Wednesday 22 December 2010

Do They Know It's Christmas Time At All?

And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time

It would have been disastrous if it snowed in Ubulu at Christmas. One night we would have gone to sleep in the soothing warmth of a Harmattan evening, the next morning, only half the village would wake up, the old dead dead from frost, the young coughing and wheezing. No,I am glad snow never came near my village in December. How would we have gone to see the masquerades sway in their raffia clothes, bending to the drum beats, flicking their canes at those passersby that got carried away and came too close. If there was snow, the masquerades would have caught pneumonia in their flimsy dress. If there was snow, we would have slipped on the ice and broken bones as we ran in squealing terror from the canes of the mmou. This white snow that Bing Crosby was dreaming of would surely have been a curse to us in Ubulu. So I am glad it never came.I wonder why the songwriters never worried that there wouldn't be snow in Kuwait, or Barbados, or Dubai?

The greatest gift they'll get this year is life

I suppose this is the greatest gift we all get every year. Presumably the Play Station, the bicycle and the Kindle are of no use if you're dead. Presumably. Maybe this is why my parents never bothered with gifts and maybe this is why we never missed them. Truly, it was gift enough to be alive in a December when my whole extended family converged on a small village in South Eastern Nigeria called Ubulu. About thirty cousins, ten Uncles and Aunties and others of various description, drivers, maids, cooks, would cram themselves into the family 'villa' and proceed to live together for about seven days. We would play and fight and sing and pray and cuss how boring the village was and gist and walk to the village market and run from masquerades and go to Church in our Christmas clothes and occupy at least seven pews of the Anglican Cathedral. They were the best days of the whole year and not even presents could have made them better.

Where nothing ever grows, No rain or rivers flow

This line I have never understood. I wish Bob Geldof and friends could have come to Ubulu in 1984 to see the thick bush that surrounded our house. It was always threatening to creep up to the door step and it had to be cleared continually. All over Eastern Nigeria, there were thickets and thickets of bush in that year of 1984. If only they had stopped by before they penned this opus so they could have corrected the lines to, "Where nothing ever grows, except in South Eastern Nigeria, and parts of Lagos, and Uganda and Kenya and Zimbabwe and South Africa and all those other places where Europeans colonised because they were so fertile." Maybe that was too much of a mouthful and maybe they visited the Sahara and thought in its vastness it encompassed the whole of Africa so I can forgive them but what is this about rivers never flowing? Nigeria is named after a river, the river Niger and last time I checked it hadn't dried up. If only they had google earth then, they could have checked.

Here's to them underneath that burning sun

I quite like the burning sun. In fact as ice covers my garden and the runways of Heathrow freeze over and my skin puckers into goosebumps every time someone opens the front door, my longing for the burning sun triples and quadruples until I have to shine a torch in my face to calm myself.

Do they know it's Christmas time at all

We didn't have Christmas trees and we didn't have snow and we didn't have stockings or elves or plump burglars that crawled down chimneys or reindeer with viral noses or turkeys or stuffing or cranberry sauce but we had bangers and jollof rice and family and masquerades and we did know that Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ the son of God who came to a manger instead of landing in a palace, so yes Mr. Geldof, I suppose I cannot speak for the whole of Africa but yes, in South Eastern Nigeria, my little village of Ubulu, when the 25th of December came, we knew it was Christmas time.

I suppose their hearts were in the right places. Merry Christmas all. Have a great one.

Monday 20 December 2010

Big Boned

Nowadays, there is an ideal body type for women: skinny. If you are not skinny, you are fat and if you are neither skinny nor fat, then you are this curious hybrid thing between carrot and chocolate, anorexic and sybarite, desirable and undesired, big boned.

Big boned. I have been called that by well meaning relatives defending me in the face of criticism . "No she's not fat. She's just-- You know it's her body type-- She's um--You know that thing-- Big boned."

Big boned is not just a physical description, like tall or brunette or blue-eyed. Big boned is a description with connotations like gangly, or pimply or black. Attached to gangly is the impression of awkwardness, attached to pimply is ugliness and with the juxtaposition of big and boned, a sense of lack is conveyed. Not loss, like when you are called fat, no hope for you but lack, not quite there. Your cells were too calcium efficient, over producing this vital mineral until your bones stretched and widened you into something that was neither fat nor skinny, chocolate nor carrot. And the worst thing about being in this limbo land was it could only get worse. As a relative of mine once kindly informed me when in a flurry of insecurity and self consciousness I decided to go on a diet, "Your body type is not made to be skinny. You can get to like a size 8 but don't try for a six. It won't be normal."

I am certain it was a woman that coined the phrase big-boned. Seeing that there were not enough ways to put down her sex, ugly was not enough, fat was not enough, big boned had to be born. Perhaps it is because humans are socialised to always be physically in competition with one other, men want bigger biceps, girls want smaller thighs.

In the past I've been on a few 'diets.' Me and a friend, another 'big boned' individual who incidentally was never more than a size ten, made a pact to eat only apples, carrots, cucumbers and soy sauce for a week in order to 'detox.' Another time, I was a gymaholic, every night for an hour pounding away on the cross trainer, doing sit ups and swinging weights in my hands. Thankfully, these phases didn't last long. My laziness/elastic confidence/other things I cannot articulate always meant that I was back to reading on the couch and eating normally [N.B my foray into anorexia lasted two days.]

It could easily have swung the other way. After all I saw the reaction the smaller boned relatives and friends had when I shaved a a little flesh off my large bones, took a step towards joining their private party, they were happy that some of that flesh was gone even when they knew I was 'detoxing.'

It's funny, the other day, a relative of mine said to me, "You're so slim." To which I burst out laughing. Me! Big-boned me! Slim!

It seems like many things, this big boned/fat/gangly/ugly/beautiful/skinny thing is relative and as long as you're happy with where your standing, don't ever let anyone tell you different.

Pardon the erratic blogging behaviour. End of term deadlines loomed.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

More Girl Power

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani discussing why she is glad Ngugi wa Thiong'o didn't win the Nobel Prize. Here.

Saturday 11 December 2010

Girl Power

Really good article by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the Financial Times. Check it out

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Future Awards

Hey guys. I've been nominated for the Creative Artist of the Year at the Future Awards. So if you check the nomination list and think I should win then vote for me. :)

Here's the link. You can vote online or by SMS if you're in England or Nigeria. Let the voting begin.

Saturday 4 December 2010

The Store

In my house in Lagos, there is a room that is always locked and for this reason, throughout my childhood, this room was endlessly fascinating to me. I would squint at the mosquito netting that dust had rendered opaque, I would press my face to the cracks in the door, I would turn the handle every time I walked past in the hope that today was the day the door would let me in. Not surprisingly, I was always asking about the store.

"Mummy what's in the store. Mummy what's in the store."
"There are books there. Books from my childhood and books from your brother and sister's childhood. And books that the house didn't have room for."
Books! To think that there was a room in my house that was full of books I'd never read. To think that all that separated me from these treasures was a flimsy wooden door. I would break it down. I would ram through it to get to those books.

"What else is there?" I knew but I wanted her to say.

"There are toys also. Toy cars and dolls that your sister and brother grew too old to play with."
"But why didn't you give them to me ?" I whined.
"Because you weren't born yet."
Toys! To think that there was a room in my house filled with dolls I hadn't played with. To think that all that separated me was this chipped wooden door.

But here the story always turned sour.

"Lets go and open it then!"
"I don't know where the key is."
"Can't you try and remember the last place you saw it."
"It was too long ago. I've forgotten."

So the locked room with the lost key remained locked until one day my mother said, "I'm going to go through the store this weekend."

I didn't bother to ask where she had found the key, I didn't bother to find out why she had finally decided to open the store, all I knew was that the store was opening and on Saturday, I would be united with the books and the toys. I wouldn't be greedy, I wouldn't take all, I would leave two or three books for a future brother or sister.

Saturday came and my mother handed me a white surgical mask.
"What's this for?"
"The store might be dusty."
I slipped it over my face irritated by its paperiness.

At first the key would not turn because the lock was stiff with age and decay.
"Let me try," I said. "Let me try." We had not come this far to give up.

Finally the key turned with a stiff click and I pushed the door open. A fog of dust descended on me.
"Come out first, let the room air a bit."
I stepped back a little, still looking into the store. Where were the toys? And the books? It was cluttered, dusty and damp at the same time. Where were my toys?

And then I spotted a lock of synthetic blond hair peeking out from under a carton box. A doll! I gripped the hair and pulled a Barbie with spotted black mold covering the front of her face and her dress.

I flung her to the end of the room and ran out screaming. "Iyama! Iyama! Iyama!"

I didn't enter the store after that but waited outside, watching my mother bin one mouldy book after the other, one broken plastic toy after the other. When my mother locked the store that day, I would never ask about it again.

As I've grown older, I've found that life is full of locked stores that we dream of breaking into. Sex, good grades, drugs, money, fame, rock and roll but once we open the room, the things inside never live up to the expectations we had while we were locked outside.

A relationship with God is the only store I know of that not only lives up to our expectations but exceeds them and this store is the only one for which everyone has been granted a key.
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