Total Pageviews

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How Middle-Class Kids Can Cope with Feral Scents

(Ayodele Arigbabu chose this title for me, even though it may not be connected to my dilemma. Thank you)

Before I started writing this, I called my sister and my mother to remind me of the names of the two ladies who lived with us and terrorized my life while growing up. My mother said she hasn’t seen the two ladies in many years. Last time she saw one of them was in January of 1999, after my grandmother’s funeral when they came to our house to pay their condolences. Now, what she knows about them could just be stories from people. One of them has been having problems having children and the other one, has 7 children and has finally changed from being a Catholic to Anglican.

I was born in a rustic village in Imo State to a very large family. A young lady from another village, who was not related to us, was brought to live with us. Her name was Amarachi and my last born, Ifeanyi, used to call her Abachi, because he was very young and could not pronounce her name properly. We started calling her ABACHI and the name stuck to her.

Few months into living with us, she set up an altar with the statue of Virgin the Mary and lit candles. She was Catholic. My father is a Knight of St. Christopher and my mother is a Lay Reader in the Anglican Church. My father didn’t care a fig about what denomination she belonged to. They respected her and made us sleep in the same room with her when my uncles and aunts came home for Christmas or Easter, because the entire Nwelue family lived under the same roof until recently when they started building houses here and there.
Amarachi came to live in our house, because our house was close to her secondary school. She didn’t come to live with us as a house-help, so my mother made us call her Auntie Amarachi. She wasn’t related to us. I didn’t find that annoying then, but now I do, because she did terrible things to me, which I liked back then, but now, feel awful about them.

One Tuesday morning, my mother had gone to school and my father had gone to work. I was sick, suffering from severe fever and could not even eat. What I hated then was taking pills. I hid every pill they gave to me somewhere and drank water, pretending that I had taken it. If my mother was the one giving it to me, she would put it in the middle of a lump of garri or fufu and I will be made to swallow it. I was told it was to reduce the bitter taste of the drugs. I hated drugs. That morning, I can remember now, Auntie Amarachi was bored to the bones and needed some excitement. She needed something to keep her body warm and there I was. She stripped me naked and slightly placed me on her naked body, after removing her clothes and lay on her back on the mat. She smelled of something I didn’t know; now I know she had an ordour, the ordour of a woman who wanted to have sex. She smelled of something strange. I was very young. Maybe 6 or 5 years then?

She knew what time my parents got back from where they went, so she ‘enjoyed’ me while it lasted. She touched me here and there. I didn’t know what happened next. She was busy, making me hug her and I kept hugging her and perceiving her ‘feral scent’, which made me cringe. She smelled of something strange. If I had grown up, I would have known what she smelled of. But she just smelled of something strange.

Auntie Amarachi was mean. She was very dark, her skin beautiful and she had big bum-bum. Her arse was in order. I noticed this, even as I was very young. I was scared she could be related to me; even as a child, I was scared of incest, I was scared of sinning against Heaven and Earth. Somehow, after those experiences, lying on her naked body, Auntie Amarachi started treating me like a demi-god. She liked me. It showed. She made sure I ate properly and she was hated by my eldest brother, who scorned her. I didn’t care. Her velvet skin looked amazingly beautiful. I was stuck in another world with her. The colour of her eyes I could not remember now, because I was scared of looking into her eyes. But this was her problem: she turned into a beast towards my siblings when my parents were away. I just didn’t understand why she acted the way she did.

After her WAEC and NECO examinations, Auntie Amarachi left our house; with her altar and her feral scent that she made me perceive each time she made me lie on her naked soft body. The last time she made me do that to her, was in my own mother’s bed, on a Friday, because she was asked to stay home and take care of me. For missing school, she took her vengeance on me. I liked it then, though, because her mother was really soft.

Before Amarachi came, there was Stella, who was from Oguta, my maternal home. She was young and so, we were meant to take her in as our blood. But she was very stubborn and at the same time, very hardworking. She helped my mother in everything, but usually became hostile to us when she was away. She would pounce on us and beat the hell out of those she could. My elder brothers dealt with her when they could. They fought for us.

For once, I didn’t see any of them as house-helps. Now I do. So, the last house-help my mother got was a very young boy, from my village. I saw him as a house-help, but my mother didn’t. He was one of my mother’s pupil and he loves my mother just the way he loves his own mother. It showed. My last born hated him. He kept telling him, ‘Please, go to your house. You are taking my place. Just leave my house.’ The boy didn’t want to leave. Even when my mother mistakenly burnt his hand with a hot spoon and the boy’s parents came hurling slurs on my mother, he told them to stay away, that it was his fault. I came home and saw the wound on his hand and I said to my mother, ‘This is not cool.’ She felt very terrible. And buried her head in shame. It made me remember also when my mother broke my head with the heel of her left shoe out of anger, because she was I was bugging her. My mother kept telling the boy, ‘Dede gi Prof is coming back.’ Young boy ended up taking me as his ‘dede’, which means ‘elder brother’. One night, I called him aside and very mean, I said to him, ‘I am not your elder brother. Don’t believe madam.’

He called my mother madam and madam was his teacher in school. After school, he always returned home with madam. My father flogged the ‘house-helps’ with the same koboko and canes he used on us. My father would have used pepper on any of them if he had to; same way he used them on us.

My last born hated the boy whom he believed came to take over his shine. So, he made sure he left our house. But the young boy didn’t have feral scent, because my madam took very good care of him like her son.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Farad-ising Nigerian storytelling

Nigerian writing is best known for its intensely beautiful storytelling, wrapped on personal journeys and narcissistic tales. It has so many challenges, from generation to generation. Now, a new generation of writers is making its mark, from poetry to fiction.

Much has changed since Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote Purple Hibiscus. Helen Oyeyemi captured the world with Icarus Girl and made lots of money. A number of ambitious young Nigerian writers began to appear on the scene keen enough to experiment with new storytelling techniques – and practically reach as wide an audience as possible. They started writing beautiful prose and spinning words to recreate, to imagine a new world.

Emmanuel Iduma is one of the most challenging voices in Nigerian literary scene, writing a book that is convoluted, but looks very slim. He has written the novel to engage and enrage audiences. His novel, Farad is about the world: it tells stories about people. It is completely peopled with mad men, lovers, politicians, teachers, musicians and people that Iduma loved. His arrival onto the scene is at once, charming and intimidating. His voice is solid, but what he lacks, however, is the power to keep the reader awake. Sometimes, when I read Iduma’s prose, I sense a show-off, a degree of arrogance from the writer’s part, trying very hard to convince the reader that he is very intelligent. I slept once, reading Farad. Or even twice, but I continued, because the prose charmed me from the beginning. What works for him is his total control over his language and diction.

There are dozens of novels published in Nigeria all the time. Many of them don’t get read. Many of them are trapped in a dozy world, where the writers are completely focused on filling up pages with words and not completely concentrated on telling stories. For the most part, a novel is practically a journey of tales. What makes Farad more beautiful is the voice, the tension and the tenacity with which the words are spun. Just like Jose Saramago, whose beautiful prose could be found in Iduma’s voice, Iduma tries very hard to make people laugh, but he completely lacks a sense of humour. If his job is to be a comedian, he totally fails. This does not mean that he has not written a magnificent tale about the world. It amazes me how he could, at such a young age, be able to capture the world the way he does in this novel. It appeared to me that an artist was painting on a canvas; scattered but beautifully scattered.

I had a tough time trying to keep track of the characters, although it justifies the fact that fiction is life. It is like a train journey. You don’t get to end your journey with everyone. There are stations and people get off and others join. This is just the way Farad reads. Just like notes in music, it goes up, up and down and down and then up. You miss the characters, as they jump into different characters and you find more characters emerging. If there is nothing good about Farad, it is the musicality in the voice. It reads like something from the heavens, yet, there are many issues with the book. In totality, the author needs to understand that storytelling is a different game; that experimentation is very hard. Whatever way, there is joy in his voice, which is appealing. Yet, the book lacks that solid appeal that will readily stage the writer as a storyteller, which is the most important thing.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

An Open Letter to the writer, Tosin Otitoju

Dearest Beautiful Tosin Otitoju,

On the morning of 26th June, 2012, I stepped out of my hotel-room on Calle Diputacio in Barcelona, waiting for a taxi. I was thinking about you. Why? Because that morning was a defining moment in the history of my life as a writer. I had arrived Barcelona a night before that morning, waiting anxiously, to meet Anna Soler-Pont, the founder of one of the biggest agencies in the world, Pontas Literary & Film Agency the next day. Pontas represents some of the most famous authors in the world, including Jonas Jonasson from Sweden. The moment my taxi arrived and I jumped in and slammed the door, thoughts of you raced through my head.

Both of us alone know what I’m writing about. For a long time now, I’ve stayed away from attending public events for so many reasons and finally, moved out of Nigeria. Could it be shame? Could this be guilt? I have decided to address you in the open and say these few words to you.

In 2010, I was invited to attend the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. I am a budding author from Nigeria, so I was supposed to fund my trip to Hong Kong partly, because no one knows me. I was going to be on the same panel with South African writer, Andre Brink.  It was a rare opportunity that I was not going to miss. Many great writers like Nury Vittachi already started heralding my arrival in Hong Kong. No one could come to my rescue. It was you, Tosin Otitoju that ‘funded’ my Hong Kong trip.

By the time I arrived Hong Kong, I was already broke. Tope David, my publisher’s friend from university lives there. He gave me a couch to crash in. That same night I arrived, you Tosin were worried about me. You sent a message to your Indian friend who happens to be a BIG man in Hong Kong. Your Indian friend invited his fellow Indians, who happen to be Professors. They took care of me. To confirm that they met me in Hong Kong, they sent you liquor, which I carried carefully down to Nigeria for you and you appreciated it so much. Do you know that sitting in that taxi, reminded me of that day I came to Lekki for you? I am not an ingrate. It is just that things don’t work as I always plan them. So, I stopped planning.

The few days I spent in Hong Kong and in Doha inspired a great story, which I started in Hong Kong, discarding the first draft of my second novel, Orchard of Memories, a story about a Chinese man living in Lagos. If I hadn’t gone to Hong Kong; no, if you hadn’t sent me to Hong Kong, I would not have started that story, I would not know about the superstitions the Hong Kongers cherish; I would not have seen Chungking Mansion and I couldn’t have used the ferries, at which station I met a group of Ghanaians who already knew me before I came, because of the reports of my encounter with the Hong Kong Immigration Department. If you hadn’t given me the support I needed, the Nigerian Consulate wouldn’t have organized that extravagant party for me at the ‘only revolving’ restaurant in Hong Kong. I would not have written Orchard of Memories and I would not have been signed to Pontas today in a way.

I am writing this to you, because everyday, Anna Soler-Pont sends me messages that show that I am finally a happy writer whose fortune is hanging by the staircase and he may just have to pick it himself.

I love and appreciate you so much, Tosin.


Onyeka Nwelue

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Breathing in Barcelona

This very morning, I left Lisbon and was an EasyJet flight to Barcelona. Our flight departed by 11.45 and I got to Barcelona by 2.36, Spanish time. It was an enjoyable trip, I must say. There was enough comedy in there, as the passengers happened to be heart-warming people. I had the entire seats in my row to myself. I don't know why, but I felt everyone wanted me to have it all to myself. Nothing attached to that, really. And if there is, none of my business. So, the moment we touched down in Barcelona, I felt something reeling in the inside of me. I would say the only differences between Lisbon and Barcelona are: Obrigado and Gracias. That is to say, Thank you. In other things, the two cities resemble itself in its complexities and beauties. I love them both, but Lisbon has some magic yet. A big magic that I can't fathom to understand.

I'm in Barcelona to meet Anna Soler-Pont, the founder of Pontas Film & Literary Agency. We had been in touch for a very long time and this was getting interesting as we even signed a contract for her to represent me. Yet, the connection needed to be made solid.

Tomorrow, I am very excited that I will meet my agent in person. Lovely, ah?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

This night in Lisbon

Back in the seminary, I was the Head Boy. I had a deputy. His name is Ikechukwu Mbonu. I left the seminary back in 2005 and the next year, I flew to India, to write. I came back a frustrated gentle man, waiting to get admitted into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, while in my aunt's house in Lagos, receiving slurs and insults. People thought I was crazy, having chosen to be a writer. I thought they were crazy too.

Today, Ikechukwu arrived Lisbon and he is staying with me for a bit. It's a cool thing.  A good feeling in a way. We don't want to talk about the seminary years. We just joined other Portuguese and lovers of Portugal to watch the match between Portugal and Czech Republic. After the match, the streets went on fire. There was serious jubilation on the streets. In our company, we had Angela Cunha, my amazing beautiful friend from Guinea Bissau and fellow poet and writer, Mamdu Bade also, who was hungry and weak (maybe because he was supporting the Czech?). We went to Ali Baba and got some kebab for them and water for me and Ikechukwu, then, we took the taxi back to our base.

It was an incredible night. Goodnight.

Monday, June 18, 2012

An Open Letter to Muslims in Nigeria

Dear Muslims,

I didn’t think before writing this letter to you. I will not apologise for anything I say here, either. For so many times now, I’ve kept quiet. I have been silent over things I should scream about. I was quieted, not because I am not fit for your violence, but because I know nothing about your religion of ‘peace.’ I do not sincerely understand the concept of peace you all claim to have. What I’ve realized from your Way of Life, is the mentality of going against anyone that doesn’t agree with you. It is distasteful that you have chosen to unleash terror and fear upon Christians in Nigeria every Sunday. This has become a tradition and when things turn ritualistic, they begin to bug me. I am very troubled, dear Muslims.

You are very good at inflicting fears into the souls of people. You are also very quick at calling your religion a religion of peace. You are very good at calling anyone that does not buy your ideology, an infidel.

I am not a Christian and will never be. Yet, I do not believe these gentle and sober Christians deserve all these bombs you throw at them every Sunday in Nigeria. I used to think that all of you worship the same God? Now I know better. I assume your God is a very sadistic one, who pardons you when you spill the blood of an infidel? For just yesterday, jokingly, I made a prediction to a friend that there would be another bombing today. Just look at it, more lives have been wasted, for no reason.

People think I’m a ridiculous person by calling on Christians to take up arms against you Muslims in Nigeria. Someone will suggest I be tried for saying such.  Yet, I stand by what I say. I have seen unseen fears in the eyes of Christians. The kind of fear I saw in my aunt’s eyes last Sunday in Lagos troubled me. When will you stop this nonsense? I have also got to a point in my life where no one will be able to deceive me and say these bombings are not religiously motivated. There are no political detractors involved. This is a state of total religious repression.

I will not blame you for bombing churches. I will blame it on how delusional all you religious people are. It is laughable that a Christian would suggest that ‘Jesus Christ doesn’t want Christians to retaliate.’ It is as laughable as any stupid thing anyone would say. I am not writing you to beg you to stop bombing churches; I am only asking that you abstain from killing Christians. If you want to make a caricature of Christendom, there is another way to do that. If you want to show Christians how violent and religiously fanatic you are, there is also another way to do that. To bomb churches on Sunday and kill these innocent, demented and delusional people who are under the cover of their Unseen God? I do not agree. I do not favour you on that. I do not respect any of your ‘peace’ balderdash.

If there is a political war, we’d know. This has nothing to do with politics. It is about you Muslims trying to overshadow the Christians and make them understand how more powerful you are. But it is a shame that you do all these things for your God. I pity your God, the bloodthirsty King who sits on the throne in the clouds, like a pervert and watch the world destroy itself. The world that you presume he created? How strange!

May the souls you have wasted already, please rest in peace, while I urge Christians to come out, prepared, with violence for violence.


Onyeka Nwelue

Speech at SWITCH Conference

Back in the university, I had so many dreams. One of them, was to own a record label. I would sign contracts with young artistes and finance their music career. In my head, it was very simple and realistically easy. Yet, I couldn’t do it.

There were two boys I was interested in their careers: Luminous and T9. They are incredibly talented. They had dreams too. They wanted to become famous and rich. They wanted me to be their Godfather. Yet, I couldn’t be one.

However, that dream of owning a record label has not faded away. Each morning I wake up, I find myself controlling the kind of music that should play in my head. In the past few years, I slowly built some strong relationships with artistes of all generations – our friendship is based on the fact that I still want to promote their talents and make them live big. Now, this dream has taken me to Europe and Asia. I’ve been so consistently building trust with people in these two continents, palpably begging them to trust me; always trying my best to make sure that they listen to all the fine musical voices coming from Nigeria.

Back in 2006, which I can remember very well, I had bought so many CDs of music by Beautiful Nubia and Asa, two of Nigeria’s gifted performers and gifted those CDs out to participants at the International Writers’ Festival that took place in Haryana, India. I was very happy doing this. I coerced some of the participants to listen to the music when we settled into the Sikh temple in Paonta Sahib, where we were lodged in. They did. I started believing that my dream was coming true. Apparently.

Today, I return to Portugal, a country that has very strong colonial ties with Nigeria. This is very visible in everything we do, yet, Nigerians are not dramatically bureaucratic as Portuguese. This is not condemnation. What I am trying to say is this: that Nigerians don’t know the name of any Portuguese singer is because the Portuguese people don’t want us to know. For when I remember my last discussion with Portuguese actor, José Fidalgo, I glow with smile. Mr. Fidalgo is a huge fan of a certain musician with afro. Her name is Nneka. He didn’t know her nationality, so he put up her music on his website as background music. I told him that Nneka is a Nigerian and my friend. Ah, Mr. Filalgo is highly impressed and bewildered. He goes and buys Nneka’s music from iTunes. He loves all of them.

If I have to point it out here, I sincerely think that embassies of European countries are obstacles to the ramifications of the young Nigerian, nay African artiste, who knows that for him to survive from a society that believes that art should be free; he needs the audience in Europe so badly. He knows that this young artiste needs to make some money, so, he assumes he is going to stay back in Europe and never return to his home-country. I will say that this shows that Europeans don’t respect African artistes. We are not only a people who live large dreams, we also live large.

Before I digress, the point I am trying to make here is this: no matter how large our audience way back in Africa is, I mean, for the artiste, it is disgraceful that the Nigerian artiste prefers the audience in Kuala Lumpur, because we are a people who are obsessed with foreign things. It is not our fault. It seems, largely enough, that back in Nigeria, it is easy to think also that we have a large audience, yet, people find it difficult to pay for shows. If you are a show promoter in Nigeria, you will agree with me that the moment you put out posters for a show, family, friends and acquaintances will besiege your phone with calls, asking for FREE passes. How on earth will you survive in such mess? It is appalling that art is not in any way appreciated in the African continent, just the way it is supposed to be. I am not really angry about this, I am just concerned that the African artiste will end up dying in penury.

Bez Idakula has recently been tagged by the BBC as the next big thing. He is not joking with his music. He is not a lay-about. He is the sort of artiste who doesn’t wait for the heavens to help him before he helps himself. He does everything for himself; this is what I am realizing, even though he has a manager who is as hardworking as the artiste. What I mean is this, I have actually encountered a lot of these young artistes who are talented and yet, are crazily full of themselves. I’ve heard some tell me, ‘I am very good. I can rival WizKid.’ I don’t doubt their power of conviction. What I doubt is their angst, their eagerness to actually rival WizKid. For those of you who don’t know, WizKid is a big star in Nigeria, but he is just 22 years old. He has done incredibly well. I keep saying that he is leading the squad squarely well. This is no joke, either. If they really think they can rival WizKid, what is keeping them? Funny enough, you hear them say things like WizKid has someone who is pushing him. This is because they are lazy. Only lazy people say these things. For you to survive as an artist/e, you must pursue those dreams alone. No one will do that for you. And this is where Bez has taken the front seat. He recently travelled to the United States and on getting back; he was already signed to Universal Music Publishing. He has also indicated interest to go to schools and talk to students and pupils. He is not ready to charge anything. He is working his way himself and people like him. They have begun to appreciate him and his music. Which is more important?

There are huge talents back in the country where I come from. I am not here to represent them. I am here to represent myself. I am the man who wants to promote them and make money for myself. I am the man who wants to make them stars. But I cannot do this alone and I can’t force the kind of music that appeals to me alone on Europe when they don’t feel it. I am then assuming that the artiste needs to really work hard and make things work out for him, by making good music, keeping a brand that people would like to associate with. This is very important.

Nigeria has produced a lot of world-class stars, but it is strange and painfully funny to know that they were not made in Nigeria. They were made elsewhere. Especially in Europe and the US. Let us look at Sade, Seal, Asa, Nneka, Wale, Ayo, Tinnie Tempah and a lot of them. This is painful, but it is also a joy to our nation. What we don’t find funny is the feeling most of these musicians have that someone owes them, that someone has to carry their cross for them. I always tell them that they are delusional if they think that anyone is genuinely interested in their career without working on it to make some money for himself. Everything boils down to return on investment, which is more important.

There are so many risks in the business. There is also enough money.