Tag Archives: writing

Grandmother’s Hands

For Colored Girls London was a wonderful success and if you really want to know all the stories that surrounded its conception, production and performance just do a google search and you’ll find it all there ( can you believe, we can now be googled, so much for anonymity!). It’s been nigh on 6 months since I last posted, which means FAR too much has happened and it’d be awful for me to attempt to explain and write and describe and muse in retrospect. Moreover, where I once was able to write as a musing voice with no intended audience, since i’ve begun publishing my poetry and therefore having to put a name to my work, I now know I have (may have) an audience and moreover they know me – which changes the game entirely. However, for those who still once in a while pass through this former haven of my thoughts, I have a surprise in store for you in the New Year! (only a few days to go, stay excited).

In the meantime, one (amongst many wonderful things) that happened to me in November is I did a TEDx talk. Below is the link. I won’t say any more but do give it a watch, a listen, and if it touches you in a positive or challenging way, do share.

Wishing you seasons greetings. Till 2014

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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. 

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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:

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#365 ~ Death of the Writer 365

I was 18 when I started this blog. I was sitting in a room, it was clothed in shadow, with a yellow desk lamp, the same one that illuminates my food stained keyboard now, glaring at the screen, as I Skyped my older brother. I was depressed. Not in a suicidal manner, but I had lost any spark that ever glared behind newly framed eyes. I was apathetic. And my chest was burning. It was burning because I had this scream that was locked up deep inside of me, and it was tearing the enamel off my teeth, scraping the bristles off my tongue, inflaming the sores I had chewed into the lining of my cheeks. It was my voice. Disabled, disused and highly confused, and it lay mangled and crying in the back of my throat, trying to make me scream to release it. But I had no constructive way of doing so.

So came the idea of this blog. Coming to the end, albeit a month late and not in the fashion I wanted – this is more like the salutary face-plant I ended my first-year of Uni with –  I have arrived in a heap of words, and thoughts, and comments, and life lessons, here, in the last post, on the last day of January. And I have grown.

It’s bizarre. This blog has seen me age three times. From 18 to 19 and now to 20. When I began this blog, I tried to be extremely covert and dissembling. I wrote critical pieces about the representation of ‘Africa’ in the media. I spoke about my broken heart for the dispossessed, for sex trafficked women. My pain at the industry that promotes prostitution. I began to voice the niggling sensations that clawed at my mind about identity and being a post-colonial being, a British Nigerian who is neither and both and somewhere in the middle. I talked about being tall, having big feet, being a gawky student, not able to get down in ‘da club.’ And then I began to write poetry?! Some of it was at 3am in the morning, raw with spelling mistakes and odd imagery. Some of it was down right contrite. A lot of it was self-indulgent and a poor man’s escape from reading the news and commenting in a socio-political manner. I began writing Life Lessons, the easiest way to get a quick post done. I travelled to South Africa and worked with Ithemba Projects. I came back and was unable to write. I then re-wrote Psalm 119  in a series of meditative posts. At each centenary mark I worked with my sister and produced 100 words and photo – and that was a beautiful experience.

I re-created my identity in this blog. I discovered, I destroyed and I forced out a voice on this webpage. I became a woman. And I came to the end of my 365 days writing. And it really was a process that killed the writer. It is the Death of the Writer… and the birth of a person who has re-learnt how to speak, and found a multitude of avenues to express her voice. And that voice is wholly polyphonic, just like the truth, just like my identity. It bursts out, it sings, it cries, it laughs, it writes, it speaks and it has learnt – most importantly – how to be silent.

So where do I go from here? Well, in the mix of this journey, I have begun to write for a wonderful women’s magazine called Magnify Musings -so check that out for more of my work.

Oh, and that poetry that just appeared? Well…check out the video below.

I wondered whether, amongst ‘the pile of shit’ that no doubt clutters this blog, if you, the reader, would ever find a piece of gold. I hope you have. If you haven’t… search harder.

So…How to end this journey?

I bow out, with grace. Born on a Thursday 20 years ago, I end this blog on a Thursday, and look forward to the many more years, strung together with words, that are yet to come.

Good night, God Bless, and a lot of love.

Thank you for walking with me.

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#339 ~ Tap Tap

It was a scary moment. The moment when my fingers couldn’t find a pattern, a rhythm, a song on the keyboard.

Initially I was so against tapping plastic. I was an ink and paper baby. Reams and reams littering my bedroom floor. I loved to rub my fingers over the back of the sheets – I pressed down so hard with my biro i engraved my words into the body of the paper. That’s called creating.

But I was persuaded and soon the tap tap became a part of me, my internal harmony.

But I came back and hated it. Hated words. Sentences. Making you laugh. Having to click Post, having to place tags, all the days I’d missed, adding them, subtracting, seeing the mountain grow as the plates shifted and soon the tap tap stopped –  Did you miss it?

Did you miss me? Did you notice that i’d gone. It’s a sad day when the writer can no longer write. But I could.  I just didn’t want to. I didn’t want to think. I didn’t want to construct. I didn’t want to tell you what I thought. It would’ve been so much effort, and the themes were the same.

That was the most annoying part. There were several themes that had lodged inside, and they were the only things I wanted to talk about. And I was afraid i’d make you bored…so I chose not to write.

Instead I began to horde my words, store them up inside, hidden from view, I didn’t even know what was sitting up there, if you asked, I wouldn’t’ve been able to tell you.

But you didn’t ask. Your eyes always grew vacant, so I kept my stories and whispered them at night, to the shades and the shadows that danced the bacchanal over the walls, under the covers.

I was a midnight teller, breathing to life situations. I was a street laugher, the comedy drooping from my mouth as my feet traced pavements – but you didn’t know the joke: not the punchline or the ending, you didn’t even know the beginning – did you even know me? Did you miss me?

Tap tap tap.

Tap tap tap.

The words are coming back, slowly, surely…tap tap…would you like me to come back?

Even if you do, I won’t. This time you’ll have to come and find me – in my story, in the sound of my tap tap

crap.

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#310 ~ One Hundred Words and a Photo: 30

picture30A promise. I would capture your memory and lock it to my ribcage, interlocked bones wearied from age, bearing up under the weight of a memory, a promise.  I locked my heart to that fence and sealed it with a kiss, framed in words. That I would capture my memory and lock it to these pages, within this post of words that have flowed, with an unrecognized depth from my lips, releasing the ossified cage, interlocked, weary from age. And all along, she flowed beneath me, whispering a promise, a cold promise, fathomless, with dead bodies that would not forget.

Copyright: Death of the Writer – my own photo to finish the show

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#242 ~ Ithemba Projects: Day 9

So yesterday was an extremely raw experience. Not everyday is like that – although maybe it should be? For today’s post I would just like to keep it short and clarify some points, that on reflection have settled in my heart.

Yes, there are situations that can make us angry. Livid. Yesterday probably seemed, and definitely felt, like one of those experiences. Yet I don’t want people who read this blog, or some of these posts, to just be overwhelmed by my naked emotions. Anger doesn’t create anything. It neither nullifies a situation nor creates change. But it can be a catalyst for discerning, wise, and thoughtful actions.

Sadness and pity are also good catalysts, but weak emotions on their own. I also don’t want you, the readers (or myself in retrospect), to be overwhelmed by what might seem to be a dire situation. Because dire it is not. I have sought to stress the incredible good that resides alongside these painful experiences. The charities I have the privilege to support do phenomenal work and they are headed up by extremely wise, compassionate, thoughtful and motivated people. Change takes time. Change in our home communities takes a painful amount of time. And yes, in the interim of change a lot of pain and frustration can occur. But that is the nature of progress.

I suppose, what I would like to stress to all those who have passed through this blog is that, there is hope. Don’t just live off my righteous indignation and anger, and become despondent, faithless, wildly angry or depressed. Rather use my experiences as a catalyst to say – there must be more. There must be more than the education we are getting back home, there must be another way to conduct our National Health Service, there must be a better way to promote adoption, sexual health services, inter-racial participation, to end segregation, racial profiling, broken families, homelessness, loneliness, whatever it is that makes up the brokeness in your home community. Search out that new way.

My experience here has been all the more painful, because it is so hopeful. Because I can see the progress, the process of change taking place, and in my impatient nature I want it now. But it is coming, and that is what is beautiful. I have the hope that, in 3 years I saw creches like the Drop in Centre transform into excellent educational  play facilities, well staffed, well-managed with flourishing children. I can therefore hold the hope that, maybe in another three years, the situation that I faced yesterday may very well have drastically transformed.

So please, don’t be angry or sad, but be inspired, motivated, and encouraged to let your heart be raw, so it can catapult you into a better scenario, a better tomorrow.

And, if you have been inspired by these posts to write yourself, then a word of advice: Express all your passion as best as you can, but be wise in how you do it. The people we write about, the lives we intermingle with for a short period of time are real people. They deserve to be protected, honoured and assured the privacy entitled to them. I apologise for not recognising that in time. 

Prayer for Day 9: That a spirit of Hope would bless everyone who has come into contact with this blog. That Hope would give them an enduring strength to seek change. Hope would sustain them in the long process to change. Wisdom would govern their ways and discernment would guide their paths.

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#196 ~ Bob

Over half way, just, stretching for 3/4’s, before realising one is yearning for some inspiration. It’s not that the insipid, random, banal thoughts that trail across your mind or which play themselves out in the sad reality of reality cannot be captured immortalised in text; nor is it solely the desire to please whilst questioning the agitated question: what did I write which gripped people’s attentions so much in the beginning?, but it’s the acute sense of fatigue. An interesting story scurries across the banner which laces the bottom of a T.V. screen and whispers: Pick me! Pick me! I can make them read your work! – but then the artist, the professional within that at times is bursting at the seams of the ossified cage which incarcerates your poet’s heart, journalist’s muscle, your spiritualist’s soul, flutters, murmurs, and beats that.little.bit. s.l.o.w.e……r…..

Oh the effort. Even reading Wikipedia has taken its toll. Scrounging through the back stories, the histories, the comments and complaints which give your writer’s eye an angle that happens to be more obtuse than acute, flinging up a dirty glaucoma induced film of mottled, milk grey, whose gloomy lining which hugs the edges of your pupil tells you it’s easier to sleep than to write. Easier to breathe than to find something that makes that brown inhaler seem more appetising in the morning.

Is it boredom? The very vogue Ennui of literary critics, modern and post artistes, students on long summer holidays? A lack of inspiration, or perhaps it’s the block of wood that regularly lodges itself into the brains of people who like words, and like conjuring them either on paper or dirty, smudged, grease printed LCD screens?

I think, to get the ball rolling, that lumpy slab of a London Plane Tree should be given a name.

How about….Bob.

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