“Hey! Oyibos!!!” said the police officer holding an AK-47, waving it around in the air.

Oyibo (oh we bow): White person- translated as “without skin” or pigment. Now it basically means any foreigner.

I have to say that initially, I was very put off by the word oyibo.  As time has gone, I’ve learned that it’s a very neutral word and not meant to offend. Being from a melting pot society, mixed salad, potpourri– whatever dumb saying is popular about the blend of people we have in US, I’m not shocked to see, well, anyone. Being here, however, in a more homogenous society (oh triple word score on that one!), I can understand why a word exists to describe us.

“Ma, I saw a girl today and she was, uh.. light”

“So did you give her food to fatten her up?”

“No, her skin was so, so white.”

“She was dead!? A specter!”

And so on and so forth long into a conversation that lacks clarity or conciseness.


“Ma, I saw an oyibo today!”

“Did you smile, wave, or otherwise communicate to her in a way that seems very odd to her because the interaction was done solely based on her race? Good boy!”

:Boom: Done. Everyone understands.

The big thing is that I’m not used to have notoriety based solely because I’m white. There is a common sound that is used here, sort of like a tsk* tsk and hiss, to get one’s attention. Yesterday, I was on the balcony and looking out at the city, when I heard that tsk*tsk sound. I looked around and a worker in the building being renovated next to ours started waving and smiling at me. I smiled and waved back. He start smiling and waving more.  I awkwardly walked back into my room.

The elliptical in the gym faces the windows, so everyone walking by can see my sweating like a goat at Christmas. (Common phrase here. No Christmas gooses on this continent :) ) A guy walked by and started waving and mouthing something. Later kids ran by the windows, stopped, walked back and stared at me. However, it may have been because I was no longer white, but a terrifying crimson due to lack of oxygen and severe overheating. (I’ll let you guess which room in the hotel isn’t air conditioned.)

Sometimes photos are taken, like when I’m annihilating a shake at Johnny Rocket’s or as we walk passed events at the hotel. I’m somewhere on the internet…

Riding in a car, especially in the front seat, garners a lot of attention.  The last thing you want is for the other drivers in Lagos to be paying attention to anything but the insane driver all around them, the okada (carrying 4 people and a hen) weaving in and out, and the bus merging into the same lane. But when an oyibo is up front, attention gets diverted.

But we’re always left with a question of what do we say after someone on the street yells out, “Oyibo!”  Thank you? Yes, that’s me? Hey, Nigerian national?


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