Friday, December 14, 2007

Random pre- Christmas blogging

It’s Friday and I am blog-surfing during what ought to be some kind of lunch break- no don’t ask- too complicated. In a minute, I will stand up and walk through the doors to the cafĂ© where I will ask for a brown baguette with coronation chicken and salad and a bag of crisps. Or perhaps not. Seeing as I often ask for that anyway, the staff often burst into laughter once I turn up. Is there anything wrong with eating what you like over and over again? I remember my first term at university when I ate rice and stew twice a day, occasionally leavened with some beans and was as happy and healthy as anyone, at least I thought so.

It is cold, freezing, the kind of cold that hurts your nostrils and burns its way right into your lungs searing your throat as it passes by. On the train, there are coughs and splutters aplenty, and I find myself eyeing the perpetrators, silently warning them “If you dare give me that your cold, eh!” As if looks could cauterize the bacteria or viruses or whatever it is that causes these colds and coughs…

My lips split, laughing at a joke outside the office today and so I am slathering them in lip salve. Come to think of it, the weather isn’t unlike harmattan, in its harshness, with the dust clogging your airways with a similar harshness and lips requiring a good slathering of salve to avoid splittage…

Recent reading has covered Blake Morrison’s South of the River, an utterly enjoyable romp through South London in the Blair years following a varied cast of characters as well as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which I had long heard about but never got round to reading. A recent work-related foray to Edinburgh found me with time to kill before getting the shuttle back to the airport and so I walked down the dark brooding somewhat Gothic streets of Edinburgh city centre to the small bookshop hiding in a corner. Browsing the shelves and name-checking Adichie and Habila, I stumble across a pile of pristine Muriel Spark novels, a bargain at 99p each and seeing how slim The Prime is, I make my way to the shelf where the bearded bespectacled proprietor takes my pound coin, offering a penny’s change and a brown paper bag which I decline….

Christmas carols blare out from shops and on television as we are exhorted to shop for Britain. In Nigeria I imagine the frenzy to buy things for Christmas in full swing, the streets around the Marina/CMS area thronging with pedlars of cheap toys. Across the seas we are gripped by the same frenzy to buy….

Perhaps that’s why I wake up to 15 missed calls from a Nigerian phone number this morning. At first I panic, thinking it portends bad news but, no it is a cousin making a last ditch attempt at extracting a Western Union transfer to ease the impending cash sucking crunch of Christmas…

Each morning it sometimes feels as if I am walking through thick gooey liquid, a feeling enhanced by the dark gloomy days…this morning walking to the train station in the small town where a work Christmas do has brought me, I spot a lollipop lady, a creature I have often read about but never seen, standing by the primary school to ferry children across the busy road, her huge lollipop in hand. But unlike the ladies of my imagination (and the Ladybird books), this is no matronly twinkly comfortably padded mother figure. Here is a blonde Amazon, some six feet tall, her legs encased in bronzed leather high heeled boots, her pony-tail flicked away as she guides the children across…

So Ibori, the thieving Niger Delta ex-governor has finally been arrested by the EFCC. Perhaps there is something to the Yaradua rule of law after all. The Nigerian Guardian reopens after an enforced closure caused by a strike and the question is raised why journalists adept at exposing the exploitation and corruption of government are so silent when it comes to their employers…

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"Stolen" time, cheese eating and a positive silence?

I know the clocks went back in October but did “they” do something to steal our time as well- where do the seconds and minutes and hours go? I keep promising myself that today I will spend time to update my blog and then never get round to it. I haven’t had a chance to read blogs in ages and as for Facebook…what’s that? Or maybe finally while I wasn’t looking, responsible adulthood has crept up on me….

More train stories:

On the train from Liverpool Street to Stansted airport I was sitting beside these two couples, young and blonde and good-looking- poster children for the British dream- they obviously all worked in the City as evidenced by their rapid chatter interspersed with scrolling through their Blackberries and then making urgent, rapid-fire calls to the office, talking about this deal and that deal and closing…. I watch them fascinated and hear one of them explain to the person at the other end that he is going to cheese-eating, wine-drinking surrender monkey country for the weekend….later I see them in the queue for the check in for the Ryanair flight to Bergerac….

Who on earth chose the lurid yellow and bright blue uniform of the Ryanair staff? Yes I know it’s a budget airline and they need to keep costs down but cheap materials also come in muted colours, don’t they. I’m tempted to whip on the sunglasses at the glare of the uniforms so reminiscent of the school uniforms in a poor village school in Nigeria…

I approach the security gate, backpack secured and book in hand and am not really paying attention when it gets to my turn. I unsling the backpack and put it through the X ray machine and then emerge at the other end. I have forgotten my toothpaste in the backpack which means it is pulled out of the queue for special checks in these days of no-liquids, no-gel flying. I am still not payng full attention as the young Asian woman explains that she is going to swipe the backpack for explosives. She is quite young- barely twenty and I imagine that it is first time nerves that make her swipe my bag again and again. By the third time, I am paying more attention and she is looking more flustered. Suddenly I see her stop and run to an older, more senior- looking woman, who then calls the attention of HER boss, a middle aged man who comes to me and informs me that my bag has tested positive for traces of explosives. I reel as I expect him to say it’s just a joke but when I look up, he’s deadly serious.

He runs off a series of questions- how long have I owned the backpack, where have I taken it and so on and so on….he then whips out a form and asks to take my details, having decided that the positive test may have come from one of the places that I have taken my bag to in the last week. Apparently some chemicals used in everyday life can give positive results. Giving my name, address and contact details, I fear that they will stop me from flying but he waves me through. Nevertheless I worry- will my name now enter some database? What if some nutter does blow up the plane, will I then be blamed post-humously? As if it would matter then.

Landing in Bergerac at the tiny airport, I make the immigration officer’s day when he finally gets to use his stamp. Used to waving EU citizens through, he waves me through as well, before realizing that my passport is green not red. He holds up the queue as he flicks through my passport for the right visa and then with aplomb marches to his desk, where he unleashes his heavy stamp on to my passport with a gusto that suggests that he does not get to do this very often…

Somehow, it seems as if not very much news is coming out of Nigeria, or perhaps it’s my mood, but it seems as if things are settling into a more quiet, more sedate pace…which is probably a good sign.

There’s a new edition of Farafina magazine out and following closely on Helon Habila’s successful book tour, Chika Unigwe, visitor on this blog from time to time, begins a Nigerian book tour to promote the publication of her first novel ,The Phoenix

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The post that I was too tired to name

We descend into the bowels of the restaurant- it is a fairly simple, yet sophisticated place somewhere in the west of London. We are soon seated, and have just had our orders taken when I spot her- her face immediately familiar to me from the days spent glued to CNN in hotel bars and lounges, when satellite television was the tenuous link that seemed to sustain my connection to the outside world after the price of Time magazine and Newsweek and the Economist all soared out of reach.

Here, years later, I am seated at a table in a restaurant just a few feet away from her. She is in full flow, commanding the attention of the others seating at her table, and as I glance at the rapt faces, I realize that this is what might be called "a power table". There are two UK ministers, I soon realize, at the table and as the conversation heats up, I hear the words: Darfur, Rwanda, Millennium Development Goals and social entrepreneurship flung in rapid quick fire succession around the table. It is all I can do to concentrate on my dinner, my friends who have kindly invited me out and my own table and our conversation.

I whisper to my friends "It's Christiane Amanpour", mortified that she will hear me, but am met with fairly blank faces. It's only when I screech "and Mark Malloch Brown" that they become interested- the former UN mandarin and now minister in Gordon Brown's government of all the talents, has the day before been in the news- the Spectator and the Evening Standard.

The third face that I recognize is James Rubin, former aide to Bill Clinton and Amanpour's husband, and then across the table from him, Shriti Vadera whom I later overhear being introduced to someone as the "most powerful woman in the UK government" She smiles bashfully but I do not hear her demur….

Later sated on our dinner, we walk to the Underground- me on the way, happily regaling my friends with all these details. How, one of them asks me, do you know all these people…how indeed? On my way home the question continues to plague me…

An interesting harvest of books these past few days- finally I get round to reading The Kite Runner and I, almost to my surprise enjoy it. It opens my eyes and tells me new things and is beautifully written and yet in some ways I feel that it lacks soul. Perhaps it should have been stretched out a bit more

On Chesil Beach is another much-hyped book which I get round to finally reading. I enjoy it so much that I immediately go back to the library for another McEwan- this time, Enduring Love, even though it's only available in large print. Although I enjoyed the latter, I thought the former was more accomplished….

Poor Gordon Brown’s government seems to be lurching from crisis to crisis and the Prime Minister’s face shows the strain. Watching a BBC documentary on Blair’s last days in office, I almost found myself nostalgic for Blair....

Meanwhile the Tories rub their hands in glee, like schoolboys who can’t quite believe their luck....there's something almost school-bully like about their gloating that I find distasteful, or perhaps it's the fact that I'm just biased....

Nigeria makes the front page of the Financial Times at the weekend with a story about Chevron and Shell being implicated in the Ibori corruption about the same time, several Nigerian topshots are mentioned in an investigation into corruption at Siemens in Germany...perhaps the chickens are finally coming home to roost....


to Molara Wood of Wordsbody for honourable mention in the Commonwealth short story prize

to Chimamanda Adichie for making the IMPAC prize list

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

made up stories, immigration blues & democratic hypocrisy

I am watching the couple as they walk to the station with their big shaggy dog lolloping beside them. He is dressed in a business suit, sharply cut, formal. She is blonde, more casual in a jogging suit and yet there is something carefully groomed about her. I glance at my watch; I am still a few minutes too early for my meeting. I look up to see the dog depositing a steaming pile on the pavement, she immediately whips out a plastic bag and tries to scrape the offending mess off, but she struggles, hampered by the dog lead in her hand and the active squirming creature at its end. He moves just after a second’s hesitation to take the lead from her, give her room to clear the pavement properly. I make up a life for them- he never wanted the dog but she insisted, and so he is irritated. Minutes later, I see my colleague approach and as I walk over to meet her I see the man disappearing down the stairs into the station having given the dog a last friendly ruffle. The man’s face is transformed, as he tickles the dog’s belly and I am forced to rewrite my made up narrative….

Such a long time away from blogging- busy with work and the million little things that seem to have piled off and need to be dealt with before the year’s end- November- where has the year gone?

Immigration issues fill the front pages again and I can’t help but feel uncomfortable. No, everyone explains, or hints, it’s not people like you we mean, it's the others.... but hearing people speak (not in so many words) about "us" and "them" I can’t help but feel uneasy- hoping that someone else speaks out instead. When in any case does one stop being "them" and become "us"- 5 years, ten years, never?

It is all about the pressure on public services- housing, hospital, council services- very little about how the booming English economy is surely in part due to the immigrants. Do the Mittals and Abramoviches and the American investment bankers who swell the streets of Chelsea count in these statistics at all? Perhaps there needs to be a trade off but maybe the Mittals and their ilk are comfortable here precisely because of the openness and diversity that London offers… maybe it is one or the other….

In spite of the hectic pace of life, there has been time as usual for some reading- In the library one weekend I stumbled across Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee, an account of a young Korean American woman newly graduated from an Ivy League university and caught between her poor Korean parents and the glittering lifestyle offered by her peers- there were I thought lots of echoes of Nigerian immigrant family tensions but I suppose in some ways, all immigrants face similar issues. The writing was assured but I’m not sure that Lee did her skills justice in this book- I’m not sure if it’s the plot but there was something that didn’t quite ring right….

I’m currently reading Hari Kunzru’s- My Revolutions which is beautifully written- I think it’s the best of his three books so far. While I loved his first two: The Impressionist and Transmission, it is in this book about a Sixties activist living a comfortable bourgeois life in 21st century Sussex who finds his past catching up with him….I’ve always had a soft spot for Kunzru ever since he won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for Transmission and turned it down because it was sponsored by the Daily Mail. Instead he asked for the prize money to be paid to the Refugee Council- an action that must have riled the Daily Mailers no end…

Glad to see that Etteh finally did the decent thing and resigned as Speaker and even “gladder” to see the House members ignore the PDP order to vote for her self-nominated successor and elect someone who appears to be articulate and intelligent instead. Now the House members must prove their vaunted patriotism and get to work and not start squabbling over committee memberships…

In Pakistan, the hollowness and hypocrisy of the champions of democracy is again put on display – lawyers are beaten by the police, judges are sacked and the opposition are put under house arrest- all for speaking out in favour of democracy- you would imagine that for the self-appointed supporters of democracy- these stirrings in a Muslim country would be heart-warming and deserving of support. But no- it’s too complicated, cutting off aid would not be constructive, etc etc Pity the poor young Pakistani lawyer who believes the rhetoric about democracy and finds himself bruised and battered tonight in a police cell…..If you are in any doubt, go and ask the monks in Burma…


Cassava Republic's new website
It's poppy season with a difference here or here
And Kambani promotes Nigerian artists and art here

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lost condoms, dignified exits, recent reading, prizes and an anniversary

It is early morning and as the display on the platform keeps changing, showing that the train I am hoping to get is becoming even more delayed, I soon realize I had better get out of the station and catch a taxi if I am to have any hope of catching the train out of London and making my meeting. I hail the first taxi that I see, it’s one of the old-fashioned black cabs and as I settle in, my wallet clatters to the floor. I reach for it and find tucked away at the edge of the seat, a pristine packet of Durex condoms. Perhaps it is the early hour but I can’t help thinking about how it got there. Who has dropped it, and is the consequence of their dropping it going to be an unwanted pregnancy, a nasty disease? Or did they finding themselves condomless, abstain, resisting temptation?

I can’t help but think of the nursery rhyme we used to chant, often thoughtlessly, not really understanding the words……

for want of a nail, the shoe was lost,
for want of a shoe, the horse was lost,
for want of a horse, the rider was lost,
for want of a rider, the battle was lost,
for want of a kingdom, the battle was lost

The fighting over Ettehgate continues and now sadly appears to have claimed a legislator’s life. Without going into the rights and wrongs of it, I think it’s time for Madam Speaker, Mrs Etteh to go. Her continuing presence is merely inflaming the situation, everyday I read about new brawls in the House and so in the interest of peace I think she should just go. Reading about people I had some respect for getting involved in the brawling and name-calling in the House I am appalled. Go Mrs Etteh, just go….

Perhaps Mrs Etteh should take a leaf from Sir Menzies (pronounced Minghis- yes I know!!) Campbell, leader of the Liberal Democrats- the small third party of the United Kingdom, who bit the bullet once his party members started murmuring and made a dignified exit….. I’m always fascinated by how when an English party deposes its leader, all other contenders have to pretend to be disinterested for a while, lest they be blamed for forcing the old leader out- even when everyone knows they are rubbing their hands in glee…

Glad to see Anne Enright win the Booker- my sympathy for the underdog and the fact that she cheerfully described her novel as bleak, plus the fact that she’s Irish ensured that. Now I’ll have to read the book…

Speaking of underdogs, England’s spectacular rise through the Rugby World Cup sees me humming Swing Low Sweet Chariot along with everyone else as I go about my duties at work….sorry South Africa but I’ll be rooting for the English on Saturday..

I’ve just finished Alan Bennett’s slim novella, The Uncommon Reader, a wittily intelligent book examining what happens when The Queen suddenly develops an appetite for reading….

Next up is The Reluctant Fundamentalist which I’ve just started- it was shortlisted for the Booker and I think I bumped into the author last week walking in central London… I share his love for London... revealed in an Evening Standard interview a while back, sadly not available online

Still on prizes, Chika Unigwe’s Fata Morgana has been shortlisted for the ANA Prize for Fiction as has Jude Dibia’s Unbridled, the follow-up to his earlier, controversial Walking in the Shadows which portrayed a gay man living a double life in Nigeria. I’ve blogged elsewhere about Chika and her talent and she’s dropped by this blog in the past…

Oh and while I was away my second bloggerversary came and went- thanks everyone for keeping faith with this inconsistent blogger and for sharing my world- I only just realized my first post was on August 25th 2005

Sites to check out:
African Writing
Viewnaija where I finally got to listen to the much talked about Yahooze
Igoni Barrett's collection of short stories- for lovers of Nigerian fiction and awuf things
Nominate that bright young Nigerian under 30 at the Future Nigeria Awards

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Blogger's dilemma, facebook, football louts etc

I am suffering from the intermittent bloggers’ dilemma- the longer you stay away from blogging, waiting for the combination of something meaty enough to blog about and having enough free time to do it justice, the more things to blog about pile up. So I’ll just have a go- first things first. I finally signed up to Facebook, just to see what all the fuss is about. I haven’t been terribly excited, but perhaps I simply haven’t got into the spirit of the thing….if anyone wants to show me how to do it properly, get in touch, search for Musing Naijaman….

There have been a great many train journeys since I last posted (reminder to self- buy shares in Virgin Trains) including one in first class, courtesy of work which was sadly marred by the entire carriage being overrun by a bunch of football louts who kept the train heaving from Wolverhampton to London Euston. The British Transport Police made a brief appearance and then promptly disappeared; the Virgin Trains staff did not dare to show their faces at all. In the event I finally gave up my unbothered mien, packed up my laptop and book and moved to another carriage. Talk about feral- banging on the roof of the carriage, jumping on the seats, dancing on the tables, roaring out their football chants. They were all white and I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if a bunch of Black or Asian young men had overrun a first class carriage in a similar manner. I’d like to think that the train staff, transport police and other passengers would have been just as indulgent, but somehow I doubt it….

I was able to shut out the soccer louts’ antics for as long as I did as I was deeply engrossed in What is the What, Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng’s stunning tour de force of a novel. I’m not sure if it’s a biography or what, because it’s called a novel and it’s by Eggers- an account of the life of Deng, a Sudanese “Lost Boy” who ends up in the United States- it is equal parts sociology text, history text, novel and utterly unbelievable and unputdownable and heart wrenching. And you must read it, if only to understand What is the What….

I’ve also been reading Patrick Gale’s Notes from an Exhibition, where he skilfully uses the notes from a retrospective exhibition to recreate the life of an artist on the Cornish coast exploring her family’s past and present relationships in a calm understated way that I found very attractive….

And to politics- so Gordon Brown’s liver failed him. One minute he was at the top of the opinion polls, with Cameron destined for the dust heap and the next he was struggling for dear life after Cameron made what the press told us was one amazing thumper of a speech. I was more interested in the quick switch- I assume most people like me had not watched the speech, so what was the sudden switch based on? The pledge to reduce the number of people liable to pay inheritance tax? Or the deal to tax non-domiciled City fat cats 25 000 pounds a year in lieu of tax ? Whatever it was, and I suspect it’s a bit of a mystery to the Cameron camp as well, Old Gordon was forced to swallow all talk of a snap election. It’ll be interesting to see what the next few weeks bring, but I was left musing on the power of the media to frame narratives….

In Nigeria, the furore over the Speaker continued with each newspaper virtually guaranteed to have an article on the latest of Speakergate. The usual tritenesses were being wheeled out- is she the first; it’s all the work of disgruntled elements and so on. All probably true but why do we always have to resort to the age old refrain “Everyone does it”

I was more bemused by the story of Judith Burdin Asuni, or as Thisday put it “The Spy who loved us” Is she really a spy or are there other issues at stake. The murkiness of the dealings in the Niger Delta and Nigeria’s oil industry remain a source of fascination for me. Would that there were some good investigative journalists to piece all the stories together. Who bunkers? Who owns licences to drill for oil? Who imports the petroleum that Nigeria uses? So many unanswered questions and yet the answers float in mansions in Lagos and Abuja and Port Harcourt and London and Maryland and elsewhere….

Monday, October 01, 2007

Time, Atonement and a Happy Independence day

Standing in church I see the little boy toddle towards his mother who is singing in the choir, he is bemused as his father cuddles him up just before he reaches his target. I remember vividly, the gentle swelling week on week of his mother’s belly, her disappearance from the choir and then her reappearance proudly carrying a bundle of white clothing. Now seemingly weeks later, he is running around and trying to climb into the choir stall, where did the time go, I wonder….

To the cinema, for the first time in a long time to see the film version of Ian McEwan’s Atonement. I have overheard a discussion of it on the radio, driving somewhere and I am interested that the two discussants are split in their assessment of the film. In any event I am left underwhelmed, particularly by a seemingly endless scene on the beaches of Dunkirk which I am later told is to highlight a cinematic technique. Considering that one of the newspaper reviews had referred to it as the thinking person’s Titanic, I try to work out which of the target groups I have failed to fit in to….Not even Keira Knightley’s winsome loveliness can draw more than a flicker of interest….

To dinner or perhaps early supper on Sunday. Our hostess has outdone herself with a spicy carrot and coriander soup, salmon parcels stuffed with ricotta and spinach and a crisp lemon sorbet with fresh fruit. She offers apologetically that it is all store bought, but I don’t see what she’s apologising for- the food is great….

It is Nigeria’s Independence Day today, forty seven years on, and I can’t help thinking that in country terms, we are really still quite young. Perhaps that’s another sign of aging- ten years ago, I was ranting at how little we had achieved at 37, now I am slightly more patient.

Thinking about Independence Day takes me back to childhood and the school children’s march past. We would practice for weeks beforehand and the worst students would be weeded out. Then the day before the parade we had to bring in our uniforms to be inspected so as not to disgrace the school. Then on the day itself to the field where the state governor would appear on a dais ready to take the salute. At the command “Eeeeeyyesss riiiiight!” we would swivel our tiny necks by 180 degrees to pay homage to the governor as we marched past the dais…..

I still remember a song that some of the children used to sing

“Nigeria is a great country,
Africa is a large continent
We are marching on
To take awa place among all the (other?)
Nations of di worl’

And remembering it now I am oddly moved….

As my great grandmother used to say "happy independa!"

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I am walking past the charity shop (the UK equivalent of Naija's bend down boutiques) when a scrap of scarlet silk at the back of the shop catches my attention. It is an old gentleman's dressing gown and suddenly I find myself thinking about pyjamas. Growing up, there was the nightly ritual of the evening bath followed by the change into pyjamas. Initially they were Marks and Spencer pyjamas bought on the infrequent trips to Kingsway and Leventis stores, but as the Nigerian economy deteriorated they tended to be Chinese brands with names like "Golden Bunny" and were bought in the clothing section of the local market. I once owned a scarlet dressing gown, it was not silk, but I cherished it and for some reason, my parents insisted that if we were leaving our bedroom in our pyjamas we had to put on our dressing gowns. I suppose they had picked up the habit during their education here in the sixties and seventies. Struck by the dressing gown, I reflect on how on leaving home for boarding school, I began to sleep in my day clothes and then by the time I ended up in university was mostly sleeping in my boxers..... Boxers were another latterday introduction- growing up it was all Y-fronts or nothing but much later, boxers were introduced and soon every street side tailor in Nigeria's cities were churning out their own take on the ubiquitous boxers....

I've just finished Donna Daley Clarke's Lazy Eye which is a gripping and evocative of black Caribbean life in the UK in the 60s and 70s. On the cover, there is a photograph of two children on Chopper bicycles, which again had me reminiscing about Chopper and Tomahawk bicycles. unfortunately the bicycle on the cover was the red version when everyone knows that only the purple version ever really counted....

Now I'm reading Nikita Lalwani's Gifted which was longlisted for the Booker Prize this year. It's a well written account of a young girl with a gift for maths growing up with her Indian immigrant parents in Cardiff. Reading it reminds me of my Indian classmates from primary and secondary school, many of whom had a similar gift for maths. This of course put unbearable pressure on the few Indian classmates whose maths skills were more run of the mill. Looking back now I can imagine how miserable they must have felt....

Will there be an election in the UK soon or not? The debate is everywhere- will Gordon go for it or not? I think it is extraordinary that the Prime Minister alone can more or less chose when he calls an election, although having that power is no guarantee of success...

Meanwhile in Nigeria, the list of ambassadorial nominees is released and there are rumours that the former PDP Chairman Amadu Ali is pencilled in to become the UK High Commissioner, which, if it is true will be sad. Following the suave sophistication, erudition and impeccable integrity of the Kolades whose term has just ended is a tough enough act to follow without all the baggage that Ali and his wife carry...

Having recently finished Amy Tan's Saving Fish from Drowning (you should read it if only to hear the story behind the title) which is set in Burma, I look at current events there and shake my head and wonder at the injustice of the world. Everyone is cheering from the sidelines but doing nothing concrete to help, now where's Dubya with his missiles when you need him? Restricting visas isn't going to save those poor people when their nameless and faceless military rulers unleash their venom is it?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Quick update, a few pointers

Just got back and am facing the prospect of a mountain of emails and other work-related projects and meetings. In the rural area of Bavaria, the beautiful landscape of towering mountains, seemingly endless thick green forests and valleys interspersed with the fairytale castles of "mad" King Ludwig of Bavaria and the lavishly decorated baroque and rococo churches provided a good backdrop for time away. The greeting in this deeply conservative and deeply Catholic region of Germany is not the usual Guten tag (Good day) but is Gruss Gott (greetings to God). Yet my experience where many of the inhabitants (including some of the staff in the hotels) had problems responding to the greetings of another human being, albeit a black one, did raise questions about the validity of their preferred mode of greeting. Thankfully Munich and Wiesbaden proved more obviously welcoming and indeed I was surprised to see so many black people in Wiesbaden, although the American accents that many of them sported suggested that they were US Army families stationed nearby..... Indeed there was a gospel revival featuring various African American musicians and ministers on one of the days that I was there. Also surprising was the number of medical clinics and hospitals in the area which were actually included in the city's tourist guide, suggesting that the area was a focus for medical tourism....

I'll blog properly later to catch up on all the developments in the UK and Naija while I've been away and catching up on the books I read, but it was a relief to be back and I thought I'd better highlight a few important events ....

For the New Yorkers, the highly acclaimed Tings Dey Happen drama sketch based on the experiences of the lead actor in the Niger Delta is on at The Culture Project till the 20th of October

For the Brummies and fans of the UK TV police drama, The Bill, Cyril Nri, the Nigerian born star of the series is appearing in a production of Othello in Birmingham

And for everyone else, two of our favourite visitors on this blog- Molara Wood of wordsbody and Petina Gappah have short stories published in the latest edition of Per Contra. Here's Petina's and here's Molara's

One last word- on the Madeleine Mc Cann case, can all the armchair commentators, detectives, PR pundits, pros, antis, etc etc, please shut up? Since I got back it seems nothing else is worthy of front page coverage, an indication of our increasingly voyeuristic society...whether or not the parents are implicated or not, all the relentless media coverage (some self-generated I'll admit) cannot be helpful or constructive....

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Travel notes, asking questions, the demise of NNPC and a legislative boob

Luxembourg was bland, sanitized, international, a bit like my experience of Geneva; bits of it, on the outskirts were surprisingly green forests, which came as a bit of a surprise as I had conjured a vision of the Grand Duchy as a pristine, modern,urban city-state.

Stuttgart, the bits that I saw were largely grim and industrial. My local colleagues had organized as a "treat", a tour of one of the local luxury car manufacturing plants. The hour passed pleasantly enough except for the irritating questions from one of our party who kept echoing the guide's words and asking questions that the guide had already answered in his spiel. Discussing this later with a colleague who admitted that she had been irritated too, she argued that our irritation was cultural. The offending tourist being American, she argued that we would have been more sympathetic and less irritated by the questions if we had been American too....I reflected on an earlier class years ago, taken with people from many different countries. We soon got used to the Americans asking questions a lot, not always timely or relevant, but it wasn't till later that an American friend explained that in some US universities, you get marks for participating in class hence the flurry of questions.... I didn't get to ask the question I had really wanted to ask which was whether the workmen who crafted the parts so lovingly ever got to own any of the models....looking at the staff car park, it did not appear that way...

Yaradua continues to chart his own course, setting up a panel to reform the electoral process and acknowledging that the April elections which brought him to power were riddled with irregularities. Today I see that he has announced plans to split up NNPC, the behemoth that has straddled the Nigerian petroleum sector for decades. I remember the lavish lifestyles of friends whose parents worked there and wonder if there will ever be a proper audit there.....It'll be interesting to see what the new structures will look like...

I was blasted back into blogging having been sent this quote relating to the "boobs" of the embattled Nigerian speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh who is accused of having awarded inflated contracts for the renovation of her residence and going to the US for a lavish 54th birthday party. A male legislator, purported to be her supporter is quoted as saying:

This woman told us, on the floor of the House, that she’s got two boobs. That the old can suck one while the new would suck one. Honestly speaking, we are sucking. We are enjoying the sucking. We are doing that right now. So, for anybody to say that there is an apathy or favoritism to either the new legislators or the returning legislators or those with cognate experience, honestly, it is unfortunate and it is uncalled for.

Such language! And from an "honourable" too......To read the whole interview, see here

I enjoyed Helen Oyeyemi's The Opposite House- it's an amazing book although I suspect that it may not appeal to the mass market. It is dreamlike and bold and tackles so many issues; from second generation immigrant children to the relationship between mothers and daughters, to faith and religion, all written in lucid languid prose that is infused with a wisdom and music and replete with historical references, subtly worked in. I think it is a very 21st century novel...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Random ramblings, going away, Felabration

In a hurry as it's my last day at work for a while and there are a million and one things to do. I'm going away for work and hoping to catch some holiday and to be honest, I can't wait. I'll try to blog on my wanderings as internet connectivity permits...

On the train this morning a bunch of giggling teenagers in multicoloured wellington boots, carrying backpacks the sizes of small mountains, occupied most of the train. They keep up an urgent rapid-fire chatter which distracts me from the work I'm trying to do. Their conversation ranges over the drugs they've taken and the ones that they will take at the festival that they are headed to, the sex that they have had and will have and so on. I am no prude but can't help being gobsmacked at the casual way in which they broadcast this information through the carriage. I look up from my papers, catching the eye of one of them who has the good grace to blush and gestures to the others to tone it down. As their conversation descend to loud whispers, I am acutely conscious of my age....

Much talk in the last week of Britain's fractured society particularly with the horrific gangland style killing of an 11-year old boy in Liverpool. Everyone seems to agree that society is fractured, but there is disagreement on what to do to heal it. There is much talk about the role of "the community" which makes me irritable. Unlike Mrs Thatcher I do believe that society exists, but am unconvinced that many of the pundits actually know how to mobilize a community. Jack Straw says "lads need dads", suggesting that the black community needs to acknowledge this and promote it, yet I wonder how you actually put that into practice, beyond rhetoric. David Cameron abandons his hug-a-hoodie approach and suggests that offenders should be banged up in prison. Doing a U-turn so soon after his faux pas over hospital closures (he had claimed a number of hospitals were going to lose their accident and emergency departments, only to apologise to a few and then retracting the apology) certainly did nothing to strengthen his public image....

Excerpts from a press release sent to me from Storm Nigeria

"The event which has been tagged "FELABRATION 10" is a 5-daycelebration of Fela's life, music and spirit holds from the 9th-16thof October 2007. The events scheduled include:? Tue October 9th: World Movie Premiere of the previously unreleasedspecial movie of Fela ?Shuffering and Shmiling? and Kick Off Partyfeaturing celebrity DJ, Koffi? Wed October10th: Ladies Night. A day dedicated to the ladies tocelebrate Fela featuring special performances by frontline Nigerianfemale artists such as Zeal, Sasha, Niyola, Asa and many more.? Thursday October 11th: Classics and Yabis night featuring Veteranartists like Fatai Rolling Dollars and Victor Olaiya with acecomedians, Basket Mouth, Tee A and Julius Agwu handling the Yabisspecial. (Don?t forget Baba inspired most of the frontline comediansas a grand Yabis Master himself)? Friday October12th: Fela is Hip Hop featuring International hip hopartist, Nas as well as top Nigerian hip hop stars such as Mode 9,Ikechukwu, Naeto C, Thoroughbreds and Lord of Ajasa have already beenconfirmed to celebrate Fela, the hip hop way! (More to come)? Saturday October 13th: Block Party. All roads lead to the Shrine fora Street Party featuring Damian Marley and most of the big names inNigeria?s music industry.? Sunday October 14th: Fashion for Fela by award winning designer,Deola Sagoe featuring International models Oluchi, Agbani and Nnennaamongst many others. This will be followed by special performances byFemi and Seun Kuti.? Monday October 15th: All day Free feeding at the Shrine by theUnited Nations World Food Project (UNWFP)? Tuesday October 16th: Music Business Conference. The conference willbe held in honor of Fela with an aim to elevate the Nigerian musicindustry. The event will join major businesses, major players in theindustry as well as International resource people. Issues such aspiracy, distribution, broadcast, new technologies, internationalmarkets, regional markets, corporate support, the power of music to drive youth marketing and brands will be dealt with."

I've just finished Pies and Prejudice by Stuart Maconie, a wander through the North of England by a Northerner living in the South. There's lots of good writing and priceless nuggets of information but it's all mired in a mash of references to music and bands that I know little about which spoilt it a bit for me. Learning that there was a large Yemeni Arab community that settled in South Shields in the North of England in the 19th century was an eye opener for me. I'll be taking Bandele's Burma Boy, Oyeyemi's The Opposite House and Abani's The Virgin of Flames with me on my travels....

Now back to the desk clearing....

Friday, August 17, 2007

Overheard, brief summer, economic turmoil and bombarding the Garden City

I am sitting in a train carriage on my way out of London for work. Opposite me is a fifty-something year old American man who keeps applying and reapplying some kind of lip salve that makes his lips a funny white colour. Perhaps he has burnt his lips in the sun or has some sort of medical condition. He is wearing tortoiseshell glasses and a blue shirt with braces (the sort that Nigerian banking whiz kids rocked in the 90s before the finance houses collapsed) and throughout the journey he keeps up a monotonous conversation with various vassals and minions. “Who ordered the report on the India outsourcing? Have the clients been properly billed?” he drawls. The person at the other end barely has time to answer before he barks “Yes but I want to be sure that it’s billed to the right cost centre, is that clear?” He clicks his mobile shut and dials another number and the conversations continue. Nothing stops him, when the train passes through a tunnel and he loses his connection, he immediately dials again. Just listening to him and the way the tone of voice changes, it’s obvious that some minions are doing better than others. He even smiles once while talking to one. I think to myself, is this what it feels like to be Master of the Universe….I tried to see if I could pick up some trade secrets, maybe some hot investment tips but no way. I’ve heard some strange conversations on trains in my time but that’s a whole other blog.

It’s been raining most of this week, payback for the few days of summer that we’ve had I guess. At the weekend looking at all my colourful summer shirts I realized that I’ve hardly worn them this year. Shorts I’ve worn maybe twice, if that. Oh well….

My rusty economics has been receiving quite a stretch this week, what with stock markets plunging worldwide and Soludo at the Nigerian Central Bank announcing that from next year, he’ll be slashing two zeros off the naira. Expert opinions on both developments abound are so many and varied as to be useless. I wonder what it feels like to live through a Crash. Did people wake up in 1929 one morning to discover the markets had crashed, or was it a more gradual process? Were there warning signs that the smart ones picked up on, and the majority ignored? How will we know when the next one comes? Answers on the back of a postcard please.

Saw an interesting comment in one of the papers about how the denizens of the free market in the world’s financial centres were quite happy to receive a massive injection of public funds to shore up the stumbling market. So government intervention isn’t so bad then.

I’m reading Let Me Eat Cake by Paul Arnott, a kind of account of his growing up focusing on his love for cakes and sweet things. It reminds me a bit of Nigel Slater’s Toast in its evocation of a different Britain but isn’t as good. Earlier, I finished another collection of short stories, this time by a Chinese author. Yi Yun Li’s A Thousand Years of Good Prayers which won the Guardian First Book Prize was great reading- capturing different facets of contemporary China in beautiful language and engaging plots.

What on earth is happening in Port Harcourt, our Garden City? I had e mails from friends there yesterday talking about bombardment by helicopter gun ships as the army tried to corral the gangs that have been terrorizing the city. Scary stuff it sounded like. Hope Jaja’s keeping safe- we need that magnum opus.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Zulu art by the Thames, tasty tomatoes, McEwan's Amsterdam and failed DNA tests

The weather continues to be distinctly more summery although there was a brief shower yesterday. I was walking along the Thames at the time and as I was umbrella-less I sought refuge in the Oxo Tower Gallery attracted by the stunning display of hand embroidered colourful umbrellas in the window. In the event they were way beyond what I could afford with a price tag of over a hundred pounds, but I was able to feast my eyes on Best of African Design: 100 % Zulu, an exhibition of Zulu arts and crafts currently running at the gallery….

To supper with English friends on Sunday who served a distinctly summery meal of slices of ham, tomato salad and potato salad which reminded me of reading Enid Blyton’s descriptions of the Famous Five feasting on picnics of ham and tomato. I often wondered then if the tomatoes were different from our Nigerian tomatoes, based on the heavenly way in which they were described. Now I find that if anything Nigerian tomatoes are more flavourful than the often insipid specimens that one finds here.…

Having stalked Ian Mc Ewan’s On Chesil Beach at the library for a few weeks now without any luck, I thought I might as well start on another of his books. And so I took out Amsterdam which won the Booker Prize in 1998. I was not disappointed, it’s a slim book, easily finished but packed a powerful punch. It had most of what I like in a book- a mixture of beautiful prose, a strong storyline that keeps me guessing what happens next and moral discussions that I can engage with. If On Chesil Beach is anything like it, it’ll probably earn him his next Booker….

Another discovery this weekend was The Red Carpet, a collection of short stories set mostly in contemporary Bangalore, by Lavanya Sankaran. As she explored the clash of cultures between a younger more American-influenced generation and an older more English colonial generation, she could have been writing I felt about Nigeria. Ditto for her story of the relationship between a driver and his young, modern Madam and another story about the fraught relationship between a young girl and her nurse. It’s been a while since I read a collection of short stories but so far, this is proving well worth it.

Helping a friend move yesterday, I spied in one corner of his emptying drawers a white plastic band which I soon recognized as a relic of the Make Poverty History campaign. In 2005 you could not turn your head without seeing this on nearly every wrist. As we cleared out the debris I wondered when and why people stopped wearing them. I mean it’s not like poverty’s been made history or anything…..

I remember arguing with friends a few years ago about the stipulation in MKO Abiola’s will asking most of his children to undergo a DNA test before they could benefit from the will. My argument was that Abiola was wrong in visiting the sins of the mothers on the children. Why did he not insist on the DNA tests at the time of birth? He was happy to fund lavish naming ceremonies and bankroll expensive educations and to act as father only for him to issue the killer punch so late in the day. Now that 25 of his children have “failed” the DNA test, the Nigerian media is agog. But to all those sneering, I would ask them to save their sneers as there’s no telling what conducting similar tests in their families might yield…

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Back on the blog, KLM rubbish, Booker longlist and TED Global talks

I haven’t blogged in a while, not because there was nothing to blog about- what with Yaradua’s “independence” moves in Nigeria, foot and mouth scares on farms and chaos at Heathrow in the UK and the alternately infuriating and depressing news of TV star Funmi Iyanda’s brush with the “fashion police” in Lagos, there’s been more than plenty to blog about. But it seems that the sunny weather we’ve had in the last week or so has lulled me into a state of lethargy. That combined with work where lots of colleagues are on holiday making things pretty tight and the relentless march of friends, relations and friends of friends and relations of relations visiting from Nigeria has pushed blogging way down the list of priorities but anyways here I am

I read the increasingly vociferous complaints about how shoddy services at Heathrow were in the last few weeks but took it all with a pinch of salt until I had a reality check the other day. I was seeing off an uncle flying back to Nigeria. First I tried to check him in online so that we could avoid waking up at 4 am to catch the 8 50 flight. The KLM website wouldn’t let me and I finally rang up the contact telephone number only to be told that the online system was down and check in over the phone would be to Amsterdam only so he would have to retrieve his luggage in Amsterdam and check it in again to Lagos. And so we lost a potential extra hour of sleep. Then he made the mistake of not weighing his luggage and so as soon as I arrived I asked a member of BAA staff where the weighing scales were only to be sent off in completely the wrong direction. We finally arrived at KLM business class and the attitude of the staff at the check in was atrocious. The two women were engaged in an obviously-more-important-than-work chat and ignored us standing there for a while. When I finally, ostentatiously cleared my throat, one of them caught my eye and with an “I suppose I better deal with you since you’re not going away” look sauntered over to the desk and started up the computer. Just as she was about to start the check in process, she reminded us that this was the Business class check in not economy. My uncle replied that he was well aware of this, only to have her supervisor retort sharply “A lot of people make that mistake, so she was only checking” The aggression seemed so unnecessary at 6 30 in the morning and in what was supposed to be business class that I asked her to please mind her business and let us get on with checking in which obviously did not go down well…. Then there was all the drama about the security queue. You could carry a laptop as long as it was not in its case through the barrier but then it did not matter how many bags you had subsequently. So my uncle had to take his laptop out, squeeze the laptop case into his briefcase but once he was through the barriers it was fine to take it out and put the laptop back in its case- I struggled to see the rationale for this….All in all I finally saw why people were complaining- I mean I wasn’t travelling but by the time I waved him through the security barrier I was exhausted…

I’ve just finished Cuban writer Abilio Estevez’s Distant Palaces and it suddenly struck me why Havana had seemed so familiar when I visited it a few years ago. It was the echoes of the ancient quarters of Lagos Island that did it- the crumbling Italianate mansions, the strong sense of a syncretic Catholicism, the salt tinged organic breezes of Marina and the Malecon against a backdrop of decay and vibrant human living. Reading Estevez, his descriptions of Havana could have been set in Lagos Island….

On the subject of writing, Helon Habila has an interesting piece on what I had earlier suggested was an amazing year for Nigerian writers. I’m particularly interested at his classification of contemporary Nigerian writers... And the Booker Prize longlist is announced with some surprise at the brevity of it, sadly there are no Nigerians on it and although On Chesil Beach and Winnie and Wolf were on my to read list, the rest are all new to me ….

Finally, in continued pursuit of Nigerians off the beaten track, I’m pleased to read that Tayo Aluko, the Liverpool based singer and architect is performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this week; and to see The Financial Times at the weekend reveals that the chef at the new fashionable London restaurant La Petite Maison is Nigerian born Raphael Duntoye

And finally Nigerian writer Chris Abani's talk at TED Global earlier this year is now available and also here . Also worth listening to are Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, George Ayittey and William Kankwamba

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Hypocrisy, Covenant University, fine-boy politics et cetera

I have always been a firm believer in the aphorism that travel broadens the mind, and for me, coming to the UK has helped me see my country through fresh eyes. One area that astounds me is the hypocrisy that permeates many aspects of Nigerian society. I remember on one of my visits home, this cousin whom I am very close to accosted me and asked me which church I attended in London. When I told her, she said " I hope it is a Bible-believing church o!" and went on to regale me with her activities at her church in Lagos where she had recently been promoted to lead one of the departments. Later in the trip, she said she had a friend whom she would like me to meet. We went to lunch at a swanky Lagos restaurant with a gentleman of the sort that City People refers to as a "Lagos Big Boy". It was soon evident that this was no ordinary friend but indeed my cousin's married lover- indeed his wedding had been splashed all over the society magazines a few years before. As we left the restaurant, ensconced in the air conditioned jeep of her "friend", I wondered how she made sense of these disaparate strands of her life. It is this same hypocrisy that leads 419 barons and fraudulent public servants to give tithes from their ill-gotten gains and hold thanksgiving services without questioning the incongruity of their actions...

I was set to musing about this by the recent news that Covenant University, owned by one of the churches in Lagos , has instituted mandatory pregnancy tests and HIV tests for all final year students. Students who test positive for pregnancy are to forfeit their degrees, those who test positive for HIV will receive their degrees after they have "received their healing". Questions that immediately spring to mind include: What about the sexually active boys who cannot get pregnant? What about the various other ways that HIV can be contracted apart from sex? How come this healing has not been made available to the 4 million or so Nigerians estimated to be living with HIV? Would married students be exempt? Can all the lecturers and staff swear that they are living chaste, morally upright lives?

I'm glad that some action is being taken but the mind boggles at such irrational, ill thought out and draconian policies being made and implemented in of all places a university. One can then imagine the level of critical thought being imparted to these students.....

Jeremy touches on another aspect of this shadow chasing favoured by my people in his post on the Nigerian police and skimpily dressed Lagos women...

Meanwhile in London, David Cameron struggles as his place in the polls slip further and further down. The Brown bounce is to account partly for this but "Call Me Dave" did himself no favours jetting off to Rwanda to build schools while his constituency was awash in floods and losing the bye election in Ealing to Labour after imposing a fine-boy Asian businessman candidate who was revealed had been hobnobbing with Blair only weeks before joining the Conservatives. Funnily enough Brown is slowly appearing more statesmanlike and now appears to show up Cameron's fine-boy tactics as just that- all show and no action, no meat to his policies. The Tory traditionalists are getting restive but Dave has vowed to stay the course and avoid a lurch to the right. I think part of his problem is that he is still trying to be all things to all men and women, and that can only take you so far.....

In London we have an interesting mayoral contest coming up with the faux-shambolic Boris Johnson, the Old Etonian and former President of the Oxford Union who likes to pretend that he is really just a bumbling, harmless upper class toff throwing his hat into the ring to run against Ken Livingstone. In many ways I suspect it will also turn out as another fine-boy (albeit with jokes added) versus substance contest. As Labour was quick to make clear- can you imagine Boris as mayor after the 7th of July bombings?

To Spitalfields last weekend and a magnificent steak dinner at Hawksmoor which prides itself on serving the best meat in London. The ribeye was superb, succulent and run through with fat and the chips were juicy and crisp on the outside. While the Caesar salad was a bit on the watery side, the delicious cocktails more than made up for the deficiency. The Spitalfields area is an interesting mix - from bearded Bangladeshi elders to funky Brit artists, punks, Goths and pinstriped City boys, the streets are alive with something inexpressibly exciting...

Marooned in Bloomsbury on Sunday, I found myself on the doorstep of the London Review of Books bookshop. It's fantastic- packed with books that you wouldn't ordinarily see in Waterstone's or any of the bigger chains. I bought Chris Abani's The Virgin of Flames which means that I now have four new books by Nigerian authors to read on my forthcoming holiday. Already on the to read pile are Helen Oyeyemi's The Opposite House, Biyi Bandele's Burma Boy and Segun Afolabi's Goodbye Lucille. Who says it isn't a great time for Nigerian literature? And while they may all be based abroad, surely greater attention to Nigerian literature can only benefit all- homebased and international.

Speaking of which I came across the website of the iconoclastic, irreverent poet Lola Shoneyin, who apparently has a novel coming soon. There's an excerpt on the website. Thanks Molara of Wordsbody for the heads up

Friday, July 27, 2007

Deceptions, training away bad things and finally a cabinet

It is, it appears a week in which things are not quite what they seem. There is a furore about the BBC and other UK broadcasters “duping” their viewers by asking them to call in to win prizes when the winner had already been decided, or reading out the name of a member of production staff as the winner of a phone-in competition when technical difficulties prevented calls from coming through. There has been much hand-wringing and apologies from the Beeb, especially coming after it was revealed that footage it had shown of the queen storming out of a photo session had been manipulated. Through it all, I couldn’t help thinking- “Come on people, it’s television, not real life- what do you expect?”

Trust the Director of the BBC he’s ordered the entire staff of the corporation to attend training on trust and integrity, which hasn’t gone down well with those members of staff who feel that they weren’t implicated and so shouldn’t have to go through it all.

Personally I’m amused at this belief in training- x makes an anti-Semitic remark; he holds meetings with members of the Jewish community and undergoes training in cultural diversity. Ditto for the racist and homophobic. If these lessons are so life-changing, shouldn’t we all be going on them beforehand and not just when the s**t has hit the ceiling (if you’ll pardon my French) Perhaps next time someone commits a crime, instead of punishing them we can send them to murder/stealing or fraud charm school instead...

Finally, Uncle Yardie (I refused to call OBJ Baba, but I don’t mind calling Yardie Uncle) has sworn in his cabinet. I like that Mrs Diezaeni Alison Madueke is in charge of Transport. With her working experience as a very senior executive in Shell and a fairly comfortable background, she should be ready to contribute and not to chop. Professor Adenike Grange at the Health Ministry is another square peg in a square hole. I reserve my comments on Ojo Maduekwe in Foreign Affairs and Shamsudeen Usman in Finance. Yardie has decided to hold on to the energy portfolio with no less than 3 junior ministers to support him. Ha, this oil sweet o!

At the moment I’m reading Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in Pakistan and India by Pankaj Mishra. It’s an interesting mix of memoir, travelogue, philosophical rambling and history with illuminating insights into for instance, the situation in Kashmir

Monday, July 23, 2007


Tagged by My talking Beginnings. I initially tried to wriggle out but seeing as the summer's wet and windy and there are floods in some places and we just had a power outage, I'll give it a go. Answers to my conundrums are welcome:

7 things you do not know about me:

I often wonder what the polite way of getting out chewed biscuit or groundnut paste from between your far upper teeth and your inner cheek is without resorting to a surreptitious finger

I also wonder what the correct English etiquette for guys peeing at a row of urinals is- is it permisible to keep chatting as if you were at any social function, or do you acknowledge each other with a smile and face the business at hand

I love talking to people and speaking publicly but I also often enjoy my own company and in some ways could be described as an introvert

I read whenever I can- while I am brushing my teeth, sitting on the loo, ironing, sometimes even when I am walking on the road

I know far more about the English royal family (past and present) than is healthy, wise or edifying

When I was nine, I had to perform a traditional coming-of-age ritual and I lay awake for days beforehand. In the end, as with most things that I have agonized over, it was fine

Most of the time I am very happy and contented, occasionally I am seized with a deep despair for humanity and think that everything is pointless

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A tale of two Londons, thieving Nigerian governors and Nollywood in London

I went to visit a friend at Woolwich last weekend. I took the tube to North Greenwich station where the ill-fated Millennium Dome now enjoying a second lease of life rebranded as the O2 lives. From there I was to catch a bus to my friend's flat. On getting on the bus I was struck by the fact that there were only a handful of white faces in the seething mass that waited to board the bus. On coming closer to the few white people on the bus, it became obvious that they were eastern European- new migrants from the newly expanded EU. There was a single mother and child speaking in the characteristic Sarf London accent and as they huddled by the busstop, the mum pulling on her fag, I began to be more appreciative of what it must feel like for the people born and bred in the area to see this influx of immigrants seemingly swamping their country. I'm sure they think it's all right for David Cameron and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and all the politicians to talk glibly of integration and tolerance. The streets and buses of the salubrious parts of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster and Islington where they live haven't changed that dramatically. Now I understand what people like Margaret Hodge and co were struggling in their ham-fisted ways to say. I tried to think of a similar analogy- say walking into an area in say Abuja and finding myself the minority black person among many white people, and I thought, well that has happened to me in some exclusive clubs. The difference of course is the poverty and powerlessness in the current situation. While good old fashioned prejudice no doubt plays a part in some of the complaints, I wonder how many British MPs have been on buses like the one I was on.... Methinks MPs on both sides of the immigration debate need to hop on that bus 472 for some fresh insights...

I had already applauded Jacqui Smith, the new Home Secretary on her measured response to the latest round of terror plots. This morning I wake to a media furore as she admits having smoked cannabis at university 25 years ago. I'd earlier blogged about the hypocrisy surrounding the media and politicians and cannabis in the UK and so applauded her honesty, but a friend pointed out that a large proportion of older people in Britain are still very conservative and will be horrified even if she qualified her admission with the acknowledgement that it was illegal and she was wrong to have smoked it.... I think it was frank and honest, but we'll see...

Back home in Nigeria, ex- governor Turaki shed tears as he was remanded in prison as he faces charges of corruption. His erstwhile colleague, the thuggish Orji Uzor Kalu was more resolute, comparing himself to Mandela and Obasanjo who had both risen from prison to higher things. The cheek of him- as if Mandela was imprisoned for stealing money. Meanwhile my debate with friends in Nigeria continues over whether they are being witchhunted for their opposition to Obasanjo. Granted, there are many others who ought to be facing the music- James Ibori and Peter Odili who resource-controlled their way to billions for instance. Or even Obasanjo himself with his private university and multiply enlarging farm businesses. But we have to start somewhere and none of the accused has vociferously denied the charges. Instead we hear things like " The money was given to Obasanjo for the PDP campaign or for the third term bid". If this is the case, they must say so and show the evidence.

I am reading The Shackled Continent: Africa's Past Present and Future by the erstwhile Africa correspondent of The Economist, Robert Guest at the moment. It's fairly well-written and hopeful but is shot through by his inexorable belief that the market can cure everything that ails Africa. He makes valid points about reducing the cots of doing business in Africa but appears to want to divorce morality completely from economics, arguing for instance that the fact that people in Africa are willing to do jobs which misguided activists in the West see as exploitative, is purely a matter of choice. If there were better alternatives, then the exploitative Western companies would find it impossible to recruit.Applying that analogy to, for instance, the use of children as chimney sweeps in Victorian England would be problematic to say the least.

Meanwhile Yaradua continues to fiddle and diddle with his ministerial list. I was sad to see Mrs Diezaeni Allison-Madueke's name disappear from the list as she was one of the few I had high hopes of. Well I promised to hold my fire, and give Yardy a chance, so here I go biting my tongue. I must confess it's getting more and more difficult...

Meanwhile, the British Film Institute has some Nollywood related events coming up in London soon- Amaka Igwe and Tunde Kelani feature...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Little Britain Live

Two 16 year old British girls are caught trying to smuggle drugs out of Accra. One of them is quoted below: (Thanks to Chxta for the link)

'It was basically like a set-up. They didn't tell us nothing, we didn't think nothing, because, basically, we are innocent. We don't know nothing about this drugs and stuff. We don't know nothing.'

If you've ever watched Little Britain's Vicky Pollard then you know where I'm coming from on this one

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On marriage, family and compromise

The word on everyone’s lips in London this week is marriage. The Conservatives are going to change the tax system in order to give every married couple with children what amounts to twenty pounds a week in order to encourage people to get married and stay married. They are incensed that the current system seems to privilege single parents over married couples. Listening to the debate swirling- and Gordon Brown made quite a good fist of it, using the examples of widows or women abandoned by their husbands as examples; I wondered why it had to be one or the other. Can we not just work to ensure that every child in the UK gets the support they need from the state whether they come from single, double, triple, quadruple or zero parent families? I suppose that’s me seeking the middle ground again….

On the subject of compromise, I’ve often wondered if Hillary and Obama could run on the same ticket- that would surely be an unbeatable combination and ensure a Democrat in the White House in 2008….is it too far fetched a proposition?

Still on the subject of the middle ground, Nigerians had brash, vulgar Obasanjo as President for 8 years and we all vilified him for his bull-in-a china shop, talk before you think ways; now we seem to have a more thoughtful, measured president in Yar’adua and we are already dubbing him GO SLOW UMORU…a beg my brothers and sisters, can we hold fire a while? I hope I do not eventually have to eat my words…

It’s summer and the avalanche of friends and relatives from Nigeria and the US begins- my phone is constantly ringing- an aunt there, an old classmate here, some cousins elsewhere. I can see that the next few weeks will be very busy- what with picking people from Heathrow and trying to follow badly given directions all over in London in the spirit of family and friendship….

On the subject of family, I had a call from a friend in Nigeria last week. I'd heard that his father had died a few week before but had struggled with whether to call or not knowing that their relationship was virtually non-existent- him having more or less abandoned my friend, his siblings and their mother many many years ago. When my friend called last week, he was indignant " You no hear say my Papa die? Na wa for you O! Which kind friend you be?" I apologized and promised to send a little something to help with the funeral expenses as I was obviously not going to be able to attend the funeral. Apparently the siblings are all rallying round to give him a "befitting" burial. I bit my tongue to stop myself from asking my friend why he was putting himself to all that trouble after everything the man had put them through. But I refrained. I guess the Nigerian position is that your father is your father but I'm afraid I struggled in this case....

I’m reading Welcome to Everytown: A Journey into the English Mind, which is philosopher Julian Baggini’s attempt to identify a national English philosophy. He does this by going to live in Rotherham, identified by a market survey company as most typical of the national population profile. I’m enjoying it even if I quibble with some of his conclusions….

On Sunday I was able to pick up Helen Oyeyemi’s The Opposite House and a signed copy of Biyi Bandele’s Burma Boy at the South Bank Centre even though I missed the reading proper- but that’s a whole other story. I loved Biyi’s The Street which captured the sights and sounds (apologies to CNN) of Brixton and am looking forward to getting my teeth into his fictionalized account of a Nigerian soldier serving in Burma...

Finally, it was good to see Monica Arac de Nyeko win the Caine Prize. I met her briefly once a few years ago and there was something about her quietly unpretentious, sedate but mischievious ways that I liked. The humour in her "brave" story The Jambula Tree about the relationship between two young girls in Uganda underlines that. That said, mark my words, we'll be hearing more from the Nigerians on the list- Uwem Akpan, Ada Udechukwu and EC Osondu

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Summer is overrated, the high cost of bathroom slippers, recent reading etc

Today for the first time in a long while, the sun is out and it actually feels like it’s summer. There’s a slight chill in the air and I’m beginning to think that this is the kind of summer day I like. Ever since I developed hay fever three summers after arriving in the UK, I have become more sceptical about the supposed benefits of summer. I suspect that it’s partly because the UK isn’t really geared up for hot weather and so I look back on the last few summers of stickiness and itchy eyes and multiple sneezes and think, is summer really all that? Nevertheless, it’s summer and the sun appears to have finally driven the rain that has disrupted everything from Wimbledon to the national mood away and so tomorrow I’m off to my first summer party of the year. Today for the first time I’m wearing a short sleeved shirt and not carrying a jumper or light coat. Maybe tomorrow I’ll even dare shorts and flip-flops (otherwise known as bathroom slippers to us Naija folk), while I sip on my Clarityn and Beconase cocktails.

I marvel at the prices the flip-flops command here, bathroom slippers that were two-for-penny in Naija are now branded Havaianas because they have one small Brazilian flag on the strap and then sold for like twenty pounds…madness. Maybe I should start importing bathroom slippers from Lagos- just imagine the mark-up…

I’m reading Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey at the moment which is a dream-like evocative reflection on journeys and pilgrimages anchored in the author’s reflections travelling around East Oxford where he lives. Occasionally his tone grates- too much of the middle class liberal but I’ve enjoyed it…

Something else I’ve enjoyed is Marina Lewyczka’s follow-up to her hilarious A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian which I blogged about here. It’s called Two Caravans and is about migrant farm workers in the UK. It’s serious and poignant and funny in turns and the phrase “I would like to make possibility with you” all last week humming in my mind all last week and reducing me to laughter at inappropriate moments…

On the subject of laughter, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a hilarious book that captured the language of Blairite New Labour-speak in a beautiful way. I resisted reading it somewhat put off the title and by the media blitz that heralded its publication but ended up enjoying it.

I’ve also enjoyed a sprawling novel set in contemporary India which was a pain to lug around but ultimately worth it. The Peacock Throne is by Sujit Saraf, an Indian physicist at NASA and is a hefty book which captures numerous facets of the way NGOs operate in India and how politics is played. Fascinating insights, if somewhat lacking a certain “spice”

The horrific kidnapping of three year old Margaret Hill in the Niger Delta continues to puzzle many. The militants in the Niger Delta seem to have hit a new low on this one. Meanwhile the oil price soared to 76 dollars a barrel partly fuelled by the instability in the Delta. Do the boys in the Delta realize that their actions are actually filling the pockets of the “oppressors”?

Funny how Yaradua and Brown have both been faced by violence in their first few weeks in office. They both seem to be handling it far.

On the tube going to visit friends this morning, a voice came across the tannoy "Ladeess and gentumen, dere ah minor delays on di District and Sarcul line" And I thought "Ah that's my sister"

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A random London meeting, the roots of terror & waiting for Yaradua

Walking to the tube station this morning, my nose half-buried in a book, I notice a woman sitting in a car parked by the station. “Are you a locksmith?” I believe I hear her ask and I inwardly roll my eyes. Locksmith, moi? Is it ‘cause I’s black?

But no she is asking “Are you at Oxford? “, her question prompted by my choice of reading material, James Attlee’s Isolarion, a book about the other Oxford, away from the dreaming spires, on the Cowley road where Arab butchers jostle cheek by jowl with Ghanaian fishmongers and Brazilian craft shops. Apparently she has just bought the book for her son who used to live in that area of Oxford. She has recognized it by the distinctive cover. She asks if I am enjoying the book and I admit that I am. We chat a little bit more and then, waving goodbye to her, I enter the tube station, marvelling at another random London morning experience….

With the recent failed terror attacks in the UK, the talking head pundits are out in force- in the newspapers, the television and on the radio. Everyone peddles their own peculiar brand of analyses, trying to explain why educated professionals would engage in terror. The focus is now on the NHS and foreign health professionals who work in it. Two summers ago, it was on disaffected young British Muslims living in inner-city areas in the UK. The hoary old debate about what fuels the terrorists continues- on one side those who argue, it’s all about Islam, stupid. On the other, those who scream that it’s all about Iraq and the government’s foreign policy. Both sides refuse to see any merit in the other side’s argument. Yet the answer seems obvious to me- it’s a combination of both. You can see how a “moderate” could be tempted to a greater fundamentalism and then violence by current global issues and injustices. You can also see that there are fundamentalists who will not be appeased, no matter what foreign policy is adopted. Like all things the truth lies somewhere in the middle but our politicians and pundits prefer a polarized debate….

Gordon Brown managed to pull off the image of freshness with his cabinet reshuffle. I think the choice of a woman Home Secretary is particularly inspired, coming after the bully boy tactics of John Reid, David Blunkett and co…Not that Jacqui Smith is a pushover judging from her previous role as Chief Whip…The measured response to the attempted terror was positive although somewhat marred by Brown’s last-ditch playing to the gallery pledge to bring in new systems of vetting for foreigners working in the NHS. What can new vetting systems do? Will he do a thorough criminal and security check on every single nurse and doctor of foreign extraction working in the NHS? Will he include the second generation? Remember that overseas doctors and nurses are estimated to constitute some 30-40 per cent of the NHS workforce…

Meanwhile in Nigeria, Yar’adua finally sends his list of ministers to the Senate. It’s still secret- not sure why- but the names being bandied about do not inspire confidence. In many ways it is beginning to look like Obasanjo’s first cabinet- full of yesterday’s men and women, political jobbers and others of doubtful provenance, but I’ll hold my fire till the real list emerges….One cheering point might be that the new president seems intent on running a fairly tight ship…there are “only” 35 names on the list- here’s hoping he doesn’t appoint a slew of Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants, Personal Assistants and so forth as Obasanjo did in his first term..

Meanwhile in response (I assume) to my previous post on The World is Flat, I'm sent this link.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A whistlestop tour after a fashion

Where to begin- perhaps with an apology to the readers who have dropped by and left in disgust at my tardiness in updating. I must say that this blog business is hard work especially combined with a fulltime job and extracurricular activities. Maybe I should explore blogging as a fulltime job. Perhaps as a starting point it would be useful to know how many of you would pay to read the musings of a naijaman…..

The past few weeks have seen me in the English Riviera (I bet you didn’t know there was one) staying in a wedding cake-like seaside hotel, with a view of the sea and a promenade and elderly residents straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. At times it smelt and seemed like the last time the hotel had had a refurbish was way back in the days of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Unsurprisingly, there were few, how do I put this delicately, ahem, faces of colour along the seafront but I did not feel unwelcome at all….More challenging was the battle to find a cash machine that worked. In my haste fleeing London I had neglected to extract enough loose cash and found myself wandering the streets of an English seaside town searching for a functioning cash machine. In the end I had to get cash from the hotel reception, although thankfully I did not have to write a cheque- they did accept cards….

One afternoon, as we sit on the terrace of our hotel on the English Riviera, having lunch, my colleague realizes he needs some information from his office in Cambridge. Not having a Blackberry, he rings the office. He struggles to get through and when he finally does, there is no-one to give him the information. He knows that it is in his email box and so he rings his brother in India and in a few minutes, giving instructions over the phone, his brother accesses his email account and extracts the relevant information from his e mail box. Engrossed as I am in reading Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat at the time, I can’t help but marvel at the fact that it was easier to get information from India than from within the UK. The internet and the ubiquity of mobile phones have made this possible…. Friedman’s book was good reading except for the fact that his flat world seemed to exclude Africa most of the time and he did not really address this gap….

So while I was away, Tony Blair bid us farewell, leaving tears, sniffles and sniggers in his wake; Umaru Yaradua told us he owned 843 million naira, leaving Nigerians torn between applauding his transparency and querying where a former university lecturer, albeit one from a wealthy family had amassed such wealth….we in England saw the last of cigarettes in public places as the ban came into force yesterday, even as we battled the new threat of terror attacks in Britain…

On the smoking ban- a word of warning for the English. A Scottish colleague tells me how stinky pubs and bars in Scotland became after the ban on smoking in pubs came into effect there last year. Apparently, the stench of cigarette smoke was soon replaced by the stench of unwashed sofas and carpets and unwashed bodies. Most publicans apparently had to invest in air fresheners….

In other news Chimamanda Adichie was short listed for yet another award, the James Tait Black and the current edition of Eclectica features writing from two Nigerians Molara Wood of Wordsbody and Ike Anya of Nigeria Health Watch . Also of interest is this and this

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Consensus governments, recent reading ,the London Lit Fest & praying for Ghana

On the road again this time travelling mostly by train through this green and pleasant land. This morning on the news, we hear that Gordon Brown’s sneaky attempt to co-opt Paddy Ashdown, a leading Liberal Democrat into his government has come unstuck. It leaves Mr Brown with a bit of egg on his face. I’m sure he did not want this made public and was looking to surprise us all with a rainbow cabinet including Liberal Democrats as the start of his premiership. It appears that this indeed is the season of consensus governments- in France; Sarkozy has gathered a cabinet from different political and ethnic viewpoints in an attempt to appear diplomatic and statesmanlike. In Nigeria, Yar’adua tries the same- reaching out to the opposition. I do wish that everyone gives him a chance, including the trade unions. I’m all for diplomacy myself and consensus building, perhaps something to do with being a middle child…..

There seems to be no consensus in the Agent Provocateur lingerie family. The company founded by the iconoclastic designer Vivienne Westwood’s son Joseph Corre and his partner Serena Rees woke on Saturday to the news that both founders had earned MBEs in the Queen’s birthday honours. However while Corre turns his down saying that no honour can flow from a dishonourable Blair government, his partner Rees is quite happy to accept….

On the subject of honours; a friend was quite upset at the weekend to hear that Salman Rushdie had been knighted. “Is this the same Rushdie of The Empire Writes Back? How could he? ” she queried. I argued that she had not quite understood the love-hate relationship that Rushdie has with the Establishment, and that besides recent reports of his high living in New York suggest that he is not averse to the finer things of life, knighthoods included….

In the course of my travels I have read several interesting books and I will try and blog about them as time permits. I enjoyed Marisha Pessl’s hefty tome Special Topics in Calamity Physics which had echoes of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History for me. Unfortunately many of the literary allusions were lost on me….

On the non-fiction side I enjoyed China Shakes the World: The Rise of a Hungry Nation- an interesting book on China which illuminates much of the current hype/hysteria around the rise of China. It is more measured and less breathless and actively weighs the pros and cons and the reality of the Chinese rise to world dominance. It’s written by James Kynge of The Economist and I highly recommend it… Isee it has a different title for the US market-China Shakes the World: A Titan's Rise and Troubled Future -- And the Challenge for America

I also enjoyed The Book of Salt by Monique Truong. I’m surprised I hadn’t heard about it before seeing how much I enjoyed it. It was published in 2004 and is a fictional account of the life of the Vietnamese cook employed by Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas…

Finally there is news of the first ever London Literary Festival at the South Bank Centre featuring among others our own WS, Biyi Bandele, Helon Habila and Helen Oyeyemi among others. I hope the tickets don’t sell out before I can book…

And of course there is the news that commercial quantities of black gold have been found in neighbouring Ghana- may the Good Lord help them...

Monday, June 18, 2007

First Tanzania musings, hailing the CAs and a young reader

Tanzania is a beautiful country- the lush greenness was just as I imagined and I felt at home, my hay fever disappearing instantly:-). I did begin to understand though why other Africans are often exasperated with Nigeria because I could sense and see that the poverty there was different from Nigeria. With our oil wealth and vibrant population, we could be so much more.

Which isn't to say that Nigeria doesn't have poverty but in Tanzania I began to see what Nigeria might have been like without the oil. The people seemed a lot more humble which had its good sides and its bad sides. On one hand it meant that when I approached the immigrations officer issuing my visa to tell him that I had a connecting flight to catch and could he please expedite the process, he did so with a smile, without asking for kola and without reminding me that everyone else had important places to get to as I suspect a Nigerian counterpart would have. On the other hand, there were times I wished the Tanzanians would exhibit a bit more spark, more joie de vivre, more noise like my Naija brothers and you can see, there's no pleasing me....

The last fortnight must be the most amazing for Nigerian literature in a while- with honours for the two CAs- Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie, the future is bright. BTW, they are both featured in the latest Bono edited "Africa" Vanity Fair. Chris Abani is another up and coming CA- looks like those are the initials to have in the literary world...

This morning walking to the train station, I see a young mother driving past. In the back seat his nose buried in a book is her young son barely four, on his way to school. For some reason he remindes me of a younger self, grabbing every opportunity to stick my nose in a book. Will he still do that in twenty years I wonder or will he have become a leather briefcase toting financier with his face buried in the pinkness of the financial news?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Back on the blog, almost...

How to re-engage when your world has been rocked? Spent the last few weeks travelling to Dubai and then Tanzania- remember the visa sagaI blogged about earlier? Well they finally let me in.

There are insights too many to name or mention. I will need to digest and savour them before I can blog meaningfully.

One night sitting in the bar of our hotel talking to some incredibly brilliant and talented people, sipping Konyagi and tonic (Konyagi is the Tanzanian brewed spirit- gin like in flavour but much milder), we hardly notice as the hands of the clock go right round and when we look up it is 4 am and the hotel staff are starting to set the tables up for breakfast. What to do? Keep talking and then order a slug of strong black coffee and keep going. A magical time is had by all.

The next day a colleague marvels that in spite of the fact that Tanzania is one of the world's coffee exporters, properly brewed coffee is hard to come by. Instead we are served little boxes of instant coffee. I frankly do not mind, not being a coffee aficionado. Growing up on Nigerian Nescafe, I do not have the kind of high standards that led an Italian classmate to once spew out a mouthful of Starbucks coffee and then head for the nearest phone booth to ring Mamma in Italy, asking her to send her coffee machine ASAP to London.

Ah, Chimamanda! What more can I say that hasn't been said already and more eloquently? Read the interviews,,2098238,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=10 and leap as I did for sheer joy

Back in the UK I see Big Brother immersed in another row over the use of the N-word- what's that all about? I wonder

The day I arrive back in London, I go with a friend to the new Whole Foods shop on Kensington High Street. The food is piled high in glimmering heaps- twenty-something different kinds of peanut butter alone. After the austerity of Tanzania, it all seems faintly obscene

Saturday, June 02, 2007

In transit

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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

And is interviewed by the Times here

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