Saturday, January 27, 2007

Meme: Five things you don't know about me

Teju Cole of Modal Minority tagged me a few days ago with this meme. By the way, what does “meme” mean? I feel like it is some word that I should know. (And all who read this who feel like being tagged, consider yourselves tagged.) Despite my constant blabbing about myself on this blog, here are five things that most readers probably don't know.

1) My first trip outside of the United States was in 1988 when I was eleven years old and my family moved from Kansas to Port Harcourt. We stopped over in London and spent three days exploring the city. We visited an old auntie, a sister of my great grandmother, who had a toilet that you had to pull a chain to flush and who fed us on a rich cream almond covered cake and cucumber sandwiches. She was so proud of the cake. None of us could eat it. The five of us, my parents, my brother, sister and I wandered across London on foot, crossing London Bridge to Madame Toussaud's and watching the beefeaters outside of Buckingham Palace, but also stumbling across neighborhood cricket games, and ending up getting so lost that we had to walk for hours to get back to the guesthouse where we were staying. My brother was so tired that he lay down on the sidewalk and refused to go further. My dad ended up carrying him on his back, and I carried my sister.

My first memory of Nigeria is a tall soldier with a machine gun who escorted us through customs in the Lagos airport. At the guest house, the toilet seat was not attached to the toilet and there was a big black barrel in the bathtub. This did not bother us; it was just all part of the adventure. There were turquoise blue blankets on the two double beds. L., D. and I jumped on them, while we waited for the food to come; it arrived around midnight, a heaping platter of rice and stew and fried plantain. After her first trip to Nigeria before they brought us kids, my mother had raved about fried plantains. But when I tasted them that first night, I did not like them. I did not like them for another five or six years.

2) I was once fired from Oscar de la Renta…. Think Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada getting fired on her first day of work rather than getting sucked into the system, and that was me. I had moved to New York with my best friend from high school after graduating from college. I was young and naive, and although my style had gotten better after a semester abroad in England, I had never heard of Oscar de la Renta. I was temping while looking for a more permanent job. One morning my temp agent called me all excited that she was going to place me with Oscar de la Renta. I must have seemed unsuitably unimpressed on the phone, so she said, “You don’t know who Oscar de la Renta is? Are you serious? The FAMOUS designer????... So, can you handle phones?” “I’ve never done it before,” I said. “You’ll learn,” she said. “It’s a three week job, you’ll be standing in for the CEO’s receptionist. So, shall we do it?” “I’ll try.” I said. So, I put on my conservative blue outlet mall suit and my Payless dress shoes and took the subway to Oscar de la Renta. Models were roaming about. No one else had on a conservative blue suit. When I walked in and gave them my name, the person at the front desk gave me a good up and down look. They sat me down in an office that was to be mine for the next three weeks. I could not have a lunch break because lunch would be served by a chef. I was excited about the chef but unhappy about not having a lunch break because I was still interviewing for other permanent jobs. I had never transferred calls before. In fact, I have a mortal fear of talking on phones with strangers—probably having something to do with not having grown up with phones. So, here I was blithely answering the phone “Oscar de la ROSA. May I help you?” I answered the phone this way about five times, until someone on the other line said, “you mean ‘Renta’ Oscar de la Renta.” … Then, I ended up hanging up on some famous French designer when I tried to transfer him. The last straw was when I patched through a call to the CEO while he was in a meeting. He came out right before noon and told me I would no longer be needed. About a week later I got the editing job that I had for the next two years, and I wouldn’t have been able to interview for it if I had I still been at Oscar de la Renta…

3) The summer after I graduated from college, before I moved to New York, I worked in a junkyard in Georgia, tearing apart old computers and machines. I enjoyed it until the old man who owned the junkyard started coming up behind me while I was unscrewing things and giving me massages. So, I quit. (I’ve written a longer description of this, but I’m not sure whether or not to post it.)

4) Although I am now in a PhD programme for African literature, I actually did not read any African literature until I was around 16. Just as my dad had made our entire family take a Hausa class during one school break, he made me start reading African novels. I would bring home fantasy and science fiction and historical romance novels, neglect my homework for Jane Austen and Robin McKinley. One day my dad handed me Cyprian Ekwensi’s People in the City and Ngugi’s The River Between and said. “You are living in Africa, so you should read African literature too.” Those were the first two African novels I read. Now, I recommend books for him to read. My dad has been so influential in who I have become, in so many ways.

5) My parents grew up in very conservative families who were a part of the Holiness movement. Although my mother relaxed the rules on us kids enough that we were allowed to go swimming and wear short sleeves and sandals without stockings, we were raised in a very simple way. We did not grow up with television, although we did have a VCR that we hooked up to a computer monitor to watch Chitty Chitty Bang, Bang, and old Shirley Temple, and Laurel and Hardy movies. Later in high school, we were allowed to watch more daring things like Star Wars. We did not wear jewelry or makeup--a habit that lasts me to this day. (My little sister, L., on the other hand, can manage her makeup quite well.) My mom made a lot of our clothes herself. I didn’t trim my hair until I was fourteen. After a trip to the U.S. where I had acquired a very unfortunate set of bangs, my grandmother wrote my parents a letter telling them how disappointed she was that they were allowing Carmen to become “worldly.”

I did not wear jeans until I got to college. One of the things about not being used to wearing what other people wear is that it takes you a while to get the style quite right. On my first date in college, I wore a baggy pair of jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt, and I thought that I was “stylin.”(!) I finally broke down another barrier when I got my ears pierced last year. Now, I realize that there are a lot of things about earring etiquette I don’t know. Is it all right to wear the same dangly ruby-studded gothic earrings three days in a row as I did this week, or is that as bad as wearing the same sweater three days in a row?

See if you can identify me in this photo. I was thirteen. We were living in Port Harcourt, when the international school (where I later went to high school after we moved to Jos) sent down their sports teams to engage in a national competition. The students seemed so glamourous and so American to me. I was in awe of them and wanted to be like them.


uknaija said...

Thanks for this....illuminating!

Fred said...

All is explained! ;-)

What I don't understand is your socio-liberalism considering your background. How do you reconcile your religious ideology with the Democrats you support?

Talatu-Carmen said...

Ah Fred, my dear,

How can one answer such a question in a comment? The blog itself, in its complexities and self-contradictions, should answer over time.

Are human beings so simple that they merely follow a preprogrammed path or do we have the agency to observe the world, to grow and change? Are Christians really as flat and uninteresting and unified as you imply?

I come from a Holiness background, but I don't agree with their overly-literalist readings of Scripture or of their focus on the material to the neglect of larger spiritual truths. I do admire the way the Holiness movement appealed to "the masses" and the social justice movement that is often associated with the revivals of the 1800s. I still consider myself theologically aligned with the Anglican founder of Methodism John Wesley, as well as his Anglican theological cousin, C.S. Lewis.

I don't unthinkingly follow "Democrat" ideology. Rather, I seek to make the best choices based on context, my experiences of the world, and the information I have. I am awed at the mystery of Christ the creator who became a part of his own creation. My faith in these mysteries and my reverence for the Scriptures which I can only read in translation (think about how much we are missing just in translation) only furthers my conviction that it would be sheer arrogance to say that "because I am a Christian, I must vote Republican." Even you must see how sacreligious it would be to tie my belief in God to the cynical claims of some worm-like politician. That is perhaps one of the greatest blessings of my background (and of my dear old grandfather, who strictly follows Holiness doctrine as he sees it, and who also unfailingly votes pro-union and democrat): my suspicians of materialism and the seductions offered by the "world" (or "the antichrist" if you will) that hypocritically disguises itself as the only truth. What did Jesus do when he was on earth, and why is it that he was always in trouble with the Pharisees?

Fred said...

Humans being are simple, perhaps not simplistic, which I think is what you mean. Christians aren't flat and uninteresting, and I certainly did not imply it by asking how you reconcile your Christian ideology with the odious Dems'. If you think I did, allow me to disabuse you of that notion.

In fact, I believe in the exact opposite truism: Christians are some of the more "nuanced" people (whatever that is), but they are so within the confines of a strict moral code. A set of guiding principles that are, by definition, immutable and perhaps codified in or represented by the Ten Commandments, for want of a better example.

I don't understand what you mean by "overly-literalist[sic] reading." Either one takes Scripture as is, or one does not. Nothing to be overly-literalistic over. Besides, is it even possible to be overly-literalistic? If I write you an email inviting you to dinner, what is the overly-literalistic meaning of that invitation? I'm simplifying a little sure, (hopefully not being simplistic :-) but the meaning is there in general. Even allowing for a loose definition of "overly-literalistic", I'm pretty sure none of the Holiness Movement will be plucking anyone's eyes out under Biblical compulsion or refusing to wear multi-colored clothing anytime soon or ever.

Again, you're making the mistake of thinking my point is that all Christians should vote Republican. Far from it. If anything, there are many things I, as a (nominal) Christian, intensely disagree with the Republican party over and even though examples are not necessarily proof of anything really, I have voted against particular Republicans many times because I disagreed with their stance on something or the other.

But, and here's the key: the Democrats and their ideology as it stands today makes it the Party of Death. They are overwhelmingly anti-religion for starters. Ramesh Ponnoru makes an excellent case for this in his book, The Party of Death. Ann Coulter also does the same with hers, Godless: The Church of Liberalism. Ponnuru says of them: "It’s not just abortion-on-demand. It’s euthanasia, embryo destruction, even infanticide—and a potentially deadly concern with "the quality of life" of disabled people." This alone should serve to give any Christian serious doubts about aligning themselves with such people.

I wager my bottom dollar that if you were to come outright and attempt to share your guiding ideology with many Democrats, you would find many, many things over which you do not agree. Many of them believe Christians are very bad people who pass value-judgments from their "High and Mighty" thrones. Another of their bailiwick principles is the blind acceptance of Homosexuality, which as you know is roundly rejected in the Bible.

While blind devotion to a political party is certainly against Christian principles I believe, there is such a thing as looking at the overall picture and that picture of the Dems isn't pretty. Not even close. The Dems may not have started out this way--in fact, I know they didn't start this way, but the special interests have come to own it, lock, stock, and barrel.

All this does not even include their barely-concealed Communist/Marxist agenda which serves to turn me off utterly. That said, if I had a Democratic candidate who espoused enough of my ideas about government, I would vote for such a person in a second (and have).

Now, before you fixate on my supposed anti-abortion stance, let me tell you that I'm not against abortion entirely. I believe there are certain times and cases when it is necessary to perform them. I don't think the procedure should be used as birth control, I don't think it should be available to underage girls--without their parents' consent, etc. I am all for "reproductive" freedom and think abortion, as a medical procedure, should be available, period.

I'm also not traditionally anti-homosexual. As a Christian, I believe it is wrong. As a scientist, albeit a physical scientist, I believe it is wrong, but as a human being, a citizen of America, I believe whatever two consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedrooms is no one's business, straight, gay, or bestial (poor sheep!). I just don't want to hear about it in graphic detail or have it rammed down my throat or make me have to explain to my five-year-old what a homosexual is, just as I would not want to hear about a so-called Straight person's sexuality. It's none of my business.

Put it this way, C. S. Lewis would not have voted for the modern Democratic Party.

Talatu-Carmen said...

Well. well. well. look at this. two complex people who vote for various complex reasons and don't fit into anyone's box. this is why i like to read and write; it undermines these stereotypes propagated by an overly-simplistic media. i salute you on your individuality.

i'm not going to bother debating you point by point, as i have to close down my internet and get my thesis done. i think you have answered your own, perhaps rhetorical, question that you posted earlier.

i have nowhere on this blog said that i am a democrat. i'm not. neither am i (certainly not) a republican. i like to maintain my independence and vote the way it seems to make the most sense. in the past few years, given the paucity of choices, i have voted democrat. but that does not mean that i wholesale agree with everything that the party says.(in fact, i have bemoaned the strict two party system that seems to boil voters down to being either right or left--the prolife issue you mentioned being one of the ethical crises i had to face.) it merely means i think that, in the current environment, they are the best choice between two evils. And I think that there are many good people like me who feel the same way.

as for holiness folks being overly-literal. you've pointed out their self-contradictions yourself. i've no need to go further. i refer to my grandparents citing the biblical passage saying "a woman's long hair is her glory" to mean that a woman must not touch her hair with a pair of scissors. Or that "it is an abomination for a woman to put on that which pertaineth to a man" to mean that all girls who wear trousers are going to hell. etc. etc. ad nauseum. As my dad likes to point out, the American/Nigerian branches of the movement generally neglect the holy injunction to "greet one another with a kiss," the law not to wear cloth mixed of different threads etc. I grew up in fear of offending my grandparents. i understand all the contradictions in their ideology and in my own reaction all too well.

Talatu-Carmen said...

p.s. i think it is somewhat dangerous to speculate how a historical figure from a different country would have voted. people who argue that way can generally bend the historical person to fit whatever agenda they want. i think we must be guided by their wisdom and then make the choices for ourselves.

Texter said...

Your hair was so long, Talatu! Wow! Cool old pics. I love old photos. Interesting stories too.

i may get seduced into doing a meme! :)

Fred said...

I wonder why the need to underscore not (certainly not!) being a Republican? ;-)

That you are not a card-carrying member of one party or another does not mean much. I think you will agree that your tendencies are leftist-socialist. Mine are right-of-center if not rabid right-of-center, then close.

I will go out on a dangerously thin limb and daresay that right-of-center conservatism is far more in-line with general Christian principles than are leftist-socialist.

Since Christianity is not a political party, thank heavens, I have to vote my conscience and as long as abortion-on-demand, the support of certain untraditional societal mores to the detriment of others (and you know what I'm talking about) among other things, are fundamental ideologies of the Democratic Party, I will tend to stay away from them.

As for C. S. Lewis and the danger of speculating on historical figures' political bents: there is no need to "speculate." Lewis left copious amounts of what he thought about politics and systems of government. It is then a rather simple matter of extrapolating from that. With that in mind, it'll be illogical to reach the conclusion that he would vote for the modern Democratic Party.

Don't mean to distract you from your thesis writing. Have fun! Or not, as the case may be! :-)

Charity said...

Nope, you shouldn't wear the same earrings three days in a row. Earrings should match the style and color the outfit your are wearing. Sometimes they coordinate with the necklace and other jewlery. But all the elements work together with the clothing, and how you've done your hair.

And much like you, I think socio-liberalism would describe my politicals views. Though you had a much stricter back ground then me.

I don't think your family was in the Star Wars days by the time I left 'Crest!

Talatu-Carmen said...


my goodness. Blast from the past.

how did you find my blog...?!

i've got to start another one... i've become a little too un-anonymous... {-; (I saw your email address when i approved your comment. I'll try to email you a little later, when i'm done with my thesis.)

hope you are well.

Everchange said...

You've certainly had a very interesting life. Thankfully I have not been fired from any job. I don't think I could recover from the humiliation.

Talatu-Carmen said...

Everchange, thanks for the comment! Believe me I cried for days afterward. It was one of the most humiliating things I had ever experienced, and it took several years before I could start to tell it as a funny story. But I have enough of a sense of humour to see how ridiculous a situation it was. I certainly deserved to be fired, not because I'm stupid or incompetent but because I clearly had no idea what I was doing and am obviously not cut out to be a receptionist. I place some of the blame on the temp agency, some of the blame on myself, and comfort myself that the CEO was a jerk who didn't give me much chance to learn what I was doing! {-; (But then again, why should he have to put up with someone who didn't know what they were doing.)

Anyway, I was ultimately able to see it as a blessing that opened up the space for me to get the editing job that I was much, much better prepared to do well.