Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Birthdays Are No Achievements! Look Into The Mirror

So, it was someone's birthday on Monday and one wrote  something different. Lol One has been told that it's rather depressing. Lol But one wrote honestly and as truthfully as one could muster. Maybe one is truly a sad person inside inside inside.

One shall let you be the judge of that. Okay?

You stir; it's the morning of your birthday and that's the first thing that floats into your consciousness. The bed is warm,but your toes are cold - you forgot to wear your socks before sleep came. Blame Blacklist - so engrossed in the show that you were too lazy to grab your cozies. You remember it's your birthday again, and soon your semi-numb toes are a distant memory.
Your phone; you reach for it. Nothing. Check pillow two? Pillow three? Nothing. God, please don't let it have fallen during the night. Argh! You're forced to open one eye. You don't want to, because it means admitting an awareness of this thing called getting older. Oh well! You have no choice, you have to open your eyes if you're going to find your phone. Remember it doubles as your time piece, and you need to know how late you've slept in on what's the beginning of your thirty-third year on earth. For a fleeting second, you wonder whether you should get yourself a watch. You hate the full glare of your phone's LCD - another reason why you can't wait for the iWatch
Your gym; you promised yourself you'd wake up early enough to make the gym 5 times a week. It is part of your self discovery in the art of dedication and tenacity. You think it is a good trait to have when one is in their early thirties. So, you want to do this. For you. Oh My God! 6.30a.m! You panic at the thought of having overslept, then you remember - the clocks went back yesterday. You can make the gym and come back in time to write Banter. Yes, you can!
Growing up, I was told over and over and over, that birthdays are no achievements. It was drummed into my ears so many times that I have become that adult who never gets excited about her birthday, or anyone else's. I was told that I neither participated in the decision to bring me into this world, nor did I make any conscious effort to ensure that the birthing was successful, thus, I was not entitled to celebrate any achievement on the 27th of October. So year, rolled into year and I did what I was 'allowed' to do. Be grateful to my creator for the privilege of existence and preservation. I stopped praying for 'long life' for personal reasons. It didn't matter one way or the other - it was more pertinent that the years count for something regardless of their number - something that transcends my lifetime.

The mirror; at some point in the day you find yourself staring at it. You see the woman staring back at you and you wonder if she's anything like the person inside of you. She looks familiar. Same round head, same natural hair with eroded edges. Lord! when will these edges fill out? You look closer and you see a neck that is longer and more defined than it was 8 months ago. You smile - the first one since the dawn of the day. You remember that this is the slimmest you have been since you were 18. You stand, arms akimbo and you think about the work that needs to be done on your arms. Still, you're pleased with the reward of your hard work and dedication. You tuck in your almost smug smile, you don't want the Universe to think you're a gloating irritant.
The suitcases; three of them littered around your room, waiting for you to give them attention. As much as you hate packing, it has to be done. Another phase of your life is over; you chuckle at the melodrama of it all. As one door shuts, another one opens. Or something along those lines. You can't think that far ahead because you're afraid. You're afraid of the monster of failure. What if you end up being poor for the rest of your life? What if you're that friend who keeps trying to keep her head above the water and nobody bothers to call for a contribution to help dying children? But... you hear it - it's a still small whisper. What if you do make it? What if you do find a way to do what you love to do, and are financially rewarded for it? What if you do make bucketloads of money?
The silence; broken by the loud hum of the kettle which you clicked on because you need your morning fix of coffee. No! Not coffee. You are on a coffee detox. Tea. Green tea. With cinnamon sticks and star anise seeds with a dash of lemon. Okay, more than a dash. A proper squeeze through. But, 'dash' sounds more like what a writer would write. Right? 
So what exactly are birthdays if they're not to be celebrated as achievements? It's a day for you to take stock - how far you've come, where you are, and where you hope to be.
I have come to realise that contrary to what was ingrained in me, I can choose a reason to celebrate my birthday. For starters, it's a time for me to bask in the glory of ME!
Your birthday is that one day of the year when everything you do has a special tone to it. It is that one day when people who love you send you messages and gifts and ensure that you know that someone somewhere loves you. It's that one day when you are totally allowed to be self-centred, because it's your freaking birthday.
Peace, love & cabbage strips!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Flipping Chekov's "The Kiss"

The past year has sped by so fast! Goodness gracious. Wasn't it just yesterday I was unsure of what a Masters in Creative Writing would be like? It's been an exciting whirlwind. I got on the course determined to come out a bad ass fiction writer. It's hilarious thinking about it because we were warned that this would happen. At the induction meeting (where we were plied with loads and loads of wine) we were told that many of us change our areas of specialization by the time the year was over. They ain't never lied!

The Creative Writing MA in Swansea is sooo diverse and versatile. I am REALLY glad I came here. Unlike other Creative Writing MAs across the country, the Swansea programme makes sure you do Fiction AND poetry compulsorily. Of course I hated poetry then and I still (almost) hate it now.... but that's not what this post is about. It's about the fact that I did Writing For Radio, I crashed ALL the Writing For Stage classes. and I did Dramaturgy! (where I actually wrote a treatment for a play.) As in, I wrote a Nigerian adaptation for A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen (How bad ass is that? Well it is... lol if you like no gree.) Anyway, I did a lot of things I never thought I could. Ehn hen, I also found out that The Art of The Short Story is NOT beans. That course is almost harder than Long Fiction. There are loads and loads of techniques for writing Short Stories. Hehehe It has only made me a more critical editor. Lol I feel sorry for people who send in submissions for publication at my day job. Because, now I know what I'm looking for and I don't find it I'm just like...  nyeh nyeh nyeh! Oh did I mention I did Creative Non Fiction and Pyschogeography as well? Ignore that big name... psychogeography is just a fancy name for writing about your locale... something like travel writing but more like a place where you've very familiar with.

That is how I wrote a piece about Lagos in that class... one English man who has now relocated to Wales now started saying that he believes I romanticized my LAGOS!!! Imagine the audacity ke! IMAGINE!

LAGOS where I was born, bread, ( buttered in Ilorin) and then toasted and marinaded gbogbo e gbo egbo e? I was so livid. I asked him if he had ever been to Lagos. Guess what he said? Dude said he had friends who had been there. It felt like my head would explode! LIKEEEE!!!!!!! Don't ever argue Lagos with me... especially not when you're English.

Anyway, I digress, so today's post is about my version of Anton Chekov's classic story "The Kiss". Please if you like reading, look for it. It's a sheer work of genius. But it's Chekov we're talking about innit! Sha sha....we were asked to take a character from the original piece and write our own version of the story... using any of the techniques we had learned at that time. This was probably halfway through the term.

I decided to do it in form of a Frame. You know how they say overskill dey kill Ninjah. Ehn hen... that is me gan gan. If they give us assignment like this I will come up with one swaggerlicious idea/ plan and execution. When I now start writing and get halfway I will now be tired.

Lol Or I'll ask myself God who sent me message???? I always used to get mad props for my creativity sha but yinmu... I know that they always speak positively in this country. Even when you're flopping there'll be someone telling you oh you did 'breeely'nt'. Lol

Anyway, let me stop talking and paste the story below. Oh, my version of the story is told from Lobytyko's point of view. He wasn't the main character in the original story (shey I said I always like doing over skill). Also I am pasting the raw copy.. as per the one I took to class for dissection. So there is another version that I cleaned up and submitted for my portfolio. I just can't start checking folders to dig it out. Ngwa make una manage this one okay?


It is said that one can never really tell when that pesky cherub, Cupid would strike with its arrow. For some, it is a slow fire - short, fierce embers which consume one in its entirety; for others the intensity of the passion burns fiercely, leaving its victims ensnared. When Lieutenant Lobytko told his grandchildren of how he met the love of his life, would start by explaining how love works. They would ask that he quickly dispense with the preamble and jump right into it, they wanted to hear the story of The Kiss.
Loby, as his friends liked to call him was a tall, stalwart fellow. Although he was twenty-five years old, he had a face devoid of hair. When he spoke, it was with a confidence that gave exuded through his every expression – especially when he was talking about women. He could tell from a mile ahead when there was someone of the opposite gender within his radius.
Thus, when all the six batteries of the N—Reserve Artillery Brigade stopped in the village of Myestetchki, the soldiers knew that Loby would settle into his unofficial role as the spotter of comely bosoms.
Shortly after they arrived, a man in drab civilian clothes came to their quarters on a strange horse. Loby would describe the horse in and the awkward way it ambled into the courtyard with so much flair that his grandchildren would bend over laughing till their sides hurt.
The strange man on the even stranger horse brought an invitation for the soldiers to have tea with the family of General Von Rabbek.
“And there, my life was going to change forever,” he would lower his voice and look pointedly at each child, letting his gaze linger for a few seconds before he continued.
“The Kiss. Tell us about The Kiss” They would shriek in unison.
Nineteen officers honoured the invitation of the good General, with Lobytko leading the way – like a good scout. “Yes, there must be women here; I fell that by instinct”. He was not far from the truth as Von Rabbek himself met them at the entrance apologizing for being unable them to stay for the night. Then he went on to say that his sister, their children, some brothers and even neighbours were there to visit.
The officers settled in to their new environment, having been told by their house to ‘Make each other’s acquaintance’.  They all seemed to be quite relaxed as they made their bows and settled to tea, but one of them looked like he did not quite fit in. His name was Ryabovitch.
Lobytko would pause at this point in the story, waiting for the reaction. The children would sit up in anticipation. The fun part was about to start.
Ryabovitch was a little officer who had sloping shoulders and wore tiny spectacles. He never quite looked like he had a sense of self-worth. Who could blame him? With physical attributes as he had, and whiskers like a lynx, nobody was surprised that he kept to himself. Lobytko had noticed that Ryabovitch always had a look of awe on his face every time the men talked about women. He would watch keenly as his comrades put their arms around a woman’s waist, while letting their shoulders be available for a woman’s arm to rest. Loby could tell that Ryabovitch was fascinated by it all, by women.
Women. There were about six women in the house. Lobytko’s instincts were right on the mark, but the one that caught his eye was a fair girl in a black dress. She was almost as tall as Lobytko with fiercely bright eyes that dared him to take more than was on the surface.
She wore bright make up and she had a face that showed that she knew more than the average woman. Her scent was like that of wild flowers, untamed.  It suited her perfectly. For every word that Loby said to get her attention, she would give a little condescending laugh. The setter was frustrated. How was he to get her to want more of him? Did she not know he was quite skilled in these affairs?  The more he tried to impress her, the more she seemed indifferent to his overtures. Was this something women in Myestetchki did?
“Tell us how you got her to meet you in the dark room!” The oldest of the children, 13 year old Becca would pipe up in fascination at this point in the tale.
It was during the dance. Having been made to dance with a scraggy looking lady passed over to him by Von Rabbek’s son, Loby wondered if he’d ever get a chance to speak to the fair lady in a black dress. Another chance to show her he was more. So, while he glided over the parquet floor, he found himself twirling from one woman, to another, and even to another. None of them, the woman he wanted. He spotted Ryabovitch near the door, looking at them. Sorry sod.
No sooner had he thinking of the pathetic state of his fellow officer, did he get a chance to dance with a woman in a lilac dress. With one hand on her waist, he danced confidently with resigning himself to fate.
“Two doors from the drawing room” Words so faint that he wasn’t sure he heard it. He jerked his head up, looking at his dance partner in askance but not wanting to be obvious.
“My sister will be in the dark room, two doors from the drawing room. Go when the men have retired for games”.
Lobytko could not contain his excitement and with every tick of the clock, the anticipation of what lay ahead of him was impalpable.
“What happened after that? Tell us more!” The excitement rose in the children as well. They wanted to know how he felt when he saw her. Was it love at second sight? Why was she being coy before that time? Oh how smart it was of her to have sent a message through her sister.
Nothing happened. Lobytko slipped out of the room where the billiards were being played and stepped into the hallway. There were rooms on both sides of the drawing room; cursing himself for not asking for more clarity in description, he went on a hunch and turned right. You can’t be wrong if you go right.
Half an hour after waiting in the dank, dark room, Lobytko felt himself the victim of a horrible female prank. He was the Setter. How did he get played?
They returned to their quarters and Lobytko longed for a drink. Something, anything to make him forget the humiliation he had just experienced.  The orderly who had been sent to buy them beer came back with the announcement that there was no beer.
“What a fool and a dummy a man must be not to get hold of any beer! Eh? Isn’t he a scoundrel?” He was furious, taking his anger out on everybody around him. Determined to get some beer, he asked Ryabovitch to go along with him.
“Rabbek, Grabbek, Labbek. I don’t care to go alone, damn it all! Wouldn’t you like to go for a walk eh?”
His sour mood did not improve and it was visible to all. “You look very melancholy today, Lieutenant Lobytko. Are you pining for Madame Louphov? Eh?” His General had teased him.
It was during this time that confused-looking Ryabovitch, having drunk a lot and had his tongue loosened, told them about a strange thing that happened to him while they were at the Von Rabbeks”.
“The Kiss!” The children yelled in unison.
Hearing the narration filled Lobytko with a mix of emotions. That she did not play a trick on him after all was a great relief. That she bestowed a kiss, meant for him, upon Ryabovitch angered, yet pleased him. He could make no sense of it.
He found himself saying out loud, “That’s an odd thing! How strange!...throws herself on a man’s neck, without addressing him by name… She must be some form of hysteric neurotic”
Ryabovitch obtained a kiss that was clearly meant for him. He was ecstatic. When they returned to Myestetchki in August, Lobytko could not wait to visit the home of General Von Rabbek.
“Imagine my joy when I saw the messenger on horseback. Luckily, Ryabovitch was not about. No room for mistakes a second time around!”

Friday, July 18, 2014

Project Make Money - Code Name: Charity

When I moved to Swansea from Nigeria in August 2013, I had very little to do but watch day time telly. I noticed that one in every four adverts was a call for help for poor and suffering children in Africa. Images of Africa filled the screen. Starving children, poor sanitary conditions and brown water purported for drinking.
As a Nigerian, I have always found it interesting how Africa is portrayed in the media. It starts from the fact that the entire continent is always depicted as one country that has had no sign of advancement and is wracked with poverty and disease. Of course the extreme success of the movie Lion King has not helped ; I have often been asked if I see giraffes in the morning. At times when I’m in the mood I explain that I lived in a metropolis called Lagos and the only time I’ve seen an elephant was when I went on a safari tour in Durban, South Africa. Other times, I just yawn and mention that the antelope is the pet I ride to work every morning.
However, these adverts calling for charity never stop. Charity, or the notion of it, is a booming business. It is a concept that appeals to the emotions of people. It is a means for people to have a sense of participation in bringing change in the little way they can, or at least pretend that they are.
 ‘Charity Begins from Home’, so more Nigerians have hopped on the Charity bandwagon in the last 10 years than ever before. They are mostly a crop of individuals who have lived in Europe or America. They have watched a lot of day time telly and they have been moved by the sight of starving children. They are incensed and want to do more. There’s a certain passion that drives them with urgency. ‘Go back home and make a difference’. So they get to Nigeria and they tell of their plans – ‘Feed 30 Children in 30 Days’, ‘Redeem the Prostitutes on the Streets’ , ‘Clothe the Area Boys’. 
Having observed the trend with all this doing good, I’d like to share some tips on how to become a Nigerian philanthropist.
It is 2013 and we live in the age of fast acting social media. As budding Nigerian philanthropist, you must never underestimate the power of the hash tag. Tweet and update your Facebook every other hour. There is something to be said for creating awareness. Besides, your followers and friends have no idea that children are starving. For if they did, they won’t tweet so often about large sized meaty deluxe pizzas from Dominos. It is important that as a Nigerian philanthropist you tweet as often as you can. Get those hash tags trending. They are the fastest way to getting much needed help to your targeted demographic. #FeedAStarvingChild.  #OneDressOneChild #BuyABookForTheSlums 
The next step is to design a fancy logo. Nothing says “I’m serious about this cause” like a big logo rich in colour. Remember your friend who told you he was a graphic artist trying to find work. Call him up and tell him you have a good cause you need him to champion with you. Forget that he needs actual money to pay his bills; tell him that his reward is in heaven and all he needs to do is get creative. Make sure you emphasize that you do not have any money to pay. There is no point in raising expectations. It is a not-for-profit venture. Remind him of this fact and tell him in a soft understanding voice that if you did make money from this enterprise, he’d be the first you’d call.
With the logo done and dusted, you need to get yourself stationery. Image is everything, and there’s no better way to put your best foot forward than the paper on which you write the letter of introduction. You want the public to know you are the real deal. Nobody willingly parts with their money unless given a proper incentive. With the proliferation of charities everywhere, you need to present yourself in the best light. Set yourself apart by using nice, embossed and fragranced paper. Sadly these things are a little pricey but consider it as part of running operation costs. You cannot afford to become cheap especially when it comes to something as serious as paper.  It is immaterial that the money spent on stationery can be diverted to the actual cause. Look at the bigger picture. You want to be taken seriously as a philanthropist and paper is the way to go.
No charity organization has recorded a success story without T-shirts. T-shirts are like the double edged sword every charity needs to stay afloat. The idea of not printing your huge logo, hashtag or brand name on a soft jersey fabric is simply unimaginative. Splash the name of your charity boldly in front of the shirt.  You have to publicize the cause as much as possible and nothing says ‘in your face’ louder than t-shirts. With t-shirts you can take over the world. Even better, you can clothe volunteers and that in itself is a charitable deed.  T-shirts are also a universal fashion statement so if anybody tries to get snotty and refuses to wear one, tell them how lovely the tees will go well with a pair of Skinnies! A philanthropist with a sense of what is in – always a hit.
Once that is done, you need to organize a walk. Every charity worth its name and letterhead plans a walk. Organizing a walk as part of awareness for your cause is imperative. You don’t have to know why it is imperative, just do it What better way to give people a collective reason to wear the t-shirts you have spent money on?  Another plus side of organizing a walk is the fact that it helps keep everybody fit. The average Nigerian diet is laden with carbohydrates. Get people to burn all that palm oil and yam pottage. Organize a walk today, shed the calories and let your t-shirts and banners do the actual work of the cause.
Love celebrities, or hate them, but know that they are an essential part of every charitable cause you have heard of. If you want your cause to have a certain kind of acclaim, then get celebrities on board.  Celebrities are like the flame that the fireflies of humanity flock towards. Anyone with a good sense of corporate branding knows to jump on the celebrity wagon. Telecommunications companies tell you that you your favourite music artiste uses their brand and so should you. Perfume makers tell you that hot sexy actress who steams up the big screen achieves it because she wears their scent; so why should you not get a celebrity to endorse your cause? Think of it as a symbiotic relationship. You need the A-Listers  to glam up your agenda, and the A-listers also need you so they can show their fans that they are not just gobbling up all those millions we read about on the news. They’re not just about red carpets and Louboutin shoes. They don’t need to actually give any money to the cause, they’re like garnishing. Think gourmet, think charity.
You have laid down the ground work. You have your letters sent out on your nice fancy paper, you’ve got celebrities tweeting about your cause and wearing your t-shirt of course. There’s one more thing you need – a fund raising party. By now, interested investors are sending in cheques, they know you are serious, you have all the trappings of a cause that knows what it is about. You need to channel some of this money into organizing a huge fund raising jamboree. Ignore the Fact that you haven’t bought any actual books for the children in the slums, neither have you taken any drug addicts off the streets. Remember your priorities. Fund raiser trumps actual work. Besides, the street urchins have been there for so long that one more day, week or month won’t hurt. Spend time and money planning this jamboree. It is going to be the subject of many cocktail parties to come, so you have to do it in grand style. Everybody knows you spend millions to make hundreds of millions.  Running a charity is not cheap, start working on planning that party as soon as possible.
The next point is very important and it can never be understated. Do NOT collaborate with existing charity organizations. It is immaterial that there are existing bodies who are working tirelessly to reform commercial sex workers.  It is unlikely that their idea is as brilliant or as unique as yours anyway. You don’t want to share those overhead costs because in the long run, it means you will have to split profits. What profits you say? Well, think of the long term rewards of your good cause.
After all is said and done… no scratch that. After more is said and shown than done, take pictures. How else will all your efforts be etched in the sands of time if you do not have photographs of all the work you have done towards the advancement of this cause? High resolution photos of you hugging a hungry child; photos of you on the long walk on Third Mainland Bridge… all to raise awareness for the orphans of Lagos. Take a few of your celebrity endorsers and visit the Heart of Gold Home for Orphans. Make sure photos of the 4 boxes of noodles and 3 bottles of vegetable oil you take with you are well captured in the frame. Remember, that nothing is as timeless as photos. People have to remember that you gave of yourself to this worthy cause.
In conclusion, whether you are at home, or abroad, the dynamics of starting and running a charity remain the same. Charities remain one of the most profitable ventures everywhere in the world, and the best part of it is that they are tax free. The tag ‘not-for-profit’ is the biggest part of the scam. In Nigeria, there is hardly any form of audit or avenues for accountability and as such, emotions are played upon and someone,  somewhere is smiling to the bank.

This Piece was originally published in This Day Style

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Beach Solitude

Take the walk, see the sights, smell the air,
See the lights and feel the smouldering heat.
Wide expanse of brick and sand abounds in the city.
Dense population and busy streets; but I hear it -
in the stillness, I feel the hum.

Stirring the senses, the city heat hums in short pulses.
Floats in the air, buried in the earth, flickering in the fire.
The sheen of sweat that trickles down your nape.
Thirty-five degrees is normal weather
Not boiling, just perfect – can one ask for more?

With constant heat, the temperature shifts only slightly.
Skin burning but not evident from the dark membrane.
Shall we lay by the sea shore?
Nothing beats the cooling effect of the beach.
Serenity comes with the bliss of cool blue hues.

Wigs tossed aside, lawyers respond to the Bar's call.
Sipping on happy juice, tensions and tongues loosen.
They seek solace in the secrets of the sand,
Women kneel in supplication towards the tide -
Crucifixes of wood and stainless steel wave in the air.

They pray to the spirit of the sea
‘Cleanse our land, purify our city’, they say.
Corruption spreads like gangrene;
With no expectation for working systems,
They turn to the Sea Salt deity for help.

Instead of clean white sand, prayer garments pristine abound.
Soon, the goddess of the sea will answer – soon.
Knees scuffed daily in penitence, a hope of salvation.
Surely she is strong enough to bring change – wild and wet
Waves come, bringing grit and shells but no relief.

If we pray harder they say, whiten our garments;
Silk not satin - glittery and pure as sheep.
And so they who believe adhere like flock.
Hope lies in the Bar Beach with imprints of our knees.
Dark cloudy skies, pregnant with thunderous rain.

And there is no shelter from the torrents.
The boulders act as breakers but fail,
Flooding the streets with no restraint.
Dirt litters doorsteps with deposits of the sea.
This time no lives are lost but we wonder.

Is the goddess angry with us?
Her reflection she sees in that tall glass building,
Across the road – right there opposite the beach.
The sea rushes forward towards the reflecting tower,
Housing suites of offices – prime real estate of seaside value.

‘Break it down City Council, don’t anger the mermaid’.
We know her rage brings destruction.
The goddess is more powerful than the government.
Instead of going to the polls, we prayed.
We’re wise enough not to incur her wrath, yet she rages.

Perhaps it is the horse rides on the sand.
Could it be the trading, garish clothing and loud music?
The Atlantic - sometimes serene, other times raging.
Around the world maybe, where it is cooler
Bar Beach is anything but quiet.

Drowning in the booze, I scoffed at the Lady Celestial.
Back at the cross impaled in the sand;
Grateful to the goddess for sparing her,
For another day of mercy and grace at Bar Beach.
If only she would understand the tides and stay away.