With my Hero bicycle and Nigérian haircut I am now relatively well integrated into the life here; I drink tea with the guard in the morning, I wave at people as I fly past on the Hero, I exchange pleasantries with the hospital guardian about the relative merits of bicycles and camels…and so forth. The haircut is, from my perspective, fantastically unattractive. I found the coiffure on the advice of the octogenarian guardian of the warehouse – I asked for the best hairdresser he knew who used scissors. My coiffure Suleyman certainly did have a pair of scissors, but he used them only to cut off any loose straggly hairs after shaving your head with clippers. So, whether I like it or not, I seem still to be collecting terrible hairstyles from around the world. Yet I do reckon that the people here appreciate a shaved head more – it makes more sense to them than the floppy effeminate hair I previously sported.
Beyond these fairly superficial stylistic modifications, I have not made that much effort to participate in the life of the community here. I’m not sure what you have to do to make a friend. Perhaps learn Haoussa. It was easy in Kenya, working in a small team with the same people every day. Perhaps this will come with time. I need to drink tea. Eat Inyam. Find time for something other than work.
Life at the hospital for me is still all consuming. There is plenty to do, and there is always the risk of neglecting a crucial part of the supervisor’s role – the informal chitchat with everyone. This is especially important in the Nigérian culture, where time is spent chatting and drinking tea and enjoying the ‘fraicheur’ – the pleasant cold-season, where temperatures rarely exceed 35 degrees. This at least I have mastered – the greeting ritual, which consists of a series of six questions: the well-being of the other person, his work, the house, his wife, the ‘fraicheur’ or the ‘chaleur’ depending on the season, and (curiously) the fatigue. However, this exchange takes only 30 seconds, and you can’t impress people with this indefinitely. At some point I’m going to have to stop relying on haircuts and bicycles and basic greetings, and instead learn to communicate