Monday, 23 August 2010

My Brother: Ying, Yang and Some Other Stuff

My brother has a thirst for obscure knowledge that is thoroughly unAfrican. He knows why Cleopatra was incestuous, he knows where the dead sea scrolls were found, he knows why 1066 is significant to the English, in short, he loves useless facts.

It's strange because my brother also works in a place where money is mystically doubled and trebled. There, he is all facts and stocks and bonds and APRs and ARMs and LEGs and money lingo. Every time I see him over an extended period of time, I wonder how one so esoteric can be that practical?

Yet, despite my brother's stock of high cultural references and his very pragmatic job, he is also a big fan of video games and fantasy books. Whenever I see him carrying the latest copy of the Dragon Elves series or the newest FIFA soccer, again I wonder how all these people can be the same person.

From a writing perspective, it's useful to have characters like my brother in a book. These kind of characters don't shift the plot or drive you to your conclusion but they make the narrative more interesting. They have Ying Yang layers and oddities that one can slowly unpeel and examine and ask why and come up with concrete reasons or no reason other than just because.

So to add a little flavour to my writing, I reach for the Y.Y.A.S.O.S characters.

Is it just me or is that acronym never going to catch on...

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

American Diary: The Sheltered Ones

Americans are very well mannered people. I've only been here one week yet the number of times I've heard the phrases - are you ok ma'am, can I help you ma'am, please ma'am, thank you ma'am, what would you like ma'am, yes ma'am, no ma'am - could fill the dialogue in a book. Everywhere I go, the people are nice, they are helpful, they smile and they make conversation with strangers on public transport, something that I find perturbing, fresh from London.

All this politeness got me thinking: why are Americans so nice? What special thing do they have in their water that makes the bon homie switch function in them. Then I realised. They have food, they have water and they have light. It's not only that they have these things, because there is steady electricity in England, its the abundance of it, the readiness, the convenience whose peak is the drive through cash machine.

I don't make light of the suffering that can happen in America, the trauma, the ugly side of first world poverty, but still, I feel it is the blunted edge of suffering, never its full impact. Even the poorest will not starve, the kwashiorked belly of a child will never be seen in the projects and water will always be found for those who are thirsty.

In America, more than any other first world country I can think of, here live the sheltered ones but I, scion of the backward world, bear no resentment. Perhaps something is lost when you live your whole life in a shelter, unaware and removed from the outside, perhaps knowing intimately the details of the shelter and nowhere else is stunting to the soul, perhaps some deep springs of personality are never unlocked because one never sees the need to leave the shelter.

Or perhaps the shelter just makes you polite.

Sunday, 15 August 2010


Revival is something that is high on the prayer requests of most Christians, yet until recently, I had no idea what the word really meant. You see when I thought of revival, I thought of large tents filled with thousands of people and one man on stage, bellowing, "You must be born again!"

Yet, what I've just described is a sign that there might be revival not actually revival itself because without revival, twelve thousand people in a tent, raising their hands to a song, is just a concert and a gathering of twelve million is exactly what it sounds like: a really, really, really big crowd.

The proof of a revival is not in the numbers but in the change. In Nigeria, every Sunday the churches overflow into the streets yet corruption is high, crime is high, illiteracy is high, wickedness and evil are at an all time record. We have the numbers for s revival, just not the results.

So now, when I pray for revival, I pray for one individual:myself. If my relationship with God is renewed, if I'm becoming more like Christ version of Chi***du every day single day, if I am free from the compromises that I so easily make, then in my own little corner I will bring change. One big revival that changes a nation is made up of little revivals that changed their household, their streets, their neighbourhoods.

God is looking for a man.

Friday, 13 August 2010

American Diary Part 1: God Bless America

Last Tuesday was the first time I'd set foot in America in over two years. In this short space,the nine hours it took to cross the Atlantic and reach the prickly heat of Georgia had grown more difficult to fill, especially as I was flying BA.

At the end of the flight I was vaguely irritated: by the men who sat beside me and hurdled over my aisle seat when they needed to pee, by the tasteless chicken tikka masala that came in plastic containers hot enough to burn, by the antiquated BA entertainment system that gave me a choice of only 7 movies and by the men who sat beside me and needed to pee at least five times on that flight.

I knew there would be heavy security when I landed. I had steeled my mind for it but I did not expect 4 security checks, 2 baggage reclaims and one x-ray in which nobody explained that the machine I had just stepped into was an x-ray machine until after I had been zapped or whatever it is that happens when a full body x-ray machine is turned on with a human being inside.

This last really, really, really annoyed me. I was seething from this violation of my fundamental human right to be warned before x-rays are passed through my body. And what was most galling was their politeness. Step this way ma'am, please place your hands like this and before I knew what was happening, the doors shut with me trapped inside a clear plastic box, I heard a sucking sound and the doors were opening and the man in the dark blue uniform was saying, "Please step this way ma'am."

So seething was I, that I did not realise that I could take the transit instead of walking to the second baggage reclaim which was five terminals away. And so I walked, and I was walked I grew angrier, and as I grew angrier, I walked.

Who did these people think they were?
Terminal A.
To X ray me without my permission.
Terminal B.
And display me deshabille on their blue screen.
Terminal C.
And potentially murder some of my cells.
Terminal D.

I stopped walking. In front of me was a row of wood and stone sculptures. I moved closer to the first and read, Summer Time and the profile of the African sculptor who had created it. I read the next one and the the next one and the next one.

I have never seen anything like this in Nigeria but here in the middle of Atlanta's International Airport was an exhibition of African art, loving oiled and dusted. I stopped in front of each one and browsed the cards stuck to their bases. Here was a mother and child from Zimbabwe, a family from Cameroon but the one that struck with me most was a giant foot called: "Travelling Family."

From the back all I could see was the sole of a giant foot. I paused in front of this sculpture wondering what statement the artist was trying to make. Was it that travelling families got swollen feet after flying for nine hours? Or in travelling they all moulded together to form that prehistoric unit of travel: the foot.

I rolled my eyes as I walked off... modern art.

Then I saw Travelling Family from the other side. Each of the toes was a head and the heads were so close together that they looked like a sleeping family that took up the whole middle row in Economy.

As I left the exhibition, I was glad I had just spent half an hour getting to the baggage reclaim, I was still angry that I had been xrayed but as I left, I thought, only in an American airport would I have had the privilege to see such an exhibition, only in America.

And so for this, God bless America.

The picture doesn't do Travelling Family justice but I thought I'd show you anyway.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Sunday Throwback: The Early Days

For as long as I can remember, I have gone to church on Sundays. This roughly adds up to 912 Sundays, 672 of which I spent in a Church called Foursquare.

Back in the day, Foursquare was not a cool church. Cool churches had ACs, cool churches did not stipulate that women cover their hair and most importantly cool churches allowed you to colour with more than one crayon in Sunday school. Many a traumatic Sunday was spent colouring Jonah green, then colouring the whale green, then colouring the sky green, then drawing green tears on my green page.

I don't remember my first 336 Sundays in Foursquare. My memories of this time are blurry. A recurring image is that of many children squashed in a concrete room, chanting Bible verses to a tall thin woman who caned the unfortunates who forgot the words to John 3:16... but perhaps this is just a scene from a recent home video.

I moved to another branch of Foursquare when I turned seven or so, and this was where the memories really began. First of all this branch was cool and dare I say, it was cool not by Foursquare standards but by orthodox thermometer standards. There was Air Conditioning and that was cool (no pun intended), sometimes some daring women dared to wear trousers and only a few eyebrows were raised but most importantly, most, most importantly, in Sunday school there was a huge tin of crayons and if you so pleased, you could use all of them at once... which I did to disastrous effect.

I think it was in this branch of Foursquare that I discovered that you could be your idea of cool and still be a Christian. At seven, uncool was the knobbly berets that the women wore to cover their hair, the talking drums that the instrumentalists used to lead praise and worship (I wanted Kirk Franklin) and the enforced crayon monotony. Cool was my new branch, Air Conditioning, Kirk Franklin, Fanta after Church but we still believed what John 3:16 said; we still agreed Matt. 28:19-20 was necessary.

It was a useful lesson to learn. In important things like the Cross and the Resurrection, Christians should agree. In inessentials (like ACs and after service refreshments) there should be freedom to choose without fear of condemnation. So if you wear hats in your Church, don't judge those who let their hair out and if you sing the latest American gospel music in your place of worship, don't condescend or see as inferior, those who are happy with their traditional beats. As the saying goes, in essentials unity, in inessentials liberty.

It's funny. Now, my favourite album on my ipod is Wazobia African praise and I am beginning to appreciate the fashion merits of a well angled beret so maybe when I relocate to Nigeria, I'll be moving back to my first Foursquare.

As long as they give me more crayons.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Nickname

"What's your name?"
"Sorry I can't pronounce that. Do you have any nicknames?"
"I can't pronounce that either."

I looked at this Chinese girl who had just spurned the only nickname I had ever known. It was bestowed on me one summer holiday, by an English child who lacked the energy and dexterity to pronounce the long name that my parents were shortsighted enough to give me. Clearly, at my naming ceremony, they had forgotten that one day I would come in contact with foreigners who would have trouble pronouncing my three syllabled tongue twister of a name.

"Isn't there anything else I can call you?"

It was my first day of boarding school and I was eager to oblige but short of inventing a new name for myself I did not see what else I could possibly do.

"Tell her to call you Chibs," my oldest sister said from inside the room. She had been to the same school and she knew the drill. Foreign students renamed themselves when they arrived.
"Chibs? Nobody calls me that."
"Chibs is better than Chikachoo. Do you want to be called Chikachoo for the rest of your four years here."
"Yeah," the Chinese girl snorted from the doorway. "Chikachoo sounds like Pikachu."

We all laughed.

What was I thinking. Chikachoo did sound like Pikachu.

"Yeah, you can call me Chibs."
The girl remained in the doorway watching me unpack. She had been assigned to make me feel at home and this duty included watching me unpack though I had also brought my sister and my mother to do the same thing.

"So what's your name?" I said, standing my now empty box.

"Yao Min Xian Ho Min Tse Yung."

I later learnt how to call her properly but that first day, that was what her name sounded like.

"But everyone calls me Charlie."
I raised an eyebrow. "Charlie?"
How did one get to Charlie from Yao Min Xian Ho Min Tse Yung.
"Yeah Charlie."
I didn't ask.

As I arranged my things on my sink, I was suddenly glad that Chibs at least resembled the original.

Charlie and I became good friends but she never called me Chi***du and I never called her Yao Min. I wonder if we would have been different people if we'd used our real names.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

On The Way: God is Not a Prude

Christians seem to shy away from all things sensual. The topic of sex is robed with synonyms like intercouse and 'cleaved to' until the very physical nature of the act is lost amidst all the frills and archaic King James language.

I don't know why the embarassment. God is not embarassed by sex. In fact He talks about sex a lot because sex, quite frankly, is a good metaphor for loads of stuff. Let me give an example.

In Ezekiel, God tells a story of how He tended Israel until she was old enough for love and then He entered into a covenant with her.

Ezekiel 16:7-8 (AMP)
7 I caused you [Israel] to multiply as the bud which grows in the field, and you increased and became tall and you came to full maidenhood and beauty; your breasts were formed and your hair had grown, yet you were naked and bare.
8 Now I passed by you again and looked upon you; behold, you were maturing and at the time for love, and I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I plighted My troth to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord, and you became Mine.

But then Israel starts doing wayo.

Ezekiel 16:17 (AMP)
17 You did also take your fair jewels and beautiful vessels of My gold and My silver which I had given you and made for yourself images of men, and you played the harlot with them;

Adultery is grounds for divorce but in this case as always, God was merciful. Read Ezekiel if you're interested.

In conclusion, God is not a prude but God is holy and so you don't have to be a prude to be holy.

Monday, 2 August 2010

The Helps

My friend who lives in Polegate has a house with a gate. The gate is not the ten foot, black metal, iron spiked, barb wired affair that one sees so often in Lagos but it is a sizable gate by English standards.

The first time I went to her house, we drove up to the rectangular brown gate, my friend got down from the car, undid the latch and pushed it open.

Later, I said to her, "In Nigeria, a gate man would have done that."
"What is a gate man?"
"Someone who opens the gate for you to drive in."
"That's all he does."
"Why can't you open your own gate?"
"It's effort."

She looked at me like I was crazy. I looked at her like she was crazy and then I understood why she was looking at me.

In my house, as in many other houses in Lagos, there exists a man, who lives in a hut beside the gate, whose sole function in life is to open the gate for cars to drive in and then close it behind them.

I explained to her that the gates in Nigeria were really heavy not like the flimsy ones in England, hiring gatemen reduced unemployment and if ever armed robbers were chasing you home (which is not unheard of) the gateman would be there to open the gate and slam it shut behind you, except in this last scenario, I've never heard of a gate man who has moved fast enough.

Anyways, my friend's Nigerians are crazy and lazy look made me start thinking about all the other things the middle classes are helped with in Nigeria. We have maids to sweep our floors, maids to raise our children, washermen to wash our clothes, washermen to iron our clothes, drivers to get us from point A - Z, cooks to make our meals, cooks to reheat our meals, with all the helps we have, one has to wonder what the middle classes do. I haven't lived in Nigeria for a while but I hear they sit in traffic.

A well known radio presenter once said that he loved Nigeria because there was always someone to help with the simplest of things. Yet, the question needs asking: who is helping the helps? Why are some born to open gates and others to drive through them, some to drive and others to be driven, some to cook and others to eat.

I know that even in the most developed countries, people born into certain social groups are less likely to succeed economically than others, my problem with Nigeria is that where others have a glass ceiling that they can crack with effort, we have a reinforced concrete barrier.

The helps need help.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

On The Way

I've never met a person who doesn't like Yeshua. Love your neighbour as yourself, do onto others as you'd like to be done to, what's not to like? Yet, the people who claim to follow His creeds are some of the least liked on earth. Tomas de Torquemada, Spanish Inquisition Mastermind and murderer of thousands of Spanish Jews, claimed to be a follower of Yeshua; settlers who slaughtered millions of indigenous peoples claimed to follow Yeshua, and in more recent times the Congolese and Nigerian witch hunt pastors who accuse innocent children, also claim to be disciples of Yeshua.

Isaiah 61 is one of my favourite verses in the Bible because it says in very poetic language what Yeshua came to do. I'll just put the first verse here.

Isaiah 61:1 (KJV)
1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;

Christian means little Christ, little Isaiah 61 verse 1s. When it was coined in Antioch the word was used pejoratively but the early Christians reclaimed it and reversed its connotations. When people of our generation hear the word Christian, I wonder how many of them think positive things. You can blame the media, you can blame the politicians but as Yeshua was wont to say, remove the log in your eye first abi.

God will help us.

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