Sunday, August 30, 2009

Spiritual attacks, Thai lunch and the Voice of Zimbabwe

I am sitting at my desk in our new open plan office, it has been decreed that open plan will break us out of our silos. Funnily enough, all the bosses seem to have ended up with desks right by the windows, with good views. So much for the "democratization of the open plan office" we were promised.

I hold the phone away from my ear as the person at the other end prattles on about "pushbacks" and "dependencies", I wonder where they pick these phrases from. Why is it unacceptabel to speak simple plain English in a business context? As I put the phone down, gently rubbing my ear, my mobile phone buzzes in my pocket. I've had it on permanent vibrate mode ever since the embarassing mobile phone going off during eminent professor's lecture incident in my early years in London. But that's another story.

I glance at the screen and see that it is one of my favourite aunts from Nigeria. She has been unwell and I had sent her some CDs of religious choral music (that old favourite of the aspirational Nigerians of my parents' generation,Handel's Messiah and some psalms) that she had requested, together with the inevitable "little" something. As it's nearly lunch time, I slip discreetly into an empty meeting room to take the call. As I look out onto the bustle of central London, the cars locked in a seemingly purposeless circling, our conversation begins

"Auntie, Good afternoon, how are you?"

" I thank God my son, thank you so much for the things you sent- and you even put in some money"

"Ah, auntie, it's nothing, what's this about you not being well, what's the matter?

"Hmm, Naijaman, it was not easy, for months I felt like there was a sharp pobject bearing down between my shoulder blades.I couldn't sleep, I could hardly turn my neck..."

"Ah, that sounds serious, did you see a doctor at the teaching hospital?"

"Yes I did, I saw several..."

"And what did they say?"

"Well, they couldn't find anything wrong, not even after all their tests, and that's when I realized it was a spiritual attack. They were trying to get my brother and because they have been told that I'm a prayer warrior with a ring of fire around him, they decided to get me away first. But they have the Glory of God"

There are a million possible responses to all of this- I could ask who "they" are, I could ask why her brother needs to be got, and so on, but I stay silent, murmur soothing sounds, marvelling at the incongruity of the worlds I inhabit and slowly, pressing the end button, head for lunch

Lunch is at my favourite Thai restaurant a stonethrow from the office. They do a fabulous 3 course lunch. I nearly always have the same thing, crispy wontons the crisp pastry bursting with the juicy prawn filling, then the Pad Krae Prow (pork in a basil and chilli stir fry sauce) and then the banana fritters served with a small scoop of vanilla icecream- the hot fritters and fozen ice cream meeting in the mouth to create a sensation....

As I eat, I read Petina Gappah's amazing new collection, An Elegy for Easterly, which lays bare the various facets of contemporary Zimbabwe. I do not know Zimbabwe, have never been there, and yet reading these stories, I feel that I know it so well that I could recognize the characters in it if I met them on the street. And the wit, the delicious humour, almost Wildean is stunning. Petina has visited this blog in the past and I'm pleased that she's produced an excellent first offering. Watch out for her, coming soon to a bookshop near you! My favourite quote (not from the book but from an interview) was (I paraphrase) "The publishers came with this blurb, it read, she is the Voice of Zimbabwe and I said, take it off, the Voice of Zimbabwe is a radio station"

In any case it appears her publishers won and there is a blurb saying she is the voice of Zimbabwe

Saturday, August 22, 2009

As I was saying....

The sunlight streams through the slightly chilly breeze and I make my way up the steps through the ornate carved doorway into the church. As I move forward, I notice the dreadlocked ma, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt of doubtful cleanliness, standing just within the portico, outside the door, who grins and says "Morning brother"in a patois tinged tone, as he clasps his hand in front of him in a mock- approximation of what Presidents do, while listening to their peers at a bilateral press conference.

I pause at the doorway to collect the Order of Srvice from a grinning usher and just then hear some commotion at the door behind me. An African family have just arrived and Dreadlocks, my friend is objecting loudly to the teenage son entering the church with as he puts it "his trousers around his ankles". The parents stride ahead pretending they have nothing to do with the boy, and the boy tries to do the same, but Dreads is having none of it, he chases after him, up the aisle, almost into the main body of the church, and finally, the boy, defeated, pulls up his trousers, sparing the congregation the sight of his striped boxers, while his sisters titter and the first bars of the opening hymn ring out.....

News that the londonpaper is to close fills me with a sense of glee, perhaps, now the other free evening paper, London Lite which seemed to have been set up in direct competition to thelondonpaper will also now close and all our train carriages, stations and streets will be the cleaner for it. Besides it will be good to enter a station on the way from work without first having to run the gauntlet of vendors pressing the rival papers insistently on you.... I do feel sad for the vendors, who mostly appeared to be from the Indian sub-continent or African-whether this was a planned recruitment strategy or merely the function of relatively poor pay, I never knew. Now they will have to find new arduous immigrant work in the straitened economic times. I wonder if it will also affect the cleaners as there will be a lot less rubbish to pick up...

In Nigeria, the ripples from the closure of some of the 5 biggest banks continue. In the Financial Times this morning, I read that the EFCC is now to go after the internal and external auditors of the banks in question. Will this be the Nigerian Enron? Hardly, knowing how my beloved country operates. It will probably all fizzle out in a few weeks, but the reactions, predictably are amusing- there are the usual insinuations about ethnic sentiment on the part of the Central Bank Governor. So he, northern prince of Kano that he is, is for instance, accused of a vendetta against Southern banks. Yet of the 25 banks left standing, only 1 could at best be described as a Northern bank. So isn't it inevitable that the numbers of those culled would reflect this? Then there are the "It is the work of my jealous enemies" group, insisting that they shall be vindicated, seeing as they are holy people. Reading some of the comments on the scoop breaking NEXTwebsite, I reimagine the crash of Lehman Brothers, Northern Rock and co, this time with the bankers insisting divine justfication and their manicured wives holding nightlong prayer and fasting sessions in their plush 5th Avenue apartments....

I've just finished Sarah Waters book, The Night watch, longlisted for the Booker Prize this year. I enjoyed it, as it was brilliantly evocative of a pivotal era in British history, the immediate post-war period with the decay of many large estates and families. Although it is billed as a ghost story, I didn't find it scary at all, but then that's often the case with me- somehow, a horror film can evoke the sense of fear where a book can't. And yet, I'm often transported to different worlds by books, so there must be something about the failure of my literary imagination.

Next up on my list, a clutch of recent African writing, which to my shame, I have been too busy before now to read. But I have gone to Daunt's and ordered them and this morning will be picking up, in no particular order, Petina Gappah's An Elegy for Easterly a collection of what I am told are jewel-like stories, polished and glittering, set in contemporary Zimbabwe, Chika Unigwe's On Black Sisters Street following 4 Nigerian prostitutes in Belgium, Adaobi Nwaubani's I Do Not Come to You By Chance, probably the first novel on the 419 phenomenon and Brian Chikwava's Harare North, detailing the lives of Zimbabwean immigrants in London, which apparently they call Harare North... By the way, where are the new Nigerian male writers? There's Adichie, Atta, Unigwe,Nwaubani, Shoneyin,Agary on the female side....have we men been rendered voiceless?

Meanwhile across the ocean, poor Brother Barack is under fire as millions of uninsured Americans vociferously attack his plans to give them cover (I read that somehwere, can't remember where, and it made me chuckle. But seriously, the whole debate lays bare the difference in culture between the US and Europe, especially the throwing around of the word "socialist" as if it were a particularly slimy and dangerous thing to be....

So the plan is to resume blogging, once a week, every week, without fail......hope it works, or rather, the demands of the day job permit