A colleague asked me the worst form of cultural shock I had encountered in my travel and I told him about the door-less gents' toilets in China. In that country, it is normal to find a guy doing his thing as if he were sneezing. Well, there were others, but you need your appetite so let us move on.
While covering the election and swearing-in of former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo in 1999, I learnt something about his people's culinary habits. It is not even the fact that the only difference between breakfast, lunch and dinner is tea on the table in the morning. But meats, fishes, soups and accompaniments like rice and plantains are stacked in buffet bowls.
After a few days of wondering what the ligament-like pieces in their meats were, I asked a waiter and he told me it was animal skin. Turns out that the hide is a delicacy and is not stripped off the carcass like we do here. At a hotel in Lagos frequented by Kenyans, I lost my wallet with some $100. I must have dropped it as I changed my dollars into naira (the naira was enough to fill up a paper bag).
Fear of Juju
My employer had deposited my per diem with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nairobi, which I then withdrew from Kenya's High Commission in Lagos. After the swearing-in of Obasanjo, I was back in Federal Hotel in Lagos for another assignment. At the reception I got a note from a Mr Bosire of the Kenyan embassy asking that I call him.
When we finally met he came with a mean-looking Nigerian man who had apparently collected my wallet and wanted us to negotiate a revenue-sharing formula. Apparently, he had frequented the embassy asking if they had found me. Bosire explained to me that because of fear of juju (witchcraft), a Nigerian hustler would rather kill you and take your wallet than collect one dropped on a street.
I was shocked but then rather than lose everything, I agreed that we haggle for a lower figure than the 50-50 per cent he was proposing. He was furious but Bosire, being a diplomat, ignored the Pidgin English curse words and proceeded. Eventually he got what he wanted, gave me my wallet and the balance, then shook my hands and left smiling and calling me 'broda'!
I would later learn that because of fraud, which surpasses Kenya's, the first queue you go to in a bank is to have your passport picture taken and given to the teller. At the time the Hire Purchase thing had collapsed because of fraudsters who 'cooked' documents and the banks were not taking cheques because the forgery experts had excelled in this area!
Once in Japan with a Tanzanian and two Ethiopians we would come down from our rooms at Tokyo International. At the restaurant's doorway, we always found guests standing in groups. Minding our own business, we would proceed into the restaurant, select a table and sit. With huge embarrassment, we later learnt how rude we had been.
In Japan, the waiter directs guests to their table. It is considered discourteous to sit at a table meant for four if you are alone.
I wouldn't want go to details but here toilet paper was an option that was reluctantly given because the toilets are installed with bidets, which clean you up with hot water and dries you up with warm air. But then in Cyprus, they don't flush used toilet paper, they are thrown into a bin. Interesting, isn't it?
Well, in Israel with my friend Norman Mudibo we found out that their beds are so thin that if you take your nightmares with you, you will fall off as you struggle with them at night. We could go on about the rest of the world.
Lastly, in Nigeria, I almost forgot to tell you about the market where meat, hanging from long pieces of wood, are hawked in the market area like oranges in Nairobi.
In Uganda, I discovered meat is not hung on hooks in a butchery but piled on wooden benches. They also hawk pieces of nicely roasted chicken and shove them through car windows asking you to make your choice as if they were roasted maize.
Now, please share with me your experiences and let us laugh about them for it is Furahiday and we can give politics a break.
Mr Tanui is the Standard Group Deputy Editorial Director and Managing Editor, Daily Editions [email protected]