Click HERE to Read Kehinde's Biography on the Nigerian Writers Database.
What you are about to read is beyond a tribute to the amazing, yet relishing original title, Never Look an American in the Eye: A Memoir: Flying Turtles, Colonial Ghosts, and the Making of a Nigerian American by Okey Ndibe. It is perhaps a re-cast of our experience here, a place where we supposedly should call home. Regrettably, [don’t be mad], a Nigerian who hasn’t even seen how a plane looks like, or be on one in the real sense of a plane, cannot imagine what it feels like to look an American in the eye, talk more of expecting or hoping not to be shot in the head with a shotgun when caught looking an American in the eye. When we speak of nothing, we speak of a little silence: of our Nigerianess, a consciousness that is well versed and important before any international or ‘Americanah’ connections. We therefore speak of the making of “The Angry Nigerian.”
Speaking delicately but frankly, the making of “The Angry Nigerian” is this; no American, perhaps can stand being looked in the eye. But also, no Nigerian can have the patience of looking back at you when being looked in the eye. The Nigerian – who can only shout or nag – is in a loop of survival, one set in a time-table of “Wetin we go chop?”, complaints of “Na When Naija go better sef?” “In Jesus Christ Our Lord, Amen, Amen, Amen, by the grace of Almighty God… Allah’u Akbar”, “Our leaders dem na bad eggs sef.” This time-table is a shared testimony, it’s the national passport and mental rosary we carry in our head(s), heart(s) and eye(s). So, why look a Nigerian in the eye when you know their eyeballs are painted in the canvass of vexation, regret/s and transfer of aggression? Why look a Nigerian in the eye when you can focus on the littered streets, the happiness of playful and careless children who find motion in riding tyres, with some, picking pockets, the market woman who smiles half way into the street hoping to have all her bread sold for the day, the bus conductor whose voice gets heightened whenever he gets in(to) conversation with an agbero or another angry passenger who would rather die to have his balance returned rather than let a choral director of “Yaba, Lawanson, Costain (x2)” have all his sweat in five minutes.
Trust me, I am not wrong on this, a Nigerian is always angry. There is no need for a Nigerian to download the Software of anger from Android Play store; it is naturally installed in every Nigerian. I will make matters worse if I say in every Lagosian. Well, from Tuesday to Friday night, the anger is in a rehearsal for the final session of an unwanted Monday. Where are the days of Man Crush Monday? Ah ah ah, your man crush is being crushed by the system, their system, Boo Boo’s system. He looked a Nigerian in the eye last week and he got more than what he had bargained for. Well, a Nigerian also looked him in the eye and they handled it. There was a convergence of yellow buses, with dual black lines raping their bodies in different stretches. Your Monday crush was raped with words too, after which the Nigerian situation had raped him and still rapes him. In this system, we all get raped. Everyone kept their calm, but for the preacher man, “God bless you my brethren.” He mouthed…
“Who be your brethren?” Your ‘Man crush’ spoke wildly “abeg, abeg, make una no start una noise this morning o.”
“I say, the peace of God be upon you all as we journey together” the preacher man said facing your ‘Man crush’ Monday who is draped in a fine blue turtleneck shirt, heading to the Island.
“Why are you looking into my eyes? Why you dey look me? Am I the problem of the country? Am I the cause of your disaster? Why focus on me alone? Preach the fuck you do!”
The preacher man pretended not to hear, he has half of his eyes gazed on your man crush and the other passengers.
“Ehh, why you dey look am? Why are you starring?” the woman on the second row of the Vanagon spoke out; she was on a red patterned blouse.
“Dem look themselves for their eye, why una dey blame the pastor?” the man two seats away from her said, rather defensively.
The conductor called out, “CMS, CMS, oyaaa…” he has his eyes gazed on all of his passengers to know those who had just entered, perhaps for the next trip.
In this country, we are all mad. Never look a Nigerian in the eye if you are not sure what she/he is looking at or if she/he cares about your sight, the kind of attachment or haircut you have on. No one cares here, make I yarn you so. If you look at a Nigerian in the eye more than twice, you are either a marine spirit or a prophet waiting to render a prophecy or premonition, a long-lost uncle who reconnected with his nephew/niece at Obalende, a former landlord who compares how you look now to how you looked while living in his pafuka one-room apartment, an ex who stays half-way separated from me by a covet. We could look each other in the eye but our hearts are a million miles apart and we like it. In this country, we dey mad. Again, ehn, na me talk am. But if you no wan mad, you go just look away. If you attempt to look at the tinted glasses of the fleet of cars your politicians and celebrities drive, you would be asked why your ‘over-sabi’ is too much and why you don’t have a business to face, no matter how little.
In this country, as you avoid looking a Nigerian in the eye, everyone wants to hide their faces: the rich, the poor, the middle-class [if there is anything as such in this country], the fourth class [the messengers of the poor]. No one wants to be looked in the eye. We are all busy with different things everyday: artistes yearning to blow one day in the music industry, Original posters [OPs] and dummy digital photocopiers all yearning to make it to Tunde Ednut, Linda Ikeji, BellaNaija and Instablog’s page, the Naija Twitter family trying to create the hashtag of the season. Everybody is selectively angry to the extent that we give ourselves ‘hot hot’ on social media. This is how it goes to everyone: If you body shame me, I shame you, if you troll me, I put you in a trailer; if you no get joy, me sef no get joy.
Well, if you choose not to react and be angry, a lot of things would make you angry. So, never look at a Nigerian in the eye if you want to live long to see your children’s children. This is the making of “The Angry Nigerian.”