Life Unparalleled

Loving Life as a Foreign Service Family – Current Parallel 6° 27' North- Lagos, Nigeria

#Metoo, The Silence Breakers, Walking and Men in Nigeria

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Life magazine making the #metoo The Silence Breakers the people of they year is amazing. All of this attention to sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances has given many of us much to ponder. Some excuses have been made that it isn’t fair for these men, and they shouldn’t be held accountable for behavior that happened years ago in generations when such behavior was considered more socially acceptable. Secretaries were hired for their looks alone, work place dress codes required women to wear skirts and heels. Many considerations that have now evolved away thanks to an active social movement. The United States prides its self on its forward thinking, especially regarding equal treatment of women. And yes, in many cases we were the some of the first to allow women privilege and respect but we still have a long way to go. Men with education, money, power or white skin often think that is is acceptable to make remarks or gestures  to women that are unwelcome. Let me make my point with a personal story.

Nigeria is a very patriarchal run country. Women may vote, own a business and file for divorce which is a big step ahead of many countries but it is still not ideal. Women are often expected to be submissive, to follow their husbands commands, and to allow themselves to be beaten if that is what seems appropriate. That being said I have felt over all respected by the men in Nigeria. There are some US women who are not comfortable walking outside the compound gates because they get cat called with a honk, a whistle or a very specific hiss or clicking sound. Truthfully it is not different than most large cities in the US in my opinion, but because we are at a high risk post and in a foreign country many women feel uncomfortable.  I am not giving these men a pass on their behavior but some back story helps.We are in a country where the majority of the population is under the age of 25 and this population is also the most likely to be unemployed. That means there are a lot of men hanging around on the streets in large groups with not much to do. Such environments have never been good for improving the treatment of women. Look at the military.When I walk very early in the morning it is a crowd full of men and women going to work. If I walk later on in the morning the only ones left are those who aren’t employed with not much to do. I try to avoid walking during that time.

I have been very fortunate. When I walk out of the compound I usually bring my large service dog. She wears a vest that says service dog on it. Her license and training mean nothing out of the US but I take her out in her vest regularly to keep her used to working. She actually acts differently and listens better with it on. In addition to her general look, her vest makes her look like a police or guard dog. There are not many dogs here in Nigeria. Most of the dogs here are trained guard dogs. Nigerians as a general rule are very afraid of dogs. As we walk people move out of the way. Truthfully most of them will move out of the way if you have white skin anyways, and they all call you Madam or Ma. It is a hard thing to get used to. But throw in the dog and people really jump. Some people actually cross to the other side of the street.

Much of the time I walk in dirt and trash on the sides of the roads. When I first got here I carefully stepped over every piece of trash I encountered, now I don’t even look. Funny how 5 months will change you.

Much of the city does not have sidewalks. Businesses will sometimes pay to have sidewalks placed. They still need to be able to access the sewer underneath so they often use bricks and sand.

 

When I am lucky I can find a tree to walk under and pretend I am actually walking in the rain forest that used to blanket this area.

Ok, so I have to pretend really hard but I take what I can get!

The more affluent area that I live in tries and has succeeded in a few areas to improve walking along major roads. The sidewalks here are interesting. More like covered gutters. Where the curbs are pained white there is an opening to a sewage drain that runs under the actual sidewalk. The curbs are huge, probably a 24 inch step, because of all of the flooding.

Most Nigerians don’t bother walking on the sidewalks if they even exist, and stick to the sides of the roads. Some of the nicer roads are extra wide allowing for a sidewalk as well as a walking path on the actual road. It is lined with cement barriers to keep the pedestrians safe from traffic. This design also allows foot traffic to flow in both directions on both sides of the road which is nice. So I prefer to walk on the flat road surface most of the time. We will be walking along with people in front of us for quite a period of time with no issues and someone passing us on the high sidewalk will smile then yell “DOG!”  and the person in front of us will turn and physically leap away, usually into traffic. This is how strongly Nigerians feel about dogs.

That said people I meet on the street are usually very courteous. Never just hello, but always “Good Morning” “How was your night?”” Your family is well?” “What do you think of Nigeria?” All from people just passing on the street. I feel like five months in I have finally mastered the Nigerian greeting. As a woman you need to be a little bit more careful to still be courteous but not bring on unwanted attention. I say “Good Morning.” And look them in the eye but then look down when answering the remaining questions. It is respectful and showing you aren’t afraid while still showing them you don’t really want the conversation to go anywhere. Cars, and motorcycles honk at me but truthfully they honk at everything.

Honk- I’m turning. Honk- I’m passing. Honk- I’m looking for a fare. Honk- I am going through an intersection. Honk- You are turning and I want to remind you I am behind you. Honk- Look something different. Honk-Move. Honk- I am merging. Honk- There is a woman. Honk- Look a dog! Turning blinker light bulbs never need to be replaced here because they never use them, but horns….those need to be replaced often.

I’m not joking, it is crazy how horns are used here but that being said it now doesn’t bother me at all to be honked at when in the states if a man honked passing by it was an uncomfortable cat call. Here is just is part of normal. The hissing and clicking sound they make at women is also the same sound they make at dogs. Yeah, I know lovely. So I can’t determine who they are clicking at when I pass. At least once a day some one says “Can I buy your wolf?” That said I would guess that only about 5% of men I pass on the street honk, hiss, or click at me. Most of those who do are construction workers, how stereotypical is that! More than half are courteous and say good morning and continue on their way, and much of the remainder ignore me.

I usually feel surprisingly safe. First of all I believe that overwhelmingly people are good. I am well aware of my environment. I walk down well established roads in daylight. I walk different routes at different times of the day to not establish a pattern that is easy to follow. I carry my cell phone. I take my dog. I have people who know where I am going and when to expect me back. I always know where I am and how to get help. Most business here and all housing are behind large compound walls that have security guards posted outside. Within 20 yards of almost any where I go there is someone I could ask for assistance. Just a few days ago I was rounding a corner and saw a shirtless man talking to the sun. I hesitated for a second and thought about crossing the street. I’m not sure if it was mental illness or alcohol, I don’t go out at night and I never see drunkenness during the day. A guard I see every day saw me coming and took the man kindly by the arm and walked him to the other side of the street so I could easily pass. I also feel safe most of the time because there are just so many dang people! I purposefully arranged the photos in this post to avoid people. Many of the people are also along the sides of the roads or the sidewalks up against the compound walls. If someone is brave enough to attack me there are going to be 20 plus witnesses at any one moment.

Let me now share the few times with you I haven’t felt safe. I have pretty amazing intuition. I am very careful to always listen to those feelings. It has kept me safe traveling, usually alone, in countries not set up for tourism. One morning as I was walking there was a Mercedes on the side of the road. Not an uncommon sight here. We live in a nice area and rich Nigerians here are very very wealthy. Our neighbors probably make 4-10 times as much as my husband’s salary. I only noticed the Mercedes because the man in front was eating food and throwing the trash out the window which is so irritating and a huge cultural problem here. Gross. The minute I noticed the man I knew I should move to the other side of the road and move quickly. The man got out of the car and starting calling and grabbing for me trying to get me to talk to him. Very aggressive like, regardless of the dog and other people. I moved closer to a few people I saw regularly who sold things on that road and hustled to get away. He perused me for about a block before I lost him in the crowd. I had one other less dramatic incident with another business man who was just far more aggressive than normal. So why am I sharing this? What made these particular men feel like their behavior was appropriate and so varied from most of their comrades? The man had-money, power, and I could tell by his accent that he had some US or British influence or education. Lovely.

There are lousy sleazy guys everywhere but give men some money, power and privilege and it can bring out the worst in them. Just look at the news coming out of the US government and entertainment industry in recent months. Throughout time this combination can be toxic.

What is there to be done? Praise good men when we see them. Raise our sons to be the type of men the world needs. Don’t be afraid to stand up when you know you have been wronged or share your personal story. Who knows who else it will inspire. Teach our daughters to be strong and independent. I have read some recommendations that in order to avoid possible misconduct that women should avoid going to meetings or business lunches alone with men. Do you realize how much this move might affect their ability to grow in their company or career? People say that much of business is done over dinner or a round of golf. To force women to exclude themselves from these networking possibilities because of the inappropriate nature of some men is not an acceptable solution.We have come so far and we still have so far to go. I hope the movement continues to go on and that people will listen.

Thank heavens the voters in the Alabama Senate race seemed to get it, yay Doug Jones, boo Roy Moore!

(reminder that this post is written by Dy, who is not subject to the Hatch Act)

On that note I will leave you with a photo of one of my favorite flowering trees that I encounter on my excursions. Living in a tropical climate can be lovely.  Happy December!

 

Some of the only bees I have seen in Lagos have been around these trees. Seriously, I think I have seen four bees in five months. I see few insects at all other than mosquitoes.

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