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Dealing with Culture Shock in Nigeria

If you have moved to a new place, you have probably been through culture shock whether you realized it or not.  If you want to move to a different country, you just have to get ready. It happens, and whether or not you can stay is determined with how you handle the culture shock. From the time I was four years old, my family had been moving from country to country or state to state when I learned about culture shock, and it made a lot of sense to me, but when I told my dad, he said, “My kids never go through culture shock.  We are above it.”  He didn’t understand.  We all go through culture shock when we go to a new place whether we recognize what is happening or not.  I am going to take you through the stages of culture shock by talking about foreigners I knew in Nigeria.

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Before we ever arrived in Nigeria, there was a group of teachers waiting for us.  However, all the teachers we had been meeting with didn’t make it until we got there.  One young couple got off the plane and checked into a hotel.  They walked up the stairs to their hotel room and saw that the hallway was crooked.  Our contracts were for two years, but when they saw the crooked hallway, they thought, “There is no way I can stay in a place like this for 2 years!”  After one weekend, they got back on the plane and went home because the hallway drove them crazy.  The first stage of culture shock is the honeymoon, and the second is rejection, but they went straight to rejection when they saw that crooked hallway.

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Also, there was another couple who was there for six months and left just before we got there.  I am not sure what they thought in the beginning, but the wife lost her ability to walk.  Her husband was picking her up and carrying her everywhere. She went from doctor to doctor, and they couldn’t find anything wrong.  The couple decided that she needed to go to a doctor in America, so they left.  The minute she got off the plane in America, her legs got stronger, and she began walking. It was like a miracle.  She had been through the rejection stage of culture shock, but didn’t say anything to anyone, and it manifested itself physically.  Her brain couldn’t cope, but she was not going to give up, but her brain made her legs stop working.  Her leg problem had been psychological, and it had manifested itself physically.

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There was still a group of teachers to greet us when we got off the plane.  We went through the honeymoon stage.  I liked the Nigerian rest houses.  They were similar to hotels, and were usually where the missionaries stayed.  They were sparsely and crudely furnished, but there was a beauty in the primitive furnishings.  There were signs of Christianity everywhere.  I had a two year old son, and they gave us a crib in our room. It was quite an interesting crib!  The beds had mosquito nets over them, and the crib was almost like a screened in wooden cage that opened at the top like a box.  The mosquitoes couldn’t get to my son when he was in one of those things.  In Nigeria, mosquitoes can be deadly, and I was happy to let him sleep in one of those funny cribs.  Also at the rest house, there was a big commons room, and they served porridge for breakfast.  I actually didn’t like the strange porridge they were serving, but I liked the idea.

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The other teachers took us on to the town where we would be living.  Our house wasn’t ready yet, so one of the teachers in a neighboring school offered to let us stay at his house until our house was ready.  It was a huge house!  It was completely made of concrete.  There were several bedrooms, and all the rooms were very large, and the teacher lived there alone, so he wasn’t using the whole thing. One of the other wives in our group told me that she came there and cleaned his house for him ever so often because he was single, but since I was there, she thought I should clean his house, and I didn’t mind since we were going to stay with him until our house was ready.  There were lizards running out front of the house, and I thought they cool.  There were banana trees in the back yard, and I was thrilled at being able to just pick the bananas off the trees if we wanted to eat them! I was going through the honeymoon stage.

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It was rainy season in Nigeria when we got there.  By 11:00 everyday, it began raining and rained for the rest of the day.  I had potty trained my two year old before coming so I wouldn’t have to worry about diapers, but he reverted.  I had no diapers.  There was no washing machine.  I had to get up early in the morning and wash the clothes in the bathtub to get them on the line and dried by 11:00 when the rain would start.  I used my husband’s white t-shirts as diapers for my little boy and began the potty training process again.  I was still coping.  I hadn’t begun to go through rejection yet.

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We got our house, but they wouldn’t let me see the house. My husband and the teacher we were staying with saw it and were afraid I would turn around and run if I saw it.  They began cleaning the house without me. I didn’t even know where the house was.  When they finally let me come to help them clean, it was still extremely dirty!  I spent one whole afternoon scrubbing the back mold off the bathtub because it had been completely covered with black mold.  The walls in the kitchen were black. The previous occupants of the house had built a fire in the middle of the floor to cook, and the black on the walls was from smoke.  The toilet seat was broken, so we had to find a new one.  Some Nigerians didn’t know how to use toilets, so they stood on them to use them and broke the seats.  There were bars on the windows. The walls were black with grime. We painted the kitchen walls, but the others, I just washed.  The hot water heater was broken, but my husband and the other teacher we were staying with figured out how to get it going.  There was a fridge, but it had to be repaired too.  There was a stove. It was small, but in good repair, but after a bit, we learned that it belonged to the previous occupants, and they came and took it away. We had to petition to the teacher’s ministry for another stove, and it took time getting it. We kept putting the previous occupants off until we got a new stove, and it made them mad.

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The biggest enemy in Nigeria.

 

We had a big house too. The rooms were downright huge!  We put screens on all the windows and put mosquito nets over the beds to keep the mosquitoes out.  I worked hard at making the house a good place to live and at learning how to cook from scratch so we could just live there. There were no washing machines in the country, and I did all the clothes in the bathtub and hung them on the line. I never felt like I wanted to run away. I was 27 years old, and full of energy.  I worked. I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned.  I thought the work was probably too much. Many people had maids, so I asked my husband for a mail.  He refused.  I came up pregnant, and then I had a miscarriage.  The doctor said he didn’t know why, but I am convinced that it was so much work.  My body was physically rejecting the work.  While I was in the hospital after the miscarriage, my husband finally hired a maid.

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We got together with the other teachers in our group sometimes. We were considered an umbrella team of missionaries. Many in our group were Christian Religious Knowledge teachers in the high schools.  I am an English teacher.  My husband was a Christian Religious Knowledge teacher.  Our neighbor we stayed with was an auto mechanics teacher.  There were several different kinds of teachers in our group. We gathered for Thanksgiving at one of the teacher’s houses.  While there, we discussed culture shock.  The auto mechanics teacher was having trouble with it. He had basically shut himself off from the world.  He went to classes and went home. He had no other interactions with anyone. He didn’t even want to go to church. He said he could worship at home.  He spent his time at home reading.  He retreated from the culture because it was just too hard on him. At the Thanksgiving meeting, we all began discussing culture shock and ways to get over the rejection phase of culture shock.

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To get over the rejection phase, you are supposed to find things you like to do in the culture and learn the language.  They went around and asked everyone what they liked about the culture.  I was trying to learn the language.  The national language was English, but the trade language in our area was Hausa.  I had students from the high school coming to my house giving me lessons in Hausa.  I enjoyed going to the market place because it was full of life!  There was always music blasting!  There were people everywhere trying to find what they wanted. There were people selling all different kinds of things from shoes to vegetables to pepe (spicy meat on a stick cooked over a fire).  There were people beating drums and putting on  performances.  Sometimes we saw Juju men (the witch doctors).  I enjoyed the life at the market place.  I tried dealing with them at the market place in Hausa, and it was fun. They always gave me a better deal because I spoke to them in Hausa instead of English.  When I told the group I liked the market place, they were shocked at me. None of them liked the market place, only me. Each person had something different they liked to do, that is how you overcome culture shock. You find something you like to do, and do it.  Speaking the language helps a lot too.  Making friends helps, and we made lots of friends in Nigeria.

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If you find things you like to do and do them in a new culture, you can adapt.  We were not trying to run away.  I spent a lot of time with my next door neighbor, Azura, from Pakistan. I spent time with Daniel, Jonathan, and Bartholomew, students from the school who liked to come and teach me Hausa.  I spent time with Rachel and Solomon Aguh, a couple from church.  There was another Nigerian lady from church who liked to take me shopping and eat meat pies with me at King’s Station, the big hotel with a restaurant in Jos.  I enjoyed the meat pies. I enjoyed cose and yam chips. The ladies sat by the side of the road with an open fire making and selling these.  To make the cose, they ground beans and made cakes and fried them, and the yam chips were like big french fries.  Nigerian yams are big white roots that are like starchy potatoes, but as big around as a fat man’s leg and as long as an arm. They cut the yams up and fry them like large french fries  Some ladies sat by the road roasting corn and selling it, and I enjoyed that too.  The pepe (spicy meat on a stick sold at the market) was good, but I didn’t eat it too often because it was just too spicy.

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If you want to stay somewhere, don’t run away, and don’t hide from the culture. Find things you like to do.  Make friends.  Study their language.  The things that bother you will go away, and eventually, you will adapt.  I used to say to my kids, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” and I truly believe it.  Nigeria used to be called “the white man’s grave.”  It is an extremely hard place for foreigners to adapt to physically, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Because of the nature of my life, I have moved several times since then, but I learned early on how to adapt.  Yes, we all go through culture shock in one way or another, even kids.  If you are the parent, you really have to be aware of what is happening with your kids when you move.  My little son reverted and had to be potty trained all over again.  If parents aren’t aware enough to help teenagers, there are many stories of teenagers getting on drugs while they are going through culture shock.  Thankfully, I never had to deal with that problem, but I know people who have had to deal with their kids taking drugs to try to escape culture shock.  Every place you go, there are problems, and the way to make it over culture shock is just not to let the problems get the best of you. Make friends. Learn the language, and find things you like to do, and it is possible to make it anywhere.  And, sometimes, you have to get help. I needed that maid because physically, the work was just too much.

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4 thoughts on “Dealing with Culture Shock in Nigeria”

  1. I do not recall any culture shock going to teach in Tanzania, Africa. I was too interested and there were so many interesting things to see. Like you, I loved the market. The culture shock came when I returned home… there was just so so much! Kids toys in the store, a light bulb in every socket of a chandelier (I had one light bulb that I had to carry from room to room in Tanzania,) Everything you needed — like clorox and sugar— was in the stores. And Americans were complaining to me about life in America!

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    1. It sounds like you went through reverse culture shock when you came back, and perhaps your honeymoon stage in Tanzania lasted a lot a time. Different people have different reactions. Usually, you begin with the honeymoon stage, and different people take different amounts of time to get to the rejection stage, and different things bother them. In order to get to the point of accepting both the good and bad and being able to be completely adjusted, you end up.going through all the stages. It usually takes people at least 2 years to truly acclimate to.a new culture, but most people never make it that far. Many people go home when they hit the rejection stage and never acclimate to the new culture. When people are tourists, many stay in the honeymoon stage and don’t have time to find things that bother them. If you never hit the rejection stage, you go home with wonderful memories. Reverse culture shock can be harder than regular culture shock.

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