Thursday, December 17, 2009

Trial by Cow Skin

Dec. 17, 2009

Trial By Cow Skin

This, our last full week, has gone rather well. We got a lot of good filming in and even though Adis and I are pretty making it up on a daily basis, everyone else seems quite impressed with our agenda and what we’ve set out to do here.

Of course, we are still routinely stopped by the police. Adis says that it’s because there’s a white man sitting the front seat (that would be boney white ME) with his window rolled down, gazing out the window as Lagos life passes by. Now, unknown to me, this is rather uncommon: most white people sit in back of the vehicle, discreet behind tinted glass feeling oh-so-important. So, I guess the situation with me appears rather quizzical to the local police: I’m either a lunatic on holiday, or a well-contented kidnap victim with a dog’s liking for sticking his nose out of an open car window. Actually, it’s a bit of both.

My bright nose acting as a beacon, the other day there was the predictable stop by the police. Although, this time around they asked ME for money. The only response I could give them was one I had learned earlier in the week: “Sir, I understand the situation here. But I have no money to give you. Have you not heard? -- I am the poorest white man in Nigeria.” It worked: they laughed uncontrollably and let us go. (I do have to say, however, that there is something structurally wrong with giving an AK-47 to an underpaid governmental employee, but that's another blog...)

Later that same evening we met up with some high society folks for drinks at Bogobiri (a very cool, artsy hotel). Mazzy, a radiant Ugandan young woman inauspiciously commanded all of our attention. She spoke with a rather posh English accent and the boys around the table were more than ready to cover her tab. Only later did we discover that she is the daughter of the former president of Uganda -- and we were buying HER drinks!

More interestingly, yesterday we arranged a lunch with the mechanics that work in the used car industry. They are a really great bunch of guys: some Yaruba, some Hausa, but all speak Igbo and broken English (quite honestly, none of these I can understand). So we did a film session of them and Adis gathered around a table talking about their work. It was a great working class take on the entire Tokunbo car industry – very insightful.

Today we shifted gears to film a discussion with some of the head car dealers that also included the Big Man of the entire car selling site – Mr. President, Meche. I slugged around the camera for an hour and a half while Adis kicked back drinking beers with our research subjects, but it yielded some great commentary and material.

Once it was all finished the Big Man, Meche, motioned to me that I should sit down at the table and join him for a beer and a bite to eat. He’d ordered smoked spicy fish for us to share (yum), but some fried cow skin was also mixed into the dish (yuk). I sat down, took a slug from my cool beer and carefully dipped my toothpick into the mix, trying to get some fish and NOT the fried cow skin. Mind you, this was a trying manoeuvre through layers of fish and onion and chunks of stuff I’d rather not know where they came from. Much to my dismay, I ended up with a heaping toothpick full of fried cow skin. The Big Man looked at me with a pleasing gesture, somehow impressed that I would take such a daring portion of fried cow skin. My stomach and I quivered and freaked out. When I hesitated to slurp it down, Big Man, in a rather diplomatic, yet still insisting manner, encouraged me: “Please, eat your fill. Cow skin is good.” One thing I’ve learned in Nigeria is that when the Big Man tells you to eat the fried cow skin, you eat the fried cow skin and you do so with grace, enthusiasm, and (feigned) pleasure.

But I have to say, after a two-week diet restricted to peanuts and bananas, fried cow skin – although not entirely welcome – does provide some diversity to my diet here in Nigeria. I hate to say it but right about now Dunkin Donuts is sounding pretty good (just don’t tell anyone I wrote that).


  1. And nothing quite like doing stand-up for AK-toting crowd. Rodney Dangerfield, eat yer heart out!

  2. Be thankful it was cow-skin (so...leather?...or like ??). Another great post. Can't wait to see what the cars look like post pimping.