This is How We Do It

queue

Life is a series of waiting. From the doctor’s office to the travel agency, from the dentist to the foreign embassy, we queue, tapping our feet, until we are served. Smart businesses turn waiting into a pastime. Forget glossies and car magazines. Forget coffee, tea, sweeteners, and creamers. Nothing like free Wi-Fi to eat up fifteen minutes of eternal boredom.

Yet, at supermarkets or self-service restaurants, Wi-Fi, and even 3G or 4G seldom come to our rescue for transaction speed is paramount.  We depend on tacit rules of queuing to bear our collective suffering and for smooth passage. For example, the loud disapproval of waiting-weary law-abiding citizens dispenses instant justice to queue-jumpers while attendants uphold the  people’s verdict. Those in a hurry don’t have to be doomed to sighing, hissing, time watching, and eye rolling. They just need to approach the Queue Court of Appeal comprising all or some of the people they intend to bypass.

I returned to Nigeria with this mindset. So, when I went to a fast-food takeout, I ignored the people milling at the counter and joined what seemed like a funnel-shaped queue. It didn’t move. This was what happened: people walked in, went straight to the counter, placed their orders, were served, and walked away. Did they have a smirk as they strode out with their prize or was that my waiting-weary imagination?

Anyway, I queued on in faith, ignoring my daughter’s tug on my wrist. I glared at my son for daring to suggest that I muscle my way to the counter. I counted tiles on the ceiling when I noticed people looking at me as if I had dyed my hair lime green. But, the toughest battle by far was drowning out the soundtrack spinning in my head, “Mumu, mumu. Mumu, mumu. You are a big mumu.”

queue culture

I wore my long-suffering like a green-white-green badge until somehow, I found myself at the counter. Before I opened my mouth, a lady appeared and started placing her order. I expected the attendant to ignore Queue-jumper but she took her order instead.

“Didn’t you see me on the queue? It’s my turn.” I eyed the attendant and Queue-jumper.

“How was I to know that it’s your turn?” Queue-jumper replied, looking at me, and then at the attendant, “add moi-moi, three moi-moi . . .” She faced me again, “You’ve just been standing there slacking; I don’t know what you’ve been waiting for.”

Anger rose slowly from my heart to my mouth.

I went into a tirade about how long I had been queuing and why. I expounded on the demerits of organised disorganisation, dragging the name of the management into my argument and stating that they enabled people like her frustrate the system thereby killing any hope of excellence.

When I heard giggles behind me, I paused to view the effect of my words. Some people were snickering. My son was shuffling his feet and looking at the floor. My daughter was looking at me as if she didn’t know me. I forgave them instantly. What did they know about Nigeria besides the ogbono soup and poundo, which I regularly made while we lived abroad? And the objects of my wrath? One held a bag of fast food, the other, N500 bills, and an exchange was imminent.

Another attendant came to the counter, “Madam there’s no need to shout, if you want something, please just tell us.”

Anger left my mouth and lodged in my heart.

Days later, I saw a real queue in Shoprite at The Palms Mall, people waiting to buy bread. But a friend went to the corner and gave an attendant N200 to jump the queue. Holding his N200 loaf of bread, he winked at me and said, “This is how we do it.” As he sauntered to the till, he bumped into a trolley that crashed into an aisle, causing canned goods to tumble to the floor, while those on the queue shifted their weight, dodging rolling cans.

Is this how we do it?

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

Around the web: other perspectives

India: http://junaidkhalfay.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/indians-their-best/

Oh for the love of India: http://sunderv.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/the-ubiquitous-q-crashers/

Britain: http://prettyfeetpoptoe.com/2013/01/09/queuing-the-great-british-pastime/

Australia: http://infographiclist.com/2014/02/19/ever-lose-your-cool-in-a-queue-infographic-queue/

China: Hey! Can’t you see there’s a line here? Wait your turn! by Ryan Ulrich

http://www.globaltimes.cn/opinion/top-photo/2009-07/442510.html

 

 

Photo credits:

http://pixabay.com/en/bar-restaurant-feet-legs-people-238509/

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Before I Die

life is not too short

I log into Facebook and read about a friend’s death.

The post on my newsfeed is hesitant and the questions that follow cry for answers. The news is inconclusive. Why tag a dead person in a post I wonder as I go over to his timeline. More questions greet me.

What am I hearing?

Someone tell me it’s not true o?

Is he really dead?

I just saw him two weeks ago. What happened?

Is this a joke?

On and on, the first reaction to death pours in. If the dead could talk, what would he say?

I spend the evening watching grief on social media. Words multiply quickly with high-speed connection. Small details here, small details there. An illness. A brief illness. A girlfriend. A babe. A teaching hospital. A brother. A mother. Two sisters. An engagement ring. Suddenly. Last night.

Hours later, denial gives way to acceptance on his timeline.

RIP

RIP

RIP

RIP

Although RIP carries as much eloquence as HBD, I do not conclude that grief on social media is impersonal, but rather reflective of the times. We wail in brief because something else on our newsfeed catches our eye. Our grief bears the mark of post-modern efficiency. It is not today that we shortened okay to kk.

His family posts a eulogy with a photo of him much later. Comments follow. I let my cursor play over the comment box. I type, you will be missed, and then delete. It is not good to lie to the dead. I join others for whom silence is fitting. We like the photo like signatures in a condolence register.

I don’t cry because I had not known him well enough for his death to unlock the door behind which my tears hide. We had drifted apart over the years as old friends do. He’d found me on Linkedin and we’d shared a couple of brief conversations about where we were in life and where we hoped to be. I do not remember what he said. I do not remember what I said. I must have told him about my blog; it is what I always do.

That is not to say his death means nothing to me. It does, but in a general way that makes me look inwards. Nothing like another’s death to bring your life into sharp focus.

Around midnight, I fall asleep. When I fully awake, I drink tea and scan blogs. Death is everywhere, disguised as poetry, woven into prose. I stumble on Robin’s post, Motivational and Elevating, as I try to air my mind. All these things: watching grief on social media, thinking about my life, and reading Robin’s blog, are connected and I think there’s a lesson for me. Robin leads me to Candy Chang.

 After losing someone she loved, artist Candy Chang painted the side of an abandoned house in her neighborhood in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stenciled the sentence, “Before I die I want to _____.” Within a day of the wall’s completion, it was covered in colorful chalk dreams as neighbors stopped and reflected on their lives. Photographs of the wall spread online and since the original wall in 2011, more than four hundred Before I Die walls have been created in over 60 countries and over 25 languages by passionate people all over the world.  

before i die Candy Chang 1

before i die Candy Chang

before i die Candy Chang3

Thinking about mortality brings no fear. I feel confident about that place we must all go, but I don’t want to go just yet. Inspired by Candy Chang, I scribble and marvel that my long- and short-term goals colour my paper with broad strokes. Perhaps now I will live more intentionally. Perhaps now I will be who I am.  I don’t want to settle for something less because I tired of waiting for something more.

Some of the things I want to do before I die belong in my diary. Some I can share here.

Before I die, I want to . . .

  • Travel just because; feel warm sand massage my feet, see mountains I dare not climb, and drink tea from antique Arabian teapots
  • Light as many candles as I can. I lose nothing by lighting other candles for together we brighten the room
  • Let the people I love know that I love them. I do not want them to waste even a day questioning my love
  • Make more money so I can buy a Bentley and give to causes dear to me
  • Read the books and watch the films, that I should have already cancelled from my to-do list

before i die

What about you?

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

Photo credits

  1. http://pixabay.com/en/sit-grandstand-theater-139664/
  2. http://beforeidie.cc/site/press/before-i-die-savannah-by-trevor-coe/
  3. http://candychang.com/before-i-die-the-book/
  4. http://beforeidie.cc/site/press/07-chang_before_i_die/

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Long Way Gone: Introspection and Tears

a long way gone

The photo on the cover—a boy on a dirt trail, hair uncombed, mortar cartridge behind his neck, and a gun with a bayonet hanging from his shoulders drew me to Ishmael Beah’s book. The green flip-flop on his right foot, useless and slanting in the wrong direction, a testament of happier times, sealed my fate. Reading the blurb was a formality as was thumbing Steve Job’s biography, which I had intended to buy in the first place.

I paid for the book and went home.

I read the book through one heart-wrenching weekend, stopping occasionally for the weight of sorrow to lift. It did not.

Beah tells his story, in my view, without an agenda or an axe to grind. It is as though he says, “This is my story. Jump to conclusions if you want. Ask questions if you care.” He narrates about his experience as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone, a boy flung into the throes of a war that consumes his family.

His memory is photographic, capturing detail in a way that helps you journey with him. The picture of him wandering in the forest haunts me still.

I walked for two days straight without sleeping. I stopped only at streams to drink water. I felt as if somebody was after me. Often, my shadow would scare me and cause me to run for miles. Everything felt awkwardly brutal. Even the air seemed to want to attack me and break my neck. I knew I was hungry, but I didn’t have the appetite to eat or the strength to find food. I had passed through burnt villages where dead bodies of men, women, and children of all ages were scattered like leaves on the ground after a storm. Their eyes still showed fear, as if death hadn’t freed them from the madness that continued to unfold. I had seen heads cut off by machetes, smashed by cement bricks, and rivers filled with so much blood that the water had ceased flowing. Each time my mind replayed these scenes, I increased my pace. Sometimes I closed my eyes hard to avoid thinking, but the eye of my mind refused to be closed and continued to plague me with images. My body twitched with fear, and I became dizzy. I could see the leaves on the trees swaying, but I couldn’t feel the wind.1

Reading this book almost upended my theology. Why do bad things happen to innocent people? If God is real and good, why doesn’t he stop it? What about ethnic cleansing and genocide in the Bible?

I have not found intellectually satisfying answers. I do not need them to believe, I only need them for debate.

After I closed the book, it took many days for sadness to leave me.

Is war like the Terminator movie? Does the good guy leave the epic fighting scene—usually a dark warehouse with chainsaws, spikes, naked wires, and bottles—limping into the light with the beautiful woman he rescued clinging to his arm, while we cheer and wait for them to kiss?

No.

I recall a scene from Machine Gun Preacher, where an orphan boy tells his story to Sam Childers, which unlocks my tears afresh.

I remember my parents in my sleep. My father was big like you. They shot him. The rebels told me, “If I do not kill my mother, they would shoot my brother and me.” And so, I killed my mother. If we allow ourselves to be full of hate, then they’ve won. We must not let them take our hearts2.

War leaves casualties as J.P. Clark describes in his poem, The Casualties3 (selected lines below).

The casualties are not only those who are dead;
They are well out of it.
The casualties are not only those who are wounded,
Though they await burial by instalment.

The casualties are not only those who started
A fire and now cannot put it out. Thousands
Are burning that had no say in the matter.

The casualties are many, and a good number well
Outside the scenes of ravage and wreck;
They are the wandering minstrels who, beating on
The drums of the human heart, draw the world
Into a dance with rites it does not know

We fall,
All casualties of the war
Because we cannot hear each other speak,
Because eyes have ceased to see the face from the crowd,
Because whether we know or
Do not know the extent of wrong on all sides
We are characters now other than before
The war began,

I have many questions, fewer answers, but I am at peace in the world as long as I do not let them take my heart.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

1. Ishmael Beah, A Long way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (New York: Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), 49.
http://www.alongwaygone.com

2. Machine Gun Preacher Movie.
http://www.machinegunpreacher.org/

3. J.P. Clark, The Casualties, Poems of Black Africa, ed. Soyinka Wole (London: Heinemann/AWS, 1975), 112.

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Affirmation: My Journey

affirmation

When I was little, school was easy and prizes came easily. My prizes brought me little joy, especially after my mother asked why I didn’t win them all, which was her way of spurring me on to greater heights. I lined my prizes and waited for my father’s praise. When he finally gave it, my life assumed colour and the monochrome of my existence ceased to be.

I think about it now, and wonder if it wasn’t crippling to let my enjoyment of life hang on someone’s approval. I was a child, I didn’t know better. You would think I’ve been cured, after all these years, but I’m not. I am not yet a black belt at life; I have only learnt to do life better.

Am I the only one with this disease?

Years ago, I met a young man at the behest of a mutual friend. He had written a story they both thought was good enough to submit for a competition. I was to look it over, you know, give some pointers.

From the start, sloppy errors that MS Word could have fixed littered his story. I read every line of the first six pages, displeasure turning the corners of my mouth down. In my review, I mentioned that he had a strong story to tell, but I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

He responded with accusations that stung, as if my review had attacked his person, not his work.

I should have sensed his vulnerability in the conversation we had at our first and only meeting, underneath the Chicago Bulls baseball cap he wore and his bravado words. When he placed the manuscript in my hands, I should have seen his heart. I should not have dismissed the way his hand shook so that a few sheets went sailing in the wind, as superstition.

He was not unlike the men in my life; men, who like a 5,000-piece puzzle, take weeks to unravel. Men with broad shoulders that absorb the weight of my fears and the problems of our world, and yet . . .

Anyway, if he wanted validation as a writer, why did he say, “Be brutal in your feedback, I want to get better.” His girlfriend was supposed to hold his hand and whatever else needed holding not me!

Nevertheless, the need to prove my niceness to a stranger ate my sleep. I replied and gave him concrete examples of what he could have written better, including how and why. Although he baited me to read the entire manuscript, saying that, the errors were only in the pages I had read, I declined for I was not that hungry.

That experience cost me a friend and a potential one. Seldom have I received a request for feedback that was not encroached upon by the need for affirmation. I hear it often in the defence people give in response to feedback.

Wise men pause when a woman asks, “How do I look?” Bombarded by images of beauty in the media that thrive on the insecurity that the media put there in the first place, she is asking for validation, not the whole truth. Happy is the man who gives it. Even my son knows that his answer to this question can mean the difference between his favourite take-out pizza and frozen pizza popped in the oven.

I used to dream of meeting someone special who anticipated my needs so I would not need to be weak and speak them. I now know people do not spend all day gazing at crystal balls to decipher what you need. Growth means that I untangle my web of feelings and answer these questions honestly.

Timi what do you need?

Who can give it to you?

Where is it safe to get it from?

Last week, I had a shitty day and if I am honest, I had set myself up to fail. I went to the one with whom I feel safe and recounted the day. Then I said, “Just for tonight, tell me I’m beautiful, tell me I’m smart. In the morning, you can tell me I’m full of crap.”

I am further along on my journey than when I began.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

Image: http://pixabay.com/en/people-boy-thinking-child-28792

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

In Transition

in transition 7

In transition.

The first time I read those words was when I was so little, time loomed so large, and my only care was how to fill stretches of time. Capitalised above a black and white photo of someone’s grandma, I understood the words meant she had died and gone to Heaven, which I simplified to mean, no one would see her again and finally, she could snuff that thing in the little tin she carried about in peace.

in transition

Of course, now that I’m grown, my ideas have changed. Life is a series of transitions and death is the final one or another in the series, depending on what you believe.

The quality of our transitions can make or break the next phase of our lives. If you tumbled into adolescence with pimples and a pitch that would not deepen even as each new year brought your peers’ baritone in sharper focus, if you could count the hair on your face and on your chest on four of your five fingers, then you’ve known the awkwardness of bad transitions.

And if at twenty-four, your scars from popping pimples lay hidden under a well-groomed beard, you could croon the words, smooth transition, and we would nod as though Sade were singing Smooth Operator.

transition

In writing, transitions connect paragraphs and pull scattered thoughts together so they make sense. Transitional devices are words or phrases that writers use to cue readers in a certain direction. They are like warning signs: ahead, keep left. A word like nevertheless, prepares readers for a contradiction, while furthermore, warns readers that the writer isn’t done yet; and finally, lets readers know the end is “finally” in sight.

Nowhere is the value of good transitions more evident than when writing short stories, short blog posts, or short anything. Brevity constrains writers to bottle meaning in as few words as possible. Like archers, writers discard word after word, until they find the arrow that will hit the mark.

Transitioning between time periods, i.e. moving from the present to the past and then to the future, before relaxing in the present again, requires more than bow and arrow. A good writer must deploy the right tenses and should never leave home without his adverbs of time. When writing a short story, I think it is better to avoid skipping from present to past to future to past to present. I mean, haven’t we got only one life to live?

one life to live

But, we don’t listen do we? We station the protagonist in the present, give him momentum, and teach him to fly. Just when our readers blame that small urinary incontinence on gripping stuff, the protagonist leaps back in time. Reaching for a flag, he falls in a rose bush instead, pricking our readers with needles of confusion.

Loyal readers crawl back through our written lines more than thrice to locate the protagonist. But when they pick up from where they left off, they are thrust into a futuristic time travel with no warning. Dizzy from the spatial challenge, they finally abandon plot. Those who cannot lie leave a comment behind: nice one, don’t keep it coming!

transitions

So, a long time ago, I tried to write poetry. I showed my masterpiece to a great poet teacher.

“You’ve done a half-decent job.”

“Half-decent?” My eyes widened at her audacity. She told me the truth when I asked for feedback. Who does that?

“Well, you could do better if . . .”

She rambled on about metres and stanzas, rhymes and verses. Her arms flailed like a musical conductor’s: a little alliteration, tenured cacophony, rising assonance, asinine onomatopoeia, and mindless personification. Spent, her arms dropped to her sides. Her eyes searched mine.

teacher

“Got it?”

“Uh huh,” I replied, “But, I want to write it like this,” I showed her my poem again.

“Timi?”

“Yes?”

“Do you want to write poetry?”

“Y – e – s . . .”

“You can break the rules after you’ve mastered them not before!”

writer's dilemma

If you read this to the end without losing me, kudos to me, I structured my transitions right. Now, go and work on yours, so I can read your story without crawling through the lines!

 

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

Images from Microsoft Corporation

Photo of Omari Hardwick courtesy: http://www.omarihardwick.com

 

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.