Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

Puffy eyes this morning from fitful sleep. No power for 24 hours (the light finally came back on this morning). Thankfully it was a cool night so we did get some rest. We haven’t had water for the past two days either so it’s back to survival mode – camping in the tropics. I slowly grow a beard yet again (how can you shave when nothing comes out of the tap?)

We live in the pukka part of town (Dangote and Ovia have houses close by) where owning a house will set you back at least N70m (around £280,000) – around 25 - 30 times more than the average Nigerian will earn in a lifetime - and we don’t have the basic amenities. It’s hard to stem a tide of resentment as one begins the day tired and irritated with life, with all of yesterday’s shopping now uselessly rotten in the fridge. But resentment against whom? It’s hard to resent a facelessly dysfunctional system. Meanwhile, security guards and cooks and house helps notice little difference: their pre-modern post-modern lives are not especially encumbered with electrical requirements.

The system is in a state of accelerated entropy, the heart of darkness (Conrad turned into a bitter joke). As with Leibniz’ monad, the biggest things manifest themselves writ small. For instance, at the entrance to the Ministry, they’ve just installed a scanning device like the ones you shoelessly walk through at the airport. It beeps every time you walk through it. But there is no one there to check why it beeps, or to check the entrant for weaponry. But who cares about technology embedded in structure and process when someone gets paid, and of course someone else gets paid? Again, outside the gates, a throng of citizens with placards block entrance. Their signs read, ‘Ngozi, we want our money.’ Just another random group of unfortunates with nowhere and no one to vent their frustrations at except the underpaid security guards.

Last night, we searched for somewhere to eat (its not easy, cooking in darkness). Everywhere was closed. In Zone 4, dolled up Abuja University girls thronged the earthen track that passes for a road, selling their intimacies in return for money to pay for school fees. Others manage to permeate the security guards at the large hotels, knocking on rooms at random with a “Good evening, Uncle”. With DFID estimates that 80+% of Abuja working girls are positive, the offers are risky. Abuja: where pussy and politics collide and collude.

Why all this dysfunction, this lack of care? Who knows? The PDP is slowly eating itself, as the Atiku and Obasanjo camps lash out at each other. The police seal buildings, make arrests against the other side. The Power and Steel minister estimates that, at the current rate of investment, Nigeria should have stable power by 2050. By that time, the ice caps may have melted, many lowland land masses will be submerged and the biological experiment called conscious life may be on the verge of cancelling itself out. The insects will, of course, remain, oblivious.

No wonder there are no credible signs of extra-terrestrial life or time-travellers on geo-history tourism: consciousness (human or otherwise) suggests itself to be a self-defeating construct. By the time technology has advanced to the stage of crossing light-years of intergallactic space, the folly of conscious intention and empowered egotism will have rendered that passage impossible.


Home calling,  12:16 pm  

love this post.

I haven't had light for 2 days in Wusu and as for water, I am praying that the rain will come soon. But then, my roof is leaking.

My Nigerian boss things that all foreign volunteers are lazy and we can't deal with the reality of third world country. I feel like telling him that neither can he with his full ac car, 24/7 electricity and water supply, servants etc. I wish he will just take a long walk up the hill and never return. He knows the light situation and he hasn't once invited me to come and stay for a night with his family. Yet my Nigerian colleagues often invite each other to each other's house to fetch water, charge phones, computers etc. Amongst the volunteers we have often wonder why they haven't invited us. Doesn't matter anymore because I am leaving soon.

I have been working in Africa for the last few years and Nigeria has been the toughest place to live, if you are not a well paid Oyinbo. And there are many of us.

In any case, I will be leaving soon to return home (Germany). I wish you all the best jeremy. I'll continue to check your blog and others to get an update on Nigeria. I hope things change for the better

culturalmiscellany 12:29 pm  

I tried camping in Nigeria, its fun for a period but I wouldn't recommend it long term. I got quite good at cooking in the dark though so maybe you should replace your cook with me ;) I even managed three days without washing and still got into the Abuja Sheraton to raid the breakfast buffet, its amazing what good 'ol 'spit and polish' and a headscarf can achieve - lol.

Seriously though, I hope it improves for you as life doesn't sound too great at the moment. Its all very well living without the basics when on holiday like me but if you have to try and do a day's work under these circumstances it can't be easy.

tobs 1:20 pm  

Jeremy, I notice a change in your blogs attitude towards Nigeria. Before (you went to the UK) you were positive believing in the future of the country and the people standing behind wishing to move it forward. Now you are hard in your critics and much more down to earth. The BBC site had 7/10 'negeative' comments and now you sound like them.

Personally Nigeria for me is complex. It has agreat potential as everybody says, it is also as fcuked up as everybody else says, but sadly there are no real movements or any people diong anything major to change it as I see it. Your comment on a stable government in 2050 vs the world by then is spot on, and very funny!

St Antonym 2:22 pm  

It is important that those of us who have a voice (i.e. writers, artists) suffer these things, so that we can serve as witness for the innumerable voiceless.

Of course, it's no fun to go through it, and inevitably the no-nothings will show up on your blog to accuse you of this and that, but it's a necessary experience anyway.

The solidarity many of us share in trying to add value to Naija comes from having experienced things like this. In any case, "no water, no light" is still pretty mild compared to atrocious medical care, armed robbery or a two-hour daily commute to a menial job.

The time will come when one no longer thinks of "improving the future" and settles for what is much more possible: taking ethical action in the present (regardless of what effect it might have on the future).

St Antonym 2:26 pm  

By the way, this is well-written. I love the specificity of "Ngozi we want our money" and your slowly growing beard.

There's enough in here for a much longer article. Most harrowing of all is the image of the young women slipping into swanky hotels, in random search of "uncle."

Keep your eyes open my friend. We're counting on you to keep documenting this stuff.

Adunni 2:28 pm  

I'm sorry to say this jeremy but you need to get a "I pass my neighbour". Its the ultimate weapon against the almighty Power hoarding company or is it Please hold candle now company.

kemi,  2:31 pm  

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
And there I was thinking I must be the only person still listening to this piece.

BK,  5:05 pm  

It is actually beautifully written, albeit very depressing.

obifromsouthlondon 6:13 pm  

jezza you paint a dark picture.

hated the powercuts but it was the only time an old aunty told me stories I've never heard since. in the midst of borderline despair the magic happened. across time and space old memories were recycled.

take two and pass. life's to short.

Chxta 6:30 pm  

what a despondent post...

Ntwiga 6:34 am  

To a large extent, I have to agree with Tobs. There is a little more of the cynic showing now . . . which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Try keeping your eyes peeled for the good though, you will be surprised just how much of it there is out there.

- Steve

christabelle 9:55 am  

I felt so sad reading this post, I felt sad b/c its all the truth no matter how bitter it sounds 2 d ears, I think only God can give Nigeria what it needs now. Hm.

Hpe u dnt mind, r u Naija?

the mad one who trusts no one 11:25 am  

Tobs is extremely intelligent "...It has agreat potential as everybody says, it is also as fcuked up as everybody else says..."

He has said it all.

Jez is also very clever. This post is the same as that which got us Nigerians upset, but Jeremy has dressed it up differently and with a different hat.

Who is foooling who?

Also I like st antonyms "...and inevitably the no-nothings will show up on your blog to accuse you of this and that, but it's a necessary experience anyway..."

who is fooling who.

From the mad one!

Crazy current 12:06 pm  

The people in charge of NEPA/PHCN have long forgotten their primary purpose, which is to provide electricity for which consumers pay. If power is to be rationed or rotated, I believe it can be done sensibly, but what they are doing doesn’t make sense. Bafflingly they are getting away with it.
Here at Agbara, somebody seems to be playing with the switch, turning power off and on at intervals as frequent as six times in sixty minutes. I have heard about alternating current, but this is crazy.

TRAE 10:51 am  

haha, jezza...take two and pass. life's to short. but that's true sha. Jeremy try to get a generator and i think ther are a lot of alternatives to NITEL...at least in lagos there are. once in a while i'm at Cool Cafe...come on the guys that work there ain't that bad now.

Anonymous,  12:07 pm  

Kemi, you have come again with your arrogant and pretentious remarks. Everybody listens to Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Stop trying to feel special.

kemi,  1:59 pm  

You obviously think classical music is something elitist or special.

If I said 'I thought I was the only one still listening to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" ' you wouldn't think I was being pretentious. So why the special attention to "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" ?

You have a complex, get over it!

Besides, the meaning of my comment is clear for anyone who has half a brain i.e. those of us who like the piece are plenty even though we may not realise it.

It is a shame I have to write things explicitly for thick-skulled people like you.

Anonymous,  2:58 pm  

Ok so which movement do you like, or is it the whole thing that gives you enjoyment

kemi,  3:35 pm  

Sorry but I do not engage in long conversations with anonymous people.

It's confusing as you have no idea if you're talking to one or many people and inevitably futile.

Also, as your question is not really out of interest but to try and "test" me whether I am just being pretentious or whether I really like the piece or not.

I will not dignify such a question with any response.

Anonymous,  11:53 pm  

kemi i absolutley love u! your such an idiot. this isnt the same 'anonymous as before by the way'. Spater!

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