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2017: Optimism as Resistance

It’s some of the first few hours of 2017, a year that has taken too long to come. I’m watching, on Netflix, a serial on Queen Elizabeth and the House of Windsor titled The Crown. It’s an engaging series of stories around the style and life of the reigning British monarch and her life on the throne. I had intended to watch just a few episodes of the show, and now it seems that we’d watch the whole damn thing in one sitting.

It’s not such a bad entrance into the new year. There’s red wine here, and palm wine, and fried beef, and rice with Yorùbá stew. On one of my laps is the head of my wife and partner. Our son is fast asleep at home and won’t see us till later in the day. We are guests in someone else’s house.

Yet, it doesn’t feel like the beginning of a new year. Except for some firecracker noises about three hours ago, it has been quiet outside. Inside here is laughter and occasional arguments. But it is a soft, happy, party of family sharing happiness and warmth. There are no rowdy street scenes. No grand announcement of the beginning of a new year. Just a quiet and respectful progression into what had been long overdue.

Yesterday, we spent some time watching Adéyẹmí Afọlayan’s old movie Kádàrá, featuring some of the now notable faces in the Nigerian movie industry. The ending was a little disappointing, but the overall experience of spending the evening in the company of family and watching something from the early 80s compensated for that discomfort. It’s easy to forget that this is the year that Donald Trump officially becomes POTUS and gets the nuclear codes.

In Nigeria, the recession hasn’t eased up. The administration of President Buhari, which came in with a huge promise and a mandate from a wide swathe of people, is fast losing that trust. In Turkey yesterday, over thirty people were killed in a terrorist attack. And the problems in the Middle East don’t look like they are close to being solved soon. A one-state solution in Israel, anyone?

And so, since we’re still here, the resistance continues. Optimism? Well, a cautious one. But optimism anyway. Happy 2017, everyone.

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Across the West African Coast: Sierra Leone

by Yemi Adésànyà

The first mention of a 40 minutes ferry ride from the airport to the city elicited a skittish gasp from me. I wasn’t expecting a boat ride as the primary means of transportation from the airport, and I promptly enquired from my host if I could not be taken, as usual, in a car. It is amazing how living in Lagos, a city with generous water channels and opportunities for water transport, one has been conditioned to driving around in private cars, with boat rides anchored firmly to occasional leisure. Tales of boat mishaps hardly offer any encouragement; that, coupled with the ignominious fact of one’s inability to swim.

We landed at Lungi International Airport under the cover of a heavy downpour. My first encounter was with an immigration officer who, as usual of entry clearance officers, asked why I was in the country, when I planned to leave and where I would be staying. She must have figured it was my first time in Sierra Leone, and asked if my host was around to receive me.

On learning that I was to take the ferry across to meet my driver at the jetty, what she did next was unexpected and certainly a first for this traveler: She got up and out of her cubicle, and led me to the ferry operator’s kiosk within the airport premises where she bought me a ferry ticket from the safest operator in town (I paid), asked if I needed a local sim card or currency. She only left after I was comfortably settled in the Civilian bus shuttle which was to convey us to the departure jetty.

I am still not certain if this was a typical Freetown kindness, if I would have been in any in any form of danger without her help, or if I was expected to offer some tip to convey my appreciation. I erred in favour of thanking her profusely for her kindness and help, not wanting to offend by assuming that she went through the inconvenience for a paltry tip.

The Pelican Sea Coach ferry ride was thankfully unremarkable, it was enjoyable enough to be reminiscent of my leisure ride to the Statue of Liberty on a recent vacation, and a cruise to Burg al Arab in company of friends in a playful escape from another diplomatic drudgery.

The sight at Lungi ferry jetty left so much to be desired. An embarrassing amount of debris floated on the brown sea-weed coloured waters, and freely littered the jetty. There is a case to be made for putting one’s best foot forward (given that almost everyone passes through the jetty on the way to the nation’s capital), next to Lungi airport, the jetty was another opportunity for Sierra Leone to do that. A comforting feature was free WiFi, available at the jetty and on the ferry. It was slow, but it worked, providing a needful opportunity for travelers to check in with their loved ones.

I spent the week at the Family Kingdom Resort along Lumley Beach in Freetown. It was a rainy week which exposed the city’s poor drainage system and lack of town planning. The first noticeable difference between my home city and Freetown was the smell of fish that permeated everywhere in Lumley; I was told the fishy smell emanated from a peculiar kind of sea weed. I soon got used to this minor implacable inconvenience, and ceased to be reminded of my long forgotten first trimester affliction of nausea.

Saturday morning, before my return trip back home, offered an opportunity to see the city. My resident colleagues suggested a trip to Leicester Peak, for an opportunity to drive into the clouds for a one-shot view of Freetown. Geoview puts the mountain at 548 metres above sea level; it is the highest I have climbed, ranks at the 6th highest mountain in Sierra Leone’s Western Area and the 32nd highest mountain in the country. Perhaps with some idle time on my hands and hinds in the future, I could do some more mountaineering.

We spent about an hour looking down on everyone, taking photographs and watching clouds pass. None of us was particularly acrophobic, but we wondered, when some got too close to the edge for a grand photo shot, if a fall would be not be indubitably fatal. The view from Leicester Peak was breathtaking; one wonders how the other 5 mountains would be.

__________

Yẹmí writes from Lagos. 

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Excerpts from Noah Town by Leke Adesanya

bookcoverimageIf you ever come to Noah Town, you’ll probably arrive by coach. The long buses come off interstate  trunk roads from far and near, from smaller towns and villages were dreams of making it in the big city still has its allure.  The buses pour out streams of young men and women  hourly at almost a clockwork rate. They come with their dreams and aspirations, their bags and little savings. They are drawn to a metropolis where the street lights never go off and there is money to be made with beautiful bodies, willing hands or daring minds.   I know them. I was once like them.

Your coach should come to a stop at the terminal on Main Street, just at the beginning of the two mile stretch of long dual rows of hardware stores, fashion stores and business offices.  As you disembark , in the mornings, you might hear the dull drone of street sweeper trucks vacuuming the road. A soft feminine voice will welcome you to Noah Town over the terminal’s public address system , advising you to mind your luggage.

Touts may accost you, offering to help you get a cheaper hotel or unlicensed taxi , some with the intent  to unburden you of your few valuables. You would be better off strolling to the Visitor Centre to book a cab or walk a bit farther down the road to catch a local bus ride. Or maybe someone, perhaps a relative or friend has arranged to pick you up.  

Whatever are your options on arrival, you wouldn’t help but notice two old grey storey buildings situated almost opposite each other. Their Brazilian architecture with mock Roman marble columns  add a air of gravitas that make them stand out amid melange of functional matchbox shaped buildings. They are the two big banks of Noah Town.

Scores of men with crew cuts in blue or black suits march in confident strides  in and out of the two grand old buildings. On the right, if you are coming from the Terminus, next to the divisional police office is the local branch of National Bank.  And on the left,  behind a fibre glass  fountain cast of an elephant pumping water out of its trunk, is  the local land bank owned by former loan shark now turned legit financier, Mr Barido Freeman. Everybody calls him Barry.

He is reputed to be very influential. I have had occasion to meet him myself, informally of course, and I found him intimidating.  He owns a significant portion of the businesses and real estate in Noah Town. Sixty years old and not looking a day younger, Barry is big boned and tall, slightly balding but still working that regal look. What was left of his receding hairline, he grew into big white halo with brown dusts.

When you are told by your guide that he started out as an immigrant with nothing on him but a knapsack slung across his shoulder, you would probably be impressed too by what he has made of himself.  You would think, if he can, maybe you can. He is the stuff of which legends are made.

Barry manages to keep his family out of the tabloids.  Although he has never married , he had a love child, twenty years old Norah whose mother has been out of the picture since like forever.  Norah, I have heard, was worth her weight in trouble and then some. Twice expelled from expensive boarding schools abroad where Barry had hidden her, she eventually dropped out, called it quits and came back home.

Barry got her an office in the family business and engaged  Cuba, an ex-cop as her  bodyguard, mainly to keep her out of trouble. Cuba used to be an ambitious police officer on the rise till one day he shot a teenage kid playing with a toy gun and the top brass threw him under the bus. Taking care of Norah was a better paying job however and he intended to keep it forever. A shrewd guy, he kept Norah out of trouble mainly by making sure Barry never heard of it.  

A major challenge for Cuba on job was handling Nora’s long list of hangers-on, most of whom were willing to get whatever Nora requests of them even if it were illegal.  Prominent in that clique was Vera, her BFF and confidant.  Vera used to be a bartender at a night club on Boardwalk, Noah Town’s entertainment district, where she met Norah and the two hit it off.

Like any street hustler, Vera knew she had found a winning lottery ticket with Norah. How did I get involved with this clique?  Stay with me, I was going to explain.

Vera and I once dated, very briefly. Vera also happens to have a twin brother called Jude. Jude and I, we go way back to the time we were still hungry backpackers just come off a bus on Main Street. That was a life time ago, of course.

Jude and I are now business partners, we run a little taxi operation that is thriving very well, thank you very much. Nothing fancy, just a dozen old cars in great working condition and a long list of repeat loyal patrons.

We started out as two unlicensed cab drivers willing to work all night in what was then the notorious Boardwalk. Later we formed a partnership, got licensed and started adding more cars and drivers. We evolved into an effective relationship; he handles the drivers’ scheduling and getting of corporate customers while I take care of the back office and car maintenance issues.  

Once two guys have had a big fight and then gotten over it, they tend to bond well.  That was what happened to Jude and I. I could implicitly trust him to have my back, at least until the events I am narrating to you now started.

One ordinary Tuesday, Jude dropped by at lunch to inform me that we have an inquiry from a prospective investor. Barry – yeah, that Barry – wanted to buy out our little operation. Could I look at our books and come up with a working valuation, just in case this turned out to be a real deal?

Sure, I replied. I acted all cool about it though I was very, very excited.  I mean if the price is right, like five times annual revenues, surely why not?  But then he clarified.  What he really wanted to know was, at what price was I willing to cash out. They wanted to buy me out and let Jude run the operation.

By the way, by then, he was hanging out a  lot with Norah . And I was worried about her Daddy. Barry was like the king of Noah Town and rumour had it, he might or might not have had mob ties. If you don’t cooperate with his type, there was the unspoken threat that he might not be pleased. This was scary to me.  I don’t want to end up drowning in the Noah Lagoon like some overconfident yokel who dared above his match. And since I love the feel of fresh cash stacks in my palm like the next guy, I felt I had better play along.  

I doubled my calculated asking price, asked for not half but all of five times annual revenues. We shook hands over that and he said I should give him some time to iron it out with his principal, Barry. I started to look at Jude funny from then on. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I started to daydream of the day I’ll get to seat with Jude, Norah & co. , and firm up the terms of sale. I knew what I would do with the money when it hits my account. I would take a long holiday first, to somewhere far from Noah Town. I have earned it. I’ll go somewhere where it is cold in summer. Maybe I could learn to ski in middle age, who knows?  

Those were my thoughts until a Saturday, some days later, when I picked up a copy of the local evening tabloid and read the headline, “Barry’s Girl Kidnapped”. I had a premonition that, after that event, things wouldn’t turn out exactly as planned.

____

Blurb

It was meant to be a safe job. They  fake a kidnap of the millionaire’s daughter, collect the ransom and share it with her. But then things started to go wrong. As the body count continues to rise, Tony finds himself in the cross-hairs of a deadly gang as he tries to save his best friend’s widow.

Links

Available on Okada Books :

http://www.okadabooks.com/book/about/noah_town/12419

Available on Kindle ;

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01MG4KELQ

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Aké Festival 2016: How History is Made

A festival is just a festival, isn’t it? A gathering of tribes, a place of ideas and relationships, a week-long commingling of the most cerebral kind. But it is also something else: an annual attempt to write the history of the continent’s literary track in the minds of its practitioners and for posterity. This latter purpose is usually the least stated on the invitation brochure.

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Participation in this year’s events, I’ve said elsewhere, is my most memorable, but not for the obvious reason of my meeting (and working with) Ngugi wa Thiong’o who is the guiding light of my work in indigenous language advocacy. Or perhaps that is the reason. It won’t matter anyway. The history of this year’s events is being written in different inks and by different observers towards different but complementary ends.

A while ago, someone wondered whether canons are being built around conversations on African language literature, and I responded that festivals, Facebook conversations, and interactions surrounding relevant seminal works of criticism all contribute, in small ways, to the complete tapestry whose form may not always be evident from the current standpoint of one literary thread. I still believe that. For all the memorability I’ve ascribed to this year’s event, I was not there when this apparently notable conversation took place, and I’m all the poorer for it. But the questions raised by this subsequent review of the event by Mr. Rótińwá, separate from the mass cheering on the spot that may have convinced a casual observer of a different takeaway, will live on. And there are many more of those.

A panel I moderated (video below), set up ostensibly to explore the similar and divergent themes in the memoirs of two important African writers (of different languages), ended up on an even more memorable note: the relevance of archiving and the role of manual writing in the preservation of a writer’s legacy and growth. When I thought of questioning the Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou about what he described as an obsessive write-and-destroy habit that had his travel box littered with disposed writings on paper that he no longer liked, I wanted to satiate my curiosity. But I also thought of the episode as possibly illustrative of the obsessiveness of writers generally during the process of creating. In the end, I – and, as it turned out, the audience – got enlightened by a more substantive conversation around the place of preservation of paper drafts (and archiving in general) in the understanding of the writer’s creative and personal trajectory, thanks to Emma Shercliff, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Alain himself.

What the conversation illustrated for me, among others, was a lack of consensus, today, on the “proper” way of creating and shepherding manuscripts. Those of us who grew up in the internet age have taken for granted the benefit of crowd storage and the power of an easy copy/paste/delete on a word processor to care about the true grit of manual writing, crossing out, and re-writing until the draft is perfect, while still keeping the original draft either as a guiding light of the initial intention and insurance against future impulsiveness or as sentimental record of the individual step in the process. But more than that, as Alain and Ngugi pointed out, there is also a financial (as well as archival) incentive for this old-school process: there are scholars, students, and future enthusiasts of the writer’s life and work that will pay a fortune to have access to the initial drafts of whatever eventually becomes a well-accepted work. This helps the culture of criticism and better opens up the writer to perhaps better study.

When he writes on the computer, he said, Alain treats each line of writing as an indelible record that needs special care and preservation. As he puts it, he has different versions of the same work on his computer and would rather create a new one each time than edit the already written one – in spite of the ease given by computers to do so. Isn’t that fascinating? To think that the ubiquity of computers isn’t yet sufficient motivation – in relevant writing quarters – to ditch the drudgery of manual or manual-like documentation. Perhaps not enough has been written about this rebellion and/or the benefit of such active labour in this age of 140-character fickleness. Forget the fight between the Kindle and paperback books. Pen vs Keyboard is where the conversation needs (and will continue) to happen. I will likely forget many of the other questions I asked on that panel but the response to (and conversation around) this one on pen and paper writing and documentation will, and should, live forever.

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The Makerere Conference of 1962 is notable today for a particular conversation on the use of English (and other colonial languages) in African literature. Not much from that conference has lived on in popular lore as that particular debate has. In every edition of the Aké Arts and Book Festival, looking out for such usually short but relevant spark that outlasts a week of commingling has become my yearly obsession. It is to the credit of the organisers that the opportunities are many for such dynamic conversation, debates, arguments, fawning, performance, and even lust (as this report rebelliously recalls). But we remember differently, as it is often said, which is probably for the better. It all comes together eventually. And the culture is richer for it.

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Aké of the Resident Onlooker

img_20161115_174423 I pack my bag last-minute and travel in a dusty cab to a dream in Abẹ́òkuta.

I get a roommate, two yellow shirts and out of myself. Briefly I wonder if the email I have just sent to my boss will guarantee my being sacked. Then I stop wondering and look up. Yellow light from hanging chandeliers. Poised and bright and sure. I assume that the chandelier is aware of self. It knows that first it was sand, then crystals, then light. In this way, looking up makes me feeling better. Inside of my Abẹ́òkuta dream I decide to try, like the chandelier, and form myself.

Welcome to Aké Arts and Book Festival.

Buy me books is the shawarma here. Young interested-in-arts girls are hot. They know what freedom looks like; uncased minds and breasts. Established authors and interested-in-arts men play the game. They came for nag free beer and lack of strings fuck. Sometimes. Mostly, just intelligent conversation while looking up and down upright boobies.

And in the middle of this is the Aké Bookstore. Where the wires meet. Where the one line flirt test ends in a let-me-buy-that-for-you. And laughter walks to hotel rooms booked thanks to Mark Essien. Love at Aké.

img_20161116_204130The men who have written things are fragile and light weight. The women are liquid fire unconcerned by your discomfort at their brightness. You should invite only women next year I say to Lọlá when my heart is expanding, full with Títílọpẹ́ and Lebo’s words. The panel with Panashe and Chinelo. Kadaria Ahmed. The women are busy! A truth Títílọpẹ́ tells.

There is talk about labia and clitoris. About mental health and terrorism. Science fiction and horror. Prison stories and what not.

It is not all good. For one, I end up on the last day after the closing ceremony with blue balls. I am yet to forget his shoes or shirt and I have never wanted like I did there. Another bad is the food which has the appeal of perfectly warmed cardboard paper. The lines for the food are long, it sells out, and hungry feet shuffle to the next panel to get their minds filled.

Let us not talk about Brymo. Or Fálànà or Àdùnní Nefertiti. Words in virtual ink seated on glowing screens cannot describe feeling evoked by these musicians audio beauty.

img_20161117_111609A film of torture victims who talk in victory chants summoned by courageous sputters of languages you cannot inhibit, is shown. Aké Festival is about freedom. The finding of borderless spaces beneath your skin. Everyone’s vulnerability scouting the rooms and halls, feeling corners for awkward that fit theirs. It is space to remember you are not alone in being. Space to reject your not-enough-ness. It is six days of flirting with Moje and laughing with Títí, staring at Fọpẹ́’s ass, meeting Kọ́lá and Fu’ad. Hearing, “how long have you had your hair for?” Seeing authors handle their fame and remembering that a compliment is an unfortunate thing.  Six days of wanting to sit next to Ráyọ̀ and say ‘I worry if you are happy in the evenings. I am happy for your existence in life and on Twitter. ‘

On many afternoons, in between tweeting, I run walk behind the big rectangle with brand names, push out tears and lock the toilet door. Then I slip to the floor and start to cry. This is new. I feel as though I am tilting to the left, like the world is flat but flapping, side to side and I am tilting. My back is firm against the thing that separates this stall from the next and I part my curtain tears and ask God when the thing separating me in life from me in death will tilt and fall.

img_20161117_160902“Nobody has ever fallen while climbing Olúmọ rock”, the tour guide assures as we near the peak. His sing-song voice brings to mind the praise singer of the Aláké of Ẹ̀gbáland whom we have just visited.

Near the Etisalat lounge I play a game of guess-whose-smile-is-a-function-of-their-perceived-need-to-portray-societally-acceptable-demeanor. I count 5 in all.

On the day that we form a most inefficient assembling line and haul 6,000 plus plastic bottles of carbonated poison to the store, I find joy. I meet Phidelia with the nice breasts. Somebody throws a crate out of tangent and breaks the showglass where the food is displayed. I discover that if I shake my head Justin Bieber-ish enough and sit cross-legged on the floor, I can convince self that self is cool. We are too tired to feign regret for long.

There are arguments about homophobia and second time volunteers are a bit disillusioned. Lọlá is like lightning sharing space with coconut candy balls in tight plastic and Ify has nice shoes. Jessica wears quiet smiles accentuated with almost black lip sticks and Tósin is the saner, meaner version of crazy Ayọ̀. I don’t know about Nanzing, mostly because he is the only one of the team who is this line of thought is not fully formed.

img_20161119_092440I wake up one day and it is Sunday. Aké festival has ended with a brown envelope in my bag packed full with books. I find that the person who responded to my tweet for a ride to Lagos is a man I curved politely the night before. He had very bad things in mind. I block him on Twitter where he went to find me, and refuse to ask “why me”, although I desperately want to.

I want to know why, somehow, the rapey crowd hovers around me.

But if you are female and have just experienced Aké you are firmly situated in yourself. No person, irrespective of the happenings between their legs and lack of sense upstairs can make your notion of self waver. Inside my 6 day-dream in Abẹ́òkuta, the goal is a success. I have found self.

Me – lover of books and men with red shoes – return to Lagos, armed with new friends. My name is Stephanie.

________

Stephanie Ohumu is a writer who doesn’t understand why bios have to be written in third person. She currently lives on Twitter: @SI_Ohumu.

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