Nigeria Gets Its Own Version of 'Sesame Street'

Filed under: In The News, Day Care & Education, Extreme Childhood, Development: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Activities: Toddlers & Preschoolers, New In Pop Culture

Sesame Street television show now in Nigeria

Muppets Kami, left, and Zobi, are the two main characters in Nigeria's upcoming "Sesame Square." Credit: Sesame Workshop / AP

There are grouchy green creatures living in the trash cans. Children grow up alongside 7-foot-tall birds, cookie-addicted monsters and ambiguously gay couples (where one partner has a curious fixation on his rubber ducky).

The only cabbie in the entire country is a furry blue creature who won't shut up about yams. If he did, he might notice his cab doesn't even have a motor. His best friend is an HIV-infected orphan who also looks like the carpet of a Motel 6.

It takes all kinds. Especially on "Sesame Street," and if you thought New York was strange, wait until the show sets up shop in Nigeria.

Children throughout the world have grown accustomed to peaceful coexistence with Muppets. Somehow, living next to a Snuffleupagus doesn't seem that strange anymore, as many countries have their own versions of "Sesame Street" with their own unique characters.

Nigeria was not among them. Until now.

This fall, Nigerian children will get their own African version of the show. And the show, still funded by U.S. taxpayers, will focus on more than teaching preschoolers the alphabet, the Associated Press reports.

That's because Nigerian children face different problems than their American counterparts. Shows will focus on preventing AIDS and malaria, as well as promoting gender equality.

Oh, and yams. Lots and lots of yams.

Yams are a mainstay of the Nigerian diet, explaining the Muppet cabbie's obsession with them. The cabbie, named Zobi, is the main character in the show.

"What is so exciting about yams? Everything!" Zobi shouts in a Nigerian accent. "I can fry the yam. I can toast it. I can boil it. I love yams!"

Actually, the AP reports, Zobi has serious points to make. When he gets hopelessly entangled in mosquito netting, for instance, he's really trying to teach children how to avoid malaria.

Childhood is serious business in Nigeria. Nearly half of the nation's 150 million people are under the age of 15, and many of them work rather than go to school.

"Nigeria is diverse," the show's executive producer, Yemisi Ilo, tells the wire service. "We have 250 different ethnic groups, so many different languages. We don't have the same customs. We do think differently."

That makes producing a show difficult, he adds. However, he tells the wire service, "children are children. All children love songs and all children love furry, muppety animal-type things."

The AP reports the show will air 26 episodes -- one for each letter of the alphabet -- in the first of its scheduled three seasons.

The Muppets live in "Sesame Square" (the name of the new show) with the concrete homes and slatted windows of a Nigerian village.

"A village square is somewhere where people gather around," Ilo tells the AP. "It's the news and information. It's all across Nigeria."

Funding for the show comes from a five-year, $3 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to the Sesame Workshop (formerly the Children's Television Workshop), the nonprofit organization that oversees "Sesame Street."

"Sesame Square" faces challenges in a country where most people earn less than a dollar a day and watching TV is difficult because many areas simply don't have electricity.

For children in such a country, Muppets represent more than a surreal fantasy world. They offer a glimpse of life beyond squalor, poverty and disease.

"We had comments from children asking if these Muppets are from heaven," Ayobisi Osuntusa, who oversees outreach for the program, tells the wire service.

Related: Sesame Street Goes to Israel

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