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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