Ikhide

Father, Fighter, Lover

Category: Uncategorized

Africa: Statesmen, executioners, and black-on-black oppression

“The white man may be gone, but the pillage and the oppression he brought are still there. That, we kept. The people in power now are proud of this government, this omnipotent blunderbuss of a thing they didn’t even create, whose sole goal was to oppress and exploit. In the eyes of this elite of ours, the country is a cake there for the eating, not a common project, something we all work at together.

The people who govern us owe everything to the white man: the diplomas they brandish to ‘prove’ their superiority; the high-ranking positions they milk for personal gain; the cars they drive; the suits they wear; and the kids they send abroad to get a decent education. Even the president is a product of the white man! He patterns himself on him – and he’s proud of it. Don’t we say of Paul Biya that ‘he’s a white man’? His whole entourage is expected to act white along with him. There’s little room made for Africa and its traditions in the state apparatus – except for those traditional dance troops that get trotted out at the airport whenever the president travels, as if the whole thing hadn’t been a colonial invention in the first place, created to cheer and stomp whenever some De Gaulle flunky showed up.”

        – Jean-Pierre Bekolo Obama

Visiting South Africa’s Johannesburg in 2005 left me confused. I expected a joyful place, ringing with the bountiful fruits of freedom from the horror that was apartheid. Instead, I saw in the eyes of the poor, fear and despair and one wondered if they knew the difference between the past and the present – or if there indeed was any difference. At this conference, poor blacks served the participants with a certain deference and trepidation that stayed with me all through. The Black and White conference participants seemed fine with it. What seemed obvious was that the black ruling class had merely mounted the saddle of the former oppressors and was now using the same state-sanctioned instruments of oppression to oppress the poor – and amass power and wealth. I looked around me and it just seemed that white on black oppression had been replaced with black on black oppression. No compassion.

This horrific dysfunction is repeated in virtually all black African nations. The poor in my village are blissfully unaware that they were freed from colonialism; huge swathes of the village look like a place time forgot. Take those nations freed from colonialism; not much in terms of the culture and structure has changed. All over the land, the intellectual and ruling elite swagger like drunks, armed with pie charts and PowerPoint slides, mouthing bullshit as the poor ferry them from broken hovel to broken hovel on their backs. No one holds them accountable because they own the bully pulpit.

It is as if the warriors merely took over from the white man, shoved the poor into “boys’ quarters” and ghettos and continued the looting and brigandage. In the case of apartheid South Africa, the oppressors came to stay with their families and so they built robust structures and institutions for their enjoyment and use. The colonialists came, ruled as if from afar, built temporary structures – which was fine since their families were back home attending real schools and being taken care of by real hospitals. Each time they got sick, they would fly back home to have their rashes treated. Today’s post-colonial African ruler is exactly the same as his white ancestor. His families are abroad and each time he has a cough, he flies home to the West to be taken care of in real hospitals. There is no investment in his society – because he does not believe in his society.

The dysfunction is now being aggravated by the uncritical adoption of a form of crippling governance, what I call democracy without accountability, an aping of what happens in the West. Outside of slavery and AIDS, nothing has hurt African nations more than decades of looting in the name of democracy. Why are things the way they are? Why are we like this? Until we confront our challenges with real honesty and rigor, African nations will continue to be the butt of jokes in the international community of nations.

We are headed in the wrong direction. That much is obvious, let’s not lie about things. Our intellectual elite must stop bleating inanities and admit that there has been a rank failure to lead from their end. Our intellectuals have become the problem; lazy and loud parrots of lies and obfuscation all so they can feed their mouths. All I see is mimicry, and loud parroting of stolen ideas. In the absence of a robust infrastructure; of home-grown accountability, in the absence of a real willingness to work, our nations will remain caricature nations. We must think about these things.

And no, I do not agree with Jean-Pierre Bekolo Obama. A return to colonialism would be silly. But read his interview, right here; he has thought hard about these things.

Fiction Faction: New world

I come from a land that has streets with no names. Our people did not name the streets of our village because they saw the coming of smartphones, Google, e-mail and Facebook. Well, the little path that goes from my father’s village to my mother’s village is called the little path. Was. The little path is no more. In the land of my ancestors, people don’t venture far from the earth. There are no mortuaries; when they die they practically fall into their graves themselves. My father’s father was buried by the path half-way to my mother’s people. He is no longer buried there. A government thief built an ugly mansion over my grandpa’s bones.

Today, I stare at the remains of winter in America; earth is frosting on chocolate cake. After all these moons, alien images and clichés stick to me, like white on rice. I have ventured far, very far from home. When I left home many decades ago, no cellphone chats charted my way out of Customs and Immigration into America’s issues. My parents put me inside the capsule to somewhere and hoped that someday I would be back. I am still here in America. I am not going back soon.

Nothing stays the same. Not even in America. The changes make me dizzy and I obsess nonstop about the way things used to be. Here in my part of America, our drugstore no longer has human cashiers. The owners remodeled the store, and replaced humans with machines that talk to you. You simply walk up to the machines, scan your goods, pay and leave. It is very disconcerting; I keep looking for the humans to return, I actually miss them and their attitude. I know now that I love people and I cannot shake this cold unfeeling nothingness I get from interacting with a machine that proves its indifference with faux warmth.

Don’t get me wrong, I am high on the possibilities and the opportunities riding on the strong backs of these new and emerging technologies, but I do wonder now if there are downsides to all of this. The world is becoming more and more shaped by a few powerful cognitive elite. We are struggling to deal with and adapt to the awesome force of these new technologies and the new billionaire dictators that built them.

Life is war. We were all born into a war that we did not ask for. And people write about life, sometimes it is mostly gory. Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, they belonged to a certain era when one had no choice but to concentrate all of one’s creative passions on one medium of expression – the book. I read a lot of books, mostly about the condition we find ourselves as people of color in a white man’s world. However, I am first and foremost a writer of creative stuff, whatever that means. Lately though, I am known more as a book reviewer than anything else, which I find interesting. I think that a critic’s work in itself is creative work. We may not like it, but it is what it is. The critic clearly has a role to play and I would say we are in dire need of honest courageous tell-it-like-it-is book reviewers.

Some people should really not be writing and they should be told that. Some writers are also full of it and they should be told that. Some works are fun to read and they should be celebrated. It is a shame that we are talking about books because in my clan we are steeped in the oral tradition. Some of the world’s greatest “books” have been “read” to us in song by our ancestors. My mother is one of the world’s greatest living poets; she has not written a lick. She would be great on YouTube. She would at least help to preserve one of our dying languages.

On social media, walls are colorful wrappers wound tightly around the new municipalities of ME. Social media is falling leaves, hearts fluttering, forlorn, and drying on yesterday’s clothes lines. People are waving hasty goodbyes out the windows of indifferent relationships. It is complicated. Life goes on. There are no nations as we remember them. We have fled lands ravaged by thieves preaching democracy. Soon a generation will come and in their history books they will learn about something called a check and the gallant art of balancing a checkbook.

Social media. The new frontier has edged into our consciousness. America. Deep in the windy beauty of this land, the majesty of Nigeria, the land of my birth goes howling. We fled our gods, mean angry bloody gods foaming blood in their blood thirsty mouths wielding blood drenched cutlasses between steely teeth. Here in Babylon, alien gods kill us with the kindness of indifference. We retaliate by turning their plates on their heads, these patronizing, condescending gods. Africa. We fled her bloody windows for Facebook Nation. Every day children reject what passes for African culture today. They are not all mad. What is going on? Let’s talk about these things.

Yesterday’s tales: Everything is as it should be

So the other day, I had surgery done. It was no big deal, really. There was this needy benign growth on my left shoulder that, well, kept growing. I called it the monkey on my shoulder. My family hated it. They called it names, awful names. They wanted it gone. It became a conversation piece in our household; my family came together around my monkey, it had to go. This, even though my doctor had decreed that it was not a problem. My wife overruled our doctor. It had to go. You do what your wife tells you. Your doctor does what your wife wants.

Before the doctor slices into you, they take you to a private room for “prep” work, in which you are handed over from one medical busybody to the other. They ask you things, you mostly lie to protect your dignity. Sample stupid question: “Would you consider yourself a light, moderate or a heavy drinker?” Heh! They wanted to know if I was allergic to any medicine. I said quinine, hoping to be quarantined; I needed the rest from work and home. The nurses googled quinine on their laptops (yes, they didn’t know) and huddled anxiously when they saw the word “malaria.” The nurses were smart, pretty and sweet, almost shy. One brunette seemed to take a liking to me, the way a cheerleader takes a liking to a bespectacled nerd. “He is so sweet,” she enthused breathlessly to anybody who would listen. She fussed over me, paid every attention to me. I was flattered. I overheard her teaching several other nurses how to mangle my name.

Brunette Nurse went and found a Nigerian nurse to say hello to me, I don’t know why. She was Ndiigbo, we grinned sheepishly at each other as we struggled to humour this white sister trying to forge a kinship. We did not understand the rejection; why, culturally we were each closer to her than we were to each other. Through contrived accents we happily rejected each other and Ndiigbo fled into the mess of rooms and broken patients. I missed my wife and I asked for her to be with me. Brunette Nurse went and got my wife. My wife sat with me and nobody came again to fuss with me. Then some stalwarts came to wheel me away for the operation. They would not let my wife come with me. Brunette Nurse wished me luck.

Going to the operating table is interesting. There is a strange finality to being wheeled away. It feels like going to one’s execution. In the operating room I am strapped to a gurney by pretty chatty people, babbling nice things. They are trained to be affirming, encouraging me even when I am not following directions. The surgeon is chatty, but indifferent to knowledge outside of his profession. I like him. He is in his forties but he is still wearing the spirit of a boy. He tells me that his parents bought this house in this great neighborhood in the 60s; he doesn’t know what the house is worth today. He has trouble converting the past to the present value. I help him. He grows quiet. Except for a colonoscopy, I have never really done anything this invasive. As I lay there shivering on the operating gurney, I remember my uncle Elephant in my ancestral land; poet, griot and herbalist. He believes that witches and wizards are responsible for the fate of the living. All ailments including apparently cancer, were treated by an enema which he gleefully administered to the unwilling. He made some of the most awful-tasting concoctions out of plants that grew around our compound. I have not-so fond memories of trying to swallow his creations in the sixties during the Nigerian civil war. At those times, the war didn’t seem too far away.

The doctor starts snipping away at my monkey with a studied nonchalance. I loudly marvel at the invasive techniques of Western medicine. He asks me: “What do you mean?” I think to myself, this man is an idiot. How did his ancestors get to the moon? I survive the idiot’s knife. I actually like him. He is not an idiot. He is a professional who has little patience for the undisciplined flourishes of a literary mind. Surgery over, my wife retrieves me and takes me home. It has been a long day; my wife wants a sandwich. We get one from a bakery. I don’t like sandwiches, something about meat between slices of bread I find merely fascinating. I want to go home to comfort food; my wife’s white rice and goat meat stew. I reach into the hospital bag that houses my belongings and my friend waits patiently for me in my iPhone. My friend’s question lurks anxiously, “How did it go?” I type back, “nbd, I am still here, everything is as it should be, lol.” The response returns dripping with relief and exasperation: “You!” I am still here. And the beat goes on.

This American life: Coming of (old) age

I have always wanted to be an old man. Growing up in Nigeria, childhood seemed to be an overrated experience. We were not poor, but my parents were spartan in affairs that mattered to me a lot. I was always hungry but it always seemed that the best meals were reserved for elders, certainly the choicest parts of meat and fish. The elders of my childhood had problems with their teeth, I think because they ate too much meat. I had problems with my teeth because I hissed a lot at their greed and I did not get enough meat to keep them busy and fit. Old men also did not do any chores. I never quite understood what old people did, outside of supervising women and children nonstop and demanding things meant solely for their comfort. They rarely strayed from their favorite chairs after returning from work. And everything they said seemed to make sense even when it didn’t make sense. In any case, any child or woman who dared question the inanity of their alleged wisdom would find a suddenly spry “old man” connecting painfully with sensitive parts of their body or heart.

For me, as a child, all parents were old people, especially the men. My dad enjoyed being an old man. Everything I loved was reserved for him. I loved chicken gizzards, that was for him. I loved chicken legs, that was reserved for him. I loved to do nothing but supervise other people as they cleaned the yard. That was his responsibility as I cleaned the yard. When he bought his car, becoming an old man became even more attractive and sexy. He would get up and go and come as he pleased and return demanding things. I started going to church every Sunday praying to God that he spare my life so I could become an old man with the necessary benefits that accrue to old people. God answered my prayers, but in the wrong country. It is great to be a man in Nigeria. It is even greater to be an old man in Nigeria. I live in America now, I came here as a young man, I am now an aging er old man. In America. Trust me, you don’t want to be a man in America. You are not in charge, never will be. You certainly do not want to be an old man in America. Your children cannot wait to take you to an old people’s retirement home where if you are lucky you would spend your days staring out of a fake window as a nurse forces you to down pureed pounded yam and egusi.

It is not always a bad thing. There are some good days. Saturday morning. I feel great. Feeling really great is a rarity at my age. Energy comes in limpid spurts, the mind adjusts, learning to be super-efficient with time and energy. The older you get, the scarcer they are as commodities, I mean, time and energy. Hurry up children, hurry up, daddy is feeling great today. Daddy has energy today, let’s do all our chores before daddy has to take a nap! The kids are happy to see the return of my energy and my sense of responsibility as a father. We are going to the optician to finally get those eye-glasses for Netter_Shoks, we are going to the shopping malls, Ominira has some gift cards she must spend or I will lose my mind from the constant asking to go to the shops because Ominira has gift cards that must be spent, we are going to the shops to rescue things we don’t need from bankrupt stores, we are going to the barbershop, me and the boys. Why, I feel do great, I have already played two rounds of cards with my son, Fearless Fang. He has this card trick he plays endlessly, starting with the chant, Daddy, pick a card, any card! It is a card trick that doesn’t even annoy me, even after a hundred chants of Daddy, pick a card, any card! Life is good today, life is really good. I wish my wife was at home with us today, life would be really great. But she is the real breadwinner of the house, she is out making money and I am here at home doing baby nurse! America get as e be sha! America is no respecter of age. But life is great today, life is really great. Maybe I’ll have a drink to celebrate a golden day. And ruin a golden day.

 Drink! Man, I was young once, and I could really down a few Gulders. And a few bottles of Odeku Stout. And some ogogoro. Yep, I used to be able to drink up a storm. Not anymore. At my age, a decision to down a single shot of cognac (yes, VSOP, my favorite life’s nurse) is not made lightly. The timing of the indulgence has to be just right, the calibration (of the number of drinks) has to be just right. Too late at night and I am groaning all night and groaning all morning. More than one drink and I am groaning all night and all morning (WHO has just ONE drink?).

 My eyes are going bad on me, they are not usually the first to go, but they are a close second, or third, or fourth, many things begin to abandon you in the twilight of your journey. The problem is that they abscond at exactly the time you need them the most. Try reading without your eyes. My eyes are so bad these days, I have to take off my eye glasses just so I can read,

 I remember Wole Soyinka’s ruminations on his first white hairs. I only remember it now, because I didn’t understand it then and I don’t understand it now. Here, see if you can understand it.

To my first white hairs

Hirsute hell chimney-spouts, black thunderthroes
confluence of coarse cloudfleeces – my head sir! – scourbrush
in bitumen, past fossil beyond fingers of light – until …!

Sudden sprung as corn stalk after rain, watered milk weak;
as lightning shrunk to ant’s antenna, shrivelled
off the febrile sight of crickets in the sun –

THREE WHITE HAIRS! frail invaders of the undergrowth
interpret time. I view them, wired wisps, vibrant coiled
beneath a magnifying glass, milk-thread presages

Of the hoary phase. Weave then, weave o quickly weave
your sham veneration. Knit me webs of winter sagehood,
nightcap, and the fungoid sequins of a crown.

My objective, indepth review: Very nice poem. Very nice. But wetin di man say? End of review of head-breaking poem by olodo (moi!). I don’t remember my first strand of white hair.; I remember a wave, a mean army of amebos outing my mortality before pretty damsels. That is the other thing, all the beautiful women start coming out of everywhere once your white hair starts sprouting all over your ancient body. Maybe, your eyes are so bad, every woman looks beautiful. But either way, life is unfair. While my father’s white hairs came out in steady dignified spurts, mine simply overwhelmed my vanities and I just knew there was no need trying to cover them up with hair dye. America does not pay me enough to buy the amount of dye I would need to recover my youth.

 Life is a cycle. I am at a certain age now, and my children treat me like their son. I know now why old folks look so calm, wise and all-knowing – they have no energy to do anything else. Everything has to be rationed, I mean everything – emotions, food, booze, because there are consequences for overindulgence. I was a warrior once, jumping off rooftops, beer in hand, walking around fertile markets with my manhood as the weapon of choice. Now I watch today’s warriors, fools, jumping off rooftops, beer in hand, walking around markets pregnant with mischief, wagging their manhood at the unimpressed. They are unimpressed, right?

Old age is not that bad, my stomach is still trim. Well it is not bulging yet, but I see the beginnings of a paunch… My passions have aged, mellowed. I give advice to the young and they pretend to be awed by my inanities. America. I am in the wrong place and time. The old don’t get much respect in America and I miss Nigeria. In my time in Nigeria, the toothless ate all the best pieces of meat and the children simply looked on and prayed to get old enough to own their own piece of meat. In America, my doctor says I should avoid red meat, because, get this, I am aging! Na my turn form five dey wear knicker!

I am officially an old person in America. The mail came some moons ago and I got my membership card to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). With your AARP card, you get pretend-perks like airfare and hotel room discounts. Big deal. At my age, in my village in Nigeria, you get a chieftaincy title. In America I got a piece of paper screaming “old man!” Old age robs you of memory also. Anything that is not inside Amebo my iPhone might as well not exist. I have to write everything down or else I forget. My doctor says not to worry, as long as I know that I am forgetting something I am fine. He says when you forget that you forgot then you are in real trouble. Sigh!

Ikhide loves Pablo Neruda

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is the most romantic novel ever in the history of mankind. Tears run down my cheeks whenever I remember the only love scene in the book. It lasted exactly 30 seconds from when Okonkwo swept his bride onto his arms to the glorious end when he growled, “Oya go cook peppersoup or I will use your skull to drink palmwine!” Achebe’s famous words are engraved in the canon of great literature: “Even in those days, Okonkwo was a man of few words.”

That was before the white man came with his wahala, declaring African men savages because they don’t coo “I love you!” to their wives. In Chukwuemeka Ike’s The Potter’s Wheel the character Obu declares his love for Margaret by giving her six plump sautéed delicacies he had caught under a lamp post. They were thoughtfully wrapped in the sports section of the Daily Times.  You should have seen the “I go love you die, Obu!” look in Margaret’s eyes. Did the white man see great romance here? Nope! He observed two savages initiating a courtship with six plump termites. Obu and Margaret had no idea they were eating termites. This was in 1946. We are the conquered; everything gets lost in the narrative. And Achebe reminds us: Until the lions gets their own historian, the hunt will always glorify he hunter.

The British introduced subversion into our marriages by introducing weird customs into our bedroom; foreplay, after-play, flowers, breakfast in bed, dinner by candle light, Pablo Neruda, climax, G-spot, G-string, blah! Blah! Blah!  It is a wonder African men can still go to farm, after all these exhausting activities (most of which cost lots of money by the way.) When the Americans came they laughed at us for being British because we only knew the missionary position, what the British imported here along with Marmalade and toothpaste. The things our women now make us do are unprintable in a family newspaper like Facebook. They even have books for making love (yes, making love, God forbid you will call it sex or nacking, that is the last time your African ass will ever get any).

My friend Mazi Uche married Nkechi, a delightful 28-year old medical doctor with a PhD in brain surgery from the University of Lagos. My friend is a 56-year old cab driver living life subversively in Baltimore praying everyday not to be shot by his clients.  Nkechi was fond of calling him “Oshodi! one way!” It turns out that Nkechi like many unreasonable young people, prefers a methodical approach to love making while Mazi Uche prefers to have sex one way, same way, and very quick, hence the pejorative,  “Oshodi! One Way!” Nkechi likes breakfast in bed, a bottle of Moet champagne cooling its heels in ice, and Adele crooning lustily in the bedroom. She hates the great love ballads of Osita Osadebe. Mazi Uche believes anyone that does not like Osita Osadebe is a cave woman. I agree.

Nkechi loves long baths in something called a jacuzzi, preferably together, followed by a book reading in bed. Nkechi loves Pablo Neruda and loves to be slowly fed freshly baked Godiva chocolates in bed; not the ones you buy at a 7-11 convenience store, no, freshly baked Godiva chocolates. You can buy them $500 a pound on sale. She also likes whipped cream; don’t ask what she does with that, tufiakwa! After all of this, if she does not have a headache, you may negotiate next steps. Unfortunately, Mazi Uche hates baths, certainly not with another person. Mazi Uche is a real chief; a titled chief must not be seen naked by a mere mortal. That is why he refuses sex in the daytime; it is taboo according to the gods of his ancestors.

Mazi Uche and Nkechi are now divorced – irreconcilable differences. Nkechi is now happily married to a 32 year old American pediatrician, a fawning woman wrapper who treats her like a goddess. We hear they take baths together and he reads Neruda to her nonstop, tufiakwa! His lovemaking lasts longer than that of a randy elephant, we hear. And he does magical things with whipped cream. Mazi Uche is suing Nkechi for all the money he paid for her medical degrees while he was slaving in America, driving cabs and fully expecting to be shot by a thug looking for money to buy chocolates and whipped cream for his baby mama.

The women in my life are allergic to suffering. The other day we had to take our teenage daughter Ominira’s late model truck to the shop for servicing. I timidly suggested that she take Anikeleja, my 20-year old van to school. Come see drama, “You hate me daddy! You don’t love me!!  You want me to go WHERE in THAT THING??? What IF a boy sees ME in THAT THING???” (Pretty princess’s cute arms sweep with unspeakable disgust in the direction of THAT THING before princess faints!). We are now in psychological therapy to address the post-traumatic stress disorder occasioned by my poor judgment. I do love my van; you have to push it to start it and it leaks everywhere like an old man in diapers.  But I love my van. Love is blind.

Please talk about it or else…

Americans talk about everything at every opportunity. They talk during meals and sex. I once had an apartment below a young American couple who liked to make love and talk at the same time. Loudly. I was miserable whenever I had to leave the apartment to go to work, so entertaining. Nigerians are simple people; the British taught us to keep mum during sex. That is what the missionary position is for. I don’t know why the British call it the missionary position; they should simply call it the (only) position since well it is the (only) position they know about. Maybe the Americans invented the missionary position. They have names for everything because they talk a lot. The British are famously tight-lipped about everything. The story is told about the British couple enjoying their annual one round of sex in the missionary position when the woman began to squirm with enjoyment. The man is said to have stopped work and curtly declared: “Dear, you should not enjoy this!”

I love watching American TV food channels. They talk to food as if they are making love to it. They close their eyes as the food meets their palate and they make sensual noises as if they are climaxing and then the storytelling begins. By the time they are finished talking the food is cold. Americans love to talk about their houses. If they like your house they will talk about it all day. If a Nigerian likes your house you will not hear about if from the green-eyed monster. Bad belle jealousy will not let her say anything nice about your house. She will keep quiet even if it kills her. Meanwhile she will start memorizing everything she likes in your house. The next time you visit her house you will think you accidentally stepped into your own house. She would have faithfully reproduced everything in your house down to the bathroom towels. You will of course not say a word even though you are dying to tell the asshole how much you appreciate her perfidy. You are a Nigerian.

I have been loitering around Americans for many decades and I have mastered everything about them down to their accent. So, let me offer a few tips for acculturating in Babylon. Say you have a dinner date with an American lady at her house. This is an opportunity to show that you are not an ajepako half-human, you know those pretend-people who brush their teeth with twigs and hold cutlery like mass murderers. Before you leave your house, brush your teeth vigorously with toothpaste, and buy breath mints because you are going to be talking. If she offers you breath mints, my brother please take it. She will offer you wine. This is not palmwine. You can tell that it is not because unlike great palmwine, it tastes like pond water. She will offer you the wine and watch you intently like a white anthropologist watching a mountain gorilla. Do not simply swallow, make a face and keep quiet. Worse do not sip a large quantity and spit on her white carpet in honor of your wretched ancestors. You are not coming back; the police will make sure of that. Sip a little, close your eyes as if you are suffering from great sex, and then say something absolutely inane like: “This is a great well aged red. Fruity, bold, with a hint of nuttiness. Sensual, like you. You have great taste in wine!” Man, she will like that, an African who knows wine; you are getting some (sex!) tonight!

You are getting close to the bedroom for the ultimate test. But first the food is coming. If the lady has cooked a meal for you, this is a good sign. She must really like you. Please do not wolf the food down like a ravenous subsistence farmer eager to go back to his yam tendrils. Be inquisitive. Ask questions. Sometimes, the American, eager to impress you, will do some research about Nigerian food and cook you egusi. You are going to be miserable all night, but this is nice of her. Ask questions that show you really care: “Wow! This is sooo nice! Was it your idea to put chunks of carrots in the egusi sauce?” Please do not call it “soup” bush man! If the rice is half-cooked, compliment her on her creativity. “I like the texture of the rice. The almonds and the peanuts give the rice a robust nutty feel.” Abeg do not say groundnuts! Drink some more red wine. You will need it.

If she offers you sex, whatever you do, don’t duplicate the only one sex scene in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It lasted one minute and ended with the memorable line; “Even in those days Okonkwo was a man of few words.” If you behave like Okonkwo, you are not coming back to her bedroom, unless to clean it. Make love for at least two minutes. And talk a lot of nonsense. Please. Oya go for it, tiger.

 

Lost in America: At the bookstore

America. I am at the bookstore shopping for a gift to celebrate a friend’s retirement. She must leave with a piece of me. Procrastination dropped the day on me without warning and I had to go to a bookstore to buy a book. Who does that anymore? I will give my friend Teju Cole’s new book, Open City. She loves New York, classical music, art, museums, classical music, pretty people, gourmet food and wines, and stuff like that. She will like Open City, there’s lots of that in the book.

At the bookstore. There are computer monitors everywhere, you can look up who and what you want and you can even print a map that takes you to the book inside the store. I don’t like going to bookstores. I feel sheepish inside this huge bookstore. I ignore the computers; I did not come to the bookstore to play with computers. Customer Service. I tell a young man, I guess I can look it up myself, but maybe you can help me, do you have Teju Cole’s book, Open City? He looks at me with practiced faux enthusiasm, Oh sure, glad to help! I spell T-E-J-U C-O-L-E and tell him proudly, he wrote Open City. The clerk looks it up on the computer, nope, it is not in stock, I can order it for you. Nope, I say, not unless you can postpone my friend’s retirement party. What about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? I spell A-D-I-C-H-I-E. I do not spell the other names. He divines his computer again. Ah yes, Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, The Thing Around Your Neck. He says they are in Fiction upstairs. Wow, Fiction upstairs! Not in “Black American,” not in “African-Caribbean,” not in the back of the bookstore, gathering dust with losers. Nice.

I decline the young man’s offer to take me to Fiction, and thank him profusely, nice man. I will go to Fiction upstairs, browse around and pick out something nice for my friend. At Fiction, I start with G for Petina Gappah, yes, my friend will like An Elegy for Easterly, I love that book, I must have given away half a dozen to grateful readers. There is no Gappah, too bad. This is why bookstores are dying all over America, who needs this? My laptop Cecelia always has these books, point, click and pay, and they show up in three days, plus free shipping.

I scoot over to the A section, A for Adichie, Chris Abani, Chinua Achebe, Uwem Akpan. Abani’s Graceland is there posing with attitude, no, I don’t want my friend to attempt suicide with such a depressing book. Akpan is there with Say You’re One of Them, no, I don’t want my friend to attempt suicide with such a depressing book. All of Achebe’s books are there; Arrow of God, Things Fall Apart, etc. No more Achebe, please, we have skyscrapers in Africa now and we eat ice cream, she won’t like reading about cute yam farmers. I settle on Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. I also grab a copy of Pablo Neruda’s 100 Love Sonnets; don’t ask me why, it is a long delightful story.

The cashier’s line is a pleasant line, summer is all lined up. A pretty lady behind me keeps smiling at me, I wonder what is wrong. There is a mother-daughter couple in front of me; they seem to thoroughly love being with each other and my heart yearns for my daughters and sons. I wonder where they are, what they are doing. My turn. A cashier with auburn tresses calls me up to the counter. I am a member of the store’s club; I give her my identification number so she can shave off a few pennies from my bill. She pulls up my information and pronounces my name the way my ancestors like it. Her tongue wraps around my father’s name like she owns it and she goes, Mr. Ikheloa! Wow! Lovely! I beam with pride at the mention of my name in all the right places, and I compliment her, Impressive!

She squirms happily like a puppy offered treats. Did I pronounce it right? Yes, thanks! Good! When I was young I had an impossible to pronounce name also so I take care to pronounce impossible to pronounce names correctly. Thanks, I gush with gratitude. From West Africa? Yes, I cry with pleasure, I am going to fall in love with this soulmate! Which country? Nigeria, I say with pride. I passed through Nigeria once. Really? Which Airport? Lagos. Her eyes lower into pretty ice picks, I was going to Senegal and the Congo. They stole my luggage in Lagos, it was awful. She spits out the dagger-words sweetly. Her pain stabs my anxieties. I deflect. How was Senegal? It was okay, a bit too sleek, I liked the Congo. The Congo was innocent. Innocent! Oh Africa! I flee with my bag of books. Memo to self: Please begin to catalogue all the losses you have endured everywhere in America. Beginning with this bookstore.

 

3P+ ANNOUNCEMENT OF NEW JOURNAL

3P+ ANNOUNCEMENT OF NEW JOURNAL

It is with great pleasure that we announce the birth of a new journal called 3P+: the KWASU International Journal of the Arts.

Published by the rapidly growing Kwara State University, at Malete, Ilorin in Nigeria, the journal’s focus will be on the performance arts, covering both creative works and academic essays, but it will not be exclusive to these areas alone.

The name, ‘3P+’ is an acronym for ‘Prose, Poetry, Performance, Plus’, the ‘Plus’ meaning any other area of the arts not mentioned—such as Music, Film, Photography, Visual Arts, etc.,–and indicating that the journal’s interest is intended to be as broad and comprehensive as possible.

The journal is edited by the celebrated scholar, poet and playwright, Femi Osofisan, along with a very distinguished editorial team comprising scholars and artistes from various parts of the world; and its academic papers shall be peer-reviewed.

Contributions are therefore invited for the maiden edition scheduled for May 2015. These should be in form of essays, reviews, or creative works, photographs, etc., and can be in any of the following areas: Dance, Drama, Film, Music, Photography, Poetry, Prose Fiction, Visual, Fine and Fibre Arts, etc.

Please note that all creative works must be original, and academic papers should be presented in the most recent MLA format. Reviews of productions which are accompanied by photographs will be most welcome. We also have a Notice Board for reports of recent or forthcoming events, publications, exhibitions, and so on.

Contributors are advised to retain copies of their works in case of loss in the post, for which we can bear no responsibility.

Contributions should be mailed to:

The Editor,

3P+: KWASU Journal of the Arts,

Office of the Distinguished Professor of Performing Arts,

c/o The Vice Chancellor’s Office

Kwara State University,

Malete, Ilorin,

Kwara State, NIGERIA.

 

Or by email to: okinbalaunko@gmail.com

 

Cow leg nor be cornbeef!

America Police nor go kill me O! Every week for America, we dey do environmental, that is, for night you go put your dustbin outside, for morning, environmental people go come carry am with their agbegilodo lorry. The dog and the deer wen dey our compound dem plus the vulture dem nor like me at all at all. Dem be racist because dem nor like say Black man like me dey gbaladun for oyinbo neighborhood. I don call police for dem tire, still yet dem nor dey hear word. Di ting pass me. If I just put my dotty for outside like this those witch dem wen be animals go throway di dotty make everybody see dey laff me.

I go wake up for morning, come see vulture and dog and deer they laff my dotty, for road. See wahala O, all di cowfoot, abodi, roun’about, cowtail, chicken leg, chicken yansh plus eba and pounded yam and orisirisi rice don full ground. Whenever I put only oyinbo food like caviar, coleslaw, pasta and em corned beef for dotty dem nor dey troway my dotty for ground mek people know say I dey enjoy. Mba O, na only when I nack our native village food (oporoko, white soup, black soup, isiewu, etc.) naim this witch dem dey fall my hand.

So, last week for environmental (yes o, nor be only una dey do environmental for Naija, we dey do environmental too na) naim di yeye racist dogs and deer when dey our neighborhood come throway all our dotty for road for America. Our yeye oyinbo neighbor wen nor kuku like us before as she dey waka im dog now, naim e see our dotty plus all di bone dem. See wahala! Riiiing! Riing! Idiot racist don call Police with blackberry say e see with im krokro eye “what appear to be finely ground fragments of human bones and remains!” Chei! See me see trouble o, malu wen go America don become James Brown! So naim police run come with their wahala, come see ambulance (I nor know wetin ambulance dey come do with malu bone, maybe na to take am go hospital, SMH).

Even sef, police come with gun, whether dem wan shoot the malu bone I nor know. Some people come when dey call themselves HAZMAT (Hazardous Materials) team, with white coat, mask for face, gloves for hand, come dey touch everything for my domot. Fire Brigade come too! Meanwhile our neighbor don faint for our domot after e don call lawyer ( “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on witnessing a possible murder scene!” Na money the idiot dey look for for my hand!). Dem tie one big rope all over our house wen dem write this nonsense: “STAY AWAY! YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK!! POSSIBLE CRIME SCENE! SUSPECT MAY BE ILLEGAL ALIEN!!” Me I nor even know say all dis penkelemesi dey shele O, I dey inside baffroom dey baff dey sing Jim Reeves like olodo wen never see hot and cold shower before!

Before you know am my iyawo and love of my life Mama_di_girl don run come meet me inside baffroom dey shout, “Ewooo! You kill person? Police dey look for you O! Abi you kill person when you dey drive and play with iyawo dem for Twitter and for Facebook? How many times I don tell you make you leave dem iyawo alone until you reach house? Agbaya! A whole old man like you! Shebi I tell you say dem take woman do you something, enh? You dis man, you nor go kill me! I hope say nor be oyinbo you kill o, otherwise na prison na im you go die put!! Olosi! If you go prison, who go take out the trash (dotty, for dose of una wen be ajepako!) If you go prison who go pay for this house? Shebi I tell you say mek you nor buy house, no, you must be like those wen better pass you! Papa_di_boy, if you die for inside prison, dem go still pay me your life insurance? Papa_di_boy!!! You nor go kill me for this America o! Why, Oh, Why did you go and kill an oyinbo person? Why are you like this?”

Na so our iyawos dey do for America o, any kpem like dis dem don throw you under molue! Before I fit say Jack Robinson, Mama_di_Girl don grab me inside baffroom, naked, “Oya go and answer your papa name for Police, olosi murderer. Goddamn sheet mora focker!” Na by luck sef na im I take grab towel take cover my blokos before my madam deliver me to police thusly: “Officers, this is the alleged murderer that you are possibly looking for. Just to be clear, he is no relative of mine, he happens to be the father of my FOUR WONDERFUL AMERICAN CHILDREN who were born here you know. Please be sure to return my towel around his waist when you are done with him, I would hate to lose it, I bought it on sale at Lord & Taylor’s, they don’t make towels like that anymore!”

As dem just dey measure my body to throw me inside their Black Maria na im I come dey shout like goat when see Christmas! “Officers! How family? Madam dem nko? They are goat bones! Goat bones! Malu! Malu! Oxtail! Oxtail!! Please don’t shoot!!!” Dem release me but them charge me for indecent exposure because the women police when come, when dem see my small chest when be like Papa Ajasco own and my small small muscle dem, and my flat yansh wen be like OBJ own, the idiots come dey laff so tay one of them come faint. Naim dem charge me for indecent exposure. Anyway dem don take the bone dem go lab for positive identification. Since dem born me, dis na di first time when I beg God make I fail exam! Come see me dey praise worship! “Spiritual powers die by fire! Die! Die! Die!” Until the result come, them say make I nor travel go anywhere. As if I wan travel before; where I dey go, who dash monkey banana, nor be money person dey take crase?

All this time when my iyawo and Police dey do me iso abi tire (“ olosi, you wan nail for inside your fat head abi you wan make we necklace you with tire wen get petrol?”) the dog dem and the deer dem when do me dis wayo just dey laff dey parambulate dey point at me dey fall dey laff dey parambulate dey point at me. Dem be witch I tell you. From now henceforth (oya laff my oyinbo now, hiss!) anytime when I eat goat meat and malu meat finish, I go grind the bone chop join, that is enh, I go hide the evidence like Baba Suwe. If I nor fit hide the evidence, I go wrap am with double Ghana Must Go bag, put am for the dustbin, then wait by the dustbin for the people wen dey carry trash to come carry am. Who wan die?

Life in America: Ring around the roses

First published 2002

It is Sunday morning in America. My wife is going to work all day and all night, she is the major breadwinner of the family. I am determined to see her before she leaves, maybe share a cup of coffee with her, and if I am lucky a conversation that is not interrupted by the wants of our children. I make it downstairs just as she is flying out the door cursing the gods of our forefathers for not waking her up in time for work. She is late, she will call me on her cell phone, no she won’t, she doesn’t want to wake up the kids. We’ll talk tomorrow she says. I stand by the door and wave her good bye as dawn licks the sleep off my weary face. America is hard.

My children are still sleeping, exhausted from harassing me all day yesterday. The Christians must be right, there must be a God. Perhaps, it is time for me to re-evaluate my life as an agnostic. It is too early to call my friend. He never sleeps but his family does and I don’t want to incur their wrath. But it sure would be nice to just talk with him about my latest ideas for saving the world. Well, maybe later. The sight of my new laptop interrupts my peace of mind. It is a thing of beauty; it has everything in it that money can buy. The people I write for occasionally decided that the cure for what appears to me to be writer’s block, is a new laptop. So they declared my old laptop too ancient for me. I thought it was still good – a 15-inch monitor 300 Mhz machine, loaded with 192 MB of RAM, 10 gigs hard drive, a DVD ROM, a zip drive, and enough software to write a prize-winning novel. So, the other day, the MIS folks came and took that away, because it was now too obsolete for whatever skills I posted on my resume. In its place, they gave me this awesome 850 Mhz behemoth chock full of everything that is out there that has been invented for the laptop. America is hard.

My two toddler boys are up and I must suspend my thoughts. They are exactly one year apart and the Americans call them Irish twins, I don’t know what that means. Let me clean them up and give them breakfast. I may be back… America is hard.

Ring around the roses,
A pocket full of posies,
Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall down!

The cows are in the meadow,
Lying fast asleep.
Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall down.

The cows are in the meadow,
Lying fast asleep.
Ashes! Ashes!
We all get up again.

My seven year old daughter is up and has the two boys linked in a circle and they are chanting the nursery rhyme, “Ring Around the Roses!” and falling down in a dizzy heap after every stanza. My gratitude to my daughter for distracting the boys while I make breakfast is muted by my rueful self-admission that I have failed so far to teach them African nursery rhymes. I must find a book of African nursery rhymes. Or maybe write one myself. Who knows the lyrics of Boju Boju? I wonder if anyone knows of any book of Nigerian nursery rhymes. America is hard.

We have two daughters. They are of school age and they enjoy taking the bus to school. They don’t know it, but I enjoy walking them to the bus stop and watching them board the bus to school. Thanks to my work schedule (I telecommute), the opportunities to walk my daughters to the bus stop are plentiful. Whenever I announce my intention to walk them to the bus stop, they get frisky, squeal with unadulterated delight and they are as joyous as Nigerian puppies offered ice cream, apologies to Peter Pan Enahoro. I wonder, where can I get a copy of his hilarious pamphlet, How To Be A Nigerian?

For a kid born and raised in Nigeria, the coming of the school bus, as I call it, is a miracle. Every school day morning, at exactly 8:25 a.m., the bus ambles to a stop at our neighborhood. The kids have already formed a long line, at the head of which is the bus patrol, a little kid who acts like the school bus prefect, ensuring discipline among his or her peers. The kid wears a brightly colored sash, plumage of the peacock, and it is unmistakable who is in charge. The bus lights are on, cars are stopped on either side, until the bus moves, and there must be no movement on either lane. The penalties for infraction are too painful to contemplate. This ritual is repeated all over our local government by more than one thousand school buses. As parents, we take this ritual for granted. We don’t stop to thank the bus operator for being on time every day. However, let the bus be late five minutes, and parents become placard carrying pro-democracy activists. They call the local Board of Education Office and threaten fire and brimstone on the elected Board members for allowing such an injustice against little children. Apologetic staffers scurry around offering apologies, crafting carefully worded memos that essentially promise an improvement in services. The under-performing bus operator is hauled to class to participate in the continuous improvement program of the day. It is simply amazing.

As a first-generation immigrant, whenever I witness this drama, I alternate between amusement, and amazement. The other day, my little girl’s friend claimed that as she was going to the bus stop all by herself (gasp! What horrid parents, to allow a seven year old walk 100 yards to the bus stop ;-)) she was accosted by a strange man as she dashed through the woods to the bus stop. Man, the ensuing fracas was a major performance. The school system held a press conference denouncing this strange man (who was never caught). The girl’s divorced parents united albeit briefly to denounce the school system and the police and everybody else for what happened to this little girl. And the police, not to be outdone, held a press conference to denounce itself and the strange pervert who almost abducted this sweet little girl. For about a week, there was a police cruiser at our bus stop to ensure that no sweet little girl would ever be irritated by a strange pervert posing as a man.

My children have no idea HOW lucky they are. They are cursed or blessed by a life of perpetual prosperity. They don’t understand real want, they’ll never understand the pain of not having and the joy of really getting what you really want. The other day, my little girl came running into the house from school, really upset. “Daddy! Daddy!” she shrieked, “The bus ride was bumpy!” Man, I really would have loved a bumpy bus ride to my primary school, FIVE miles from what passed as my home.

The divide between my adopted local government in the US and ALL of my country Nigeria is beyond a sad joke. The annual operating budget of this local government’s public school system is 1.3 billion US dollars. The cost per pupil for a regular education is almost $9,000. The cost per pupil for special education (developmentally disabled) children is about $17,000. My daughters have access to things I would never have dreamed of as a boy growing up in Nigeria. Sometimes I wonder if this is not unnecessary icing on the cake. They have teachers, school psychologists, and all sorts of counselors. Pray, what is a psychologist doing around a six year old? You should see the school’s library. It is really not called a library, it is a media center, chock full of the very latest in instructional computer technology. It just seems that Apple and IBM are in competition at these schools over who cares more for our children. So my children have everything that I did not have growing up. America is hard.

In America, it appears that power and resources bubble up from the local government up to the central level. That in my opinion is what a true federation should be. It took the genius of the perpetually troubled Bill Clinton and the vacuity of the perpetually clueless George Bush to convince us in America of the near irrelevance to our lives of the American presidency. The war over the annoying Gore and the blank Bush was really fought over the supremacy of two ideologies each of which some note, with biting cynicism, claim a difference without a distinction. We woke up one morning and realized that our energies were better spent at the local level trying to effect change for our children and us. The money is in our village. The advocates of a Sovereign National Conference in Nigeria (SNC) are right on the money. We must restructure Nigeria in the interest of our children.

I am not saying that just having gobs of US dollars is the panacea for whatever ails our society. Problems abound in America and throwing money at the problems appears to simply exacerbate a bad situation, like the war on drugs. Take my children for instance. As African Americans they have been identified early as at-risk children, least likely to succeed in America. There are all sorts of studies out there (outside the profoundly silly Bell Curve) that indicate that there is a persistent academic gap between African American children of all socioeconomic backgrounds and white children. This gap persists despite all the resources that my children are exposed to every day. It seems that excess is not enough in America. But then I wonder, would my children be better off in the Nigeria that I grew up in?

I am convinced that they would be worse off in today’s Nigeria. I am really thinking of the Nigeria of the sixties, the seventies and the early eighties. I don’t know. I am stuck in time; of a halcyon period that holds some really pleasant boyhood memories. My children will never know the thrill of going to BATA to try out new shoes. They seem to get new shoes every month! They will never know the thrill of sitting down at Christmas in true anticipation of a once a year bounty of lots of rice and lots of meat. They will never know the pleasures of traveling through books to far away places like New York, London, and Paris. They have been to those places already. Where do they get their joy from, I always wonder as I watch them from the corner of my eyes. I am convinced that these children derive their joy from things and events that are alien to me. I have seen them at the beaches squealing with what has to be pure delight as the waves kick their little butts. What kind of fun is that? I have seen them at the pool chase the ice cream truck with my wallet and marveled at the pleasure in their faces as they emptied my wallet into the wallet of the ice cream man in return for soggy ice cream sandwiches. Well whatever turns them on, to each his or her own…

So you can see that there is a lot on my mind this morning. There are several stories in my head and my editor expects them out of my head and into this new laptop. Seeing how disoriented I am this morning, I wonder how Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka wrote their classics without a computer and definitely without the Internet. Excess retards progress. America is hard.

So, you, my friend in Nigeria, think about my children here in America and I shall think about your children in Nigeria. If we think about what we need to do to help all our children, perhaps, we can save both nations, America and Nigeria. I shall be back. I have a lot to talk to you about. Maybe my writer’s block is wearing off. Maybe. My boy wants me to pick him up and pirouette around the living room. That is his favorite treat. Hold on, with luck he might go to sleep… America is hard.

 

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