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

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Sex in high places, the exit of Blair and OBJ & reading Human Cargo

Is it something to do with the time of year- spring turning into summer? Sex seems to be in the air and rocking the thrones of power- from Washington DC where the ongoing saga of Paul Wolfowitz’ role in the redeployment of his partner/girlfriend/lover/fiancĂ©e (there doesn’t seem to be consensus on what the precise relationship is) to London where the diminutive but powerful head of BP, Lord Browne yesterday resigned having lied to the court about how he had met his erstwhile male lover/partner and back to Washington where Condoleezza Rice’s No 2, Randall Tobias resigned following allegations that he had used an escort service whose madam is currently on trial and waving a dossier of clients that has all Washington apparently shivering in its boots. Does all this stuff really matter? It’s amazing to think that the fate of millions of people potentially rests on who is sleeping/slept with/had a massage with whom. But I suppose it was ever thus, throughout human history, all over the world, powerful men (they have been mostly men) have been laid low by love/lust/loneliness/a desire for massage- call it what you will….

Nigeria’s own Mr EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu joins the fray on Mr Wolfowitz’ side from Abuja in this New York Times article

Doesn't he have a wee conflict of interest seeing as Wolfowitz just appointed his pal Obi as Vice President?

Shouldn’t he perhaps also be just as interested in the travels of Dr Iyabo-Obasanjo-Bello, our Senate President in the making

or is he keeping his powder dry?

Speaking of powder dry, I understand that a downpour of rain dampened the ardour of would be protesters at the May Day rally in Lagos yesterday. My mother says that they all have now entered the position of “real siddon look”, the phrase immortalized by the late lamented Bola Ige, Obasanjo’s attorney general who was murdered in gruesome circumstances in 2001 and whose killers have still not been found- a little task for Obasanjo in his retirement maybe?

Speaking of retirement, May sees the departure of Tony Blair and Obasanjo, thankfully. My report card on both is similar- fair but could have done so much better – we’ll see what their successors will come up with. Both parties have strung out their adieus for as long as they can; and Blair’s hoping that by finally announcing that he will make a major announcement next week (talk about stringing it out) that he will take the sting out of the local elections this week. Fat chance. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of support the Scottish Nationalist party with their independence for Scotland agenda will get…

I’m just finishing Human Cargo, by Caroline Moorhead- an account of her travels, interviewing refugees all over the world. It’s a harrowing read but highly recommended in this our “globalized” world…