Thursday, 6 March 2014

Coming to Johannesburg!




Date: Wednesday, 12 March

Time: 17:30 for 18:00

Address: Love Books, The Bamboo Centre, 53 Rustenburg Road, Mellville
GPS: 25⁰ 10’ 27,64” S - 28⁰ 0’ 49, 66” E

RSVP: kate@lovebooks.co.za or 011 726 7408


Please click here to let me know if you're coming. It would be lovely to see you. 

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Faith


I believe in heaven. I also believe that my belief in heaven has nothing to do with its existence and heaven would remain, whether I believed in it or not. There’s a scene in Peter Pan where Peter explains to the other children, that every time a child says they don’t believe in fairies, a fairy dies. Well my beliefs don’t sustain heaven and my beliefs certainly don’t sustain God.

 “God doesn’t exist,” a friend of mine said emphatically to me over lunch last November. A couple of years ago, this statement would have set my inner workings in turmoil. Then, I was questioning the very foundations and roots of my faith and every outer expression of atheism seemed to me confirmation of what I already knew inside: it was all a sham. I felt that if I stopped believing, then it wasn’t true. Whereas I now realise that the end of my belief would have had no wider ramifications than that. Just as a refusal to stop believing in gravity, does not stop me from living in a world when plates fall and smash on the ground, just so a refusal to acknowledge God does not stop me from living in the world He has created and enjoying His mercies everyday.

 I smiled at my friend, obviously setting out to rile me up and continued eating my lunch. “The existence of God is independent of both of us.”
“Don’t give me that. This table exists. This chair. God? No.”
“Pass me the salt.”
“It’s not that I have anything against people that are Christians or anything like that. I don’t think fire should burn you in hell or whatever."
He was deliberately using a phrase sometimes mockingly associated with Nigerian Pentecostalism, perhaps to annoy me even further. I laughed.
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“What?”
“If you don’t believe in God then you don’t believe in the devil and therefore you don’t believe in hell. So it’s a paradox to say you don’t want Christians burning there. You should have said something like you don’t want atomic bombs falling on our heads.”
“You win.”

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Short Story in the Stylist Magazine

I have a short story in last week's Stylist magazine titled 'Going Home.'

'He will take his children to Nigeria for Christmas this year. It will be their first time as a family. His wife, Agatha has been once before. Her memories are of insect bites and bucket baths, her skin braised from the sun, her stomach turned by a bout of food poisoning. She had not liked his relatives, felt them prying and tactless, bursting into tears once when his Aunt poked at her flat, childless stomach.
“We have children now.”
“It doesn’t matter. They wanted you to marry a good Nigerian girl. You know it.”
He wished she wouldn’t cry so much. His mother had only shed tears at funerals, wailing loudly when the coffin was lowered into the ground and then rushing back to the kitchen to dish out food. There was something unseemly in an adult breaking down over the memory of a 10-year-old slight.'
Read the rest here.  
PS it's my first ever published short story which is rather exciting. 


Sunday, 24 November 2013

London Lagos Chronicles Part 2


And all the while I am writing this, there are people trudging their way to Europe thousands of feet under me. I have a cousin who crossed the desert to get to Spain once. Not a first cousin. I distinguish not to distance our association but because I hope no first cousin of mine would ever be reduced to such straits. Even if they fell off the road to prosperity, the family net would catch them but the further you radiate from my father and his brothers to their cousins and cousin’s cousins, the net grows weaker till only a few strands remains, dangling weakly, straws for drowning men to clutch at. He crossed the Sahara, miles and miles of sand, only to be sent back after a few months in Spain.

I saw a patch of grey a few minutes ago and I wondered if it was an oasis. I met this desert crossing cousin of mine very briefly. He came to see my dad in the hospital. If England looks like a living organ still pumping sap, the Sahara looks like a dead organ, dried and exhibited for study in the lab, the cross section of dried tissues and vessels cut open for students and airplane passengers to look into. This is the desiccation of the world. Some of the patterns on the ground look like waves, waves petrified in motion, forever about to break free and continue their surge forward.

When my cousin who walked across these dried waves came to see my dad, we (Dinachi and I) dropped into the office briefly. We greeted him warmly, in the way you greet strangers who you have just been told are your relatives. He did not look like someone that had needed to cross the Sahara. He was lanky not thin and he was smartly dressed in dark colours, either brown or black. I remember what I was wearing. Flared blue jeans with zip pockets in front bough from America, a size 5 not 7 even though my first cousins in America thought I was more a 7. And a pink tank top with a cartoon monkey on it, whose provenance is unknown but which I am certain I did not buy. It was a gift but I cannot remember from whom. I had just been to the bank with my mother, the purpose of my trip I have forgotten but it was just before I moved to England. Anyway, I met my cousin, we shook hands with adequate smiles and then we left.

Later on, my mother told me his story. She said he looked at us like special children, like the children of a rich man who was enjoying life but we were his cousins. It wasn’t an acquisitive look but it was a look that said, ‘that could have been me.’ We come from the same stock. The context of my mother saying this was that my father had offered to sponsor his higher education. He had declined and asked for sponsorship to go to Europe instead, by air presumably this second time not by road. This was where he wanted to continue his life and possibly finished school. It seemed preposterous to my father but my mother sympathised with this cousin of mine. He saw his relatives sending their children to schools in Europe and America, he saw their children enjoying, epitomised by myself in my tight jeans and monkey shirt and why should he not want that? Entitlement is a funny thing. On some level we all have it. We feel entitled to the world. That’s why we wake up every morning and go out into it. I don’t know one singularity about his character, except what I can extrapolate from his willingness to cross the Sahara on foot. He might have been a great explorer in another life, Mungo Park, Livingstone, Stanley, the last especially with tenacity and demons driving them on. Instead, in the 21st Century, he ended up another immigrant deported back to his country, doing in six hours on a plane what is had taken over six weeks to do on foot.

I have been writing for almost an hour. We have 2:04 hours left of flight time. When I started I think it was 2:59.

16 minutes left. There is a harmattan haze over Lagos so even though we’re so close I can’t see a thing. I much prefer a morning flight actually. I only had brief nap but during the day time, that’s when you realise that 6 hours of travel is not that much. Just three BBC documentaries and a couple of hours of reading, journaling and playing games on my ipad. The ground below is still very scrubby and dusty but it can’t be Northern Nigeria. This plane is fast but it can’t cover that distance so fast. The plane is trembling a little bit. Not jolting up and down in turbulence but trembling. I wish I knew why. When you know the reason behind every strange noise and rumble, you grow less fearful. Maybe I should learn how to fly. Skip driving.

We just flew over some lakes with green land pushing into them, mysterious puzzle shapes of moss. Nigeria is very green, very dark green. I can see a red dusty line running through the verdure, unpaved earth leading perhaps to a village with no running water. The plane has stopped trembling. We are floating noiselessly. The land isn’t parcelled out in square strips like in Europe. No patchwork here. Just green and more green. Plenty of room for modern agriculture. Another red line running through the green. I wonder what state we’re flying over.

Now suddenly, the sprawl of houses begin. Welcome to Lagos. I’m right opposite the sun. Its cloaked in dust. Harmattan makes it almost possible to look the sun in the eye. We’re back to green again. Those houses weren’t in Lagos or at least not Lagos proper. The land makes its own pattern here. A clump of trees, some scrub, some open grass, once in a while intersected by dirt lines like scars. Ooh a tarmac road. The woman behind me said, ‘It looks like Scotland.’ Her boyfriend I think is Nigerian. He has no hair on the sides of his head, on purpose I think. In the middle is a long top knot of dreadlocks sitting in a prim bun. 4 minutes remaining according to my clock and still no sign of Lagos. Clock must be wrong. Lagos is drowning from the ocean and the North is drowning from the Sahara. Houses scattered in the green, haphazardly from this height is seems. What need for order in such space.

A little oasis of green grass in what has become a sprawl now.
‘Look at how densely….’
‘It’s just haphazard.’
My fellow passengers.

I have seen a church from the sky, pink roof and cream walls, and a rubbish heap and some tiny fires burning on a smaller dump. The roads are much nicer in Lagos. Actually I just saw one that looks like eczema. I can see into people’s compounds now. The man behind me is thanking God we arrived safely. Touchdown. It’s good to be home.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

London Lagos Chronicles Part 1


Instead of spending 6 hours watching movies on my last flight home, I decided to write and record the experience live and direct. Here's part one of my musings.

Separate the waters. I'm on the British Airways flight to Nigeria.  From the air on a clear sunny day with no clouds, the blue of the sky and of the sea merge into one on the horizon. All around is blue, no up and no down. Flying over England, the land below reminded me of sayings like the land is in the blood or the blood of England flows through your veins. It really did look like an organ with the thick lines of trees like arteries and veins and capillaries carrying thick green sap to England's people. And who are England's people?

The couple next to me are old. They sneeze and splutter and cough a lot. They cover their mouths when they do. Their hands seem ineffectual. Many germs escape I fear and mostly on to me but their politeness is appreciated. We are over France now. Just across the Channel and the landscape seems dryer, more arid and the pieces of the farmland jigsaw are smaller and browner. There also seem to be fewer trees or maybes it's because we're higher up. Some quite persistent turbulence. I am drinking Coke. I fear for your pages. The engine roar grows louder for a moment and then quietens down. I used the loo before I got on the plane but will it be enough? The flight has quite a few empty seats. Perhaps BA is not longer so popular, colonial mentality unwinding.

We're flying over what must be the Sahara Desert now. It's not the Sahara of shifting sands that is so popular in the imagination but the part of the desert that is craggy and brown, unending dryness to the front and the back of the plane. The ground is so unchanging it doesn't feel like we're moving at all. There are thin cracks in the land that look like the beds of where river and streams once flowed. We are leaving behind the crags now and moving on to the more archetypal Sahara. The cracks in the old Sahara look like dried up capillaries and veins, arid England. There are some depressions in the sand. They must be quite deep but from up here they look like pockmarks.

 There is a dark thin ribbon running along the ground for what must be miles. It looks like a grey tarmac road but it can't be. Once you have a fixed point to look from, you realise how fast we're moving. In the few seconds it took to write this, the strange road has already disappeared beyond craning distance. I will make a way in the desert God says in Isaiah, where rivers of living water will flow. There's a patch of sand a lot redder than the rest of the desert, like a birthmark. There are lines running through the desert, swirling and sweeping and it makes you almost think there must be a pattern, some cosmic Artist whose handwork you would be able to fully appreciate if only you could go a little higher. That's how they saw the Nazca lines. They flew.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

My Ghana Trip on CNN


Here's a piece I did on my trip to Accra for CNN:

'With only a 45 minute flight separating Lagos and Accra, you'd think I'd have been to Ghana at least once in my 22-year existence. Unfortunately until July 2013, the concepts holiday and Africa have never gone together in my head.

Holiday was Italy and structurally unsound towers; or America and discount shopping or France and baguettes. Not Ghana, longstanding "frenemy "of Nigeria, with the football team we all rooted for in the last World Cup. Yet, that's no reason to actually visit the place.'

Read the rest here. Also below is the promo video we did for the tour which for some reason I forgot to post here.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Telephone Conversation


I read Wole Soyinka’s poem, Telephone Conversation when I was fourteen. I liked it so much I made it the desktop background on my laptop. Each time I turned on this shiny new device, I would read the words, ‘The price seemed reasonable, location indifferent. The landlady swore she lived off premises.’ The poem struck me. Perhaps it was because I was in an English boarding school, discovering for the first time my ‘blackness.’

‘How dark?’ Soyinka ‘s landlady asked the character who I assumed was Soyinka himself. ‘Facially, I’m brunette.’ Facially I was... I had never stopped to consider. I was Nigerian. My classmates, sensitive to but ignorant of the nature of my dislocation, would sometimes say as if in reassurance, ‘I think black people are cool.’ Why are you telling me, I would wonder but never ask?

My spine weakened a little when I moved to England. Confident, boisterous, perhaps overbearing in Nigeria, I became unsure in England: unsure of my accent, unsure of the value of what I knew, flabbergasted by my ignorance of Jack Wills and lacrosse. Soyinka’s poem put some calcium back in my bones.  Every time my eyes wandered to the bottom of the screen and read, ‘Friction, caused- foolishly, madam- by sitting down, has turned my bottom raven black,’ I would shake with laughter, the punch line new again. A new country was to be met with this verve, this panache, this style, this trademark Soyinka wit. No apologies for where I was coming from. None at all.     

A young Soyinka, harassed by landladies.



Telephone Conversation 
Wole Soyinka 

            The price seemed reasonable, location
            Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived
            Off premises. Nothing remained
            But self-confession. “Madam,” I warned,
5         “I hate a wasted journey—I am African.”
            Silence. Silenced transmission of
            Pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
            Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
            Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully.
10         “HOW DARK?” . . . I had not misheard . . . “ARE YOU LIGHT
            OR VERY DARK?” Button B. Button A. Stench
            Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
            Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered
            Omnibus squelching tar. It was real! Shamed
15         By ill-mannered silence, surrender
            Pushed dumbfoundment to beg simplification.
            Considerate she was, varying the emphasis—
            “ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?” Revelation came.
            “You mean—like plain or milk chocolate?”
20         Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light
            Impersonality. Rapidly, wavelength adjusted,
            I chose. “West African sepia”—and as an afterthought,
            “Down in my passport.” Silence for spectroscopic
            Flight of fancy, till truthfulness clanged her accent
25         Hard on the mouthpiece. “WHAT’S THAT?” conceding,
            “DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.” “Like brunette.”
            “THAT’S DARK, ISN’T IT?” “Not altogether.
            Facially, I am brunette, but madam, you should see
            The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet
30         Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused—
            Foolishly, madam—by sitting down, has turned
            My bottom raven black—One moment madam!”—sensing
            Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
            About my ears—“Madam,” I pleaded, “wouldn’t you rather
35         See for yourself?”

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Tribute to Chinua Achebe


For me, “Things Fall Apart” was just a novel. I came to it with no baggage, my shoulders unweighted by the colonial portmanteau of my parent’s generation, my mind decolonised and unintimidated by crinolines, English accents and bread and butter pudding. At fifteen, I read the novel in one sitting. Okonkowo threw Amalinze in my bedroom, murdered Ikemefuna in my kitchen and rather bathetically, swung from a tree in my toilet, oblivious to my sister’s knocking and shouting, “Chibundu come out. I need the bathroom.”

I had been running away from ‘Thing’s Fall Apart’ for many years. Its reputation preceded it, outdistanced it, ruined it in my opinion. A book about which there was so much hype could not but disappoint. And so I walked past Achebe whenever I saw him on a shelf until I reached that age when I started reading certain books because you ‘had to read them.’ Certain Victorian novelists, or certain Nobel Laureates, or certain ‘masters of the form.’ I would trudge through pages of text, understanding little, glad to finally reach the end so I could say, ‘Oh I’ve read so and so.’ Thus I came to Chinua Achebe as one would come to some traditional rite of passage. Not particularly enjoyable but you had to get on with it.

And then I read it and realised that Things Fall Apart was that rare and wonderful thing: a book that needed no reputation. The author’s background was irrelevant, his awards and accolades and sales figures and reviews and book club listings and Amazon rankings, all this was immaterial.  All you needed to do was pick up Things Fall Apart as a novel, just a novel, nothing more, nothing less and it would deliver on that. Save context for a second reading.

Yet, for those like my parents who lived closer to the slights and condescensions of imperialism, Things Fall Apart could never be just a novel. I asked my father what the book meant to him. The distance between my father and I is not just one of age or generation. Coups, pogroms, civil wars, structural adjustment programmes, Festac 77, wars against indiscipline, first republics, second republics, Federal Republics, Federal Democratic Republics: all these lie between my father and myself. For him, Things Fall Apart was bound up with identity. ‘He showed the good. He showed the bad.’ That was how my father put his thoughts. There were good things in Igbo culture before colonialism came and there were bad things. Just like in any society, in any culture, in any civilization. For a generation like my fathers, that had to prove that they were as good as, as smart as, as human as, Things Fall Apart was seminal. 


It’s a privilege to be able to put aside the context of Achebe’s work if I so choose and revel in nothing more than the words on the page. Yet I salute him for what he meant to a generation, the confidence he added to their stride and the assurance he gave them about their past. And then I salute him again, for what he did for many African writers, the inspiration he gave us, the doors he opened, into publishing houses and into the recesses of our imagination, as we drew on images and stories that we once thought bush, boring and unsophisticated. And finally, I salute Chinua Achebe, for what he meant and will mean to the world. For when those readers who understood the context of his times are long dead and when their children are long dead, there will still be those who will delight in the throwing of Amalinze and weep for the death of Ikemefuna.   



Read at the Africa Writes Literary festival in the British Library. Photos courtesy Carmen McCain.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

International Women's Day

Got a nice mention on the Guardian Africa Network as part of their International Women's Day celebrations.
I was number 9. Click here to find out what I mean :)

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

National Libraries Day



Hey folks, I have a reading this Saturday evening (9th of February) in the Westminster Reference Library, which strangely enough is in Leicester Square. I'm part of a celebration of the National Libraries Day. I'm on at 8pm. Tickets cost 4.50 and doors open at 7.30pm. I'm the opening act for a fantastic band called The Light Years. More info here and to buy tickets, click here.

Friday, 4 January 2013

A New Year Reading



Happy New Year! I have a reading on the 8th of January at 7:30pm. All details here.

Also I had a piece in the Guardian at the end of last year. Read it here

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Ember



As  the year’s fires burn to embers
Calendars draw to the months of ember.
Chaos stalks the days that fall,
In the ambush of all hallows and the year’s pall.

Tis the season for terror and mayhem,
Tis the time for murder by young men.
Lie in bed till morning.
For when gunshots not tales greet the moon,
Hark the forerunners of mourning.

The ones you seek do not come.
Who will dress them in myrrh,
And bring their widows gold?
Who will rain them with tears,
And see that their young grow old?

The ones you seek judge their lives too weighty for you,
So go home another way,
Young men seek to rob you.
Take another way.
The young men lie in wait for you.

Chibundu Onuzo (c) 2012
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