Saying Yes to Nigeria [4]

Naija in my Blood

Perhaps nothing reveals the spirit of a city like the attitude of its drivers. Do not even speak of the courtesies you possess until you have driven in rush hour on the streets of Lagos, where every hour is rush hour.

“Foolish man, can’t you see I’m indicating?” she cast a sideways glance at the offender. 200 metres later, with one hand on the steering and the other on her temple, she yelled at another offender, “Are you mad?” A minute later, she placed her hands on her horn repeatedly in bursts, peep, peep, peeeeep, “Stay on your lane!” And at the roundabout, looking less confident, she let out, “If you scratch my car, you will pay o!”

I watched her chest heave and dip, heave and dip, as we rode from Victoria Island to Lekki, while she continued her monologue with drivers who couldn’t hear her because we were cocooned in air-conditioned comfort in her car.

“They can’t even hear you,” I said.

“They can,” she insisted, but changed tactics, making me the subject of dialogue. “Timi, see what that driver is doing? That’s the problem with—”

“You’re going to give yourself a heart attack at this rate; can’t you just drive without the commentary?”

“You don’t understand, wait until you start driving.” She was darting in and out of lanes, “You can’t stay on one lane in this Lagos, you’ll never get anywhere . . .”

Famine brings out our worst instincts and the famine in Lagos is severe—lack of good roads, petrol, patience, politeness, empathy, sanity, alternative transportation like trams, trains, or water transport, diligent traffic wardens, and a responsive government.

Driving in Lagos has not changed. But I have. Or do I still have Naija in my Blood 

Read about my former experience, which is still relevant today here.

© Timi Yeseibo 2016

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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Saying Yes to Nigeria [3]

Our National Pastime

In his essay on exile in The Guardian, Ngugi wa Thiong’o writes:

Exile is more than separation: it is longing for home, exaggerating its virtues with every encounter with inconvenience.

I do not think I exaggerated the virtues of ‘home’ but I know people who did; people who began or ended sentences using two words, back home, nostalgia trailing their voice—ah the warmth of the sun back home, the friendliness of people back home, the sense of belonging back home, back home I used to …, and on and on.

I put up with whatever inconvenience being a minority in a foreign country brings, not forgetting that the country from which I came also has issues, in some respects, bigger issues. If the grass is greener on the side where you water it, then I did not want to waste my water. I watered my grass in The Netherlands and watered it some more.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s opening paragraph is instructive. He writes, “I never chose exile; it was forced on me.” But the heart plays tricks on even those who became ‘exiles’ by choice. When I arrived home, I discovered that I had managed to exaggerate some virtues and had forgotten about Our National Pastime

Read about it here.

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

 

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.

Saying Yes to Nigeria [2]

Naija Movie Night

In his essay for the New York Times Magazine, A Too Perfect Picture, which examines Steve Curry’s work, Teju Cole concludes that:

Art is always difficult, but it is especially difficult when it comes to telling other people’s stories. And it is ferociously difficult when those others are tangled up in your history and you are tangled up in theirs. What honors those we look at, those whose stories we try to tell, is work that acknowledges their complex sense of their own reality. Good photography, regardless of its style, is always emotionally generous in this way. For this reason, it outlives the moment that occasions it. Weaker photography delivers a quick message — sweetness, pathos, humor — but fails to do more. But more is what we are.

I do not own a camera, only words. I’m sharing this story I wrote years ago even though my experience in 2016 is different because it remains a snap shot of who we are. I hope my lenses are strong. I hope they do more. Read about Naija Movie Night …

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

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.

 

 

Saying Yes to Nigeria [1]

nigeria

Each time I am sure that, in returning to Lagos, I have inadvertently wandered into a region of hell, something else emerges to give me hope. A reader, an orchestra, the friendship of some powerful swimmers against the tide.
– Teju Cole

Several years ago when I was in Nigeria, I wrote a collection of articles about my experiences since I had returned and received feedback from my editor.

“Please don’t be like all those sabi sabi oyibo Nigerians who come from abroad and tell us what’s wrong with our country; they won’t stay and solve problems only talk talk talk,” she said and handed my manuscript back to me.

“We know what’s wrong with Nigeria, we live it every day. We are looking for escape in comic relief. If you must tell us, satirize it, and make yourself one of us. Like this story here,” she collected the manuscript from me and leafed through it. “This one is good. This one,” she shook her head, “not good.”

I did not agree with her assessment regarding the articles she claimed were not good. They were reflections based on my experiences. Moreover, I couldn’t infuse humour or irony or both in every article, could I? Maybe I could, I am Nigerian after all.

I read Teju Cole’s book, Everyday is For the Thief, years ago. I recall feeling hectored by chapter after chapter about a Nigeria with little redemptive value. My patriotism reared its head. Could he not find many more events, which were ‘normal’ to write about? Of course, I recognized the narrator’s experiences. Some were mine too, but such truths in black and white were painful to swallow. Then I understood what my editor had been trying to tell me.

African writers in the Diaspora have been accused of writing poverty porn— stories of disease-ridden, war-torn, aid-dependent, poverty-rife, corruption-infested, and patriarchal Africa—to sell their books to audiences in the West. While these aren’t the only narratives of Africa, as far as Nigeria goes, some elements are inescapable; even in choice neighbourhoods, evidence of poverty rises to the nose from the open drains that surround electric fences.

Returning from years of living abroad, your brain functions in constant comparison mode, not only of currency and exchange rates but also of culture, infrastructure, organization, and leadership. Stories are everywhere. But, does a writer have an obligation to be an ambassador of hope if he finds none?

Recently, a friend and I were discussing relocating permanently to Nigeria.

Holding his British and Nigerian passport in each hand, he said, “Nigeria, nah.” Placing his British passport on top his Nigerian one, he said, “I can only do Nigeria in measured doses.”

Without shame, I realize that another five years outside Nigeria has almost made me one of those Nigerians. If I were to review, Everyday is For the Thief, today; I would not be too harsh.

Every time I return to Nigeria, it is not with joy; a certain coercion draws me to her. Nevertheless, I leave better for having stayed. My patriotism is sometimes shaky, needing comfort to support its grid. If I returned with resolve to build a better society, the fuel queues and sweltering heat are melting it away. Perhaps time will help me tell a different story.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

 

Photo credit: http://www.inecnigeria.org/?page_id=373