My Culture Shock in Umuahia, Abia state, Nigeria

My Socio-Cultural Exploration in Umuahia, Abia state.

I’ve spent 5 weeks in Umuahia. I’m here because of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). With NYSC, graduates are sent to a state within Nigeria for a year of service. I looked forward to spending time in Eastern Nigeria, especially my Dad’s state of origin-Abia. I grew up in Lagos State and spent most of 2019 in Yola, Abuja and Kaduna.

However, the past 2 weeks here disappointed me as I struggled with culture shock. Below I articulate these experiences.

Oha soup and Garri

Food

Food at the NYSC Orientation Camp at Umunna Bende wasn’t so tasty. I didn’t expect much but I got surprised in the state capital. Igbo and Calabar Soups are commonly sold in Umuahi, from eateries to bukas. My oh my are they richer and delicious than what I’ve eaten in Lagos. I haven’t gotten used to the minute salt or pepper used. I’m still getting used to first searching out periwinkle shells before swallowing. At markets, food stuff are super fresh, bulkier and cheaper. I find two things fascinating though. One, market traders who don’t own stalls sell out of wheelbarrows. Two, hawked drinks in traffic aren’t cold. I’ve only seen them cold once.

Language

One thing that gave me anxiety was fear of language barrier. In Umuahia people speak Nigerian English, Igbo and Pidgin. Often Igbo is spoken first but the average speaker will switch to English or Pidgin if you indicate you don’t understand Igbo. I’m taking Igbo lessons from a friend. Hopefully my Igbo will improve before the end of service.

Public Transportation

The major means of transportation in Umuahia include Keke (tricycles), mini buses (usually for longer distances within the capital) and buses which travel to other local government areas and otherwise Abia. The keke rides are cheap, N50 /N100 at most.

Recreation

People go out to eat and drink here. There are mostly eateries, outdoor bars, lounges. I’m on the lookout for delicious ice-cream. There is a mall with Deluxe Cinema, ShopRite and other stores. I haven’t found a literature/fiction bookshop. Just a few stall vendors of motivation, educational and children books. Eh nope.

Weather and Environment

Last week the sun made me reminisce about Yola. It gets sunny and hot during the day. At night it get chilly and foggy (midnight). I usually wear socks and close my windows. The atmosphere has a indescribable humid-chilly-dusty air that has its own scent.
Abia has a very hilly to valley topography with forestation. The main roads are tarred but with portholes like anywhere else in Nigeria. Accommodation is affordable; N5-N10k monthly rent for either a room or self-contain.

There are designated sanitation points with refuse trolleys where people go to dump their refuse. I am unaware of recycle companies or recycle collection points.

Tribalism

As a multiethnic, young Nigerian woman, tribalism is one thing I always experience around the country and I’ve visited 13 states. I was worried about how my identity would be questioned, erased or denounced. Abia state didn’t disappoint, sadly. Everyone does tribal profiling and it’s disconcerting. Once your name is asked, where are you from is the next question followed by harmful stereotypes. Yes, peolple have actively & rudely ignored my Yoruba name. Infact one man told me (after I said my full name) my Mum’s heritage isn’t part of my identity because she married my Dad. I found that very insulting, I corrected him that marriage doesn’t and shouldn’t erase a woman’s identity. We stopped talking afterwards. The tribalism here is outrageous.

I’ve only seen orange hibiscus here.

Religious Extremism

If there is one place I expected to be similar to Northern Nigeria in relation to religious extremism, it wasn’t Abia. I heard it’s worse in other Eastern states. Every morning school children singing praise and worship at the assembly ground wake me up like Fajr prayers. Businesses are named after Biblical entities. Even at the Ministry of Justice, there is a (shocking) 40 minutes church service every Monday morning before work commences. This is separate from departmental morning prayers. Let me not start on how every older person inserts a Bible verse in their comments insisting they deserve respect and obedience. It’s ridiculous. ‘Morals’ are monitored by everyone. There are churches everywhere. For people who are God’s own they have been rude, inconsiderate, judgemental. I hope people learn to be genuinely good people for just that, not for some reward from God.

Other Observations
The city girl in me isn’t used to strangers greeting me…an interesting difference. People have been friendly, helpful and warm generally. However I’ve experienced a demeaning, snarkiness from older women (staff at LGA). I understand how power dynamics in a patriarchal society with unresolved generational trauma can create negative socialised behaviour but its still hurtful. How can I forget? The Patriarchy is strong here and compounded by religion and culture. I’ve mentally committed murder about three times. Let me not start with how men insert themselves into everything. The heteronormative culture here is choking. On my first day of work two staffs prayed I get captured here by a husband.

PS: these are MY personal & varied experiences. I look forward to more Socio-Cultural Explorations the next 8 months. I’ll share an update. I’m hoping for the better.

Thanks for reading!