Friday, November 27, 2015

Danfo Chronicles: When Passengers are Jerks

Not every time driver did this, conductor did that. Sometimes, passengers, behave yourselves.

One day, on a bus from Obalende, the conductor was collecting fares. At some point, he received a one hundred naira note from a young pregnant female. He asked where she was going and she said Lekki Phase One, and the conductor said her fare was short of fifty naira. She immediately began screaming, saying she had only one hundred naira and he could take it or leave it. The conductor pointed out that he had called out his prices clearly, and so she shouldn’t have entered if she didn’t want to pay. The girl, still screaming like a banshee, said, ‘Can’t you see I’m wearing earpiece?! I didn’t hear you!’

Passengers began piping in: and whose fault is that, they asked. One woman said that she’d noticed the pregnant girl almost get hit by a keke a few minutes ago while they were standing at the bus stop; the pregnant girl hadn’t heard the keke coming because her ears were blocked by the earpiece. An elderly man said with a solemn voice that he’d witnessed an earpiece kill a young man once.

The conductor asked the girl to come down from the bus, but she refused to.

‘I’m not going anywhere!’ she screamed. ‘If you want to beat me, come and try it!’

When the other passengers tried to talk to her she turned on them, and soon she started a fight with the man in the passenger seat in front.

‘I wish you were going to Ajah,’ the man kept saying. ‘You for reach Ajah, then you go know who I be.’

I wondered who exactly he be.

The driver suddenly decided he’d had enough. He stopped the bus to remove the pregnant girl bodily. But he stopped short when his eyes fell on her protruding stomach. He stood silent for a moment.

‘This one na devil temptation,’ he said finally. ‘Touch am now, she fit die.’

‘Na you be devil brother!’ the girl shot back. ‘And na you go die. Bastard!’

The driver got back into the bus and drove off. The pregnant girl carried on, cursing everyone who had spoken to her, and their grandmother.


I was on a bus from Yaba to Obalende. The ride was uneventful, hardly Danfo Chronicles Material. Until we got to Obalende. As the bus came down the bridge, with its door open, the driver and conductor spotted four uniformed policemen, complete with rifles, scanning the approaching buses with hungry eyes. They were looking for buses that would begin letting out passengers before they’d reached the bottom of the bridge and Obalende proper. Both driver and conductor knew what was up, and the conductor quickly shut the door. The policemen eyed our bus as it passed by. 

A few metres ahead there was a slight build up of traffic and the bus slowed to a stop.

‘No open that door o,’ the driver barked at the conductor, who nodded.

We were in traffic for a only little while when the other passengers began to get impatient, urging the conductor to open the door. He refused; the policemen were watching. Next thing, we looked up and one of the men sitting in front had opened the passenger side door. He and the passenger next to him got off the bus and sauntered away, with the driver and conductor yelling insults at them as they disappeared amongst the bodies. 

Before we knew it, the policemen had swooped in. They commanded all the passengers off the bus, even as the driver pleaded and we explained that it wasn’t the driver’s fault. But the policemen weren’t having it. They were settling into the bus and making themselves comfortable as I walked away.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Finding Home

I began to think about the idea of home after listening to writers at Ake Festival talk about what home meant to them. Is the idea of home tied to a physical place? Is home the people we love the most, or is home something abstract and intangible that we (can) carry with us wherever we go? Is it neither? Is it all?

Whenever I go away from home for a while (‘home’ here meaning the house where I live with my family), I’m often a little sad to return. As a child, the places I visited outside home often held more appeal – the friends’ houses where I visited and slept over were always a little better: better bathrooms, or better toys, or seemingly more liberal parents, or cable TV. The only times I imagine I was ecstatic to be going home was when the place where I’d been was horrible – like boarding school. Of course, each time I was home on holiday and someone annoyed me, I’d think, ugh I can’t wait to go back to school. Still, home always trumped school. By university this had mostly changed, maybe because of the independence that came with university life; maybe because after six years of having lived away from home for months I had become just as comfortable away. Maybe because I had a boyfriend who lived in Port Harcourt where I went to school.

So as I returned home after four nights in Abeokuta, I wondered again at this sadness linked with returning home. Am I sad at the idea of returning to ordinary, to normal? If so, does this mean I am dissatisfied with my normal? Am I sad at the change; and if so why am I never sad on my way out? Or am I sad because my ‘home’, the house where I live with my family, is not really home?

What, then, is home? Everyone has their own answer. I think the definition of home that ties it to a house, a place, is probably the most simplistic. It is an easy definition that sometimes ignores the core of homeness – belonging, the feeling of being in a ‘place’ that you know, that knows you. For some people, this place could be the place where they live, with (or without) their family. For others it is not. For others, home is the people that matter the most to them, which may or may not be family. For yet others, home is wherever they find themselves, and it is these people who I think carry their homes with them on the inside, and whatever space they occupy they populate with little invisible pieces of them that remind them of who they are, who they’ve been. I wonder if people like them ever feel lost. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Theatre Review: Colour Me Man

It was with some ambivalence that I decided to get a ticket to see Colour Me Man. But I ended up having a really good time at the show.

Produced by GbagyiChild Entertainment and The NakedConvos and directed by Najite Dede, Colour Me Man is 75 minutes of pure enjoyment, with an ending that you will not see coming. Colour Me Man is inspired by the play For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, and is based on a series of monologues, by men, published on The Naked Convos.

The play opens with six friends – Black, Blue, Red, White, Grey and Yellow – meeting at Black’s bar. It’s a casual guys’ night out, and the men wind down and begin talking. Grey goes first, disclosing the secret of his extramarital affair – the model couple is not so model after all. After a good dose of ribbing, and some frank talk from White and Black, Grey is left rethinking his infatuation with his woman on the side. Next up is Yellow, who it turns out is insecure about his poor background, and is unable to be with a woman who is way beyond his league and who neither needs nor is impressed by him. White is the quintessential good guy; a virgin who has developed tunnel vision from so intently looking for Miss Perfect. He is Mr Perfect after all, and he deserves nothing less. His friends quickly put him in his place; his perfectionism, they tell him, can keep him from finding happiness.

Blue is the workaholic who has little time to spare for anything or anyone else. Accused of being a snob, Blue’s family money, his father’s unrealistic expectations, and the wariness that comes from being the rich guy everyone wants a piece of, have made Blue somewhat aloof. It is at this point that things start to get heated. Red provokes Black into revealing a secret plot against Blue, as well as his (Black’s) loss, the guilt and shame that have haunted him for so many years. Harsh words are traded and things get even tenser between the six – with Blue and Red coming head-to-head. In an impressive show of self-awareness, Red reveals his sadness, his dissatisfaction with his life, the fear of failure that dogs him, paralyses him even when he knows he should act. He admits that he has done a lot of wrong in his life. His friends try to reassure him of the grace and forgiveness that is available to everyone, but Red is not done yet. In a shockingly graphic fashion that leaves me frozen to my seat and his friends turning away in revulsion, Red reveals the extent of his depravity, and it is clear that there will be no grace or forgiveness for him here.

All the elements of this production come together nicely. The actors had me convinced from the first line. Timi Charles-Fadipe (Red) gives a particularly stunning performance; the last few minutes of the play are pure brilliance. I enjoyed seeing Toju Ejoh (Black) who is one of my favourites, as well as Seun Kentebe, who I like even more each time I watch perform. All six actors were wonderful to watch. I liked the intuitive lighting and the lovely set (although that red settee was a bit distracting; I was worried it might collapse). All in all, it was an evening very well spent.

Colour Me Man is showing for just one other day, tomorrow, at Terra Kulture. Should you go see it? It's a huge yes from me.

Date: Saturday, November 7
Time: 3pm (N3,000) and 6pm (N5,000; command performance)

Black - Toju Ejoh
Blue - Seun Kentebe
Red - Timi Charles-Fadipe
White - Deyemi Okanlawon
Grey - Olarotimi Fakunle
Yellow - Simi Hassan

Friday, October 30, 2015

Danfo Chronicles: The Preacher

I’m on my way to work one morning, reading on my phone as the danfo rattles along. The bus pulls over to pick up an elderly woman in Ankara. She takes a seat at the back of the bus. I’m on the same seat; there is a man between us. A few minutes after the bus rejoins traffic the woman clears her throat and begins.

— My brothers and sisters, shall we bow our heads as we pray.

I roll my eyes. I’m not a fan of preachers in public transportation; or of the people who take it upon themselves to play Danfo DeeJay, assaulting the busload of people with loud music from their phones; or of the ones who make endless phone calls, screaming out their business for the world to hear. 

It’s the usual sermon – sin, hell fire, God don’t like ugly. The Preacher takes out a sheaf of tracts from her bag and passes them around. I tuck mine under my armpit and go back to reading, trying to drown out her words with those on my screen.

We’re pulling up to a bus stop just as The Preacher seems to be rounding up. At the bus stop a few passengers get off and others get on. As soon as we’re on our way again The Preacher resumes preaching, doing a recap of all she’s said before, for the benefit of the newcomers. She hands out tracts to them as she speaks.

Finally, The Preacher is done and she says a short prayer in closing. I am grateful for the restored quiet and I hunker down to enjoy my reading. But then The Preacher begins singing out loud, one chorus after the other, after the other: Take Glory Father, Baba Ese o Baba, Heavenly Race.

I put my phone in my bag and stare out the window.

We’re stuck in traffic at Falomo Roundabout when I notice The Preacher has stopped singing. I glance at her, and she’s looking at the young twenty-something female seated to her other side. There are three of us at the back of the bus now, the young man seated between me and The Preacher having gotten off at some point. The Preacher leans close to the girl beside her.

— Aunty, don’t be angry o…

The girl gives her a questioning look.

— I want to talk to you about this your hair.

I look at the girl’s hair. It’s a long, flowing weave in brown; the inexpensive synthetic kind.

— Where did you fix it?

— In Yaba.

The girl looks somewhat pleased as she says this.

— Hmm.

The Preacher’s sigh is ominous, heavy with unspoken meaning. When the girl does not prod, The Preacher looks at her again.

— Don’t be angry, but I have to tell you, it is not good. This is another person’s hair that you are carrying on your head. Who knows what they have used it for, before they start selling it to people.

The girl keeps a straight face and says nothing. I wonder if The Preacher would have given me the same sermon if I’d been wearing extensions or one of my infamous wigs today. My hair is cut low, unrelaxed, so apparently I pass.

— You should use your own hair that God gave you, you will look very fine, better than this sef. All sorts of spirits in this world… we need to be careful so we don’t go and carry trouble with our own hands.

— I have heard. Thank you, ma.

The girl says this with no malice, and I admire her graciousness.

— You are welcome, my dear. God bless you.

The Preacher resumes singing as the bus inches along in the go-slow. Under the bridge at Falomo, the bus stops to pick up passengers. The Preacher stops singing, perks up. She reaches into her bag for more tracts, and she hands them to the two teenagers who have just entered.

— My daughters, take. Take and read and be blessed.

The girls take the tracts.

— Remember to be reading your Bibles. No boyfriend o; no sinning o.

The girls look slightly confused but they nod.

— Yes, ma.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Theatre Review: Shattered

Duration: 1 hour

Produced by PAW Studio and directed by Kenneth Uphopho (director of Saro the Musical I and II, London Life Lagos Living), Shattered is an intense theatre experience; entertaining, yet incredibly moving.

Loveth is the teenage daughter of Folake, a struggling widow who seeks escape from her troubles in religion. The play opens with a weary Folake returning from work to an empty house – Loveth, who should have been home from school long before her mother, is nowhere to be found. Dishes are piled up in the kitchen sink and an angry Folake seethes with anger as she awaits her daughter’s return. When Loveth returns, the ensuing confrontation causes the teenager to attempt swallowing a handful of her mother’s pills. But Folake gets to her just in time. What follows is a parade of characters and their attempts at intervention: Nneka, Folake’s more affluent friend and, to some extent, voice of reason; Pastor, the Bible and crucifix-wielding, white garmented preacher who has Folake convinced that all her troubles can be traced to her late husband’s family; Mr. Dave, Nneka’s husband and Folake’s benefactor; and Nancy, Loveth’s friend and classmate.

The story that this play tells is not a new one. But what Shattered does well is dramatize the difficulty that the victim of sexual abuse faces in speaking about the experience. In this play, Loveth is surrounded by a community of people she cannot tell about what has happened to her; and for many victims of sexual abuse, this is their reality. Folake, though her intentions are good and her love genuine, is a woman hardened by life and blinded by religious fervour. She cannot reach her own child. The more level-headed Nneka is able to get Loveth to speak, but only so much. Pastor, himself a potential abuser (or so it would seem) cannot answer Loveth’s questions about life and God. It is to her friend, Nancy, that Loveth eventually tells her troubles.

It feels needless to talk about the set, but I have to say I liked it. I think the designer(s) worked very well with the space they had, making use of both stage and floor space to give us a bedroom, living room and a kitchenette. The audience seats were arranged in rows, in a semicircle; the overall feel was one of quiet intimacy.

At the end of the performance there was an interactive session with the cast where the audience was invited to ask question and comment on the play and on the subject of sexual violence/abuse. I think this is a brilliant move on the part of the cast and crew; a way to engage with the audience, to further the conversation, to consider the question ‘what next?’ While there are no simple answers, it’s important that we are able to ask these questions. Shattered is a play well worth seeing.

Loveth – Goodness Emmanuel
Folake – Bola Haastrup
Nneka – Ijeoma Aniebo
Pastor – Kelvinmary Ndukwe/Patrick Diabuah
Mr. Dave – Martins Iwuagu
Nancy – Bunmi Sogade

Shattered will be showing at TerraKulture on all Sundays in October, at 3pm and 6pm. Tickets cost N3,500 (regular) and N5,000 (VIP). You can get tickets here, on DealDey or at the door.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Danfo Chronicles: Bus on Fire

You’re in a danfo in Wednesday morning traffic. It’s one of those big but cramped twenty-two-seater buses, with a few people lapping. You’re reading on your phone, ignoring the argument between two passengers and the conductor about change. The driver parks beside the road and jumps out to look underneath the bus. You sigh. It's the second time he's done this since you got on the bus four stops away. As he disappears under the bus someone starts to shout fire fire.

Your head jerks up from your phone. People start to scream and there's a stampede for the door. It is a wide door but people take up too much space in a fearful scramble. You're seated on the third row out of four, across from the door but right by a window. The window! You turn to it, but even a small child wouldn’t fit through.

You remember the stories – of danfo engines catching fire and burning the slow passengers alive. (The survivors would have been the ones who ran first and asked questions later, the ones who didn't wait for the evidence of smoke.) You remember your own experiences – doors falling from their hinges as the buses sped by (once on friggin’ Third Mainland!); being driven through pouring rain with no windshield wipers. You join the rush.

You use your body like a ram and you push against the wall of flesh in front of you. You think about fire. It can come in one big explosion, or in a quiet whoosh, or silently, with only the smell of burning to announce it. However it comes, you want to be safely off the bus when it happens. 

Your feet meet the ground and you've never been so grateful for roadside grass. You quickly put a safe distance between you and the bus. Only then do you turn to watch the inferno. 

Except there’s none. 

The driver shimmies out from under his bus, wiping his hands on his pants.

—Where una see fire?

You exchange questioning looks with the other passengers. The fog is starting to clear. You look under the bus, stretch your neck to see behind it. No smoke, no fire. You let out a shaky laugh, and then you can’t stop. The others are giving you strange looks so you cover your mouth. They are grumbling, dusting themselves off, examining scrapes and bruises; everyone wants to know who called out fire.

—Na she!

A young woman in an orange shirt gives a shamefaced smile as she looks away.

The conductor herds you back onto the bus with the others. You find a place on the same row as before, but a man has taken your former seat by the window. You note his smug smile, the smile of one whose calm paid off in the face of panic. You want to smack the smile off his face.

From behind you:
—Na wah o. Which kain nonsense be dis?

—Chai. Oga, sorry o. Your cloth tear?

—E tear now! See my trouser.

—Sorry, ehn.


—Oga, na you leave your slippers inside bus run comot?

—My sister, wetin I for do na? I leave slippers o.

Two bus stops later the woman who raised the alarm gets off. As the bus eases back onto the road, the man with the torn trousers hisses.

—See the idiot, with im big mouth.

—No mind her. Since she enter bus na so so talk she dey talk.

—But why she go talk wetin she no see? She wan kill person?

A longer silence.

—See ehn, na fear dey kill person.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Theatre Review: King Baabu

Wole Soyinka’s King Baabu is a comedy satire that parodies many African nations, including our beloved Nigeria. As coup follows coup in the nation of Guatu and the citizens cry out for democracy, the military rulers in Guatu struggle to reinvent themselves. General Basha, shortly after playing a central role in  General Potipo’s ascension to power via military coup, is pushed and prodded by his wife, a veritable Lady Macbeth, to acknowledge his ambitions and take over government. With help from his wife, her  brother, Tikim, and the labour, religious and traditional rulers of the day, General Basha is able to oust Potipo, who manages to escape with his life, and declare himself monarch of Guatu. He takes on the guise of outwardly benign ruler, paying lip service to democracy and open government even as his actions remain decidedly undemocratic.    

All is well for Basha – now King Baabu – for a while. But soon enough, discontent and insurgency arise, led by General Potipo, and King Baabu is on the run.

Featuring a stellar cast that includes Seun Kentebe, Toju Ejoh, Abiodun Kassim, Tessy Brown and several others, King Baabu will have you falling off your seat with laughter. My favourite memories of the play are of King Baabu (played by Toju) dancing in his kingly robes and crown. But besides its fun and humour, King Baabu will get you thinking, about Nigeria and the many countries like us – each in our own way a picture of Soyinka’s Guatu – where former military rulers outwardly reinvent themselves. I think it is significant that for a huge portion of the play Basha/Baabu wears his military uniform underneath his robes – this monarchy/democracy is a sham that makes us question the verity of Nigeria’s democracy. The ease with which the labour, religious and traditional leaders are bought over to whatever side holds power is, though humorously portrayed, disturbing. The play’s ending – spoiler ahead!  – is the ultimate question. The supposed savior of the kingdom is General Potipo, the same one who had, in the first act, taken power through a military coup. Is he just another player in the same vicious cycle, a placeholder until the next coup?

King Baabu is an important play delivered with humour and wit. Delightful yet thought-provoking, it is one I am glad to recommend.

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