I guess one of the reasons I've hesitated to write this post is because it is really not my story. It truly belongs to the Innocent Bystander, but he won't write it himself, because, he says, he would have to title it "These Motherfuckers". So keep in mind that this is an "as told to" story. Also, please keep in mind that whilst it may be obvious that I/we find some parts of this funny, in all reality a lot of it is quite sad. As a traveler, I try not to pass judgement on the way other cultures do things-different does not necessarily mean wrong. But sometimes when I am pointing and laughing, a great part of me is screaming inside about the injustices of this world we live in, particularly at the inequity of its distribution of resources. The reason I bring this up is that the story behind "The Song" is really the story of the IB's assimilation (and mine by proxy) into the culture of Nigeria.
When he had worked overseas in the past, he never had an opportunity to spend any great length of time in the country he was in (Bahamas, Trinidad, Venezuela) before he had to go to work, but when he went to Nigeria, he had several weeks 'in country' before the boat was even due to arrive. His boss, the Nigerian owner of the boat and company he works for, was a marvelous host. He basically spent the first two weeks that the IB was there as a personal tour guide. He showed him around the company holdings, which we expected, but he was also very upfront about showing him his two nearly identical homes, one for each wife.
Everything was a novelty at first to the IB. The drives through the streets with guards armed with machine guns. The street vendors selling everything from roasted grubworms on sticks to bolts of silk fabric, from nuts and bolts to John Deere motor parts. (There are no stores as we know them-the successful vendors have stalls-the rest carry their wares on their heads.) The way every woman he was introduced to seemed to think he was going to be the man who took them away from all this. The poverty. The begging. Especially the begging.
Nigeria has a reputation for graft, but it really seems to be deeper than that. Virtually everyone wants SOMETHING from anyone he encounters. If someone holds a door open for you to pass through, he asks, "And what do you have for ME, Sir? Just ONE SMALL THING." And then they stand there expectantly with their hands out. It is not just to 'oyibos' (foreigners) that they do this to. This is just how things get done there. One small thing at a time. No matter what it is you are trying to accomplish, you have to remember to factor in 'one small thing' per person involved in said endeavor in addition to whatever the quoted procedure to get said thing done. Every wheel needs a bit of greasing.
The new car smell wore off about the same time the boat was supposed to arrive. That is when the reality of the situation he was in really seemed to gel, and the IB started hauling out the "these motherfuckers" in our phone conversations. I think what really cemented it was this.
The boat that he works on is too small to cross the Atlantic, so it had to be shipped in on a freight barge. The company running THAT ship decided, once they had crossed the Atlantic, that it was too dangerous to deliver the boat to Nigeria, so instead, they dropped it off in Togo, so the IB had to go fetch it and drive it to Nigeria himself, which was a huge clusterfuck, but a pretty typical snafu, all things considered. As he was preparing for his flight, the bossman came to him and handed him two paper bags. They were stuffed full of the local currency. One was to cover supplying the boat with food, fuel, etc. for the ride from Togo to Nigeria, and the other one was for 'dash', which is the local term for the grease that keeps those wheels turning. They needed it all.
He got the boat to Nigeria, and eventually they got all the right hands dashed and got on location. Before the job could start, however, they had to bless the boat. The IB figured it would be pretty much what we are used to as a christening, but it turned out to be a really involved ceremony wherein a group of people from the community came on board and blessed-with singing and chanting and dancing and copious amounts of holy oil-every part of the boat. "Heavenly Father, bless this deck, and the equipment that will sit on it. Keep it free of rust and dents that it may ever be able to do its duty to carry its cargo." And, "Oh, Holy Father, please bless this engine, that it may..." On and on. The generators. The doors. The captain's wheel. The kitchen sink. Literally. Every part of that boat was blessed to the maximum being blessed ability. Including the captain. *wicked evil grin*
So they get the job started, and it became obvious to him the differences between 'oyibo' and local. He is not an overly adventurous eater, so his diet there is pretty much meat, eggs, rice and gravy. The locals who work on the boat eat mostly a concoction of yuca (which we tried when we were in Costa Rica and is actually quite good), beans and bread. Because of the poverty (these guys make the equivalent of something like eight bucks a day, which is a GOOD job there), theft is always a problem, so everything that is given to the crew is rationed (by the owner of the boat). They get five bottles of water a day, a tin of canned milk (which they call 'mik'), and every other day they get a tin of sardines and a can of Coke. I think on the day they don't get the sardines they get some kind of mystery meat in their beans, and everyone gets exactly the same number and size of chunks in their bowl or there is hell to pay. (They do get other stuff, this is just the stuff that gets fussed about the most because I guess it is the stuff they run out of the most.) Most of that stuff that is rationed? They save it up and take it home to their families or to sell. So it is a big deal if they run out and don't get something one day, and they feel they are owed. To them, those rations that are supposed to be nourishing their bodies to do their jobs, are part of their PAY. Never mind that they can eat as much of the staple food as they like. They want what is 'theirs'.
All those years when the kids were growing up and I tried to holy the IB up some? *shakes head* I got NUTHIN' on the Nigerians. I really think that ceremony kinda cracked something in him. Every morning, before work begins, they have a safety meeting. At the meeting they discuss the work planned for the day, the potential hazards involved, how they will avoid those hazards and what they will do if one of those hazards comes to pass. They also air their grievances, say a daily prayer, and finally, they sing the Good Morning, Jesus song, which (accompanied by JOYOUS rhythmic clapping) goes:
Good Morning, Jesus
Good Morning, Lord
I know You come from
The (prounounced thee) Holy Spirit
Sits on the throne (pronounced de trone)
Good Morning, Jesus
Good Morning, Lord
Now, depending on how many cans of 'mik' or sardines are owed them at that point, the prayer and song can go on...and on, and on. They use it as a form of protest. The more they are owed, the longer they pray and sing each day, and the less work gets done. What I really love about it, is that the IB PARTICIPATES. I guess because he can either sympathize or empathize (with him it's hard to tell) (heh. I said it's hard.) with them, he sings right along.
And so do we. Every morning, after cages are cleaned, and before we have our morning munchies, we sing our little song of solidarity, the birdies and I. I don't always get the rhythm right, but I think, with all of our clapping and stomping and flapping of wings, we always get the sentiment right. I hope so, anyway.