Friday, June 29, 2012

The Book Around My Neck

I’m ashamed of my reading prowess nowadays. It took me nearly 2 months to finish Chimmy’s “This Thing Around Your Neck’. Its no reflection on the book please. Just me trying to find time for reading amongst life's other engagements. Leisure time is fast becoming a scarce commodity for me :(

So what did I think of the book? 
Hmmm, it was both familiar yet exotic/strange. Soothes yet haunts, Challenges yet stereotypes. They were stories extraordinary in their ordinariness.
You might have heard one or two of them as what happened to ‘that Ada, don’t you remember her? Emeka’ s uncle’s wife’s aunty’s daughter (untangle that); some are thoughts you have had as an immigrant observing the western society, yet some were about nothing you have ever heard of.

The title story ‘The Thing Around Your Neck was the most enigmatic (translate- I didn’t get it or maybe in a way I-got-it-but-It-was-kinda-bleak). I felt no joy in the main character staying on in America. None in her decision to return to Nigeria. Her identity was a burden to her. Guess the title is apt.

My favourite was the 1st story Cell One about a middle class family and their wayward only son Nnamabia. It may not hold as much poignancy to readers who are not Igbo or grew up in Owerri, Enugu but it’s descriptions and atmosphere were on point. To me, it captured a typical middle class Igbo family perfectly, the pampered first son who can do no wrong in his mother’s eyes, the nelected all knowing daughter, the love between the parents (the routine and familiarity of love after 20 years in marriage), the pretence that all is well amongst family friends (the elephant in the room type).
I sighed, I smiled, I shuffled on the bus seat with nervousness as I read about his incarceration and I cried with relief that he survived Cell One.

Ghosts, a most tender love story about an old professor and his late wife’s nocturnal visits came a close second. It was also a story about University politicking and the Biafra war. My yearning to know more about the war has been whetted. I thought it was bad, but now I know it was atrocious. Relatable to the genocide of the Jews. Of the Hutus and Tutus. I wondered again why Nigerian History is soo silent about the war?
Like someone said or was it Chimmy, it’s like "there is a conspiracy" to keep hidden what happened during Biafra. Why I wonder?? If we don’t know, don’t remember, how can we prevent History from repeating itself? How can we heal?
The movement for the sovereign state of Biafra is signing up young Igbo men and filling them with stories about the glory of Biafra land and the need for secession. I am leery about a Biafra land but even more scared of what info these young men are being fed through Radio Biafra etc (I know people who listen to it dutifully here in the UK- serious matter!!). 
I have listened to radio Biafra and  mostly I feel the leaders are only propagating bitterness drank from their mother’s breast. I understand. Ndi Igbo are yet to heal.

I digress.

A Private Experience touched on the ethnic/religious clashes killings in the North and its effect on the life of two innocent female bystanders with widely differing backgrounds but now touched by same tragedy.
I found ‘On Monday of Last Week hilarious. It touched on same sex attraction in a very light and humorous way.

Some stories felt like Chimmy’s personal experiences. E.g Jumping Monkey Hill about a writers meet, The Shivering. Even Cell One.
The Shivering... It was not my favourite but in retrospect it stood out. Ukamaka's male neighbour Chinedu was portrayed as a prayerful Christian, quiet, kind, and nursing a broken heart like the protagonist. Only difference, his lover was a fellow man. Chimamanda cunningly challenged traditional anti-gay views by simply highlighting all that made this guy human first and foremost, his relationship did not make him less.

Her pro-feminist views(Chimmy calls herself a Happy Feminist! Lol) shone through in her female protagonists who were mostly strong proud women – The Headstrong Historian, Tomorrow is Too Far, Imitation, American Embassy, The Arrangers of Marriage, Jumping Monkey Hill, The Thing Around Your Neck. These were women who used their agency and didn’t let patriarchy dictate to them.

But mostly the stories were about love, filial love, 30 yr old marital love, young love, where it was present, where it was lacking and the way Nigerians express it.

I truly enjoyed the book and would love to hear your views.
What was your favourite story?

Cause I love sharing, here are links to some of her other short stories published in the New Yorker (here) and the New Statesman (here). Enjoy!!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rules of Engagement btw Exes and Girlfriends

I’ve always been of the view that I WILL NOT STAND in love’s way if my ex-boyfriend and my girlfriend/best friend hit it off. That it didn’t work out with us doesn’t mean it can’t work out with her right?
There are a few conditions though:
  • He mustn’t be an ex that treated me badly or hurt me cos I’ll either be over-protective of my girl thinking he might break her heart too or it might hurt me to see him treat her so sweet when he was a lowdown-dirty-scoundrel to me.
  • They mustn’t have started dating when he and I were supposed to be an item – in other words, he mustn’t have cheated on me with her.
  • To avoid all suspicion, the relationship should start at least 6 months post break up.
  • One of them should at least have the courtesy to tell me before I hear it on the grapevine. Yeah awkward much but surely not earth shattering. Infact I should be told before the first date if the girl is truly a friend. E.g. She can say “hey, I met up with XYZ a week ago and we’ve been talking since. He asked me out to dinner tomorrow. You are not asking my permission, you are just informing me and giving me time to come to terms with this new status.
Have you seen this movie? Great plot about friendship, betrayal and ambition
My magnanimity has been tested and I can tell you freely, it wasn’t easy. There were some initial negative thoughts: Hurt (after everything I did for him, it’s ABC he wants), Suspicion (hope it wasn’t cause of her he broke off with me), Jealousy (I know she is prettier, richer, more wifely than me). Finally Truth makes an appearance.
You remember the real reasons you broke up – his farting, his immaturity and general incompatibility. You admit to yourself that he was really a nice guy but just not your type. He never made your skin tingle. Then you tell that part of your heart that keeps a tally of boyfriends to delete his file and remember his details no more. 
You may even call him up and tease him mercilessly of how you are going to burn his cable with her.
Quite Easily Done.

So it was with great shock that I read this post on Temiville’s blog (Musings of a Caramel Latte Addict) where a lady seduced her friend’s boyfriend of two years and had the added temerity to not only justify her actions by saying her friend was slow, she asked same friend to be her chief bridesmaid for old times sake!
Girlfriend just broke all my rules listed above!! And I am a most generous girlfriend.

I don’t have issues with them ‘falling in love and deciding to wed’. I honestly don’t think in her heart of hearts the first gf wanted him. Moreover if he could be that easily seduced then I prefer to say good riddance. It was the cheating, the opportunism, the secrecy and pretence that got my goat.
I will just delete their numbers from my contact list, facebook, bb forever and ever. Who needs friends like these really?

Come to think of it there are a few other unwritten girlfriend codes directed by love and commonsense, but alas those two are scarce commodities innit?

  1. If you meet my man somewhere and both of you actually stop to exchange niceties – make sure you tell me asap, i.e. the next time we talk or chat, not 3months down the line, when something crops up and you'll say, “I remember what happened that day we met at Lekki” and I have to ask ‘What, how, when”. Suspicious much.
  2. If you want a business date with my husband, maybe you are a banker and you want to wheedle him for deposits for your bank, common sense demands that you inform me girlfriend! I might even be nice and tell you the right time to ambush him or I might give him a ‘lil somethin’ the night before to sweeten him up. But don’t just call him and arrange a meeting business or otherwise without passing it through me, Mrs Wife/Ms Girlfriend. If by chance #2 happens – maybe you were at Zenith bank Head office and they were giving you a hard time, then you had an epiphany ‘let me call Ginger’s husband to help me out, #1 applies once again.
  3. If we have issues, we settle it between us girls; unless I have vowed to take your case up at Okija shrine, then you have good reason to be alarmed. But if we are quarrelling over asoebi, jewelry, bags of rice and you carry our petty quarrel over to my hubby to make me look bad or in a spirit of camaraderie, you tell him about my drunken days as an undergrad when I have told him I was a Deeper Life member. Hmmm, your days are numbered.
  4. You really don’t need to have my boo’s phone number do you? Oh well, I understand I might go missing and you get worried or you see my 5 yr old smoking on the street and you feel alarmed enough to call one of us, ok then. But not that you call my hubby at whim to say oh, long time I have missed you..o__0 but why?? or send him a text anytime after 8pm or buy him a birthday present more expensive than what I got for him etc. mind yaself o.
  5. There’s an exception though: On this one occasion you are allowed to call my boo without my knowledge and as many times as you want – You catch him leaving room 234 of Sheraton Hotel with a woman who does not look like me. Kindly steal his number from my phonebook if you don’t already have it, call him, text him (I know what you did last Thursday type) threaten him and make him swear by his unborn children that thunder will strike his dingalong the next time he cheats on me.   And like the best friend you are, please don’t let me know. 
  6. On the other hand. I am actually undecided. To know or not to know?

So people what do you think and just wondering, do these rules apply to guys?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Why are We Crying? We are All Guilty - Ike Anya

Hi People,
How are you all doing? Can someone tell British weather its Summer please?? I’m sick of the rain.

So, I know my views of death in the last post wasn’t acceptable to many reading, I truly understand. But like I said my soul finds great comfort in the thinking: that God is all seeing and all knowing. Thank you Stelzz for that Bible passage!

It does not make me less angry against the human failings that provided the opportunity. It does not mean I don’t appreciate that if we lived in a country where Govts/people did what they were supposed to do, then Death would have had to look for more creative ways to kill 163 people in a day! It does not mean I absolve myself of the part we(yes we) played in these deaths by action or non-action.
Check this re-post from Nigeria Health Watch (below) about the Sosoliso crash in 2005. It reads like déjà vu.

I am sitting at my computer, transfixed by the images on the internet of the grieving parents and relatives of the over one hundred people that died in Port Harcourt at the weekend in an aeroplane crash. I am still reeling from the news that one of my younger brother's closest friends, someone we had all grown up with also died in the crash. Each time I shut my eyes, I can still see his bashful smile as I opened our front door to him and he asked whether my younger brother was home. Occasionally he would ask how my medical studies were going; occasionally I would ask how he was doing. He was like a younger brother, his sister was my classmate, his parents we called Uncle and Auntie and they were there at all our celebrations just as we were at theirs. And yet, today he lies lifeless, murdered, like so many other thousands- by you and me- his fellow Nigerians.
I do not choose my words lightly. We murdered that young man, just as surely as we murdered all the young school children on board that flight, children going home on their Christmas holidays. The fate of these children holds particular poignancy for me, for I too, remember flying home at the end of school term for Christmas. I remember the harmattan haze that often meant that flights were cancelled, which on more than one occasion meant that we had to sleep at the airport. I remember particularly the apprehension in December 1983, just after a Nigerian Airways plane had crashed, killing many; but despite our fear we eagerly looked forward to going home, to circling the dirt brown, harmattan dried fields around Enugu and to touch down into the warm embrace of our families. These children and these families will not know that joy. And we are all responsible.

We are all responsible- starting from the owners of these aeroplanes who cut corners, wanting to make a quick buck, regardless of how many lives they put at risk, ignoring the myriad other opportunities to make money in Nigeria. And before you leap to exclude yourself, saying, "I don't own an airline", I will point out to you, that each time, you doctor, owner of a private hospital, provide drugs of doubtful quality and efficacy at an extortionate price, you are equally responsible. Each time you delay referring a patient when you are well aware that the illness is beyond your capability, you are responsible.

Each time we turned aside and paid a bribe, or jumped the queue because we knew some big man; from the market woman who slips in rotten tomatoes into the bottom of the heap cheating her less eagle-eyed customers, to the airline regulators who are supposed to inspect and maintain safety standards but either through incompetence or sheer corruption shun their duties, to the journalists who collects brown envelopes and turn the other way when evil is committed, to the civil servant who signs in at 8 and disappears thereafter, to the legislators and politicians who prefer ferrying Ghana must Go to providing true leadership, we are all every one of us guilty of murder. And I do not excuse any sector of society- the teachers and lecturers who abandon their classrooms, the pastors and imams who abandon their callings and have become sucked into the quagmire that our Nigeria has become all carry their share of blame. Because we all went to the thanksgiving services and celebrations of these people who had acquired their money trading in human lives, we drank their beer, or Five Alive, danced to their music and hailed them. And so they thought it was acceptable.

The person in charge of running a National Immunization Programme thinks that it is acceptable to misappropriate funds that mean that young children die; administrators at schools and universities mismanage their resources, blighting the future of the young. Pilots and airline stewards fly planes that they know have not passed safety checks, because the alternative is hunger for them and their families. At motor parks, we freely tolerate the sale of strong alcoholic beverages and then climb aboard cars crammed full, driven by half-drunk drivers, saying our prayers as we board. Politicians are more interested in their internecine petty squabbles and how to make money than in building up the country and showing leadership. And we all celebrate mediocrity and materialism and flamboyance and in doing so, played our part in bringing this tragedy to pass.

And if perhaps you are thinking- I am abroad, I am not involved- I say to you "It is a lie, you too are culpable" For each time we condoned the kleptomania and corruption of our leaders and our society, for each time we turned our backs on Nigeria, justifying our decisions to ourselves- my children are still young, I need to finish my degree, my family needs the money I'm sending back- we too are responsible. For each time you saved up all year, maxing your credit cards to the limit to go back home and live lavishly for a little while, boosting the asinine materialistic culture that thrives there, ignoring the poverty around, you are culpable.

I am not suggesting that any of these decisions or life choices are easy, far from it. All I want us to do is to acknowledge that even as we make these decisions - to emigrate, to take ten per cent, to bend the rules, to glorify ill-gotten wealth- that there are negative consequences to balance all the positive reasons we have for making our decisions and culpability in murder is a part of it.

Thousands of Nigerian children die each year because they are not immunized. We demand debt forgiveness, improved aid, and when we get it- are the children immunized? No, some people are busy squabbling about which company will supply the vaccines. You can apply the same analogy to the water sector, energy sector, the banks, and virtually every sector of the economy. At election time, it is all about money, we do not care who is elected, and we continue to say "Wetin we go do? Na only God fit save Nigeria", abdicating our God given responsibilities.

Tragedy after tragedy happens as a result of our sins of omission and our sins of commission and we move on, forgetting. Who killed Bola Ige? Nobody has ever been held to account but we moved on. Who killed Dikibo? No one knows, but still we moved on. The list is endless- disaster after disaster occurs, often manmade, often preventable, but no one is held to account and we move on. Instead of tackling these issues, we are caught up in political scheming and one-upmanship, seeking power not because we want to make things better but because we want to improve our individual lot. The roads are bad, so we plunder and scheme and steal to buy 4 wheel drives, there is no electricity, so we buy generators, the Police is a farce, so we build high walls and hire security or travel with armed security escorts. Our schools are bad, so we open new expensive private universities or send our children abroad; the country teeters and so we go to have our children abroad to gain foreign citizenship as insurance. Our hospitals do not function and then we go abroad for check-ups. And so we continue to ignore the rot, trying to slap a plaster on what we know is a huge gaping sore. We are appointed to jobs where we are not given the equipment we need to function and we stay there, pretending that all is well. And in doing so, we acquiesce to murder.

What emergency plans are in existence for searching for and rescuing victims of a major disaster? What medical expertise exists and is ready, and how are they primed for mobilization? There is a National Emergency Management Agency and there are people employed there, where were they in the thirty minutes it was alleged it took for any form of rescue to begin? What contingency plans do they have in place to deal with incidents like these? How much money has been allocated to this agency since its inception? Is it adequate? How can we still be asking Julius Berger, a private company for any sort of basic assistance when we encounter disasters like these?
When are we going to say enough is enough? Today, tomorrow or never? Are we going to continue in complacency, wringing our hands and saying what can we do? When are we going to say "a decisive no" to evil and begin to build a real society?

While we ponder the answers to these questions, let us remember that it may be our kin or us next time. And let us not forget the millions of Nigerians who do not fly in aeroplanes but who everyday suffer from what we have done and what we have failed to do. How are we going to atone for the lives of these children, men and women, extinguished through our own omission?

It is time we stopped crying and pointing fingers at the aviation industry, or at individuals for in the end we are all guilty of murder. We can choose to continue as before, and simply move on, or we can decide that there is value in the life of every single Nigerian and that we will do all that we can to protect it. But regardless of our choices, let it be clear that by our actions and inaction, we are accomplices to murder.

To my brother's friend and the hundred that died with him, please rest in peace and forgive us for failing you. For in tolerating the evil that pervades our society, we all had a hand in your deaths.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

When Your Time is Up, Its Up


Following the Victoria station bomb blast in the UK in July 2005, one old lady-witness who was interviewed about the incident said those golden words, and since then, it’s been a mantra for my sis and I.

I don’t know if those words give you comfort. But they give ME comfort hard as it is to believe.

You’ve heard of plane crashes with no survivor? When your time is up, it’s up
You’ve heard of plane crashes with a single survivor – When your time is not up, it’s not up
You’ve heard of men exhumed from the ground 10 days post earthquake – hungry, cold, crying but alive - When your time is not up, it’s not up

We either believe God has ultimate power over life and death or we don’t
We either believe that Christians should embrace death and an eternity with God or we don’t
We either believe that there is an appointed day to die or we don’t
We either believe that on that appointed  day, a fly, a cup of water, bikes, rain, air plane can cause that death or we don’t
We either believe that sinful earth is passing away and Heaven is our ultimate home or we don’t
We either believe that all (money, fame, jobs, spouses, children, phone, car, house) is vanity or we don’t
We either live our life acknowledging that we can be called up at any point in time or we don't 
Be it through natural/negligent/cruel/sophisticated actions of self/others/machines/nature.

I remember coming across this folktale and how it caused shivers to run down my spine; yeah, it supports my theory:

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions.
In a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said: "Master, just now when I was in the market place I was jostled by a woman in the 'crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me."
The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.
  Then the merchant went down to the market place and he saw Death standing in the crowd and he went to Death and said: "Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?"
"That was not a threatening gesture," Death said, "It was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."

Does this mean we should not mourn then or berate not the state of affairs of our airlines, the government, our emergency response, our health service, our corruption??? NOOOO.
But ultimately as Christians, we gotta believe the former or we are going to spend a lot of time questioning God.



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