Friday, August 21, 2015

A Cynic's Guide to Taking Chances

Long before I go in I know it’s going to hurt. But I go in anyway, because on my New Year Resolutions list it’s right there, number four: take more chances. I am taking a gamble on my heart.

But I will never tell you this. It’s not your problem, not really. Just like it’s not the doctor’s business how long and hard I psych myself up before every visit. His business is to treat me. So treat me, however you will. I am taking chances this year. 

But in my head I will live out the worst possible outcomes. I will give you everything I have to give and I will come up short. You will become ingrained, build a house under my skin, and then one day you will move out and there will be just air where you used to live. You will love me but you will leave me. It will hurt but I will not stop myself now. I don’t want to.

So today, while it is still early days, I am nursing my broken heart. I am living my future in my present, taking today’s pills for tomorrow’s aches. I am building up the pain, living in it, dying in it. Say what you will, but I know what I am doing. I have lived this before. The trick is, when you anticipate so much pain and live in it, nurse it and let it break you, it never hurts as bad when the real thing comes.

And the real thing always comes. This is the part some people refuse to learn.  

Friday, August 14, 2015

Theatre Review: Batonga

Presented by Seeing through the Arts (I love this name!), Batonga tells the story of a 14-year-old girl who becomes a victim of child trafficking. Abike has a simple life in the village. The oldest child of her widowed father, she works hard to help him and her younger ones, and even other villagers, as much as she can. Abike is loved by her father Olu and many in the village, but her family is poor. They struggle to get by and even regular meals are a luxury. One day Olu is approached by Rachel, a ‘posh’ woman from their village who has managed to make something of herself in Lagos. Unbeknownst to Olu, her income is mostly derived from her child trafficking business. Olu, somewhat reluctantly, hands an excited Abike over to Rachel after she promises that Abike will be give employment, as well as an education, in Lagos. Taken in by the promise of a better life, Abike makes her way to Lagos. But she soon learns that things are not always as they seem.

I thought Batonga was... okay. Not great, just okay. The thing that I enjoyed the most about the play was the dancing. And there was lots of it. I loved the vibrancy and energy of it all, the dancers cartwheeling and somersaulting over each other. The acting was pretty good, but the outstanding actor for me was Bola Atotiyebi who plays Auntie.

Some things I wasn’t crazy about, like the narrator sometimes giving us unnecessary exposition. The narrator served the purpose of summarising bits of the story that couldn’t be dramatized in the play’s 75-minute running time, and this she did well. But there was no need for her to tell us something like ‘Abike was scared, humiliated!’ when Abike was on stage showing us just that, and better than any words could describe. Also, while I like musicals, I prefer ones where the actors do the singing. With Batonga it was mostly songs we know being played through speakers. This probably wasn’t a problem for most people though, and it would certainly have worked better if the breaks between music, the narrator’s exposition and the actors’ dialogue were better coordinated. These three constantly clashing into each other was not very pleasant. 

Also, certain story elements bothered me. Like why does Rachel have to, quite suddenly, fall for Olu at some point? I found this unnecessary, and all the more so because it goes absolutely nowhere. Maybe the idea is that her ‘falling in love’ is what gets her to confess the truth about Abike’s situation to him. But surely this could have been achieved some other way without needing such an obvious plot device.  

On a more positive note, one thing that this play does have going for it is that it packs an emotional punch. The story is built around an important subject (I think this is one of those stories where subject overshadows delivery though) and a sympathetic protagonist, and we are fully with Abike, rooting for her every step of the way.

Batonga shows every Sunday in August at Terra Kulture, 3pm and 6pm.

Friday, August 7, 2015

50 Minutes

It’s ironic to die on your way to a funeral. I hope God isn’t a fan of irony.

I’m in my seat on the plane watching people settle in around me. I take a shaky breath. Fifty minutes defying gravity doesn't sound so bad. But 50 minutes is more than enough time to die; enough time for one thing or many things to go wrong.

It’s my first time flying this airline. Why does the upholstery on the seats look so worn, the carpet faded? How old is this plane? What corners have the airline cut this month, this week? The kind that could kill me?

I remember to not give voice to my fear. God is with me. My life is in His hands. His plans for me are good (not death by plane). I wonder about others who have fallen from the sky, wonder what plans He had for them.

I survey the other passengers. Some are falling asleep. A few are reading. One woman is spanking her child. I stretch my neck to look out the window across from me. The sky is overcast but the ground is dry. Grey sky above, grey ground below. Grey is the colour of impending death, not black. Black is solid, final. Definite. You know where you stand with black. But grey, grey has just the right amount of ambiguous. Grey lets you hope. Grey should know better.

A flight attendant gives the safety announcement. She points out emergency exits; the closest to me is five rows away. But what’s an emergency exit when there’s nowhere to exit to? The flight attendant is dark skinned, with a weave that looks expensive. I’m sure expensive hair burns just as good as cheap.

I wonder about flight attendants. Do they, somewhere between their 2nd and 41st flight, develop immunity to the stomach knots that form in those moments when the engines quiet down after taxiing, just before they rev up again for take-off? The flight attendant is gesturing to the floor lights that should come on in case of an emergency. They do not come on now; aren’t they supposed to on cue? What else will fail to work like it’s supposed to? The wheels? The engines? Or something completely out of anyone’s hands, like the weather? Panic floods my chest and I clench my hands into fists.

A woman seated across from me, two rows ahead, catches my eye. She is putting on makeup. Her hand moves in sure strokes, painting black onto her eyebrows, red on her lips. She wipes a smudge from the corner of her mouth with a bold finger.

Calm settles upon me, slow and barely discernible. Like dew. This woman is going somewhere, meeting someone: the boyfriend of many years who just bought a ring? The prospective client who is about to give in? The secret lover? The interview panel that will decide whether she gets to relocate?

The deftness, the certainty in her fingers, is proof that she will get to where she needs to be. She will take me with her. We will land safely. And because she knows this I suddenly know it too.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Theatre Review: Madmen and Specialists

Madmen and Specialists is a dark satire by Wole Soyinka. Set in the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War, it tells the story of a man (Dr. Bero) and his father (Old Man) who find themselves on opposing sides. The father, a physician slash philosopher, following his experiences at war comes up with the idea that humans should eat whatever they kill, including other humans. This stance, really a stand against war, causes him to promulgate a ‘religion’ in worship of ‘ASS’. He recruits four men, old patients of his damaged in body and mind, as ardent followers. His son Bero rises to a position of power in military intelligence, and finds himself at odds with his father. He imprisons and torments his father, seeking to know the true meaning of this ‘ASS’. Meanwhile, Si Bero, Bero’s sister, who has been left to hold the fort in the supposed absence of her father and brother, joins up with two elderly herbalists, Iya Agba and Iya Mate, who teach her the art of the herbs on the condition that Bero continues with the work when he returns from the war.

Things come to a head when Bero comes home, to confront his father and to break it to Si Bero that no, he will not be continuing the work. Things spiral out of control from here, culminating in tragedy.

I struggled with whether or not to write a ‘review’ of this play: how could I – should I even – write a review of a play I did not really understand. The producer had warned us in her opening remarks that we were in for something “weird”, but I had no idea. I have not read Madmen and Specialists, or really very much of Soyinka. A few minutes into the play I understood the reason for the producer’s warning, but I cannot say that it helped me much. I found this play quite confusing and felt off balance for most of it. There were some laughs here and there – the scene where the pastor visits Bero shortly after his return is particularly hilarious and would be the high point of the play for me, only I did not know it then. The rest of it was a struggle.

I will say, however, that the acting was superb. There was Patrick Diabuah, who is a personal favourite, as Dr. Bero. KelvinMary Ndukwe was terrifyingly convincing as Old Man. Other cast members include Bola Haastrup, Jennifer Osammor and Austin Onuoha. I do not fault the cast or crew at all. I just think that Madmen and Specialists is an obscure piece of work, certainly not the kind I enjoy. The play was one hour and twenty minutes long, and for once I did not wish a play to last longer.

I will commend the crew, though, for anticipating the audience’s confusion and trying to manage it. I liked that the producer had told us to prepare for a weird experience before the play started, even though I did not fully appreciate this heads up until later. She’d promised a Q and A session after the play, certain, in her own words, that we would have questions. She was right. I was relieved when someone in the audience asked, clearly confused, for a summary of the play. Director Kenneth Uphopho (with the silent ‘p’s; director of Saro and Single in Gidi) did a good job of explaining the play, and I think the audience was somewhat appeased.

Madmen and Specialists was brought to us by PawsStudios; the final showing was on Sunday July 26. Still, you can catch a play at Terra Kulture or the Lekki Waterside Theatre every Sunday. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Danfo chronicles: The 200

After work one day I got on a danfo bus from Yaba to Obalende. When it was time to pay I offered the worn N200 note that I’d gotten from the lunch lady that afternoon to the conductor. He took the money, eyeing it as he held it between his thumb and forefinger.

‘This money no good o,’ he growled, thrusting it back at me.

I took the note and examined it. Even though it had one or two tiny holes and a small strip of Cello tape fixing a tear on one corner, I thought it was passable. But I don’t know how to fight, so I quietly took a N1000 note from my wallet and gave it to the conductor who took it, grumbling about his not having change. I looked away. It wasn’t the conductor’s business that I had two N100 notes sitting pretty in my wallet. It was nobody’s business. I might not be good at fighting with my fists or with quick, cutting words, but even your mild passive-aggressive has many weapons in her arsenal. 

After a while the conductor had a change of heart. He grudgingly asked for the rejected N200 and returned my N1000.

All was quiet until one passenger asked the conductor for his change and my N200 ended up in his hand. The guy took one look at the note and held it out to the conductor.

‘I can’t take this money,’ he said. ‘Be quick and change it; I’m coming down at Adeniji.’

‘There is no change o,’ the conductor said. ‘You go manage am like that.’

I felt a twinge of guilt, but I could see two N100 notes in the conductor’s hand. The man had seen this too.

‘No be 200 naira you hold for your hand so?’ he said. ‘My friend give me beta money before I reach my bus stop!’

The conductor spread out the notes in his hand and, all of a sudden, there was only one N100 note. ‘Where you see 200?’ He asked.

The passenger was incredulous, as was I. ‘I saw two hundred in your hand just now!’ he said.

The bus came to a rattling stop at Adeniji Bus Stop and the conductor opened the door. The passenger stayed on the bus, waving the N200 note at the conductor as he hovered over the laps of the woman beside him, as if trying to decide whether to sit on them. The woman was 
not pleased.

‘Abeg carry your yansh, make I see road!’ she said.

The man carried his buttocks to his seat while I raised my handkerchief to my eyes and pretended to be wiping something. I wondered if the man sitting beside me remembered I’d been the giver of the contentious N200. I couldn’t let him see me laughing.

The driver turned to look at his conductor. ‘Wetin happen?’

‘Nothing do that money but he say he no want am,’ the conductor said.

The passenger waved the note in the driver's face. ‘See this money. If they give you you go take am?’

The driver barely glanced at the note. ‘Nothing wrong with this money jor. This man, you like trouble.’ He turned to the conductor, ‘You get another one?’

‘Another change no dey o,’ the conductor said.

‘Passenger, you go follow us reach Obalende be that,’ the driver said as he sped off.

The embattled passenger proceeded to make his case to the woman beside him. ‘See the money wey this conductor give me,’ he said, like a child reporting a bruise courtesy of an overly aggressive playmate.

The man beside me spoke up: ‘Ahn-ahn, that money is bad na. If na me sef I no go take am.’

The woman agreed in a quieter voice. ‘It’s true, that money is not good. Conductor, you suppose change am.’

‘And now that you don carry me pass Adeniji, you go give me money to come back,’ the passenger said, ‘or else you go see trouble today.’

‘See this one!’ the conductor said. ‘Na who you wan show trouble? See ehn, you must to show me that trouble o. Before I change this money you must to show me that trouble. Your mouth like crayfish.’

I kept my eyes and face straight.

By the time the bus reached Obalende it was mayhem, with the driver and conductor on one side and the passengers banded together on the other. As soon as the bus stopped I slipped out from amongst the screaming humans as they hurled insults and threats. I thought of that scene every single action movie seems to have: unflappable hero walks off in slow motion while the car or building she’s set fire to blows up behind her. I finally knew what that felt like.  

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Theatre Review: The Insomniacs

About the play

Written by Hafeez Oluwa, The Insomniacs is a delightful musical that tells the story of a band on their way to the big leagues. The Insomniacs - Ada, Deju, Lolo, Eric and Emeka - have worked hard and are ready for their big break, their first real show. But Deju's addiction will lead to a tragedy none of them could foresee, breaking the group apart and setting their lives on different courses. When they come together again years later, a lot has changed: loves lost and gained, hearts and bodies broken. Their only hope is their love for each other, and for the music.

It was with some reluctance that I bought a ticket to see The Insomniacs. I’d never experienced Lekki Waterside Theatre before, neither had I heard of the writer Hafeez Oluwa (as it turns out, The Insomniacs is his first stage play). But I love theatre, and I often enjoy musicals, so it was an easy decision. It turned out to be one I did not regret. 

The Insomniacs has a good story line, and really great music to go with it. The band had the audience singing along to songs like Asa’s ‘Jailer’, Styl Plus’s ‘Run Away’, ‘Say Something’ by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera, and Staind’s ‘So Far Away’. Tosin Gregory gave an outstanding performance as Eric, the group’s drummer-slash-funny man. I wasn’t laughing when he gave his solo musical performance, though; I was nursing my goosebumps.  I’d watched Tosin in Band Aid last year, and now with The Insomniacs I’m definitely a fan.

Two scenes from the play were shown on screen using a projector, and I found this an interesting deviation from the norm. One short scene was set behind the audience, so we had to turn in our seats to watch. Another ‘scene’ was simply a disembodied voice that was one side of a phone conversation. It all came together very well.

In all, The Insomniacs was time and money well spent. The show started almost an hour late, but a few minutes in and all was forgiven.

The show is on for two more Sundays this month. Don’t dawdle.

Venue: Lekki Waterside Hotel, Wole Olateju Crescent, Lekki Phase I

Time: 2pm and 5pm, Sundays in July

Tickets: N3000

Friday, July 3, 2015

Yellow Mitsubishi: The Fifth Road Trip

Ngwo Pine Forest, Caves and Waterfall, Enugu

For Democracy Day weekend at the end of May we planned a road trip to Enugu. We left Lagos at about 8.30am and arrived our hotel at Independence Layout, Enugu, sometime around 7pm. Take out the bad roads and time spent stuck in traffic and we would have got to Enugu much sooner. 

We stayed at Utopia Suites. Our hotel accommodation cost less than N7000 per room for both nights, thanks to our Jovago discount. Utopia Suites did not live up to its name, though – from dirty looking sheets and bath tubs to an apparent one-towel-per-room policy, and other small inconveniences, Utopia was one of the more unpleasant hotels we’ve encountered on our travels.

Our time in Enugu was pretty short. Due to the distance from Lagos we knew we would spend two days travelling and have only one day to explore. One thing we made sure to do was partake of the food of the area. I tried okpa for the first time (I’d come across it many times before but had never bothered to), and some of us got a first taste of abacha from a roadside bar.

We set out from the hotel around 11 on our first morning with a plan to visit Udi Hills, Ngwo Caves and Waterfall and Ezeagu Waterfall/Tourist Complex. We figured out, with maps and with the help of some policemen and passersby, that Ngwo caves was closest to our starting point (it was about 45 minutes away), and so with the policemen pointing the way we headed off onto a narrow, winding road. The bends were breathtakingly sharp, and to our right was a drop of several feet. We couldn’t go any faster than about 20km/h. Where we didn’t have trees blocking our vision, the view was amazing, with hills and the city’s buildings dotting the landscape. It was exhilarating, and a little scary. Not the kind of road you want to be on with any kind of trouble.

We reached a roadside fuel station, and there we picked up a man who knew where we were headed and offered to take us there. The winding road took us further, into Hill Top, Ngwo, and from there we made our way to the pine forest. There, we were met by two men who wouldn’t let us through; they were asking for a N5,000 ‘entry fee’. There was no official entryway or booth, or a ticketing system, just these two guys trying to fleece people. We haggled a bit, threatened to leave, and were able to get in for much less.

The pine forest consists of neat rows of trees. The canopy created by their branches and leaves overhead gives an ethereal feeling. We came across groups of people praying, and at least two wedding parties taking post-ceremony pictures. We invited ourselves to take a picture with a lovely couple who didn’t seem to mind.

One of the men who’d demanded money from us became our unofficial guide. He took us down a long path in the bush, sometimes steep and sometimes rocky (it was like a less extreme version of our Erin Ijesha adventure). He’d said there was an easier path through the pine forest, but that it would take much longer. We had plans to visit other places so we chose the quicker route. It was a difficult path, though; so with the luxury of time the pine forest would be the easier and more scenic choice. At some point it started to feel like the guide might be leading us into an ambush in the forest.

Eventually we arrived at a clearing. The waterfall and caves are tucked in a narrow cavity that opens into a small circular space. It’s like being in a dark room with a small skylight, the water falling from the hole in the roof of the cave and down into a pool that forms into a stream. It’s a small waterfall; you can get close and even stand under it.

The cave has an air of mystery to it, and its walls look like burnt clay. Our guide stood to one side smoking weed and saying nothing, so we had no commentary to go with the sights. I doubt he could have told us much anyway. We had our fill of the caves, took several pictures and made our way back out.

When we left Ngwo we decided to head to Ezeagu. We’d read about a place called Ezeagu Tourist Complex, with caves and a waterfall. Nobody we asked knew an Ezeagu Tourist Complex, but they knew Ezeagu Waterfall, and we figured this was close enough. We found our way with the help of an okada rider. Apparently, it was quite a popular spot.

We found out just how popular when we got to the gatepost leading to the waterfall area. There were several buses parked, most bearing logos from University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and we could hear party music in the distance. When we got to the waterfall there was a massive crowd of young bodies, some frolicking in the water, others dancing or drinking or smoking. There were three Deejay posts, with different music blaring from each of them like there was some kind of contest going on.

Unfortunately, we could not stay long – the teeming crowd, the loud music, the partying students, it just wasn’t very inviting. But it looked like a beautiful waterfall, from what we could see of it.

This has been our farthest journey yet on Yellow Mitsubishi. As always, it was a great exploring; I only wish we’d had time to visit more of the attractions Enugu has to offer.

Photos courtesy Yellow Mitsubishi

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