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Oyibo nigerian naija calabar


“Oyibo Oyibo”, whenever I go out in the markets of Obudu or Calabar, I hear the call “Oyibo”, it means “White Man”, and around here they are as rare as a decent meal. It is, in the main, said as a term of welcome and an attempt to grab your attention, because in their eyes, a white man represents money and lots of it.

It is interesting to be a white man in Cross River State. Yes there are a few of us, but not really that many, and when I go somewhere like the market it feels like I am even rarer. But walking around a Nigerian market is quite an experience and even more so as an Oyibo.

Equally the kids of Calabar, are even more fascinated by the big Oyibo. They run over and just want to touch, they will talk to you, but in truth it always feels like they have no idea what you are saying or what you are trying to ask them, but then they will melt you with just a smile. And believe me when some little kid here smiles at you, it touches you, they are so cute and genuine. And just as curious about you as they are friendly to you. They also have a different word that Oyibo, they call you “Mbacara”.

But back to the subject of the Oyibo. One thing that has really impacted on me right from the start of my Nigerian adventure, is the reference to the colour of my skin. It is a weird, confused, form of racism. To me being judged simply by the colour of my skin is racism, that is the definition, in my view. And in Naija it is a positive form of racism. Just because I am white, an Oyibo, it means I get respected, revered even, far more than I deserve or am used to.

At times during my time in Nigeria I have found this colour thing more than a little annoying, frustrating, embarrassing, and seriously wrong. I may as an individual man, seen more, done more, but that does not make me more a man, or anything special. However here I get placed on this pedestal just because of my colour. It annoys me because if they place me higher, they are therefore placing themselves lower, and that is wrong. Of course if I earn that respect, then fine, maybe I deserve it, but from the first second you are up there for just one reason.

In my life here I have also seen a less pleasant form of this and that is the element of black on black division. Now this should not really surprise me so much, after all white on white is something I have experienced first hand. And maybe this will appear quite naive, but I was surprised by the aspect of black on black. As I work with, and regard as good friends, a number of Zimbabweans, I have seen how the Nigerians do not like them. Of course it is not everyone and in my view it is due more to an inferiority complex than the other way, but it has been something that did take me a while to get my head around.

So here I am, an Oyibo in Naija, a six foot three ugly Oyibo who lives a life of relative privilege, certainly one in comparison to most of those around me. I live with this thing about me that makes me a real individual and I know that after a few years of it, it will really change me, I know this because it already is, and it is becoming something really interesting to live through. Thank you Naija. 


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