So this is one reason I came to York University. Back in Nigeria, it was amazing how our colleagues who went to school abroad got treated differently. There’s this accounting firm in the building where I worked in Abuja’s downtown (Central Business District). The entry qualification is that you got one of your degrees from a school abroad. In other words, it didn’t matter how smart you were in Nigeria, if you didn’t have a foreign degree there was NO way you were getting hired. At first I raved and ranted about how discriminatory this practice was; how it was contributing to the widening gap between the rich and poor, how it punished ordinary citizens like us for not being rich enough to afford the extra expense. But I also realized the company is not a public service company or a charity; it entered into business to maximize profits and give the owner something to smile about (and probably some money to spray to hide the fact they can’t dance. If you don’t understand that last one, see my last post.
I was very excited to get admitted. I was happy that I settled in nicely without any further incident. Well, except the one where I went shopping for house stuff. I took the bus to the Superstore where I bought pots, pans, knives, fruit, meat, rice… even some clothes. Because I couldn’t imagine a situation where I would drag myself out into the cold weather more than necessary. There I learnt another life lesson: Never believe the price you see on the shelf.
You see an item on the shelf, it says $10. It doesn’t seem very much until you convert it into Naira. As at January 2015 the Canadian dollar was exchanging for 145 Naira. you compare the price to the price back home and You think, hmmmmm this is not bad. So you buy some more $5 items and some $7 items. Then you try some $3 items. And maybe that $20 bag of rice is not so bad. Just 5000 Naira you think! The sad thing is that the shock of your life will slap you at the counter. Harmonized Sales Tax. In Ontario, that’s 13% of whatever taxable items you’re buying. So you may buy items worth $10 but the real price you’ll pay would be $13. Sadly, you don’t notice until you get to the counter. That’s what happened to me. I thought I was buying items worth $180… I ended up spending more than $200 that night. It was still doing me as if I spent only 200 Naira. Only for GTB to send me debit alert that I had spent almost 40,000 Naira. Chai! As that funny Instagram guy says, “my chhweeessttttt!!!”
I spent the first day on campus taking a walk around, trying to know what building was where. Of course the most important thing to me was the student centre (say hello to the food!) After that, The administration building. It was in trying to find all of these places that it hit me for the first time how developed the campus was. Buildings that would be too expensive for businesses in Abuja- those buildings housed art studios. Marvelous glass buildings everywhere, motivational posters down the hallway. There were even screens displaying emergency news about the weather, traffic and all that Jazz. My faculty sent me the curriculum for my classes a month ahead, and then when I let them know I had resumed, they sent the textbooks to my house. Just like that. No begging anybody, no praying that the bookstore director would be “on seat”. Nobody to bribe to get my name up the list. The school even still told us we’re free to book appointments if we have any questions about academics, the career path and all that. What a wawu…
I felt, yes Uncle Peter has reached the Obodo Oyibo now, time to flex! Time to collect first class that my “wicked” lecturers did not agree to give me!
But when my programme started I realized I had rushed into it.
In every class the lecturers always made us give introductions and tell a bit of our backgrounds. I was very happy that I wasn’t the one to start first. Because when everybody started talking, I realized I didn’t belong in that class. Some were former Attorneys-General of their states. Some worked with the government of India. Government of China. Government of the US. Ontario provincial Government. Some had worked with the United Nations for 15 years. Some were specialist cardiologists and Engineers! But there was this guy that stood out, Stan Benda. He had served in the Navy, had a phd in law, a phd in Chemistry, worked with the Department of Justice, and was currently lecturing in three universities! Looking at him, he couldn’t have been more than 50. I really don’t know how old he is today!
When It was my turn to introduce myself, I found it hard to just say “I was called to the Nigerian Bar last year and I have been working with a Senior Advocate of Nigeria”.
So I said something like this:
“I have a bit of experience with forensic accounting. For the last one year I worked with an external solicitor to the Nigerian Government where our primary area of focus was prosecuting International Money Laundering Cases. Sometimes those cases involved tracing funds up to $1b and it was in the course of my practice that I picked up an interest in Alternative Dispute Resolution. I found that even in criminal cases, settlements can be reached especially when the aggrieved party (the state) is much more interested in retrieving the funds rather than lengthy prosecution. One could find the method questionable but then what is Justice? Justice is restoring the aggrieved party to the status quo ante.”
I like to think it was a good introduction 😀
At the end of the class, the lecturer gave us the assigned readings for the next day. I said hello to some people (and in the process noticed that I was the youngest face in the whole class).
When I opened the reading material to prepare for the next class, I was shocked at the volume. About 200 pages to read before 9am!!! I tried my best oh- I read, read, and read. Ate food like an elephant. That night I slept at 1am and woke up at 6am because the train ride was about 1 hour 30 minutes (from my place to school). To my greatest surprise, I saw everyone looking fresh and sounding like they knew the entire material.
Which kind of magic is this one?
That’s when I realized that my undergraduate lecturers had deceived us about how “easy” it is to get good grades in foreign schools. I had always felt they didn’t need to work as hard as us in Nigeria because of all the access to the internet, friendly professors and faculty staff…but the first week of classes made me realize that because they had more resources, even more was expected from them than from us in Nigeria. There was this guy, Nick – maybe just 2 years older than me. He spoke fluent Mandarin (Chinese), grew up in Canada and went to school in the US. When they said we should form groups, We quickly glued to each other.
For the first month, I kept trying to reach Ms Amazing Girl (if you don’t remember, read part one here). She was still upset that I actually left Nigeria and so she refused to answer my calls or text messages. It was a hard time for me. I’ve always survived on spending quality time, and just a good conversation could relieve heap loads of stress. But I had to walk this road alone, apparently.
Oya be sad for me. Let’s kuku do a group crying session if you’re in the mood :'( :'( :'(
I noticed this Chinese girl in my class. Nafi. Her skin was so white it looked like she rubbed milk on her body before coming to class. Her hair was so dark it looked like she was dyeing it with charcoal and crude oil. And her eyes were like…. nna mehn let’s not even talk about it. See me trying to learn Chinese very fast! I wanted to say, “you’re beautiful” but it was too long. I asked Nick to help out and he tried but I wasn’t catching it. So I decided to just take it slowly and learn pronouns first. Me, You, Us, Them, We. One day I finally was able to learn “you have beautiful hair”
“Wo xihua ni de toufa”
FEEL ME EVERYBODY!!! FEEL MY CHINESE POWERS! HYYYYAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!
She laughed at me and corrected my pronunciation. But after that day, she smiled at me more and more. I noticed that every time we had a group task to perform and they said “you can choose your group members”, she would drag her chair and sit beside me. One day Nick asked me if I liked her. I was like, “ME? what????? I have a girl I like back in Nigeria”. He could see that I was forming, so he just tapped me and said
” I can tell she likes you. EVERYBODY in this class can”
I thought and thought about this prospect. She can’t speak English. I can’t speak Chinese. How would we communicate? Would she like a black guy? What about Ms Amazing Girl? It didn’t take me long to figure that Ms Amazing Girl was the one that stopped answering me. Is it my fault? Etc Etc. So I had no ethical issues 😀
Next, would she like a black guy? Well, there’s only one way to find out, right?
I could see no way around my language barrier, so I stuck to using google translate. I would type in English and then play the translation aloud, then copy whatever the person said. With that I started learning to say things like
“NI hao?” (how are you?)
“ni hen piaoliang” (you are beautiful)
“ni Chīle ma? (have you eaten)
“Wǒ méi chīguò” ( I haven’t eaten)
“Xièxiè” (thank you)
“Bù, xièxiè” (no, thank YOU/you’re welcome)
Nick could see I was now making an effort to get to know her and so every now and then he would lean in and tease us. She didn’t understand a lot of English, so she couldn’t tell. One time me and Nick were arguing about Rock Bands and she was somewhere around us so I called her in to ask if she listens to rock or metal music. She didn’t know what that meant, so I played her something from Nickelback (A Canadian band from somewhere around here). She smiled and said she liked it. Then I offered to send her some suggestions and maybe we would go to a concert together if we had time.
She gave me her number and said, yeah we should do that.
King Uncle Peter, Don Alejandro Del Castillo y Garcia, Commander of Men and Lord of Beasts, the Ogbunigwe, the Osisi na m’ego of Onitsha is about to strike like a thunder, a la Timaya, a la Tim Godfrey.
Just then, my phone buzzed.
Text from Ms Amazing Girl.
Photo Credit: Dreamstime