Sunday, January 27, 2008

Romance is for the Rich

I'm in love with 2008. 2007 was full of disappointment, demands I couldn't keep up with (both self-imposed and otherwise), an ego that was cracking and bringing everything around it crashing down, too - it was a bad year. The final lowlight was the unceremonious end to an unceremonious relationship that I had spent nearly two years trying to tell myself was the best thing that had ever happened to me. Several weeks later, sparkly-eyed and energetic, I can look back on that dark, dark place and figure out exactly what I need to do to keep from going back there again. Don't get me wrong: I'm going to miss dancing to Steely Dan on his coffee table; making brown-sugar oatmeal in his kitchen wearing my fluffy pink robe and his size-14 blue sneakers because he doesn't own a pair of slippers; plotting numerous trips to Costco because he just can't get enough super-sized boxes of legal pads - I'll miss all of that. But the co-dependency and depressive cycles - those can go to hell where they belong. We (well, mostly he) spent a lot of money chasing thrills that proved empty and uninspiring in the end. Currency was to our emotional problems what Band-Aids are to exit wounds from a double-barrel shotgun. But the dollar bills kept on raining down and turning to pulp all around us, and still - it wasn't enough. What he wanted was eternal days of my undying devotion; what I needed was time to find myself, just the way (he thought) he had found himself.

But that is now the past. In 2008, I have a new love - me. This isn't your average love story: it is a whirlwind affair, to be sure, but not because I am taking me halfway across the world for a Parisian weekend in Bordeaux. Actually, for the first time in a long time, there are no maps involved. We are excited to be embarking on a new, uncharted journey alone (or together, however you choose to look at it). We have two new jobs we love in two new spheres that challenge us, and instead of over-analyzing every little step we take before we take it, we say "yes" to everything first then figure out the details later. We write more in our handmade Turkish leather book, wearing silver rings and large hoop earrings to match our wanna-be hippie spirit. We cook more couscous than rice; we eat more apples than chicken (sacre bleu!). And we're learning how to grow together, relying on our positive energy and smiling so much more every day to create a positive imbalance to the frowns and tears of yesteryear. We're very busy, but we wear our swollen, sleep-deprived eyes with pride.

I don't recall a time in my life when I have been so productive, and through my own efforts, guided by my own momentum. A more self-confident kulu never existed, that much I know. And I actually think it's making me a better person, the kind of person other people genuinely want to be around because they think I'm cool, even though I've never been and will never be the type to bounce off the walls telling giddy stories with equal parts of humor and intrigue.

I can see this reflected in the manner and eyes of my new friends, and one in particular. It's nothing serious - I wouldn't want to interrupt my private love affair with moi. But he's enjoying my company and I find myself, against all the odds, enjoying his. We watch political news and debate the pros and cons of a Clinton administration over an Obama one (the bitch is making it very hard for me to continue lending support to her cause). We talk about his nascent nonprofit organization, and he actually seeks my advice because he thinks I'm "so smart" despite my practical inexperience. We're both extremely busy - he more so than I, the poor thing - but somehow, we find the time to see each other nearly every day - whether we simply fall asleep within moments of hugging hello; or agree to meet at a cafe midway between our homes to work on proposals (me) or character education programs (him). And every day, we laugh until our ribs are sore.

Not for us the poetic, dramatic romance of Bronte and Alcott. Only rich people have the sort of time to devote whole days and hours to each other and each other alone. Me and dude, we've got bills to pay. Rather, it's a quiet sort of, casual sort of, friendly sort of "romance", fashioned around the reality of our lives, rather than the idealism of our dreams. We're broke and/or saving, so we don't go out to candlelight dinners. The one time our schedules permitted a trip to the movies, we got busted trying to sneak in on Child tickets (one full minute of embarrassment, three minutes and counting of glorious, gut-busting laughter). Now we watch one movie over a three-night span at home (where we can learn all the words to the "Saying Grace" scene in Talledega Nights in peace).

Best of all, we are ourselves. Saying, "I'm kinda comfortable on my couch right now; I'll see you tomorrow," doesn't mean "I find you boring and have decided to have a secret affair with someone else," and we're both very secure in that knowledge. There's no need to create a more plausible story or explain myself to death when the simple truth is: I really just don't feel like having a marathon phone conversation right now.

I'm...comfortable. That's the perfect word to describe this feeling. And comfort makes me smile. I'm re-discovering that other kind of wealth that accompanies happiness (pardon the cheesy expression - I'm a full-fledged, starry-eyed, bleeding-heart optimist in January 2008), which is an enormous blessing given my 2007 state of mind. As I continue on my quest for inner peace, a goal that finally seems attainable, I'll keep counting my pennies, secure in the knowledge that my pot of gold, spiritually and financially, is but a few steps away and I'll get to it when I get to it, positivity in tow.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Matter of Nigerian Sexuality

Nigerians don’t talk about sex. There are 140 million of us, so we know that we’re having it (and superfluously so), but nobody talks about it. Oh, we’ll hash out the gritty, raw details within the relative “privacy” of our neighborhoods, the juicy gossip flitting furtively from family compound to beer parlor and back. But as far as public discourse is concerned, we might as well all be eunuchs. It was clear to me from a very young age that Nigerians constitute a fairly randy population, but I’ve often wondered why we ostensibly prefer to blindfold ourselves to our own promiscuity. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” seems to be the policy generally accepted in society, at the expense of our collective health and even our culture. Gone are the days when sex and intimacy went hand in hand. Nowadays, in a land that has become increasingly commercial, sex is just another commodity to be haggled over and sold on the open market.

In recent years, I’ve heard increasing numbers of our young women refer to their sexuality as a tool with which they can “make ends meet”, as though they lack other legitimate resources to achieve these ends. Their perspective, however, reflects a large-scale transformation in the national psyche. If I remember correctly, it wasn’t too long ago that such women were aggressively eschewed and derided for utilizing their bodies in the pursuit of monetary gain. But now, things have changed. It was a gradual shift, barely perceptible to me until I realized, with mild shock, that we as a nation have embraced a casual sort of prostitution and simply called it by another name. As women, we are no longer sleeping around for money; we’re simply “making ends meet”, because that, somehow, sounds nobler than admitting the truth. What I find most shocking, however, is how the society at large has merely adjusted itself, so that it is now molded around this new mentality, rather than rejecting it with the same defiance and force with which it sets suspected thieves ablaze in the street.

I’m not arguing for the quick and fiery death of young women who don’t know what better to do with their talents. The promiscuity itself may not be inherently bad. I just want to understand what has happened to our values over the past decade or so, and why we were so willing to let them go. We certainly work very hard to create the illusion of sexual propriety; so who exactly are we trying to deceive?

If you will, picture a time in our history when female virginity was lauded as a symbol of virtuosity and purity, when the virgin represented of all that was good about womankind. Men desired her, women admired her. Her entire community respected her chastity and upheld her honor. We maintain this reverential attitude in our consciousness today, to a degree. Young women, particularly of the Christian faith, still think virgins are more virtuous than non-virgins and our young men still find at least the concept of virginity appealing. And who can blame them? Imagine being the only measure of competence, the first and perhaps sole provider of another’s intimate pleasure. And as for the virgins themselves, what a massage to the ego to be viewed as a divine beacon shining through the growing swarm of sexually active (read: tainted) youth. For both, male and female, the appeal alone would be enough to create waves of orgasmic gratification.

Nevertheless, these same young men are simultaneously turned off by the definitive inexperience of a virgin because, though “pure”, she’s boring. And, honestly, when a man can walk into the boudoir of a femme fatale, who always knows just the right buttons to push, kiss and tickle, why would he allow himself to be distracted by the divine?

It would seem therefore that those of us who still believe that female virginity and all it entails is still a central component of our culture, only say so by force of habit. Clearly, modern Nigerian life does not adhere to this principle. We say we do but few, if any, are actually interested in having relationships with virgins. It simply doesn’t matter to us anymore. On the contrary, people nowadays are all about looking and behaving sexier, in mimicry of popular Western culture, and it is this attitude that is all the rage among young women.

Today’s Nigerian women see their sex lives as being just as important to their personal development as any other component of individual growth. You’ll be hard pressed to find a woman who is naïve or inexperienced in other aspects of life, so why would she restrict herself to being sexually naïve? The freedom to choose, rather than prolonged innocence, is the key to making her sexual experiences memorable and most claim that they enjoy sex too much to ever want to be virgins again. If they could reclaim their virginity, they’d only want to lose it to someone more experienced. So sex is important, whether it occurs in a long-term monogamous relationship or during impassioned short-term couplings.

I can accept this truth, which is why, as I previously implied, I do not subscribe to the ideology that having casual sex reflects negatively on one’s character. Turning casual sex into a money-grabbing exercise, however—not so good. In economically-turbulent Nigeria, the individual’s quest for financial independence has managed to supersede the value systems which once upheld sexual integrity and which could have guided us to a natural, healthy acceptance of being a sexually active society. But our dubious actions in the naked pursuit of money have instead turned (some) Nigerian parents into pimps and reduced their children to game pieces on the giant Monopoly board that is our country.

Faced with the reality that Nigeria is now just one huge brothel, now is the time to publicly—unabashedly—address this culture of silence that enshrouds the topic of sexuality. We can no longer afford to take it for granted that our children and peers are either 1) not having sex at all or 2) being responsible when they do. Somehow, I doubt the young girl or boy who rubs on Chief’s rounded belly and recondite nether regions for a few thousand Naira is in a position to make demands about how his or her body will be used that evening. And if we don’t acknowledge that they are in Chief’s bed in the first place, then how can we even begin to protect them from the plethora of life- and lifestyle-threatening diseases out there?

Some might argue that this is a private matter for the family to deal with. I say the folks at home have failed in their duty and someone else needs to take over the discourse. The media, the government, the private sector – anybody that will facilitate an open, wide-scale debate on how we Nigerians feel, think and act when it comes to sex. Without it, we are in danger of inadvertently teaching generations of new Nigerians that the sex act is naught but a tool to be used in the acquisition of material possessions. Gone will be the reverence we should have for our most intimate selves, and we will have lost the opportunity to see our culture evolve into something more honorable than its current semblance. But the full tragedy will be the abuse we will have caused and endured, to the detriment of our complete human integrity – sexual and otherwise.

Monday, January 07, 2008

She Misses Him

She is young, in her mid-twenties. At any given moment on any given day, she is desperate for love, to feel love. But not just any kind. It is not enough to hug a friend; the kindness of a heartfelt word is incomplete. She has spent her whole life searching for something, that elusive something, that will make her feel like she's...home.

She looks to prose and poetry, to sea and sky, to birds and trees. She primps, she preens. She buys, she steals. She cries and she grins and she howls and throws things in passionate, reckless arguments with no point. No point, but a purpose: she wants to feel something. Anything. Long ago, she decided pleasant conversation was empty and boring; there is no point opening your mouth unless you have something clever, witty, incendiary to say. If you're just going to talk about the weather, you might as well be dead. Sadly, though, she already feels dead, and nothing touches her that isn't white-hot, or spicy-red, or dry and uncomfortable. Not for her the saccharine sweetness of endless "I love yous", though that is what she craves. Say "I love you" but accompany it with a blow of some kind. Draw blood, if you can - it lubricates love's true path. A sanguinary love that repels her body, but captivates her soul...

She found true love some time ago. He rode in on an unlikely vessel, but attracted her nonetheless. Possibly because she wasn't interested in what he had to offer. Not at first. But eventually, soon, she came to see him differently. His eyes weren't brown; they were blue. The hair on his chest was soft, not coarse and itchy. He loved her, unexpectedly. And she couldn't understand why. But she did know this: don't let him go. That is when she was reborn. And with her, the demon spawn. The troubled child.

The seed of Agramon is seven and has been crying for several years. She did not know love and so doesn't feel it. She knows only pain and craves it like a babe craves its mother's breast. The gentle breeze of peace stirs her. It rouses her from sleep, makes her restless. Because it threatens her, she seeks to destroy it. But she destroys me. She destroyed us.

You showed me one truth, and it was beautiful. Like the turquoise eye of the sea, it awed and frightened me at once. I would give anything to stare at it, without blinking, no trepidation, no quivering, no shame. To walk towards it, surefooted as the mountain lion, not certain but trusting that the next step would not send me hurtling miles below to my untimely death.

If I only knew how.

I would show you the world through my eyes, and seek peace by your side. I would climb to the highest heights of passion with you, and feel safe in your arms, holding your hand (whether you like to or not). I would let you discover me - leg to leg, cheek to cheek, we would walk the path of me and you, of pure and true, of brown and blue, heart to mind to you. No secrets, you would know me through and through. I think I could be happy with someone like you.

But I need more time, and you don't have it. So you've gone. And so I sit, missing you. And Agramon's child, with a smile on her face, sleeps once more.