Category Archives: Education

They Said Nigerians Don’t Read

I have been working  through some books lately, in which Nigerians “in general” (and you know how I feel about generalizations) have been criticized for not having much of a literary culture. People say Nigerians only mostly read Christian or self-help books, and news papers. Honestly, I cannot say that this isn’t true. It’s a terrible problem, made even more terrible by the fact that very few people actually consider it a problem.

I believe it starts with the way literature is taught in most Nigerian schools – to build up a catalogue of practically meaningless facts, rather than to grow literary curiosity and thought. I remember one of my literature teachers in secondary school very fondly – the one who did her research and actually seemed to know what she was talking about, not the lazy one who said “basically” at least twice in every sentence he uttered. Every time we talked about forms or genres, she would always say that an example of the epistolary form is “Mariama Ba’s So Long A Letter“. She repeated this phrase in this particular arrangement so many times, I can hear her voice saying it even as I type it.  Not, “So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba,” not “Mariama Ba’s novella,” not any other variation of that phrase.

This was a fact that I learned in order to pass exams. It was introduced to me as such, and it stuck. We never discussed the actual text and its merits as a distinct work of literature. I wonder now if my teacher had actually read the book, or if she was merely reeling off facts she herself had come across in her education. I had always assumed that she must have read it, but thinking back now to how she hardly said anything else about that text in spite of how often she mentioned it, or how she never had any other examples for the epistolary form, I wonder.

We can’t excel at things if we don’t teach them practically! We would have more literary curiosity if we taught literary curiosity and appreciation. We would have more sporting champions if we taught students games on the fields rather than in the classroom. Like, why on earth do I know the dimensions of a basketball court, the rules of scoring, and the history of the game, but I never touched a B-ball all my years in secondary school? Why did I learn about Cricket, and different kinds of sporting injuries? Just… why?

We did far more literary analysis in my CRK (Christian Religious Knowledge) class than we did in my Literature class. So, it’s no surprise that the students grow up to appreciate texts that expound on biblical teachings but not much else. Nigeria’s most read books seem to consist entirely of self-help self-published books. Bible is awesome and all, but literature is also essential!

Maybe people would recognize the fiction in newspapers if they were exposed to other forms of literary fiction. And maybe we would have more respectable Nigeria-based publishers if people had a home-grown appreciation. This way the best writers don’t have to pander to Europe/America and all the ideological pressures that come with that. If Nollywood can thrive, why can’t home grown literature?

Is “Shy Snob” a Redundancy or an Oxymoron? PART II

REAL FRIENDS

My friends (and I do mean friends…not acquaintances) are some of the most down to earth people I know. Here is why: If I can’t be honest in my words, emotions, and reactions, I usually won’t have much to say or express. And it takes a bit of time being around someone, and observing their reactions and interactions to speculate how well they will handle me being myself around them, and how much of that they can take.

You see, in any given hour, I can go from hyperactive, to cynical, to hilarious, to brooding, to infinitely excited, or I could be all that all at once. With my friends, I can express all this because I feel comfortable around them, and can do the craziest things when they’re my audience. It’s not because I think that they won’t judge me, but because I trust that they will still be my friends regardless (not frenemies or acquaintances that will politely endure my company).

Most importantly, I don’t feel the need to pretend to be something that I’m not, because trust me, I went through that phase and not only was it very exhausting, I wasn’t very good at it either – I could never keep up appearances long enough for them to count towards a new reputation in those secondary school years.

Secondary school social life was about trading the right people for gossip, and making the right set of friends (no real formula, but be close “friends” with at least one super popular, one super pretty, and one super smart person). And if you refer to my previous post, here, you’ll get the sense that I wasn’t particularly good at the trading the right info part either.

So, in college, I found the friends that worked, Instead of trying to re-tailor myself for the ones that wouldn’t. I learned not to beat myself up over the ones that didn’t stick, but to see it in simply empirical terms, if you will – not compatible.

It sure makes life a lot easier once you realize that not every friendship that doesn’t work out is as a result of any inadequacies you may or may not have. It also helps when you recognize that one has to envy or admire something about someone else in order to stay friends with them, because friends have to make you aspire to something.

Think about it: what do your friends make you aspire to? Beauty? Perfection? Chicness? Kindness? Popularity? Hilarity? Excellence? Intellect?

I can say that I’m neither shy nor snobbish – maybe, I can be a little more than reserved, and maybe a little timid on occasion (who isn’t?). But the real reason I cannot objectively answer the title question is that I don’t know a lot of snobs well enough: I’ve had very little chance to observe one closely. Maybe there are shy snobs out there, I can’t say for sure. But if you’ve managed to read up to this point, please let me know what you make of my musings – redundancy, or oxymoron, or maybe neither?

See the first part of this title, here!

Is “Shy Snob” a Redundancy or an Oxymoron?

One thing I have learned about myself is that, to people who don’t really know me well, I’m either a snob, a shy/reserved person, or a brooding loner – which somehow leads back to the snob part.

In recent years, it’s been a bit harder for me to blend into the walls. Although, I still manage to pull it off beautifully on occasion. But, these days people generally react to me more often than not: I’m the tall-ish girl with the good posture, I’ve been told.

And, the thing is, when people notice others, they are bound to form their opinions. I can’t know much of what others think of me – nor do I yearn to know – except they come right out and say it, or indicate their sentiments through words or actions, often unintentionally of course. However, from what I gather, especially from people with whom I have now been better acquainted, there is about a 50/50 chance that any opinion formed of me will either be of a shy girl, or a snobbish girl. The most common basis for either assumption being that they rarely ever saw me smile, and I never had much to say.

Take this story, for instance:

As a sixteen-year-old University freshman – being the farthest away from my large close-knit family than I had ever been and timidly trying to make friends in a country where the way I spoke was an accent, and people struggled to understand what I said almost as much as I did to understand them – this was perhaps the second most unpleasant experience I had in those first few months. One of the people with whom I thought I was becoming good friends – although I did wish I had more to say to her – confronted me to ask if and why I was being so snobbish. Apparently, she and her friends thought I considered myself above them, because I said very little and smiled not-frequently (the smiling part was largely a cultural difference BTW).

Now, why would she think “snob”? There are a lot of weird kids out there, who don’t smile much, and rarely have anything to say that wasn’t necessary. Yet, no one really thinks they’re snobs…most likely they’re just dismissed as weird. Simple as that. They might be called loners, hermits perhaps – but usually just regarded as strange. I have spent a lot of time trying to understand how it is that when certain people exhibit similar symptoms, some others perceive them not as strange little loners that take their time to warm up to others sometimes, but as snobs.

And I’ve come to the realization that there has to be an element of adoration or esteem, and a sense of a desirable but possibly inaccessible friendship, for one person to perceive the other as such, especially when the latter is in fact not. As much as I should be getting a bit of flattery from this realization, it only makes me sad – I’m still not sure exactly why, but when I’ve thought it through, maybe I’ll write a post about it.

Read the second part of this musing here!!

We All Know Those “Coy” Girls

A while back, a very heterosexual male friend came to me with a real problem; apparently some gay guy he had met was coming on too strongly, and had even convinced himself that they were meant to be. My friend was at a crossroads – should he keep laughing it off, taking it lightly and ever so gently letting this man down at the risk of leading him on, or should he just rip off the Band-Aid at the risk of becoming the ultimate jerk? When he asked me for advice, I had SO MANY techniques to suggest on how to shut down the whole thing, giving alternatives for each plan that might fail…I probably had a “Plan Q” or something. He was both shocked and amused when he asked why and how I had gotten so good at shutting these advances down, and it really got me thinking.

For most of my life, I have been taught, mostly indirectly and by observation, how to shut down advances. Attending a Christian Secondary School, where every other student had mastered the holier-than-thou way of life didn’t help matters much. It was all the girls ever talked about doing, if they were ever approached. I was that naïve, oblivious, and reserved little girl that observed and absorbed what people said and how the girls reacted in those dorm discussions, but had her nose stuck in too many books to notice all that was going on behind closed doors, and when night fell.

So, it was no surprise that  people were being very naughty and scandalous in boarding school and most of it just went over my head! I was stuck believing what those “coy” girls said, and how they behaved when there were other girls around. Coyness was an act that a lot of girls had mastered: an act that was probably only needed around un-approving adults and oblivious girls, and could easily be shed when a charming-enough guy came along.  It was often those girls who were “never” attracted to anyone, the ones who would “never” be caught flirting with some guy, or leading him on, those girls who would trash talk any guy, just to deflect any accusations of maybe being involved with him, and the very same ones who would shame another girl for being more outspoken about her more-than-platonic relationship. Looking back now, it was all so childish, but it was secondary school, and a Christian one at that…back then, these acts must have seemed very important to the ones who kept them up. It was a way of maintaining that pristine image that was expected of them.

Born out of a culture that strongly discourages public displays of affection, and deems it scandalous for a young-ish unmarried woman to know anything about sex or even dare to ask questions, this system is only logical. The expectation is that as a young woman, you remain, or pretend to remain naïve and oblivious until you are “ripe for marriage” (whatever that means) then you automatically become acquainted with all those topics that up until then were “beyond your ken.” Unfortunately, some of us don’t catch onto the “pretense” aspect of this whole system on time, and for some that ends in them being perceived as crass or abrasive or very flirtatious, for others it translates into a lot of naivety and obliviousness.

To avoid such egregious imbalance, it only seems reasonable that at some point in children’s lives, you actually sit them down and teach what you would like them to know in the way you would want them to learn. Around age 13 seems like a good enough age to educate them. At this age, a child is old enough that he/she definitely has some kind of knowledge about sex, and can hear about it without being utterly robbed of all innocence, but he/she is not old enough to be completely set in any misconstrued ideas about it, so a knowledgeable adult still has a chance of positively influencing their outlook.

Teach them what sex is about, and how it was created by God to serve a beautiful purpose, and how it should not be abused or misused. I personally think that a lesson like that, if done right, could be worked into one of those often tedious CRS/CRK (Christian Religious Studies/Knowledge) classes that most of us had to take in Nigeria. I really don’t see a lot of African parents seating their kids down to do all this, so it seems reasonable to teach this in school. Kids already learn way more in school than what the teachers actually teach, so we can either teach them the Godly way, or have them learn it in whichever perverted way the knowledge gets to them.

Maybe this way, we can save girls like me the trouble of being so good at saying “No” that they might not know how to say “yes” to a potential Mr. Right.