‘Listen Mr. Van’, the people say to me in Nigeria. Because that’s what many people in Africa might call me: ‘Mr. Van.’ Which makes perfectly sense because one might get lost in the three words in my last name and the four first names in my passport, amongst which not even the name Marc, which I am intended to be called. Confused customs staff is quickly satisfied when declared it’s a tribal thing.
So ‘Mr. Van’, the people say to me, ‘the good thing of the recession in our country is that people go back to farming.’ And I learned to agree in the Nigerian way by giving them a humble: ‘Thank you sir.’
But after a week I also learned Nigerians not only approve in an utmost friendly way and are able to use an overwhelming approach of appreciation; they also like to discuss ferocious, nearly aggressive.
I was almost in shock the first day in the crowded streets of Lagos. When people on the middle of the street were shouting loud towards each other’s. ‘Oh my God’, I thought. ‘The people back in Holland are right by warning me. Those Nigerians really are aggressive!’ I was up to call the police, was it not that I seemed to be the only one in the street who even took notice of the incident.
After an Okado almost killed me and a truck past between me and the scene, the very same two guys were still on the same spot seeking support from each other not to fall while laughing out loud in an extreme expressive way I seldom have seen before. And with a snap of the fingers they again were in a fierce verbal fight.
The shock passed, but I was still puzzled: What kind of people are those? But it didn’t take more than two days to discover Nigerians are just more expressive than any other people in the world. They enjoy to squabble uncompromising about politics and they do appreciate a fierce verbal fight for getting a bargain. It’s not most Nigerian people who like to battle verbally with force, it’s all of them!
It might be one of the reasons Nigeria is so much misinterpreted in the rest of the world. I can imagine western people who were already nervous to go to this country, because of the negative image of the West-African country they were confronted with at home, lock themselves in their air-conditioned hotel room and take the earliest plane back to their home country to tell the people: Nigeria is really dangerous! Those people are aggressive. They may kill you!
Nigeria is not for weenies. I visited some Dutch people who do business in Nigeria. Some for five years, one for 50 years. Those Dutch people had at least one thing in common: They were all very strong characters. And they did like the Nigerians for their openness, their honesty and their sense of humour.
So after agreeing in a humble way with people who say to me ‘Mr. Van, the good thing of the recession in our country is that people go back to farming’, I like to shout at them ‘But you should not say ‘go back to farming!’ Farming is the future! You don’t go back. You go forward!’. That’s what I say to them. I’m telling you!
But with that point I won’t get a true Nigerian debate. All I received was a typical humble: ‘Thank you sir.’
© Marc van der Sterren | Farming Africa