Wednesday, August 30, 2006

8th Lagos Book & Art Festival

Deji told me about this and I have been reading snippets about it in the papers in the last week or so. The Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) will be organising the 8th Lagos Book and Art Festival in the gardens of the National Museum, Onikan from September 14 to 17. It looks like it will be fun and a wonderful experience for all book and art lovers.

The CORA blog has the full schedule for the program.

The first day will feature the opening of the concurrent 2nd Lagos Comics & Cartoons Carnival, which should definitely be interesting.

Friday will feature a roundtable discussion titled What Do Women Write about the female narrative voice in Nigerian fiction. Damn! It's times like this that I miss my Friday CDs. Hmmmm, I feel a sick day coming on. LOL!!!!!

Hair Today! Gone Tomorrow!

LOL! Very bad play on words, I know. I'm not referring to my own hair either. I've had some kinky twist extensions in for the last 6 weeks, which I'm taking out. Six weeks is an eternity for me to, firstly, wear one style and, secondly, to have extensions in. I hate the feel of hair by the sides of my face (except during New England winters, of course). However, I love kinky twists. I adore big hair and my kinky twists definitely fall into this category. Also, they are the only type of extension style that last a while with my natural hair. With other styles, after two weeks in, I feel like I look like I've dragged my head through a series of very thick shrubs. Well, maybe I exaggerate.

I think this will become my staple style whenever I'm tired of wearing out my own hair. Speaking of which, although I've only had these twists in for 6 weeks, it seems like a lifetime ago that I wore out my own hair. Now, I think I'm beginning to fall prey to that condition that seems to afflict many Nigerian women, namely the Eternal Fake Hair Syndrome. I'm already wondering what extension style to do next and how I will deal with my own hair.

No, I must not become one of those women whose own hair never sees the light of day, who you wonder actually have any hair of their own, who actually start to lose their hair as a result of the constant fixing of this, that and the other.

So Long to "Fruit of the Lemon"

I keep wanting to say "Fruit of the Loom."

I feel bad because I rushed through it towards the end. You know when you just want to get through a book and start something potentially more exciting? That's how I felt. I liked the book okay, but I certainly didn't love it. Half of it was stories from the family's history told in flashback. I don't particularly like stories told in flashback. I tend to want to know about what's going on in the present, but if there is to be a historical tale, then let it be historical all the way. I don't know..... Those are just my preferences. Small Island also told many stories in flashback and I think that's partly why I wasn't so thrilled with it.

I like Andrea Levy's writing, but maybe I chose two books that were just too similar in style.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Visiting the Embassy

I went to the US embassy yesterday to renew my visa. I had a work visa while in the States, but since I don't work there anymore, I needed to apply for a visitor's visa. I had been meaning to go for a long while, but procrastination will get you (or, more accurately, get me) everytime.......

Anyway, so I went yesterday and found a much more efficient and less stressful process than in the years before. Don't get me wrong, the process of waiting to be interviewed by the consular officers and even the whole notion of having to go through it at all is still totally nerve-wracking for many. But at least you don't have to get to the embassy at 5:30AM for a 9:30AM appointment anymore, only to find that you are just one of a gazillion people given the same interview time.

No, my appointment was for 7:30 and I got there at 7:30 to find the very short line moving pretty speedily. It was once I had gotten inside and submitted my passport, completed application form and payment receipt that the tedious part began. I've never had the gift of patience and that was patently clear yesterday, as I shifted in my seat every five minutes, stretched my legs out, tucked them under the chair, only to unfold them seconds later. I tried to read my book, but would get distracted by the goings-on around me. I tried to watch TV, but the volume was too low and the hum in the waiting room too loud to really pay close attention. I would have drifted off to sleep, but my fear of missing my number when it was called kept me awake somehow.

The nerves or the fun (in a sadistic and a God-I'm-so-glad-that-is-not-me) way starts when your number is eventually called and you enter the inner sanctum, where the interviews take place.

All the applicants are close enough to hear the interviews as they take place and after waiting there a while, it becomes easy to see when the applicant is going to be denied. Some refusals appear suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, following an interview that appeared to have been proceeding along sedately enough. Others are lumbering train wrecks that are easy to spot a mile off.

For instance, the applicant has come with no financial statements showing how s/he will pay for their trip and support themselves while in the States. Some have no job or have been at the job for a very short time. Some have no evidence of strong ties to Nigeria (e.g. a business, property owned, etc) that would ensure their return back to Nigeria. Some have members of their nuclear family living in the States. Some have family members living in the US but failed to state this on their application form. And by far, one of the worst strikes against you would be overstaying Uncle Sam's welcome. I can totally understand that sometimes, for totally unexpected circumstances, you might have to stay longer than you thought, but when people overstay by several months but still expect to show up at the embassy and not have the officials question that, I really wonder......

One lady explained that the reason for her overstaying was due to a "medical condition" that she suffered after getting to the US.

- What was wrong with you, ma'am?, asked the consular officer.

- I was pregnant.

The consular officer almost suceeded in keeping a straight face.

- Ma'am, pregnancy is not a medical condition. Nevermind the fact that you are not supposed to go to the States to have your baby.

Then, there were those who made it through succesfully and yet you wonder how?

After being told that she could come and pick up her passport on Wednesday at 2PM, the woman went "I'm sorry?.

- I said that you could come and pick up your visa on Wednesday afternoon, the officer repeated.

Apparently that wasn't clear enough and so the officer repeated herself once again.

Ten bloody minutes later, we still saw the same lady, now standing by the guard, saying that she did not understand what was going on and asking what she was supposed to do now?

I could not figure out if she hadn't really understood (maybe it was the whiny American accent that threw her off) or if she was disingenuously trying to rub it in the faces of those of us still awaiting our turn.

The lady sitting next to me exclaimed impatiently "This stupid woman is still here! What is it that she can't understand?!!!!! Heh? Wo, if she doesn't want the visa, let someone else come and collect it for her."

At the end of the day, whether you get a visa or not is very often a crapshoot- sometimes you get lucky and then sometimes someone with all the same credentials as you and in identical circumstances applies and is denied. There appear to be a few basic things that would really help a visa application (ahem..... here's me sounding like an expert after a few hours sitting in the US embassy lounge).

  • Have travelled frequently outside Nigeria (and come back, of-course)

  • Take financial statements with a balance that will support the cost of your trip

  • Have some evidence of strong ties to Nigeria e.g. property, a business, etc.

  • Do not apply if you have been denied for a visa in the last few months, unless your circumstances have changed

  • It helps not to have nuclear family living in the US (especially if they are citizens or permanent residents).

  • It really, really, really helps not to have nuclear family who have absconded to the States i.e. overstayed, at large or never to be heard from again

  • If you do have family living in the US, by all means, don't lie about it

  • Infact, don't lie about anything. That all-knowing computer screen that the consular officers stare at will almost always provide info that will catch you out.
These are just tips borne out of my observations. They are, by no means, hard-and-fast rules, so please don't come after me if you apply and are told that "You do not qualify for a visa at this time."

Monday, August 28, 2006

Lots of New Books

I got two new books to read yesterday: the autobiography of Assata Shakur (no, not Tupac's mother, as I was jokingly reminded) and Communion by bell hooks. I am looking forward to reading both.

Then my sister bought me a copy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's new book Half of a Yellow Sun, which is a huge hardback. I love reading hardcovers. I almost feel like that much more of a serious reader...... ahem.

I am finishing Fruit of the Lemon, which hasn't been too bad. At least, I think I like it more than I did Small Island. I am reading that alongside Jane Austen's Guide to Dating by Lauren Henderson, which draws lessons on dating (or courting as it was considered way back then) from the novels of Jane Austen. It seems okay so far though I can't say that I've made any earth-shattering discoveries about dating; it is mostly common sense.

I've vowed to be more judicious with my time and do more reading (hmmmm, haven't I been here before).

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Missed Her!

I got to Jazzhole for the Nadine Gordimer reading and immediately something felt off. The first thing was that I found a parking space easily. Then when I got in to the store, people were just standing around and no one was sitting in preparation to see her. There was a post-event feeling in the air.

I ran into a friend who asked whether I had caught the reading.

- What do you mean? I near shrieked. You mean it's over??????

- Yes, apparently she had to leave early for the airport. They had to move the time forward. Most people didn't know.

I didn't know either. I had been looking forward to seeing her. And I was on time too!!!!!!!!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Another Book Reading

I'm going for a Nadine Gordimer reading tomorrow at Jazzhole, nevermind that I haven't really read any of her stuff. I feel like such a fraud. I started A Guest of Honour, which wasn't so bad but never finished it. Well, worse things have happended, I'm sure.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Back to Work Post-NYSC

Yesterday was my first day after being out of the office for almost two weeks.

The NYSC Passing Out activities were okay. I didn't realise "passing out's" double entendre until Ngozi pointed it out. LOL!!!!!

The week and a half's activities started with a job awareness workshop, which took up a whole day. This was held at the secretariat in Surulere. A whole day of sitting and listening to talks is a bit much to ask of anyone, especially with no food provided. Not that we expected anything from NYSC. Some of the talks were hugely entertaining though and I had quite a good time.

Going to the camp in Iyana-Ipaja everyday was less wonderful but fun nonetheless. We had nothing to do but sit and jist - except for those who were participating in the marchpast. On the first day there, the soldiers attempted to marshall us all into marching. So it turned into a game of 'catch the corper.' Not fun! I eventually retired in the camp building, where a few of us sat until the soldiers tired of their pursuit and instead asked that only interested corpers need remain in the marchpast. Quite a few stayed. And more joined them over the next few days.

I chose to do nothing in these few days, but sit, eat, read and jist. The weather was mostly perfect for sitting outdoors with five out of six days overcast and cool. On the sixth, the sun showed us no mercy and my face is still much darker than usual from the battering I received.

The Passing Out Parade was a bit of an anti-climax, as we all expected to receive our discharge certificates and many had plans lined-up for post-NYSC life. Some people unfortunately did not receive their certificates and I assume are trying to sort this out now.

For the duration of the service year, NYSC found one means or the other to squeeze money out of us. The ending was no different. We were told that if we did not each contribute N500 to the NYSC Foundation, we would not receive our discharge certificates. N500 is a small price to pay, so many of us complied. Then as we 'queued up' to hand in our ID cards and receive our certificates, we were forced to buy a copy of Eko Kopa (the Lagos State NYSC magazine) for another N500. My goodness! They really found a way to stick it to us twice. Anyway, the magazine was a good read (not as good as our Eti-Osa mag, of course, but they tried nonetheless).

So, now NYSC is over. And in many ways, it's quite bittersweet. CD days were always fun for jisting and now that I'll be working a full week, I will no longer have that opportunity for 'concentrated jisting', as I thought of it. For the lucky few who get retained at their places of primary assignment, life goes on as usual but with more pay. For a lot of other people though, this marks the start of a job search and the end of a fairly predicitable phase where you at least knew that you would be getting some money at the end of every month.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Who Says Nigerians Don't Dig Reading?

This was the question posed in Glendora eCulture, the e-Newsletter of Glendora Bookshop. Jazzhole (where the Diana Evans reading was held last Saturday) is part of the Glendora family. And many of my favourite childhood memories include time spent in Glendora picking out my birthday and Christmas books.

It's very exciting to see more of a reading movement in Nigeria. Of course, Nigerians read and always have. However, popular reading material has tended to include books about religion, business and making money; and let's not forget self-help/pop-pyschology books and bestsellers. Some might not consider these to be 'serious' literature (I admit that I kind of do not), but people will read what is of relevance to their lives. And sometimes reading anything period is good, because hopefully it will lead to tackling more ambitious work.

Well, I certainly applaud Glendora's efforts to feed Nigerian's literary hunger. There are two more readings planned for August: Bunmi Oyinsan on the 17th at 5PM with her book Three Women; and Nadine Gordimer on the 27th at 3PM.

Monday, August 07, 2006

2 Weeks to Passing Out

Don't really feel like writing about this, although I have been blogging about it so much all year. Since I am rounding up my NYSC year, everyone has been asking me how it feels, what I will do next, etc. To which I reply "Ecstatic" and "I don't know." Yes, of course I think I know, but who wants to talk about it (at least) once every hour?

This week is filled with a few passing out activities (though in true NYSC fashion, many people are vague on what it all actually means and where we have to be and what will be happening). Next week is mostly rehersals and then the big Passing Out ceremony on Thursday. It feels so much like an anti-climax at this point and it hasn't even happened yet. Ah well, on to new and exciting adventures ahead.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Diana Evans @ Jazzhole

I attended Diana Evans' reading at Jazzhole yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was different from the other readings I've been to, because instead of reading several excerpts from the book, Diana read one long chunk. It was great for me, especially having read the book already. Afterwards there was a Q&A session, which was shaping up to be quite interesting. Then I was called outside to move my car because someone needed to leave (one of the downsides about Lagos is the lack of parking space). After I returned to the store, 1 or 2 more questions were taken and then we had the opportunity to buy the books and get them signed.

I took my copy of 26a with me and Diana signed it. She looks petite in magazines, but appears even more so in real life. She had some great shoes on, which I spotted from my vantage position up close to the 'reading area.' I also adored her hair, which was a huge, gold-hued afro.

Jazzhole is a great setting for any reading, because (well, aside from being a bookshop) it is so cosy and intimate. During readings or in-store performances, chairs are closely-set next to each other and the lights usually dimmed. I love it! After any event, guests of-course can browse their vast book and music collection and many usually purchase something.

I have to say that it's a great thing that Cassava Republic is doing by bringing quality literature to Nigerian readers. Copies of 26a were being sold yesterday for N1,000 apiece. Not bad! CR also have a number of books coming out in the next year. I'm looking forward to reading Teju Cole's novel, based on his trip home last December and his writings, which he published on his blog. This is an example of blogs being a launch-pad to other forms of media and arts i.e. novels, films, plays. So a blog is not just a blog anymore, people!

It was an opportunity to meet the lovely Bibi of CR and Jeremy Weate of naijablog. It's great to meet people who you've interacted with online. It felt like I knew them already. Here's to meeting more online peeps soon.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Problem Shared with Madame Ono

I enjoy reading the Life supplement that comes with The Guardian every Sunday. However, the low point of the publication for me has to be the advice column with Madam Ono. I like to read advice columns to see what I would do in the position of the person with the problem. I also like to see if I would have given the same advice. There are some advice columnists with whom you feel an immediate sympatico, based on their recommendations and suggestions. There are some others that make you think What the hell???

Madam Ono falls in the latter category - infact, sometimes it's What the *%#@&! hell??????

This week 20-year old Temmy Tunrapee wrote in about her boyfriend's incessant demands for sex. Whenever she has complained about it, her BF tells her that he only plies her with so much pressure because "he is doing that because he loves me. According to him, that is the only way he can show it."

ROFL!!!!! This explanation has to be right up there with You can't get pregnant the first time you have sex; or You can't get pregnant if you have sex standing up; or blue balls.

I expected Madam Ono to tell Temmy off for having her mind on such frivolous matters when she should be facing her studies (as she has been wont to do in the past). To my shock, however, Madam O advices Temmy to "adopt a positive attitude to sex." In short, give in to his constant demands.

First off, Madam O, Temmy is only 20 - a fairly young age and really if her BF loved her that much, he wouldn't pressure her into doing anything that she's not comfortable with. Yes, I know we hear that piece of advice all the time, but I believe that it's absolutely true.

I think "Madam Ono's" advice must come from a different person each week, because her advice is so inconsistent and swings wildly from the very puritanical to the anything-goes mentality. I think the more liberal personas are most likely men, as their advice tends to favour the man in the situation.

I just hope that these poor people who write in have other people in their lives who they can share their problems with because quite frankly Madam Ono's advice frequently falls short of common sense.