When words leave a mark…

A chance meeting –  via the ubiquity of the internet – with Yousef Komunyakaa’s  poem ‘Ode to The Drum‘ left an indelible mark on me.

The sheer beauty of the lines,  rich imagery that harks back to a time of hunting for sustenance in Africa and the ritual of drum making are things that I have never been able to forget. In the poem  a hunter kills a gazelle, skins it, and uses its skin for a drum. The hunter maintains an ongoing monologue, almost apologetically stating the case for killing the gazelle. There is meat, and the need to drive trouble from the valley via the beating of a drum. In the process of creating a drum, the gazelle is reborn – from dead weight slouching in the grassy hush to a drum beat filling the valley and exorcising evil. This, to me, is the under-girding theme – transformation; from evil to good, from death to a different sort of life. As the year 2010 wraps up, perhaps the closing lines are apt..

Now I have beaten a song back into you
Rise and walk away, like a panther.

May 2011 be a year to be re-born indeed.

Reflections…. The Year in Happenings..

Having earned (if I say so) the right to put my feet up and relax at the end of what has been a particularly hectic year of working, travelling, reading and volunteering, one has the luxury of reflecting on how the year has panned out on a personal note. This time last year I had just packed up my bags, cut my final ties and jumped on the East Coast train service up north to Aberdeen. There was the small matter of needing to restart life on a number of fronts – new job, new city, new house, new friends and all. The first few weeks took getting used to, especially as the  job description involved a change of focus – from being the bossy, fastidious-to-a-fault, hard to please client to being part of a service delivery team. January was spent managing the work transition, eased somewhat by having the use of shared company accommodation alongside  a colleague with Geordie connections. There were many nights of discussions on a motley of topics well into the night as we both grappled with coming to terms with redemption and second chances –   he after invasive heart surgery, me upon returning to daily work after a messy resignation.

Winter was hard and bitter – the coldest temperatures on record in the city for 20 years by some accounts – were the worst sort of welcome. The Siberian air, usually channelled elsewhere in the winter months somehow got thrust upon us – cue travel chaos, unsafe road conditions, messed up bus schedules and all. Those who would know blame it on high-pressure systems and other fancy stuff, those with a political axe to grind blame the chaos on the ill preparedness of government.

I made the trip back to the North East for nostalgia’s sake. The sameness of it all, almost a full year after leaving,  was a jolt to my constitution. The continuous struggle for survival amidst job searches, mounting bills, and dreams deferred that confronted me back there etched a reminder to thankfulness on my mind afresh.

On the book front, I managed to complete  20 of the 25 books I planned to read this year. The list got chopped and changed all through the year – a chance re acquaintance with the BBC World Service and Off The Shelf brought a couple of seminal Gabriel Garcia Marquez offerings to the fore. Re-reading ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ and ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ as well as finally reading  Gregory David Roberts ‘Shantaram’ ranked up there as highlights of the reading year. On the African reading front, there was Helon Habila’s ‘Measuring Time’ and ‘Oil and Water’ (his 2010 offering), as well as catching up on my Chris Abani backlog. As part of my continuing ‘education’ I saw  ‘The Marriage of Figaro‘ at HMT. I ended up at the Music Hall instead of the Theatre and had to make a dash for it. The opera more than made up for the hassles of finally getting there.

On a less self-involved note, I finally fulfilled a ‘life long’ ambition to sponsor a child via World Vision. Early days on that one so far – but the spectre of eating one less Platter to Share at Nandos being a lifesaver for a kid somewhere else is humbling, if not shocking.

All told its been a fun filled year… 2011 can’t come soon enough it seems..

The Year in… Infographics..

A few of the info-graphics that captured my eye this year..

  1. Football Chalkboards: For us the discerning football enthusiasts, chalkboards were the revelations of 2010. Granted the Guardian debuted with them in early 2009, but the Roy vs Rafa debate for us Liverpool fans ensured chalkboards became the ultimate resource for assessing how high up the pitch the lads press, passes completed, oh and the aptly named heatmaps.
  2. Jermain Defoe's movement for Tottenham's first two goals against Manchester United was excellent
  3. Twitter is not a conversation: Us Twitter apologists usually claim Twitter as a conversation for being one of the reasons we stay on Twitter. Sadly, the data does not support that claim, as this info-graphic from 2010 showed.  retweets-replies-v2
  4. The world according to Facebook: In December, Paul Butler at Facebook came up with an interesting info-graphic; a world map based on Facebook connections. world_FaceBook
  5. Marriage In America: TIME asked if marriage in America was still required. Al Mohler argued that we all do, and this PewSocial info-graphic captured the data. marriage-50-states
  6. Infostate of Africa: Fascinating… via AppAfrica Flickr account… Infostate of Africa 2009

Christmas in the City..


Waking up to the strains of We Three Kings Of Orient Are on the BBC’s Radio 2 brings back memories of days long lost – of youth, of creativity and an unfettered enjoyment of life.

When I was much younger (close on twenty years ago now, cringe), I took part in the carolling, recitals of bible verses committed to memory, and nativity plays which were the highlight of the Christmas season in our small University town in Nigeria.  This hymn though, is one especially important to me because it marked the first time I was selected to sing a lead vocal. Granted, I ran over the lines, forgot some, went ‘off key’, and probably knocked my knees so loudly a few well placed microphones might have picked up on them, but it was still a ‘solo’ performance.

As it goes it is yet another Christmas of solitude –  bar the phone calls to family which must be made, the rest of the day will be spent in front of my computer playing games and piling myself full of fried chicken. Thankfully, the sun chose to spread its brightness around today. That is cause for a little cheer after all.

2010: The Year in… Words..

Words that were burned into my conciousness in 2010..

  1. swingeing |ˈswinji ng |
    adjective chiefly Brit. severe or otherwise extreme :
  2. out-with | out- wiθ |
    preposition. chiefly Scot. outside:
  3. knackered |ˈnækərd |
    adjective British Slang. exhausted; very tired:
  4. ta | tɑ |
    interjection British Slang. thank you:
  5. wee | wi |
    adjective chiefly Scottish. little:

2010: The Year in…. Cabs

I think cab drivers are a microcosm of the larger society and that if a sufficiently large sample is analysed, one can gain critical insights into the mind of a city. This has to be the year where I used cabs the most. Tight deadlines at work, atrocious weather conditions, moving houses and a few late night jaunts around town conspired to leave me needing cabs at various times this year. The downside was largely financial – I ended up racking up significant costs on renting cabs over the year. On the plus side, I think I gained a window into the mindset of this city.

The experiences were largely good. In general, the cabbies provided a lot of friendly banter on a variety of topics – the shambolic performance of the Scottish National football team, Wayne Rooney’s theatrics in the bid to snatch an enhanced pay package, the delights of summer in the shape of scantily clad women, and pregnant Nigerian women and their inclination to take cabs even over short distances and the like. There was the occasional complaining cabbie who had stories to tell of how the city’s taxi regulators milked him of the genuine profits he made; or more regularly the one who bitched about the weather.

There were the touching stories too – the bloke whose niece was dying of cancer and had been sent home to die in peace, the one whose children had ganged up to wring a couple of hundred pounds worth of Christmas gifts from his grasp and the one who knew someone who had fallen victim to a Nigerian scam artist.

I had the pleasure of meeting a few thinking cabbies too. There was the one whose immersion in Ian McEwan’s ‘Solar’ I was loathe to disrupt, the one who wistfully harked back to memories of night life in Port Harcourt sandwiched between two buxom lasses, and of course, the ex-professional footballer (his claim, I didn’t verify anything).

Inevitably, three questions never failed to come up… “Where are you from originally?”, ” How long have you been in this city?”  and “Where do you work?”

Swearing off dancing…

The final lingering vestiges of self deceit died today. Against the incontrovertible evidence, I had remained hopeful that I had the ability to transcend my well documented phobia for dancing.  Sometime between Ose O Jesu and some other Yoruba song which has escaped my memory, I realized that my rather feeble attempts at ‘dancing’ – clapping rhythmically, nodding my head from time to time, and shuffling from side to side  – bore as much resemblance to dancing as a bee buzzing through the air bore to a fish swimming.. My sense of unease was worsened by the fact that it was a thanksgiving Sunday and we had to dance to the offering box. Interestingly, if the number of dancing worshippers was a significant sample of the larger community, then I am fighting a lost cause in refusing not learning to dance.

Going Ons…

The number 16 bus into the city centre is packed – brim full with people heading into town. The atrocious weather of the last few days let up briefly today, and with the imminence of Christmas, everyone seems to be up and about to get the last bits of shopping done. The bus stop where I clamber aboard the number 16 is mid way between the starting terminus and the ending terminus, as such I can only find standing space, ironically next to a sign that ostensibly marks the limits of standing room. Next to me are a mother and her daughter. The daughter cannot be more than six years old and still possesses the unbridled energy and uninhibited curiosity being young and carefree brings. The atmosphere is tense – of the kind where a word out of place potentially could let loose a fire storm. There are people plugged into iPods, people huddled together in groups chatting away and people like me who are alone, with lowered eyes looking into the distance. The little girl becomes the side show though – firing off question after question to her mother, peering into people’s faces, and at some stage leaning in towards her mother and planting a kiss on her cheek whilst whispering “I love you Mum”. When she gives the wizened old lady behind me a fixed stare. I wonder how the bus scene would look like in a different country, south of the Sahara. For the first time in a few months, I remember my mother.

Web Reads: 10Dec2010