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.