Tag Archives: love

#9 ~ Americanah & Being a (rootless) British African

Americahna2

I really didn’t want to like Adichie’s new book, Americanah. Despite the fact that I got one of the first copies, and a signed one at that, I didn’t read it for almost two years. It sat, hardback cover and confident signature on my many university-room bookshelves, it’s large spine taking up pride of place, it’s crisp jacket (now oil stained) speaking of a newness, a freshness that should have been inciting, intoxicating even in its desirability. It blended cleanly into my pretence at a literary knowledge along with other ‘must-read’ African or African-American books, swilling from prose, to poetry, drama to criticism. Yet, for every month it went un-opnened, even throughout the summer when I couldn’t blame essays or supervisions, it reminded me of a fraudulence, a veneer of fakery that I had knowingly pasted over my face, its scent cloying, speaking of a knowingness, an intelligence, an awareness about the African experience which really wasn’t skin deep.

As Adichie has grown in the affections of white-educated-liberal society, the clamour for her work has, in a way, become cloying. I remember reading Purple Hibiscus when I was still a pre-pubescent teen and loving it (my own well thumbed copy has gone on a long loan/walk to a friend). I had always preferred it to Half of a Yellow Sun. There was a simplicity about the novel, a freshness and a pain in the characters – but never pity. Adichie didn’t (and still doesn’t) try too hard to breathe life into her world. Whilst my own attempts at any kind of creative writing have always been lugubrious, heavy handed and verbose, hers was stark, naked, clear and in that cleanliness it was seering, pernicious almost, unflinching. Whilst Half of a Yellow Sun became the literary love-child of all those politically-conscious white folks who were just so keen to ‘get’ the Post-Colonial experience, I didn’t love the book. I loved the meta-narrative that ran throughout, I loved learning about my matrilineal heritage. I loved a book that featured twins, but the narrative was detached from me – something to observe but not to feel. I felt the same when I dutifully ploughed through her collection of short stories (The Thing Around Your Neck) for A-levels. Her style effortless as though she doesn’t try she just tells. But I couldn’t help but fall into the romance of her craft when I analysed the stories, wrote essays about them – essays that got me my place at University, I learnt to admire her, yet still felt my heart ached as I saw glimpses, shadows of myself in her syntax, shadows that I recognised but did not fully understand.

So, when it came to reading Americanah, egged on by the girlfriends and soul sistas who kept plugging the book, the whispered comments of a smugness that surrounded Adichie now she was an established figure in the ‘African canon’, gave me a weak, immature excuse not to open it. I wanted to find a reason to resent her, to find fault with her, or at least her work. I wanted to struggle, I wanted her to be novel, unique, and not as celebrated as she was – as known. I wanted her to be mine, the way I had thought of her when I read the still unknown Purple Hibiscus. So instead I returned to her literary father and discovered that Achebe’s prose is indeed like palm wine, his criticism sharp, his fiction…beautiful. I devoured Things Fall Apart,reading the whole novel out loud in a 2-day sitting during my exam term last year. It’s one of the only times I ever sat in the armchairs of my lavish room. I don’t speak Igbo, but speaking Okonkwo’s name out loud, attempting to intone the proverbs I imagined my Grandfather would let slip from his lips as he sat on his verandah in Onitsha, gave me a degree of firmness, like a long lost child returning home after a long time, discovering the dusty memories of old rooms and forgotten wallpaper that had always been there, but one hadn’t had the clarity of mind to see. The last few sentences stilled my heart, and even speaking of it to a friend only a week ago, I felt my body plunge again into the wretched pool of pain and awe at his craftsmanship, at the reality that he described so unflinchingly, so un-ironically. I devoured A Man of the People, and began No Longer at Ease, and all the while my mind was pulled back to Adichie, and I saw just how well her form matched her forefather, just how talented her written sculptures were.

So, at the start of this term, I decided to cut the pages of Americanah at last and begin reading. I laughed, I was intrigued, but I grew bored and it sat on my bedside table for weeks on-end as the mania of term swept me away (or rather I turned on the fan and said – Micahelmas – Take me Now!). But then today, having passed out from sheer exhaustion after working till 5am and waking up at 1.30pm causally missing my 10am lecture, I thought – screw it – i’m going to indulge myself. And I read, and read, and read, and only just finished.

Americanah is exquisite. Painfully, beautifully, exquisite. People throw slogans like – best thing ever written – around too easily. But it was bloody brilliant. And I could launch into a wonderful critique of its arcs and curves, but that would spoil your own journey of it (because you will read it). But reading it made me understand more why I so wanted to dislike it.

There is a certainty in Adichie that is both compelling and unsettling. She knows who she is. Like Ifemelu, she might be buffeted by transition but she is not overblown. She might ‘code-switch’ but her tongue is not loose, not flaccid, it is not confused, it can always return to its original nuances and intonations. Though Adichie primarily writes in English (her work is littered, like Achebe, with Igbo sayings), she is not confined to speak in a language that is not her own. Hers is a choice, not an expressive requirement.

In the first half of the book, Ifemelu, our striking, forthright yet at times vulnerable protagonist attends the African Society of her university, where she is told, laughingly (but not mockingly) that African Americans who seek to be part of the society are those who ‘write poems about Mother Africa and think every black woman is a Nubian Queen’. I laughed wistfully when I read it, because I realised that was me.

For those of us born and raised in, and here i’m specifically talking about the UK diaspora, we are not rootless, like African Americans. Many of us know ‘where we come from’, whether we are Caribbean or African – and will say (now with pride, when we were in primary school the question either confused or mortified us) – I’m from Nigeria, Jamaica, Grenada, Ghana etc. Even if we are not that attached to those countries of ‘ethnic origin’ (as if 2nd generation Polish, German or Spanish people don’t also have a country of ‘ethnic origin’), we will at least state – my parents are from XYZ. So we are not rootless. But we, or at least I, have still suffered a trauma, a blow to that fragile process anthropology will call the constitution of self. Because though we are not rootless, we are also not rooted.

I wasn’t raised to think of England as my home, neither was I raised to think of Nigeria as my home. Home was something that existed in the present, where I was right now, it didn’t extend into the future and it didn’t link into an ancestral past, at least not in daily life. On applying to University my father emphatically challenged me about saying I was British Nigerian, insisting I was British but cited the fact that I had never lived in Nigeria and carried a red passport as the reason. My mother agreed, but only because she feared my CV could be rejected on account of 419s and other shitty prejudice. But aside from that, whenever we did something bad, they would remind us that we were not from England, therefore we dare not act like these oyinbo people with no home training. Sometimes it would even resort to – Do you know who your people are, where you come from – by which they referred to our tribal people group or home village – a culture we barely understood, a language we didn’t speak, a place we had never been to (or if we had, we’d been too young to formulate concrete memories). Sometimes my mother would say, why do you want to claim Nigerian, when I went through my ‘Mother-Africa-down-with-Colonisalism-BS phase’ – what has Nigeria ever done for you?! But then we rarely spoke about what England had done for me. It was taken as a given: education, amenities, healthcare, safety – but in terms of culture, values, history, I was never taught to be grateful to England for those things. So we (I) existed in a liminal space – a non-space, having to carve out Rushdie’s imaginary homeland. A space where people who looked like me and carried, as Adichie beautifully typed, the fine stamp of culture, existed. A space where people who had taught themselves to code switch spoke loudly and over-confidently. Reading Americanah, I wondered when that had happened. My ability to at best mimic at worst parody a Nigerian accent. In primary school I was as English as they came, in fact I remember actively learning long complex words to make sure by Englishness was permanent. And then, towards the end of year 6 this weird craving for America arose.

Fresh on the wave of TLC and Destiny’s Child, being African American wasn’t just sexy (as If 11 year old me even knew what sexy was, though in a way we did) it was acceptable. So I walked into secondry with the fakest Californian accent ever straight out of Saved by the Bell, My Wife and Kids and all that Disney crap. I remember feeling so proud when two year 10 girls asked me curiously if I was from the States one break time. But then the softness of the accent got to me, and I found myself switching from my Shepherds Bush accent into a weird cockney mockery, into faux American into Received Standard English, until I got to Uni. I got to Uni and met real Nigerians, the one’s that actually knew what to say in pidgin’ and not just how to intone it. They humoured me, and my tonal flexibilities increased, but always hollow. I made my voice. I don’t actually know what it should sound like, but today it’s a beautiful pan-world mishmash that is simultaneously ugly, phoney and lifeless.

The diaspora is a trauma, and not just the trauma of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Even when we moved by choice, moved for a better life, for safety, for whatever London streets promised or required, trauma was inflicted. And not just on the parents, safe in their knowledge of ‘home’, safe in the knowledge that they even have place to call ‘home’, where they don’t have to explain why their English is so good even if their name is ‘foreign’, where they don’t have to straddle a place that gave them culture and a place that gave the rudiments of basic survival of human nurture.  Where they are not limited to expressing themselves in one medium even when they are surrounded by a multiplicity of other languages which teaches them to create parts of themselves that can only be expressed in non-English sounding words (when i’m angry, or impassioned I want to reach for Yoruba like my parents, but just end up with an exasperated Ahn-Ahn, You know, Ha! Because I can’t say anything, I can just sound things).

I hate being rootless. I hate being rooted in that rootlessness. I hate having multiple homes that are more like rented apartments rather than deeply dug foundations. But I acknowledge that it is an emerging existence, and it is something Americanah pulls out so teasingly, so exquisitely. I loved it. I loved Americanah and I mourned when it ended because, some small part of me, wanted the security Ifemelu has at the end, wanted someone to say to me ‘Come In’, and to take my hand, and lead me home. But I am glad Adichie wrote it, and I know that now, those of us that are the Non-African (but perhaps still Afrcan) Blacks, need to write for our own – for we are an ‘our’ now, as much so as we’ve ever been.

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#8 ~ What’s Your Back Story: Lady in Green

Naomi Maxwell" Lady in GreenNaomi Maxwell was a sure fire-hire when I first auditioned her in October last year. She had this drawl to her voice – melodically southern – and a saucy smile. When she was giving attitude she would wrinkle her nose up in a look of disgust, and to top it all, she already had a silver ring in her nose – it was like she was born ready. Slipping into the Lady in Green’s role for the Cambridge Production came naturally to the writer and blogger – it almost seemed like an enviable ‘effortlessness’. Moreover, her heart wrenching poem that culminates into the play’s apex was bound to garner her a standing ovation whether she put in 100% effort or not.

But I’m a director who wants more.  ‘For Colored Girls’ requires the actresses to be verbal painters. Poetry involves bringing words to life on the canvas that is your audience. You have to pop, sizzle, simmer and evoke all at the same time – and this production uses minimal props so all that ‘action’ is located in the voice.

Maxwell’s opening poem ‘No More Assistance’ is the story (or should we say letter) of a woman who is ‘endin’ this affair‘. She has been short-changed in every way possible, and is at last beginning to assert herself – and it’s about time too!

Yet, to remove ourselves from stereotypes and hashed out caricatures a ‘back story’ is always important.

Creating a back story requires you to return to the text and ask why? Within what was initially a rant, the Lady in Green declares:

‘I have left 7 packages on your doorstep, 40 poems, 2 plants and 3 hand-made notecards I left town so I could send you have been no help to me on my job/’.

It’s a line that is easily glossed over, I doubt whether people familiar with the play remember it. Yesterday it struck a chord with me and I questioned Maxwell – when did you (LiG) start writing poems?

Silence.

As a poet, I know that 40 in ‘8 months, two weeks and a day‘ is a lot of poems to be writing, let alone disseminating! What does that say about the character? Not only does she remember and count the days since she’s been with her man, but she’s educated, perhaps a romantic, she has a deep attachment to words.

As we began unpicking her lines the voice of Alysia Grace Williams, a Nurse in the local downtown Hospital emerged. She was caring by nature, shy but with a quiet confidence. She’d experienced emotional neglect when she was a child and that spiralled her into negative relationships with men who used, abused and confused her. She was barren, and the fates had it that she worked on a maternity ward. She yearned to be a mother, and her lousy-ass boyfriend Tyrone (inspired by Ma Badu herself) had only gone and gotten a young girl from the block pregnant. And that’s when the penny dropped.

‘But you are of no assistance’.

The break down above might seem simplistic – it is a simplified version of approximately 8 hours of character development that started yesterday afternoon. But when Maxwell chose the name, the very consonants where a reflection of the character. Ending the poem with a note and a plant pot, we discovered that ‘No Assistance’ is neither a monologue nor a rant, it’s the very letter Alysia writes to Tyrone to tell him that ‘I am ending this affair’. As Maxwell knows only too rightly, that very declaration took a lot of courage.

Watch this space to see how we develop this poem even more and breathe life into the story. Also, make sure you get your tickets, so you can see the final product on September 13th at Canada Water Culture Space.

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Or : http://www.twitter.com/Justina_Kehinde

Tickets

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#351 ~ Miscellaneous.2: I Had Forgotten

(Written during my month-long absence – during a slightly sentimental time it seems)

I had forgotten how beautiful I was. I had forgotten how joyful my life was, how my smile was a mega-watt lightbulb that lit up rooms, how my voice, when it stopped contorting and trying to be an acrobat, was so rich, beautiful, soft and tender, that it had a laugh that slipped through like a river.

I had forgotten how my greatest desire was to be in a band and to sing, and let my heart float through the notes and touch you. How I wanted it to escape my chest and burn in the atmosphere, my voice as a song, the song as my heart, my heart as a voice that sings straight into the dark and brings the filaments of the mega-watt bulb out, divides the parts and still shines.

My goodness, I had forgotten how incredible I was. I had let somebody walk off with my stuff and he didn’t know he had it because I didn’t tell him I had placed my soul in a plastic bag and sent it to him in a Facebook message – how foolish. To look without glasses at my picture and forget – who I was.

I had forgotten how powerful I was, how stunning, how I was changing the world by just being. I had forgotten that I was a joy bringer of power, that I had a desire and I could run and sing and shout and change the world

I had forgotten ME in that plastic bag and it came back in a song by people who chanted Freedom and I had Forgotten

I had forgotten

My God I had forgotten how Incredible IAM

was

is

I had

forgotten

I didn’t need idols

I needed you

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348 ~ Playing the Field

Playing the field: it’s a term a lot of guys use. It means they’re scouting out their best options, having their cake and eating it until they find the cherry (take that metaphorically if you wish) which they’ll savour. It means not being tied down or forced to commit. It turns the female body in both its emotional, physical and mental sense, into a piece of ground that can be trampled upon by booted and spiked soles. It turns the act or proposition of a relationship, in whatever capacity, into a game with only one victor, already pre-determined, unlikely to ever fail. It shows a man is in ‘control’ of his environment and his own self-designed game; he’s going out to get some(thing).

Actually, playing the field exposes quite an explicit degree of insecurity. My assumption is that in the melee of people one meets, generally a handful stand out as ‘potentials.’ People you are attracted to or you have instant chemistry with. Playing the field exposes that one doesn’t have the confidence to go after the ‘one’, but would rather try the many and see if they get ‘lucky.’ Or, it’s a more sinister attempt at creating an environment of jealousy – which probably isn’t the best nutrients for an attraction or relationship.

It’s also a line I think one draws between boys and men. And they become men when they realise women aren’t a field, but a vast ocean filled with the ultimate source of life, containing a depth they cannot fathom, a breadth they can’t swim and a power they cannot imagine.

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#346 ~ I Made this For YOU….with love

I have never desired to be a culinary goddess. In fact, I remember at the ripe old age of nine, my father calling me to help my Mum in the kitchen. I wasn’t averse to helping her, but wondered why he hadn’t asked my brother, who was older and probably closer to hand. In a benign manner he, I can now see in retrospect, replied:

“Ah-ah, who will marry you if you can’t cook?”

Indignation flared instantaneously and my stubborn nature shot back, quick as:

“Well fine. I won’t get married then. Why shouldn’t my husband cook for me?”

Suffice to say I spent a good seven years refusing to help in the kitchen. I didn’t mind washing up, and of course I watched how my mother was cooking and more importantly what, but I didn’t offer my services. When I was roped in as part of my familial duty I did it, but I didn’t love it, like my sister. My culinary standard became – is it edible? Yes? Then that’s fine. And edible can have a range of qualities…

However now at University, without a microwave and a finite budget it is suprising how expensive food is. A loaf of bread, which I could easily devour in three days, sells for £1 or so, whilst plain white flour is only 69p. So, I decided to turn my hand to some culinary delights.

Now whilst my African dishes are way below par, and I have sadly been forced to feed some friends some poorly cooked jollof rice (I blame the basmati), i’ve learnt that what makes Mama’s dishes so sweet isn’t really the scotch bonnet or caramelised onions, but it’s that she cooks with love. Sure, sometimes it’s a duty and a hassle, but it’s something she does for her family out of love.

Being now a near expert bread maker, i’ve made two perfect loaves of white bread and a loaf of wholemeal brown for a friend in just over 72 hour; and trust me they are gooood, I’m currently sitting whilst I make chicken, mushroom and potato soup, for myself and anyone who wants to come by and get blessed. And I’ve realised, cooking can be such an act of love, joy and service.

I absolutely expect my husband to cook for me and our family, just as I absolutely (she says tihs now whilst unmarried and highly romantic), will cook for my family, but not because i’m a woman, but because when I make things, I want to make them for you, with love.

So go, be adventurous and try your hand at making something. Maybe you’ll never get your dough to rise, but you could be an incredible pastry maker.

Be blessed.

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#342 ~ So that’s what Love is…

3 bouquets of flowers: one of pink roses, another of yellow roses, a third of pink tulips. A one person teapot and matching tea set. Raspberry and Apple Herbal tea, tickets to an acoustic concert, a beautiful edition of Herbert’s poetry, a pair of shoes, stunning earrings, 4 chelsea buns, 2 cakes from Patisserie Valerie, an empowering book on faith and inheritance, a cooked breakfast and numerous cards with countless messages that I cannot quite fathom in their depths of love, admiration, kindness and hope. So that’s what love is? I don’t deserve it.

In a most honest manner, I thought I didn’t have friends at Uni. How could I? I didn’t have the time to invest in friendships as I did when I was in school, stuck with 180 students for 7 years of my life. Now free from that I entered University and believed I couldn’t make friends – real friends at least. I barely went out, I was notorious for poor communication, I study English which means I don’t need to leave my room…and yet at least 20 people from all parts of my life surprised me and welcomed my birthday in with singing and laughing last night. Then I woke up to presents, cards, messages and love.

I don’t deserve it – but I suppose we don’t deserve love. It’s a gift, given out of love, whether the receiver believes themselves worth the price or not.

Considering I run a blog and study literature, words are obviously important to me. They are me. I see my world though the matrix of language. And the words…the words of inspiration and love…of encouragement…I didn’t know I meant that much to people, that they’d take the time to build me up.

But that’s what love is, a firm foundation in order to elicit growth – everlasting growth.

Maya Angelou stated famously, and it has become my hopeful mantra for life:

‘My great aim is to laugh as much as i cry, to love someone with all my heart and have the courage to accept love in return’.

I suppose being a woman, is learning to accept love when you recognise it. This time last year I was moping about being separated from my sister, this time this year I am excited to realise…I love accepting love.

Happy Birthday,

with Love

K

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#328 ~ 7 Things About Christmas.7 – The End

The 25th of December is an arbitrary day.

So Christmas isn’t really about Santa. No, I have no shame stating that, because even the people who propagate that foolishness don’t even have the decency to tell their children who Santa really is. Stop being geographically ignorant, Russia isn’t the North Pole and neither is Greece or Turkey. Aha, you are now confused. Good. Let me instruct you on a lesson (kindly passed on from the greatest Academic this world has ever known, Wikipedia). Santa is an abbreviation of Santa Claus, which is a contraction (and most likely an Americanization) of Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was a 4th Century Bishop from Greece who pastored part of modern day Turkey and, in the long and short of it, was compassionate. Amongst many of his great exploits, he was known for helping those in need. In one case he anonymously gave a man who couldn’t pay his daughters dowry the money necessary to prevent them falling into prostitution as they were able to have honourable marriages. Revered in Russia, he’s also known for giving presents to children, especially orphans and the needy. In medieval times nuns would deposit food and gifts on the doorsteps of the homeless or impoverished on his feast day, 6th December. That’s right. If you want celebrate Santa then do it on the 6th of December. If you want to be an orthodox and wait until the Wisemen actually got to Bethlehem to drop off their Gold, Myrrh and Frankincense, then do it on the 6th January, which is known as Epiphany. If you want to be a pagan and celebrate the darkest time of the year with a celebration of light, do it on the 25th. If you want to celebrate Christ, do it all year round. 

a true light has a constant supply.

24hours are only so long. You eat, you sleep, it’s Boxing day and half the world is at the Sales. Like I mentioned in Post 2, what we view as Christmas Day today is a celebration of Christ, the Messiah and Saviour of the World, who loves every individual whether it’s the people who believe in Santa or the people who just want to make money – they’re all precious in his sight. The 25th of December is an arbitrary day. What’s important it what it means for you. If you believe it’s a time to remember to be a light in the extremely dark world where warfare, rape, violence, depression, isolation and anger are clamouring for a space, then be that light in the best way you know how. Show love, be love, be joy, happiness, peace and patience. Show good will to all mankind. Be hopeful for something better to come along. Do. But don’t just acknowledge the street sweeper on Christmas. Acknowledge him always as a fellow human who deserves to be loved. Don’t just be gracious to your sister on Christmas. Be gracious to her always as she’s a beautiful woman/girl who deserves to be loved and treated with respect. Don’t just tolerate or be grateful to your parents on Christmas. Show it always. Because a true light never goes out, ever. It keeps burning. Why? Because a true light has a constant supply.

whether you’re a believer of my faith or your own, shine brightly.

There is so much I love about Christmas. I even love the fact that people of other faiths (and atheism my friends is a faith, it’s a faith that believes there is no higher power, it’s a religion of its own so there), i love that they take time out to show love to those they care about. As a Christian I do believe that Christ exits, and that in showing love, we reflect God’s character and his goodness. But I don’t believe we should confine that light to 24 hours. We use up so much electricity just watching that banal Christmas movie, i’m sure we could light many more bulbs instead. So do. Go, whether you’re a believer of my faith or your own, shine brightly. Burn with a passion to see Justice birthed in this world. Burn with a hunger to see Peace made manifest in this world. Burn with a desire to see Love take on a deeper meaning than the scrawl on the tag of a present. Shine Brightly. Shine like the Sun/Son. Shine and be light and life in this world that asks for death.

If I ruled the world i’d banish the 25th of December. Because in reality, Christmas should be every day.

So Shine. 

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