Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Sunita on BBC Radio 3


A short story of mine, 'Sunita,' will be read on Radio 3 as part of the Young Artists Day on May 4 (next week Monday). The story will be broadcast at 22.45 UK time and you can live stream Radio 3 here.

For more details on the Young Artists Day, click here.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

My First Gig as a Historian!


Here's a summary of what my talk will be about:

The West African Student’s Union was a London based group, which existed from 1925 to 1966. The W.A.S.U was born out of a very prosaic need: the need for bed and breakfast. Landladies in the 1920s were not partial to black lodgers so the W.A.S.U’s hostel, founded in 1933, served as a shelter for African students seeking lodging in a hostile city.

Yet, the W.A.S.U’s founder, Chief Ladipọ Ṣolankẹ, also had a vision of the Union as a centre for debate and discussion, a place where student could eat good African home cooking as well as meet with the black icons like Paul Robeson, who was a W.A.S.U patron; a place where these students would begin to think of themselves as future leaders. It wasn’t long before Whitehall began to take note. For as independence movements developed on the African continent, the question arose: who would rule when the British had departed? Who else but these young, eloquent, well dressed, confident young men and women who peopled the rooms of the W.A.S.U hostel in Camden Square.

Catch em’ young, became Whitehall’s strategy. Keep them sweet. The W.A.S.U met with Lords, politicians, intellectuals. Union members dined with the great and good. The hostel’s running costs were subsidised by the Colonial Office and complaints about British policy in West Africa were carefully responded to; you didn’t want the Communists to get them.

And yet, little is known about the W.A.S.U today. The flame of many African independence movements, was kept burning in a now forgotten building in Camden Town. Kwame Nkrumah passed through the W.A.S.U. Jomo Kenyatta was affiliated with the W.A.S.U. They went to lectures. They took the tube. And all the while, a continent was waiting.

Full details below. 

TRANSATLANTIC HISTORICAL APPROACHES: A KCL-UNC GRADUATE WORKSHOP

Location: S8.08 Strand Campus
Category: Conference
When: 11 (10.00) – 12/05/2015 (20:00)

If you wish to attend a panel, the entire workshop, and/or the keynote, please email rebecca.simon@kcl.ac.uk.

Programme

Monday 11 May, King’s College London, Strand Building, S8.08

Panel 1: 10.00 – 11.30
Patrick Griffith (KCL) and Corey Ellithorpe (UNC-Chapel Hill)

Commentator: Peter Heather

‘The Orchestration of Propaganda and Ideology within the Roman and Post-Imperial Worlds.’

Patrick Griffith: ‘Barbarians and bishops as lawmakers: post-Roman political communities and their relationships with the legal ideology of Empire.’

Corey Ellithorpe: ‘Tokens of Subjugation: The Use of Numismatic Symbolism during the High Empire.’

Panel 2: 12.00 – 13.30
Laura Forster (KCL) and Lindsay Ayling (UNC-Chapel Hill)

Commentator: Richard Vinen

‘Contested Memory: English Positivists, Artistic Polemics, and the Paris Commune of 1871.’

Laura Forster: ‘Forgotten Friends: The English Positivists and the Paris Commune.’

Lindsay Ayling: ‘A People Massacred, A Civilization Destroyed: Artwork and Polemics in Dueling Narratives of the Fall of the Paris Commune.’

Panel 3: 14.30 – 16.00
Chibundu Onuzo (KCL) and Mark Reeves (UNC-Chapel Hill)

Commentator: Vincent Hiribarren

‘The West African Student Union and African Independence.’

Chibundu Onuzo: ‘The West African Students’ Union: An Introduction.’

Mark Reeves: ‘Nnamdi Azikiwe, the West African Students’ Union and the 1943 Press Delegation.’

It'd be lovely to see you there.

Monday, 12 January 2015

For Baga


There was a terrorist attack in France a few days ago and a lot has been said about how Nigerians and the Western media have focused on this incident and paid little attention to what is happening in Baga. But I think we need to be honest with ourselves: a terrorist attack in France is news. A terrorist attack in North Eastern Nigeria is no longer news. When a Boko Haram attack breaks on my twitter timeline, I hurry past, rushing to the next banal tweet: a Nigerian comedian's latest gaffe, or an APC/PDP devotee waxing on the virtues of their chosen candidate, or more often downplaying their short comings. A speech delivered at a Presidential rally gets more airtime than a bomb blast because convincing speeches from our leaders are so rare, and explosions are so common.

Sometimes you want to make sure that you're still normal and it is not because you think white lives matter more that you immediately knew what the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag meant but you had to google #bringbackourgirls when that campaign was born. So you try empathy. Empathy is the fruit of an imagination and imagination is something that writers usually have in excess. So you picture yourself in Baga. 2,000 dead they said, though they never agree. When the 'they' is government, 2000 becomes 100. When it's an NGO, add at least one '0' to the government figure. They all say they are lying.

Fact of the matter remains, whether 2,000 or 200, there are a lot of dead bodies around Baga. But then this is not empathy, to walk through Baga like a journalist, taking photos of nameless corpses, stunned by it all but still one step removed, still composed enough to remember that my editor will want both a gruesome shot and a milder image, that I must find survivors to interview, that perhaps a translator must be arranged.

 And so I enter Baga again, and try to become someone born there, someone raised there, who went to the local school, when girls still felt safe going to school. And then these dead bodies are no longer dead bodies, they are my friends and teachers and pastors and imams and brothers and sisters and parents. And then I think it is time for me to jump off this careening empathy wagon because the image of a row of people I know, corpses, bent at unnatural angles, faces destroyed with bullets, is one that I do not want to dwell on. Just from this small exercise in empathy, my face is twitching and my eyes are watering.

So I can still cry for Nigeria. Of what use is that to the people of Baga? None perhaps but it is of some use to our country. The fact is we have put up a wall between ourselves and what Boko Haram is doing. How do you function otherwise? How do you have a job, and go to school, and make your deadlines if every time an attack happens, you bring your life to a standstill? And yet we are lost as a nation if we cannot mark the passing of 2,000 Nigerians. If their dying makes no clamour in us. Tears fix nothing, build nothing, repair nothing but we must still shed them so they can water our resolve, which has withered in these arid conditions. We cannot let Nigeria disintegrate on our watch. We must not. We will not.          

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Coming to Johannesburg!




Date: Wednesday, 12 March

Time: 17:30 for 18:00

Address: Love Books, The Bamboo Centre, 53 Rustenburg Road, Mellville
GPS: 25⁰ 10’ 27,64” S - 28⁰ 0’ 49, 66” E

RSVP: kate@lovebooks.co.za or 011 726 7408


Please click here to let me know if you're coming. It would be lovely to see you. 

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Faith


I believe in heaven. I also believe that my belief in heaven has nothing to do with its existence and heaven would remain, whether I believed in it or not. There’s a scene in Peter Pan where Peter explains to the other children, that every time a child says they don’t believe in fairies, a fairy dies. Well my beliefs don’t sustain heaven and my beliefs certainly don’t sustain God.

 “God doesn’t exist,” a friend of mine said emphatically to me over lunch last November. A couple of years ago, this statement would have set my inner workings in turmoil. Then, I was questioning the very foundations and roots of my faith and every outer expression of atheism seemed to me confirmation of what I already knew inside: it was all a sham. I felt that if I stopped believing, then it wasn’t true. Whereas I now realise that the end of my belief would have had no wider ramifications than that. Just as a refusal to stop believing in gravity, does not stop me from living in a world when plates fall and smash on the ground, just so a refusal to acknowledge God does not stop me from living in the world He has created and enjoying His mercies everyday.

 I smiled at my friend, obviously setting out to rile me up and continued eating my lunch. “The existence of God is independent of both of us.”
“Don’t give me that. This table exists. This chair. God? No.”
“Pass me the salt.”
“It’s not that I have anything against people that are Christians or anything like that. I don’t think fire should burn you in hell or whatever."
He was deliberately using a phrase sometimes mockingly associated with Nigerian Pentecostalism, perhaps to annoy me even further. I laughed.
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“What?”
“If you don’t believe in God then you don’t believe in the devil and therefore you don’t believe in hell. So it’s a paradox to say you don’t want Christians burning there. You should have said something like you don’t want atomic bombs falling on our heads.”
“You win.”

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Short Story in the Stylist Magazine

I have a short story in last week's Stylist magazine titled 'Going Home.'

'He will take his children to Nigeria for Christmas this year. It will be their first time as a family. His wife, Agatha has been once before. Her memories are of insect bites and bucket baths, her skin braised from the sun, her stomach turned by a bout of food poisoning. She had not liked his relatives, felt them prying and tactless, bursting into tears once when his Aunt poked at her flat, childless stomach.
“We have children now.”
“It doesn’t matter. They wanted you to marry a good Nigerian girl. You know it.”
He wished she wouldn’t cry so much. His mother had only shed tears at funerals, wailing loudly when the coffin was lowered into the ground and then rushing back to the kitchen to dish out food. There was something unseemly in an adult breaking down over the memory of a 10-year-old slight.'
Read the rest here.  
PS it's my first ever published short story which is rather exciting. 


Sunday, 24 November 2013

London Lagos Chronicles Part 2


And all the while I am writing this, there are people trudging their way to Europe thousands of feet under me. I have a cousin who crossed the desert to get to Spain once. Not a first cousin. I distinguish not to distance our association but because I hope no first cousin of mine would ever be reduced to such straits. Even if they fell off the road to prosperity, the family net would catch them but the further you radiate from my father and his brothers to their cousins and cousin’s cousins, the net grows weaker till only a few strands remains, dangling weakly, straws for drowning men to clutch at. He crossed the Sahara, miles and miles of sand, only to be sent back after a few months in Spain.

I saw a patch of grey a few minutes ago and I wondered if it was an oasis. I met this desert crossing cousin of mine very briefly. He came to see my dad in the hospital. If England looks like a living organ still pumping sap, the Sahara looks like a dead organ, dried and exhibited for study in the lab, the cross section of dried tissues and vessels cut open for students and airplane passengers to look into. This is the desiccation of the world. Some of the patterns on the ground look like waves, waves petrified in motion, forever about to break free and continue their surge forward.

When my cousin who walked across these dried waves came to see my dad, we (Dinachi and I) dropped into the office briefly. We greeted him warmly, in the way you greet strangers who you have just been told are your relatives. He did not look like someone that had needed to cross the Sahara. He was lanky not thin and he was smartly dressed in dark colours, either brown or black. I remember what I was wearing. Flared blue jeans with zip pockets in front bough from America, a size 5 not 7 even though my first cousins in America thought I was more a 7. And a pink tank top with a cartoon monkey on it, whose provenance is unknown but which I am certain I did not buy. It was a gift but I cannot remember from whom. I had just been to the bank with my mother, the purpose of my trip I have forgotten but it was just before I moved to England. Anyway, I met my cousin, we shook hands with adequate smiles and then we left.

Later on, my mother told me his story. She said he looked at us like special children, like the children of a rich man who was enjoying life but we were his cousins. It wasn’t an acquisitive look but it was a look that said, ‘that could have been me.’ We come from the same stock. The context of my mother saying this was that my father had offered to sponsor his higher education. He had declined and asked for sponsorship to go to Europe instead, by air presumably this second time not by road. This was where he wanted to continue his life and possibly finished school. It seemed preposterous to my father but my mother sympathised with this cousin of mine. He saw his relatives sending their children to schools in Europe and America, he saw their children enjoying, epitomised by myself in my tight jeans and monkey shirt and why should he not want that? Entitlement is a funny thing. On some level we all have it. We feel entitled to the world. That’s why we wake up every morning and go out into it. I don’t know one singularity about his character, except what I can extrapolate from his willingness to cross the Sahara on foot. He might have been a great explorer in another life, Mungo Park, Livingstone, Stanley, the last especially with tenacity and demons driving them on. Instead, in the 21st Century, he ended up another immigrant deported back to his country, doing in six hours on a plane what is had taken over six weeks to do on foot.

I have been writing for almost an hour. We have 2:04 hours left of flight time. When I started I think it was 2:59.

16 minutes left. There is a harmattan haze over Lagos so even though we’re so close I can’t see a thing. I much prefer a morning flight actually. I only had brief nap but during the day time, that’s when you realise that 6 hours of travel is not that much. Just three BBC documentaries and a couple of hours of reading, journaling and playing games on my ipad. The ground below is still very scrubby and dusty but it can’t be Northern Nigeria. This plane is fast but it can’t cover that distance so fast. The plane is trembling a little bit. Not jolting up and down in turbulence but trembling. I wish I knew why. When you know the reason behind every strange noise and rumble, you grow less fearful. Maybe I should learn how to fly. Skip driving.

We just flew over some lakes with green land pushing into them, mysterious puzzle shapes of moss. Nigeria is very green, very dark green. I can see a red dusty line running through the verdure, unpaved earth leading perhaps to a village with no running water. The plane has stopped trembling. We are floating noiselessly. The land isn’t parcelled out in square strips like in Europe. No patchwork here. Just green and more green. Plenty of room for modern agriculture. Another red line running through the green. I wonder what state we’re flying over.

Now suddenly, the sprawl of houses begin. Welcome to Lagos. I’m right opposite the sun. Its cloaked in dust. Harmattan makes it almost possible to look the sun in the eye. We’re back to green again. Those houses weren’t in Lagos or at least not Lagos proper. The land makes its own pattern here. A clump of trees, some scrub, some open grass, once in a while intersected by dirt lines like scars. Ooh a tarmac road. The woman behind me said, ‘It looks like Scotland.’ Her boyfriend I think is Nigerian. He has no hair on the sides of his head, on purpose I think. In the middle is a long top knot of dreadlocks sitting in a prim bun. 4 minutes remaining according to my clock and still no sign of Lagos. Clock must be wrong. Lagos is drowning from the ocean and the North is drowning from the Sahara. Houses scattered in the green, haphazardly from this height is seems. What need for order in such space.

A little oasis of green grass in what has become a sprawl now.
‘Look at how densely….’
‘It’s just haphazard.’
My fellow passengers.

I have seen a church from the sky, pink roof and cream walls, and a rubbish heap and some tiny fires burning on a smaller dump. The roads are much nicer in Lagos. Actually I just saw one that looks like eczema. I can see into people’s compounds now. The man behind me is thanking God we arrived safely. Touchdown. It’s good to be home.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

London Lagos Chronicles Part 1


Instead of spending 6 hours watching movies on my last flight home, I decided to write and record the experience live and direct. Here's part one of my musings.

Separate the waters. I'm on the British Airways flight to Nigeria.  From the air on a clear sunny day with no clouds, the blue of the sky and of the sea merge into one on the horizon. All around is blue, no up and no down. Flying over England, the land below reminded me of sayings like the land is in the blood or the blood of England flows through your veins. It really did look like an organ with the thick lines of trees like arteries and veins and capillaries carrying thick green sap to England's people. And who are England's people?

The couple next to me are old. They sneeze and splutter and cough a lot. They cover their mouths when they do. Their hands seem ineffectual. Many germs escape I fear and mostly on to me but their politeness is appreciated. We are over France now. Just across the Channel and the landscape seems dryer, more arid and the pieces of the farmland jigsaw are smaller and browner. There also seem to be fewer trees or maybes it's because we're higher up. Some quite persistent turbulence. I am drinking Coke. I fear for your pages. The engine roar grows louder for a moment and then quietens down. I used the loo before I got on the plane but will it be enough? The flight has quite a few empty seats. Perhaps BA is not longer so popular, colonial mentality unwinding.

We're flying over what must be the Sahara Desert now. It's not the Sahara of shifting sands that is so popular in the imagination but the part of the desert that is craggy and brown, unending dryness to the front and the back of the plane. The ground is so unchanging it doesn't feel like we're moving at all. There are thin cracks in the land that look like the beds of where river and streams once flowed. We are leaving behind the crags now and moving on to the more archetypal Sahara. The cracks in the old Sahara look like dried up capillaries and veins, arid England. There are some depressions in the sand. They must be quite deep but from up here they look like pockmarks.

 There is a dark thin ribbon running along the ground for what must be miles. It looks like a grey tarmac road but it can't be. Once you have a fixed point to look from, you realise how fast we're moving. In the few seconds it took to write this, the strange road has already disappeared beyond craning distance. I will make a way in the desert God says in Isaiah, where rivers of living water will flow. There's a patch of sand a lot redder than the rest of the desert, like a birthmark. There are lines running through the desert, swirling and sweeping and it makes you almost think there must be a pattern, some cosmic Artist whose handwork you would be able to fully appreciate if only you could go a little higher. That's how they saw the Nazca lines. They flew.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

My Ghana Trip on CNN


Here's a piece I did on my trip to Accra for CNN:

'With only a 45 minute flight separating Lagos and Accra, you'd think I'd have been to Ghana at least once in my 22-year existence. Unfortunately until July 2013, the concepts holiday and Africa have never gone together in my head.

Holiday was Italy and structurally unsound towers; or America and discount shopping or France and baguettes. Not Ghana, longstanding "frenemy "of Nigeria, with the football team we all rooted for in the last World Cup. Yet, that's no reason to actually visit the place.'

Read the rest here. Also below is the promo video we did for the tour which for some reason I forgot to post here.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Telephone Conversation


I read Wole Soyinka’s poem, Telephone Conversation when I was fourteen. I liked it so much I made it the desktop background on my laptop. Each time I turned on this shiny new device, I would read the words, ‘The price seemed reasonable, location indifferent. The landlady swore she lived off premises.’ The poem struck me. Perhaps it was because I was in an English boarding school, discovering for the first time my ‘blackness.’

‘How dark?’ Soyinka ‘s landlady asked the character who I assumed was Soyinka himself. ‘Facially, I’m brunette.’ Facially I was... I had never stopped to consider. I was Nigerian. My classmates, sensitive to but ignorant of the nature of my dislocation, would sometimes say as if in reassurance, ‘I think black people are cool.’ Why are you telling me, I would wonder but never ask?

My spine weakened a little when I moved to England. Confident, boisterous, perhaps overbearing in Nigeria, I became unsure in England: unsure of my accent, unsure of the value of what I knew, flabbergasted by my ignorance of Jack Wills and lacrosse. Soyinka’s poem put some calcium back in my bones.  Every time my eyes wandered to the bottom of the screen and read, ‘Friction, caused- foolishly, madam- by sitting down, has turned my bottom raven black,’ I would shake with laughter, the punch line new again. A new country was to be met with this verve, this panache, this style, this trademark Soyinka wit. No apologies for where I was coming from. None at all.     

A young Soyinka, harassed by landladies.



Telephone Conversation 
Wole Soyinka 

            The price seemed reasonable, location
            Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived
            Off premises. Nothing remained
            But self-confession. “Madam,” I warned,
5         “I hate a wasted journey—I am African.”
            Silence. Silenced transmission of
            Pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
            Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
            Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully.
10         “HOW DARK?” . . . I had not misheard . . . “ARE YOU LIGHT
            OR VERY DARK?” Button B. Button A. Stench
            Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
            Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered
            Omnibus squelching tar. It was real! Shamed
15         By ill-mannered silence, surrender
            Pushed dumbfoundment to beg simplification.
            Considerate she was, varying the emphasis—
            “ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?” Revelation came.
            “You mean—like plain or milk chocolate?”
20         Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light
            Impersonality. Rapidly, wavelength adjusted,
            I chose. “West African sepia”—and as an afterthought,
            “Down in my passport.” Silence for spectroscopic
            Flight of fancy, till truthfulness clanged her accent
25         Hard on the mouthpiece. “WHAT’S THAT?” conceding,
            “DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.” “Like brunette.”
            “THAT’S DARK, ISN’T IT?” “Not altogether.
            Facially, I am brunette, but madam, you should see
            The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet
30         Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused—
            Foolishly, madam—by sitting down, has turned
            My bottom raven black—One moment madam!”—sensing
            Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
            About my ears—“Madam,” I pleaded, “wouldn’t you rather
35         See for yourself?”
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