Coming clean…

On the surface, I live a life that most people would envy – 5 years working for a Fortune 500 company in Nigeria, followed by a well recognized MSc and then a job working for one of the industry leaders in my sector of the Oil industry. On the family side, it would appear that I have it all sorted – the quintessential good son, with proud, loving and doting parents. The true picture couldn’t be further from the truth.

Each day I wake up, there is a slight tinge of regret that I made the decision to leave my Nigerian job. When my parents and I speak (often only once in two to three weeks), our conversations are strained, perfunctory and often seem like a forced marriage. I know they did their very best to cater for me as a kid growing up, but somewhere in my head, I still feel their extra strong handling is to blame for my uber reserved demeanour these days. With regards to work, the UK is becoming very unfriendly to immigrants, and the settledness of the first few years in my current job has given way to an inner agitation – I feel like I need to cast the net far and wide to relocate to a different continent. Right now if I got the right offer, I would not blink twice in relocating to Nigeria – warts and all.

I often come across as cynical, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. My pragmatism, borne of years of learning to stifle my feelings, throw walls around myself and guard my utterances, have left me virtually unable to connect emotionally with people. I sigh inwardly when I read the likes of Favoured Girl, Crush Thoughts and Till my Dying Day, they make me want to believe in love again…

The truth?

  • I want to love and be loved by SomeOne,
  • I want to have a normal relationship with my parents,
  • I want to declutter my head, and tear down the walls I have spent years building
  • I want to reconnect to my inner mushy guy…..

Sigh..

Ninety Days of Solitude…

Between listening to Josh Harris share Tiffany’s story at New Attitude 2004 and listening to the message preached at church last Sunday, I realise there is a lot that needs to change in my life. From being the poster child for the good, dutiful, spiritual one, I have morphed into a self serving, increasingly desperate, relationship obsessed wreck. Albert Einstein is said to have noted that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. From where I stand, that defines me at the moment. I’m deciding to do things different for the next 90 days, to see if I get different outcomes.

There are a few ground rules:

  1. Significantly scale back my Social Media involvement: At the moment, I’ve got both a Facebook and Twitter account alongside this blog. I’m taking this blog private (to record my thoughts over the next 90 days) and deactivating both my Twitter and FB accounts. I suspect that as social media usage has expanded in my life, I have lost control of my free time, and what little real life social skills I used to have are disappearing. So one dimension of taking my life back has to be to scale back on social media.
  2. Engage the Bible and Prayer: If – as my current worldview suggests – the bible is a living,breathing book, then by engaging it on a daily basis, it should begin to affect me profoundly. By coupling it with prayer, I am hoping to break out of the spiritual rut I appear to have gotten in to over the last few year.
  3. Invest in real life connections: I think over the past few years – since I became immersed in my social media life – I have neglected my real life connections in favour of virtual ones. Over time, I think the bulk of the people I have called my ‘friends’ are people I am yet to physically meet, or with whom my engagement has been largely virtual. A measure of how serious this has been is that I got romantically involved with someone who I communicated with primarily over the internet. Changing my results in the rather unfortunate area of my love life dictates that I change my modus operandi to one that is more ‘real life’ than virtual.
  4. Document the journey: Looking back over the snippets of the journal I kept in early 2009,  the way I morphed over the course of the year became very visible. In going 90 days from today, I am looking to document the journey as a reference for the future. Hopefully at the end of it all, I will emerge a better, more complete person.

TGIF…

I get a phone call from my buddy Ken. Yet another one of the blokes from work has moved on to ‘pastures new’ and we who have been left behind are meeting up for drinks and to chat. It is a welcome distraction from the events of the last few weeks – missing EJ, a couple of massive projects at work and the fairly steady haranguing I have been getting from my mother.

We meet up at the Moonlight Bar in town. It is owned by a Nigerian chap, who is friends with a few of the guys so we get to use it free for events as long as we buy beers from him. I am the fifth person through the door, but the place rapidly fills up until we are well in excess of sixteen people. We dive into the bottles of beer – as usual I settle for Becks blue which is supposedly non-alcoholic.

Informal introductions take place – everyone is a geek of some sort – and then we all begin to give and take banter as the beers flow. As usual there is talk about Nigeria. Someone brings up the comedy of errors that were the postponed elections, GEJ’s Biafra faux pas, and we all give a piece of our minds. Feelings begin to run high as people whose interests lie with different political parties and camps begin to analyse the pros and the cons of their positions.

After a while, we break into little groups. The Ibo chaps all gather over bottles of gulder and pepper soup. Jay and I come together in our own little two-man group.

-So how’s EJ doing, he asks. In the past he’s insisted he’s EJ’s biggest fan, bar me, so his question is expected.

-She’s fine, I say. He peers into my face, as though he somehow detects there’s more I haven’t said. I weigh the pros and the cons of a full disclosure, but decide to hold off. He is clearly not satisfied and he proceeds to probe a little more. I finally let it all out.

– We broke up a couple of weeks ago man, there was the small matter of an irreconcilable divergence in opinion on a particularly heated subject.

– There you go again this man he says as he shakes his head, his brow creased into a frown due to the mammoth effort he appears to be making to understand what I am saying.

– Na grammar go kill you ooo.  So you lot broke up just for one reason?

I nod in agreement. He motions to the barmaid to send two more bottles our way. He is still shaking his head when the bottles arrive.

Biting the bullet…

Against everything my head tells me, I pick up the phone and call my elder sister. Growing up, she and I at best had a tenuous relationship, at the worst of times we barely spoke to each other for long stretches. She always had this way of taking bluntness to illogical extremes in my opinion. Lately, Mother has put her on the job of hassling me.

When my call connects, she is in the middle of mixing up some cereal for her youngest child. She puts my call on speaker phone mode as she juggles her child, the phone call and the bowls she is using.

We talk – work, our Uncle down in London, Mother and her latest antics, her in-laws, and marriage; Kuti’s planned one and mine which doesn’t seem like happening any time soon.  She thinks I am not being intentional enough about it. In a way I think I agree. I am still trying to come to terms with the loss of EJ, but she insists I do not have a lot of time on my hands any more.

So going forward I am biting the bullet, trying to become more intentional about meeting and dating women, but first of all there is the small matter of an inquest that I need to get sorted. I need to ensure that what lessons there are to learn from Ej and the others are learned and put to use the next time around.

Spring’s sprung…

flowers1

Out here, spring is very much upon us at last. Across the land there is an almost sudden profusion of colour; purples, yellows, blues, reds and whites suddenly dot the landscape where a dull, depressing green was standard fare a scant few weeks ago. Standing in front of the door to my modest lodgings, flowers are all I see when I look up the road. Those who should know say the unseasonably warm weather beguiled the flowers into blooming early. The upside to it all is that my otherwise bland commute is now transformed into a celebration of colour, colour not restricted to flowers but extending to women. The warmth and the sunshine mean that around town the hemlines and necklines are coming together quickly, and a lot more skin is visible.

At work, I have been handed a new role – one that has seen me move from my position as team-member-at-large, loaning my expertise to whatever cause earns the company the most money, to one that put me back in an Operations support capacity. My slight disappointment in being saddled with the mundane tasks that come with the new role is tempered by the fact that I get a new office bang in the centre of town. The train station and what is ostensibly the biggest single mall in town are right next door – so much so that if I really fancied some Nigerian food I could, with a little effort, get it.

In the midst of work, and the many other things on my mind, I do try to maximise the sunshine while it lasts. Lunch typically is a snack alongside something to drink whilst sitting on one of the benches laid out in a horseshoe formation in front of the mall. I bask in the sun, my iPod streaming music into my ears, whilst I watch the city go by. Women dragging little children by the arm whilst clutching bags of shopping, men in suits and ties catching trains, young boys hanging around smoking, and the odd OAP who like me appears content to bask in the sunshine and ruminate.

Something about watching the crowds mill around is vaguely reassuring to me. Perhaps we are all alone, but not alone after all

Wedding bells…

I wake up to the insistent whine of my cell phone. I try to let it ring, hoping that whoever it is will leave a voice mail but when the call ends there is only a respite of a couple of minutes before the next call comes in. I drag myself to my desk and pick up the phone on the third ring, it is my mother.

– Oohjay how are you, she asks.

I mumble something about being fine, and it being a little early to chit chat. Perhaps she senses my irritation, because unusually she cuts to the chase.

– Kuti’s getting married in two weeks, are you aware? What are your plans?

Kuti is the cousin who was closer than a brother. We’d shared a room since he came to live with us when I was 8 or 9. Alongside my kid brother, we had all our illicit football games together, played table soccer leagues with bottle tops and swapped girl stories. More importantly to my mother, he was the most visible one of her progeny who had refused to get married, well into his late thirties. He turned thirty-seven this year.

– I have no plans ma, I answer.

I have a couple of projects wrapping up at the end of April so I won’t be able to get two weeks off to travel to Nigeria. Plus getting a ticket at two weeks notice would burn a huge hole in my finances, which are barely limping along at the moment in any case.

– Okay o, she replies in a tone of voice that clearly is not satisfied. Keep me in the loop whatever you eventually decide.

We make some more small talk and then she signs off. It is only 5.44am. Sigh.

Marriage Matters..

I am checking my emails when a LinkedIn notification comes in. Over the past few months, LinkedIn has morphed into a Facebook for professionals – never more so than in its ability, and willingness, to dreg emails and address books for connections to suggest. This particular suggestion is for a connection to a friend of my father’s from back in the day when he was a struggling academic, labouring under the especially onerous conditions of the Abacha era.  I add him, and after a few minutes he accepts. He emails me, asking me where and how I am, how my parents are, and then adds  the marriage question..

At a mere thirty one years of age, I appear to be at a stage in life where, when people who have not been in touch for a few years reconnect with me, one of the first things they ask is how my family is – implicitly accepting that I am married already. I wonder how the girls survive it..  Sigh!

Sunday guest…

Someone shouts my high school nickname in the middle of Union Square,  just as I am about to take a left turn through the train station. I am more than a few minutes late  having allowed my typical Sunday morning lethargy – part relapsed faith, part lingering hangover – to leave me in real danger of arriving late. By the time I finally pull myself off my bed, complete my preparations and grab the number 16 bus to the city centre, it is already 11.10am; meaning Sunday school is over, and the opening hymnal is just about to be sung.

Hearing my high school nickname is no ordinary blast from the past, more so because Union Square is the last place I expect to hear it. It is a throwback to a very specific time and place, especially because it was known only to a select few – six or seven at most. When I spin round to see who has called my name, the dots begin to connect in my head. The peculiar shape of the head, a vaguely triangular outline which earned him the unflattering nickname of opioro mango, is the final piece that completes the jigsaw in my head.

Kuti Baba, I say. That is the less irksome of his nick names. Opioro mango used to be my preferred name for him and in another time and another space, I would have used it. We shake hands firmly, our hands coming together in a rather loud clap.

-Na your eye be this? He asks.

– Na me o, ol’ boy, I reply. We shake hands again, with a gansta hug thrown in for good measure.

– You don kpuff 1 up o, he says.

I give him my evil eye. The burgeoning keg that is my stomach is enough reminder. He was never really a bulky chap in any case, but the beginnings of his own beer belly are there for all to see. There is a lot to catch up on – it has been almost thirteen years since we last spoke at length.  There have been degrees, a wife, girlfriends won and lost, jobs gotten and changed, but as always it appears our meeting will go the way of all the others we have had since then – merely a brief intermission from the bustle of our everyday lives.

He has two travelling cases with him, he explains that he’s here to catch a train to London with the family. Whilst he is still speaking, a Caucasian woman pushes a pram out of the adjoining shop. There is a child seated within it, sucking on a pacifier and another which she holds by the arm.

-My wife and children, Kuti says.

I shake the woman’s damp, limp and cold hand, touch the kid on the cheek and mutter a greeting. Kuti Baba was always a sharp man. On this evidence, Kuti Baba and his legend still live on.

1 – A euphemism for calling someone a fatso