February, in Retrospect

language

February some say is the month of love. Work that should have been finished in January dragged into February and filled February with editing and late-night reviews. It meant that I put new projects on hold, but who was keeping tabs when love was in the air?

“How old are you?” I asked the man who seemed smitten by me.

“Thirty-six.”

“And you’re not married?”

He started to explain the difficulties of finding the girl of his dreams, and I realized he had read my question wrong.

“I just wanted to know if you’re married,” I said softly when he paused for air.

“Oh?” he said, and then smiled, reminding me of the way he looked a few days earlier, when he had accosted me at the supermarket with, “Let me help you, you look tired.”

I had been dragging my feet behind my shopping cart as though the sum of the hardships of living in Lagos, sat in it. He charmed me into small talk and out of my phone number.

Later when he called, his many compliments and my thanksgiving done away with, there did not seem to be anything left to say. I was surprised that a man, who had used a shopping cart effectively, could not find his voice. He must have interpreted my silence as a semi-colon because he said, “Your driver seems nice,” referring to that night when my driver retrieved my shopping cart from him and loaded its content into my car.

My driver is not nice; my driver thinks he should be my boss, but I did not tell him that. I asked him about his line of work instead of putting a full stop at the end of his sentence.

I persevered to get to know him because I am curious about people, not because my friend had said, “You never know, why not give him a chance?”

But I knew. A woman knows. I knew that I did not always want to be the one to steer conversation to a place of interest for both of us. I knew that I could not continue receiving SMS messages like this:

Gud mrn pretty. hw waz ur nyt. u r sum1 worth reely lykng. deres just sumtin abt u. hapi Sunday.

I would not, and none of my friends, would abbreviate their text messages like that. It would take too much brainpower.

“I think he lied to me,” I said to my friend, “about being thirty-six.” 

I replayed several incidents for her to decide. They revolved around language, or rather the lack of it.

“Or maybe he is thirty-six, but his brain is nineteen.”

We laughed; it seemed altogether plausible.

When our laughter subsided, I accused her of being cruel. She quoted Chavez, “Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers.”

I was troubled by her inference. Wasn’t the shorthand way he fashioned text messages a positive measure of his ability to adapt to a mobile culture? Weren’t his text messages a genre of contemporary poetry; language is fluid, after all? Or, was it not more likely that the eight years between us equal a generation gap because as some have said, a different language is a different vision of life?

“Let’s keep it simple,” she replied. “It is either he’s nineteen or you are a grammar snob.”

In March, all my delusions will fall off.

 

© Timi Yeseibo 2017

 

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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Love is Bridging the Gulf

African proverb

My grandmother was a darker smaller version of my mum. Parents do not resemble their children. It is the other way round, but that is how I keep my memory of her alive—in my mother’s strong arms, I see hers, ready to cradle the world. My mother tells me she was the daughter of a prince, who thought it a waste of time for her to acquire formal education and that she ran away from her first marriage due to harsh treatment from her husband.

She was kind. She only spoke her dialect and Pidgin English. I could neither speak nor understand her dialect. Her pidgin was the Warri-Sapele variety, which was difficult for me to understand and I barely spoke pidgin. Her eyes told me she had more to say than the little she did. She must have felt even more frustrated than I did; harbouring experience she could not transfer.

The conversations we managed to have, centred on her concerns that I could not speak her dialect. She would ask worry etched on her face, about what I would do when the war starts. I had heard about the Nigerian Civil War just as I had heard of World War 1 and 2, events in history, far from my reality. In her broken English, she would tell me how soldiers used language to determine if you were on the Nigerian or Biafran side. Those who could not speak their language were at the mercy of the soldiers.

Her stories did not motivate me to learn her dialect. I asked my parents where they had been during the war. “In Lagos,” my mum and dad answered respectively, and I filled in the blanks, “far from the war.” It showed in the priorities my parents chose for my life.

But those who have seen war speak of it with tremor in their voice. Does memory not erase the boom boom of falling bombs or the tikatikatikatika of machine gun rounds?

One time, she came to my university campus. Armed with my name and address she left her home in Sapele to visit me. When the driver who brought her came to call me, I hurried outside not believing. I met her smiling, and I loved her for taking a chance that she would find her eighteen-year old granddaughter in school on a Saturday evening.

“I bring fish for you,” she said, holding out some plastic bags.

Back at my apartment, we unpacked fish, plantain, spices, palm oil, yam, pepper. How could I tell her that I did not cook; did not really know how, especially did not know what to do with smoked fish and palm oil? That the gas cooker in my kitchen sat bemoaning its uselessness. That I nodded and said, “Mmm mmm,” to my mother whenever at the beginning of a new semester she admonished me not to set the kitchen on fire. That I was liable to throw the fish away because it ‘smelled’ and would go bad under my watch.

I thanked her instead. I did not want her to ask me what I would do when war broke out and I could not cook.

We sat in my room. She sipped a soft drink because I had nothing else to offer and because she said, “No, no,” when I wanted to go out and buy food. The silence made me restless and I longed to fill it, but you can only ask, “How your body? Home people? Sapele?” once.

She seemed content to look at me. Maybe I reminded her of her daughter. After a long time in which I started feeling uncomfortable and wished she would go before my friends came along, she broached the subject of language and war.

I let my silence speak for me.

After she lost her vitality, she came to live with us. Sometimes she would talk to no one in particular; it was no longer surprising to find her in her room alone, chatting. My mother made sure she was always within eye view because she could wander off into the sunset, her legs possessing an agility incongruent with the rest of her. By then, I was hardly home and when I was, I retreated to my world of youthful infallibility, busy with things I have no recollection of.

When she died, I felt the general sorrow, which accompanies loss of human life, and the particular sorrow that haunts a child who watches her mother grieve.

I am thinking of my grandmother because as I embark on a new series on motherhood and invite people to tell their stories, I wonder about the blank spaces in her life, which I cannot fill. I realize I did not do enough to bridge the gulf between us; there are languages other than pidgin and her dialect. My active presence is a language I denied her.

 

In loving memory of Princess Ajoritse-Debi Atsemudiara Etchie.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

 

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In The Spirit of Love

In the spirit of love, I’m sharing one of my older posts, a crowd favourite, which elicits a smile or laugh from me whenever I reread. I hope you’ll enjoy it (again), as much as I do.

I am Not Looking For Love, I am Going to Work

It began yesterday at the government office, which was saturated with immigrants whose anxious stares alternated between the digital display boards and their tickets, a square piece of paper with a number printed on it. At the sound of the beep, everyone looked at their ticket, and then the display boards. Some sighed. Some continued talking. Others continued sleeping. One person rose to meet an official walled in by glass on the other side of the counter.

My wait was shortened by an acquaintance with whom I chatted until our conversation lulled to a comfortable stop.

“Excuse me, it seems you are from Nigeria.” A tall man sitting a few spaces away from my acquaintance smiled at her.

“No, I am not.”

“Ah, but I thought—”

“I am from Democratic Republic of Congo.”

With her thick Igbo accent, she delivered her last words with a finality that inspired no argument from the man. He fanned himself, and then pretended to read his letter from the belastingdienst.

Because I am slow to change the expression on my face, she saw it. The disbelief. The wonder. The perplexity.

“Don’t mind the idiot. If not for dis yeye tax people, where e for come see me? See as e dey talk as if e be my mate. E nor see im type?” she whispered for my benefit and his.

I nodded like her co-conspirator, as though I had been dissing guys for the last ten years. What else could I do?

Continue here …

 

For The Love of Poetry

poetry

 

If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the inquisition might have let him alone.  – Thomas Hardy  

 

My English literature teacher confused me, but my sister taught me to appreciate poetry. She explained symbolism, alliteration, onomatopoeia, personification, and the difference between metaphor and simile. I got it but I did not get it. I mean what kind of person writes:

Hirsute hell chimney-spouts, black thunderthroes
Confluence of coarse cloudfleeces—my head sir!—scourbrush
In bitumen, past fossil beyond fingers of light—until . . .!

Sudden sprung as corn stalk after rain, watered milk weak;
As lightning shrunk to ant’s antenna, shrivelled
Off the febrile sight of crickets in the sun—

THREE WHITE HAIRS! frail invaders of the undergrowth
Interpret time. I view them, wired wisps, vibrant coiled
Beneath a magnifying glass, milk-thread presages 
1

 

Say what? Who in their right mind reads and understands this stuff? And yet, not comprehending, I fell in love with the cadence of the words of poets.

My first recall of writing poetry was in my late teens, when I was angry at the world. I acted out behind demure verses like the girl who leaves home wearing a knee-length skirt only to fold the waistband and transform it to a mini skirt once out of sight. I flirted with nuance, condensing meaning into short lines. Ambiguity meant I could write about everything and nothing. I created word puzzles in which every interpretation fit. Words like:

His silence reverberated with rage from now to eternity

I learnt the economy of language. Still, I wasn’t very good. The story I wanted to tell balked at stanzas and writing in free verse was caged freedom. Prose enabled me to soar. My sentences rambled beyond set margins instead of stopping around the middle of the page and I welcomed breaking them up into paragraphs.

Prose is my husband ‘til death do us part, but my affair with poetry continues. When sentences come to me, they bounce with the cadence of the words of poets.

Timi @livelytwist
© Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

 

A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman. – Wallace Stevens

 

My first poem was a disaster. It is only a disaster now after enough years have passed for me to look back on it. I forgive myself for it because my sister liked it. And since it was the poem I wrote in a blank card meant to wish her success in her final exams, I breathe easy.

“Why would anybody prefer poetry to prose?” my study group mate once asked me.

“Because that’s where murderers go to hide dead bodies.” I answered.

We laughed together for a bit and then he stopped midway, leaving me to see the laughter to the end of a minute.

“I don’t get it,” he said.

I expected him to get it. We were returning from a study group meeting of chemical engineers who had to fulfill a one-credit literature course. As the one who knew a thing or two about poems, I had spent the entire afternoon explaining a brilliant poem about a contract worker in colonial southern Africa.

To the rest of the world, poets go to poetry to hide things. To my cousin, every poet is a fussy genie, hiding plain language in plain sight with difficult words, like magic. Maybe it is true. After my first poem, I spent years playing detective, investigating hidden meanings in all manner of poetry.

Poetry is sensual word craft, as painting is to photography or music is to speech. A word, a sound, a sight, a smell, a breeze, the rain, any of these can trigger a poem. If a poet catches that trigger, the poem will lead them to a place where its gems are found and where everyone else will need to be a detective if they will find the poet again.

I wrote poetry long after I had written much prose. When I write poetry, I do not write with the intention to mystify. To me, writing is as much an attempt to discover a theme as I hope reading the poem will be for my readers. I stack a word after a word, speaking not to the entire poem, but speaking in that instance to the next word, the next line, and maybe eventually to the entire poem.

For example, I fell in love with Somali poetry in 2013. Due to the country’s difficult history, Somali writing is in a phase that births literature with heart. Triggered by romance and tempered by distance, the product of that literary love was poem after poem after poem. One day I shall sit on the shores of Mogadishu. We will forget all that has been. There, we shall talk about love.

 

I think about you, Mogadishu    

You star in my nightmares
You seduce in my temple
You challenge my sleep.

You keep me up till 11:30
Then you wake me at midnight
You should leave in the morning
You should leave in the afternoon
But by evening you’re still here
Strange damsel of my dreams
I think about you.

You hide many secrets in your hijab
I cannot unravel nor understand
Your smile is brighter, embarrasses the sun
You frown darker than night.
When you turn and walk away, I know you want me to follow
You tell me nothing; only in your eyes I see everything
Strange damsel of my dreams
I think about you.

Read the rest of the poem

Dela @ African Soulja
© Delalorm Semabia 2015

 

  1. Soyinka, Wole, To My First White Hairs, Poems of Black Africa, ed. Soyinka Wole (London: Heinemann/AWS, 1975), 282.

Photo credit: JovanaP/ https://pixabay.com/en/reading-old-newspapers-dusty-888864/

 

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.

 

 

Race, Ethnicity, Prejudice, and Attitudes

Race

When the first strains of light filter through my curtains, my mind leaves my dreams to form coherent thought. I do not think of race, I rarely do.

I am aware of the colour of my skin. How could I not be? My foundation is a blend of mocha and caramel, my blush dark rose, my lipstick red, because I can pull it off. I am aware of the colour of my skin. How could I not be? I hug “white” people loosely and blow three kisses on either cheek, so I don’t stain them with my brown powder.

But when we get down to work and play and life, beyond enunciating my words with care and observing cultural nuances to accommodate the diversity in my world, I am Timi, a person with much to offer from the height of my intellect to the depth of my experience, and the width of my achievements.

Nigeria has at least 100 ethnic groups. In the state where I grew up, the evening news was broadcasted in four local languages, but I listened to the official English version because I didn’t understand any Nigerian language. My parents hail from two different minority ethnic groups and my friends from the unity school I attended reflect the federal character the federal government emphasized—Amina from the north, Ronke from the west, Chidinma from the east, Asabe from the middle belt, Onome from the mid-west, Ibinabo from the Niger Delta.

So, I did not wonder about race or racism when I moved to The Netherlands. Neither tribalism nor sexism in Nigeria, had clipped the wingspan of my dreams or that of my mother before me. We had defied the boundaries of other “isms” with who we are and what we believe, that excellence would eventually inspire people and remove barriers.

Since language, ethnicity, and race bonds people, and language in particular is like Super Glue, I sometimes find myself on the outside looking in. The English, Moroccans, Surinamese, Dutch, Africans, Turks, Americans, etc, live and socialise within their enclaves. Among the Africans, subdivisions exist for people from south, north, east, or west Africa. More subdivisions based on country, and even more subdivisions based on ethnicity within a country exist. People tend to gravitate to what is familiar and comfortable and inadvertently perhaps, exclude others.

On the other hand, many have moved beyond these confines and discovered that diversity makes for a rich tapestry and the threads of that tapestry are equal in value no matter their colour or ethnicity.

I suppose expat life abroad insulates one from common racism both in the way it is meted out and received. Once I was with a friend who drove a car with diplomatic licence plates when the police stopped us. I watched as she answered the police, with the slight arrogance of one who has options.

I am aware that underneath the bridge that connects me to my better life lie the souls of men and women who died constructing the bridge. I am grateful that although Twelve Years a Slave makes me uncomfortable, after the credits, I can shiver, shrug, and enter my normal life. Racism is real, but it is not my default setting. I choose not to see it in every slight.

Prejudice has lived in human hearts for so long it has become a gene. I remember when I drove my son and his playdate home after school. They stumbled into this conversation after falling in and out of several others.

“My mum says I can play with black people, but I can’t marry them.”

I spied her cute blonde bangs from my rear view mirror. The longer locks framed her oval face and cascaded down her shoulders. I gripped the steering wheel tighter.

“But I don’t want to get married now,” my son replied.

“Oh good,” her giggles light like feathers, carried no malice.

I relaxed my grip as I realised it had never crossed my mind to date a white man. It was the unspoken taboo. Everyone in the town where I grew up knew that only certain types of girls did.

Often when people speak of racial prejudice, they talk as if it is unidirectional, forgetting the prejudice, which also lies in the hearts of its victims so that if power changed hands, new victims would emerge. Is this the real fear that makes one race dominate another—get ‘em before they get us?

Knowledge and courage may be antidotes to prejudice. A desire to investigate the world beyond our nose and the guts to live in peace in it.

 

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

p.s. My blog sister Holistic Wayfarer, who has written several eye-opening posts on Race, inspired this post.

The Measure of a Man

sorry

An apology that never came changed her view of life.

Bode and Chinyere met on WordPress. While working on his master’s thesis, Bode wrote retrospectively about the 2008 Financial Crisis when financial institutions fell like a deck of cards, one after another. The simple way he explained complex economic theories and the poetry he used to assign blame, in stanzas, inspired Chinyere to follow his blog. At the end of each blog post, he posed questions that drew comments from her. In responding to her comments, he stoked a friendship as though he was tending to embers in the fireplace.

When he wrote that post she didn’t agree with, she thought it best to send a private email. What started in public, mushroomed in private. Forty-four emails later, she knew his favourite food, sushi, the movie he never tired of watching, Schindler’s List, and that both his parents were professors. As they tangoed near the perimeters of their deepening friendship, she moved from being his favourite reader to his dear friend. The first time he referred to her as darling, she danced in tandem, placing a one-eyebrow-raised smiley next to the word sweetheart in her reply.

She imagined what darling would sound like if he said it; she envisioned a baritone, like her boss’s, whom she secretly admired. She felt safe in Nigeria, eleven hours away, from her Toronto sweetheart, Bode, whose handsome face smiled at her whenever she read his blog.

One Saturday, their email exchange, interspersed with LOLs and smileys, over the wonders of touch screen and autocorrect spelling, spanned the evening and spilled into the night. Joking about a political scandal that involved an elder statesman and nude photos of his beautiful mistress, he wrote, “I bet you’ve got a body to die for like hers.”

The half-smile, still on her face from their previous exchange, died and her lips closed into a straight line. Scrolling through the email thread, she searched desperately for it—that email or reply from her that gave him the nerve. She searched again. And again. Finally, she slept with a frown on her face, questions etched on her brow.

She did not reply the next day. Or the day after. She immersed herself in work like a zombie, neither feeling nor caring. How could he have written that? What had she done to encourage him? On the fourth day, he emailed. He had pined for her reply; he had grabbed his phone every time it beeped and driven his professor mad with error-strewn work. He guessed the joke had rubbed her the wrong way, but was it now a crime to joke with a dear friend? He was sorry even though he didn’t know what he was sorry for.

She read his email several times. He had written it in the same simple way he explained complex economic theories, using poetry to assign blame, in stanzas. But, it lacked the sincerity upon which people build great friendships. Two days it was before she fashioned a reply. Discarding the word sweetheart, she wrote:

Dear Bode,

Your joke was in bad taste. I have since evaluated the sixty-three emails we exchanged, and can find no reason why you would share a joke like that with me. Btw, I read your recent post and I agree that the bailout of banks by national governments should be a temporary measure only; it should not be the cure-all. I will share more on your blog later today.

His reply was swift. She had wondered if it would come. She had considered that the curtain had fallen on a friendship that spanned four months and she had already started mourning. Clutching her phone, hope fluttered in her heart and unsteadied her hands.

Dear Chinyere,

I am sorry. What I wrote was inappropriate and lacking better judgement. I offended you and I am sorry. If you can forgive me, I would like to continue being a friend.

That was not the reply she received; it is the one she wished she had. After two weeks, she knew his reply would never come. As weeks turned into months, she left fewer and fewer comments on his blog. She liked to think that his not responding to her comments did not influence her decision to stop altogether.

Today when Chinyere measures a man, she does not take into account the school where he acquired his MBA or the features that make him attractive. German or Japanese, his car keys hold no lure. It is his apology; the quality of his apology is the measure of a man.

© Timi Yeseibo 2013

Photo credit: primenerd / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Original image URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hiroic/8521967145/

Title: Stranger Nº 5/100 – Robbel

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I am Not Looking For Love, I am Going to Work

not looking for love
It began yesterday at the government office, which was saturated with immigrants whose anxious stares alternated between the digital display boards and their tickets, a square piece of paper with a number printed on it. At the sound of the beep, everyone looked at their ticket, and then the display boards. Some sighed. Some continued talking. Others continued sleeping. One person rose to meet an official walled in by glass on the other side of the counter.

My wait was shortened by an acquaintance with whom I chatted until our conversation lulled to a comfortable stop.

“Excuse me, it seems you are from Nigeria.” A tall man sitting a few spaces away from my acquaintance smiled at her.

“No, I am not.”

“Ah, but I thought—”

“I am from Democratic Republic of Congo.”

With her thick Igbo accent, she delivered her last words with a finality that inspired no argument from the man. He fanned himself, and then pretended to read his letter from the belastingdienst.

Because I am slow to change the expression on my face, she saw it. The disbelief. The wonder. The perplexity.

“Don’t mind the idiot. If not for dis yeye tax people, where e for come see me? See as e dey talk as if e be my mate. E nor see im type?” she whispered for my benefit and his.

I nodded like her co-conspirator, as though I had been dissing guys for the last ten years. What else could I do?

Determined to be a better person, this incident is hovering at the back of my mind when a young man approaches me today as I wait for my tram.

“Hello, are you from Nigeria?”

Surely there must be a better opening line? I give nothing away as I nod and he introduces himself. I tell him my name.

“Ah, Timi. Timilehin? You are Yoruba?”

“I am Nigerian.”

“I know, from whose part?”

“We have left Nigeria. Let’s pretend ethnicity does not matter. I am a Nigerian; that is enough.”

He looks at me as though the sky has descended on my head and I am unaware. Undeterred, he forges on in pidgin English. I respond in proper English.

He ditches Pidgin in favour of a kind of English that is interspersed with incorrect tenses and Dutch words. This is a cross some of us bear. The effect of speaking Dutch with non-native proficiency is the tendency to forget English words and to adjust our tenses automatically to match the wrong grammar of English-speaking Dutch people.

I am aware of every mistake he makes. Like the freckles on my neighbour’s face, they are many.

“I saw you at this tramhalte iedere dag, I mean, every day. Are you going to work?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

I tell him. And then I help him because he seems lost, “I haven’t seen you before?”

“I know, but I am seeing you. You are very mooi, beautiful.”

I take in his overalls. He does not look like Idris Elba in Tyler Perry’s Daddy Loves His Girls, but this is real life.

“Thank you, where do you work?”

He talks about his work, links that conversation to how long he has been in The Netherlands—fifteen years, and then ties it to his goals and dreams like a neat bow at the end of a string.

My eyes do not wander from his face while he speaks. But my mind does. I wonder if he can read, understand, discuss, and comment on my blog intelligently.

Then there is silence. The wind dies. The leaves sleep. The seagulls take their leave. It is just me and him. And the silence. Without my help, he stews in it for a while—scratching his chin, brushing dirt from his overalls, staring at something behind me—before he says, “I must goes to my work place. Can I have your number?”

“For what?” Honest words spill out before I can reel them in. What else do we have to say to each other?

I wan know you.”

I do not know why I did what I did next. Guilt—over what? My resolution to be a better person? Pity? Maybe, my thoughts had roamed to how he must have been eyeing me, calculating his approach. Religious fervour? Hardly.

“I would like to invite you to my church.” I fumble in my bag for the flyers the preacher says we should carry around for opportune moments, moments like this one I suppose.

He looks at me as though The Rapture has occurred and I am unaware.

“Ah, ah! Won’t you know me first before inviting me to your church? I already goes to church.”

It is as if he knows. That I am not very good at this. That church is a cop-out. That it is too late to tell him I am from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That I do not have the heart to tell him he will not understand my blog, and therefore not understand me. He pounces on me like a wounded lion, as if to say, “This is for every man you ever dissed!”

“That’s the problem with you Nigerian girls! Church, church, church! Your mates don marry, you still dey here! Oya go and marry your God!”

He jumps on his bicycle in one swift motion and pedals away.

It is rare that I cannot express myself with words. But I am not writing a dissertation. This is life. This does not call for intellectual prowess.

I imagine that in a few moments, his bicycle chain would jam, forcing him to stop. I imagine him kneeling on the earth, humiliated, rattling the chains, while I watch from the elevated platform of my tram stop. Then the words that abandoned me would force their way out of my mouth, “I am not looking for love, I am going to work!”’

Nothing I imagine happens. He continues to ride and does not look back. But a curious thing happens. As I look, it is not him getting smaller in the distance, it is me!

 

© Timi Yeseibo 2013

 

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.