Saturday, November 14, 2015

Glasses Wearing, Natural-Haired Lover of Small Chops

It wouldn't be accurate to say we became friends at the Fidelity Bank Creative Writing workshop. It happened after that.  How did it happen? Quietly and subtly... the way she approaches all things.
Mnena introduced herself as Jill to the group,  but when she wrote down her email address and I saw a familiar name, I asked her if she was Tiv. She said yes and I started noticing her.
Her stories stood out - well written and thought out, and laced carefully with delightful strips of humour.  When asked to analyse other stories, as is the norm at these workshops,  she would quietly state her opinion.  Never loud but not one to be overlooked. 

I would later discover that it was not a front. That was who she was, and that is who she is.
In a little over three years, Mnena has grown on me. She is ridiculously smart and witty.  And on a scale of 1 to Hulk Type Strength,  my friend is an Amazon.

Mnena is the feminist I admire and want to be. She isn't afraid to face her frailties and uses her strengths to her advantage.  You won't find her cowering in fear or self pity,  but she isn't one to deny the things she cannot handle.

Today, while chatting about someone we both make fun of, she said "Oh I think B* is very smart. She is just dumb". That cracked me up so much, because only Mnena would describe someone that way.
Mnena is selfless. There are so many times she has put other people before herself that I wonder if we who are in her life realize the privilege it is to have her.

Mnena quietness is reminiscent of a steel force. She uses it to her advantage too. You can never see her coming. She takes things and runs with it... not fussy and not dramatic. Mnena is who you should call if you need to bury a body. Her quiet strength is what will keep you from freaking out.
The only time I've seen her freak out is when she got the invite to attend Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Creative Writing workshop in 2015. That was a collective best day of our lives.  CNA (or Shero as Mnena calls her) comes only second to Hadley Freeman on my friend's list of 'people to meet before I die'. So you can understand why my 'non squealing' friend nearly passed out from excitement. 

Mnena allowed me to share that moment with her and I am truly grateful. But I think the best part of my friendship with Mnena is our ability to argue, disagree seriously on issues and come back to a mid point. I don't love Mnena because she agrees with me all the time; I love her because I can count on her to tell me what she thinks.

I love her because she isn't afraid to take risks. I love her because she is brilliant and she takes impressive financial decisions. 

Mnena isn't afraid of her sexuality and owns her womanhood. She is a true representation of a strong, smart and staunch woman. She doesn't pander to the whims of societal expectations. In a society where everyone expects you to be of a certain religious inclination,  my friend tells you clearly - without fear - this is who I am. She isn't domestic and doesn’t pretend to be. Mnena does not like injustice and is very vocal about it.

She looks very nerdy and reads a lot. ALOT! No, I'm not exaggerating.  She reads a lot. It is no wonder that she is such a good writer... but she never believes me when I tell her.

And because this is beginning to sound like a eulogy,  I have to end this here.  But before I go, I must let you know that Mnena doesn't like talking on the phone.

Yeap, she's a weirdo like that. But she's my weirdo. Don't ask me for her number because I don't like to share my friends.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

How to Find Yourself a Good Woman... or Something Like That

I wrote this piece back in 2012 and it was published on WeRunThings. I was going through my portfolio of work and I found it. 
I'm not going to edit it, just so it can have a semblance of authenticity. 

I hope you enjoy reading it.

I spent the last week ruminating on the veracity of IK Osakioduwa’s TipsToGettingAMAn. I’ve also been trying to find a Nigerian celebrity, who is, prima facie, happily married with 2 kids (poster image of perfection), who would be willing to write Ten Tips To Getting and Keeping A Woman. The fact that you’re reading this now, means that I have been unsuccessful.
I believe that there’s no such thing as One Size Fits All especially with relationship issues because of difference in personalities and backgrounds/upbringing. If you don’t believe me, just check out the comments section of blogs and websites…. it’s a riot! There is a truth to every comment… as true to the mind of the writer as can be imagined. It might be a lie, but the person believes it to be true and that is enough for the person.I really didn’t want to have to write this because hey… what do I know about getting and keeping a woman? Nobody has gotten me or kept me for that matter. So what qualifies me to write this piece? I’ll tell you… NOTHING. Well, maybe not NOTHING! I have access to this medium and I’m going to use it. Here goes!
Atoke’s Tips For Getting A Good Woman
  1. Learn To Do Solo Trips: There are so many good looking guys with plenty “sweg” and a plethora of foreign accents out there; allow the woman notice you. Roll alone, allow her assess your qualities without all your men casting a shadow on your shine.
  1. Whether Na One Naira: Someone said all a man needs to have is money, to get a woman. Not entirely true, but no girl wants a broke dude! Whether na one naira, have it and let it come in regularly. Girls like to be pampered, whether with ‘Kristian Lobatan’ Shoes or by the real deal Red Soles.
  1. Reel In Your Relatives: There’s something to be said for a man who can protect his woman from the onslaught of relatives. A guy should learn to properly keep his nosy aunties and rude sisters away from the girl. Nobody wants to start dealing with the challenges of in-laws even before they get into the family. Massive turn off.
  1. Champagne Popping & Raining Benjamins: For some reason, men believe that this is ALL a woman needs to see. Wrong! The good woman wants a man who’s very good with managing his finances, she needs to know you wont leave the bills unpaid for a weekend of fun with your friends at the GrandPrix in Abu Dhabi.
  1. Be Neat & Well Dressed at ALL times: The whole cave man look is so 1942! Please take time to shave, wear antiperspirant and dress well. A good woman doesn’t want to have to deny knowing you when she is in a gathering of her friends. Don’t make it more difficult by being un-presentable.
  1. Be Respectable & Respectful: A good woman will have absolutely no problems submitting to a man who is respectable and respectful. The odds wont really be in your favor if you come into her house acting like an agbero. Picking a quarrel with your gate man/ maid or even worse, hers…will earn you NO points. Remember, respect begets respect (as cheesy as that sounds, it’s true)
  1. Learn to cook, Do yourself a favor and learn how to cook: No really, really do LEARN to cook. Because, assuming that knowing a woman’s knowledge of cooking automatically confers her with all the wisdom of world is failure. More importantly, a good woman becomes mush when her man whips up a meal. You don’t believe me? Go check out the comments section on Chef Fregz’ posts on BellaNaija. Dude gets women slathering after him every week.
  1. Have Standards & Keep Your Word: Nobody wants a man who says one thing and does the other. Really, have standards and let your word be your bond.. That is all.
  1. Read & Keep Yourself Well Informed: It’s not enough to be Tall Dark & Handsome, you have to have something in between your ears. Imagine being at a business lunch and the topic of the killing of the American Ambassador in Libya comes up and you have NO clue what’s going on. Ignorance is not bliss. Keep yourself abreast of what’s happening  around you. It’s the least you can do.
  1.  Remember your frailties as well as hers: It’s important that you remember that the same kind of blood that flows through your veins, flows through hers. Whatever inadequacies you have, and have to live by, the chances are that she has her own dose of inadequacies as well and it is only in the constant remembrance of these frailties can you get the girl of your dreams.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Atoke's Creative Writing Giveaway

So, I decided to do this giveaway as the first step towards my plan for building a formidable generation of creative writers.

Please follow this link to find out how to be a part of the competition

If you're not a writer but like to read... well, there something there for you too. Go read the stories and tell us the ones that work for you.


Monday, June 22, 2015

A Song for the Puppet

See how they cry out for me
Hear how they call my name
The look on their faces
Fear of heartbreak

My people are hurting
Their souls bleed
From longing and fear
Oh so desperate

Save us will you
Help us, you should
I shudder at the mantle
Office, staff, seal

The weight, the burden
Lead us, great one
Their voices raised
In adulation, nay, worship

Out of the murk and mire
Buried in corruption, steeped in poverty
Their eyes fill with hope
Mine, trepidation

100 days in office
Campaign promises lie still
Unfulfilled, empty, bare
Still I strive, pressing

My friends, officers,
Let’s move this nation forward
Not yet, the coffers need to be emptied
Personal gratification above all

This is not what we said
I look inwards
Nothing. Vapid. Puppet.
A leader must be something

A Voice for the people
Who called you to be that?
We installed you
Get busy. Dig. Empty the accounts.

The streets are empty but not quite
I don’t see them.
They cry for me, but not as before
Now they wail.

Sorrow, deep and piercing
My people have lost all faith
I hurt too. I am weak
We are all powerless

Saturday, June 13, 2015

For Nigel Jenkins: Who Made Poetry Enjoyable

Anybody who knows me, knows that I have no love for poetry. I have this totally *nyeh* attitude to that genre of Creative Writing. Now, imagine getting to Swansea and being told that Poetry is a compulsory module.

Yepa! Mogbe t'emi ba mi! 

I worried about failure so much that it didn't allow me to even think I could do it. 

But, Nigel...Nigel made it so amazing. As I type this I remember the awesomeness of Nigel Jenkins. He was the director of the Creative Writing MA at Swansea. Nigel is a notable Welsh poet who was funny, talented and extremely warm. 

I mean, I finished my poetry module starting to think "Nah, poetry isn't half bad". And then not long after we submitted our portfolios for the semester, Nigel passed away.

I was gutted. This man was very kind to me. Who was going to hold my hands through the academic rigours ahead? This was a good man. A really good man.

I will never forget Nigel. I'm sad that he didn't grade my portfolio. But I'm so so so so happy I had the privilege of learning from this great man.

I wrote a tribute to him, which was originally published in The Swansea Waterfront. There are no words what will ever be enough to laud this man. 

He is truly missed.


One of the most prominent things in the heart of a person who has travelled thousands of miles away from home is the fear of being terribly alone.  You’re plagued with the fear of the unknown, and the eager anticipation to give yourself a certain sense of validation that you have made the right decision.
As days unfold into weeks, you struggle to make this new place home. You make friends, but you do it with caution. It’s not familiar but you’re willing to make the effort. You attend classes, while making an effort to cope with the sudden surge of work along with the gaping loneliness that hits you every time you go back to your room.

This feeling of trepidation is something that every international student faces. It is that scary sense of detachment that one is without the comfortable anchor of the safety of home. I was fully steeped in this bubble of insecurity when I moved to Swansea in September.
At the first ‘meet and greet’ organized by the Creative Writing teaching team, there was a man, in his mid-60s going round the room, trying to ensure everybody was comfortable. It also helped that he constantly topped up our wine glasses and encouraged us to be as relaxed as possible. This man, whom I will later know to be Nigel Jenkins, was particularly concerned about the fact that I had come all the way from Nigeria. Was this my first time in the UK? Did I have family in Swansea? Oh No! I didn’t? How dreadful! Where was I staying? Did I like my accommodation?  Would I let him know if I needed anything? Absolutely anything. Feel free to drop by my office to let me know if there’s anything you might need.

Nigel Jenkins, passed away on the 28th of January 2014. As I write this piece, I am unsure of the best way to put down the words which will truly represent the greatness of this man. A Welsh poet and great contributor to Welsh literature, Nigel was more than just a member of the Creative Writing team at the Swansea University. He was integral to the establishment of the course at Swansea University.
As a result of that, poetry is one of the compulsory modules for the MA program. You can only imagine my trepidation as one coming to this course with absolutely no clue on how to approach poetry. In my opinion, poetry was one of those things brilliant creative people write… to show off. I said as much to poetry. I was terrified at the idea of having to write a poem. What did I know about writing words in a certain colourful way? What did I know about rhyme, metre or even Haiku!?
Three months after the course started, Nigel managed to assuage my fears. I can still hear his voice saying ‘find the words within you and write it down’. When I didn’t know if my Haiku was worth the paper on which I wrote, he said ‘Haikus are about capturing that moment’.

Nigel’s soothing voice as he narrated his various experiences in life as a journalist, of many-a-pint-inspired articles, and as a poet was a constant reminder that even for me, an amateur writer; so far from home… nothing was impossible. In my last tutorial meeting with him, just before Christmas, he was very concerned about where I was going to spend the holidays. He was very concerned about how I might get lonely out here alone with no family, and said I was welcome to spend Christmas with his family.

Such was the largeness of his heart. There are no words to express the depth of gratitude I have to this great man whose presence was integral to my getting settled into Swansea University.  Every international student needs a Nigel Jenkins in their sojourn far from home.
I am eternally grateful for meeting this talented and hard working man.  I hope that I can be half the writer Nigel was. I hope that I can, someday, be an inspiration to other people the way Nigel was to me.

This piece is dedicated to the loving memory of Nigel Jenkins (1949 – 2014)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Villagers! Gather Round...

I was going to write about how pretentious I looked a few hours ago - me, sitting in a room full of Asians and Hispanics, dunking tortilla chips into little pots of garlic guacamole. I was going to write about the importance of people watching when you're pretending to be aware of an All-American tradition - studying what team the majority of the room is supporting and remembering to shout when everyone else is. It doesn't matter that you don't know who the Seahawks are, or why everybody is shouting 'Touch Down!' It's all part of the tradition, and it was what I was going to write about - traditions.
Then, I remembered I was probably going to get flack for talking about 'something unrelatable'. So, let's talk about something more ethnic, and cultural and innate. Our villages, or home towns as some of you finer folk might like to call them.
Growing up, going to our home town every year was a non-negotiable event. It was the time of the year when family members converged to eat the greenest Ewedu and the brownest Amala ever. It was the time when family members who didn't know who was who, would ask: 'Are you Gbemi or Funke?' When you responded that you are Wonu, they would then say 'Ah! The architect!' Suddenly it was okay to be familiar enough to ask you to go and bring some yam and sardine stew for them from the kitchen.
Anyway, I had grown up believing everybody went to their villages, until I went to University and met people who said they had never been to theirs. One of my closest friends said her family never went to the village because her grandmother lived with one of her uncles in Lagos, and they were basically scared of people in their village so they never went. Because both my parents are from the same place, I have a stronger connection to Ogbomosho, so as the older generation died off, it didn't really reduce the 'family ties'. It also helped that we had a house to go to, which minimised the discomfort of going. However, as I grew older, and the compulsion to go to the village was taken off, there wasn't really a pull to go there. As much as I love going to visit my aunty, eating fresh mangoes, there's very little incentive to get on the bad Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Unless of course, there's a burial to attend.
Burials are another reason why people go to their villages. When my friend's father died, they had this huge situation of where to bury their dad. The man had lived in Lagos all his life, built a house in Lagos and died in Lagos. However, custom demanded that he was buried 'at home'. This was where it became a tricky situation. His children now had to posthumously invest in real estate - in a place they would probably never go again. Customs and traditions are a big deal, but real estate investment... now that is an even bigger deal.
In my parents generation, it was imperative to have 'roots' - a house in the village, something small, something to show that you've not just been on a sojourn in a foreign land for nothing. In fact, for some people, it didn't matter that they lived in a rented flat for 22 years in the place that they earned their living; as long as they had a nice 10-bedroom duplex in the village they visited once a year, they were fulfilled. My siblings and I always made fun of my mum and her obsession with taking all the nice things she had to Ogbomosho. According to her, she was shoring up stuff for when she retired. 20 years later and those nice things have become antiquated in their cartons on the shelf of the store in Ogbomosho. The utopia of retiring to the country home still seems like a distant reality.
Today, I don't know many young people who build houses in their home towns or even visit. I think the expenses of trying to pay expensive school fees, summer in Disney Land and trying to pay mortgage in Solar Garden estate has drastically negated the ideology of putting down roots outside of the metropolis. At best, you'll find Lagos residents buying land on the outskirts of Lagos, like Mowe or Ikorodu. One of my friends in Abuja is looking to buy land in the FCT - nothing about Bayelsa State or future repatriation. Times have really changed.
This year, I really want to explore the dynamics of culture and tradition. Some aspects of culture do not really add value to our lives... or do they?
Have a great week ahead. Stay safe, be productive and remember to add value in your sphere of influence.