Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Market women, Yaba

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John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo

We managed to find JP Clark-Bekederemo, arguably Nigeria's best-loved and most famous living poet. We met with him at the Lagos Motor Boat club for drinks. At 74, he is still going strong. He is currently working on an 8-part documentary series on the Ijaws. A strong political contestation drives him yet onwards. I'd like to have as much passion and conviction when I'm his age..

We read this poem as we travelled around Yorubaland (more poems here).


Night Rain

What time of night it is

I do not know

Except that like some fish

Doped out of the deep

I have bobbed up bellywise

From stream of sleep

And no cocks crow.

It is drumming hard here

And I suppose everywhere

Droning with insistent ardour upon

Our roof thatch and shed

And thro' sheaves slit open

To lightning and rafters

I cannot quite make out overhead

Great water drops are dribbling

Falling like orange or mango

Fruits showered forth in the wind

Or perhaps I should say so

Much like beads I could in prayer tell

Them on string as they break

In wooden bowls and earthenware

Mother is busy now deploying

About our roomlet and floor.

Although it is so dark

I know her practiced step as

She moves her bins, bags and vats

Out of the run of water

That like ants gain possession

Of the floor. Do not tremble then

But turns, brothers, turn upon your side

Of the loosening mats

To where the others lie.

We have drunk tonight of a spell

Deeper than the owl's or hat's

That wet of wings may not fly

Bedraggled up on the iroko, they stand

Emptied of hearts, and

Therefore will not stir, no, not

Even at dawn for then

They must scurry in to hide.

So let us roll over on our back

And again roll to the beat

Of drumming all over the land

And under its ample soothing hand

Joined to that of the sea

We will settle to sleep of the innocent and free.

By: J.P. Clark

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Seun


We interviewed Seun Kuti yesterday at Kalakuta Republic. Lovely guy. His album is coming out soon - funky afrobeat. He's also working on a hiphop album. A collaboration with Damien Marley is planned..

We had the pleasure of sampling the source of the fragrance as the bass thudded out of his MacBook.

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The spirit of Fela

Fela's shoes, Kalakuta Republic, Ikeja. In the basement below, the air was pungent with sensey.

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Suzanne Wenger


We went to see Suzanne Wenger at her house in Osogbo. Suzanne has, over the past 50 years, restored the Sacred Forest and preserved it against predatory proposals to build all over it. Originally from Austria (she was married to Ulli Beier), Suzanne is nearly 93 and still working as an artist. She is the iya of Osogbo, and reverred throughout Yorubaland. We spent nearly an hour with her. Her answers were simple and steeped in humility. Truly a remarkable woman.

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The Sacred Forest


There are no quick words to describe how beautiful and spiritual the Sacred Forest is. We sat on the rocks and listened to the spirits gather. Monkeys played the other side of the river, as butterflies buzzed lazily about. Sango's wife was nearby.

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Osun babalawo


The high-priest of the Sacred Forest, Osogbo. A gentle man. We went inside the temple and prayed with him.

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Iragbiji woman


She had a digital man utd pendant on. I asked her for her email address. She didn't know what that meant.

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Iragbiji drummers


The master dundun drummer is on the left. Note his colourful drum strap (a sign of his status).

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Egungun


The trip round Yorubaland was a dream. There's too much to write about. For now, some pictures. Here is the Egungun masquerade at Iragbiji. A special place, with a special spirit, in Osun State.

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Iragbiji drummer

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Iragbiji boys

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The ruins


And then we arrived at the last remaining ruins of the built fabric of the old Oyo empire itself, before Usman Dan Fodio laid waste. No one knows how old these walls are, but they could be 500 years old, if not much older.

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In the wake of the baboon

Near the cave, we came upon baboon tracks. Later, we saw a huge one bounding ahead of us at speed.

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Oyo Ile


We climbed to the top of the cave. The view was spectacular. The ancestors were present. It was as if the rocks were vibrating with spirit. No one said anything.

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Oyo Ile


Deep within the forest of the Old Oyo National Park (3 hours drive from Ilorin) lies the ruins of the Oyo empire. It is a serenely tranquil, sacred place. Here is the cave where the original settlers stayed before the town was built. Bats fluttered wildly inside as we entered. They are seldom disturbed by visitors.

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Under the rock


The Oba's Palace, Abeokuta (the town's name means 'under the rock' - Olumo Rock).

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Abeokuta boys


Near the dye pits.

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The Virgin of Flames

Book Review: The Virgin of Flames by Chris Abani.
291 pp. Penguin Books.

The writer Chris Abani has earned a well deserved reputation for telling excruciatingly sad stories mined from the desolate playgrounds of West Africa. Abani is one very unhappy thinker. Those who have read his books speak in hushed tones about becoming overwhelmed by Abani's unceasing grief about the situation that Africa finds itself. Abani's sense of unending despair swarms his stories and sometimes almost overwhelms their beauty. Joy is not a word in Abani's world view. One thing about Abani is he is consistent. His latest book, The Virgin of Flames is not going to cheer you up. You finish reading the book feeling like you just escaped a giant vat of carcinogens. One feels like taking a long shower. Really. The Virgin of Flames is a sad, sad book. Too bad. We should dare to be happy. Sometimes. Sing me a happy song, wailed the Emperor. And the bard wept.

However, I must say, after reading The Virgin of Flames that I heartily recommend it to all lovers of good literature. This book is a delightful riot of sizzling prose, robust poetry and keep-me-up-at-night issues. In this book, the reader is pleasantly confronted with a beautiful partnership between a truly professional publishing company and a gifted writer. Abani can put ideas to paper and make words jump out of a page and slap the reader awake. Abani's prose is scrumptious and pretty. And the publishing house, Penguin Group (USA) can certainly make a book sizzle with beauty and attitude. Penguin Books must take manuscripts through an exhausting and rigorous editorial process. And the results show in Abani's beautiful book. Every sentence stands like a pretty sentry daring the reader to find something wrong with it. This is a book that you would want to grace your book shelf.

You have to give credit to Abani, he experiments and he takes risks. This novel takes him out of his depths as a Nigerian writer as he seeks to establish himself as a writer who happens to be of Nigerian extraction. This time, Los Angeles is the canvas on which he paints his bold experiment. It is a successful experiment. In my humble opinion, Chris Abani is easily one of the most brilliant and visionary thinkers to come out of the troubled breasts of Africa in recent times. He has the ability to spin really fresh prose that leaves you panting for just a wee bit more. Prose is Abani's strong point and he mines it well. A deadly combination of brains and penmanship ensures that Abani will continue to profit mightily from his neuroses. And man, his neuroses are legion.

Black, the main character is biracial (the offspring of a Nigerian father and a Salvadoran mother) who is hobbled by serious sexual identity issues - he loves cross dressing and he is troubled by his attraction to other men. He leads us by the hand, through a tortured labyrinth of a troubling journey. It is a very disturbing look inside a troubled soul - narcissistic, self absorbed to the core. Thanks to Black, one never really remembers Los Angeles. Instead we descend into the valley of hell, a subculture of despair and longing inhabited by characters like Black, Pretty Girl (a transsexual former male who is a lesbian), Ray Ray (a black dwarf who is named after Raymond Chandler, a poet he quotes ad nauseam), Iggy (the landlord of the Ugly Café, a seer who has metal hooks inserted in her back with which she hangs herself from the ceiling), Bomboy, the Rwandan butcher and the list goes on and on. On one level, the characters are too self-absorbed to really care for their surrounding. The descriptions of the neighborhoods of Los Angeles is an eerie voice over - an echo that no one hears - so absorbed is the reader in the characters' narcissism and self-immolation. So the reader neither sees nor hears Los Angeles. Instead the reader sees people screaming silently into the darkness seeking to exorcise their demons. The characters' narcissism shuts out much of Los Angeles and it becomes an opaque cesspool of unending despair. Indeed one's imagination doesn't travel too far from Black's favorite haunts - his despondency reduces the landscape to the size of a postage stamp out of which oozes pure unadulterated sadness. On another level, this could be on purpose, to force the reader to reflect on the plight of those who turn on America's light in at dawn and turn them off come dusk.

Abani has produced an important work, a daring commentary on how America should define today and write living breathing history. Abani does not insert new people into America's history. He asserts correctly and astutely that this is how history should be written. Abani tell us in so many words: There are not new people, these are new attitudes. Robust, refreshing and powerful thinking. I would recommend this book to anyone who is even remotely interested in that socio-cultural phenomenon I call the movement. The exodus of people of color from familiar climes to the new world has created subcultures that have in my view not been properly studied and documented in words and in song. Certainly not by its occupants. Abani gives this study a good first try and The Virgin of Flames is an immensely readable study of the kaleidoscope that the movement has bestowed on huge swathes of America. As a painter, the main character Black uses the combination of colors as a metaphor for the new dispensation that is East Los Angeles. He paints a mural and for each section he mixes the colors with a consistency and uniqueness so that the paint could be applied in layers that never bleed or dry into each other. Just like Los Angeles.

Robust prose and a keen attention to detail combine to drag the reader from one end of Los Angeles to the other on an admittedly exhausting trip as Abani dissects the lives and dreams of the occupants of the underbelly of America's seeming successful enterprise. Nicely done. Hear him describe the run-down despair in a strip joint: "Charlie was a down-home strip bar on Manchester and Crenshaw. It wasn't seedy as much as it was run-down: the floor covered in carpet so old and worn it looked like a pattern in the floor. Walls covered in faded wood paneling. A couple of pool tables listed dangerously by the door, and it was unclear if the table legs were uneven or if the floor just sloped that way." (p 25) The first chapter is exactly one page and its design and composition are worth the price of the book. It fairly sizzles with refreshing prose like this: "World-weary tenements and houses contemplating a more decadent past, looking undecided, as if they would up and leave for a better part of the city at any moment. A human silhouette on a park bench, reading a book. Junkies hustling the afternoon." Abani has a unique way of giving life and voice to inanimate objects and the book comes alive with the electricity of his words. Inanimate objects become live characters with personality and attitude. Only Abani can see something as banal as a mop and breathe smoky spirit on it as in "a mop listed in its bucket, waiting out the day." (p 29) Nice.

This is a book of eclectic lunacy running placidly like the River that haunts Black, the main character. It is a strange book divided into five sections with intriguing titles doused in dew-wet drops of spiritual undertones: The Annunciation, the Unconsoled, Idolatry, The Anointing, Benediction... One does not know where to begin to describe the startling weirdness of this book. Let's see... images of a black man wearing racist slogans on a tee shirt: Just Hanging draped across the image of a hanged black man. The visual of The American Gothic, an exhibit of the most vilely racist and sexist slurs I have ever come across in my life weirdly displayed with soothing poetry interspaced between the words of hate (p 94). Strangely, these are jokes collected from the walls of men's rest rooms. In the words of Black, racism and sexism have retreated from the overtly public to the private but the soul of America is still deeply prejudiced and bigoted. Deep, and deeply disturbing. When Black utters this observation "Mami-Wata is an Igbo sea and river goddess" the reader's jaw drops with fascination and unbelief (p 205).

Abani's book does throw up several issues that are not new, all of them filtered through the kaleidoscope of the main character's confused sexuality and evolving sensuality. And Abani does it without any apologies to an unctuous, judgmental world. This book is not for the squeamish. Every question is asked. Traditional notions of sex, sexuality and sensuality are turned on their heads and they spin and spin and spin until the reader is giddy with shock. Abani's Los Angeles is a place that never sees relief; even paramedics don't come when they are called. Corpses are not picked up for days and sometimes the book is directionless in a truly directionless way. But again, one suspects that it is on purpose. The lush descriptions of neighborhoods, communities, and storefronts always lead to the self absorbed musings of Black, the main character - a deadly hell of unabashed narcissism. It can be annoying. One wants to feel the neighborhoods. Black never really strays too far from the comfort of his "space ship." This is an abject lesson on how fear freezes the imagination and marinates and drowns it in a vat of despair and hopelessness. But in the meaninglessness of the lives of the book's characters, there is the birth of meaning and a harvest of profound lessons for the universality of the human condition, the mysteries of the human spirit, our bodies and of the connectedness to the clan that houses us. Abani pulls this off quietly and brilliantly.

The Virgin of Flames is a veritable feast of well formed characters and exquisitely crafted dialogue. You feel like you are looking in and listening to real conversations. The result is that the book sucks the reader into the main characters' personal hell and keeps the reader there. Release is like child birth - exhilarating and exhausting. That takes skill and daring and Abani has both in copious supply. Abani writes beautifully: Any aspiring writer who truly wishes to advance his or her craft is well advised to run, not walk, to the nearest cyber-café and order a copy of The Virgin of Flames. Now that is how to write a good book.

- Ikhide R. Ikheloa

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Soyinka at Hay

Wole Soyinka was at ‘The Guardian Hay Festival’ over the week-end, drawing capacity audiences for much-appreciated sessions. The sponsoring newspaper provided valuable coverage with a profile by Maya Jaggi, entitled ‘The voice of conscience’, in today’s edition. It included the following observation: ‘While the actor’s resonant voice now seems fainter, his convictions remain just as firm’.

Jaggi summarized Soyinka’s political activities and quoted him on the vexed issue of protest marches in Nigeria: ‘The police insist they have the authority to decide who walks the streets. …. How can they decide whether I can protest against government policy or not? It's unacceptable. If they say I need a police permit, I'll tear it up.’ This reveals that he remains combative and controversial, both militant and adept at giving hostages to those who accuse him of anarchism.

On Friday, he delivered the Raymond Williams Memorial Lecture, ‘Walls of Silence’, and this was followed by a brief question and answer session chaired by Nik Gowing. Libby Brooks has summarised what Soyinka said in a précis that begins: ‘In a passionately argued and wide-ranging lecture, the Nobel laureate railed against our inability to learn from the past, and closely examined the mammoth hardships facing those who continued to challenge silence with truth.’

The Guardian’s ‘commentisfree’ site that carried this report generated an animated discussion: Soyinka’s remarks on Darfur started a ‘thread’ that quickly gathered momentum.

On the afternoon of Sunday the 27th, Soyinka was ‘in conversation’ with Alastair Niven, a session that covered both familiar and new ground. New in that in answer to questions from Niven, Soyinka spoke of the areas in which he might have made a career (architecture and music), of his adaptations of Aristophanes, and of the call he had just received from Ibadan where his brother was treating the victims of violence instigated, Soyinka asserted, by the government in power. (Still Obasanjo’s at that stage.)

The UK / Methuen edition of You Must Set Forth was in Niven’s hand and was on sale at the Festival Bookshop. It is a much bigger volume than the US Random House production: it runs to 626 pages rather than 500; it includes 34 photographs, and, hurray!, it has an index. Editorial work has been undertaken and some of the errors in the US edition have been corrected. For example MOSOP is no longer unpacked as the Movement for the Salvation of the Ogoni People. ‘Survival’ is in its rightful place. (cf Random House, 421, with Methuen 498.) Spellings of some names that I take to be slips remain.

It was names that featured in Soyinka’s ‘senior moments’ at Hay. During the Memorial Lecture, he ascribed the ‘wind of change speech’ to Edward Heath rather than Harold Macmillan. And Gowing allowed it to pass uncorrected. Such, it would seem, is the status of Nobel laureates!

Niven introduced his session with an apt reference to Soyinka’s play ‘The Swamp Dwellers’ – it was raining hard and the site was fast becoming waterlogged. He followed up by saying that in ‘signing’ his copy of You Must, Soyinka, who has known him for some time, inscribed it to ‘David Niven’. Soyinka was asked to amend this fascinating mistake. That is to say, he was asked to undertake the kind of editorial work that can reasonably be expected of a writer, Nobel prize winner or not.

In the ‘Acknowledgements’ to You Must, Soyinka refers despairingly to the possession of a ‘kaleidoscopic mental gadget that sometimes pretends to the function of memory.’ While celebrating Soyinka as ‘The voice of conscience’ and as the author of a ‘passionately argued and wide-ranging lecture’, while delighting in the narrative brio of You Must , there are moments when it is necessary to pause and ask Soyinka to give his ‘mental gadget’ a shake. It is important to sort out Harold Macmillan from Edward Heath, David Niven from Alastair Niven, and, of course, salvation from survival.


James Gibbs

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Journey to the source

Blogging will be sparse for the next few days - I'm on a journey to the heart of Yorubaland. More later..

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Looting Unlimited is back up..


With a vengeance. There's more piccies (like the one to the left - in need of a tummy-tuck perhaps?) It has to be an insider-job with photos like this.

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Daddy, Mommy, Mah, Sah...

We call our washman/ironer Baba (his real name is Emmanuel). As he's old enough to be the everyone's father, the appelation is appropriate. Calling an older guy Baba is normal in Nigeria (hence el-Presidente earns his nickname). So far, so good.

Meanwhile, Baba-the-washman calls Bibi 'Mommy'. Somewhat incestuous you might think. Bibi keeps telling him to desist, but he reverts back to type every time. Our former cook Jo used to do the same.

Mommy/Baba become markers for power-over in this culture, via a compound-based dynamic. In my experience, Nigerian organisations tend to have this compound-based power structure as a motivating principle. The result is that someone twice the age of their boss refers and defers to them as their parent: an intrinsically infantilising mechanism.

This deferential structure is a crucial aspect of the patronage system which stops any form of criticism dead in its tracks. The result is a manichean structure, where the senior figure is either a saint or a deadly enemy. Hence in the papers, we see paid-in-full articles which drool on about some banker or politician as if their faecal matter were the sweetest fragrance. The enemy aspect is reserved for prayers (although I did hear some vengeful obituaries of murdered people on the radio in Benin City once, the curses imposed for generations yet unborn).

Criticism cannot open a space when the patron is being worshipped as Baba. As soon as one criticises anything (however constructively), one is positioned as 'the enemy'. This is part of the reason turbo-charged evangelism works so well in this culture: the rhetoric of 'the enemy' and of 'dark forces' suits a patronage-based symbolical system. It conjurs up a world of angels and demons. There are no sprites of critical intent in between. I suspect it is also why some people get so heated about my blog from time to time.

The mah-sah society has its tragic-comic moments. There is an Abuja fable of a Lebanese guy who was enjoying his house help as she was backed up against a table. He asked her to turn around so they could face each other. Not fully understanding the request, she turned her head to him and said 'Sah?'

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OBJ and ATIKU clash: whose fetish is stronger?

Hilarious stuff. Thanks to PK for the link.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

To Ezra Pound

Just before we left our London life for Nigeria four years ago, my mom sent me a card, with the following poem:

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass

Since buying me my first book of poems (ee cummings) when I was about 12, I have associated the startling aptness of poetry with motherly love. We were leaving for another life. There'd be less time now, even though before there was still not enough time. There is never enough time. Time slips through our fingers, the hourglass empties all too quickly. All that remains is the grass, and the memory of the mouse.

I've been a bodily funk: automating my existence in the past few days. Until this evening, when we let Pharoah Sanders sing to the simple joy of being-there, grass blades curling underfoot, fresh moon and fresh night sky, in an eternal now, the watchful mouse nearby.

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By the Benue River, I sat down and wept

Even Governor's cry, as this article attests. What puzzles me is how a poor state like Adamawa can justify sending 5000 people to Jerusalem every year. That's a hefty transport bill. Someone should go and have a vision of Mary in Cross River State. It'll save a lot of money, reduce theologically-induced carbon footprints, generate internal tourism revenue and be just as authentic an experience as the home of all fakery, Jerusalem.

Anyone who goes to Jerusalem with a critical eye will quickly realise that all is not as it seems. There are two competing Golgothas; the place where the cross was supposed to be (in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) can only be a fake, given that the city 2000 years ago was 30 feet lower than it is today; ditto the Via Dolorosa, which is to the Truth what Disney is to Western philosophy.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Don't you prefer Japanese spam?

Who knows, its probably about penis enlargement, but it looks so cool on the page. If only all spam could be Japanese.

当サイト会員 体験談 男性21歳

 以前、同じ大学に通っている同い年のセフレが一人いました。しかしエッチの相性はいまいちで、その子に対してちょっと飽きていた時期があったんです。そんなある日雑誌でこのサイトのことを知り、興味半分でアクセスしたのがそもそもの始まりです。登録も無料であっさり完了。
本当に登録料も年会費も無いままセフレ探しが出来たのは初めてで驚きました。そのまま、”セフレ募集!出来ればすぐ会いたいな。ちなみに僕は大学生です。”とゆう感じで募集したんです。そしたらすぐ返事があり、”今日会えますか?平日昼は毎日暇してます”という内容のメールが3,4通送られてきました。彼女等は平日暇している人が多く、僕もほとんど平日の昼は暇していたので、さっそくその日、人妻の"みゆき"さん(31歳)と待ち合わせました。

彼女はホントに31歳かというくらい見た目が若い。僕は始め少し緊張していましたが、一緒に食事をしていたらすっかりリラックスしてきて、すぐに昔からの知り合いの様な雰囲気になれました。お互いセフレ希望と了解した上で会ったので、食事が済んだらすぐホテルいこうかという流れになりました。
みゆきさんは外見も若いけどエッチに対する欲望も半端じゃなかったです。だから今はもうエッチ三昧の毎日w。バイトをする暇もなく、会った時の食事とホテル代は彼女がもってくれます。やっぱり若い子より人妻の方が絶対良い!
こんな感じで何人の人妻とエッチ三昧でセフレ人生って楽勝なんですね!
本当に感謝しています! ありがとうございます!

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Liquid


The pump works well. The boy demonstrated that with just two strokes, clean cool water spurts out of the tap.

This village is lucky. There are still many parts of Nigeria where there are no hand pumps, the women having to trek to the nearest stream. Development agencies are at their best when they work on small-scale projects like this. The amounts are too small for anyone to bother with kick-backs.

Talking of water projects, there is a story development-heads like to tell about a borehole that was installed in a village in Eastern Nigeria. After the well was fitted, the women continued to walk the two hours or so to the local stream with buckets on their heads, ignoring the strange metal contraption they passed on their way out of the village. When the development agency sponsoring this went back to review the project, they found that the borehole had fallen into disrepair. After conducting some interviews, they found out that the village women were not interested in losing their daily chance to catch up on gossip and engage in small trade, outside the watching eyes of the men.

The moral of the story? No matter how small the project, development initiatives have to start with a rich empirical analysis of the rules of the game: who benefits from the current arrangement and why, and how they will be compensated by the new arrangement. A simple idea, seldom rigorously applied.

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Kano wall


Here we see good use of flying buttresses to maintain the strength of the mud wall in the same village. There are much better examples of mud walls in the North, but I could only get the people in the car I was in to stop once.

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Kano Village


Central Kano has some lovely neem-lined boulevards. The outskirts are a messy wasteland of disused railway tracks and untidy small-scale industry. But when you get out of the city and into Kano State, you pass many rural settlements where the functional beauty of mud architecture is quietly revealed.

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Dawakin Kudu

A wall near the local government secretariat of Dawakin Kudu, Kano State.

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The Hummer

There is no accident behind the Nigerian love affair for the Hummer. The air of military-level security, the chunky block form that mirrors the ugly concrete boxes most Nigerians who come by money like to house themselves in (the front grille hints at the deeply naff affection for pillars a la Southfork found throughout the land), and above all, the sheer expenditure required to carry oneself around in these monsters of the roads. Nouveau riche, nouveau depths of tastelessness, nouveau elephant's ecological footprint.

I'm sure the newly weds were thrilled to be escorted from Church in this beast. May they live happily ever after, in their maximum security compound, insulated from the wilds beyond the gates, lives draped in the aesthetic failures only an envy for all things American can provide.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Sabon Giri

I get to Sabon Giri, the foreigners quarter of Kano, by 9pm. The taxi drops me outside the Independence Hotel on Enugu Road. Across the street, a line of open air bars, with televisions turned to the customers near the shacks that store the drinks. A little further away, there is the noise of arabic-hausa pop music blaring out from behind a compound. A metal door to the compound opens and closes. To begin, I assume it is an Islamic club for youngsters, NASFAT or northern equivalent, and hold my distance. But from those entering and leaving, something tells me it is otherwise. I step forward.

Entering the compound, I find myself in a space full of men (most look like hausa guys), with women in blue lace and gele's walking langorously about. They weave between the men, stopping a while. Hands touch hands lightly. The women smoke cigarettes casually, fingers light against the rolled stick. I ask the man at the gate what is taking place here. He says it is 'hausa gramma'. It doesn't look like a language class to me, so I ask him again. 'It is hausa gramma, you know, dancing. Please, take a seat, they have only just started.'

I sit down at the back, on a bench, behind a row of men who are chatting excitedly in hausa. One of the women at the front starts dancing, facing the crowd. Her hips undulate; she does Egyptian-style movements with her hands. A man gets up and starts spraying her. Then another man gets up and starts dancing close to her, but not too close. An invisible pressure seems to stop things becoming too bodily. One of the blue-lace women strolls near me. Although dressed in Yoruba atire, she doesn't look Yoruba at all - she looks northern.

I try to understand what I see before me. The space is complex: from where I am sitting, I cannot see the full extent of the courtyard, it opens out to the left. Perhaps there are rooms leading off that are available? The evening is young: where will it end? Most of the men here are hausa, coming to stare at Yoruba-dressed women, and play the Yoruba game of spraying money. It is as if the Yoruba woman has become the totem for a repressed sexuality, and Yoruba owambe behaviour the code for entering the world of desire. Dressed in lace and gele, she becomes the figure of the courtesan; just out of reach, yet just within reach, the elegantly folded geisha of West Africa.

Sabon Giri is home to a million people. There is no electricity at night. The quarter is pure shadow, lit by the thousands of flickering kerosene lamps of the street sellers. The roads are craterous. People from place to place on achamba (motorbike taxi). Women walk around with bare arms and in jeans - something you don't see in central Kano at all. Sabon Giri is the unrepressed shadow within the Shariah State of Kano: all Muslim cultures have such a space. It is the space where desire is let loose. It is where Nigeria mixes itself up and spits itself out in a variety of transgressions.

I leave the courtyard, and take a seat at one of the open air bars. Prostitutes lurk in the shadows; men come to talk to them, the usual arrangements are made. After my beer, I go to talk to one of them. She says she is from Port Harcourt and is renting a room in a nearby hotel. I ask her how much for the night. She says the whole night is not possible, it can only be for a short while. I ask how much for a short while. She looks at me, then looks at her friend, her mind testing the limits of retail price inflation. After ten seconds, she blurts out four thousand naira (around sixteen UK pounds or 30 dollars). I walk away to find a taxi and my hotel, alone.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

It's not about Wolfowitz

It's not about the fact that he pushed the US (and by default) the UK into a badly planned invastion into Iraq

It's not about the fact that he bulldozed through special treatment for his girlfriend at the Bank, when said institution is trying to get tough on corruption around the world

It's not about the fact that he swore and cussed his way in office

It's not about his odious habits with a comb

What it is about is the fact that the World Bank, which is tasked with development interventions around the developing world in the name of good governance and democracy, has its President chosen by the American Government.

Much more than one individual clinging on despite disgrace, the World Bank needs radical reform (as does the IMF, the WTO and the Security Council). In an interdependent, globalised world, with strong forces pushing open political frameworks, it makes no sense for these global institutions to act as closed shops, at the top, bottom or middle.

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Abuja or Glasgow?

Nicky Campbell in today's Guardian makes a reasoned argument for Glasgow being the only choice for the 2014 Commonwealth Games:

'Article 2 of the Commonwealth Games Federation constitution, which earnestly promotes "gender equality and tolerance"; or Article 7, which says "there shall be no discrimination against any country or person on any grounds whatsoever including race, colour, gender, religion or politics".'

He continues,

'Nigeria's criminal code states that anyone who has "carnal knowledge of any person against order of nature or permits a male to have carnal knowledge of him" is liable to 14 years in prison. Currently going through parliament is the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, which slaps a five-year sentence on anyone who "performs, witnesses, aids or abets the ceremony of same sex marriage" and also on anyone involved "publicly or privately in positive representation of or for same sex relationships".'

He finishes thus, 'The games belong to Glasgow. Can I be the first to congratulate them?'

Just imagine that Abuja did win, that the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act was passed, and that openly gay athletes came to Nigeria to compete. All the hypocrites would come crawling out of the woodwork, and we'd have a Miss-World-in-Nigeria MkII scenario. Oh dear.

Click here to read the article. Thanks NI for the link.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Dangote in Lokoja

I found out recently that the new Dangote Cement works near Lokoja (apparently the second biggest in the world) employees around 1000 Indian staff (300 white collar, 700 blue collar). Isn't this a little problematic in a country with unemployment and poverty statistics so high? Will similar statistics occur for all the other infrastructure projects ahead?

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Ugghh

As an antidote to those repulsed by my sudden lapse into vanity, here is adolescence at its worst. The excruciating hair, the skin like the surface of a malcontent planet, the sunglasses that don't work.

Would you want to be a parent of this?

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More pics

Ok this headlong trip into nostalgia and narcissism will soon stop, I promise. This is Weetabix at 17. I was going for that sulky-male-model look. I kinda overdid it, abi?

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Bukka event this Sunday


The Bukka Posse are holding a fascinating event this Saturday:

"Bukka will deliver a talk on the effects of the abolition of slave trade on the urban formation of Lagos. At the October Gallery in London on 19 May 2007, 3pm to 6pm.The talk will be by Kaye Whiteman and Giles Omezi."

Click here for more. Now if Bukka could develop an in-country chapter - well that would be something to cherish. Keep the energy flowing, Giles..

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Abuja Mass Transit

For an update on the metro system being planned and built in Abuja, click here. [warning: Business Day's journalism is C-, compared to This Day's consistent E/F rating].

I'm not sure about having a diesel-based train system. A light-rail system would surely have been better (quicker to build, easier to maintain etc.) But then again, how would the electricity problem have been solved, short of building a dedicated power station?

Slowly but surely, Abuja is going to be one of the best cities to visit north of South Africa..

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To Kano

On an assignment. We land at Aminu Kanu airport just as the lights go out. It is dark by the time we land, and almost cool. Two large jumbo jets stand on the runway, with Kabo in big letters on the side. Inside the terminal, the heat lies trapped. There are hundreds of people milling about in the stifled room, men in robes or bariga, women shrouded in cloth; many are pushing trollies piled high with what look like sacks of rice. Even so, there is little noise (Northerners lack the penchant for chaos often displayed by the Southern compatriots). The plane from Saudi landed just before us. There is no one stopping our way on our passage through the terminal.

My colleague tells me the power often cuts at the airport. A few weeks ago, he was in a plane that was just about to land when the runway lights blacked out. The plane had to go into a holding pattern for 20 minutes until someone thought to turn the generator on. This is Nigeria, after all. Where darkness can confuse the westerner in a city at night and send their human compass spinning, here, it makes no difference. Everyone knows the way, every pot hole, every kink in the road.

I spend the day with senior civil servants of the State Government. Here in Kano, the top functionaries are urbane, worldly and quicksilver clever. I discuss the Blair-Brown transition with one. His knowledge of British politics is impressive. He smokes continuously, his voice an oaky baritone with a hint of husk. English Al-Jazeera is on the tv in the corner.

The government secretariat is a fascinating catacomb of 1970's concete modernism: interlocking courtyards, with honeycomb-effect brise-soleil on wall ends - an effective natural ventilation system. There are mango trees ripe with fruit in many of the courtyards. A man with a pole and a hook goes round, pulling down the ripest fruit for the staff. The complex needs only a coat of paint to bring back the heady days of post-Independence West Africa. Someone tells me they used to paint all the buildings in Kano every year. Perhaps it is time they picked up the practice again.

After my work, I go to my favourite restaurant in the city, Spice Foods, run by a young Pakistani man called Siddiqi. He's lived in Nigeria all his life, speaks fluent Hausa etc. But most striking about Siddiqi is his passion for food. He always sits with me as I eat, and we talk about cooking and restaurant experiences. I love watching his face animate when it comes to describing culinary technique. There is a fiery spirit inside him, he likes to swear (in an expletive-starved environment like Nigeria, I'm drawn to those who resort to Saxony with their tongue). He's planning to open up in Abuja, and give Wakkis, Sitar and Thai Chi a run for the money. He will do well, i'shallah.

I have just finished eating a huge mango in the bathroom of my hotel room. The mango was the biggest I've ever eaten. It was the size of an ostrich egg. After washing it well, I ate it raw, prizing the flesh open with my teeth. The taste was bittersweet: mango meets tamarind. The pith was succulent and fleshy, with nearly two inches of fruit around the stone. I let the juice smack across my cheeks and dribble down into the bathtub. Eros was mine. Mangos are as nice as breasts to suck and chew.

Thanks to Tahir Hotel - the best hotel in Kano - for the fast and free wifi that allows me to write this. Their hummous is also boss.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Car crash

I did this to my Dad's company car when I was 18. It was late, I had just finished my shift at the pub, and was focusing on eating a donor kebab more than the wet road. The car hit the bank at the side of the country road, then flipped onto the roof, before hitting a tree at around 70mph. I didn't have my seat belt on, and fortunately was rolled by the g-force into the back seat of the car. Had I had my seat belt on, I would have been pulped.

No wonder I think about death a lot..

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Even more of a fashion victim


Step back to 1984. Here I am while on my French exchange in Liege with a 'flattop' hairstyle ('twas all the rage, honest). I was into the psychobilly look at the time. I listened to King Kurt and Spear of Destiny. A few days after this photo was taken, I tried to shave my hair off completely with a razor. I leant back on the sink in my French Exchange parents' bathroom, only for the thing to collapse into rubble and powder on the floor. Oh dear.

My exchange, Franck and I used to watch soft porn at 8.30pm every evening with his father. The French are like that.

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Highlights


Here I am in a garden somewhere. I must have been 16 or maybe 17. The 1980s had me in its thrall.

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The Big Wednesday


I scanned a load of photos of my former lives when I was back home recently. Here's one from when I was a member of The Big Wednesday. I was 18, it was 1987. We were inspired by Everything But The Girl, and spun a nice line in smooth souly-folky-jazz. See me wearing my made-to-measure double-breasted suit from Next. Immediately behind me is Dave Powell, the 'face of Stafford' (how provincial that sounds nowadays). Behind him is my long-lost friend Lee.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

To the British Council

To take part in a live debate on the BBC World Service (World Have Your Say). The President elect was due to grace the event, but he couldn't make it. The Chairman of the PDP was there instead. There were two shows, one after the other, for different parts of the world. The audience was one part sycophantic and nine parts critical. A revealing moment came when the compere asked who voted. Eight hands out of approximately forty went up. In the second session, someone from Germany called up and asked about homosexuality in Nigeria. As one, a homophobic chorus rose up, with the usual diatribes about it 'not being our culture' and then reflexing to talking about HIV. It never ceases to astonish me that people here associate HIV with homosexuality, when the reality is that most transmission takes place in heterosexual relationships (wife trusting husband so no-condom, husband straying elsewhere without condom. QED)

It is always disappointing to be close to such medieval views. But to be surrounded in the flesh by snarling visceral hatred was toxic, to say the least. I managed to sneak in a comment about centuries of pre-colonial homosexuality, as witnessed by the yan dauda. To which someone replied that they have always been segregated. A little later, when someone mentioned that Nigerians are the happiest people on the planet, another member of the audience mentioned that 'even Fela had a song called Shuffering and Shmiling'. I couldn't help but let her know off mic that actually, the one who carried death in his pouch was being ironique.

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Nigerian names

The way things get names in Nigeria is a constant source of amusement/puzzlement. People can call their children Napoleon, Wethankgod, Prosperity, Scholastica or Godspower. The same goes for schools. Here are some sample school names:

Holy Ghost Juniorate
Greater Tomorrow Secondary School
Hope High International School
Mictec International High School
New Horizons College
Oyewole Twins International Secondary School
Paragon International Group of Schools
Infant Jesus Academy
Isolog College
Lifeforte International High School
Nickdel College
Funtaj International School
Christ Ambassadors International College
D-Ivy College

Shouldn't they put 'League' at the end of the last one?

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Kosibah Creations


High summer is on its way. Time to stock up on the Pimms and strawbs. You might as well get married as well. Perhaps you should seek assistance from London-based Yemi Osunkoya, of Kosibah Creations, for your dress. Doesn't she look lovely?

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Two forms of intent, South Bank..

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Chasing a bubble, South Bank..

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Bubbles over Camden..

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Naija Bloggers meeting in Lagos

Toks-boy and I are organising a gathering of Nigerian bloggers in Lagos (venue/date tba).

All Naija bloggers (bloggers in Nigeria, Nigerian or otherwise) are invited to the first ever meeting of bloggers in Nigeria. This event will allow you to meet other bloggers, talk about your blog (if you wish), read some of your pieces (if you wish), or learn what the blogging craze is all about (there will be free tuition provided on setting up your blog).

Special guests - announced shortly.

Anonymity will be provided for those who wish to remain so. Those who wish to particpate vitually (via IM or webcam), please let us know.

Soft drinks and nibbles provided.

If you want to come, please email: jeremy@bakareweate.com (if you are an anonymous blogger, we will not reveal your identity)

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Opposite House


Helen 'Icarus Girl' Oyeyemi's latest novel came out in the UK this week. Click here to read Kamila Shamsie's review in The Guardian.

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The Cloud Appreciation Society


In searching for pictures of Chesil Beach (the title of Ian McEwan's latest novella as well as an interesting geological formation) I came across this lovely club - the Cloud Appreciation Society. There are some strikingly beautiful cloud images on the site (such as this one, taken in the Sierra Nevada in the US) as well as some funny cloud-a-likes. Why not look to the sky, and appreciate your local clouds today?

Click here to read the manifesto.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Kongi in Bristol

A review of an event in Bristol earlier this week by JG:

Bristol Festival of Ideas advertised that Wole Soyinka would be part of their programme and that he would be at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum from 12.30-2.00, on Wednesday 9th May 2007. On-line information linked the visit with You Must Set Forth at Dawn, described as ‘an intimate chronicle of his thrilling public life, a meditation on justice and tyranny, and a testament to a ravaged yet hopeful land.’

Tickets were on sale at £6.00 (concessions £4.00) and the venue was the Board Room. (The Museum has a ‘Board Room’ that usually seats about 45/ 50 and a terminus space that can accommodate ‘thousands’.)

At 12.30, the room was packed – more than 50. The minutes ticked away, and though there was some coming and going, there was no sign of Soyinka. At about five to one, Gareth Griffiths, Director of the Museum announced with evident relief that Soyinka was in the building and that the event would start shortly. The copies of You Must Set Forth at Dawn were, we were told, en route.

Chair for the session, Andrew Kelly, Director of ‘Bristol Cultural Development’, took charge and, at about one o’clock, welcomed and introduced Soyinka. Soyinka then made a few preliminary remarks – along the lines that since he was in a museum he thought it would be appropriate to read a passage from his new book that related to a museum artefact. While saying this, he sorted out the papers he had brought in and that were clearly out of sequence. At this point a mobile phone rang. It turned out to be Soyinka’s. He dealt with it rather inexpertly, indicating that it was a new one, and eventually passed it nonchalantly to someone in the front row to cope with. He gave instructions to throw it out of the window if lights came on. From the middle of the room, one wondered if the enfant terrible was slipping, at 73, into a grand-fatherly role.

Soyinka then read, from You Must, an edited account of his visit to Brazil in search of a stolen and lost Ife bronze head, the Ori Olokun. He cut the section of the narrative that included the visit to Dakar, and rounded off with his encounter with the head in the Burlington ‘outpost of the British Museum’. Fierce editing compressed the account into about 35 minutes reading time and left some not only amused but also bemused.

When the reading ended, Andrew Kelly skipped the planned session during which he would be ‘in conversation’ with Soyinka so as to have more time for questions. The following gives, I hope, a flavour of the exchanges that then took place between Soyinka and the Bristol public. Communication, it should be said, was not always perfect, and, since some of the questions had to be repeated by the chair for Soyinka’s benefit, one must entertain the possibility that the Nobel laureate’s hearing is not as acute as it once was. The following were among the questions asked: Are you in touch with Niyi Osundare and Ken Wiwa? Ans: Yes. I went to Osundare’s 60th birthday recently and was with Ken Wiwa in New Zealand (in 1995). (All questions and answers are abbreviated and reproduced from rough notes. No claims are made for verbatim accuracy. I hope I got the gist right.) Should there be an apology for the slave trade? Not if it is an empty gesture but if there are vestiges of the after effects of the slave trade then it may be appropriate for certain office holders to apologise. Is humour necessary? Yes, without it you’d commit suicide. How should those of African descent relate to Africanist heritage? It will be felt; it is part of the shaping of personality. What about sustainable development and reparations? This was a poorly-framed question that elicited from Soyinka an answer that included the statement that he was, I think I got this down accurately, ‘Not excited by the way (reparations) are being handled.’ He asked a question of his own: Who would you give the money to? And recalled his proposal to the World Bank when he put forward the following formula: You drop the debts and we’ll stop making you feel guilty about the slave trade. How do you make your prose so rhythmical? I test it on the ear. What do you think about this ‘memorial’ to what the British did in Nigeria and elsewhere? (This was clarified as a question about the BECM – though the curator(s) would have been horrified to hear it described as a ‘memorial’.) Soyinka answered by listing British cities with imperial links in which similar museums might have been sited. The last question was: What inspired you to start writing? In his reply Soyinka spoke of the precocious pleasure he had taken in retelling stories, recounting episodes, fabricating. He introduced the word ‘liar’ into the recollection.

There had, during the 20 minute Q and A session, been one questioner who addressed the Chair. Kelly was asked why the event was so low key? Why hadn’t it been better advertised and why hadn’t it been held in a larger venue? Kelly encouraged the questioner to take up the issue with him later, but did indicate that the lunchtime slot had been at Soyinka’s request.

The minutes had ticked away and the two o’clock deadline had arrived. The audience was informed that the copies of You Must were still on the way. Soyinka expressed relief when he heard this since, as he said, it saved having to sign copies. He did not escape that task entirely since there were some of his publications that could be purchased and pushed towards him.

The short-changed public were not offered an explanation or apology for the late start, but from answer to direct questions to Museum staff it emerged that Soyinka had actually been in the vicinity of the Museum for some time before he was ushered in to the Board Room. The somewhat frazzled Museum staff did not know this, and kept meeting trains at nearby Temple Meads station. When asked ‘Didn't you have his mobile number?’ The answer came: ‘Yes, but only a Nigerian number!’

It seems, incredibly, that ‘Soyinka’s publisher’, who had actually been with the Museum staff earlier in the day and should have known the start time of the event, had gone with him ‘across the road’ for lunch! It was only by chance that someone had seen them eating and mentioned this to the Museum staff.

When You Must Set Forth becomes available it will be interesting to see whether there has been any editorial work carried out on the Random House, New York, 2006 edition. Despite acknowledging a ‘relay of editors’ and several data checkers, that edition contained errors in spelling names and in explaining the acronym MOSOP. On other questions of accuracy, I wonder whether there will have been any revision of controversial renditions of episodes. It will, once again, be fascinating to compare relevant sections of Soyinka’s book with, for example, Melvin J. Laski’s version of ‘The “Snake” in the Road Episode’, and Justice Eso’s report of ‘The Trial’ following the radio station hold-up. When all that has been sifted, one will know whether the book is best described as a chronicle of, meditation on, testament to or fabrication, or ‘all of the above’.

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Flipside

The flipside of Nigerians having their unique pronunciation of Grove is the widespread utter inability of British people to pronounce Nigerian names. Its something I can't fathom. Most British people will say o-ba-SAN-jo rather than o-BA-san-jo. This error doesn't just come from the understandable perspective of oyinbo who don't live in Nigeria and are just for whatever reason making reference to some aspect of the country. Expats here in Nigeria will say o-ba-SAN-jo. It just makes me think of lobster-pink flesh and handkerchiefs knotted on the head and Ambre Solaire factor 1 and a bit of Stanstead Airport and the pier at Southend-on-Sea with the smell of lard-fried chips. Ode.

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This year's Egungun festival

``Oke ni Gbegbe
Oke ni Gbegbe
Iwo la fi se
Iwo la fi sagba Oje
Iwo la fi se``


The Egungun masquerade takes place at Iragbiji (Osun State) at the end of this month. Wikipedia tells me the town was founded by a hunter chasing a wild animal. When he finally caught and killed the animal, he sat down under a shady tree, and others joined him. Iragbiji means 'the town under a shady tree.'

The grand-finale, where Egungun performs at the Oba's market square (and is witnessed by thousands of viewers), takes place on May 29th. Click here for much more info on Egungun (courtesy of the Obatala Centre for Creative Arts). Its a good opportunity to hear Bata drumming (Sango's drums of thunder and lightening) in full effect. If you want to go, email pvrainey@nigeriamems.com with your phone number. They will help sort out reasonable and comfortable accommodation during your stay in Iragbiji.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

You say Goggle, I say Google

Someone called me yesterday asking for the number for Bonsai Japanese restaurant in Lagos. I think they confused the number on Lagos Live (which they used to find the restaurant) with the number for the restaurant (we don't have their number). Trying to unravel the confusion, I asked him where he got my number from. He said he got it from 'goggle'. I pointed out to him that it is called 'google' not 'goggle'. He seemed a little put out. 'Well we call it goggle in Nigeria.' I replied (somewhat curtly, the dude was wasting my time) 'well then Nigerians are simply pronouncing it wrong.' We exchanged pleasantries and that was that.

I reflected today on African Shirts' comment about Orji Kalu on Hard Talk recently referring to 'goggle erdt' (Google Earth). Then I reflected that Palm Grove in Lagos is pronounced Palm 'Groove'. Is there then a confusion some speakers here have between 'oo' and 'o' sounding words, such that 'oo' words (as in Google) are pronounced with an 'o' sound, and 'o' words (like Grove) are pronounced with an 'oo' sound? Where does this double confusion come from?

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Intimations of mortality

Lying in bed as the night middles, it comes once again, from left field quietly, yet at the speed of sound. I will die. I am overcome with an immense sadness at the prospect. I will not be here. All this will pass. Bibi will die. All those that I love will perish. The saddest music of a thought, like the lowest notes on a mighty cathedral organ, floods my being. The sound of death, like a warning from the other side, an invisible space that is not a space, where nothing lies.

Since the age of twelve I have regularly had this epiphany from beyond. It knocks me off my perch for days afterwards. All this will end. Nothing will last. I must die.

Some people say that it is irrational to fear death, as in death one is no-thing; and that the only rational response is to fear the process of dying. I'm not sure I agree. One might of course fear the process of dying (a prolonged illness, a murderous moment..) but surely, the deeper (and entirely rational) fear is that of non-being. Of all that is valued being undone. Of disappearance from the world, but the world carrying on. One fears death partly because one fears the realisation of one's own insignificance in the worldly scheme. Ultimately, as the buddhists have known for thousands of years, one fears death because one enters the world from the point of ego. Dissolve the ego into the world, and one dissolves the fear of non-being. So easy to think in the abstract, so difficult to practice every day.

What can come after the storm of such thoughts but music, dance, good food and laughter? Or perhaps a solitary walk in the woods or on the mountains..

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The greatest nation on earth..

I'm sure like many thousands of people, I watched Blair's valedictory speech today as closely as possible, noting every overly-dramatic pause and Clinton-esque thumb-in-fist air prodding. It was a well choreographed event: he ended with the words 'good luck' - someone had a banner with those words written on it etc. It was mildly revolting to see the firmly converted clapping like seals in a zoo before he came on. Like many, I believe that Blair's legacy would have been on the whole a strong one, had it not been for the disastrous intervention in Iraq. But then again, had he not made the decision he did (to believe the lies about WMD), how could the British government have avoided damaging the relationship with the US? In part, people are angry about the stated reasons for deposing Saddam, not for the actual intervention itself. It mixes itself up with the smarmy-charmy charisma of Blair himself as a reflection of the politician who never fails to spin.

Most distasteful of all was his attempt at an emotional climax, with the appeal to Britain being the 'greatest nation on earth.' It sounded strangely anachronistic, and sat awkwardly with the earlier parts of his speech which gave the background to the modernisation of the Labour Party and the UK in the mid-1990s. Can anyone seriously claim that their country is the greatest nation on earth today? Being 'the greatest' sounds so modernist, a bit like a Le Corbusier house, 'labour-saving appliances' or the 'motor-car'. Certainly, when he said it, it did not have the ultimate crowd-pleasing effect his speech writer must have been straining for.

A new regime of British politics looks set to open up in a few weeks, when a man thoroughly bereft of charm, but with perhaps more principle and political conviction, takes the mantle. Those May days of 1997 seem a long time ago.

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The Guardian's new website

The Guardian (UK) has finally upgraded its website. Not before time, you might say, with several UK papers having long since moved to the global standard wide-page, multiple-column, large image format (The Telegraph and The Times being the most notable, with the Washington Post and the New York Times being the best Stateside news sites). You have to hand it to the Guardian. First the Berliner, now the new site, next Guardian America, then the move to Kings Cross (which should itself be part of the process of redefining what a modern newspaper 'does').

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Shuwa

I didn't suss until recently that Nigeria has an indigenous ethnic Arab population - the Shuwa who are settled around Maidugiri. They speak the shuwa dialect of Arabic. When I've heard Nigerians talk about the Shuwa it is always in a positive light: how beautiful they are (light skin colour, high cheekbones etc), what a warm and gentle people they are etc. A little bit of online digging, and I discovered the Shuwa are also known as the Baggara, a cattle-herding nomadic tribe originally (five hundred or more years ago) from Libya. The Baggara are more populous in Darfur. Click here for more info.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Didn't you know, wrestling is now cool..


Click to admire the look of pure delight on the tumescent guy in the red trunks.

Entrance: £10
Email me for Guest List (£5)

7.30 Doors Open - Places are limited, so don't be late.

Bethnal Green Working Men's Club
44-46 Pollard Row
E2 6NB

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Adichie writing workshop in Lagos this July

Creative Writing Workshop in July

Chimamanda Adichie and the Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina will be
teaching a creative writing class in Lagos in July.

The class will be run as an informal workshop and will meet for a few
hours every day to discuss assigned readings as well as the writing of
the workshop participants. The idea is to encourage and promote
reading and imaginative writing. To apply, please send a sample of
fiction or nonfiction to udonandu@gmail.com No poetry please.

You will be notified by e-mail if you are selected as part of the
workshop and will receive further information about the dates and
venue. Entries must be pasted in the body of the e-mail. No
attachments please. Deadline for submission is June 15. Notifications
will be sent by July 10.

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Job Advert

Account Manager: Research, Financial and Corporate Communications (full time)

Africa investor, a specialist investment communications consultancy and a member of the African Investment Advisory group, is looking to hire a talented account manager to manage large research, financial and corporate communications programmes for African listed, FTSE and NYSE listed clients.

Along with media relations, you'll be involved in the development and delivery of research, financial communications strategies, investor relations and investor road shows.

You'll have at least three year's agency experience and a strong network. You'll be bright, motivated and enthusiastic, capable of managing large client accounts and building the practice in Lagos.

You must have a superb writing ability, excellent verbal communications skills, experience in relating with the media, an interest in international affairs and investor relations.

Client handling skills are a prerequisite, and in return for strong performance you'll get the chance to progress into an Account Director role, managing multinational client relationships, working on international programmes with multinational companies and liaising daily with clients based in London, New York, Cairo, Nairobi, Johannesburg and Lagos. A willingness to travel is desirable.

Africa investor has pioneered the Africa investor newswire dissemination service and the Africa investor index series which tracks the top 100 most liquid companies across Africa's capital markets and leading sectors. If you like to be challenged and you like the idea of working closely with an established client and within a multicultural team, then this role could be for you.

Responsibilities:

- Day to day account management and accountability for your assigned clients
- Liaise with media and stakeholders on a regular basis
- Report regularly to clients

Benefits:

- Remuneration package depending on experience
- Specialist consultancy and an experienced group of Directors
- Located in Lagos with travel opportunities
- Great Career and Personal Development opportunities
- Contact with CEOs, Stock Exchange Heads and Multilateral Organisations
- A chance to make a significant contribution to African development

Please send a copy of your CV and short covering letter to:
Hubert Danso, Vice Chairman, Africa investor
Email: hdanso@africa-investor.com
Tel: +27 (0) 11 7832431
Web www.africa-investor.com

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Calabarian incomprehension

I am writing a guide book to Nigeria for a well-known travel series. I am keen to give a good account of all the pleasurable experiences to be had in Nigeria and help promote tourism in the country, so of course I call up the Cross River State Tourism people. I got in touch with a young Nigerian lady who asked me for a proposal etc. I duly sent her a short document suggesting an itinerary and some modest support (basically to cover my hotel bills). She then forwarded the proposal to her Philippino boss.

After two weeks I had heard nothing, so I called up the Nigerian lady again. She gave me the number of her boss. Her oga told me there is no possible support, and that Cross River State is writing its own guide book. I pointed out that the guide book I am writing is for one of the best known travel guide series in the world and will be much more widely read than any guide book the State might produce. I then suggested a few dates for my visit to her - she told me they would be too busy on those days. By this time, she had started to get impatient. She informed me that they had hired a KPMG consultant to help them with their tourism master plan and that everything was taken care of. I had to bite my lip not to make a facetious comment at this point (some people have way too much trust for global consultancy companies - especially in their Nigerian incarnation). The dialogue continued, but I quickly tired of speaking to someone at only one remove from a robot. What a shame that Cross River State has hired an utter nincompoop (someone who does not appear to have heard of the major tourism guide book brands) to drive tourism in the State. The whole thing leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Given that Obudu is supposed to be a bit crap (accommodation-wise), should I really give a toss about promoting the State anyway?

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Barbary Apes in Maitama

Above the pool where we cooled ourselves from the late afternoon sun, a tribe of barbary apes made their way home. First, we saw branches shaking in a way the wind could not shake. Then, one small ape appeared, his face black, his body white. He looked down at us animals in the blue water, then circumspected the landscape. Then he gingerly made his way across the earthern scree, to disappear into the shrubbery. A swallow circled about, upset that its young had been disturbed by the shaking branches. Then another ape appeared, dropping down off a branch, with a tiny baby ape in tow. Slowly, with long pauses, studying the surrounds for predators, mother and child followed the first ape on the evening journey home. Then the father of the pack appeared, much bigger than all the others, his tail curled proudly against the deep red of the earth. He trekked boldly across the scree without pause, his body (about the size of a labrador) lithe and supple in forward movement. One by one, more members of the pack made their way from left to right.

A few minutes later, we saw them high in the trees to our right. One had secured the best spot in a fork of the branches. His body held fast by the cleft, he could afford to look lazily about, his safe night's rest assured. One of the baby apes ran along a small branch, its squirrel-sized body in silhouette against the dusking sky. Another practised jumping from branch to branch, according to a different relation to gravity. Slowly, the apes settled as night quickly drew in.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Albion

Is it me or is there now a slow inevitability about there being an English parliament soon (in the next five years), as the political dimension of a broader resurgence of English national identity? The fact that for the first time, the Scottish National Party has minority leadership in Scotland, and will surely make plans for a referendum on Scottish independence (which they will probably lose), is perhaps the removal of the final blockage. The English have been in an awkward position of symbolic political under-development ever since the Welsh, the Scottish and the Northern Irish (via the Stormont process) had their own parliaments. I sense that there is a growing confidence of the distinction between embracing an English national identity (in all its complexity and parallel histories) and English nationalism. What all this means for the Scottish-dominated Labour party is another issue..

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I am a married woman! I am a married woman!

The Hilton, as I've said before, is what passes for a city centre in Abuja, given that the planners forgot to give it one. As you might imagine, it is chaotically busy at the moment, with all the sycophants and big men from up and down the land hanging around arranging their slice of the new national cake.

This increased centre of gravity pulls in second-level sycophants and young students-cum-prostitutes in their wake. Getting in the place can be a faff, with cars jostling for position from left and right by the entrance, slowly funnelling down into a single queue. I had a meeting there a couple of days ago. I let a couple of cars go ahead of me on the left, then pushed forward, only for another car on the left to match me inch by inch. This was a bit of a cheek I thought, given that I had let two cars go ahead.

I looked to my left. The driver was an early middle-aged looking woman with a stubborn expression set on her face. I wound down my window and told her that it was my turn. She ignored me and carried on pushing forward. At which point, my bucolic inheritance reared its red-ragged head, and I put my palm down on her bonnet with a thump. This shocked the driver momentarily, and I pressed home my advantage.

A few minutes later, parking the car, she came racing over to me, a ball of ballistic fury. "How dare you do that to me! I am a married woman! I am a married woman!" She brought her wedding ring within a couple of feet of my face. I felt like bursting out laughing. I was thinking: She thinks that everywhere in the world, when you tell someone you are a married woman, the other person should kneel down with respect - what a silly person! Meanwhile, all I coud see before me was a pig-headed bush woman with not a sliver of decorum. That said, her temper was still boiling and she was continuing to shout, so I apologised a few times. Meanwhile, a few security guard types came over. She drove off and the situation melted away.

How curious that some women in Nigeria think that they have garnered an additional layer of respect from the world simply because they are now a wife. Do Nigerian men really only learn respect for women when they are married? If not, why do some Nigerian women think this?

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Friday, May 04, 2007

The internet: hommage to Ivor Cutler

Don't you sometimes find the internet so limiting? I mean, why do we have to type www before everything? Why can't the sweaty geeks allow us addresses that begin xxx or zzz? I'd like to have more poetically variable URLs to chose from:

zzz.discombobulate.com

xyx.susurrus.info

abc.appurtenance.co.za

But why even must it be three letters? Why not:

absexcomplux.schizo.mom?

etc.

I'm sure they'll think of this soon. Maybe when the internet goes five dimensional.

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Looting Unlimited



Someone just sent me this. Quite a revealing portrait of a remarkable man and his family.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Grrrrr

Our bandwidth woes continue. Its like being yanked off the motherly teat and dumped in a padded cell. The cybercafe situation in Abuja is atrocious. Cool Cafe won't allow you to use Outlook with your laptop (somehow they've disabled it) and smells of body odour (some guys camp there and the bathroom facilities ain't too rosy). We ended up at Dolman Networks in Wuse. The speed was 5kps or less. There was a sign saying No Porn and No 419. A hausa guy next to me was surfing pages and pages of blonde tit. We gave up for lack of speed after a while. Before I left, I had to ask the miserable woman in charge (she was surfing for guys on Hi5 with a look of utter boredom on her face) what her definition of pornography was, and whether breast was ok and full nudity was not. She blanked me. May her day end badly.

Bibi and I realise that everything in our lives tips upside down the moment our bandwidth is taken away from us. Having had broadband in the UK since 2002, it has become a utility service in our lives. How scary that our only hope is Globacom's Glo1 submarine cable (given NITEL's seemingly interminable woes), coming on stream in a year or so. Not quite sure what we're going to do till then. I phoned up my ISP today and tried to shake some truth out of them, "come on, spill the beans. Its not really a technology problem at all is it? You don't have the cash to pay for the bulk bandwidth do you?" She went silent. Oh dear.

Meanwhile, anyone with an idea of setting up a cybercaff in Abuja - go forth and prosper. Model it on the Easy Internet model near Tott Court Road - loads of flat screens, business/print services etc. Leave out the photo studio in the corner and the dodgy pies. Have an entirely separate food area so the whole place doesn't stink of food. Ban people with smelly armpits, or force them to wash before entering. Ban porn and the Yahoo boys properly (perhaps keep an EFCC van in the yard just to show you mean business). And make sure you can offer a fat pipe for starved bandwidth beings who are visiting Abuja and used to global standards, and for us poor sods who actually live here.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

No bandwidth

Having to rely on a shitty Peckham-style cybercafe (photo studio, business centre, three or four PCs all in a space the size of your average London bathroom). Ugh. And we're getting naff excuses from our ISP. I reckon they've run into that perennial Naija issue: cashflow (the managers dey chop well well). Let's hope the situation improves...

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