By Linh PMP
“Some days are meant to be counted, others are meant to be weighted”
(Elizabeth Gilbert, in “Eat, Pray, Love”)
Have you ever imagined that one day, on purpose, you wake up in a place miles away from your hometown, go along strange streets and chat with people who look totally different from you? Such day is meant to be weighted. I had mine last September in the business trip to Nigeria where I collected some little pieces of my undiscovered world.
Before going to Nigeria, I read an article about the most interesting soups in the world where Nigerian Obe ata ranks the forth, just below Pho (Vietnam), Locro de Papas (Ecuador) and Borscht (Ukraine). Though they said that some people got scared about obe ata due to the smell of cow tripe, street fish, and goat heads, I was still excited to try. There is no faster way to fit in a culture than trying and loving its food. Therefore, though mostly overloaded with the work schedule during the trip, I always kept finding the soup.
Obe ata is the most popular pepper soup that you can find along Lagos streets. This West-African flavored food can be used as cold medicine when the weather changes and usually eaten with pounded yam.
P1: Obe ata with yam
When I tried using my hands to eat yam with obe ata, many local people looked at me curiously “Can you really do that?”. C’mon, when in Rome, I just “do as the Romans do”. It made me experience the full flavor of the food in particular and the culture in general. Anyway, the street vendors were very service-minded when offering water and soap for hand cleaning before and after the guests enjoyed the food. It was a shame but truth that at first I mistook the cleaning water bottle and soap box on the table as drinks and ketchup.
P2: Plantain, which I mistook as banana. This fruit is much bigger than banana, though looks somehow alike, and cannot be eaten raw but should be fried or roasted.
P3: A special way to eat oranges to me – paring and squeezing instead of cutting into pieces
“You really don’t have any religion?”. Local people kept asking me the same question after getting the answer: “I don’t.”. Everyone I met during my trip had a religion, either Christianity or Islam. When staying on the ground floor of a hotel in Lagos, almost all day long I heard the praying voice of Muslim just outside my window. Even during the conversation with a partner on skype, I sometimes had to stop because my partner would like to pray.
Life is diversified by nature. Going out to experience such diversification is just a test for life understandings and adaptation.
Not really, but kind of, maybe with certain trust. During the time of my trip to Nigeria, there was some social unrest in the North East. We still decided to travel by car in twelve hours towards the North East with a local partner instead of taking a flight, because we wanted to see the real local life more. The Commercial Counselor in Vietnamese Embassy, when knowing about our decision later on, was so surprised wondering why we were so brave. It is true that such bravery helped us get more confident about ourselves and about people around us.
In the journey, I discovered that many people there were polite and calm, not as aggressive and impatient as what I had found in some reviews before. We were nearly stuck in an accident which caused a traffic jam on the way. There were no police, so some drivers just got out of their own cars, moved along the road to direct vehicles into lines so as to get rid of the traffic. After finishing, they waved hands and say good bye to each other “Gentleman! Gentleman!”.
I also discovered that they were very caring. We had to spend one night in the a hostel far from the city center due to some unexpected problems. To make sure about our security, our business partner, who had stayed up until 2am to work, woke up at 5am to bring water to our room for our personal use, without any order. It made us feel like home more.
Memory can start from something very trivial, such as lovely names. I met a driver named Sunday in Vietnamese Embassy, which reminded me of the character named Friday in “Robinson Crusoe“. I was amazed to know that in that country, the name “Sunday” indicated that such person had been born on Sunday, and so on. While quite a few families in Vietnam spend time discussing, arguing and researching a lot before giving their child a name, it seems to be super simple for many people here. The next day I saw a person named Monday, which no longer surprised me because I knew the rule. Of course, they also have other ways to name the children, such as based on local language meaning or English words. I knew some people named Passion, Patient, Innocent or Promise, which sound fun and are so easy to remember.
I also loved the smiles. I still remember the time when I visited the local food market, without any intention to purchase anything. The sellers did not force us to buy, instead, asking us for taking photos if we liked. The yam seller asked us to take picture with his yam, then suggested “Why not taking photos of me?”, smiling. Some children selling fruits also nearly forgot their fruits and ran to us for being in the photos.
P4: In the local market
Before I left, the marketing manager of the hotel I stayed in the last days gave me a key hanger with the shape of the Black Continent and the line “I love Africa” written on it. I still keep hanging it on my favorite backpack until today.
P5: I love Africa Key Hanger
In the first time we talk, the marketing manager that I mentioned before honestly asked me: “Is it true that people eat flesh of other people in your country?”. And there were some people asking me about whether the war still existed in Vietnam. Some did not know where Vietnam was. Some others insisted that we were Chinese. The modern Vietnam seemed to be a mystery for many people there. But that is why I was there, to help them know more about Vietnam and encourage them to join more chances in this emerging country.
Time has passed. More and more African students are coming to me, to Vietnam after my trip. Those who have arrived here start learning, integrating and loving naturally. One of them even made a very nice poem:
“Vietnam, a beautiful flower that blossoms in all seasons
A city of great and unique opportunities that beats reason
It has beautiful people with an amazing cultural belief
With a cool climate and an adequate warm relief
Vietnam, a friendly home that welcomes all to her table
Both the rich, poor, powerful, healthy and disable
A land that has beautiful landscape of mountains and trees
A land of absolute peace and unity and development in great increase”
(Joshua David Kanda)
They seem to be enjoying their own weighted days in this country which miles away from their hometown.
Joshua Kanda is the second person from the left side
Have you watched “Eat, Pray, Love”? If not, go watching it, then stand up, walk out, make your own stories and even encourage others to make theirs which deserve to be weighted in life. Never too late, but sooner is better.
 Lagos, the old capital of Nigeria, is the most populous city in that country and the second fast growing city in West Africa