Monday, January 31, 2011

Guest Post: Flash Fiction (Clara's no joke by Jeff Unaegbu)

For the first time in our four-year-old relationship, I go with my fiancé, Eddy, to a hair salon. It is a crowded place run by Lady Clara, a fleshy black American. She has many hairdressers working for her. But most people prefer to get the treat directly from her deft fingers. If you say that you do not know who Clara is or where her salon is, people will take you for a newcomer to Abuja or a recluse. Clara’s Beauty Salon is a very popular place. Clara herself is a funny lady who does not mind that she is very fat. When you laugh at her tubby tummy and her legs that appear slim and unfit to carry her weight, she gives the thumbs up and pulls a face at you. She tries to make a joke almost every minute, hardly ever stopping for you to laugh as much as you want.

She continues to talk, even when it is my turn to have my hair dressed and when I try to explain to her how I want my hair styled.
I ask if she heard me. She replies merrily, “I hear with my ears, honey, I do the talking with my mouth, okay?”
I remove my hairnet and sit down, facing her. She tucks my head backwards into her washbasin and quickly pours on my loose hair a bowl of hot water: viaam-viaam! What the heck!
Everyone is still laughing at her reply to me. She has moved on.
    “It’s in the breaking news today that a sister's long hairdo was ruined by a ceiling fan!”
    Loud Laughter. Now, of all her prattle, that one can pass as a joke.
    “Honey, I’m gonna make your hair thin, just the way you want it!”
Eddy walks into the salon, signals to me that he is going to his place to await my arrival. I nod my head in response. Clara did not note that he is my fiancé nor did she see that we signaled to each other. Ten minutes later, she is looking for fodder to stoke up her chatter, and the lot falls on my Eddy!
“Did someone just see a brother walk in here and walk out again?”
Muffled laughter. I prick my ears in alarm.
“I ask the question because …(Place your head this way. No, that way. Yes, hold it right there, sister.) because, I am about to take the real news to Clara FM!”
Stop her! Tell her he is your man!  I do not know whether it is curiosity that stops me from stopping her or a subtle intimidation created in me by an already expectant crowd of waiting women or both. My heart is thumping like drumbeats. My mouth is shut and pouting!
“Now, I am not telling one of my jokes here….”
Thank God it is no joke, I think.
“I hear the brother likes women a lot. He does not know a hair salon from a barber’s shop! (There is thunderous laughter.) He’s come here five times this week. (But that was no joke!) I’m gonna get my share of his cake next time! ”
“STOP!” I yell and spring away from her.
I pick my things hurriedly and walk out as fast as I can. I wish I can just be deleted like a computer file. My hair is wet and the hairnet seems not to be doing its job of covering the mess properly. Of course, I do not want to see Eddy. So I go straight to my pad, throw myself on my bed and cry myself to sleep.
Jeff Unaegbu is a poet, short story writer, actor, fine artist and a documentary film maker. You can find out more about Jeff HERE and read his BLOG here.

JEFF UNAEGBU (This guy can write!)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Correspondence between Mr Aliyu Umar and Berry FeistyPen via Gmail


Dear Friend,

I know that this message will come to you as a surprise. I AM A SECRETARY OF FOREIGN REMITTANCE DIRECTOR BOA BANK HERE IN OUAGADOUGOU BURKINA FASO. I Hope that you will not expose or betray this trust and confident that i am about to repose on you for the mutual benefit of our both families. 

I need your urgent assistance in transferring the sum of ($7.6)million to your account within 14 banking days. This money has been dormant for years in our Bank without claim. I want the bank to release the money to you as the nearest person to our deceased customer, the owner of the account died along with his supposed next of kin in an air crash since July 31st 2000.

I don't want the money to go into our Bank treasurer as an abandoned fund. So this is the reason why i contacted you so that the bank can release the money to you as the next of kin to the deceased customer. Please I would like you to keep this proposal as a top secret and delete it if you are not interested. 

Upon receipt of your reply to, i will give you full details on how the business will be executed and also note that you will have 45% of the above mentioned sum if you agree to handle this business with me.

Best Regard. 

Dear Mr Alihu Umar,

How are you today? I hope work at the Foreign Remittance Department of Bank of Africa is going well. Your mail indeed came as a surprise to me. I wonder why you chose me. Did you receive a tip that I am indeed at a point in my life where five hundred and seventy million naira would go a long way in sorting out my life; for if I had that amount I would be the happiest person on God’s earth.

It would afford me the opportunity of paying for ChooChoo’s education till PhD in Harvard, buy that dream house in Paris and live the rest of my life writing, day dreaming and eating Ekpang with a thousand Nfi’s in my plate. I was on my way there though, until an unfortunate incident by the Federal Government.I would come back to that later.

Mr Alihu, you are most kind to think about me and even if I do not know you, I see that you are one human being who understands what it means to share. This particular trait of yours irrespective of the circumstances is admirable and worthy of commendation. Made more fascinating is the fact that you have deemed me worthy of the “trust you have reposed in me”. Once again, I thank you. Exposing or betraying your trust is not something I would do knowingly. I just hope I do not do it unknowingly.

Mr Alihu, You say the supposed next of kin of that man died alongside him in that car crash of 2000. I believe you; but you do know a next of kin is simply an administrator of an estate and not the one sole beneficiary as you have stated. If the next of kin was say, the man’s wife and she died along side her husband, then her children become the beneficiaries of the estate. The wife if she had been alive would not have spent all that money on herself, Mr Aliyu… Just some education I thought you’ll need.

Mr Aliyu, I totally agree with you. I do not also want the money to go into the Bank’s Treasury account. It does not belong there. It belongs to the man’s children or any surviving relatives to administer.

Mr Aliyu, I appreciate your kind thoughts towards me but if it turns out on the other hand that you have merely been lying and there is no account of such and that you really wanted to dupe me, it’s a pity because I don’t have anything you want for  all my accounts have been frozen by the Federal Government in its recent freezing activities.

One of them contains 15 million naira; which they will only ‘thaw’ when I provide a suitable beneficiary with an account balance of over 500, 000. If you are interested in being that beneficiary, please contact me with your bank details. You would be compensated with 70% of the money.

I’ll wait to hear from you; and remember, this is for the mutual benefit of both our families. I do not have to state that I repose great confidence in you and for you to keep this proposal as top secret.

Best Regards,
Berry Feistypen.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Ynaija article! The Fourth man in this Furnace

Mr Ibu’s wife and one year old son have not seen for about a week now. The actor-comedian whose real name is John Okafor said he has been waiting to hear from the kidnappers for about four days now to no avail after they had called to reduce the ransom from fifty million to six million. Mr Ibu is afraid they may have been killed.

Before the New Year celebrations, hundreds of people in Jos lost their lives in a bomb incident . The same happened in Abuja. That wasn’t Abuja’s second time of erupting in flames like that; the Independence day occurrence is still fresh in our memory.

In Lagos, we are advised to stay away from public places because there have been bomb scares in places like Motorways and Shoprite. Yesterday, a client amidst her malarial fever was able to confide in me, her pharmacist  that she had been told to stay away from Ajah bus stop because of a rumoured bomb incident.

Everywhere is public as far as I’m concerned. There is no place in Lagos that is low density.

I have just chronicled all the above events, dear reader, for you to see that the whole country has become something akin to a furnace. A furnace is like a large enclosed space for heating things. Nebuchadnezzar the king asked his men to heat it up seven more times so that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego won’t have a chance. Nigeria has indeed been heated up more than seven times for there are bombs and rumours of bombs just like the Bible said about the end times : there would be wars and rumours of wars.

For you to know how hot that furnace was, Nebuchadnezzar’s  men were killed just by drawing close to throw the three men in; an important lesson in following death-trap instructions. Should I pray that those heating up Nigeria should be killed by their own fire?
As soon as those men were thrown in, Nebuchadnezzar got up and looked into the furnace and screamed, “did you not just throw three men in?” I wonder who he was asking seeing as the throwers were dead. He went on, “I see four men in there, the fourth with the form of the Son of man” And because of this private vision, he fell on his knees and worshipped and ordered that the men be brought out and that no one spoke ill of their God.

The Bible says, “not one hair on their body was singed”, and the most awesome part, “the smell of the fire did not pass on their clothes. I believe that to be a particularly spectacular miracle as I’m well acquainted with the pungency of smoke!

There is a fourth man in this furnace. His name is Jesus. He isn’t just any ordinary man but a fourth man to three men who were joined by their unwavering faith. The guys had said, “even if he does not save us”. I think that is faith at its purest;  faith that commits to stand even when no results are seen  because it is really faith in someone rather than for something.

There is a fourth man in this furnace. There would be no excuse to lose integrity because of the heat of the fire. In our schools, in our work places and in our families we are required to be steadfast, unmoveable and abounding in love. People who love are not violent, dishonest, intolerant and all such things.

There is a fourth man in this furnace. Fear should be out and faith in. The entire country is a public place, and we still have to go out. Be security conscious but not rumor conscious. Whether we live or die, we do to the Lord.

There is a fourth man in this furnace. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s carved image. We must not bow to oppression, political manipulation and the voter apathy pervading us; the youth. On the 15th of January, voter registration begins and we must all come out and put our names on those registers. Come April, let’s take a stand and commit to a decision. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego took a stand against Nebuchadnezzar’s god and likewise we must take a stand against kidnapping, acts of terrorism, treasury looting and all such unrighteous acts in our country.

I feel I have to do this. I decree and declare that Mr Ibu’s family be returned to him safe and sound in the name of Jesus.

Jesus is the fourth man in this furnace!


I wrote Common Entrance at 9 years old, scoring 527/600 in the examination . Prior to that time, my mum (of blessed memory) used to stay up till 11 o’clock after her long day at work, to drill in my Maths lessons (after the lesson teacher had come and gone). She thought me fractions, prime numbers, algebraic equations and all and didn’t fail to pull my ears when I failed to remember something she had told me ten times.

I am now 26 and I look back at the various ways in which she moulded me in the issues of life like sending me on errands to Grandma’s house via public transport at 13, making me feed my younger sister Nutrend at 9; risking walls and rugs full of cereal spit-ups and keeping me in charge of large sums of money for home upkeep at 15.

Three weeks ago, I read Why Chinese mothers are superior; an article in the WALL STREET JOURNAL where Amy Chua, the Chinese Yale University professor and mother of 2 girls self professed herself a TIGER MUM, harping on the superiority of Chinese mothers over Western mothers. She attributed this to the pervading permissiveness of the West  and contrasted this to the tough talking, no nonsense Chinese who won’t let her daughters attend a sleepover, have a playdate, be in a school play,  complain about not being in a school play,  watch TV or play computer games , choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, not play the piano or violin.
According to Amy Chua, she once called her daughter ‘garbage’ when she was disrespectful to her although I cannot remember my mum calling me garbage or anything like that ( I think that is extreme).
There has been a lot of uproar about this new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger mum from which this memoir was excerpted; ranging from descriptions like “this is an extreme, rigid and authoritarian approach” to “Wow! This woman is painfully honest”.
 In a Times ARTICLE Roaring Tigers, Anxious Choppers; Nancy Gibbs, a columnist attempted to provide a more balanced view in favor of Amy Chua’s stand: There is something bracing about Chua's apparent indifference to her daughters' hostility, especially for parents who have learned that even if you let your teenagers spend 50 hours a week on Facebook, they'll still find reasons to hate you. (My favorite title of a parenting book: Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?)”
Some other respondents have claimed that Amy’s Tiger style predisposes children to a crippling fear of failure resulting in irreparable self esteem issues. A male point of view on the TIGER parenting style can be read HERE 
My ChooChoo is going to be one next month, and I’m slowly reaching the point where he’ll start learning and needing to remember rhymes, words, simple sums etc and I’m at a cross roads as to the parenting style to adopt. Will it be Tiger or Lamb? Chinese or Western? No nonsense or Some nonsense? Another columnist has tried to make sense of the whole thing in her article : IS TOUGH PARENTING REALLY THE ANSWER
I think I’ve browned very nicely in the oven of my parents’ parenting style and I appreciate greatly the complementing techniques of my mum and dad, but I would be fool hardy to ignore the individuality factor.
People are different and are drawn from distinct gene pools resulting in a unique blend of characteristics and so I propose that the temperaments and predispositions of each child should be taken into consideration in the decision on what parenting style to adopt. For example, ChooChoo at 11 months, already shows signs of very social behavior and some headiness. Would it be right to already prepare to limit future sleep overs and football games lest he “gets carried away” and fails in class?
The Bible takes a certain stand on these issues with scriptures like, “Whoever spares the rod hates the son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Prov 13 : 24
In the new testament, a balance is created in these verses: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephes 6: 4 and Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. Collosians 3 : 21
In the hustle and bustle of today’s world, it is easy to forget to make proactive decisions about our parenting styles and sort of like coast through life expecting everything to work out. Although I know that there is a place for listening to your children and hearing from them about how best they want to be parented, I don’t believe parenting is best done when children are your ‘friends’ rather than your CHILDREN. (Friends in inverted comma to stress the Wests’ preoccupation in making parents and children equal.)
Okay, enough said, what parenting style did you grow up with? Are you pleased with the results. What style will you adopt? What style have you already adopted? Are you pleased with the results

Monday, January 24, 2011

Guest Post: Black Man; Big, Black Wahala by Esien Ekpe-Ita

I can imagine the quizzical look on your face when you saw the caption. Black man, you know; but pray, what is meant by “BIG, BLACK WAHALA”? Well, yes, wahala can be said to be big. But black? Abi is there white wahala? Or maybe red?

Before I plunge into my treatise, I make a disclaimer: the views here expressed may be controversial, but I'm sure they're well thought-out. And being that I, myself, am a Black Man, I can’t be accused of being racist. Maybe I can be accused of “same-race-hatred”, but believe me, that’s as far from the truth as you can get. I very much love the colour of my skin and think I’d have looked rather ugly as a White Man, and uglier as a Red Man (if that’s what Asians are called).

Now, with every passing day, particularly each time I listen to the local news (or African news), I can’t help but shake my head and exclaim, “OH, BLACK MAN!” This is because there must be something reported in every news broadcast which assists in confirming one’s opinion that there is something very wrong with the black man. Whether this “very wrong thing” springs from the make-up of our DNA; or something in the air we breathe; or something buried deep within our earth which contaminates the crops we harvest to eat, which ends up messing-up our brains; or the fact that our ancestors were so bloody terrible in their ways that we (and those that’ll come after us) shall keep paying for the sins they committed donkey-years ago, I really don’t know. But there definitely is something wrong somewhere. And that thing isn’t a small thing o; it is a “looooooooonnngggg ting” (apologies to DBanj). And it always results in, not just wahala, but BIG, BLACK WAHALA.

My definition of BIG, BLACK WAHALA is simply, “Wahala that is so deep, or extreme, or malignant in nature that it’s unlikely to be of physical causes, but most likely is of spiritual origins.” Therefore, BIG, BLACK WAHALA= SPIRITUAL WAHALA. QED.

What has set me on the course of psychological theorizing and spiritual conjecturing? My people, it is dis somtin that’s called Voters’ Registration Exercise. Pardon my extreme use of language, but it is turning out to be a sham! (Hey, hey, hold-on; don’t crucify me yet for being a scare-monger and exaggerator, particularly for those of you who have registered. I will explain why I categorize it as such).

For me, there are two things most painful about the fact of its being a sham:

1. About N80,000,000,000.00 (Eighty BILLION Naira) was expeditiously approved by the National Assembly for Professor Attahiru Jega’s INEC, and that was after the total amount requested for was jacked-up twice. (After his first submission, twice, he went to the National Assembly to add some more billions and request them to be approved. THEY WERE ALL APPROVED).

2. The fact that schools across the country remain shut for the purpose of this Voters’ Registration exercise, ensuring that children remain at home, even though our President’s kids’ school, the American International School in Abuja, is open and currently in session. So, the question is simply this: considering the whooping amount of money approved and disbursed to INEC; considering the fact that all the monies “Mr Clean Boy/ Integrity” Professor Jega requested to be granted to him was granted; considering the huge sacrifice our children have been made to bear, staying at home even though their colleagues who were “lucky” enough to have been born by the President and the Vice-President and the Ministers are going to school; considering that this isn’t the first or second time since the advent of democratic-rule in 1999 that we’ll be doing this exercise, WHY, OH WHY do we still have to be told such ABSOLUTE NONSENSE  when we get to the Registration Centers like, “sorry sir, battery-pack is down. There is no light here, so we have gone to heaven to charge it. Come back later” or “Oga, go to the other center if not you go teyyyyy for this one” or “Madam, there is no spirit to clean your fingers. You get for house?” or “na bad computer dem send give us; d ting no dey work!” OH; BLACK MAN!

One week into this exercise, it has been the exception for people to go to the Registration Centers closest to them on the first day and be registered; you have to return at least two times before you are “successfully registered”. Now, you notice I put “successfully registered” in quotes. That is because, my good people, despite all the time wasted, and being beaten by the sun, and finally being happy to have been “registered”, your registration just might- at the end of the day- be null and void and of no consequence! OH; BIG, BLACK WAHALA!

We are being told now that a lot of the Corpers registering people are doing a whole load of- permit my Spanish- BULLSHIT! At least, I heard it from the horse’s (Prof Jega) mouth yesterday in the news.  Some Registration Officers (The Corpers) use their discretion to take only a thumb-print when the ten finger-prints should be taken (except you’re an amputee). Some of the pictures taken for the card are so blurred, the registrant looks like a ghost! When a Registration Officer was asked by someone he was registering why only one finger-print was taken, he was said to have responded, “Capturing all is taking too long a time; we can use our discretion to capture one.” When the registrant pressed on, the Corper snapped, “Abeg you can go to the next center o, this no be my Papa job; AFTER ALL, DEM NEVER EVEN PAY US OUR ALLOWANCE!” Ohhhh, despite all the Billions, the allowances of the Corpers are being owed them? OH; BLACK MAN!

Now, our President is already giving us hints that the exercise will be extended so that “no one is disenfranchised” He said as much yesterday in the news. We didn't need a crystal ball to know that this day will come, even though officials indulged in their usual false-optimism built on quick-sand when the exercise was about beginning, saying that all was set to go smoothly and to plan. After all, I doubt if there's ever been a time an exercise of this magnitude has ever been completed within the allotted time-frame. And it only becomes all the more sickening when they (the officials) are the ones who set the time-frame in the first place, with no one holding a gun to their heads to commit.  Problem is this: I know, somehow, that even if eternity is used for this exercise, my good people, lots of folks will still be disenfranchised. Last time we had Americans in the Voters’ Register. Mike Tyson and George Bush were in our Register even when thousands of Nigerians weren’t able to get their names in it. This time around, despite the billions of Naira, the closed schools and the extensions, we must pray very hard that Barack Obama and Hu Jintao aren’t included. But being that BIG, BLACK WAHALA still subsists, I’m not betting on it. We should even count ourselves lucky if the elections hold as planned, and the handover date remains May 29th. The handwriting is clear on the wall: the arrangements are shoddy, and things are being rushed.

Why must we (Black Man) ALWAYS prove that we’re incapable of adequately handling our issues? Why must even the simplest things be made to look so complex? (Please let’s not even speak about complex things.) Why is it that despite huge monies, enough time, and more than adequate resources (both human and otherwise), we still manage to mess things up BIG TIME? We are forever learning, and we’ve got accustomed to the talk of “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” But Rome wasn’t built forever either!

I’m not just referring to Nigerians here; that is why I say BLACK MAN. It’s not only a Nigerian problem. Look at Ivory Coast. If Gbagbo knew he’d not abide by the result, why did he even allow the elections to take place in the first place? Or why didn’t he do what “we’re” most expert at doing: rig the elections! Look at Sudan (although they’re half Arabs too. But the Arabs there even look black.) There’s a referendum that has taken place, and South Sudan wants to have their country because of all the years of war and being unable to co-exist with the North. Now they’ve voted to secede, the North is uneasy, and trouble is brewing. Stay together, no way; go your separate ways, no way! Ha; Black Man! Look at most countries of sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, DR Congo and its endless internecine wars. They have fought for so long that shooting guns and planting landmines have ceased giving them kicks. They now go on raping-sprees, defiling every woman that has shown the slightest signs of maturity, and even a few ones still immature.

Well, I’m a Black Man and a Nigerian, and there’s nothing I can do about it. There’s nothing I even want to do about it. If I were an American, I will be at risk of being shot by an insane man who is angry at one Government policy or the other (as if I’m the Government); if I’m an Australian, I’ll be at risk of being swept away by a flood, or a mudslide; if I were Chinese, apart from speaking as if I had hot yam in my mouth, I’ll be at risk of being killed by one earthquake or the other; and if I were Arab, I’ll stand the risk of having a very precious part of my body chopped off for “looking somehowly at a woman” (because look at a woman, I must; whether as a Nigerian or an Arabian. I mean, aren’t women by far the loveliest creatures ever created?)

However, I think the earlier we got to the root of our problems- whether physiological, psychological, spiritual, metaphysical;  the earlier we can understand why it is that we just keep going round in circles, making the same mistakes year-in, year-out, the better for us.

Now, this is not to claim that if I were Jega, or Jonathan, I might have performed differently. After all, I’M A BLACK MAN!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

My 234Next Debut: Madam, your hair is due!

On this cool Sunday evening, I had asked the stylist at a sleek saloon to wash and blow-dry my hair. I was going to fix a weave later. She inspected my hair as if she hadn’t quite seen such a mess before. Then, she spewed forth the words I always dread: “Madam, your hair don due oh!”

The words stung, not only because I had just retouched my hair the weekend before, but also because I had used the almighty, supposed miracle potion--Dr Miracle. That thing isn’t cheap! But I wasn’t upset at her for saying that because my hair certainly looked quite due--or at least totally lacking in that characteristic shine and limpness of the ultra modern perm.

My dilemma dates back to 12 years ago, when I first became acquainted with relaxer crèmes. I was in SS2 in Queen’s College, Lagos, and I couldn’t quite get over the envy I felt for all the other ‘modern girls’ in my class who had perms even as far back as primary school. But as my MFM-congregant father would say, all such things as perms are ‘ephemeral’ and not worthy of a virtuous woman’s consideration (he has come a long way since then and can even now be seen wearing shorts!) That particular doctrine went over my head and it took a lot of playful haranguing and behind-the-scenes debating by my mother (of blessed memory) for my father to succumb to my plea for a perm.
OK, I don’t know that he succumbed; just know that my mother gave me a cup of TCB and some money for a saloon visit when I was returning to boarding house. That day marked my induction into the world of scalp combustion, short circuited relaxation processes, hair breakages, and the weekly whisper of “Madam, your hair don due” from hair stylists all over Lagos (I have met many).

My hair is Pure African hair; my hair strands love to stay curled up and they do not particularly enjoy being stretched out and lying limp. When I first shocked them with the contents of that initial TCB cup, they obliged me by coming out of their shell to say hello, but since then--and we are counting 12 years--they stay limp only for a few days after relaxing, and return to their original state as if rushing back to an interrupted meeting. Even after I became a member of that perm clique, my friends never stopped commenting on how the hairs at my back always ‘takoko’d’ like ‘robo robo chewing gum’. I usually reacted by asking the stylist whenever I retouched my hair, to apply much more crème to that back. “Put more! Put more!” I would scream. But of course you can imagine the results. Massive first degree burns. Oh, the price I’ve paid for this clique!

Though I’m grateful to Garett Augustus Morgan , the African American who in the 19th century discovered the effect of alkaline relaxers on the hair protein structure by weakening its internal bonds and causing the natural curls to loosen out, I can’t help but think that my hair’s protein structure has only gotten stronger and more resilient by the years. From the lye cream once available, to the no-lye creams, to the kits requiring guanidine carbonate activators, I have tried all and stayed true to all the countless precautions on the fanciful packaging.

Some of my friends with hair more permeable to crème have advised me to stick to one particular product (I used Dark &Lovely for six years running), to try this or that. The latest was Dr Miracle and Profectiv (they did work but two weeks after, I was back to square one).

I am now officially frustrated but still not frustrated enough to abandon relaxers completely. I did try a few months ago to grow back my natural hair, claiming a desire to express my Pan-Africanism but it was merely a cloak for my relaxer incompatibility. However, this didn’t work because I was back to my saloon with a new kit of ‘Super’ Dr Miracle and a sour pout.

I’m in a cross betwixt two, coping with the coarseness of my African hair and not quite being able to bid goodbye to hair relaxers (lye or no-lye). I do not know what I might do to the next stylist who tells me, “Madam, your hair don due” when the hair should be anything but due.

No other Naija phrase (sorry, Aunty Dora) quite captures my frustration like this one: I HAVE TIRE!

My Bella Naija debut: Our Apathy, Our Undoing

I have never voted before, and I am twenty six. I could have voted in 2003 and 2007 if I really wanted to, but  I decided it was not that serious. I  registered  to vote in 2003, but didn’t  eventually  because of a pronouncement by Abel Guobadia, the  INEC chairman of that era. On a cool dry morning in the premises of the College of Medicine, Idi Araba;  psyched by ideals of a ‘fresh’ President, I had subjected my fingers to be swathed in purple dye, which was the give-away of all of us who had registered. But alas, the day came for elections and I was found wanting because Guobadia insisted that everyone should vote where they registered. I was at home for a break and I didn’t think a jerky bus ride from Victoria Island to Idi-Araba with all its attendant inconveniences was a worthy price to pay for voter involvement. It’s not that serious, I thought to myself!  That year, Obasanjo was re-elected into office, but that is a story for another day. In 2007, voting was not on my mind because NYSC took all the space.

I really started to think of my political involvement when I remembered that this month is voter’s registration month and April; election month. It’s a busy month for me; family obligations, school, career, writing, etc. I am nearly slipping into complacency again and wondering if I would vote this time and I know I am not alone.

There is such a thing as voter apathy, a term used to describe a perceived apathy (lack of caring) among voters in an election, but I don’t think anyone has more voter apathy than the young Nigerian female. Let’s examine it critically; if you’re  between the ages of 18 and 25, your time is probably spent worrying about admission, school and exams, boy-friends and their marriage suitability, getting a power job, money, how your next Blackberry subscription will come, how many months you may need to spread the payment for that Brazilian Hair, and stuff like that. Or if you’re between 25 and 35, you’re at the point where you’re waiting to be found, while the eligible guys are waiting till they make millions; or if you have been found, struggling with two kids, harassed, in a place like Lagos where you spend three hours in traffic to and from work. And then remember, you still have to resume in the kitchen!
So when you hear Zaki with his torchlight singing Goodluck’s praises on TV or that annoying trio of Saint Obi, new Miss Pepeye and the other guy (can’t recall his name), you just hiss and go. Who cares? Please, where is the remote? Then, you flip to E!, where you can hear that juicy gossip to cool off, or Africa Magic where your brain cells can temporarily hibernate.

A few ladies I know are involved in politics; they were either in the Student Union in the University or have been involved in certain protest rallies in town, but the truth is: majority of us still can’t be bothered. It is either we are frustrated by the inconvenience of physically voting, or we feel our vote will not count/the election has already been won by one side, or we feel it is not worth our while to educate ourselves on the issues and so the vote won’t be worth making. This, I believe is a form of rational ignorance. A disturbing ailment faced by many Nigerian youth!

Disturbing, because it has been well documented that 70% of Nigeria’s population is under 35, with a good chunk of that percentage being females between the age of 18 and 35. Now that is one powerful sector! So that means, if we choose to educate ourselves on what the country needs at this time and who best can deliver it, then we may just have changed the course of Nigeria’s future starting from 2011. The activities of young people, including ladies at the just-concluded Delta State rerun, just shows how powerful we are. I saw minute-by-minute updates on election proceedings on Facebook and Twitter. Way to go! But the big one is still ahead of us.

So, when it’s time to register, let’s all come out and do so, and then follow it up by actually voting.  After all, if we have a good leader, and the economy is better, then maybe we would be able to afford BB subscriptions without sweat, and the guys won’t have to wait to make millions before settling down.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Class Wars Have Begun

Class speaks of a social stratum where a person belongs. Class is also Lower Kindergaten where ChooChoo belongs. The class wars have begun. Now I understand why my mum, bless her heart, struggled to ensure that my lunch box was ‘cool’ enough and contained lunch.
We received ChooChoo’s  first party pack yesterday. His classmate/ name sake celebrated his birthday. I would describe the party pack to you. Please follow me carefully.

Weight- I don’t have one of ‘em meat scales in my house or I would have checked to get real values. Suffice it to say that it was ‘endowed’!

Height- One of those bags that an upper middle class family will probably share on their daughter’s wedding as souvenoir. Think about it. And it was a cartoon character. 

Contents-  1 Jonas brothers water bottle; 1 light -up -in-the- dark toy; I pack of pencils; neither HB or 2B or 2A, just Hannah Montana Pencils, 1 Caprisonne drink, 1 biscuit- the creamy ones, 1 lollipop, not Chupa Chups, 1 large chunk of cake.

ChooChoo is one next month.
Brethren, I am afraid.
It is not okay to just say; don’t mind anybody, just do what is within your power.
I am revisiting the dimensions of my power and challenging it. “Power, why, oh why, are you like this?”
This is what our parents did. Stretching their frontiers. They should be praised. Thanks mum, thanks dad.
ChooChoo is one next month. Power, why, oh why, are you like this? 

Skill, Precision and the Art and Science of Yam Peeling

Peeling  yam requires skill and precision. Too much pressure on the knife and you cut off precious yam with the skin. And woe betide you if it’s Old Yam. Too little pressure and you retain those rough adventitious roots with the discolorations and all. Just the right pressure yields a seamless tape of yam peels. Almost like a brown belt. Caca, my grandmother was particular. Country hard! Don’t waste precious yam, especially if it’s Onitsha.

The yam had to be just right. I started out peeling yam like I was felling a tree until I graduated into my present level of expertise.
The yam is held tenderly in one palm and a competent knife is held in the other ; for who attempts to  perform conjugal duties  with a flaccid member?

The blade of the knife is held secure between the thumb and the fore finger and rolled gently over the surface of the back; not too fast, not too slow or the brown belt would cut.

I cut my longest yam peel a while ago. I finally made perfect belts.
Skill and precision would make you last long. There is a skill level just right for your particular endeavor and you can get it. Then such names will apply to you- skillful master, virtuoso and all such. 

Mediocrity is unacceptable, or at least should be!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Testing the limits of political correctness

I know some people who don’t believe in Jesus. They do not hesitate to say it. But they want me to hesitate when I say I believe in him.

I know some people who don’t have a problem with witches and wizards. They say it everywhere they go. When I say I have a serious problem, they blame me for harbouring an unhealthy bias.

I know some people who think homosexuality is okay. They never fail to let me know through things they write and say. I think it is not okay. They say I should be politically correct.

I am tired. Getting a blog is free. Write your own.

ChooChoo goes to school

The nanny went home to the East for the Christmas break and so I made a decision. Choo Choo would start school. The school is an American style affair with lots of colourful toys that my eyes didn’t have the privilege of seeing in my own diaper  napkin days. I like the place. His head proprietor is sweet; and I do like the ring of the ‘fone’. 

He loves the place. After the initial banshee screaming affair, he releases himself into the arms of the care giver and is off to play. This particular type of play is the advanced type. The one the house couldn’t afford him. Gadgets, teddy bears, building blocks, miniature hammocks; it bears an akin resemblance to Disney Land. I am happy. My son is busy. Yesterday, school was so stressful that he slept early. It is good. People should be busy.

Yesterday, I couldn’t find his exercise book. I panicked. What kind of mother does that? The book is an assessment report meant to be viewed by the parents and returned daily. I soon saw it. A part of it was chewed. But, they have to understand; this particular student still chews things.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Fragility of the Artistic Ego

The artist is a person who creates within a context of the fine arts or high culture, activities such as drawing, painting, sculpture, acting, writing, film making, photography, decorating and music- people who use imagination, talent or skill to create works that may be judged to have an aesthetic value.
Since the imagination is involved, it is easy to assume that there are no rules. No one should have the exclusive preserve of what is right or wrong because, after all is it your fault that you're imagining this? We forget though that there is nothing new under the sun. Many of the things we are doing now or will do in the future have been seen and heard in the past and definite patterns have been identified. And so it is quite easy for the discerning to know when we are way off mark.

Why am I saying all this? Yesterday evening, I was privileged to read an interview Sefi Atta, author of Everything good will come, granted to the Guardian Newspapers. In the interview, amongst other grievances she had, she was especially upset with a reviewer of her book, Swallow. The review was given by Ikhide Ikheloa in the Next Newspapers two years ago. Reading the interview made me shudder and reminded me of the egg like fragility of the artistic ego.

Here's a quote from the interview,
"Actually, I’m only aware of one critic who reviewed Swallow negatively, and that was in Next. Apparently, he is a bit of a joke and his reviews barely qualify as blogs. An American friend who lives in Lagos asked why he was so spiteful. I said that’s what bloggers do to get attention. They go tabloid on you. I just wondered what I’d done to Next to deserve such a debut. 
Critics don’t need to denigrate writers to review our works. They only expose their own flaws when they do. They can point out flaws in our works without being rude. I mean, I’ve heard of dissatisfied readers hurling books across rooms, but really, does reading a book you don’t enjoy constitute a personal affront that justifies retaliation against the writer? It’s absurd
Read the full interview HERE

Then read excerpts of the review here,
"Is this the same person that wrote Everything Good Will Come? In Swallow, Atta delivers a failed blow with her killer arm tied behind her back. Too bad, because she missed several opportunities to write an important book.
There are strands of the Atta that I enjoyed in Everything Good Will Come: Women are up front and centre, making their case; men are in the background for once chewing the plastic cud of their own issues. The book starts with promise and attitude and then fizzles into silliness. I loved Rose, incompletely plumbed as her character is. She has real attitude:
"Rose often complained about being a Nigerian. She thought she was born in the wrong country. She wished she had been born in Czechoslovakia because the name sounded sophisticated. Nigeria was uncivilised, she said." (p12)
We see the stoicism of women labouring to make night meet day and typing their way through despair daily. Haunting is this statement:
"All morning I typed debt notices. Some dated so far back I wondered why our department bothered to send them out. We never got replies." (p15)
Beyond these occasional gems, there are all these random sentences, offering no context, sprouting from nowhere, not amusing, perhaps bemusing.
In Swallow, Atta continues her once successful quest - trying to understand Lagos. This time she fails spectacularly. Jerky dialogue wrestles with wooden prose to deliver mediocrity. Swallow comes to the reader bearing the sick banality of pulp fiction - and not a very good one. You must give it to the writer though; she knows Lagos. Lagos breathes in her work.
And what is the story all about? I am not quite sure; perhaps this is the only reason I would recommend the book to anyone. Buy the book, read it and tell us what it is all about. This is one pointless story, mushy in the middle - a middle-aged yarn yearning for relevance. Mining nostalgia has its limits, I guess. Atta's prose is not merely laconic; it is resigned, as if written by a tired author. Juvenile clichés dot the landscape like flies on stale palm wine. Disconnected paragraphs are united only in their grim determination to kill the story. One minute we are reading about shoes, the next minute we are reading about what, the reader forgets. This is a forgettable book. Rambling Rose, the nickname of one of the characters, would have been a perfect title.
Yes, instead of Swallow, the book should have been titled Rambling Rose! The book literally flies everywhere, never landing, and drags non issues into the room, bewildering the reader. Inchoate characters are killed off before the book can cash in on their promise. Interesting themes like sexual harassment are treated half-heartedly. Well, I did learn a new phrase, flagrante delicto. Google it ;-) This was a tedious read. Be prepared to lose interest one thirds of the way. And my pet peeve: editing issues hint at capacity problems within Farafina, the publishing company that birthed the book.
Can you see how this could have pained Ms Atta? But let us read an earlier review given by this same Ikheloa on Atta's Everything good
"Yes, the sister can write. She weaves a beautiful story of courage with unrelenting insistence. She says out loud to a jaded world: We come from a land of incredible beauty and unspeakable sadness. The reader never gets over the shock of witnessing enormous waste of potential and resources. And I am not talking about crude oil. Atta writes in the grand tradition of the writers before her. And she says to me that language is all in the mind. When t listen to the poets and writers of my childhood, they are speaking and writing in English but I smell the earth of my ancestors, I smell the musty sweat of my ancestors’ masquerades speaking to me from across the Atlantic, comforting me, soothing me. And in these books, they tell me that this earth also belongs to me. Atta has taken a rightful place in that pantheon of greats.
The book wears its frailties gently on its sleeve and we are drawn to the writer’s humanity. The book is not without its weaknesses; in its unnecessary explanation of Nigerian terms, one senses a yearning to reach out to a mass market. Why would anyone bother to explain that eba is “a meal made from ground cassava?” When next you read about pasta, remind the author to footnote its explanation.
Sister Atta, you speak to me in your book. You speak to me from deep in the bowels of my ancestors’ coven. You speak to me howling, bawling, and soaking me in the song of our mothers’ grief. In the feverish insistence of your voice, in the feverish insistence of your rhythm, in the pounding of your feet on the earth of our mothers, you speak to me. And joy rides our senses going places in the heart where fear still clings to life. Our sister, look at joy bounding up and down the streets of happy memories. Our sister, in your book, joy takes me by the hand and sets me free to dream of the way things used to be.  I will never forget Everything Good Will Come.

Now contrast the two reviews, No one heard anything from Ms Atta when she received that first review, but when Ikheloa said he didn't like the second book, she  screams foul. I haven't read Swallow, but that is not the point. The point is that by keeping Ikheloa constant, we have been able to determine impartially his perception of Atta's craft, and remember it's not Atta as a person he has issues with, it's the book Swallow- one of her works.

This doesn't happen to writers only. I also express myself artistically through music, and I can remember way back when I was in the choir, and on receiving correction for going off key, or singing the wrong part, or screeching when singing, I would balk and be like, " How dare they? What do they know?" But, these were the same people who praised me when I got it right; so what then was my problem? 

After having read Sefi's interview, I've just advised myself, “Akan, as you embark on this literary journey, 'better face front, good review oh, bad review oh', don't take it to heart, just trudge on, get better at your craft and just move on. The reviewer is not perfect, you are not perfect, the readers sometimes have off days and that's when they'll decide to pick up your book, but never mind, just keep doing what you're doing.

Aunty Sefi, you're good. Everybody knows. If someone doesn't like one, move on, nothing spoil. You Akan, better shut up. Let's see how you'll handle your own!