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I became conscious of my blackness when I went to study in the Philippines. Before then, I was just Nigerian. But when I arrived the Philippines, being different dawned on me quickly.

I didn’t notice it when some Filipinos covered their nostrils with handkerchiefs or their hands whenever I was around them, but I sure did when my colleagues and I were instructed by a fellow Nigerian to bathe properly and regularly, and also to douse ourselves with cologne while never forgetting to have a pocket body spray at all times. This friendly advice wasn’t taken without strive as some of my colleagues interpreted it as racist— even though it came from a Nigerian Professor who has been in the Philippines for years before our arrival. We already knew the importance of personal hygiene why then remind us of what we have being doing all our lives?

Truthfully, few of my colleagues had an unpleasant body odour, due to several factors ranging from poor hygiene to excessive sweating, dirty socks/clothes, hormones and change of diet. But that didn’t matter, that they smelled did.

We soon learnt to manage the situation better. We would randomly open a door or window in class, sprayed room fresheners, started using fabric conditioners and encouraged the loosed ones to be more conscious of their personal hygiene.

Black and White Painted Face by Alexander Khokhlov

Portraits by Alexander Khokhlov

Class schedules required us to change classrooms several times a day. Sometimes, a professor who enjoys lecturing too much would remain in a class for some extra minutes while the next Professor and his student waited outside. It often lasted for five to ten minutes, the erring professor will apologize and life goes on.

This brought about a new revelation. My classmates were mostly blacks mixed with few Filipinos and other foreigners. But there were mostly all Filipino classes. To our amazement, we couldn’t enter the classrooms when Filipino students trooped out. The stench was unbearable. This became a weapon for some students you could call civil rights activist. “Filipinos smell too,” they would hammer every time. I guess some black students became a little loose in their hygiene then. They had a worthy alibi.

 

Filipinos truly smell, Blacks do, Whites do and all humans do. Amazingly, we only notice the foul odour of others but never our own.

Fractalius Face - 3D and CG & Abstract

Fractalius Face – 3D and CG & Abstra

 

During my stay in the Philippines, I regularly had lunch/dinner with a wonderful woman and her family. Sometimes, she invited some of her friends and we would engage in open discussions about our culture and faith. I can never forget her food — excellent cooking and the good lord damn you if you do not leave your plate empty — because I always ate everything on the menu.

On one of such dinners, a Filipina asked a dicey question which would have been offensive but wasn’t to us because of the settings we were in.

“Why do Nigerians smell?” She asked after pleading we shouldn’t be offended by her question. A friend replied her, he agreed that Nigerians smell, and that every other person does also. This odour is due to several factors, e.g. those who smoke cigarette reek of tobacco. Most people who eat onion and garlic smell of onion and garlic— most Filipinos eat garlic, and like most Nigerians, I hate garlic because of its smell.

Another friend chipped in and talked about hygiene. According to him, every human being secrete a particular scent which most times is appealing, especially when you find that person attractive. But mixed with Roll-on, perfume, body spray, body cream, food, and sweat, and cramped in a room where the air is just circulating within, an atomic bomb is created. Hence windows and doors were created, to enhance ventilation —let the shit air out and the fresh air in. Aside the fact that some people are allergic to a specific odour and our nostrils perceive smell differently, bodies cramped in an enclosed space ain’t nice.

I could see the tension ease from the eyes of our host, she felt relief. Because handled differently, dinner would have been ruined.

 

 

 

Knowledge is one key element to combat racial stereotypes and prejudice.  When we interact with others — different race, religion, nationality or tribe­­ — we learn more about them and then our empathy grows. We begin to see not just our differences but also similarities that binds us together. This helps us to become more tolerant and open-minded.

I would never have learnt half of what I learnt about being black if I hadn’t lived in the Philippines. I had countless encounters and learnt that unlike what I initially thought, most Filipinos who covered their nostrils didn’t do so because of me. I learnt some Filipinos have a culture of wearing face mask especially in public places and most improvised with handkerchief and face towels — although some clearly did it because I was black.

Also I discovered some body languages I perceived as offensive wasn’t. Filipinos are naturally withdrawn and shy. English though the official language isn’t the most common, hence when faced with a native English Speaker, tension sets in and some behave inappropriately because of the communication gap. Due to interactions with great professors and friends, I learnt so many unspoken laws that at first glance appear offensive.

However, my experience is miles apart from being black in the US, Europe or in other Asian countries. This makes me empathize with others facing different challenges in their country of residence. The news talks mostly about Black Americans subjected to police brutality, but I believe there are much more we do not know about race because of the lack of media coverage. Even Nigeria, a uni-racial country has its own echo of racial interaction in the form of tribes and ethnicity. And also its fair share of institutional abuse.

A Nigerian in Nigeria might never understand why black lives matter, but he knows what it means to be manhandled by a Nigerian Police Officer or soldier. We (Nigerians) do not respect the police/army here, we fear them. You would often hear, “if not for your uniform…” and truthfully, like a super hero donning his suit, these people who are supposed to protect lives and property, maintain law and order become someone else when they wear their uniforms. Thanks to their guns, tear gas and koboko, they became god in human form.

Obey before complain.

Dare them and lose your dignity if you are lucky, and if you are not, your life, and sometimes both. They can shoot you, then toss a gun beside you. You become a criminal. Killed in cold blood, and the name you struggled to define will become smeared forever.

Nigerians smell, so do every other creature on this earth, plant and animal alike. Our odour (scent for those who might find it offensive) is one of the genetic markers we possess, yet it has become a weapon in the war of discrimination, and most times, the foot soldiers in this war are ignorant of the other.

I believe having honest and hate free conversations about our differences is the first step towards treating each other better and combating racial stereotypes. I had reservations writing this because I fear being misinterpreted as race is a complicated topic to talk about, and most times, the conversation is about its ‘ism’.  And when that happens, we find ourselves restricting who is qualified to discuss or even define it.

Conclusively, as I said in my Intro Post to this Series, I look forward to reading enlightening personal experiences and I encourage you to join me on this journey. Share these articles online, discuss them with real life friends and virtual friends on social media, and above all, I will encourage us all to be civil.

The goal is not to foster hate as stated earlier, but to help us understand the unique interactions of different races in different countries and how the system works. How we became racial conscious/aware.

Why some things are what they are?

What led to racial stereotypes and prejudice? And how we can improve on our humanity.

 

Thank you and join me on this journey as we learn more On Race.

 

Please do contact me via email X43writes@gmail.com if you are willing to contribute.

 

 

 

Strange Words

Others : As used here refers to people belonging to a different race, religion, tribe, ethnicity or country

Koboko :  A Nigerian whip usually made of leather or the hides of other animals. It is used mostly by Military men and Police officers.

ism : Racism

 

PS : None of the Pictures used on this Post are mine.

 

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