Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The 'L' Word

An hour ago, I watched 'Stranger Than Fiction' - the movie starring Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffmann. It made so happy, I wandered about my house and into every bedroom singing/murdering The Darkness' "I believe in a thing called love" at the top of my lungs, in a ... umm ... husky (but very sexy) falsetto.

A few days ago I watched 'Out of Africa' - think Meryl Streep and Robert Redford frolicking in the Kenyan Savannah, on Safari, slaying lions and harvesting coffee beans.

A few days before that I read Khaled Hosseini's 'A Thousand Splendid Suns', which is possibly the best book I've read all year. The only reason I didn't blog about it then was because I didn't think I would be able to do it justice. That, and the fact that I was being lazy... as usual.

But anyway. What do these movies and books have in common I hear you ask?


Storybook love.

Fairytale love.

Not the love you get told to make do with simply because it does not exist/will never find you/would only be within reach if you intended to shack up with a white guy!

(By the way there was a lot more to these stories than the theme of love, but this is my blog, and I am allowed to overlook things like tragedy, war and burqas for the sake of making a point.)

Some weeks ago, I got a phone call from a friend I hadn't spoken to in a long while. My friend lives in New York and has a job that pays him shit loads of money but which robs him of basic privileges like phone calls and birthday cards, so this call from him was a rare and precious opportunity. We talked about his life, same old, and then about my life, crisis crisis help me please. His response to my crisis (please don't roll your eyes, I really was distraught) was that I should get real, and that happily ever afters do not exist. He then set about talking me through all the couples he and I had ever had experience of - friends, parents, parents' friends. We leafed through the dreadfuls, the only speak when they have to's, and the we're doing okay, at least we're friends, but this isn't what we spent those nights in our teenage beds longing for's.

Needless to say, the picture wasn't pretty.

At the end of our conversation, I decided to step back, be real, and stop arguing. Who was I kidding thinking that a happily ever after was sitting in a pot at the end of my mud-streaked rainbow, just waiting to be discovered? I grudgingly accepted that there was no happily ever after waiting patiently for me. No perfect pairing. No half with which to form a seam-free whole. And for a while, I got by thinking like that.

And then I went and did a foolish thing. I spent a week doing little else but feasting my eyes on Cleopatra and Marc Anthony, Scarlett and Rhet Butler, Clark Kent and Lana frikkin Lang!

And now I've gone back to being me.



And pretty damn stupid.

Now please, forget for a moment that you now think of me as a very silly, very naive little girl. Forget that, and answer my one very simple, very basic question:- Surely every love story out there cannot just be the by-product of some writer's overactive imagination? Would anyone really be so cruel as to create something so easily believable and so wonderfully desirable, when they know that such a thing could never be? Would they?

What does a girl have to do to get her hair washed beside a babbling brook around here?

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Nigerian Afropolitan African Brit, with Stalker Tendencies

A while ago on The Afro Beat, we talked about the article, 'What is an Afropolitan?' which Misan found in a random magazine - Only Allah knows where she finds all the things she features on our site. That said, I think she's about to fire me, as my contribution lately has been... um... non-existent, and I'm now about to make matters worse by implicating her in a controversial discussion on my blog.

Back to Afropolitans. Very briefly, they are

"the newest generation of African emigrants... Some of [them] are ethnic mixes, e.g. Ghanaian and Canadian, Nigerian and Swiss; others merely cultural mutts: American accent, European affect, African ethos. Most of [them] are multilingual: in addition to English and a Romantic or two, [they] understand some indigenous tongue and speak a few urban vernaculars. There is at least one place on The African Continent to which [they] tie [their] sense of self: be it a nation-state (Ethiopia), a city (Ibadan), or an auntie’s kitchen. Then there’s the G8 city or two (or three) that [they] know like the backs of [their] hands, and the various institutions that know [them] for [their] famed focus. [They] are Afropolitans: not citizens, but Africans of the world."

The article, with other such paragraphs like that, and sprinkles and dashes of scenes with lounges playing Fela Kuti, made it sound like being stuck in cultural limbo was a groovy thing! And several of us cultural nomads were quick to embrace the label - Yes, we're sad. Sorry! We can't all be cool! And if you'd read how funky the writer made Afropolitans sound, you would've wanted to be one too!

Now, one problem I have faced, in my quest to become a fiction novelist extraordinaire, is my inability to identify closely with the Nigeria that I so desperately want my writing to be linked to. I don't want to be just another writer, I want to become part of that exclusive club (stop rolling your eyes) of African and more specifically Nigerian contemporary writers. I want to sit at round tables with the Chimamandas and Sefis and Helens, and smile like a saturated honeybee at the army of awestruck readers in front of me.

I want it, DAMN it!

But there is an obstacle - I am too much of a cultural nomad to be able to tap into their source. I don't speak any Nigerian languages, I've spent a pathetic amount of time in my hometown, I know nothing about the traditions of the place I call home (and I'm even talking about LAGOS where I spent the first 12 years of my life now, not even the village), and most of what I know, I know from wikipedia!

As part of my "quest" to join Naijawriterhood, I have been spending a lot of time stalking the club's existing members. A good number have become friends of mine, which I'm so pleased about as they are truly great people, but there are others whose books I am still yet to read.

One such other, is Uzodinma Iweala, he of 'Beasts of No Nation' fame. I know I will never read his book because I am too much of a chicken to read anything that features the word war or child-soldier on its cover sleeve, but I have read his article, 'Stop Trying to Save Africa'. That by the way is yet another article that we featured on The Afro Beat! - This one though I “found”, before you assume that Misan did. I was just too lazy to put it up myself so asked my friend to send it to her.

In 'Stop Trying to Save Africa', Uzodinma wrote, and I quote, "There is no African, myself included, who does not appreciate the help of the wider world, but we do question whether aid is genuine or given in the spirit of affirming one's cultural superiority... Every time a well-meaning college student speaks of villagers dancing because they were so grateful for her help, I cringe. Every time a Hollywood director shoots a film about Africa that features a Western protagonist, I shake my head -- because Africans, real people though we may be, are used as props in the West's fantasy of itself."

I remember reading this at the time thinking, "You tell them my brother! Put those condescending weirdos who think we're a bunch of hungry monkeys in their place!"

A few months ago though, I saw him featured in Granta's Best of Young American Novelists and became a little confused. But then I put that down to an editorial error.

Yesterday however, I came across this - an article entitled 'Am I American Enough For You?' by none other than Uzodinma Iweala, and I became more than just a tad confused. Now, I know it's dangerous to do this on the world wide web, but hey he's a public figure, and it's not my fault that when I googled him on a random afternoon all sorts of things about his life, his mother, siblings etc, blasted onto my Safari screen!

In 'Am I American Enough For You?' Uzodinma writes about an experience with a hostile immigration officer when he returned to the States from a brief holiday in Nigeria. He uses this experience to shed light on the typical American attitude to children of immigrants, like himself, who can call no other place but the United States, home. At one part he writes,

"On a personal note, I have been told countless times, when I've been critical of the United States, "If you don't like it, you should just go back to where you came from." My response: "You mean to Potomac, Maryland?" "

I went back to the 'Stop Trying to Save Africa' article yesterday after reading that, just to check whether or not I had imagined that Uzodinma was the same person who put himself forward as the proud harbinger of truth on behalf of his continent in that piece. I then emailed the 'Am I American Enough For You?' article to Misan (my wise and trusted friend :-) You can't fire me anyway, I came up with our name) who said, "Perhaps this is the curse of the Afropolitan? We wear many masks"... Or something to that effect.

I have now spent much of today pondering my status as a Nigerian and as an Afropolitan. Uzodinma's conflicting identities (although they don't really conflict, I'm just trying to make the story sweet so that a few people may decide to comment), really made me wonder about us Afropolitans, and about our internal confusion. Is it really possible that he feels as strongly about his status as an American as he does about his status as an African?

I have enough trouble trying to hold onto my Omo Naija identity as it is! And while I feel very strongly about my status as a Nigerian, I often get despondent when I realise how far removed my life is from the authentic "Naija" deal. My status as a Brit, is even worse. Forget the fact that I will soon have spent more years of my life in Britain, than in Nigeria, to me, the status starts and ends with the red passport! I mean I’m glad I have the passport, otherwise this year’s planned globetrotting would be a total nightmare, but that’s as far as it goes!

So now I ask - Will I ever be able to turn this confusion (it’s really not that drastic, but you know Bitchy loves her some melodrama) into something amazon-worthy in the way that someone like Helen Oyeyemi has been able to? Heck, she’s never even lived in Nigeria and she knows more about Yoruba culture than I do! I'm beginning to think I must've spent the first 12 years of my life with my eyes shut tight by the way! How did I live in Lagos for that long, and turn out to be this clueless?

Or should I just stop poking my nose in at what other writers are doing, and get on with writing my own story? I’ve tried that too by the way, and my friends and family have laughed their heads off at my stories! Apparently they are lacking in "authenticity".

For now, I think I will just go and take a nap. But any answers on a post-it or sticky would be much appreciated. The pretty one's head hurts. Xxx

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

To Tom Jones

Dear Tom,

Did you know that the good people at the junction where Jankara Market and Balogun Market intersect, are fans of yours?

Or that the junction where the aforementioned good people reside is in fact named the Tom Jones Junction?

I bet you didn't.

And did you know that today Bitchy rode on the backseat of an okada all the way from your junction to the end of Idumagbo Avenue?

I bet you didn't know that either.


Oluwabitchyola Xxx

P.S. Yes, you read right. This aje bota went on an okada today for the first time, and she loved it (except for the one teeny part when sand flew into her mouth cuz she was talking and squealing so much)! She even learnt that when riding the okada machine, one is not supposed to wrap one's arms around the rider's waist, or to hold onto his shoulder for support. Apparently, doing such can only alert the okada rider to the fact that one is a newcomer to the okada machine, and as a consequence, encourage him (if he is a meanie) to ride super fast and swerve super quick.

P.P.S. The Bitchy One will be riding several okadas between now and the end of the month when she bids the good city of Lagos goodbye. Stay tuned for "Okada Riding 102, 103...." etcetera etceteroo. Teehee!

Vroom Vrooooooooooom!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

It's Over, SOB!

By the end of the month I will have earned the title "professional okada passenger". A homie from the creative writing workshop will be helping me fulfil that ambition, although she doesn't know it just yet. Teehee!

By August 31st I will also have begun work on a short story worthy of an audience, wherever/whatever that audience will be and I will have published said story on a website at the very least (obviously the latter won't have happened by the end of the month, but you know what I meeeean).

Today was the last day of the Chimamanda/Binyavanga workshop. I spent close to an hour saying goodbye to everyone in a garden filled with mosquitos, roosters and peacocks, because I didn't want to leave. I didn't want the 10 days of arguments and simply hilaaarious conversations to end.

The last 10 days have been amaaaazing! There may have been a couple of people I wanted to throttle once or twice, but I made so many friends and learned so much about direction, ambition, inspiration, craft etc, that I haven't stopped smiling since I got home!

I'm so glad I went, and that I didn't give up after the first day, which went terribly. When my turn at the 'introduce yourself and say why you're here' thing came, I blubbered a bunch of rubbish about wanting to write just one big book, wanting fame (which I don't even want, and which I would never admit to wanting even if I did want it), I forgot to say where I was from or why I had applied for the workshop, and made myself sound like a complete bimbo/brat! I was so upset by the end of the evening that I became convinced everyone would only end up hating me. I think I had one of those out-of-body-moment things. I couldn't stop jabbering, and the more I willed myself to shut up, the more I jabbered... It was dreadful!!

Chimamanda is truly amazing! As is Binyavanga. They have so many layers to them as people, they are so accommodating and so funny and so dedicated and so inspiring all at the same time, that by the 3rd or 4th day, you could've been forgiven for thinking we were a bunch of looney friends meeting up just for the hell of it. Forgive the cheese, but it's truuuue! I don't know what's going to come out of this, if in 10 years time I'll be running my own workshop after having gathered dozens of prizes and a stalker or two en route (hehe), but I can't shake the feeling that something will. Let's watch and see what happens when I wake up tomorrow morning shall we.... Xxx