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NUMBER 16

HEALTH SECTION GUEST EDITED BY IKE ANYA

ON JADUM TOLU OGUNLESI ON THE TABOO OF MENTAL ILLNESS IN NIGERIA

HEALTH Featuring the work of Uzodinma Iweala, Doreen Baingana, Jumoke Verissimo and Kachi A. Ozumba

FICTION BAPTISM By Monica Arac de Nyeko

TRAVEL ONE WEEK IN LIBERIA By Zadie Smith

POLITICS THE REWRITE By Teju Cole

NIGERIA N1000 • UK £5 • USA $7

THE FARAFINA YELLOW BOW®


Telling Our Own Stories®

FARAFINA is the Bambara word for Africa. Our goal is to Tell Our Own Stories by showcasing the best in contemporary African ideas

EDITORIAL Anwuli Ojogwu Azafi Ogosi Folarin Shasanya Igoni Barrett Yinka Ibukun

INTERNS Temitayo Olofinlua Tolu Ettu

GRAPHICS Akeem M. Ibrahim

PHOTOGRAPHY Folarin Shasanya Toye Gbade

ADVERTISING Babatunde Ajayi Olaoluwa Agboola

SUBSCRIPTION & CIRCULATION Azafi Ogosi (Nigeria) Ogechi Ojiji (UK) Okwudili Okeke (US)

Contributing EDITORS Akin Adesokan, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ike Anya, Ike Oguine, Jide Bello, Laila Lalami, Molara Wood, Okey Ndibe, Petina Gappah, Toni Kan, Uzodinma Iweala

PUBLISHER Muhtar Bakare

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©TOYE GBADE

CONTENTS

DRY SEASON 2009 NUMBER 16

18

UNTITLED Uzodinma Iweala

26

THE DEVIL IS A LIAR Kachi A. Ozumba

29

SCARS Doreen Baigana

34

ON JADUM Tolu Ogunlesi

45

LUNCH WITH TEMITAYO Jumoke Verissimo

EXHIBIT 16

FARAFINA METRO 09 COLUMN 51 TEA WITH MRS BOJUBARI Yemisi Ogbe

PHOTO SPREAD 54 A RETROSPECTIVE OF 2008 Photography by Peter Chep’konga, Teju Cole, Folarin Shasanya, Jerry Riley, Adeniyi Olagunju, Toye Gbade and Paul Anderson

TRAVEL 62 ONE WEEK IN LIBERIA Zadie Smith

FICTION 76 BAPTISM Monica Arac de Nyeko

POLITICS 78 THE REWRITE Teju Cole

ARTS 89 Pg 50

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BKO. LAUGH ORB'S G SLEEP RE THE BEST CURES N THE DOCRT'S N O L O O A D . A GO N K I O O T S O C E B O R S D ' U LAUGH A D A LONG SLEEP A E R C H O T CRT'S BOOK. OK. A GO O ESEISNITN THEOD THHEEBBEESST CUR E O T C D R E 'OSOBKO. U T H LAUGH AN D A LONG SSLLEEEEPP AAR R C T E THE BESTCURES IN O R T C O B D 'S E R H O E THE BEST CURES NAND A LONGSLEEP A R A ITNHTE DOCT TOR'OSOBKO. OK. A GO H G U A E L N R I A T H S G S P G E N E E AUH AND A ALO HEEBBEST CUR RESNITNHTEHDEOD G SLEEEP AR TOOCR'S B S BKO T ODAL C N E O K. A GO L O H T G D . E N U R A ' U I L O A L R C H S S O P O G E T B E G T U S R E NNG SL CTOOCR'S OOD LUAGH A TEHDEOD LO E TTHHEEBBEEST CUCR NADNDA ALO K. A GO N R I O H A T S . O E P E K B N R E I R O A E S H ' A S O U L P G L E R B S E U O E T D A 'S U G T NNG SL CTOOCR OOD L GH A LO DNDA ALO . A GO E TTHHEEBBEESST C C N HTEHDEOD K N R T I . O A K N A S O I P O E B H S E O U R P G E E S B ' A E U U L R L E R 'S A U S L L O D T TC NNGG S CTOOCRT OOD LO DNDA ALO TNHTEHDEOD . OK. A GO N EE TTHHEEBBEESS R A N A I I A H H S S OSOBKO P P G G E E B E E U U R R E E A 'S U ' A U L L L R L C R S C S O T O T D G T S G T S C N E C OOD N E O O B O O . OK. A G NDA AL L HNAD P AREE TTHHEEBBESS ERSEISNITNHTEHDEOD B'OSOBKO EP R E 'S U E L LAGUHGA R C E S U O L T G T R C S C N O T D OOLDAU G T O L C D N E E O 'S BOOKO . OK. A G NDA ALO AREE TTHHE BEST CUR HNAD PA ERSEISNITNHTEHEOD EP E L LAGUHGA R B S E O E G S T ' U L C N R OOLDAU C S O B O T D L D G T E S . OK. A G EE TTHHE BE CURES ISNITNHTEHE DOCR'S BOOKO NDA ALON SLEEP A AR HNAD R LAGUHGA O T P E G T B S E R C N E E S OOLDAU ' O U O B L L R D C S E O A E T D H EE TTHE BES CURES INITNHTHE DOCRT'S BOOK. K. A G NDA LONG SLEEP AR HNAD LAGUHGA R T T CURES THE DOCTO TOR'S BO. O D A G SS O P N O E O U G L E A L A L S DA LONG LEEP ARE TTHHEEBBEE N OD OD LAUGA CR'S BOOK OK. A G A O H RERSEISNIN THDEOD D SLEEP ARE THE BEST CU N O G T C N O H O G G L BKO. U A E 'S A U H D L R T C S E THE BESTCURES IN N O R A G T O OD A C H N O P G O O B E U L D E 'S A L A E L R S H E THE BEST CURES OLDAUGH ANADND A LONGSLEEP AR ITNHTE DOCTO TOR'S OK. A G GO O B . E K N R I O A T D H S O G S P O G E B C N E E R AUH AND A ALO CTOOR'S 'SOBKO E TTHHEEBBEST CU GOOLDAL NHTEHDEOD LONGSSLLEEEPP A R I S D G E T . OK. A E N U R N R A I U A R H C S O G E O T D B E G T U R S O E C 'S A N U E L L R C O O B S L O T D D E G T S O GO AUGHGA E TTHHE BE NADNDA A LON SLEEEEPP A . OK. A ES RE INITNHTEHDEOC TOOCRT'S OBKO R AR H S 'S O U E L B R C U R O T D A U G L S L O C S N E T D O G B S O L D C N E A A LO GO . OK. A ND ISNITNHTEHDEO TOCRT'S OBKO PP ARE TTHHEEBBEESST TCC GUHGA E HNAD S O E U R E B E E 'S A U R L E L R A U S L L O D S G D O G N O C N O O O B D G A AL LO . OK. A ND HNAD SEISNITNHTEHDEO OOBKO P AREE TTHHEEBEESS P E GUHGA B E E R R E E 'S U 'S L U L LA R C S R C S O T O T G T G T C N OOLDAU C N O O OO GD O L . OK. A NDA ALO HNAD OOBKO P AREE TTHHEEBBESS GA ERSEISNITNHTEHDEOD B'S H EP U R E G A 'S U E L U L R C S E A U O D T L L G T R C O S C N O T D O O G T G O L D C N O A O 'S BOOKO . OK. A NDA ALO AR HNAD PA ERSEISNITNHTEHEOD REE TTHHEEEBBEEST TCU EP UHGA R E A L L R G S B E O D U G T E O 'S A U C L N L O R C S O G O L D D G T A S OO . OK. A EE TTHHE BE CURES ISNITNHTEHE DOCR'S BOOKO NDA ALON SLEEP A AR HNAD R AGUHGA L O T D P E G T B S O E C U N R E O E S ' A O O U B L G L L D R C E S A A O E T D H EE TTHE BES CURES INITNHTHE DOCRT'S BOOK. K. A NDA LONG SLEEP AR OO D LAUHGA HNAD R T T CURES THE DOCTO TOR'S BO. O A G SS O N P G O O E U G L E A A L A L S DA LONG LEEP ARE TTHHEEBBEE N CR'S BOOK OK. A O OD O H G U RESEISNIN THDEOD A D L E THE BEST CU O DAUGH AN ND A LONGSSLEEP ARE T O C O G A R E 'OSOBKO. U H L T R C O T N R A I G T S A H C N S E OOGD P G E O O B B E U R L D E E 'S A U L A E L H R C S T E THE BEST CURES NADND A LONGSLEEP A OOLDAUGH A R ITNHTEHDOCTO TORB'OSOBKO. OK. A E N R I A T H S G P S G OGD E N E E U R O E O B A U L L L C S E A T D EOD H TOOCR'S S BKO S O AUGH ANAD T H C NG LEEP A E T E O B L N D R E I A O A E H S T H D E T . OK. E N R N R I ' U O A L H R C S O S P G E O B T D E G T U R S O E A 'S C N U E L L R C O O S B GO O L T D D G T E S O E TTHHE BE NADNDA A LON SLEEEEPP A A GO LAUGUHGA . OK. EISNITNHTEHDEOCCTOOCRT'S RE OBKO AR R H S S O ' U E B R C R O T D A U L G L S O C S N E T D G O B S O GO L N D A A LO A GO AUGUHGA . OK ND AREE TTHHEEBEESST TCC ISNITNHTEHDEO TOCRT'S P E HNAD S E P R E B'OSOBKO E E U R L E L A R U L S L O S D G D O G N O O C N E O O O B O O GA G B L D L D E E A E H A E H T H T H D D T . OK HNAN P AREE GUHGA B'OSOBKO UR UERSEISNITN LA RT'S CC SLLEEEEP R S O T O G T T S G C N S E OOLDAU C N O O E B GD L O O D B E GO L AO D A E H E T H A E D H T . OK N HNAD OOBKO P AREE T BESS ERSEISNIN TH OCTORT'S B'S E UHGA R P E G A U L E L U C S E A U T D L G L R C O S N O O T D O G G O L D A OC 'S BOOKO GO . OK NDA ALON SLEEEP AR HNAD PA ERSEISNITNHTEHEOD REE TTHHEEEBBEEST TCU UHGA R A L R G B O D U G T E O 'S A U C N L O L R C O S G L O D D G T A . OK EE TTHHE BES CURES ISNITNHTEHE DOCR'S BOOKO GOO D LAGUHGA NDA ALON SLEEP A AR HNAD R O T P G T E B S O E C N U R E O E O O 'S A B U G L L L D R C E S A A E O H T D EE TTHE BES CURES INITNHTHE DOOCRT'S BOOK. K NDA LONG SLEEP AR GOO OOD LAGUHGA HNAD R T T CURES THE DOCT TOR'S BO. O A G SS N P O E G U L E A A L A L S DA LONG LEEP ARE TTHHEEBBEE N A CR'S BOOK O O H GOOGD G ES ISNIN THEOD U A L D CUR S E N O T D G T R A S O C N E A O H O B P L G D E E E A U A R E H E A T U H L D LD LAUGH AD N A LONG SSLEEP ARE THE BESTTCC ORB'OSOBKO. OD CRT'S S IN TN THEOD E O R U A GO O G T S O E N C N E O R A O I B G A A OD LAUGUHGH AND A L NG SLEEEPP ARE THE EST CU RSES THE D DOCRT'S SOBKO. O ' N R I O O E B R E O A B U L L L C S E A GO O T D A E T O UGH ANAD E TTHHE BES CUERSES LONGSLEEPP A R A GO ND A O NITNHTEHDOC RE I A A L H RB'OSOBKO. O G O T D E U G T R S E S O ' A U C N L E L O R C S O B G O T D L D G T E S A A GOO UGH A C N A E E H O O T B H D L D T E E N A .O RE TH BEST TCC AR A LAUGH ANDA LO UERSEISNITNHE DEOD B'OSOBKO R SSLLEEEEPP A O 'S UR G T R C N O G T O S C N E OOLD E O A GO B GD H L E T H AO D A E H T .O GUHGA HNAND ONNGGSSLLEEEEP P AREE T B'OSOBKO UERSEISNITNH E DEOD UR R LA RT'S CC O T O T S T S C E C E OOLDAU O B O B L GD L E E A GO AO A A H H T T H H D D T .O HNAN P AREE B'OSOBKO GUHGA SR UR UERSEISNITN LA RT'O CC SLLEEEEP S O T G T T S G C N E S OOLDAU C N O O B E GD L D O O B E AO L D A E H E A GO T H A E D H T .O N HNAD P AREE T BEST TCU ERSEISNIN TH OCTORT'S B'OSOBKO E UHGA R E P G A L E L U S E A D U L G L R O C S N O O D O G G S L O D A . EE TTHHEE BE CURESEISNITNHTEHE DOCR'S BOOBKO NDA ALON SLEEEP A GO AR HNAD PA R UHGA A L G O T D U R G T E S S O ' A U C N E L O . A GA L R C O O B S G L D O T D E G OO EE TTHHE BES CURES ISNITNHTEHE DOCRT'S BOOK. NDA ALON SLEEP A AR HNAD UHGA A R L T T CURE THE DOCTOCTOR'S BO. D P G G O E N U O E O A G L L . A GA L S A HHEEBBEESS T G D N E N OOD OD LAUHGA R O O A OKO A L H P A ERSEISNIN THEOD E T R D E 'S BO LEEP ARE THE BEST CU N R S O G T C N O G O G U L D 'S A A U A L E . L R C K A GOOD LAUGH AD O BOOBK. NDA LONG SSLEEP AREE THE BESTTCURES IN THTHE DOOCRT'S N D G T N R S A O I C N E A O H O GD LAUG GH AND A LONG SLEEPP ARE THE B EST CUE D OCTOR RSES 'S . K. A GA IN THE OOBKO OO B E B UH AND A LO R E D 'S A E U L L R E C H S T O H T D G T T S O E C N E O N R O O B I G L A D E S O A A E P H G E B T H E D U R T E E N LONG SSLLEEP AR 'S LA AUGH AD K. A GOOD OR RES IN IN THE DOnCeT.c UU EBBEESST TCC m A G H o OD L T N O O E N G L R A E A i A A H H z S T D P a G E E N E g U R A A U SSLLEEEP AR THEBBEESST TwC K. A GOO OR'S BO amTa G T n i C N f O O a r L D G a N A E OOLD LUAGUHGH .f O H GD D L E E N A RE TH wEw AR H AND ALONNGGSSLLEEEEP OOBK A LAUGA PA B'S R CURES IN EHDEOD K. A GO 'S O T T R S C O T T O S B C E OOLD E O B GD A L H E T AO D A H T HNAND ONNGGSSLLEEEEP GUHGA P AREE T UERSEISNITNH E DOCTOR'S B UR C LA C K. A GO T T S S E E OOLDAU B O B GD L L E E AO A A H H T T ND A IN TH AREE HNAD H S P G P G E E U E E U R A E L A L U L S L R'S B C S D G T D O G OK. A GO N S O O O N L AG NDA ALO AD THE DOCTO E THE BE


C O N T R I B U TO R S Tolu Ogunlesi is the author of a collection of poetry Listen to the Geckos Singing from a Balcony. He won the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg poetry prize in 2007. He lives in Lagos.

Monica Arac de Nyeko is a Ugandan writer and winner of the 2007 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story, ‘Jambula Tree’.

Uzodinma Iweala is the author of the novel Beasts of No Nation.

Teju Cole is the author of Every Day is for the Thief. He lives in New York City, and is at work on a new novel.

Jumoke Verissimo is the author of a poetry collection, I Am Memory. She lives in Lagos, where she works as a writer, copywriter and journalist.

Stefan Danielsson lives and works in Upplands Väsby, Sweden. His work has been exhibited at the Galleri Loyal, Stockholm.

Kachi A. Ozumba is the winner of the 2006 Decibel Penguin Short Story prize. His first novel, A Feast for Mosquitoes, will be published in 2009.

Bo Lundberg is a graphic designer and illustrator. His work has appeared in the LA Times and Vogue magazine, and he has had exhibitions in Tokyo, Milan, and his home town of Enskededalen, in Sweden.

Niran Okewole is a Senior Registrar at the Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos. He is the author of a volume of poems, Logarhythms, as well as a sequence of plays The Watchman Trilogy. He won the Berlin International Festival Poetry Prize in 2008.

Zadie Smith is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man and On Beauty. She lives in London.

Doreen Baingana is the author of Tropical Fish: Stories out of Entebbe, which won a Commonwealth Prize in 2006.

Chris Abani is the author of Song of Night. He lives and teaches in California.

Edward Emeka Keazor works as publishing director with The Cavendish Group. He lives in London.

Toni Kan is a poet, essayist and short story writer. He is the author of Nights of the Creaking Bed.

Also featuring the work of Patrick Wilmot, Yemisi Ogbe, Eghosa Imasuen, Charles Mayaki, Corbin Collins, Simidele Dosekun, Olubunmi Olofintuade, Catwalq Bani-Baraje, and Felicity Thompson Featured Photographers: Samarth Bhasin, Peter Chep’konga, Jerry Riley, Paul Anderson, Teju Cole, Adeniyi Olagunju. Cover Artwork by Bo Lundberg Cartoons by Gado

VISIT The Farafinist @ http://blog.farafinamagazine.com

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LETTERS ON PRODUCT PLACEMENT AND ARBITRARY PRICING Dear Farafina: The above-mentioned are two things that tick me off when buying books in Lagos. I recently bought a copy of Farafina magazine at the bookshop in the international airport in Lagos. First of all, the magazines were placed on the topmost shelf of the shop, way out of reach of the human-sized customer (I tried to take a picture in the shop but came across some ‘opposition’, so I let it go). When I asked to see a copy of the magazine the shop assistant merely replied, “It’s one thousand Naira.” “I didn’t ask for the price but to see a copy of the magazine,” I say, adding that the price (as I know from experience) is on the product. So he climbs on his stool and brings down a copy, and lo and behold, when I present it at the counter several minutes later as one of my purchases, the price is no longer one thousand naira but seven hundred. So I protest: “But the price on the magazine is six hundred naira,” to which he replies, with that peculiarly Lagosian brand of shopkeeper impudence: “We add one hundred naira.” Me: “But that is not the cover price and there is nothing on the magazine to show that seven hundred is how much you charge for it.” So he takes a plain white sticker, scribbles N700 on it and sticks it on the magazine! Can this be right? Omo Jeje Via FaceBook RE: ON PRODUCT PLACEMENT AND ARBITRARY PRICING Dear Omo Jeje: No, nothing about the incident you highlighted above is right. In the first instance, no sales-minded shopkeeper would—though if a lack of common sense is the factor here, then I should modify that to should—place a periodical, which by definition has a short shelf life, on the topmost shelf of their store. This act can be compared to a roadside fish seller displaying cans of sardine on her tray, whilst her fresh wares remain hidden from public view underneath her stool. Also, going by your description of what transpired, I can only conclude that this attendant’s treatment of a customer is anything but exemplary. Unfortunately, this

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attitude to customer service is not restricted to Lagos, nor particular to Nigeria. All the unwitting producer—of magazines or fresh fish—can hope for is that wherever this sort of service rears its head, from Lagos to Reykjavik, customers can learn from your heartening example and stand up to it. Considering this shopkeeper’s final act, which in my opinion verges on the criminal, I can only offer sincere apologies on behalf of Farafina magazine. Beyond an apology however, we took steps to ensure that this incident was brought to the attention of that shopkeeper’s employer. Suffice it to say that as concerns this particular establishment, what the body does, the head is responsible. Farafina magazine

Sound Thinking. Select from our range of titles. Catch up on your reading by choosing books that inform, intrigue and inspire.

FARAFINA MAGAZINE REDUCES FREQUENCY TO FOUR ISSUES A YEAR Dear Readers: Farafina magazine is reducing its frequency from a bimonthly to a quarterly schedule, effectively beginning with this issue, Farafina 16. Instead of six issues a year, readers can now expect four: the Dry Season edition (January–March), the Wet Season edition (April–June), the New Yam Season edition (July–September), and the Harmattan Season edition (October– December). To accommodate the frequency reduction and utilize other avenues in the bid to tell our own stories, Farafina magazine is revamping its website, which will incorporate a blog while adding multimedia features such as content aggregation, podcasts, video, and a writers’ forum. The new and improved Farafina magazine website will be put online in phases, with the final section expected to be launched in June 2009. If you have any questions or comments please send to editors@farafinamagazine.com Letters to the editor should be sent by email with the writer’s full name and address to letters@farafinamagazine.com. All other queries should be sent to info@farafinamagazine.com. The magazine reserves the right to edit submissions, which may be published or otherwise used in any medium. All submissions become the property of Farafina.

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Psy ki NUMBER 16

The word ‘mumu’ is used in Nigerian Pidgin English to describe a person regarded as a fool or a simpleton. Its use however transcends instances of clear-cut stupidity, as it is also deployed in language to denote those persons whose actions, though lawful and correct, are considered naive. Below are some examples of traffic-related actions in Nigeria that would qualify a person for the term. Utilising the overhead bridge when you can dash across a busy motor road HEALTH SECTION GUEST EDITED BY IKE ANYA

ON JADUM TOLU OGUNLESI ON THE TABOO OF MENTAL ILLNESS IN NIGERIA

Reporting a road accident to the authorities Dropping trash in your car bin when you can toss it out of the window

HEALTH Featuring the work of Uzodinma Iweala, Doreen Baingana, Jumoke Verissimo and Kachi A. Ozumba

FICTION BAPTISM

Wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle

By Monica Arac de Nyeko

TRAVEL ONE WEEK IN LIBERIA By Zadie Smith

Refusing to take the ‘one-way’ lane when other cars are

POLITICS THE REWRITE By Teju Cole

Stopping at night when flagged down by policemen at a road block Obeying traffic lights when no traffic officials are present

NIGERIA N1000 • UK £5 • USA $7

THE FARAFINA YELLOW BOW®

Refusing to pull to the side of the road when a siren-blaring convoy approaches Stopping to carry a pedestrian to the hospital after hitting him with your car

TELLING OUR OWN STORIES, ONE EDITION AT A TIME

TO SUBSCRIBE NOW CALL +234-1-740-6741 OR VISIT OUR WEBSITE www.farafinamagazine.com

Waiting at the end of a zebra crossing for a car to stop for you (or, for the motorist, waiting for pedestrians to use the zebra crossing)


©JULIETA CERVANTES/NATIONAL BLACK ARTS FESTIVAL

FARAFINA METRO LIFE.STYLE.MUSIC.DESIGN.CULTURE

Wordslam at the Goethe Institut Momentum continues to build as this genuine cultural crossover event at the German cultural center attracts underground buzz and lofty plaudits. The spoken word and beat poetry genre seems to be undergoing a renaissance of late, and the organisers of Wordslam claim to be trying to bring it back to the Nigerian and African scene. Key ingredients of audience response and involvement, as well as the presence of the likes of Ade Bantu and Lari Williams are helping the Cultural Advocates Caucus pull in new and receptive audiences at the Goethe Institut. Wordslam is held in locations as different as under the Samarkand Tree at the National Museum and the Institut. Check for upcoming dates on www.goethe.de/lagos.

NANTAP at 20 March 27 is a date of twofold importance for the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners which celebrates

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its 20th anniversary while joining KWANI 5 the world stage in marking The Kenyan literary publication International Theatre Day. So, Kwani? readies itself for a busy theatre lovers can expect a generous 2009 with the long-awaited release dose of entertainment from March of its fifth edition. The organisation 24 to 28, when NANTAP will host ramps up its activities this year ahead of the fifth issue’s two-part dances and masquerades, an exhibition, lectures with the likes of launch. Alongside the Sunday Tunde Kelani, a film screening, and Salon and the Poetry Open Mic events in Nairobi, Kwani? is theatre performances. Incidentally, NANTAP is also working on a film scheduled to release a photobook titled Kenya Burning in the first about the late Nigerian icon Chief quarter of this year. Obafemi Awolowo.

Katlego Africa Committed to “bringing African entertainment to the world”, Katlego Africa is an online media centre based in the UK which makes (original) African books, CDs/DVDs, magazines and movies available to e-shoppers in the UK and selected European countries. Launched in February 2009, Julian Bassey created this Amazon-style website to cure the nostalgia of the African diaspora with homegrown sounds and stories, while showcasing Africa’s vibrancy, originality, and culture to other media consumers living in Europe.

The World Is Flat March sees the start of a longrunning experimental exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Arts (CCA) supported by the Danish Arts Council’s Committee for International Visual Arts. Based around the theme of maps, artists explore and experiment with their interpretations of the map as a visual art form. Expect the unexpected.

Small World This huge feat of organisation, communication and cookery skills culminates in an international food

festival on February 21 on the grounds of the British International School in Lekki. Ostensibly hosted by the International Women’s Organisation for Charity, this annual event is a combination of over 50 different diplomatic missions and nationalities combining to nominate various charities for the proceeds of the event to go to. This year’s event raised over N30million for 27 charities.

The Vagina Monologues: The Nigerian Story KIND (Kudirat Initiative For Democracy) is preparing for their 2009 performances of The Vagina Monologues: The Nigerian Story. The four performances will take place at the following venues: Saturday, March 21 at the Goethe Institut, Ozumba Mbadiwe Road, V/I, March 25 and 26 at the Agip Hall, MUSON Center, Onikan and finally at the National Arts Theatre, Iganmu on March 27, 2009.

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METRO DIARY THIS IS LAGOS

©FARAFINA MAGAZINE

After leaving their old base in the Civic Centre, the African Artist’s Foundation (AAF) have been busy redesigning the property located at 54 Raymond Njoku Street, off Awolowo Road in Ikoyi, transforming an upmarket Moroccan-themed bar-restaurant into AAF headquaters. The same downbeat African art-themed style that worked so well for their sister venue, the Bogobiri Hotel, has been employed to startling effect at AAF HQ, with the building now resembling a hand-crafted maze with woodcarvings, sculptures and art adorning all the corridors and wall surfaces. Painter and long-time AAF collaborator Bob Aiwerioba’s new collection and Emeka Ogboh’s Sound Installations, under the banner This is Lagos was the debut show held in February at the new venue. A tremendous turnout, as there always seems to be for new creative ventures in the art capital were made to fully employ their senses of sight and sound in order to fully enjoy the sound recordings and Aiwerioba’s oil-based representations of Lagos scenery. The event heralds a bold new beginning for the AAF. AAF HQ, 54 Raymond Njoku Street, S.W. Ikoyi, Lagos www.africanartists.org

NAIJAZZ

©STUDIO 868

Jazz music aficionados tend to be knowledgeable about the history of the genre, especially as so many of the acknowledged classic albums and live shows were recorded during the early 1950s. Few were more knowledegable about the beginnings and early influences of jazz on the Nigerian music scene as the panel put together by Ayo Shadare, the curator of NAIJAZZ, at the symposium which kicked off the start the recent jazz festival. Tam Fiofori, Steve Ayorinde Benson Idonije and Kunle Tejuoso were the members who gave impassioned and highly educational talks on the theme “Taking Jazz back to its African Roots.” The Studio 868 venue has become synonymous with NAIJAZZ and this year saw a great many journalists, jazzlovers and musicians assemble over the course of 5 days in a series of exhibitions, talks and performances that made up this diverse event. Studio 868, Bishop Aboyade Cole Street, V/I, Lagos

©FARAFINA MAGAZINE

In what can only be described as a long labour of love, Kachifo Limited finally unveiled one its most accomplished projects and a celebration of one of Nigeria’s most revered artists, The Architecture of Demas Nwoko. Written by the architects John Godwin and Gillian Hopwood, this architectural monograph chronicles the story of Demas Nwoko through a detailed study of his work and analysis of his many levels of professional talent and artistic merit. Born in 1935, Demas Nwoko came through the College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria to become an inspirational and resourceful architect and designer. The Architecture of Demas Nwoko is a testament to the dedication of the authors, John and Gillian Hopwood to celebrating the vision and art of this son of Idumuje Ugboko.

©FARAFINA MAGAZINE

KACHIFO LIMITED LAUNCH THE ARCHITECTURE OF DEMAS NWOKO


METRO DIARY NBAF

©SETH RUFF/COURTESY NATIONAL BLACK ARTS FESTIVAL

Atlanta-based National Black Arts Festival turned 20 in 2008. To mark this milestone, they will hold several events from January to December 2009. Coming up are the Fine Art and Fashion evening in late February, jazz legend Ramsey Lewis in concert at Centennial Park, Atlanta, Georgia, followed by several danceoriented shows in the lead up to the 2009 Gala in the summer. Started as a non-profit organisation, NBAF has always operated with a firm focus on celebrating African culture in the diaspora while building creative bridges and platforms where new talent has been able to flourish and reach new audiences. Read updates on these events and more at blog.farafinamagazine.com

LIKE A VIRGIN

©ADOLPHUS OPARA

The artistic female duo of Zanele Muholi and Lucy Azubuike team up for an exhibition that runs at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Yaba until March. Titled Like a Virgin, this unusual visual experience presents the challenges of interpretation and definition—akin to the early years of the Brit-Art movement where found objects were showcased to form literal representations of a theme-in this case “women’s experiences, identities, their bodies and sexuality”. On the surface, utilising the actual by-product of the female menstrual cycle to form the building blocks of a visual exhibition may seem shocking, however the stories and experiences that influenced the two women to pursue this particular artistic decision are even more disturbing and set the work in its proper context. Muholi in particular has for several years reported and documented, counselled and recorded the personal testimonies of women who have found themselves on the receiving end of extreme acts of sexual violence, a phenomenon known in South Africa as “corrective rape”, because of the belief that lesbian women can be ‘cured’ by such acts of violence. There are many questions to be asked about this fascinating exhibition—the best way to judge will be with your own eyes and mind. CCA, 9, McEwen Road, Yaba www.ccalagos.org

NNEDI OKORAFOR IN LAGOS

©CLARE MICHELLE GORDON

Farafina Magazine welcomed science fiction and fantasy novelist Nnedi Okorafor back to Nigeria on December 13 last year at it’s first Visual Arts and Literature event. The author of Zahrah the Windseeker and The Shadow Speaker, and the winner of the 2008 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature appeared alongside her fellow Farafina novelist Eghosa Imasuen, and gave an enlightening talk on her influences and her approach to writing. Since then she has released two books, the illustrated novel Long Juju Man, winner of the Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa, and her first ‘adult’ book, Who Fears Death. www.nnedi.com

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©FEDERAL PALACE HOTEL

METRO LIFESTYLE

FEDERAL PALACE HOTEL

LA CAMPAGNE TROPICANA With over 60 miles of Atlantic-facing shores, our warm tropical climate, and the sheer number of both Nigerians and foreigners living in Lagos, there should be a good number of quality beach resorts to choose from. Sadly the lack of progress in this area is painfully visible on most stretches of beach, with leisure facilities in disrepair, and litter and sometimes deadly debris. The owners and management of La Campagne Tropicana Beach Resort have to be commended for bucking this trend by providing their guests with a wonderfully clean stretch of beach and a decent choice of leisure activities, wi-fi, spas and outdoor Jacuzzis. Another bonus: the resort is also reachable by road from the Lekki-Ajah Expressway. La Campagne Tropicana Beach Resort 0805 222 5226

©VANILLA RESTAURANT

©FARAFINA MAGAZINE

The soft refurbishment of the Federal Palace Hotel was spearheaded by Sun International at the cost of US$10 million. With a design team including interior designer Lauren Beckwith and the Black Moon Design Studio based in Johannesburg, South Africa, this modern-day hotel with the feel and design touches of a smaller boutique hotel is a fine showcase of interior design. The overall theme of the hotel is a contemporary African style incorporating local and natural materials. Local stone, heat-resistant glass that allows for natural light, grey steel and timber carved to fit available spaces, and a tonal range of beige, brown and grey have been specially selected to complement the warm African environment. The hotel has already been a strong magnet for travellers and those looking for a new place for a drink or a meal. The airy terrace, superbly designed bar and Explorers Restaurant with special health food buffets make for an excellent range of hospitality choices. The hotel has 116 King Rooms, 12 Junior Suites, 8 Twin Rooms and 4 Rooms with disability facilities, as well as 10 One Bedroom Apartments and 4 Two Bedroom Apartments. Federal Palace Hotel, 6-8 Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos

VANILLA ABUJA Food lovers and those with a healthy predilection for well-made cocktails will find their tastes catered to at Vanilla Restaurant. With an emphasis on simple food, simple decor and a menu with global influences and healthy portions, dishes such as Jamaican jerk chicken with jollof rice and honey garlic fish are favourites on the menu. Vanilla Restaurant Abuja, 2022 Aminu Kano Crescent, Wuse II, Abuja Tel.:0807-444-4258, 0703-319-9222


FARAFINA BUY

SOLAR LANTERN

CAXTONALILE CARDS Started by a two young Nigerian women with professional backgrounds in fashion and design, CaxtonAlile is a company whose cards are infused with a healthy dose of humour and are patriotic without losing the western aesthetic. The cards feature our own unique brand of offbeat greetings, food recipes, as well as birthdays, graduations, Nigerian holidays like Independence Day. www.caxtonalilecards.com

©CAXTONALILE

Keeping the darkness at bay is a daily occupation for millions of Nigerians. When the sun goes down and PHCN fails to power your home, what options do you have for a non-polluting light source that is energy efficient and doesn’t simply heat up your environment even further? Standalone lanterns have moved on since the days of the smokey kerosene burner and now come in rechargeable and solar powered form. Invest in one at your local electrical stockist today.

HIV TEST For the meagre sum of N1,500 in most medical centres and free of charge in those centers sporting the HIV logo or Free Testing signage outside, you can treat yourself to an HIV test and the peace of mind that comes with living responsibly and knowing your status.

ENDLESS BENIN

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PHOTOS©FARAFINA MAGAZINE

Adolphus “Ghestapo” Opara is a relatively young photographer with a long list of notable achievements to his name, including completing The World Press Photo’s International Professional Course, and holding exhibitions in Nigeria and Spain. He is an invited member of the Photographers Association of Nigeria. His most recent exhibition Endless Benin was unveiled at Farafina Magazine’s Visual Arts and Literature event held in December. A limited number of framed monochrome prints are still available, and would grace the wall of any home or office. Contact info@farafinamagazine.com for more information

www.farafinamagazine.com


5 RECOMMENDED DESIGN BOOKS by Ekanem Konu COLORS By Oscar Riera Ojeda & James McCown Part of the ‘Architecture in Detail’ series, the title ‘Colors’ is to a large extent self-explanatory. Whilst the use of colour in architecture and interior design is not new, there are ways in which it can be used to define a space or influence a design. This book looks at the work of a star-studded cast of internationally renowned architects and practices, where they have made bold and definitive statements within their designs through the use of colour. Covering residential, commercial and civic buildings, the premise is that use of colour need not be seen as simply whimsical, but can ultimately influence individual perceptions of spatial experience and thereby add a non-physical or perhaps sensory dimension to an overall design.

COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE IN ILE IFE, NIGERIA

PHOTOS©FARAFINA MAGAZINE

By Cordelia Osasona & Anthony Hyland Although leaning towards the academic, the authors of Colonial Architecture in Ile Ife, Nigeria have produced a very accessible book dealing with the legacy of colonial influences on the physical

structures of Ile Ife. For understanding and exploring the evolution of modern vernacular architectural practices in Nigeria, particularly with reference to civic buildings in the western part of the country, it is essential reading. With the onset of cross-cultural ‘homogenisation’ in architectural practices and materials, and the rapid modernisation of construction that is invariably intertwined with growth in emerging economies, it is also a picturesque homage to a rapidly disappearing aspect of our architectural heritage.

SURFACE By Abigail Trow Interior designers and architects continually seek to use materials and finishes, not only traditionally, but also innovatively to create unique, eye-catching or deceptively understated design solutions. Here, one is guided through the attributes

and application of a broad selection of readily available construction and finishing materials, for example, tile, wood and glass. The essential purpose of this book is to educate on the properties and characteristics of such materials, and explain or suggest their suitability to certain applications. Once armed with this invaluable knowledge, the designer may easily contrive meaningful solutions to a variety of design briefs.

introduction for a novice. Written and illustrated in an easily readable, ‘put down, pick up’ style, this is definitely an enlightening book.

GLASS HOUSES

ARCHITECTURE A-Z (A Rough Guide) By Louis Hellman Internationally known in the field of architecture, Louis Hellman has used his satirical skills to create a book that is thought-provoking enough for the professional, yet still manages to approach the subject of architecture with enough humour to appeal to the curious reader. It is ‘light’ reading at its best—a stimulating and irreverent read for the seasoned professional, and an informative and excellent

By Alejandro Bahamon This book takes the reader on a comprehensive tour of some of the world’s most striking houses where glass has been used as the major design component. Featuring house styles from modern to experimental, each case study is supported by detailed plans and colour photographs. Glass Houses traverses continents to showcase how this universal medium can be applied in diverse settings, but still

brings its unique features and characteristics to bear in harmony with each setting and function. All titles avaialble from QA Bookshop, 152 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos


Akolè

TOYE GBADE


Ike ANYA

Courtesy of Ike Anya

Guest Editor’s Note

O

One evening many months ago when I got a call from Uzodinma Iweala asking if I would guest edit an issue of Farafina with a health theme, I did not hesitate in saying yes, in spite of the other commitments I had at the time. I said yes because the offer pulled together two themes close to my heart—African writing and African health. I am pleased to finally present this edition of Farafina with several thoughtful and impassioned pieces from some of my favourite writers, loosely themed around health. African health matters, and not necessarily in the simple way that we are most used to seeing African health issues portrayed in the media. There is often a tendency for many in Africa to see the challenge of improving health in their environment as something best left to the experts, and yet any attempts to tackle the myriad health problems that our beloved continent faces requires the engagement of us all. In the same way that we do not hesitate to engage in debates about improving governance and accountability on this continent, so must we all begin to employ critical discourse in matters of health and healthcare. We need to debate, to challenge and to question the casual assumptions. We need to hold our governments and ministries of health to account, moving beyond the usual litany of clinics built and medical missions carried out to asking for better information, better accountability, reductions in maternal and infant mortality—indices that actually mean something. In doing this, we must also begin to talk about the health issues that we tend to ignore, the mental health issues as well as matters of physical health, and to look inwards and share our own understanding of what health means to us as Africans. The link between writing and health may not be immediately obvious, but the African writer can illuminate, or better yet stimulate debate and challenge casual assumptions which impede the improvement of health on the continent. I am often asked how I manage to cope with my dual interests, so seemingly different. The question of ‘coping’ doesn’t arise: I believe that literature and health are inextricable. In this edition, Tolu Ogunlesi, trained as a pharmacist, and from his unique perspective of having grown up on the campus of Nigeria’s premier neuropsychiatric hospital and working in another psychiatric hospital, pens a provocative and thoughtful piece on mental health. Doreen Baingana examines a different aspect of health from the personal perspective of her relation to her skin. Kachi Ozumba’s brief fiction piece powerfully portrays some of the underlying issues that continue to drive the HIV pandemic, a theme echoed in Uzodinma Iweala’s piece and Jumoke Verissimo’s interview of Temitayo Oyedemi. Niran Okewole’s poems reflect his triple heritage as psychiatrist, activist and writer. Reading through the pieces, I was once again inspired to spread the message that public health is everyone’s business, especially in Africa. I hope that the pieces inspire you to thought and to reflection, and most significantly to action.

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© Uzodinma Iweala

UNTITLED By Uzodinma Iweala

I

It was well past sunset when Doc eased the car into the parking lot, a strip of gravel against the backside of the barracks. His headlight shone briefly on cracks in the wall before us while pebbles popped beneath the tyres as we slowed to a stop. Doc turned off the engine and let the car sit for a moment. He sighed, vibrating his lips like a horse, then detached the glowing stereo face from his car’s center console. He placed this in a black leather case and reached for the glove compartment. “This is Nigeria,” he said. “You have to hide things here.” I quickly moved my knees as he flipped the latch open. “So you’re learning,” Doc said, laughing softly. He had such a goofy laugh for someone with a face so serious. It was as if all of his responsibilities, his troubles, his musings, sat in the bags beneath his eyes, streaked with red from little sleep. A

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faint moustache and a few hairs on his chin made him appear younger than his twenty-seven years. No one would believe he was responsible for the healthcare of a whole village whose language he didn’t speak, whose customs he didn’t share, especially when he laughed. “Are you ready?” Doc asked me, jangling his keys in his palms as he watched me wipe the sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand. I sipped from the bottled water I cradled between my thighs. My shirt clung to my back and my eyes were sore from blinking away perspiration. “Now you see how real Nigerians are suffering. So hot. No AC. Welcome to Nigeria!” Doc laughed. I groaned.

W

hen we first met in New York, just before the Christmas holidays, I had teased him for his thick coat, hat and gloves. That December was unseasonably warm but Doc still shivered and complained, “I need to go home.” “You’re lucky you’re leaving before it snows,” I had said. “I would love to join you before that happens.” Now, in the midst of February’s incessant dry season heat, I wished for New York. Even this late at night the heat sat close to the ground wrapped around building foundations and tree trunks, rising in slow waves that coaxed the sweat from my pores without my knowing. Suddenly I would find myself picking my trousers away from my legs or my collar from my neck. “Where are we going exactly?” I asked. Doc stood with his elbows resting on the roof of his Honda. “If you ask the soldiers, this place is heaven. If you ask the Imams, it’s hell. But those Imams don’t dare bring their Sharia to the barracks,” he responded. “Why not?” “Ah ah! It’s full of soldiers. They have guns.” I followed him from the car through a narrow passage between two one-storey buildings. We passed other men who slunk by quietly, who like Doc seemed to know the path even in the darkness. It ended in an open square full of people standing around or sitting at white plastic tables placed without thought—some under tearing canopies, others in the open, still more around the trunk of a large mango tree with the nubs of its cut lower branches as the point of attachment for strings of flags advertising different brands of beer. Drink Star Beer! Drink Gulder! They flapped every time someone a bit too tall stumbled by without paying attention and caught the string with the top of his head. In the dim orange glow from hurricane lanterns and incandescent bulbs, everything and everybody looked green. Doc called it heaven, but from where I stood watching the shapes of people moving slowly through spots of light and darkness, I thought more of a gathering point for wounded souls. S. had been waiting. He sat at a table beneath the mango tree in the same long white kaftan he wore when we first met earlier that

day. In this light his garments glowed, making his skin all the more black and his eyes an intense white. His face appeared subdued, the opposite of the rest of the clientele who wore dingy clothes, but whose faces were polished to a shine by the consumption of alcohol. I wanted to ask if he was uncomfortable, if he didn’t drink because he was a Muslim, but I couldn’t. Something funny happens when you formally interview a person and then see them again outside the context of your initial interaction. Something is missing. During the interview you are allowed and do ask all manner of private, probing questions. And the person across from you willingly divulges stories, secrets, self doubts that would otherwise take years of friendship to reveal, if revealed at all. But after, when the tape recorder is off and you sit face to face in silence, you realize that you don’t know the person in front of you, that those intense moments just spent together are not a substitute for years of learned friendship. I kept my mouth shut. S. stood up and greeted me with an outstretched hand. I shook it. Very formal. Very proper. “Young man,” he said with a slight smile. “So you see where we are forced to come to enjoy ourselves.” I found it hard to believe that this man was over fifty years old, harder still to believe he was HIV positive. S. was living proof that the billboards mounted around the nation showing Femi Kuti shirtless and smiling, telling Nigerians that “AIDS no dey show for face”, were true. It’s not politically correct to say such things, but I know now that however enlightened, however close to the people you consider yourself, if you have come of age in the West as I have, the image of HIV/AIDS in Africa is one of suffering. There is no smiling in Africa, so you look for the weak and the needy and you are surprised when you have trouble finding them. S. wasn’t weak or needy. Nor was he shy about telling people that he was HIV positive. As the leader of the “Coalition”, he spent his time travelling in Nigeria and to other African countries talking about the positive life. His work had won him an audience with the Queen of England when she came to Nigeria. A picture of them together sat in his office at the hospital. He sat at the table with his friend and support group member Thomas, a short man who constantly adjusted his red baseball cap as he crunched cigarette after glowing cigarette between his lips. Thomas, like the apostle, was almost forgettable. He never spoke. He merged with the environment in which he found himself. If S. was annoyed we had kept them, he didn’t show it. “Sit, sit,” S. said to me and Doc, spreading his arms towards plastic chairs pulled back from the table. S. motioned to a young woman holding a tray who stood on a concrete verandah at the edge of the square watching each table to see when bottles and cups sat untouched for long periods. She swept through the tables on her way towards us, lifting empty drink bottles and tin plates once filled with rice, fufu or hot pepper soup onto her tray as she approached. At our table, she stopped and balanced her tray in one hand while

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resting the other hand on her hip. A thin glow of perspiration At that moment, I could feel the tension in my chest grow as they glistened on her forehead. Still more stained the tight black T-shirt continued: “Lagos! Where a young boy will tell an old man to shut she wore over her ample bosom. Her short skirt curved just under up! Where if two people fight on the road they shout ‘let them fight’ her backside before ending in frills mid-thigh. I watched Doc’s instead of settling them!” I wondered whether I should add my eyes slide up and down her body—my own had done the same as own one-liner to the mix. I had plenty of Lagos stories. she walked over. She appeared unconcerned. That’s when I. appeared. “What will you take?” she asked me. “Beer? Stout?” He didn’t look like I expected. Earlier that day, when I asked “Fanta,” I mumbled. Doc about interviewing soldiers and sex workers, he told me there “What? A young man like you doesn’t drink beer?” S. asked, was an Igbo man I should meet, a member of S.’s support group. his eyes wide. He could help me. S. told me I. was from Delta state, where my “Bring me stout,” Doc said. Thomas mumbled the same thing. mother’s family is from. I had imagined a man like my uncles—big, When S. ordered, he also asked for Fanta but added, “Oh and please bold, even a little ostentatious. The short man standing before us Madam, call I. for us. Tell him S. is around.” was none of those things and was certainly not the kind of man you The girl glided off. “Women,” Doc said when he realized that would expect to introduce you to soldiers and prostitutes. He wore we all sat with our heads fixed on her a worried frown on his face, and his hands departing form. He had told me earlier how fiddled with each other behind his back. hard it was to spend time up here without The sleeves of his traditional shirt, though mobile phone service, especially at his short, ended just below his elbows and with quarters near the rural hospital where he his round head and cheeks made him appear lived alone.. somewhat childlike, albeit with hard and “Forget,” Doc said, drawing out the suspicious eyes. When he turned to the side, word while waving his hand. His face as he now did to greet Thomas, I could see tightened. “If you want real women, then that despite his skinny arms, his stomach you need to go to Lagos. The girls at the jutted out into a slight potbelly. His gaze university there . . .” his voice trailed off and moved from person to person quickly, he licked his lips. lingering just long enough to say I have seen “Lagos. Tot! What woman can you get in you, I have assessed you, and you are not a Lagos? A place where you stand you sweat, threat. S. WASN’T WEAK OR NEEDY. you sit you sweat. What woman will want to He would later tell me that he had come NOR WAS HE SHY ABOUT talk to you there?” S. quipped. to the city in the late 1980s, after terrible TELLING PEOPLE THAT HE WAS We laughed loudly. S. and Doc threw exam results in his last year of secondary HIV POSITIVE. their heads back towards the leaves above school. “There was nothing at all in this while I chuckled down into my notebook town then,” he said. And I imagine he had and thought about my girlfriend. This Saturday, as on most come here with nothing at all, probably a bag of clothes, enough Saturdays, she probably sat cross-legged on the floor of her money for a bus ticket, and the address of an older sister married to Brooklyn apartment, reading. I missed her, but found myself a Hausa man from the north scrawled on a crumpled sheet of wondering, as I did whenever I set foot in Nigeria, whether she exercise book paper. He would have looked younger then, and could make it here—with the heat, the constant power failures, the probably walked with swinging arms and a spring in his step. His disconnectedness from the place she grew up. Even the face must have borne early signs of weariness. He was, after all, a hypothetical idea of my one day moving to Nigeria was a sore point failure: the only son of a poor farmer, he was expected to lift the between us, one that I avoided talking about primarily because I family from its poverty. Instead of marching from the schooldidn’t know that I could survive here. At moments like this with house to the university boarding hall, he found his way hundreds the people “on ground”—the ones in rural areas as my uncles of kilometers north to a job as manager of a bar, hotel, and brothel. fondly called the likes of S. and Doc—I felt at once supremely That business had faltered in recent years when the town elders’ comfortable and terribly confused. new enthusiasm for Sharia law forced beer sellers and the like on to It was so easy to sit here with a bunch of men, eyeing women the military base. and cracking jokes. But I would notice at times like this, that ever “Welcome,” he greeted with his hoarse voice that fought its way so subtle slide in my accent to make it less grating, less obviously up his throat. His eyes turned to S., asking, “Who is this?” American—as if a slight change in intonation would make me Before I could answer, S. said, “This is our former finance more acceptable. Immediately I would grow ashamed of myself, minister’s son. He has come from the US to write about us.” wondering whether such games weren’t an expression of self-hate. I.’s eyes widened. ©TOYE GBADE

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HEALTH

I slouched in my chair, wishing I could hide myself behind their status,” S. continued. I. and Thomas nodded as S. spoke. I something, even the wrinkled pages of my notebook. I hated that wondered about their relationship with him. S. was such a force kind of introduction. It was clear from the reactions that everybody that you could feel him guiding you, supporting you, and soothing loved my mother, the anti-corruption crusader who had left her away your worries, but his energy was such that you began to cushy US-based job to come and clean up the mess made by year wonder where your will stopped and his began. He hardly ever after year of inept governance. In most places, all I had to do was say raised his voice and his hands moved only slightly when he spoke, my last name and watch Nigerians express their pride in and subtly underlining his points. “We here are open about our status, respect for my mother. But that was usually followed by intense but that doesn’t mean people are accepting of us. Even now the suspicion of me—yet another privileged child of an Abuja stigma is still too much.” politician who knew little more than the pleasures of life abroad. Doc let out a troubled sigh and shook his head in When I tried explaining my presence in the most random rural disappointment. His fingers drummed the plastic tabletop as he areas, places where you would never expect to see the children of spoke. “I mean, what can you expect in this state where the the Lagos and Abuja elite, I was dismissed as an American, the governor doesn’t believe in HIV. Can you imagine? A whole westerner, the comments made mostly in jest but only just enough governor?” Doc had said the same words a few days ago as we drove to cover an undercurrent of genuine through Minna, the capital of Niger State. derision. “Westerners brought the As he complained bitterly about the slow IMF–World Bank structural adjustment progress made against HIV in the state, his that did this to us,” they would say, pointing hands left the wheel and the car swayed at bad roads or heaps of garbage. “And now from side to side on the express. I had your NGOs have come with their clutched my hand rest and eyed the condescension and pity, with their aid. emergency brake. Now he said tiredly, “The Nobody listens to us, to what we want or man’s solution to everything is to read the have to say. They just ‘help’.” Quran, steal his people’s money and fly to At these times, I wanted to shout that Mecca. These leaders—our leaders—have I’m doing this, writing this book for us, for really messed up.” our pride, for Africa. I had been in “It’s gotten better though,” S. said. “At auditoriums filled by white men and one time if a doctor told you you had HIV, “IT’S GOTTEN BETTER women with transient concern worn like you went home and prepared to die. Now it THOUGH,” S. SAID. “AT ONE masks on their faces while some other white is not so. There is counselling. There are TIME IF A DOCTOR TOLD YOU person described Africans—us my brothers drugs. Most times we are not conscious of YOU HAD HIV, YOU WENT and sisters, us—as pitiful disease-ridden our status unless others remind us.” HOME AND PREPARED TO DIE. creatures in need of saving from ourselves. I I. hadn’t yet said anything. He fidgeted wanted to shout Aime Cesaire’s words, “I and turned his head to one side so he could should come back to this land of mine and say to it . . . ‘Embrace me watch the shadows of young women—his servers—walking to and without fear. If all I can do is speak . . . at least I shall speak for you’.” from his stall. Every so often, a girl would step into the dim orange “You’re welcome,” I. said to me. He didn’t ask my name or light and, as she held one arm to her chest to keep her breasts from shake my hand. Then he took a seat between Doc and S., and slipping out of her tight T-shirt, bend over to deftly exchange massaged his eyes and temples with his fingertips. empty bottles of beer or soft-drinks for new ones she pulled from a Doc leaned towards I. as if to further explain my presence, but crate in the ice box. A cloud of vapour enveloped her each time the he stopped and I was grateful. cold air of the freezer mixed with the warm air surrounding her “I. is one of us. Part of the support group,” S. said, pointing to body. Then the girl would step away into the darkness to serve himself and Thomas who fiddled with his red hat as he rolled yet another set of customers. I. observed their actions carefully. It another cigarette between his lips. I wondered if he chain smoked seemed that all of our talk about HIV either bored or frustrated before he knew he had HIV or whether the smoking came to calm him, but perhaps out of courtesy to his guests or respect for S., he nerves brought on by his diagnosis. He turned his box over and remained seated. over in his palms and tapped it slowly against the table. I am “No one knows what binds us. We can sit here with you and asthmatic, so the fumes made me take quick shallow breaths, but I you’d never know there was anything wrong.” S. said these last dared not say anything. Every so often, I leaned back to snatch a words so softly that we had to lean forward to hear him. For a breath of fresh air from behind Thomas’s cloud of smoke. moment I felt as if I were part of some secret spy network with a “There are more of us now who have joined. Probably more mission to gauge public sentiment towards a radical but growing than that who don’t know or who know but don’t want to admit group. This was the excitement that S. brought to his mission. ©FARAFINA MAGAZINE

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Such was his persuasiveness that I couldn’t help feeling he was speaking directly to me. I held my pen near my lips and thought, it’s one thing to be invited into this world and to be able to leave, but what if this is life? One of I.’s girls came over with chilled bottles of drinks. A cloud of condensation lined the base of her serving tray. As she clinked them down and opened them on the table with one swift flick of her wrist, I. got up. “You’ll speak with our friend tomorrow after support group meeting?” S. asked. I. nodded and walked off. I looked up. The clouds had parted above the mango tree, allowing the light of a half moon to trickle down through its branches. Mosquitoes and sand flies were out in full force. I reached beneath the table to slap my ankles. Later that night as Doc drove me to my hotel, I told him how I thought it rather unlikely that the same I. who eyed me with such suspicion would speak to me. “Why would anybody speak to a punk kid about something so personal as HIV?” “I spoke to you,” Doc said. “And I’m glad I did.” As we pulled up to the one room guest house that Doc had helped me find for accommodation, I asked him, “but do you think I. will?” The fluorescent light above my door flickered. I noticed two praying mantises mating on the window screen. “If he wants,” Doc said. He tossed me a new bottle of water.

prayer mats for their mid-afternoon prayers. Others washed their hands with streams of water from colourful kettles. The hospital mosque and its rows of sandals stood behind them. Doc swung round a bend in the drive, pulled off onto a path of tyre tracks made through dry brown grass, and let the car coast over the bumpy surface of dimpled mud and tree roots to stop next to a row of bicycles and motorbikes. A group of men and women lingered beneath yet another mango tree. I checked for I. or S. amongst the group but neither was there. I felt a film of sweat develop on my palms and my throat dry out. I felt like a child preparing for his first day of class. I was so clearly the newcomer, the odd one. I said I was here to listen and learn, but would the group see me that way? Or rather, would they see me as some sort of voyeur—a tourist of hardship and suffering. But there was also something more unsettling going on, something that I’m sure happens to everybody even if they don’t want to admit it. I had never been around so many HIV positive people and despite knowing all I knew about methods of transmission, despite all the rhetoric about HIV-infected people as ordinary people, I was afraid. Then I was ashamed of myself. Should I be? A minister at my church once told me that striving to be like Jesus does not equal becoming Jesus. “By living you fail,” he said. “But life goes on.” S. called to the group from a doorway that opened onto the long hallway of the hernia ward. I filed in behind the support group. S.’s office was a small cube with hastily erected cinder block walls and cracked plaster coating. A small window let in a thin sheet of sunlight that shot across the room, catching and holding floating dust particles. A fan hung from a wobbly rod screwed into the ceiling. Turning slowly, it flapped the pages of books and sheets of loose paper stacked on S.’s desk. His computer collected dust on the corner of the desk closest to me. I ran my finger along the keyboard until my fingerprints filled with dust. S. whispered, “My flash drive caught a virus and gave it to the computer.” He seemed amused by the relevance of this statement. Chairs scraped across the concrete floor as group members settled into their seats. The group was surprisingly multi-ethnic, with Hausa women in their headscarves seated next to Igbo men. All of their faces seemed closed. I. and Thomas entered last with an enormous canvas sack of rice that they dragged to the centre of our impromptu circle. Thomas produced a knife and a bunch of black and yellow plastic bags which I. carefully doubled. Thomas put the knife to the neck of the bag and with a long zrrrp cut open a wide line that revealed the almost clear grains of white rice inside. “The parish action committee on HIV/AIDS has given us the gift of this rice and some yams which the father will bring after our meeting,” S. said from behind his desk. Thomas scooped bowls of rice into bags held by I.—two scoops per bag—which were then tied and passed round to support group members still murmuring their thanks and approval. I. and Thomas worked quickly until they

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Town General Hospital was a group of one-storey buildings painted in two large horizontal stripes—custard yellow on top, cobalt blue on the bottom—all linked by a series of raised and covered concrete walkways around courtyards of struggling crab grass. The complex sat just off a long road lined by the thick mottled trunks of large trees. Their leaves drooped with the heat, but remained green. Lizards scampered about in dry gutters lining the road, stopping occasionally to taste the air with their tongues. “Buhari! Enh!” Doc exclaimed. In the mid-90s, General Buhari, a former military dictator, had been put in charge of a unit called the Petroleum Trust Fund created by Sani Abacha, one of the generals that followed him in office. The scheme was set up to distribute the nation’s wealth, the dictators said. “Just look,” Doc shouted, “if you want to know why the Niger Delta people are fighting! Buhari just packed all the money from oil and spent it here in the north.” The evidence was there. Petroleum Trust Fund signs hung from the awnings of the hospital wards. A green and white sign said “PTF drugs here”. “You think they have hospitals like this down in those creeks?” He laughed. “Nigeria enh! Corruption. Tribalism.” He spat the last word like a curse. We passed Hausa men in white safari suits that served as nurse’s uniforms taking a break on wooden benches in the shades of the trees lining the hospital drive. Some of them rolled out colourful


HEALTH had emptied the canvas sack, after which Thomas vanished with the empty bag. I. dusted his deep purple traditional shirt, gathered the hem in his hands, took a seat in the corner opposite me and swung his legs so his soles scuffed against the concrete floor. “We have some guests,” S. began. He waved to a man in a white shirt and dark pinstriped suit who introduced himself as Moses from a southern-based community organization much like the Coalition. Though sweating through his white shirt in the hot room, he managed a hearty introduction full of praise and thanks for the opportunity. S. pointed at me. “Hello,” I managed and then shifted back in my seat hoping that was enough. I had argued with my girlfriend—and her degree in social anthropology—about the best way to observe, to conduct interviews. She brought up theorist after theorist, complexity after complexity. Do you interact or do you strive to remain unnoticed, a fly on the wall? Or no matter what, does your simple presence dramatically alter the course of events? “All of these issues are for academics and journalists” I said to her. “I’m neither. My obligation is to the emotional truth.” “Who’s truth?” she asked. “Our truth,” I responded. But the leap from you and me to us, from yours and mine to ours, is something even the most experienced mediators have trouble encouraging. What truth could I possibly construct if I couldn’t decide which representation of myself to these people was the truth? Was I just an observer or, as I had represented myself on other occasions, an activist with a mission? The easiest answer, that I was there simply as a fellow human, was the hardest to accept and to express. To throw out the titles, the positioning and simply be. Embracing that kind of vulnerability requires a special confidence that I’m not certain I possess. S. waited for me to say more, and when I didn’t, he moved the group into their standard check in where each member spoke about their most pressing concerns: “I have no food for my family. I need school fees for my children. I need money for my housing.” The list of mundane concerns that everybody in Nigeria faced went on, so boringly normal that even the ceiling fan appeared to slow with fatigue. S. shifted papers on his desk. Then someone said, “My drugs have failed.” There was an audible gasp. I felt a tightness in my chest as if all of the air had been vacuumed from the room. The women tugged at their headscarves; I. scratched his head, but nobody said anything. No matter how advanced your drugs, your technology, life will always find a way to remind you of your mortality. The words came from an Igbo man with a thin line of facial hair beneath his nose and an uneven, slightly clumpy afro. He wore a sleeveless khaki safari shirt and short brown trousers that stopped mid-calf when he sat. Although slim, he appeared strong, with defined biceps and healthy veins running down his arms. “What line of medication?” asked Doc from the darkened corner where he stood.

“Second line. Kelatra,” the man said. He took his time before speaking because the weight of his news aggravated a slight stutter. “See. So you don’t have to worry too much,’ Doc said trying to reassure the man. “There is still third line, and in some cases, you can even go back to first line. You hear?” The rest of the room listened intently and seemed to breathe out with the news. The man, however, remained hunched forward with his head bobbing to some inconsistent rhythm. His eyes remained fixed on the floor. Someone put a hand on his back and mumbled, “It will be okay.” I looked for I. He had slipped out of the room.

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fter the meeting, I found him leaning against the flamboyant that dropped its petals on the roof of the hernia ward. “Can we talk?” I asked, fully expecting him to make an excuse. “Why not?” I paused and collected myself, then I suggested we walk to get away from the noise and people. The intensity of the meeting had agitated me. I needed to step away from the mass of collective uncertainty. I have never lived through an earthquake, but when I was younger, at my parent’s house in Potomac, there was a quarry some miles away. Every so often they would blast through the rock with dynamite and the house shuddered, plates rattled, pictures shifted. My heart would slide so far in one direction that for a moment my chest felt empty. But to live a whole life like this, with the ground constantly shifting and one’s sense of the normal in a mode of continuous reset? We set off down an improvised path of trampled grass towards the road that looped around the hospital compound. When we hit asphalt, our sandals crunched loose pebbles on the road surface against the hot pavement. We walked towards the hazy shapes of hospital staff quarters, bungalows set some ways back from the road on long drives lined by browned grass. “So I don’t know if Doc or S. has told you about the project,” I stammered. I. looked up at me. “I wanted to get the stories of people living with HIV/AIDS and . . .” I couldn’t find the right words to describe the uninfected. Healthy? Normal? As if HIV negative people were by default healthy or people with AIDS were somehow not quite people anymore. “You want me to tell you what I know about the ‘something’?” I. rasped. I realized then that our short walk had exacerbated breathing difficulties normally noticeable only as a slight hoarseness to his voice. I looked for a place to sit down, but the only option was in the tall grass by the roadside. “Do you want to turn back?” I asked. I. didn’t answer. He continued on. “In fact I never knew about the something the first time I was very seriously feeling sick. They took me to hospital. I got okay. Within some weeks it started again and they say I should go for a test. They say it’s HIV. I say ‘no it can’t be; I have not been meddling

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with women for a long time.’ So I resisted. I say ‘No! I have to move to Kaduna to do another test’.” He paused to wipe the sweat from his forehead. “When I got there, when I went to Kaduna, to one big military hospital, they tested me and it’s the same thing. Since that time I accepted it. It was the year 2000.” The year of transitions, a new millennium, for me the year I finished secondary school and started university. While I was walking up the marble steps of the National Cathedral nave to retrieve my diploma from the Bishop of Washington, he may have been walking down a dark hallway to collect his test results from the military doctors. They didn’t have counselling services then. Someone drew your blood, sent it to the lab and later presented you with a death sentence: positive. “How did you feel when they told you?” I asked as we came to the part of the compound where the road looped around to head back towards the main hospital complex. “Tot! Nah God get us? Once they tell you, you have to accept. It

that’s how the girls in the hotel used to do. At times, in a month, we don’t even near them, but when you have money you can go to them. Fine girls. Yeah!” he remembered. “But I can’t say that I got it from them because there are many ways of contacting that something. I can’t say if it’s through there or another way.” He looked at me briefly, then he returned his gaze to the road between us. It was darker and the roughness of the path harder to see. We walked side by side through a minefield of goat droppings, the obstacles numerous enough that there was no point in one of us leading the other. “I. . . do you ever wish you didn’t have HIV?” He answered so quickly it stunned me. “No.” That’s all. No equivocation or lament. No, “there is so much I will never know or see—my boys growing old or my daughter marrying.” No, “I am afraid of dying.” I didn’t press. Who was I to press? If it was death I wished for him to fear shouldn’t I also worry? The next day, my car could hit a pothole and overturn or my flight could crash and the rest of history would be unknown to me. One day, in my parents kitchen I asked my youngest brother what he would do if he found out he had HIV. We were eating cookies and making tea. It was winter, but the sunlight shone strongly into the kitchen and we were warm. “That’s a wrap,” he said. “I would live life to the fullest, try to do something, I mean, really create something before I died. It’s the only way to keep living.” But there are other options. S. told me of a man who found out he was positive, went to the road and stepped in front of a truck. I could hear the road and the trucks just beyond the compound walls and I imagined a figure standing, one foot raised, one planted firmly in the roadside dirt, wondering if or how much the moment of contact would hurt. We grew silent and listened to the sound of the road, to lorries and their wobbly tires against a cracking pavement, to their horns over the twittering of motorbike engines. “It helps to know there are others with the same illness. By coming together, you see my face, I see your face. We know yes, this is a member. I say ‘Tot’. Why must we run for it? We know the medicines are out. There is no need hiding.” We had come back to the men’s hernia ward and slipped in through a side door. Patients shifted in their beds mumbling prayers and straining against their coughs. I. walked two steps ahead of me, panting, his sandals shuffling against the concrete. A weak light poured through a window in the hallway door near S.’s office. I. pushed it open, stepped through and held it for me to follow. “I thank God I’m still getting up to eat,” he said over his shoulder. “I feel fine so I have no fear over it. And I still take medicine. We thank God that the thing is free. We thank the federal government that it is free now. I take it every single day, morning and night. I take it and eat very healthy. There are some—you see the way they appear—you know that thing is worrying them. When it enters into them too much it used to destroy body. You see some

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is their job. So they told me. I have to accept. I didn’t feel anything.” He sucked on his teeth. “I didn’t feel anything, though that time, I felt bad because the money for drugs was too high. My family cursed me. Them they say I too follow woman that’s why I’m caught up with the something. My father told me to go away.” “Did you used to chase women?” I asked. “Tot. As a hotel worker. Where you have a lot of girls, you must mingle with them. That’s the time I was working at the hotel and

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S

ome weeks later, I received an email from S.: Your friend I. is dead. He died of a respiratory infection. I stood at a coffee shop in Kennedy Airport waiting to board my flight back to Nigeria after a two-week visit to New York. Everything went silent. The people around me ceased their chattering. I watched their lips moving, wet with saliva and coffee or tea. Steam floated from their cups and vapour escaped from their mouths, lingered in the air before their smiles, and then was suddenly gone. Is that what it was like for him? Or was it short laboured breath after breath in some wretched hospital bed of metal with a thin plastic-coated mattress—mosquito net draped overhead, I. puffing out life in short spurts until suddenly there was nothing left to expel. The end. And who was around him? His children?—he said they lived in different places spread across the country. His sisters? The father who cursed him? Did they come to his side or was he completely alone? “There is no more love anywhere oh! Because everywhere is afraid of that thing. There is no love again. Everybody is hiding. Like before we do mingle, sit together, chat together, but now everybody is afraid,” he said to me that day we spoke. S. wrote “your friend.” My friend? Does an interview make a friend? Does my pestering: “tell me your life story. Let me make you something more than you are—a symbol”? Or did he actually like me? If he really thought of me that way then I felt I owed him something. But the living can do the dead no favours—as far as I am aware—though we erect monuments and make oaths in their names “so they may not have died in vain.” I read a book once that said the dead, their spirits, have no pride and their emotions are not like ours. Sadness doesn’t bring tears, happiness no smiles. There is no helplessness or frustration, no need for vengeful justice. The desire that the dead should not have died in vain is simple human vanity, our hope that by cherishing the dead, we emphasize the importance of the living—our lives. I stood at the large windows, looking out over the airplanes resting on the tarmac, suddenly feeling cold, feeling lonely. My table was filthy with muffin and biscotti crumbs encircled by linked rings of dried and drying coffee stains. My head throbbed. My cheeks grew wet. I wished intensely for the noise to begin again. But for moments like this there is always silence. I typed to S. on my BlackBerry: I think his story and his courage speak to the reason for why a book needs to be written about people who are living with and doing all they can to mitigate the impact of HIV. I am really dedicated to getting this book done and I pray that it will help speak to the memory of I. Perhaps I too am vain, but then I am only human.

SNOWMAN By Niran Okewole Contrary to prevailing opinion, winter is not A season but rather the aura Created by Snowman’s ice crystals Which he dispenses in packets Of mental climate change, The commingling of illusions In the nucleus accumbens when he Reaches the plains of nirvana, Vivid images of turbulence, strobe Lights at the Glitz nightclub, like heaven. His backpack soon empties of the white And blue pellets, surface-to-air Missiles for the unstuck, holding the world Together like glue. The Frosty dictum without par— The world may not necessarily end In fire, ice may suffice. That is what you get from the anachron At Femi’s grotto, mulling over 1968 And a Heineken. I was there you know. Biafra, Chicago. Zen is war is Zen.

PHOTOGRAPH BY FARAFINA MAGAZINE

lean, looking like a broom. I thank God I’m not looking like them. Somewhere they don’t know me, you can’t know because I don’t feel it.” But this world has a way of reminding you of your mortality.


©STEFAN DANIELSSON AND GALLERI LOYAL, SWEDEN

By Kachi A. Ozumba

Y

ou clench your fists so tightly that your fingernails bruise the soft centre of your palms as you shout, AMEN!

“Yes, with God all things are possible,” the immaculately dressed man on the podium says. “But watch out: the devil is a liar. He will seek to sow doubts in your mind and rob you of your deliverance. Resist him! Just believe and receive your healing: Cancer, I cast you out! Barrenness, I banish you! Deafness, I decimate you! HIV, I unhinge you . . .” The AMEN you scream as HIV is unhinged is so forceful that your throat burns. You gasp afterwards and fill your lungs with air charged with hope and desperation. You open your eyes and look: the born-blind is blinking and reading from posters that adorn the arena; the diabetic is dancing and rejoicing before the cheering crowd; the lame is laying aside rusty crutches to walk with hyena-gait before the white banner proclaiming deliverance from all yokes of the devil: poverty, HIV/AIDS, stroke, drug addiction, alcoholism and a host of other afflictions. A feeling of lightness grips you and your body tingles. This could only have one meaning: you too have been delivered!

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But don’t you need a test to confirm this? You are quick to recognise the enemy’s attempt to sow seeds of doubt in your mind and rob you of your deliverance. “The devil is a liar,” you mutter, and jump up to proclaim your healing. Your feet glide over the road as you make your way to the bus station, smiling through the early harmattan fog. You sit between two passengers whose bodies poke and press upon you like a vice. Had you not abandoned your old ways, you would have cursed and sworn that they had half-eaten chicken bones hidden away in their side pockets. You smile at them instead and call out, “Let us pray,” before the bus begins the twelve-hour journey back to your home.

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our wife opens the door and runs into your arms. You bury your face in her hair, revelling in her familiar scent. You move your hand to her tummy. “It’s not yet visible,” she says with a chuckle, and assures you that your first child is growing well.

She serves your favourite food, white rice with chicken stew, and sits opposite you, full of questions about your fourteen-week border patrol posting. You know she is staring with surprise as you close your eyes to bless the food. In between mouthfuls, you tell her how much you missed her, but do not mention how you touched yourself during the long nights while dreaming about her shapely hips; you tell her about the drinking parties but do not mention how you had ended up in the arms of a prostitute after one such party, or how she died a few weeks later from the dreaded big disease with a little name. All that is now in the past and you are a new creature. Finally you tell her about the crusade but not what had driven you there, and you invite her to share in your new life. Dutifully, she agrees; anything to please you. She turns up the light of the kerosene lamp and notices you have lost weight. You tell her you have been fasting for the crusade but do not mention that, before that, you had been in an involuntary fast, induced by your test results. You spread out on your bed after dinner. Your body trembles with longing as you listen to the splash of her bathing. She joins you in bed, clad only in a wrapper which she casts off as she falls into your arms. “The devil is a liar,” you mutter, as your bodies become one. www.farafinamagazine.com: Listen to a podcast of Kachi A. Ozumba’s ‘The Devil is a Liar’

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FRANTZ FANON

“In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself.”


ŠTOYE GBADE

SCARS By Doreen Baingana

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y skin is not very friendly to me. I’ve always had eruptions of one sort or another. When I was growing up, back in Uganda, I had to put antiseptic liquid into my bath water to avoid getting numerous small boils, bironda, all over. I grew up feeling my skin was a problem. I remember the torture of peeling off my socks every evening after school because the yellow-green pus from the boils had congealed, sticking the white socks and bruised skin together. Each time I pulled off the socks, the boils opened afresh, and out

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trickled bright red blood. The skin eventually dried into gray scabs, which itched madly, sweetly. Nothing could stop me from scratching the new skin off and eating it surreptitiously; just like how I chewed my tasty finger nails after biting them off each finger, down, down to the quick. I was growing myself from myself, like chickens fed on their own crushed-up eggshells. The scars, black spots scattered all over my brown arms, legs, belly and bum, gave me what my sisters teasingly called leopard skin. I, needless to say, was harmless. Today, the bironda have mostly faded, except in my mind.

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dream about ugly, disfigured skin. It is a nightmarish feeling, worse than dreams about being attacked or losing something that I look for and look for and never can find because I have forgotten what it is. I dream my skin turns rough and gray, crumpled-looking, or forms dry scales that crack off. The dream has no story except that I am ugly and turn uglier. I have an evil smile. Ugly equals bad. When I wake up, there is residue ugliness in the air like a bad smell. I know my scars aren’t that horrible; hardly anyone notices them. Why am I so disgusted, even afraid, of ugliness?

PHOTOGRAPH BY FARAFINA MAGAZINE

M

y skin is like my mother’s: it reacts to everything. She knows it and she gets mad, as though it’s hers, when I don’t treat it with utmost care. At about eleven, I became aware I was female and needed to look attractive. I realized women work at it. Or maybe I was simply following the whims of fashion, or was still childish enough to change my appearance for fun. In any case, a neighbour’s daughter, Harriet, offered to pierce my ears and I agreed. She had pierced her own with no experience and nothing had gone wrong. Would it hurt, I asked her. Just for a minute, Harriet reassured me. I noticed girls coming to school with swollen earlobes like tiny fruit. They had small green sticks cut

from the thorns of aloe vera leaves poking out of the front and back of the earlobes. I crept down to my friend’s apartment feeling like a thief, but the daring part of me rebutted the guilt with, well, they’re my ears, aren’t they? Harriet got a needle and thread, turned on the gas cooker, passed the needle through the flame once or twice, to kill the germs she said, then blew onto it to cool it down. I was sitting on an old wooden soda crate, watching the needle. Harriet said, close your eyes, and was quick. It was like an injection, a sharp pain, and then the feel of thread running through raw skin. Another sudden sting of the other earlobe, the pull of the thread, and it was over. My ears throbbed as she tied the black thread into knots to form small black rings: my first earrings. Harriet instructed me to wash them with antiseptic three times a day, and move the thread back and forth through each hole so that the thread wouldn’t stick to the skin as the earlobes healed. There I was: a woman. Back home, my mother’s shock and shouting was worse than the headache caused by my bruised, swollen ears. “Don’t you know what your skin is like? Just look at all your bironda!” I didn’t answer. I wasn’t supposed to. Her shouting fit helped her recover, as it usually did. I understood; my skin was hers. We used to plait her hair very gently, loosely, because of the softness of her scalp. She oiled it constantly, smoothed her hands and feet with cream,


ESSAY massaged her swollen ankles with petroleum jelly, rubbed our chests and noses with Vicks. Delicate skin needed as much attention as a child. My earlobes healed, but a small keloid grew at the back of one ear. It hangs like a tiny black earring. A shadow earring. My mother didn’t have to say, I told you so. Instead, she bought me earrings, and even more of them when I got confirmed and received my first communion. Dainty gold pieces to make a woman of me. Beauty and scars working together.

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have four nipples. That’s right, a freak. I can’t remember when I first noticed them, which is strange because I watched my breasts grow, or rather not grow, obsessively. Since I was one year younger than most of my classmates, when they sprouted little buds that pressed against the green cotton of our uniforms, my chest remained as flat as a board. My stomach protruded out further than my chest. It was only in high school, when my classmates wore bras and couldn’t run as fast anymore because of the burden of breasts and buttocks, that my breasts finally perked up and began growing. After a half-hearted effort, however, they stopped. No desperate prayers or sheer will moved them. My school friends said if you rubbed them hard they would grow, but I couldn’t do that; God was watching me. I prayed to Him instead. He answered with an extra set of nipples. Two tiny bironda scars that happened to be directly above each nipple surprised me by growing. They are much smaller than my nipples, thankfully, but are the same black whorls. The twins are conversation pieces to ease awkward moments, when a hook or zip gets stuck in the trembling hands of a lover. Scars masquerading as sex objects.

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was born with the map of Britain stamped on the inside of my left leg. A birthmark. A light brown patch on my coffeecoloured coating that has grown with me. I am glad it’s on the inside of my leg, hidden, to be discovered only by a curious child or exploring lover. The birthmark tells me I am who I am, and have always been so, at least physically. No one else has this mark. Its shape, that of the British Isles, is entirely coincidental, despite the poetic connotations. We were taught in geography that Uganda is about the size of Britain, our former colonizer. It is not coincidental that my name is Doreen, and I am writing this in English, not in Runyankore. The effects of history, like deep scars, are permanent.

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onsidering the number of wars we have had in Uganda, it’s surprising I have no scars. Visible ones, that is. Except for one on my leg, facing my birthmark, which is more of a side effect than a war wound. It was 1986. The UPM guerrillas had been fighting ‘in the bush’ for about four years. A few relatives had disappeared—that is, no one would say they had secretly joined ‘The Movement’ and were training in Mozambique or Tanzania or Eastern Europe. Or fighting in Lowero Triangle. During the long break between my second and third year at Makerere University, I

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got a clerical job at a clinic on Luwum Street in Kampala. Every day, there were rumours that the guerrillas were moving closer and closer to the capital. Rumours that they had reached Bombo, were only a hundred miles away from the capital, some even closer than that; they were here in the city in disguise, waiting. Whispers upon whispers. The government soldiers got desperate as news of defeat up-country mounted. Some ran away from the army, stealing and looting as they made their way to home villages to hide. In Kampala, we knew we would have to run too, when the fighting reached us. But when? As had happened before, we knew there would be a battle over control of the parliament building, and then over the national radio station, so that victory could be announced nationwide. But when? We had seen war before, had lived through Idi Amin’s days, but fear still beats inside us like fast light fingers skittering across the tight snake-skin surface of a drum, engolobi. The rumours dashed through the streets from kiosk and parking lot to shop front to hotel, from bartender to bank manager. Repeatedly. Softly at first, soft drumming, then loud, louder, harder, bombastic, out of our heads to screams round street corners: “They’re here! We’re dead!” And we ran. How many times did we run out of town for nothing? One lunchtime, I was eating with the nurses in the courtyard at the back of the clinic. The cook, fat and deft, with a yellow face and black arms and legs, served us matooke and juicy meat stew. Suddenly, gunshots. Heads sprung up, and hung stiff in the air like watchful, frightened birds. Hands stopped midway between plate and stuck open mouths. Eyes moved from face to face seeking confirmation, did you hear that, did you, was it—more shots, louder, closer. Plates fell off laps as we shot up together and confusedly rushed to . . . the bathroom? To lock ourselves in there? No, it would take only one kick of the soldiers’ gum-boots to get in. Outside! We bumped and shoved each other as we rushed to the door, lurching, screaming, bags forgotten. It was finally here. People poured into the streets from every doorway and ran. There was relief too: finally, finally the tension of waiting was over. Katonda wange! Oh my God! filled the air, which along with the irregular beat of gunshots made an awful music for the humanrush-down-clogged-streets. The soldiers would loot, rape and kill as they fled. Run! The rebels too would loot and riot in the streets to celebrate victory. Run! Run! This government army was the rebel group the coup before. Run! I joined the stream of people down the road to Wandegeya, heading to my room on campus. I heard someone call me from a passing motorbike and without thinking, my heart thudding, I jumped onto it as it slowed down, and held tight onto a strange boy’s warm body. He shouted at me through the hot wind, “I’m going to Livingstone!”, which was the men’s residence hall next to the women’s hall, Africa. I shouted, “Africa!” and clung on. The fear of being on a motorbike for the first time was completely overtaken by the collective panic and, yes, thrill too. Dry air rushed

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o I have fewer scars than most, and most don’t show. An American man I knew slapped me once. Well, okay, a boyfriend. He did humanitarian work in various danger spots around the world: Haiti, Somalia, Kyrgyzstan. He accepted an assignment to Bosnia during the conflict in the 90s. I told him he would get killed there, and he slapped me. He was afraid. I went home and cut off all my hair. He went, of course, and nothing happened to him. Many months later, back in Washington, he had a motorcycle accident racing down Wisconsin Avenue. He will limp forever. I’m glad.

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won’t forget an exhibition of Japanese materials I saw years ago in San Francisco. It was a fantastical celebration of the tactile: there was the cool hard sheen of metal, feathery flightiness, material that looked and felt like nothing else—pure invention. Rubbery soft or sharp as barbed wire, bristles and pebbles stuck together, tight puffs of hair, kinky or straight or in chains. Material so full of holes it made empty space solid. How astounding, the hundreds of different ways a surface can be, far beyond my stifled imagination. There will always be room for surprise and ingenuity. I had thought nothing in life could equal the sensation of dreams, but I was wrong. The crumpled, ugly surfaces of my dreams were made beautifully tangible and gorgeously coloured: burnt orange brick; clotted blood red; the red of anger; green like the first shy leaves of spring; silver moon; beige, mauve and more. I can string together long strips of scars into a wild scarf to wrap tight around my throat and squeeze.

THE RINGS OF

KEKULE By Niran Okewole Circa 1857, August, fresh from Liebig’s class, put aside butterflies and hiking and laboured over benzene structure till every nerve stood taut with exhaustion.

He slept, chair turned to the fire but the atoms—carbon, hydrogen, oxygen— would not go away, rather gamboled mockingly before his eyes.

Then the swirling forms morphed into pythons, and one took its own tail in its mouth, whirling with cosmic grace before him, gestating

the turncoat architecture of interlocking single and double bonds, the energy of resonance.

This Koestler considered the magic of dreams, the ouroboros of Clapham Road, second only to Joseph’s seven fat and lean cows.

PHOTOGRAPH BY FARFAINA MAGAZINE

through my head as we wound through the throbbing, screaming crowd. If it weren’t for the gunshots, we could have been part of a lively street festival, shouting excitedly, thrilled, all together as one. The children screaming and crying, struggling to catch up; some women vomiting; young men pushing others aside as they moved ahead strongly; old men tottering, pleading for help; cars honking desperately as they moved as slow as the bicycles and crowd who refused to move out of the way. I and my motorbike saviour swerved through safely and got to our rooms. I still have a scar to show for it. Hot air from the bike’s exhaust pipe burnt a perfect circle on the inside of my lower right leg. I was too scared to feel the burn then, and was surprised to see the dark bruise later that day. It swelled and swelled that night as we girls, forgotten on campus, grouped up in one room to talk and recover. My wound seemed to drink up the stories of who-was-wherewhen-how, as we laughed so as not to cry. I called my motorcycle story an act of God. Who was that boy? I didn’t know. We sat in the dark, too scared even to use candles, and leaned against each other. Here we were, girls alone, who knew what could happen? Much later, my swollen skin burst and cried watery mucus. The round patch still has not turned back to its original coffee colour. It is my war wound, a faint stamp of history on my skin.


©STEFAN DANIELSSON AND GALLERI LOYAL, SWEDEN

ON JADUM By Tolu Ogunlesi

There are forty kinds of madness, only one kind of common sense—Akan proverb

Jadum: The Great Madman Jadum would qualify as one of Nigeria’s most famous madmen. So famous that he makes appearances in Christopher Okigbo’s poetry and in Chinua Achebe’s fiction. Jadum was the “commander-inchief ” of the popular Ekwulobia market in present-day Anambra State, and was known for his wise and witty sayings and observations on life. He was named from the trademark prefix he attached to his wise sayings: “Jam Jam Dum Dum.” Bede Okigbo, the poet’s brother, in an interview published in the Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series, says of him: “Jadum had many sayings; [one] was: when a poor man is eating vegetable cowpeas he does so in a hurry lest someone comes

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in and shares it with him. There are many proverbs like these that Jadum recited and we used to joke with them. Apart from that he used to dance as he recited these sayings.” Jadum’s popularity represents the fascination—and the ironic esteem—with which madness and its sufferers are viewed in Nigerian popular culture. It should not be surprising that, for example, the Yorubas of southwest Nigeria call the street lunatic Omo Ijoba, Government’s Child, a backhanded reference to the fact that a lunatic lives what is considered to be a sheltered, pampered life, utterly free from subservience to the rules and laws that bind other citizens, much in the same manner that a child would get away with the misdemeanours that would spell trouble for his father’s servants. The first asylum (as they were then called) in Nigeria was established in Calabar in 1904, followed by another in Yaba, Lagos (now known as the Yaba Psychiatric Hospital) in 1907. The Yaba

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Lunatic Asylum admitted its first set of inmates in October of 1907. Before the establishment of these asylums, Nigerian mental case patients were occasionally sent to Sierra Leone for orthodox psychiatric treatment. Nollywood or Madwood? A century later, it is our home videos that we now send to Sierra Leone and beyond. Nollywood, the Nigerian movie industry, is said to be the third largest movie industry in the world, only behind Hollywood and Bollywood. I can testify to the fact that Nollywood has established itself as arguably the most potent influencer of foreign impressions about Nigeria. Some years ago, a journalist in Kampala, Uganda informed me matter-of-factly that I did not “speak like a Nigerian.” A few moments of perplexity on my part followed, before it finally dawned on me that my “accuser” had come to assume—erroneously of course—that every Nigerian speaks in the exaggerated, dramatic accents of the typical Nollywood actor. It is also evident that the perceptions of Nigerians as a diabolical people, a perception common even in neighbouring countries like Ghana and Togo, is contributed to in no small part by the heavy voodoo content of many home videos. Mad characters are another Nollywood staple—movies, especially the Yoruba-language ones, are full of people going mad, or someone conspiring to render another mad by supernatural means. This is understandable in popular drama, considering the fact that the Yoruba believe that madness is a fate worse than death, and that the greatest punishment one can inflict on an adversary is not to kill him, but instead to keep him alive in such a state that would make death seem desirable. The madness-inducing schemes of these movies are as comic as they are tragic—in one movie the babalawo engineered the voodoo such that the sanity of the intended victim was connected to the state of a village stream. As long as the stream remained undisturbed, the victim—who was thousands of miles away, across the seas in the white man’s land—remained normal. But whenever a crowd of children entered the stream to bathe or to fetch water, they were, unknowingly, tampering with the calm of a man’s mind. As they stirred the waters in their playfulness, the hexed man would begin exhibiting signs of mental instability, in a manner proportional to the degree of disturbance of the water. Inflicting madness diabolically, as popular belief holds, is supposed to be a means of preventing a person from achieving his or her destiny. A wife might do this to her co-wife; so also might a man seeking career advancement have recourse to this means to prevent a rival from claiming a juicy office position. But the most baffling of these stories often involves the charm done by a mother to bring her son home from abroad, perhaps as revenge for neglecting her, or to prevent him from marrying a strange white woman. Whatever the case, the most effective way, according to the Nollywood ethos, to bring a distant son home is to afflict him with madness. Once he is hit, he hops onto the next available flight to

Nigeria, not even sparing a moment to pack anything along with him. The Neighbourhood Jadum We see these Jadums every day, instinctively pitying them and also getting amused by them at the same time. We pay them attention and ignore them at the same time. They are a part of our everyday lives, so much so that we no longer consciously ponder on the fact of their ‘madness’. They almost begin to seem like people who have chosen that way of life for themselves. We marvel at them, at how they can eat out of garbage and not grow sick; we ponder on how they got to be the way they are; we sometimes take a morbid pleasure in imagining what or who they were before they came to be what they are now. Were they once normal human beings, at whose births mothers and fathers rejoiced? Where is that father, that mother, who rejoiced, where are the siblings? Did Jadum simply wake up one morning and begin to exhibit this madness? For most of us, we dwell on these in our idle moments and then we move on. On occassion, we meet one madman or madwoman whose background, or story, people seem to know. And we shake our heads at the wickedness of the world. For, behind every instance of mental illness in Nigeria is, I suspect, a voodoo-heavy explanation secured in place by the minds of sympathizing onlookers. Ayo Ni O was a middle-aged man who worked near my mother’s supermarket years ago. Bearded, absent-minded, often unkempt, funny-as-hell, though unintentionally (is Inflicting madness that the number one signifier of madness?). He was full of diabolically, as stories of a past life in popular belief holds, America, and how he came is supposed to be a home, with nothing, and to means of preventing nothing. He often walked the streets, most likely on errands a person from for his employers, perhaps sometimes aimlessly. Now I achieving his or still see him from time to her destiny. time, walking the streets of Abeokuta’s business district, muttering to himself, but still, to all appearances, in absolute control of his mental faculties, much unlike the typical face of Nigerian madness—that stark naked, wild haired lot, coated in dust, incessantly jabbering or strangely composed, eating from garbage heaps. Every Nigerian city is filled with them. Male and female, Nigeria creates them. Their sense of territoriality is unrivaled; they waste no time in asserting themselves as a component of the landscape. They inhabit crowded places—markets, downtown streets, bus stops—and get named by their communities. There is, however, these days, an increasing tendency for


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Nigerian society to be wary of these Jadums, and to believe that a good number of them are normal persons masquerading as lunatics in order to carry out criminal activities undisturbed. Every now and then the news media brings us stories of supposedly “mad” persons who are found in possession of such incongruous belongings as mobile phones, business cards and large sums of money—the evidence suggests they are acting as front men for syndicates involved in armed robbery, ritual murder and kidnapping. The most famous case in recent city lore involved Clifford ‘the Cannibal’ Orji, a Jadum who lorded over the environs of a popular Lagos bus stop. He was eventually caught in his den in possession of human parts, mobile phones and money, and was generally believed to be the reason for the wealthy individuals in posh cars who flocked to the area every night, supposedly in search of human parts for money-making ritual purposes.

classify the causes of mental illness into four: natural sources—examples of which are accidents and drug use; supernatural or mystical sources—for example, punishment from the gods; preternatural sources—such as witchcraft, and hereditary sources. Another Nigerian study (said to be “the first large-scale study of knowledge and of attitudes towards mental illness in subSaharan Africa”) carried out by a team of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers at the University of Ibadan, and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, established the following, in descending order of frequency of citation, as the “ten most commonly reported causes of mental illness”: drug or alcohol misuse, possession by evil spirits, traumatic event or shock, stress, genetic inheritance, physical abuse, biological factors (other than brain disease or genetic inheritance), God’s punishment, brain disease and poverty.

The Origins of Madness Some time ago I decided to do a quick e-survey amongst friends and colleagues. It was a simple survey: I asked the questions, What would you define madness as? and What comes to your mind when you hear the word “madness”? I got a handful of responses: Madness is a contrast to and deviation from the norm. Madness is a system that is totally dysfunctional, in disarray and turmoil. Madness is excess. An excess of everything: of reality. Of money. Of fame. Of poverty. Of faith. Of creativity. Of genius. Because excesses remove one from reality. Madness is relative and has degrees; it is a state of mental disability or “unwellness”. What comes to my mind when I hear the word madness is mental instability that can no longer be managed and has now become lunacy. When someone who is We know that mentally unstable can no longer psychotic illnesses be managed and communicated are associated with with, I would say that madness has set in. poverty, poor What I forgot to ask for education, racism, were the possible “causes” of living in a city, poor the excess/dysfunctionality obstetric care, head /instability. Nigerians of course, the opinionated set of injuries or brain people that we are, are not infection when you lacking in postulations about are young, childhood the origins of madness. According to the sociologist trauma, family Ayodele Jegede in a paper titled “The Notion of ‘Were’ break-up, and in Yoruba Conception of cannabis use. Mental Illness”, the Yorubas

The Great Debate At this stage we should leave the playgrounds of narration and opinion and sidle into the classrooms of “hard” data. The British psychiatrist Kwame McKenzie, in his article “Being black in Britain is Bad for your Mental Health” (published in the UK Guardian) noted: “The rate of serious mental illness in the Caribbean and in Africa is not high, but the rate of mental illness in Britons of Caribbean and African origin is.” Let us consider the second assertion first. “The rate of mental illness in Britons of Caribbean and African origin is [high].” The psychiatrist goes on to give evidence for his assertion: “Over the last 30 years there have been 20 studies showing that people of Caribbean and African origin have an increased risk of being treated for serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and mania. The increased rate is of epidemic proportions– between 5 and 12 times greater than for white people. And if anything, it is getting worse.” He goes on to adduce reasons for this state of things: “We know that psychotic illnesses are associated with poverty, poor education, racism, living in a city, poor obstetric care, head injuries or brain infection when you are young, childhood trauma, family break-up, and cannabis use.” In other words, from the above we may safely say that problems of racism, low[er] incomes and culture shock that immigrants face may be, in part at least, responsible for this spike in the rate of development of mental illness. But when we move on to Professor McKenzie’s second assertion: The rate of serious mental illness in the Caribbean and in Africa is not high; red flags begin to go up, at least in my own mind. After reading Professor McKenzie’s article I sent off an email to him expressing my opinion. The email read: If my days (12 months) as a pharmacy intern at Yaba Psychiatric


Hospital (one of the 8 federal government owned psychiatric institutions in Nigeria)—or my life-long proximity to issues of mental health by having a psychiatrist father and growing up within the four walls (staff quarters) of the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta (a WHO-designated Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Mental Health, and premier psychiatric facility in Nigeria)—are anything to go by, it is a huge fallacy to say the rate of serious mental illness in Africa is not high. What one may safely say is that the DIAGNOSED/REPORTED/ DOCUMENTED rate of serious mental illness in Africa is not high. And this will of course continue to be the case as long as demons, witchcraft and ancestral curses remain happy to take ALL the blame . . . I had been hoping for a good debate, but this terse message was all I got in reply from him: Thanks. As a scientist I rely on data rather than impression. You may want to look at the reports of the WHO international study of schizophrenia which attempted to find the community incidence of schizophrenia in a number of countries and had a Nigerian centre. The rate of psychosis was not raised.

Africa as opposed to 9 per 100,000 in Europe. The global median is 1 psychiatrist per 100,000 persons, twenty times more than Africa’s. About three billion people worldwide have access to one psychiatrist (or less) per 100,000 people, and virtually all of these people fall in low-income countries. It is of course redundant to point out that Africa consistently has the lowest figures for mental health professionals (nurses, social workers, psychologists) the world over. For example, from the figures given above one understands that there are almost 200 times more psychiatrists in Europe per unit of the population than there are in Africa. Another way to interpret this would be to say that there is one psychiatrist to roughly every two million persons in Africa. The website wrongdiagnosis.com gives statistics for the prevalence (prevalence meaning the estimated number of persons dealing with and/or suffering from mental illness at a particular point in time) of mental illness by world region, however qualifying the figures with the red-flag term “extrapolated.” It then goes on to give a caveat that shamelessly exposes much of western data regarding Africa for what they truly are: The statistics used for prevalence/incidence of mental illness are typically based on US, UK, Canadian or

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Questions “The rate of psychosis was not raised.” Why? I’d like to ask. So I asked myself. Absence of data or absence of reliable data? The second reason seems the more likely. Which leads one to ask: “How reliable could the data coming out of a country like Nigeria be?” The “WHO International Study of Schizophrenia” referred to by Professor McKenzie, is one of a handful of “groundbreaking” researches that the West has sponsored (or has been actively engaged in) in Nigeria over the last few decades. Known as the “International Pilot Study of Schizophrenia”, it was a nine-country study launched in 1967 with the aim of generating helpful scientific data on the incidence and manifestations of schizophrenia. There is also the Aro Village Study, begun in the 1960s by Adeoye Lambo, Nigeria’s pioneer indigenous psychiatrist, in which a “village” (known as Aro Village”) was set up to experiment with a community-based approach to the management of the mentally ill—as opposed to a restrictive, ward-based treatment approach. The University of Ibadan is also involved in a major dementia research in collaboration with the University of Indiana. However, with the bulk of psychiatric therapy in Nigeria currently residing outside the orthodox medical establishment, and with the uninspiring level of national literacy, one begins to wonder how easy, or possible it would be, to generate reliable scientific data. The World Health Organization in its Project Atlas Report (country profiles on mental health resources) states a median number of 0.05 psychiatrists per 100,000 of the population in

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Australian statistics. This extrapolation calculation is automated and does not take into account any genetic, cultural, environmental, social, racial or other differences across the various countries and regions for which the extrapolated mental illness statistics below refer to. As such, these extrapolations may be highly inaccurate (especially for developing or third-world countries) and only give a general indication (or even a meaningless indication) as to the actual prevalence or incidence of mental illness in that region. A psychiatrist, Prof G.A. German, in the abstract of his research paper: “Mental health in Africa: I. The extent of mental health problems in Africa today. An update of epidemiological knowledge”, published in 1987 in The British Journal of Psychiatry, stated: Early estimates of prevalence of psychiatric disorder in black Africa were universally low, being based on hospital data. More recent studies, sampling diverse populations, suggest a burden of psychiatric morbidity in black Africa which is not dissimilar to that found in more developed countries, and some studies suggest that rates in Africa may even be higher than in developed countries. Our Madness is Greater than Yours? I should probably point out that the idea of serious mental illness being rare in Nigeria is not at all a new one. A British Army physician was said to have claimed in 1845 that insanity was a rarity in Nigeria. I am quite sure the doctor was been misled by the fact that at the time Why would living very few Nigerians sought as a black in Britain the attentions of medical be more injurious officers for mental illness, preferring instead to receive to mental health treatment from traditional healers, a situation that than living as a doesn’t seem to have changed black in Nigeria? much since then. In his article in the UK Guardian, Prof McKenzie actually urges caution with regards to statistics. “It is always prudent to treat statistics with caution,” he advises. One of the truisms of management literature is “You cannot manage what you cannot measure”. One could then extend this a bit further and rephrase it to read thus: “You will surely mismanage what you mis-measure.” The problems with the research data in circulation with regards to Africa are significant. If they are not “extrapolated” statistics manipulated from studies in America and

Europe, they are “small-scale” or “unreliable” statistics generated on the field in Africa itself. I have already noted that a a number of academic research studies covering the area of mental health in Africa quickly issued caveats which made references to linguistic and literacy difficulties, as well as restrictions of the study to one particular ethnic group or the other (Nigeria alone has 3 major ethnic groups, greatly differing in language and customs, and a grand total of more than two hundred ethnic groupings) and so on. In an argument further on in his article, Prof. McKenzie himself provides an extinguisher for his thesis that the rate of serious mental illness in the Caribbean and in Africa is not high. By stating “we know that psychotic illnesses are associated with poverty, poor education, racism, living in a city, poor obstetric care, head injuries or brain infection when you are young, childhood trauma, family break-up, and cannabis use,” he must surely mean that populations who are poor, poorly educated, who have poor access to decent healthcare, and who face significant psychological trauma, will have a greater tendency of developing serious mental illness than those in more prosperous, efficiently run societies. Now, the question is this: on the basis of the risk factors listed above, why would living as a black in Britain be more injurious to mental health than living as a black in Nigeria? If “poverty, poor education, racism, living in a city, poor obstetric care, head injuries or brain infection when you are young, childhood trauma, family break-up, and cannabis use” are associated with psychotic illness, what basis is there for arguing that mental illness is not widespread in Africa—with the level of poverty, political unrest, failed healthcare systems and all other infrastructural and socio-political ills that pervade the continent. What would make a black man more susceptible to mental illness in Britain than in an infrastructurepoor Nigeria, or war-torn Sierra Leone? The above is one simple case of where, in my opinion, common sense (or sensible impression) will trump questionable data any day. What one may safely say, or estimate, is that the incidence of mental illness across the world—unlike the ratio of mental health professionals per unit of population or psychiatric beds per unit of populations—will be fairly similar and/or not markedly different across the world. The WHO’s World Health Report 2001, focusing on mental health, notes in the introduction to its Chapter 2, ‘Burden of Mental and Behavioural Disorders’: Mental and behavioural disorders are common, affecting more than 25% of all people at some time during their lives. They are also universal, affecting people of all countries and societies, individuals at all ages, women and men, the rich and the poor, from urban and rural environments. They have an economic impact on societies and on the quality of life of individuals and families. Mental and


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behavioural disorders are present at any point in time in about 10% of the adult population. Around 20% of all patients seen by primary healthcare professionals have one or more mental disorders. One in four families is likely to have at least one member with a behavioural or mental disorder. A Lifetime in the Observatory I have lived more-or-less all my life in Abeokuta, the sleepy city an hour’s drive from Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, and home to the premier psychiatric institution in Nigeria, the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, and WHO-designated Collaborating Center for Research and Training in Mental Health. Living in such a place gets you more than a fair share of quizzical, mocking or pitying looks when you announce this to people. All my life people have made jokes out of that fact. A number of people know me as that guy “who lives in Aro.” The name “Aro” has become a synonym for “mad” or “madness” in Nigeriaspeak. I imagine that people assume that “Aro” is no more than one huge, open, human zoo, where the mentally imbalanced walk around and exhibit themselves in their own world. Which is why I often get asked this rhetorical question: “So you get to see

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‘them’ a lot?” I wonder what

I imagine that my questioners would think people assume that if it dawned on them that a majority of “them” are “Aro” is no more fathers, mothers, uncles, than one huge, open, aunts, brothers, sisters, human zoo, where university students, scions of rich families—far from the the mentally neighbourhood Jadum imbalanced walk stereotypes of mental illness. Whenever people ask if I around and exhibit ever get to see “them”, my themselves in their answer is always to insist that own world. the hospital staff quarters are separate from the wards. And, no, the patients do not roam the compound. Working at Yaba brought home the realization of the utter baselessness of the street-wandering stereotype of Nigeria’s mental ill. For every one marketplace or bus stop Jadum, there are many ordinary citizens living—and trying to cope—with mental illness. The outpatient queues at Yaba alarmed me. Pharmacists, interns and pharmacy technicians all worked long hours filling out

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prescriptions for the crowds that thronged the pharmacy every clinic day. But then, considering the fact that Lagos is the sixth most populous city in the world and that Yaba is the only federal government specialist psychiatric institution in Lagos, the crowds I saw might not qualify to elicit alarm. There were the cases of employed persons, and students, who would plead with us to quickly attend to them so they could get to work or school on time. There were folks from different income levels, from those who could not afford more than a few hundred naira worth of their drugs at any given time, and would come in to part-fill a prescription every time they had a little more money; to the female patient who told me she flew in from Abuja that morning solely for the purpose of keeping her appointment, and bought drugs running into tens of thousands of naira. There was the girl I met who told me heartrending stories of familial abuse (mostly emotional); the last son of an accomplished university professor; the pretty University of Lagos female student who suffered from clinical depression; the young outpatient lady whose twin sister was an inpatient; the overweight man who visited prostitutes because he felt no woman could love him; the celebrated human rights activist who was a long-term out patient. I’m a Failure and Other Stories: A Peek at America On our TV screens, there are no mentally ill Nigerians who are still trying to lead some semblance of a normal existence. The only mentally ill locals are either on the streets, with matted hair and tattered clothes, or on their way to the streets, as in the cases of the once-normal characters who are afflicted with madness by seen or unseen forces. One picture one may however expect to encounter on the screen is that of the patient under the care of a traditional healer, often kept in dehumanizing conditions. The West, on the other hand, as exemplified by Hollywood, TV serials and bestselling literature lists seems far more sympathetic—and perhaps more realistic—in their portrayals of the workings of the broken human mind. One of the more hilarious episodes of Frank Spencer’s Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em series was the ‘psychiatrist’ episode. Frank looks back over his life and concludes that he is a failure. His wife, Betty, suggests that he see a psychiatrist. He does, and announces to the physician the reason for his visit. “I’m a failure!” he declares. The confident psychiatrist, as he has been trained, refuses to believe this, and sets out to practice his theories of positive psychology upon Frank. Frank on his own part also sets out to prove him wrong, by recounting the many chapters of accidents that have dogged his every step. By the end of the session the psychiatrist, utterly alarmed, repudiates his initial confidence and openly agrees that his client is truly a failure. One cannot but sympathize with the eternally confused Frank and his equally disoriented psychiatrist. Psychology books regularly climb to the top of western bestseller lists as the common reader struggles to understand the

human mind. The increasing secularity of the western world should provide some explanation as to why people have increasingly turned to science and scientists to fathom the depths of the human psyche. One of the first things a non-westerner observes about the West is the “shrink” culture—that heartfelt, almost maniacal belief in the powers of another human being to place you on a couch, charge you for it, and dissolve your lingering, lifelong unhappiness in a sea of psychologese. References to seeing a “shrink” abound in popular western media—sitcoms, Hollywood thrillers and on Broadway shows—many of which cross over readily and find an African audience. For most of us in this part of the world, we manage our perplexity at the strangenesses of western culture by attributing it to the relative economic boom that allows people to dabble in such luxuries as paying other people to probe into the depths of their lives. The American novelist Erica Jong’s bestselling, feminist debut novel Fear of Flying is chockfull of the experiences of Isabella, her free sex (aka “zipless fuck”) protagonist, on the shrink’s couch. Isabella’s husband is a psychiatrist, and her lover a Jungian psychoanalyst, and “therapy” is in no short supply throughout the novel. Woody Allen, American auteur, is famously known to have had daily therapy for decades, and his myriad neuroses and therapy have significantly influenced, and filtered themselves into, his creative output. In popular western culture there exist many references to the assumed link between genius, or creativity, and madness. An explanation for this stereotype may be found in the significant number of American creative icons who battled mental illness: the writers Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, William Styron, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and David Foster Wallace. It was during my research for this essay that I came to learn of the Sylvia Plath Effect, a term coined by psychologist James C. Kaufman in 2001 regarding the observation that female poets are more likely to suffer from mental illness than any other class of writers. A survey found that in 1997, 9.7 million Americans spent $5.7 billion on outpatient psychotherapy. About this same time (1997) Nigeria’s foreign reserves were around $7 billion. Psychoanalysis has evidently become one of the bastions of Americanness. One would be forced to begin to wonder then, for a country like Nigeria which has fanatically imported so much from America—TV reality shows, rap music and basketball, to name a few—why have we left psychoanalysis out? Kiss and “Quiet” The culture in Nigeria certainly doesn’t encourage public disclosure of personal affairs, not to talk of a heavily stigmatized condition like mental disorder. That classic Frank Spencer sitcom episode, like many other western sitcoms and movies that offer portrayals of individuals who voluntarily seek out psychiatrists and


about one of his drugs, claiming that it was causing him erectile dysfunction—and untold embarrassment—with his girlfriend and soon-to-be wife. He narrated a story of deliberate deception, of how, when his girlfriend asked what his chlorpromazine tablets were, he lied and said they were an analgesic. She had once taken the pills, he said, and had complained that they made her feel weak. While he was still complaining to me of the side effects of his medication, the girlfriend called him to ask about his whereabouts, and, in my presence, he told her that he was on his way home. She was waiting for him, but he did not in any way look forward to going home and disappointing her in bed again. Before he left, he confessed to me that, with his current state of sexual dysfunction, he now regretted asking her to undergo an abortion months before.

empty-handed into the hospital to deliver—no change of clothes, no hot water flasks, no baby’s clothing—so as not to give away the fact that they were going into labour. There are many outpatients in Nigeria’s psychiatric hospitals who keep the knowledge of their visits from as many people as possible, even those closest to them. An example of this pattern is given in the following description. One evening—during my internship at Yaba—a 29-year-old man came to the pharmacy to refill his prescription. Perhaps seeing that I was a young man like himself was what made him willing to open up. He complained

I came across another woman, who was on the verge of relapse, pleading with us to help her fill her prescription urgently. Apparently her husband was not aware of her mental condition, and she had taken the precaution of keeping her hospital card and prescriptions with her mother, who was aware. Childbirth had prevented her from keeping her hospital appointments, hence the self-diagnosed signs of approaching relapse.

©TOYE GBADE

psychoanalysts in search of answers to age-old questions about the human mind, says a lot about the gulf between western and African attitudes to matters of the mind. My mother, who is a nurse and a midwife, tells me that she often got into trouble with her co-nurses at the hospital where she worked in Abeokuta in the mid-80s, because she would ask the pregnant ones to disclose their expected dates of delivery so she could prepare a maternity leave roster well in advance. In a superstitious society like Nigeria, such details as EDD are kept secret out of the belief that disclosing them may give evildoers the power to tamper with the pregnancy, resulting in a loss of the pregnancy or the birth of a malformed child. When I worked at a General Hospital in Asaba, in the delta region of Nigeria, I learnt that there were cases where women would walk

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Babel The novelist Uzodinma Iweala recounts an experience he had with

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FEATURE

public attention and is therefore socially disruptive, to be recognized as having a mental disorder. This finding is similar to that documented by White in Tanzania and Asuni et al. among Yoruba patients in western Nigeria. It is notable that hallucinations and delusions that are frequently mentioned in the literature as prototypes of gross psychotic states were not mentioned by the respondents as features of mental illness, probably because such features are not as tangible as aggressive attitudes. The symptoms mentioned above are in most cases the terminal stages of the course of mental illness, unlike in the West where different stages are defined and labelled. When language does not make subtle delineations between a wide and complex range of mental health concepts, the users of the

©TOYE GBADE

a Nigerian psychiatrist in northern Nigeria when he worked with some of the victims displaced during the Jos riots of 2004. The psychiatrist explained to him that “in the West a patient will tell you: ‘Oh I’m depressed’ or ‘Oh I have bipolar disorder’ . . . In [Hausa language] we don’t have words for this kind of thing so a patient will tell you, ‘Oh I have someone sitting on my shoulders’ or ‘Oh I feel like there are ants crawling around in my head’.” It is not only the Hausa language that suffers those linguistic limitations. Yoruba, widely spoken in the south-western part of Nigeria, also has no words for the many mental health concepts that English would so readily delineate. The English language distinguishes between an astonishingly large amount of mental disorders, ranging from schizophrenia to depression (clinical) to bipolar affective disorder, to dementia to substance abuse to hypomania. The Yoruba language however stops at classifying all

mental disorders into 2 broad groups: psychoses (were) and mental retardation (ode). And it is not only a Yoruba issue. As I pointed out earlier, for most Nigerians, their conception of mental illness is the mad man on the street, the psychotic, the neighbourhood Jadum. The coordinators of a research on perceptions and beliefs in mental health, carried out in Northern Nigeria and published in 2004, had the following to say: Aggression/destructiveness, talkativeness, and eccentric behaviours were the most frequently mentioned perceived symptoms of mental illness by respondents. This finding suggests that one has to display behaviour that attracts

language are rendered handicapped in the way that they approach the concepts. It would seem from the above that the only reason for which most Nigerians would seek therapy (whether orthodox or traditional) for mental illness would be the exhibition by the patient of overt, socially disruptive behaviour. In other words, the disease would have to have progressed to its terminal stage before it would qualify as therapy-needing behaviour. It is this faulty approach to issues of mental health that explains why even Africans themselves severely underestimate the prevalence and incidence of mental illness on the continent. In the Beginning, God . . . Michael Olatawura, emeritus professor of psychiatry, made the


following observation at the 9th International Congress of Psychotherapists in Oslo in 1973: “If a traditional Nigerian has a headache which is not relieved by the usual remedies—native or foreign—he starts to entertain the possibility of witchcraft. This thought alone usually generates more symptoms.” More often than not, the panacea to mental illness is believed to lie in the waiting rooms of religion: the church, the mosque or the shrine. Prophet, alfa or babalawo become ad hoc psychiatrists, pleading with God or gods to deliver the afflicted. Demons of madness have to be cast out; ancestral curses have to be broken; visions have to be seen to determine which “enemy” is responsible. Often the religious therapy (chanting, incantations, divinations, prayers) is combined with aggression. The patient is often kept chained and is beaten severely and regularly. Many of the patients who seek orthodox therapy in Nigeria also simultaneously consult native herbalists. It is often easy to recognize these patients, as they are commonly found bearing fresh scars from beatings and other forms of physical ill-treatment at the hands of their traditional carers. Why does religion (and superstition) play such a vital role in the approach to mental illness in Nigeria? I venture to say that the explanation lies in the fact that the conception of mental illness in Nigeria is strongly tied to age-old traditional belief systems. For the Yorubas of south-western Nigeria, there is no physical occurrence without spiritual roots. According to the sociologist Ayo Jegede: For the Yorubas, nature is not an impersonal object of phenomenon: it is occupied with religious significance. The invisible world is symbolized or manifested by visible and concrete phenomena and objects of nature… The physical and spiritual are the two dimensions of one and the same universe. Pilgrim’s Progress The Nigerian playwright, Wole Oguntokun, narrates a moving story of a neighbourhood Jadum on his blog—one who had a “history”, a “story”—which I think captures the typical progression of mental illness in Nigeria. He writes of “Femi”, a childhood friend of his and his senior by a year at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Femi was an epileptic, and that was all he was, until later. The seizures would lift him as if he was a toy and toss him down. Repeatedly. I spoke to him about it, after. He said he’d been to fellowship, they’d prayed, he was on medication too. His father drove down from Lagos to thank me for letting him stay with me. When I’d allowed him to, it wasn’t because I knew he had a “condition”. Femi went on to graduate three years later. Things were to worsen soon. One day after my graduation, and as I took a drive in Surulere, I saw a dishevelled Femi in buba and sokoto walking along a busy road. As I parked next to him and he came closer, I could smell him.

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He couldn’t have had a bath in weeks. He spoke softly as he usually did but I knew something was wrong. Apparently, the seizures had caused a mental disorder of sorts. I drove away that day and didn’t see him for a while. After a while, I began to hear reports of Femi standing shirtless in front of a popular fast food place in Surulere. He’d beg for scraps of food and just loitered. There is also a sprinkling of the familial story: His father had died, he had two other brothers, one older, who had disappeared into England leaving no trace a while back, and a younger [one], who had inherited the house and promptly sold it. Don’t ask me to question the father’s wisdom in giving only one son his property. The younger brother, on his way to play football (we all still play the game), would drive past Femi who was begging for food and money, and go hang out with friends. Younger brother started a new business . . . Eventually Oguntokun does something that is rare in this country. The day I took [Femi] off the streets, I came armed with old, clean clothes and money gotten from people who had never known him but who stretched out their hands to help. I took him to the house I grew up in and made him take his bath at the back with soap, a sponge and a towel I’d just bought. All he had was the pair of tattered shorts he wore which he held up by the use of a rope. After the bath, he put on a buba and sokoto that I had brought along as well as a pair of slippers. As we turned to leave, he tried to take along the shorts he’d taken off but I stopped him and threw the rope and the shorts away. I drove him down to the Yaba Psychiatric hospital and with the money I’d raided off friends, paid for his medication and admission. While we waited for him to be taken into his new home, he sat quietly, appearing clean and rested. All the elements of a “pilgrim’s progress” into the inner courts of mental illness in Nigeria are in the above story. All too often it is a classic case of a “little fox”—epilepsy in Femi’s case—unattended to, stigmatized, and allowed to grow until the entire vine of sanity is damaged. Epilepsy, in our daemon-conscious culture, would so very easily resemble demon possession. The fits, the wild look in the eyes, the jerking. Sadly, this is how it is for many people. Problems that would be easily taken care of by a functioning healthcare system and greater awareness about the onset and progress of mental illness, fester within the petri-dishes of ignorance, stigma and superstition, until they manifest as the tragedies that they truly are. Meanwhile, more and more Jadums—those wild men and women who have become the most visible symptoms of this nation’s social and infrastructural failings—fill our highways and market places.

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LUNCH WITH

TEMITAYO By Jumoke Verissimo

Temitayo Oyedemi walked into the Positive Action for Treatment Access (PATA) office at Ikeja, the heart of Lagos, with a self-assured gait. She had a black bag slung over her shoulder. She said a quiet hello to the receptionist and, without lingering for any chitchat, walked into an inner office. After waiting for some minutes I asked the receptionist if the lady who just walked into the room

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was not Temitayo and he said, “Yes! I thought you knew her.” I shook my head in denial. “OK,” he said, and walked into the inner office to call her. “I am tired. I should have gone straight home. This interview was not supposed to hold today,” she said, appearing at the door. “But . . . okay let’s have it, since you chose to come today.” “I mixed up the dates,” I admitted, gathering my things. “Maybe I can come tomorrow then, as that was the day we fixed.”

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INTERVIEW

She smiled, and observed that it would be rather unfair to let me go, as I was already in the office. Her attitude was warm and pleasant, even though one could see she was tired. I walked behind her into the office, grateful. “You know, I wasn’t supposed to come into the office today,” she said, and excused herself for some minutes to get a plate of food from the next office. “My subconscious brought you here,” I said when she returned, and she laughed whilst offering me a seat in a room which had chairs arranged in rows. “Unh! Your subconscious.” She smiled. “OK! I’m ready if you are.” She dropped her plate of food on the table, crossed her legs and faced me with a smile. The interview began.

JUMOKE Give us a brief background. TEMITAYO My name is Temitayo Oyedemi. I was born 32 years ago. I am from a family of 5: 3 boys and 2 girls. I am the last child. JUMOKE Your educational background?

TEMITAYO I attended Moshood Abiola Polytechnic for my National Diploma, but due to my status I had to . . . See, it was during that time that I got to know of my status, and it affected a lot of things. My exams, my finals were really, really messed up. I had some carryovers, let me put it like that, and I didn’t want to go back to the same school because I felt that it reminded me of my status and all that—all I wanted was to be on my own. But later, I got over it and decided it was time to go back to school. I am now rounding up my programme at Olabisi Onabanjo University. JUMOKE What was your reaction on discovering your status?

TEMITAYO I felt the world had come to an end. You know, unlike these days that you go into a doctor’s office and the doctor can sit you down, and you undergo some counselling—that didn’t happen in my case. My test result was given to someone else to break the news to me. At that point I felt like I had just been handed a death sentence. I told myself, “I am going to die anytime.” I asked myself, why? I asked God, “How could you allow this to happen to me? What have I done?” At that point I was angry at everybody. I was angry with myself.


JUMOKE Did you willingly go to check your status?

JUMOKE How did you break the news to your family?

TEMITAYO I had shingles, herpes zoster. Of course, nobody knew what it was then. A series of tests were carried out and they, the doctors, didn’t inform me that they were carrying out a HIV test. Nobody told me; they just said they were going to do a lot of tests.

TEMITAYO That was years later. I went to my elder sister and spoke with her and because she is a nurse, she could bear the shock. The first question she asked was, “What do we do?” About a month later, I told one of my brothers and the next month, another brother. I was being careful because I know the kind of siblings I have; I was afraid to bear the consequences of their reaction. In fact, I was scared to tell the last person, my brother, because I knew that one day when he is in that mood, his wife would ask him, “What is wrong with

JUMOKE Thinking back now, how do you feel about not being told?

TEMITAYO I should have been told. Why else do we say VCT [Voluntary Counselling and Testing]. Fine, I didn’t come voluntarily . . . or maybe I came voluntarily to find out what was wrong with me, but it was to treat shingles and not to test for HIV. In any case, I should have been told. This was back in the year 2000, things are done differently now. I should have had someone tell me, “We are going to run a HIV test, this is what HIV is all about.” This is what we call pre-test counselling—they let you know if it comes out this way or if it comes out that way, and the things you will do. At least my mind would have been prepared for the outcome.

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you?” And he might be forced to tell her. I didn’t know if I could face her, because she is too anxious, and I wasn’t ready for pity; I wasn’t ready for somebody being too careful around me. I was so scared about telling him—but I knew I had to tell him because my sister was the one footing the bills and it couldn’t continue like that. JUMOKE How have you coped so far? TEMITAYO At the initial stage I bought my own drugs, but now they’re free. Still, it’s not been easy. I got to know of my status in September

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2000. And for a long time, I couldn’t tell anybody but my family because I was scared of not having people around me anymore. I was scared of people discriminating against me. So I became a loner; I am that kind of person on a normal day, but with the status it was different—until I met Rolake Odetoyimbo. I think I read her column in the Punch, or maybe somebody gave me her number. I paid a visit to her office and I was impressed. I decided if she could be that bold, I could too. That was how I became more confident. There was a training programme that came up, and I went in for it. But after that there was the media outing. Again I was scared. I had to go back and tell my family because I didn’t want them to learn of my status on TV or from the newspapers. JUMOKE Do you think people are complacent about HIV? TEMITAYO I actually don’t think people are complacent about it. It is just that people need a lot of information. At the moment information dissemination is not adequate. In a sense, we give information only to people in urban areas; what of the people in the rural areas? When you tell somebody this thing is real, we have some Thomases who want to see who has it, and there are even some people who think they have this special gene that prevents them from contracting it. And you wonder: with all the messages on TV and radio, people still think that it is not real? I think we are in denial of the situation. I read something on the internet that says, as

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long as we deny the existence of HIV, it will continue to spread. Where do we go from here? In the organisation I work for, what we do is study what people are doing as individuals, as organisations, to stop the spread of AIDS. We describe AIDS as “Are you Doing Something?” JUMOKE Have you gotten over the psychological trauma of knowing your status? TEMITAYO Definitely, I have. JUMOKE What is your advice for those who have recently found out about their HIV status? TEMITAYO The first thing I’ll tell such a person is that you have to accept the positive status. You have to deal with yourself before you can deal with people outside. If you don’t deal with yourself, you cannot deal with the social stigma. If you are able to pass that test, and people see that you don’t look like a sick person, they will learn to accept your status. I was scared when I decided to disclose my status publicly after the leadership programme I enrolled for—I felt my friends were going to run away from me. But I went to their offices and sat them

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INTERVIEW

down and told them. When I went to see one of my friends who is very close to me, I said, “Ore, I am about to do something, you might read about it o!” And he was like, “What is it?” When I told him I had been living with HIV, he told me not to worry, that he would be there for me. He said, “You’ve been able to carry it well.” So, the person you think might run away may not. JUMOKE What is your projection for the future? TEMITAYO My vision is for a time when treatment will be available for everybody, even those who just found out about their status today. Now, we have government hospitals and some other places, but they are not enough. I am looking forward to a time when people living with HIV can go to school and get jobs without discrimination. I look forward to a time we can all work together,

everybody, mindless of status. And I look forward to a time when people living with HIV can be open about their status without fear of being stigmatised or discriminated against. JUMOKE Tell me more about employment discrimination. TEMITAYO At a birthday party, someone mentioned something about several companies where one will not be given a job until the person allows them carry out a HIV test. They will tell you to go for a test in their chosen health centre, and they won’t tell you if the result is positive; they will not get back to you. I remember there was a bill that was read out at the Lagos State Assembly that anybody who discriminates against a person or people living with HIV would be made to pay a fine, but I don’t think it has been passed into law yet.

We can start from there. JUMOKE Have you informed your parents of your status? TEMITAYO I have. Their consolation is that I am alive and happy. JUMOKE How has HIV affected and changed your life? TEMITAYO It has affected a lot of things. HIV has made me view life with a different perspective. But somehow, it has affected my thinking too. I am more careful these days. I just don’t want to do anything anyhow anymore. I am a reserved person, I like to sit down and observe things from the back but since I became open about my

status I have done a lot of public speaking and HIV has stirred up the leader in me. As you know, success is a process and I am willing to embark on that journey. Now I am concerned about leaving behind a legacy, and not just living. I look forward to a good future, and being great. JUMOKE And how do you want to achieve greatness? TEMITAYO Greatness is not measured by the amount of money you have or the number of cars you own: I measure it by how many lives I can affect positively. I want to keep using my experience as a woman living with HIV to touch other people. I have hopes and dreams and with God on my side I will achieve beyond even my expectations of myself.


Yemisi Ogbe

TEA WITH

MRS. BOJUBARI In this first instalment of what will be a regular column in Farafina, Yemisi Ogbe introduces the lonely, widowed, tea-loving Mrs. Bojubari, who she describes as a ‘fount of Nigerian intrigue’

©FARAFINA MAGAZINE

When the offer was made to me to write a column for Farafina, two things immediately came to mind. The first was a question: what would I write about? The second, even more important as it contained the answer to the first, was a decision: my column would be called ‘Tea with Mrs. Bojubari’. Amongst the Yoruba-speaking people the term ‘Mrs. Bojubari’ functions as code language for one: topics of discussion regarded as being either too traumatic or inappropriate for children; two: topics that are considered none of their (children’s) business, because children must understand that it is not culturally acceptable to interfere in adult conversation. For instance, if some Yoruba people were sitting in a room talking and a precocious child walked in and demanded to know what was being discussed, the reply would inevitably be ‘Mrs. Bojubari’. If the child still does not understand, and demands “What’s up with Mrs. Bojubari?”, then one of the adults will come up with a longwinded story about how Mrs. Bojubari ran into Mr. Kosoko and how they discussed the price of alligator peppers and rice, and how it was fortunate they bumped into each other because just the other day someone mentioned that . . . The motive, of course, is to thoroughly bore the child with the mundane details of this tall tale so he returns to more childish pursuits. But one day (depending on how curious this child is) he will be told quite firmly that he is old enough to understand that Mrs. Bojubari’s motto is bojubari, enu a dake, which literally means, when the eye sees, it conspires with the mouth to keep what it has seen unuttered, secret . . . because it is wise not to tell all that one has seen. It will also be pointed out to the child that this gnome also means: this topic is not one for discussion with children . . . so mind your business and go into the next room! Next time, don’t interfere in adult conversation or you will get a hot slap . . . Unfortunately, Mrs. Bojubari is irresistible exactly because she is out of bounds to children. Mrs. Bojubari sees everything. She is a part of every intrigue under the sun. And she is of course Nigerian. Nigeria is, of course, the land of intrigues. People are sometimes asked this question: that if they could have tea (or break kola, depending on your preferred source of caffeine) with any person living or dead, who would that person be. The answer most often given is either some well-loved relative or a revered—or reviled—world figure:

Nelson Mandela; Fela Anikulapo-Kuti; Benito Mussolini; Margaret Ekpo. I would love to have tea with all these people. However, tea with Mrs. Bojubari would rank for me the ultimate experience, because I am such a busybody, and because I love interfering in ‘adult’ conversation. As there is an extent to how much one can discuss in the course of one tea time, Mrs. Bojubari would of course have to be the woman next door: accessible, a little lonely. Tea with Mrs. Bojubari would be a regular ritual. With the problem of who Mrs. Bojubari is, now solved, the next question would be one of type of tea. My answer would be “Lipton of course.” There is something proper about drinking tea not because one needs the caffeine, but because one wants to share a beverage with another person. Apart from all the to-do about the right crockery and the accompaniments to tea, there is also that sense of formality: that one is not eating and drinking because one is hungry, but because one is just having tea. In Nigeria, if you wanted to have tea at four o’clock, you would need the state of leisure which is unavailable to ninety-something percent of Nigerians. You wouldn’t be working in a bank or selling perishables in the market. You would also need some airconditioning, because we are not like the Arabs, who drink tea to cool down. Then you would need Mrs. Bojubari, who would be a 60-year-old retiree who lives in Dolphin Estate, is possibly a widow, has access to a generator and has children and grandchildren who visit only at the weekends, and so is often at home for long hours without anyone to talk to. Then you would need a thirty-something busybody like myself, who is selfemployed and visits Mrs. Bojubari with some self-righteous community service mentality because she has noticed she is a little lonely, has visited her off and on for weeks, maybe months, until she discovers that Mrs. Bojubari is a fount of Nigerian intrigue. It would be completely inappropriate to drink lapsang souchong, or Earl Grey or Darjeeling or any of that other ‘foreign’ stuff. It would be “Lipton of course”, and two bags in one small cup. No, dear reader, Mrs. Bojubari is not real—but then again, she is. Yemisi Ogbe’s column appears in every issue

Yemisi remembers that “I once saw the wife of a governor flick a complimentary card that she had been offered by someone, at his head. He picked up the card from the ground and walked away as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I wondered whether having a card rebound off his head was more acceptable than being ignored, or if it was acceptable because she was so important, and he so unimportant, and the man had learnt very well to understand his place”


Uchenna Ikonne is an avid collector of records —particularly of Nigerian music from the 60s, 70s and 80s. He is considered, by some, an authority on the history of Nigerian music and popular culture, which he writes about on his blog: combandrazor.blogspot.com. Here, in his own words, he describes his unusual hobby.

I am more than just a ‘record hunter’. I do collect records, yes—and I go to extreme lengths to find some of them—but first and foremost I like to think of myself as a music lover. I have great appreciation for the value inherent in records as artifacts, but beyond that, I really care about the music contained in them.

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Hours and hours spent driving around looking for the records, and then more hours spent literally digging them up, inhaling ungodly amounts of dust and mould. But it’s truly invigorating . . .

For me, almost all records are valuable. I’m interested in preserving the history of Nigerian music in its entirety: the good, the bad, the ridiculous.

As with anything else in the world, the monetary value of a record is determined by how much someone is willing to pay for it. But for me, it’s more than the money. I don’t make any money from my record hunting, rather, I spend a lot on it—money and energy. This fact is pretty

baffling to most Nigerians, who look askance at any activity that demands significant investment without a substantial pecuniary payoff!

People think I am straight up insane for this obsession. A lot of times, I even try to track down the original artists of some of the records I discover, and interestingly enough, many of them also think I am insane for being so interested in records they made some twenty, thirty years ago and have since moved on from.

Some of these artists might be big names in my world, but I don’t think they’d mean much to anybody who is not intimately familiar with the history of

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Nigerian music . . .

I like to think of myself as a “pop culture curator”. I also preserve old magazines like Drum, Prime People, Vintage People . . . the Pacesetters and African Writers Series novels . . . and cassettes . . . I am also trying to find the old photo novels like Spear, Fearless Fang, Sadness & Joy and comics like Ikebe Super, as well as old Onitsha market literature.

CDs for me are less “romantic” than records or even cassettes . . . perhaps because they are so cold, disposable and “soulless” in their construction. But even as we speak, they are on their way to becoming obsolete technology, so maybe I’ll feel differently about them a few years from now.

I don’t have as much emotional attachment to contemporary Nigerian music as I do for a lot of the music of past decades, but in the years to come, if I feel that the music of this generation is in danger of being lost to the sands of time—and we have a lot of ‘sands’ in Nigeria—I will probably do whatever I can to preserve them for posterity.

Was I Ever? By Sitawa Namwalie Was I ever like that? Like that! My shoulders A wide expanse, A shape of certainty, So straight and firm?

Was I like that, ever? My hips An unasked question mark In search of insolence, and answers When I walked you by? Did young men slide me looks from under lingering eyes, And then simply smile? Did old men follow me with brazen stares? And then deeply sigh.

Different records appeal to me on a personal level for different reasons. Some of them strike me for their rareness, others for their musical excellence, others yet appeal to me for sentimental reasons: songs I remember hearing as a child and whose melodies have not left my head in over twenty years. I feel a lot of joy when I discover records in the last group particularly. Recently, I found a record titled Winner and Loser, by an artist called Ken Eme. It was never really a big hit when it was released in 1983, but they used to show Eme’s music videos all the time on NTA 9 Calabar, when I was in primary school. I utterly loved it. But over the years I could never find anybody—and I mean anybody—who had heard of the record or even Eme. So finding that record now is like discovering a missing piece of my heart. Interviewed by Sylvia Ofili

Was I ever like that? Like that! My skin, A promised challenge, bronzed and firmly soft, All at the same time? Did I too walk with cruel insouciance? Flashing teeth and careless pride, Did I leave men breathing sharply? As I passed them shapely by? Was I ever? Was I like that? Like that! When I too was young.


©PETER CHEP’KONGA

©TOYE GBADE


A RETROSPECTIVE OF 2008

Photography by Peter Chep’konga, Teju Cole, Folarin Shasanya, Jerry Riley, Adeniyi Olagunju, Toye Gbade and Paul Anderson, Samarth Bhasin

January – On January 2, 2008 the price of petroleum hit 100 US dollars per barrel for the first time. A few weeks later, stock markets around the world—including the stock values of many companies situated on Broad Street, Nigeria’s financial nerve centre—plunged amid growing fears of a US recession. More than a year later, the global economic crisis shows no sign of easing up.

February – Following claims of election rigging by Mwai Kibaki’s government, Kenya had been engulfed in ethnic violence ever since the vote on December 27, 2007. With more than 800 people killed and hundreds of thousands displaced, President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga finally signed a power-sharing agreement brokered by former UN Secretary General Koffi Anan—a landmark achievement for democracy in Africa—on February 28.

©ADENIYI OLAGUNJU

March – Stemming from a centuries-old fishing tradition of the Kabawa people, the four-day Argungu Annual Fishing and Cultural Festival began in 1934 to mark a visit of the Sultan of Sokoto to the Kebbi kingdom. One of the fishermen seen hauling calabashes containing their catch from the Matan Fada River might very well take home the equivalent of 7,500 US dollars as the champion of the prestigious fishing competition.


©JERRY RILEY ©FOLARIN SHASANYA


©SAMARTH BHASIN

April –2008 was a great year for the Nigerian music industry, which got rave reviews all over the world and promoted cultural exchange while dominating local airwaves (and ringtones!). As Nigerians embraced “Made in Nigeria” hits with new pride,the hits indulgingly rolled in with album releases such as Asa’s eponymous album, D’Banj’s Entertainer, 9ice’s Gongo Aso, Naeto C’s You Know my P, Faze’s Originality, Sasha’s First Lady, and Seun Kuti’s debut album Seun Kuti & Fela’s Egypt 80. May – Breathtaking sights such as this—of flamingos on Lake Magadi, in a town southwest of Nairobi, Kenya—have been a source of inspiration to many including the author of The Constant Gardener, John le Carré. But, with flamingos dying in their thousands along the Rift Valley lakes of Kenya and Tanzania, due to pollution, the avian flu, and environmental changes to the lakes flamingos live off of, the scenic panoramas of pink and white could become rarer, if 2009 doesn’t herald better ecological choices. June – Commemorated annually on June 5, World Environment Day 2008 focused on climate change and reducing carbon emissions as speculation arose as to whether the planet had reached a “tipping point” where conservation methods would no longer have a slowing effect on the rate of climate change. The August edition of New Scientist identified hard physical evidence, such as rising sea temperatures and droughts in usually dry regions, as evidence that “natural variability” and actual climate change are becoming easier to distinguish.


©FOLARIN SHASANYA ©PAUL ANDERSON


©TEJU COLE

July – Nelson Mandela, whose statue appears here on the south bank in London, celebrated his 90th birthday on July 18. All over the world, people honoured the legacy of a steadfast freedom fighter and advocate of world peace. Known as ‘Madiba’ in his native South Africa, Mandela is one of the great figures of the 20th century.

August – With an average coastal elevation of only 30-90 metres and an average rainfall of about 9-11 inches in June and July, the raining season in Lagos struck with a vengeance in August when the metropolis experienced over 20 inches of rain, resulting in widespread flooding and unusually high water levels in the lagoons. September – The Mask of Idia, mother and close advisor to one of Benin’s greatest leaders, Oba Esigie, who ruled in the early sixteenth century, photographed in New York City, at the Museum of Modern Art—one of many national heirlooms displayed in the spiritless halls of foreign museums and private collectors. If Nigeria has fewer ancient Benin bronzes than Germany, Britain and the United States today it is mainly due to the British attack on Benin in 1897. The city was plundered and burnt—with thousands of priceless artefacts later auctioned off—after a British consul was killed when defiantly visiting the oba who was performing customary rites


©JERRY RILEY ©ADENIYI OLAGUNJU


©FOLARIN SHASANYA

October – Nigeria celebrated 48 years of independence from British colonial rule on October 1, 2008, but with high rates of unemployment and illiteracy, corruption and widespread poverty, a cloud of uncertainty still hovers over Africa’s most populous country.

November – The election of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America turned a new page in the history of race relations in that country. At a time when the superpower suffered from a collapse of its reputation abroad, Obama’s international appeal was a defining factor in his victory. On the small island of Zanzibar, in Tanzania, locals show support for the American president who strongly identifies with his East African roots.

December – In 2008, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) went through a make-over with the implementation of an automated payroll system and the capacity building of road traffic officers. In December, normally the month with the highest number of highway fatalities in Nigeria—as city dwellers flock to their home towns for the end-of-year celebrations—the FRSC kicked off a campaign against overloading and ordered the use of helmets by okada riders. Enforced on January 1st, 2009, the helmet reform marked a new level of government responsibility in issues of traffic safety.


ONE WEEK IN

LIBERIA By Zadie Smith

Monday There are no direct flights from England to Liberia. Either you go to Brussels or you book with Astraeus, a specialist airline named after a Roman Goddess of Justice. They run a service to Freetown, in neighbouring Sierra Leone. The clientele are mostly Africans dressed as if for church. Formal hats, zirconiums and Louis Vuitton holdalls are popular. A toddler waddles down the aisle in a three piece suit and bow tie. Only non-Africans are dressed for ‘Africa,’ in khakis, sandals, wrinkled t-shirts. Their bags are ostentatiously simple: frayed rucksacks, battered cases. The luggage of a nomad people. A cross-section of travellers sit in a row. A glamorous African girl in a silky blouse, an English nun, an American aid worker and a Lebanese man, who describes himself as a ‘Fixer’: “I fix things in Freetown—electrical systems, buildings.” He calls the well-dressed Africans SoonComes. “They come, they soon go. Their families assume they’re rich—they try to live up to this idea.” The plane prepares to land. The Fixer looks out the window and murmurs “White man’s graveyard” in the same spirit that people feel compelled to say “The Big Apple” as their plane approaches JFK. This, like much else on the plane, accommodates the Africa of imagination. In Sierra Leone most people ‘deplane’. Who remains for Liberia? Barely a dozen of us, ushered to the front to stare at each other across the wide aisles of business class. The nun is travelling on: Sister Anne of the Corpus Christi Carmelites. Brown socks in brown sandals, brown wimple; a long kindly face, mapped with wrinkles. She has worked in Liberia since the eighties, running a mission school in Greenville. “We left when the war became impossible—we’re back now, teaching students. It’s not easy. Our students have seen such terrible things. Beyond imagination, really.” She looks troubled when asked to describe the Liberian character. “They are either very, very good people—or the opposite. It is very hard to be

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good in these conditions.” Flying low over Monrovia there are no lights visible, only flood rain and sheet lightning illuminating the branches of palm trees: the jungle in a bad movie. The airport is no bigger than a village school. The one-ring baggage carousel is open to the elements; through the aperture the lightning flashes on. There are more baggage handlers than passengers. They mill without occupation, profoundly bored, soaking wet. It seems incredible that heat like this persists through rain. The only thing to see is the obligatory third-world Coke hoarding, ironic in exact proportion to the distance from its original American context. This one says: “Coke—Make it real.” Just after the Coke sign there is a contrary one, an indication that irony is a not a currency in Liberia. It is worn by a girl who leans against the exit in a T-shirt that says The Truth Must Be Told.

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he truth about Liberia is disputed. It consists of simultaneously asserted, mutually exclusive, ‘facts’. The CIA World Fact Book states: In 1980, a military coup led by Samuel Doe ushered in a decade of authoritarian rule, but not—as is widely believed in Liberia—that the CIA itself funded both the coup and the regime. Doe’s successor, Charles Taylor, instigator of the 1989–1997 Liberian civil war in which an estimated 300,000 people died, is in The Hague awaiting trial for crimes against humanity. Yet there are supportive hand-painted billboards across Monrovia (CHARLES TAYLOR IS INNOCENT!) and hagiographic collections of his speeches for sale in the airport. In Europe and America, the Liberian Civil War is described as a ‘tribal conflict.’ In Liberian classrooms, children from half a dozen different tribes sit together and do not seem to know what you mean when you ask if this causes a difficulty.

©STEFAN DANIELSSON AND GALLERI LOYAL, SWEDEN

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here is no real road network in Liberia. During the late summer rainy season much of the country is inaccessible. Tonight the torrential rain is unseasonable (it is March) but the road is the best in the country: properly surfaced, one long straight line from the airport to the Mamba Point Hotel in Monrovia. Lysbeth Holdaway, Oxfam’s press officer, sits in the back of our all-weather 4x4 outlining Liberia’s present situation. She has long chestnut hair, is in youthful middle-age, and dresses in loose linen. Four or five times a year she visits some of the more benighted countries of the world. Even by the standards with which she is familiar, Liberia is exceptional. “Three quarters of the population live below the poverty line—that’s one US dollar a day—half are on less that 50 cents a day. What infrastructure there was has been destroyed—roads, ports, municipal electricity, water, sanitation, schools, hospitals—all desperately lacking or nonexistent; 86% unemployment, no street lights . . . ” Through the car window, dead street lamps can be seen, stripped of their components during the war. Lightning continues


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to reveal the scene: small huts made of mud bricks, sheets of corrugated iron and refuse; more bored young men, sitting in groups, dully watching the cars go by. The cars are of two types: huge Toyota Land Cruiser pick-ups like this one, usually with UN stamped on their bonnets, or taxis, dilapidated yellow Nissans and Sunnys, the windows of which reveal six people squeezed into the rear, four in the front. Our driver, John Flomo, is asked whether the essentials—a water and sanitation system, electricity, schools—existed prior to the war. “Some, yes. In towns. Less in the country.” Even the electricity that lights the airport is not municipal. It comes from a hydroplant belonging to Firestone, the American rubber company, famous for its tyres. Firestone purchased one million acres of the country in 1926, a 99-year lease at the bargain rate of six cents an acre. They use their hydro plant to power their operation. The airport electricity is a ‘gift’ to the nation. Firestone’s business, too, could not function without an airport. “All this is Firestone,” says Flomo, pointing at the darkness.

and livelihoods, and the rehabilitation of ex-combatants, of which there are thousands, many of them children. You’ll see a few of our school projects while you’re here, and our rural projects in Bong County, and also West Point, which is really our flagship project—West Point is a slum—half the population of Monrovia live in slums . . . You have to choose the area you’re going to concentrate on, and we’ve chosen education. We found when we asked people what they needed most, people often said education first, over toilets, basic sanitation, which should tell you something.” The atmosphere in the hallways is jovial and enthusiastic, like a school newspaper. The staff are mostly young Liberians, educated in the early eighties before the school system collapsed, or schooled elsewhere in Africa. They are positive about the future, with much optimism focused upon Ellen JohnsonSirleaf, the Harvard-educated economist and first female head of state in Africa. Johnson-Sirleaf won the presidency in 2005, narrowly defeating footballer George Weah. “We hope and pray,” people say, when her name comes up. So far her real impact is conceptual rather than actual. Everywhere the talk is of a new generation of girls who will “take Liberia into the future.” The popular phrase amongst the NGO-ers is “gender strategy.” Fittingly, the first visit of the day is to one of the ‘Girls Clubs’ Oxfam funds. Abraham Paye Conneh, a 37-year-old Liberian who looks fifteen years younger, will accompany the visitors. He speaks a flamboyant, expressive English, peppered with the acronym-heavy language of NGOs. Prior to becoming Oxfam’s Education Project Officer, he held down three jobs simultaneously: lecturer at the University of Zion, teacher at the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary and Director of Education at the West African Training Institute, a feat that netted him ten American dollars a day. He also writes poetry. He is evangelical about Oxfam’s work: “It’s time for the women! We’re understanding gender now in Liberia. We never educated our Liberian women before, we did not see their glorious potential! But we want the women of Liberia to rise up now! Oh yes! Like Ellen rose up! We’re saying, anything a man can do, a woman can do in the same superior fashion!”

NOT AVAILABLE ONLINE

Tuesday

The Mamba Point Hotel is an unusual Liberian building. It is airconditioned, with toilets and clean drinking water. In the parking lot a dozen UN trucks are parked. In the breakfast room the guests are in uniform: button-down collars, light khakis, MacBooks. Their conversations demonstrate college-town levels of selfreflexivity. The only subject in Liberia is Liberia itself. “Here’s the crazy thing,” one man tells another over croissants, “malaria isn’t even a hard problem to solve.” At a corner table, an older woman reels off blunt statistics to a newcomer who notes them down: “Population, three point five million. Over a hundred thousand with HIV; male life expectancy, thirty-eight; female, forty-two. Sixty-five Liberian dollars to one US. Officially literacy is 57% but that figure is really pre-war—there’s this whole missing generation . . .” In the corner bar, a dozen male Liberian waiters rest against the counter devotedly following Baywatch. All trips by foreigners, however brief, are done in the NGO Land Cruisers. The two-minute journey to the Oxfam headquarters passes an open rubbish dump through which people scavenge alongside skinny pigs. The NGO buildings are lined up on ‘UN Drive.’ Each has a thick boundary wall. The American Embassy goes further, annexing an entire street. Oxfam shares its compound with UNICEF. On each door there is a sticker: NO FIREARMS. Here, Phil Samways, the Oxfam Country Programme Manager, heads a small development team. He is 54, sandy-haired, lanky, wearing the short sleeved white shirt English accountants favour in the summer months. He has an unsentimental, practical manner, speaking precisely and quickly: “We are moving out of the humanitarian disaster stage now—water and sanitation and so on. Now we’re interested in long-term development. We choose schemes that concentrate on education

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o Lysbeth and Abraham we now add the photographer, Aubrey Wade, a 31-year-old Anglo-Dutchman. He is thin, dark blond. He wears a floppy sun hat beneath which a pert nose white with sun block peeks. He rests his lens on the car window. Hand-painted billboards line the road: HAVE YOU BEEN RAPED? Or: STOP RAPE IN LIBERIA. Lysbeth asks Abraham what other “particular problems women in Liberia face.” The list is long: female circumcision, marriage from the age of eleven, polygamy, spousal ownership. Girls have “traditionally been discouraged from school.” In some ethnic groups, husbands covertly push their wives into sexual affairs, so they may charge the offending man an ‘infidelity tax,’ paid in the form of unwaged


labour. A culture of sexual favours predates the war. Further billboards warn girls not to offer their bodies in return for school grades, a common practice. The moral of Liberia might be: where there is weakness, exploit it. But this moral is not especially Liberian in character. In May 2006, a BBC investigation uncovers ‘systematic sexual abuse’ in the country: UN Peacekeepers offering food to teenage refugees in return for sex.

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n a school in Unification Town, fourteen girls from the Girls Club are picked to sit with us in the new ‘library’. It is a small room, very hot. Lysbeth’s cheeks bloom red, her hair sticks to her forehead. Our shirts are see-through with sweat. The small, random collection of textbooks on the shelves are a decade out of date. Next door is the typewriting pool, the pride of the club. Here the girls learn to type on ten old-fashioned typewriters. It is not a ‘school’ as that word is commonly understood. It is a building with a thousand children in it, waiting for a school to manifest itself. The pre-planned questions—Do you enjoy studying? What’s your favourite subject? —are rendered absurd. The girls answer quietly and sadly in a ‘Liberian English’ that is difficult to understand. The teacher translates. She is equally hard to understand. What would you like to be when you grow up? “Pilot” is a popular answer, as is “a sailor in the navy.” Whether by sea, or by air, flight is on their minds. The remainder say “nurse” or “doctor” or “in government.” The two escape routes visible in Liberia: Aid and Government. What do your fathers do? They are dead, or else they are rubber tappers. A girl sighs heavily. These are not the right questions. The exasperated teacher prompts: “Ask them how often they are able to come to school?” Despair invades the room. A girl lays her head on the desk. No one speaks. “Ask me.” It is the girl that sighed. She is fourteen, her name is Evelyn B. Momoh, she has a heart-shaped face, doll features. She practically vibrates with intelligence and impatience. “We have to work with our mothers in the market. We need to live and there’s no money. It’s very hard to stay in school. There’s no money, do you understand? There’s no money at all.” Is the typing pool useful? Evelyn squints. “Yes, yes, of course—it’s a good thing, we are very thankful.” There is the sense that she is trying hard not to scream. And the books? Evelyn answers again. “I’ve read all of them now. I’m very good at math. I’ve read all the math books. We need more.” Are there books in your house? Evelyn blinks slowly, gives up. We file out to the typing room. Aubrey takes pictures of Evelyn as she pretends to type. She submits to this as a politician might to a humiliating, necessary photo-op. We shuffle outside into the dry, maddening heat. Aubrey walks the perimeter looking for something to photograph. The school sits isolated on a dusty clearing bordered by monotonous rubber plantations. Evelyn and her girls arrange themselves under a tree to sing a close harmony song, typical, in its melody, of West Africa. Fellow Liberians, the war is over! Tell your girls, fetch them to get them to school! Your war is over—they

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Histories By Chris Abani

1. Boys are taught to kill early. I was five when I shot a chick in my first ritual. I was eight when chickens became easy but turkeys drew loathing. I was ten when I killed a goat. I was made to stare into that goat’s eyes before pulling my knife across its throat. Amen. I thought it was to teach me the agony of the kill. Perhaps it was to inure me to blood. To think nothing of the jagged resistance of flesh, To make the smell of rust and metal and shit familiar. I didn’t grow up on a farm. I have never killed a man, but I know how, I know I can, I know that if the timing were right I would. I am afraid that I might not feel sorry. I am afraid that I will enjoy it. Let there be love. 2. Joyce and I share the ghost of mothers wandering the halls of our novels, calling for a light that cannot fit there. It is time for dinner. Approximate a field tool shorn of wooden handle, floating above a block of Plexiglas. Or a comb caught in the transparent mount of a frame. Everywhere I turn, Africa is dead. They don’t care for our ecstatic, our desire, they care nothing about us. We are a dead people. All that matters is how close we match, or approximate the exhibit. And over here Ladies and Gentlemen, beside

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need education! The voices are magnificent. The girls sing without facial affect; dead-eyed, unsmiling. Around us the bored schoolboys skulk. Nobody speaks to them or takes their picture. The teacher does not worry that their disaffection may turn to resentment and violence: “Oh, no, they are very happy for the

another NGO, it would not be done at all.” “Do you pay teachers?” “We are not meant to—we don’t want a two-tier system. But we can train them, for example. Many of the teachers in Liberia have only been educated up to the age of twelve or thirteen

©TOYE GBADE

NOT AVAILABLE ONLINE girls.” As the visitors prepare to leave, Evelyn stops us. It is a strange look she has, so wilful, so much in want, and yet so completely without expectation. The word ‘desperate’ is often misused. This is what it means. “You will write the things we need. You have a pencil?” Books, math books, history books, science books, exercise books, copy books, pens, pencils, more desks, a computer, electricity, a generator for electricity, teachers.

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Driving back towards Monrovia: “Abraham—isn’t there a government education budget?” “Oh yes! Sure. Ms Sirleaf has promised immediate action on essential services. But she has only a $120 million budget for the whole year. The UN budget alone in Liberia for one year is $875 million. And we have a $3.7 billion dollar debt!” “But how much did what we just saw cost?” “Ten thousand. We built an extra section of the school, provided all the materials etcetera. If it had not been done by us or

themselves! We have the blind leading the blind!” “But then you’re acting like a government—you’re doing their job. Is that what NGOs do?” He sighs: “Look, there’s no human resources and there’s no money. We all must fill in the gap: The UN, Oxfam, UNICEF, CCF, the NRC, the IRC, Medecin Sans Frontiers, STC, PWJ—” “?” “Peace Wind Japan. Another NGO. I can make you a long list. But different aid has different obligations attached. With us, there are no obligations. The money goes directly.” “So people can send money to you earmarked for a particular project?” “Oh Yes! [Extended laughter] Please put that in your article.”

Wednesday The street scene in Monrovia is post-apocalyptic: people occupy


the shell of a previous existence. The Inter-Continental Hotel is a slum, home to hundreds. The old executive mansion is broken open like a child’s playhouse; young men sit on the skeletal spiral staircase, taking advantage of the shade. Abraham points out Liberia’s state seal on the wall: a ship at anchor with the inscription The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here. In 1822, freed American slaves (known as Americo-Liberians, or, colloquially, Congos) founded the colony at the instigation of the American Colonization Society (ACS), a coalition of slave owners and politicians whose motives are not hard to tease out. Even Liberia’s roots are sunk in bad faith. Of the first wave of emigrants, half died of yellow fever. The small colony of survivors built a facsimile life: plantation-style homes, white-spired churches. Hostile local Malinké tribes resented their arrival and expansion; sporadic armed battle was common. When the ACS went bankrupt in the 1840s, they demanded the “Country of Liberia” declare its independence. It was the first of many category errors: Liberia was not yet a country. Their agricultural exports were soon dwarfed by the price of imports. A pattern of European loans (and defaulting on same) began in the 1870s. The money was used to partially modernise the Black Americo-Liberian hinterlands while ignoring the impoverished indigenous interior. To the Americo-Liberians, the Malinké people were ‘natives’, and an illicit slave trade continued until the 1850s. Forced indigenous labour was discovered as late as 1931. The relationship between the two communities is a lesson in the factitiousness of ‘race’. Abraham, in the front seat, bends his head round to Lysbeth in the back: “You know what we say to that seal? The Love of Liberty MET us here.” This is a popular Liberian joke. He laughs immoderately. “So that’s how it was. They came here, and they always kept the power away from us! They had their True Whig Party and for 133 years we were a peaceful one-party state. But there was no justice. The indigenous are 95% of this country but we had nothing. Oh, those Congos—they had every little bit of power. Everyone in the government was Congo. They did each other favours, gave each other money. We were not even allowed the vote until very late—the 60’s!” Lys asks a reasonable question: “But how would one know someone was a Congo?” “Oh, you would know. They had a way of speaking, a way of dressing. They always called each other Mister. Always the Big Man. And they lived very well. This,” he says, waving at the devastation of Monrovia, “was all very nice.” The largest concrete structures—the old Ministries of Health, of Defence, the True Whig Party headquarters—are remnants of the peaceful, unjust regimes of President Tubman (1944–1971) and President Tolbert (1971–1980), for whom Liberians feel a perverse nostalgia. The university, the hospital, the schools, were financed by a True Whig policy of massive international loans and deregulated foreign business concessions, typically given to agriculturally extractive companies which

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the Venus Hottentot, an example of 21st Century African writing. Note the use of proverbs, puns, and allusions. Also the landscape of huts and pots curdling on hearths. Even now angels stalk me in my fear. One way to know you are in love is to feel the incompleteness of yourself settle on you like dust in an abandoned house. Oh, to be Rilke and to be full of suicidal angels and no fear. This is the razor’s edge. In the desert, new cartographies are drawn by wind and desire. Ask the Tuareg why they must and they say: we must. I want to believe that living things can hear me. I want trees to nod when I caress their bark, to shiver in the delight of my touch. A bird shat on my head. Does that count? I have killed before. Felt the delight of blood. The sticky way it coats everything so that you can’t chase the flies from your eyes, you cannot scratch the itch on your nose. The way sweat stings reluctant tears. There is little that will remind you of home more than the sweet smell of fur singeing in the fire, singeing as the goat turns slowly, too far to cook, but close enough to burn the fur, and the knife scraping it off and it sounds like when you scrape the sticky papaya seeds from the cutting board, a miracle, flesh turned wood, and your heart becomes a stone harder than the mango pit your teeth scour for one more taste of the sweet and it always comes back to that. For want of the sweet the soul was lost. Road trips are the only time time doesn’t exist. I dare you to say it fast. Ah, the bright orange trail of Cheetos. May there be zingy and cheese. Amen. Killing always begins with the story of land. My land, and my father’s land and his father’s land before him Amen. 3. What can you say about growing up in Nigeria? Does anyone care that you picked plump red and yellow cashews from trees and ate them in the sun, the sticky sweet of them running down your arms.

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shipped resources directly out of the country without committing to any value-added processing. For much of the 20th century, Liberia had a nickname: Firestone Republic. The deals which condemned Liberians to poverty wages and inhumane living conditions were made in these old government buildings. The people who benefited most from these deals worked in these buildings. Now they have rags hanging from their windows, bullet holes in their facades, and thousands of squatters inside, without toilets, without running water. Naturally, new buildings are built, new deals are made. On January 28th 2005, while an interim ‘caretaker’ government presided briefly over a ruined country (the elections were due later that year), Firestone rushed through a new concession: 50 cents an acre for the next 37 years. A processing plant—for which Liberians have been asking since the 1970s—was not part of this deal. Ministers of Finance and Agriculture, who had no mandate from the people, and would be out of office in a few months anyway, negotiated the deal. It was signed in the Cabinet Room at the Executive Mansion in the presence of John Blaney, US Ambassador at the time. During the same period, Mittal Steel acquired the country’s iron ore, giving the company virtual control of the vast Nimba concession area.

much a rubber tapper gets paid: US $35 a month. Everyone knows how much a government minister is paid: US $2000 a month. No one can tell you Firestone’s annual profit. In 2005, from its Liberia production alone: US$81,242,190. In a country without a middle or working class, without a functioning civic life, government is all. It is all there is of money, of housing, of healthcare and schooling, of normal life. It is the focus of all aspirations, all fury. One of the more reliable signs of weak democracy is the synonymity of the word ‘Government’ with government buildings. Storming Downing Street and killing the Prime Minister would not transfer executive power. In Liberia, the opposite is true. The violence of the past quarter century has in part represented a battle over Congo real estate, in particular the second, infamous ‘Executive Mansion’. It is hard to find any Liberian entirely free of the mystique of this building. In 1990, Charles Taylor’s forces pounded the building to evict a recalcitrant President Samuel K. Doe. Ten years earlier, in 1980, when the 28-year-old Doe, a semi-literate Krahn tribesman and master sergeant in the Liberian army, staged his coup d’état, he too fought his way into the mansion, disembowelling President Tolbert in his bed.

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ut Liberians have tended not to trace their trouble back to extractive foreign companies or their government lobbies. Liberians don’t think that way. Most Liberians know how

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e visit Red Light market. Abraham explains the appellation: “A set of traffic lights used to be here.” Red Light market is a circular piece of land, surrounded by small shops and swarming with street traders. The shops have names like The Arun Brothers and Ziad’s, all Lebanese-


owned, as is the Mamba Point Hotel. Almost all small business in Liberia is Lebanese-owned. Abraham shrugs: “They simply had money at a time when we had no money.” The bleak punch line is Liberia’s citizenship laws: anyone not ‘of African descent’ cannot be a citizen, thus Lebanese money goes straight back to Lebanon. Women crouch round the market’s perimeter, selling little polythene bags of soap powder. Some are from WOCDAL (Women and Children Development Association of Liberia), funded by Oxfam. WOCDAL loans them a 100 Liberian dollars for a day (less than US $2). This gives the women a slight economic advantage in Red Light. No one else there can afford to buy a full box of soap powder. The women sell the box in pieces, keep the profit and return the loan to WOCDAL. A woman with five children tells us that this enables her to send two of them to school. The other three work alongside her in the market. How do you decide whom to send? “I send the fourteen and fifteen-year-olds to school, because they will be finished sooner.” “The five, six, and seven-year-old work with me.”

Thursday From the 4 x 4, Westpoint does not look like a flagship project. It is a narrow corridor of filth, lined on either side with small dwellings made of trash, mud, scrap metal. Children with distended bellies, rotting food, men breaking rocks. It stretches for miles. The vehicle sticks in an alley too narrow to pass. The visitors must walk. Close up, the scene is different. It is not one corridor. There are many networks of alleys. It is a city. Food is cooking. Small stalls, chicken skewers for sale. Children trail Aubrey wanting their photograph taken. They pose boldly: big fists on knobby, twiggy arms. No one begs. We stop by a workshop stockpiled with wooden desks and chairs, solid, not un-beautiful. They are presently being varnished a caramel brown. A very tall young white man is here to show us around, Oxfam’s program manager at West Point. “This,” he says, placing both hands hard on the nearest desk for emphasis, “is great workmanship, no?” Lysbeth peers at the wood: “Um, you do know that’s not quite dry?”

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atrick Alix is thirty years old. Before coming to West Point, he had a stint in Zambia doing emergency work, qualified as a Chartered Accountant, worked for the World Wildlife Fund in Indonesia, performed a management evaluation of the French Nuclear Fusion Reactor Programme, produced a Reggae album in Haiti and played violin in the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. This list is not exhaustive. He has seen the situation in Liberia progress from the most dire emergency to the beginnings of ‘development’. “We’ve followed the returnees from the camps—many settled in this community. 65,000 people live here, 30,000 of them children. Now: there are 19 schools in the slum, yes? So—” Wait. There are schools in a slum? Patrick frowns, stops

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And later, the seeds collected and roasted for the nut. And in prison, writing names on bodies with the sap of cashews. Names to obscure their real selves, names to protect what might be left over for when they returned to the world from hell. It is an old trick, to fool death by writing a new name on your body. I was afraid my soul would be obscured, and in cowardly script, almost invisible to the eye, scrawled with the tip of a needle: Saddam. It has faded to a nice smudge on my belly, where a network of hairs and stretch marks pretend it never happened. I learned alchemy in prison. Words mean only what you want them too. You say, sunshine and you mean hope. You say, food and you mean refuge. You say, sand and you mean play. You say, stone and you mean, I will never forget. But you do, but you do and thank God, thank God. When they called from the university, in all innocence, they said, there is a letter for you from your president. They had never heard the words Dele uttered before that letter bomb exploded. You tell your friend who runs the place. And you sit turning the letter over and over, while she gently clears the wing and then comes back to sit with you as you turn the letter over and over. Fingers ignorantly searching for wires. Over and over you turn wishing you were American and could have the naivety to not fear a letter from your president. To feel only pride or the gentle rise of acerbic wit as you prepare to decline whatever is on offer. You smile at your friend who has no reason to be here except she won’t let you die alone and you rip the envelope open. There is no explosion, A letter spills out with the crest of the president. You are crying. You are glad you are not dead. You are glad that your country is proud of you. You are glad to see the day when things can change. You are confused. Your friend is holding your hand.

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walking. He pinches his temples. “Sure,” he says. “But we’re going to the only government one. The rest are private, sharing space with churches, or mosques, with volunteer teachers. There’s also a teacher’s council here, a commissioner, the township council —you understand the slum is a township? It’s organised into blocks and zones. The area representatives call meetings. Otherwise nothing would get done.” He sets off quickly through the chaotic little alleys, sure of his way. When we arrive at our destination, Patrick says: “You should have seen it before. This is the ‘after’ picture!” Aubrey takes a photograph of the long, low concrete building and its four large, bare rooms. Patrick: “Things have changed, they’ve pledged 10

US and Brazil. He is crisp-shirted despite the heat, broad as a rugby player. Ms. Coleman is a kind of celebrity, too, in West Point. She takes a hands-on approach to pastoral care. She will enter homes to check on suspected abuse. She keeps children at her own house if she fears for their safety. She is impassioned: “We have 7-year-old girls being raped by big men! I talk to parents—I educate people. People are so poor and desperate. They don’t know. For example, if a mother is keeping her child home to earn 50 Liberian dollars at the market, I say to her: that will keep you for a day! What about the future?” And are some of your students ex-combatants? “Oh, my girl,” says Ms. Coleman sadly, “there are ex-combatants everywhere. People live next to boys who killed their own families. We, as a

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percent of their budget to education, which is enormous percentage-wise, but still only 12 million dollars for the whole country. There’s too much to be done right now. NGOs fill the gap. What you saw back there was part of our livelihood project: fathers are taught how to make school furniture, which we, the school, buy from them at a fair price. They also sell this furniture to all the schools in West Point. And mothers make the uniforms—if that doesn’t sound too traditionally gendered . . .” Standing in front of the school are John Brownell, who manages the livelihood project, and Ella Coleman, who until recently was West Point’s commissioner. Mr Brownell is a celebrity in West Point: he played football for Liberia. This took him to the

people, we have so much healing to do.” In the shade, four girls are instructed to speak with us. The conversation is brief. They all want to be doctors. They kick the dust, refuse to make eye contact. We have only inanities to offer them anyway. It’s good that you all want to be doctors. The doctors will teach new doctors. There’ll be so many doctors in Liberia soon! Lysbeth sighs, murmuring: “Except there’s something like twenty-three Liberian doctors. And fourteen nurses. In the whole country.” The visitors wilt slightly; sit on a wall. The schoolgirls look on with pity—an unbearable reversal. They soon run off to help their mothers in the market. Meanwhile, Ms. Coleman is still talking; she is explaining that at some point the government will clear this slum, this school,


everything and everyone in it. She does not think the situation impossible. She does not yet suffer from ‘charity fatigue’. She is saying: “I trust it will be for the best. We made this community from the dirt, but we can’t stay here.”

Friday Bong Country is beautiful. Lush green forest, a sweet breeze. There are pygmy hippopotami and monkeys here, and a sense of Liberia’s possibilities. Rich in natural resource, cool in the hills, hot on the beach. Nyan P. Zikeh is the Oxfam Programme Manager for this region. He is compactly built, handsome, boyish. He was educated during the last days of Tolbert’s regime. Nyan helps rebuild the small village communities of Bong, a strategic area fought over by all the warring factions. People live in tiny traditional thatched huts arranged around a central ground. It is quiet and clean. The communities are close-knit and gather around the visitors to join the conversation. In one village, a woman explains the food situation. She is ‘1-0-0’ and her children are (usually) ‘1-0-1’; there are many others who are ‘0-0-1.’ This refers to meals per day. Still, things are improving: there are schools here now, there are latrines. Nyan’s projects encourage the creation of rice paddies; the men work in them and the women take the rice to market. It is more than the subsistence farming that existed before the war. His dream is to connect all these villages in a trading ring that utilises Bong’s strategic centrality and sells produce on to Monrovia. Nyan: “You have to understand, in this area, everything was destroyed. The largest displaced camps were here. We helped people go back to where their villages formerly were; we helped them rebuild. All that you see here was done with DFID money—The Department for International Development. They are British. They funded us with £271,000 sterling—they gave us this twice. And I am happy to say we met a hundred percent of our targets. Creating infrastructure, and training individuals. The money went a very long way. It helped to train Liberian staff. “This is the good aid story,” says Lysbeth. “People find that very boring.” Nyan prides himself on his frankness. He explains the lack of cultivated fields: “The truth is we don’t have the knowledge and skill about farming. It has always been slash, burn and plant. The only industrial farming our people have known here is the rubber plantations. That is the only major industry our people know. Everything else was not developed.”

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he visitors sit on the porch eating dinner at CooCoo’s Nest, the best hotel in rural Liberia. Named after President Tubman’s mistress, it is owned by his daughter; she lives in America now. In her absence it is run by Kamal E. Ghanam, a louche, chain-smoking Lebanese in a safari pantsuit, who asks you

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Dear Eloise Klein Healy, blessing be upon your name. Is this what it feels like to have your father love you? To not fear his return? To not expect to be hit when he reaches for you? What can it feel like to believe that the world is inherently good? Let there be love. I am not a pessimist. I believe in love. It has however, often been a foreign country to me. This is the body of Christ. Sanctificum. 4. When I was five, I tried to fetch water from the unfinished septic tank with a plastic teapot for my sister’s tea party. I fell, the weakness of water eroded wood giving beneath me. What kind of son betrays his father like this? As I emerged, I saw he was about to leap. Maybe that was why he beat me so much. Maybe it is too much for your father to believe that he would give his life for you. And who can blame him? I wanted to be a son you could be proud of father. I killed the way you taught me. But I liked dolls and tea and playing with my sister. Forgive me. This is the body of man. Sanctificum. And then the war followed. 5. But it began in 1660. Exploited by Portugal and Spain, under a gentleman's agreement, for slaves important to Cortez in the new world, Nigeria, though un-named, was ignored by a British Empire too busy fighting for South Africa and India, while putting out the fires of rebellion in America. But declining fortunes in India, the need to curtail power of European rivals, conspired with the Crown’s greed to needle

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NOT AVAILABLE ONLINE kindly not to switch on the light in your room until after 7 pm. Kamal also manages the rubber plantation behind the hotel. He brings out the Sangria as Abraham and Nyan bond. These two are members of a very small group in Liberia: the makeshift middleclass, created in large part by the presence of the NGOs. “It’s difficult,” explains Abraham. “Even if I paint my house, people begin talking. He is Congo now. As soon as you have anything at all you are isolated from the people.” They show off their battle scars, knife wounds from street robberies. Aubrey, who has been photographing the plantations, arrives. He reports that he met a rubber worker in the field. “His name is David. He was born on the plantation and has worked there since he was ten or twelve, he thinks. He wants to be able to keep his own children in school but, at the current rate of pay, he won't be able to afford to. He works seven days a week. He says workers on the plantation live in camps that were built in 1952. There are no schools or medical facilities nearby—anyway he couldn’t afford them. He taps about 50lbs of raw latex per day. He said it’s a long day, from sunrise until late . . .” Aubrey is breathless and excited: we have the feeling that we are intrepid journalists, uncovering an

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unknown iniquity. In fact, the conditions on Liberian rubber plantations are well documented. In a CNN report of 2005, Firestone President Dan Adomitis explained that each worker “only” taps 650–750 trees a day and that each tree takes two to three minutes. Taking the lower of these two estimates equals 21 hours a day of rubber tapping. In the past, parents have brought their children with them in order to help them meet the quota. When this was reported, Firestone banned the practice. Now people bring their children before dawn. Kamal smokes, listens, sighs. He says, “Listen, this is how it is,” as if talking of some unstoppable natural weather phenomena. Then, more strongly: “Now be careful about this tapper. He is not from Firestone, I think. He is from a different place.” Nyan smiles. “Kamal, we both know that plantation—it sells to a middleman who sells to Firestone. Everybody sells to Firestone.” Nyan turns back to the visitors: Firestone is a taboo subject here. Everyone knows the conditions are terrible—their accommodation has no water, no electricity—but it is better paid than most work here. You would have to have a very strong lobby in the US government to stop them. The whole reason Firestone

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came to Liberia in the first place was as a means of creating a permanent supply of rubber for the American military. The British had increased the taxes on Malaysian Rubber—the Americans didn’t want to pay that. They needed a permanent solution. So they planted the rubber—it’s not native to Liberia. Really, they created a whole industry. It sounds strange, but these are some of the best jobs in Liberia.” Abraham continues: “Do you know what people say? In 2003, when the war was at its worst, the only places in Liberia that were safe were the US embassy and Firestone. Everywhere else there was looting and killing. The American Marines were offshore—we kept hoping they would come ashore. What were they waiting for? But we waited and then they sailed away.”

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veryone at the table is asked why they think the war happened. Nyan: “Let me tell you first my candid feeling: every Liberian in one way or another took part in the war. Either spiritually, financially, psychologically or physically. And to answer your question: in a sense there was no reason. Brothers killed brothers, friends killed friends, only to come back the next day and regret they ever did it in the first place. For me the only real reason was greed. And poverty. All that the warlords wanted was property. When they stormed Monrovia, they did not even pretend to fight each other. They killed people in their homes and then painted their own names on the walls. When Ms. Sirleaf took over Guttridge’s rubber plantation, it was still occupied by rebel forces, and they refused to leave for a year and a half. They wanted to be in the rubber business. But they destroyed the trees—didn’t tap them properly. It will take another ten years to replant.”

Saturday Lunch in La Pointe, the ‘good restaurant’ in Monrovia. The view is of sheer cliff dropping to marshland and, beyond this, blue-green waters. During the war the beach was scattered with human skulls. Now it is simply empty. In Jamaica, tourists marry on beaches like these, barefoot in wedding outfits in white sand owned by German hotel chains, holding up champagne flutes, recreating an image from a brochure. This outcome for Liberia—a normalised, if exploitative, ‘tourist economy’—seems almost too good to hope for. At present La Pointe is patronised solely by NGO workers, Government Officials and Foreign Business Men. A Liberian passes by in a reasonably nice suit. Abraham: “He’s a Supreme Court Judge.” Another man in a tie: “Oh, he’s Nigerian. He owns an airline.” Everywhere in Liberia it is the same: there are only the very poor and the very powerful.

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he Toyota rolls up in front of Paynesville School. Motto: Helping our selve through Development [sic]. Aubrey causes a riot in the playground: everyone wants their picture taken. Some are in uniform, others in NGO T-shirts. Fifty or so wear a

abolitionists to battle. Wrenched from Spain and Portugal, we are the prize, rich in palm-oil, rich in camwood, rich in gold rich in ivory. Knitting on the upper deck of a steamer headed North on the Niger, Lady Lugard, the wife of Britain’s governor for the Niger territories, had an epiphany: “Why not call it Nigeria dear?” And he did. 6. This is the body of the world. We believe in duality. That is our way. New religions pose no threat to old gods only too grateful to shirk. There is no conflict. We understand. Many gods sew together our fractured selves, the schizophrenia that is our true human nature. The taste of fraternal blood can never be sated. Again and again, we kill our kinsmen, rape our mothers, pillage our fathers, make whores of our sisters. Yet the thirst never slakes. Caught in black and white images: A young girl howling down a Vietnamese road, napalm peeling skin raw like summer grape, mouth rictusing around scream. The shadow of child holding book seared into concrete; Nagasaki. Bodies sponging up tropical rivers, burst like over-ripe mangoes in the sun. And many will hate me when I say, none of this is worth dying for. Be sure your sins will find you out. Numbers 32:23. Even as Chaucer dipped quill into ink and caught a caesura of history in a language still undecided, the University in Timbuktu


shirt that says China and Liberia: Friendship Forever. We are here only for one boy. We were given his name by Don Bosco Homes, a Catholic Organisation that specialises in the rehabilitation of child ex-combatants. The boy is very small for fifteen, with a closeshaved, perfectly round head and long pretty eyelashes. He has the transcendental air of a child lama. Three big men bring him to us in a corner of the yard and go to fetch a chair. He stays the wrist of one of the men with a finger and shakes his head. “It’s too hot here to talk. We’ll go inside.” In a small office at the back of the school, four nervous adults supervise the interview. Lysbeth, who has teenage children herself, looks as if she might cry even before Richard speaks. It’s been a long week. Richard is determined to make it easy for us. He smiles gently at the dictaphone: “It’s okay. Are you sure that it’s on?”

My name is Richard S. Jack. I was 12 in 2003. I was living with my mother when the second civil war began. I was playing on a football field when men came and grabbed me. It was done by force—I had no desire to join that war. They called themselves The Marine Force. They took both teams of boys away. They threw us in a truck. I thought I wasn’t going to see my parents anymore. They took me to Lofah Bridge. What happened there? We were taught to do certain things. We were taught to use AK-47s. I was with them for a year and a half. We were many different kinds of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans, many boys. The first one or two weeks I was so scared. After that it became a part of me. I went out of my proper and natural way. War makes people go out of their proper and natural way. It is a thing that destroys even your thoughts. People still don’t know what the war was about. I know. It was a terrible misunderstanding. But it is not a part of me any more. I don’t want violence in me any more. Whenever I sit and think about the past, I get this attitude: I am going to raise myself up. So I tell people about my past. They should know who I was. Sometimes it is hard. But it wasn’t difficult to explain to my mother. She understood how everything was. She knew I was not a bad person in my heart. Now I want to be most wise. My dream is to become somebody good in this nation. I have a feeling that Liberia could be a great nation. But I also want to see the world. I love the study of geography. I want to become a pilot. You want me to fly you somewhere? Sure. Come and find me in ten years. I promise we will fly places.”

Afterword On 17 November 2005, the International Labour Rights Fund filed a classaction lawsuit against Firestone along with several plaintiffs, now adult, who had been child labourers and their children, who are currently child labourers, on the Firestone rubber plantation in Liberia. For more information, go to www.stopfirestone.org.


prepared to celebrate its bicentennial, its scholars capturing epics that are now lost in the loose shuffle of sand covering it. Of all the writing and books, only a fragment of clay tablet was found. It spells out the message: I wrote that in another life. Inshallah. Hallowed be thy name. 7. As I grow older I want to hold my mother. Hold her to my chest and soothe her. Cradle her head that is small, thin as a sparrow’s, and say, he loved you, he did. All those years, they count for something. And the only lie would be the not knowing. And I am a man too. And like my father, bad, bad, bad. How many hearts have I broken?

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8. When you first see a man die from a machete cut or a bullet, which is to say, when you first confront the astonishment of blood and feel it creep over your skin like a sugary sludge, even though the cracks it wets are not your skin, but really the obsidian of the road, you feel sick in ways you thought not possible. A deep and wonderful bile that can never leave your stomach. And then the days pass and you become familiar with its ways and it bothers you no more than cherry syrup dripped over pancakes. You grow bored and impatient with it all. With the shock of those just arriving moments. After that, people can die around you day and night and you go on without noticing. My capacity for it scares me. Blessed are the undefiled in the way. There are two ways to view the body. Resurrection and crucifixion. Everything that falls between is ritual.


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By Monica Arac de Nyeko

veryone will tell you this about my brother Ocen: he was a very good baby even if he cried a lot. When Ocen was not crying, he laughed a lot. His laugh was ki ki ki like our Baba’s laugh. Ocen liked to be carried. He liked to be around people. When people were there, he played, he laughed and he talked. When they left, he lost interest in his games. He started to cry again. I was born Apio, the twin who arrives first. I should have been the attention seeker. I should have been the curious one. I should have been the one who learns quickly. I was not. Ocen was the fast one. He was the one who learnt things quickly. He learnt to sit before I did. He learnt to crawl before I did. He learnt to stand before I did. He walked before I did. Because he learnt things quickly, he discovered the value of his feet. He became impatient to use them. Ocen walked around the house. He roamed up and down the corridors looking for Ma. Because she was not always sure where he was, Ma was always shouting to Lapobo, our elder sister, to watch out for him. “Lapobo, watch that child!” “Lapobo, are you there? He is coming towards you.” “Lapobo, move away that stool.” In the night because he did not like to sleep early, Ma laid him on her chest and sang him to sleep. “Basi babie. Basi babie.”

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ecause Baba had always delayed it, we were not baptised in church until we were eleven months. Baba had wanted to make a big party for us. But Ma got impatient with him. For her, baptism was not about a big party. On the Sunday of our baptism at All Saints Church (after Ma had persuaded Baba to relent), I cried when the reverend poured holy water thrice on my forehead. He made the sign of the cross before he handed me to Ma. Ocen was sleeping when his turn came. He was baptised after me. At first, he was startled by the water. But he did not cry. He remained silent. He had seen many people in church.

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Later, when we were outside, Baba carried Ocen in his arms. Ma remained with me. It was a happy day with the sun high in the sky. All Saints Church was large, large and bright with an array of flowers—hibiscus, daisies and morning glories—all tended and well manicured. Ma stayed outside much longer than she would have liked, to allow people to greet and congratulate us. “What adorable children!” “Oh God loves you!” “Mama Ocen, let’s give thanks to God for you and the family.” Ma smiled and accepted the compliments with gratitude. She had invited the same people from church for a small party that evening to celebrate the baptism and our initiation into the

afraid of climbing off the sofa. If he woke from his sleep later on, he would stay on the sofa and cry until someone came to carry him off. Ma laid him in the sofa by the door. She covered Ocen with a baby shawl. Ma went into their bedroom to change into her stay-at-home clothes. She wrapped her purple lesu around her skirt and returned outside to help with the Irish potatoes and the hens. For the hens, Ma put the saucepans of boiling water on the sigiri first. When it was ready she asked Auntee Magdalena to help with the slaughtering. Ma knew Auntee Magdalena would not want to help. She had never liked slaughtering chickens. Auntee Magdalena shrugged her shoulders and told Ma she was absolutely not going to do it. Ma called Lapobo from the backyard where she was

with Auntee Magdalena. The tears dropped on her lesu like she was crying. Ocen reached the kitchen. He wanted to hurry out to where Ma and Auntee Magdalena were laughing. Ocen did not hurry out. He lifted himself from his crawl and walked te te te te to the saucepan of hot water under the sink.

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t the hospital, when Ma and Baba stood in the corridor of the ward, the doctor told them that the water had been very hot. Very very hot, he said. Ocen should not have. That evening at home, instead of the party, Baba sat in the sitting room. He put his head down. Ma sat next to Ocen’s coffin. She sang him his sleeping lullaby. She was not crying. She was just singing

I CRIED WHEN THE REVEREND POURED HOLY WATER THRICE ON MY FOREHEAD. Kingdom of God. After the last person came and greeted us, Ma told Baba she was leaving. She needed to help Lapobo and Auntee Magdalena at home with the cooking. Baba handed Ocen to her. Baba was staying behind to help with the balancing of church books. Baba’s driver drove us home through Nakasero hill and the state house. At home he parked the car on the dirt path inside. Auntee Magdalena heard the car and ran over. In her lesu, the smell of food spewing from her clothes, she ululated for us. Auntee Magdalena raised her hand in the air and waved like she had a palm tree in her hand. “Polo. Polo. Polo yeee.” Auntee Magdalena was not a devout Anglican but she was raised in the way of the church and so she respected its sacraments and recognized their value. Ocen was asleep when we got home. Even if Ma was worried about Auntee Magdalena’s sustained ululations, she did not wake Ocen up. Ma carried him from the car. She laid him on the sofa in the sitting room. Auntee Magdalena carried me and sat me on the veranda of the kitchen with banana fibre doll. Ma disappeared into the house. She knew Ocen was usually

sweeping the frangipanis off the grass. She asked her to help. Lapobo carried the two hens from the veranda. She took them to the back of the house with a knife in her hand. “How do you deliver babies Magda tell me, how do you deliver them with all that blood?” Ma said. Auntee Magdalena was a midwife. “Mama Ocen, they are different,” Auntee Magdalena said and broke into a fit of laughter. Inside the sitting room, Ocen had woken up. Maybe the baptism had changed him. Maybe because he had been accepted into the kingdom of God he was not afraid of heights anymore. My brother, the ki ki ki laugher, the crier, the curious one, let himself down from the sofa. If Ma had seen him, she would have rushed to hold him back. But she was not there and Ocen was not afraid to come down that day. Ocen did not walk to the kitchen in the te te te te way in which he normally walked. He did not shift each foot unsurely and hesitantly. Instead he crawled out of the sitting room. Baba was just returning from church. He stepped out of the car. Lapobo was bleeding the last drop of blood from the chicken’s head. Ma was still laughing

for him with no voice. She sang for him with the movement of her lips and the rocking of her body to and fro. Basi babie.

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wo days after Ma and Baba returned from the burial, Ma stood on the veranda of the bungalow. It was dark but she remained there. Ma wanted to listen to the silence of the night even if there was none. There, standing on the veranda of our bungalow, all Ma heard was the noise. Kampala was cringing. It was snapping. It was breaking. Ma gathered her lesu in her hands. She left the veranda. That night, while Baba sat on their bed in the bedroom and waited for her, Ma stood before the sink. She scrubbed Ocen’s saucepan with steel wire. She rinsed it again and again. The next morning, she went to bed after Baba had left for work. When Baba returned home that evening, he found her at the sink. He took her by the shoulders. Baba shook her. “Leave that saucepan alone. Just leave it.” “Eh?” Ma said. But she did not leave the saucepan alone. She scrubbed and rinsed it and Baba did not say anything after that.


THE

REWRITE Words and Photographs by Teju Cole

I

It was a small village in southern Germany. It was a summer’s day. From an old turreted tower, on the green hill that was separated from the village by a sluggish river, the sound of bells negotiated the afternoon. I was drowsy in that carillon sound, looking out a window that framed the hill, and it seemed as though the sound came from the entire green hill and not just its tower. Then the window suddenly shuttered, and I woke up in a darkened room in Brooklyn. The bells continued a few seconds more until I reached across to the dresser and silenced them. The clock said 5. I had gone to bed with my mind on James Baldwin: somewhere, he tells the story of travelling into a small Swiss village whose inhabitants had never seen a black man. In the strange logic of dreams, Switzerland had become Germany, and Germany had dissolved into Brooklyn on the morning of November 4. I padded around the house so as not to rouse my wife, made the last of the coffee her uncle, a kind-hearted Jesuit in Pune, had sent us, and prepared the things I was taking to the polling place with me: ID card, camera, voter registration. I returned to the bedroom and asked her for whom I should vote. Flipping her pillow round to its cooler side, more or less still asleep, she said I should return home immediately should Obama lose. She feared riots; but it would be unlike me, she knew, to avoid one. It was still dark when I stepped outside the house. The first faint pink traces of daylight were beginning to smudge the sky above the park opposite our place. I walked up to 6th Avenue, then

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the six short blocks to 50th Street. The neighbourhood, through which I had walked countless times in daytime and at night, was different at first light. There was a light coating of frost on the cars, and the houses had a Georgian aspect, an air of Bloomsbury gentility. On each block, I saw one person or two, out early, sober and fitted for the yards of work. Two Chinese women rolled a cart across the street, fussing over its load: aluminium cans that they had spent the night collecting and sorting into large bags. The women were as habituated to the hour as I was a stranger to it. The polling station, a high school, had just opened. There were five or ten people crowding at the door, but each showed a registration card and was swiftly ushered in by the uniformed police officers. I smiled when I saw the name tag of one of the officers. I said, “Florida: that’s an auspicious name on a day like this, officer.” But it was 6:10 am, and he was definitely not in the mood. Voting was easy: antiquated-looking levers and knobs which I soon figured out how to work. The poll workers outside argued in Chinese, and interrupted me once to fix the lights inside the booth. I voted straight Democratic as planned, except for where I had the choice to select Working Families. It was all done in the space of five minutes, and it felt like something accomplished, a weighty thing set in place, and also like some old stubborn pride finally released. I was part of the system now. It was moving to see the hall filled with my neighbours at this hour, some of them with young children, pursuing that till-now vague ideal called “civic duty.” When else, I tried to remember, do people willingly gather like this without the

promise of entertainment, religion or money? By the time I came out of the building, day had risen fast, and its inexorable light had spread across the sky. I walked through the quiet streets, picking up some breakfast rolls at the Mexican panaderia, and headed back to the apartment. My wife had left for work. I lay in bed and was soon asleep. A text from a friend woke me up at 10: It’s a beautiful day. The ancestors are smiling. It felt true. I switched on the television, looked at early voting reports on MSNBC and CNN, but that felt false, and I switched it off. I intended to head out later, and decided to pass the next few hours in solitude and silence, bracing myself, trying not to admit to the nervousness I felt about the outcome of the election. Later, making lunch, I read sections of Derek Walcott’s long poem, The Arkansas Testament . I heard in my mind’s ear the troubled and beautiful rhythms, heard a meditation on being present to a place and unwelcome in it. I caught my breath especially sharply at some lines late in the poem, lines that seemed exact to the moment: And afternoon sun will reprint the bars of a flag whose cloth over motel, steeple and precinct must heal the stripes and the scars. In the late afternoon, when I finally left the apartment, my neighbourhood in Brooklyn was quiet. There were no signs of the absorption and jitteriness that seemed to have seized hold of me


and many of my friends. Here it was business as usual: men lounged, as usual, outside the minicab office, folks tucked into late lunch or early dinner at the Dominican restaurant, clients stood in line at the Mexican remittance agency to send money home. The day, warm for the time of year, had been overcast and was now beginning to darken. I took the N-train to Union Square, to pick up a lens for my camera. Walking down 18th, sometime around 5, I felt the strangeness of time, the way one sometimes does. Soon, I knew, there would be some kind of permanent change in the collective psyche, a change that, at that precise moment, was still hovering out of reach like a cookie jar stashed on a high shelf. Time was like an expert card trickster, executing a bait and switch invisible to the naked eye. In the faces that blurred past me in both directions I saw no special awareness of time’s tricks. In the elevator of the camera store, a FedEx delivery man was speaking to one of the employees. He said, “I just don’t think that was necessary.” The employee said, “It was funny though.” The FedEx guy, muscular and short, shook his head, “No, it was cruel. She already made a fool of herself, all by her own self. No need for prank calls.” Outside, next to his truck, I asked him if he thought Governor Palin would return in 2012. “I don’t think so,” he said, “they’ll use her and toss her away. Anyway, it’s not my problem.”

But did the elections hold any special significance for him? “I’m thirty-seven years old,” he said soberly, “I’ve never voted before. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this, for the opportunity to vote the way I did today.” A large statement, but perhaps more astonishing because of how common it had become. For many, the moment did have this air of a promise achieved or a lifetime wait concluded. It was true for me, too, in a way. I thought I had strong rational reasons for having opted out of all the elections for which I’d been eligible since 1992. It had been, I believed, a higher, conscious process of the mind. But something not strictly rational was responsible for the new pragmatic turn in my thinking; something had driven me to the polls that hadn’t been there before. If I still prided myself on being sceptical of mass hysteria, I had added to it something else: the idea that participation, rational or otherwise, mattered. I had voted not because my doing so could change the outcome, but because voting would change me, and already, like a mutation that happens quietly on a genetic level and later completely alters the body’s function, I could feel my relationship to other Americans changing. I had a sense—dubious to me for so long, and therefore avoided—of common cause, not only with the millions of strangers who had pulled levers, filled in sheets and


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touched screens that day, people like the black FedEx guy, but also with public figures living and dead—James Baldwin, John Coltrane, Philip Roth, Carolyn Heilbrun—and personal friends in the city and elsewhere. Assorted characters who had in common only the accident of citizenship. I was a part of all of them in a new way. This edifice threatens to collapse under its own weight. All these generalizations and self-contradictions are part of the empty rhetoric I hate about politics. Can quickly flipped levers really mean so much? Don’t I basically prefer things that have no meaning? The conflict was present in my mind as I got back on the train at Union Square and headed midtown, to Rockefeller Center. My spiritual practice, to the extent that I have one, takes seriously the idea that one should avoid false refuge. The idea that change, in its most elemental form, could come from without, was offensive to me. And yet I felt different for having sullied my pristine record with this partisan act. I felt healthier. That, I realized, was the nub of the thing: I had been trying to stay pure, to have the correct idea, and had in the process made the best the enemy of the good. Now, voting for Obama, in spite of my strong objections to some of his ideas and to much of the system in which he functioned, was a declaration to myself that we participate in things not because they are ideal but precisely because they are not.

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ockefeller Center was wretched. In the maze of underground passages leading up from the subway to 47th street, there was a large glass-fronted shoe-shine

train. Harlem was where I would find whatever it was I was looking for tonight. In The Fire Next Time, a slim volume he published in 1965, Baldwin had noted the following: I remember when the ex-Attorney General, Mr. Robert Kennedy, said it was conceivable that in 40 years in America we might have a Negro President. That sounded like a very emancipated statement to white people. They were not in Harlem when this statement was first heard. They did not hear the laughter and bitterness and scorn with which this statement was greeted . . . We were here for 400 years and now he tells us that maybe in 40 years, if you are good, we may let you become President. Forty years put us at 2005. This was year forty-three, November 4 2008, 8 in the evening. The Harlem-bound A was peculiar: never before, on countless trips between 59th and 125th, had I seen so many white people on it. Entering a train and seeing who got on and got off where had long struck me as one of the simplest and most revealing anthropological gestures in the city. The A-train, the D, the 7 to Queens: folks generally went with their own kind, the mass exodus of Chinese at Grand Street, the Indians in Jackson Heights, the Poles and Russians in Bay Ridge. On most days, there was nothing but black people at the 125th street stop. This evening, I saw blond boys in Obama shirts, russet-haired pale-skinned women with camera equipment, Asian hipsters in skinny jeans. My

SCREAMS TORE THROUGH THE AIR. WHAT DOES CATHARSIS SOUND LIKE? place. I saw four pink-faced men seated in a row, and four redjacketed brown-faced men stooped over cleaning the shoes on their feet. Then came the plaza itself, brilliantly lit, full of tourists and hawkers, and in one section, television broadcasters and the bristling phalanx of assistants that were preparing them to go on air. The ice-rink was being polished and painted into a giant map of the country and around its rectangular perimeter was an unbroken rank of American flags. Red and blue lights played over the flags, and onto the skyscrapers around, and the cumulative effect was like the toothache one gets from chewing ice. Mascots in donkey or elephant costume mugged for photos, and workers on scaffolds put the names of the presidential candidates into place. What was it that was so damaged in my brain that reading a Caribbean poet on a grim journey made me feel more American but experiencing a flagfilled funhouse of a city block provoked me to anger? I walked away from 47th, onto the Avenue of the Americas, northwards, alongside the solid unblinking bank buildings, until I came to Central Park South and 59th street. Then I went west towards Columbus Circle, which was desolate and rather beautiful. I put Nayyara Noor’s Aaj bazaar mein, a ghazal written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, into my ipod, as I went down into the subway and took the A-

disappointment deepened, not on the bus across from St Nicholas to Lenox, which was all black, but at the Lenox Lounge which, for the evening, seemed to have been taken over by white people with expensive-looking Canons and Nikons. A man with a large video camera marked with a Reuters sticker wandered around, getting footage of the few locals in attendance. My mood soon improved, with the arrival of a Sugar Hill lager, and my dinner: catfish stuffed with shrimp, and a side of collard greens and yams, done to perfection and as tasty as anything I had eaten in Georgia or Alabama. Some friends I had arranged to meet soon arrived, as did more local colour. These latter I searched for signs of “laughter and bitterness and scorn”, but things had perhaps changed since Baldwin’s prediction. The dominant registers were deep seriousness and muted festivity. Before long, more than half of the people in the bar were African-American, some dressed for the occasion in Afrocentric clothes. The man from Reuters had by then wandered off in search of blacker pasture. The television was set to CNN. Cheers soon began to ring out, intermittently, in the Lounge. Polls closed and Wolf Blitzer on CNN began calling states. Throaty boos greeted McCain’s predictable victories in Southern states.


The evening began to feel long, like a cup final that lacked the fire and character of qualifying rounds. For the first few hours, there were no surprises. Blue stayed blue, and red remained red. Then, in the kind of flurry that seems disorienting at the time, and even more out of focus later on, Ohio and Pennsylvania were called, to big cheers. A gambler, by then, could have put everything on an Obama win. Still, it wasn’t sinking in. Everyone was expecting dirty tricks, something untoward and unexpected, a Bradley-effect for the ages. No one relaxed, all were braced for negative shock. At ten minutes to 11, Virginia was called. That was the biggest cheer of

Screams tore through the air. What does catharsis sound like? The shouts rose like a wave from us, and slammed down back on us, rose again, slammed down again. Instantly, in this weird vortex of ecstatic shouts, several people began to weep. A middle-aged woman grabbed me in a tight embrace and cried, “Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus.” I forced my way outside. A pair of young women held each others’ hands and jumped up and down. Shouts, as though they were signals thrown across a valley, bounced from one end of the night air to another. I began to run across Lenox Avenue, towards Adam Clayton Powell. I was almost hit by a speeding cab

the evening, and inkling came in that the deal was sealed. I immediately thought of my friend Peter, who had put in long hours canvassing for Obama in that state. The minutes that followed found me trying and failing to both stay focused on the numbers on the screen, as well as on the mental calculations of where the math now stood. Just as I was reaching the conclusion that, with sure-fire blue California added to the present tally, assuming the present tally was reliable, Obama would have certainly gotten five votes over the necessary 270, I saw CNN flash the graphic announcing, “Barack Obama, Projected Winner, President.” And that was it. It was all over.

and the driver screeched to a halt, and rolled down his window. He grinned, and extended his hand. “We did it!” he said, “I don’t know how, but we did it!” What was not known a few hours before was now irrevocably known: time had shown its winning cards, no bluffing. Those ten minutes, between 11 and 11:10 were of a surreal intensity I will never forget as long as I live. Thousands of people, as though out of thin air, suddenly converged at 125th street and Adam Clayton Powell. The TV screen that had been set up there earlier had been viewed by a sparse crowd. Now, the throng was tar-thick, and there was as exuberant and unscripted an outpouring of joy as I ever

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POLITICS expect to see anywhere again. Some people had brought out drums and were playing, and the crowd danced, and laughed, and jumped over and over. Over a PA, we heard “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” And then a brass band came through the densest part of the crowd, where there was hardly room to move, let alone dance, a tuba, a trumpet, a trombone, and snare drums, playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” “The purification of the emotions by vicarious experience” is how the OED defines catharsis. The word has a strong purgative association. The need for this cleansing is unquestionable, given the sheer quantity of impacted bullshit in politics. But, in that congested street corner, amid the music and happiness, my mind was already beginning to roam. I was experiencing catharsis, and at the same time running a sceptical mental commentary on it. To my own disgust, I thought of the Nuremberg rallies: a thought too far. A makeshift stage had gone up below the giant screen, obscured from my view by the heroic statue of Adam Clayton Powell, brass coat flapping in the non-existent wind. Congressman Rangel was in attendance, as was Governor Paterson. While they spoke, laying claim in politicians’ words to the moment—not entirely unfairly, since it was indeed a political moment—other claims were laid in segments of the crowd. Some people near me began to sing, “We Shall Overcome,” and it was taken up briefly by a larger group, but then abandoned. I had a sense that people were trying to find the right purchase on what was happening. Was it a civil rights moment? Was it a victory for partisan politics? Was it a racial affair? Race loomed large. People took the stage and references were made to four hundred years of slavery and lynchings and Jim Crow, and to the marches of the 1960s. This, the arguments said, was just like those. Someone next to me called out, “Free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.” For some, the moment was experienced with pure extroversion. For others, there was a kind of sweet wonderment and solitude inside the pressing crowd. There were faces that seemed to possess a quietness that seemed all the more stark in comparison to the emotionalism around them. I saw the beatific face of my friend, the great documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles, and went to greet him, and promised to come visit him soon at his studio. Maysles had followed John F. Kennedy around with a video camera during the 1960 primaries. How wondrous that here he now was, in 2008, on his own two feet, watching the success of another callow genius. I watched him for a while, and he seemed to radiate light. At length, the president-elect, the black president to be, came on the screen. Everyone screamed. He gave a workmanlike inspirational speech, full of the expected notes of unity, promises and nationalistic nonsense. Black presidents were no novelty for me: about half my life, the half I lived in Nigeria, had been spent under their rule, and in my mind, the colour of the president was neither here nor there. But this was America. Race mattered. Not the facts: that Obama was not actually descended from slaves; that


he was raised in a white household. The facts could be elided easily enough. Race was what mattered, race and the uses for which it was available; societal convention had given priority to his black roots over his white ones. This, I thought, was what was being misunderstood about the prospect of an Obama presidency. He wasn’t really “the first African-American” to be voted into the office, because he was African-American only in a special, and technical, sense, the same way I was African-American: a black person who held American citizenship. Obama and I were AfricanAmerican enough, for most purposes, but the history of most blacks in this country—the history of slavery, reconstruction, systematic disenfranchisement and the civil rights movement—was not our history. Ours was a history of emigration, adaptation, and a different flavour of exile. We were only latter-day sharers in the sorrow and the glory of the African-American experience. The eagerness with which, minutes after he was declared winner of the elections, Obama was being narrated into the conventional African-American story betrayed, I thought, a longing for simplicity. The American psyche loved clear narratives and optimistic story arcs, hence, “We Shall Overcome” on the heels of a massively well-funded and astute display of machine politics, as though campaign strategy were the equivalent of being set on by dogs and lashed with water cannon. For me, the significant achievement is not that, as a black man, he became president. It is that, as a certain kind of outsider American—of which the Kenyan father, Indonesian school, and biracial origin, not to mention the three non-Anglo names, are markers—he was able to work his way into the very centre of American life. In other words, Obama, hybrid to his core, is an avatar of a new American story, not one having to do with slave ships, nor one relying on the Mayflower, nor even the wave of poor Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants that the country welcomed in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Obama story is the story of immigration in the age of air travel, the kind of Americanism that issues from exchange students and H1B visas and lapsed work permits. This is a form of being American that has been invisible in plain sight. His victory, I would think, should resonate even more strongly with these out-of-place characters who have been toiling in the shadows of the American story: the graduate students with funny accents, the pizza-delivery guys with no papers, Americans, regardless of colour, who remember a time when they were not Americans. This was why my American friends who had Indian parents, or Nigerian parents, or who spoke foreign languages, or identified strongly, for whatever reasons, with more than one country, would feel this win on such an essential level. This was really their victory, that to be this new kind of American was no less valuable than to be one of the old canonized varieties. An inkling, on the part of the Republicans, about this argument about hybridity, is what led to the kinds of attacks made during the campaign, all the nonsense

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about “pro-American” parts of the country, the talk about elitism, the insistence on mispronouncing the names of foreign countries, the pride in never having travelled. They knew, on a gut level, that it wasn’t the white and black dichotomy that was being challenged, but the idea that to be American is to be white or black. Who knew what could follow on from this murky Kenyan-IndonesianHawaiian-Kansan melange? They were right to be frantic. Obama had thrown open the question about whether a person had to be from somewhere, and successfully smuggled that question into the centre of American life. The hidden code in McCain and Palin’s “Country First” was really “No hybrids please, we’re American”. It hadn’t worked. The message in the stunning electoral victory, then, was not that anyone could grow up to be president. It was that any hardworking, devilishly handsome and absurdly-gifted child of recent immigrants, regardless of colour, might more easily negotiate the minefield of American racial politics than might perhaps an African-American of longer standing. This was what the pundits’ oft-repeated “he’s not an angry black man” was all about. He did not come from slaves, and did not therefore carry the threatening rage of those who had been maimed by slavery. It was no coincidence that Barack Obama and Colin Powell, the two most popular black men in American political life, were both children of people who were not born American. Classifying them as “AfricanAmerican” gave whites an opportunity for self-congratulation, and no real risk of racial backlash.

Change!” cried out Crazy Kev, still on the street corner on which I first saw him eight years ago. I had no change, so I gave him $5. The ruminations racing around my head did not trouble my joy unduly, even if the joy itself was a simple one: the joy of being with joyful humans. Walking down 125th to Amsterdam at around 12.30 am, as the crowd loosened, I saw white

college students from Columbia University immersing themselves in the moment as well. They trooped en masse towards Harlem, a short walk away, but an area of town most of them had, until this night, avoided. One group passing me was singing the “StarSpangled Banner.” A few blocks up, another, smaller, group sang “America the Beautiful.” Already on the first day in the life of the new thing, the narrative was bifurcating. The crowd had cheered with a single voice, but interpretations varied. For some whites, it was all about America and America’s greatness. For many blacks, it was a different story: a story about a racial triumph, one specifically tied to the enduring hurt of the slave trade. Yet, for all the assertion of a milestone reached, no one seemed worried that Obama’s accession to the White House left the U.S. Senate without a single black senator among its hundred members: one signal among many of how dire the racial divide remains in the country. But I reminded myself that pragmatism had entered my life. I would duly jump into the swarm of excited emails and phone-calls and text messages. I understood the shaking, the weeping, the trembling; I had a share in it. I remembered Faiz’s words: “Let us go to the bazaar today in chains/ let’s go with hands waving/ intoxicated and dancing/ let’s go with dust on our heads and blood on our sleeves” and felt an immense gratitude that in some small symbolic way, I had participated in releasing the country from the rule of Bush and Cheney. These men had polluted the world, the mere sight of their faces filled us all with violent distaste, and Obama’s victory was a rebuke to them. It was a rebuke heard around the world, even if Obama’s own political ethos still remained beholden to aggressive consumerism and militarism. Things would begin to get better a little bit at a time. The healing of “the stripes and scars” could commence, the tarnished bars would get a reprint, the world would surely change—the sweet bells were already ringing. No, no, the world would do no such thing. Power eternally perpetuates itself. Greed would still ride roughshod over everything, as it had always done, and money and ego would still poison brother against brother. That was what reality looked like. The world would not revise itself: I would. I had. Reading Walcott against the basic sense of his poem, I told myself that November 4th 2008 had rewritten some part of me, and that was what mattered. What is written over is less pure, less pristine. And what a wonderful sight, that the self as palimpsest, the unclear narrative, the man from nowhere (or everywhere, the point is the same), were now at the centre of this lineage-crazed nation. When I got on the train from 116th street for the long journey back to Brooklyn, I was surrounded by curiously sedate passengers, as though for them the celebrations above ground were taking place on another planet. My wife—who I’d last seen before I knew what I now knew—was sleeping when I got home.. She was somehow able to murmur, when I slipped into bed, “Welcome home, Mr President.” And that was true, too.


TRADERS AND TRIALS (Slave descendants observe Obama) By Lindsay Barrett I

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The world in a single hour Fell from the sky Caught in a mystery Engaged in a lie. The dream fulfilled The scheme unravels As the beginning Approaches the end. This triumphant moment, A pause in the trek, Opens the gate To truth in the West.

He crosses oceans Deserts and plains, Sand and water And muddy drains. Channels darken As daylight fades On a presidential convoy In a crowded street. Guessing the future Has become the game On the edge of the world Where giants stand.

Easy words claim victory For a ceremonial game As chapters of history Capture the name. Stone and glass cathedrals At the road’s ending Await the coronation Of strength and hope. The endless hymns Of new believers Are universal anthems For dead heroes.

Charcoal and milk Blend in the cry Of children dancing On the floor of the sky. Rain and blood mingle In a flood of laughter And joy wrings tears Of meaning from the air. We hear monumental voices Breaking chains And burning shadows In empty rooms.

As the world speaks The challenge stands Upon a promise To supplicant hands. The last uprising Of the spirit Is a prime symbol Of the time. Touch and feel Cannot end misrule Unless the heart Heeds the head.

Now as we watch The challenge shatters Images of slavery And memory scatters. We created the breach That captured the castle Either as advance party, Or triumphant army. We the beneficiaries Of an impossible dream Stand and watch While others join the feast.


SKETCHES

Gado


ARTS colonialism which used racism as its principle of ideological domination. Garvey, who was severely constricted by the British from activities even in his native country, could not gain access to African audiences in Nigeria, South Africa or Angola. It was Africans such as Nkrumah, Azikiwe, Aminu Kano and Nyerere—who gained their knowledge of Garvey while studying in the USA or the UK—that would develop his ideas when they returned to the continent. Although he gave shelter to WEB Dubois, Garvey’s ideological enemy, Nkrumah acknowledged that the Jamaican was his major source of inspiration for his PanAfrican ideas. Grant is not, however, a praise singer or cheerleader. He details Garvey’s faults: his flamboyant speech and dress (despite his By Patrick Wilmot asceticism), his disorganisation, carelessness with money, and misguided negotiations with the Ku Klux Klan. In a world or an island of 2.8 million people, Jamaica has had an dominated by powerful enemies such as Winston Churchill and J. impact of continental scale. At the Beijing Olympics it Edgar Hoover, Garvey could not afford such faults. won more medals than India and its men and women His fall was not due just to the power of these adversaries but dominated the most prestigious sprint contests, outshining Africa, also to their ability to exploit his weaknesses. Garvey was not a Australia, America, Europe and Asia. dishonest man but his handling of funds in his The music of Bob Marley and other timevarious business ventures left him open to honoured Jamaican performers dominate the charges of crime. His inability to supervise international scene, and the island’s current dishonest associates, due to naive trust, also musicians would continue at the same level if they doomed many of these ventures, especially the could eschew their homophobic obsessions. But it Black Star Line. His highhanded manner also is Marcus Garvey, the philosopher of African drove many friends into the hands of opponents. identity and Pan-Africanism, who established the And the struggles between his two wives, both island as a centre of modern politics. named Amy, weakened his movement. His Many of the lyrics of Marley and other negotiations with the KKK were based on the Negro with a Hat: The Rise and musicians are dominated by the words of Marcus Fall of Marcus Garvey and his same logic which led some Zionists to discuss the of Mother Africa Garvey: the Jamaican people owe him their Dream by Colin Grant repatriation of Jews from Europe with the Nazis; consciousness of African identity; both local Oxford University Press, 544pp, 2008 since the Klan denied the humanity of Africans political parties try to claim him. But Garvey is a however, there was no basis on which a legend, on the same level as Bob and Haile Selassie for many. movement dedicated to African upliftment could bargain with it. Colin Grant’s Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Luckily this association was short-lived and damage was limited to Garvey and his Dream of Mother Africa tries to ground the legend by a stain on Garvey’s image. Such errors, as well as Garvey’s move to putting together a biography which presents Marcus Garvey as a the right, led to differences with George Padmore and CLR James, colossus who mobilized the black world in a time when being both of who failed to appreciate Garvey’s genius. ‘Negro’ was worse than being Jew, Slav or Gypsy under Hitler’s Africans have a saying that no matter how meagre an elephant, Nazis. He presents Garvey as a man born in poverty who through it will always be bigger than a rat. In political terms, Garvey was an intelligence, hard work, dedication and oratory became the elephant whose influence is still felt all over the world, from paramount leader of the black world. In a world and century where Nelson Mandela to Usain Bolt. Nkrumah resurrected his own Africans at home and in the Diaspora were considered subhuman, Black Star Line, based on Garvey’s idea that Africans needed to Garvey created what was arguably the most powerful organisation control their economic destiny. Bob Marley’s power and ideals, of any race by making the black man stand up and take stock of which push Jamaica beyond its geographic, economic and political himself. This resurrection of African glories, suppressed by slavery limits, are based on Garvey’s revolutionary ideas. Although Grant’s and colonialism, still dominates the consciousness of Africans book has little that is new, it is a useful compilation of these ideas. today. Ironically, Garvey’s work had less impact on the African Patrick Wilmot writes out of London and is a visiting professor at two continent than in the Diaspora. Africa was then under the yoke of a Nigerian universities.

THE RISE AND FALL OF

MARCUS GARVEY

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©COMFORT UKPONG

set in six countries—Kenya, Benin, Gabon, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Rwanda—and cover issues as dark and diverse as child trafficking, religious violence and genocide.

UWEM AKPAN’S

SAY YOU’RE ONE OF THEM By Felicity Thompson

Luxurious Hearses In the tightly strung novella, “Luxurious Hearses,” a Nigerian teenager tries to hide his mixed Christian/Muslim identity as he waits to travel south with a busload of Christians fleeing religious persecution in the North. Before reading this story I, like many outside of Nigeria, had a fairly fuzzy notion about the conflict between Northern and Southern Nigeria. I knew it had to do with religion. I’d heard the news reports about Sharia law and the woman who was sentenced to be stoned to death. I suppose I cared in the way that you feel you should care about other people’s suffering. But all the same, I was only distantly aware, theoretically sympathetic. It was not difficult to shrug off, like flicking a fly off my forearm. And then I met Jubril. Or Gabriel, depending on whether you are a Muslim extremist or a fanatical Christian. A young protagonist caught in the inter-religious conflict of the early Nigerian democracy, baptised a Christian by his father in the south but brought up as a Muslim in the northern town of Khamfi, he is a complex and flawed character. And now that I’ve sat with Jubril for a few hours (I read slowly), I have a far greater understanding of the many-layered potent mix of history, religion, poverty, corruption, greed, fear and power, that can boil up into violence. I don’t feel like I’ve learnt such a thing from reading a book in a long time. This is the power of Akpan’s writing—to slide you so snugly into someone’s shoes that you can

SAY YOU’RE ONE OF THEM Small Beginnings When his mother asked her young son, Uwem Akpan, to write a play for her to be performed at the Parish Mothers’ Day event, he wrote a script and got a cast together. But after practising for a week, he got cold feet. “I lost my liver, as they say, and disappeared. The play didn’t happen.” Since then, the 37-year-old Nigerian writer and Jesuit priest has come a long way. In the summer of 2005, the prestigious American magazine, the New Yorker, published his short story, “An Ex-mas Feast”, in its debut fiction issue. This was the first story he had ever submitted for publication in the United States. A year later, a second story, “My Parent’s Bedroom”, appeared in the New Yorker and was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing. Realist, tense, without apology, Uwem Akpan’s fiction is alarming. In his new book, Say You’re One of Them, he looks through children’s eyes at a modern Africa in crisis on many levels. The three short stories and two novellas that make up the collection are

By Uwem Akpan Little Brown, 368 pp, 2008

I first heard of Uwem Akpan when his story ‘An ExMas Feast’ appeared in the June 13, 2005 issue of the New Yorker magazine. The story was a triumph: one of the most honest and moving I had read in a long time. How, I marveled, had Akpan managed to write with such astonishing frankness, yet with no sentimentality or hand-wringing, about a family in a shack in Nairobi, Kenya who survive on begging, theft, glue sniffing and child prostitution? At no point did Akpan ask the reader to feel sorry for his characters. Nor did he excuse their behaviour or moralise about their predicament or suggest resolution. Without flinching and in extraordinarily restrained and evocative language, he recorded the details of the most important day in the life of eight-year-old Jigana. What the family wants is simple—to send Jigana to school—but the grim struggle involved in achieving this goal creates a


get as close to sharing their experience as possible. You may just recognise the human side of such inhuman circumstances. Humanity It was well after I’d read through the collection that I realised these are stories about child prostitutes, glue sniffing babies, religious zealots, abusive mothers, murderer husbands, child-trafficking uncles, prejudiced parents and child soldiers. Akpan’s characters are some of the least socially acceptable people in the world. But the stories are not only about these things. They are about people, and particularly children, trying to survive horrific situations with dignity. They are about survival and hope in seemingly hopeless parts of the world. This is something new. There is no judgement in Akpan’s voice. He may be a priest but you will find no preaching here. Before they are drug addicts, prostitutes and criminals, people are people. He writes about his characters with such humanity and understanding that the reader is compelled to learn something from people that in other circumstances they might pity or condemn. Akpan’s voice says, stay a while and try to understand the messy complexity of human beings. Priestly Influences Uwem Akpan was ordained a Jesuit priest in 2005 and has taught at seminaries in various African countries. Does being a man of the cloth influence his writing, I wondered? “Absolutely,” he told me. “Faith is not something that you can put aside when you write or run or sleep. I think, too, it has influenced my worldview, the interplay of sin and grace. When we shocking drama.

say God is everywhere, it means no situation is beyond redemption because grace is there.” Certainly, questions of God, faith and religion permeate his stories as they permeate everyday African life. In the story, What Language is That?, two best friends are separated by inter-religious violence and prejudice in Ethiopia. The young, zealous Jubril asks himself whether what his mother told him is true—that once you are baptised a Catholic, you will forever have the stamp on your soul, no matter how much you renounce it. And Monique, a Rwandan girl, carrying her baby brother away from her mother’s body, “walks forward” with a broken, glowing crucifix in the darkness. Faith is not put aside. But the stories don’t wax evangelical. What does this interplay between sin and grace mean for his Faith is not something characters, and ultimately then, that you can put aside for each of us? Akpan seems to say when you write or run human beings are flawed but they or sleep. I think, too, also have the potential for good. it has influenced my He shows us the darkest side of worldview, the the human soul and then tells us interplay of sin and that nothing is too awful or too dark. There is redemption in the grace. When we say God is everywhere, it smallest things, a hopeful message means no situation is in even the most difficult times. beyond redemption. . . In interviews Akpan has said that the Bible is his favourite book. “The Bible is just amazing,” he

godparents. They give the children new names and feed them rich,

Now that short story appears, along with two others and two novellas,

delicious food and tell them they will soon be going with ‘Mama’ and

in Akpan’s collection Say You’re One of Them, in which each tale takes place

‘Papa’ to Gabon to live a better life. Tension builds as the reader catches on

in a different country: Kenya, Benin, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Rwanda.

from Kotchikpa’s language to the likely grimmer reality of the situation.

Taken together, they establish Akpan as an enormously talented and

(We know at least that Kotchikpa survives to tell the tale—in several of

exciting writer. The first thing he does in all these stories is break an

these pieces, this fact of retrospection is one of the few sources of hope and

unwritten rule, which is: avoid child narrators because of their limited

optimism.)

emotional range. But Akpan performs the neat jujitsu trick of using

The other novella, ‘Luxurious Hearses,’ relates the story of Jubril, a

childish misunderstanding of the complex adult world to make his stories

boy with a complicated Muslim/Christian background, as he flees violent

stronger, not weaker, and the results are powerful and compelling. ‘An Ex-Mas Feast’ opens the collection, but the book’s heart lies in the

Muslim extremism in northern Nigeria. He boards a bus to the South in hope of reconnecting with his father’s Christian family. Akpan’s skill in

two novellas, each spanning more than 100 pages. ‘Fattening for Gabon’ is

getting deep inside the heads of his characters is on full display. Jubril

told by little Kotchikpa, who lives with his little sister Yewa and their uncle,

must overcome not only his ingrained distaste for the free Christian

Fofo Kpee, in a coastal house in Benin since their parents contracted HIV

Nigerian women, who wear no headscarves and are allowed to ride buses,

/AIDS in a far-off village. At first, they enjoy their lives with Fofo Kpee, a

but he must survive an even more frightening and evil influence: the

part-time smuggler who brings home a Nanfang motorcycle as the story

televisions on the bus. A lively, vivid drama erupts among the wide variety

begins. However, as the story unfolds Kotchikpa and Yewa become aware,

of characters Jubril encounters: policemen, a soldier, a nursing mother, a

slowly and with the frustrating confusion of children trying to discern adult

tribal chief, and several quarreling proponents and opponents of Nigeria’s

intentions, that things may not be what they seem. An attractive couple

new democracy. The climax—tragic and horrific, as it is in most of these

from an NGO come to the house and are announced as the children’s

stories—is made unforgettable by its chilling realism. Running nine

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says. “So many crazy stories in there dramatising the grace of God.” And I can hear the wonder and respect in his voice for the authors of those stories, as much perhaps for their powers of suspense and drama as for God’s grace. “It’s the one book I keep going back to,” he says. Writing Roots Akpan grew up in the village of Ikot Akpan Eda in southeast Nigeria. “I was born under a palm tree,” says Akpan, whose inspiration to write comes from the tales told outside his church as the palm wine is passed around and also from the “humour and endurance” of the poor. Born in 1971, he was just eleven years old as Nigeria won its independence from Great Britain. His parents, both teachers, were keen that he speak both English and his native tongue, Annang. It was his mother, he says, who encouraged him and his brothers to read. At nineteen, Akpan decided to join the Jesuits, a Catholic order known for its intellectual pursuits and service to the poor. A few years later, he found himself in the United States, first studying the humanities in the prairie lands of Nebraska and then philosophy at Gonzaga University in Washington State. It was on his return from the US, with a BA in Philosophy and English in his pocket, that he decided he was going to be a columnist in a Nigerian newspaper. “So I thought, how do you get a column? I decided that I would write four articles every month and send them to the paper. I imagined they would turn around and hire me as a columnist. I was very ambitious. I sent the four articles to the Guardian and I was pages, the middle story ‘What Language Is That?’ is slight by comparison to the others, and is the only weak spot in the book. It’s in the final short story, ‘My Parents’ Bedroom,’ where the horror faced by Akpan’s youthful characters finds its fullest expression. Here, a personal story of the Rwandan genocide is told by Monique, a nine-yearold girl.

The product of a mixed Hutu/Tutsi marriage, she, like

Kotchikpa, struggles to decipher the mysterious and deceptive intentions of the adults around her. Caught in a terrible situation she doesn’t understand, her innocent observations of her relatives’ shocking behaviour begin taking on deeper meaning when the adult deceptions are at last, horrifically, disclosed The tragic nature of all these stories is made more poignant in being voiced by children. As the terrible problems in Africa are under addressed or ignored by the rest of the world, so it seems the continent’s children are doubly neglected. It’s one thing to say that in the abstract. It’s quite another to dramatize those problems with urgency and beauty, which is what Uwem Akpan has done. His work only highlights the trivial, frivolous nature of most modern fiction. I hope the stories of Uwem Akpan inspire not only readers, but writers as well. Corbin Collins

writing the next batch when I realised they were not even publishing the first batch!” Then he noticed that on Saturdays the paper published fiction. “So I said, I should try this. Three days later they were serialising my story!” Akpan says the quality of his work was not great at this point. “But that experience showed me I knew how to create suspense. That is what you need in fiction. So I started writing seriously.” In 2002, Akpan went to Kenya to study to be a priest at a Nairobi Seminary. Despite the demands of studying for the priesthood, he continued to write, transforming the issues that troubled and perplexed him about Africa into stories. It was a few years later, with enough material for a portfolio, that he won a place at the highly respected creative writing programme at the University of Michigan. Writing for Africa Since hitting the American writing scene, Akpan has been reviewed and interviewed in numerous journals and magazines, from the New York Times to the Christian Science Monitor to a spot on Public Radio International. Angelique Kidjo, the world-famous Beninese singer and songwriter, has written a song inspired by one of his stories. In it, she sings in her native Yoruba: “Children are the guardians of the future, I beg them not to forget their roots.” Earlier this year, Say You’re One of Them was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award in the UK. Akpan is excited about the widespread coverage and positive reviews. For American audiences, his stories challenge classic Western perceptions of Africa, so often measured by the media in unfathomable numbers: three million refugees cross a border; six thousand children trafficked for labour. For me, certainly the book has brought me closer to the human reality of situations previously incomprehensible. But what about for Africans? I thought. Do they too have something to learn from these stories? Are these stories also for them? Akpan thinks so. “Africans would want to read about these things,” he tells me. “The issues that I write about are familiar to Africans. But it is an eye-opener for Africans too. People in Senegal may not know about what is going on in Rwanda for example.” “When I’m travelling around the continent, place to place, I see that people don’t really know what’s going on in other countries. You know, in America everyone is reading the paper and watching the news on TV and they still don’t realise what is happening in Africa. So imagine Africans, many who don’t have access to news or education or TV. They do not have access to this information. They are limited to their country, or even to their own village.” Say You’re One of Them has been published in the United States (by Little Brown) and Great Britain (by Abacus). According to Akpan, the book is available in certain African countries, but it is not yet published in Africa.


“There were some Africans who had read my book and came to readings in America. They were very excited. The book is also available in certain shops in Nairobi and I’ve been told that two book clubs in Kenya are currently using the book.” Akpan has been pushing to get the book into Africa, but it is a complicated task. He has enjoyed his US book tour and is excited about the overwhelmingly positive response to his work. But for him, the real prize is seeing his book in African bookshops. “I can’t even talk about success in publishing until the book has landed in Africa and the people in the book can see themselves and read about themselves.” Darkness and Light In all five stories, there are moments of incredible darkness. These are not stories with fairytale endings. They are disturbing stories, though that is not to say they are without hope and, sometimes, humour.

When I asked Akpan how his readers responded to the darker side, he told me, “When you look at ancient Greece—take Agamemnon for example—you will find a lot of darkness there.” “Yes, parts of this book are very dark and might seem hopeless. People always want to hear from me what I think about that. But my characters are very hopeful and resilient people. They try to work out their situation, to survive.” I think of Monique and Jigana, Kotchikpa and Jubril. I think of the nameless Ethiopian girl who loses her friend but learns a new language. I think of all Akpan’s characters and hope that they survive—they are people to me now. “Part of life is dark,” Akpan says. “I want you to see that character and put yourself in his or her shoes, follow him or her around for a day. Then maybe you will come home and look at your own children and you will be so grateful for what you have.” Felicity Thompson is a writer and journalist living in Dakar, Senegal

AFRICA RISING: HOW 900 MILLION AFRICAN CONSUMERS OFFER MORE THAN YOU THINK Wharton School of Business Publishing, 2008, 288 pages

BY VIJAY MAHAJAN

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ow does one describe Africa to the West? A continent recognised primarily for its civil wars, diseases and excruciating poverty: a charity case to be pitied? This image, which an executive featured in the book refers to as ‘CNN Africa’, is misleading. Professor Mahajan puts forward the argument that the perception is different from the reality. As he points out, twelve countries on the continent are richer than China, while twenty are richer than India. He disproves the North Africa–South Africa argument, a position that states that the only material economic activity is between these two extreme points, with nothing happening in between. Despite the author’s best efforts, one cannot however deny that most of the substantive evidence used in the book comes from South Africa and Egypt. It is worrisome that most statistics and quotes are taken from articles written in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Economist and other

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western journals. There seems to be hardly any concrete evidence from African sources to support Professor Mahajan’s claims. Also worrisome is the assertion by Professor Mahajan that Nigeria’s much hyped and reported about home movie industry (called Nollywood) is the third largest film industry in the world, this claim based on a revenue stream of $200 million–$300 million, ranking it behind only Hollywood and India’s Bollywood. While the above numbers are not verifiable, my concern that this is a typical Nigerian statement without any legs to stand upon led me to carry out my own, admittedly limited, research. A search on the website of the international trade magazine Variety revealed at least five film industries with larger revenues than these figures. These include Japan at $3 billion, South Korea at over a $1 billion, France with at least $600 million, and Germany and China. It makes one wonder what other mistakes in the author’s analysis prevail in the book and how rosy the prospects on the continent really are. Lest Africa Rising come across as a litany of statistics, it does offer its form of levity, as the

author describes an incident in Lagos, Nigeria, where his driver kept getting lost in the maze of unnumbered and spiralling streets, causing the author to miss a number of meetings. Despite the miscalculations, the driver remained confident about his route to the next location even though it was obvious he was more lost than his passengers. When pressed, the driver replied with the phrase “This is Nigeria.” While it may be argued that the idea of comparing the African continent to countries is a financial reality, it ultimately proves unworkable. Statistics compare Africa to China, or India, or Singapore, which are all countries: but Africa is a continent with 53 countries, all with different agendas. Does the author imply that the only investment worth making is one that involves marketing to all the countries or the majority of them? If this is the only viable economic way to view the continent, is it practical? Being a marketing maverick, Professor Mahajan largely glosses over the extreme issues of differences within cultures and xenophobia that are paramount on the continent. These differences are why most Pan-African ideas and projects never materialise. Despite these hindrances and the few gaffes that appear, the book is a bold attempt to present Africa in a positive light, and to tackle the perception of Africa as a charity case. As the author notes, “where one sees charity another sees the world’s greatest potential market”. Charles Mayaki

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©FARAFINA MAGAZINE

A LAZARUS TALE OF COURAGE AND HOPE

Grief and unhappiness had different effects on the siblings. While Jeanie failed her exams in the wake of her sister’s death, Edwin internalised the pain, using it as a catalyst for success. He would rise to the pinnacle of his professional career: a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, an accomplished human rights lawyer, and a High Court judge under a newly free South Africa. But the more Cameron struggled to succeed, the more failure and despair stalked him—he was only 33 when he was diagnosed with HIV. It took another six years for full-blown AIDS to manifest; the fact of his imminent death was conveyed to him one day during a routine walk up the stairs leading to his office. “I knew I had AIDS when I could no longer climb the stairs from the judges’ common room in the high court to my chambers two floors above. For nearly three years . . . I made it a point of walking. Two flights, four landings, forty stairs. But on that day in late October 1997 I couldn’t. Each step seemed an insuperable effort. My energy seemed to have drained from my legs. I was perspiring grey exhaustion. My lungs felt waterlogged. My mouth was rough and dry. No pain, just overwhelming weariness. And fear.” That moment marked the beginning of the end for Judge Edwin Cameron, activist, advocate of gay rights and openly gay man.

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ince the first case of AIDS was diagnosed in 1981 over 25 million people have died from the disease, which for over a decade did not seem to have a cure. Often likened to the bubonic plague—which claimed 25 million lives over the course of five Hope is the thing with feathers years in the 1330s—the AIDS pandemic was like nothing before. That perches in the soul Attacking the body by breaking down the immune system and —Emily Dickinson making it vulnerable to opportunistic infections, AIDS (which was once described by the pop star Prince as “the big disease with the hough courage takes many forms, there are two distinct small name”) would have been just another disease were it not for types. There is the hot-headed kind, full of braggadocio the stigma and the shame associated with it like a repugnant odour. and exulting in its own strength and presumed Because of the stereotyping that typifies incidences of the disease it invincibility. Then, there is the other face of courage—quiet, has become the Scarlet Letter of our time, branding its contemplative, firm in its own convictions, and primed sufferers with a tar of shame. for action whenever it may be required. Cameron puts it succinctly when he writes that This difference lies at the core of what defines “stigma—a social brand that marks disgrace, moral courage. Edwin Cameron’s Witness to AIDS is a humiliation and rejection—remains the most portrait of a man of courage who fits squarely into the ineluctable, indefinable, intractable problem in the latter category, a man who stood up for what he epidemic. Stigma is perhaps the greatest dread of believed, disdained the odium of stigma, held on to those who live with AIDS and HIV—greater to many hope when despair threatened to overwhelm him, and than the fear of a disfiguring, agonising and protracted rose triumphant, like Lazarus, snatching victory out of death.” To underline the insidious nature of the the jaws of defeat. Witness to AIDS stigma and shame that accompanies AIDS and haunts Born into a poor family—with a father who by Edwin Cameron Palgrave, 240 pp, 2005 its victims, Cameron recounts the painful story of returned from war and sought comfort in the Gugu Dlamini, who is killed by members of her bottle—Cameron grew up in a home where his father community for ‘shaming’ them by admitting she is HIV positive was always drunk and his mother too tired to bear it. After his father on radio. was convicted for theft the young Edwin and his sister Jeanie were Penned as a memoir, his book assumes the toga of a public thrown into grief, and then despair when their older sister, Laura, statement by chronicling not just his own life but also the times in was tragically killed in a freak bicycle accident.

By Toni Kan

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which he lives. As we read his story we are also reading the story of South Africa and getting an invaluable history lesson; not from a bystander but from a key participant in the struggle for the eradication of apartheid. Cameron’s fight for justice and his AIDS activism are juxtaposed in order to show that his battle for improved conditions and better access to drugs for AIDS sufferers is not borne out of selfish considerations on account of his altered circumstances, but from a lifelong dedication to righting the wrongs of society. How did Cameron overcome his dread of stigma to become the first public official of high rank in Africa to declare his HIV status? It was neither an easy journey nor decision to make, and his indecision, the fact that it took six years and imminent death to make him step into the light, helps us appreciate the fact that most great acts of courage are preceded by cowardly quibbling. In an effort to confront not only his fears but also his assumptions, Cameron raises some questions in the book: is AIDS a scourge sent by God to punish homosexuals and intravenous drug users, the two most at risk groups in the West? If it is, then why is the rate of infection so much higher amongst women in Africa than women in the West? And talking about Africa, why is the prevalence rate higher in West and Central Africa as compared to North Africa? Why has the rate of infection and prevalence of the disease become a pandemic in Africa while stabilizing in the West and parts of Asia? And is there really an epidemic, a true and present danger of a worldwide pandemic, or are these dire prognostications a figment of the imagination of a group of AIDS profiteers? Cameron does not provide all the answers, but he marshals out compelling arguments—backed up by statistics—that help elucidate the issues raised. And it is to his credit that he is still able to retain the reader’s interest as he writes about prevalence rates, sexual habits, and the origin of patents. In Witness to AIDS Cameron achieves a high measure of readability by adopting a style that mixes the ‘academic’ with the ordinary. Side by side with analytical dissertations on the epidemiology of AIDS, he narrates interesting human angle stories of people dying from AIDS while pharmaceutical companies and governments equivocate over patents and prices. He considers the pros and cons of his friend Zackie Achmat’s impulsive importation of cheap HIV drugs in defiance of patent rights issues, and describes the plight of the colourful people he meets in the course of his daily activities as a judge and AIDS activist. His description of AIDS and the stories he weaves around it helps us come to a better understanding of the disease, while also helping us overcome the judgments we often make concerning the disease. Cameron’s Witness to AIDS is a book about morality and mortality; a book that explores the nexus between big business, profits and death. It is also, above all, a testimonial of hope and courage, of one man’s decision to speak the truth, to stand up to shame and stigma and the positive consequences of that decision.

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LOVE AND COURAGE: A STORY OF INSUBORDINATION By Pregs Govender Jacana Media, 261 pp, 2008

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ove and Courage: A Story of Insubordination is the autobiography of an extraordinary woman, Pregs Govender. Govender is a former anti-apartheid activist, trade unionist and parliamentarian in South Africa—positions to which she brought an unflinching commitment to social justice. Elected to parliament in 1994 with the ruling African National Congress (ANC), Govender famously resigned in 2002 in protest against the government’s profligate arms spending and tragically inadequate response to the HIV/AIDS and rape crises. She attributes this decision, “insubordination” in the eyes of some old comrades, to a loss of faith in the direction of the new ANC government. Govender was born to an Indian family in Durban, South Africa. Her political education began early: first under the tutelage of her ‘troublemaker’ father, and later, as she experienced for herself the discriminations of apartheid and patriarchy. She became “a rebellious teenager in apartheid South Africa”, which meant writing impassioned essays against the system and organising her schoolmates to illegally raise money for political prisoners. Govender later worked as a teacher, but was repeatedly frustrated and transferred by school authorities for politicising her students. Meanwhile, having become increasingly interested in women’s issues and feminist politics at university, she joined the Natal Organisation of Women (NOW) and other similar groups. As she discovered then, and in her later work with women in the garment workers’ unions and the ANC too, most male comrades in the struggle were blind, if not entirely opposed, to women’s rights.

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Few “recognised patriarchy as an enemy within our own ranks,” Govender writes. A few were also threatened by her forthrightness, and one even proposed that she be “eliminated”, a sinister possibility during the violent dying days of apartheid. The struggle continued in parliament: nominated chair of the committee on the status of women, Govender had to fight to integrate women’s issues into the national agenda and to have them taken seriously. She was able to do so with some success. For instance, she was initially ridiculed in a parliamentary session for proposing that the 1994 budget be scrutinised in terms of its impact on women and the poor. Yet, this soon became standard practice. When she later argued that the poorest South Africans, mostly women, had been further impoverished by the state’s neo-liberal policies, she was rudely put down by the minister in charge of the status of women. Govender however continued to speak the truth to those in power. When she wanted to address parliament about HIV/AIDS, of which women and girls bear the greatest burden in South Africa and worldwide, she was sent a direct order of silence from the highest echelons of the ANC. She defied the order. Her courage and humanity motivated colleagues to stop her in the corridors of parliament; whispering as they confessed how HIV was ravaging their families and their own lives. In such ways, Govender’s story offers vivid insights into the meanings of power. Her experiences during the anti-apartheid struggle illustrate how the commitment to end one injustice such as racism may ignore, perpetuate or even rely upon another, like sexism. Her book testifies also to the ways in which revolutionary principles may be blunted, or corrupted by accession to institutionalised power. Love and Courage reminds us, then, that a true vision of social justice cannot be exclusionary and cannot have an expiry date; it must challenge all discriminations and oppressions always. Written in a simple and honest style, Love and Courage also bears out the feminist insight that the personal is inseparable from the political. Govender blends the narrative of her private and public lives, showing how the former directly shapes the latter. For instance, she tells us that it is often through her early morning yoga, conversations with her children and recollections of her parents’ and grandparents’ wisdom that she finds the strength in the public sphere to do that which she believes is right. “Parenting,” Govender writes, “is an area in which I learnt a lot about power,” meaning the responsibility to use power not to bend others to one’s will, but to affirm them according to “their unique sense of self and purpose”. Love and Courage is, in all, a generous, inspiring book by a woman of quiet faith and steadfast principle. If read in the context of noisy religiosity yet often shallow principle that typifies Africa’s failed political and moral leadership, it offers an optimistic vision of what we could all be and do with the power we inherently possess. Simidele Dosekun

D’’BANJ

The Entertainer It seems it was just yesterday that a sunglasswearing young man stole the airwaves and announced he had the answer to the riddle, “What is the koko?” Three years later and D’banj is still stealing hearts. Nigerian Artist D’banj—real name Dapo Daniel Oyebanjo—has been often criticised for his music. He’s been accused of lacking vocal talent and any sense of lyrical worth. D’banj, a lot of people have said, is not really a musician. Well, D’banj seems to agree. His new album The Entertainer does not seek to charm your senses. It seeks instead to do what the title says—and it accomplishes this successfully. With ten tracks, the album is a delightful blend of fun, outrageous lyrics and, of course, sexual innuendo. D’banj is an entertainer. When onstage, he possesses the enviable ability to control the crowd like a roguish puppet master—he turns his audience into a sea of marionettes, screaming at, and for, his every move. D’banj has made no secret of the fact that he wants to be the biggest star in Africa: he is well aware that to achieve this pop god status he must not only tug at your heartstrings but also at your inner ‘freak’. With its catchy tunes, delightful beats and tongue-in-cheek lyrics, his new album goes some way to achieving this. D’banj grew up on Fela’s oeuvre. And a large part of Abami Eda can be found in the Koko Master’s music. With the frenetic beats of his songs, his inventive use of pidgin and the occasional melodic dash of his harmonica, he brings to mind images of a young Fela. And like the great Fela, he also jokes about the situation of the country—Nigeria— in his songs, and then goes on to taunt his critics. He argues his unconcern in the eponymous song, “The Entertainer”. “Are you not entertained?” he asks as the beat fades out, and then closes the song with the hilarious line, “Pay me my money!” D’banj seems to have unlocked the secret behind thrilling an audience. Who cares if he ‘has no talent for singing’? Certainly not him. Neither do most of us. For when the music plays we all sing along, lending our unknown voices to his popular one. In the end, D’banj is an entertainer who massively entertains. And there, perhaps, lies the koko. Carlang Mbofung

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THOUGHT

EXPERIMENTS

To Saint Patrick

By Eghosa Imasuen

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’ve tried many times to put on paper my reasons for writing To Saint Patrick. What could I explain in 2000 words—the energy expended in writing the book itself? Kai! So what did I write? I wrote a genre novel. Something even I thought odd: an alternate history of Nigeria. Alternate history is a subgenre of the science fiction and fantasy genre. When I first pitched the idea to publishers in Nigeria, I wasn’t laughed at. No. What I got were those looks of, “Eiyah, this one don crase o. Naija no dey carry last!” And then they would ask me what my ‘alternate history’ would be about? I usually replied this ‘polite’ inquiry with questions of my own: “What if Murtala didn’t die in ‘76? What if Dimka missed?” Because that is what alternate history does, it asks questions. It creates an opening for those half-chances and what-might-have-beens of history to be put forward. I have always been a ‘fan’ of alternate history. From Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle to Harry Turtledove’s Great War series, and then the greatest of them all, Richard Harris’ Fatherland. But while I enjoyed all these books and the questions they asked— What if Alexander the Great had turned back from India an afternoon earlier? Would the mosquito that bit him have taken his life? Would a tribe of farmers from the Italian Peninsula have been given a chance to rise to world-conquering status? What if Leif Ericsson’s colony in Newfoundland had survived? What would be Cristoforo Colombo’s claim to fame? What language would be spoken in North America? What if the Nazis had won World War II? —there was something I always wondered about. And that was about my people—Negroes, Africans, Nigerians—and their place in this universe of the imagination. The logical conclusion was that I would start asking my questions: What if Queen Victoria had changed her foreign minister before invading Benin and Opobo? What if, ‘kpa-kpa’, she had died of childhood measles before she even heard the words Slave Coast or Gold Coast?

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What if Awo had called the Sardauna’s bluff about the North not being ready for independence? Or, to go back a few decades, what if Lugard had broken up with Miss Shaw before she came up with the idea for that name, or the anthem, or the amalgamation even sef? What if Anthony Enahoro had gotten a toothache—or worse, a sore throat—in ‘56 just before he was due to move that famous motion? There were so many more questions that boiled in my mind. But what is noteworthy about these thought experiments—as I like to call them—is that I have had them all my life. As far back as I can remember, I have been intrigued by how easily history could have been turned by the proverbial missing horseshoe nail. How something as simple as Major Nzeogwu coming down with a bout of acute diarrhoea on the evening of the 14th might have forever changed this country’s history. Would the Nigerian Civil War have been fought over the seceding Ibos? There probably would have still been a civil war, I think; maybe it would have been caused by the Tiv crisis of late ‘64, which could have escalated into a full-blown war had its main protagonists been encouraged by the distraction caused by the Western Region House of Assembly . . . Thought experiments.

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ut wetin concern agbero with overload? I am a medical doctor. Up till early 2005 all I had written, apart from a few laughable attempts at comics and a three-page outer space/time machine story in primary school, were essays describing the inner workings of the human body and, after getting my degree in ‘99, case notes detailing in excruciating detail the humdrum lives of patients. I had tried travelling overseas, to the US and the UK, and had been bounced twice. I was waiting for my primaries—nasty exams that decide which doctor gets to become a specialist and which one ends up prescribing anti-malarials for the rest of his

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life—when one day I got into a heated argument with my mother over stagnated potential and God-given gifts. She waved a magazine page in my face. It featured this attractive Ibo chick who had just written a novel about royalty-coloured horticulture, or so I thought at the time. My mother said, “See this. Is she not your mate? Did she not study medicine too? Why can’t you do something like this? You’re always so quiet. Do you want to be dividing chloroquine and chloramphenicol for the rest of your life?” This is the way my mom argues: twenty questions punctuated by a statement or two. Still, her questions got me thinking. So I travelled to Lagos and bought the book. I was pleasantly shocked. It was not about hibiscuses at all. It was a breath of fresh air. It seemed that the writer spoke with my voice, with my pain, with my joy. And it didn’t apologise for any of this. It removed the apprehension with which I read most of my country’s fiction. I had studied Literature in secondary school and had always gotten depressed over how most Nigerian novels post-Things Fall Apart read like clones of their far superior forebear. Inspired, I said to myself, I can do this. How hard can it be? I sabi write na (I now regret that initial optimism—writing is hell, lonely hell). I already had an idea for my first novel: for many months it had lain fallow, bubbling beneath my consciousness, lifted from deep down during those hypnagogic moments before deep sleep, but forgotten during my waking hours. And it was simply this: What if Murtala Mohammed didn’t die? My mom was in her fifth month of confinement—I was the chap in her womb—when General Murtala Mohammed was shot dead at Onikan on his way to work. Two of my earliest memories are of my mother changing the calendar from 1978 to 1979 and my father explaining to me who the guy on the pink twenty naira note was—this was before the Buhari–Idiagbon regime changed the colour to green. There was always this thing. Everybody felt it. What if the guy had gotten more than six months? What great things would have happened to this entity called Nigeria—the voices asserted—if only he had more time? But as I got older, I began to hear other sides to the story. This ‘saviour’ was a more complex character; there was nothing black and white about him. Some people thought him a bloodthirsty villain. My own grandfather, an Itsekiri police officer who had been accused of being a Biafra collaborator during the invasion of the Midwest, spoke of how he had barely escaped the clutches of Murtala’s murderous 2nd Division. Then I began to hear whispers of what he, Murtala, did during the ‘66 counter-coup. I heard about the Lagos and Kano airport incidents. I heard about the temper. Yet even granddad, who couldn’t stand the man, would grudgingly admit that he had done some good during those final six months. So if I was going to pick a ‘point of divergence’ for my great alternate history novel, a point in history where a simple change could have had a good—or probably just an interesting—effect, what about this?

If Murtala had been head of state, would the infamous ‘twothirds of nineteen’—Nigeria’s arithmetic gymnastics that settled the ‘79 elections—have stood a chance? Or would a run off between Awolowo and Shagari have necessitated a re-aligning of allegiances and promises? Imagine if Zik’s NPP, Waziri’s GNPP and Amino Kano’s PRP had formed a coalition? Shagari would probably have lost the run off. The country might have had a great chance to teach its people that presidential elections in which more than three parties contested are scarcely won on the first ballot. Nigerians would have learned to be more discerning when reading magical winner-take-all election results. But Murtala died. What about the anti-corruption war? If Murtala had handed the reins over to Awolowo in October 1979, how do you think this fight would have gone? Would we have heard of Dikko and Co.? Probably. They might have become a vibrant opposition bloc instead of the brazen kleptocrats that history has condemned them to continually deny that they are. But he died. Then imagine the thirty-six states of the Nigerian federation. Would we have had as many? Would Enahoro’s dream of a regional structure composed of no more than six elements have come into being? Six regions, forty-one provinces—the cost of government would have been dramatically reduced. No salaries for thirty-six governors; no allowances for thirty-six times x first ladies (no blame me o, some of them are polygamous!); no salaries of thirty-six times twenty Then imagine the commissioners; for thirty-six times thirty-six states of the twenty-six House of Assembly Nigerian federation. members; for thirty-six times three Would we have had senators; for thirty-six times six as many? Would representatives. Imagine. Enahoro’s dream of a And most important of all: regional structure would he have had a chance to composed of no more apologise to Nigerians for the than six elements have excesses of the sixties, for the tears, come into being? Six the massacres in Asaba? Would he regions, forty-one have wanted to? provinces—the cost But he died. of government would To Saint Patrick is my attempt to have been dramatically construct a Nigeria of our dreams reduced. No salaries from the ‘what-ifs’ and ‘whatfor thirty-six might-have-beens’ of this country’s governors . . . recent history. It is fiction, it is alternate history; but beyond that, I hope I have succeeded in writing a lovely, readable story that touches anyone who reads it. That is my definition of what a writer must set out to do. And it is also my emphatic answer to the accusation of stagnated potential.


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CHRIS ABANI

Chris Abani is the author of the novels The Virgin of Flames and Graceland, the novellas Becoming Abigail and Song for Night and the poetry collection Hands Washing Water. His awards include the PEN/Hemingway Book Prize and a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. He lives and teaches in California.

Who is your perfect reader? Anyone who loves books (more books, less war, I say.) What book changed your life? Another Country by James Baldwin. What is the strangest research you’ve done? Trying to get into the head of a transsexual for my novel, The Virgin of Flames. Have you ever imitated another writer’s style? Only every other week. Yes, of course. This is how we learn. What inspires your writing? Hard work. Inspiration is for the lucky. Most of us find it by slogging through page after page, sentence after sentence. But hot and spicy akara on a harmattan morning comes close. How do you choose your characters? I would say they choose me. It seems that the books I write insist on themselves, as do my characters. What is the worth of a book? It’s like the MasterCard ad, priceless! Books can, and do, change the world, everyday. Which of your works was the most challenging for you to write? The Virgin of Flames, largely because it was the furthest from my daily experience. It also required me to confront my own

MY HEROES ARE MANY —AND IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER: THE GUYS WHO PRODUCED THE OLD NIGERIAN POWER MAN COMICS... BALDWIN, MORRISON, MARQUEZ... FAULKNER, ACHEBE, SOYINKA, BESSIE HEAD, VERA, BEN JELLOUN, KOBO ABE, KAFKA, EKWENSI, TUTUOLA. limitations and prejudices as a person. Never a comfortable place, even if it is necessary. What book would you give to someone who had timetravelled from another era, to paint a picture of the 21st century? It’s still too early in the century for that. And even with the 20th, I don’t think any one book could do it. Literary movements can. For instance, noir was the most experimental and original form of the last century and took in crime fiction, literary fiction, film and even the idea of post-

modernism. Everyone did noir, from Goddard to García Márquez. What sort of books would be your guilty pleasure? With books there are no guilty pleasures. I tend to do that mostly with film and so I watch everything, but I would say sci-fi and crime are the ones I indulge in the most. Who are your literary heroes? My heroes are many—and in no particular order: the guys who produced the old Nigerian Power Man comics, Dostoyevsky, Baldwin, Morrison, Márquez, Armado, McCarthy, Orner, Diaz, Faulkner, Achebe, Soyinka, Bessie Head, Vera, Ben Jelloun, Kobo Abe, Kafka, Ekwensi, Tutuola. How much space do you have? What does it mean to be a writer? On the one level it means someone who makes things with words and in that sense of it, we are no different from carpenters. But on a deeper level, I don’t know. I am still trying to figure it out.

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By Charles Mayaki

Since oil has been discovered in the Niger Delta, people have had no peace,” states a character directly to the camera in Poison Fire, Lars Johansson’s documentary film on gas flaring in the Niger Delta communities of Nigeria. Oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1957. The same year, the first oil plant was set up by Shell. In the fifty years since, there have been over five thousand major oil spills in the region. The Niger Delta has been a hot news item for some time now: not on account of the gas flaring in the region that over the years has destroyed the land, animals and aquatic life, but for the militancy of the youths whose attacks on pipelines have cut down the oil production of Nigeria. The instability has often been cited as one of the major reasons for the spike in the price of crude oil in 2008. Moving the camera through the mangrove swamps that mark out the region, Lars Johansson lets the people who suffer the effects of the ‘poison fire’ (as Ifieniya Lott, an environmentalist and the major character guiding us through the film, refers to the gas flares) speak for themselves. You do not have to take their word that crops don’t grow, you see it for yourself; you see their suffering displayed in the sores on their feet, caused by wading through the oily waters and mush pits that the rivers have become. Following the

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numerous complaints of the indigenes, especially those concerned with the failed promises of the oil companies and the Nigerian government to clean up oil spills, one cannot help but feel the anger of the residents. It is a righteous anger. The difference between propaganda and non-propagandist information lies in the balance of viewpoint. Shell is rarely seen in the documentary. And when the executives that represent Shell’s interests in Nigeria do appear, at a corporate meeting in the Netherlands—which Ifie and Adaka, the Nigerian representatives of Environmental Rights Action, gatecrash—an attempt is made to shift the blame to the corruption and inefficiency of the Nigerian government. The Nigerian government is also missing from this opus: one is forced to conclude that too much blame is thrown at Shell and not enough at the Nigerian government, which provides the enabling environment for the disruptive activities of the multinationals. The issues of Poison Fire are pertinent and immediate. It explains the militancy that has taken over the Niger Delta by following the peaceniks, those who will not fight but rather deal with the issues in the courts—a court that has ruled gas flaring unconstitutional. There is an explanation for the militancy of the

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region by a character who suggests that the boys have been possessed by the gods. The water and land are sacred, and since the oil has degraded the environment, the gods are angry. Even if this seems an unreasonable, somewhat simple-minded excuse, it is a minor nitpick in a documentary that brims with honesty and resounds with no calculated motive on the part of the filmmaker. Poison Fire is not an attack on the oil industry because other oil companies operating in the region are not targeted. It is only Shell that stands accused of refusing to end the illegal and unethical practice of gas flaring in their spheres of operation. That this short film was able to connect with the stakeholders in the Niger Delta, both sufferer and antagonist, and give them voices, even faces, is in the end its supreme achievement. Lars Johansson’s film is also important because it is probably the first of many documentaries that deal with the neglect of the people and environs of the Niger Delta communities, for the region has now become a hotbed of curiosity for foreign political activists and the world community of filmmakers. Filmed largely in 2006, Poison Fire deals with a problem that other Nigerian rural communities will face in the near future, as state governments expedite the drive to exploit the moribund mining industry in Nigeria. Today, it is oil in the Niger Delta. Tomorrow, it could be limestone in the East, coal in the Middle Belt, or gold in the North. Afterword In August 2008, the American documentary filmmaker Andrew Berends and his Nigerian translator Samuel George were arrested and detained by the Nigerian authorities. Andrew Berends was later released and put on a plane out of Nigeria. I contacted Lars Johansson to get his perspective on the above scenario and details of any problems he faced while filming in Nigeria. Below are excerpts from his response. Dear Charles: I wonder myself why we could work so relatively undisturbed. It’s not just Andrew Berends; at least one German crew and I think four American filmmakers/journalists have been detained since I started visiting the delta in late 2005. Just last week a Nigerian TV crew from a federal governmentowned channel was detained together with 25 activists and village elders in Iwherekan, including some of the key characters in ‘Poison Fire’.

Maybe it helped that we were always working in the open with local teams and that we were training local volunteers in video production as we went along. Even those who are suspicious of foreign journalists’ agendas can’t easily justify that local citizens should be prohibited from shooting video and interviewing each other in their own community. Also, we helped to set up a media centre at the UNITAR office hosted by the Bayelsa Government. There we came to know state government officials and found that once they trusted us and knew what we were doing many of them were in fact supportive of freedom-of-speech initiatives such as ours. Even some military officers encouraged us. It was only Shell who refused to talk to us and to give us permission to work at their facilities. I think many people in government and probably in the police, army and SSS as well, are not happy with the simplified way Western news media has described the conflicts in the delta. They don’t all want to suppress free reporting from the delta, but they think the militants get too much airtime and attention and that their importance and popularity is exaggerated by foreign journalists. I can understand that concern, in a way. We made an interview with Alhaji Dokubo just a few days before he was arrested for treason, but we decided not to include it in the film. We felt that the militants were not representative of public opinion and aspirations. They are media savvy and get all the attention they want without our help. I did not get the impression that their struggle has massive support among grassroots people, and I don’t think that the Niger Delta is at the brink of civil war. People in the Niger Delta, like everywhere, want peace above all and non-violent struggle remains the way forward. This is not meant as a critique of courageous people who make documentaries about the militants. This is an important and interesting topic, and I am looking forward to seeing the documentaries. It’s just that our film was not about the militants, and so nobody could accuse us of spreading their propaganda or instigating violence. As soon as you raise the Niger Delta problems abroad the discussion immediately slips into arguing over whether one should blame the federal government, the state governments, the militants or the oil companies for the mess. I don't have an opinion on who is most to blame. This mess is too complicated. I just wanted to show how local people think about the oil industry and how it affects them. Wherever I went I found that they wanted to talk about the oil companies, and how Shell behaves as if it is above the law. So I made a film about that and perhaps this is less controversial in the eyes of the federal government and the security service.

SITANDA (2006) Directed by Izu Ojukwu The movie starts off pleasantly enough, with the skilled performances of veteran actors Stephanie Okereke and Bimbo Manuel lighting up the screen. But the next thing I know, I am watching a bunch of half-naked individuals gallivanting about under the pretext of slave labour—even though it seems that all they do is lift twigs and dead trees from one place to another. By the time I got to the dance sequence (to music made with instruments not visible in the scene and vocalists not present) at the night-time festival, I had gotten up twice to find something to munch. The storyline development was poor. The resolution was rushed and fairytale-like, with loose ends left untied. The fight scenes—and rain scenes—were poorly executed and the camera angles were amateurish. AMBO prize-winner Azizat Sadiq’s performance was muted, even uninspired. For a movie that had such a talented and seasoned cast and so much money behind it—and won so many awards—I have to say that I was thoroughly disappointed. Catwalq Bani-Baraje

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FROM SPOONFUL AND TOAD TO YEYE DEY SMELL: THE GINGER BAKER STORY By Edward Emeka Keazor

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eter Edward Baker is probably best known to Nigerians as Fela’s white-skinned sidekick and musical twin brother of the period 1970 to1975. Baker however occupies a much broader stage as a historically significant rock drummer who played in a number of important bands—including Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated (apparently on the recommendation of Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones)—and eventually found fame as a member of the enigmatic super-group, Cream. Cream consisted of Baker on drums, Jack Bruce on bass and Eric Clapton on guitar. Massive egos and rock and roll lifestyles spelt an early death for this band, but as members of the sold-out audience at the Royal Albert Hall in May of 2005 will testify, this was one of the most important bands in rock history. To recount a few of their hits for the uninitiated:

once recalled a performance in which he stopped playing for a couple of minutes with Baker and Bruce failing to notice. Ginger Baker, quite simply, was the best rock drummer of that time. His style was characterized by energetic improvisational solos and off-beat patterns. Unlike a lot of other rock drummers, he had grounding in jazz: he played in a number of British jazz bands in the late 50s and early 60s and counted the legendary jazz drummer, Art Blakey, as a musical influence. On his beginnings as a drummer Baker had this to say: “I had been into drums from a listening point of view for quite a time. I used to bang on the table with knives and forks and drive everybody mad. I used to get the kids at school dancing by banging rhythms on the school desk! They kept on at me to sit in with this band. The band wasn’t very keen, but in the end I sat in and played the bollocks off their drummer. And that was the first time I’d sat on a kit. I heard one of the band

“Wrapping Paper”, “Cats Squirrel” (from the Fresh Cream album), “Tales of Great Ulysses”, “Strange Brew” (from the Disraeli Gears album) and “Spoonful and Toad”, the groundbreaking drum solo track by Baker—the first in rock history. The band’s split was no surprise, being preceded by a tumultuous relationship—Clapton

turn round and say: ‘Christ, we’ve got a drummer,’ and I thought, ‘Hello, this is something I can do.’” His jazz band days were not without incident, as he got kicked off several bands for his wild technique and his legendary temper. He however appeared to settle in with Alexis Korner’s Blues

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Incorporated, attracting the attention of Phil Seamen, the great modern jazz drummer, who rushed over to watch Ginger perform at the All Niter club in Soho, on the recommendation of Tubby Hayes, his Sax player. Phil Seamen happened to be one of Ginger’s heroes. Cream lasted for three years—from 1966 to1969—subsequent to which Ginger Baker had several collaborations with the following groups: Blind Faith (with Eric Clapton and others), Hawkwind, Atomic Rooster, Public Image Ltd., Bill Laswell and Masters of Reality. During this period he also worked on several of his own projects, which included forming the bands Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Baker Gurvitz Army and Ginger Baker’s Energy. Since their breakup, Cream has performed as a band only twice—once at their rock and roll Hall of Fame induction in 1993 and the second time at the reunion concert held at the Royal Albert Hall in 2005, where they gave the first time live performances of the songs “Pressed Rat & Warthog” and “Badge”. A restless man, Baker battled heroin addiction for twenty years before eventually beating the habit in the 1980s. He was impulsive, physically commanding, hugely talented and adventurous. Baker famously kitted up a van with a portable studio and drove to Nigeria to live and play with Fela, who he adored and with whom he recorded a number of albums and toured with. He remained in Nigeria for five and half years. inger Baker met Fela in London in the early 60s when Fela was a student at the Trinity College of Music and they maintained a strong friendship and musical partnership, with Ginger standing in for Tony Allen, Fela’s drummer, when he was ill (Tony Allen by the way is still touring actively at the age of 71, with a number of collaborations with Damon Albarn—one of the UK’s most important musical

genre and it is marked out by the presence on stage of two of the best drummers in world (at the time), Ginger Baker and Tony Allen. In spite of their explosive, Art Blakey-influenced styles, the harmony in the performances of these two drummers was remarkable and a rarity in such an ego-driven profession. Aside from his work with Fela, Ginger Baker also collaborated with a number of local musicians, namely Laolu Akins, Joni Haastrup, Tunde Kuboye, Berkeley Jones and the Lijadu sisters, who he promoted as part of his band SALT. In addition, he famously recruited Joni Haastrup to replace the great Steve Winwood, who moved on to collaborate with Eric Clapton at the time, huge shoes which he filled with Baker’s encouragement. Baker was never really an interview-friendly prospect, but he did speak fondly of his Nigerian sojourn in an interview with Jay Babcock, an American music journalist. Excerpts of the interview are shown below. Babcock: How long had you known Fela? Baker: I knew Fela since the very early 60s, when he was at the World College of Music. He used to play trumpet, and [would] come and sit in the all-night jams which I played in . . . 1960–61 . . . I went to Nigeria in 1970, that’s when I saw Fela again. I [inaudible] there from 1970 to 1976 . . . Babcock: What can you tell me about making the record with Fela? Baker: Absolutely nothing. [Pause] That was a combination of a lot of things before it, that we made the record, and a lot of things after it. It wasn’t just a one-off thing, I mean I did a five-week tour with Fela’s band when Tony Allen was ill. Babcock: When did you do that? Baker: During the period I was in Nigeria! Do you think I keep a diary and write things down? Babcock: Okay . . . um . . . some people say . . . How much of Fela’s sound, do you think, came from James Brown, and how much of it was his own thing?

minds—having been released, notably as part of Albarn’s project, The Good the Bad and The Queen). Of note during this period are the seminal live recordings of Fela featuring Baker, in particular the track “Yeye Dey Smell”. This recording is often listed as one of Ginger Baker’s most powerful performances in the afro-funk

Baker: 100 percent of it was his own thing. Completely his own thing. Absolutely nothing to do with James Brown. Babcock: Really? Baker: Fela blew James Brown off the stage when he came to Nigeria. Babcock: So you were there in Nigeria when Fela had an incredible band.

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Directed by Muyideen Sasili

Baker: That was the best band he ever had. The very first band had a tenor player called Igo Chiko . . . before Fela played tenor, Igo Chiko was the tenor player, who was pretty cool. He had a row with Fela and left the band and that’s when Fela took up tenor saxophone. [Pause] The band with Igo Chiko was THE happening band. Babcock: Bill [Laswell] told me Nigeria was one of the most corrupt, evil places on the face of the earth . . . Baker: Absolute rubbish. Absolute rubbish. When I mentioned this, when I was in Ghana, about the corruption, the reply I received was, ‘Where do you think we learnt it?’ The British government is the most corrupt government in the world. Or it used to be. I think the American government is now the most corrupt government in the world. And if you don’t think that, if you can’t see that, then there’s something wrong with you. [Pause] Corruption in Africa is on a finer scale compared to the corruption in the United States or the United Kingdom. They cover it up pretty well, they’re not quite so open about it. That is the fact.

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inger Baker spent a considerable amount of time in South Africa from the early 80s onwards with his family. Even though the Cream reunion concert in 2005 showed that his age—66 years—had begun to tell on him, he is still quite sharp and active today, especially after all the years of exertion and abuse. A real survivor and musical hero, his contribution to rock music and Nigerian contemporary musical history cannot be emphasised enough.

The last we saw of the three ‘heroines’ in the movie Jenifa, they were trying to escape from cultists who, for some mysterious reason, were bent on killing every girl who had attended their party. Jenifa II opens with the three girls managing to escape the clutches of these murderous men. After their experience, Tracy (the aristo with a conscience) decides to go on the straight and narrow, while Jenifa (the crude but loveable aristo) and Becky (the wicked aristo) stick with their ‘aristocratizing’ ways. [A point to note: the Oxford Advanced Dictionary defines an ‘aristocrat’ as a member of the nobility. In Nigeria the word—or more generally its shortened form, aristo—is used to refer to the superrich who keep their mistresses in luxury. More recently the term has broadened its scope to include female undergraduates in Nigeria’s institutions of higher learning, who sell their favours to men who can afford their fees.] In keeping with the puritan sensibilities of many Nollywood screenwriters, there is no redemption for the girls. By the end of the movie Jenifa is HIV positive, Becky dies from a mysterious ailment (which has no name but really stinks) and Tracy discovers that she can never have children (Nollywood can be unforgiving when it’s on a moral campaign). One of the major things the first movie had going for it was the originality of the humor. Unfortunately, the humor begins to wear thin by the middle of this movie, especially as the tale takes on an increasingly moral tone. Jenifa II, like many other sequels, is but a shadow of the idea that birthed it. Olubunmi Olofintuade

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M.K. ASANTE

M.K. Asante was born in Zimbabwe in 1982 and raised in Philadelphia. He is many things: writer, filmmaker, activist, and lecturer. His works include It’s Bigger than Hip Hop and The Black Candle.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Achieving inner and outer peace with oneself, one’s community and the earth. Which talent would you most like to have? Literally being able to fly would be great. I’d love to just outstretch my arms and take off. I think I’d fly to Ghana first. What inspires your work? I believe that if you make an observation, you have an obligation. The work I have produced is the result of my observations. Instead of asking why something hasn’t been made, I’d rather make it. I aim to fill voids; in artistic and intellectual spaces, in our minds, in our realities.

Clipped-Wing

BIRDS By M.K. Asante

Clipped-wing birds don’t fly. They dance to keep from falling; laugh to keep from crying; pray to keep from calling; work to keep from trying. They injure themselves by not flying.

ÌRÁNSÉ AJÉ (2007) Directed by Muyiwa Ademola

I THINK THE LOWEST DEPTH OF MISERY IS LACKING THE DESIRE TO GROW, LEARN OR IMPROVE. IT’S A CERTAIN CONTENTMENT WITH THE WAY THINGS ARE—AN INABILITY TO ENVISION A BETTER FUTURE. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? I think the lowest depth of misery is lacking the desire to grow, learn or improve. It’s a certain contentment with the way things are—an inability to envision a better future. How does your being black influence your writing? It influences my entire being. It gives me a tremendous foundation as far as culture and history that I can draw from. What is the last thing you read that made you cry? I’m a creative writing professor at Morgan State University.

Recently, a student wrote a story about the adventures of being at a historically Black college. It was full of vivid images and ironies that we could all relate to. The whole class was in tears. What is the worth of a book? Every book, in my eyes, is worth something. There are many books that I don’t love, but I feel always that I can take something—even if it’s just one new word—from it. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I wouldn’t change anything. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? I’d love to come back as a Baobab tree. I would live long and my roots would be deep. Also, I’d be in the Motherland. What is your most treasured possession? My hat. I’m naked without it. What is ‘America’ to you? A land of contradictions, possibilities and illusions.

Ìránsé Ajé is a story woven around the Yoruba myth of women who possess the power to make wealth. Chief Olatubosun (Ayo Akinwale) is a business tycoon who is about to lose everything, so he consults an Ifa diviner who tells him an ìranse ajé is the answer to his problems. What follows is a convoluted plot to seduce, bribe and intimidate two lovebirds (Muyiwa Ademola and Laide Bakare) who work for him, all in a bid to stop by supernatural means what would have been better tackled with a good business plan. One of the more comical of the many inconsistencies in the movie is a scene in which we see Folarin, the chief ’s arch-rival for the heart of his ìranse ajé, being tortured: though he has blood all over his face and torso, the only ‘weapon’ that is used on him by the police is a belt, while the only part of his body that is tortured (very gently) is his buttocks. In the second part of the movie a subplot is introduced which ends up having no bearing on the main story—the only point it serves to enforce is that the director does hell scenes better than heaven scenes. This movie could have done with better acting and directing. And the moral of the story? If you’re rich enough you can get away with murder and, as long as you’re male, your wife will always forgive you. Olubunmi Olofintuade


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Farafina 16  

Featuring the work of Tolu Ogunlesi, uzodinma Iweala, Doreen Baingana, Jumoke Verissimo and Kachi A. Ozumba, Monica Arac de Nyeko, Zadie Smi...

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