January, In Retrospect

january-time

From my window, the strains of a fight enter my room. I have never enjoyed boxing, the punches too violent for me to stomach. I do not look out of my window, but I know the fight will not take place when I hear, “Do you know who I am? Hold me! Hold me before I slap this idiot! I say do you know who I am?” The ruckus dies shortly, and I smile. They say the time to quit is before you wish you had.

I have heard it said that time is faster in retrospect than in the present. Not for me, not in January. My January ran like a cheetah in the Serengeti, fast and focused. Projects that involved what I love, making sense of words, made me think of quitting something else I enjoy, making sense of words—blogging. As my days turned to nights, and nights, days, I thought I would surely arrive Sunday with empty hands, no blog post to show. January seemed like a good time to quit.

In Lagos, there is a choreography to a fight you do not want, your true intent masked by halting forward motion. The aggressive advance to your opponent’s eyeballs, the flexing of arms, legs too; and most importantly, the words that shrivel your opponent’s courage and makes him, and you back down; words, more effective than punches.

I had promised myself that in January, I would do my best writing. The promise, a noble thing, naively made at the cusp of a new year, looked undoable just a few days into the year. Work overwhelmed me. I had put my heart and soul into writing Love is a Beautiful Thing, for which, I received praise, and I thought, if I quit now, I will be quitting while I am still ahead.

Few people want to brawl on the street, tearing shirtsleeves and rolling in the ground, mixing sweat with dust and grass. Or else, why throw words in the air, heightening tension, for a boxing match that is not pay-per-view? Why not just fight? 

I fantasized about quitting blogging last year. I had not anticipated the upheaval that moving would bring to my routine and the loss of my support group—people like me, who wow over language and the chemistry of words. But then, ideas would come. Starting a series or surprising myself with beautiful prose would mesmerize and energize me, reminding me that writing is my core. In January, my notes—observations about people and places hastily scribbled on my phone—rescued me. From them, I crafted the stories you read.

I realize now that the fight that did not take place had only one voice. Why was the other man silent? Is that what cowards do to end a fight? What if the crowd had not mediated with, e don do, abeg, e don do? Maybe he was sizing up the aggressor to determine the cost of peace. I should have looked out of my window.

I saw a quote that said: if you get tired rest, don’t quit. January was busy; a blessing in an economy where some people can only siddon look. Someone remarked after reading one of my blog posts that writers lead the most interesting lives. We do not. We have just learned to make sense of words. I am glad I did not quit. Come quick, February.

———————————-

E don do, abeg, e don do – an appeal to stop
Siddon look –  do nothing, in this context, because of the recession

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© Timi Yeseibo 2017

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/time-past-watches-timepiece-1897986/

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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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

 

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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

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.

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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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.

 

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

 

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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.