Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Deceiver

We all know at least one person whose parents sent them shopping in assorted bushes around their compound to find "Justice" (as my household koboko was duly named). I like to think parents like those had a sense of humor, albeit wicked and strange. Sending you on an errand that will facilitate your own punishment, a triple-edged dagger that threatened you psychologically, intellectually and ultimately physically could only have been thought up by the sort of person who sniggers behind you as you contemplate: 1) the weight and flexibility of the weapon, knowing that producing the wrong ratio will only incur more strokes, 2) the conflicting messages coming from your brain, which calmly tells you to do the right thing by your parent and, by extension, yourself; and your instinct, which is frantically trying to inform you that the best way to save yourself is to reject this absurdity and take cover at the nearest neighbor's, and 3) the inevitable, sharp pain that you must surely feel once you hand over your tormentor's device of choice. The parent who chooses this method only wants to put his/her child through mental anguish - the physical strokes tend not to be as heavy-handed (is my understanding) as if they were meted out with the full force of rage that extends from fresh anger. This parent has had time to calm down, perhaps get a little chuckle from watching his offspring agonize over picking the "right" cane - certainly enough time to let a little mercy seep in. This parent isn't dangerous.

Or perhaps you lived in a household where the psychological damage was not wreaked in a relatively short amount of time. In the previous example, your mental anguish lasted only as long as it took you to pluck the cane. By a certain age, you had developed an eagle eye and could find a satisfactory flagellate within 30 seconds. Call it survival of the fittest. If your parents wanted to maintain control of the situation, however, they picked the cane themselves - a splendid specimen, that flashed light when held at the right angle - and placed it in plain view, so you could closely study that which was going to leave welts and lacerations on your flesh...when they were good and ready. You didn't know when it would be, but you wanted to be prepared. If you were lucky, you would have time to hide in a place the cane couldn't reach. So you were vigilant. You maintained a close perimeter, never letting the stick out of your sight for longer than 4 seconds at a time. You would see to it that you weren't taken unawares. But despite your best efforts, somehow you would find yourself immersed in the latest cartoon or playing ten-ten with your housegirl, or perhaps even eating dinner six hours after your transgression, stupidly confident that your mother had even forgotten that you wronged her earlier. It is always at this moment that you feel the flashing heat of pain slicing across your back. Foiled again! But the parent who does this is still merely a trickster and mischievous. You need not fear her.

But woe betide you if you are spawned by The Deceiver, the worst of all sadistic guardians. This is the parent whose intentions are never known, whose motives can never be pre-determined - indeed, he can never be trusted. But because you know no better, you always do. And you always get burned.

Picture this scenario:

It is a hot day in April, and you're back from school. You're seven years old and teeming with energy, particularly after your well-cooked meal of rice and dodo with two pieces of meat. Your cousins from the village have also returned from the government school on the other side of town and they have exciting new games to show you that you don't play at your posh and expensive "international" school (so deemed because of the solitary Indian child whose father is only in Nigeria to fly helicopters for Aerocontractors). They have always seemed more creative than you, and you enjoy their company thoroughly. Mummy is at work; the oldest person in the house is Chinekwu, the fifteen-year-old housegirl with the tangy body odor whose authority you don't respect. You and your cousins are running rambunctiously through the house, ignoring all the rules that Mummy set for you, dismissing Chinekwu's warnings and admonishments to behave yourself lest she "tell Mummy for you". With glee, you all decide to recreate some of the scenes from your favorite American movies - you have pillow fights and jump on the bed, your powerful imagination helping you ignore the jarring sensation in your knees that result when your kakaraka Naija "mattrass" doesn't give way like the bouncy American mattresses in the movies. The average Nigerian mattress is stronger than the wood that built the bed frame. Yours is one of these, and under the pressure of four children adamantly determined to be just like Jane and Michael in Mary Poppins, the bed breaks.

All your little hearts rush to your throats, and cold beads of sweat form on your arms and foreheads. You are too panicked to think about a way to put the bed back together; your cousins' seeming creativity fails you now. All you can think to do is bolt from the room, closing the door quietly behind you to hide the evidence. If no one can see it, it never happened. Right?

But Chinekwu heard the deafening boom of mattrass hitting concrete, and has come to inspect the damage. She is in the middle of singing "Den den deeeen..." when you begin to beg her, bribing her with your meat from lunch tomorrow and Bazooka chewing gum if she will only not tell Mummy when she gets back from work. But Chinekwu has not forgotten the last time you made a similar promise: she kept silent about your misdeed, and Mummy flogged her as well for compliance. Afterwards, you sought her out in the kitchen to make fun of her for howling and "dancing" when she was being beaten; upon all that, you withheld the five naira that you had promised as reward for her loyalty, citing that you weren't spared the rod, so why should she receive compensation?

Chinekwu is only a village girl with a Standard Six education, but she learns quickly and never forgets. She requests the Bazooka chewing gum up front and makes you wash the dishes from lunch. Satisfied that you have covered all your bases, you return to your play and soon forget that you even have a bed, talk less of breaking it.

When Mummy returns from work, you all crowd around the car singing "O yo yo" as Chinekwu rushes to her side to carry her briefcase and grocery bags. Mummy swats you off her, begging you to "let her rest" before you carry on about what she brought for you. She has battled the cachophonous city streets and is in no mood to entertain you or your demands. High with joy now that your mother has returned, you retreat to the living room and wait for her to come in and join you for dinner. You don't notice Chinekwu whispering and pointing in the direction of the bedroom; you don't see your mother look thoughtfully at you before she disappears down the darkened hallway that harbors your sleeping quarters.

Minutes later, Mummy's voice calls from her room: "My pikin! come, let me give you chewing gum!" You cannot believe your luck. It is a rare occurrence indeed when your own mother offers you the sweet nectar of candy - she usually ensures that you cannot get your pudgy fingers on even one Buttermint for weeks at a time. A few years down the road, you will come to realize that no good can come of your mother offering you deliciously unhealthy tantalizers. But today, you are seven and you don't know anything. You run gleefully down the hall and burst into her room, expectantly.

She is sitting on her bed, half-dressed, rifling through her purse as she "finds something for you". You are jumping up and down on the spot; you can barely conceal your excitement. Lo and behold! she produces a stick of gum that you respectfully accept then unwrap quickly and throw into your mouth, releasing bursts of bubble-yummy flavor in sugar-filled explosions all over your mouth. Mummy is getting out of her stuffy work clothes as she asks you how your day went; you gleefully inform her that it was fun, more fun than yesterday but not as much fun as it will be tomorrow. She seems pleased, wants to know more. What did you do today? Oh, nothing much, you say, I came back from school, changed, ate, played with Francis and Ngozi. Oh yeah? What kind of play did you play, she wants to know. We just played Police and Thief, then we played WHOT, then we-. At this point in your story, the image of the broken bed leaps to your mind, as clearly as if you were still jumping on it. All the events that led up to that moment flash quickly through your mind like a tape on fast forward. Does she know? Suddenly, your bubble gum doesn't taste so sweet.

Why have you stopped talking, Mummy wants to know. Continue now - what other kinds of play did you play today? You open your mouth to speak, possibly to beg her for mercy - only a strangled sob escapes. Talk now! she demands. Why are you crying? You didn't do anything worth crying about...OR DID YOU?? All this time, you thought she was just putting away her clothes, arranging her shoes. She whips round from her wardrobe, brandishing a koboko as long as you are tall and proceeds to remind you why she gave you rules to follow in the first place. In the melee, you swallow that fateful piece of gum. When she is through with you, she tells you to wipe the snot and tears off your face and return to the living room to call in the next victim. And for the first time that day, you obey.

This is not the kind of parent that one runs from. This parent has the patience of Mother Teresa and the memory of an elephant - you will never - never - get away with anything. No matter your age, you take your beating like a man and resolve never to make any mistakes again for the rest of your life. Of course, you will fail, but rest assured that you will not make many mistakes; you will instead develop an uncanny ability to think through your actions and anticipate any outcome. In some ways, this is the parent that best prepares her child for a world where anything can happen and carefully cultivates a spirit of caution within him. But a truly discerning parent is one that can passively educate his child on how to think quickly on his feet - and sometimes with the most humorous result.

to be continued...



many thanks to DVTG for telling me this story in its unembellished form - I had loads of fun filling in the blanks, but even my A-game couldn't derive such a perfect ending. your monumental strength in maintaining such a great sense of humor after so phenomenal a beating is well appreciated :-).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Beating your Child and Other Humorous Tales

I wasn't beaten enough as a child. I know it, and everyone in my family knows it. We all have our regrets. Back then, I threw well-aimed tantrums to get what I wanted. If a knock had targeted my head as surely and more often, I might be a different person now. For one thing, I'd have a lot more stories to share when my friends and I are swapping discipline stories. For the first eight years of my life, no one laid a finger on me - honestly, I had no idea that you could get beaten for doing things wrong until my brother, a recent graduate from the Nigerian Military School, flattened my left cheek with his rugged palm. I don't think I even cried, I was so shocked! (Which shouldn't be mistaken to mean that it didn't hurt - his slaps have haunted me ever since, especially that one in 1996, which left me seeing green stars and picking up radio stations in Cotonou.) After my first slap, I spent many minutes trying to decide what it was that had happened to me and recall where I had seen that look on his face before. You know the look: the eyes narrow and pull back - nostrils sharpen and expand as the slapper gathers force behind his lungs for the blow - lips tighten over bared teeth. I knew I'd seen that look before. But where?


The year was 1987. I was five, precocious and famously ignorant. I also had a very active and troublesome imagination; having a father who was greatly amused by all my antics didn't help reign me in at all. I said everything that was on my mind back then - there was nothing cute about my strong opinions except maybe the Munchkin voice they rode on. On this particular day, I was feeling particularly opinionated about my little life. My hairstlye (one in front, two in the back); my dress (pink, with bows tied as tightly as possible to show off my "shape" - at that age, I was a figure zero); my nap (I wasn't going to take it). On my high horse, I was barking orders to everyone, informing them what I would and wouldn't do (mostly the latter). And my mother had had it.

We were standing in her bedroom doorway. I still don't know what I said. Sassed her in some way, no doubt. My father would have laughed and called me a "troublesome girl". My mother made the "I go SLAP you" face, and threw her hand back, high above her head. I remember looking at her, eyes wide with curiousity. What is she going to do, I wondered silently. Another one of my older brothers was there - he couldn't have been older than fourteen at the time. Fourteen, but wise to the ways of the slapping hand. Rather than watch my chubby face - which was now gazing dreamily at the hand that was about to descend rather heavily upon it - crumple into a severe fit of tears, he jumped between us and held her back. "Mummy, please, Mummy, please - she doesn't know what she's saying. Please, Mummy." She blinked, then heaved a deep sigh. Shook her head, started saying something about me being "stupid". I was confused and mildly disappointed; it was an anti-climactic situation. I waddled away, oblivious to the fact that I had just escaped my first beating.

Like I said, it was three years until someone took it upon themselves to cut me down to size. By then, my mother had died and the guilt that comes from beating a girl who has just lost her mother had worn off. Life was less than rosy, but still - I feel like I missed out on a lot of learning in the early years. For example, it never occurred to me that you could run to escape a beating. Never. I stood there and took everything like an idiot. Granted, I was too rounded to escape even if I had tried to run but that's knowledge every child is entitled to and I didn't have it!

So in honor of all those empty years, I've decided to recount, in the next few posts, some of the more vicarious tales divulged for my listening pleasure by my more astute friends and colleagues. They were nimble; they were quick. They tried their darndest to outwit their punishers, though none escaped. They have much cooler stories, and deeper scars. I envy them. And you will too.

to be continued...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

They Have Come Again

I wake up at 6:15 every morning to the sound of someone getting interviewed on NPR. The topic of discussion is typically obscure (the effects of global warming on the development efforts of nouveau-altruists in Alevoor village, near Udupi, India) or insignificant (why don't Americans watch baseball anymore?). You can always tell I'm awake when I mutter sleepily but firmly at my talking box, "You're not the boss of me." But the box always wins, and as I stomp to the bathroom and reach for my toothbrush, sulking at my reflection in the mirror, I get to listen to Steve Inskeep's baritone reading the morning's headlines.

Today was not unlike any other day - I went through the same routine. But I was less pouty as I brushed my teeth, for one big reason: the headlines announced what promised to be an exciting story about French charity workers jailed in Chad on charges of kidnapping and complicity. My interest thus aroused, I was eager, impatient even, to hear the full story and hopefully before I had to get in the shower. As I spit out the last of my mouthwash, Inskeep read the story. I won't go into too much detail, but as I recount it, I will try to use some of the terminology I heard on the radio this morning - basically, aid workers from Zoe's Ark were arrested after trying to "rescue" 100 orphans from Darfur. Chadian officials stopped them and "claimed" that the children were not orphans and that they were not even from Darfur, but from Chad. Deby, the president, is "using" this event to "portray" himself as the "savior" of these children, and the ensuing tension between Chad and France is escalating. Of course, Deby's actions, though "extreme" are not surprising, given his history: after all, he "seized" power 17 years ago and frequently displays a penchance for extremism and heady egoism.

And so on and so forth. The latter half of the story was my favorite: When interviewed, one of the children said, "They came to my father and told him that I could go to school in France...". It would seem therefore - and please, someone correct me if I'm reading too much into this - that this child is neither an orphan nor Sudanese. But that isn't all: knowing that adoption is "strictly illegal" in Muslim countries like Chad, the aid workers "went to great lengths" to ensure they could secret these children out of the country, even going so far as to "wrap bandages around their heads" so they would appear injured. That's a lot of trouble to go to for a non-orphan, is it not? And I'm not saying there is any substance to Deby's claim that they were planning to use these children as involuntary organ donors, or as victims in a pedophile ring, but isn't it right to question their motives in light of these discoveries? And isn't it remarkable how the reporters first chose to villify the president, calling him crazy and his actions unfounded and extreme, only for we the listeners to discover that the French aid workers were indeed being shady??

It is a fascinating study in international relations, at least for me, and one that I wonder if I will ever tire of. The newscasters never did admit that the aid workers were wrong; indeed, one got the sense they wished they never had to mention the fact that at least one child wasn't a Sudanese orphan at all. It was a sheepishly-delivered tidbit, swiftly and briefly transmitted over the airwaves for a split second before they went back to talking about how "unreasonable" Deby is being.

But forget the media commentators; what about the moral issues at stake in this drama? Here you have foreign expatriates who feel that it is perfectly moral to lie, break the law and rip families apart because they believe they have more to offer "the starving children of Africa". And, in terms of monetary wealth, it is oftimes the case that they do. But so what? According to the interviewed child's testimony, they approached his family, not vice versa. Which says to me that they had the distinct goal of taking as many children as possible, regardless of their familiar situation, strictly based on economic condition. Your parents are poorer than we are, ergo you don't need them. Lesson #1 for those African children: Wealth = Happiness. How noble!

It's easy to say that taking our children overseas guarantees them a better life (which it doesn't - a number of our brethren have become criminals and ended up in jail for some of the social conditions they have had to endure, without their family's support), but what about the emotional and psychological damage these young children will suffer being without their parents or other people similar to them who understand their upbringing and world view? When they miss their mother's smell and all they have within reach is a strange white person who may or may not be willing to hold them the way they need to be held, what happens then? And what is really the end result? Do they truly learn that they must "return to the land that birthed them" and "help their people" in the same way their philanthropically-inclined saviors tried to do by spiriting them away (at all costs) in the first place?

I suppose the overarching question I'm asking is: is it worth it? Too often in this world of today, people make decisions based on their own shallow interpretations or - even worse - idealistic, academic notions of how the world should work. And I emphasize should because they seemingly tend to forget that they are dealing with flesh-and-blood human beings when they act, not automatons who live by the principles of Aristotle and Maslow. Is it fair to force families apart, simply because your giant ego thinks you have the solution to all their problems? My guess would be no.

Now is when Chxta would start harping on and on about Africans' responsibility to Africa and how there is no one to blame but ourselves if white people come in and do badly what we have refused to do for ourselves for decades. He's right, but it's no excuse to ignore the transgressions of our so-called saviors when they do wrong. When we do that, they act with increased impunity and then we get this catastrophe. Stealing children and, rather than admit culpability, insult the intelligence of the people who caught them doing it...what the hell!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Nathaniel the Accountant

This defies description

Real Mccoy - Mr Frazier Video Datin

Lawd, Lawd, Lawd!

The Real McCoy

Why did nobody tell me this show ever existed??? The Real McCoy contains some of the singlehandedly most talented bunch of people I've seen on TV in a minute...and they're no longer on air! It's a West Indian British TV show that is simply remarkable. Videos coming up...

I know, I know: I should write something. But what's really worth discussing these days? The guy that assaulted me on the train last month? The never-ending rainfall that we have so badly needed this summer-fall? My continuing lack of a fulfilling job and all the money I'm spending, wining and dining people who can't do shit to get me one? I'll think of something....

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Situation in Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex

Tried to post this video, but no such luck. If you've never heard of The Onion, it's a satirical publication that has apparently branched out to video/internet media and it's frickin' hilarious! This fictitious panel discusses the situation in Nigeria...or tries to. The last thirty seconds are priceless! $50 to the person who can tell me why the moderator keeps calling our esteemed leaders Umaru Yar'Adooya and Eebrahim Babandiduh.

http://www.theonion.com/content/video/in_the_know_situation_in_nigeria

I should actually write something one of these days. I could have sworn that's what this blog was supposed to be for....

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ughhhhh...

One unexpected effect of being hung over at "work" on Thursday morning is increased efficiency. It may sound oxymoronic, but it is in fact borne of a reduced ability to multitask. In other words, since I barely have enough brainpower to focus on one thing, I might as well make my "job" the object of my concentration.

(All evidence to the contrary, seeing as I'm now on Blogger en route to Facebook, but in my opinion my anguish permits my hypocrisy.)

Thank God for ORT - yes, the very same Oral Rehydration Therapy formula that saved many a Nigerian child from death by diarrhea during the ad campaings of the late '80s. Laugh if you will - you can even deem me a locito - but the fact remains that this ORT that many effyziemongers will shun in snobbish horror is none other than the Gatorade that athletes all over have repurposed to stimulate physical prowess.

Thanks to my re-discovered, super-cheap, quick-fix hangover remedy, I will be hitting the bar again tonight. Viva the Midweek Booze Binge!

Friday: I didn't go. Couldn't be asked to sidestep my apartment in favor of a bar. These Americans want to deceive me - drinking is so very over-rated.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

How to pick up nigerian women! Toooo Funny!!

I don't know which "Nollywood great" this is, but this deserves to go down in the history books! I can't stop laughing...and what the HELL is he saying about cookies??

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Now That I'm 25...

Over the past few weeks, I've discovered that I have developed an intense hatred for a number of things that I once thought I liked (or at least, didn't dislike).

1. Fat people:
My curves and the fact that I am a direct descendant of women who balloon to Amazonian proportions in middle age have always made me slow to criticize my 'weight-challenged' brethren. Family lore has it that I got on my first (and so far, only) diet when I turned 4, in imitation of my aunts who always brought the latest fad diets to our doorstep. My sister claims that I was more successful than they were at refusing food - how it escaped my mother's attention that I wasn't eating is beyond me, but that is neither here nor there. I clearly recovered from any damage, as evidenced by pictures of my chubby limbs all over the family albums. My point is that I have always thought that I understood the plight of our overweight citizens, particularly since I believe I am just one plate of pounded yam and egusi away from needing one of those speedy scooter chairs to get around.

But since I became a rush hour commuter on the DC Metro, I have begun spending a considerable portion of my commute burning looks into the lumpy backs of the many obese people who also patronize our subways. I've been having a niggling problem with obesity in America for the past two years, mostly because it really does seem to be getting out of hand. I mean, these are not your average fatties. I'm talking about the six-year-olds who weigh two-thirds as much as I do; the people who just can't seem to tear themselves away from those gooey, greasy, cheesy Bacon Cheeseburger/Oreo/Meat-zza pizzas; the ones who habitually, easily drink at least a gallon of Diet Coke every blessed day and then are stunned to tears when they wake up one day three years later, too fat to get out of bed or even reach back and clean their fat asses after they go to toilet. These are the people with whom I must share what little space there is on the train at 7:30 every morning and 5:30 every evening. These are the people who, for a few hours each day, turn my mere worry about obesity into something infinitely uglier and more sinister.

In standing-room-only cars, I am forced to squeeze myself into crooked, tiny gaps in the crowd because a herd of fatties has taken over the train and there is nothing I can do about it. Today was an especially bitter day: in the morning, I was sandwiched directly between two enormous teenagers who kept right on speaking to each other like I wasn't standing right there between them. Now that I think about it, if you consider that all the flesh on my body did not amount to a hill of beans when compared to their combined weight, I really couldn't count for much in the grand scale of things. And so, forced to stop reading my morning paper since it was now pinched between my pressed-together arms, I spent the next ten minutes of the ride glaring at their smooth skin, shiny with the microscopic sweat beads that seem to glisten perpetually on most fat people, with such anger that I am sure my eyes evaporated some of it.

Pushed off the train by their colossal mass, I then had to jostle with yet more fat people who were struggling to get on the escalator at all cost, blocking the way of more nimble folk like myself who are eager to run and catch the last uncrowded train before all the fat people get on it and take up too much volume.

The struggle begins again when I get off "work". Evening rush hour means that the subway cars are literally packed like sardines, with bodies pressed against the doors, people struggling for air. Many times, I can't even get on the damn train because the evening herd first blocks the entry way so that people can't get around them and then, once they're on the train, they take up enough space for two average-sized people. Every time I am left on the platform because of this, I stand with flared nostrils and clenched fists, picturing the last set of double chins I saw atop rolling mounds of excessive fat and flesh and mentally rolling that enormous ass all over DC.
Whew - pardon that rant - the pain is still fresh. So yes, between the hours of 7:30 and 8:00 am and from 5:30 to 6:00pm, I have a fleeting but intense hatred for the obese people who cannot control their hand-to-mouth movements, whose obsession with food disrupts my schedule and does not permit me to relax with my free paper in the morning nor rest my weary feet at night. Most of the time, the anger dissipates as soon as I free myself from the masses and taste sweet, "fresh" air once again - so I suppose that's all right. Moving on!

(To my fat friends and relatives: I apologise if this rant hurts your feelings. I love you, I do...but lose some weight, damn it! Don't do to others what these people do to me!)

2 (finally). Watermelons:
They have no flavor and I've pretended to myself for years that I like them. But they suck eggs, especially in the States.

2b. Eggs:
Equally lacking in flavor, I have suffered through many a platter of the smelly things merely because I staunchly believed for years that they are the quintessential breakfast food. Eggs suck. Eggs can suck eggs (har har). But I do make a mean egg salad sandwich - chopped tomatoes and spring onions...mmmm....

3. Men who cry:
This was a tricky one. It took me actually seeing a man cry to make me realize that men who weep are not cool. Before this incident, I had thought men should be allowed to express themselves as emotionally as (some) women do cuz, you know, we're all equals. But I had never seen a crying man before I decided this. Now that I'm older and wiser, I must reverse my stance: gentlemen, keep those tearful emotions locked well inside. Under no circumstance should water escape from your eyes unless:

a) your parents died
b) your dog died
c) one of your limbs is being sawed off and you have to watch.

Otherwise, chillax and leave the crying to women and children! Or at least do the Denzel/Will Smith cry: silent tears that may or may not make it to streaming down your cheeks, but definitely without the blubbering and heaving shoulders unless something critical happened. Refer to the (short) list above.

4. Cleavage:
I'm tired of having big breasts. I've been tired of having big breasts since I turned 10 and could no longer run around like the little girl I was without a bra. But now I'm really tired of having big breasts. Again, the idea of plastic surgery strikes me as appealing...

Not to sound overly negative, there have been some benefits to turning 25. There's the whole car rental thing I talked about before. And of course my physical age is slowly but finally catching up to my mental age, which is a strange relief. But by far the best thing about turning 25 was the fact that a very special somebody showed me some love by giving me this:



Yes folks - I got the iPhone. I've been sitting on this information for a month! And not only did I get it for free, but I get to join the throngs of angry Apple customers who get their $100 back since Steve Jobs is a desperate idiot! Now, if only we can find a way to sue AT&T so that we can all get back on Cingular and have phones that work again. "Fewest dropped calls," my ass! "More bars in more places," nothin'! It was only a matter of time before AT&T shit on all the good work that Cingular had been doing for years.

That is all.

Oh, and

Thursday, August 30, 2007

At this moment...

Right now, I'm not at work. The sterile cardboard cubicle is not closing in on me. The steely-cold glare of the flourescent light is not a spotlight on my disappointment and failure.

Right now, I'm outside on a sunny day, enveloped in cool breezes, looking at the water.
I'm barefoot in a hammock, wrapped in my white kaftan and letting wind-borne drops of water kiss my face, my neck, my feet.
I have a pen in my hand and a small leather book pressed against my thighs, propped up by my bent knees.

I'm not here.
(There.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Allergic to Aging

With my 25th birthday looming, I've become even more introspective. I'm noticing a lot of changes in my being, physical and otherwise, and some of them are surprising, but I'm especially startled by how negatively I'm reacting to my transformation. I always thought I'd age gracefully, nonplussed about the mild lines that Time was drawing on my face, openly embracing the gray hairs huddled around my temples. Instead, I am acutely aware of every minute shift in my cellular construction. That which was comfortably transitory is now the perceived harbinger of a future, permanent ugliness that I struggle tirelessly to stave off. Now, for example, I refuse to look surprised, for fear that the wrinkles in my forehead will etch themselves in so deeply that I will look twice my age by the next day. It's a different truth I face. Now I know: I will not approach middle age with an air of confidence and pleasure in my accruing wisdom and still-youthful good looks. I will, in fact, be kicking and screaming all the way to 30 and possibly beyond. As much as I fear and loathe plastic surgery, I have caught myself on more than one occassion wondering what's so wrong with Botox....

Something else that's interesting about turning 25 is the issue of maternal instincts. Last year, I talked about my lack of said instincts and mentioned that I've never been attracted to the idea of motherhood. Loads of people have told me over the years that this is merely a phase I'll grow out of soon enough, when I reach The Age. A lot of people smugly ventured that I'd snap out of it when I turned 25. I dismissed them all, of course, but I'm starting to find that they were right, in an odd kind of way. They were right because recently I've found that I'm pretty obsessed with little people. But they were wrong because they didn't consider the fact that I am me, always have been and always will be.

Thus, my obsession hasn't taken the form that they predicted. I'm not suddenly preoccupied with loading fetus upon fetus into my uterus. On the contrary, I look upon the vermin - I mean, children - and am instantly hit with some very - what shall we call them? - strong reactions. I do, however, seek out these "bundles of joy" wherever I can, just so I can evoke those feelings and then examine them more closely.

Allow me to explain. Today, for example, I was on the Metro riding home from "work". A man walks onto the train, pushing a blond-haired toddler (boy) in one of those bizarrely huge strollers (is there really a purpose to making them that size?), the boy's equally blond big sister in tow. I was too busy daydreaming about something else to really give the boy child the attention that a true obsession warrants, but at some point during the ride, I absent-mindedly noticed him discover something mundane and look up to his father with pure glee written all over his food-stained face. Before I realized it, I was mentally insulting him. Within moments, I had declared him an idiot because he has no idea what is coming in the next months and years. He has no idea that the reckless happiness he exhibited on the train will seep out of his life, millimeter by millimeter, every day, until he becomes like the rest of us, teetering dangerously on the edge of bitterness and despondency. Soon, boredom will be his greatest enemy and closest companion. He will struggle at every other moment to find something to give his life just half the meaning he currently experiences every in his naivete. But here the fool sat, smiling because he could reach out from the tight security of his pushchair and touch the bacteria-infested metal pole in the middle of the subway car.

And so it was that, this evening, I realized that I would have no respect for my child should I deign to have one, simply because I will never accept their naivete as "cute" and "part of life". Instead, I will always wonder, casually and with a tinge of exasperation: "Why were you born so stupid and how long is it going to take you to learn a thing or two?" I'd fuck up a kid, really.

I have a revelation like this every month or so. Last month, I was trying to be a "big aunty" to my friend Chidi's daughter, who's four and can't count. She informed me of this with the same level of seriousness judges reserve for pronouncing death sentences. I dismissed her, mostly because I assume most kids don't know anything they're saying. But I should have believed her, because when I asked this girl how many teeth her baby brother has, she said, "Oh, he has PLENTY teeth - he has twelve!" Please note: the boy is a year old, and has two, maybe three teeth. And I should have believed her, because when I asked her how old she was, she said she was eight. But I really cannot fathom how a human being lives to the age of four, yet has no concept of numbers. So I wiped the incredulous look off my face, hitched up my bra and attempted to do the aunty thing: I tried to teach her how to count.

Having never spent that much time with a kid that age before, I had no concrete idea of how to go about it. I figured, you count to ten a few times, the kid should get the hang of it, eventually someone who's paid to do this will make it make more sense to them within a school setting. Still, I tried. I really did. But after the sixth round of counting, the girl was still counting like this: "1...2...[wait for me to say something, realize I'm not going to help, give it her best shot]...8...." I was pissed, man. First of all, how many times do I need to say 1-2-3 for you to get it? Second of all, what's your obsession with the number 8?? I gave up in disgust. But I was good; I didn't let her know how much of a disappointment she is. In fact, I praised her. I just said, "Good girl. Go play with your sister," and bounced on home, counting every step I took along the way. (947. Think you'll ever count that high, little girl??)

But I digress.

My obsession has definitely lifted since I have less time on my hands to indulge myself, but before I started "working", things were such that I'd wake up every morning and spend the first 4 or 5 hours of my day watching all baby-related shows on Discovery Health and TLC. I wanted to closely observe pregnant women, not because I thought they were beautiful natural creatures, but because I wanted to compare them to their "Before" pictures and rate how ugly they had become (say what you want, pregnancy ain't cute - especially not after month 6). Then I'd watch "Surviving Motherhood" so I could criticize all featured parenting methods, especially the mothers with "alternative" methods (bargaining with three-year-olds, etc.). I ended my sessions with "Bringing Home Baby", during which I would eagerly mock first-time parents to my heart's content as they struggled to adjust to their newborns, complaining about lack of sleep and how quick the younger mothers were to grow frustrated at their baby's refusal to "latch on". I especially enjoyed watching as they bargained with themselves and defended themselves against imaginary enemies ("It's something I've really struggled to accept, that I can't breastfeed, and there's no need for me to feel like a failure." Losers.). At the end of it all, I'd sit back, more convinced than ever that my life is perfect as it is and will always be perfect this way. Looking at people in that "phase" of life brings me contentment, and that feels great to me. Again, I make no apologies.

The only thing I'm going to like about being 25 is that I will finally be able to rent a car for under $100 - praise be to Allah, Buddha and Sango, no more doors are closed to me! I have been waiting for this day, when I can tell Budget and Avis to KISS MY FLAT ARSE with their no-rent policy for drivers under 25. It's kinda sad that this is all that's meaningful about this year, but...oh well. Wish me Happy Birthday on the 24th, somebody. I'll need it.

And to all the people who helped make last year's birthday the most memorable of my life, I miss you guys and wish I could re-live the whole thing. There never was anything like turning 24.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English

I'm reading Ken Saro-Wiwa's Sozaboy for the umpteenth time. I never get tired of it, and I will say over and over again how much I love this book, and not just because I love the guy who wrote it. It's hilarious. Written in the same style adopted (abused and bastardized) by Uzodinma Iweala, who wrote Beasts of No Nation...man, that book absolutely sucked eggs. I don't really apologize for saying that - all you people who gushed and gushed about it, making me spend money I could have spent on an infinitely better read, deserve 40 lashes of a nail-studded whip! Jesus, it was bad! I finished it only because I could see it was short, but it took me all day when it should have taken me hours - the added time came from minutes spent frowning, agitatedly rubbing my eyes and forehead, huffing, flinging the book across the room, stomping over to pick it back up...you get the picture. HORRIBLE BOOK!!

Anyway, indulge me - this excerpt is one of my favorite parts of Sozaboy. The character speaking is Mene, the book's narrator, a young man from Dukana (an Ogoni village) who is, at this point, trying to decide whether to join the army and fight in the Nigerian civil war, which is just beginning. Prior to the 'thick man' (who strangely reminds me of the author) preaching his insultive 'sermon' ("And salt must be inside your salt otherwise they will throw you away like mumu, foolish idiot. Amen."), there was a scarcity of salt in Dukana, which raised the price from 2p to one shilling per cup. The excerpt reads:

Then the thick man begin to walk to the pulpit. Everywhere was quiet. What is the thick man going to say? Will he speak English and use terprita [interpreter] or will he speak Kana? So I was thinking all these things when the man begin to pray. Everybody said Amen and then they sat down. Waiting. To hear. What the thick man will say. This thick man wey no dey go church. But who have come to church today.

As you know, when catechist stands up to preach in pulpit, this thing can never end. He will be shouting, abusing woman who goes to another man, he will be saying anything that comes to his head. He can amuse the people too, oh. But today, the thick man is very serious. He just take one line from the Bible. 'You people are the salt in the soup.' Salt in the soup! Have you heard anything like this before? Porson is salt in the soup? I begin to turn this thing for my mind, and after some time I begin to understand. Because if salt is not inside soup, then it cannot be soup at all. Nobody can fit to chop it. Therefore, that salt is very important to everyone. To the soup and to the people who will chop the soup too. Then the thick man asked: 'Suppose that salt no get salt inside it, what will happen?' This kain question na war oh. How can salt not get salt inside it. Ehn? How can salt not get salt inside? Will it be salt? It cannot be salt. Oh yes, it cannot be salt. That is what the man was saying. I 'gree with am. Awright, if na we be the salt, and we no get salt inside our salt wey be ourselves, can we be ourselves? Wait oh. Wait oh. Wait small. Make I no too confuse. Say this thing again, thick man. Yes. If na we be the salt, and we no get salt inside our salt wey be ourselves, can we be ourselves? Look, my friend, I no dey for all this ugbalugba case. Abi, dis man think that we are in University? Am I not common motor apprentice? How can I understand this salt and ourselves and no be salt and 'e be salt?

I love the way he forms Mene's thoughts, aptly capturing both his simple nature and the innately human complexities he carries around but cannot always explain. In this contemporary age of Nigerian Civil War revival, this is definitely a good book to read for those who want to mentally engage in that struggle, yet not be totally bogged down by the despair. And you can compare it to that infernal Beasts of No Nation and tell me who better deserves critical acclaim :-). Ken Saro-Wiwa the writer - let's not forget that aspect of the man, shall we?

Available on Amazon from $6.65 (used) and $16 (new).

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

My Firstborn Child

Here she is! My baby! Altered by the publishers, but I don't care - she's here! It's so surreal seeing my name in print, my words out there for the whole world to see...wow!!!!! You can read the article and watch the video interview from that link. Also, the original article was divided into two, with the latter half published as a separate editorial piece. I'm posting the original below, for posterity's sake. I'm so excited!!!!!!!!!

It is difficult to imagine a crime more heinous than the deadly attacks launched by the likes of terrorist organizations Hamas and al-Qaeda. Yet, despite the numerous deaths caused by the violent and often explosive tactics employed by Islamic terrorists, there are members of the Muslim world who believe a “bigger criminal” exists in Islam whose transgressions surpass even those of Osama bin Laden. The alleged offender is not an evil genius or noxious suicide bomber. She is Muslim Canadian feminist Irshad Manji, author of the highly controversial book, The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith. Her offense: spurring debate among Muslims.

Manji advocates a revival of ijtihad, Islam’s own tradition of critical thinking, debate and dissent, which she believes will open the channels of discussion and allow more modern interpretations of the Qur’an to exist in mainstream Islam. Ijtihad, the tradition that enabled over one hundred schools of thought to exist and thrive in Islam, was forcibly quashed toward the end of the 11th century for entirely political reasons. Instead, scholars – and believers – were made to accept a more rigid, conservative interpretation of the Qur’an, effectively replacing innovative thinking with imitation of medieval norms. This imitation is what characterizes Islam today. But as far as Manji is concerned, the practice of Islam need not fall under such outdated guidelines. “The Qur’an,” she says, “contains three times as many verses calling on Muslims to think and reflect and analyze than verses that tell us what is absolutely right or wrong. In other words, the Qur’an itself has all kinds of delicious ambiguities that not just permit us but actually encourage us to think and to reinterpret. [This is] a way forward, a way that allows us to be both thoughtful and faithful.”

It is a simple enough premise. For it, she has garnered a lot of support from fellow Muslims, whom she says are “desperate for honest conversations about Islam”. There have been over 200,000 downloads of the Arabic version of her book, which is available for free download on her website (www.muslim-refusenik.com), and the number is growing. Underground discussion groups in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan have sprung up that distribute the book among other reform-minded Muslims who cannot otherwise explore these ideas due to censorship and intimidation. And she receives countless emails of encouragement from young Muslims in the Middle East, such as one from a young man in Jordan who says of his discussion group, “I want to turn this underground discussion club into an above-the-ground phenomenon, because that is when the al-Qaedas and the bin Ladens of this world will know that they don’t represent me or my friends.”

“All of this really goes to show that there is a hunger – however underground, however muted it may be – a hunger for ideas about freedom of conscience, about free thinking and about reconciling that with the faith of Islam,” says Manji.

But the desire to practice an open-minded version of Islam does not come without its risks, which can be dangerous and life-threatening, even in the secular West. Young Muslims who merely express public agreement with Manji’s message can expect violent retribution in the form of stalking and even rape on American college campuses. In Germany, sexually active Muslim girls who shun a life of hypocrisy and deceit by refusing to restore their hymens surgically are threatened with death at the hands of their brothers, fathers and mothers. And in Yemen, where Manji went to film part of her new documentary Faith Without Fear, dancing women – temporarily uninhibited by their burqahs at all-women parties – firmly resisted being depicted on film as fun loving, claiming they would certainly lose their right to vote if the men in their society were to see them being human.

Manji herself has incurred the wrath of several Muslims all over the world, evoking harsh criticism, death threats and even a fatwa from Muslim leaders who have deemed her message un-Islamic and heretical.

The strength of such negative responses reflects the formidable threat that Manji and her cohorts pose to the institution of Islam, but why, one might ask, would the institution be so threatened by a woman? By fundamentalist standards, she is a nonentity by virtue of her femininity. And she is only one person, of petite stature to boot. However, though small and soft-spoken, her words are forceful; her thoughts, provocative. Manji believes that she has exposed the weaknesses inherent in a Muslim leadership which touts dogma over faith, mistakes authoritarianism for authority, and whose only concern is maintaining its monopoly on power. In calling other Muslims to think independently and find a different truth, she has unmasked the shaky foundation on which this monopoly was built, leaving the leadership no choice other than to lash out at her with a vengeful force that seems to only further reveal its insecurities.

But despite the dangers, Manji is proving that she is up to this gargantuan task of facilitating religious reform, attracting hordes of young Muslims all over the world who are anxious to practice a modern, less stifling version of Islam.

The overwhelming response to her message sparked the creation of Project Ijtihad, the world’s most inclusive network of reform-minded Muslims who work together for the ultimate goal of restoring ijtihad within Islam. Why a network of Muslims? “Because we have to show other reform-minded Muslims who are still too afraid to come out of the woodwork and speak their minds freely [that] they are not alone. That even if they speak their minds freely and are marginalized and ostracized and disowned by their families for doing so, they’ll have a new family to turn to [and] a new community to be a part of,” declares Manji. Through forums, advocacy and, very soon, a nationwide writing competition for Muslim Americans, Project Ijtihad seeks to challenge the worldview of Muslims all over and transform provocative thoughts and questions into much-needed social progress. But she warns: “[Project Ijtihad] is not about creating rebels…it’s about making sure that we distinguish between education and indoctrination. And here’s the key distinction: education unleashes the permission to use our minds. Indoctrination quashes the permission to use our minds.”

Manji is well aware of the difference between education and indoctrination, the latter being yet another tool to maintain the status quo. While growing up in Vancouver, she attended two types of schools – a regular public school and the Islamic religious school, or madrassa, which she attended every Saturday. “[Initially], I really looked forward to going to the madrassa because I loved the notion of a spiritual education,” says Manji. “What a shock to me, then, to be told: no questions allowed.” Instead, she and her fellow classmates were taught, among other things, that women cannot lead prayer and that the Jews are treacherous and untrustworthy. The prejudice behind such lessons not lost on her, Manji persisted in asking questions that challenged her madrassa teacher until she was eventually expelled. But rather than leave the faith, she decided to spend what would turn out to be the next twenty years studying Islam on her own, starting in her public library. “And I’m so glad I did, because that is when I learned that I don’t have to take a back seat to anyone in the name of God merely because I’m a [woman].” She adds, “I have great gratitude for ending up in a free part of the world where as a Muslim girl and now as a Muslim woman, I can dream big dreams and tap most of my potential.”

Her motivation stems from several sources. She believes, first and foremost, that it is her love of Islam that drives her to continue pursuing justice and equality, saying, “This religion is, at its best, too beautiful to simply let it rot in the hands of those who want to denigrate it.” And Manji also draws inspiration from her mother, a woman whose faithful devotion and exemplary strength of character have shown Manji that “even a traditional, devout Muslim can be open to challenge. Her example [has shown me] that you can be at once reverential and exercise your freedom of conscience, too.”

As a Muslim, Manji plays a pivotal role in influencing other Muslims and re-introducing them to the ancient tenet of ijtihad. To be sure, the fight for Islamic reform must be led by Muslims, but Manji also believes that there is an important place in the struggle for progressive non-Muslims as well. In her opinion, by acknowledging the moderate voices in Islam, non-Muslims can authenticate those reform-minded Muslims within their communities and accelerate social progress that may not have occurred otherwise. In so doing, issues of human rights and lack of equality will no longer be deemed internal Muslim community politics, but reframed within a universal context through which all can benefit. “That kind of partnership works for everybody,” says Manji. “Even though the fight needs to be led from within for reform of Muslims, it becomes…truly legitimate and truly universal when progressive non-Muslims get involved as well. We need them. We reform-minded Muslims need them.”

And non-Muslims need this struggle. When Muslim women hide their humanity for fear of losing meager rights, we non-Muslims fail to see their humanity also. And if we remain blind to the similarities that bind us, we leave room for autocratic forces with devious political agendas to take control of our world by force. When Muslims are repressed – mentally, sexually, spiritually – and told that the only outlet for their frustration is to mete out violence against those who disagree with the institution, we all suffer and some of us die, whether we are Muslim or not.

Manji believes that non-Muslims have a responsibility to protect and promote the notion of a secular society, “where all can practice their religion personally, profoundly and powerfully, [without imposing] it on others. That is what makes a secular society so fair, to even people of faith.” By lending a voice to Muslim reform, progressive non-Muslims underscore the importance of the individual within broader society, rather than preserving power in the hands of those who will continue to abuse it.

As for the Muslims themselves, particularly those who reside in the Middle East – the ones who seek reform but are scared of violence or of losing the tenuous victories they have already managed to gain – Manji continues to encourage them to push beyond existing barriers to self-expression.

For the women in Yemen and others like them, she has this message: “Risk losing the vote. Risk it. Because if you lose the vote over being seen as human, you can increasingly rest assured that reform-minded Muslims around the world will in fact speak up for your rights. We will…expose the injustices that are being committed in the name of Islam by those conservative Muslims who say that just because you wear a smile on your face, you cannot be trusted to elect the next government. That is so unbelievably absurd, such a slap in the proverbial face of God that Project Ijtihad will make a federal case of it.

“[This is] the universal kind of struggle that we are not going to shy away from. And of course, I’m appealing to non-Muslim progressive people to join us in that fight. Because dignity is not restricted to one group of people.”

Moin-Moin for Breakfast

I've been temping for a week now, and the only remarkable thing about it is that I manage to get any work done between all the nodding off at my keyboard. I sit at a desk for approximately eight hours during the day, entering missing data into employee records. It's all I can do sometimes not to peer over the edge of my cubicle and inform my neighbor, "I went to Yale. I can really be entrusted with more than this." But it pays, and relatively well (for senior college students), so I suppose I shouldn't complain too much or too loudly.

Waking up in the morning is very interesting. I've always been an early riser, but as it turns out, getting out of bed before 7am five days in a row is harder to do than I might have suspected. My eyes never open fully until I've plunged my head under the shower, and I've had to drop the water temperature lower and lower to achieve the desired effect. The good news is my pores have never looked better. The bad news is that I'm fucked for winter, when my basement apartment will probably have icicles hanging from the ceiling.

I'm also very unused to eating so early in the day. My stomach never accepts anything creamy or sweet before 10am so my go-to favorite, oatmeal, is out of the question, as are a number of breakfast foods. My first day of "work" last week, I gagged at the thought of making even a cold bowl of the stuff, realizing instead that I had a sharp craving for akpu and ultra-spicy vegetable soup. Perhaps I was a farmer in my former life. So I left for "work" on an empty stomach, and lived to regret it. Since then, I've forced myself to down at least a glass of OJ with whatever itty-bitty leftovers I'm eating. The other day it was a (yes, one) jerk chicken wing from Sweet Mango Cafe; some day before that, I made a bowl of oatmeal and ate three spoonfuls.

But then, on Sunday, I went to Chidi's house. She's a lady I met on the street, on my way to a piano recital. She stopped me with her three bright yellow children, one tied to her back with a bright, red wrapper, and asked me, "How do you take care of your hair?" I was rocking my 'fro, recently released from the twist extensions I had shamefully kept in for over 2 months. Chidi's children all have natural hair because their African-American father insists on it. Chidi, however, is Nigerian and has never in her life had to deal with natural hair so the kids are suffering. I imparted my wisdom, gave her my number should she have any questions and went on my merry way. Three weeks later, she calls to say that nothing is working, so I went over to her house to save the day.

What happened there is a story for another day (and indeed deserves to be told), but the relevant gist is that she was making moin-moin when I got there and gave me some to take home after I was done with the oldest girl's hair (she was an angelic four-year-old who asked me not to come back, but her hair was cute, so whatever). Chidi was a bit miffed that I wouldn't eat at the house, but I had my own hair to twist and it was already 2pm. Plus, I'd given in to my craving and made some hot egusi and pepper chicken the day before that I couldn't wait to dig into. But the next morning, her cellophane-wrapped moin-moin caught my eye when I opened the fridge, and something said, "Eat it."

So I did.

The somewhat annoying smell of sour cheese filled my apartment as I cut into my bean-cakes, but I didn't even notice. As I licked the beans and corned beef off my fork, tasting simultaneously the delectable undertones of dried shrimp and crayfish, I was in heaven. I ate a whole one without feeling even a ripple of nausea, and found that I had more than enough energy to brave the already-sweltering day (DC at 7:30am has 85% humidity and is 25 degrees Celsius), battle fellow workers in the Metro and collapse at my desk, ready to fall asleep once again. So, in the end, it is the food of our ancestors that have, once again, saved the day. None of this mede-mede for me anymore; I'm a "moin-moin for breakfast" kinda gal. Bring on the beans, bring on the eba. So my colleagues will reap the rewards (or repercussions) of my chosen diet; so what? I am hale, hearty and Nigerian and I'm representing for all the people who don't want to be forced to eat bangers, eggs and cereal just because we are forming effyzie in obodo Oyinbo!

I'm gonna have to call her up and ask her to make me some more, freezer-bound and individually wrapped for my weekday morning pleasure.

In unrelated news, I'm published! My first officially published article comes out online today on the Voices of Tomorrow website, including the filmed interview I conducted with Irshad Manji and the clip I was forced to shoot of myself introducing the interview. I'll post a link when I know for sure it's been released, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to bray about my achievement. Yeah, me! I do wish editors wouldn't change so much of the writing though - the article ceases to sound like me at certain points, but beggars can't be choosers, right? And it doesn't matter cuz...it's published!!

I should get back to "work". More later.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Has It Come to This?

Al-Qaeda meets Nigeria by way of Illinois in this story (taken from the Associated Press website).

Ok, that was a bit sensational, but only in keeping with the spirit of the article. Apparently, so long as it's a person of color handling the gun, it's tantamount to terrorism. The Arabs get some media respite...equal opportunity damning...I find it somewhat refreshing. In any case, this boy deserves some major punishment. Not just for feeling like he's Tupac up in damn Edwardsville, Illinois (for crying out loud, Tosin!), but for so foolishly imagining he could get away with it all. In 2007. I can't even believe he'd be chasing this much drama, with his Yoruba self - you won't go and read book like your mates, you're toting semi-automatic weapons and trying to emulate deranged Asian killers. So tragic...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Miscellaneous

I was at the Natural Science Center this weekend, which is a poor excuse for a scienctific study arena that's full of animals that are either bored or obsessive-compulsive - didn't see a happy creature in the bunch, not that there were many to see. Only two stand out in my memory: first, the hapless Mexican coati (such as pictured below; picture not mine) which seemed to spend most, if not all, of its waking hours pacing back and forth along a two-foot strip of packed dirt on the edge of its roomy cage. The enclosure was carpeted in lush green grass, except the strip where the animal's endless trampling had killed all sign of life. Clearly, they thought the animal would thrive in that setting, simply because it's a male and male coatis live a solitary lifestyle (according to the plaque on the miserable creature's cage). Guess they didn't figure the coati would want more than an 8x8 cell to roam around in, perhaps a female with which to have the occasional romp. Animal rights advocates: you want to do something important, work to abolish zoos. Especially zoos that think they're doing monkeys a favor by giving them trees with no leaves to live and play in. That was bullshit, and it's threatening to ruin my entire summer if I can't get the depressing image of that insane, overgrown rat-cat out of my head soon.

Second, though, are the meerkats. Without even trying, they are freaking hilarious; I was bent double, laughing. Zoology lesson: a group of meerkats is called a mob. This mob had two babies, born May 9, and they were just adorable, miniature versions of whichever ones were their parents, i.e. they could have belonged to anyone. When I first walked into the zoo, they were shy and hiding underground. When I was leaving, they had their heads out of the hole, so I stuck around to see what they would do, if anything. All they did was stand up, on their haunches, and they set me off tittering. Mostly because they were just standing there and staring at us with the same amount of interest as the gathering crowd had in them. Then their elders started coming out of the hole, and gathering around them, and they stood up as well. One of them had a big belly that also doubled as a resting pad for its upper paws. It sort of settled down around the belly, like an old man, or Obasanjo (same thing really). Seeing them all just standing/sitting and staring at us sent me into hysterics. It was an interesting mirror for we humans, I think - questions like, who is really in the cage then? came to mind. (Them, obviously, but maybe they choose not to acknowledge that.)

They still make me laugh. Note the sharp attention of the little one (standing straight) and the more laidback (nearly drunken) expression on Obasanjo-kat's face - the true mark of an experienced zoo-dwelling meerkat, with the stomach to match. One of them came to get a closer look, kinda like a customs officer: yes, how can we help you? (see below)


I was still giggling when I left the NSC.


The rest of the week is looking pretty tame, as always. With any luck, I'll be able to whip up the energy to go and see Sicko, see what all the hoop-la is about.



In other news, I'm looking for a night-time job (in addition to), though I have no idea how I'll be able to pull that off, since I kinda like to sleep at night....

Friday, July 20, 2007

What's the Proof You're Crying If No One Can See Your Tears?

I'd forgotten the benefits of a good cry. As a matter of fact, I'd told myself - again - that there weren't any. I go through bouts of this: stop crying for a few months or years, suddenly re-discover the surge of energy one gets from the release of those salty missiles, and then I overindulge until I'm sick of it. I've been doing this since 1995, after my father's execution plunged me deep into a depression that lasted two years. I went to school every day and I still got A's, but I rarely even smiled and I certainly never cried. Only Shirley held the magic that momentarily diffused the pain - she who, when I told her I was going to commit suicide, told me to "drink water." (Why that worked, I'll never understand.) For her, I smiled and even laughed, within the safety of our friendship.

Years later, I'm not so depressed anymore but I still try to stave off my tears. I see them as a sign of weakness, even when I know they're not. I hate the reflexive nature of crying, as though there could be no other go-to option.

Today, though, after a long dry spell, I let loose. There was no obvious trigger; I just felt full of something that leaked out and subsequently burst my dam. I cried in my desk chair, rolled over the short distance so I could cry on my bed. Then I got up and walked to the bathroom - avoiding the mirror so I wouldn't get embarrassed - and I cried while I showered.

It's a surreal experience, crying in the shower. Because no matter how much your body shakes, and no matter how breathless you get, you can't actually feel the tears falling down your face and for me, I found myself wondering if I was crying at all. And then, as the tears mixed with the water and cascaded down my body, I wondered if the hurting could be real when my tears were invisible. As I debated the absurdity of my thought, I forced out a fresh batch of tears and contemplated the burning sensation in my eyes.

They stopped as abruptly as they had started.
Reservoir empty, disappeared down the drain.






Note: This entry not to be confused with a display of sorrow. I wasn't crying because I'm particularly sad. I guess I was just full of something that chose to come out in tears, whatever that "something" might be. Thanks for love, though, Reader in Toronto and Chxta :-).

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Bastard!

Dear Kulu,

I am so relieved I heard from you at last.

Lilian


He's upped his game, man. Ten words (greeting and signature not included), and he's left me thoroughly confused as to what to do next. Yeah, you heard from me, but I told you to piss off, Lilian!! I thought he'd insult me, or at the very least, not write me back. That way I could dust off my hands and turn to some other inane task. But, by fully ignoring me, he has managed to rope me right back in. I might as well have sent him a check, for all the acknowledgment he's given! If this isn't a Nigerian....

But I'm a Nigerian too, and damn it, he's not going to get the best of me! Unfortunately, I don't have a few thousand dollars at stake to keep me going; I'm losing interest, man. At the same time though - and this is quite the oxymoron - I am thoroughly engaged in discovering what the hell he means by this email! "Don't do it, kulu...just leave it alone...let it be..." That's my inner voice. And I know I should listen to it, but I just...have to...say...something....

But what?

In other news, I'm having a total quarter-life crisis. I've written two articles and a short story in the past couple of months and heard zero, zip, zilch from the editors. Also, I'm still looking for work and have been on the receiving end of a whole lotta silence on that front as well. I'm no longer questioning my competence - I now fully believe that I am just taking up space on earth, space that could be much better utilized by more talented folk like Chxta and Jeremy. What to do, what to do...?

And that's the other thing: suddenly, I'm no longer sure of myself, my decisions. Constantly second-guessing everything I do, I wouldn't be surprised if I was turning my life into one steaming heap of dung just because I no longer trust my instincts. I'm starting to understand why people get married/have babies at my age: it's the only "sure thing", based on the lies we're told as children ("yes, you will live happily ever after), and you just get tired of thinking and testing and getting rejected. You latch onto the first mo-fo that shows the slightest interest and voila! you've got yourself a new life with "meaning". I'm not going down that road, so I'm stuck with my current reality, which says: I have no talent, I have no purpose, and I'm going to end up being a waitress at some sleazy diner despite my Ivy League education. Suddenly, those ads soliciting dancers ("no experience necessary", "earn $300-$500 a night") are starting to look rather attractive....

kulu on a stripper pole. Now, if that isn't a reason to off myself....

(*Chineke God of Allah, have I actually been blogging for more than a year???*)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The End?

So Lilian wrote back. She was none too pleased with my accusations, as you will see:

Dear Kulu,

What are you talking about? I was mad after reading your mail.Please understand that I hate liars and I do not lie.The bible says in Eph 4;28 ' speak evry one truth with his neighbour for we are members of the same family'

Honestly you are mistaking me for some one else.And if you make your proper investigation you will find out that you dont know what you are saying.Then will you aoplogise to me.And I hate being taken for granted.I am not married to any one not to talk of four kids.I dont even know the people you mentioned.I can send you another of my picture to actually make your verification..I dont steal not to talk of stealing people's picture.I dont border about my looks.God has made me just as the picture I sent to you.I sent you my picture and not some one else's picture.

I am not happy here.You have spoilt my mood.I challenge you to makle proper investigation of what you are saying before replying my mail.Because I want your apology when you have confirmed that you accused me innocently. I am right in tears for unneccessary,unverified accusation.You have hurt me greatly.Please investigate this.

All my love still,

Lilian

As you can see, she started calling me Kulu, which lets me further know (like there was any doubt) that I'm dealing with a Nigerian. Note the accusatory tone, the overt indignation, even the Bible verse for good measure - all telltale signs of our trademark Naija mentality.

I couldn't be arsed to respond immediately, though. I was partying in Toronto with my girls. Lilian then pulled a move that made me wonder if she isn't indeed a woman. She sent me another email:

Dear Kulu,

Why have you remained silent? Please get back to me and stop this joke.
I have told you I dont have the slightest idea of what you are saying.The places you mentioned,I have never heard of them.Such places do not exist in Ivory Coast where I am from.

Please call me on the phone immediately.You are hurting me and giving me sleepless nights.

Lilian

00225 08 56 03 92

I even started to feel bad. This guy (or girl) is good! Still, I wasn't in the mood to respond. However, today I decided I would like to try and put an end to this. Don't want to leave sh*t hanging, you know? Here's my noble effort:

Dear Lilian,

Honestly, you don't even look Ivorian. You look SO Nigerian, just like the sister of my dear friend Pius Ikwueme Pius of Ama-Arika village, and I thought you were just lying about your origin. If you are Nigerian, though, I completely understand if you'd rather not claim Nigeria. I hear there are nothing but scammers over there, trying to rob innocent people of their hard-earned money. Lazy bastards, those Nigerians are, and evil. Plain evil. Have you heard of what they do? They send unsolicited letters to absolute strangers, offering them wealth untold, and then they trick them into sending money back to Africa for numerous reasons, after which they disappear, leaving heartache and poverty in their wake. Some of them even go as far as sending photos that misrepresent them. In "small English", that means that they send pictures of other people and pretend that it's them. Man, I'm glad I've never gotten an email from any Nigerian scammer. I would be so angry if they managed to deceive me so thoroughly. I might even try to trick them back. I might pretend to be a man when I'm really a woman. I might waste their time a little bit. You know that kind of thing?

Anyway, I'm afraid I have to draw the curtain on this our budding relationship. As much as I'd love your money, I'm getting pissed off because you keep insisting that I should call you when I've told you repeatedly that I can't afford it. No plasma screen for me, I guess. Oh well!

K

If the heifer responds to this, I'm going off on her. It will be the height of insolence and absurdity, and I won't stand for it, omo Naija ti mo je! Abi does she think she is the only one that can get angry?

Monday, July 09, 2007

To Be or Not To Be...Nigerian

So, is anyone else incensed by the way the media over here keeps referring to that kidnapped girl in Nigeria as being British? Yes, I realize it's not the most pressing issue in the world, but still, I get indignant about the sloppiness, inconsistency and unprofessionalism in journalism today. A kid got kidnapped in the Niger Delta (not the first kid to get kidnapped, mind you, but the first to get a spot on BBC and CNN because she's supposedly "foreign"), and I can't get past the fact that other Nigerian children - that the first kidnapped Nigerian child was deemed unimportant by our trusty news sources because he or she wasn't white enough. Seriously??

I mean, look at these people:



Now, correct me if I am wrong, but does black plus white not equal mixed anymore? In most parts of the world, black plus white still equals black, but I guess where oil is concerned, they are willing to make a concession. And what these newspeople seem to think is important is not that children are now being used by rogues to make money, but that they would use "foreign" children to do such a thing. And so now they're reaching for little white lies in order to get their scoop - at the dismissal of other kids who, being fully black, don't matter quite as much. They get to be the footnotes in this saga.

Her mama genes strong o! But, fine, young British Margaret Hill (who has lived in Nigeria her whole short life along with her parents who have lived there for most or all of theirs, and one of whom is so Nigerian as to not be confused with anything - anything - else) is free and the expat community in Port Harcourt is breathing again. But the whole thing is leaving me with a bitter taste in my mouth, and I'm not altogether pleased.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Hanging Imbalance

I was gonna take UKNaija's advice and stop faffing around. I'd thought about it and I do have more important things to do. Plus, Patrice drawing my attention to the Ebola Monkey Man just about ruined this whole exercise for me. Here I thought I was doing something clever and somewhat unique - as it turns out, there's a whole world of people doing the exact same thing more brilliantly and humorously than I ever could! The New York Times ran a piece on it (scambaiting) the other day - quite the randomly-discovered eye opener.

Anyway, so I lost interest for a while and figured I'd just leave this business unfinished, take my mediocrity elsewhere. But tonight I decided I needed a little pick-me-up and this little email did the trick:

Lilian,

I have not been able to write you for all these days because my heart is heavy. I thought you were an angel, but now I am left singing the famous words of Toni Braxton, "how could an angel break my heart?" I looked more closely at your picture the other day, and it suddenly occurred to me that that woman could not be you, Lilian Kumasi, the woman I fell in love with. How did I know this? Because that picture is a picture of the beloved junior sister of my long lost friend, Pius Ikwueme Pius, and from what I was made to understand, she married Chimere John from Ama-Arika village and is now the proud mother of four average-looking children. Lilian, why did you steal Pius's sister's picture? Is it because you are ugly? Are you ashamed of your looks?


I thought we were going to grow old in love, but I guess I was wrong. I thought I could trust you, but now I have to question everything you say. Do you really have that money? Will you ever come to America and marry me as you promised? Now that I think about it, I'm even beginning to doubt your sincerity where that is concerned. Are you sure that you love me, Lilian? I've never even heard you say the words. Here I am, investing all this time and effort in you, and I'm not even sure that you are going to live up to your end of the bargain. Are you just going to abandon me with your husband's millions? Even though I would be able to maintain a high level of contentment for at least ten or fifteen years, I will be a broken man without your love to make me complete.

Lilian, how could you do this to me, after everything we promised each other?

Please tell me the truth. I have cried every day since I realized what's happened, and I am no longer the man I used to be.

Love always,
Your darling K

So I'm uncreative - so what? I still make me happy...
I wonder if she'll respond to this.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

He/She Wrote Back!

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Chxta!

Dear Ulutempa,

I thank you for your mail which I have received.May God bless you and keep you for me.We shall soon celebrate this as soon as the box is sent to you and I come over there so that you should invest this money for me..I thank God also who has brought us together for you to help me.I am very grateful to you for your concern about my situation.I will not let you down when I come to your country. Please call me 00225 08 56 03 92.

I want you to be honest and sincere to me in the investing of this money for I also will always be honest to you in every thingSo please always deal with me in honesty for you are my only hope now to invest this money in a good and lucrative thing as soon as the box is sent to you.

I have received the information you sent.I have already used it and introduced you to the security company.I told them that you are my late husband's foreign business partner,my guidian and the beneficiary of the box.That I am going to join you over there where you can take proper care of me.

So write to them with this information. Tell them exactly what I have said.That you are my husband's foreign business partner,my guidian and the beneficiary of the box deposited with them by my husband .That you want to withdraw the box.Tell them that you are contacting them on my awareness.That they should send the box to you. That I am coming over to join you where you can take care of me.

Please you should not mention to them that the box contains money. Because my husband deposited the box as valued royal costumes.and they do not know that it contains money.If they do it will endanger my life.So please you should not mention that the box has money in it.Just tell them it is the box of valued royal costumes deposited with them by my late husband.

This is the contact address of the security company.
You should address the mail to the director;
Engr.Jason Garus
00225 08 53 17 80
Lion Prowl Security &Diplomatic Company
lionprowlds@yahoo.co.uk

Please go ahead and contact them at once and mail me to let me know you have contacted them.
I am waiting for you urgently.I want us to finish this quickly I want to leave here and start coming to join you as soon as you have received and confirmed the box in your custody. So I want you to hasten this up so I can start coming there for you to help me and invest this money.
yours sincerely,
Lilian

Note,Please advice me on what you want to invest the money in
Please call me on my phone.You will see my picture here.



Odikwa beautiful o!

*********************************************************************

Dearest Lilian,
I must say that I am overwhelmed by your beauty. In fact, I cannot even type this letter as I keep clicking back to gaze upon your curvaceous body and luscious lips. Your skin looks as smooth as lily petals - truly the picture of magnificence. How can I even begin to thank you for finding me and writing to me? I don't even want to know how you found me. I just want to declare in all honesty - just as you have done with me - that I will stop at nothing to make sure you find your way to America, to life, to love.

As for how I plan to invest the money: I have always thought of myself as a man who could make it big in this world, given the opportunity. I have had a hard life, but still I struggle on, believing that my time to shine is coming. And, lo and behold, here you come, as an angel from above. Lilian, I believe that you are the answer to many, many years of prayer and fasting. Therefore, I will be investing your dead husband's money in myself. I have calculated that, after paying some bills, buying one or two big screen HDTVs, maybe a house, there will be more than enough money left over to invest in a mail-order business that you and I will manage together. Because, Lilian, I cannot imagine a better way to reward you for all that you have endured than to make you my wife. You don't have to answer me now; just think about it. I know that you will choose the best thing for you and, Lilian, I am the best thing for you.

I'm going to write the security company now. Wish me luck!

Yours forever,

K. Ulutempa (but you can call me K)

**********************************************

UPDATE: The "security company", after receiving my email where I "mistakenly" mentioned the fact that the box has oodles of cash, wrote me back asking for my full details. I was hoping for some backlash and am very bummed that I didn't get even a slight reprimand for being so foolish. I see the careless hand of a Nigerian written all over this. "Lilian" wrote back with this:

Dearest,

I thank you for your urgent mail.I came on computer with strong expectation of your mail.

I thank you for your efforts to get my problem solved.We shall celebrate this when it is over in a way that you will thank God for his miracles.I like the way you write.You must be very learned.Something strongly tells me that you and I are going to have life with its true colours.

What did the security company say? I thank you for you thoughtful and caring words.Dont worry every thing will be alright.

I am waiting for your call so that we can quickly finalise this.Call me.

Lilain
00225 08 56 03 92

I'm upset that "she" didn't call me K; I guess she don't love me as much as I lurves her. But no matter. Our relationship is over. I can't be with someone who doesn't understand that someone with no phone can't call until "his" bill is paid with her dead husband's supposed millions. Or maybe I can't be with someone who insists on using the word "guidian", even after I have slipped in a correction or two. But then again, maybe I can't be with someone who has obviously stolen the picture of my estranged cousin Tokunbo and is using it for dubious purposes. Gosh, there are just SO many ways to end this - any thoughts, people?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

For Love and Money

MRS.LILIAN KUMASI
RUE 26 HB5
KUMASSI RAMBLEAU
ABIDJAN,IVORY COAST
WEST AFRICA.

Dearest in heart,

I really dont mean to bother you.But it is urgent and very important at this point that I contact you.Let me quickly introduce myself.
I am princess Lilian Kumasi.The former wife to late prince Duke Kumasi .I am 26 years old and I have a daughter who is 5 years old.
My late husband was the prince of Buake,a town in Ivory Coast where I lived with him until his death in February 13th 2006.My late husband was a carefree,open-minded and considerate person which I believed contributed largely to his death.He never withheld these qualities from his subjects.The people he ruled.This is why it was easy for him to be poisoned.His death was suspected to have been carried out by one of his subjects..

My husband called me in his palace one faithful Friday afternoon.He told me of the money
( 9. 5 million us dollars) he deposited in a security company here in Abidjan.The capital city of Ivory Coast West Africa.He told me this exactly 3 months before his death.As if he knew he was going to die.He put the money in a box and deposited the box with a security company as important royal costumes.
Now after my husband's death.His kinsmen and his immediate family are after my life.They want to kill me and inherit my husband's wealth.Since I dont have a male child who will succeed my husband and ascend to the throne.

No one knows about this deposit except the personal advicer to the prince.And I suspect he has something to do with his death.He is the one that told the kinsmen.That is why they are looking for me to get this documents.

I succeeded in sneaking out of the palace at night.I abandoned every thing I labouerd for with my late husband in the palace but I took with me the documents of the money deposited with the security company

I am hiding in a local guest house here in Abidjan.I need you to help me retreive this box and receive it in your country.I want to leave here and come over to your country to begin a new life away from this wicked people that killed my husband immediately you have received the money under your custody.I want you also to help me and invest this money in a good business over there. Please contact me with my email address lilian_kumasi10@yahoo.fr.

I will give you 15% of the money for your help.

Can I rely on you to help me?

I am urgently waiting for you.

Yours sincerely,
Lilian Kumasi

**************************************************

Dear Mrs. Kumasi,

Your plight is truly frightening and touching at the same time. I cannot believe how CRUEL people can be; honestly, you are a very brave woman. I would love to help you and your daughter and the money you are offering will be thanks enough.
Just let me know what to do next. I hope we can perform this transaction speedily as I am desperately in need of some cash.

Sincerely,
K. Ulutempa

**************************************************
Dear Ulutempa, Thanks for your mail i received and your willingness to help me.May God bless you and keep you for me.I promised to love any one that helps me out of this problem and to cherish him for ever.
Please bear in mind that this box was deposited by my late husband, in favour of me and all the transaction documents relating to this transaction are here with me and since the death of my late husband i have been finding things very difficult even to eat two times in a day is very difficult for me and as am writing you this mail now,my life is in danger because those evil men that poisoned my late husband are after my life. So please i will like you to speed up very fast for them to send this box to you. I will like to come over to your country to start a new life and please kindly accept me as your sister because right now,i do not have any blood relation here in Africa. Right now,i hide in a local guest house.ELLA MARIS GUEST HOUSE for the safety of my life and please kindly call me on this number as soon as you receive my mail. the receiptionist will call me to the phone

00225 08 56 03 92.

Please kindly call me now. Once you have received my inheritance from the security company then i will come over to your country to start a better life there and invest this money with your help in any good business over there in your country.

Finally,send me your Telephone number,fax number and adress where the box will be brought to you. Also your name in which they will use to deliver the box to you. Please kindly respond to my mail and call me immediately you receive this mail for more details.

When I receive this informations I asked you to send, I will use this informations and introduce you to the security company.I will tell them that you are my late husband's foreign business partner,my guidian and the beneficiary of the box that they should send it to you. And this is also what you will tell them when I give you the contact address of the security company where the box is deposited for you to contact them.
Note,once the box is transfered and confirmed in your custody,i will come to your country to invest the money and i need you to help me and invest the money in any good business there. and please do not disappoint or betray me because this is my last hope in my life. Thanks and hope to hear from you today.

Lilian. [picture of rose]

Note.I here by send you my photo,Pls send me yourphoto.And when I give you the contact address of the security company where the box is,please dont tell them that the box contains money because my late husband deposited it as a royal valued costume and they do not know that the box contains money.Please this is for security reasons.

********************************************************
Dear Lilian,

I am sorry that I did not receive your email in time to respond yesterday. I recognize the urgency of your situation; I don't want you to suffer any more than you have already suffered. My phone has been cut off due to lack of payment, but I am trusting God that they will have mercy on me and just turn it on one of these days. When that day comes, you will be the first person I call, I swear on my honor.

In the meantime, here is my information as you requested:

Phone number: 1-703-236-9555
Fax number: 703-236-2331
Address: 1100 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22209 [actual recipient: ABC News]

I looked for your picture, but you never sent it. However, I will still send you mine. I have attached it to this email. I am already looking forward to seeing you and taking care of you and your inheritance. Your money is in good hands with me.

Already falling in love,
K. Ulutempa



He/She has not responded and probably never will. Guess he/she wasn't feeling my outfit. All I know is that I am heartbroken and I don't know when I will recover. All those millions - that was my iPhone right there.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

iCry

Why, God, can I not afford the new iPhone?

All I want is to be able to surf the net, look at pictures, listen to music and answer my phone all with a mere flick of my finger.

I've had my Motorola Razr for less than six months, but held against this phenomenal gadget, it already seems like this stupid piece of crap has caused me an entire lifetime of suffering.

Every time I see the iPhone commercials (and there are surprisingly few of them), I try to rip out whole clumps of my hair. I claw at my face and unleash guttural howls at my TV, which now suddenly seems unworthy to capture the very iPhone commercial being aired. But Steve Jobs doesn't hear my cries. Steve Jobs doesn't feel my pain, the pain of a veritable gadget junkie. I have three cameras, four mobile phones, two home phones, a digital voice recorder, a tape recorder, two laptops, two TVs and two iPods, yet none of these have what it takes to quench this yearning inside me for yet another electronic gadget - the gadget that surpasses them all.

This sucks.

It's funny - for someone so cheap and financially practical, I will spare no expense to buy electronic equipment. I'm like the man I never was.