A ‘Warm’ Traditional Welcome and an Introvert’s Place in Rural Hustle| Iwundu Wisdom



The nondescript keke driver pointed me to the crowded marketplace as he joined the queue of a yellow fleet at the informal bus stop and killed his tricycle engine. I wished he could have been more specific, like when he called for a London fag from a lay-by kiosk. I followed the woman who sat beside me on our ride down to Ijora market into the thick node of hot-afternoon market hustle. None of the directions she gave was definitive, but they were a better guide. Soon I was standing alone against Igbo market bargain, the easy-flowing rapport between Nigerien or Fulani tongue and the noise of street market I’ve learned to ignore, until it gets too loud.

Getting enough of Ijora market may be like seeing the ruins of Aleppo in Syria, the fall of the church in Uyo or the wreckage by Boko Haram presence in north-eastern Nigeria, and not once again doubt the world. Looking at the busy market, a part of me is thrilled to explore the life I’d once turned down because it took too much from me, but it also reinforces the doubt I have in my ability to not just remain quiet in a world that is so loud, but also to prove that there is still a place for quiet. And quiet neither connotes intellectualism nor stupidity; though it can be both, but there’s no exclusivity. I believe, to put it more accurately, it’s a state of being where there’s an unstable balance between asking questions and having answers, like two forces trying to cancel each other out, but never having quite the right grip. It’s very conflicting but determined.

Someone had asked for my help over at his shop. Christmas holidays brought in a lot of customers that was too much for one man to handle. Besides, since I had got the Christmas break from the eight-to-three teachers’ slog, I thought I could give a hand to the man who was responsible for a roof over my head. Not many conflicts may implode and escalate into a refugee situation, but most of us have got our own little wars and our own little ruins. Mine was vacillating between living a vagrant’s life and compromising my values as a teenager.

My roommate erred on the side of brusqueness. He was a man of game, giving half instructions and wanting you to figure out the rest yourself, so his direction was just what it definitely was: very unclear. Dressed mannequins flanked the entryways of shops on both sides of the road, display glasses held second-grade phones people would rather happily buy; belts, wristwatches, footwear, hangers, luggage bags, everything for a good wardrobe, except the wine and groundnuts, of course. The average Nigerian tradesperson would favour a diversification of merch to offset his loss in the rapidly growing economic recession in the country. I found my roommate’s shop about half an hour later.

Selling cloth merchandise in Ijora, as it remains in other commercial sites in the country that are dominated by Igbo tradesmen, involves a lot of physicality and active oomph that can quickly swing from getting across the street to intercept a potential buyer from patronizing a competitor’s stock to pulling passers-by hands and persuading them to buy, right in the middle of the street. It’s a trade of active energy, loose associating, loud communication, and ultimately, disregard and intolerance to quiet.

Introverts have always suffered varieties of labels and wide-off-the-mark theories from the collective or partial unawareness of places peopled by either dogmatic natives or an unexposed horde, who may have probably never entertained any curiosity to be explored at first anyway. The stigmatization of introverts may be more common in the browner parts of the world, but this shaming highlights a deeper truth we will all have to accept: the world has evolved to meet the judgment of the extrovert. And the introverts are having a hard time. Research conducted by Harvard Business Review shows that 96% of managers and executives exhibit extroverted personalities.

Introverts are discouraged right from the earliest signs or presence of this quiet tendency and it is worse in places where you can’t trust who is standing behind you at the bus stop. People, especially parents, get concerned that inward-driven kids could easily be had and influenced by bad friends or worse judgment. Sadly, this is because quiet very often mean dull and stupid to these people, but intellectualism could mean more than just having the knack for expressing knowledge boldly – and boldly is usually intended to mean very loud. Acquiring knowledge comes in different forms; visual aid, traditional one-on-one lecture, exploration, etc. It is unfair, then, to think that sharing this knowledge must be through a single mode. The world may want to hurl her energy right into it, but if the problem needs detailed analysis, no amount of energy can beat quiet to it. And if the problem needs energy, well surprise, the introverts has a lot of that, too. It’s a win-win. How? Balance. And balancing outbursts of energy and spells of inwardness is an ability the extrovert sadly lacks.

The ‘discouragement’ of this quiet may well be a euphemism here, as introvert kids are often grounded for not being as ‘energetic’ as their mates are. They are compared with other kids whose psycho-motor abilities are registered to handle problems in an entirely different way. Imagine now there is a task to be learned and the venue is a rowdy marketplace, the extrovert would easily comprehend directions and even carry conversations, but it would take an amazing stroke of chance for the introvert to leave that venue with any relevant knowledge. Now if that same task is to be learned in a very quiet room, the introvert would have found his clime while the extrovert might end up screaming out of boredom. At the end of the day, they both have learned the same task but in different environments.

Holding this argument against conventional culture, it seems like the life of the introvert either shares a similar paradox with the double life of TV series superheroes or is an undramatic burlesque of social media life. They seem to exist in two phases, transposing each of these phases for when it is convenient. The introvert is rather quiet and reserved and this could easily be interpreted as snobbish or shy or any other tag that has been slapped to this ‘noiseless species’, but it takes the right energy cut to see that the introvert wants to, and can be, as socially free as the extrovert.

The Energy Cut

Introverts exhibit social reserve and possess what can best be called an energy level. This energy level moderates how much of themselves they are allowed to expend and puts up a guard when it encounters people who haven’t yet made the energy cut – and the energy cut is the level to which a person must reach before the introvert puts down his guard and socialize freely. It’s like jump-starting a person who has lost his heartbeat; the defibrillator is fired up to a certain voltage, and if that voltage doesn’t bring back the patient, the voltage is notched up a bit. This means there’s a certain volt to which the defibrillator must be charged to bring back the patient and we’re aware that the voltage varies with how well the patient’s heart responds, but shock timing doesn’t dictate defibrillation outcome.

Even with introverts, there are those who have a higher inward tendency than others. For these, it usually takes a higher energy cut to bring them to acquaintanceship. It is easy to classify them as snobs (of course, some of them are, as are some extroverts too), but they are only just people who have a private definition of friendship or socializing; they don’t keep too many friends, they are okay with just what they need. And they know what they need.

It’s quite like a fantasy narrative: a people with an energy level who need an energy cut before they can be reached. But in fact, it gets more interesting. Like everyone, the introvert has values, but while the extrovert is inclined to making friends of virtually every stranger, the introvert makes friends with people who share similar values and when in the midst of these ‘select few’, he behaves in the same manner the extrovert would behave – free, loud, and all that. What’s more? If a stranger happens to step into the group of this ‘select few’, the energy reserve kicks in and the introvert returns to quiet again. It’s a dual life which is already challenging without the shaming.

A Welcome RitualTop of Form

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Persuading people to buy the cloths we sell and actually recording a sale was a good feeling. It was something I’d learned a few years back in Onitsha. As an introvert, I usually felt proud when a punter visited the shop and we bargained price, arrived at a deal, and possibly got on talking about other things. But as the day passed, there usually came a time when the whole thrill lost its thrill and no matter how much fun I’d gotten from interaction and sales, I couldn’t just handle it anymore. Everything becomes a menace because of the inward hunger to retreat.

In the introvert’s social life, there’s always a ‘but’. But this ‘but’ is neither a reason nor an excuse –it’s a time. A time to step back and recharge; a comma in the whole plane.

There was a time after I arrived that first day when I was alone in the shop and someone stepped in and asked for the cloth which one of the dummies was dressed in. As I began to separate the dummy parts to pack the cloth, this customer hurried me up. I was surprised. Then after separating it and holding out the cloth, this customer left the shop running, leaving me with a scattered dummy and a funny look. He came back later, not as a potential customer but as a shop owner. He was simply telling me welcome!

Another time that same day, I called a passer-by over to the shop (anyone who passed along looking at the clothing samples on both sides of the road was a potential customer). After perusing the collection, he picked a black polo shirt. We agreed at a price and I was just going to get a bag to put the cloth in when I turned and couldn’t find him anywhere. He left with the shirt. I frantically dashed outside but it was a market. There were too many people. Someone said he saw him run down into the crowd. I seemed lost. Then, just as I was about replacing the space in the collection with a new commodity, I saw the same man talking to someone right in front of the shop. I jumped right at him, calling to everyone that I’d caught the thief, but with a straight face, he told me off and others said that he was a shop owner down the line and shop owners didn’t steal from neighbours’ shops and stand in front of it minutes after. He later brought back the shirt and a lesson: never leave a commodity in a buyer’s hands and go in to get anything. In other words, never trust anyone.

Those were not the fanciest welcomes in my record, but I was both amused and impressed. I could have made great friends with these people, but even after that, I never felt the liberty to be socially free with them. In the following days, I only shared nodding acquaintances with them, and I did these only when I pushed myself. Apparently, their stunt was not enough to make my energy cut. The energy cut theory may sound funny but I cannot laugh along, because it is the basis for the introvert’s social life.

Maybe on another day, in a less noisy place than a market, we could have made great company, but the market environment was too loud for me to welcome any interaction. In such cases, there’s a reflexive reaction to let the guard up a notch against the noise, decreasing the introvert’s energy level and consequently increasing the energy cut. So it takes a certain amount of grit to get through to an introvert in a noisy place.

However, this is not to portray introverts as impassive in establishing relationships. Introverts make moves to make friends, too; they don’t just do it quite as often as the extrovert, and are very selective with who they approach.

In the following days of me lending a hand, I almost always had my earpiece on when there usually weren’t many sales and every other seller seemed to be talking about bet tickets, body counts, and the dwindling economy or were busy catcalling girls. From the many times I caught them staring, I could read the labels in their gazes – arrogant, snobbish, queer – but because they were unfamiliar with the introvert’s variation in the world’s value system, they couldn’t think that maybe I was only keeping the earpiece to shut out the noise.

It seems like the introvert has always understood the character of the extrovert and sees no problem in differential co-existence, but this understanding has never been mutual. The extrovert appear intolerant in accommodating any form of temperament different from what they are used to or would rather be used to, and by being dominant in population, create a world which favours action over contemplation as a result.

The Introvert’s Learning Ideal: What It Takes

Introverts can be hard to put up with when we fail to realize that it is abnormal for everyone to behave the same way and have the same temperaments. It can be harder still when it’s hard to accept that because some people do not register on our standards, there’s probably something wrong about them. These are flawed perceptions impelled by self-aggrandizement and the regularity of living in a society that treats bigotry with a slap on the wrist, or worse a pat on the back, especially when it is disguised as concern.

Many introverts have been discouraged from learning things they may be passionate about simply because they have been forced to learn these things in places that are inconvenient, even if not in the general sense of it. This leaning to chart a map where there’s only one route can both be boring and abusive as it heavily frowns upon any other alternative routes to the destination. Social standards can be both progressive and reactionary; progressive if it promotes a culture, and reactionary if it doesn’t frequently question this culture and hold it up against evolution and sound collective reasoning. Sadly, not many places have or promote people who want to keep these traditions in check and at the same time, keep it from evolving into extinction. But even traditions, when bent to favour only a part of a whole set or otherwise, reveals the underlying flaw of anything man-made: always designed for a bright purpose but whose benefit is often shaved off or buttonholed by inadequacies that are sometimes too much or too severe that they outstrip its usefulness. At the other extreme end, these flaws actually induce revision of standing methods and beliefs in a way that makes it unwise to ignore a differing explanation, which should only be turned down after scrutiny.

Introverts are characteristically creative and their creative spirit can be dealt huge damage not just by wrong ecosystem but also by a persisting ignorance and great social changes have often never occurred until the common masses were given anon-constrictive access to modern knowledge. The introvert will never beat the impulse to feel special or different from the larger world if their nature cannot be made common knowledge. It takes appearance to be recognized, but sometimes it takes persistence to be heard, to be accepted, to be given a chance. Asking to be accepted does not mean we are inferior, it rather simply means we are fed up.

The kind of persistence the introvert has to exhibit is not an agonizing persistence, like blacks against white focalism, but the easy insistence on just being who we are and not trying to become an extrovert; persistence, a protest that is quiet but still announces itself. People who say they are ‘introverted extroverts’ are either extroverts who secretly envy the quietude of introverts, or introverts who simply do not understand their temperament. So personally, I think ‘being an ambivert’ is just some people’s way of saying “I’m not sure which one of those people think is cool, so I don’t think I want to know where I fall.”

Cloth business, as I discover sometimes, is exciting. I’m pretty convinced that if I were trading in a less congested space, like in a street-side market, I’d have felt at ease being myself because there would be fewer people; I’d have learned new things comfortably, interacted more – and sold more, of course. Then when I find myself somewhere more compact, I’d have gotten used to market technique and interaction and won’t find it hard adapting. But if I’m forced into a demanding market foremostly, I’d have lost the interest to learn anything new at all because the noise would be wearying and that would never be my kind of place.

When it comes down to learning or ambition, these two temperaments only differ by means. To achieve the same end, the introvert and extrovert apply a different approach unique to their temperament and it’s never right to scoff at a contrary opinion only because we are not allowed to make the choice for everybody.

It takes a violent enlightenment for the conservative extrovert to unlearn the untruth that says the introvert, as an implication of their complexity, learns slowly. The introvert simply just doesn’t thrive well in certain circumstances, just as everyone has conditions they simply struggle to fit into. And it is this that is asked to be respected: the freedom of life and the convenience of simply expressing that life without a fear of being socially stigmatized.


ABout the Author

Iwundu Wisdom is a young writer and music enthusiast. His works have been published in The Kalahari Review, The African Writer, The Huffington Post, Y! Naija, and several other online platforms. When he is not writing, he is an elementary school teacher. Reach him on:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/chigoziem.wisdom

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