Similoluwa Akinmuda (Simi) joined A&F as a graduate assistant this summer, but before moving to Towson for graduate school she spent the first two decades of her life living in Nigeria. Below, Simi shares seven surprising things about growing up in Nigeria, including dressing alike for parties and why you compliment friends for spending money.
On growing up in Nigeria:
Nigeria is a beautiful, culturally-diverse country in West Africa, which is expected to become the world’s third largest country by 2050. I was born in Ibadan, a city with more than 3 million people known for cocoa production. When I was four, we moved to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, which is at the center of the country in a more mountainous area. But for most of my life I lived in Lagos, which is like the New York City of Nigeria. With approximately 21 million people, it is Africa’s biggest city, with lots of high rise buildings, flexible public transportation and a busy port. It’s also right by the Atlantic Ocean and has a number of beaches—I have been to 5 of them!
Nigerians are one of the happiest and most resilient group of people in the world. I think this is because we believe that ‘everything good will come!’ no matter the situation. This may also be engrained in the way we were brought up, you are taught the importance of hard work; you listen to the older generation tell you stories of tougher times and how things have changed. Then there are also many proverbs/folklores that encourage resilience, we love to party, we love good music, and we always find humor in everything!
On the importance of greetings:
In Nigeria, greetings are used to show respect. Growing up, I’d greet my parents in their room every morning as soon as I woke up. I’d knock on the door, go in, kneel and say ‘e kaaro sir/ma’ (which means good morning). We typically refer to elders and supervisors by their formal titles or we call them Aunty/Uncle so-and-so or even Mummy/Daddy so-and-so. It doesn’t matter if they’re actually related to us—it’s a show of respect. Also, if you have been sitting for a long time, Yorubas will say ‘ku ijoko’ (well-done on your sitting) or if you just had a great party, we will say ‘ku inawo’ (well-done on your spending) and so on.
On family heritage:
When I first moved here, I overheard someone say “I am from New York, but my dad is from Michigan,” and I was confused! In Nigeria, no matter where you’re born, you are “from” wherever your father is from. So, I was born in Ibadan, but I am from Ota. This is entrenched in our culture as we believe that ‘roots’ are important. In this way, nearly every Nigerian has a village (a clustered rural community, usually smaller than a town) they identify with. You follow your village’s customs, which means speaking their language, eating their traditional food, dressing in their traditional attires, etc. In most cases, you visit your village as well.
On grocery shopping & meal preparation:
You will never see a grocery store in a Nigerian village. Even in the cities, food is primarily sold in open-air markets. They typically sell meats, fish, grains, fruits, vegetables, and much more—some even sell electronics and household goods.
Because Nigeria has many ethnic groups, there are lots of different local and tribal dishes. One of my favorites is jollof rice, a one-pot rice dish with tomatoes, tomato paste, onions and spices. The dish is very popular in West Africa—there is even a #jollofwar on social media for who has the best jollof! Nigerian meals are typically very elaborate and very spicy. When I go to restaurants here I often ask for the spiciest dish, but it’s never compared to anything from home.
On dressing alike for social events:
Nigerians LOVE parties, and we find reasons to celebrate almost anything. We even have parties for naming babies, which happens seven days after birth. For weddings or special birthday parties, we have something we call asoebi – a type of fabric worn by most guests at a particular party. Usually a fabric color is chosen based on the color theme of party, so if there are two colors, the fabric worn will be one color and the gele (headgear for women) or fila (hat for men) will be the other color. The fabric is chosen by the honoree or the family, and they tell their guests so they can dress accordingly.
On community & child-rearing:
In the U.S., people are more private and protective of personal space, while in Nigeria everyone knows and is acquainted with everyone, as long as you have something in common—neighbors, work colleagues. There, if you meet a stranger with a cute baby it’s completely normal to ask to carry the baby for a while. Here, I don’t even talk to all my neighbors!
Living in the U.S. has been good, nothing is really the same, but I like the diversity, the fact that there are people from several countries in my class of 20. There is more freedom here, interactions between students and professors are friendlier. Adapting to life in the U.S. was not really challenging for me because I had been here a couple of times before I came here for school, and Towson’s International Students and Scholars Office helped me adjust during my first few months. As I begin my second year in Towson, I am particularly excited that I will be working in this Division, meeting more people and gaining work experience.