Sunday, 4 November 2012

Literary Africana: Sylva Nze Ifedigbo


The Funeral Did Not End
by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo is a collection of 20 short stories. Pius Adesanmi, author of You Are Not a Country, Africa! has described Sylva as “the undisputable master of his own landscape and his characters.”

Here is an excerpt from The Funeral Did Not End by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo.



**



Guilt Trip


TRAVELLING HOME to Agulu has always been something you look forward to. You have always felt lonely in Lagos, this strange big city where everybody is in a hurry. You love Agulu, not just because it is your home, but mainly because of the memories that it brings to your head. It is those memories that usually drew you like a thirsty man to water, adding extra spring in your steps as you walk to buy your ticket at the bus station counter.

It made you smile and wave greetings to other passengers who you did not know. It made you hum mutilated tunes of nursery rhymes you usually sang in Ntakara School as the bus tore through the rain forest, eastwards. It is those memories that haunt you today. They gnaw at your thought, those memories, eating you up by the bits and you wonder again if you should make the trip.

The lady at the ticket counter is familiar. You know her name, Ifeoma, pretty and tall, just the way you like your women. The last time you travelled to Agulu which was two months ago at Christmas, you had flirted with her. The crowd at the bus station, families eager to wake up in their villages on Christmas morning had been too much.

You arrived late and met a sea of heads. Your ticket number showed that you were not likely to make the trip that day, but you hung around, chatting with Ifeoma at the counter and making her laugh out loud, her eyes glassy with tears. You learned that she is from ObodoUkwu, a town through which the bus to Agulu would pass. She wasn’t going home because she had to sell tickets to other travelers. You promised to bring her ube and udala from the village though you never did. She enjoyed your company that day and showed it by re-writing your ticket and giving you a seat on the very next bus.

Today she smiles at you but you make like you don’t know her, like her smile nauseates you. You see the shock in her eyes. You recognize it. They are yours, the kind that had enveloped you when the text message first arrived your phone. You were sitting before the mirror, just out of the shower, watching as water rolled down your body from your hair and disappeared just before it reached your navel.

Your phone was there on the dressing table and you had reached for it as soon as you heard the beep, your face melting into a smile. You were sure it was Nwanneka, the lady you met the week before at the bank, texting to inform you she was now on her way to your house. But the smile quickly disappeared, like it just did from Ifeoma’s face, as you read the message. You didn’t only feel, you saw the shock as you looked at yourself in the mirror.



The Funeral Did Not End is published by DADA book and is available in
leading bookshops in Nigeria.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

5 Books That Made a Difference to Chika Unigwe

ON BLACK SISTERS' STREET by Chika Unigwe has just been announced the winner of the 2012 Nigeria Prize for Literature; at $100,000, it is so far the biggest literary prize in Africa.

On Black Sisters' Street, her second novel, tells the haunting yet poignant story of four women who, in a bid to escape the overwhelming toll of hardship, heartbreak, abuse and pain in Nigeria, migrate (with the help of a loud-mouthed pimp) to Europe where they become sex workers in Antwerp's red-light district.

When we chatted earlier after the announcement, I couldn't help asking her what books had had a great influence in her development as a creative writer, and very happily she mentions five books.

Here, below, I've presented her list in her own words:



EFURU by Flora Nwapa: first novel by an African woman I read. Nwapa was my first role model

ESSAYS IN LOVE by Alain de Botton: it has some amazing writing. Incredible work of nonfiction,

A HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: It taught me alternative ways of writing. It also taught me to write with courage

THE BIBLE (King James Version): The Book of Job taught me how to write about pain and loss. The Psalms contain poetry.

ANNA KARENINA by Leo Tolstoy: brilliant story telling!The description of Anna's turmoil and her suicide taught me that even the goriest of events could be presented in magical prose

Literary Africana: Ukamaka Olisakwe Evelyn

Ukamaka Olisakwe Evelyn has been praised now and again for her debut novel, Eye of a Goddess. Okey Ndibe, author of Arrows of Rain describes her as 'a tender alluring storyteller worthy of a large, devoted readership. Her novel [Eye of a Goddess] seizes one's attention from the start - and never lets go.'

Enjoy an excerpt from Eye of a Goddess by Ukamaka Olisakwe Evelyn




***



IT WAS THE EYES.

I’d always thought it was the distinguishing feature—a growth at the side of my little finger—a sixth finger on each hand that made me different, which took the laughter away. But it had to be more than that, because there was the strangeness that clung to me like a second skin, leaving me hovering between dream and reality. I walked dazedly. Life, a blurred line I could not make sense of anymore.

Then, eyes. Something had escaped from them, something that was supposed not to, that had longed for freedom. It left me gasping, making me realise that there was more about my nature that caused things to go wrong, leaving me in an invisible place where outcasts dwelled, a place of no laughter. It was a time of sadness when I took the tray of food to Mama’s room. It was a time of sadness.

Inside, Mama lay on the bed. Her whimpers filled the room. She cradled the framed picture of Adaeze to her breasts. It was the fourth day in a row she’d lain in that bed, crying; rending tears that came from the pit of her being. Earlier, Azuka, Mama’s sister, had prepared a delicious dinner of orah soup and fufu. Mama’s favourite. There were chunks of smoked fish, the sort brought from Maiduguri, and many medium-sized pieces of beef in the soup. But it was the wrong time to serve such a delicacy.

Nkemjika didn’t touch his plate; he just stared as if expecting something to emerge from it. Ebuka frowned at his. I tried to chew a piece of fish, but it tasted like unwashed onugbu leaf and I spat it out. Then I stared at my plate, as the soup congealed and flies hovered while I swatted them. I was still staring as night came and Azuka called me to take food to Mama.

When I walked into Mama’s room, she lay on the bed, her back to me. The framed picture of Adaeze peeked from the crook of her elbow, and her shoulders shook. I drew up a table for her and placed the plate of fufu and soup, before leaving, soundlessly.

As I came back with a basin of water for hand washing, Mama had stood, looming, in the middle of the room; a strangeness about her. I couldn’t see her face clearly because she was obscured from the light sifting in from the open window. One hand was balanced on her thick waist and the other tightened the old flowered-patterned wrapper wound round her chest. I knew things were about to get bad. And there was nothing I could do about it. Suddenly, the fluorescent light came on and the room took on an eerie white quality.

“Did you put witchcraft in the food?” She demanded, arms akimbo, towering as if she had added extra feet. Her hair was a ruffled bob of savage cotton wool, and her eyes were sucked deep into her skull, seeming like a hollow cave on her unhealthy complexion. My tongue was glued to the roof of my mouth. A cockroach ran across the curtain frame behind her, and a wall gecko slithered from behind it. I wished to turn into a fly, wing into the air and disappear before she pounced, before she squashed me.

“Asim, did you put nsi in my food, the same you used to kill my baby?” She advanced as I took a step backwards; the floor creaking beneath her weight. The bowl of water shook in my hands, spattering drops of water on my leg, and unto the floor.

“I didn’t put anything,” I spluttered.

My leg felt cast in lead. My stomach growled, and I felt the tightness of hot urine threatening to gush out unbidden. I had made it backwards, almost out of the room, when she pounced.

“Ewoo!” The shrill scream left my throat as her heavy fist smashed into my face. I swayed, fell. The pain spread in swift waves, cycling, swallowing.

I tried to run, but her hands were like a vice clipping me to her.

“I will kill you!” She screamed bashing into my skull.

“I will kill you!”

She punched my face, nose, neck, everywhere. I felt her hands on my eyes, as if to squash them, but it was hot peppery syrup that filled my eyes instead. I was on fire; may be in hell.

I struggled. I flailed. I wondered where everyone was. Where was Azuka? Where was Nkemjika? Where was Ebuka? I felt my hair ripped out of my scalp. My nose tickled. Where was everyone?

“Bianu. Help!” I heard a voice that must have been Azuka’s enter the room. They struggled. I struggled. I was dragged here and there. They were shearing me in halves. My ribs hurt and hell was there, engulfing me. I was ripped apart alive as different voices filled the room. I was finally dragged to the floor by someone; the pull very painful. But I didn’t care, I was only afraid of the white light in my head and the hellish pain in my eyes. I heard a rip. My brain kept shaking. A hammer continued on my head, my stomach, and my shoulder.

“Biko, Leave her!” Nkemjika’s voice sifted through. Then, Nkemjika’s hands dragged me outside. I knew it was his.

I was still screaming. “My eyes! I am blind!” I couldn’t open my eyes.

“Njideka, sorry,” Nkemjika said as he covered me with a wrapper.

I was naked. I cuddled the cold ground, like a foetus. I wished the cold would chase away the hell I felt inside.

“I am blind!”

I hugged myself. I held my face. I didn’t know where to begin. To rub my eyes? Or to run mad? I felt more hands patting me, heard sympathetic whimpers. Ebuka sounded as if he had water in his nose. Nkemjika’s whimpers broke into his words; stressed syllables. Mama’s voice kept ringing out, drowning theirs. She cried that the pastor had confirmed I was a witch.

“I will poison her if she stays here one more night. I will strangle her to death! I swear,” she barked. “Egbue mia! I will kill her!” She swore. “Forgive me, Lord,” she cried loudly. “But she won’t stay here again. Eziokwu m!”

I remained on the ground even as Nkemjika’s hand tugged me to stand up. I didn’t. I couldn’t. Warm tears trickled down my face, into my mouth. He stayed with me for some minutes, crying. Then I felt him walk back into our house, where voices were clashing. Azuka was fighting with Mama. I wished for Papa. I wished for Adaeze. I wished for death. But none of these came.

It was not so many weeks ago when Papa was with us, when Adaeze was still with us. It was all not as Nnem-ochie had said it would be. She had lied. I knew that I was going blind, that I would never see the light again; I would never see the world again. When I couldn’t hear a voice close by, when all footsteps seemed to have gone into the house, I stood up, tottered on my feet, and slumped again. I was determined to escape. I crawled my way out of the compound. I felt my feet around the sandy ground, testing my blind vision in the familiar terrain.

I held unto the lattice fence of ogiris trees and made my way blindly out of the compound, out into the neighbourhood and prayed no one saw me. I willed the tears that scalded my eyes not to run. When the pain didn’t stop, I collapsed to the ground. I lay there, a secluded spot I knew well, a place where I had played hide and seek with Adaeze. I stayed there, for minutes, hours, until the sounds of night life was left in the world. I lay there, remembering how it all started, how easily one’s life could change. My memories flooded with the same sharpness of the cries of the crickets around me.



Eye of a Goddess is published by Piraeus Books, US, and available in some Nigerian bookshops and on Amazon

Literary Africana: Richard Ali


In his review of City of Memories by Richard Ali, the literary critic and columnist, Ikhide Ikheloa, considers Richard as "perhaps the most important Nigerian writer at home or in the Diaspora writing about Nigeria from a Northern perspective, bar none. We have not had a Nigerian write about the North with such passion and intellect as Ali. Not since Cyprian Ekwensi. Ali demonstrates a good mastery of prose, employing nuanced turns of phrases.”

Here is an excerpt from City of Memories by Richard Ali


***



MARYAM BAZZA'S FINGERS, gripping the stub of a half-finished pencil, slowly applied the eyeliner to her brows. She looked in the mirror on the table where she sat—perfect, she thought. She put the pencil back in her little pink leather purse, a gift from Faruk, and took out the beige lipstick which she then proceeded to apply.

The room reflected in the mirror was neat with a blue duvet on the bed, touching the floor, carpeted brown. A door led to the bathroom, and another set of doors held the wardrobe. One of these was slightly ajar, so that rows of metal hangers bereft of clothes were caught in the span of the mirror on the table.Satisfied, Maryam Bazza looked at herself in the mirror.

She had grown lean in the last two years, shedding the last of her adolescent plumpness so the face that stared back was ovoid, accentuating her elegant brows and her full lip. She winked at herself and in one movement leaned back so the chair pushed backwards noisily. She got out of it, taking care to pick up the leather purse.

She smiled at her reflection and said her name under her breath. She was ready. She pressed the lid of her blue travelling trunk shut, pulled out the carrier and rolled the trunk to the door. When out, she shut the door with a sense of finality. She struggled with the trunk down the stairs and left it to find her step-mother in the kitchen.

“I’m leaving,” she said.

The woman, Saadatu, just a decade older than she, looked her over then smiled.
“It’s today,” she said meaninglessly. Then she gathered Maryam Bazza into a full hug.

“Here, this is for you,” Saadatu said, giving Maryam a small Maggi bag full of N1,000 notes, “You will need it. Keep it safe, okay?”

The women hugged once more.

Maryam found her father outside, overseeing the washing of his car, as he did every day. Idi sat with him and they were sharing an early morning cup of coffee for Idi’s benefit.

“Baba.”

“I see you are ready?”

But she did not answer. She merely looked down at her feet.

“It’s okay. I will come and see you next weekend, okay?”

“Yes, Baba,” she finally said.

She did not look at him until after she had entered Idi’s car, a green Peugeot 406 wagon, when they were reversing out of the gate—then she looked up at her father with tears in her eyes. He waved and smiled bravely.

The herdsmen had already passed, there were no cattle and no egrets to bid Maryam Bazza goodbye—all there were were Bolewa’s trees, dotting the harmattan-ravaged savannah like mistakes. But they too were witnesses, had been there at the very beginning when a young princess had fallen in love with one man, and then with another.

Maryam sat in front of the car and watched the silent trees pass her by, and she wondered about Faruk and his mother, and about his wife and his mother-in-law, who was serving a life sentence in Yola. She thought of all the women she was and the dreams she would pursue at the University of Maiduguri, and the rest of her life to come past her day by day like these trees.

She did not see herself as the trees of Bolewa saw her, as a spot of calm moving on, a closure borne safely by the wheels of the Peugeot which turned up little geysers of dust as they spun sedately out of town to the highway.

She did not see the playful breeze that suddenly started to make the trees wave their hardy branches, enwrapped as she was with being in her time. But she did wonder when the rain would be here.

City of Memories is published by Black Palms Publishers and is available in bookshops around Nigeria.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Literary Africana: Chuma Nwokolo


I know, Allah is Not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma, I Do Not Come to You By Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, and Burma Boy by Biyi Bandele are pretty smack full of humour, but I have yet to read any novel as laugh-out-loud roller-coaster as Chuma Nwokolo’s Dairies of a Dead African.

I could thump my chest and say it's quite possibly the wittiest novel I’ve ever read by any African writer - except Amos Tutuola's.

The Ghost of Sani Abacha by Chuma Nwokolo, his latest fiction, a collection of 26 short stories, is just as incorrigibly rip-roaring.

Here is an excerpt of The Ghost of Sani Abacha by Chuma Nwokolo



*

Gluttony


BY THE TIME it was his turn to share his symptoms in the chemist’s private confessional, the shop had run out of laxatives. A messenger on motorbike was dispatched to a Bushemina pharmacy thirty minutes away and the pastor decided to wait.

Five minutes of small-talk passed and the chemist’s fidgeting grew more and more spastic until he gave up on the strictures of propriety and opened his bowl, liberating a stupefying aroma of kitchens into the antiseptic air of the drug store.

Inviting the pastor to join, he resumed his whale meat lunch with a gusto that Dego thought curious, considering the possibility of food poisoning that must surely have crossed the mind of any medical professional seeing the number of casualties seeking medication after the same meal.

When Dego shared his fears, the chemist glanced around confidentially and showed the pastor an empty bottle of laxative.

‘We fat people know the secret,’ he whispered, ‘I will enjoy the meat, but it won’t stay inside! If I don’t bring it up I will bring it down!’ He laughed and pushed the bowl across the small table, ‘Eat, it’s still hot. My messenger will soon bring your own medicine.’

Dego was painfully full, but it was also true that his mouth was still filling up with saliva. The problem was that the chemist had had the brainwave to barbecue the whale with garlicked suya sauce.

The pastor was curious about the taste of whale suya generously garlanded by slices of red peppers and coated with crunchy groundnut paste... plus... was that a hint of utazi in the air? Adding utazi to suya sauce was pure genius!

Yet, his curiosity was throttled by the physical pain twisting like a dagger in his guts, and the rolling waves of nausea that threatened to spray vomitus over the antimalarials on the desk counter. He also took exception to being lumped in a weight category with the obese chemist. ‘Fat’ was not a word he associated with himself. So he shook his head firmly.

The chemist shrugged, burped, and excusing himself, waddled to the loo.

Pastor Dego shut his eyes and began to pray. He massaged his painful stomach, using it as a point of contact with every constipated gut in Waterside. He took captive the Prince of Gluttony, cast him down in the name of Jesus, and bound him in chains of Self Restraint.

He prayed against the lust that entered in through the eye gate – and the greedy conduit of the nose. He shackled Desire to Righteousness. He neutralised the magnetism of piri-piri chicken, suyaed whale and the particularly diabolical combination of moin-moin and soaked gari.

Errant visions were now running amok in his mind and he rebuked the deliciously satanic okporoko fish that swam the red seas of banga soup. He came against the principalities of marine spirits who had sent the snare of the whale to break up his service and ensnare his parish. He prayed against the slavering serpent of the tongue.

He manacled the Pied Piper of Alcohol. He railed against mouths that hungered beyond the needs of sustenance. He cursed guts that distended like elastic bags... guts should be finite and firm, should fill up like steel petrol tanks, and spill over, and say no more! He prayed and... God... he prayed!

Then he opened his eyes and the plate was still there. He sighed. He had really hoped for a miracle. He reached for the suyaed whale, thinking, despairingly, that he was lost.




You can read more about The Ghost of Sani Abacha published by County Book here. You can also get a copy at any leading bookshops in Nigeria and in Ghana. It is also available on Amazon

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Literary Africana: Tendai Huchu


The Hairdresser of Harare by TENDAI HUCHU has been praised by Brian Chikwava, award-winning author of Harare North, as ‘a subtle and refreshing story of life in contemporary Harare … a novel of morality, prejudice and ambition told with humour and tragedy.’

Tendai’s novel is a delicious fare of delight, well-paced yet garnished with suitable humour.

Here is an excerpt of The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu





***





I KNEW THERE was something not quite right about Dumi the very first time I ever laid eyes on him. The problem was, I just couldn’t tell what it was. Thank God for that.

There was a time that I was reputed to be the best hairdresser in Harare, which meant the best in the whole country. Amai Ndoro was the fussiest customer to ever grace a salon and she would not let any ordinary kiya-kiya touch her hair. Having sampled all the salons in Harare – and rejected them all – she settled on ours. The fussiest cus- tomer was also the largest motor mouth and gossip-monger. Once she was our client, we never needed to advertise again, as long as we kept her happy. That was my job and why Mrs Khumalo paid me the highest wage.

Khumalo Hair and Beauty Treatment Salon was in the Avenues, a short walking distance from the city centre. We did hair but never any beauty treatments. In any case I doubt any of us knew how to. There was a rusty metal sign painted white with black lettering on the front gate that pointed to our establishment. The rust, accumulated over several rainy seasons, had eaten away so much of the sign that only Khumalo's drawing of a lady with a huge afro and an arrow still showed. Our customers didn’t need it, the directions were simple.

‘Go up from Harare Gardens, skip two roads, take a left, skip another road and look for the blue house on your right, not the green one, and you’re there.’ You’d have to be a nincompoop to miss it.

The front section of the house, which once served as a lounge, was converted into an internet café with a dozen or so computers. You could hear the fans humming and the shriek of the dialler from the pavement across the road. Their prices weren’t too bad either, com- pared to those at Eastgate or Ximex Mall. The rest of the main house was used by the Khumalo family, all thirteen of them.

Our salon was at the back in what used to be the boy’s kaya, ser- vant’s quarters. From across the yard, the fragrant aroma of relaxers, dyes, shampoos and a dozen other chemicals hit you. The smell merged with the dust from the driveway and left something in your nostrils that you couldn’t shake off until the next time you caught a cold.

The building had been crudely extended. A wall had been knocked down to the left and concrete blocks hastily laid to add another seven metres. Such architectural genius had left us with a hybrid building, the likes of which you could only find if you looked hard. The right of the building was constructed of proper burnt bricks, profession- ally built in every respect. You could see the dividing line where the cheap concrete blocks had been used. Aesthetics aside, we were all grateful for the accommodation though it rattled a little during heavy storms.

Each morning I was greeted by Agnes with, “Sisi Vimbai, you’re late again. Customers are waiting.” Mrs Khumalo’s eldest daughter held the keys and opened shop.

I would make a sound like ‘Nxii’ with my lips and walk in without greeting the cow. I hated her, she hated me twice as much and so long as mummy wasn’t in, there was no need to pretend otherwise. Everyone knew I was the goose that laid the golden eggs. If I left, half the customers would follow me. In any case letting them wait made them realise how lucky they were to be served at all, so I was actually doing the business a favour.

There were three other hairdressers, Memory, Patricia and Yolanda plus Charlie Boy, our barber, who always came in smelling of Chibuku. The salon was my personal fiefdom and I was queen bee. I would throw my handbag on the floor underneath the cashier’s desk and boil myself a cup of tea.

“There is a new style I want you to do for me.” How often have I heard these words, usually followed by a folded picture torn from some glossy American magazine.
“Nxii, I can do that easily, it’s just the style for you!” I always indulged them with a white lie.

There’s only one secret to being a successful hairdresser and I’ve never withheld it from anyone. ‘Your client should leave the salon feeling like a white woman.’ Not Coloured, not Indian, not Chinese. I have told this to everyone who’s ever asked me and what they all want to know is how d’ you make someone feel like a white woman. Sigh, yawn, scratch.

The answer is simple, ‘whiteness is a state of mind’.

Mrs Khumalo understands this and that’s why she would never fire me. The other girls don’t understand it and that’s why Patricia was fired. The stupid girl got pregnant less than six months into the job, so, of course, Mrs K. had no choice. Hairdressers are there to sell an image and that image is not pushing a football in your belly. Suddenly we had a vacancy. Little did I know that this small twist of fate would cost me my crown.


The Hairdresser of Harare is published by Weaver Press, and is available in bookshops in Zimbabwe, South Africa and other African countries, and of course on Amazon.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Literary Africana: Jude Dibia

OK, Jude Dibia is one of my favorite novelists, his writing is simply lush and has been described as daring and controversial by readers and critics in and out of Africa.

Ikhide Ikheloa, a renowned Nigerian columnist and critic, has extolled Blackbird as a work of considerable industry and purpose... an important narrative.

Here is an excerpt of Blackbird by Jude Dibia


***




ONLY TWO years ago, things had been different in the Shiloh area of Sambo town. Things had been hard but not quite as perilous as they had become in recent times.

Maya remembered the joys of walking freely to the market without worrying about the prospect of being knocked down by irresponsible motorcyclists, mugged by a neighbourhood hoodlum, or waylaid by beggars. Yes, even beggars harassed people on the streets of Sambo these days. She had had a bitter experience on a Sunday afternoon recently. She had gone to the neighbourhood Catholic church on her own.

Deji was in hospital and Omoniyi had refused to wake up that morning. Previously, she would have taken the bus but, to save the five naira fare, she decided to walk there and back, only fifteen minutes on foot. On her way back, what seemed to be an old, destitute man accosted her, begging for money. He was bent over as if by age and the pangs of crippling poverty. She had none to give him and politely told him so. Then suddenly he became upright and sprightly.

“Óde oshi!” he cursed. “Na sorry man go chop? I say give me money you wan’ jus’ waka pass.”

He grabbed her wrist and pulled her to him. The full blast of his rotten, unclean smell hit her full in the face and for a moment she lost all use of her senses and limbs.

“No be church you jus’ commot from?” the vile man said directly at her face, exposing a missing tooth and black gums. “Your god no say make you give to the poor?”

Maya recalled how she had screamed to attract the attention of passers-by. She pushed the man away and ran all the way home, not stopping once to look behind her.

That was how bad things had become in Sambo. The other day, she was at the market when she had heard about how a mob of market boys and miscreants had taunted a couple of young women who were wearing clothes made from a new fashion fad, a velvety material that was now derisively christened ‘akwa òche’, upholstery fabric. Nowadays, it seemed, young women were being harassed on the streets on a daily basis while other people simply looked on, and sometimes even buoyed up the troublemakers. These indeed were troubling times.



Blackbird
by Jude Dibia is published by Jalaa Writers’ Collective and is available in bookshops in Nigeria and on Amazon Kindle.



I HAVE had a splendidly refreshing time at Civitella Ranieri, you could read more about the 15th-century old castello here

so i thought i should write a simple poem or two, as a way of etching in my memory the few mornings i spent---

(while not typing away or keeping myself snug with a priceless book)

---promenading in the secret garden lush with olives, lavenders, and roses;

a garden you could idle away in while gazing out over
the far-off undulating green
swell of mountains stretching away,
stretching away,
stretching
away...)

Well, here are the poems:

hope they help stir up memories of places you once visited!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Literary Africana: Abubakar Adam Ibrahim


Abubakar Adam Ibrahim has been described precisely as ‘a writer to look out for’ by Helon Habila, the author of the magnificent Waiting for an Angel. By the way, Abubakar is among the 20 journalists selected for the 2013 Gabriel García Márquez fellowship in cultural journalism.

The Whispering Trees is a collection of 12 short stories which are told by a very confident writer with a penchant for nuance

Excerpt from The Whispering Trees by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim




#


5.


DEAR MOTHER

I guess I should tell you everything else, Mother, since you now know I’ve got cancer. I haven’t got long to live, the doctor says. But before I die, I thought I should let you know: I still see father every night. He hasn’t changed much: He still has the sneering smile, the dim light in his eyes and the perpetually-rumpled shirt.

“Yes, I want to wring your neck, you scrawny little bastard. You think I don’t know what you did?” he says, but his eyes are on my leg—the left one. I don’t think my bad leg would allow me to flee his wrath.

“It’s the devil you traded your leg to. Nobody should blame polio,” he hisses as he did in old times. “You bastard son of your mother.”

When I leave him on such nights, my left leg feels heavy, like the dead load that it is, you know. I used to wonder why you wouldn’t tell me how my leg turned bad, but I found out, Mother. Aunt Mary told me father wouldn’t let you take me for the vaccination when I was a child. I also used to wonder why he would not accept me. And I know you have asked me not to say this, but I hate myself because, every time I look in the mirror, it’s his face I see staring back at me, even after all these years.

I remember returning home from the moonlight plays when I was much younger. You and Father were arguing again. He was drunk, as usual.

“How can you hate your son like that?” you were saying. But he wouldn’t listen. He would hear none of it.

“Oh, Jesus,” he slurred. “You little, whoring witch, you caused all of this!”

“But you can’t deny he’s your son, Dede . . . .”

“After throwing your legs open to all the men in the neighbourhood, why shouldn’t God curse you and the filth of your womb?” he shouted. “That’s why I have a rag leg for a son, the bastard! God damn him, and God damn you too!”

I remember the sounds: the thumps and whacks, the muffled cries. I also remember your bruised face and black eyes. I remember too how he would kick away my food when I sat eating by the door. I remember how he would flog me with his belt, how he made me carry my polio-sucked leg like a curse for a sin I knew nothing about. I remember his stinking breath as he stared me in the face and told me my existence was a sin, and that you, Mother, were the devil’s widow. I remember how you, the superwoman, were powerless to stop him. But I could not understand why you chose to stay with him then, because I was young. I did not understand what love could make people do. But he, too, did not understand what hate could make people do.

I resented the way he would sit at Mama Caro’s beer parlour all day making a fool of himself, downing mug after mug of beer. I resented him making a mockery of my schooling, the fees for which you paid with your sweat.

I hid my tears each night, when you asked me to massage your back and rub in the heat balm after you were done pedalling away on the sewing machine all day. I hid my tears on the day I came back from school and saw your hand bloated, bloodied and bandaged, where the machine had stitched you up so bad you needed an injection. And then he came home that night, smelling of anger and stale beer, belching resentment and fear.

“Where is my food?!” he thundered, even though you had placed it on the table right before him. I watched him that night as he ate, resentful that he lived off your sweat and blood.

“Hey, boy,” he said, his mouth full, “what kind of idiot are you? Go get me some drinking water!”

And I got him the water from the fridge.

I still see father every night, Mother. I see him in my dreams. He knows now that I poisoned him that night. He knows I enjoyed watching him die. He is waiting for me on the other side so that he can wring my neck. But he doesn’t scare me anymore. He’s just a disgruntled ghost lurking in the shadows of my memory.
<<<>>>





The Whispering Trees is published by Parresia Publishers, and is available in many bookshops in Nigeria. Here is a link to some of the outlets.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Literary Africana: Eghosa Imasuen

Eghosa Imaseun has been applauded now and again for how deftly he deploys Pidgin English in his narrative. A. Igoni Barrett, author of Caves of Rotten Teeth, describes Eghosa as “a keen observer of Nigerian urban life.”

Fine Boys is a compelling story which nearly every undergraduate/graduate can readily identify with, a book which incites nostalgia for the “wonder years” of teenage frivolity and high jinks.

Excerpt from Fine Boys by Eghosa Imasuen.


#


YOU KNOW WHAT what your problem is?”

Amide looked at me and smiled indulgently, “Tell me.”

I was escorting her to Osasogie gate on a dusty Saturday morning. Harmattan had come early this year and already the leaves were browning in the dust and dryness. A breeze caught her skirt and she let it twirl around her knees, dangerously close to indecently exposing her. Wilhelm had been away on one of his recent absences last night, absences that I was getting used to and had learnt not to pry into, even though they left a knot of concern in my belly. Amide had spent the night in my room and we were talking about the tests. She scored 59 percent in biochemistry and she had been gloating when I changed the subject.

I told her what her problem was. “You like me. A lot. You, I dare say, love me. Don’t you?”

She laughed. She was still laughing when we stopped a bike. She leaned into me for the kiss, and I teased, “Say it. Just once try it and see if it feels right.”

It was one of the only things that could make Amide uncomfortable. She was like a gruff and quick-witted forties’ film noir girl. Underneath the cool facade, I could see she was fidgeting. It was in the quick drop of her shoulders, and rise again, the way she stared at the spot between my eyes and right shoulder, a barely imperceptible quivering of her upper lip. She finally whispered, “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

I bypassed the flat on the way back and took a shortcut to Fra and Preppa’s place. The walk took me through the hamlets behind Ugbowo. Children played in front of old-style Bini compounds, with the steeply sloping mud walls and central atrium and the ubiquitous hand painted signs, THIS HOUSE IS NOT FOR SALE. BY ORDER, FAMILY. Pant-wearing, snot-nosed kids danced around on dirt-floored chalk-drawn hopscotch rectangles while their mothers fried akara for sale. I stopped to buy some Akara under a sign, FULCANISA, REPARE YOUR TIRE HIA, and smiled to myself at the vocabulary—I would file it away for a joke, although I soon discarded it when I saw another that said, OGHENOVO THE CORFIN MAKER. AMBRANCE SERVICES ALSO AVALEBLE. I ignored the hand the woman used in serving me. I could have sworn that, as I came around the bend, I had seen her wipe her toddler’s bottom with it. I took the curve into Nova Hotel Road.


#


“Try this one: four-letter word, acidic.”

“What does it start with?”

Ejiro took his time. We sat on the waist-high fence in front of his new flat. He had taken over Kpobo’s room after the latter left for London. The rest of Ejiro’s new roommates played football on the grass and concrete lawn in front of us. Monkey post. Fra manned the goal and was sweating profusely, shouting and delivering tackles that would make an Italian cringe. The other players waxed and waned across the field, all in a crowd around the ball with no regard for positions or roles. Everyone apart from Fra was an attacker, then a defender, and then a midfielder. Preppa scored, his fourth for the morning, and we, the supporters, cheered. The clapping detail had a total population of two, Ejiro and me. We sat on the fence, occasionally cheered and played crosswords on the back of a newspaper.

“Let me see,” Ejiro said, “Thirteen across . . . it starts with a T.”

“Tart.”

“Oboy! You dey try o. And you say you don’t play crosswords?”

I nodded and murmured to myself that I did not. I lacked the attention span and always felt the puzzle designers were idiots. I did not tell Ejiro what I thought of those who had the time to solve the puzzles. I looked away from the paper and stared at the football game. I stopped seeing it and let my mind travel. It was November already. Just like in my case, the twins would not be entering school the year they were supposed to. The last time we spoke my brother had told me he wanted to leave Warri.

He had taken over my job as purchasing clerk; the stress and the driving and Dad’s screaming were not the only reasons for wanting to escape. Eniye worked in the bank as an office clerk. She too had learnt how to drive and spent afternoons supervising Mom’s supermarket; the deal had been reached where she would work in both companies. They were both bored senseless. I wanted them to leave Warri too; Osaze would enter Uniben for engineering while Eniye had applied to study computer science at the University of Lagos.

Mom and Dad’s truce had lasted only a month after Nene’s burial. The cold war quickly turned hot and most evenings at home began with us looking at an exasperated Dad pacing around the sitting room and a screeching Mom accusing him of every sin under the sun.

“Yes! Say it! You don’t love me!”

“What kind of nonsense talk is that, Omasan?”

“Don’t touch me! Why can’t I go to law school? Yes! If it is to go around town with your nonsense girlfriends . . . Even when my mother died, where were you? You abandoned me.”

“Darling, watch what you say o. You can’t take it back.”

“Gerrout! Even at her burial. Even at her burial you could not stay awake.”

“Haba!”

“Yes! I was alone. I was alone. I’m still alone. What I want from you is support. Have I not tried? I gave you children. When I was supposed to be doing my master’s, my doctorate, I was here in Warri cleaning up after you. Now you have money and you want to enjoy it with your rubbish small girls. I want to go to law school. To have something for myself, and you are telling me of family time. Family time, my foot. What of my time?”

We watched and kept quiet. The only time I intervened was when, after a thorough verbal lashing from Mom, Dad chased her around the house determined to beat his point of view into her. He caught up with her in the kiddies’ parlour and was bent over her crouched form in a corner when I entered the room and said, “Don’t touch my mother.”

It worked.

Dad’s shoulders deflated and he turned away from her. He refused to meet my eyes as he shoved past and then shuffled with slumped shoulders to his bedroom. I did not go to Mom. Instead, I waited and looked at her. She got up, dusted herself and said to the twins and me, “I’m sorry.”

She won the battle. She would begin law school in January. But the fights continued. After each, whether ending with blows or not, Mom would kneel in her room, from where we could hear her praying loudly for forgiveness. She typically stayed in there for hours, appeared to prepare food, eyes swollen and bloodshot, and quickly retreated into the room. Family dinners stopped and both of my parents took to eating in their rooms. Dad still called me into his to complain. I began to listen. I tried not to, and my heart broke, when Dad’s words made me ask my own questions. Why was Mom so angry? Why did she complain about having all her options taken away from her because of marriage and children? Were we a mistake? Would she have made professor if she had not had us?

I was so happy when the General reopened the universities in late September. I noticed the envy on Osaze's face, in his voice, when he escorted me on the drive back to school.

“This one, nko: twenty-one across, four-letter word, inter?”

“Bury.”





Fine Boys by Eghosa Imasuen is published by Farafina Books; it is Eghosa's second novel, his first being the remarkable To St Patrick, an alternative history fiction. Fine Boys is available in bookshops in Nigeria and Ghana. You can order from Amazon, hard copy and Kindle Edition here

The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Residency Programs
has started receiving applications.

The Bellagio Residency program offers academic writing, arts and literary arts, and practitioners a serene setting conducive to focused, goal-oriented work, and the unparalleled opportunity to establish new connections with fellow residents, from a stimulating array of disciplines and geographies.


Your application must consists of the following:

Project Description / Phase Question
Project Proposal Questions
Abbreviated CV
Work Samples
Statement from Previous Bellagio Residents
A Note on Translation Projects

If you're interested check it out here

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Literary Africana: Emmanuel Iduma


Emmanuel Iduma is a young writer of immense imagination. He is “one of the most challenging voices in Nigerian literary scene” as described by Onyeka Nwelue, author of The Abyssinian Boy. Iduma’s debut novel, Farad, has been compared to Jose Saramago’s work for the lucidity of its prose and experimentation in form.

Here is an excerpt of Farad by Emmanuel iduma.






***



SHE WAS GONE BEFORE I REMEMBERED. Her voice had sounded like the pouring of water into an empty cup; her eyes had seemed as though they could see things yet to be. Her life had always seemed to be on the verge of happening. She used to talk of doing something. Even when my elder brother was alive, and laughter bounced about within the walls of our house, and music was an early morning gift.

There was a mahogany plank fixed to the front door of my brother’s house. On it he had inscribed, “Because it is mine” underneath the words “Peace Villa,” the name of the house. The letters seemed to have been painstakingly engraved, such that they seemed buried deep in the wood. Even before he had died, she had spoken of changing those words to “Because it is ours.” She was my brother’s wife, see.

She was tall and appeared effortlessly athletic, and there was a gaze in her eyes that seemed awakened yet vulnerable. Her complexion, which I considered peculiar, appeared to roam through the shades—she could seem dark-skinned today and albino-yellow tomorrow. And she spoke of the Museum of Silver Lights. I heard her argue with my brother once about turning the hallway of his brick house into the “first phase” of the museum. He asked her, in a mocking tone, what she’d keep in the museum. She told him the word “museum” was a variant of the word “muse” and that it could mean “a place for muse.”

My brother, in his usual dissatisfied manner, asked, “What do you mean?”
And she told him, “I want to keep old photos in the museum.”

My brother shook his head and looked at her in a way that spoke of her longstanding madness. Her eyes met mine, and I bowed my head.

My brother died the next day in a big fight. He was a car dealer. His was, by all standards, the biggest car shop in Jos. The fight had started two shops before his warehouse. It went the way all big fights go. His shop was burnt. He went with his shop.

Her crying was the least pronounced. Our neighbours shed more tears than she did. They spoke to me in her stead. But even in my brother’s days, they would have talked to him to talk to her—even if she sat with them in the parlour. When a group of Igbo men came to commiserate, they considered me old enough and talked to me while she sat with us. If you had not known, you’d have thought she was an apparition sitting in the parlour while we mourned.

The Igbo Community in Jos staged a protest against my brother’s death—on the manner in which the authorities had treated his case. It was a clear case of ethnic hegemony. On the morning of the protest, I asked her if she was going to join. She shook her head and asked me if I had eaten. She was the kind of person who tied two unrelated things together—a protest and a meal, a death and a museum. So I wasn’t surprised when she asked me next, “You think I can start the museum now?”

I could have said I didn’t think museums were started, or that it was an inappropriate thought given the circumstances. But instead I said, “Yes.” And when she nodded, smiled, and rubbed my shoulder, I said, “Yes,” again.

I did not join them in the protest. I heard that only ten men had shown up, and that they had called it off when no one else joined them.

She replaced the mahogany plank that read “Peace Villa” with “The Museum of Silver Lights,” and underneath the words, she inscribed “Because it is ours.”
Yes, she had confronted my brother about the words he had inscribed on the plank. Incidentally, it had been the day just after I had come from our parents—they had insisted I go to my brother, so he could ‘speak some sense into my head’, for my decision not to go to university. She talked about the phrase in a manner that showed she had spoken about it before.

“You can’t just declare that this house is yours. If nothing, there are other people living here.”

My brother said, without turning to her, “Leave me alone.”

She pursed her lips and looked upwards then shook her head. She walked away from him. I wondered why she spoke of the words on the plank—I thought she shouldn’t be bothered about such little things.

She was the kind of person that was bothered about small things.

One day, she called me. She had come home earlier with photographs in silver frames. Now she had driven nails into the wall of the hallway and hung the photographs in a criss-cross manner. She still stood on the stool onto which she had climbed to cover the yellow bulb hanging from the ceiling with a silver screen shade. They were photos of my brother and her on different occasions. She spoke of each photograph as a guide would do in a museum— “We took this in Abuja”, or “He had just come back from China, at the airport.” But I was angry. She hadn’t asked for my help in putting up the photographs. She said, “We’ll fill the house with more photographs. Maybe we can open it up to the public. They would see his face.”

I walked away from her. She spoke of my brother as though he had had no mind of his own.

While she slept, I took down all the photographs—all twenty three of them, despite the way the hallway glowed like silver. I carried them outside the house.

I took a stone and broke each of the photographs into bits.

In the morning when I woke, she was gone. There was a white sheet of paper on the table in my room. She had started to write something, but cancelled it. I could see where the pen had torn the paper while she scratched off the words she’d written.

The Igbo Community in Jos told me they were going to stage a protest against the manner of her death. I told them it was unnecessary. Their spokesman, a Reverend Father who kept dreadlocks asked me why. I told him I was going back to my parents in Ibadan. That was all.

“Is that all?” he asked.

I said, “Yes. That’s all.”

I told him that if he wanted to do something for her memory, he should have something important written on her grave. He asked what. I told him
“Because you were ours.” Then I told him no. He should have them inscribe “Museum of Silver Lights” instead. He frowned. I told him to call off the epitaph idea entirely.

On the day she was buried, someone came with a handwritten invitation he claimed she had given him. It read, “Please attend the opening of the Museum of Silver Lights.” And our address was written on it.

They said she had been hit by a car while distributing her handwritten invitations.

II

I often dreamt of an empty room with light bulbs covering its ceiling. In my dreams, I watched the lit room from a distance, usually unable to go in. Sometimes this dream happened when I was awake. I knew then that it was fixed in my memory; I knew my dreams by heart. I had come to that point when I was the one who determined what I dreamt about, what I made-believe. And this capacity, this ability to stretch myself to such lengths, did not come by chance.


When my sister-in-law died, in the process of distributing invitations to her Museum of Silver Lights, my parents came to Jos and took me away. They had decided for me. I was going to Ife; I was going to study law. There are times when I assume I was beguiled, brain-washed. In my earlier stubbornness, I had not conceived that my parents’ could prevail over me. Yet, in a matter of time, it became my own wish to study Law in Ife; I made my dream. There were so many things that had happened – my brother and his wife, their deaths – that perhaps my grasp on what was real and what was not, the dividing line between both, had become blurred. In circumstances of this kind, you would ask yourself whether you were certain of what was and what wasn’t—and when you thought you had found the answer, the question would present itself to you again.

There were other reasons why I chose to attend the Chapel, aside from the fact that a classmate whom I admired had invited me. She was a girl I thought I loved, until I told her and she said we would spoil things if she accepted. So, even though she stopped attending the Chapel, and I began to see her with another boy in another Church on campus, I kept attending the Chapel. There was something about the size of the compound that intimidated me, made me believe that I couldn’t understand its complexity even if I tried. The hall could probably sit about five thousand, and; illusorily, less than five hundred were regular members.

I joined the Youth Fellowship as soon as I made the resolve to be a member. On my first Sunday, Tutu – that was her name – had given me a copy of Seeds, a monthly publication by the Youth Fellowship. Then, in my first year, I had decided that I wanted to write poetry. Seeing that Seeds had no poetry, I considered joining the Editorial Team so that I could contribute some. I asked Tutu to introduce me to the Editor. His name was Jackson, he was in his final year, and was bored; editing Seeds had become humdrum. In another two years, by my third year, I had become the Editor of Seeds.

Oko Egwu wrote for Seeds occasionally. He told me, after a Youth Fellowship meeting, that he wanted to write a short piece about the Choir, or that it would be better if I wrote it. I told him it was going to be difficult, seeing as we had a short time, a little over a week, before the next issue would be released.

He told me why he wanted me to write it.

“You think it’s going to be sensible?” I asked him. “Well, let’s try.”

I shook my head, understanding the import of what he was asking. “We’re really inconsequential, here,” I told him.

“Really?” he asked. I took it to mean he was asking, “You want it to remain so?”

Before he left Ife, Jackson had introduced me to a friend of his, a medical student. He said that his friend was a good poet, the best he knew, and that while poetry bored him, his was an exception. Jackson said he had always been unable to get his friend’s poetry into Seeds, and that I could try, that I could succeed. So he introduced me to his friend, a certain Damilola Ajayi. I asked Damilola for his poems on the evening when Oko Egwu spoke of writing about the choir, and he searched in the bag he was carrying for something he had scribbled that morning.

I decided to use Damilola’s poem for the coming issue of Seeds. I had typed it on my laptop, but when I decided to write about the Choir it became likely I would do away with the poem, for space. I decided, also, to do away with an excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ “God in the Dock”. Yet, there were lines in Damilola’s poem that answered the question Oko had asked me. He had asked me “you want it to remain so?” and I had been unable to answer. It was like the feeling of not knowing what was real and what was false, not knowing when you had caught a plague or when you were dying from natural causes. The lines from the poem were:

The story is a tragedy
But it’s a story nonetheless.


Oko’s objective was to get the young people in the choir, which he happened to head, to agree with the Assistant Choirmaster’s proposition to hold an election during the forthcoming retreat. Seeds was due to come out two Sundays before the retreat. I told him he was relying on a fluke, that not many people took our work in Seeds seriously.

He looked at me. I understood his concerns. It was surprising even to me that I edited Seeds but did not believe in my work. It was surprising that my life seemed to comprise of things I didn’t believe utterly in—commonplace, lacklustre, elements gave form to my life. Despite having accepted to write about the Choir, I did not trust myself, or my writing—Damilola had once told me a writer’s life was a hybrid of moments of intense doubt and moments of stellar brilliance.

I called Oko when Seeds arrived. There was a fight in my head even before he said he wasn’t sure we could distribute it. It was the first time he read what I wrote—our schedule had been tight. I smiled and asked him why.

“This is dangerous, Christian.”

I knew he was afraid but I asked myself if I was any different. We sat in a small room that served as an office for the Youth Fellowship, filled with musical instruments, a computer, a small collection of Christian literature and undistributed past editions of Seeds. I had called him because I had wanted him to see what I had written. And he had worsened what I felt by saying what he had said.

“That’s impossible. You know it.”

“Are you ready for what will happen?” He asked.

I smile again. “You expect trouble when you are speaking the truth.”

He chuckled, nervously. “Is this the truth, Christian? Agreed, it might be our truth, because we want to believe it is. But there’s the truth of the older people, and they won’t fancy our truth, I tell you.”

I held his shoulder, showing affection I felt was unnecessary, and said, “It doesn’t matter whose truth it is . . .”

He retorted, sharply, “It matters.” But that was all he said; he looked crestfallen, a look that showed he was leaving things unsaid. He walked out. I wanted to call him back, talk to him, and convince him that I was not as scared as he was. But I could only see his hunched shoulders, the way his body seemed to sag when we talked, and I knew mine wasn’t different. It was sagging and unsure.

There was man in the Chapel, Dr. Addo, who always sat in the first pew. He was considered eccentric and unreasonable, but he had a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and lectured in the same department. His students said he cursed in class, called the Yoruba gods of thunder and lightning on all those who taught them that it was unnecessary to memorize whole textbooks or substantial parts of his lecture notes. But in the Chapel, during the sermon, mostly, he raised his hand in agreement, asserting himself in a way that made me think he was putting an end to doubts of his irrelevance.

I saw him walk up to the Choirmaster just after the Church service had ended. He walked as though on fire, casting his legs in front of him with absolute certainty. The Chapel was still filled with members who were chatting amongst themselves, making small talk before leaving. I stood behind, some yards from the Choirmaster, talking with Charity, Tutu’s friend, who had remained committed to the Chapel. We heard Dr Addo saying, “Did you see this?” over and over to the Choirmaster. The Choirmaster was surrounded by Choristers, who had assembled after the Recession. Then Dr. Addo stopped asking the question, and began to tear Seeds into shreds, bit by bit, littering the Chapel. There was now a substantial number of Choristers standing by as he tore up Seeds. Some members of the Chapel walked to where he stood.

Two minutes later, I heard Dr. Addo say, “Where is that Christian Ike? Does anyone know him?” A part of me wanted to walk to him, and surrender myself to any consequence they were going to mete out. But I considered that foolhardy. I walked quietly out of the chapel, hoping that someone saw how I escaped from the limelight, or whatever it was that could have happened if I had spoken to Dr. Addo.

As I walked away from the Chapel, I tried to think about whether it would be trite to put that issue of Seeds in a glass, and hang it in my room in school. Perhaps it would be better to take it home, where there were reminders of the life I had lived in Jos—the life my brother’s wife had lived, the lights she had seen, her botched Museum of Silver Lights.

As I walked, I wondered what Oko was thinking, if he had got what he wanted, if he had not given himself the excuse that he did not know what he wanted. I imagined there were young people who would have been stirred by what I wrote, and I imagined there were those who wouldn’t have cared, for whom the Choir had no need for change. And there might be those in-between for whom nothing was right or wrong—for whom all that was necessary was the continued functioning of the Choir, irrespective of what I wrote, or did not write.

I heard my name being called. I stopped, and saw that it was Oko. He was panting from running, but he was smiling. I wanted to ask him why he was smiling, but I can only imagine that he had dreamt my dream, of an empty room, whose ceiling was covered with light bulbs, waiting for us to enter, awakened, dreaming no more.


To read more of Emmanuel Iduma’s writing, you can visit his website

Meanwhile, Farad is available in leading bookshops in Nigeria

You can also follow Farad here

Chimamanda, why shouldn't we be surprised....?



'Why Are We Surprised? Thoughts on Nigeria’s Past, Present and Future'

That's the title of the keynote address given by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, a Nigerian novelist, who has quite an intimating cache of prizes for her writing.

Just recently she gave this keynote speech at the Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala, Sweden, on the celebration of its 50th Anniversary – 50 years with Africa in focus.

The celebrations in Uppsala took place on October 15th at the institute’s new premises in the Botanical Gardens.

Splendid viewing here:









Call for Applications for Journalism Training on Global Economic Governance: African Perspectives

Are you a mid-career journalist, then you need to apply for an eight-day training course on:

Global Economic Governance: African Perspectives

In order to apply, applicants are requested to complete the information sheet (to be downloaded from the website) and submit it to the address listed below together with the following documents:

a motivation letter, explaining what the applicant and their respective media houses hope to get out of the programme and how s/he will apply the skills learned;
a detailed CV with clear contact details; and
a letter of support from the applicant’s employer (or professional association, in the case of freelancers), with clear contact details, committing the applicant to participate for the full duration of the course.

The international travel costs to and from the training venue will be borne by the GIZ in the event that the media houses are not able to cover the costs. In addition, accommodation costs as well as daily allowances to cover meals will be borne by the organisers.

Closing date for applications: Monday, 5 November, 2012.

Note: Only applications complete with all the above information will be considered.

Read more about it here

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Macy Gray - Beauty In The World

Let's Call it, Say, Literary Africana!

OK, call it whatever you want...say, Literary Africana!

But anyhow, I’ll be featuring (with the kind permission of the authors – oh, I know, well, you sometimes can’t escape the easy magnet of clichés) between now and who-knows-when the excerpts of some fiction by a few authors – mostly Africans, of course – whose writing I strongly admire.

By this, I’m hoping some of us aspiring writers can draw inspiration and some courage from them, as we strive to find a foothold in the steep uphill climb that is creative writing. Lest I forget, I was privileged to see a few of these works in their raw artless foetal form, before, you know, the works finally came out polished as gem, and hit the bookstands.

We shall start off with a brief excerpt of
Shadows by Nuvoyo Rose Tshuma:

Shadows
has been esteemed by the award-winning novelist Chika Unigwe, author of On Black Sisters' Street, as "a staggering work of beauty. Tshuma brings a lightness of touch to tragedy and the reality of life for ‘small people’ in contemporary Zimbabwe.’

Nuvoyo's writing is so crisp, so understated in its narration, you're stunned by its sharpness. Enjoy!


  


WE ARE IN THE SUBURBS, at the Nleyas, where Mama works as their domestic. I have fallen in love for the first time, with the Nleyas’ daughter Asanda; she is the prettiest thing I have ever seen. Creamy skin and long hair which her Mama straightens with a hot comb, and huge round eyes she likes to bat like Darla in ‘Little Rascals’. I watch her for days and I cannot speak.

‘I’m not supposed to speak to the staff,’ she says in her white accent.

‘Well,’ say I. ‘I ain’t the staff.’ I am trying to affect an American accent and it’s going terribly.

‘Your mother is, so that makes you the staff’s child. So I’m not supposed to speak to you.’

It is the first time I feel anything like shame for who I am, who Mama is, who she makes me.

‘She ain’t my mother,’ I lie.

‘Where’s your mother?’

‘She’s in America.’

Asanda throws back her pretty head and laughs. I watch her hair and zoom her down to slow motion, imagine she is an African American actress in one of those films I have seen on tv, Diana Ross in Mahogany, shaking her hot-combed hair in tender seduction. But her laughter is sharp, says ugly things before she speaks them. ‘You’re a liar. My mother told me she’s your mother. You’re a liar, just like your mother.’

‘Don’t you call my mother a liar.’

‘Yes she is, my Mama said she is, she says she stole the cooking oil, and you can’t do anything to me for saying it.’

Tears well up in my eyes. I have been trying to impress this girl and now she is making a fool of me.

‘Listen,’ I stammer. ‘I only came to say I like you.’

She throws back her little head and laughs that mocking laugh of hers. ‘I could never like you. You’re staff and you’re too black.’

I have never taken the time to really look at myself. But it is true; next to Asanda’s creamy skin, I am like a little block of coal. My front teeth overlap. My nose is tiny and my lips fat. But it is better than her big flat nose, I decide. She may act white, and look almost white, but that nose is undeniably black. It is the first time I come close to anything like self-loathing.

My crush on Asanda quickly turns to spite. She is pretty, she is rich, she is spoilt and, worst of all, she humiliates Mama every chance she gets.

‘What is biology?’ Asanda asks Mama one day.

‘Well, Asa, let’s see, biology is the study of your body. The good thing that your body likes, and the things which is bad for you. And eating gum that has been in the floor is bad for the body.’

‘So if I don’t wanna go to school I can eat this gum I got off the floor?’

‘Oh no, Asanda, that bad bad! If you do that mother will take you to doctor, then he will know that you naughty –’ Mama’s eyes grow large – ‘and he will give you very big and very pain injection like this, see? Ouch! Very pain!’

‘You’re lying,’ Asanda says, thrusting her bottom lip forward. ‘You’re just a maid and you dunno anything. That’s why you speak broken English. And you stink.’

‘Asanda, that bad bad! Me going tell mother that you rude to people bigger than you.’

‘Go ahead, tell her, I heard her saying it, she was discussing maids with Mrs.
Hoffman. Mrs. Hoffman caught her maid spitting into the stew pot. My mother said you’re generally good but you tend to eat like they don’t feed you where you come from and you stink.’

I take a step forward. ‘Don’t you speak to my mama like that!’ I screech.

‘…Mpho…’

Asanda puts her hands on her hips. ‘You’re staff. You can’t touch me.’

I wish I could strangle the brat. I despise Mama for not being able to speak up. At that moment, I learn just how close humility is to humiliation.



Shadows is available to order on Amazon, Foyles, and Word-Power. Keep checking the site for availability in bookshops and other stores, links to reviews, etc. Follow Shadows on the facebook page Shadows – Novuyo Rosa Tshuma to keep abreast of all the latest news about the work.

MLI Visiting Scholars Program


This info is from a very wonderful friend:

Just in case anyone is interested:

The Mind & Life Institute (MLI) is pleased to announce the launch of our new Visiting Scholars Program and Residential Research Workshops.

These programs will offer members of the MLI global community an opportunity to pursue contemplative scholarship and research or organize collaborative workshops while interfacing closely with our in-house academic staff. Beginning in January 2013, MLI headquarters will include a gracious residence on the nearby Amherst College campus, with newly refurbished offices and meeting space in which to host these programs.

you can read more about this programme here

Monday, 22 October 2012

Sanskrit Kendra: I Still Think of You




DAWN. The traffic-addled brain, the pressured mind. Now picture a place, not a river, or a seaside. Not some mountaintop or woods. Neither is it a park nor a hotel. In this idyll you could stay there for a weekend. A place you’ve longed to retreat to, far from the buzz of commerce. A place to fuel and re-fuel imagination. A place of inspiration – tranquil, a haven in which no writer suffers a ‘block’.


NOON. Picture yourself on a balcony, a novel in your lap, or just sitting idly while breezes trail frangipani fragrances across your nose. Like a lover’s caress. Picture yourself in the garden where melodies, well orchestrated, compete for your audience: the trills of warblers, gurgles of doves, caws of crows, squawks of parakeets, squeaks of swifts, and screeches of peacocks. Butterflies, dragonflies, fireflies, ladybugs; a thousand denizens in thickets and trees. Picture yourself lift a foot. Hold it, just briefly, in mid-air, because you are too kind to startle the squirrels in their little playground, snapping up or cracking nuts, darting up trees or flying across footpaths.

DUSK. Think of your face being warmed by your heart’s smile as you slide under the duvet. Think of yourself being empowered to connect, like William Wordsworth in Ode to Tintern Abbey, ‘The landscape with the quiet of the sky,’ – if only for once in a lifetime. Indeed, think. Of this place of nature and nurture; of beauty and of bliss. That’s more than a writer’s sanctuary, a place where the soul is nourished by languid music of silences. Think of Sanskriti Kendra.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

GrinNing Ever So NaUghtIly




‘How is your prison life?’
Obynno asked me, once I stepped into the thatched hut. We had spoken on phone and he had described where to find him.

‘Forget prison life,’ I said, pulling up a chair to sit on. ‘I don’t want to lose my appetite.’ I had passed on the catfish to him the last time we met at another bar.

‘Good.’ Obynno smiled, his eyes crinkling at the edges. ‘Hope you have enough appetite for tonight!’

‘You bet.’

‘Then you are game?’

I sensed some mischief in him. ‘What game?’

‘Relax.’ He reached out a hand and patted me reassuringly on the shoulder. He leaned back in his chair, sipped some of his Gulder, then called a waiter, and told him to get me a bottle of Guiness stout and a plate of nkwobi.

The waiter brought our orders in a trice.

I poured myself a glass of stout. I delighted in the sweet pungent aroma that rose from the cowleg and oil bean sitting in the creamy oil sauce for a short while. Then I sipped my stout slowly.

It was a Friday evening, past six. Obynno and I were sitting at a popular bush bar in New Owerri. As we drank in silence I noticed he had a slight furtive air about him. His eyes darted about at the slightest sound, like he expected something might go wrong.

‘Any problem?’

‘Relax.’ Obynno shifted his gaze.

He was the one who needed to relax, I thought, and washed my hands in the bowl of water on the table. I dug into the plate of nkwobi. Chewed on a piece of cowleg with relish; it tasted peppery but well-cooked. I polished it off in no time, and a loud satisfying belch broke free from my lips.

‘You want another one?’ Obynno asked.

‘No, maybe later,’ I said.

Obynno had already eaten some fried beef before I got there, now he prodded something between his teeth with his thumb. He hardly used a toothpick; a dirty habit, though I couldn’t tell him that.

‘Boy, you need to ease up from time to time.’

I stared at him, perplexed. ‘Me?’

‘No, me,’ Obynno scoffed. ‘You have been carrying too much negative energy inside of you, too much load, and you know what it could do to you.’

What?’ I said.

‘It eats you up like ogogoro, acid in the bones, your face starts to wrinkle and grow thinner like an old chimp’s, those negative feelings, then you become bitter with yourself and with everyone.’

‘Hmm.’ I nodded, thinking he was right; that might explain why I was feeling touchy of late; it could also be the cause of my headaches.

Obynno’s cell phone pealed a note just then. His face broke in a grin. He angled his body away from the table and sank his hand into his side pocket. His eyes opened wide as he saw the caller’s ID on his cell phone.

He spoke in a burst, fast and uneven: ‘…yes, I’m there, lovely…you came together? Ah, good – beautiful…! Wait, over here…just look up –’ He broke off and whipped his head up. Then he pushed his chair back and sprang up. ‘– over here!’ He held an arm high above his head. He looked juvenile, even though he was in his mid-forties.

I had gone out with a lot of girls with the right flattering shapes at one time, but no matter how much they had struggled to appear sexy they still fell short of it and carried themselves – probably, without knowing – in a cheap brash slutty fashion. But the two girls that strutted into our bar embodied what, I think, could be termed as sexy elegance; although both of them wore flimsy low cut bright dresses that showed off their cleavages.

I could tell that they did not put on bras, for their breasts pointed slightly upwards over the hems of their blouses. The taller one was putting on a sleeveless yellow halter mini dress; her friend was clothed in a strapless red tube. They had long slender legs. They walked with that exceptional grace that befitted well-to-do girls. They could not have been less than twenty-one, undergraduates obviously.

And they looked like girls who spent much of the time watching Channel O and Trace, while nibbling on Pringles and sipping Coke.

The taller girl cast a swift impersonal glance at me before exclaiming, ‘Obynno, sweet teddy-bear!’ She leaned over to make a popping sound on his cheek.

‘Mamma mia! My one and only,’ Obynno cried, quaking his shoulders in a comic fit, as if he was being electrocuted.

Now I understood why he seemed furtive a while ago. He had been expecting the girls. That was why he said he hoped I had enough appetite for tonight. Obynno was so doomed!

I laughed – and the girl spun around, as if to tick me off for laughing since we were meeting for the first time –

‘And who is this fine-looking dude?’ She sounded bold and glib.

She glanced back at Obynno. Her hairdo was modelled on Rihanna’s; a short crop with straight ends that framed one side of her face, covering much of her brow – a hairdo popular among her peers.

‘That’s Chekwas – my younger brother.’ Obynno held up his glass, in a toast.

Ah.’ Her lips curled into a small O. ‘You never told me about him, sweetie!’

‘He’s a shy guy, always hiding himself at home.’

The girl stared intently at me, hands on her lips, one shoulder tilted upwards. I suppose she wanted to find out if Obynno was right about me. ‘He’s cute,’ she said at last. ‘More handsome than you are.’

Obynno sniffled and hung his head, faking a heart break. ‘He’s handsomer only because I don’t have anyone to look after me, the orphan that I am.’

The girl made a face and rubbed him on the head. ‘Oh my poor teddy-bear,’ she said, her tongue clicking in sympathy. Obynno sidled up to her, pressing a side of his face against her hip, then winked at me.

I smiled and shook my head, for I could pretty much tell what was on his mind.

The girl turned and raised her cheeks, lips parting in a thin smile. She looked likable, vivacious, as she held out a hand and said, ‘I am Shakira.’

I wanted to ask if that was her real name. But I could see that her hips jutted out round and wide enough to pass her off as a black likeness of the American pop star except she didn’t have long blonde waves.

I heard myself gasp, ‘Chekwas – my name is Chekwas,’ as I shook her hand.

‘Nice.’ Shakira withdrew her hand slowly from mine. She pointed her face to where her friend stood some few feet away. ‘And that’s Cheryl.’ Shakira nodded towards the girl who was watching me under thick eyelashes, with her hand cupping her hip in a confident pose.

‘Hello,’ I said, raising my hand halfway from the table and thinking the girls looked more fittingly dressed for a disco club.

‘Hi,’ Cheryl said, batting her lashes. Her hair – thin, bouncy curls – hung just above her shoulders; like her lashes, her hair was fake. But none of that took away from her charm. She drew closer and stuck out her hand. I reached for it, and we shook hands.

I sensed Obynno’s eyes on me, so I turned my head and caught him watching the three of us, with the self-assured bearing of a pimp who knew his girls were more than tempting enough to keep any client drooling on his knees. I didn’t feel too comfortable with how he was staring at me.

He often regarded me as a weakling. And that stare made me feel too little, as if I had some kind of defect, I couldn’t have an erection. Strangely enough, I felt this way myself much of the time, particularly when I was in his presence. And almost always, I felt I had to prove to him that I was man enough to deal with anything….

Obynno leaned over as if he wanted to whisper something to me, then he said to the girls’ hearing, ‘Bros – stop staring at their caboose!’

I felt flattened, embarrassed. But then I was quite surprised to note that the girls found his statement funny. They started laughing in a quiet lighthearted way, like they knew a good deal about decorum; that the way you laughed could make someone regard you as cheap or coarse. Their laughter sort of eased my discomfort.

‘Are you sisters?’ I asked in a halting voice, for I didn’t want to be embarrassed a second time. Obynno was like that, everything was a joke to him, and he never thought you could get offended from being the butt of his jokes.

Cheryl and Shakira shared meaningful glances – for a second, I feared I would be laughed at again – and then they giggled together, their left hands pressed loosely to their breasts.

‘People always mistake us for sisters,’ Cheryl said.

‘Ah, we have been friends for…like…’ Shakira paused, her eyebrows knotted downwards in recollection, ‘…like forever.’

‘I see.’ I nodded.

‘Enough of pleasantries,’ Obynno piped up. ‘Girls, feel at home, let’s enjoy – life is too short.’

Shakira slid to the empty chair beside him, draping an arm around his shoulder, and whispered, ‘Teddy bear, the usual, with fried chicken.’

I fancied Cheryl might do the same, but she only gazed at me. I nodded at the vacant chair next to mine. She moved it closer so that it rested against my chair and sat down, hands folded in her lap.

Obynno lifted his arm up and signalled to the waiter, who dashed over and briefly glanced from one face to another. Shakira threw her head up and flicked a glance at Cheryl. I could tell she had passed a secret message to her friend. Whatever it was I couldn’t tell, but it was a message nonetheless, which she didn’t want to be voiced; a message Obynno and I were not supposed to hear.

Cheryl smiled and said she would like a Smirnoff Ice with fried chicken, too. I wanted another bottle of stout only.

Obynno gave the waiter our orders.

The air pulsed with a song about love taking control of someone, looking like another love TKO…It sounded familiar, the voice, though I couldn’t figure out who the singer was; my mind went back and forth between George Benson and Lionel Richie.

Leaning back on my chair, I saw Obynno slip a hand under the table and Shakira leaning into him.

‘Missed you like crazy, mamma mia,’ Obynno whispered. I suspected his hand was on her thigh, or in her panties. I sometimes pictured him as a dog, because courtesy did not matter to him when he was aroused.

Shakira whispered in his ear, ‘Teddy bear, I am all yours, tonight.’

Obynno glanced across at me with a naughty grin, which I thought meant I could go ahead and take pleasure in the girl seated beside me.

‘O boy, don’t disgrace me,’ he said, grinning ever so naughtily. ‘I haven’t brought you here to mope and mull over your sorrows!’ He paused for breath, looking like one choking on excitement. He went on, ‘You know me – man worry, man die, man no worry, man die, so fucking chop your money when you are young!’

Then he dipped his head down between the V of Shakira’s breasts and breathed her in, once, twice, and then chuckled like a moron.

Umbrian Dawn


After 14 days of staying at Civitella Ranieri castello – where I am hard at work on what I hope would turn out to be a first draft of a novel – I was finally able to write a poem (see below, down below)...

Meanwhile, here is how I see the weather in Civitella…

Here, where breasts of mountain roll away to the left farther than the eyes can see, the land, on one part, is a bed of arid brown chunks and, on the other, a stream of fertile green, mists the colour of sperm cloud and dissolve in the same breath, where not too far from one’s feet, by a cluster of lavenders, small and purple, with scent as soporific as a sip of chamomile, a bumble-bee hums un-orchestrated tunes, breaking the silence of distance now and then, the sun shifting its face, shadowy at best – here, the weather changes forms the way a playboy changes his boxers ( why boxers, that was the best imagery I could think up at the time).

Oh, here is the poem which, I hope, approximates the feeling I had on Monday morning, October 15th 2012

Umbrian Dawn

It rains – quick slivers –

the sun dissolves
silence breaks like china
the sky turns
a monochrome, all grey

it rains –

a flutter! – a rustle! – a shiver! –

the windowpane echoes
across the grass
the porch

my breath whorls
against the glass –
fragments of distance
break at dawn

it rains
then silence –

the sky bursts anew
in the wake
between memory and sleep.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

People Look in the Mirror for Different Reasons, or The Parable of the Guest Writer and the Budding Writer



After the applause has faded away, the budding writer comes up breathlessly to the Guest Writer for a chat.


‘You’ve written a lot of fiction,” the budding writer enthuses. “And you haven’t made money from your writing?”


The Guest Writer considers him with the smile of a mentor. “It depends on how you look at it.”


“Fiction hardly sells here. But you could consider writing the biographies of some notable citizens.”


The Guest Writer ponders a while then asks,” Which notable citizens?”


“Politicians, of course.”


The Guest Writer can’t help sniggering.


The budding writer seems puzzled. “You find it funny?”


“No, I find it rather insulting.”


“How?”


“Many of our first generation politicians had a vision, and a definite philosophy and praxis which any idiot will find very inspirational and enduring. But this generation…” The Guest Writer breaks off in mid-sentence and starts laughing again.


The budding writer doesn’t look puzzled anymore; he feels disappointed instead.


“…it’s insulting to write about someone whose existence is bereft of vision,” the Guest Writer goes on, “whose way of life is simply to acquire public fund with unrivaled recklessness. It’s insulting to write about a man who can only inspire (forgive, my use of that word) rot and rapacity in a society where more animals seem to have a better life than more humans.


Don’t know about you, but I find it very belittling for someone who carries himself about as a creative writer to actually engage his energies and intellect for such a project!”


The budding writer tries to smile, but his lips droop at the corners. He stares at the Guest Writer and thinks the older writer deserves to spend the rest of his writing life in deprivation.


Then, as he turns to go, the Guest Writer calls him back and says quite pointedly, “Remember, people look in the mirror for different reasons, so it really depends on why you bother to write in the first place.”