Friday, December 29, 2006


My grandfather, Rigolette, Louisiana
December 25, 2006
As we were leaving...

Friday, December 22, 2006


In my brother's hip apartment overlooking the Atlanta skyline, lounging around with T. and D. on airmattresses watching the Nkem Owoh video-film Bus Driver.

So GOOOD to be at home with family.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Reading List and Scriptwriters needed

I'm off to Atlanta tomorrow, so I must get packing. But before I do, here is the pile of books to pack that I plan to (hopefully) read over Christmas. Scroll down for the call for scriptwriters.

1) A fantasy children's manuscript that for some bizaare reason I volunteered to read. (My cousin called me to ask if I still had any contacts in publishing because her friend had written this fantasy novel, and I said that I didn't but I would be willing to look over it and give editorial feedback. Now, I'm wondering why I had to feel like being nice like that. She didn't ask me to do it, and knowing how much other stuff I have to do, I'm wondering why exactly I volunteered... But I did, so I will read it on the bus and plane tomorrow--and it should be a nice break from other stuff I've been reading this semester.)
2) The latest manifestation of Mukoma's novel manuscript. I'm looking forward to seeing the latest evolution after he got comments from his agent and his dad.
3) beasts of no nation by uzodinma iweala
4) The Descendants by Zaynab Alkali
5) The Book of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga (the long awaited sequal to Nervous Conditions)
6) The Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
7) Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
8) Engaging Modernity: Muslim Women and the Politics of Agency in Postcolonial Niger by Ousseina Alidou
9)Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila(for the 15th or 16th time--I MUST finish my thesis over the holiday. The good news is that my writing tutor thinks my work is fascinating. The bad news is that I have much revision to do)
10) African Drama and Perfomance by T. Olaniyan (to read and immerse myself in excellent writing as I attempt to revise my thesis.)

My brother is an independent filmmaker with his own business. He is looking for experienced internationally-oriented scriptwriters to work with on a long-term basis. He does commercials, university recruitment videos, political documentaries etc. He currently works with a producer for CNN, but he's wanting to find a couple of other free-lance writers with a more "artistic" vision. A scriptwriter in the Atlanta area would be ideal, but anyone who has internet and phone access and who could be available for multiple revisions and possible travel abroad (expenses paid) would work. Anyone interested should have sample work from past projects available. If interested let me know, and I will forward your information on to him.

(Update 10 April 2012): And links to the books mentioned above on Amazon, which, if you buy, will profit me through my Amazon Associates affiliate status:

Monday, December 18, 2006

Bringing Study Back

My sister just sent me this. Although it refers to medical school, I feel it equally applies to me. Better go get my study on...

APAMSA/SAMSA Culture Show Music Video
New York Medical College

Jonathan Khersonsky
Nir Maghen
Scott Nowicki

Our next VP

I banned myself from the internet this morning because I have GOT to get some serious work done on my final seminar paper which is due tomorrow night. But then I allowed myself to check email and one thing led to another ... alas the latest news on the election race in Nigeria is not encouraging. While some were still pulling for Donald Duke as a VP candidate, the PDP pick by Yar'Adua is Jonathan Goodluck of Bayelsa State. The following blogs give a better analysis than I can.

Nkem Ifejika's African Shirts

Jeremy Weate's Naijablog

Funmi Iyanda's blog

In the good news, there is an article about the evangelical green movement. About time!

Happy (late) Hanukkah

Happy (late) Hanukkah to all.

Here's a really interesting article: A Chanukah/Christmas Meditation
The story of the Maccabees and how they influenced three great religions
by Rabbi Marc Gellman that incorporates Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I came across this weekend and didn't think to post until now.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

"Uninvited Guests": My Father's narrative

From my Dad's journal about the armed robbery incident. He was in Abuja for a meeting when the incident happened.

I picked up the [hotel] phone and heard a slight "beep, beep, beep." .... So when I heard the beep, I said, "Oh, I see you are calling from NITEL." She [M. my mother] said, "Yes, the phone is working right now." I made some other light remark and then she said, "D., I hate to tell you but we have just been hit by armed robbers." My heart skipped a beat. I knew exactly what that meant. I said, "Are you alright. Did they hurt anyone?" She said, "No, I am OK. They may have beat up S. a little but I don't know his condition." I said, "What happened?" She gave me a little bit of the story. I then asked, "What did they get?" She said "They got money." I said, "Naira or dollars?" She said, "Dollars." I said, "Do you have any idea how much?" She said, "I really don't know but probably around ___ dollars." I said, "Are you sure you were not hurt?" She said, "No, they did not touch me." I said, "When did this happen?" She said, "Just now, I have not even gone downstairs yet but I probably should go down and check on S." About that time, the phone started beeping again but this was a beep that meant that the line had cut. Sometimes when the phone line cuts like that, it will be off for a few hours or even a week. You just never know.

I quickly grabbed my cell phone to call her cell phone. The phone started ringing but no one answered. I thought, "Oh, I bet they stole her phone." I called a minute or two later but the phone had been switched off and I got the message that the phone was off. I was stuck at that time. I had no way to call and check on her so I had to just wait until I heard from her again. I don't know why I did not think of calling Y. or R. Y. who live next door but I did not think of that.

About ten minutes later, I got a call from one of my neighbors, Professor J. He is the chairman of our University ... Residential Committee and also the former Dean of the Faculty of Arts, my faculty. I have a lot of respect for him. The security people had apparently reported to him that our house had been attacked, so he called, probably thinking that he was calling me at my home. However, as soon as I saw his name flash up on my screen, I said, "Prof, how are things?" He said, "How are you?" I said, "Prof, I am in Abuja. I assume you have heard about what has happened at my house." He said, "Yes, I have just heard. I am sorry." I said, "Thanks, Prof. Fortunately, M. is OK. However, they must have stolen her phone and the NITEL line has just cut when I was talking to her so I would appreciate your going to talk to her and give me some feedback." He said, "Don't worry, Prof. I am on my way to your house right now." He called me back in about five minutes and confirmed that I was on the phone and then handed the phone to M. I talked a bit more to her and learned a bit more. I learned that S. was inside getting some food that M. had prepared for him when the dogs started barking. He had gone outside to check on things when he had been grabbed and thrown to the ground and kicked a bit but not seriously injured. I learned that they had not taken M.'s computer but had tried to. I learned that shortly after they left the house, they fired several shots. M. did not know at that time whether they were shooting in the air or shooting at someone. However, she assured me that there were a lot of people around there and that things appeared to be safe at the moment.

A little later I got a call from R.Y.'s telephone. It was M. again. She said that things had settled down and that R. had agreed to spend the night with her since there was no one else in the house. M. sounded very serious on the phone but she did not seem desperate and was not very emotional. I was reasonably satisfied that she was doing OK. She did say a couple of times, "I am sorry for you. I hope this does not mess you up for your big workshop tomorrow." I said, "Don't worry about that. I will be OK." That is about all I heard that night. I did not sleep well. Somehow I could not go to sleep. I may have slept an hour or two.

The next morning M. called me through the computer, on the Skype system. I found out that she had not slept very well either. She said that the police had asked her to come by 9:00 AM and write a report. She had typed up a report and read it to me. I suggested that she change two or three words that would communicate a little better.... I then asked her how she was going.... I said, "I don't want you to go alone. Prof. J. will go with you. Let me call him and talk to him" so I called him. He agreed quickly that he would be happy to take her to the police. They later did go to the police and M. was very happy that he was with her to help deal with things. M. submitted the statement she had written.

To God be the glory, I was able to get through the seminar quite well the next day. I was not as distracted as I could have been. We left Abuja for home around 3:15 and I was back at the house by 7:00. I was able to call the NITEL number a couple of times on the way up to ___ to touch base with M.

S. was outside to meet me when I drove in, just as always. M. was in the house by herself. As soon as we got all of the things packed in the house, S. had to tell me his side of the story. I think he was trying to apologize for allowing these people to come into my house. He said, "I dey for house and hear de dogs shouting. I opened door and see one man by de bus..... Anoduh one go stand by de house (meaning the round mud house we use for a guard shack). I walked to dere (pointing with his flashlight to a spot right in front of the cherry tree) and dey grab me and show me gun and say, 'Shhh. Don't talk. If you talk, we go kill you.' Dey say, 'Ogah dey?' .... I say, 'no, she de travel.' .... Dey bring me to stairs and trow me down inside house." S. was saying this with pleading eyes as if to say he had messed up and was very sorry. I said, "S., you did nothing wrong. This is not your fault. It is the fault of the wicked men who came here. I am very grateful you were not injured. There is nothing that you could have done differently so you do not need to feel badly. This is just a bad experience that we all have to go through." He seemed relieved that I was not going to blame him for the experience or shout at him. He later told me that the men spoke Hausa to him but spoke English to M. He also said after they had asked if I were in the house, they asked who had started the generator. He told them that he had done so. They told him that if he shouted they would kill him.

I then had a chance to talk to M. in more detail about the incident. She narrated the story as follows:

She normally gives the night guard some food after we have eaten so S. was in the house getting his food around 7:30 PM. He normally would take it outside to eat. Any time at night when someone goes through our front door, we put the padlock in the door to keep people from wandering in. We have been especially careful about doing this since early October when thieves tried to get the Y. house next door. Suddenly, the dogs started barking very loudly outside. S. went to the front door, took the padlock out and walked out to see who was there. When he walked out, M. said that she had a bad feeling, like this was not something that was going to turn out well. A few seconds later, she heard S. kind of grunt like he had been hit. At that time she apparently came from the kitchen into the dining room. When she got there, the door burst open and these men came in. They threw S. on the floor and pulled on something like ski masks at the same time. Just as they were entering the door, M. screamed as loudly as she could. She said that she has never screamed like that in her life and did not even know that she could scream so loud. And, in fact, she did even remember making a willful decision to scream. It just came out of her. However, she said that it almost appeared that the robbers did not hear or pay any attention to the scream. [Later, the university guards told them that someone had heard her scream and that is what alerted them.]

They immediately asked M., "Is anyone else in the house?" M. replied that she was alone. They said, "Give us your money." M. said, "The money is upstairs." They indicated that they should go upstairs and get it. M. said, "I will go upstairs but first I must turn off my stove." They told her to do so but to do so carefully. She went into the kitchen with her hands in the air and turned off her stove and then they started upstairs. As they got to about the fourth or fifth step, suddenly a light popped on. This made the robber very nervous and he shouted, "What is that? Who turned that light on?" M. said, "It is only NEPA coming on." The thief behind them agreed that it was NEPA coming on. (Our electricity is off many hours every day. Sometimes we run a generator. To do so, we have a switch box in our house that allows us to switch from the regular electricity to our generator. However, we have a light that will come on near the switch box that will let us know when the electricity has come back on so we can switch back to the regular electricity. M. had been running the generator early in the evening and just as they were going upstairs the "NEPA light" came on, indicating that electricity was back on.) Apparently that explanation satisfied the head thief.

They went upstairs. Apparently M. went first with the man with the gun following her. Next came S. with the second thief also holding a gun. ..... The man kept yelling at her to hurry up—that she was wasting his time. He saw a bag of money in the drawer but when he opened it, it was only some old Naira notes. He threw that down and said he didn't want it. M. was at first finding ten and twenty dollar bills. He shouted, "I don't want that little stuff. That is no good for me. I want your treasure."

The man continued to shout and abuse M. with vulgar language saying, "Don't you f.--- with me. Do you want me to shoot you?" He continued, "Is this all the money? Don't you lie to me. I hate liars. Are you a Christian? You know that Christians don't lie." M. said, "Yes I am a Christian, are you?" He said, "Yes." M. said to him, "You know God really does not like stealing and is not very happy with you right now." He replied, "You are more privileged than I am." He kept shouting that he wanted more money so M. went over to her desk where she thought she had two or three hundred more dollars. She searched and found some envelopes, at least one of which had the [name of local organization] on the outside. She said, "Do you see the '[name]' on the outside of this envelop? I want you to know that this is money that was sent to Nigeria to buy wheelchairs for handicapped children." That did not seem to bother him. He took the envelopes, took the money out of them and threw the envelopes on the floor. The thief then said, "Put the laptop in the computer bag." M. said, "No, please don't take my computer. I have been working on it all day and it has many very important things on it and I am currently downloading a very important document." The robber went over shut the lid down on the computer, apparently planning to take it.

However, at just that moment, the whistles started blowing. One of the two robbers heard them and apparently told the other. Therefore, they immediately took off down the stairs. M. heard the door open downstairs. A few seconds later, she heard three shots. She assumed that they were shooting in the air to scare the university security guards who were converging on the place, without guns. M. went and stood in my closet for a few seconds but eventually decided that nothing was to be gained there so she got out. She found out that the NITEL phone was working and found the number for the ... Hotel in Abuja where I was staying and called me and informed me what was going on. At that time, she did not know how badly S. was hurt so she went down to check on him.

By the time she got downstairs, many people were gathering up in the compound. The police eventually came but did not really ask her many questions. Eventually things settled down a bit. R.Y. came over and spent the night with her though M. said she did not sleep very well. Her mind continued racing and playing over this scenario and possible other scenarios all night long.

Since that time, there has been a fairly steady stream of visitors coming by to sympathize with us. Nigerians treat an incident like this almost like a death in the family. They have to come by and personally sympathize with us. They are very thoughtful. Many of them have experienced similar things before.

Obviously, we were aware that a robbery like this was a very real possibility. We have discussed it a number of times. However, now that we have passed through this particular baptism, we are trying to figure out ways that we can reduce this possibility. One of the things has to do with the door. In the three successful armed robberies in our neighborhood, they were able to get in because the door was open. In the one unsuccessful attempt, they were not successful because the door was locked. Therefore, we are in the process of getting a stronger door that will lock automatically rather than one of us having to jump up and physically put a padlock in the door every time someone goes out. Thieves don't like light and sound so we are going to try to improve in both of those areas. However, we do not want to live in a fortress. One of the ways that we minister to people and understand them is that we live essentially the same kinds of lives that they live and experience many of the same things they experience. To create an armed fortress would send the wrong signal to our neighbors and students. We are trying to figure out ways that we can beef up the security without giving the impression that we are living in a fort. That is obviously an ongoing learning process.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A plague on both your houses; a pox upon ye

There is something about a good curse that is extremely satisfying. In high school, R. and I used to amuse ourselves by making up curses: "May goats urinate on your grandmother's grave, and on the graves of your children's children." My brother once called me laughing to recite in a Monty-Python voice some imprecatory passage in one of the prophetic books of the Bible.

Perhaps, it is somewhat sacreligious to find such humour in the sacred psalms, but I can't help thinking that God finds these things somewhat funny as well. Not that the historical situation in which David was suffering false accusations was funny, but the language that remains behind is...
Plus, so much of it is cultural hyperbole. David may have called down curses on his enemies and their children's children, but he took in Saul's grandchild Methibosheth and treated him like one of his own children--so, in some ways, the language acts like a good Hausa curse to someone who cuts you off in traffic: "Uwarka, Ubanka .... etc." I got an earful of that once when someone called me on my cellphone and gave me a good cussing out in Hausa. I hope it was a wrong number because i'd hate to think that I could have done anything to bring down such venom on my head.

So, without further ado, I will share parts of the imprecatory psalm that had me giggling this morning. This is from the NIV:

Psalm 109
(For the director of music. Of David. a psalm)

O God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent,
for wicked and deceitful men
have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
With words of hatred they surround me;
they attack me without cause.
In return for my friendship they accuse me,
but I am a man of prayer.
They repay me evil for good
and hatred for my friendship.
(The NRSV inserts a "They said," here which makes the psalmist a little more righteous, but the NIV note says that "They said" is is not in the original Hebrew and thus is is not a universal interpretation.)
Appoint an evil man to oppose him;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty
and may his prayers condemn him.
May his days be few;
may another take his place of leadership.
May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.
May his children be wandering beggars;
may they be driven from their ruined homes.
May a creditor seize all he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
May no one extend kindness to him
or take pity on his fatherless children.
May his descendants be cut off,
their names blotted out from the next generation.
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord;
may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
May their sins always remain before the LORD,
that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.
For he never thought of doing a kindness,
but hounded to death the poor and the needy and the brokenhearted.
He loved to pronounce a curse-- may it come on him;
he found no pleasure in blessing--may it be far from him.
He wore cursing as his garment;
it entered into his body like water,
into his bones like oil.
May it be like a cloak wrapped about him,
like a belt tied forever around him.
May this be the LORD's payment to my accusers,
to those who speak evil of me.
(the psalm goes on for another 11 stanzas, but this is the end of the curse, so i'll end here.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

i love my friends...

Yesterday, I considered writing a magical realist story about a girl who could not stop crying. It became a medical condition like blindness or like turets syndrome. She'd go to class, and she'd be crying. She'd go shopping. Crying. Eventually, everyone would be used to having someone around who had a constant stream of tears flowing from her eyes. (my apologies if this is an actual medical condition that i've never heard of)

I wondered if this was a burn-out/depression that would last a while, or if, as usual, I would snap out of it. I imagined myself going to a university counselor, and the thought was comforting. At certain times, I wish I were Catholic, just because the idea of a confessor sounds so right. Someone who will listen to you pour out all your doubts, fears, and sins, and send you away light and renewed, with a game plan for penance and improvement. i think protestants should institute confession and confessors as part of our way of life.

Well, as usual, I've snapped out of it, although i imagine the issue of burn-out is still going to be a factor for a while. I usually can't stay down for more than a couple of days. I'm such a sucker for approval. It just took going to see my professor and apologizing and hearing him saying "Oh, it wasn't a bad paper. It just wasn't a finished paper. I felt really bad writing that AB, because you're so obviously an A student, and your comments in class were excellent. But, at the same time, as scholars, we need to be honest with eachother." That's all I needed. Because what kept me in tears for 24 hours was not the grade. That I deserved. It was the thought that my professor might have lost respect for me--that he might have thought i was just blowing the class off. And also, I am so disappointed in myself because i know i COULD have written a brilliant paper on the film, but instead turned in a mediocre one. But, no, he told me, it doesn't lessen his respect for me one iota. He knows I do good and extremely interesting work, and he knows I've had a very busy semester. (I apparently have this gift of looking really tired all the time.) He just knows that this paper was so much less what I am capable of, that it is all there--just needs another week or so to be a really good paper--and he knows that I will do great once I had a chance to just sit down and write and not be so busy. Which I knew too--both that I had greatly underperformed and that I will do fine later. My voice wavered a bit, but I was so relieved. I LOVE this professor, so much. His comments are sometimes cutting, but they are also completely honest, and he is also encouraging and completely devoted to his students.

In fact, this post is devoted to how much I love this professor, and how much I love my friends. R. who called the moment I needed her the most, and who has just published her first piece--photos and a write up in an architectural book (I'm so PROUD!!!). My roommate who, although I get irritated with her at times, also has been terrific the last few days. As I sit around tears flowing, she says things like: oh you won't ever have a problem finding a job. you'll be vying for the top positions. (so, nice to have people say that every once in a while--even if it's total bunk). And Mukoma (hi Mukoma) who apparently (he confessed today in the midst of a pitcher of beer he drank all by himself while i primly drank water) found this blog through googling himself. (hahahaha, ok, i admit, i do it too, but you must have done some serious googling, because when i tried it, i didn't find my blog until page 11 or 12... sheesh). I'm not abbreviating his name, because he told me he "doesn't mind" the promotion. And while we are promoting, I will advertise that (along with his nonfiction and recently-published volume of poetry) he has written the most brilliant novel, which is with a big-name agent, and which will no doubt be recieved with all sort of critical acclaim when it is published. Anyone who reads this post should keep your eyes peeled.... And F. whose house I hung out at last Friday, where we ate Ugandan food and gossiped and lounged about watching Mississippi Masala and The Devil Wears Prada. And N. who im-ed me from Durban the other day and sympathetically listened to/read my kvetching. And H. and M., both of whom bale me out of trouble in the department with their impeccable diplomacy. And J. who kept me company during our paper-writing all-nighter with insane emails. And K. who is back in Naija hanging out with hip-hop stars in Lagos. And all the blogger folk, who have become such a strangely necessary part of my life. I love you all. i emerge from the greyness, energized.

Just an aside. i have (not very seriously) tried to vaguely disguise who i am on this blog. but it obviously has not worked. i am very easy to figure out. I recently discovered that people as varied as my mother, old college friends, and Mukoma are reading my blog. This is both alarming and gratifying. How does one write for such a diverse audience? And how open can one be? I've avoided writing about moments I am seriously angry with specific people, but should I be more careful about moaning and groaning over various woes? For, now, i'm going to say, no. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

my best friend

tonight, i was crawling into bed hours earlier than normal at 9:30pm. feeling grey. down. just plain bad.

i got an AB in my south african oral and written literature class. the first literature class i have ever gotten anything with an "b" in it. it was exactly the grade i deserved. my paper was sloppy and disorganized. i was expecting it. the grade doesn't upset me as much as the thought that i disappointed a professor in that way. a professor who laughed at me when i apologized for turning in a mediocre paper (after he asked me how it went?), because he seemed to think i was incapable of turning in bad work. (showed him...) i've actually been feeling grey since i handed the paper in last week. i've had a tough semester. i was sick at the beginning. i had three out of town trips. two conferences, four classes, a thesis in limbo. i tried to do too many things at once. that paper just never quite happened in the way that it should have. i just couldn't quite make myself write it. i will go see my professor and apologize so that he doesn't think i've turned into a slacker, but i won't make excuses and i won't ask for any favours. i don't do that.

just as i was tucking myself in, the phone rings and it is R. As if she knows that i need her at this very moment. i blab it all out. she makes sympathetic sounds and sings to me. i cry. i say i'm getting burnt out and need to get out of school. she agrees. that she noticed i seemed tired over thanksgiving. but yet, the end is in sight. the possibility of finishing coursework next semester and taking prelims by the end of summer is there. we talk for another two and a half hours. and it all feels so much better now. i love R. so much. if it weren't for her, i would have been lost years ago.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


I missed the bus again this morning, so I walked to church along the creek. The stream that feeds into the large lake is frozen now, and the ice is grey and smooth, pocked with frozen bubbles under the surface, scarred by horizontal white lines, early fault-lines, where something fell through. Being car-less and chronically late to catch the bus, I often find myself walking to church in the deepest part of winter. Usually the stream and the lake is covered in snow, like a long smooth plain. The openness, the sudden winter-land retrieved from summer’s water, has often tempted me to walk out onto the meadow of snow and on into the sky, leaving a solitary trail of footprints winding behind me.

It’s rare to see the water like this. It must have frozen since the last snow. The ice is glassy: you can peer down into it—at that world that will be separated for months from the air. I find myself thinking of the lives of fish—of the porousness of ice.

As a young girl of eleven newly moved with my family to Port Harcourt, I romanticized the winter. We had only lived in a place where it snowed for two years, having lived in the deep south for most of my life, but under the spell of Anne of Green Gables and Narnia, I planned my adult life in a place where there were snow-covered birches and mountains and an ocean nearby. I chose New Hampshire on the map. I’d never been there, but it sounded about right to me.

At that time, my father had told us we would only be in Nigeria for four years—long enough for an experience—short enough to pick back up our lives in the U.S. There was no question of me not living in the U.S when I grew older. I’d marry a doctor, who would be able to support me while I wrote. We’d live in a house on a hill surrounded by woods. There’d be a stream and a pond for ice-skating when the water froze over. I’d have a library, stacked from floor to ceiling with the books I had been collecting my whole life. My library would be filled with light from large diamond-paned windows. I’d have my desk there, beside the windows, and I’d look out over the snow covered trees and I’d write. We’d have ten children, I supposed, since I had ten names that I wanted to bestow. And they would play in the woods and in the creek while I wrote.

The house, the woods, the snow, the sky, the beautifully-named children, the leather-bound books graced with my name. This was what I imagined for myself. At age 29, an age so old I couldn’t even grasp it, I should have at least two novels written, at least three or four children. And the husband, well, he should have come by, at least, age twenty-two.

Walking along the frozen stream, I think that I should try to find some used ice-skates before I leave this place. That I should at least fulfill that part of the dream. I smile at how our ideals change, and how our longings for one place eventually turn into longings for the very place we wanted to abandon. A few years ago I spent a month in Togo trying to learn French. I was constantly waiting for the young man assigned to put up with me, Albert, to come pick me up and take me into the city on his motorcycle. I’d lie under rustling palm trees on the sand, listen to the ocean breath in and out. I would spend whole days waiting. I’d calm myself by sitting under the palm trees, translating children’s books with a French-English dictionary. This is patience, you need to learn it, I would tell myself. In the busy years to come, in the winterous days of graduate school, I must come back to this place. I will align my breath with the sweeping tide, hear the tinkling sigh of dry palm fronds touching each other, feel the sunset lingering on my skin. This is my quiet place. This is my retreat. The core out of which serenity ripples.

At the ASA conference in San Francisco this year, I sat in for a friend at the African Studies table, while he prepared his presentation. An alumnus of our university’s African Studies programme dropped by for a chat. We exchanged greetings in Hausa and he told me of a brilliant young professor at our university in the 70s. He was half-Nigerian, half-American, newly hired in the History department. “One night in November, he dropped me off at a party at another professor’s house. I asked him if he wanted to come in with me, and he said, no, that I should go ahead.

“I never saw him again. That week he disappeared…. They found his body the next spring when the ice melted.” He walked off into the lake, the man told me, off into the black waters that night. The young professor was hearing voices, he told me. It must have frozen over that night.

There would have been a white streak in the ice, a thin line marking the place they had called him. The ice would have crept over top, growing glassy and grey, reflecting the blue of the sky. And after a while, the snow would have come, crusting over the deep waters with a meadow of white. The wind would have played along the edge of the lake, breathing through the pines at the edge, so that if you listened carefully, you might hear them tapping together like palm fronds, and when the moon came out, sweeping a path out over the snow, you might hear the rhythmic sighing of the earth, the breathing of the tides somewhere far, far away.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Armed robbery as a way of life: A statistic from my father's graduate students

A quote from an email my father sent to friends and relatives this morning:

To be honest, we have been expected this to happen for years. You cannot live ... [here] for 18 years, in the very free and open manner in which we do, without getting hit by robbers. It is a way of life. When I informed my class this morning about this incident and asked them how many of them had experienced an armed robbery attack, they all smiled; 8 of the 10 had experienced some kind of armed robbery.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Report of Armed Robbery (by my mother)

Report of Armed Robbery

Name: Mrs. ____ ______

Address: University of _____

Date: 6th December 2006; Approximately 7:30 to 7:45 PM

Items taken:
1. One silver Nokia 2650 cell phone (___________) purchased from _____on 13-Aug-05, costing N14,000
2. Approximately $_____ American Dollars

Unfortunately, I do not remember any identifying characteristics of the men. However, there were two that came in the house, one was fairly tall and the other seemed shorter. The tall one was carrying a handgun--a black one about 8-10 inches long. The tall one put a mask on his face shortly after entering the house. He seemed to speak English fine, using the swear word “f---” very often. The shorter one seemed to have something in his hand—perhaps a shotgun. The shorter one did not say much and was guarding S____, the night guard


Shortly after 7:30 pm two armed men pushed our night guard, S____, into my front door. He was fallen on the floor. I had been cooking in the kitchen and I screamed very loud. The men entered and asked if there was anyone else in the house. I told them no, and so he said for me to give them my money. He was waving a handgun, and I did not know how much they had hurt our night guard already I told him I would have to go upstairs, but I had to turn off my stove first. He allowed me to turn off my stove. We walked up the stairs, (as we were going up the stairs the electricity came on—the tall man demanded why the light had come on—I told him because NEPA had just returned). He followed me into my bedroom, and I was giving him the money I had. He kept swearing at me that I better not “fuck” with him. He said I better not lie to him, he did not like lying. He asked me, “Are you a Christian.” I told him I was. I asked him if he was a Christian. He said he was. I told him that God did not like stealing, and that God was very disappointed in him right now. He said something like, “You are more privileged than me.” He threatened to shoot me if I didn’t give him more money, I had more money in my desk drawer--some belonging to the ______(a group that makes wheelchairs for the handicapped). I told him as I gave him that, this is money sent to make wheelchairs for handicapped people. I do not know exactly how much money I had, but I believe it was almost $_____.

After that he told me to shut off my laptop computer and put it in the bag. I begged him not to take my computer--I was downloading something very important. He went ahead and shut the lid of the computer and also picked up my cell phone, but at that moment he heard the whistles coming up the road. He and his partner just left immediately. They did not take my computer, but did take my cell phone. A few seconds later I heard gun shots. I believe 3. Then I began to hear people. I was a little afraid to go downstairs again, but checked my land phone and found it was working. I called my husband who was in Abuja. I was talking to him when the phone broke connection. I could not get a line thru again. (This is not unusual.) By this time, I decided I needed to go downstairs and make sure my night guard was all right. There were several other night guards and other people here by that time.

Everyone gathered downstairs treated me very kindly, and I felt that God had protected me in many ways. The armed men did not touch me or hurt me personally.

I appreciated all the police and others that responded so quickly.

Thank you for your help,

Mrs. ______________

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Armed Robbers!

My mom just called.

She said armed robbers came to the house tonight. She wanted to let me know that she was ok. My dad is in Abuja for a meeting until tomorrow. She was home alone. It was around 7:30pm. The guard was coming out of the house to feed the dogs, and as he went out the door, the two men pushed him back into the house and kicked him. My mom screamed louder than she said she thought she could scream. The generator was running, so there was noise to cover her scream.

They had a gun. They told my mom to take them to the money. As they were going up the stairs, NEPA came on, and the light in the hallway came on to indicate it.

"Who turned the light on?" the man with the gun asked.

"It's just NEPA," Mom said.

They went up the stairs. They did not want naira. She gave the dollars that were in the house.

"Are you a Christian?" he asked.

"Yes," she says. "Are you?"

"Yes." he says. "You know God doesn't like lying."

"God doesn't like stealing," she said. (I LOVE my mom!"

"Well, you are more priviliged than I am." he said.

I don't know what she said to him, then. But on the phone, she said, well that is true.

(The amazing thing about it is that she called me on Skype to tell me!)

He then asked her about the laptop. And she was like "Oh, please, don't take my computer. I have so many important documents on it." (Yeah right! again, I LOVE my mom!)

He closed it and was about to unhook it, when the university guards came running up outside the house. The robbers heard the whistles, so he just grabbed her cell phone that was on the table, and ran with it.

They fired a couple of shots to disperse the guards and ran away.

It sounds like they were probably students. There were just two; they had guns. She said their English was very good.

Remembering a little incident (robbers never came into the compound--just rattled on the gates for a while) in Kano this summer, I remember how shaken I was. I wish I were there to sleep there with my mom tonight, but the neighbor will stay with her. My dad will come back tomorrow, but no use in risking road armed robbers to drive back at night.

A neighbor is going to sleep in the house with her tonight. Other neighbors came and loaned her their cell phones so she could call dad. The police came. She said that, still shaken, the police with their guns were also a little frightening to her too. But there was an older man among them, who was very calm and nice, who made her feel better. She has to go into the police station to file a report tomorrow.

We're all upset. I called T., because Mom hadn't been able to get through to her. Mom was going to try to reach L. She'd already called my brother, D. My brother just called me and told me how he and our cousin are brainstorming about how to make the house more secure. He's talking Tazer guns, barring up the porch, etc. But the overwhelming emotion I have, and which my mom told me she has too, is gratitude and thankfulness and relief.

Because, really, we've been so blessed. All 18 years my family has been in Nigeria, we have not ONCE had an encounter with armed robbers (save for the little thing I experienced in Kano, and like I said, the armed robbers never got into the house, just shook the compound gates for a while). And if that is not the hand of God, then, I don't know what is. We all knew it would eventually happen. And if it had to happen, this was an "ideal armed robbery" if there is such a case. They did not touch my mom. Samila, the guard, is bruised but not hurt too badly. They didn't shoot anybody.

My worst fear, the fear that haunts me, has always been armed robbers. I don't care so much about the things they take (although, the computer would be a terrible loss), but I've heard so many stories of women being raped, people being shot and tortured. I thank God from whom all blessings flow that Mom is ok. She even said she was kind of glad that Dad wasn't around, because she is afraid that someone might have gotten hurt if he had been around.

No one likes to have money taken, but there wasn't even that much money in the house. They didn't even take the computer. That's really a miracle.

Oh Lord God, thank you for your protection. Thank you for your blessings. Thank you for keeping my mother safe. When she called and said she had something to tell me, but Dad said she should tell us to let us know she was ok, I immediately thought she had found out she had some disease. When she told me it was armed robbers, I was upset. But like he predicted, I was glad to hear it from her. To hear her voice, and to hear her sounding calm and put together.

My mother is so brave. She is emotional like me, and we often get offend eachother, and get into fights if we've been around each other for too long, but she is so calm under pressure. She was that way when she helped nurse my grandfather as he was dying a few years ago. Maybe it's a calm that comes with these situations, that takes us through. I know she'll probably be more shaken tomorrow than she was tonight.

I remember this summer when the thugs/armed robbers rattled on the gates for three hours from 2 to 5am, I was terrified. I huddled together with the other two people in the house under a blanket on the living room floor. But at the same time, I felt a peace. In fact, we even laughed a little bit--that desperate sort of laughter--at how we were all huddled on the floor under a blanket, like children. Like that would protect us. Racing heart, trembling hands, desperate giggles. Through it all, I knew that I would be ok--deep down--that i would be ok, whatever happened.

Thank you, Lord, for peace. Thank you for protection.

I love my mom so much.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Woe is me part 2, the horrible seminar paper

yesterday, i turned in the worst paper i have written in my life to the oldest and probably most widely known professor in the department and my 9 seminar classmates. in this seminar, there is no revision, after my presentation next week, this is it.

it was bad. bad. bad. period.

i don't know what's wrong with me. i have been working on the ideas for it for months. i had the film going in a continuous loop while i wrote. have tons of books out of the library. have pages and pages of notes and diagrams. But in the end, i couldn't figure out an argument to make, i decided (too late) that if i started writing maybe i'd figure out, but i never did. i just started too late. I didn't end up plugging in the research or much of the analysis. The writing itself, on the sentence level, is bad because i had no time to reread and polish. And you may ask if there is no research and there is no analysis and no clean writing, what is there?

nothing. drivel.

i thought maybe i had misjudged myself and reread the paper again last night. i haven't. it's bad.

so, after i handed in the paper, after an all nighter in which my classmate J. and i kept eachother miserable company via incoherent email (he was working on his paper for the seminar too), the prof. saw me in the department and he was like "So how do you feel about the paper." and i had to tell him. "i'm sorry. i've thought a lot about this, but in the end, i just couldn't organize my thoughts." Then, as i was talking to my other prof., he stopped in her office and said, "Can you believe this. C. thinks she just turned in a bad paper to me. Hahaha." The other professor laughs too, and all i can say is, "i hope you're right, but i'm afraid it's true this time."

i saw him in the dept. today, and he looked at me funny.

Oh, it's so horrible. i want to hide in shame. i promise any reader who tries to tell me it is not that bad. it is. usually, i at least have a lot of sources in my works cited section to show that i've done the work. this time it just didn't happen--on any level.

Oh, the humiliation.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The other career plan

Ok, so the dilemma when i got these in the mail today was whether to keep them secretly and safely to myself, or to share. I was laughing too hard to keep to myself, so...

if this phd thing doesn't work out, i'll just be a hausa movie star.

The second baturiya on the cover of 419 is my friend K. who was in Sokoto learning Hausa this summer, but had come to Kano to visit me for a couple of days in July and got caught up in my grand money-making scheme.... {-; In the film, we are American fools who come to Nigeria to invest one million dollars in cash and (wai) get back $50 million. Wayyo!! See wahalla don come oh!!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Travails of writing on Hijack Stories

I am trying out my advisor's technique of writing a title before getting very far along on the paper. It's actually good advice. It's helping me focus.
So, here's the working title:

Mirror Image Brother: the actor, the gangster, and the quest for South African identity in Oliver Schmitz’s film Hijack Stories

This is a really fascinating film (dir, Oliver Schmitz, South Africa, 2000) that I'm not doing justice in my hurried seminar paper. If I have a chance to post more coherent thoughts on it I will. It is my goal to work with film in my academic career, but I am quickly learning what a pain in the butt it is. I ordered the film on sale from for very cheap (I see the price has since gone up), but, of course the film is region 2 (UK, Europe, and South Africa), and I don't want to change my computer system over from region 1, since I only have five switches and want to save them. So writing on the film has involved an excrutiating process of having to go into the language lab at the university every time I want to watch the film. I finally had the lab convert the film over to region 1 for me, but that dvd won't play on my new laptop. It WILL play on my old dying laptop, but there is no way to fastforward or skip chapters. So, as I write the paper, I have the film constantly playing in the background, and when it gets to a part I need to watch, I drop everything and watch it. I'm still trying to figure out the words to the very last song/spoken word poem as the credits role. It combines the stanza from Ingoapele Madingoane's poem "africa my beginning" with other bits and pieces about "mirror image"s and "brothers who share the same throne," which is very significant to my interpretation of the main characters Sox and Zama as two sides of the same person, as well as one of my main points about the poem at the centre of the story (a la Harold Scheub).

Now to bed for a few hours. It snowed a lot today. i stayed indoors all day long.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Puffing on Polonium (from the NY Times)

Article from the New York Times about polonium in cigarettes.

December 1, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor
Puffing on Polonium
Stanford, Calif.

WHEN the former K.G.B. agent Alexander V. Litvinenko was found to have been poisoned by radioactive polonium 210 last week, there was one group that must have been particularly horrified: the tobacco industry.

The industry has been aware at least since the 1960s that cigarettes contain significant levels of polonium. Exactly how it gets into tobacco is not entirely understood, but uranium “daughter products” naturally present in soils seem to be selectively absorbed by the tobacco plant, where they decay into radioactive polonium. High-phosphate fertilizers may worsen the problem, since uranium tends to associate with phosphates. In 1975, Philip Morris scientists wondered whether the secret to tobacco growers’ longevity in the Caucasus might be that farmers there avoided phosphate fertilizers.

How much polonium is in tobacco? In 1968, the American Tobacco Company began a secret research effort to find out. Using precision analytic techniques, the researchers found that smokers inhale an average of about .04 picocuries of polonium 210 per cigarette. The company also found, no doubt to its dismay, that the filters being considered to help trap the isotope were not terribly effective. (Disclosure: I’ve served as a witness in litigation against the tobacco industry.)

A fraction of a trillionth of a curie (a unit of radiation named for polonium’s discoverers, Marie and Pierre Curie) may not sound like much, but remember that we’re talking about a powerful radionuclide disgorging alpha particles — the most dangerous kind when it comes to lung cancer — at a much higher rate even than the plutonium used in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Polonium 210 has a half life of about 138 days, making it thousands of times more radioactive than the nuclear fuels used in early atomic bombs.

We should also recall that people smoke a lot of cigarettes — about 5.7 trillion worldwide every year, enough to make a continuous chain from the earth to the sun and back, with enough left over for a few side-trips to Mars. If .04 picocuries of polonium are inhaled with every cigarette, about a quarter of a curie of one of the world’s most radioactive poisons is inhaled along with the tar, nicotine and cyanide of all the world’s cigarettes smoked each year. Pack-and-a-half smokers are dosed to the tune of about 300 chest X-rays.

Is it therefore really correct to say, as Britain’s Health Protection Agency did this week, that the risk of having been exposed to this substance remains low? That statement might be true for whatever particular supplies were used to poison Mr. Litvinenko, but consider also this: London’s smokers (and those Londoners exposed to secondhand smoke), taken as a group, probably inhale more polonium 210 on any given day than the former spy ingested with his sushi.

For the rest of this article, click here.