Monday, June 28, 2010

A New Movie on Child-Witches

So they're making a new movie of the child-witches phenomenon brewed by crackpot Nigerian pastors who convince parents to turn their backs on their own children. 234Next was at the screening.

“The Fake Prophet” is a concept film created and funded by Stepping Stones Nigeria (SSN), a non-governmental organisation, to promote awareness about the plight of the so-called ‘child witches’.

According to the organisation, the issue of “child-witches” grew out of the Niger Delta in the 1990s as many powerful pastors began accusing children of plotting to supernaturally harm their families and communities. Children were often coerced into confessing their ‘crimes’, following which their families were charged money for lengthy and sometimes painful exorcism rituals. Thousands of children - an estimated 15,000 in Akwa Ibom State alone - were blamed for their family’s misfortunes, shunned by their communities, and abandoned.

According to a report in the British press, before being pushed out of their homes many of these children were beaten, slashed with knives, thrown onto fires, or had acid poured over them as punishment or in attempts to make them “confess”. Many of those branded child-witches were murdered - hacked to death with machetes, poisoned, drowned, or buried alive - in an attempt to supposedly drive satan out of their soul. Once on the streets, many of the children became prey to child traffickers.

“We decided to make this film because we realised that the proliferation of Nollywood movies that focus on issues of witchcraft, specifically child witchcraft, was leading to the spread of the belief,” said Gary Foxcroft, SSN programme director. “We needed a counter to that.”

I want to be optimistic about the movie, but I'm still smarting from how woefully, laughably terrible this one movie I watched on a Liberian refugee who moved to Lagos was. And not for lack of talent -- the movie starred Omotolade Jalade Ekeinde and Ramsey Noah, so two of the biggest names in the biz right there. But hey, that was two years ago. Maybe I'll give this one a shot. For more on child-witches, click here, here, here and here. And here's a video from a short UK Guardian documentary on the issue.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Poem for Sunday

"I shall let my future dwell in my past so that I might live a brighter now."

This is the scene from "Slam" where Saul Williams performed the hell out of his poem "Sha Clack Clack". Happy Sunday.

Nobody Likes African Resource Nationalism

I laughed out loud when I read this:

Add another item to the agenda at this weekend’s G20 summit: African resource nationalism and the twin issue of security of mining contracts. That’s thanks to a burgeoning dispute between Canadian miners and the authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

If Africans are so nationalistic with their resources, surely we wouldn't have the Niger-Delta wahala raging on, or the western companies profiting from Liberian lumber more than Liberians do, or those DRC miners making less from their resources than men in suits who oftentimes are not even Congolese do. But I digress.

Later in the post:

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, who is hosting the meeting, plans to raise concerns about the case, which Canada views as particularly egregious. Canadian authorities think they should play a part in a decision by the IMF and World Bank due next week on whether to conclude the write-off of $9bn of Congo’s historic foreign debt.

The Kinshasa government last year revoked Canadian miner First Quantum’s license to exploit the Kolwezi copper and cobalt tailings project in which the company says it has already invested $750m. The case went to international arbitration in Paris in February.

What’s made the Canadians particularly hot under the collar, and alarmed investors across the board in Congo, is the emergence of a secret contract that appears to hand the asset over to a British Virgin Islands-registered consortium, led by the mysterious Highwinds International, before the arbitration has even started.

Sources familiar with the dispute in Kinshasa say IMF officials have asked the Kinshasa government to refrain from signing off on the deal - or any other related to the asset - before the case has been heard in Paris, to commit publicly to good governance and to submit all future mining contracts to open and transparent tender.

In four simple paragraphs, Beyond Brics encapsulates everything wrong with Africa in global trade: Canada doesn't like a deal, so they're trying to blackmail DRC by holding their IMF deal hostage; IF DRC makes a calculated decision to hand over the exploration of their mineral resources to a high bidder (I would suppose that's the case, though what I've read doesn't make that explicit) it'll make Canada "hot under the collar" and "alarm" potential investors. And if the case hasn't even gone into arbitration, then clearly nothing is set in stone and Congo can do as it likes? And why again is the Canada in any position to influence the IMF's decision to write off their $9 Billion debt? In whose interest is the IMF working?

The International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s private-sector arm, is an equity partner in the venture with First Quantum, and, unusually, has joined in the international arbitration after carrying out a judicial audit.

This presents an awkward conundrum for the World Bank, which has played a part in painstaking negotiations the terms for a debt write-off to a country which is simultaneously threatening its own investments.


Are you serious???? Should this even be allowed to happen? The World Bank has private sector interests in the exploration of mining exploration company that deals in the Congo, and has carried out an audit on its own dealings. I defy anyone to find a better definition of "Conflict of Interest".

Of course, Kabila's government is not exactly clean in the mess that is Congo's quagmire. Still, stories like this get me wondering if it's even possible for a developing country to enrich itself and do what is best for its own people, even if the president had the best of intentions.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Nigeria Wahala

So Nigerian Curiosity posted up this vid over at her blog.

I've come to the conclusion that the best thing about living in America, or really much of the Western world, is that you don't have to see the poverty if you don't want to. In Nigeria, there are street kids begging you for money on your way to your private school, old beggars hanging out outside shopping malls and clubs, prostitutes galore on Allen Avenue on your way to the late-night Ikeja market. As a rapper/singer/whatever, I imagine that you don't get to choose whether you want to be more like a Nas or a Jay-Z. You're going to have to acknowledge what's around you in some way. It's a bit like living right next to a garbage heap -- that mess stinks, and you can't help but smell it.

Here's some more socially-conscious Nigerian stuff. Lots of oldies in here from my high school days.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Real Talk on Inter-Africa Trade

Besides iffy transportation systems, high tariffs and the electronic money transfer issues, what else hinders Inter-Africa trade? Gregory Simpkins does the knowledge.

One phenomenon that is involved in lower than possible intra-African trade may be the practice of transfer pricing. By over-pricing imports and under-pricing exports, multinational companies transfer profits, revenues or monies out of a country in order to evade taxes. This may seem to be solely a tax issue, but if neighboring countries aren’t in on these deals, wouldn’t they be locked out of trade in the goods in question? The OECD estimates that nearly two-thirds of global trade in goods and services takes place not on the free market, but rather between subsidiaries of the same multinational company. Global Financial Integrity, an organization that tracks illegal fund transfers, estimates that sub-Saharan African countries lost more than US$800 billion through techniques such as abusive transfer pricing between 1970 and 2008.

He's a U.S. flag-waver, and I have my doubts on AGOA (that's another post). Still, though, read the whole thing.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Poem for Sunday

Yusuf Komunyakaa is easily one of the best poets America has produced. I just love his tone, the easy way he conjures images, the real heart with which he imbues his work. Nobody sounds like him, in my book. Here's one of my favorites from him.

My Father's Love Letters

On Fridays he'd open a can of Jax
After coming home from the mill,
& ask me to write a letter to my mother
Who sent postcards of desert flowers
Taller than men. He would beg,
Promising to never beat her
Again. Somehow I was happy
She had gone, & sometimes wanted
To slip in a reminder, how Mary Lou
Williams' "Polka Dots & Moonbeams"
Never made the swelling go down.
His carpenter's apron always bulged
With old nails, a claw hammer
Looped at his side & extension cords
Coiled around his feet.
Words rolled from under the pressure
Of my ballpoint: Love,
Baby, Honey, Please.
We sat in the quiet brutality
Of voltage meters & pipe threaders,
Lost between sentences . . .
The gleam of a five-pound wedge
On the concrete floor
Pulled a sunset
Through the doorway of his toolshed.
I wondered if she laughed
& held them over a gas burner.
My father could only sign
His name, but he'd look at blueprints
& say how many bricks
Formed each wall. This man,
Who stole roses & hyacinth
For his yard, would stand there
With eyes closed & fists balled,
Laboring over a simple word, almost
Redeemed by what he tried to say.

Who Will Protect Us from Our Protectors?

Don't know how I missed this, but (via Africa Unchained) Former Central Bank Chairman Charles Soludo said "our politics must change". How? Well...

Soludo who was guest lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he spoke on the topic “Who Will Reform Politics in Nigeria” called for the pruning of Nigeria to six regions with Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja as special centres. He said 774 local governments, were merely conduits for profligacy and waste, as well as the adoption of a unicameral legislature that would reduce the number of law- makers from 459-150.


On the surface, I get it: If you want to reduce corruption, which tends to happen mostly at the local and state level, reduce the number of, well, local and state levels. Decreasing the number of states makes for a more effective federalism, and ensures that our oversight mechanisms work better.

Of course, one must ask: Does having less states mean having less corruption?

First of all, you're trimming the number of states, not the size of the country, so basically you'll be giving government officials wider mandates and, effectively more power. You can actually argue that this on-the-surface "pruning" is actually enlarging our government, so much so that it'll make corruption easier. If Jigawa and Kaduna cannot run their individual corners competently, what makes you think it'll be better to add Kano and Zamfara to the mix? What makes you think it'll be easier to catch inefficiencies in larger, bloated states?

Another concern is that civil servants, on the whole and at the local level (where there is more corruption, keep in mind) are not imbued with much respect. This for me is an even bigger deal, and I don't see how this idea addresses it. I don't think having less police commissioners will make policemen stop being corrupt until they get some benefits with their jobs and get paid well and not live in squalid police quarters in Ikeja. I don't think we'll get much progress with our public education system by shrinking the number of state systems if the teachers aren't paid well and don't get enough benefits.

It's just my sense that adding more dignity in public service which, aside from easing the rush into universities and into police and military training, will help attract intelligent people from all walks of life into civil service, which will then give such public work dignity and perhaps offset the need to be filthy rich (A girl can dream, I know, but I think this is right).

It's nice to see someone giving our governance issues some serious thought, and I'll be looking forward to more from Soludo on this stuff, but cutting out the number of institutions seems to me more like addressing a symptom, rather than the problem. Like anybody in Nigeria will probably tell you: The best way to get rid of mosquitoes in your room is not to keep slapping away at them when they bite you; it's closing the damn window and spraying the entire room with Raid. This is slapping away at mosquitoes. We need the big stuff.

Crossposted at Nigerians Talk

Aiding and Abetting Fake outrage

When my friend sent me this article on sexual abuse in Lagos, my two-word emailed response was "Na today?"

“The truth is that the whole thing has made me begin to distrust anybody that is not a close friend or relative around my daughters,” said Ifeoma Akanwa, a banker and mother of three. “I used to have a house boy, and since he left last year, I have been reluctant to get another help, despite that my youngest child is just a year old. I prefer taking her to a crèche, or even locking her up with my eldest child (aged 10) at home at times.” Uwadiegwu Otisi, a sociologist holds the opinion that this portends a dangerous trend, and might fracture the fabrics of Africa’s familial culture if left unchecked.

I find that I say this a lot, but to reiterate, can we stop acting surprised when certain things happen? I know I heard so many stories like these from the weekly Yoruba show Feyikogbon to NTA news. This isht is not news. Stop acting like it is and do something about it. Sensitization exercises. Organize hotlines with Starcomms or MTN, so young girls can text you free and you can call them free of charge. Ads in the paper. Talk in schools. Something.

Floating supermarkets in Brazil? But of course!

This, from FT, caught my eye:

The vessel is designed to enhance Nestle’s reach among the lower income consumers that make up a core part of its market. The company has been in Brazil for 89 years and products like its powdered milk are staples among Brazil’s poorer consumers. As the economy continues to grow quickly, Nestlé is hoping that rising incomes among the poor will bring its higher priced goods within their reach, too.

The best solutions in economic situations are always tailor-made.

"We are making prostitutes of our artists"

Chika Unigwe's essay in The British Guardian on cultural and creative revival in Nigeria against the overpowering demand for money teeters on the edge but ultimately avoids the now-classic Nigerian self-congratulation. Thank God.

Money quote:

In a society where the pursuit of money takes precedence over everything, one can expect a decline in culture and in the quality of cultural production. Regrettably, this is going on. People are reading, but it's a different sort of literature: self-help books published mainly by evangelical pastors eager to win souls over to the gospel of prosperity. There is art on the street, but it is splashes of paint on trucks and buses, outsized drawings (usually religious, with a blonde Jesus). There is nothing of the grandeur and quality of Ife art in it.

Yea, basically. This also caught my eye.

And there is the resilience of the ordinary Nigerian, who remains unbowed, who still thinks of Nigeria as the giant of Africa, even when a sick president disappears for 52 days only to turn up when he is at death's door, and sectarian violence consumes the once calm city of Jos. All these make me optimistic Nigeria will rise to fulfil the promise it showed at independence 50 years ago. My only wish is to be a witness to that fulfilment.

Does it not bother anyone that Nigerians still think the country is the Giant of Africa? Looking your problems in the eye and claiming them to be a minor flaw, a speck in an otherwise-flawless design, is always dangerous, because it ignores the gravity of the problem. And the sooner this "ordinary Nigerian" wakes up to that fact, the better for all of us.

Maybe we should start investing in smelling salts, hmm?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Poem for Thursday (Yes, Poem for Sunday sounds better)

Jack Gilbert. Oh, Jack Gilbert.

The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind's labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not laguage but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

Props where they're due: I first got wind of this poem from Chris Abani's TED talk. Watch it here:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Recognizing humanity

I'm in the middle of Aravind Adiga's award-winning book "White Tiger", and one of the things that strikes me about his character Balram Halwai is the miserable circumstances in which the guy grew up in, and the fact that, seriously, the dude's a sociopathic a**hole.

Pardon my French.

Seriously. He has a bit of Jack Sparrow in him, in the sense that you know he's a jerk who can't be trusted with anything, and yet you want to get on that ship to see what trouble he lands into, and even hope for his safety against your judgment. I'm about half-way through, and this book is truly a feat of characterization and voice, in that paints strips all the characters of any easily categories: The rich people do some vile things, even as they are not always vile themselves; the police extorts, not protects; and the poor people are certainly long-suffering survivors, but they can be vultures and relish the chance to oppress themselves. There are no heroes here. In the book, we spend a lot of time with rickshaw-pullers, chai-walas, drivers and servants, all of whom are depicted in as unsparing a manner as land-owners and ministers and businessmen. I can imagine many thinking that Adiga's dark picture of modern India is perhaps a bit unfair (I imagine this, because I'm sure as much will be said if the city was Lagos, not Delhi and Dhanbad), but I think that Adiga's hit upon something real and profound when he does not treat any of his characters with kid gloves.

One-dimensional representations of the rich or poor should not be par for the course, that's really not the case, is it? The representation of poor people more often than not vacillates between pity and disgust, so it always surprises me when someone depicts poor people as, well, people. But that's what they are, isn't it? They laugh and cry and have weddings and drink more than they should and manipulate and fret and fuss. They sometimes spend their money on worthless crap. They sometimes don't even realize how much they lack. They're not always nice to each other. And however bad things get, they always, always, find a way to deal. In recognizing that people somehow face down the most dire of circumstances to build lives for themselves and have weddings and birthdays and burials has always filled me with more a sense of wonder than pity. It is something to be admired, and to me is key in recognizing the humanness of us all. And how do you help someone, truly help, when you don't recognize their humanity? How do you expect best-laid plans to "help" when you don't even know who these people are? Mono-dimensional representations of anyone -- Middle-Eastern, gay, black, [insert-minority-here] -- are always, always vehicles that aid and abet in their continued oppression.

This really would only merit a shrug on my part if it didn't affect policy approaches meant to help poor people. I think Bill Easterly explains that part better than I do.

Child soldiers and the stupidity of war

From NYT:

It is well known that Somalia’s radical Islamist insurgents are plucking children off soccer fields and turning them into fighters. But Awil is not a rebel. He is working for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, a critical piece of the American counterterrorism strategy in the Horn of Africa.

According to Somali human rights groups and United Nations officials, the Somali government, which relies on assistance from the West to survive, is fielding hundreds of children or more on the front lines, some as young as 9.


And then from Daily Nation (via AllAfrica):

A landmark ceremony took place in Beledweyne town, the capital of Hiran region, 335 km north of Mogadishu yesterday, where the regional authority of Hizbu Islam, one of the Islamist organizations opposing the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia, merged with Al-Shabaab, the top militant group in Somalia.

I don't know what to make of this, honestly, and I never know what to say about wars because I'm often so caught up in their stupidity and selfishness. It's true what guns are put in the hands of children, but they're not my children, nor the children of the US, nor those of the Al-Shabaab or Hizbul Islam or TFG leaders who use them. This shouldn't make a difference perhaps, but it does. That's humanity for you. In all its gore and glory. And selfishness. I don't care what some among us tell ourselves about our supposedly lofty ideals. Just like nobody cares when oil spills happen in Nigeria but scream bloody murder when they happen in the US, nobody gives a damn when someone else's kids in some random-ass village in Bumfrak, [insert-random-African-country-here], gets turned into a child soldier. Sorry. That's the way the cookie crumbles.

Like all other wars fought in the modern age, the war in Somalia is passive. In addition to the war not actually being fought by the people beat the drums, the war is also not taking a toll on the right people. Yes, Obama may feel bad about Somalia using child soldiers (I refuse to believe that this is news to him), but I doubt he cares a damn when you get right down to it, because it really doesn't affect the equation for him either way. Sheikh Ahmed wants to beat back the influence of Al-Shabaab and take over the country, but it's not like the TFG has it's hands clean. Some of the rapes and murders of civilians were done at their hands, after all. Ahmed is the lesser of two evils who will probably be a tyrant, even if he's not going to be a Siad Barre incarnate, but he's not trying to run drugs and diamonds through Africa like Shabaab and their cronies. Make no mistake: There are no heroes here.

In my own observation, from America to the Middle East, those that clamor loudest for war are often those the least affected by its ramifications because they're not the ones on the battlefield, or their weapons allow them to be passive participants who can use ideology as justifications for their actions. These two stories exemplify the reasons why I stay away from ideology and wars and stick to Political Economy. I'm not afraid of graphs and statistics. People? Not so much.

Going back to Hizbul Islam joining Al-Shabaab (Which is often linked to Al-Qaeda), I'm not yet sure of it's relevance. Militia groups in tumultuous political situations everywhere dissolve and reassemble all the time, and only time will tell if this means anything. One would think I'd be over it by now, but I can't help thinking about all the lives that have to be lost, and all the lives being lost, even among those that are living.

The noble art of the remix

So my friend PB posted a pic of one of my favorite people Jorge Ben on her blog and it got me thinking.

I've been into bossa nova and Brazilian folk music for about two years, ever since I took a class on Latin American politics and literature (I'm serious -- I think I was Brazilian in my past life) I think what I love about it is its habit of always telling a story. These songs are never entire worlds unto themselves -- they're conversations with people, always professing something, always wanting something. One of the geniuses of earlier Brazilian music is Jorge Ben, and one of my favorites of his is Rosa Menina Rosa. Check out the original, it's amazing.

Now, on a more contemporary note, check out a 2009 remix by one of my favorite singers in any language. Her name is Ceu. She turned this beautiful folk song into an electronic Portishead-in-Portuguese haunt of a track that's all her own, with that warm molasses voice of hers.

This gets to the heart of a point I often make (perhaps not very eloquently) about Nigerian music. The point is not whether or not to use a talking drum for authenticity, or to never use a guitar so as not to be a Western music copycat. The real aim of it is to take what's already there, the music/music styles that you see around you, and elevate it. One of my favorite songs by King Sunny Ade is "Mo ti mo" -- What I wouldn't do to see it remixed and remastered, with a kick in the bass. I would kill to hear Oliver de Coq remixed. Or Haruna Ishola. Or Ebenezer Obey. The real tragedy of the direction of much of contemporary African music is not so much that the songs are different than they were yesterday. It's that they chose to build from scratch an entirely new paradigm that's undoubtedly borrowed from influences not wholly theirs. We already have our music, mature. Why choose to be remake in someone else's image?

Monday, June 14, 2010

It's my blog, and I can post what I want to...

A jam session I had over at a DJ's house with some old Afu-Ra and Nas got me on some golden oldies hip-hop thing today. Maybe I should have named this post Reasons Why I Don't Listen to the Radio Anymore.

I get a lot of side-eye from folks because I don't funk with a lot of Nigerian singers/rappers. Here's the thing - when you're into real lyricists (None of that Soulja Boy isht) you can't go back to listening to majority of the new stuff out there parading as rap. I don't do affirmative action you're-Nigerian-so-I'll-buy-your-s***-anyway mess. If I think you're wack or otherwise below par, I couldn't be bothered with listening to any nonsense you spew on your record. I'll dance to that mess in the club, but don't get it twisted - I don't discriminate much after a few drinks.

Even then, there's some songs that'll sober me up quick.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Staring into the crystal ball

From Okot p'Bitek's, one of my favorite writers, has an essay titled "Indigenous Ills" (1967; Transitions Magazine), and I was struck by how true this is. Ever since I first read this article, I've been referring to it as the 'African Paradox':


There is a growing tendency in Africa for people to believe that most o their ills are imported, that the real sources of their problems come from outside.


Another, but contradictory phenomenon is the belief that the solutions to our social ills can be imported.


I believe that most of our social ills are indigenous, that the primary sources of our problems are native , rooted in the social setup. The most effective solutions cannot be imported: they must be the result of deliberate reorganization of the resources available for tackling specific issues.

He then bemoans what he calls "Africans colonizing Africans" and laments that anti-revolutionary stance of young people on the continent.

You see this in the anti-gay sentiment: "Homosexuality is Un-African! Then let's use Christianity to combat it!"

Same with growing our economies: "We need to grow our own economies and be self-sufficient! Let's use American and British money to do it!"

I'm more than a little freaked out that, once you take away the mention of trouble with the missionaries and his talk about dictatorships, this essay is still relevant. And this essay was written in 1967. Hell, even if you were to leave all that stuff in it'll still be relevant.

This is just one piece of writing. Wole Soyinka's Jero plays were written in the 1970s, and they were talking about swindler-churches. In 1970. I don't think Flora Nwapa's "Efuru," Ama Ata Aidoo's "No Sweetness Here," Buchi Emecheta's "Joys of Motherhood," or even Mariama Ba's "So Long a Letter" has been rendered anachronistic. I doubt that we can even say Fela's "Suffering and Smiling" belongs to another age. One of the most frustrating things, beyond looking at the open sore that is corruption and poverty, is knowing that we'll be talking about the same things for years to come.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Poem for Sunday III

Billy Collins has an understates style that I've always envied, sort of like those people who just are so cool without trying, or that say things over dinner that sound like they belong in a poetry anthology without even trying. His eloquence, even when he's being playful like in his poem about Emily Dickinson, is truly something to behold.

This poem has such a great mood to it, has so much soul.

The Nightclub

You are so beautiful and I am a fool
to be in love with you
is a theme that keeps coming up
in songs and poems.
There seems to be no room for variation.
I have never heard anyone sing
I am so beautiful
and you are a fool to be in love with me,
even though this notion has surely
crossed the minds of women and men alike.
You are so beautiful, too bad you are a fool
is another one you don't hear.
Or, you are a fool to consider me beautiful.
That one you will never hear, guaranteed.

For no particular reason this afternoon
I am listening to Johnny Hartman
whose dark voice can curl around
the concepts on love, beauty, and foolishness
like no one else's can.
It feels like smoke curling up from a cigarette
someone left burning on a baby grand piano
around three o'clock in the morning;
smoke that billows up into the bright lights
while out there in the darkness
some of the beautiful fools have gathered
around little tables to listen,
some with their eyes closed,
others leaning forward into the music
as if it were holding them up,
or twirling the loose ice in a glass,
slipping by degrees into a rhythmic dream.

Yes, there is all this foolish beauty,
borne beyond midnight,
that has no desire to go home,
especially now when everyone in the room
is watching the large man with the tenor sax
that hangs from his neck like a golden fish.
He moves forward to the edge of the stage
and hands the instrument down to me
and nods that I should play.
So I put the mouthpiece to my lips
and blow into it with all my living breath.
We are all so foolish,
my long bebop solo begins by saying,
so damn foolish
we have become beautiful without even knowing it.

Poem for Sunday II

From another favorite Kim Addonizio. This poem really goes at your senses, from the very first sentence about "strongest cheese" to "the bruised scent of blackberries" and "staggering and flailing my way/through the bars and back rooms,/through the gleaming hotels and weedy/ lots of abandoned sunflowers and the parks/ where dogs are let off their leashes."

The poem is from the collection Tell Me.

For Desire

Give me the strongest cheese, the one that stinks best;
and I want the good wine, the swirl in crystal
surrendering the bruised scent of blackberries,
or cherries, the rich spurt in the back
of the throat, the holding it there before swallowing.
Give me the lover who yanks open the door
of his house and presses me to the wall
in the dim hallway, and keeps me there until I'm drenched
and shaking, whose kisses arrive by the boatload
and begin their delicious diaspora
through the cities and small towns of my body.
To hell with the saints, with martyrs
of my childhood meant to instruct me
in the power of endurance and faith,
to hell with the next world and its pallid angels
swooning and sighing like Victorian girls.
I want this world. I want to walk into
the ocean and feel it trying to drag me along
like I'm nothing but a broken bit of scratched glass,
and I want to resist it. I want to go
staggering and flailing my way
through the bars and back rooms,
through the gleaming hotels and weedy
lots of abandoned sunflowers and the parks
where dogs are let off their leashes
in spite of the signs, where they sniff each
other and roll together in the grass, I want to
lie down somewhere and suffer for love until
it nearly kills me, and then I want to get up again
and put on that little black dress and wait
for you, yes you, to come over here
and get down on your knees and tell me
just how fucking good I look

Poem for Sunday I

Ogaga Ifowodo is probably one of Nigeria's best-kept secrets. He doesn't get as much press as, say, Chris Abani, but his poems are beautiful, measured, and well-observed, with a wistfulness that's never affected. Check these out, from his collection ":

God Punish You, Lord Lugard

The traffic warden's white-and-yellow sleeve
stopped our transport, a Lagos mini-bus
bought from one of the rust heaps of Europe
part of the great scheme to gain reprieve

for the city's long-suffering commuters.
A horde of beggars swarmed the bus; he beat
all to the vantage position in front
of the open door. He had good manners,

and what he lacked, such as the Queen's english,
he faced with uncommon calm and courage;
blind and battered, with a withered left arm,
not for him the plain and unlearned

"Help me for chop, I beg. God go bless you."
Some flourish, or polish, he thought
would persuade far more than suffering's worst gown.
And so he: "Good day, brodas and sistas.

Half massy on me, please half sampaty.
Allah's piss for you." In the bus now, silence
and private wars between purse and charity.
"Half ya broda, half sampaty on me."

The conductor, scorning all etiquette
laughed loud, pitying country, not beggar
and swore: "God punish you, Lord Lugard,
na you bring this english come Nigeria!"

The white-and-yellow arm beckoned the bus,
a wild fury of horns startled it past
ferrying us beyond claims of charity
and of Lugard's shadow in the black smoke.

Ogaga Ifowodo

3 May 1997

And from "Homeland, and Other Poems":


What are the things that grow here?
Those that grow from stone, lacking
life and root, flesh and water
things cut as caps
for the baldness of stone.

What are the things that flourish here?
Those that rise from dust, without
teeth for the nourishment of sand
things frail and fallen, that fly
with the winds in sweat and sadness.

And what are the harvests here?
Of corn crippled before teething
Of tubers poorer than the planted head
Of tomatoes rotted before ripening
Of sand and gravel, burntbush and anthills.

What are the dwelling places?
Houses bitter like a weeping face
homes grievous like smoke-pipes
walls held up by pillars of anguish,
where lament makes bed and roof.

And how do children grow here?
Out of wombs whipped with want
and desire, the burst forth, to be
tough like street leather, sweet and hardy
like sugarcane, to learn love in safe time.

Here, we will walk the streets
where laughter is hidden in deep places
and stores cannot shut their doors
choked with hearts that bleed from gathered wounds
and you will see nothing can grow here but agony.

Ogaga Ifowodo

3 October 1992

And in this week in self-congratulation....

Not to pick on people, but this is what the f*** I'm talking about when I talk about self-congratulation:

Lagos is suddenly a hot new destination for writers from all over the world – courtesy of the exploits and efforts of writers like Adichie. Her four-year-old annual Creative Writing workshop, sponsored by Nigeria’s oldest and biggest beer company (which before now appeared to be more at home with sponsoring music festivals and talent hunts) has brought Jason Cowley, Nathan Englander, Binyavanga Wainaina, Jackie Kay, Doreen Baingana and Dave Eggers to Lagos, to facilitate writing sessions. This year Ama Ata Aidoo, Niq Mhlongo and Chika Unigwe are the guest writers.

In July it will be the turn of Helon Habila to lead creative writing workshops in Lagos and Abuja. The Habila workshops will be sponsored by Fidelity Bank, which sponsored the first two editions of Chimamanda’s workshop, before Nigerian Breweries Plc took over

Somehow, in the 150 million strong throng of people we have, we managed to find, oh, 10 writers who have gained international recognition! Wow! See how awesome we are?

You know, I think I'm going to make this a feature on this site: Self-Congratulation Watch. It's not so much that this article is wrong; We do have a literary revival in Nigeria. But it doesn't require substantial work on the part of Nigerian leaders, it doesn't propel our people/country forward, and we shouldn't get drunk on this moonshine that we intoxicate ourselves with on how amazing we are, believing in our exceptionalism that we have done, frankly, nothing to deserve.

Cue the "we can't focus on the negative" comments on my twitter/email. Whatever. My point is this: It's nice to have Adichies and Okris et al, but we have a tendency to focus on these feel-good stories and use them as a reason to desensitize ourselves to the myriad of very serious issues we have to deal with. We need to keep our eyes on the prize, people. We have not arrived.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

New Tu Face!

*Does happy dance*

When I'm not shaking my head about how he has 5 kids and wondering why most people I know think he's hot, I'm thinking - You. Effin'. Rock.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Little Bee" by Chris Cleave

From the "Little Bee" review on Amazon.

ll you should know going in to Little Bee is that what happens on the beach is brutal, and that it braids the fates of a 16-year-old Nigerian orphan (who calls herself Little Bee) and a well-off British couple--journalists trying to repair their strained marriage with a free holiday--who should have stayed behind their resort's walls. The tide of that event carries Little Bee back to their world, which she claims she couldn't explain to the girls from her village because they'd have no context for its abundance and calm.

OK! A story about a Nigerian orphan written by a British dude - Hmmm...

I loved What is the What, written by Dave Eggers on a Sudan boy during the genocide, so I don't think you have to be Nigerian necessarily to write a good Nigerian story. Still, it's either going to be a train-wreck or a masterpiece. All the reviews I've read indicate it's the latter. Check out the review, and maybe read the book.

Readers' Review: "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave (Rebroadcast)

It's my blog, and I can post what I want to...

If you haven't heard any BLK JKS, do it now. They'll be playing at the World Cup opening concert, so get acquainted. Here's the title track off their newest titled "Zol!"

(Sorry, the embed code doesn't seem to be working).

A Lie is Oversimplification in Drag

Pankaj Mishra has a devastating piece on Ayanna Hirsi Ali's newest book "Nomad". A taste:
“Nomad” is unlikely to earn Hirsi Ali many Muslim admirers. Neither will her recent support for the proposed French ban on face veils and the Swiss referendum outlawing minarets. In denouncing Islam unreservedly, she has claimed a precedent in Voltaire—though the eighteenth-century scourge of the Catholic Church might have been perplexed by her proposal that Muslims embrace the “Christianity of love and tolerance.” In another respect, however, the invocation of Voltaire is more apt than Hirsi Ali seems to realize. Voltaire despised the faith and identity of Europe’s religious minority: the Jews, who, he declared, “are, all of them, born with raging fanaticism in their hearts,” who had “surpassed all nations in impertinent fables, in bad conduct and in barbarism,” and who “deserve to be punished.” Voltaire’s denunciations remind us that the Enlightenment was a much more complex and multifaceted phenomenon than the dawn of reason and freedom that Hirsi Ali evokes. Many followed Voltaire in viewing the Jews as backward, an Oriental abscess in the heart of Europe. Hirsi Ali, recording her horror of ghettoized Muslim life in Whitechapel, seems unaware of the similarly contemptuous accounts of Jewish refugees who made the East End of London their home after fleeing the pogroms.
Or this.
Islamic fundamentalist groups have long terrorized many Muslim countries, especially those, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, that were ravaged by blowback from the Cold War and the war on terror. These extremists, who now assault the West as well, have always lacked popular support within their own countries. The anarchic vivacity of contemporary Muslim societies—featuring such figures as Ali Saleem, Pakistan’s cross-dressing television host, and Cairo’s hijab-wearing sex therapist Heba Kotb, whose talk show is beamed across the Arab world—does not quite match Hirsi Ali’s description of an incurably medieval people busy devising ever-harsher laws for themselves while plotting mayhem for the infidels. In recent years, Islamist movements, led or assisted by women activists, have helped democratize Indonesia and Turkey; innumerable Muslims, such as Asma Jahangir, in Pakistan, and Shirin Ebadi, in Iran, fight to defend the rights of women against both Islamic fundamentalists and secular autocrats.
I am under no illusions as to the horrors done in the name of Islam on the African continent and elsewhere. I am most certainly not ever going to depict Mohammad, but the most anyone who chooses to will get out of me is an irritated sigh -- I cannot fathom raising a hand, much less a gun or a knife, at someone for not adhering to my beliefs. Still, not everyone accepts this.

Islam is an equalizing religion in many ways. In Nasfat, where many members of my family go in Lagos, everyone wears the same white garments. You probably wouldn't know who's rich from who's not until its time for everyone to go home and you can see who's driving a jeep and who's getting on a beat-up Peugeot. People pray on the floor -- there are no hierarchies in the mosque. You're either a mullah/Sheikh who gives the service, or you're in the populace, sitting down like everyone else. Well, if you're a woman your ass is seating way in the back. You know, so the preacher doesn't get distracted by your beauty or anything. Still, equalizing nonetheless.

Religion in general is what people tend to hold on to when stripped of everything. In countries where so many have so little, it takes on immense importance. The reason I am not consumed by religious belief is because I consume so much else, and allowed so much else. I do not have just one place where I go to get a certain level of respect. I have not needed religion to keep me going in times when everything else I had was taken from me. In short, I am not overly religious because I don't need to be. I don't need to be because I have so much.

Beneath the oversimplification of complex issues from Israel/Palestine to fundamentalist Islam is the need to paint people/beliefs/entities/nations as good and evil, designations that typically defy nuance and reject the idea that actions carried out by said people can be understood. For something to be understood, after all, it has to have a certain logic to it, and for it to have logic acknowledged is to acknowledge the humanness of he who has carried out the action. This is where I part with people like Ali; Understanding an issue is not the same as providing excuses. I may understand the logic of why a boy stole money -- he was hungry and he'd been fired from his job, perhaps, and maybe had a family of 4 to feed and couldn't go home with nothing -- but that does not mean that stealing is right. I may understand the reason for believing in a religion, but may not agree that religion is necessary in my own life. I can understand the grievances that drive someone kill, but that does not mean that I believe that murder is ever justified.

To illustrate my point on lack of nuance, here's a story in Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz on How to Tell When a Mid-East Expert Is Lying:

1. The Expert knows with certainty which of the two sides - only one - is responsible for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and which - the same one - for the failure of Mideast peace efforts.

2. The Expert treats the civilian victims of violence on one side as individuals, but assesses collective responsibility for the violence on the whole of the other side.

The Expert speaks as though the entire civilian population of the other - call it the Dark - side, were directly, actively, complicit and thus accomplice to whatever excesses were committed in its name, and therefore deserves whatever sanction, condemnation, or reflexive collective punishment the Dark Side civilian population is about to experience.

3.Field Guide

Dark Side: Commits atrocities, war crimes, crimes against humanity. Expert's Side: Exercises its right to self-defense.

Dark Side: Violates peace deals with impunity. Expert's Side: Cannot move forward in light of Dark Side's bad faith.

4. The Expert hints, implies, or states outright that the actions of the DS are comparable to those of the Nazis.

5. The Expert begins, "The conflict is fundamentally very simple."

6. The Expert advocates a One State Solution, but doesn't come out and say so.

I don't always succeed in doing this, but I think that the best way to approach sensitive issues is to seek those tangled lines of historical happenings that confound us, because therein, I believe, lies our humanity. In short, if it lacks nuance it's probably a lie. By refusing to delve deeper than her own experiences and by turning a blind eye to faults of the Western civilization she hurried to embrace, Ali has shown herself time and again as someone who cannot be taken seriously by anyone with an understanding of history. By painting the West as wholly good and the East as needing to be abandoned wholesale in order for one to achieve any measure of freedom, she strips both the West and the East of their humanity.