Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Mire

When it looks like things only change when they change for the worse.

When armed men can visit a boarding school at night and for six hours, like on a leisurely shopping trip, pick and choose over 1oo young girls that meet their liking and take them away, and nothing happens.

When thousands of people die and all your ‘leaders’ do is condole and condemn and sling mud and throw parties.

When you are reminded you can have no hope in this system-of-no-system, nor in the people that run it.

When you feel as in control as a chess piece; like it could have easily been you, like this could easily have been Oshodi or Obalende or Ajah.

When you start to wonder if that person was right when he said God has moved on from Nigeria; because you have been praying, and you have been believing, and still it goes on.

When you accept that you will never know their names, or their faces, their dreams or their struggles. All you will remember are the pieces of mangled flesh that you quickly scroll past on Twitter and Facebook, swearing at the posters, cursing at the world.

When you start to understand why so many have run, why even now they are crossing deserts and saying marriage vows and stowing themselves away on ships just to get away from here; when you want to get away yourself.

When the big things in your life become as significant as a grain of sand on a beach; when you feel small, helpless.

When you find yourself learning to live with the weight that has settled in your chest.

Then you ask yourself: what’s the point, of this post, of this blog, of these very words? How do they stop the next bomb from going off, the next life from being cut short, the next schoolgirl from being taken?

But that’s the thing.

They don’t.

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This morning I came across this scripture in Luke 18: 7-8: 'And will not [our just] God defend and protect and avenge His elect (His chosen ones), who cry to Him day and night? Will He defer them and delay help on their behalf? I tell you, He will defend and protect and avenge them speedily...' (AMP).

This gives me some measure of comfort; the hope that, even though I cannot imagine it now, someday all of this will make sense. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

TAXI DIALOGUES: The One Where Uche Wears a Disguise

Image from here

We’re driving home in silence one afternoon when Oga M turns to look at me; and I get the impression that whatever he’s going to say has been on his mind for a long time.

‘Uche, why you like to dey wear disguise?’

I frown at him. ‘Disguise ke?’

He nods and gestures at my head. It takes me a moment, but I finally get it.

‘You mean my wig?’ I say.

‘Ehn,’ he says. ‘And then you go now tie this thing on top’ – I soon realize he’s referring to a strip of black fabric that I tie into a bow on my head – ‘and you go come resemble Indian woman.’

I considered the word ‘disguise’. Did Oga M have this image of me in his head as an ordinary girl by day and a sari-wearing, crime fighting dynamo by night? Did he think me such a badass? Probably not.

‘Disguise’ was such an odd word choice, though. But then, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe Oga M was doing something with that word, trying to spur me into an existential debate with myself about self-worth and straight versus kinky hair and African pride. Maybe his ‘disguise’ meant I was hiding my ‘true self’ under that short mop of straight black hair that made me look like a French pageboy.

It might have given me many sleepless nights, trying to discern the different shades and ramifications of this word ‘disguise’. But I prefer to lose sleep over more serious matters than my choice of hair accessory.

Friday, April 4, 2014

My Faith is Bigger than Yours

There’s a certain kind of ‘faith’ that has become quite popular among Nigerian Christians. Now this faith has nothing to do with love – forget what the Bible says. This faith turns normal people into assholes, the kind of assholes that will let you know, when you share a problem, that your faith isn’t strong enough, or God just doesn’t love you as much, and that’s why you have all these issues while they, The Lovely Faithful, sail through life unfettered by the troubles of lesser mortals like you.

Image from here

Your daughter was born with a congenital defect? It’s simple: you didn’t pray while you were doing it; and of the nine months after, how many days did you fast? That job you’ve been pining for went to someone else? Obviously, you didn’t claim it loudly enough; besides, what are you even doing looking for a job when you should be an employer of labour yourself? Your grandmother was kidnapped in the village? Well have you summoned the angels to go find her? No? What are you waiting for! Keep this caveat in mind, though – your grandmother is a pagan so she’s probably not worth the angels’ time. (Why haven’t you converted her all these years? But God is merciful sha.)

The other day the COO of Farafina Books shared some information on Facebook regarding the new 62.5% tariff on imported printed books coming into Nigeria and the adverse effects that this will have on publishers, booksellers, readers and writers, and anyone who loves books. One of the very first commenters shared this brilliant response: ‘Make dem come. Na Nigerian masses go suffer, no be me! […] By His grace I am not among the masses…’ Two people thought this made enough sense for them to like it.

This kind of faith feeds the very Nigerian belief that if it does not affect me personally it is not important; and even if I am among the affected, I will find a way to climb over all the other bodies that fall until I emerge on top – by His grace, of course.

Faith is a good thing, an essential thing even. But I cannot be convinced that true faith is supposed to turn us into unfeeling, self-contained, self-involved entities. Trust me, your faith will not be less potent if you mix in a little compassion – even Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, right before He brought him back to life.

So, dear Christian Brother and Sister, we know you have faith that is strong and mountain-eradicating. But, in case you didn’t know, when someone shares a concern the last thing they want is for you to brandish your faith in their face and tell them how your life is so much better for it, and how they need to become more like you. At the very least they need compassion, a little bit of understanding, and if you have it, perhaps a solution. If you cannot offer any of these, then consider doing the next best thing: shut up. 



P.S. 
I wrote a flash fiction piece for the April edition of Visual Verse, an online anthology of art  and words that posts specially curated artists' images online and asks writers of all stripes to respond with 50 to 500 words that must have been written in the space of one hour.

Please read and spread the love, guys!

Here's the photo for the month, by Marcus Bastel.




Friday, March 28, 2014

The Man Who Saw the Ocean and Became a Boy

Recently I was showing some out-of-town friends around Lagos. They had a driver, let’s call him Guy G, who lived and worked outside of Lagos and so knew next to nothing about the city. I found this out when I said ‘We’re going to Eko Hotel’ and discovered, by the time I’d ended a phone conversation I’d been engrossed in, that we were on the bridge heading in the opposite direction, toward Ikoyi. So began the unpleasant, and surprisingly difficult, task of first mapping out our route in my head and then explaining it to the driver. 

Three things made my task even more difficult: one, I’m very bad with directions, giving or taking them. Two, I don’t always know my right from my left so it’s something I have to work out for a few seconds. (One time I kept saying go left, left, while pointing right and wondering why Guy G was looking so confused). Three, and most distressing to me, Guy G had an attitude. It was as if his wife had left him that morning and it was my fault. When he wasn’t growling or grunting his responses he was shouting them; at a point I thought he might bite me.

Our final stop was the beach – a beach, rather. They wanted to see a beach. Guy G was still as grumpy as ever, so I could not imagine how invested he would be in this. I took them to Bar Beach. At the time, I hadn’t realised a good part of Bar Beach had been sand-filled, reclaimed for the Lagos State Government’s Eko Atlantic project. The beach area looked normal from what I could see from the road: there were still lots of cars parked, with the usual array of thugs collecting ‘entry fee’ and hawkers selling all sorts of beaded and carved things. And so I led my troop and we paid our fee, only to emerge from the sidewalk to find the beach gone, with just a long stretch of sand in its place. Somewhere beyond the horizon we could just about make out some blue. There was our ocean.

I was mortified. I explained to my disappointed party that the last time I’d been there, over a year ago, it had been a proper beach. And I did know about the Eko Atlantic project; I just didn’t know they’d gone so far with it. But if there was no beach, why the hell were there still thugs collecting ‘entry fee’? After a few minutes of staring dismally before us, we discovered, to the right of us, a very small stretch of beach front that had yet to be filled in. Some church people were returning from there, their white garments billowing in the wind. I asked one of them if it was okay for us to head on there, and he pointed to a man a few feet away and asked me to ‘see him’. I knew what this would mean – more money, and for only a few metres of beachfront. I led my group away. 

‘You know, there’s another beach close to where I live,’ I said as we walked back to the car, not really thinking they’d want to go. They did, even though I said it would mean spending more money and possibly getting stuck in traffic. So we got in the car and headed toward Elegushi. For some reason, and I might have noticed earlier if I’d been paying closer attention, Guy G seemed less aggressive.

We got to Elegushi beach, paid our fee and parked the car.

‘Uche, we can’t see any beach o,’ my friend said. ‘Are you sure there’s anything here. Not like the other one?’

I reassured him we only had a short walk ahead.

The water emerged before us in all its blue-grey glory, rolling waves breaking against the shore, the breeze ruffling everything. But I’d seen all this before, at this very beach, and so I wasn’t taken by it. Instead, I was watching the amazing transformation that had come over Guy G. At first he wouldn’t go near the water, like me – I wasn’t getting wet that day for anything – but he kept marveling in Yoruba about the wonderful creation of God. And it was wonderful; but jaded as I had become it had ceased to make an impression on me anymore. Until I started to inhabit the space Guy G was in.

It was his first time seeing the ocean. Having lived in Lagos most of my life I must have known, in some faraway place in my mind, that there would be many Nigerians who never saw the ocean. It’s not like we have that many coastal states. But I guess it had never really been impressed upon my mind. Now, seeing Guy G who had shaken off his reluctance and approached the water with awe and a hint of suspicion before finally embracing it, I appreciated the sight before my eyes even more. Guy G was singing, and dancing, and striking weird poses, making jokes, and tossing water over the two-year-old and himself. At some point he got a little water in his mouth.

‘Ah, there is salt in the water o!’ he exclaimed.

I laughed, feeling pride at his joy and amazement, like I had put every drop of that ocean there myself.

We went to stand on the pile of rocks and gravel that acted as a break-water, and Guy G made me take several pictures of him.

Guy G goes to the beach

We didn’t stay very long at the beach, but Guy G was like a little boy every minute we were there. He was singing as they dropped me off at my house, and I like to think he was singing all the way back to his home.


Friday, March 14, 2014

TALKING PHOTOS #5: Dreaming



Unwatched, I can watch you in peace, let my face show all the things it must otherwise hide. My eyes seek you out in the near dark; and when they find you they rest, as though looking upon your face is all they were made to do. Your neck is taut, your back straight as you take in the scene of the lovers’ death. I can almost feel the warm breath from your parted lips. You don’t see me watching – so great is your concentration. If you saw me you would smile, give a merry wave to the one you now call friend. And I would reset my face and smile back. A friendly smile for the one I should be with.

If I could go back it would be different. I would pick risk over security, happiness over duty. You over them. But the sands of time have poured against me, leaving behind this ache, now familiar but no less painful after all these years.

I feel my wife’s eyes on me, and I turn and give what should look like a smile. She makes her face mirror mine.

‘Marvelous play,’ I say.

‘But sad,’ she says. She holds my gaze for a long time. ‘Because everyone could see that it would never work. Everyone except them.’ 

Friday, February 28, 2014

TAXI DIALOGUES: The one where I have a 'white man'

Image from here

Today, Oga M. is driving me to Federal Palace Hotel for the Small World charity event that I’m attending with a friend. We’re in Ahmadu Bello traffic when he asks me when I’ll be ready to leave and will I need him to come take me home. I say no. I don’t know when the event will end, plus I can easily get a cab home from around the hotel. But I don’t add all this.

After a moment of silence, he asks, ‘You’re going to see your white man, abi?’

I take my time before I answer. It’s not a difficult question; I’m just trying to decide if I’m amused or offended. I decide I am amused. He is a funny man. It’s my bad if I assume that because he drives me around sometimes he would know me well enough to know that I don’t have ‘white men’ scattered amongst the big hotels in Lagos. I laugh, stifling the part of me that still wants to conk him.

‘Which white man?’ I say, ‘The one you kept for me?’

Ahn ahn, you never date white man before?’

‘No,’ I say. He looks so disappointed, I want to make up stories for him.

‘And white men dey like awon lepa shandy like you o; skinny skinny girls,’ he says.

‘Okay,’ I say. ‘Good to know.’

We reach Federal Palace and I get out of the car. But his eyes are watching me walk away, and I get the feeling that this isn’t over.

I’m right. Sort of.

About a week later, a few days after Valentine’s, I’m going to see another friend whose son is turning one. I don’t want to go empty handed so I grab a box of chocolates that has been sitting in my room and throw it in a bag. When Oga M. drops me off at my friend’s place he gives me this suggestive smile, wigging his eyebrows.

‘It’s him you’re coming to see, abi? The guy from last Saturday,’ he says, nodding at the bag with the chocolates. ‘That’s why you carried Valentine’s gift.’

I can’t help it; I start laughing. And this time I don’t even want to hit him.

Eheeeen,’ he says, ‘I don catch you now.’

I’m still laughing when his car speeds off.

It’s interesting, the assumptions we invite people to make just by being. I’ve decided to let him keep his stories. I have stories of my own.


Hi, everyone. This here is the first in a series of (mostly) real life conversations with a taxi driver, Oga M. Stories come from all sorts of people, places and experiences, and I'm grateful to Oga M for being an unwitting muse, though he might never read this.

Friday, February 14, 2014

On Valentine's Day and other Unrelated Matters

I’m basking in love this February 14th by doing laundry, writing stuff, editing stuff and reading stuff.  I believe that the best place to spend a February 14th is indoors (preferably in my own doors), where I won’t be assaulted by all things red and white, and by harried last-minute shoppers. My sister thinks the whole Valentine's Day thing is a fraud. We were at Spar this morning and she was frowning at the crowd. ‘Shouldn’t all these people be at work?’ she said. And when the doorman greeted her saying, ‘Happy Val’s Day’, she almost bit him. Okay, I exaggerate, but I think she came close. I'm a little more tolerant of it, but I'm still like, meh, whatever. Today will pass, with all its madness, and join the ghosts of Valentine’s Days past. But happy Valentine's Day and all, if you're into it. And if you're not into it, happy Valentine's Day (this one is ironic).

Image from here

Next week is Social Media Week Lagos, and I’m pretty excited about it. Go here to see the full schedule of events; and if you’re in Lagos and can make it, you should plan to attend the sessions that interest you. I’m going to the Monday food and photography event at Terra Kulture (I’m a long throat, plus there's free food, plus Terra isn’t too far for me to travel; bite me!), the NokiaEdu session on writing for a digital audience on Thursday at Four Points (maybe I’ll learn something that’ll help my writing career), and the natural hair session on Friday at Terra Kulture (it’ll be my first ever ‘natural hair’ event).


So that’s what’s on for next week. Maybe I'll take a few nice pictures and put them on here.

And so I sign off in the words of the Poko Baby herself: ‘If you see me passing by, don’t be shy to say hi.’ 

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