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 [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

 

 

Leave Trash For LAWMA

“Stop, stop,” I urged the Uber driver.

He obliged and I came out of the cab with my phone to take a photo of the signpost. 

refuse disposal

“Why did they put up the sign,” I asked the driver, shaking my head as I returned to the car and put on my seat belt. “Do you think people will obey?”

“The first problem,” he said, “is that the people that it’s supposed for can’t even read it. When they see it, they will think it’s about 419.”

I nodded recalling the caveat emptor signs commonly seen on buildings and plots of land: This Property is Not For Sale; Beware of 419.

But, I was not sure if he had correctly estimated the literacy level in Lagos, Nigeria, because I was using the people in my circle, who can all read and write, as a gauge for the rest of society.

“Hmmm do you think it is fair for God to dirty their lives if they can’t read the sign?” I chuckled at the image in my mind of an angry God with smoking nostrils, waiting to rain trash on dissidents.

“I don’t know why they have to bring God into this matter. This thing is simple.” He went on to describe the current system of refuse collection initiated by the local government authorities.

“See,” he slowed down and pointed to a refuse heap, “they can throw their rubbish here . . . but only those who have paid, those that have cards.”

I have written about voluntary compliance before, marveling that Nigerians need the brutal arms of uniformed men to coerce compliance out of us like malu congo, yama yama congo—a derogatory chant that I cried out as a girl. It was aimed at cows being driven with a stick by a herdsman intent on the cows doing his bidding.

But as the driver and I exchanged ideas about efficient systems of refuse disposal and the role of government and religion, I observed that humans in general, were wild at heart, bucking at authority and searching for short cuts. That if law and order seemed to prevail in the western world, it wasn’t so much the result of “civilization”, but the result of sophisticated systems of policing—a speed camera mounted on a busy street ensured compliance without invoking the wrath of God.

I asked the driver what he thought people who aren’t able to pay the fee for refuse collection should do with their garbage.

“I don’t know o. Na wa! Only God can save this country!”

He had come full circle and now embraced a premise he had earlier rejected, why bring God into this matter? He (and I), had done more thinking about a social problem than we normally would have and that was not a bad start.

He brought me back to the present by interrupting my thoughts with a double entendre.

Madam, abeg leave trash for LAWMA!”

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

 

LAWMA- Lagos State Waste Management Authority.

Abeg leave trash for LAWMA– ordinarily, in this context, Pidgin English for: please allow Lagos State Waste Management Authority do their job.

(Abeg) leave trash for LAWMA– a hashtag on Twitter, the result of feuding between two Nigerian music producers. It has morphed into a slang that means (among other things), please talk about something else.

 

©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.

Shifting Gears [5]

adrift

Adrift

For the most productive parts of my year, Marilynne Robinson’s words were my Mantra: “Frankly, you get to a certain point in your life where you can do unusual things with your mind. So then, I think, do them.”

What Marilynne doesn’t explain is that doing stems from being; that our being is tied, irrevocably, to our interactions, our relationships; that in reinvention, we shed our pasts and people in them to emerge into new forms of ourselves. There is something visceral, violent even, in leaving friends to gain new frontiers.

In August, I was added to a WhatsApp group of my secondary school classmates. My first comment was a rant. Someone asked why I was speaking as though I did not attend the same school like everyone else. Even I am a stranger to the boy they used to know.

It was easy to severe secondary-school ties. I used to be good at that. The secret is to avoid nostalgia, excise memories, and dull the mind with new experiences. I did this without guilt. I often say I am content in solitude and enjoy being an island, but when I entered university, I made new friends who showed me friendships are not just bridges that can be burnt at will and reconstructed. They are anchors that prevent me from drifting.

Trying to describe the loss of friendship, Murakami wrote of the titular character in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage:

“The pain he felt was, if anything, more intense, and weighed down on him even more greatly because of distance. Alienation and loneliness became a cable that stretched hundreds of miles long pulled to the breaking point by a gigantic winch. And through that taut line, day and night, he received indecipherable messages. Like a gale blowing between trees, those messages varied in strength as they reached him in fragments, stinging his ears.”

Towards the end of the year, my life began to imitate art; Tsukuru’s story came alive with vivid intensity. In striving to be the kind of person who can do the things I now think my mind is capable of, I was drifting away from my friends.

Last month, I spoke to one of my best friends. I asked her about work.

“You are so out of date,” she said with laughter in her voice.

We spent hours trying to fill the yawning void between us, trying to get back to the way things were (the way they should be?).

Time is the tie of friendship, affection its strut, and these I do not possess in infinite quantities.  Having severed, at will, friendships in secondary school and anchored myself to friends in university, I’m learning as a young adult that it is okay to drift away from some friends without angst or guilt.  To build new bridges some of the old ones have to be dismantled.

I walk through the phantom space where bridges used to be, hoping there is enough muscle memory to take me past the awkwardness of encountering old friends; you know, matching faces to places and names to dreams. Nonetheless, I am grateful for friends—past, present, future—who anchor me to reality and to whom I owe bountiful debts of love.

© IfeOluwa Nihinlola, 2015

Ife blogs @ ifenihinlola

 

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Time to Read

Blog articles on my WordPress Reader started appearing with an estimated reading time (ERT) tucked at the bottom left-hand corner, about two weeks ago. So, for example, my blog posts looked like this.

 

ERT 1

 


ERT 2

 

Many writers I know, including myself, lean towards verbosity. We are in love with our words. When you are in love, words are harder to kill. A blog post may therefore take hours to complete. As Samuel Jackson notes, “What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” At first, it was jarring to see work that took me seventy-two hours to produce reduced to a three-minute read, word count notwithstanding. But this is the reality of life online; writers have much to share, readers have little attention to spare. Erik Qualman caps the average person’s attention span at seven seconds, one second less than a goldfish’s eight seconds.

If the first three sentences of an article is followed by: read 1827 more words, only several things make me continue reading—familiarity with the author, curiosity occasioned by a superb opening line, the title, prior knowledge or interest in the subject, or a referral.

Time is like a loaf of bread, there are only so many slices I can cut. My life is characterized by acute time rationing—ever heard that time waits for no man? It is as if the world is spinning faster and faster on its axis and I am getting dizzier and dizzier from information pollution. How long, thus becomes a valid question.

I mean, if completion is my goal, then time is often the decider between a three-course meal and a sandwich-to-go at lunch break or between a 500-page novel and a collection of short stories on a one-hour flight. Would you watch a YouTube video without checking its length?

I find myself liking ERT appended to blog articles. ERT on platforms like Longreads and Medium helps me narrow my plethora of reading options. ERT even trumps word count in my view because it makes mathematics unnecessary i.e. dividing total number of words by average reading speed.

Similarly, in making a case for why we find listicles appealing, Maria Konnikova notes that an article written as a numbered list, “. . . promises a story that’s finite, whose length has been quantified upfront. Together, these create an easy reading experience, in which the mental heavy lifting of conceptualization, categorization, and analysis is completed well in advance of actual consumption—. . . And there’s little that our brains crave more than effortlessly acquired data.”

 

listicles

 

She writes, “The more we know about something—including precisely how much time it will consume—the greater the chance we will commit to it. The process is self-reinforcing: we recall with pleasure that we were able to complete the task (of reading the article) instead of leaving it undone and that satisfaction, in turn, makes us more likely to click on lists again—even ones we hate-read. The social psychologist Robert Zajonc, who made his name studying the connection between emotion and cognition, argued that the positive feeling of completion in and of itself is enough to inform future decisions. Preferences, goes his famous coinage, need no inferences.”

I cannot help but draw parallels, unscientific they may be, between these observations about listicles and the value of knowing ERT upfront. Hampered by time, ERT helps me choose what to read now and what to save for later.

When Slate introduced ERT, this 3.5-minute video mocked Millennials’ propensity to want to know everything now.

http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/ppx1hm/slate-s–minu tes-to-read–feature 

Two years on, and I think Slate was on to something. Do you think blog articles should display estimated reading time?

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

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.

The Promise of Spring

acting

The wind brushes my hair into a side part and I curl my fingers around my thumb. My hands dig deep in my pockets, pulling the fabric down, as far as they will go. My neck is warm, my feet are warm, the rest of me shivers. Every winter is the same; I ask myself, why am I still here.

A seven-minute walk separates the station from Chizanes. The harried strides of rush hour has given way to languid walks. I linger by the oldest statue in the city, the first mayor on a horse. Inscribed on the marble plaque is my answer: the promise of spring. The wind, kinder now, carries distant laughter past me. It is the sound of a man and woman in love. Even the stars twinkle in appreciation.

Inside Chizanes, after my eyes adjust to the dimmed lighting, he is easy to spot. He waves and rises to greet me, leaning forward. I hesitate then stretch my right hand to dissipate his confusion. He takes it.

“Thank you for meeting me. How are you?”

“Fine,” my falsetto is on, “how are you?”

“Good. Good to see you! You look good!”

“You too.”

We order drinks. I ask about his family. He asks about mine. We waste time on the menu, searching for our rhythm—this, no that; are you sure? I heard it’s good. What of the chef’s specialty? No, you decide.

He signals for the waiter.

He asks about my job. I tell him I left. He doesn’t pursue an explanation. We talk about the weather. I cannot believe that the passion we shared has fizzled to this: the temperature is expected to go below zero on Wednesday.

He clears his throat and begins. “The reason I left—”

“Fish?” The waiter looks at me, then at him. He places three more dishes on the table, naming them with flair. “Is everything okay?” He asks with a half nod.

We both nod.

“Enjoy your meal.”

We dish food on our plates. Raise bowls and pass them, careful not to touch. We eat like famished travellers.

“As I was saying I left because . . .”

He covers his eyes with his hands. I stop chewing.

“What can I say? I’m just a coward . . .”

“What?”

“I said, ‘I’m a coward.’ I . . . I—”

“Three years of my life and you tell me you’re a coward?”

“Sssh, sssh, lower your voice,” he whispers, reaching for my hand.

I snatch my hand and look around. More interested stares. Chizanes packs about thirty people in a circular arrangement. The walls are windows, which stretch and nearly kiss the high ceiling, an illusion of space. Our table is sandwiched in the centre.

“He left me three years ago,” my chair scrapes the ground protesting the sudden movement, “and now he says he’s a coward?” Standing, my voice booms and blankets all conversation. “Can you believe that?”

Quiet like the embarrassed silence after the president farts noisily.

I catch the man in a navy shirt before he averts his gaze like the others. “Sir, can you believe that? He’s a coward?” His girl whispers something to him and he examines his plate as if there’s gold in the soup.

“Ma’am, we’re gonna have to ask you to calm down and sit down.”

The man addressing me sounds important, like the manager.

“No, I won’t sit down with this coward!” I stand on my chair goaded by impulse.

“Ma’am . . .”

“Three years.” I try harder, “Three years people!”

“Ma’am we’re gonna have to ask you to leave.”

I get down slowly. Now they are watching. Cowards, all of them. Maybe someone is recording for YouTube.

“May I escort you? Sir . . .?”

“It’s okay, I’ll handle things from here,” my coward’s smile convinces the manager. He leaves us to organize our shame and repackage our dignity.

“Are you just going to let them walk me out?”

“Sssh, sssh. Let’s just go before they call security.”

Outside, he holds my bag while I don my gloves.

“Now that the world knows how you feel,” he gestures at the people watching from inside, “Have a nice life!”

He hands my bag over and walks away.

I run after him. “Don’t leave me!”

Out of view from Chizanes, he stops. “That used to be my line.” He lifts my chin and lets my tears wet his gloves. “Award-winning actress,” he whispers. “You were supposed to storm out. Wh . .  . what if—”

“Coward. You need to get a job, we can’t keep doing this.”

“In the spring when the quarries reopen, things will be better. This is great practice until we can afford acting classes. Wasn’t the food good though?”

Three years of doubts dissolve in laughter. The wind is harsher now, unforgiving, breaking tiny branches off stoic trees, sending twigs sailing across the sidewalk and freezing my tears. I nestle my head on his chest. Nothing is sure. Last year only a few quarries reopened. When his arms circle my waist, I close my eyes and count, December, January, February; three months until spring.

“Do you want dessert?”

“Do you have any money?”

“No, but I know another place where we can act . . .”

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

Author’s Note

The Promise of Spring is about anything you fancy. Me? I wanted to depict some challenges immigrants face in a country unlike the one they left.

The frequent references to the wind portrays how immigrants experience climate change and how the weather now becomes an important aspect of life in their adopted country. The story opens with a question immigrants may ask when disillusionment (winter represents foreign culture and systems as much as it does weather) sets in. Hope (spring) sees them through from year to year.

The author delves into the ingenious ways immigrants survive (some illegal), and plays with the idea that although immigrants are in plain sight they live on the fringes of society (in the restaurant, although she stands on the chair, she is ignored by other diners).

Acting is the ‘job’ of choice in the story because immigrants live at least two lives—a ‘glamourous’ one for friends and family in their native country, and a ‘grim’ one for their hosts.

The story ends with the suggestion that there is another place where they can act. This is a reference to the immigrants’ mindset about moving from region to region or country to country when perhaps immigration policies tighten or economic realities no longer favour them. Returning to their native country is not an option.

Why add love and romance? Because love is oxygen. And because I have done some foolish things for love. Haven’t you?

timi

 

 

 

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Did We Do Any Learning? [6]

equality v justice

Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that create huge inequalities.
Pope Francis

 

Life isn’t Always Fair

It is a lesson we have all learned. Sometimes fate turns around and bites us. But I have never seen this inequity so clear and so devastating, as I have over the last three months in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Ebola.

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia from 1965 to 1967, a long time ago.  It was an incredible experience for me, going from the University of California at Berkeley and California’s super-urban Bay Area to the then small upcountry town of Gbarnga, where I met Africa face to face and received so much more from the experience than I was able to contribute.

Afterwards, the terrible civil wars tore Liberia apart in a way that was incomprehensible to those of us who had lived in the country and had come to know her people and culture.

Recently, I began to feel more optimistic about Liberia’s future. There was hope. Liberia had known peace for ten years. Children were back in school. There was laughter in the street.

And then Ebola struck. Once again, Liberia teeters on the edge of chaos. How much more can the country take? Yes there are things we can do, must do, to help. But I can’t help thinking, over and over: isn’t it time that fate gives the people of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone a break?

 

Curt Mekemson @ Wandering through Time and Place

Half of the profits from Curt’s recent book, The Bush Devil Ate Sam and Other Tales of a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia West Africa, will go to Friends of Liberia, a group of returned Peace Corps volunteers.

 

Wake Up and Think for Yourself

This year my sixty-seven year old country finally woke up. Millions of Pakistanis learned to think for themselves.

Four months ago, frustrated people stepped out of their homes and stamped their thoughts on the streets under the leadership of Imran Khan. Old men, housewives, students, and children slid open curtains of indifference and made history.

War is when your government tells you who the enemy is. A revolution is when you figure it out yourself. ~Anonymous

This year millions of Pakistanis learned about pain. Pain that transcends boundaries of flesh and geography. Pain that sets things into perspective. Love, family, home, and health. Everything else seems extravagant. You don’t expect to send your children to school and never see them again.1

We saw hope and held on to it tight. Perhaps too tight because it left blisters. We learned about healing as skins of faith quickly formed protective layers on our stubborn wounds. My people are even more stubborn.

This year I learned about victory. A victory that marks an end to our closed minds and blind hearts. I have seen my extraordinary people walk to hell and back. They tell me to keep going. Because that is exactly what they will do. They always do. And this revelation makes me realize our power.

I had a dream about you last night…and in it you said, ‘Chin up; it only gets harder.’ ~ Marshal Ramsay

Think. Question. Challenge.

Because once people begin to think aloud, they are impossible to ignore.

 

Nida S. @ on the road to inkrichment 

  1. On 16 December 2014, terrorists ran down an Army public school in Peshawar (Pakistan), leaving 132 children and 9 members of the school staff dead in cold blood.

 

 

In Search of a Messiah

I have thought about poverty and inequality, and for me, there are no easy answers yet. Years of inequality, poverty, rising unemployment (indices to gauge development according to economist Dudley Seers), and insecurity, have made many Nigerians pant for a benevolent dictator, a fairy godmother with a magic wand to wave all our problems away, while we dance with the prince and midnight never comes.

In the lyrics of Bob Marley, Most people think great god will come from the sky take away ev’rything, and make ev’rybody feel high. I believe in The Messiah, but I don’t want to be guilty of a messiah complex. These days when someone offers me help, I ask why, I ask how, I ask what, I ask where, I ask how much. And, I keep asking until I understand.

The race for the 2015 presidential elections in Nigeria resembles a dem-all-crazy; they say we have to choose the lesser of two devils. Democracy delivers to us what we demand of her. Poverty and inequality like kwashiorkor, can make people swallow nutrition devoid of protein, and then roll over to sleep not realising death is waiting.

I have learnt that on the drive to my destination, it is unwise to hand over the keys of my life and snooze in the passenger seat. Going by what I read on social media it seems many have learnt this too. The challenge is to remind the driver that he is driving our car and so we decide where he goes and when he stops.

Timi @ Livelytwist

 

 

 

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