On Pidgin


Pidgin English, according to Wikpedia, is actually a general term for the many variations of Pidgin that are derived from English. Many different countries have their own version of Pidgin, and of course there will be some overlap in words and phrases, particularly among regions that are geographically similar.

To read more about Nigerian Pidgin (also referred to as “broken English”), check out the wikipedia page, and dare to correct it if you see any errors.

I wasn’t exposed to Pidgin among young folk until 2005. Up until that time, I lived in a blissful world where the only thing I had to master in order to be comfortable speaking with other Yoruba people was the Yoruba language. I worked to master my numbers and the alphabet (yes, I’m in my late 20s and I was learning these things a mere five years ago, in 2003) and short phrases, and I paid attention to my parents’ conversations to improve my vocabulary. My grandmother visited in 2004 and since her knowledge of the English language is limited to a handful of words, we spoke with a mixture of Yoruba, gestures, a few English words and what I found out later was broken English.

I joined a Nigerian forum in 2005. Since there were Nigerians from many different parts of Nigeria represented on the site, I didn’t think I would be able to communicate in Yoruba with all of them. I soon saw that no matter the origin of the members, it seemed that not only could they understand each other, but they were using the same “language”, with English words I recognized and other words that I did not. That language of course was Pidgin.

Pidgin English is not easy to master as my untrained eyes (I was reading the words off the computer screen) discovered. I soon came to understand (I think: don’t be too harsh in correcting me!) some basic greetings:

  • How you dey? (How are you?)
  • Wetin happen/Wetin dey happen/Wetin shele? (What’s happening/What’s going on?)

their possible responses:

  • Body dey in cloth. (literally “Body is clothed”, a way of saying “All is well” or “It’s all good”)
  • I dey kampe. (I’m doing fine/good.)

and some other expressions that would crop up too:

  • Yarn, yarning (Talking)
  • Chop (Eat)
  • Throway face (Snub, ignore deliberately)
  • Haba! (Good grief/Oh my goodness)
  • Toast (Court a girl)
  • Na wa o. (Oh man/Oh my goodness—but in a relaxed, not panicked/freaked out way/Wow)

That last one is one of my favourites and as I got ready to travel to Maryland in 2006 to meet some members from that forum, I drove my mom and sister crazy at the bus station by continuously uttering Na wa o!. I like it because it’s just the perfect expression for situations where you can’t believe what you’re hearing and want to make a comment expressing that in a way that also conveys a sort of weariness with the world we live in. I think I’m a pro at saying it, yet of course, I’ve never had an opportunity to use it.

To this day I still struggle to understand exactly what people are saying when they speak in Pidgin. It’s kind of like when you read a book full of big words: you may not be able to understand each individual word but in the end, you get the general idea of what is being said and what the individual words must mean based on their context. Now that reminds me of another Pidgin word, gist. To me, before Pidgin, “gist” meant the main point of something, usually a story, or lesson that is learned. In Pidgin, gist is another word for conversation or even gossip, ala “Ooh, I heard you were there when Tunde and Kelly broke up…oya give me the sweet gist!”

There are some words that I thought were Yoruba words but according to my resource* on all things Pidgin are actually Pidgin words:

  • gbadun (to enjoy)
  • wahala (trouble)
  • oyinbo (Caucasian or English)

I could go on and on about this but instead, I’ll give you some quick homework:

Please give me one or two Pidgin words or phrases that I must know and let me know what it means and when I’d use it.

*Babawilly’s Dictionary of Pidgin English Words and Phrases


I had a doctor’s appointment this morning and when I got there, the receptionist had me fill out a sheet since this was my first time visiting this doctor. Then she had to enter the information into the computer system.

I handed her my health card and she asked me which of the names was my surname. I pointed it out and as she looked at it, she exclaimed “Wow!” and asked how to pronounce it. We repeated this with my first name, and she asked if people refer to me by the first part, Ola. I said no, that they actually use the last part of my name and she said ok.

Then she said that she didn’t call me to remind me of my appointment because my name was too hard to pronounce, and she didn’t want to try saying it, so she had hoped that I would remember to show up, and she was glad that I did.

I was a bit apalled that she wouldn’t even try. I mean those of you who have complicated (by North American or UK standards) names are used to having your name butchered by non-Nigerians who try to pronounce it, and that’s not a big deal because to a non-Nigerian our names are complicated. I appreciate anybody who tries, and have no problem correcting them if needed. As you know I’ve even North Americanized the pronunciation of my name so chances are good she would have said it exactly as I would expect her to.

So, I was a bit annoyed that if I had forgotten about the appointment which was made a few months ago, I would have had to pay the fee for missing an appointment because she didn’t call to remind me (to their credit it’s not their obligation to call, but all doctor’s offices do).

I should have said something like “You could have at least tried!” or “It’s no big deal; I would have known who you were referring to.” but I didn’t. Maybe next time she’ll try, now that she knows how to say it.

After some back and forth indecision, I decided to delete my account on all the dating sites I was on. While I’m sure that eventually I would have been contacted by a guy who wasn’t a felon, a fat fetishist or over the age of 40, I didn’t want to grow old waiting for him. Instead, I’m going to focus on networking in person and getting physically foooiine (to use commenter Oya’s terminology), so that I’ll be able to slay men in person as well as online (should I choose to return).

While it was easy as pie to delete my profile entirely from one site, the other site, Afrointroductions, doesn’t actually let you delete your profile forever and ever. Your nickname and details remain there, but in deactivated form. My guess is they do that so they can say to the next suckers people who want to register for the site that they have X zillion members. Even if your account is deactivated, I imagine you still count as a member, albeit inactive.

(Me, bitter? Naaah.)

So, I changed all my details. I am now half my actual weight and I’m not Naija anymore: I think I come from St. Lucia now. Don’t worry about anyone contacting me; the account is deactivated. I’m back to hoping that Naija parties and weddings (none of which I am invited to this summer) will yield some interesting prospects and if they don’t, I’ll always have my Naija wedding sites to fall back on.

And when I finally get a car and I’m ready for a road trip south of the border, I expect you Yankee-based Nigerians to hook me up with your brothers, cousins, and friends. We’ll call it the GNG Dating Tour, and I’ll make stops in every city a blogger lives in. I’ll keep you posted on the details.

Naija reunions


While we’re on the topic of (me) networking with fellow Nigerians, something that I haven’t found particularly easy to do in Canada, I want to talk about Naija reunions. Back when I was on a US-based Nigerian forum, I would hear about reunions that were happening, usually in the DC/Maryland, Texas or Georgia areas, and these events always seemed to be the “it place” to be. (Do they have these reunions in Jand too?)

I’ve never been to such an event before, so I have the following possible misconceptions about them.

Naija reunions are actually about meeting former classmates from Naija
I’m not sure why, but I always look at these reunions as a way for people who went to school together in Naija, be it secondary school or university, to meet up again. If you didn’t go to highschool or university in Naija, you’ll feel a little out of place, like someone told a joke seconds before you entered a room and you missed the punchline.

It’s a meat market
People go to pick up and be picked up and hook up (both temporarily and something longer lasting). I’m pretty sure I’m right about this, and I’m not complaining because it would be cool to go somewhere where there are lots of other Nigerians…it would certainly increase the odds of finding an appropriate somebody (depending on what you’re looking for).

There will be lots of pretension (and flossing, and balling…)
If I’m looking to meet a normal guy, one who’s even a bit geeky, I don’t know if he’d attend a reunion; the same goes to making some female friends who aren’t all about being seen and noticed by everyone. Maybe only super duper party peoples go to these reunions, and for every normal, down to earth person there, male or female, there’ll probably be 25 people who are totally putting on an act for the purpose of the event. I want to meet real people who aren’t afraid of being themselves.

I wonder if Nigerians who were born and raised abroad, or who have never even visited Nigeria go to these events, or if it’s really for the born and (at least partly) bred Nigerians. I guess as long as you bring a posse of friends with you, you’ll be fine.

If you live in the USA, the upcoming reunions I’m aware of are:

NRC Reunion – Baltimore, Maryland – July 3-6, 2008

Dejavunet – Atlanta, Georgia – July 4-7, 2008

If you’ve been to a reunion or know someone who has, let me know what they’re really like. Are you attending either of these or another reunion altogether? Have you been to a reunion and decided never to go again?

It would be cool if some of the Naija bloggers who are going had a blogger meetup!

I live in a part of Canada that doesn’t seem to have lots of Nigerians milling about. “Seem” is the operative word, as I’m sure there are Nigerians around: after all, we have two Universities here (we all know how much Nigerians love education!) and we’re the capital of the country for goodness sake! Surely that means one or two drop dead gorgeous intelligent and fun-loving Nigerians may have chosen to settle in my city instead of heading to TO, the big city?

I’ve thought of a few ideas to entice these Nigerians to come out of hiding and get them interacting with one another but I don’t know if they would work. I’m no networker so my ideas are more informal, get to know you events which would hopefully grow from that. Networking seems to be a bigger deal in the UK or the USA, and the one reunion in Canada that I heard of doesn’t seem to be doing anything this year (so far) which is a real shame because I would have gone this year for sure. We need an associations or group for young Nigerian professionals in Canada who want to get to know like-minded people (and if a little matchmaking happens too, I won’t complain!).

Of course, the solution is to start a group if I feel that such a group is missing but that’s pretty daunting. I can be pretty shy in person and while I have ideas, I’m not sure I’m ready to be the one in charge of moving things forward and dealing with poor turnout and lack of interest due to the unflashy plans. Also, I wonder if groups like this just end up being a stage for some to brag about their accomplishments and their wealth because I really can’t stand that sort of thing (and I’ve seen it happen with some of the adults in the general Nigerian associations). And also, if I was busy organizing it all, when would I find time to personally check out all the men? ;)

In the last while, there have been bloggers who have been mixing reality with fiction on their blogs, doing it so well in fact that many readers believe what they are reading to be true. I am impressed with the talent that so many of these writers have, that ability to move seamlessly between reality and fiction to craft something that is believable, even if it is all made up.

My imagination is underdeveloped, and as a result, I don’t write fiction; I stick to factual articles, true accounts and blogging. But even with this sort of writing that I do, I sometimes feel that I am not a “natural” (whatever that is).

While blog ideas come to me fairly easily (I try to keep my notebook with me to write down potential blog ideas but I never seem to have it with me when I really need it!), the art of crafting the entry, and choosing my words is pretty time consuming and it’s a good thing I don’t have any children or a boyfie to distract me when I’m in writing mode! Despite the length of some posts, I actually try to avoid superfluous words unless it’s necessary for the effect I’m trying convey. Some bloggers just seem to be able to choose the right words and convey their meanings effortlessly, and I know some have thought that I’m one of those people but I’m saying I sure am not!

And the proofreading! I hate seeing silly mistakes in my writing so I re-read entries several times before posting…and a couple of times once the entry is posted. I always find something that is the result of my brain moving faster than my fingers.

I love to write, I love sharing parts of my life and my opinions, and getting feedback on it.

How about you? Why do you write? How do you write? Where do you write? What kind of writing would you say is your forte?

My Big Fat Greek Wedding made me think of another dilemma that Nigerian children are sometimes faced with: what to study in school and what career path to select. For some children this isn’t a dilemma because the choice has already been made: these children grow up knowing exactly which professions are acceptable for them to pursue, because their parents have been drilling this into their heads all along, be it law or medicine or engineering. Others may have had freedom in their choices, but were told that they had to get at least a Bachelor’s degree, or definitely a Master’s degree; some were told that a PhD or MD is the only way to go.

This is hardly a scientific observation but the number of Nigerians I know from various online things who are in the science field or heading to or currently in medical or pharmacy school is mind boggling!

To my parents’ credit, they never told my siblings or I what to study but once we picked our areas of study, we were expected to stick to it and be the best we could be at it. Um, I won’t tell you how well that worked out.

Once the degrees are complete and you’ve started working, the fun begins, or so you would think. If, however, you have a father like mine, you’ll be encouraged to keep your eye on that higher rung of the ladder so that you’re ready to climb it when the time comes. Or you’ll be told to make sure you take full advantage of the opportunities available at the job, from volunteering to receiving paid training or moving laterally to gain a wider range of experience. Some of you don’t need your father to point these things out because it’s constantly on your mind. This is all good advice but most of the time I just want to be able to say “I am gainfully employed, hallelujah” and sit back and gbadun (enjoy), without having to think beyond that.

Nigerians aren’t like they though: if there is a “better” way to be, they will reach for it.

I’ve noticed that my lazy laidback attitude is in the minority. A lot of my Nigerian friends, both those I know in person and those I’ve only talked to online or on the phone, are far more driven than I am. Many have post graduate degrees. Where I want a car that doesn’t rust, they want a luxury moto (car). Where I want to own my own (smallish) home, they’re describing abodes that sound more like palaces. Where I am content with a five figure income, I’m hearing people talk about when they make their first million. Million ke? I can barely count that high!

(At first I thought this attitude was purely materialistic, but I see now that for many, it’s this act of dreaming big and reaching for the moon, so that even if you fail you land among the starts, that allows them to make their dreams come true. I’m hoping that by this same token they take my um, laziness laid back attitude and put a positive spin on it.)

But yeah, I’ve become happy with a lwer status quo than most, and that is so not the Nigerian way.

If a position that I am qualified for opens up and offers a bit more money, there is no guarantee that I’d apply for it, kia kia (quickly), especially if I like where I am at the moment and feel comfortable. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even know about the opening because I’m not regularly checking to see what job opportunities are out there. Sometimes I just want to be in an environment where I’m not overly challenged or stressed. Tell me there’s nothing wrong with this?

I won’t deny that I’m jealous of my high-achieving, non-slacking Naija brothers and sisters out there (not my biological ones, o!). You all seem to be intelligent people who are going places. I want to be more like you, but at the same time I sort of like the way things are.

So tell me: What drives you and keeps you reaching beyond the status quo? What do you have to achieve in your life before you’ll consider yourself a success?