Friday, September 22, 2006

Lagos, 2000

I first visited Nigeria late in 1999, seeing in the New Year at a Catholic cathedral in Osogbo with family friends, travelling to Ife, Benin City, Abraka, Olumo Forest and other wonderful places afterwards. Early in January at the start of term, we went to Unilag to find work. We had the slightly insane idea of moving to Nigeria and becoming academics. We'd had the same idea the year before when travelling in Cuba. I was somewhat put off after meeting a philosophy professor at the University of Habana for an impromptu interview - it seemed the syllabus was twenty variants of Saint Marx. I admire Marx' writing like many, but I'm not sure I would ever want a total ongoing immersion experience.

At Unilag, I managed to line up an interview with the Head of Department, Professor Momoh (he died a few months ago). Bibi and I sat down in his office, the other side of his wide desk. A young woman sat to his side. We greeted each other. I breathed in deeply, preparing myself for the questions ahead. I could never have anticipated what he was about to ask me. After saying hello, he said,

"So why are you following her?"

I was somewhat taken aback. Rather than ask me about my area of specialisation or teaching competence as a prelude to some knife-sharpening metaphysical exchange, he was apparently referring to Bibi. I thought for a second, then came back with,

"I notice that you apply the verb 'follow' to my relationship to my partner. However, that word could only belong within a partriachal conception of the world, wherein men are considered to have power over women in many different ways. However, I refuse at all times to conduct myself within such a logic. Therefore, the verb does not apply." I smiled inwardly at my smartypants answer. Professor Momoh eyed me, and then my wife. I wondered what he was thinking, inscrutable underneath a fez-like hat. Then, his next question, even more perplexing:

"But you know your wife is white?"

Now, this was a strange question. The fan whirred above, wafting warm air into the humid office. I could not come up with anything thoughtful or expansive to say. "Erm. No Professor, my wife is black." I replied. Not such a cleverclogs answer.

"No. Your wife is in fact white."

"I'm sorry sir. But my wife is black."

We were not getting very far. Socratic dialectic it wasn't.

There was a pause. Prof looked at his nubile assistant, then at me. Then, he said, "when can you start?"

In the end, we decided against the whole idea (Bibi's PhD in gender studies didnt tesselate with any department). But in a parallel universe, there I am, still teaching at Unilag, converting a generation of eager young minds to the joys of existential phenomenology, tearing them away from uncritical adoration of the works of the Abrahamic tradition.


Shango,  11:59 pm  

That's an interesting story, Jeremy.

I've often heard it said that an interview should be 95% personality (how well will I work with this person?) and 5% technical. You were obviously technically qualified for the position, as I'm sure he'd already ascertained. He wanted to know what kind of a person you were.

Also interesting is the question he asked. After all, how many interviews in one's life is one's wife in on?

Did you take the job?

Nkem 1:25 am  

Bibi's black? Next you're going to tell me you're white... If only interviews in the UK were that much of a doddle.

oguchi 6:52 am  

you get mind sha

Anonymous,  7:40 am  

huh? I didn't quite understand the conversation you had with the professor. Was it supposed to be a deep converstaion???

pelegius_the_heretic 3:02 pm  

Clearly an intellegent man, he was able to see your wife's inner whiteness. You, on the other hand, are clearly Chinese.

Anonymous,  4:41 am  

I often visit your blog, finding it a quite fascinating look at Nigeria through the eyes of the intellectual expatriate. You also have great links. However, have you ever thought about how patronizing you often sound? How could you respond to an elder academic in such a hoity-toity way, even if he asked a question that was, by your standards, out of line? Or perhaps, further reflection has enabled you to write that your answer was "smarty-pants"... well, yes...

Anonymous,  1:32 pm  

small world. looks like a friend of the deceased professor frequents your blog.

Chxta 12:33 pm  

:rolls on the floor laughing: @ pelegius_the_heretic's comment...

IBeNaija 9:48 pm  

i am very impressed at your composure during that interview. Most people would have reached across the table and slapped the blackness out of that prof. what nonsense...but at least you got the job.

LOVE your style of writing!

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