Spring, Shamals and the Aftermaths of Vaccination

***

The memories of the days are beginning to disappear into a haze, each one a maelstrom of activity that begins with waking with a dull, lingering sense of dread and ending the same way it began, only with a sense of battle weary tiredness layered on. One day it is Sunday, and then suddenly it seems like it is Tuesday and then Thursday – brings respite – only for it all to begin again; wash-rinse-repeat. The good thing is that somehow it is the beginning of March, and each day that passes quickly brings the arrival of that symbol of the worker’s Faustian pact, a salary, another day closer. In my more sanguine moments, I remind myself that for all my bellyaching, there are far worse things to moan about in the world than work.

With March comes a change of season to spring, if one can call day time temperatures in excess of 30 degrees C spring. December, and my will-I-or-won’t-I-wear-a-jacket phase, seem far away now. It is the season for sand storms, as I found out to my pain the other day when I got caught in a sand storm of sorts. As my bare legs stung with the impact of the grit, whipped into a potent weapon of attrition by the wind, I was grateful for the protection my glasses afforded my eyes. That does not happen often.

The other thing that March brought was getting a shot of one of the COVID-19 vaccines. Every time an opportunity to register came up, I put my name down, conscious of the seeming inevitability of vaccine passports and what not for travel. I opted to get my shot on a Wednesday evening, my thinking being that the timing would allow me sleep off any side effects. I felt especially tired the next day which might be related to not being able to sleep well the night before. My fitness tracker spotted a 0.4 degree C spike in body temperature for the next two days before returning to normal, but otherwise I had no discernible side-effects. One hopes that vaccine uptakes improves around the world, and a sort of normalcy returns thereafter. It has been a long hard year for most people!

For the word of the week, Khamis, for Thursday and respite.

Recent Finds

  • Teju Cole chats Fernweh amongst other things on the Behind the Covers podcast. Baldwin, race, photography and Switzerland all feature in this wide ranging chat.
  • Apparently, eating fresh mango with gold cutlery is the business, at least so say the experts on The Infinite Monkey Cage. Fun-fact, silver (in spite of its reputation as being the material of choice for posh, rich folks actually tastes the worst.
  • Confirmation that the ‘Deen Market demolition is to go ahead is somewhat bitter-sweet news on a personal level. It was hardly the most salubrious of places to eat in, or do anything else to be honest as O points out, but being starved of Nigerian food in my first few years there, popping in there provided some respite now and again.
  • Jane Goodall & Adam Grant chat Leadership (and chimps), not surprisingly there is stuff to learn in the areas they overlap.
  • And something poetry related of course. Naomi Shihab Nye chats poetry, growing up and a whole lot of other stuff with Krista Tippet at the On Being Podcast.

‘Big’ Man coming, and finally getting my Abu Name

The bare, Spartan space just outside my window – which I can just see if I crane my neck a little just beyond its normal range – is just that, barely noticeable. At least it was until a few days ago when swivelling in my chair, the profusion of reds and yellows it has become caught my eye. So certain was I that the flowers were new that at an opportune moment, when I could pretend it was a casual question, I asked one of the guys to confirm. It turns out that I was right, the flowers had not always been there. The coming of a certain big man in a couple of days had prompted the ground staff into sprucing up our surroundings. I am thankful for the splash of colours which will remain with us for a bit at least, but what I came away with was the sense that big men everywhere carried weight. It is a truism, as an old teacher liked to say.

The end of January marked another milestone, six months out here at the edge of the world. Sidebar: there is actually some place called the edge of the world out here I hear, with sunrises which are something to behold. Unfortunately there is an internal lock down again but I have made a mental note to plan for extended weekend outside the province I am in. O’s up for it which should marginally increase the likelihood of it happening. So six months out here then which brings with it a slight sense of having weathered a storm of sorts. Finally getting an Abu name helps with that sense of settling in I suppose.

With shut borders and all, it doesn’t look like I’m going anywhere anytime soon which means one must make my seat at the edge of the world home, or as close to it as it can be. Several times over the past few months I’ve gone back to Nicky Gumbel’s talk from October where he talked about flourishing where you’re planted. It is what it is.

Recent Finds

Sparks, Dark sides and Musings on Sight

***

The sparks have quite literally been flying, not for reasons of passion but for the more mundane fact that winter and the very low humidity have resulted in fairly significant amounts of static electricity build up on everything. More times than I care to remember over the past few weeks, I have had the sometimes unexpected displeasure of a substantial shock. I am much more careful now, taking the time to touch walls and other non-metallic objects to dissipate some of the build up. S insists that my refusal to moisturise often, and liberally, is a contributor to this – a google search seems to suggest she is right in some way. The jury is still out on that one I think, but I am leaning towards getting a humidifier, if and when I can sort out travel to the city next door.

I came face to face with my inner dark side this week, no thanks to what looks like a Bitcoin scam. Some website purporting to be associated with Chamath Palihapitiyia, claimed to be 10x-ing deposited Bitcoin. It seemed too good to be true, as quick google search proves (it was just another iteration of a long running scam) but in the moment all I saw was the potential to quickly turn around a small deposit into something substantial. In my head, it was the perfect opportunity to kick-off dollar cost averaging into Bitcoin. Thankfully, the exchange/wallet I ended up signing up for had a 24 hour cooling off period before one could transfer coins out, by which time the website was down and I had managed to do the google search I should have done at the onset. The silver lining is that I am left with about 1,000 GBP worth of Bitcoin which I suppose is as good as any starting point. The downside is that it puts my inner greed into perspective. There is much to shudder at there, I must admit.

On a slightly less troubling note, I found myself stepping into the shower several times this week with my glasses on. Whilst I am not sure what it means for my long term sight, I am willing to speculate. I am taking it as a sign to enjoy the things I still can see now. That, and learning to keep my greed in check, are perhaps the life lessons for this week.

Recent Finds

What It means when I step into the shower with my glasses on…

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash. For The Poetic Asides prompt #554

**

Sometimes I think
that my sight is leaving me,
the common, quotidian comfort
of seeing the world that touches me
slowly slipping away, taking flight
but not yet gone; only a little less close
the next time morning rolls my way.

Maybe it is my mind forgetting
where the thin discs
of shimmering glass
that bring the light end,
and where my rods and cones
ravaged by time begin.

Maybe it is the world reminding me
to cherish the moments of sight
whilst as yet they still linger.

COVID Days

The other country both enthrals and frustrates me in equal measure, which I’m sure is no news to most others who like me have a foot in both worlds. The events of the past few weeks have left that tension in sharp relief for me in the form of two members of my extended family coming to terms with COVID. That they were in two very different parts of the country only served to underscore how dire the situation could be, the influence and contacts with people of authority in the medical establishments – nay death traps – they spent most of their with time in counting for very little in the overall scheme of things. They are out of the woods now, for which we are all thankful, though the bitter after taste – and light pockets – lingers. One wonders how much hope the common man still has in the event of a medical emergency back there.

Smarter people than I say, the tide is turning back in Blighty, in spite of the efforts of partiers and revellers it must be said. The surge in numbers put paid to my plan to pop back in for a few weeks to clear my head, so I am glad at this direction. One hopes it continues. Out here I have been offered the chance to take the vaccine, which I have accepted with both hands. As someone who has had to show vaccinations for work travel in the past, it is a small price to pay for the possibility of near trouble free travel I hope.

Recent Finds (x5)

  • The BBC’s Desert Island Discs is a series I have returned to from time to time, though I now mainly consume the abridged version via the podcast. Most recently enjoyed was David Olusoga’s debut, not least for the selection of an apt and timely Fela song, and an endearing anecdote about Paul Gascoigne.
  • David Epstein’s Range is all the rage it seems, popping up several times on my twitter feed and some of the podcasts I listen to. For a fascinating conversation on its subject (success, specialists and generalists), this Intelligence Squared podcast is a good one to listen to. Of course it earns bonus points for name checking John Urschel who ditched American football for a Maths PhD.

On A Return to the Reassurance of Routine

Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

**

In the early hours of the holiday season, it looked like I would spend the bulk of it virtually, the hours a blur of Zoom and WhatsApp video calls. Sometime on the 26th though, my luck changed. I woke up to the persistent sound of my door buzzer. I was half minded to not answer it, given multiple experiences with the gardening folk looking for more work. The door ringer wouldn’t leave and I needed to return to sleep so I dragged myself downstairs to the door. A pleasant surprise greeted me there; the neighbour from a street over stood there with a tub of fried rice and a bottle of wine – of the non-alcoholic kind of course. As it turns out, he remembered there was a lone Nigerian dude across the road with no family nearby and thought to extend some Christmas cheer my way. The rice and meat were wolfed down over the course of the day, saving me the hassle of wondering what to have on the day. Two more invites came my way over the next few days, resulting in my wolfing down some pounded yam and afang soup (the first time since my Eket days) and some pepper soup and snails on the other day. For all my quibbles with being a prodigal Nigerian, and being around Nigerians, moments like these remind me that redemption lurks in there somewhere. My experiences of fellow prodigals have been overwhelmingly positive. I wonder though, if they are a self-selecting group.

The three or so days of downtime ensured my year in reading has gotten off to a steady start. Last year was the first time since 2011 that I cracked the 20 book barrier, most definitely an upside to being out of work for three months, and the lock down. Adam Gopnik’s A Thousand Small Sanities, a stirring defence of big L Liberalism is done whilst I have David Olusoga’s Black &British, A Forgotten History and Bill Bryson’s Notes From A Big Country on the go.

**

Nothing jolts one back to reality like a 4.30am alarm on the day you return to work though. As I scrambled through my morning routine – a quick 5k, setting up my day in Notion, morning ablutions and then jumping on to the bus, it seemed like I was another person watching me go through the motion. Only when I had reset my password, downed two cups of tea and properly positioned my bag of wipes did it feel like I was properly at home at my own desk again. Who knew that the familiarity or routine could soothe the mind?

Recent Finds

  • Talking to yourself is not half bad. I knew I was on to something!
  • I’ve been catching up on my Desert Island Disc backlog. I found Cliff Richard’s one particularly interesting
  • The dearth of British Asian footballers in English football is a recurring motif which I suppose prompted the BBC to research the story of Jimmy Carter. This resonated particularly, I suspect, because I have reading David Olusoga’s book which includes stories of the Black British Victorians such as Francis Barber whose descendants may or may not know of their Black heritage. The accompanying BBC Series is on iPlayer for another 5 months it seems.

The Year In A Song (or Two)

In keeping with last year, I thought I’d go through the list of songs Spotify thought I listened to the most from my 2020 playlist to try to tease out some themes and recollections behind them. Here goes:

**

Fighting For Us – Anthony Evans: I popped into a church end of year event in Croydon at the behest of my friend O, where Anthony Evans did this song amongst others. It turned out that he’d just lost his Mother to cancer which put his turning up at all into perspective. I came back to this song quite a few times over the course of the year.

You won’t hold back when it comes to Your children
You fiercely defend us ’til we stand delivered
You’re fighting for us, always fighting for us
You won’t back down facing armies of thousands
You speak one word and they scatter around us
You’re fighting for us, always fighting for us

Breakthrough – Red Rocks Worship: Although I stumbled on this during my London lock down, the enduring memories of this song for me are having it on repeat during my evening walks in the heat of the Arabian summer in first few weeks out here. My favorite bits are the bridge:

Shake the mountains, break the walls apart
Open the Heavens, Almighty God, You are
Over comer, Defender of my heart, oh-oh, yeah
And by Your power, the oceans open wide
Your fire falls down, Heaven and Earth collide
King Jesus, forever by my side, yeah

Land of The Living – Church of The City: Stumbled on this song during a period of uncertainty which is perhaps why it stuck with me. Something about the reassurance of the lyrics, taken from Psalm 27:13, provided an anchor, and I ended up coming back to it again and again over the course of the year.

You’ve never made a promise you couldn’t keep
You don’t lie to me, You don’t lie to me
You’ve never made a promise you couldn’t keep
You don’t lie to me, You don’t lie to me

The Blessing – Kari Jobe, Cody Carnes and Elevation Worship: Spawning loads of covers from across the globe (my favorite ones were from the UK and Nigeria for obvious reasons) it is fair to say this song was a global phenomenon. I suppose a prayer that reaches back like a thread to the past and speaks over the future generations is especially powerful.

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children, and their children

May His presence go before you
And behind you, and beside you
All around you, and within you
He is with you, He is with you

So Will I + Do It Again- Osby Berry:This was another one that I returned to again and again during lock down. The clarity of the voice held me, and I ended up devouring everything he’d done I could find on the internet.

And as You speak
A hundred billion failures disappear
Where You lost Your life so I could find it here
If You left the grave behind You so will I

Coming Up For Air

Based on a photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

**

That doing and not doing are both habits is something that I have come to grudgingly accept over the past month, seeing as the longer I was away from here the harder dragging myself back here seemed. In my defence real life has been manic, the stultifying pressures of time-sensitive deliverables not lending themselves to the pursuit of non-essential, creative pursuits. I have myself to blame for some of that pressure, seeing as I somehow thought fitting a poem a day challenge into everything I had going on would be doable. I made it through fourteen days of that – a minor miracle at least. With some breathing space coming up towards the end of the month, my hope is to go back over the prompts, edit, write some more, and begin the process of pulling some of the pieces together into a chap book for the evaluators in January 2020.

Winter is very much here, not enough to turn on the heating (I love it cold at night for sleep) but enough to feel the bite in the wind at noon when I make a beeline for the canteen to grab my regular lunch time fare. My evening walks now include a hoodie for some warmth and protection against the chilly weather which, believe it or not, hovered just above 10 deg C the other night. We have had rain a couple of times too, in addition to the occasional heavy fog rolling in like a wet blanket. Rain and fog most assuredly did not cross my mind as weather effects to expect out here. A learning experience if ever there was one I think. The next milestone – six months in the current gig – is just round the corner. I’m hoping that it goes well, bucking the recent trends of lay-offs, hiring freezes and all the other things the headwinds facing my industry seem to have driven every one from small, nimble operator to lumbering erstwhile giants to. Back in Blighty, Boris and his oven-ready deal have proven to be anything but that, with recent briefings suggesting that no-deal – by whatever name it is called – seems to be the most likely option. Surely his days in the hot seat must be numbered with any number of challengers from his ranks waiting in the wings it seems.

Oil, and the head winds facing the industry, are never far away from the conversation. The recent up-tick in oil prices and what seems to be some sense prevailing amongst the sabre rattling big producers and cartels perhaps delays the inevitable but oil has certainly has its day. In conversation with G the other day at work, we concluded that our generation is probably the last one that will benefit from the ‘largesse’ of the oil industry. The latest cuts at one of my previous employers – whilst borrowing to keep up paying dividends – certainly removes any sense of rose tinted glasses. It is a numbers game now, and any notions of pride in esoteric knowledge very much need t be tempered by the realities of life. I am betting on data and porting my skills into adjacent industries.

Proper reading has taken a back seat to everything else with the only real time I’ve had been on the bus to and from work. Audio books and podcasts have come to the rescue in that regard. Here, for your pleasure are a few bits and bobs from what I have managed to consume.

  • Season 2 of perhaps my favourite podcast is still going strong, now standing 22 episodes deep and featuring a wide variety of work from folk such as Lucille Clifton, Chris Abani, Gregory Pardlo and Ada Limon. Next to Roger Robinson’s A Portable Paradise, I am finding Dilruba Ahmed’s Phase One an especially evocative one. Something about learning to forgive oneself is particularly resonant given the year we have all had in which carefully laid plains have been disrupted by things outside our control
  • A thoroughly fascinating and wide ranging conversation between Nanjala Nyabola and Yousra Elbagir over at Intelligence Squared had me nodding and smiling to myself from time to time at how very articulated several of the thought which have been kicking about in my head were made. The power of passports is something that I know only too well.
  • My views on government are shifting, decidedly I think, in the direction of smaller, less bloated forms. Fareed Zakaria certainly makes the argument in Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World that the quality of governance is what matters more than the quantity. Nigeria certainly has a lot of quantity (and bloat) and very little quality, good old Blighty seems to have neither to me.
  • And from Church of the Way, Land of The Living, which has become one of my favourite songs over the past month. It might be the song itself, or its lyrics which soothe a craving for certainty but all told, I think it is well worth a listen.

Fall-ish

***

We woke up to a grey, watery mist rolling in the other day, a state of affairs which had me wondering for a few seconds if I had somehow ended up in good old Blighty. That was before the heft of air weighed down by 26-degree heat hit me in the face as I made my way to the bus stop. By the time we rolled into work, everything was shrouded in a thick, soupy, fog with visibility all but gone. It had all boiled away by 10 am though, with things returning to the way they always were: bone dry, warm with clear skies. Fog was not something I expected to encounter out here, although the roadsigns which show a 15km/hr speed limit in fog should have been a clue.

Back in Blighty, S. is now up to two jumpers for the evening and has given up the battle against the radiator. Out here, it definitely feels different, with the high heat of summer now giving way to a more breezy, cooler fall of sorts. Whilst there are no deciduous trees to turn their leaves into a mosaic of brilliant golds and browns, the date palms seem to be shedding their fruit onto the walking paths more frequently than I recall. Nature is certainly winning the battle of the wills with the grounds people who battle gamely to clean up whatever falls, a Sisyphean task if ever there was one.

Cooler evenings have meant that my evening walks now start earlier, which in turn has enabled me to return to an hour or so of reading before bedtime. The first fruit of that was finally completing Aida Edemariam’s The Wife’s Tale, a detail-heavy depiction of life in Ethiopia from the early 20th century to the beginnings of the 21st as told through the lens of her grandmother’s eyes. Intersecting as it does with a lot of the history of modern Ethiopia, it sheds a personal, intimate light on things like the Italian occupation, the deposing of Emperor Selassie, the civil war and the famine of the early eighties.

Between finishing the book and coming across a picture posted by a friend on Instagram, I have been thinking about our personal histories and how we curate them. This brought to mind the3six5 project, a web-based project which ran from 2010 to 2012. It featured a daily slice of life, written on the day by a different person and inspired a number of local versions, including our very own Nigerian one. I also enjoy images curated by the Bumpkin Files account, although it has a decidedly Black British slant.

Today’s concerts, #EndSARS protests and life under lockdowns are yesterday’s famines, civil wars and momentous election victories. If we’re not curating our personal histories, I wonder what lost personal perspective on today’s events we might rue when we’re old and grey and little Aoife asks what it was like to live in these times.

Fits, Starts and a Dim View (of Humanity)

I have now been out here for just over eighty days, days which have sometimes felt like they have been punctuated by starts and stops. There were the two weeks of self-quarantining in which nothing seemed to happen, then a two day week occasioned by the Eid al-Adha holidays, and most recently a three day week for the National Day Holidays. Though somewhat an accident of timing, I have been grateful for the opportunities to break the monotony of work; up by 4 am, on a bus by 6 am, back home by 5 pm wash-rinse-repeat, and the gifts holidays sometimes bring, like a large tray of meat I got during the previous Eid holidays.

Coming from the ‘Deen where what bank holidays we got were added to our annual entitlement, it is a strange feeling for everything work-related to shut down and for everyone to eschew emails and work phone calls completely. It does bring back memories of working in Nigeria many years ago. For what it is worth, I will not be complaining about forced breaks from work, given these are days I would have been loath to take off, being the new guy and all. Unfortunately, the borders are still not open, and all the holidays have meant delays to my paperwork (I still don’t have a drivers licence yet), so the free days are lost on me, although they have helped me catch up with friends and family around the world and reduce my sleep deficit.

A consequence, surely intended one suspects, of the dawn to dusk routine and the lack of mobility – besides iffy taxis – is that the eighty days have been spent very much in a bubble with little interaction besides the immediate locale. As such I have not had much opportunity to dispel or confirm the notions of the country I have in my head. Speaking of notions, there is a narrative that is often repeated which paints the West as bastions of personal freedoms, opportunities and the rule-of-law and elsewhere as somewhere between a backwater and a shit-hole. Each new revelation of what is at-best underhand, and at worst kleptocratic with regards to the UK’s handling of COVID related contracts makes me wonder if every country is not only a group of bumbling idiots – and failed checks and balances – away from the precipice of self-destruction and avarice.

All of this makes me wonder what the trajectory of human existence is. The last few years seem to suggest that perhaps all the gains of the 19th and 20th century – and there have been great gains as the RBG eulogies show – were an aberration and that we are reverting to our darkest, basest means again. An altogether dark view perhaps, but on the evidence of 2020, one that is not inconceivable.

* Originally posted in A Prodigal Abroad, my (usually) Friday evening letter from the edge of the world… You can subscribe here.