Friday, February 16, 2007


My poor baby had her first taste of that blatant, in-your-face, so-cold-it-left-you-shivering racism yesterday...which was ironic, since it has been ridiculously cold in our neck of the woods for a few days now (she lives in Boston). My baby is my best friend, Amaka, and she called me crying yesterday while I was trying to pay for my groceries. She told me she had been trying to dig her car out of the snow and ice for an hour, without tools, and wasn't making any headway. Her hands were cracked and bleeding, and no one was offering to help her. It was at this point that a white lady came out of her house, walked over to her car and prepared to tackle the same problem that Amaka was having. No sooner had she begun kicking away at the ice that pinned her tyres to the road than four white men pulled over and helped push her car out of the snow. My darling girl was watching all this, and patiently waiting for a chance to ask for help, though she was desperate, cold and late for work already.

After the other lady thanked her rescuers and went off on her merry way, Amaka walked up to those bastards and politely asked if they could please help her as well. It wasn't even so much that they refused to help her, it was the way in which they did it. They never even responded to her. They just entered their vehicles and drove off! I was shocked to hear it, so I can only imagine how shocked she was to experience it, and how insulted. There's a certain helplessness I associate with rejection by complete strangers that fills me with so much rage! And this girl is like my other half; it was so painful to me that I couldn't be there to help her and injure one or two people on her behalf.

What really gets to me, though, is that those people are walking around thinking of themselves as good Samaritans, when they would treat a fellow human being in obvious need with so much disregard. She had to sit in her car and wait for AAA, when there were able-bodied men around, who were clearly willing to help someone - just not her. I don't even know how to finish this, or what else to say. I'm so angry!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Photo Blurb: Blake Excellency Resort

It's hard to write about Blake Excellency Resort. I can't even think where to begin. Do I start with its name? Blake Excellency Resort: even I have to admit that it's ingenious. It's very unlike other Nigerian establishment names that are clearly just two names smooshed together into an empty moniker that sounds very much like household cleaner: Hensol, Remdan, etc., etc. Whoever named it (I like to imagine that he is a sharp-minded, money-miss-road type named Chuks, who always wears a hat and carries a very large, elaborately carved walking stick that he doesn't need) was clever enough to call his joint a resort, invoking visions of cool breezes, impeccable service, and a relaxing atmosphere. You don't get any of this at Blake Excellency Resort, but when you hear that there's an outdoor nightclub with a live band named Blake Excellency Resort, you don't ask questions. You just go. Besides, it's got the word "excellency" right there in the middle. It's risky business to assume that anything in Nigeria that claims to be excellent actually is, but still, I found myself powerfully drawn to this place with the funny name.

The first thing I noticed when I got out of SK's car at Blake's was that I was over-dressed. My friends are very aware that dressing up for any occasion tends to be difficult for me because I can't put in the "necessary" effort to look dolled-up for anyone. These days, I consider myself dressed-up when I pin up my hair and slap on some shiny lip-gloss. But because I was in Nigeria, where effyzie levels are high, I decided to don red stilettos and a wide red belt over my black T and jeans. As far as I was concerned, I'd still be underdressed by Nigerian standards, but at least I wouldn't stand out and subsequently be forced to deal with my shyness by drinking heavily all night. However, seeing the folks at Blake, I was momentarily confused as it dawned on me that this was a different kind of crowd altogether. So I compromised: I took off my red belt. I knew that this was going to be an experience, but I was in no way prepared for what I got.
Blake Resort, Blake Resort, Blake Excellency Resort. I really have no words. From the band which played Lionel Richie and Kool and the Gang songs to the dancers who did marvelous things with their jelly-like waists; from the horrible Igbo performing duo just in from some country in eastern Europe to the plastered expatriates from Italy, Brazil, England and America who could not help flailing their limbs wildly to anything the band played, particularly when they could "dance" with a Nigerian P.Y.T., I spent most of the night alternating between picking up my jaw, applauding things no one else seemed to think were remarkable, boo-ing the Igbo duo, and taking pictures. Four hours flew by and I didn't even realize until it was 3:45am and I was literally using my forefingers to prop open my eyelids.
I'm infinitely grateful to SK, Mo and RD for giving me this night. It was the first time I had fun in Abuja, and it preempted the best time I've had in Nigeria since high school. Highlights include: the band playing this song that no one except the songwriter has ever known the words to (which meant that they were all chewing their mouths for at least a minute - great fun); the Fela impersonator with the money-stuffed panties that stripped so quickly as to inspire one drunken audience member to do the same; the white Brazilian chick who gave the band dancers a run for their bootylicious ass-gyrating money; the hilarious post-show comedians who kept following the Brazilian chick around, asking her to marry them, and to "sheck her blood well" for Nigerian traces; the "after-party" which consisted of a Fuji singer praising a married man in the audience who has a reputation for only maintaining affairs with other married women in Abuja and was dancing with about three of them; the band member who politely chopped the N500 I gave him to play Osadebe's "Onuigbo" for me, despite repeated harassment from me and SK; and the very obvious homosexual behavior of many of the audience members. This isn't a judgment against them; I just found it extremely interesting that Nigerian homos now feel comfortable enough to display their "forbidden behaviors" in public. Look out for our first gay parade! I will so be there!

Some of my pictures are below. No videos, though, because the sync problem is annoying me. Have a good week!
Just one quadrant of Blake's. It extends way into the background, there's a balcony area, and the enormous courtyard outside with the suya men easily seats about a hundred people as well. The sea of cars outside the gate is unparalleled in Nigeria except in front of churches. Oh, and we sang church songs at Blake as well. I told you, the place is amazing. You must all go!

The Fela impersonator, post-strip, pre-stuffing
Being stuffed by an audience member

Talk about a moneybag

The audience member he inspired, pre-inspiration...

...and after.

You didn't see that well enough. Here's the money shot.

The comedians went on and on about his ass, too. They warned him to take it easy, "make e no come tomorrow, open front for us, de dance!"

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Street Brawl

The loud-mouthed one is Gaius. The guy in the red pants in the kabukabu driver that "bash his car". The guy in the white and blue shirt who went away briefly is the one who came with the turpentine (you can see him sort of cleaning the paint off).

Some filler info: the kabukabu driver had a passenger who faded from the scene as soon as we cleared off the road. That's who Gaius is talking about at the end. That guy he's talking to at the end is the same one from across the street that he stood yelling at after everyone had left. I'm still struck by how much time they spent "conversing" patiently, especially since dude from across the street really didn't need to stick around to be yelled at!

So sorry about the sync problem - dunno how to fix it. Hope you can enjoy it anyway.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Week 2: The Surprising Turn of Events

With my impending departure looming in the distance, I was more excited than ever about bringing this Abuja nightmare to an end. I wasn't making much headway on my research, what with people still postponing our scheduled interviews, or just not answering their phones anymore, and it was becoming more apparent that Nigeria just is not interested in writing anything down. By this, I mean that data is terribly scarce. For a federal government planning and statistics office to rely on publications from Western organizations for its data is sorry. Just plain sorry. I was missing the first two weeks of school, and I was beginning to feel that it was for nothing, when things suddenly took a surprising turn.

This was the week that I met SK and his lovely girlfriend, Mo (obviously not her real name). SK was introduced to me by a mutual friend in absentia, and he was going to help me find people who might have statistical data for me. The first time I spoke to him, I told him what I needed most, and his response was telling: "I think you'd be better off just making everything up. That's what these government people are doing anyway!" I laughed when he said it, but there was a hint of concern in my laughter as I wondered whether or not he was serious. There is a very real possibility that the government is conjuring a substantial portion of its databank, is there not? After all, these are Nigerians we're talking about. With our knack for creative story-telling and our gargantuan egos, it would not be surprising to hear that such grandiose assertions as Nigeria has the fastest-growing tourism industry in Africa are mere fabrications of an influential somebody's imagination. After all, if no one is collecting any data, how do they know? As I contemplated whether or not our federal offices were indeed collecting compilations of lies and dreams, SK and I made an appointment to meet the following day and see how much we could achieve.

This was the most productive day of my trip, and the first time I had felt happy since I arrived in the country. That morning, I interviewed Mrs. Omotayo Omotosho, first Director-General of the National Tourism Development Council, for an hour. She was a veritable mine of information. Then she dropped me off at the Planning, Research and Statistics office to supposedly pick up data. I think we all know how that went. The people there were incredibly kind and helpful but, you know, they didn't really have statistics. At any rate, I spent about an hour there as well, when SK called to let me know that he was sending a driver to come and get me. I decided to wait outside, so the driver could see me without too much trouble; I even told him that I'd be reading a book, so he'd make no mistakes. You'd think it was a gamble, but I was the only person around for miles reading anything: a book, a newspaper, a billboard. I suppose people were reading the numbers on their recharge cards before they flung them into the street, but that doesn't count. Nigerians just don't read. As I waited for the driver - I'll call him Gaius - people passed me on the sidewalk, looking quizzically at this woman in the flowing clothes and furry "caterpillars" on her head (I'd twisted my hair), standing and reading under the blazing sun. A group of men walked past me, and one of them said, "You're a girl o!" I responded angrily, "And so what?!" but he refused to answer. I'm still trying to figure out what he meant by that. I'm a girl, so I shouldn't read on the sidewalk? I'm a girl so I shouldn't be on the sidewalk? What?

Gaius pulled up eventually and we headed for the restaurant where SK was waiting to meet me. On the way, a kabukabu cut us off abruptly and subsequently scratched the car near the right headlight. Gaius seemed remarkably calm as he pulled off on the side of the road, instructing the kabukabu to do the same. I must admit that I was very surprised when the man complied. It's easy to forget that there are people in Nigeria who adhere to protocol - sometimes - especially in situations like these, where it would be so easy to speed off and never face the music for your action. Given his lack of reaction when we got hit, I assumed that Gaius was going to handle the matter quickly and efficiently so we could get where we were going. It was almost 1pm and I hadn't so much as had a drink of water all day; the restaurant was calling me. No such luck. This was definitely one of those instances where my acclimatization to the ways of oyinbo people was going to do my head in, because I had allowed myself to briefly forget that a Nigerian is a Nigerian is always a bloody Nigerian. When Gaius started shrieking and yelling like a banshee from hell, and attracting spectators and mediators from far and wide, I was taken aback. Then I realized that I had always known he was an agboro (tout), what with his red eyes, set jaw and jerrycurled hair, but had chosen to ignore all that for whatever reason. My shock, however, was quickly replaced with mischievous glee as I remembered that I had brought my camera along with me that day. I spent the next 8 minutes recording most of the fight that ensued: Gaius calling the kabukabu driver a "stupid idiot"; Gaius calling one of the spectators that questioned his driving skills "this stupid short one"; the self-named mediators asking the kabukabu driver "why don't you just beg him?"; the professional-looking passer-by that informed Gaius that "people can hear you from far." Nobody noticed the grinning chick in the back seat with the camera. It's priceless footage, I tell you.

The fight came to an end when one of the mediators quietly brought a turpentine-soaked rag and wiped off what only amounted to a paint scratch from our car. The crowd dispersed, the kabukabu driver quickly nipped back to his car and sped off...and Gaius stood on the sidewalk, yelling across the street at the spectator that had voiced the opinion that he was at fault. "Foolish man! You don't see anything that happen, you just come from across street to be talking nonsense! Stupid idiot! You are talking of my driving! Are you aware of my driving?! If I take you to my office now, na one week before they release you and na you go fix this car!" When he realized that the man wasn't paying attention and that he no longer had an audience, he bustled into the car and drove off, muttering. I could barely contain my laughter, and when I met SK, I immediately showed him my video, which turned out to be the perfect icebreaker.

That day, we didn't do anything pertaining to my thesis. Apparently, the fact that I was exposing my upper arms was a barrier to getting me into the Senate House. Instead, he took me home to meet his wifey, and I had the most entertaining conversation I'd had for days. I stayed until after dark, at which point SK took me home. That whole week, I spent almost every day with them. I met their friends, we had lunches, we chatted and laughed and...everything. It was such great fun. And they were the ones that introduced me to Blake Excellency Resort, where your average Nigerian rubs shoulders with drunk expatriates dancing like headless chickens. Blake Excellency Resort (or Blaaaaazzzeee, as the night's MC called it) smells like sex, looks like sex, is sex. And it deserves to stand alone as another post, complete with pictures.

to be continued...