Thursday, May 17, 2007

Stockholm, Anam, Tyler& Oyeyemi, repeating mistakes, Prince Harry's expensive life & biting back an acerbic response

Stockholm was surprisingly watery. The images in my head of Scandinavia were of ice and snow and craggy mountains. Imagine my surprise then on emerging from the train station in the city centre on to paved streets with a bridge in the distance. I was to cross many bridges- the Swedish capital is an archipelago- a collection of small islands. Funny how I remembered that word from primary school geography. As the sun blazed overhead and the room reeked with the sweat of young children blended with the scent of sharpened pencils, our teacher Mr A wrote in coloured chalk on the blackboard various geographical definitions with illustrations to match- island, a body of land surrounded by water; lake, a body of water surrounded by land. Peninsula, a finger of land extending into the sea. These terms would re emerge at term end with blanks for us to fill in….

I liked the Swedish food- plenty of fish- strange for one who did not start eating fish until I was well into my teens. No, that’s not strictly true. I was made to eat fish as a child, my mother had no time for children’s food fads- you ate what was on your plate, like it or lump it. Speaking of lumps I remember what seemed like hours spent willing the lumpy garri on my plate to disappear, but that’s another story. Ah yes, fish. I could not name all the various ways in which the Swedes served their fish but I enjoyed them all, especially the way they were served with cloudberries and lingonberries (new to me as well), providing a tart, sweet accompaniment to the fish…and hurray there were no bones…

Stockholm was pleasantly warm and there was so much to do in the free time I had away from work there. Managed to tour the old town with its cobbled stone pathways and old houses echoing Siena and other ancient Italian towns. Pausing outside the Nobel Museum I imagined Wole Soyinka and his Nigerian contingent resplendent in agbadas crossing the bridge from the Grand Hotel to the venue of the award ceremonies in the wintry sunlight…

Even though there weren't that many other black people around, I didn't feel people were surprised or staring and the immigration officer was pleasant...

Perhaps making up for the pleasantly sunny weather, I could not help popping in to the Ice Bar, a bar carved out from ice in a hotel near the train station. You had to don an aluminium cape to keep you warm before gaining entrance - of course I had an Absolut...

Virtually everyone in Stockholm spoke English which had its downside. I left without picking up a single word of Swedish- not even Good Morning. Usually I pick up the local greetings from the hotel staff wherever I go, but walking along the corridors in Stockholm, bumping into a maid or waiter or waitress, they all threw out a cheery “Good morning” …..

Still on the ubiquity of the English language, we went on a tour of a nineteenth century house, billed as the first in Stockholm to be built with electricity and running water and opted to go on the English language tour. It turned out that my colleagues and I were actually the only people who spoke English on the tour- the majority were mostly French, German, Italian or Spanish who had chosen to go on the English tour as the only other tour available was in Swedish….

Tried to use the airport and flight time to catch up on my reading. Started and finished Tahmima Anam’s A Golden Age set in Bangladesh during the war after it broke away from Pakistan. In many ways I was reminded of Half of a Yellow Sun, in the way that ordinary people living ordinary lives suddenly find themselves thrust into a war. It’s on a much smaller scale though and at times I wished that Ms Anam had been as ambitious as Ms Adichie and embarked on a larger, more epic tale. I enjoyed it though, especially after the war actually started which is where the power of the story comes to the fore. Like Adichie, Anam was inspired by stories told by her family members who lived through the war….

Also finished Anne Tyler’s Digging To America which has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize. I had always passed over her books in the mistaken belief that they were romance novels. I had been meaning to read this one though because I was interested in the story- two American families adopt Korean infants on the same day- one family is typically white and All-American and the other is a second generation immigrant Iranian-American family. Tyler deftly explored the issues of immigration, cultural clash and stereotypes with a humorous but insightful touch. Her depiction of the Iranian family and their perception of the “Americans” touched a chord with my experiences of British Nigerians as well…..

And while I was away, Tony Blair finally announced his leaving date, prompting broad grins from Gordon Brown. Today all the talk is about Prince Harry not going to Iraq after all. I can see why the decision was made not to send him, but can’t help wondering why it was announced that he was going in the first place….On the radio this morning, lots of indignant people calling in saying “Is his life worth more than those other soldiers dying in Iraq?” I couldn’t help thinking, sad and unpalatable as it may sound, the answer is yes. Not necessarily worth more to their families, but certainly worth more to the British nation at least for as long as Britain continues to run a monarchy….

In Nigeria I see Yar’adua is inundated by people jostling for office. There are immediate echoes from 1999 when Obasanjo was elected when he ended up filling his cabinet with political jobbers who could not achieve much. It wasn’t till his second term that he managed to bring in some technocrats. I hope Yar’adua will be strong enough to withstand the pressure…Meanwhile Obasanjo continues last minute manoeuvring- selling off oil blocks to his cronies, trying to limit pay in the petroleum corporation and communications commission, forgetting that one of his own first acts in 1999 was to revoke many such last minute decisions that the outgoing Abubakar administration had made. Why do human beings learn so little from history?

Meanwhile Helen Oyeyemi grabs a place in the list of 25 literary lions of the future selected by Waterstone’s, the booksellers to mark their 25th anniversary http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article1801013.ece

And is interviewed by the Times here

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article1762963.ece

Finally seeing as I've been travelling a lot these past few weeks, I've had to answer the inevitable "Did you pack your bags yourself Sir" "Could anyone hae interfered with your luggage" "Did anyone give you anything to carry?" before checking in. On the umpteenth time, I felt like saying "Yes, one heavily bearded man called Mohammed whom I met for the first time just outside the terminal asked me to take a parcel to his uncle in Stockholm" but I bit back the retort remembering just in time that airline staff don't necessarily have a sense of humour....

And Waffarian and Laspapi are cooking up a Naija Bloggers anthology- details here http://laspapi.blogspot.com/

17 comments:

Everchange said...

I liked reading this. When are you going to write your memoirs?

CandySprinkles said...

I wish I had your life right now, with all the travelling you're doing. But SHAME on you for not picking up a SINGLE word in Swedish. C'mmon, not even "hello"? Lol! I think I'll check out the Anne Tyler book. Sounds interesting.

Pink-satin said...

wow!am proud of helen oyeyemo

jadedjune said...

hey.....hope u were loving it....

Snuffleupagus said...

Good thing you bit your tongue... You might have found yourself at the airport for hours! Airport staff have been turned into PSYCHOS since 9/11. Never forget.

Waffarian said...

Hej- Hello
Ja- yes
Tack-Thank you
Nej-No

Now you know a few!

t said...

I had no problem with garri. But beans were from the devil. I spent hours with a plate of beans once. Another irritating thing they did was mix beans with garri - how difficult that was to eat. Sometimes they mixed rice and beans - then I would eat the beans first and reward myself with a plate of good rice.

I don't mind beans so much now.

uknaija said...

@everchange- Thanks...When the day job gives me a breather
@candysprinkles- all that glitters..
@pink-satin- so am I
@jadedjune- I tried
@snuffleupagus- thanks for the advice- you're so right. And me a black man again...
@waffarian- I should have consulted you BEFORE my trip
@t- Love the phrase- But beans were from the devil. Very Maya Angelouesque :-)

Pink-satin said...

hey tanx 4 d link to confussed9ja girls page..i had actually not seen that post b4

Bitchy said...

Lol at the airport comment - those questions are really rather irritating. I've always wondered if anyone is ever stupid enough to say 'yes'. I didn't know you were in Sweden, had been wondering why the delay in updating ;)

TaureanMinx said...

Heyyyy, you should have stopped by my street for a drink :)

Nigerian Woman in Norway said...

good morning is probably god morgen.

swedish and norwegian are related. i understand swedish pretty well, but my written swedish is non-eksistent.

The Pseudo-Independent said...

Hi there! - this is very interesting. Ill be back.

Idemili said...

You always have a way of taking me down memory lane each time I read you. I love the word 'Archipelago' - it's one of my favourites! Right up there with 'Picturesque'...well I have a lot of words I like.

God, I'm so jealous of people my age/younger getting published!

Calabar Gal said...

YOu are right about airline staff not having a sense of humour - most likely they would have recalled your luggage and asked to search it all over again. Or even charged with wasting their time.

PG said...

Hey Naijaman,

I don't have your email adress, so I have to use this public forum. Please check out the June issue of Prospect, the one with Mohammad Siddique Khan on the cover... Look at the very bottom left corner...

I make my UK debut in Prospect; one of my short stories has been published!!!!!

Am beyond excited...!

PG

uknaija said...

@pinksatin- you're welcome (or as certain Naija secretaries would have it- "Yu wehkum"
@bitchy-my waka plenty- hope to update properly soon
@taureanminx- didn't know you were there, lovely city
@nigerian woman in norway thanks for the language lesson
@pseudoindependent thanks for dropping by
@idemmili- one day you too will be there and yes, archipelago does have a certain ring
@CG- Yes I know
@PG- Fantastic news, will pick it up at the airport-btw email is uknaija@gmail.com