Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tourists, tourist photographs, and Yankari Game Reserve

30 May 2006

Lovely! Online after almost a week of not picking up a signal. We are in the midst of a communications feast—my parents have hooked up Skype and are calling everyone they can think of—to make the most of the connection while it is with us.

Tonight, slightly feverish as a result (probably) of yesterday and today’s obligatory pilgrimage to Yankari Game Park for a family vacation before we all head off in separate directions: me off to Kano on Saturday, my sister Laura and Uncle Phil and cousin Amiee off to the U.S. on Sunday, and my parents and Tass off to Lagos for a student visa interview at the U.S. Embassy and then off to the U.S. I am looking forward to getting to Kano. It has been good to be home, but I feel that sated feeling that you get when you eat or sleep too much. It’s time to move on.

We’ve had a full house. My Uncle Phil was able to find frequent flier tickets for my seventeen year old cousin Amiee (who was missing all her friends from last year when they were here on a Fulbright) and himself to be back for a week and a half around Hillcrest graduation time. In the past week, we have hosted 3 major parties: a dinner party/potluck for around 25 on the Sunday that I got into Jos, then the graduation breakfast for all the recent graduates (who had just, as per tradition, spent the entire night up celebrating) on Saturday morning, and on the most recent Sunday, a thanksgiving celebration for my dad’s promotion to full professorship, which is just one of these things that must be done—the celebration, that is, not the promotion. Over 200 people (from the university community and other communities my dad is involved with) showed up to that, and Laura, Tass, Amiee, and I stayed busy rushing around serving soft drinks and plates of food to everyone, like good Nigerian daughters. Needless to say, although all events were quite fun to host, we were all quite ready for a break from the house and from Jos. Yankari is only three hours away in Bauchi state, so it is a do-able quick vacation.

My friend Hillary, who just recently finished the PhD part of her MD/PhD degree at UW-Madison, is currently here in Jos, along with her husband, Ryan, doing a research/volunteer rotation with with Dr. Chris Isichei at Faith Alive Hospital. I was excited that Hillary was able to join us on the trip to Yankari, although Ryan had a deadline for the design and video projects he is working on, and she had to come by herself. (Hillary, Amiee, Tassneem, and I are shown here on the stairs of one of the guest cabins.) It was probably about the “dry-est” “safari” we have ever been on. We were all so exhausted that we just sort of sat in the back of the lorry and didn’t look too hard for animals—and thus did not see many, not even elephants, which I was sorry about for Hillary’s sake, since this was her first time at Yankari. The warm springs, as usual, made up for disappointments in the animal-spotting department, very refreshing after the long, hot, bumpy ride. The electricity went out about 11:30pm, meaning the air conditioning also went off, so the rest of the night was the sort of night where you keep waking up and thinking that you can’t stand one more minute of lying on something as hot as a mattress. Uncle Phil had seen a scorpion at his house earlier, so I was also worrying about things that could come scurrying up on the extra (and rather scary looking torn open) mattresses on the floor that Hillary and I were sleeping on. (There are very nice beds in the cabin but because we didn’t want to get an extra cabin, we had requested some extra mattresses for the floor.) Also praying: dear Lord, please do not let there be bedbugs. I do not want to invite Hillary along on our trip to give her bedbugs.

At 5am, I reached for my phone, which gave off enough light to find my flashlight, and stumbled through the room where Laura, Tass, and Amiee were sharing a bed, (waking them up in the process by dropping my flashlight and creaking the door), into the bathroom, where I tossed a bucket of water over myself, which helped me go back to sleep for about an hour. By 6:30am, however, I was back up and dressed for the early morning safari, which was much more enjoyable than the afternoon one, although we still saw only water buck and lots of birds. I was glad that the guide let us walk back to the Marshall Caves (named after a European archeologist for some reason… I would have thought that this trend would have stopped after the colonial era) which are round shallow man-made caves that honeycomb a granite cliff face. They were “discovered” in the 1980s by a park ranger—I’ve always assumed he was Nigerian—but maybe he was the expatriate “Marshall” of the name. We followed a slightly different path this time, and I saw for the first time the signpost that speculated that the caves, although thousands of years old, had possibly been later used as refuge for people fleeing from slave traders.

One of the loveliest moments this morning was observing a grey hornbill posed picturesquely (and she KNEW it) on a dead tree trunk, silhouetted against the sky. She threw her head back melodramatically and performed a few stanzas for us. She kept tossing her head around like a prima donna, and the notes she sang could have opened an opera.

My family has probably been to Yankari about twenty times. This is the most likely place in Nigeria (I believe) to run into random expatriate tourists (often haggard looking Germans who are caravanning across Africa), as well as secondary school students or university students on field trips. The lineup this time was two groups of secondary school students, one set from Katsina and one set from further north in Bauchi, and a group of eight men motorcycling from Gibraltar to Capetown. Most of them were from the UK, with one from France and one from Argentina. An interesting group of “regular Joes” as the one talking to Dad described himself, who didn’t particularly look like the stereotypical motorcycle “gang”. My friend Rachelle and I did run into a group of Hells Angels once in the Blyde River Canyon in South Africa. They fit the stereotypical motorcycle gang-look, long beards, tattoos, etc., but to our disappointment, we saw them load-up into a caravan-bus—no motorcycles in sight. These fellows at Yankari, on the other hand, had powerful looking motorcycles parked along side their uniform spic-and-span black and grey tents. They also had a jeep and another caravan-van along. The sort of thing you might see in a reality television show.

Tourists are fascinating to me—perhaps because I’m often afraid of being taken for one. That’s why I prefer to visit friends or families when traveling—to be more of an “insider.” But, again, that’s one of those pretentious self-contradictory things, because one is inevitably a “tourist” when sight-seeing in unfamiliar places. And, really, it’s not such a bad thing, as long as one isn’t obnoxious about it. I say this knowing that if I travel all the places I want to travel: India, Spain, Italy, China, Brazil, Jamaica, Israel, Lebonon, Ireland, Wales, Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, Morocco etc. etc. then I will, despite my studied avoidance of large hotels and tour guides, be a tourist over and over again. But, of course, there are ways of traveling (such as trying to travel to places you have a personal contact) that can, perhaps, lessen the gawkiness of it. (And let me take this moment to point out what rubbish the “Lonely Planet Guide” to Nigeria is. I had a peek at it when my German classmate last year in Sokoto brought it out to try to identify what to see in Sokoto. We were all amused to see that they mixed up cities and claimed that Sokoto (founded in around 1804 [and I’m sure I’m going to discover that I’ve posted the wrong date, while making fun of someone else’s mistake—my mistake, however, will only be off by a couple of years] by the jihadist Usman dan Fodiyo) was some 500 years old. According to them, (wai) Nigeria is also in a constant state of civil war…. )

Also, although I love photography, I take fewer and fewer photos these days. I prefer to take photos of people and places I have grown to know—portraits of friends rather than the beautiful or striking shot for the sake of a beautiful or striking shot—the tourist or photojournalist photograph is impersonal and often crosses the border of interest into disrespect. Yet, despite this anxiety about disrespect, I (again) recognize the contradictions within me---that fever to photograph still comes across me—that slightly crazed feeling that you are living the moment not for the sake of being in the place but for the sake of capturing certain images, a crossbar of late afternoon light, an old woman framed against a garish street carnival billboard in Oxford, a sinister shadow under draped plastic in Washington D.C., and closer to home, the silver line of a net thrown out against the sunrise to the ocean in Ghana, the turbaned advisors to an emir at a durbar I attended in Gombe. A certain fever comes over me at times if I have the camera in hand. I discipline myself by trying to take it out (the SLR, at least) only after I have been in a place for a while, only after I have grown intimate with spaces and people, so that they are entwined with certain emotions and not just the “picturesque.”

When I visited my friend Rachelle in South Africa in 2002, I grew so troubled by my own desire to “capture” the “picturesque” and my observations of a bus load of French tourists taking photos of the “locals” that I started taking photos of the tourists—in all their t-shirted and shorted, potbellied and sunburned glory. Tourists watching cultural dancers. Tourists buying pots on the side of the road. Fannypacks bulging out from lumpy khakhi shorts. So, I thought it was appropriate today that some of the secondary school students from Katsina asked to pose with us for a photo and then took photos of the lorry full of tourists, which included my family—although we have probably been to Yankari over twenty times. The spectator becomes spectacle. Poetic justice for my soul, even if it means that I am seen as one of the tourists.

Last year, the week before I left Sokoto, I went around with my camera—to the video club where I first found the tear-jerking (Indian film) Kal ho Naa Ho (--currently one of my favourites--which I bought three copies of trying to find one that didn’t cut off the ending) and first fell in love with Hausa films, to my church friend Dinah’s house, to my tutor’s house, to the shop kept by the Igbo surgeon’s wife where I would sit and chat in English on my way back from the video club, and when the ladies who sat outside under the neem trees beside the compound where I lived saw me with my camera, they asked me to take their photos.

I got the addresses of everyone whose photo I took and sent all the doubles back to Sokoto. That felt like a turning point. Like the transition from one language to another.

Jos-ANA, Saturday afternoon

Just a quick post to uplload a couple of photos before the internet connection goes.
I made it to the Jos chapter meeting of ANA (Association of Nigerian Authors), and people showed up. Yay! We read a couple scenes from one of Dul Johnson's screenplays, and had a fairly good conversation about how to iron out a few inconsistancies. I wish I had remembered to bring the poems I was working on a couple of months ago. When I was in Jos last, we used to meet at the museum grounds, but now they are meeting at the National film Institute. Was sorry not to see more of the old regulars like Kenana, Anayo, Reg, Stephen, or Allen, but it was great to see Dul and Rufai and meet a couple others. I'm looking forward to meeting with the two Kano ANA groups (both Hausa and English writers). That's it for now. Lets see if these photos upload.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

After graduationl;

Finally able to pick up wireless again, but, alas, no time to write because I'm running to see if anyone shows up to the ANA (Association of Nigerian Author's) meeting scheduled for 1pm today. Feel rather ambivalent about Hillcrest right now, but Tassneem's graduation was very very nice. A more thoughtful post later.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

sun-soaked day

A full satisfying sun-soaked day--running errands in town and visiting people. Skin is beginning to bake brown again.

Over dinner, good conversation with the family and dad's PhD student from Liberia who has just successfully defended his dissertation and is working on the revisions in Dad's home office--trying to finish them before his flight back to Monrovia on Sunday. Dad, who is pictured cutting up fruit here, gives me a complete list of the fruit trees/plants in the yard: pitanga cherry, apple, orange, grape, mulberry, pomegranite, avocado, guava, 2 types of lemon, coconut, banana, 4 types of mango, and a new lime tree. Tonight we ate mangos, avocados, pomegranite seeds, and an apple crisp--all from the yard--truly the most organic food you will eat.

Outside, as I shake out the tablecloth, Beauty, our parrot flirts, ruffling feathers and laughing in a low voice, whistling bits and bats of tunes, and shaking her head up and down while saying "work, work, work, work." The new German shepherd, Jamie, noses my knees and slinks through the door when I go inside. Poor dog. My parents got him from an old retiring missionary lady, who worshipped him and used to give him Valium whenever she left him because she thought he'd be depressed. As a result, he is about the saddest-eyed dog I've ever seen. He sighs and slouches around looking depressed and deprived. He also moans miserably whenever we make him go outside.

Now, inside, watching NTA news with my dad, who has fallen asleep. It was thundering and lightening 30 minutes ago and the curtains were floating out into the room. But it seems to have decided to calm down, and now the curtains just breathe in and out softly.

a good day. I'm looking forward to Kano next week.

Ran Talata, 23 ga Mayu

To, ok, some caveats. The wireless internet works when the electricity is on. And you can't always get a signal. So, that's sort of uncertainty is good for breaking my internet obsession.

Currently out on the balcony (where the signal is best) behind the purple boganvillia, looking over our green yard bursting with fruit trees: mango, guava, avocado, banana, coconut, and behind the house pomegranite, apple, grapes, mulberries etc. etc. When we first came to Jos in 1991, Dad's former Head of Department from Iraq gave him some cuttings from his fruit trees, and only in the last few years has everything started bearing fruit. We've been here in Jos about 16 years now--long enough for trees to grow. The HOD has since passed away, but we remember him everytime we pluck the fruit from the trees. What a lovely man he was.

I see that it is 44 degrees in Madison. I'm happy I'm here, where it is not! The grass is green. The frangipanis and flame trees and yellow bell flowers (whose names I have forgotten) in full bloom. The Eucolyptus trees sway. The breeze smells of sun and rain and greenery. (Does that sound like a shampoo advert?) On the road, motorcycles putter past. Birds sing. Celine Dion warbles away somewhere in the distance.

Sara told me to make sure I got some rest before I started working again. Sara, I'm resting!

Ok, let's see if this uploads....

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Jos, Sunday, 9:45pm

Will wonders never cease? I think I am getting away from the internet, and it turns out my parents pick up a wireless connection from UniJos. I'm blown over. What a fabulous development!

Currently sitting in the arm chair in my brother's old room, computer in lap. Closing my eyes, I can hear a steady rhythm of cicadas, the fan whirring overhead, dogs barking, and in the distance the faint song of a muezzin.

Mom, Dad, and Tass out to eat with other graduates and parents. Siblings not invited... So Laura is hanging out on the bed with another laptop and the internet. I really can't get over this internet access! We didn't even used to have a phone. And now wireless everything. phone, internet. Kai, na yi mamaki sosai! Amma ina jin dad'i. Ko da yake bana so OBJ ya dawo third tirm, mutumin d'in ya yi kokari! Amma yanzu, ban iya in tsaya internet obsession nawa!

So, it's good to be back. Tassneem has become amazingly beautiful. Later I'll post a photo or two if it doesn't take too long on this connection. I'm so glad to be here for her graduation.

Feels like I haven't been gone. This time I experienced no transition-eyes. No brief double take. It was as if I'd only left for a month, and I guess it really hasn't been an entire year since I left last August. Abuja was beautiful, clean, impressive. Tree lined. There's a great new road from Abuja to Jos that made it a less than 3 hour trip this morning (after spending the night in Abuja and getting up only twice--once at midnight, thinking it was time to leave and confused as to why the clock said 12:00--maybe it was recording the number of hours I slept! And then at 5:30am, when I was confused by the clock again--we left around 6:50am). This is my favourite time of the year. Early rainy season when the soft new grass first covers the ground, fields stretching green to misty hills, blue against a silver sky. And small wispy clouds floating in the air not far above the trees.

It's good to speak Hausa again, casually, with people who speak it all the time. Learning a language is like tuning a radio (Did I read that somewhere)? When I was young, the Hausa flowed over my head--all part of the background. I'd tune it out. Now, when I hear people laughing and talking outside the window, I catch it. It's usually something banal... but I tune it in... I hear it. It's exhilerating, really.

Let me say also, how impressed with and grateful I was to customs. I spoke in Hausa to the two (nice and friendly) men at the window. They asked how long I was staying, and I told them until August 25. So, they told me they'd give me a month and I could renew in Kano. (Same thing happened last year, but was a bit more complicated when I tried to renew from Sokoto) But when I told them that I'd be travelling to Niger at the end of July and that it would be so much easier if I could get the 3 month visa and just renew at the border rather than having to do it several times, they took me over to the Oga, who asked me a couple of questions and then gave me a stamp until August 26, which is a week past the official three months--which means that if Niger doesn't work out, then I still have a legal visa to the end of my time here. They had no official reason to give it to me--I've been told in the past that 3 months is the max for a visitor's visa--just the goodness of their hearts. I was so happy. So I burst into Hausa praises. Ina jin dad'i kwarai da gaske. Na gode kwarai. Allah ya ba da sa'a. To which they replied Amin, Amin. And we were all smiling and happy. It was a good welcome.

So, I wrote a lot on the plane from Port Harcourt to Abuja--observations of some children coming "home" with their parents for the first time and memories from our first trip into the country. But it's long. Not sure if I should post it or not. For now, I'll leave it at this.

So, I'm here. It's good to be back. All is well and good and as it should be.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

In the Frankfurt Airport

Frankfurt: 8:40am
CST: 1:40am

Ok, it’s probably a very good thing that I am getting a little bit away from the internet this summer. In the two weeks since I’ve started this blog, it’s become obsessive—what is this uncontrollable urge to inscribe one’s being-in-the-world in this way? I’ve always had to write down what I’m thinking—in a private diary or in letters or emails. And the urge waxes and wanes, but this is a strange sort of thing—this writing for oneself with the knowledge that other people are listening in. Quite relevant to my recent thoughts on the public and private sphere. In this realm, what is public? What is private? I grow anxious about what I write. First, is it a revelation of the inconsequential quotidian boringness of my life? Secondly, is it quite “couth” to write about packing one’s underwear. This has been worrying me since I wrote that crazy nightlong log in the interstices of the night before I left. This is something one would write in a diary, perhaps, but on the web? When I decide to go back and edit, I again decide to leave it. Everyone, after all, packs underwear for a journey. At least, they should….

So, I sit here in Frankfurt writing in MS word, planning to sign onto the wireless for 15 minutes to post this and check my email. I sit here, watching all the Americans in ill-fitting sweat pants, torn-up jeans and ratty t-shirts inscribed with corporate sponsors walk by. What kind of arrogance or just plain I-don’t-care-ness is it that makes Americans abroad (and at home…) assume such a general slovenly appearance. Of course, I am stereotyping. There might be other undercover Americans lurking about. I always hope that I pass for “something” else. Was delighted in Amsterdam last year when someone stopped me and started talking in Dutch. And that’s, of course, maybe a little pretentious. Pretentious like having a blog, maybe. Pretentious like softening my American accent into an un-placeable blur, a faint British clip to the syllables, when I’m in these in-between places. But it happens automatically—when I’ve been in a place long enough, it happens unconsciously.

I, despite my American-radar, inadvertently sat down at a table with a couple of Americans contractors coming back from Iraq where they’ve been living on an American base and setting up telecommunications networks. They’ve been there for two years and now they’re catching the “Freedom Bird” back to the U.S. I try to be friendly. They are nice men. One of the guys lists all the presents he’s gotten for his family in the U.S. in the duty free bag. I too have visited the duty-free. Little perfumes for gifts. I’ve never bought something so expensive in the airport before, usually just chocolate to use up extra currency. It makes me feel a bit posh to buy perfume in the duty-free…

So, I emerged into a Frankfurt, and as I got off the plane, someone gave me a rose. How lovely. It’s wilting a bit now and drips a little water out of it’s rubber tube when I accidentally hold it upside down, but it makes me happy. My summer haircut that I nearly cried over on Wednesday—the front too short—now makes me happy. My self-designed dress made from the Indonesian print that was so popular in Nigeria a few years ago makes me happy—as will my favourite green wrapper outfit with the ruffle at the bottom that I shall don in an hour or two for the sake of customs in Abuja. Being here in Frankfurt, on my way from somewhere, to somewhere, being in between makes me content, though this time on the plane I didn’t feel as much of that travel daze—a lot of thinking, looking back. Sleeping too. On this flight, maybe I’ll look forward.

Airports—these liminal spaces. The signboard clicks through city names, falling into place with a sound like a typewriter—the same sound as at Grand Central Station: London, St. Petersburg, Stockhom, Tel Aviv, New York, Accra-Lagos, Boston, Zurich, and mine Port-Harcourt-Abuja. This is the portal, where you are uncertain of what to say when you accidentally bump into someone—the only German I know is danke and bitte. I’ve never flown Luftansa before. And, “sorry,” it ends up is probably just fine. I wandered into a book shop expecting to see the DaVinci Code in German, but all I could find were English books. I finally found an “international” section in a corner somewhere, where it looked like there was French and Italian, and then there was another small German section. But mostly in English.

It’s a strange—belonging to the dominant global language—of being able to assume when you ask someone a question in an airport that they will automatically understand you. It makes me feel a little colonialist. The global language may be our native language, but we miss a lot of nuance. I wish I had paid more attention to my Spanish in high school and college. I wish I remembered more of my French. I’m so glad I will be speaking Hausa this whole summer—cementing it in my head.

Strange there is a man kneeling on the ground and shaking, clinging to the railing. He looks like he’s having some kind of attack? I’m trying not to stare. I hope he’s ok. The American contractor coming from Iraq, where he’s been on a base for the past two years, went to tell someone. I look at the man again, who shakes and looks around. He catches my eye, shaking, clinging to the railing. I smile weakly, not sure what to do.

The man gets up and walks away normally. Maybe it was Turets. Five minutes later, no medical officer has shown up.

Whoa!!! A man just came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder and it was Terry and Sue Hammock from Jos! I knew I would run into someone I knew in the airport. Always happens. So, now there’s only 30 minutes to boarding, so I better sign onto the internet and send this off.

Yay! It will good to be home.

Thursday, May 18, 2006



Why do I do this to myself every year. You'd think I would know by now to give myself more than a week after the end of the semester

and i thought i was almost packed. how many of these are going to be out of style when i get there? maybe should leave them here and just wear them where people don't know.

bed exploding with papers from a desk half cleaned out.

Library books that need to be returned.

A nonsense microwave meal that I never eat except at times like this the bell rang for about 15 minutes ago. so it will be cold

10pm: JEM pumped up as loud as it will go because my roommate is gone. don't think its too late for the neighbors seeing as they feel free to throw pots and pans and furniture and swear at each other at 3am.

BRIGHT pink TSA approved locks just opened to mark with nail polish and keys to string on necklace. heavy boogers--what is that half a pound off of my weight?

A spastic digital scale I bought on Is it possible for the human body to fluctuate 8 pounds within the day? I hope it weighs the bags all right.

Arggh. photocopied my passport before i sent it off to the embassy but forgot to copy my visa when i got it back.

Bloody thesis not done yet. will have to run into Van Hise at 7am to turn in.

think i'm getting a sore throat--how do you spell throat? is that right?

arghh, should know better than to try to put the extra keys in my wallet before the nail polish is dried.

oops. microwave meal still waiting.

hmmm. not too bad. esp. for having sat in microwave for 20 mins.

uncouthly drink remaining broth from black oval plastic. very low. very low indeed.

should i leave worn out looking white scarf that has been washed too many times and just buy a new one when i get there?

arghh nail polish still not dry. it gets all over my fingers as i try to take the key off the ring.

Laura's bag was just lost. so should i risk putting the USB disks i got for people in checked luggage? no room in hand luggage.

double ziplock the shampoo.

why do i have hideous purple nail polish?

194 -134 = 60lbs. ok, great can put more books in that bag.

tea as small gifts, very good idea. very light.

Do, I need to return the 1981 Phd dissertation on the study of fantasy and disguise in Hausa tatsuniya in Niger. Can I realistically expect anyone to recall it? in all honesty, i myself have not used it.

Do I take my marked up copy of Waiting for an Angel or just use one of the ones i was taking as a gift?

"I wish this could be a happy song. but my happiness disappeared as soon as you were gone. ... tell me i'm gonna wake up. tell me its just fiction. tell me its just a lie. tell me And I--I miss you. Whooohhooo Yes, I miss you, want you by my side. Oh-hooo."

204-134 = 70 lbs. perfect. if the spastic scale is right.

roommate back. cutting her boyfriend's hair.

"it's just a ride, just a ride, no need to run and hide. it may feel so real inside, but don't forget enjoy the ride."

boyfriend now taking shower.

what to wear tomorrow?

ok, so the problem with packing a lot of stuff 2 weeks ahead is that you can't remember what you've packed and what you're forgetting.

"I gotta stop my mind working overtime. It's driving me insane. Will not let me live, always so negative. Save me. Save me. Ohh-ohh-hh."

how many underwear to pack? shouldn't i know this by now... pack them in outside pocket to embarrass and annoy any pick pockets. heee hee

hmmm... well i OBVIOUSLY bought the wrong size bulb for my flashlight. about 10X too big.

getting dizzy again.

arghh. now no room for the tea boxes...

too late to play music anymore.

high heels?


the hard back Soyinka? no, too heavy. maybe i have the essay pdf.

no, but surely someone at the university will have it.

i have apparently gained half a pound somewhere in the vicinity of an hour.

now a lot of lovely smashed tea boxes to give people. putting jeans back in drawer. do not need jeans.

12:13. email break. smile

shabby dress back in closet.

moving like 150 year old turtle.

bloody duffle not zipping.

never got a chance to scan in relevant chapters from Derrida/Kristeva/Soyinka, et al. but the way the thesis is going with my own analysis, should be able to plug in when i get back. hope so.

12:54 Wonder where my Nigerian wallet with all my naira is?

ripping favourite cds.

carrying kaya to basement

1:34: on verge of tears

throw away picture of John Paul II that is lying on floor. feel guilty. pull it out of trash and put in drawer.

recycling saved handouts and teaching aids. not teaching next year.

found nasty old fanny pack under the bed. i say everytime that I'm not going to take it, but... it's extra caryying space.

2:32 Load of clothes on. Dust mopping... throwing out large pink scented thesis-writing candle that is almost burnt out.

3:02 Have deciding that mopping the house with Murphey's oil might be a bit excessive at this time of night. also might disturb Sara.

3:24 Room pretty clean. floor no longer looks like filing cabinet. Any papers neatly stacked. Unpacking duffel bag and trying over.

3:49 Hmmm. Put more clothes back in closet. but added a folder of articles. still not zipping.

4:20 making bed with newly washed sheets.

4:46am Carmen decides to take a one hour nap. Since she needs to leave the house by 9:15am, she will need to get to Van Hise by 7am at latest to print and turn in thesis. Will have to finish chapter one when wake up. Not sure how to get library books to library since backpack is already full. but time to sleep for a few minutes.

God's in his heaven and other poems

In bed with a pencil, a print-out of thesis chapter 1, and my computer. Here's a Robert Browning poem I memorized in 7th grade that has been running through my head all morning.

from Pippa Passes

The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hillside's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn:
God's in His heaven—
All's right with the world!

gleaned from

And here's a David Diop poem from a book of Francophone African poetry. I seem to be just exploding with poetry this morning after having given it up/ignored it for so long. First the French without the diacretics and then the translation:

Les heures

Il y a des heures pour rever
Dans l'apaisement des nuites au creux du silence
Il y a des heures pour douter
Et le loude voile des mots se dechire en sanglots
Il y a des heures pour souffrir
Le long des chemins de guerre dans le regard des meres
Il y a des heures pour aimer
Dans les cases de lumier ou chante la chair unique
Il y a ce qui colore les jours a venir
Comme le soleil colore la chair des plantes
Et dans le delire des heures
Dans l'impatience des heures
Le germe toujours plur fecond
Des heures d'ou naitra l'equilibre.
(David Diop -- 1956)


There are times for dreaming
In the calm of nights by the hollow of silence
There are times for doubting
And the heavy veil of words is torn with sighs
There are times for suffering
Along the roads of war under our mother's eyes
There are times for loving
In the huts of light where one sole flesh sings
There is what colours the days to come
As the sun colours the flesh of plants
And in the madness of times
In times of impatience
There is always the most fruitful seed
Of the times that bring the poised and certain stance.
(David Diop --1956; trans. John Reed and Clive Wake)

from French African Verse, with English translations by John Reed and Clive Wake. London: Heinemann, 1972.

back to chapter 1.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


The last year of my senior year of college, I did an independent project with my poetry prof. 10 poems and a 10 page introduction, but it was the introduction to the poems that ended up exciting me the most. Here is an excerpt:

Perhaps more than any other place, I have felt at home on airplanes. There, I do not have to claim one piece of soil but rather every place we fly over. Sometimes, at night, I wake up and crave being on an airplane, any airplane, but specifically a transatlantic one: the familiar feel of take off, being pressed into the cushions, my suddenly sleepy eyes seeing through an oval pane of plastic the land stretched out beneath me. The rain forest of Lagos, the desert of Kano, the lights of New York or Atlanta, the misty clouds of London or Amsterdam slowly drop away and look like maps, or aerial photographs. I love to fly through the clouds which make odd airy sculptures or at night to press my cheek against the cold window and with a blanket over my head gaze up at the stars: constellations which can be seen from two different continents. Orion, I can see in America, England and Nigeria. But somehow from a plane, the patterns are even more brilliant, closer, larger, and almost tangible through the frosty pane.

Salman Rushdie in his book, The Wizard of Oz, uses the film The Wizard of Oz as a metaphor for discussing the displaced person. Dorothy “immigrates” from the monotony of Kansas “over the rainbow” into a Technicolor world, yet while in Oz searches for a way to get back to Kansas. She finally repeats, “there is no place like home; there is no place like home; there is no place like home” and is whisked back to black and white. Yet what was her home but her own imagination? As Rushdie points out, Frank Baum returns Dorothy to Oz over and over in subsequent books, so that Oz ultimately becomes the “home.” Rushdie writes: “[O]nce we have left our childhood places and started out to make up our lives. . . there is no longer any such place as home: except, of course, for the home we make, or the homes that are made for us” (TWOO 57).

Writers are often driven by the impulse to define themselves, and often their homes play into this identification. However, when there is no distinguishable home, the writer “makes” her home out of memories. My life, I look back upon as a book, with dramatic irony, ambiguity. I read my memories as if they were a literary text. And they often are: a written record of diaries shared with Ruth, more recent letters and emails. Sometimes, I spend hours reading back over my words, reliving the moments I captured, the thoughts I wrote down. The book of my life becomes my home. And in reading my life as a text, the writing becomes a metaphor for the way I live it. I am continually making myself through my words--constantly discovering more about me as I communicate with my dearest friends.

As I prepared to leave Nigeria, I wrote, on May 4, 1995, in my diary of my regret
in leaving. We were riding back home from our senior trip, a few weeks before high
school graduation at the missionary school.

"I stared out the window at the setting sun and the scenery whizzing past. I thought of last weekend as our van plowed through the rain and mist, past the fantasy hobbit like landscape of green misty mountains and groves and boulders. And I cried then. I cried for my class and how we will be leaving each other, and never being together again.

I thought of this as I sat at the window today with dry eyed resignation. . . [When] the song on Matt’s tape said “I don’t want to live to say goodbye” . . . I made a
strangled sound and met Ruth’s eyes. I think she was feeling that way too."
I don’t want to grow up--I don’t want to leave. I want to stop the van--stop the
sun....This afternoon I wanted the van to have a flat tire or for us to all be shipwrecked on some island so we’d never have to leave--an island of time. "

The “truth” is in writing those words, I created my island of time. My life has progressed from that moment, but I can always go back and read; I can remember who I was. Now I realize that I am not alone in my struggle, but indeed a member of a certain community of writers. I find this community with Rushdie, who writes in “Imaginary Homelands:”

It may be that writers in my position, exiles or emigrants or expatriates, are haunted by some sense of loss, some urge to reclaim, to look back, even at the risk of being mutated into pillars of salt. But if we do look back, we must also do so in the knowledge--which gives rise to profound uncertainties--that our physical alienation from India almost inevitably means that we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost; that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands, Indias of the mind. . . . (Rushdie 10)

Now back in Madison, 2006 time.... there was more to my intro, but those are the words I need to read again right now. To live in between worlds, to get onto the plane to proceed towards something new and exciting also means that we are always leaving something behind. Those are the moments I remember now, the dull ache of leaving New York, of leaving Nigeria. Throwing the airline issue blanket over my face and crying as I flew out of JFK two weeks after September 11 onwards to a Jos shaken with violence that had erupted the same time. These strong currents of connection underly so many things. At that time, it felt like platelets in the earth were shifting, that the world was exploding. I did not want to leave New York. I wanted to stay and watch the city heal. But I thought that if I stayed, if I changed my plans (as the administrators of my fellowship said i was welcome to do) that that would be giving in to the terrorists, giving in to those who seek to control through fear, and that the best way to fight what Soyinka calls (in Climate of Fear) those quasi-state forces was to continue as planned. We move forward, we go on with life, we discover all the new and beautiful and exciting things exploding with potential around us.

We move forward, but it does not mean we do not look back and sigh a little.

I'm glad to read Rushdie again now. Glad to think about those pulsing moments of time that become little mythic centres (to use Harold Scheub's terminology). Or like Derridean time--moments webbed together in a dance--not the blasting steaming railroad car of Progress, but a more meandering, rippling, cycling around sort of time--that means multiple moments can exist in one place, layer on top of eachother.

That's what I need to think about tonight, dizzy with dehydration and thoughts of the 35 something hours I have before I get onto the next flight. I drink water and eat food and smile because it is good to go to Kano and exciting to think of being Talatu again and speaking Hausa full time and learning so many new and amazing things, but sigh because Carmen must finish packing herself up and finish twaddling around with the first two chapters of her thesis, when what she really wants to do is lie down on her comforter and think and think and think.

She is very happy that Ruth has just called. Life is so good. It's worth all the hard bits.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The poems Lomba "plagiarized"

by John Donne

I WONDER by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved ? were we not wean'd till then ?
But suck'd on country pleasures, childishly ?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers' den ?
'Twas so ; but this, all pleasures fancies be ;
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, 'twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear ;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone ;
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown ;
Let us possess one world ; each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest ;
Where can we find two better hemispheres
Without sharp north, without declining west ?
Whatever dies, was not mix'd equally ;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none can slacken, none can die.

Donne, John. Poems of John Donne. vol I.
E. K. Chambers, ed.
London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1896. 3.

Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900.

Edgar Allan Poe. 1809–1849

694. To Helen

HELEN, thy beauty is to me

Like those Nicèan barks of yore

That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,

The weary way-worn wanderer bore

To his own native shore.


On desperate seas long wont to roam,

Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,

Thy Naiad airs have brought me home

To the glory that was Greece,

And the grandeur that was Rome.


Lo, in yon brilliant window-niche

How statue-like I see thee stand,

The agate lamp within thy hand,

Ah! Psyche, from the regions which

Are holy land!



by: Sappho

BLEST as the immortal gods is he,

The youth who fondly sits by thee,

And hears and sees thee, all the while,

Softly speaks and sweetly smile.

'Twas this deprived my soul of rest,

And raised such tumults in my breast;

For, while I gazed, in transport tossed,

My breath was gone, my voice was lost;

My bosom glowed; the subtle flame

Ran quick through all my vital frame;

O'er my dim eyes a darkness hung;

My ears with hollow murmurs rung;

In dewy damps my limbs were chilled;

My blood with gentle horrors thrilled:

My feeble pulse forgot to play;

I fainted, sunk, and died away.

This English translation, by Ambrose Philips, of 'Ode To a Loved One' is reprinted from Greek Poets in English Verse. Ed. William Hyde Appleton. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1893.

(Or perhaps this version)

Peer of gods he seemeth to me, the blissful
Man who sits and gazes at thee before him,
Close beside thee sits, and in silence hears thee
Silverly speaking,
Laughing love's low laughter. Oh this, this only
Stirs the troubled heart in my breast to tremble!
For should I but see thee a little moment,
Straight is my voice hushed;
Yea, my tongue is broken, and through and through me
'Neath the flesh impalpable fire runs tingling;
Nothing see mine eyes, and a noise of roaring
Waves in my ear sounds;
Sweat runs down in rivers, a tremor seizes
All my limbs, and paler than grass in autumn,
Caught by pains of menacing death, I falter,
Lost in the love-trance.
J. Addington Symonds, 1833

NIGERIA: Senate kills bill seeking to prolong Obasanjo's tenure (excerpt)

(Praise God from whom all blessings flow!!!! - t-c)

NIGERIA: Senate kills bill seeking to prolong Obasanjo's tenure
16 May 2006 18:20:53 GMT
Source: IRIN

ABUJA, 16 May (IRIN) - Nigerian senators voted on Tuesday to throw out a bill seeking to amend the country's constitution to give President Olusegun Obasanjo the chance to run for a third successive term in office next year.

A majority of lawmakers in the upper house agreed in a voice vote to scrap the bill, which has raised tensions in Africa's most populous country plagued by ethnic and religious violence.

"By this result, the Senate has said clearly and eloquently that we should discontinue further proceedings on this amendment bill," Senate President Ken Nnamani announced to applause.

For the rest of this Reuters article see:

Monday, May 15, 2006

35 pages????


I have just written a 35 page paper (now that I've double spaced and spell checked). I think I have a problem.

If only this were my last thesis chapter...

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Bloody brilliant

2:26 am

I love this. I love what I do. I love writing, and being so excited about what I'm talking about that that fluttery-buzzy feeling in the pit of my stomach that tells me I'm working on adrenaline and the sugar high from the last fourth of the (now empty) chocolate chip bag, that my body is suffering from severe sleep deficit disorder, doesn't matter. I love reading brilliant articles all day by brilliant professors whose deconstructive readings are practical and activist and not merely deconstructive for the sake of being deconstructive. There's a purpose in it--putting it all back together into a new form--ambiguity allowing for new depths.

I've spent all day summarizing other people's research, stringing together quotes to provide a background for my close reading. 8 (single spaced) pages of background for 6 (single spaced) pages of analysis. It's utterly ridiculous, and I probably will have to chop it all up tomorrow despite my desire to finish this seminar paper tonight so I can move on to my thesis again tomorrow. But, what a glorious feeling to finally cycle back round to the close reading I did yesterday and to say, hey this is pretty bloody brilliant (at least the first paragraph or so of it).

It's rough. It's ridiculously too long, and is probably more of a literature review that should go in a thesis introduction rather than a paper. It's a deeply flawed piece of work slapped together by a sleep deprived graduate student who hasn't even finished her MA yet (after 3 bloody [excuse my "bloody" kick--it's my 2am favourite word--I'll resist throwing in other words which my mother would be disappointed to hear me saying, even in the midst of great late night euphoria] years of department required coursework.) But I love it. I love what I'm learning. I love what I'm writing. I love how everything comes together--my thesis on Helon Habila, with my interest in Hausa novels and films, with my long love of Shakespeare/Chaucer/ brilliant dead white guys who were doing something new in their own time too (they weren't always the enthroned and canonized classics that other people have to struggle against), with my own attempts at creativity, with my fascination about the ambiguities between reality and fiction, with my own faith and love of Christ and the Holy Trinity--the way multiple stories deconstruct monolithic meanings--and multiple voices continually burst out into song and dance and joyous celebration of life and love and the universe and everything. Why did I suddenly think of Monty Python?

A friend contemplating a PhD asked me why one does it. what is the motiviation in starting a programme that will drink up 10 years worth of sleep, finish your youth, make you weep with rage at times, and guarentee no job at the end?

And it's these moments, I need to write him, these moments are the reason. The sleep deprived half-mad stupid grins of 2:30am. The moments when you have to get up and dance for a while--just because you're so narcissistically exhilerated by your own words, which you know all along won't seem half so brilliant when you wake up in the morning. No amount of cynicism can destroy these moments.

Oh, God, let me someday publish something as brilliant and satisfying to read as Ousseina Alidou, Abdalla Adamu, Brian Larkin.

Oh, Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen.

Saturday, May 13, 2006



Ditto. It's been sullen outside for the past few days. Cold, grey--sullen. In the 40s F. According to my weatherbug, it's going to be that way all of next week. Wisconsin's way of bidding me farewell. I shan't miss it. I think my toes are in the process of freezing solid and dropping off--little blocks of ice that will fall out like marbles when I pull my socks off. Ok, I'm getting surreal. i need to go to bed.

I wrote 6 pages single spaced of close reading on the Hausa film Albashi today. But I have not yet met my goal of finishing my paper. I am beginning to master the art of writing a paper backwards. The problem is that when you write the conclusion, you don't really feel like going back and writing the beginning. So, that's my problem. I have a lot of close reading, but now I've got to go in and put in all the research and background/introduction.

Why am I so verbose? The paper is only supposed to be 15 pages, and I think it will probably be around 25. arghh.

Not sure I can make myself stay up till its done though... hmmm... shall see what happens in the next 15 minutes.

Friday, May 12, 2006

you gotta do what you gotta do

2:02 am. Sometimes when you aren't getting something done, you have to tell yourself that you are not allowed to sleep until you get it done. I don't do that as often as I used to. In fact, I have gotten more good long nights of sleep this year than I probably ever have in my student career (from high school on). But when you spend the time you were supposed to spend writing a seminar paper writing your thesis, and then when you decide you really do have to write the seminar paper and then go on to spend two whole days re-reading books and articles you've already read to try to have it all fresh in your head,when you calculate the things on your list that you have to do before travelling and the number of days left and realize that there aren't quite enough hours in the day, then comes the time to start appropriating the night. Then comes the time to tell yourself, "Self, you will not lie yourself on that bed until you have written at least eight pages of the fifteen, even if you don't know what you are talking about. You will. Write it. Now."

So, aided by Bhangra Music from India: Apnea Radio, and a tall mug of Ovaltine (maybe I'll get paid for advertising if I mention Ovaltine enough), and a bed covered in notes and well-underlined books, I will myself to understand Habermas. I will my fingers to type, even if I'm not sure what my sentence will be. I forge forward into the night.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Greedy People fooled by 419 scams

A fascinating article from the New Yorker about a guy who got scammed by Nigerian 419-ers (the old Abacha swiss bank account email), but as the article mentions "You can't cheat an honest man." As I was reading the article, I just couldn't help but be impressed by the brilliant subversiveness of these scammers, who have perfected the art of ambiguity between fiction and reality. Of course, they should be arrested and stop giving Nigeria a bad name, but I can't help admiring their talent (and feeling rather sorry for the sort of obsessive compulsive yet arrogant person who would fall for such a scam--got what he deserved probably, but what mental torment to keep gambling and gambling because you can't stop, you're so desperate to make things right again)!

Another thing that might be an interesting conceptual art/literary project at some point is to collect as many variations on the scam emails and make them into some kind of coffee table/art book. I'd be interested...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

1:37 am thesis writing: an excerpt from WfA

"I looked at the papers spilling out of a thick folder on my table. The words and sentences, joined end to end, looked ominously like chains, binding me forever to this table. I felt a deep, almost fanatical loathing for them. Two years, and still no single sentence made sense to me. Standing by the window, staring at the manuscript, I felt, with epiphanic clarity, that if I sat down and picked up my pen and added a sentence more to this jumbled mass, I'd die."

Helon Habila, Waiting for an Angel, (New York: Norton, 2002) p. 110.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Taking Ajami off of the Naira, excerpted from Muhammad Al-Ghazali's article "Nigeria: Third Term and the Kalo-Kalo Republic"

Exerpt from: Muhammad Al-Ghazali. "Nigeria: Third Term and the Kalo-Kalo Republic" (Daily Trust, Abuja), May 9, 2006.

CBN and Islam phobiaâ-oe
If all goes according to the script, the Central Bank of Nigeria will in the next few weeks or months effect some changes to the good old naira. Part of the anticipated changes would see to the disappearance of the 'Ajimi' (Arabic alphabets) in Hausa from the face of the currency, and that in my opinion would be a most ridiculous thing to do. Both Arabic and English are imported languages and may it go on record that the fact that the Muslim population have accepted without a whimper the Gregorian calendar, as well as the official English Language does not make them foreigners in their own country. The move clearly shows the ridiculous level to which the art of governance has been reduced under the Obasanjo presidency all in the name of reforms. Never in our history has the polity become so hopelessly polarised or fragmented. Old wounds are not only being deepened, healed ones are being reopened as well.
I would not know the genesis behind the attempt to discard the 'Ajimi' from the face of the naira, but everything suggests it could be the brainwork of religious chauvinists, ignorant fools or even CIA agents intent on plunging the nation into sectarian violence. Whatever, such people need to be educated that Arabic, just like English, is merely a language of communication as there are indeed many Arab Christians, the more famous of which were the former Egyptian UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and Iraqi Foreign Minister under Saddam Hussein - Tarik Aziz. The fact that they were Christians in pre-dominantly Muslim countries did not disenfranchise them or make them lesser human beings. The 'Ajimi,' I must not fail to add, has been a medium of communication in Northern Nigeria and most of the Sahel since the beginning of the 14th century. It remains the effective mode of writing for most, and doing away with it would not only alienate such people, it would b e tantamount to their excision from the country, at least economically!
Over the past few months, I had cause to write in defence of the revered Reverend Mathew Hassan Kukah on some criticisms he attracted for his involvement and comments on some national issues. My interventions were purely based on my innate convictions and desire for justice and fair play. This is the time for people like him to step up and be counted on the side of truth and equity. As a respected clergyman from the North, the significance and relevance of the Ijimi alphabets cannot be lost on him. People like him need to talk to Obasanjo before he plunges the nation into anarchy. Have the eggheads in the Soludo-led CBN even paused to ponder the likely effects of a boycott of the new currency by people likely to be affected by ill-conceived changes?
Copyright © 2006 Daily Trust. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (
_uacct = "UA-230539-1";

For the beginning of the article see

In praise of Ovaltine...

12:34am. I am drinking hot Ovaltine and trying to decide whether to go to bed or to finish my chapter two, which was today's goal. I have about 13 pages single spaced now--ie. over 25 double spaced pages. I have written well, but do I deserve bed yet? That is the question.

There is still an entire, rather large, passage I need to write about the imagination that blurs the boundaries between fiction and reality, and the writer as wielder of the deus ex machina. I'm fairly certain this all makes sense to no one else but myself...

Oh, I love this feeling of having written all day. What satisfaction! Thank GOD for the outline I created last weekend. I've re-arranged it a bit but it has kept me from the swampy morass of complete organic sprawl. There is a bit of architecture here.

Too bad we're almost out of milk. I'd like some more Ovaltine...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Toni Kan Profile

Excerpt from an article about Toni Kan, one of important new Nigerian writers to emerge in the 1990s. He went to the University of Jos and is the one who invited Helon Habila to Lagos. (Toni Kan, along with Habila himself, makes a cameo appearance in Habila's Waiting for an Angel, in a surreal scene where Habila and his friends [Chiedu, Otiono, Maik, Nwakanma, Mike Jimoh] introduce themselves to the protagonist Lomba (Habila 218). It is this rupture in the boundaries between fiction and reality that I argue creates a space out of which an energy can escape--and actually affect Nigerian history--there is a layering of texts--historical and fictional--so that it becomes ambiguous which is which... anyway, let me write the thesis before I talk about it on the internet. Here's the article:)

My generation better than those before us By HENRY AKUBUIRO(, May 7, 2006

•Toni KanPhoto: Sun News Publishing

Toni Kan’s quill glints like an emerald whenever he puts pen to paper. In the Lagos axis of Nigerian writers, he ranks alongside Odia Ofeimun, Akachi Ezeigbo, Nduka Otiono, Promise Okekwe, Adewale Maja-Pearce, Maxim Uzoatu, Folu Agoi, Uchechukwu Nwosu and Hyacinth Obunseh as some of those who bring special fervour to the literary scene. This is no surprise, because when he made his debut, When a Dream Lingers Too Long, a collection of poems, in 2002, plaudits reverberated and lingered.Helon Habila, the Caine Prize for African Writing winner, said of the debut: "Tony’s poetry has clarity, coherence and unity. He has depth as well as range. His imagery is so vivid one could touch it, his lyricism so clear one could dance to it. Likewise, Maik Nwosu, the multi award-winning writer, hailed his poetry as ultimately evoking "images of triumph of the spirit –beyond the enlarging shadows of despair – as it centres on artistic vision rooted in transformative reality."A year later, as if to confirm those accolades, Kan entered the book for the ANA/Cadbury Poetry Prize and came second behind the US-based poet, Ogaga Ifowodo. It was not a bad finish for a writer with a first collection of poems. A versatile writer, he published his first novel, Ballad of Rage, in 2004, and entered it for the mouthwatering NLNG Prize for Literature. Interestingly, the Delta-born writer, whose full name is Anthony Kanayo, made the longlist of eleven.

(For the rest of the article see)

Spring in Wisconsin

My Sunday walk under lilacs, past tulips and still docile daffodils, grass growing tall before the first lawn-mower buzz-cut: It makes living here--not that bad. Maybe it's Wisconsin's way of apologizing for the hellish winters. At least it gives me hope that I can last two more years--before running away. And run away I shall, eventually. Purgatory is only a transitional stage--there is eventually a movement out of it, right?

So, what am I doing on this beautiful spring day? a morning walk past flowers -> church, song, and golden words of resurrection. How nice that three weeks after Easter we haven't exhausted the topic yet. (What a joyous thing to think of the multi-layered intertwining of metaphor and reality--and if only I could express how far my faith is from the political stereotypes on both sides/or are those so-called binary sides also stereotypes? this question is worthy of deconstruction at another time) -> walk back home through the zoo--poor captured grizzly bears lying in the sun looking un-bothered. I find enough change in my key-wallet for a popsickle that turns my teeth blue.

Then, back inside to the inevitable thesis:

Note the layering of texts and the multiplicity of projects (ie. thesis, plus another paper)--these are pictures from a week or so ago but properly illustrate my day and my upcoming week. Note, that I have made progress since then. I am now on Chapter 2--not chapter 1, although that is still lying in wait for me. I'll come back to it eventually. It all cycles round. There is no linear structure--it refuses to remain straight, which perhaps is appropriate.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Leaving the Country (one of my favourite poems)

Leaving the Country
by Bahadur Tejani
(from Poems of Black Africa. ed. Wole Soyinka. [Ibadan: Heinemann, 1975] 190-191)

Then the mind
became a body
in the water blanket of monsoon
a deep daze of dislocation
from colour
and creed
and country

The vague ache
of memories
that interspersed
space time
like some lost children
in the forest
unworried by strange roads
because everything is unknown
unafraid of twilight
because all
is the long evening
wandering because
the unsure step onward
is the fate
function of limbs.

Yet terrified because
the forest is endless
and outside
through a pale patch
of the green darkness
the sun shines
like a chimera
that deepens the
global gloom.

Only one solace:
there have been
others too,
lingering in that twilight,
who shed
home and country
and at times
who travelled the long way
and also never felt happy.

Ok, this was an experiment to see how uploading photos work. This is me with Sadiq and Ali who worked at the video club I frequented in Sokoto last year. This is where my interest in Hausa film began!

In the beginning... (ruminations and ramblings on why I'm starting a blog)

Tonight, half as a reward for (wai) "finishing" half (or third depending on what I do with a chunk that I decided to put later) of my second thesis chapter (on Helon Habila's appropriation of other texts in the writing of his novel Waiting for an Angel, ie. intertextuality etc.), and half as a procrastination technique from starting the next half/third (which will be on his complicating the simplicity of interpreting the text merely symbolically--ie. the writer in prison is a metonym for the populace of a country under military rule but there were plenty of imprisoned writers. Rape is a symbol for the abuse of a country by a military, but rape is also quite real--not JUST a symbol. Habila does an amazing job of writing on several different levels--of exploding political binaries and exploring very real charachters but still maintaining a symbolic layer. The danger in writing on a text like this is getting so caught up in the literary language and symbolism of everything that you forget to come back down to earth and acknowledge the actuality of these events.), I have decided to create a blog for my summer in Kano. (And I am starting to realize already that my use of parenthesis could get quite annoying for outside readers. I'll try to control myself)

This should be a good way to keep let those who occasionally wonder how I'm doing know how I'm doing without the dreaded mass email, which I always save for later reading and then forget. The mass email tends to arrive, long, solid and guilt-inducing (I should read this but I don't have time right now) in the email inbox. On the other hand, I've enjoyed so much more blogs that I can read whenever I'm feeling like a moment of procrastination. Thus, with my rationale for creating a blog behind me and well justified.... here's what I'll do with mine:

In keeping with my dislike for writing "newsletters," I will probably make this a random scrapbook of what I am doing this summer and beyond--photos, perhaps brief attempts at translations at things I am reading, occasional journal entries that ask me to share them. Basically, this will be for me---a motivation to keep writing about and analyzing what I'm learning this summer. The idea of an audience also motivates me in a different way--what would be interesting to share--and how can I phrase it in such a way that it could be understood by someone who knows nothing of this situation.

All in all, I think this is a good way to keep me thinking, and if anyone wants to evesdrop on that process, to, bismillah. And skip all the boring parts (like my ruminations on what I will do in the first and half chapter of my chapter two...)

The name of the blog is Talatu-Carmen, the two names which have begun to feel the most like me. My old Hausa teacher in Jos gave me the name of Talatu--meaning I was born on Tuesday, Talata. I hated the name at first because it sounded so common--Tuesday (blech). My favourite Hausa names: Amina, Aisha, Ramatu... all these are lovely. But I didn't think of them at the time when he was naming me, and I have grown into the name, Talatu, just as I grew into Carmen, which I disliked as a child (I was too shy to ask people to call me Carey, which I thought, at the time, that I would prefer. I'm glad that I didn't!). Now Talatu defines a part of me in a way that no other name can. It captures the person I am in Sokoto/Kano/northern Nigeria. There Carmen is the formal name. I jump when I hear it.

Talatu is not the same person as Carmen, though she is tied to her by that hyphen. The hyphen is the in-between space, the dry cool air of a trans-Atlantic flight--the round double-paned window between one world and the next, the moment of interpretation between two spaces, which more and more comes to define who I am. And the space isn't that far--it's just a hyphen. An ocean that can be shrunk to a stream. When I was twelve or thirteen, a painfully shy girl living in Port Harcourt with my parents and homeschooled because I was too old for the international school which only went up to the 6th grade that my siblings attended, I dreamed one night that we discovered a place where you could get to America only by crossing a stream. It was closer than Cameroon, closer than Benin. It was right there, and no one had seen it until our discovery. It's so simple, I remember thinking. It's been here all this time, and no one knew about it. I was so happy at the thought of being able to straddle both worlds--to flit back and forth whenever I wanted. It took a few minutes after I woke to realize that it was only a dream, that it wasn't true, that it was a geographic impossibility.

But perhaps it was true-er than I thought in those disappointed moments after waking, lying in the dark under the fan that sawed through the heavy air. Perhaps there is a truth to the dream on a more metaphysical level, of the space we cross when we live in/between/across several different cultures--and of the possibilities that dreams can open up.

Deja vu struck me when I first read the following passage from Helon Habila's Waiting for an Angel. And perhaps this feeling is familiar to more readers than just me, perhaps it is a truth of the collective unconscious:

In the novel, the boy Kela is narrating a trip to the beach he took with his teacher Joshua:

"In front of us the water was pale blue, but further in it was a deep indigo, stretching on and on until it disappeared in a white, smoky mist that hung like a curtain between heaven and earth. Its infinite vastness, its restless heaving and roar overwhelmed me. Joshua pointed straight at the misty horizon and said somewhere on the other side lay America. He said that if the vast ocean were magically shrunk into a tiny brook, or a narrow river, we could be staring at some beach on the American coast--New York, perhaps. He said the world was not as big and incomprehensible as some people would have us believe. He said everything lay within our grasp, if only we cared to reach out boldly" (128)

Habila, Helon. Waiting for an Angel. New York: Norton, 2002.

There is more to say, but realizing again that this is a public forum and not a private journal where I can ruminate and repeat myself as much as I want, I will let that quote close this entry.

Sai'anjima, Talatu-Carmen