Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas on Memory Lane

It’s about 40 kilometres from where I now live, in Lekki, to my old neighbourhood in Isolo/Okota. But not all distance can be measured in miles and kilometres; sometimes distance is measured in memories.

This Christmas, my mother and I drove to Okota to celebrate with this family of our friends. The Christmas party is an old tradition with this family, and as kids we would go in our best clothes, always excited, until the ennui of youth set in. It’s been over eight years since I last attended one of these parties.

In 2007 my family moved away from Isolo, from Papa Adeyemi’s house where we’d lived as tenants since we arrived Lagos about twenty-three years ago. It was not a sad moment when we moved; it wasn’t even bittersweet. We were moving to Ikoyi! Fast forward eight years and we’d moved house twice more, each move taking us further away from our very first neighbourhood. But when you’ve lived so long in a place you carry it with you, no matter how far away you move.

Hello... from Young Me

We get in the car on the 25th and the CD player whirs to life. It’s not quite old school music; more like mid-school: J-Lo singing her love don’t cost a thing; TLC being adamant about wanting no scrubs; Mary J Blige urging us to dance for her, Michael Jackson and Akon asking that their hands be held. These songs are the perfect soundtrack for this journey back in space and, in some ways, in time. My mother says the songs remind her about her first trip abroad, and I remember too: the things she brought back, how foreign they smelt, how very international; my teenage elation at touching something that had touched America. Even my mother had seemed brand new to me then. I remember the red and blue Virgin Atlantic blanket she’d somehow brought back. I cherished that blanket for years, despite relentless teasing from my sisters.

I can’t really follow the route or all the turns my mother takes on the drive, but when we reach Isolo and drive past Olufemi Peters Street I perk up. I look out the window at where St Monica ‘Montessori’ School used to stand and six years of my life pass before my eyes. We go past Apata Memorial, that school that had seemed so posh and dazzling and out of my reach as a child. Its walls are no longer white, now some peachy colour that renders the school less imposing.

We drive down Ago Palace Way, and to my right I see a Kingston Jo with its signature red and white. Kay-Jay Burger, we used to call it; there was one two streets away from our old house. It’s where the cool kids hung out, and my oldest sister was the coolest, at least in the eyes of Young Me. It’s where the boys would take the girls when they wanted to impress. I am surprised and inordinately glad to see Kay-Jay still in business.

We pass by Word Base Assembly, one of the churches we’d attended with my mother as kids when my dad was away working in the east and my mother was on a kind of spiritual odyssey. We visit my aunty who had been seriously sick for a year, twenty one days of which she’d spent in a coma. We marvel at the pictures of her 30-something-year-old self sickly in an 80-year-old’s body and praise God for the miracle that is her life today.

We get to the party. We greet, we hug, we smile, we eat and we play games. I like that even though the host family has moved to the Lekki area, like us, they come back to Okota for their Christmas parties. The tradition is comforting. The family now has a different house than the flat of old where they used to throw the parties years ago. This one is huge, it is beautiful, it is theirs. I think about the things that have changed and the things that have stayed the same. Okota, same with its perpetual coating of dust. Ago Palace Way, wider now than I remember it, and smooth with its fresh pavestones. I wonder about Pillar of Fire Bible Church, another stop on my mother’s spiritual odyssey. It used to be on a nearby street.

The memories go through my head. Church services at Word Base Assembly; visiting the home of my classmate, Fola, on holiday and feeling slightly better about ours; my sister stealing money from our dad because some ‘prophet’ had said something dire would happen if she didn’t get him money to pray and avert it; St Mary’s and my First Holy Communion, hundreds of Hail Marys and fake ‘confessions’ because even then as a child it didn’t make sense to me to tell Father Faceless the truly appalling things I’d done; night vigils at Pillar of Fire Bible Church; St Monica School and Uncle Daniel, Uncle James, Tunde and Onyedikachi, writing stories, getting caned, marching in front of the school gates to ‘The Brave Old Duke of York’ and other imported songs I didn’t understand; the school’s anthem, whose stolen tune I would only this year come to recognise from a hymn in church one fine Sunday morning; Kembos Private School and the many evening fellowships with fiery prayer said by gentle lamp light. Ire Akari Estate Road: the provisions store just by the market, where the mighty Prince Ebeano started; shopping for school supplies in Aswani Market on Tuesdays. Aina Street, me and my sisters calling out Bisi’s name from our window in her grandmother’s voice and laughing at her confusion as she looked around her every time. The Onwatus on Okeho Street.

Nostalgia is a sepia-toned feeling, and in the hazy harmattan air it’s hard to shake off.

We drive toward Third Mainland, home-bound, our mid-school music still playing our way. My mum says with a sigh, ‘Okota is still in my head.’

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Theatre Events for the Holidays

It's a great season for theatre in Lagos, with two major musical productions coming up between December 29 and January 3. I will be watching and reviewing both, but not on Truth and Fiction. I recently started Curtain Call Naija, a blog just for theatre; so please follow it for all that good theatre stuff going forward. Also, please show us some Twitter love; we're @CurtainCallNaija.

So here are the coming musicals.

There's Wakaa, which is from BAP Productions, who brought us the highly acclaimed Saro (I and II). Wakaa tells the story of six young graduates as they struggle to find their feet.

Dates: 30 December 2015 to 3 January 2016
Times: Various (1 PM, 3 PM, 4 PM, 5 PM, 7.30 PM)
Venue: Shell Hall, Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos

Then there's Kakadu, produced by The Playhouse Initiative, which tells the story of Lagos in the sixties, with vibrant music and costumes.

Dates: 29 & 30 December 2015, 1, 2 & 3 January 2016
Times: 2.30 PM & 6. 30 PM 
Venue: AGIP Recital Hall, Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos

See why I'm loving the holidays?

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.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Theatre Events This Month (And Beyond)

It’s a good month to overdose on theatre. This September Terra Kulture will be showing two (yes, two!) plays on various days: Wole Soyinka's King Baabu and Greg Mbajiorgu's The Prime Minister’s Son. (Get discounted tickets for both plays from DealDey, before the offers expire.)

(The Prime Minister's Son shows September 19, 20, 23, 25, 26, 27.)

Lekki Waterside Theatre will be showing Tyrone Terrence's Yoruba Romance.

And as if that isn’t enough, early in October there will be Bobo Omotayo's London Life, Lagos Living (get tickets here) and Okonkwo's Inquest, a play based on Achebe's Things Fall Apart (tickets here).

Whew :)

There will be reviews. Watch this space. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Life on Default

I was talking with a 9-year-old the other day about the most riveting of topics – school. In about a year she'll be ready for secondary and she seemed pretty pleased about this, having recently been promoted from primary 4 to 6. She said she would be going to a boarding school. I asked if she liked this and she said, in this odd, adult-sounding way that kids sometimes have, ‘I don’t like it but my mummy said I’m going.’

I went to a boarding school. Did I enjoy it? Well, for the first three years I cried each time I had to go back after a holiday. I remember my mum asking once if I was being abused. So no, I didn’t enjoy boarding school, but I learnt how to do boarding school. In many ways I’m glad for the experience. It has inspired many of the things I write.

A couple of years ago I said to a friend that all my children would attend boarding secondary schools. What he said next was utterly simple, yet it was something I’d for some reason never thought about: ‘why would you want to do that,’ he asked, ‘when you yourself didn’t like boarding school?’ After a moment of stunned silence I finally admitted, somewhat shamefaced, that I’d never looked at it that way. I come from a family of boarding schoolers; it’s my normal. It’s like taking the same route home every day; you never really think about it until you have to. Years before, I’d had a similar conversation with a different friend, saying that boarding schools made children independent. He’d said not necessarily. He didn’t like the idea of boarding schools, said he wouldn’t want his kids living away from home at that age. We agreed to disagree; what did he know about boarding schools, he hadn’t attended one. Me, I knew about boarding schools. I’d attended the same one the whole of my six years in secondary school, and so had all my sisters. We turned out great!

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about the decisions we tend to make with our minds set to Default: big decisions like the careers we get into, the people we marry and when, having children and how we raise them. Sometimes a simple conversation is all it’ll take to cause a shift. Other times we’ll spend years of our lives trying to do the opposite of our normal when we realize that wait, I actually do not have to do life this way.

Having and raising children is one life-altering decision that too many people make by default. For a lot of people it’s not even an active decision: it’s just what people do *shrug*. Having a child means being responsible for a life. Why the enormity of this undertaking doesn’t seem to astound more people is a mystery to me. I know that the thought of raising a child makes me lightheaded with anxiety about the various and spectacular ways I could mess up and scar my offspring for life, the many ways I could fall short as a parent. Maybe the answer is a simple one, that these other people just have more courage than I do. Or more faith? More love?  

These days when I think about having or raising children, there are no automatic answers anymore. And I say ‘if’, not ‘when’. Because I asked myself if I really truly wanted to have children, and the answer was not Default-yes.

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.