Friday, 21 April 2017

How to Start a Cult

The Jonestown ‘massacre’ occurred in 1978. On November 18, 1978, a total of 919 people were killed from cyanide poisoning, in what they termed, "revolutionary suicide" by a man called James Warren ‘Jim’ Jones. Jim Jones was reported to have said, "Die with a degree of dignity. Lay down your life with dignity; don't lay down with tears and agony. I tell you, I don't care how many screams you hear, I don't care how many anguished cries...death is a million times preferable to 10 more days of this life. If you knew what was ahead of you – if you knew what was ahead of you, you'd be glad to be stepping over tonight."
The Heaven’s Gate ‘massacre’ occurred in 1997. On March 26, 1997, American police discovered the bodies of 39 members of a Christian group who had participated in a mass suicide in order to reach what they believed was an extra-terrestrial spacecraft. They were led to their deaths by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles after they had been convinced that there was a space ship hidden behind a comet that was then flying past the Earth - and that this space ship was there to pick up true believers and ferry them off to a better place.
Yesterday, the 20th of April, South African police arrested South African based Nigerian pastor, Tim Omotoso. He is alleged to have raped 30 girl members of his church. He was charged with human trafficking. He was said to be arrested almost as soon as his plane arrived at the Port Elizabeth Airport, they found him hiding in a female toilet.
We have the incorrect definitions of cults in our heads, especially in the third world. My opinion is that this is because here we are unhappy with accepting the fact that cults are mostly religious groups. Almost every definition of a cult richly contains religious groups and organisations; therefore we prefer to see cults as a small group of misguided juveniles. Those are mostly delinquents; call them terrorists even, whatever helps you sleep better. However, a cult is unthinking devotion to an individual; a situation in which people admire and care about something or someone too much.
We tend to no longer serve God as much as we serve His purveyors, and I say purveyors knowing that not all who preach do it as a business venture. But you find that those who make business ventures out of God are the ones with the most ‘customers’ – people  who are usually willing to go blind for them, call white black for them, call lies truths for them.
A disgusting video I saw on Twitter this week inspired this post. A woman, in her 40s – not much to look at, was threatening the life of Stephanie Otobo, the estranged Stephanie Otobo, who Nigerians, especially customers of purveyors’, detest extremely, mostly because of her allegations of sexual misconduct against Apostle Johnson Suleiman, a popular Nigerian pastor. The video was disgusting to me because she was telling us of her murderous tendencies; how she would pour acid on someone if she sees them. How do you brighten a spot by shading all over it? I have nothing against the apostle, whether he slept with her or not is not my immediate concern. My problem is with the woman in the video.  She became the devil, not Stephanie Otobo, who she was trying to pass across as the devil.
One of the most baffling things about faith being able to move mountains is this question: in whom must we have faith before our mountains are moved?
It is a baffling question because I have mountains myself and I have asked myself this a thousand times. These lines blur. 
From the first few paragraphs, you may see that one only needs few things to start a cult, it is a sort of starter-pack:
1. A sort of authority
2. Oration
3. A group of people who have misplaced their faiths and are willing to go the distance for and with you, their daddy, instead of for and with their God.
The purveyors of God know of this starter-pack and they know how blurry the lines get. They seem to be in the process of creating small cults among us; in the future, their small cults will grow appendages. That time, it won’t just be hate speeches and criminal tendencies, like wanting to pour acid on people, but actions as well. I pray we do not all misplace our faiths. I pray some of us are left who actually believe in God and not his men, regardless of how blurry they make the line seem.
Thank you for reading. See you next time.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Why I Write

In 2013, when I did it for the first time, it felt surreal; like I was doing something that actually mattered. It felt like making an impact on people’s lives and this was all the more beautiful because I was getting this feeling for the first time in my life. Writing made me feel important.
The first story I wrote was set in a fictional village I called Okunlewe, it was about the killing of twins. I titled it My Mother’s Daughter and it had more than 2,500 words. After I finished that story, I knew I was ready to take on the world.
I have written many more stories and have been published in places that I would never have dreamed of.
And then I started and finished Dear Ella, my first novella. Even though Dear Ella is presently stuck in a limbo, I have never been prouder of anything in my whole life as I have been proud of writing Ella.
So why do I write?
The first time I read J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in Rye, I thought ‘Man, this is the dumbest book ever.’ It took a second reading, a few months later, to understand its genius and that this writing thing is the most private endeavour one could pursue. The only person for whom your writing must make sense is you. For example, the first line of The Catcher in the Rye more or less sets the tone for the book and if you are not really into being called a phony, then the book is probably not your cup of tea and the writer does not care: ‘If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.’
You feel that Holden Caulfield, the narrator, does not care about you, he tells his story and cares very little if you like him or not.
That is the way writing is, at least to a larger extent. It is not about the reader. I have written and sent out stories I swore were crap and the reviews came back and they were brilliant, same time, I have written and sent out stories I was sure were pieces of gems and the reviews that came back were ugly. Writing, at least the process of story creation, has nothing to do with readers.
So why do I write?
I have a book by James Frey called How to Write a Damn Good Novel. On the top cover it says ‘a step-by-step no nonsense guide to dramatic storytelling.’  I scoff. I have never read past the introduction where it whines on and on about what ‘a damn good novel’ does and does not mean. No person can teach another person how to write. People can only teach people how they write which is usually useless because as I said, writing is an intensely private thing, therefore, how you write may be repulsive to me.
People give writing advice all the time, in fact, there is a verified handle on Twitter @AdviceToWriters. There is nothing wrong with giving writing advice. It is just a question of writers having the ability to sieve advice because many advice are silly. The long and short of this analysis is that there isn’t a soul on earth who can teach you to write better than you can teach yourself to write. And most importantly, writing is not a popularity contest, you want popularity contests, go for Big Brother. The only writer to whom you ought to compare yourself, is the writer you were yesterday – now that is some brilliant advice.
So why do I write?
Can you not see that I haven’t the slightest clue?
And maybe that’s it. Maybe once we start giving reasons to things the importance of those things begins to dissolve. Like saying you love someone because that person is beautiful, what happens in 10 to 15 years when the fleeting beauty starts to fleet? Liking a tree because it produces fruits – what the hell happens when said fruit is out of season? Here is the thing about chocolate, chocolate is chocolate only because it has the cocoa-sweet taste of chocolate, if that cocoa-sweet taste vanishes for some inexplicable reason, chocolate ceases to be chocolate. So we do not like chocolate, what we like is that cocoa-sweet taste.
So, no. there is no reason I write. I love to, so I do.

Monday, 20 March 2017

On Moving

At this moment, 8.57am, 20/03/17, I am watching two men. One is sweeping leaves off the interlocking concrete and the other is washing the boss’ car and intermittently going to the sweeping guy. They are gisting like teenage girls on a playground. They are having fun, patting each other, laughing hysterically at each other’s jokes. They look to be in their mid-thirties to early forties. They are happy. They are content.
You see, happiness is a function of person not of society person is in. A person is unhappy only when he allows the unhappiness around him diffuse into him.
There is a quote I like from Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, a touching novel about how a paraplegic man and his help change each-others’ lives, it goes: The thing about being catapulted into a whole new life – or at least, shoved up so hard against someone else’s life that you might as well have your face pressed against their window – is that it forces you to rethink your idea of who you are. Or how you might seem to other people.
I like it because I have found it to be true. It is a very interesting experience to be catapulted into a new life. I am living that experience as you read this. When I moved here, I thought I had everything about myself figured out and wrapped together. But it did not take me long to realise that the things I know about myself are only the things that the situations around me have exposed me to. I imagine that this is not a personal thing. It occurs with everyone. It’s like your life is in pages and there are several, several pages that you have not read and you know nothing about simply because those pages are yet to be opened.
I have loved my time here so far. It has shown me that I can be more malleable than I thought, that I can adjust, that life can swing left and right and I can be still. I have decided about life to enjoy it, no matter its taste. I pray to never ever see the setting sun and not appreciate it even on days when I am hungry; to never get tired of the night skies even on nights when my heart is broken, to never see the view out my office window and not marvel at the utter wonder of life even when there is a ton of work to be done. I pray I never become the man who does not know how to appreciate these tiny drops of miracle.
I hate moving because it is a lot of work: packing things and then unpacking things, arranging things and then lifting them. But in the 31 days between January 28th and February 28th, 2017, I had to move twice; and certainly, I would move again soon, at most before the end of April. I cannot complain because in the grander scheme of things, it is a blessing. I did not necessarily have to leave my last location. I left relative comfort and a lifestyle I enjoyed and moved because 2017 was the year that I needed to lose my feathers and grow some stronger appendages. This year has been such a blessing, you can’t even imagine.
The problem I have had is that it is not super exciting when you are new to a place, it takes a while to get used to things. And that is another thing about moving – the new place. People may find you strange because you act different from them, because you are yet unaware that certain things should be done in certain ways, because where you came from you must pay the cabbie before you get off the cab but where you have moved to you must pay the cabbie once he’s dropped you. It takes time to get used to new things.
The men are done with their car washing and leaf-sweeping. I can no longer see them. They are probably somewhere eating boli and groundnuts. Happily.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

The Documentation of Kindness

These days it seems like our experiences are not real or not authentic or not complete if they are not photographed. We have made the world such that documenting a meaningful experience feels not only more important than having that experience, but as also an evidence of the truthfulness of that experience.
It bothers me.
It bothers me because kindness is no longer kindness, humility is no longer humility. What I mean is that it is impossible to just go out to an orphanage, for example, and just lend help to orphans who need it. I imagine that an act of kindness ceases to be that once pictures are taken. It becomes a craft of showmanship. I began to think of this seriously around the end of last year. I and a group of course mates went into a community to do a field posting exercise and we were basically hustling to get everything on camera, we wanted to take pictures of every single form of help we rendered. It was literally a hustle. But it was not wrong because we actually did not intend to help anyone. Our primary objectives there were dictated by our course and so we were not being kind, we wanted to get the marks and we could only get them by taking pictures so we would show our lecturers that we did such and such while we were there.
However, thinking about it in the light of people who just want to render help and assistance, It did not seem like they would do anything differently. In fact, social media is littered with such images: People taking selfies with orphaned children or motherless babies or street beggars and so on with cartons of noodles and cartons of milk and bags of rice and bags of beans and sacs of yam littered so obviously on the ground. They are giving to the less privileged, but they are also advertising their goodness and kindness and humility and humanitarianism to the rest of the world. They are telling the world about their kindness, like: Look, world, look how kind I am. Look how caring I am. I am such a good person.
And then they post these pictures all over social media and other folks like them gush about their humility. I am so, so utterly proud of your kindness; how you are helping out these miserable kids who are nothing, absolutely nothing, without you.
It bothers me.
It is worse when white, privileged people come into an African country, say South Sudan, with their bright, long blonde hair and dark sunglasses and their tanned skins and their tight jeans; and wrap their arms around skinny, kwashiorkored African kids and smile dumbly at the cameras and then post long sermons with these selfies on Facebook and Instagram about how their lives have been changed by their visit to the very war-torn, ravaged Africa and the poor, poor, suffering African children with zero hopes in life.
Utterly silly hashtags such as #InstagrammingAfrica are used to depict these selfies. The narcissism is immense. How about they shove their ideas of voluntourism in Africa down the toilet and instead send the money for their trips and hotel accommodations and feedings and bracelet buying to Aid Agencies stationed in those countries, the kids, these kids who they claim they love and who’s suffering has utterly changed their lives, would definitely benefit more from that than from being featured in their ridiculous photographs and silly hashtags and lengthy captions.
The less privileged are not tourist attractions, they are not beautiful bronze carvings, they are not murals made from papier-mâché art; they are human beings just like you who is so intent on taking pictures of them. All they need is love and kindness and food, they definitely do not need their faces on your stupid, conceited, narcissistic selfies.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Waiting for the Sun

This is the morning of thirteenth February; I am sitting in the courtyard by my studio apartment, waiting for the sun to come out. It is 1.06 am. I have a few thoughts that may seem like ramblings, they probably are.
Yesterday, many things happened. Yesterday began sometime around 5.30 in the morning when I decided that I would go to the same church I went last week Sunday. It is a large church very close to where I live. It has more empty white plastic chairs than members and when I went there for the first time, what struck me the most was the fact that none of the members seemed to mind this sparseness. It is unlike the twenty first century church. When it was time to welcome new comers, they welcomed me and two other young men. At the close of church, they did not tell us ‘we hope to see you next week.’ or ‘please join us for our midweek services,’ they told us, ‘God bless you.’ I could have sworn that they were trying to get rid of us. It was strange and I was curious to know why they were so satisfied with being a church with so few members, so satisfied with all those empty white plastic chairs, it was that curiosity that led me back there yesterday. And it is that curiosity that would make me a permanent member if I am to stick around here much longer.
I don’t keep New Year resolutions because I am way too fickle for them. But the idea of resolutions at the start of each year does not seem like a bad one. I understand resolutions like: I want to read more books this year, I want to give to the less privileged this year, I want to listen to more music, I want to party harder. The ones I don’t get are the most common: I want to lose weight this year, I want to stop smoking or stop drinking, I want to become a new person. These are very complex things that cannot just start and stop by the push of a button, and you do not really need to wait for the first day of the year to attempt to begin to achieve them. In the last few years, instead of making resolutions, I have set one single goal for the year. Like last year, my goal was to read thirty five books. I achieved thirty five in November so I met my goal with one month to spare. The year before last, my goal was to get back to school and study Public Health. I got admitted in November, I met my goal with one month to spare. But the problem with setting a single goal for the whole year is this: What happens when you achieve your goal for the year in February? Maybe I should start setting New Year resolutions.
As far as I am concerned, one of my better stories was published on Bella Naija on the 23rd of December, 2014. It is called The Thing that Eats People Up. It is about a dead man’s side-chic. I was just reading it again and I realized (again) why I love it more than many of the stories I have written. I love The Thing that Eats People Up because of the character, Ade’s Wife. It took me close to five months to finish the story because of her. The whole idea for the story came while I was in NYSC camp in August, 2014 and I met a lady whose carriage was so sublime that it was difficult to contemplate life before or after her when she was in the same vicinity as you. I modelled Ade’s wife based on this lady – (still, she was cheated on – men are scum, yes?). I never saw the lady again after camp not because I did not want to, I wanted to, up till this moment, I want to. But there are thirsts are better left unquenched. On nights like these, when I await sunrise, I think of NYSC Camp at Kubwa and I think of The Thing that Eats People Up and inadvertently, I think of Ade’s wife.
It’s 3.08am. I am still waiting for the sun. Good morning, good afternoon or goodnight!