My undergrad days were very stringent. People often referred to the institution as a “glorified secondary school.” We had strict rules and even stricter punishments that accompanied flouting those rules. There were dress codes, curfews and compulsory attendance at ‘chapel services.’
But it was within those chapel walls that we found freedom – freedom of expression, through dance. When the music played and those native songs were sung, we would twirl around to ra baba, go down low to ko mo le, and gleefully rise to gbe so ke. The dance was therapy. A temporary escape from the confinement we felt daily.
So it was disheartening to notice that those tunes were not played anymore. We gradually began to realize that, with each passing chapel service, we were being constrained to English songs. O Ancient of Days! We couldn’t dance to those. Did they really expect us to? What was happening? We asked.
Well, we soon learned that the Vice Chancellor was worried that the two American exchange students – who deliberately chose to come to our country and our school – might feel left out with all the Yoruba and pidgin songs playing, and so we had to “accommodate” them by sticking to English songs only.
Hmm. Okay. How were we supposed to take that? On the one hand, we wanted to be accommodating – of course, we did. On the other hand, though, we wanted our freedom of expression back. Also, we were not even sure that the American boys wanted it this way either. I mean, if I left my Nigerian school for an American one as an exchange student, I imagine I would want to learn the American culture while I was there, so I could come back with stories to tell, and things (songs) to teach my people. I wouldn’t want to go there only to find out that the whole population of the school is pretending to be African-ized, all because of me. And then when I’m not looking, they all sneer in contempt. That would ruin the entire experience for me.
It’s just like whenever we had guests over at our home when I was growing up. That was when we’d hear about things we never knew we had in the house from my mother. “Akanna, you’re ironing on the bed? Where is the ironing board?” “But mum, we’ve never had an ironing board.” “Be quiet and go and use the ironing board, my friend!” And then you’d be left confused. Do you stop ironing or do you magically produce an ironing board so that you may continue? Either way, we all had to play this charade with the guest that we’ve always had an ironing board.
A friend of mine recently told me about when he was growing up too. They had this young uncle who had recently moved to America and any time he came visiting (with his girlfriend too), my friend’s parents would vacate their bedroom for the American couple, as that was the only room suitable enough for Western guests, never mind that they had only just recently moved to the West. Then everyone else in the house would share a dark, hot claustrophobic room together. How accommodating!
You can’t give what you don’t have, you know? And the moment you start trying to, you’d find that you’re on a slippery slope to destruction, trying to please everyone along the way. When visitors come to a place, I think the onus should be on them to blend in. When in Rome, act like the Romans. Not when in Rome, let the Romans act like you. Some American politicians have gotten into trouble, recently, with their voters for comments they made about immigrants – even those who came in illegally – being more American than the Americans themselves. All in the name of being accommodating.
When we start lowering our standards to accommodate people who are even otherwise willing to live up to them, we risk losing all that those same standards have built for us.
I’m not sure how long that rule of sticking to English songs lasted at my alma mater – I know it’s no longer there now – but one thing I do know is that it did more harm than the good it was intended to do. It robbed the resident students of the tiniest bit of freedom and enjoyment they had left. It denied the visiting students the full cultural experience they signed up for. It made the school authorities appear very hypocritical as it seemed they were more concerned about how their praise songs sounded to two foreigners than to the One to whom it was being rendered. The One who’s no respecter of persons, by the way.
I think it’s a good thing to accommodate people and make them feel welcome in your home and in your life. But if you have to lose who you are for that to happen, then it had better be Jesus that you’re welcoming, because only He deserves such sacrifice from you. And in that case, you’d actually end up raising your standards for Him rather than lowering it for mere men.
What do you guys think?