Friday, March 20, 2015

2015 Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop

Farafina Trust will be holding a creative writing workshop in Lagos, organized by award-winning writer and creative director of Farafina Trust, Chimamanda Adichie, from June 16 to June 26, 2015. The workshop is sponsored by Nigerian Breweries Plc. Guest writers who will co-teach the workshop alongside Adichie are the Caine Prize winning Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, National Librarian of Norway Aslak Sira Myhre, and others.

The workshop will take the form of a class. Participants will be assigned a wide range of reading exercises, as well as daily writing exercises. The aim of the workshop is to improve the craft of Nigerian writers and to encourage published and unpublished writers by bringing different perspectives to the art of storytelling. Participation is limited only to those who apply and are accepted.

To apply, send an e-mail to Udonandu2015@gmail.comYour e-mail subject should read ‘Workshop Application.’

The body of the e-mail should contain the following:
1. Your name
2. Your address
3. A few sentences about yourself
4. A writing sample of between 200 and 800 words. The sample must be either fiction or non-fiction.


All material must be pasted or written in the body of the e-mail. Please DO NOT include any attachments in your e-mail. Applications with attachments will be automatically disqualified. 

Deadline for submissions is April 30, 2015. Only those accepted to the workshop will be notified by June 2, 2015. Accommodation in Lagos will be provided for all accepted applicants who are able to attend for the ten-day duration of the workshop. A literary evening of readings, open to the public, will be held at the end of the workshop.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Awkward in Church: How to Pray with Fire

One Sunday morning I get to church early enough for the pre-service prayers. Following the pastor’s instruction I turn to the person beside me and hold his hands; we are about to pray a prayer of agreement. The pastor warns before we start, saying something like, “This is not one of those prayers that you will pray quietly, eh-ehn! You are going to open your mouth and you will cry out to the Lord in a loud voice such that the earth will shake and the heavens will hear you. You will say ‘Faaather…!’”

I sigh as I repeat the pastor’s words, not in a shout but in my normal talking voice, which is quite small. I almost never shout, whether I’m happy or upset, panicked or excited.

The people shout; the pastor is not satisfied.

“I cannot hear you ooo,” he says, and the people get the implied warning: if I, standing right here before you, cannot hear you, then God, all the way in heaven, most certainly cannot. They scream louder. 

I know that God hears me. But I worry. I worry that the brother holding my hand does not know that God hears me, even when I whisper; that he is silently judging me for not being louder. This brother shouts, exactly the way the pastor wants. And when the pastor gives the command to “Now pray!”, my prayer partner spews off a loud barrage of words that distract me and drown out my own thoughts. He squeezes my hands, shakes them up and down, punctuates every “in Jesus’ name” with an emphatic tug on my arm. This dance tires me, and I worry that my prayer partner will think me selfish, because he is praying so fervently for me while I stand there with my quiet words, no tugging or squeezing or spittle flying from my lips to show God that I mean serious business.

The pastor speaks into the mike again: “This prayer is one of violence. Remember, the violent taketh it by force. If the person you are holding is not praying very well, leave them and find someone who has the Fire!”

We carry on with the prayer I keep waiting for my partner to let go of my hand. With all of his fire, he deserves someone just as fiery for a partner.

My partner does not let go of my hand until the prayer ends. But two prayer points later, when the pastor calls for hand-holding again, he quickly turns to the person to the other side of him and grabs his hand. The person to the other side of me pairs up with the person to the other side of her.

So there I am in the middle, bereft but somewhat relieved, with no hand to hold and no pressure. It’s not the best feeling, but it will do for a time. Until I get comfortable enough with being myself that I don’t feel like I need to put on a show.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Yellow Mitsubishi: The Fourth Road Trip

Agodi Gardens, University of Ibadan Zoo and IITA

Ibadan was the destination for our fourth road trip. We started out at about 9am and reached Agodi Gardens, our first stop, early in the afternoon.

The entry fee at Agodi Gardens is N500 per person. There was a small situation at the gate because one of the guards was insisting we couldn’t take our cameras in. It was puzzling; what was the idea behind a place like Agodi Gardens if you couldn’t take a camera in? And if they weren’t allowing cameras, were they going to stop people from taking their camera phones in too? The guard said yes, camera phones were allowed in, but not cameras; or not certain kinds of cameras. We were able to call the manager’s attention and he explained things better. We could take pictures as long as they were not for a photo shoot or commercial purposes, otherwise we would have to pay a separate fee. We assured the manager that we were just casual visitors and our photos were for personal use, and we were allowed to go in with our cameras.

Agodi Gardens felt like some kind of outdoor events centre (there was a Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship meeting going on when we got there) that had other stuff. There’s a wide expanse of land, a lot of which is covered in lush grass, and meandering walkways.

Agodi Gardens

When you step in from the gate, there are toilets (which I found remarkably clean) to your right and a restaurant with outdoor seating to your left. There’s a tiny lake with inflatable rafts, and you can take a ‘ride’ in one of them for N100. This lake is so small, a ride did not seem worth it. There is also a pool and a small water park area, and a small zoo that had, apart from different kinds of monkeys, two lions. I couldn’t see much of them because they stayed in their dim, cavernous cage the whole time we were there.

From Agodi Gardens we headed to the University of Ibadan to see the zoo. I think the N500 entry fee was entirely worth it; so far, it’s the best-kept zoo I’ve seen in Nigeria. The cages and enclosures were reasonably spacious and looked clean, and it was clear that some actual thought had gone into the planning and structure. And there were so many animals: at least three lions, a pretty giraffe called Ajoke, several apes and reptiles, an impressive range of birds, hyenas and jackals, horses, and many animals I’d never seen before.

Ajoke the giraffe


Camel


We left the zoo for the IITA guest house where we were to spend the night. The IITA compound is beautiful and serene. In some ways it reminds me of the Ikogosi Warm Springs Resort. Many of the roads and walkways are lined with these lovely trees that kept shedding their pink flowers which fell like snowflakes, carpeting the ground in pink. It was such a pretty sight. 







IITA is quite a pleasant place, but the service from the staff could have been a lot better. One of the reasons we had chosen to stay at IITA in spite of their long list of rules and prohibitions (and there really is a long list) and their insistence on rooms being paid for in full to make a reservation, was their Nature Walk. Only at the point of check in were we told that we would not be able to go on the Nature Walk because the guides did not work on weekends. Also, speaking of checking in, they have a rule at IITA that requires guests to check in certain electronics at the gate – laptops, cameras, tablets – a long process when you have a bus with thirteen people.

Our rooms were quite spacious, with twin beds and a wall of glass louvers that I found delightfully retro. The compound has a tennis court, a squash court and a swimming pool.

I was quite displeased at the treatment we got at IITA; we all were. It did not help when on Sunday morning a different receptionist informed us that her colleague who had checked us in the day before had been mistaken; some guests had booked a Nature Walk for that very morning, and she could see about arranging one for us. We decided to forego the walk when she said it would cost an additional N2,500 per person. We would make do with seeing the lake, which was free, on our way out.

A view of the lake





This done, our trip came to an end and we made our way back to Lagos. 


Photos by Yellow Mitsubishi

Friday, February 6, 2015

How to Make Friends (Smile)

Beginner

I am reading a book that will teach me how to make friends.

1. Be genuinely interested in people.
2. Do not complain; compliment!
3. Smile, even when you do not feel like it.

I am smiling now as I get off the danfo stuck in traffic and walk the rest of the way down the bridge to Obalende. And why not? It is a good day; the sun is shining bright, but not too bright. The sky is blue, but not that too-good-to-be-true blue I hate. There’s a breeze. It is a good day for a smile. It does not matter that I do not feel like smiling. The book says my feelings will follow my actions. I am practising training my feelings to follow my actions. It is still too early to tell if it is working.

I approach a beggar and my smile vanishes. The world is a sad place, is it not? The lines on his weather-beaten face are proof; he has nothing to smile about. What does it say again, my book. The ones in most need of a smile are those who have none to give… something like that. As I pass the beggar, I make a decision. Silver and gold have I none. I look in his eyes, and I smile.

He does not smile back.


Intermediate

The idea is to practice, practice, practice. Otherwise, nothing will stick.

I take mental notes during conversations now, and as soon as I can I transfer them into my special notebook so that next time we meet I will remember to ask Obus about the dog he is training to ride a bike, Bambo about his ailing father, Beatrice about the creep next door who will not leave her alone, Chinwe about her delightful mother-in-law.

I swallow my complaints about Emem’s excessive use of perfume and notice that the pink scarf around her neck gives her a chic look that really works for her. I say this, and she smiles and launches into her philosophy on scarves as accessories that express her mood. Every colour says something, or so she tells me. I tell Joseph at the gate that he is the smartest looking gateman I have ever known, and every day since he greets me with a salute a general would be envious of.

I have been called snub, stuck-up, Groucho Grouchinus, unfriendly, mean, silent killer, slow poison. Boring… So it is strange now, having people stop by at my desk to chat, having them linger when I smile and ask about their lives.


Expert

Look, Mum, I’m making friends!

People actually want to be with me. They ask me to lunch, invite me to mini-parties, reschedule when I can’t make it. They’re confiding in me, going out of their way to help me. The other day when I was running late, Yusuf lied for me without my having to ask. I could have charmed the boss into letting it go (did I mention the boss loves me now?), but it was touching how Yusuf just stepped up like that.

I’m getting dates.

Sister Nkoyo from church, Bose from the building next door, Ala from three cubicles away. I will go out with all three because I like all three. Then I will choose one. My newfound powers will not be used for evil. But it is an enticing thought, going for three. I’ve never been lucky with females. Maybe I can call it making up for lost time?

On the way home today there is no traffic coming down into Obalende. This pleases me. But the driver decides when he reaches the exit for Obalende that he wants to continue on the bridge. He orders “all passenger” out of the bus as the conductor slides the door open. I am practising happiness from within, happiness regardless of circumstances, so I decide that this will not bother me. I step out of the danfo and continue toward Obalende on merry feet.

I see the beggar from a distance, the same beggar from my first Smile Day. I see him every day, and I am prepping my smile for him even as I walk, like I have done since that first day. He always returns my smile with a frown; the last three days or so he started adding a growl. His life must be so sad. But he can change that easily, turn that sadness into joy. Life is all about perspective; if only he knew. This ignorance, this is the thing that is most tragic. Maybe I will talk to him one day. Does he speak English?

I walk toward him. Silver and gold have I none still. I smile, my offering to him.

I am still smiling when he jerks up from his perch on the ground as I pass and shoves me onto the path of an oncoming LAGBUS.

I will die, but at least they can truly say I died happy. This is something to smile about.


Friday, January 23, 2015

UNTITLED

My mother never looked at the beggars. They appeared every time traffic slowed to a stop on President’s Road, imploring with lips whose words we couldn't hear through the glass of the car's tinted windows. If you didn’t know her you would think she could not see them there. But each time they came her fists would tighten around the steering wheel as she stared straight ahead; that was the thing that gave her away. And when they moved on, finally convinced that the glass would not descend for them – or when the moving traffic forced them to scurry away – she would let her breath out in a hiss.
 
Me, I always looked at the beggars. I wanted to ask them about their lives, but I knew mother would sooner twist my lips with her fingers than let that happen. So I made do with tracing the lines on their faces with my mind’s hands, imagining what had etched them. In the few seconds that they stood there, I would give them a name, carve them a history, spin them a tragedy and, if I happened to like them, paint them a fairytale ending. Mother always said I was a strange one.

It was always the same when mother beggars came, sad-faced children clutched by the hand or nestled in their ashy bosoms. I would weave them a story of class and romance and conspiracy. She was always dirt poor; she always fell in love with a young prince; his family always stood in their way, separating them by some demonically clever means, and she was always pregnant by the time this happened, and he always never knew. It didn’t matter if the beggar was light or dark-skinned, fat or thin, old or young. And the story always ended with the prince finding them, like now in traffic, and taking them home, where they would defy his family and all the odds and end up happy ever after.

This one carried her baby on her back, fastened with a length of brown cloth. She had a handwritten sign pinned to her blouse and I squinted as I read: DEF AND DUMP WITH CHILD NO FATHER. I created my fantasy while mother strangled the steering wheel. Satisfied that the occupants of our car were indeed heartless and would give no money, the beggar turned to leave. As she started to walk to the car in front of ours a power bike roared up from behind, speeding between the rows of cars, heading toward her. She acted fast, flattening herself against the hood of mother’s car as the bike sped past. Mother scrunched up her nose as the beggar’s body touched her car. The beggar woman spread her fingers at the rider’s back – waka, God punish you – as he and his bike faded into the distance. 

Mother’s eyes followed the beggar woman as she walked on. I watched mother watch the woman because, well, mother never looked at the beggars. My regular story for mother beggars would not be enough now. This woman had made mother look, so she had to be special. She deserved a different story. I smiled at my own generosity. The beggar would never know or appreciate it, but that didn’t matter. Her special, different story would exist. I just needed to decide what it would be. 

Mother rushed out of the car just as the traffic lights turned green, darting between vehicles to chase after the beggar woman who was hurrying out of the way. The drivers stuck behind mother’s car were leaning on their horns.

Wait, did mother know the beggar?

A minute or so later mother emerged from the side street she had disappeared into in her pursuit. Mother is like a book of codes and symbols; if you know where and how to look you can read her. I have learnt all the faces of mother. As she hurried back to the car she was wearing the face she always had when she was forced to be wrong because someone else was right.

Mother got into the car, ignoring the glares from passing drivers. She sped off with her tires squealing on the asphalt, as though to make up for the time spent chasing the beggar. I stared ahead and did not ask what she was wrong about this time. If I did she would never tell. I pretended not to see her glance at me from the corner of her eye.

‘I thought the baby with that woman was your sister,’ she said. ‘She looked exactly like your sister.’

It was safe to look at mother now, so I did. She had on the face she used to defend herself when she fought with dad.

‘Don’t look at me like that,’ mother said. ‘Strange things happen in this country, don’t you know? One woman left her baby at home with her nanny one day, only to find the baby at a Mama Put at Mile 12 Market with some woman she didn't know...'

I put on my listening face for mother and let her voice fade into the background. I made up stories and mother saw things. We were not so different after all.  


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Curtain Call: Saro The Musical (II)

I’d known for a while that I wanted to see Saro, so I bought my ticket early this week on DealDey. (Shout out to DealDey, by the way, for helping cheapskates bargain hunters like me live our dreams.) Since the show started on Tuesday I’d been reading everywhere online about how great it was, and so by yesterday evening my expectations were high. My only worry was that I might be disappointed after all the hype. 

I was not.

The 6pm show stared at about 6.45 and ended at 9. And I enjoyed every minute of it. Saro was like one big festival of music and dance.



The actors
For me, it was really good to see Gideon Okeke outside of his brooding Tinsel role. I’ve never seen him in anything besides Tinsel. He did not disappoint. Bimbo Manuel was brilliant as Don Ceeto. I was also pleased to see Patrick Diabuah as Olaitan. I first saw him in Yoruba Romance many weeks agoand then again in Band Aid, where I first heard him sing. He’s become a favourite for me. The women who played Ronke and Jane were pretty amazing.

The music and dance
This is where the play really shines; it is a musical after all. Every single musical performance had me wide-eyed, and some got me squealing like a child. From Rume and Olaitan’s 'Ma Gbagbe Mi' to the church choir’s rendition, everything was superb. The dancers were out of this world – their energy was infectious, and the acrobatics had me on the edge of my seat.

The story
Saro tells the story of a city, Lagos, and of four young aspiring musicians from the village who are desperate to ‘blow’ and make it big. They experience their first taste of the city when, as soon as they arrive, they are extorted by thugs for the silliest of things. A fight breaks out and the boys are arrested. But things start to look up when they are bailed by Don Ceeto, who hears them sing.

My highlights
There were no dull moments for me, but I found these bits particularly delightful and/or moving:

Rume and Olaitan’s 'Ma Gbagbe Mi' song

The Fela performance



The Eyo masquerade performance

The church choir rehearsal (when Jane started to sing I got goosebumps)

The part-Fuji rendition of John Legend’s 'All of Me' (the audience went wild for this one)

The scene where the boys first arrive Lagos

Azeez and Efe's fuji performances for Don Ceeto and the producer

The Lagos nightclub scene where the boys do a dance-off


The strength of this production is in the music and dance, in its vibrancy and the raw energy that the cast brings to the show. Stripped down to just the story, it’s pretty basic: the migration of the young and ambitious from rural dwellings to find 'greener pastures' in urban jungles. Plus two friends pointed out a small matter that had been left sort of hanging – Rume. But this did not in any way affect my enjoyment of the show, and my friends say the same of their experience. It’s why I rushed home to put up this post. I’m still on a Saro high.

Saro is on for one more day at the Muson Centre, with the final three shows today, 28 December (1pm, 4pm and 7pm).

Believe the hype. Go watch Saro The Musical




Friday, December 5, 2014

Mummy Knows Best

I am a good mother.

To my only son – and sometimes to my husband – I am feeder-slash-nutritionist, laundry(wo)man, nurse, counsellor, publicist, stylist, storyteller and encyclopaedia. I am also teacher, and it is this role that I take most seriously.

I delight in thinking up ways to teach my dear son the things that he needs to know, all of which can be summed up in three little words – mummy knows best. But just like his father, my son is a stubborn little ass, bless his heart. And so he challenges me, makes me go the extra mile, above and beyond, think outside the box, and so on. Good enough is never good enough for this my boy. It is because of how he makes me better in my bid to make him better, this is why I love him so much. I am the iron that sharpens his iron that sharpens my iron that sharpens…

My son was born with a mind of his own, the kind that prefers to learn from personal experience. And so as a good mother I have tried to pack as much experience as possible into his six years on earth. This is not an easy thing. Some children will take your word for it, but not my son. You will need to get creative. But I have learned to speak my son’s language. I am a quick learner. I was always first in my class as a child, even though my boy does not believe this because when he asked for proof I could show him none. (Now you see what I’m dealing with?)

The day my son finally learned the reason seat belts were important was a great milestone for us and the day I started to understand his language. For so long he would get into the back of my car for the drive to school every morning, and even though I strapped him in myself he would wait until we got on the road and then unstrap himself, the delightful little devil. Then he would stand in the space between the driver’s and passenger seat and bounce to the beat of whatever song was playing on the radio. I screamed, begged, bribed, and once I even stopped right in traffic to strap him back in after landing a heavy conk in the middle of his head. But again, two minutes later, he had freed himself.

I still don’t know if it was deliberate, the thing I did on this day of my epiphany. I was approaching a roundabout and I knew I had to use my brakes soon. I had time to brake slowly, ease into the change in speed. But my son was screaming Doro Doro Bucci along with the radio and bouncing up and down beside me and it just made my legs press on the brakes harder than they should have. My car screeched a little and my son, in slow motion, or so it appeared to me, flew forward and hit his head on the dashboard so hard that the CD stopped playing. I drove my car out of traffic and found a spot to stop, hazard lights blinking. I held my son and rubbed his head while he cried. But even as his tears wet my skirt the thought came unbidden into my head: this is good. He’ll wear his seat belt next time.

The next time he got in my car he strapped himself in before I could do it. Now he won’t sit in a car without a belt, and if anyone gets into my car and doesn’t use a belt my son will go ‘seat belt, Mummy! Seat belt!’ He’s so cute… my little soldier.

The day of the seat belt helped me unlock the door to teaching my son all the lessons he had refused to learn up until that point. A wheeled toy, carefully placed in his path so he slipped on it and fell, taught him to put his toys away when I said so. His homework book, seen by me on the dining table one morning before school, and promptly ignored, taught him to always put his books in his school bag after homework, like I always said. A splash of hot oil – and this one I can’t take credit for – on his face taught him at last to stand back when I fried fish, something my words had never been able to do.

But it is not only unpleasant lessons that I teach. I know the power of ‘positive reinforcement’. So when my son does good things like greet a visitor instead of just glaring at them, when he empties his leftovers into the trash, when he eats his vegetables without tears, he gets little rewards – a chocolate bar, an hour extra of video game time, a thousand naira added to his savings.

The positive reinforcements are good, but they bore me. They are not a challenge. The only good thing about them are the hugs they make my son give me. He’ll wrap his small arms around my thighs, his chin barely reaching my hips, look up at me with his father’s smile and say ‘thank you, Mummy. I love you, Mummy.’ I like that I did not have to teach my son to say I love you. It means I am a good mother.

There’s a new challenge now. My son has developed a fascination with the pool in our small housing estate. It’s like he's just noticed the shimmering blue water of it, and he keeps slipping out of the house to go stare at it through the bars of the fence around the pool area. It should make me feel better, this fence; but it is a low fence and it’s only a matter of time before my son tries to scale it. I have not asked my boy to stay away from the pool because my words will have no effect. I don’t know how yet, but my son will learn a healthy fear of that pool.

I am a good teacher. I think outside the box.


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