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.

 

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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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 [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.

 

 

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.