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!

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Thoughts from Places: Benin City

Benin City smells like when you dice garlic into extra-hot vegetable oil. The people there are literally 'not your mate' (they let you know this every chance they get): from the guy who gives you directions and when you say thank you, he says ‘I hear’ in a manner that is so apathetic, you cannot help but feel a sense of condescension, to the pot-bellied cabbie who is obnoxiously singing long to the radio as P-Square’s extinct hit from the 19th century, Busy Body, plays and then a man riding a jeep turns the bend suddenly and narrowly avoids hitting him and he laughs hysterically and says, ‘no be who dey ride big car na who get sense’, ‘it is not the person that drives a big car that has sense.’ Or the old lady who owns the restaurant and sees you standing and asks why they have not attended to you and you point at the queue in front of you and she tells you, ‘e be like say hungry never do you.’ And she goes ahead to do the same thing with all three people on queue.
There is an air of calmness. It’s almost as if they know that there is absolutely nothing to be in a hurry about. They are not quick to laugh even though to you, the visitor, almost everything they say is hilarious. Like in a bus ride, a girl sitting in the back tells the driver to stop and he drives a bit further before he finally does but she remains seated and he looks at her and says ‘no be you say you wan stop?’ and the girl says, ‘as you don pass the place wey I wan stop now, wetin you wan make I do?’ and the driver says, ‘okay, make I dey go?’ To which the girl, dressed in a dashiki, altered so much, it now looks more like a bikini, begins to storm out of the bus. Once she’s gone, the driver hisses and snidely remarks, ‘I for carry her reach New Bini.’
Even the students are not playing. There are only a few speed bumps along the road leading to the University of Benin, and to the University Teaching Hospital, there are none. The city tells you, ‘Nobody gives a shit, take care of yourself.’ Or more like, ‘take care of yourself, Idiot.’ The students are unflustered by this and unflustered by everything, very unlike many Nigerian university students. It hardly seems as though anything worries them. They saunter around, dressed in whatever the hell they like, waiting for you or a bus driver or a conductor or a fellow student or anybody at all to provoke them, waiting to give you a piece of their mind. The proportion of students in the University of Benin who dress as though they know about decency or propriety or even piety is more or less negligible. In Nigerian universities, you often find that female students in year one and generally pious female students, the ones called SU dress obviously: long black skirts and large, leather long sleeved shirts or long black shirt and a huge parachute of a hijab whose one single job is to hide every cleavage or idea of cleavages attempting to rear its ugly head, you can’t miss them. At Uniben, however, the case is different. I did not see a single lady dressed as an SU or in a hijab, fancy or parachute. Even the dashikis that many ladies wore had been severely altered so that it looked like lingerie.
Benin City is also a place where fetishism thrives. I heard of this many times before. People make jokes about it. There are pictures that normally circulate on Facebook, there is one of some Edo woman tying red clothing around an electric pole and the caption reading: Oya PHCN, if dem born una well come cut light. Maybe this is the reason you feel the calmness ― there is nothing to fear. It is not something they hide even. They talk freely about it in buses and cabs. For example, the same fat, obnoxious cabbie who was laughing and saying it is not who drives big cars that have sense, when asked what he would have done if the big car had hit him and had caused an accident, said ‘na bird I be na. No be to fly comot?’ I was scared of this fetishism a bit on the day I was to leave. I needed to check out as early as 6 in the morning to catch the car coming back and at that time it was still dark, the sun was yet to rise. I devised a plan: I wore a black shirt on a black trouser and that solved my paranoia. The few people I met as I walked from my hotel to the ju1nction to get a cab heading to the park swayed off my path. When you live in Rome…
It is a nice city, Benin. It is full of history and art and signs and wonders, as well as good people who would make you laugh regardless of your mood.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

My Experiment with Commitment

I have had a problem with commitment all my life. In nursery school, one of the teachers, Aunt Bamisaye, liked to ask what our favourite colours were: mine was blue and then it was orange and then it was green and then it was black and then it was blue again. And even now, sometimes it is pink, sometimes it is brown, sometimes it is grey. In Secondary School I was average, even though I could be much better. I did not want to commit to spending some extra-time where I ought to spend them. In relationships, my first lasted about three weeks. The first week, I called her at least twice each day. The next week, I called her twice. My last, which only just ended, began November 23rd. It lasted 53 days, relatively, that’s a long time. You know how on WhatsApp you have these very long conversations in one day that you just keep scrolling and scrolling and that day never seem to end? It was like that with her at first. It is like that with me all the time, the conversations get shorter and shorter until they cease to exist. And many times, even though I know I owe them an explanation for leaving, I do not explain because I cannot explain.
In 2017, two of the things I hope to be more are consistent and committed. And so I carried out this experiment.
There is a popular experiment called the Beach Blanket, developed by Tom Moriarty: When a person left their beach blanket unattended and an item was stolen, only 1 in 5 people intervened. However, when the blanket owner made people commit by asking them to look out for their belongings while they were gone, people intervened 95% of the time.
I aligned my experiment along Moriarty’s. I picked out fifteen people. Five of them, I had not spoken to at all this year. Five of them, I said happy New Year to on New Year’s Day, and Five of them, I had spoken with at least twice, or seen, this year. I asked each of them how they were doing and then I told each of them that I was embarking on a journey to Benin City the next day, which I was (journey coincided nicely with experiment).  I did not say what my purpose for the journey was even though all but one asked.
I wanted to measure if my problem was like my fiction: just a figment of my imagination; if people readily committed to others better than I did.
They do.
All the five people who I had not spoken with during the year called me after the journey. Two of them called me twice during the journey. One called three times during the journey and twice after: one time to ask how I was finding Benin City and the second time to ask if I was suitably rested and do I like ‘their’ food? She is from here, so maybe there was a bias?
For those who I had only said happy New Year to on New Year’s Day, four of them called after the journey. Three called during the journey and one woke me up at five am and said, ‘have you brushed your teeth? Hope you know the buses leave here at six?' (here is Ilorin). When I asked what she was doing awake at five in the morning, she said she asked two of her roommates to wake her up but they did not need to because she was already awake a little bit before five o clock.(Humans are lovely!)
For those who I had spoken to a lot or seen this year, four of them called during the journey, three after the journey and one just called again (I am typing the first draft of this at 21:29 pm on Thursday by my hotel room window in Benin City) and asked if I had found any ‘cute Benin Chicks yet.’
These results have shown me that yes, I have a problem, but no, my problem does not mean that other people who are friends of mine are affected by it in such a way that would make them not concerned about me as I am sometimes not concerned about them.
There is a quote I saw once, ‘you always have two choices: your commitment versus your fear.’
My fear has dwarfed my commitment for too long. It is time to make a change.
(Thanks to everybody who (unknowingly) participated in my experiment).

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happiness, Joy and Love

When I was asked to prospectively name my year, 2017, with three words, I decided: Happiness, Joy and Love.
There is a difference between happiness and joy, to quote the author of The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger, “The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid.”
I wish that 2017 would be the best year we have ever had. That we would find happiness, that we would find happiness in such a profound way, we would literally bask by it day after day after day; we would take it everywhere we go, we would speak of it minute after minute after minute because it a thing that is tangible, that is obvious, that is solid; that our happiness would bring contentment, contentment that does not just mean we are fine with what we have but that we are in absolute love with what we have and we can hardly imagine anything else but.
That we would find joy; that we would find the kind of joy that a child finds on the day he sees a colourful kite flying past for the first time – that this joy we find would intoxicate us, free us up, unbox us, unshackle us. The way the little boy chasing this kite laughs and follows and follows and laughs and is absolutely, irreverently beautiful chasing what is joy. I want to be the child chasing the kite. I want joy like the badly produced nollywood movies where the guy has been suffering all his life and finally gets a good job and 30 seconds later new clothes and 30 seconds later a car and 30 seconds later a mansion and 30 seconds later the girl of his dreams, the sultan of his heart sauntering by like a Christmas chicken on Christmas eve, still very unaware of tomorrow’s fate.
I wish we find love. Not love like Jane Austen novels, the love that matters. The one that makes us feel, makes us understand, makes us. Love that would help us empathize with people in bad places. I wish for the kind of love that trumps hate at every single competition, over and over and over. That type that would make us see that other people, even though ideologically different, feel things too, just like us. The love that would make us understand that our differences are but mere patterns that beautify our paths.
Happy New Year!!!