New Post

It has been 11 months since I published on this blog. The last post was on 8 January 2019. If you are one of the, like, ten people who subscribe, man, sorry, this wasn’t what it was supposed to be like. It’s not like this was a crazy year of anything like that. Sure, I’ve been busy; but is there any year where that is not the case? I have just been a bit more distracted and a good deal more dispersed in my endeavours. I really haven’t managed my time as well as I would have liked.

This, I guess, is the part where I commit to “do better” next year, isn’t it? But that is a lot of nonsense as you and I know, no one is fooling anyone. So I won’t attempt it. All I will say is: I’ll try.

And, oh, look here, you already have a new 150 word post.

Itis from the Gods

The hot plate fell on the table with a loud clang. It had only been three or so seconds, but that is all the time you need to burn your fingers. Stupid. I licked my tender fingers and studied the white ceramic cereal bowl carefully, worried that it may have cracked when I dropped it. It was fine, and the contents steamed satisfyingly in the dark, airless room. On my way back to the kitchen, I banged shut the microwave and ran my fingertips under cold water to take the sting off. I inspected them. It did not feel too bad. But I knew from long experience that my diagnosis was only valid until I buried my fingers into hot eba; that was the true test of how bad the burn was. I was to find out soon enough.

I grabbed a cup from the cupboard and went back into living room, past the tray of food on the dining table, to the water dispenser in the far corner. I noted that this was my first glass of water for the day.

“At 4 P.M?’ I thought.

But I did not dwell on the matter too long. This is “Christmas Period”, let us enjoy and be merry. I sat before the plate of afang and eba. Before beginning, I turned on the standing fan and made sure the blast was directly on my back. This is a standard precaution. I could already feel the sweat building around me, within me. But what is that to me? Can one truly say he has lived if he did not at least once experience what it is like to sit to a steaming meal in a tropical country, sweating, shirt off, with a blast of air pressing on skin enthusiastically?

It is a treat for the gods.

And so it was that in this condition, having unconsciously taken note of the sensible green-black colour of the soup, I carved my first ball of eba.

It did not burn the fingers. Good.

The first ball is all critical. It heralds the beginning of a stroll in paradise or a descent into a bland, saltless desert. Is it too hot? Then you need to slow down and track your prey more patiently. Too cold? Well, who eats cold food? You moderate and adjust. And when the temperature is just right, you chew carefully, swallow slowly, pause here and there to consider all that you have learned.

A burst of juice from a stray shard of okporoko, with its unmistakeable, pungent taste filled my mouth. I nodded and said a quiet prayer of gratitude to my ancestors who I knew then still smiled warmly on their son. After carefully selecting and setting aside the usual obstructions—cubed beef, dried fish, okporoko, and so on—I was still able to enjoy this piece of fish without reaching into my priceless hoard.

It is the mark of an experienced professional to cook the soup so as to achieve that perfect consistency which allows that each scoop of soup contains within itself some memory of the end, the last act, the conclusion to the whole business. It was clear that the dried fish and okporoko had been introduced at such a time, in such a manner, and in sufficient profusion as to ensure that each quantity of afang one summoned never arrived unaccompanied, never met the palette unescorted.

But I get ahead of myself. At this stage I had just entered a spiritual seance when I noticed a strange phenomenon: There was no periwinkle.

No periwinkle!

What was this provocation? How did this cook, of whom I had thought in such reverential tones only a few moments ago, think it fit to prepare afang without periwinkle? I must admit that I was so gravely offended by this realisation that it threatened to capsize the canoe on which hitherto I had sailed on a river of perfect bliss.

“Nobody does anything properly anymore,” I said aloud.

I put my hand down in despair, careful not to ensure my fingers did not touch table. The dark mood, slowly enveloping me like the shroud of an evil, giant mkpokporo, threatened me with absolute ruin in that hot room. I heard the NEPA horn blare and the fridge and deep freezer compressors kick-in to return the salute. But even this, this smile from the Nigerian Goddess of Electricity (she who is the protector of sleepers, scourge of the generators, ancient of days) failed to lift my spirits. I sat staring with glazed eyes into that cereal bowl.

Then it appeared. I blinked hard to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. But it was plainly there: a green-blue slug glistening under the light of a low voltage energy-saving bulb. I picked it up and placed it in my mouth and chewed gently. Confirmation! I fingered the plate feverishly looking for other signs and there they were all around! It had all been an unfortunate trick of the mind. Where I had been looking for the hardened shells of the periwinkle, I had not allowed the possibility that its less noble de-shelled relatives may be standing in substitute. The gods did indeed smile on me. In a moment, the storm had passed, I was back at the head of the canoe sailing calmly home, sailing towards the sun which sank behind the palm trees.

After the festivities of looking for the elusive periwinkles, I was in no mood to delay the final entree for much longer. I picked one piece of cubed beef, topped it with some of the leftover soup, then delivered it all into my mouth. I chewed for as long as the thing would emit its juices. Next, it was time for the kpomo: one kpomo, two kpomo, three, all boiled to perfection, not too soft, not too hard, not too thick, not too thin. Towel came after, then the dried fish, then the snail, and finally, critically, historically, okporoko, the king of the soup. In this manner, I did as was expected, I preserved the ancient order of precedent set out by my forefathers’ forefathers when they sat in the distant past to decide the order in which the obstructions of a well-appointed plate of soup are to be absorbed.

To complete the ritual, I placed the now cold cereal bowl on top of the flat plate now littered with bones and other detritus. I downed a glass of cold water. I was starting to realise that I was getting cold. Gone was the sweat and humidity, replaced by a hypnotic feeling of satisfaction and contentment. I could feel the approaching state we call Itis. I picked up the tray and left it by the sink, making sure to empty the bones in the bin then soaking the plates in water so that it could be washed easily later. I washed my hands and applied hand cream, which left them supple and smelling faintly of stock fish and lemon.

The room upstairs was ice cold. I had forgotten that I had left the AC on that morning, but it was all as it had been ordained, wasn’t it? I climbed into the bed and laid in it for a minute thinking of nothing in particular. I listened and all I heard was the hum of the AC and the banging from the construction site next door, something which usually annoyed me to no end, but in my present state of intense itis, I found not at all disagreeable. My thoughts drifted to the new year coming. I prayed. I prayed to the Christian God. I prayed to my ancestors. And I asked the Goddess of Electricity to give me smooth tidings even if it was only for the next two hours.

I shut my eyes and slept.

Nana

Today my mother turns sixty.

She was down at my house this past weekend where she, my dad and my siblings recounted old tales of where we have come from and how we got to where we are now. There was a lot of food and nostalgia in the air this weekend, a wonderful time to remind oneself of all the things which ultimately really matter.

It is the way with these things that when the conversation gets going the memory is rejigged and new recollections are brought forth. We were reminded of the time in 1989 when, out of work and down on their luck, she and my father left Calabar for Lagos with three young children in tow, hoping to find something. We roomed with a relative in Ajao Estate in Isolo for the first year. The details of that house are sketchy to me. All I remember was Italia 90 and Roger Milla. We soon found an old house in Surulere which came to serve as our first home in Lagos. My youngest brother came soon after. I can still see him coated in dust from crawling on the stoop of the old house we found just off Adeniran Ogunsanya.

This was the early 90s and Nigeria was anything but a party. This was true even for a family of two professionals who graduated from good federal universities. My mother, a lawyer, could not find work in any law chambers or in any corporate organisation. (Things were not much better for my dad who couldn’t find work as an architect or builder.) Being a person with a basic impulsion to strive and achieve something, she set out to start a business selling fish and roasted plantain. The details are hazy now, but it seems to have transpired something like this: My mother got it in her head that this local delicacy from Calabar could generate some interest among the urban Lagos crowd, so she found a partner who had a shop on Lagos Island. She seeded the business for some amount which nobody can remember now, and agreed that her partner would supply the balance in fish and raw plantain. She was somehow convinced to hand over her capital to this partner, returning home to prepare for what was to be the beginning of a new and fruitful enterprise, she thought. That was not to be, of course. My naive small town mother never saw her business partner again, and ended up out of pocket and with an invaluable welcome-to-Lagos lesson (and a great story).

This early setback didn’t break her. In characteristic fashion, she shook it off and moved on to new things. The sheer range of activities she has gotten herself involved in leaves me exhausted. At various points she has owned and run a salon; she has worked as a barrister; she has studied and trained as a development expert; she has founded and run an NGO for several years; she started a business frying and selling puff puff and buns out of our old blue 305; she has run what might be called a ‘garden’ in Surulere, selling roasted fish, coconut rice, fried turkey, snails, gizzards and booze in front of our house at night (on Fridays and Saturdays we helped to wash plates and serve customers when we got old enough); she has also worked as a diplomat and as a member of parliament. Her sheer willingness to dare to do is a constant inspiration to me and a reminder that I, too, can.

This enterprising spirit is one of her defining qualities. She gets an idea that she needs to do something, and she does it. She does not think too much about it, she does not dwell on the downsides of it. She starts, she bootstraps, she hustles. “You can’t” is a meaningless phrase to her. We hear a lot about what’s wrong with such a crude approach to life. But I’ve seen the other side of this coin, I’ve seen a person who was long on execution and short on strategy, and I think there is a lot to be said for the grafters of this world, those who act quickly and leave the pondering for later.

In writing this piece, I had to think about some memory or defining moment between us. The more I thought about it the more I came to the realisation that that moment did not exist. All of it is a continuum in my mind, a sort of smorgasbord of sights, familiar smells, fierce shouts, hard slaps, awkward smiles, laughs, hugs, hairstyles, boubous, large heavy 80s lens frames, and so on. Here she is one minute working on a report on Adobe Pagemaker late into the night, me dozing off in a corner, standing, because I had failed to obey a simple instruction to go to bed at 9PM. Here she is on sanitation day making akara and ogi for the house, sternly driving all of us to our domestic duties. Here she is at Visiting Day with my favourite meal ukang (an excellent pottage of bushmeat, plantain, palm oil and scent leaf), me embarrassed because the meal was a bit too ‘local’ for my fancy private school where fried rice and jollof was the order of the day. (Turns out fancy private school boys absolutely love ukang, judging by what happened to the cooler I took back to the dorm.) And here she is, slumped on the stoop in the front of the house in Anthony Village where we had moved to. A few metres from where she is seated the neighbour’s massive diesel generator is on, filling the night air with its industrial growl and the smell of Lagos. We did not have a generator then. She had had a long day, it was 10PM. There had been no light all day and we could not pump the water from the borehole into the tank. Me, too busy galavanting, as we say, with friends, had failed to fetch enough water to ensure that there was water upstairs for her return. And so the one thing she had been looking forward to that evening, the one break in her crazy day: a bath, was not possible. She was too tired, too defeated to yell. She would not raise a hand to me either. She just sat there, with her handbag at her feet, and wept. She sat there for a long time.

But she beat that, and she beat everything else life has thrown at her. And she is here now. How do I describe such a leader? How do I tell her how much she means to me?

How does one, say, describe what breathing means to them?

James Comey, Church Problems, Investing Gist & Modesty Culture

As promised, here is the first of what will hopefully become a weekly post sharing the best content I found on the internet the week before. The plan is to share a maximum of five articles (or videos or tweets or podcasts and so on). I may from time-to-time exceed this limit if I am inspired. This is my blog, not secondary school. The main criterion for selecting content is that it has to be something which I felt was worth the time it took for me to engage with it.

With that, here is what we have for this week:

James Comey’s Testimony:

By now I hope you’ve had the time to read former FBI Director James Comey’s written testimony to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. If you haven’t, do so now. You will struggle to find better writing anywhere this year. Mr Comey writes wonderfully descriptive passages without wasting words, a stark contrast to how most of us were taught to write in Nigeria. This is a great analysis of that testimony. You will also do well to watch the actual testimony he gave on the Hill. He is concise, clear, and an absolute joy to listen to.

Tribal Intrigues in the Nigerian Church:

You have to realise that we are all out of our goddam minds in this country. Yes, I am mad. How else do we explain this aptly-named post by Cheta Nwanze about tribalism in the Nigerian Catholic Church. The intrigues and shenanigans put Lagos APC primaries to shame. Things have gotten so heated that the Pope has had to step in and set things straight in Nigeria. And here is a charming letter from some parishioners, addressed to the Catholic Archdiocese of Benin City. Bini people don’t mince their words, read:

Your Lordship, it has become clear that you saw in your appointment as administrator of the Archdiocese, an opportunity to fulfil your life-long ambition of entrenching your tribesmen in the plum offices of the Archdiocese. In plotting and executing this unholy assignment Your Lordship, we are particularly piqued that you resorted to telling lies and deception in order to achieve your desires

Satisfaction Yield:

This is an article on investing which explains how the journey to an investment outcome can heavily influence how we think about it. Say you have two investors, Femi and Aisha. Femi invests N100,000 and after one year receives N110,000, no drama. Aisha invests N100,000 and 6 months in sees her investment drop to N50,000 (half the original amount). She sticks it out and the investment eventually recovers to end at N110,000 at the end of the year. They both made the same amount of money and neither is better or worse off than the other financially. But I have to think that Femi will be inclined to think that investing is easy while Aisha will tell her people that it is not a beans.

This has many consequences. For instance, it helps to explain why quite a few people prefer investments in property to financial securities such as shares. If you buy a property in Lekki and are taking in rent, no one tells you the daily price of your property, it does not trade. You rest easy in the knowledge that you have some sort of wealth that is ‘growing.’ But if you invest in GT Bank shares there is a veritable tornado of sources telling you how your ‘portfolio’ is doing every second. Small drops in price cause emotional pain while small increases give you a sense of happiness. These two investments are not fundamentally different: You hope that you’ll get growth in your investment amount and some income (for property that is rent, for shares, dividends). But the experience of owning these two investments is night and day. [There are things like liquidity which make them different, but please ignore these for now.]

An Interesting Document:

Here is an interesting secret document from the British Colonial Office during the time of the Willink Commission (a commission which was setup to consider the issue of the minorities in the soon-to-be independent nation of Nigeria). The minority issue is becoming more relevant given the growing agitation for greater independence from Abuja. It is a short document and an interesting look into how so many of the issues of today were anticipated as far back as 1950s.

A fantastic thread:

This is a thread about the absurdity of men policing the dressing of women because they (men) are unable to control themselves. Here is a passage which kinda summarises the WTFishness of this whole business:

Men speaking:

I think you should wear something else, because seeing your skin makes me feel aroused. And that arousal is strong and I haven’t learned how to appropriately manage it. So please change your clothes.

To borrow the words of the author, this is completely BONKERS!

Have a great week.

 

 

Monday It Is

By the end of this post you might have established that I am bored, anxious to post something, or horribly foolish. You see, I do not know what to write (or, sometimes I wonder, how to). When I started this blog I had the idea that my life was quite interesting and that it offered something worth writing about. It turns out that my life is pedestrian and notably normal. It goes as follows: home, office, home, office (repeat), with long interruptions of heavy traffic in between. There is hardly anything to write about.

So I came up with an idea to fix this. (My blog, not my life) I am going to start recommending articles! Every Monday, I will post the best articles, posts, essays, YouTube videos, tweets, whatever, the best content I read or watched in the previous week. Yes, I know that this is not new, others have done it before. But they say ‘copying well is an act of defiance.’ Actually nobody said that, I just made it up. I figure since I read a lot and struggle to write, it may not be a bad idea to share that content each week. That way I am forced to take this blog and what I read a lot more seriously, I can actually start writing, and, hopefully, I can start driving some traffic through this thing. (Though why I care for any traffic here is quite beyond me.)

I have one criterion for what I share: The content has to be worth my time.

That’s it. The world is full of posts that are too long, rehashes of old ideas, or just forgettable fillers. My aim is to make sure everything I put up is worth it. This means I am going to have to comb the internet for content. That sounds easier than it is—the internet is bigger than most people can imagine. Also, I am a husband, dad, poor salary-collector and an amateur gamer. I have got a lot going on without a blog which needs me to commit to posting something weekly. I will try to get to five articles at the start of each week, but that is not a target. I’d rather inform you that I read nothing worth sharing (or that I am really too busy at the moment) than put up an article which does nothing for me. That said, you would have clicked through to my blog—a true act of Faith in our age—and so I think you ought to see something. I’ll try.

So, Monday, starting next week. Cheers.

With All Your Might

In Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things there is this now famous passage on putting in work:

I will never forget the first team meeting with head coach Chico Mendoza. Coach Mendoza was a tough old guy who had played college football at Texas Christian University, home of the mighty Horned Frogs. Coach Mendoza began his opening speech, “Some of you guys will come out here and you just won’t be serious. You’ll get here and start shooting the shit, talking shit, bullshittin’, not doing shit, and just want to look good in your football shit. If you do that, then you know what? Turn your shit in.” He went on to elaborate on what was unacceptable: “Come late to practice? Turn your shit in. Don’t want to hit? Turn your shit in. Walk on the grass? Turn your shit in. Call me Chico? Turn your shit in.”

It’s all good and well to do whatever it is that we do, but for the things which matter (and what matters is a deeply personal question), it is important to constantly ask ourselves the questions Coach Mendoza put to his team. Am I just ‘shooting the shit, talking shit, bullshittin’, not doing shit, and just trying to look good in [my] football shit?’ Or am I actually putting in the work. I think it is hard to deceive oneself for too long because the unconscious is simply too woke—It rebels against our conscious lies. But I suspect that it is quite possible to fool the world on this. To some degree that’s sort of what we have to do to get ahead, isn’t it. We embellish our qualifications, our experience, our network, our wealth, and so on. We receive, hopefully, some external validation in return, and this is comforting if temporary.

A more permanent satisfaction can be had from the personal knowledge that you’ve attacked your goals as completely as you could have. It does not come from the outcomes of this process, it is the natural consequence of this philosophy of living. Hard work is its own reward. It doesn’t matter if you put in twelve-hour days and still could not hit your target, you’ve hit your internal target. The sweet privilege of being able to say from the very core of your soul ‘I did my best’ is golden, and is a good deal more valuable that being told that you did well. Ralph Waldo Emerson shared this idea in his essay Self Reliance, when he said: ‘A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best, but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace.’ This relief is a wonderful thing next to the torment of knowing that you were just ‘bullshittin’, talking shit and not doing shit.’ We cannot externalise this validation. It cannot come from a performance rating for a bonus at your company, it cannot come from our boss or any other third party we look to for validation. This relief, this contentment, this peace, comes from putting in the work.

In the book of Ecclesiastes (9:10) it says: ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.’ It is a call to work, to work hard, and to acquit ourselves before God.

Struggling To Write

Lately I’ve had the urge to write. But for me the baseline question when I write to publish always is—Do you have anything to say? It is easy enough to rehash an idea that has been expressed elsewhere in one of my scattered readings, but getting an original idea or a unique perspective or a new way of expressing an existing notion is a very difficult thing indeed. Quite often I think I have something to say and I feel strongly about it. I then proceed to try to express what I am thinking. And sure enough it reads like utter garbage. It is inauthentic, cosmetic, foogayzi and altogether embarrassing.

At other times, I simply do not have the words. This is an oddly familiar state of existence for people who write for a living. There is really nothing so annoying as having something to say and not knowing how to say it. It is rather like that mute state of idiocy many people enter into when they meet their crushes. This is where I am now and thankfully I do not write for a living.

That said, this process may serve a very important function. It may be a useful way of refining ideas, getting closer to the proverbial koko of the matter. Someone said somewhere that the essence of reading is rereading. Well, it seems to me that the essence of writing is quite possibly rewriting, and very often discarding completely.

So this is the screed I’ve managed to write today. I have twenty-two draft essays in different stages of construction but none of them feels right. Here I am trying too hard, there my thoughts are vague, confused and woolly. And yet, even though I know that none of this stuff can be published, I am too scared to delete them because, well, thinking up stuff is tough and usually a full thought is the filtration of several half-baked, wacky, confused ideas which have had time to age and mature in the casks of our brains. One minute you have absolutely nothing to say, the next it pours out in torrents.

Or not. Sometimes you just remain frustrated and incoherent. You cannot write. Here we are.