Writings of the general word's body

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Please Winona Rasheed, Africa is not a country

It is a constant source of frustration, despair almost, for the average African - this Western mindset that insists on seeing the African continent as one unfathomable mass of misery. From the language employed to describe Africa and Africans in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness to present day news-network-speak, we are faced with this daily, to the extent that we don't bat an eyelid most times. It's the reason why, when a Western celebrity or leader goes to a small corner of an African country, the headlines simply say he/she "went to Africa". As if Africa were one formless, unchartered space, as if Africa were the moon - some outer limit destination you venture into at your own risk.

It baffles me, this stereotype of an indistinct Africa. An Africa whose separate entities are not worth recognising or getting to know. Chicago can be Chicago, New York is New York; my television is currently talking about the US Democratic primaries results in Florida. No one presumes to think I don't know where that is, nor do they purport to enlighten me as to where it might be. I'm supposed to know, period. And if I don't know, that, frankly, is my own headache. The idea is that I ought to know Florida. Why then is the average Westerner excused from knowing about the parts of Africa that any educated person in the world should be ashamed not to recognise? Why is it only a mild educated joke that George W Bush once called Africa "a country"? Why didn't the Senate pass a vote of no confidence on him for the pitiful ignorance that should have rendered him unfit to rule the most powerful nation on earth?

I am tired of it. The West's lack of education, or the refusal to be educated, about Africa. The lack of curiosity about her except to the extent to which she reinforces deep seated stereotypes. Because of the unhelpful, unreflective language used to paint Africa, these attitudes seep into the collective unconscious and make their bed there. There's a book being promoted in London's bookshop windows right now. From the title, (Blood River) I can tell that it is about a journey up the River Congo (the same river on which Conrad's Marlow travels to the 'heart of darkness' to meet Kurtz); Blood River's subtitle reads: A Journey Into Africa's Broken Heart. First time I saw that subtitle, I gasped in the bookshop and my upper body jerked forward a little, as though someone punched me in the stomach. Africa's broken heart? How dire. Our heart, needless to say, is not broken.

So what do we say when literary editors who compile anthologies of writings by African writers go on the printed page and call Africa a "country"? That was my bafflement when I saw Winona Rasheed's foreword to a new anthology published by Author Me. Africa 2008 includes works by writers some of whom are not unknown to me, but Rasheed's foreword does those writers a disservice, to say the least. She compiled the anthology, and her foreword is not only an opportunity to rehash the most simplistic themes about Africa as exists in the Western imagination, but she goes on to describe Africa, somewhat condescendingly, as "this courageous country".

Honestly, I thought I was seeing things. Here was a book editor confirming in writing, in the most unambiguous way possible, what we have always suspected. From Winona Rasheed's name and her area of editorial interest (in this specific instance, Africa), you'd think she'd know better than to call Africa a country. How embarrasing.

Well, if you were thinking it was a one-off, a mistake, a slip or the printer's devil - think again. I clicked on an earlier African-themed anthology also edited by Ms Rasheed. Africa 2007 begins, "Africa, a vast country that is full of pain and suffering". Well, maybe we ought to thank God Rasheed knows Africa is vast; the "pain and suffering" we've heard before, so we can hardly sue for that. But Country?! Where's your radar, Ms Rasheed? Did you ever sit through a class in geography? I mean, what's going on here?

In fairness, it is not as though Winona Rasheed did not know of some countries in Africa. She does mention, after all, that the contributing writers come from Kenya, Botswana, Zimbabwe and what have you. Yet she still calls Africa a country. So what happened? A Freudian slip? A terrible slip that will require some clever words indeed, to explain why this 'slip' occured in 2 separate books over 2 years. No ordinary Freudian slip, that. And we know that Freudian slips only expose deeper things...
Or is it that the word 'continent' does not exist in her dictionary? Hardly likely, for she does manage to throw in, for good measure, the greatest of Africa clichés - "the Dark Continent". You couldn't make it up.

So, here's a few take-away snappy facts about Africa for Winona Rasheed, from something I read someplace, sometime: Africa has some 50 countries; the continent is 3 times the size of the United States; and you could fit the whole of Western Europe in the Sahara Desert and still have room to spare.

Worth remembering, when next you're thinking of putting together an 'Africa' anthology. If there is, to quote you, "yet another Author Africa Book", we don't expect to see Africa reduced to a measly country.

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu...

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, is a winner in this year's Macmillan Writer's Prize for Africa.

Author of 2 published novels (Zahrah the Windseeker & The Shadow Speaker), Okorafor-Mbachu won the Junior Category Award (and a $5000 cash prize) for her unpublished book, Long Juju Man.

Other winners are South Africa's Jayne Bauling in the Senior Category & Ghanaian Ekow Kwegyir Bentum won the New Children's Writer Award.

There were 400 entries representing 16 African countries; and judges included Jack Mapanje & Helen Oyeyemi.

Adinkra: Farewell Message

Thanks to JG, for this account of the opening of Rebecca Gibbs' Adinkra exhibition (on display till 7th February)...

Further to the posting about Adinkra: Farewell Message an exhibition by Rebecca Gibbs currently running at Kuumba, Bristol.

The formal opening was well supported by Bristol's Black Community and friends. On that occasion, Almeria Cole of Kuumba introduced Rebecca who talked about the background to the exhibition and to some of the works on show.

'Rubber' provided background drum music, wine flowed and Paul Stevenson made an impromptu speech about the 'humanity' of Rebecca's work.

The event proved very timely in terms of assessing the lessons of Abolition 200, and as a follow up to the
Ghana - we can do better conference.

Kuumba, it transpired from Rebecca's speech, is facing a financial crisis following the announcement of cuts in Arts Council funding. Those concerned discussed possible courses of action and signed a petition.

On Sunday 21st, Rebecca was interviewed live about the exhibition on BBC Radio Bristol. Photographs have since been taken for the local press and an interview has been recorded by Lisa Baiden for a community radio station.

  • By JG

Blog from the past

Even before news broke of the untimely death of the actor Heath Ledger, I'd been intending to recycle this minor blog classic of mine earlier this month, 2 years after I first posted it. The Ledger connection comes from the fact that I wrote 'Drifting in the West End' on the night I watched Brokeback Mountain. Posted on 20 January 2006, here it goes...
Drifting in the West End
What a night I’ve had. I was to attend the Manthia Diawara talk earlier tonight - at the British Museum. It would have been my first event on the Art beat this year. Unfortunately, I’d neglected to arrange my Press Pass in advance but, since it was a free event anyway, I thought I’d just book myself a place like everyone else. And so I let things slide… until the last day when I rang and rang the British Museum’s box office in order to book my place for later in the evening. But every time I got through, I was put on hold for such unbelievable lengths of time that I always had to hang up in the end.
Getting to the Brit Museum just after 6pm, the Information Desk said: yes, there were still lots of seats available for the event but I would have to join the long queue at the Ticket Desk to secure a place. Joined the queue, along with those wanting to see a film about Julius Caesar and last minute viewers f0r a Samuel Palmer exhibition, which ends on Sunday… I could hear those hoping to make these two events being turned away at the top of the queue with the words: ‘sold out’, ‘sold out’. Gosh, the British Museum is busy tonight, I thought. The museum’s magnificent Great Court looked strangely empty to me. But then I realised why. The Tree of Life - made from decommissioned weapons from the Mozambican war - which stood in the Great Court for the best part of last year (as part of Africa 05) - is gone. It’s now on permanent display in the museum’s Africa Galleries; hope to view it there sometime soon.
I eventually reached the top of the queue and… disappointment. The event was full! There goes one whole article! I thought. Deflated, I walked out of the museum, heading towards Totteham Court Road, wondering what I should now do with myself. At an Oxford Street traffic light, I looked down the road, thinking of whipping out my camera for a picture, but then the lights turned green so I gave up the idea and proceeded to cross. As I did so, this guy next to me said: ‘Don’t worry love, I’ll protect ya.” On hearing what he said next, I regretted having laughed politely at his first remark. “I’m your gangsta.” He was English and looked like no gangsta to me. On Charing Cross Road, the guy caught up with me and somewhat unexpectedly, apologised: “I’m sorry for saying that to you, love. I didn’t mean to say that.” He sounded drunk, so maybe it had been the drink talking. I accepted the apology, wished him a nice evening and continued on my way.
I’d decided to just walk, not knowing quite where it would end. I’d not walked down Charing Cross Road for a while, and it was nice just to see all the bookshops, old and new. Sex also came out forcefully from under all the books, so to speak. The Soho Bookshop boasted “a fully licensed sex shop downstairs”; I went into Foyles but my aimlessness drove me out earlier than would normally be the case. I reached Cambridge Circus from where I connected Shaftesbury Avenue. On seeing the Curzon cinema there, I settled on seeing a film; this particular one wasn’t showing anything I wanted to see. Then Chinatown winked at me from Gerrard Place… I crossed over. I took a leisurely stroll down Gerrard Street, through the heart of Chinatown… taking in the many Chinese restaurants, shops and the tourists busy with their cameras.
Then it was back onto Shaftesbury Avenue and more walking, until I landed smack in Leicester Square - London’s moviedom. By now it was a case of ‘what to see’. The main Odeon cinema there was showing King Kong; I decided to hold on to my cinematic memory of Fay Wray and Jessica Lange as Kong’s desired blonde, and left Naomi Watts' own portrayal for another day. Jarhead was showing at the Empire… tantalising as the name of Jamie Foxx on the cast list was, this wasn’t the kind of movie I wanted to see tonight, so I gave it a miss. At the Vue, Memoirs of a Geisha and Brokeback Mountain looked interesting.
Brokeback Mountain won the day. I purchased a ticket for an 8.30pm showing, but it was only just past 7. My stomach needed attention, so, more browsing round the many eateries… another aimless stroll to the National Portrait Gallery and back, then sat to some noodles in some tiny place called Chopstix. 8.30, and I was in the Vue’s packed auditorium no.5 for Brokeback Mountain, starring Heath Ledger (playing Ennis Del Mar) & Jake Gyllenhaal as cowboys who fall in love - yeah, with each other - and then spend the rest of their lives trying to work through their feelings. ‘Jack Fxxxing Twist!’ Ledger’s character likes to say of Gyllenhaal’s character. Very involving film, breathtaking scenery.
I was back on the street just past 11pm, heading towards Piccadilly Circus station. Leicester Square was teeming with people… the club crowd were out and queueing to get into some nitespot or other. I was heading for home. One man aimed a playful kick at the backside of a woman walking ahead of me; she had the good sense not to respond. “I love you, honest!” he shouted drunkenly after her. It dawned on those around that he didn’t even know his ‘lover’, something that really amazed another woman behind me. “I was sure he knew her!” she exclaimed.
Getting into the station, I was about to get on the escalator leading to the Bakerloo line when I saw another set of strangers made lovey-dovey by alcohol. Two girls at the top of the Piccadilly Line escalator blew kisses at a man you could just tell they’d only met earlier in the evening. “We love you, we’ll miss you,” they said, as the escalator ferried them away from him. He turned round to go his own way, but then two policemen who’d been standing by decided to have themselves some fun, and pulled the man to one side. He was hopelessly drunk, I observed, as my escalator descended, taking him out of view. Who knows what they’ll find on him? I wondered. Who knows what they’ll ‘do’ him for? Who knows if he’ll end up in some cell? And wouldn’t that be the final kick up his ass?
  • Image: Chinatown, London; 20 January 2006

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Don't you just hate to see talent wasted?

"This thing grabs hold of us again, in the wrong place,the wrong time, and we're dead."

-Heath Ledger
as Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain

This reminds me of the death of the beautifully named River Phoenix. After giving us Ennis Del Mar in the ground-breaking Brokeback Mountain, and having the gall to take on a role that already carried the inimitable stamp of Jack Nicholson - The Joker - in the next Batman film, Heath Ledger was on the cusp of greater fame. His best, really, was yet to come. 2 years ago, Ledger attended the Oscar ceremony with his Brokeback co-star, Michelle Williams, the mother of the very young child he now leaves behind. He parted ways with Williams only months ago. At the Oscars, Ledger had been nominated for Best Actor for Brokeback Mountain. His portrayal in the film was described as a "career defining role". That career will not now happen.

This year's Academy Awards nominations were announced only earlier today. Next month - if the writers' strike allows the Oscar Ceremony to go ahead - Heath Ledger's face and name will be on the roll call of Hollywood's recently departed. And being only 28, his will be an unkind cut indeed.

Overdose or Suicide? The yarn will spin now and forever more. Ask James Dean.

I wasn't even particularly a fan of Heath Ledger, though I loved Brokeback Mountain. Nor was I into his brand of 'good looks'.

It just grieves me to see potential unrealised, promise denied, talent wasted.

Monday, January 21, 2008


'Adinkra', commonly believed to mean 'Farewell' in the Twi language, is the name given to one of the two main forms of textile preparation and presentation in Ghana, West Africa. This sentiment is better understood when the application of these iconographic designs is viewed in its traditional context. Adinkra is derived from the Akan word 'nkra' or 'nkara' meaning 'Message' or 'Intelligence'. In addition to this, the Akan word for soul is 'Okra' or 'Nkara'. We could therefore extrapolate that Adinkra is the message or acquired intelligence that the soul returns to its maker on departure from this world to the next.
Adinkra is an exhibition of works by
Rebecca N K Gibbs, inspired by the artist's Ghanaian & British grandmothers. On display on
weekdays until February 7 @ the Kuumba Arts Centre, Bristol.
Kummba Arts Centre
20-23 Hepburn Road
St Paul’s

Have You Seen Zandile?

"The play’s theme of the power of nurturing love and respect represents a significant shift from the persistent rhetoric of victimhood that has dominated the black experience in South Africa and other places and provides a positive and stimulating play."

Nigerian actress Joke Silva stars on the Canadian stage in
Have You Seen Zandile?

Written by South African Gcina Mhlophe and directed by Bunmi Oyinsan, the play is at 3 Toronto venues between January 30 to February 9.


"Long ago it was written in blood and blues of our black desperate lives came a beat that survives a music travelling on from the core of Africa it decries."
-Byron Wallen

Dele Sosimi, Christina Oshunniyi, Byron Wallen, Lemm Sissay, Dzifa Benson, Zena Saro-Wiwa and others star in Translations a cross-artform celebration of Africa and her languages.


*I wrote about Dele Sosimi in 2004, as it happens.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Per Contra Prize

From Per Contra

Per Contra has featured winners of The MacArthur Award, the Caine Prize, the Orange Prize, the Walt Whitman Award, the Flannery O'Connor Award, the Pushcart Prize and more. Per Contra has published authors from the United States and North America, South America, Europe, Africa and South Asia .

Our March 2008 issue features former poetry consultant to the Library of Congress (the position now known as the U.S. Poet Laureate) Daniel Hoffman, Pulitzer Prize Winning former poetry consultant to the Library of Congress (the position now known as the U.S. Poet Laureate) Maxine Kumin, Pulitzer Prize winning author and poet John Updike, poetry consultant to the Library of Congress (the position now known as the U.S. Poet Laureate) William Jay Smith and O. Henry Prize winner Stephen Dixon, as well as great emerging writers from around the world.

You may have seen our ad in the Fall 2007 Edition of Poets and Writers.

We are now accepting submissions for the 2008 Per Contra Prize. Because of the public interest generated by our lineup for the Spring, we are working hard to find talented emerging writers to submit manuscripts for the Prize. The grand prize winner will be published in our Spring 2008 issue.

Grand Prize is $1,000 and publication at our regular professional rates. The top ten stories submitted will be published at our regular professional rates during the 2008 editorial calendar.

Deadline for Entry is January 31, 2008. This is an excellent opportunity for an emerging writer to be published with several elite writers and poets.

New Reads

In Unoma Azuah's short story, Season of Scorch (a finalist in the 2nd Glass Woman Prize), a young girl is forcibly married off into the polygamous household of an elderly man.

Tekula was a seventy-four year old farmer and trader whom Tor had met at a yam market two years go. The harvest had been good. I t was one of the days when Tor came with too many yams to sell. He had hopes that he would sell them all. He did not want to take them back to the barn and watch his year long labor rot. The market was closing for the day and he still had half of the yams he came with. He stood beside his pile of yams, calling out, “Yams! Yams! Sweet yams! Buy good yams!” But few of the men, women and lorry drivers who bought yams in tons stopped to buy from him. He arched his hand over his eyes to shade the sun from his face to see how high the sun was. Then he called out louder, “Buy yams! Big good yams!” A scrawny dog trotted into his stall, with its tongue hanging out. It stopped at one of the wooden poles supporting Tor’s stall, lifted it hind leg and pissed. Tor yelled at it, “Shaiii! Go away!” But the dog eyed him and continued pissing. The swarm of flies perched on the dog’s sour ears buzzed as Tor waved his hands at him, so he left him alone.

The sun bore down like an angry god. Then the old man Tekula walked out of a stall, his gold-rimmed walking stick raising dust as it cut into the hot sand. He puffed out a thick smoke from his charred lips and asked with half closed mouth.

“How much for all? They look good.” He said and picked up a large yam.

“Cheap!” Tor told him, “Take all for 500 naira.”

“No, 250.” Tekula said, removing the pipe from his mouth.“350 last.” Tor said and lifted two yams. “See, they’re fleshy and good, no rotting spots.

Tekula held up one of the yams and smiled. “They are quite fleshy and no rot at all…isn’t this what we all look for in everything…fleshy and good, be it money, children, wives, houses, stocks…just name it.”

Tor’s face spread with a wide grin and he shook his head and said, “You’re very right…very right.” They both laughed. Then Tekula bought up the rest of the yams. Their business relationship matured into a friendship. It was on one of their market days that Tekula mentioned to Tor that he was interested in marrying a fourth wife. Tor immediately recommended his daughter, Doshima. But Doshima was hoping to marry her childhood friend, Hembafan. He was tall like an Iroko tree. Long-faced, very dark and handsome. Her father had turned down Hembafan’s proposal to marry her with the reason that he was not financially secure enough to take care of her. Hembafan left the village in frustration for Zaki Ibiam, a town more than two hundred miles away.

“Papa, he’s old” Doshima said. “Please, let me marry Hembafan.”

“No, I’ll not let Hembafan marry you, he’s only a boy. You need a man, a full blown man, not a baby like Hembafan who is still eating off his mother’s pot,” he said.“Papa, please,” Doshima whined.

“Tekula’s age has nothing to do with him as a man. Do you know your mother’s age when I married her?” Doshima’s mother must have heard them. She tapped a spoon on the edge of her boiling pot of soup and poked hard at the dying embers of fire.

“Look,” her father lowered his voice and spoke softly. “I have invested money in my farm and I cannot afford to pay it back, so if you misbehave, I will thrash you like the child you are,” he scowled and stormed out.

Ngugi on Kenya

Writers must sometimes feel like the Greek prophetess Cassandra, gifted to see the future but fated not to be believed.

What is unfolding in Kenya could as well have been lifted from my novel Wizard of the Crow where the ruling party and the opposition parities engaged in Western-sponsored democracy become mirror images of one another in their absurdity and indifference to the poor.

The picture of men and women burnt down in a church where they had gone for refuge still haunts my mind. A child running away from the fire was caught and hurled back into the flames.

One of the few survivors was quoted as saying: "But they knew me; we were neighbours. I thought Peter was a friend - a good neighbour. How could Peter do this to me?"

I had heard the same puzzled cry from Bosnia. I had heard the same cry from Iraq. I had heard the same, same words from Rwanda: "We were neighbours; we'd married into each other. How could this happen?"

And now I hear the same cry from Eldoret North in my beloved Kenya. For me this burning of men, women and children in a church is a defining single instant of the current political impasse in Kenya.

And this must be separated from accusations and counter-accusations of rigged elections by the contending parties.

Rigged elections is one thing - it can be righted by any mutually agreed political measures - but ethnic cleansing is another matter altogether.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Letter from Nairobi

I am safe and my immediate family is safe. We were holed at a house on the coast, an idyllic place, far from the mayhem - the only inconveniences being a shortage of phone credit, fuel and tonic water. I even managed to use the internet at a hotel at the end of our strip of beach. It was the horrific images on TV that had us glued to the screen and distressing phone calls that enjoined us in what was happening. We kept saying this is not happening, this is not Kenya. We reeled from disbelief to horror and back again. Distant relatives fleeing the mayhem in the northern Rift are still camping at my brother's house in Nakuru. For four days, my best friend was holed up like a prisoner at her mother's house in Kisumu - site of some of the worst rioting, fearful to step outside for the sound of screaming and gunfire. I heard the fear in her voice, the disjointed background noises. Two days ago, she said it had quietened but that she could not leave as there was no fuel available. I myself had tried to return to Nairobi last Thursday, but the road to the airport in Mombasa was closed. I made it back to Nairobi yesterday and 'enjoyed' the fastest drive ever to the city centre on an eerily empty highway. On that one street, I saw more police than I have ever seen my whole life.

These have been the most traumatic times in Kenyan history. We've put together a coalition of writers to try and put words to it. But I suspect it is too recent for us to truly grapple with the nature of the beast unleashed.

Nairobi, Saturday 5 January 2008

New Reads

E.C. Osondu's story, 'Voice of America' is published in Vice Magazine. Onwordi exchanges correspondence with his American pen pal, Laura. He and his friends think it's love, but Onwordi and his 'girl' may be talking at cross purposes.

Onwordi began to read from the letter to us. The girl’s name was Laura Williams. She had recently moved with her parents to a farm in Iowa from a much larger city. She had one more year before finishing high school. She was going to take a class on “Africa: Its People and Culture” in the fall and was curious to know more about African culture. She wanted to know whether Onwordi lived in the city or in a village. She also wanted to know if he lived close to lots of wild animals like giraffes, lions, and chimpanzees. And what kinds of food did he generally eat, were they spicy? And how were they prepared? She also wanted to know if he came from a large family. She ended the letter with the phrase “Yours, Laura.”

“Oh my God,” Lucky said, “this is a love letter. The American lady is searching for an African husband."
- Read Voice of America (and don't forget Part 2).

I was attracted to Chielozona Eze's story, 'Mallam Illia's Meat Shop' - published in Eclectica - for its many literary references, some quite obvious to any reader of Nigerian writing; and a few others recognisable only to literary insiders. But as I read on I wondered a bit about the very pointed ethnic labelling in the story. From the off, the protagonist, Chinelo, is described as "an Igbo woman". Why can't she just be a woman, I thought, especially as her ethnicity is restated in innumerable other ways later in the story (everyone wears their ethnicity in this piece: the Yorubas, the Hausa and the Igbo). But I suppose it comes with the territory, in a story about ethnic cleansing and the intermittent murder of the Igbos in the largely Muslim/Hausa Northern Nigeria. And it is Chinelo's relationship with a Hausa meat seller in her native Igboland that gives heart to this story, set during the killings sparked by the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in faraway Denmark.

In the dining hall were many people, half of them evidently Igbo from snippets of their conversations—patches of English and Igbo phrases, most of which were boastful in nature. "I did it!" "I made it!" "I showed them!" It was usual with many Igbo traders They loved to boast about where they had been and the profit they made in their daring business ventures. About two tables to her left were also some of the conference attendees. She had exchanged greetings with some of them the day before. They spoke Igbo with Owerri dialect. She put two teaspoonful of coffee in the cup, poured hot water, and as she was stirring, readying her taste buds for the first sip, a middle aged, plump woman with cornrow hair braids sped into the dining hall, crying in Igbo, her gaze directed to one of the tables on the left. "Ha emekwa ya ozo"—they've done it again. "Ndi Awusa!—the Hausa people. My broda! My broda. Killed."

Lightning lashed through Chinelo's heart. Three words that should never be mentioned in a breath ­ Moslems! Awusa! Killed—conspired to paralyze her. Hadn't she been warned by her mother? She did her best to shrug it off as there was no panic yet in the dining hall. People weren't yet running to safety. Chinelo was able to gather from the few exchanges between the woman and the people that her sister in-law was living somewhere in the North and had called her by phone to relay the information.

- Read Mallam Illia's Meat Shop.

The Yoof

Yoof. That’s how some in London pronounce: YOUTH. There we were thinking the exuberance of the adults at Ireti’s send-off do had left the younger ones there somewhat inhibited. The older ones got tired eventually and what do you know? The next generation got up and decided to treat us to a spirited session of sing-along and dancing – see photos. It was our turn to pay attention to the ‘Yoof’ who seemed to be telling us, ‘This is how we do it!’

Sisi-Oge goes to Lagos

It’s the end of an era. At least that’s what my circle of friends are saying, as we try to come to terms with the move from the UK to Nigeria of Ireti Bakare-Yusuf, also known as ‘Sisi Oge’. London’s Loss is Lagos’ gain, and Ireti is going to be kicking it in Nigeria as a high-flyer in the telecommunications industry. Ireti is ready for Lagos; whether Lagos is ready for Ireti, is another matter entirely.

As has happened with some friends who have gone Nigeria way in the last few years, I expect I’ll be seeing Ireti on the style pages of some Nigerian publications from now on. She’s a great party goer (our friend, Yemi, laughed when I called Ireti “the social secretary of London”) and always knows where it’s at. More importantly, she knows ‘how’ you should go there, by that I mean ‘what to wear’.

When it comes to fashion, Ireti knows her stuff, not for no reason do we call her ‘Sisi Oge’. She has the fashionista’s required style certainty (which in lesser others would come with a dose of snobbery), exuberance, flamboyance and eccentricity. She’ll construct it and wear it, the hell with it. As a stylist, Ireti has been maintaining a studio in Hendon and an increasing number of style conscious Londoners have been making their way there and going away with custom made designs. So now that she’s leaving town, no few women are going to look around and say, ‘What on earth am I going to wear?’ Ireti designed the dress I wore to the literary wedding in The Gambia last July. She is also a fashion writer, something I hope she’ll do more and more of in Lagos – where we all know it’s really at. Ireti, who’s the sister of Cassava Republic publisher Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, will also be missed on London’s airwaves, especially the Vanessa Feltz radio show. Another thing she’d have been good at, broadcasting.

Oh well, while we try to get used to the new order of things, we the friends sent her off in a small do at the Soul Food Restaurant in Hendon on Saturday 5th January. I took my own photos of the event, blogged here. Our long-time friend, Yemi Sodipo (a professional photographer whose images are featured in UK Magazines like 'Heat', Yemi is the only black on the file of snappers who cover UK Big Brother evictions. He shot my profile image on the top-right corner of this blog, in February 2003) was also snapping away. Apart from Yemi, there were 3 ladies called Lola. And Maryam, Emma, Telemi and 'Labake – to name a few. I’ve known some of these people upwards of 20 years. We’ve seen ourselves through so many seasons, so many upheavals, so many pains and joys – our children have to be reminded that we are not blood relatives. That is one of the wonderful things about London; friends assume the position and responsibility of family, filling the void for blood relatives, the bulk of whom are back home in Nigeria.

In the last 10 years, people have married, divorced, had children, made distant by space and careers and what not. I for instance have become more reclusive because of my writing (one thing I won’t miss much about Ireti, is her habit of phoning me late in the night while I’m tapping away on the laptop, deep in the flow of some inspiration or other or even slave to some writing deadline or other. I pick up the phone and bark, “Five minutes, Ireti! I can talk for five minutes only!” She says,OK. But more often than not, I get sucked into whatever she wants to talk about, I add my own bit, we talk about this and that and argue about what happened on the news like it was at our doorsteps. By the time she rings off two hours later, the writing impetus is gone. But no friend has been more proud of my writing...). We’ve all remained friends, thanks to someone like Ireti who without knowing it, functioned as a bridge between many people. Now the bridge will be in Lagos and we’ll have to adapt to this sea-change.

As the send-off wound to a close on Saturday, we offered all manners of advice for Lagos life – not that we would know! We also told her, with all seriousness, that she’ll have to get a big place in Lagos, because we’ll be her regular house guests in Naija, from now on.

As the Yorubas say, 'Ogun omode ko lee s'ere f'ogun odun' (Twenty children cannot play together for twenty years.')

Thursday, January 03, 2008

New Year Read

Let us begin the new year's new reads with a lie...

Uncle Vernon's Lie (by Patrick Samphire) is published in Serendipity, a new online journal of magical realist fiction. If you love magical realism then you'll love this story, in which a young boy is sent to holiday with his uncle, who will only ever tell him one lie. Uncle has no TV or computer but lives in an enchanted house and there's a girl in the garden who may not be real. Uncle Vernon is full of fantastical ideas, all of which sound like lies. Separating the one lie, may not be easy...

"What did that man want?" Benji asked.

Uncle Vernon grimaced. "He's a doctor."

"Then why didn't you let him in?"

"In?" Uncle Vernon's face whitened. "No, my boy. That would never do. Doctors make people ill."

"What do you mean?" Benji said. "They make people better."

"They don't, whatever they might tell you," Uncle Vernon said. "They make diseases. They make cancer and bad backs and in-grown toenails and colds and the Black Death and the dreaded lurgy. Doctors go poking around looking for new illnesses. They find someone who's a little under-the-weather and say, 'Ah-ha, you've got lung cancer'. Then, ever-after, people have to suffer from lung cancer, and the doctor gets a medal or certificate." He shook his head. "I let a doctor into my house once, and he made me a new disease. That's why I never let doctors in anymore." He glanced out the window. "Doesn't stop them trying. Meddlers."

Benji considered that. "The dreaded lurgy isn't a real disease," he said.

"Ah!" Uncle Vernon leaned down. "Not yet, it isn't. Stay away from doctors, and it might never be. See?"

Read Uncle Vernon's Lie.

What a disappointment

Love or loathe the Harry Potter series of books (and movies), one can hardly ignore the phenomenon that dreamed it all up, JK Rowling. A documentary on ITV the other night, A Year in the Life of JK Rowling - allowed an insight into the author's life. She was asked everything from her love of forests, to childhood and relationship with her parents (and how these fed into her creation of the boy wizard), to whether her fabulous wealth comes between her and friends, and whether people write her asking for money (naturally, they do) to whether she likes the book run. Interestingly, JK Rowling knows the unwritten future of her characters, who married whom, the names of their children, who was OK, who wasn't. The author goes back at some point to the lowly Edinburgh flat where as a struggling single parent she wrote the first book. "This is where I turned my life around," she says, and proceeds to weep.
Perhaps the most touching scene, for me, is at the beginning of the documentary, where JK and her sister Di look over old family photographs. Their parents had wanted a boy, to be named 'Simon John' when a girl, Joanne (JK), came instead.

"She was a massive disappointment," says Di, sweetly.

What a disappointment...