Much Ado About Something

lagos-airport-night

The man seating across the aisle from me is what Nigerians call Kora, which loosely means that he hails from somewhere in the Middle East—Lebanon, Syria, Israel.

“Excuse me, excuse me,” he calls to the flight attendant. “Can I use the toilet over there?”

He gestures to the business class section, which will be cordoned off with curtains after the airplane takes off and reaches cruising altitude.

The flight attendant says, “There is a toilet over there,” and points down the aisle.

The man and I are seating on adjacent sides of row 11, immediately behind the curtains that define our class; those seats with a little more leg room and no trays.

“But that means I have to go to the back.”

He speaks with a Nigerian Pidgin accent. I place him as Lebanese. Many Lebanese families have been in Nigeria for generations.

The flight attendant is quiet, his expression stoic like a doctor.

“What’s the difference? Is it not the same toilet?” the Lebanese man turns his hands so his palms facing upward, are asking the questions too.

“It’s for the business class passengers sir.”

My view is limited, but the business class section looks empty and passengers have stopped entering the airplane.

“Yes, but what’s the difference? Is it not the same toilet?”

“Sir, you can use the toilet at the back.”

“That means I have to walk all the way to the back. This one is closer.”

The Lebanese man places emphasis on the word all, in a way that reminds me of how petulant teenagers roll their eyes. I peg him at between 47 and 52 years old. His stomach strains against the buttons of his white shirt and his hair is mostly grey with silver highlights.

He looks at me, maybe because I have been following the conversation, but I look away. Although I am fully Nigerian, I have no desire to moderate the debate.

The flight attendant adjusts a bag in the overhead luggage compartment. It seems like a passive way to deal with a belligerent child.

“The toilets in the back are cleaner than those in business class, sef,” the man tacks this sentence to the conversation, like an insult.

It should provoke a reaction, but it does not. The overhead luggage compartments demand so much of the flight attendant’s attention.

He continues, “I have been waiting since 9 in the morning for my flight. You people are just useless.”

My 13:30 flight was also grounded. All Lagos-bound passengers finally boarded this 18:30 flight. I commiserate with him.

Communication is like dance and grouse takes many forms. If a man asks a woman, what’s wrong, and she answers, “Nothing,” he knows that something is wrong. The toilet, business class or economy, is not the problem here.

“I’m very sorry about that sir.” The flight attendant’s voice has a professional inflection, sympathetic but detached.

“Sorry, sorry. Take your sorry. I don’t need it!”

Minutes later the flight attendant demonstrates the safety instructions coming from the airplane’s public address system. Twenty minutes into the flight, the man ambles down the aisle, all the way to the back, to the toilet. The flight attendant serves refreshments. The man gists with his travelling companions in Lebanese.

I am still rolling their conversation over in my mind, intrigued by it because of something I once read: two monologues do not make a dialogue.

What if the man had started out by stating his displeasure over the delayed flight and the inconvenience it caused, explaining his tiredness because of waiting all day in the airport, before requesting to breach protocol, would the outcome have been different? 

But in Nigeria, to be polite is to be weak and to be aggressive is to be right.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2017

 

Photo credit: Photo credit: artforeye via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

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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Hope, Our Common Denominator

hope

Our realities are splintered in Nigeria—along class, religious, ethnic, and other lines.

On the way to my hometown from Lagos for the Christmas break, I slept through most of the trip, but a few kilometers into the town, I opened my eyes and saw fog over the trees by the road. The chilly winds had not yet blown over Lagos in the days preceding Christmas, and Lagosians wondered if the harmattan had become another casualty of 2016. The faces at home, however, were already ashen, dry from the harshness of the harmattan. The economic recession that plagued the country seemed to have moved in the same direction as the dusty winds, enveloping small towns on its journey to the big city.

I only know of how hard things have become because I dwell in between the exuberant hope of Lagos’ upwardly mobile circles and the despair in the rest of the country. Twice, over the festive season, in Lagos, I heard people say that things aren’t as bad in the country as they seem and wanted to transport the speakers from the bubble of this vibrant city to my sleepy hometown. A part of me wanted to criticize them for being myopic, for thinking their experience was typical of the rest of Nigerians.

But the mind knows only what the eyes see. Yes, it’s necessary to imagine the lives of people different from us so we can be good, empathic humans, but there’s also harm in thinking people who can’t yet see others as others are, are evil. This almost always widens those splintering gaps between us to the point where they become gullies. But we are closer to one another than we think.

Despair can cripple the imagination and blind us, limiting our vision to the fears of the present. That unflappable belief that what lies ahead is better than what is behind is difficult to preach in the face of a crumbling economy and rising political tensions around the world, but hope is the thing we cannot let go of.

Many at the start of the year usually display this hope, this higher level of optimism. Ends and beginnings are like points on a Mobius strip. There’s really no difference in the way the days run, but somehow, by placing a marker in time, we are able to generate optimism, to look up for instructions or guide ourselves into better living.

“Radical hope is not so much something you have but something you practice;” the writer Junot Diaz said in the New Yorker, “it demands flexibility, openness, and what Lear describes as ‘imaginative excellence.’  Radical hope is our best weapon against despair, even when despair seems justifiable; it makes the survival of the end of your world possible.”

Even I, usually skeptical of the feel-good-nature of the start of the New Year, have set aside goals, lists of things I’d like to get done by the end of the year. This time last year, I had no plans beyond seeing the next day. Now I’ve added more material dreams to the basic necessities, but the desire remains the same: to live better. And I know I’m not the only one doing this. Both the millionaire in the mansion in Ikoyi and the starving civil servant in Osun state look forward to a better 2017.

We can expend energies arguing about the different degrees of better, but we all share the need to look in the future and see ourselves in better conditions than that which we’re in today. To lose that ability is to lose all verve to live. The least we can do, in the face of difficulty, is hope.

© IfeOluwa Nihinlola 2017

IfeOluwa Nihinlola writes essays and short stories and has been featured in online magazines such as Afreada, Omenana, Klorofyl, and Litro. He works as an editor and is an inaugural fellow of aKoma’s Amplify fellowship. He is a fan of Zadie Smith, is looking for a replacement for Pringles as muse, and blogs at ifenihinlola

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/candle-light-dark-hope-flame-group-813005/

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2017

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Any Seven Stories From My Life: The End

the-end

 

1.
Reading What You Are by Katelyn Hemmeke inspired me to start the series, Any 7 Stories From My Life. The brevity of her stories, the economy of language used to tell a long long tale, impressed me. In justifying his 2500-word story, which he published on his blog, a friend told me he needed that many words to tell his story, to build tempo and descend to a satisfying finish. Maybe he is right. I saw as I read that he could have used fewer words to tell his story. But what do I know? I have a bias for the short short story.

 

2.
I do not say other people’s no for them. This means I am bold, unapologetic, and convincing when inviting others to contribute to a series on my blog. However, I kept talking myself out of approaching a particular writer because I thought the writer would decline. An anticipated no was bruising my ego and plummeting my confidence. Finally, I contacted the writer, who as it turned out, was delighted to contribute to the series. Two letters could have kept me small. When you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

 

3.
The task before the writers for the series was deceptively simple. Fashion a beginning, a middle, and an ending using about hundred words per story.  Regardless of whether all seven stories have a theme or are sequential, each one must be able to stand alone as a complete story. For all of us, it required practice. Good writing isn’t a science. It’s an art, and the horizon is infinite. You can always get better.

 

4.
Aspiring writers should know this: I am not in and of myself interesting to readers. If I want to seem interesting, work must be done to make myself interesting. I agree. It means I must dig deeper within my experiences to find that kernel of truth that transcends race, sex, religion, and geography. Writing one hundred words about my life may be easy. But do readers want to read it?

 

5.
My friend tells stories that everyone wants to hear. Although the stories are interesting and often times meaningful, they are not extraordinary. The way he tells them is beyond ordinary, a meaningful inflection, a pause, a suspense-filled crescendo, a slow denouement peppered with reflections. Writing is more than a good story. Like theatre, writers should keep the audience glued to their seat until the final curtain call.

 

6.
While the series lasted, I received several unsolicited contributions. I could not honour them all. Although external validation has its limits, it spoke volumes to me that others beyond my circle wanted to participate in what I was doing, that seven short stories could have meaning and impact.

 

7.
To write about your life in a way that touches others is to be vulnerable. The edits and rewrites were not merely about grammar and sentence structure. I pushed every writer to take off their mask so we could see the fear, angst, joy, love, written there. Brene Brown says that what makes you vulnerable, makes you beautiful. I believe that in good writing, this is true.

Thank you Ife, Pemi, Tomi, Samuel, Adaeze, Kemi for sharing seven stories from your lives with us.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/tee-cup-drink-tableware-hot-663095/

 

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Naija Tinz

naija-tinz

1.
It is her loud voice—the confident obnoxiousness of her request and her reference to the economic recession, under which the store attendants cower—that makes me look up from watching the cashier at checkout work the POS machine. Sure enough, she is the one. I call out.
“Timi, is that you; I didn’t know you were in Lagos?” Her open arms stretch her boubou like patterned bed sheets.
I reply, “Yes, I just got back,” and embrace her.
Guilt snakes around in my stomach. I have been in Nigeria for several months. When does, I just got back, become old?

 

2.
The story is told of a returnee riding his power bike in Victoria Island, years ago, before Lagos state government imposed limits on the routes commercial motorcycles can ply. Approaching a red light, he stops causing the eight okadas trailing him to crash into him and one another in a classic pile on. The motorcycle drivers recover quickly. Helmets gleaming in the sun, one grabs his trousers at the waist; another seizes his shirt at the neck. A slap prefaces the interrogation.
Why you stop?” the leader of the pack charges.
“Because of the traffic light.”
Another slap. “You don see okada stop here before?” Another slap. “You nor know say dis ting,” the okada driver wags his hand in the direction of the traffic light, “na for motor?”
He is confused as returnees often are about unofficial codes of conduct and he knows it is futile to argue he is right.

 

3.
“Are you here for good?” is I suppose the logical question that follows the surprise at bumping into me in Lagos. Some people are not in a hurry, so they ask instead, “When did you get back?” before segueing into the question of the permanence or not of my residency. My answer varies depending on the level of interest in the inquisitor’s eyes or the kind of relationship we share. Always, my eyes travel in distance and space, as I narrate a version of the story titled, I don’t know.

 

4.
Hyperbole is a literary device, which refers to exaggerated claims that are not to be taken literally. It manifests in a curious form in Nigerian street speak, where words are doubled for emphasis also.
De house big?
E big well well, well well!
An oxymoron on the other hand is a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction. Like this sign on the road:
Buy original Tokunboh laptops
That second-hand laptops aka tokunboh laptops, can be original is beyond oxymoron. It shows how language bends to accommodate the prevalent malaise of refurbished parts sold as (brand) new.

 

 

5.
Nigerians who move back home after living abroad are subject to a subtle game of numbers, which begins with the question, “How long were you away for?” Your answer validates or invalidates your expatriation. Ten years and longer, garner approval like Instagram Likes so that your cluelessness and discomfiture regarding Nigerian culture is overlooked, explained away by your long absence. Those who were away for a shorter time, do well to prefix their answer with just, as in, I was away for just two years and to not speak with a foreign accent like people who go for a two-week holiday in London and return with an American accent. The problem of colonialization is this: long after Lord Lugard and co. left, we are still using their yardstick to measure ourselves by.

 

6.
My dentist is situated on the third floor of an edifice that once showed promise because of the elegance of the architecture, but the building is aging and in need of fresh leadership. I wait in the reception where magazines make the clock tick faster.
“Mrs Timi? The dentist is ready for you.”
In the examining room, the dentist’s assistant makes small talk.
“It’s not Mrs Timi,” I begin, it’s Miss Timi.”
She beams, “You will soon get married, in Jesus name!”
Because her underlying assumption concerning my desires bothers me, I lecture her mildly on the broad aspirations of women beyond Cinderella dreams. “You don’t even know me. Why did you not say, you will soon get a better job?”
“But don’t you want to get married?”
“I do, but—”
Ehen! You will soon get married, in Jesus name!” she ends her prophecy on a high note, smiling as she lowers and reclines the chair for me to sit.
“Amen,” I reply. I know it is futile to explain my point any further.

 

7.
The walls are white as are the rattan chairs arranged in a loose formation for intimacy. My girlfriends and I were sipping our drinks and trying to gist despite the music booming from the speakers. I am convinced that Nigerians are loud because our eardrums are traumatized by music that drowns out our voices. Suddenly a photographer appears.
“No o! I don’t want my photo on Facebook or Instagram,” I protest.
He convinced us that he would email the photos to us and they would not be shared on social media. We posed and posed again. Our photos now grace the Facebook page of the bar. In Nigeria, we say, awoof dey run belle, which loosely means, freebies can kill you.

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

Boubou: a kaftan worn by women.
Okada: commercial motorbike used for transportation.
You don see okada stop here before?: Have you ever seen a commercial bike stop here?
You nor know say dis ting na for motor?: Don’t you know that this thing is for cars?
De house big?: Is the house big?
E big well well, well well: It is humungous.
Tokunboh: A second-hand or fairly used item.

 

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Out on These Limbs

limbs

1.
I came to like football as a careful choice unlike many of my friends for whom the sport was a natural favorite. Growing up, the sport that came to me naturally was basketball. Of course, there was wrestling from TV that I tried out with my younger sibling, which earned me a chipped tooth and sprained wrist, but B-Ball was the sport I played in my sleep. I bought illustrated books on basketball and stayed up late during NBA Nights on TV. I watched movies like Blubber, Love and Basketball, and Like Mike endlessly. I became friends with Akin, the tall but otherwise uninteresting guy and later, Babs, the lanky Hausa boy who opened his mouth to reveal brown teeth and bad English, because of B-Ball.

 

2.
Akin brought the first basketball to school and made those interested practice in the school hall during mid-day breaks. In three weeks, our number dwindled to five. B-Ball proved difficult, particularly avoiding traveling, the game rule violation everyone but Akin and Babs committed repeatedly. Still, I stayed after school to practice throws, which I was good at, especially throwing from the left side of the hoop.

 

3.
“Maybe we should play with Loyola College sometime,” Akin said one day after break-time. He talked in an offhanded manner, leaving a listener to decide what was serious, and what wasn’t. I stopped coming to practice after that day. Babs cornered me to find out why.
“I don’t like how I have been sweating and having to wash my uniform all the time,” I told him, stealing glances at his legs.
He had spindly legs like mine, only fairer and straighter. I didn’t want to tell him the thought of stepping into another school in shorts—my legs exposed and defenseless—was enough to give me a migraine. It was not going to happen.

 

4.
I found I could play football with a pair of jogging pants if I wanted to. Then, I found I couldn’t play real matches with jogging pants, except as a goalkeeper. So, I became a goalkeeper.

 

5.
When I was called up to stand in front of my secondary school assembly and announced as the male senior prefect, I imagined that the sea of eyes staring at my bony legs, sticking out underneath my blue shorts, zoomed in on every hair follicle. The next week, I had two pairs of shorts made. The new pairs were a couple of inches longer than my former knee-length pairs. Everyone called me three-quarters head boy. Standing in front of a mirror, my legs, sticking out from mid-calf to ankle, did not look so thin.

 

6.
At NYSC camp, I always looked forward to evenings and weekends when I could wear my long, oversized, khaki pants. On weekdays, I pulled down my small shorts until they grazed the edge of decency. I sat in the middle row during boring lectures from NGOs and prospective employers and stayed away from crowded places like the mammy market, where a drunk corps member could spew remarks about my broomsticks legs.

 

7.
Earlier this year, a female friend saw my lower legs because I was reclining and stretching my feet.
“You should wear shorts, Akintunde, you have really fine legs,” she remarked.
That day, I ordered a wine pair of combat shorts in size 30. I drove to work wearing a gray T-shirt over the combat shorts and a pair of brown ankle boots the day after the shorts arrived. I strutted into every office and later in the afternoon, strolled down the busy road in front of the office, saying hello to a couple of people. I stared back at the faces whose eyes lingered on my form, their approval or disapproval notwithstanding, and smiled consciously. I couldn’t drive after work so I took a total of four cabs en route home, transiting at busy terminals. The fascinating glances I received from homebound commuters made me wonder if I hadn’t been saved by my car in the morning, if my comfortable denim pants wouldn’t have been the better choice. That evening, my youngest brother came home from school and threw me a mock salute when he saw my outfit. When he was leaving three days later, I gave the combat shorts to him, packed in the plastic bag in which it had come.

 

© Akintunde Aiki 2016

Akintunde Aiki is an engineering apostate who currently finds joy in beautiful writings. He thinks Friday is the best day and November the best month. He loves all shades of the color blue. If he can get off the internet more, he’ll probably write a book. He blogs at Koroba.

 

Photo credit: Unsplash/ https://pixabay.com/en/feet-boots-filling-cabinet-legs-1246673/

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

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Two Hundred and Counting

200

 

I received a WordPress notification about my 200th blog post about six weeks ago. What does this mean to me?

1.
Because Nigerian musicians frequently fuse their local dialects and English to produce hits that resonate beyond their shores, I thought the word colabo, and I spelt it like that, in the song collabo by PSquare featuring Don Jazzy is a Pidgin derivative. However, collabo is a word in the dictionary, which means something produced by two or more people working together, especially a piece of music.  I did not get to two hundred on my own. Many collaborations with different writers brought me here.

2.
Every year I check boxes and add scores on tests designed to show me an aspect of myself. I am always trying to answer the questions, who is Timi and what does she want? Perhaps I am more curator of stories and editor than I am writer. The collaborations I inspire and drive bring me double joy. Flipping through one of my old journals, I smiled as I read my handwriting, cursive, strong, sure. I had written: I want to tell other peoples’ stories. Self: A person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action.

3.
For years, my answer to the question, “So what do you do?” was fluid because I was like a natural hair enthusiast growing out a perm, one leg here and one leg there. To define my ‘do’ by my day job seemed limiting. Then I stumbled on Adam Leipzig’s Tedx Talk and discovered a way to answer the question with ease. Recently, I answered the question like this: I write a blog, dismissing Leipzig’s recommendation. The man to whom I was speaking probed further, “What do you write about and are you any good?” I answered his second question before the top of his lips settled on his bottom lip, “I am very good.” Gone was his disinterest. Confidence: A feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.

4.
Sometimes people leave me comments and messages that they wish they could write like me. I take it as a huge compliment and nothing more. I have stopped wishing I could play the piano like the musician who is a wiz at the keyboard. I have no desire to put in the work and disciplined focus required to reach that level of proficiency. I do not have another 10,000 hours. In making the point that excellence requires a critical minimum level of practice, Malcom Gladwell says ten thousand hours is the magic number that researchers have agreed on for true expertise. Two hundred blog posts is not yet 10,000 hours. Practice: Repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.

5.
The line between just asking and a free consultation is smeared with politeness. Doctors and other professionals know this. I know this now; 200 blog posts means I have a feel for what makes a piece of writing work. A party is not the place to read me a sentence then ask if it is grammatically correct or whip out your phone to show me something you wrote. That is what emails are for. I do not carry a red pen in my clutch bag; I carry red lipstick and blue mascara. People ask me to be brutally honest in my feedback, but the only place to be brutal—savagely violent or unpleasant and harsh, is the gladiator’s ring. The only adjective that should go with honesty when it comes to feedback on a piece of writing is kind. I have made and kept more friends this way.

6.
Space is not a continuous area or expanse, which is free, available, or unoccupied. It is a place stamped with evidence of my presence, neatly littered with comforting memorabilia—a weathered collection of poems, old photos of my children, journals, books about writing, ideas on yellow post-its, and greeting cards that affirm who I can be. Space is freedom to live, think, and develop my writing in a way that suits me. It is saying no to play and living like a hermit Friday night and all day Saturday. Space is showing up for lunch or dinner with my laptop, typing away while conversation wafts around my head. Two hundred blog posts later, space is the greatest gift my family and friends have given me. Extroverted Introvert: Also called social introvert. Sociable and friendly but needs to recharge in solitude often.

7.
When I decided to start a blog, I had three options: WordPress, Blogger, or Tumblr. I am yet to regret my choice. Often I struggle to leave a comment on other platforms but I have scarcely heard that anyone struggled to leave a comment on my blog. It is true that I do not want be bothered with technical things like code, wanting only to upload and publish, but more than that I have found a community of generous people who are curious about the world beyond them. Two hundred blog posts ago, I published my first post to a warm welcome from several bloggers who I did not court. Welcome on WordPress is like a revolving door. A good number of bloggers with whom I engaged in those early days have exited the blog stage and in their place, other bloggers have taken my hand. Welcome: Greet (someone arriving) in a polite or friendly way; React with pleasure or approval to (an event or development).

 

To all my readers: I owe you a debt of gratitude. You have pushed me to become better than I was.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

 

  1. All dictionary definitions from English Oxford Living Dictionaries
  2. Gladwell, Malcom, Outliers, The Story of Success, (London: Penguin Books, 2009), 43 -44

 

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To Close A Series [2]

love-is

A friend called me after reading one of the episodes of the Fly series to say that the dialogue reminded him of the way we were, making me want to sing only this line from Adele’s Hello, hello from the other side! Instead tongue-in-cheek, I quoted William Faulkner in no particular order.

A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.

Are you writing about yourself, is the question I was often asked while the series continued. I have mostly reconciled myself to the downside of writing a personal blog, which is that readers assume consciously or subconsciously that the stories on your blog are about you. No longer so uptight about being vulnerable, I took this question and its variants cloaked in concern, to mean that the dialogues were relatable and believable. Their questions were in fact a roundabout compliment.

I have never previously dragged out a story on my blog as I did this series. What began as a one-off fun post, a bull’s eye response to a dear friend’s endless matchmaking, grew to ten articles spread over two-and-half months because you asked for more.

I told Ife Nihinlola, my partner in the Fly series and a talented writer whose essays I enjoy reading, that the best stories are woven around love and relationships; throw in a moral dilemma to achieve transcendence. After the badass protagonist has destroyed the villains and saved the planet, we will him to kiss the beautiful woman he fought for as they walk into the sunset. Nothing touches our core like what we are wired for, love.

As the series continued, we had to be deliberate about the twists we would introduce and the manner in which they would be resolved. Ife and I resorted to using readers’ feedback as a guide because we realized we had sparked something in our readers, we had connected. I was humbled and tickled when I read something to this effect: Timi, please don’t spoil it now that they are happy.

We tossed ideas about what felt natural and what felt as though we were trying too hard and all the while, the plot was challenging my own ideas about love and relationships too. The decision to conclude the series was bittersweet.

“What if in the next episode, I make the happy couple, twenty-nine-year-old Junior and thirty-five-year-old Old Woman, bump into one of Junior’s flirtatious younger female friends at the mall?”

I agreed with Ife when he said that he wasn’t so sure. I had thoroughly enjoyed my stint as a Shonda Rhimes scriptwriter wannabe.

In the end, this is what I aimed to do all along; make you rethink your ideas about love, sex, romance, relationships, and friendships while entertaining you. You tell us if we succeeded.

On Facebook, I noticed that a friend shared one of my posts on her Timeline. Underneath the article was a comment from one of her friends asking her to share my post on their WhatsApp group for further discussion. My brain thought about copyright issues, my heart saw so clearly, why I write.

On this blog, I don’t write for myself although I write for people like me. Big difference. Small difference. If you stopped reading, I would stop writing—what would be the point? I cannot thank you enough for believing in Livelytwist.

 

©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.