Tag Archives: Nigeria

#10 ~ Being beautifully rooted in the Diaspora

africa-roots

I have a friend who’s from my mothers home state in south eastern Nigeria. I think he finds me intriguing in a you’re-interesting-but-kinda-weird-way. Sometimes when we’re talking , I can tell that he humours me, he doesn’t necessarily ‘get’ me, but he listens and he finds it interesting. Sometimes I imagine that in his eyes I look like a lost sheep, slightly homeless and befuddled, but fuelled with a sense of directionless purpose. I feel this most often when i talk about my identity, my sense of belonging. He speaks Igbo, lived (if only for a short while) in Nigeria and knows the point at which he migrated to the UK. It was something he was contextually conscious of. He tells me if I went back i’d be welcomed home as a returnee daughter. Sure, for a period i’d be called oyinbo  or ‘just-come’, but in time I would settle, I would be accepted. He doesn’t, I feel, quite understand that diasporics never fully settle in already established homelands. He is rooted in a context, I, as I see it now, am rooted in rootlessness. 

My sister has never had an issue with this. Growing up my Dad’s pet name for her was ‘the Rock’, because she was solid. Some of this had to do with her physical build, which my Mum gave my Dad an earful about, but I think a lot of it had to do with her character. T is solid. When she sets her feet on something, it’s because she’s sure, and when she’s sure she stands her ground. She weighs her words carefully and speaks sparingly, often the quiet one in conversations. I used to think it was because she was shy, or didn’t always ‘get’ what was going on. Time told me it was because most of the time she had already worked out the answer, and found all us babbling self-proclaimed young ‘intellectuals’ wallowing in our existential crises at best irritating, at worst stupid and self indulgent. T is a firm foundation. She is rooted. And I think she’s rooted, because she is secure in what she is, and she’s made peace with that. In that sense we make a perfect team. I used to be called feet-on-the-ground-head-in-the-clouds and my mother’s nickname for me was spitfire, because I would flare and burn and run full steam ahead before burning out, sometimes with the job, passion or vision left unfinished.

These are crass and simplistic distinctions, but for a generalistic musing they’ll work for now. Whereas I pined for ‘home’, T was comfortable from the get-go with being British and Nigerian, being a Londoner and  from Anambra and from Ilesha – it wasn’t really a thing, it was just her, whereas I flitted from British, to English, to Nigerian, to British Nigerian, to Nigerian British, to Igbo, Yourba and Bristolian – I was very lost, and frustrated by this perceived loss.

I think part of it was to do with a strong racial conception of self from a very young age. I might regret saying this, but then Piaf had a more messed up life and managed to declare she had no regrets, so hey-ho. Growing up my mum was very fair. She’s never seen herself as anything less than Nigerian, never thought of herself as white but as the whole biracial discourse became more politically correct, when pushed she’ll say she’s mixed raced, but she was always secure in her Nigerianness,as though English was an historical technicality but had little cultural or even personal bearing. Yet when I looked around I was very aware that Mummy looked like the other parents, and the other parents were ‘right’. I was embarrassed by what the connotations of being black were, and growing up around non-Nigerians I didn’t quite get Caribbean culture, because that wasn’t home-life, and the Nigerian culture I saw was foreign (I’ve later realised that class has a lot to do with culture in the UK and ethnicity, but that’s for a later post). So, to be like Mum was to be better. If T was the chocolate baby, I was the yellow baby. But T had ‘fine features’ and I had the ‘African nose’ the ‘thick lips’, the things that made me more ‘Nigerian’ than her, the ‘coarse’ features.

Firstly I want to call Bullshit on such a distinction. That’s right, I call BULL-SHIT on the whole fine/coarse features thing. What it implies is that there is something refined and noble about caucasian features and something rough and ungainly about ‘traditional’ African features (read Aphra Behn’s Oronooko to see what I mean). Basically it means white pretty black ugly. So even though I had lighter skin I was still more ‘African’ than my sister – and people remarked on that shit. Ah Kehinde you have such coarse/strong/striking/Nigerian features. Ah Taiwo, you have such fine/european/english/pretty features. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t told I was beautiful, but it was a different type of beauty – so I went to find that type. I went to discover where that beauty came from. I wanted to go ‘home’ to an imaginary Africa, an imaginary Nigeria where my features were the norm.

Now the issue with such a distinction is that it creates a contrast. What if caucasian features were classed as ‘undefined, less-defined’ in stead of ‘fine’,as though they were delicate, fragile, precious. Think about it, if generic african features ( which really are generic, because if you look at the variety in African features from the Fulani to Ethiopians, Khoisan to the Sudanese you’d realise African features encompass ALL types of facial features, but, I digress) if things such as wide noses, thick lips, strong jaw-lines, big thighs etc etc were the norm, then anything other would be less, right? But I grew up in the UK, so it wasn’t the norm, and it sent me looking for it, it sent me towards this idyllic fairyland called the ‘home’ of black-consciousness and self-worth, it sent me back to ‘Mother Africa’.

A Diaspora is a ‘scattered population with a common origin in a smaller geographic area, or a movement of people from their homeland’. It implies that there is a ‘real’ place that you ‘truly’ come from, but for some reason or other you are not there.

And it’s  definitely true. There are plenty of diaspora’s the world over. Some of them have settled and are no longer viewed as diasporas (white people in America), others are less stable (Jewish diaspora, Turks in Germany), but they exist. The issue I have with diaspora as a definition is that I think it belongs to 1st generation migrants. The one’s that have ‘just-come’, the ‘freshies’. I think it applies to second-gen migrants who go back to that country of ‘ethnic origin’ regularly, speak the language, can flit easily between the two.

But for many children of African migrants who don’t go back, who have settled in e.g. the UK but still exist within their parents culture, we have another homeland emerging. See, I’m beginning to see things like my sister, to realise there isn’t one place that I ‘truly’ come from, or rather there is, it just isn’t a recognised nation-state. See, I come from the diaspora. I am a child of the diaspora, born and raised. I speak the language, I understand the culture, I breathe the history. I have that beautiful ability to morph regularly, to be at ease with Nigerians, with Africans in general, with whites, with Indians, with Far East Asians. I speak slang, I speak Received, and not just in English. When I go abroad I know how to adapt my body language, how to blend in and stick out at the same time. I understand cultural symbols, I understand how to act with elders, even if its elders from another culture. My straight up immigrant friends don’t know how to deal with that drunk roommate, or the friend who calls their aunts by their first name. The kids who tell their parents to fuck off in the supermarket cause they can’t get a Fanta and they’re not even in year 2! They think – He dey craze oooh. My homegrown friends don’t understand to call their ‘immigrant’ friends parents Aunty and Uncle, not Femi and Gbemisola, or Raj and Amina. But I do, because I am a child of the diaspora.

That doesn’t mean i’m totally secure in me (me is a fluid thing constantly evolving), but it means I am not diagramme_de_vennhomeless. I have a home. I’m not a global citizen (that phrase is so daft, cause we all know citizenship rights are NOT accorded to how many passports you have, citizenship is more than legalities), I am a disaporic national – and that can be ok. My home can be like a ven-diagram with Nigeria and the UK as the far circles that overlap to make ‘My Home’ in the middle. I can be rooted in that, and in being rooted in it, I can find a freedom that other people before haven’t had.

I can also begin to understand that human history is one of migration. Even those who’ve ‘been here for generations’ aren’t people of the soil. As one of my best supervisors once said (at least in regards to recent World History but it certainly goes back to the beginning of time)

Indigenous people were just the people who were there when the Europeans (read any kind of coloniser/invader) turned up. 

So yeah, i’m beginning to find my home -and i think i might just like it.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

#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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

There’s Something About Chimamanda

Chimamanda-Ngozi-AdichieFor most people, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s second novel Half of a Yellow Sun was their introduction to African literature and Adichie’s growing cannon of fiction. Conversely, I first met Adichie in the pages of her first novel Purple Hibiscus, and preferred it to her second, possibly because I was only just understanding the history of Biafra that so grounds the award-wining text. During my A-levels I studied her collection of short stories: The Thing Around Your Neck, and today spent just under £40 on her latest  novel Americanah. I state all this in order to ensure that the reader is aware that Adichie is neither a flash in the pan writer, nor a token symbol of the African canon, but rather a solid and ever-expanding force in global literature. 

 This evening, after a very lucky purchase to the Cambridge Wordfest seminar featuring Adichie, I sat in the Palmerston Room of St. John’s College with eager anticipation. The following account is everything I scribbled in my Moleskin diary (what other option is there?) whilst wedged beside two elderly English ladies who were ever so curious to decipher my scrawl. The interview was chaired by Alex Clarke, the narration (influenced by retrospective analysis and now steady hands) by me. Although it is quite lengthy i implore you to read through, she has some incredible pearls, and her question and answer session is the definition of how to be a BOSS. 

—-

The Palmerston Room  of St. John’s has a capacity exceeding 300. I know, because two years ago I sat and watched myself get inducted  in that very room. Today it is crowded, not with students, but mainly geriatrics and those that have or are about to hit their half a century mark. There are very few women of colour (let alone men) and for some reason that interests me. On one hand, after the total sum of ethnic people halts at ten, I conclude that hey, it’s Cambridge what can I expect. Yet listening to the conversations that spool around me, it becomes apparent that, like Jon Snow, many of the audience members would have been young adults when Biafra hit the West. The first image of Africa post-independence, the first time images of children suffering from kwashiorkor at the expense of ‘tribal warfare’ really hit home, Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun was both topical and insightful for this generation. It resonated with their experiences, not least because, as she candidly states towards the end of the interview, many of the audience members would have had relatives who were instrumental to the construction of Nigeria, and inevitably it’s demise (yes, she literally said that).

As people pile in the heat becomes stifling, the anticipation crawling at your skin. Late-comers eagle eye vacant seats, the elderly lady next to me gets her toe crushed by a desperate scavenger. All eyes are fixed earnestly on the stage. It’s empty, except for two white chairs and a matching table, inspired by Ikea, decorated with a jug of water, two cups and a pair of microphones. At this point there are only four women of colour noted, excluding myself. One has an afro-hawk with shaved sides, the others perms, weaves, and then there’s me, with a natural afro tied back into a large poof, with a clipped fringe. I note this, because Americanah and Adichie, are both obsessed with hair – especially the politics of black women’s hair.

Dressed in a black top and jacket,  forest green shorts with red trimming all made out of traditional cloth, over dark tights and high-heels, Adichie looks like the perfect image from ‘Black-Girls Killing It’. She looks fierce. African, beautiful, and with her hair piled up on her head and highlighted by her afro-kinky extensions (she proudly mentions later) she looks regal.  The audience clap, she smiles benignly, takes her seat and is introduced by the MC. The MC gets her name wrong – what a shame (I reserve judgement, that is for another post).

She begins with a short reading from Americanah. Recently, a friend described Chinua Achebe’s prose (Adichie’s greatest literary influence) as palm wine. I’ve never tasted palm wine, but listening to her voice, flecked with a subtle naija accent, rich, deep and confident,  pool over the audio system, i’m sure you can drink palm-wine through your ears. Definitely. Then we begin:

Americanah

Americanah

There is a disjuncture between Adichie and her audience simply because her novel is concerned with the politics of black women’s hair. Her protagonist complains about having to travel to Trenton to get her braids done, as Princeton wouldn’t have a black hair salon. The audience giggle but find the description of a grown American man eating ice-cream far more humorous. It’s only until Adichie shows that women’s hair in general is political that change starts dropping.

“I think white women’s hair is very different to black women’s hair. But white women’s hair can be political, for example, when they choose not to colour it. Then they are presented as one of those ‘earthly organic types’”. At this the audience laugh.

‘The difficulty for black women, is that the way our hair grows on our heads is not something the world likes. (Audience giggle), No – it’s true’, she’s insistent, leans forwards and gets serious.

Growing up I used to always want straight hair. And we weren’t allowed it in secondary school. So in the holidays I would get it straightened with the hot comb. Even though it could burn me, I loved it. It was only until I got a really nasty burn from a relaxer when I was at University, that I suddenly decided I didn’t like this any more. I wanted to love my own hair. But it was a very long journey. It wasn’t easy. Even now, underneath here (she touches the pile of braids that crown her head), I have a very thick afro. Now, my mother loves me, but when she sees it she asks me – when are you going to do something with your hair? I.e, when are you going to straighten it. Even my cousins, when they see my hair, they always say (here she switches to a Naija accent), Aunty, your hair is very rough’.

The audience titter, but they still haven’t grasped the depth of the identity crisis Adichie is pointing too. But this woman is astute and fearless in the best of ways – she tells it like it is.

Hair is political for black women because it casts allusions about our character. Now, if three women were to get onto this stage, all dressed the same, but one with dreads, one with straight hair like yours (she points at Alex Clarke), the other with an afro, we are going to draw very different conclusions. The best is that they are vegetarian (a loud guwaff erupts), the worst is that they are ‘angry black women’. Silence. ‘There is this idea, that black hair as it is, is not suitable. If we were to go for a job interview, our hair as an Afro or in dreads would not be deemed acceptable. You’d think – oh this one’s going to be trouble, if they aren’t vegetarians, then they’re radicals, maybe even Black Panthers.’

Adichie says all this with a smile on her face, her tone easy and non-judgmental, but suddenly her audience are starting to think.

I’d love it, if after this discussion or after reading the book, the people in here, when they do job interviews, wouldn’t judge someone because they have dreads or a fro. They wouldn’t assume someone is a musician or an artists or writes poetry because their hair is natural. Maybe, there will be someone in the audience who runs a magazine, and after this will think – ok black hair isn’t scary. Maybe i’ll put someone on the front cover of the magazine who has natural hair. Because growing up, if all a young black girl sees is straight hair, she’s going to want that. When you see those before and after images in magazines, the before image she always has natural hair, the after image it’s straight. It’s basically saying natural hair is ugly’.

At this point I am silently fist-pumping Adichie to victory. Now she’s said a lot that I haven’t written, about her relationship to America (which she is grateful for because they gave her money for education) and Britain. Britain she views as belonging to her parents generation. It was the only place they looked to because it had money and was instrumental in the construction of Nigeria, but now  the country isn’t doing so well,  young Nigerians are looking to the US, because it has money (oh UK financial crisis, look what you’re making us miss out on!).  But now – onto Question Time Adichie style!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Hay festival 2012Q: How does Half of a Yellow Sun differ to Americanah?

A: 1/2 YS made me cry and cry. Americanah made me laugh and laugh. 1/2YS made me cry because I was mining the pain of my people. My father was sharing things with me about Biafra that he had never told anyone before. I felt very fragile writing it. With Americanah I was laughing, because I was intrigued by the absurdity of race. Coming to America was the first time I realized I was black. (audience laugh). No really, I arrived and I suddenly realised I was ‘black’. We have a lot of problems in Nigeria, but race isn’t one of them. I felt like, in the US I could observe things and criticise racial issues, because whilst I was black, I am not an African-American. I am Nigerian. Therefore race wasn’t so much of an issue for me before I went to University, it was something I learnt. Writing Americanah I used to wonder if it was wrong that i found it so funny, you know, I thought that i’d be one of those people who thinks they’re hilarious and then tells someone a joke and  they’re like….ok? (Laughter, this sums up my humor perfectly).  

I am passionate about gender and I am a happy fierce feminist. I am keen on women’s issues but not in an “issues” way (she laughs). I am passionate about the multiplicity of female voices and what constitutes femininity.

Q: What do you think of Chinua Achebe?

A: (Pause and she looks very emotional). He was a man of intense integrity, he told stories beautifully, brought dignity to my history and made it worthy of literature. 

Q: (MY QUESTION, I was sweating but forged ahead).  My name is Kehinde (yes i’m going to buss out the traditional name!), and I am an English student here at John’s. I was fascinated by you stating that when you were in the states you knew that Nigeria was your home. As someone born here, having studied English, I feel more and more as though Nigeria is also home or has a claim over me. I was wondering how you came to the conclusion and contentment that Nigeria was also home for you.

A: First and fore most I am a Nigerian. That is non-negotiable. Though I am grateful to the US, Nigeria is my home. More importantly Anambra state (she then names her patrilineal town and village, I was too engrossed to scrawl it down, shame on me) is home for me. I think being in the States has made me understand the difference in race, the US added to my acknowledgement of being black. Initially when an African-American would be like to me – ‘Hey Sister’ – I would move away thinking ‘No, no  I am not your Sistah (in Naija accent), because I knew that being black had bad connotations in the US. But now, I am not afraid to acknowledge that. I think being in the US helped me to understand and redefine race and being black.

At this point she asks them to turn the house lights up so she can SEE MY HAIR!!!

A: I like your hair. It’s super cool. Really cool, I love it. When you were asking the question i couldn’t see your hair, but now I can I really like it

I died…literally and was born again. The audience clapped. Power to black women’s hair being beautiful. Boom!Chimamanda-Ngozi-Adichie-Commonwealth-Lecture-2012

Q: You talk a a lot about yourself as a Nigerian, and you formerly mentioned Britain’s sins in Nigeria. Is there such a thing as being Nigerian? And has Nigeria made it yet.

“Trigger warning – this is when Adichie shows you what it means to be A BOSS”

A: Well I think what you are really saying is ‘Didn’t we (the British) do well in creating Nigeria?’ Parred. Straight out, woman went IN. ‘Is there such thing as Nigeria? Yes, you created it. Is it working, no. You can’t expect Nigeria to have it all together. Maybe your father was involved in setting up Nigeria. It takes time to make a country work. The concept of a ‘Nation’ is an idea. First and foremost, when you came and lumped together groups of people that, apart from perhaps trade, had no actual relationship with one another, you can’t expect it to work. I mean even today, the North and South are so different. Yes, there is such thing as Nigeria in the sense that we have for example the same education curriculum, but we are very different culturally. There are larger characteristics. For example, all Nigerians are aggressive, and we have this very confident swagger which means we act like we own everything, even though Ghana as things worked out and we don’t, we still believe we run the continent (laughs). We won’t break apart, but we still have a way to go. 

I suppose the question you are asking is ‘Do I wish the ancestors of people here hadn’t gone meddling, Yes, I do.  Can I change that, No’.

And she said it all with a beautiful smile and a calm tone.

This woman is the image of intellectual grace, talent, beauty and power. She is proud to be an Igbo woman, to be a ‘fierce and happy feminist’, and to speak the truth. There is so much more scribbled down but i’ve already passed the 2000 word count, so figure I should stop around about now. If you haven’t read her work, GO, if you haven’t got Americanah GET. This woman is a Queen. I am proud to be half Igbo, also from Anambra state (yes I told her that when I got my book signed, and my family surnames and my Igbo name, she was duly impressed and inquired some more. I’m sure if I dig hard enough we can find some common ancestor, Nigerians are all related, she also made a point of saying how Glorious may hair was and how she was proud I was wearing such glorious hair – allow a girl to be gassed for once in her life), but she has made me proud and excited to be part of a long, colorful, heritage that embraces great writing, and now hair.

What a Queen. A real, bona-fide African Queen.

Adichie in a recent Ted Lecture: Again, what a Queen:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

#366 ~ 2012 was a Leap Year!

Yes, it was a leap year. I didn’t forget that. But this is a final post in the 365 journey to help new comers navigate the blog.

Introduction: The opening and closing posts which give you an understanding of the reason for the blog and it’s journey are found in the About section, so click on there to begin and get stuck in.

Psalms: A series of meditative poetry posts based on Psalm 119, the longest of the Psalms. It takes a few verses from each ‘stanza’ and ruminates on what they mean or challenges them. An insight into my faith, or at least the ‘faith journey,’ that occurred towards the end of the blog. So click PsalmSeries, they are in reverse order, so the last post (which appears first) is from the first stanza….it makes sense, just read it as you see it, scroll down.

IthembaMini Blog of my time during the summer of 2012 working with the phenomenal charity Ithemba Projects in Durban, South Africa. It’s an incredible journey that looks at what it means to serve, to love, to loose, to create a family, and also confronts issues with poverty tourism and issues prevalent in South Africa. A succinct, uplifting journey, I taught as an English teacher in the community of Sweetwaters, so you can see some of the videos and poems we created. Enjoy and check out the charity as well.

Voice(less): These are a collection of articles, posts and poems about issues I am very passionate about. I am concerned with marginalised and dispossed groups/issues such as sex trafficking, rape, prosititution and conflict. These are a few posts that look at these issues. Often very raw, emotional and challenging, so be prepared for your heart to be ripped.

100 Words and a Photo: An incredible collection of 30 posts, each written at centenary periods in the Blog. They take the form of a photo by my sister and 100 words from me, some are short stories, other commentaries, but if you just want to read something short and creative, this is a beautiful series to get stuck into. Enjoy

Articles: These are all the posts I wrote as articles. Ranging from music reviews, to comments on the social upheaval in Nigeria, to Kony2012 and other more political or even comment pieces, perhaps an insight into a more ‘formal’ style of my writing.

Life Lessons: A collection of one line posts which give out life lessons. From down right stupid and humorous, to philosophical, if you are short on time, there’s some fruit to be snatched here.

Creative: All my poems and creative work. An insight into my heart, raw, bleeding, daydreaming, humorous, hey, I gave it all a go.

Be blessed, here in ends the journey, navigate your way, find that gold.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

#211 ~ Kenneth

There is an elderly gentleman who lives in Bristol. His name is Kenneth. He is an excellent gardener, baker and most importantly story-teller. He can trace his family line back to the foundations of England – they haven’t moved far from the West Country and he has a memory that puts any genetic historian to shame. As English as April Showers in May is Kenneth. As white as the fabled snow that lined the postcards sent across Britannia’s former colonies is Kenneth. As remarkable as the adjective can be, is Kenneth. And today, this pure-blooded Bristolian’s only surviving family members are all black. Not even black. But as black as the image of deepest darkest Africa can be. As coloured as the shores of Western Africa, as slick as the oil that spills over Nigerian fields, as coconut brown as the fruits that sway in between mother’s baskets, as yellow as the gold that laced the necks of their ancient Obas are Kenneth’s relatives.

Sixty years ago Kenneth’s cousin Joan decided to get on a boat and take a bit of the West Country to Western Africa. That’s called globalisation.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

#186 ~ A rebel for the Future

Paul Simon’s Graceland  was probably one of the most definitive albums to have shaped my life. Produced during the last days of South Africa’s apartheid, it consisted of Simon, formerly of Simon and Garfunkel, collaborating in the true spirit of ‘Art’ with black South African artists such as the world-famous, all male Zulu acappella group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

The ‘African essence’ which so organically and vividly characterizes the monumental album, was created through Simon’s incessant accumulation of authentic, traditional South African folk-songs, pop riffs and indigenous sounds, which grew into a seamless collection of tracks over which the songwriter placed his uniquely quirky folktale-esque lyrics. The apathetic archangel Fat Charlie flies from the craziness of love, whilst by the bodegas and lights on Upper Broadway a young girl with diamond soled shoes and a poor boy smelling of after-shave fall asleep on a doorstep. A magic existed in Simon’s voice and lyrics which captivated myself and siblings as we listened to our Mother’s Graceland tape on many cross-country car journeys throughout our childhood. The opening to Diamonds on the Souls of her Shoes, with the hauntingly rich call of Joseph Shabalala and the Mambazo men always set our car a-rocking, as the acapella introduction faded away to be gently followed by the  tinny guitar riff enticing you into the track before being abruptly cut off by the syncopated drum crash. The rhythm of dancing feet pulsates throughout Gumboots and set our car a-grooving to the incredulous and at times disapproving faces of other mothers doing the ritualistic school-morning dash. Yet we had no opinion about them, we only knew that good music is synonymous to powerful hydraulics, and away we would go, all singing at the tops of our lungs, all smiling, all alive.

The wandering child of African descent sang alongside the British child of a slightly darker pigment

Yet in the beauty of that album, Simon gave not only a face to, what he calls, the victims of Apartheid, he not only challenged the racial stereotypes that blacks were untalented, animalistic creatures only fit for manual labour,  a maxim which pervaded not only South Africa, but all nations that contained multi-racial societies, but he ingeniously created a musical blending and harmonization of identities.

Graceland, for a young, dislocated Nigerian girl, whose only connection with her parents history, culture and identity was through the high-life music of Fela Kuti, Osibisa and King Sunny Ade, the brash yet seductive timbre of Hugh Masekela’s trumpet, the raw, sultry, empowering voice of Mama Miriam Makeba, and the few Yoruba and Igbo songs that fell mispronounced from her lips, created an aesthetic marriage in which collaboration, the mixing of races and cultures, was beautiful. The wandering child of African descent sang alongside the British child of a slightly darker pigment, each borrowing and learning from the other, creating music, sounds, ideas which permeated beyond her immediate sphere.

Though the creation of Graceland was in breach of UN sanctions, (at the time no collaboration between South Africa was allowed in order to physically show the Apartheid Government how much the ‘world’ condemned it), what Simon did was itself a pro-active form of criticism. Simon showed the world the talent the lay hidden in the folds of a brutal regime. He showed the world, which itself was still struggling with racism, racialization and institutional prejudice, that ‘we can work it out,’ and that there is a beauty and a potency in harmony. As New York, London, Toronto, Paris, Berlin and Madrid were swaying to the Boy in the Bubble, and dreaming Under African Skies, the voice of Black South Africa was permanently ringing in their ears.

Graceland became, to me at least, both a euphonic and utopic image of what South Africa, and what the world, could be like. The disagreements and political debates which raged within the ANC against Simon have disappeared into the murkiness of history, yet that funky, grooved bass riff of U can Call Me Al, still brings the roof down as aged parents drop to the floor, shaking their hips, kicking their legs before slowly swaying back upright, a smile beaming over the wrinkled skin of their faces, which are proudly as black as the night, whilst the pale yellow moon which gleams in their teeth and eyes calls for more.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

#111 ~ I speak Ken Saro-Wiwa

If your message isn’t pure, then you are feeding the masses poison.

I have battled within myself about the duty Art has to truth, to the human struggles for liberation, freedom and justice. Surely we place the artistic form on a pedestal which, in itself, lacks the sufficient structures to stand tall and support it. Surely art is not the domain for political activism, but aesthetic beauty, and financial prowess.

Yet time and again Art has become the gladiatorial ring within which the underdog, the slave, the minority gains a win, to the detriment of ‘the man.’

Nneka is an artist I have greatly admired these past five years and her music became the initial structures of my bridge back to Nigeria. Her music spoke to me because it spoke outside the boundaries of what I had come to define modern music by. She is militant in her desire to use her music to illuminate to the world the plight of the Niger Delta, and to galvanise Nigerians, galvanise Africans, to stop wallowing in a miry history of colonialism but to reclaim what is rightfully theirs – their dignity and their role in this vastly changing world.

To proclaim to speak Ken Saro-Wiwa as she does in her new song ‘Soul is Heavy‘ is to state that her message, embedded in the body of Art, is intrinsically tied up with a message of social-justice. Ken Saro-Wiwa fought against the injustice of the Nigerian Government and their treatment of the Niger Delta post-oil discovery. A peaceful environmental activist, he campaigned tirelessly against the extraction of crude oil from the Delta which was making the Ogoni people homeless, destroying the environment and challenged the reluctant position of the Government in their dealings with Multi-National Companies such as the Royal Dutch Shell Company.

Executed under President Abacha on presumably (unfounded) politically motivated (and therefore economically instigated) claims, his murder provoked international outrage. Yet the delta is still being used for extraction and the environmental conflicts that have arisen has seen a revival in guerrilla warfare, especially against MNC’s, neither helping the political, social or economic stability of this naturally rich West-African Nation.

Nneka‘s voice rings loud and clear declaring to the world, declaring to the artists within us, that the creative is a form within which  all struggles, all desires, all voices can conflate and endure. Ken Saro-Wiwa came alive to me, his mission birthed before me and his voice spoke to me, through the power of her music.

Which voice are you speaking? Which struggle are you embodying? Which art form are you manipulating, controlling, and using to educate and feed the ‘masses’?

I am, the voice of Isaac Boro,
I speak Ken Saro Wiwa
I am, the spirit of Jaja of Opobo,
fight for right, for our freedom
You? A power hungry class of army arrangements,
stealing money in my country’s plight
A soldier pretending to be a politician,
you teacher who no nothing do not teach
me lies

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,