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Home » General subjects. Excelsior, you Fathead! » JEAN SHEPHERD Travel to Nigeria Part 3

JEAN SHEPHERD Travel to Nigeria Part 3

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Nothing works like at home

One of the funny little incidents that happened to me one day when I was in line at the post office.  I was buying Nigerian stamps.  I said to the clerk, “I want seven Nigerian international airmail stamps for regular letter-weight.”

As he was getting them, I looked around and couldn’t find the place to mail the letter.  I was in the post office so I expected to see the slots, so I said, “Any place where you mail this?”

Before he could answer, the guy behind me, who was wearing Western clothes, said, “Oh boy, dad, nothing works like home.  They got a box out front there.”

I turned around and this guy behind me was an American and he was a negro.  So we went out and he said, “Can I give you a lift anywhere?”

I said, “Sure.”

It turned out he was a listener, by the way.  He was astounded to find me in a post office in Nigeria.  The guy was from Brooklyn.  We started off in his little car.  He worked for an American film company.

We started to talk about Nigeria and he said, “Boy, you know, I’ll tell you, when I first came here I thought I understood everybody.  I’ve been here now six months. And every day now, I realize more and more that I understand less and less about the people, the place, the way they think, the whole business.”

I said, “Gee, you shouldn’t have any trouble.”

He said, “Let me tell you, boy.  I really discovered how American I am here.”  He said, “I really discovered that I am really an American.”

Computer generated image of an American flag isolated against a white background. Please note that this image is drawn to the exact dimensions for a real American flag.

I said, “You know, this is an interesting thing coming from you, realizing the situation.”

He said, “Let me tell you, I got friends back in the States.  I would love to have twenty of my friends here who think they know all about this and bring ’em here for about six months.  They would realize then just exactly what they are and they would know their own true identity.”

So we rode around town a little bit and he was sort of laughing and I was laughing, and finally he said, “Well, I never figured I’d see you here in Nigeria!”

I said, “No, well, I didn’t either, dad.”  I got out in front of Kingsway and he drove away and I sat around and that was the end of that.  But the thing is, you really realize how Western you are in a place like Nigeria, Ghana.

You also realize that the beliefs that Americans have—that any problem can be solved.  You know Americans really believe that problems can be solved.  They will not concede that there is an unsolvable problem—of any kind.  Nothing is really unsolvable in the affairs of men.  Wow.  Boy.  You stick around this place for about twenty minutes and you begin to feel that communication just doesn’t exist.  Not really—on a very basic human level, maybe yeah.  Like my friend from Brooklyn said, “Man, you really know that you’re an American.  You really know it.”  And he said, “They don’t know from an American here.  They don’t understand us either.”  I suppose we are the mysterious Occidentals.

“You also realize that the beliefs that Americans have—that any problem can be solved.  You know Americans really believe that problems can be solved.  They will not concede that there is an unsolvable problem—of any kind. “

[Wow! Shep really nailed it–even to today, with the issues of ISIS, etc., I still believe (maybe not as strongly) that any problem can be solved. What I recognize once again is that much of what Shep had to say about the nature of people in general, and Americans in particular, is quite true.–eb]

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    Good job. I think these Shep’s Travels excerpts are some of his most interesting insights. Now if you can only get Max on WBAI to play some on sunday nights.

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