should be white jo* everytime i announce d new cournty for d year or something, its crazy!!!

Funmi Iyanda said...

@ lolaojiks, smiling at you

@ sheri, yes they do o -:)

@ tayo, Athens in august is boiling and l was browned from scalp to sole. Loved it.

@Johnson, omo we! welldone.

@ catwalq, you must become who YOU want to be.

exschoolnerd said...

i love this post..i think u had a journal in one of the dailes about ur trip to athens which i read religiously..yeah i was expecting to read that u went shopping and all but was surprised that u actually took the time to explore the sights...which is something i'd actually do myself..wherever we found ourselves we should take the time to explore and find out more about the country their culture and not spend all our time shopping and whatnot.

i second anonymous..we women need to rise from our slumber...we have been asleep for too long.

ps: i like that picture

i've seen 300...i sorta liked it...i kinda liken the experience to a premature ejaculation....

bolaji said...

Climaxed when i saw this Picture- two of my favorite things (My King and Funmi Iyanda). Took about 5 minutes to get back to this realm then i moved the monitor to my self. Read it 3times since then.

Always wanted to globetrott but y'all just inspired i am starting with Ghana, getting my intl. Passport tomorrow.
300... my 300, nothing like it yet, they are so many things potrayed in the movie,standing up and sticking to what you believe as it was inculcated in you from birth, the positive power of your talk, selflessness, love, die hard spirit, confidence i could go on.
In fact i am going to watch it tonight.

Sistah Faith said...

Seems to me Funmi, that your sentiments are shared by quite a large group of naija sistahs... this tells me a couple of things- One is that we need to join together and form a reading group- sisterhood group etc...in the meantime, I've been struggling with moving back from NYC to Naija and you've pretty much summed up some of the reasons why most progressive, modern naija women feel like by moving back home, they'd be moving back in time to lose most of their freedom and their loves, light and independence.

Anyways, I love your energy and it warms my soul to know you're all out here... continue your journeys to be true to yourselves!

Anonymous said...

It is so funny Nigerians, My mother in-law thinks I'm crazy when i get dress and tell her I'm going to hang out at night in Lagos, one day i had to let her know, just because i made a decision in marry your son and giving him a kid don't mean i lost myself in.

Iyaeto said...

Nice one Funmy. and its actually true.My hubby enjoys his trips to new places. He went to Vietnam & Cambodia(via Bangkok) this year for 5 weeks alone visiting temples ,zoos and all.People think he's weird (they call him Oyinbo). He has been to South africa and its environs a 6 week camping trip with his rucksack and tent! He has been to Gambia & Senegal while I was chilling in 9ja.he doesn't see going to 9ja as been on holiday but stress.When I tell people that he's gone away on holiday, all they ask these days is "where is he going this time"?. It's good to travel and see the world.I've tried too. 'cos my dad asks me every year "where have u been this year"?
True.. 9ja is hostile to women and children. There was a time I went to 9ja on holidays and one of my friends accused me of not taking her out. My reply was that if you should go out with me your hubby would throw your things out ('cos I've seen the way the guy looks at me as if I'm a bad influence).People are so hostile that even when you're driving on the streets of Lagos, you get call an ashawo or your sugar daddy (aristo ) bought u a car 9 it's so annoying).9ja women should know how to enjoy themselves. Hangout with friends, have a travel buddy or two