16 January 2007 (University of Ibadan Campus, evening)
Efe and I arrived in Ibadan yesterday. What a different place this is, compared to Benin, compared to the Delta. Ibadan sprawls out over several hills and valleys. It is densely populated and the energy here is very different from Benin: more cosmopolitan than provincial, more built-up (paved roads, old Yoruba-styled architecture – 2-storied buildings with large, fettered windows and thick pillars) police functioning less as bullies than as officers of safety, and business transactions taking place all around…constantly. Strikingly, I hear Yoruba spoken more than I hear English or even Pidgin. In fact, just in the couple of days that I’ve been here, my own recollection of Yoruba has improved a bit. It’s a different reality altogether.
Both Efe and I are new to Ibadan, so navigating it has been an edgy experience, packed with adrenaline. Otite, our older cousin, owns a photo lab just opposite the main gate of the University campus. He promised to set up accommodation here, and he led me to believe he had a place all set up before I arrived in Nigeria. This has turned out not to be the case. So, Efe and I spent the rest of the day scrambling to find a hotel to stay at. The other American Fellows have been given a guesthouse on campus, since they are all based at the University of Ibadan (UI). I had asked if there was room for us at the house, as a back-up plan to Otite helping us find a hotel. It is now the plan, at least for tonight. I have to think through finding a place to stay for the three or so months of research at the Nigerian National Archives (they are located on the Ibadan campus). My anger and frustration at Otite is very high at the moment.
I have come to accomplish several things in the next couple of days. I am going to attend a conference, hosted by the UI History Department, on behalf of Obaro Ikime, a retired historian who has worked on ethnicity and intergroup relations over the past several decades. Hopefully, I can get the ball rolling with the Department for a secondary affiliation here, since the UniBen affiliation is turning out to be a disaster. Formal affiliation will facilitate getting access to the archives, and may help with getting accommodation on campus. I would also like to get to know the other American Fellows.
My American cohort lives in a large three-bedroom guesthouse tucked deep in the campus. It has a large kitchen and two bathrooms, regular electricity, and running water. They even have a vacuum cleaner! (Trust me, this is a rare thing in Nigeria.) I am touched with a wee bit of jealousy. Had I made a mistake by basing myself in Benin? Ah, I can’t allow myself to think of that now…
The Ibadan campus is very vibrant. There are new buildings going up all around, old ones, built to last in the 1950s in a modernist architectural style, are freshly painted with all the windows intact. Students stroll leisurely through the thoroughfares, which look well kempt and clean. The classrooms and lecture halls are active. This is starkly different from UniBen. Granted, UniBen is just this week resuming classes, it still feels like a broken down, defeated place. It is a shell of what it used to be. My former primary school looks like an abandoned ranch out in the middle of nowhere. Some of the classrooms are missing roofs and windows; the desks are rusted out and warped; the paint has been peeling for years. Walking by the chemistry lab at UniBen, one has to wonder how any learning takes place in there: the halls are dark, the windows bare and open, the counters are warped and incomplete, with grossly inadequate equipment, much less running water. The state-of-the-art auditorium that was built in the 1980s, in which my mother staged musical productions for packed audiences, has now been converted to a registration hall and computer lab. The top floor of the Arts and Humanities block is completely abandoned: rooms emptied with stacks of papers collecting dust, in rooms of broken furniture and broken glass. I could go on. I constantly wonder how these students learn in such an environment.
UI presents a different scene. Some of the difference has to do with having more active alumni. Another big factor has to do with the fact that its reputation has held up over the years, and scholars from around the world still travel here to do research, teach, and attend conferences. The Nigerian National Archives are also based on this campus, adding to the activity. There is the more visceral feeling that Yorubaland is just a bit more organized, generally, than the Delta.
Back to being here in Ibadan… I am now a month and a half into my stay here and have very little research accomplished. The frustration is mounting, and while I am too caught up in the whirlwind reality of this place to feel real depression, I am definitely growing anxious. The wait is tiring and I wonder if I am doing enough to move things along. I am desperately homesick. Let’s hope things pick up soon…
Postscript (the next morning…)
Efe met me this morning to tell me that his iPod, perfume, and a bit of cash were missing from his bag. We left our overnight bags in Otite’s back office to step out for a bite to eat when we arrived yesterday. We couldn’t have been gone for more than half an hour. We assumed his office was safe. Madness. We’ve just informed Otite of the missing things; he’s now on the warpath with his staff. Hopefully someone comes forward. I feel so bad for Efe.