Monday, September 25, 2006

As Different as Night and Morning

I took a quiz years ago to determine whether I was a Night Owl or Morning Lark (aka night person or morning person). I am aware that you don't need to take a quiz to know this, but it was the first time I'd even given the matter any thought.

The results of the quiz indicated that I was a Night Owl. It's true, I was and still kind of am, though there were some contradictions. I remember that back in university, I did my best analytical and problem-solving work from about 6AM to 2PM. This time was also best for writing essays. Any work accomplished after this time was icing on the cake. When it came to cramming (ahem....reading), I could do that anytime or as the situation demanded (e.g. last-minute studying for a test that I'd forgotten all about).

Starting my professional life coerced me into getting up hours before I was truly ready. I had to be up by a certain time (usually between 5.30 to 7AM) in order to get to the office by the time demanded by my employer. Initially this meant that I'd be in bed by 10.30PM. It wasn't long though before my night owl ways pushed my bedtime later and later until I was regularly hitting the sack (where did this expression come from, BTW?) by 2AM. Needless to say, I was NOT the most productive employee on these days and was no Little Miss Sunshine either (apologies to my much perkier colleagues, past and present).

This weekend, a late Saturday night up meant that I caught up on much-needed sleep on Sunday afternoon into the evening, and the result is that I'm now wide awake at 4.16AM with work to prepare for in a couple of hours. Should I even bother sleeping?

In my ideal world, employers would ask whether you were a morning or night person when they hire you, in order to set a schedule that is in sync with your most productive hours. See, I'm up now and could get so much work done. I could write letters, respond to emails, proof-read documents and work on proposals. I could sleep by 5AM, wake-up by 11AM and be in the office by 1PM. Sounds perfect to me! Employers, please take note.

A Woman Should .......

I tend to hate forwarded email. The chain forwards are the worst, especially the ones that try to guilt you into passing on the email to a bunch of friends with the threat that some little boy or girl will die if you don't (if this case, I must have contributed to the death of quite a few already ... and counting). There are very few forwards that I will actually appreciate and close friends and family usually know which ones I will like. Otherwise I tend to just hit "Delete" without even reading them.

Occasionally, when I'm in a more amiable mood I will read and enjoy even the forwards that I might have otherwise have hastily trashed. The following is one that I've received before and (I think) I actually liked okay:

A Woman Should Have ..

.... enough money within her control to move out and rent a place of her own even if she never wants to or needs to

.... something perfect to wear if the employer or date of her dreams wants to see her in an hour (-- I'm not in the least bit a "Rules" woman, but a date arranged within an hour????)

.... a youth she's content to leave behind (-- And a sparkling future to look forward to)

.....a past juicy enough that she's looking forward to retelling it in her old age

.....a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra friend who always makes her laugh and one who lets her cry (-- It's even better when you find both qualities in one person)

.....a good piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in her family

.....eight matching plates, wine glasses with stems, and a recipe for a meal that will make her guests feel honored

.....a feeling of control over her destiny (-- Yes! Yes! Yes!) to fall in love without losing herself (-- Is this possible?) to quit a job, break up with a lover, and confront a friend without ruining the friendship

....when to try harder and when to walk away

...that she can't change the length of her calves, the width of her hips, or the nature of her parents

.....that her childhood may not have been perfect, but its over (-- Amen to this! Here's to being a grown-up)

....what she would and wouldn't do for love or more to live alone, even if she doesn't like it (-- Done this and totally loved it)

....whom she can trust, whom she can't, and why she shouldn't take it personally (-- Alas, a part of life)

....where to go - be it to her best friend's kitchen table, or a charming inn in the woods when her soul needs soothing

.... what she can and can't accomplish in a day, a month and a year (-- Contrary to popular opinion, women are not superheroes. We have our limits, you know.)

In Times of Stress

I cannot say enough how much I love working out. I have worked out almost consistently for the last 12 years, since I started university. There have been stretches of months when I barely broke a sweat, maybe due to a crazy schedule, and that's why I say I have been "almost" consistent. The rest of the time, I have managed to get some exercise at least twice a week though my ideal is 3 to 4 times a week. It's funny, exercise is one of those things that is very easy to get addicted to - the more you do it, the more you want to do it. And it's good for you!!!

The last few weeks have been very busy at work and also rather on the stressful side and working out has helped me hang on to my sanity. So this is a mini tribute to exercise. Gym, Pilates, Step, treadmill, exercise bike, Body Conditioning Class, iPod - where would I be without you?

Friday, September 22, 2006

What a Fright.

Okay, that was very strange.... My blog disappeared for a while there. The only times I check my blog are after posting, to read through and make corrections, and when I read other peoples' comments. Days can go by without me checking in, so it was such a huge shock yesterday to actually surf by and find that my blog was not there.

What is this white page that I keep getting? I thought scared as hell.

I back up my posts infrequently and suddenly the thought that I might possibly have lost all my recent posts filled me with such dread.

Anyway, as suddenly as it went away, my blog has returned. I just hope that this disappearing act does not become a regular part of life here at Blogger.

Just in case though, I'm going to back up my posts.

Monday, September 18, 2006

My Sunday of Culture

I made it to the Lagos Books & Arts Festival by the hairs of my chin, chinny chin chin (or however that goes). I was in Port Harcourt for the latter part of the week and so missed the interesting-sounding Friday sessions. On Saturday, I was catching up on much needed sleep. Ditto, Sunday morning and early afternoon. I finally got to the Museum grounds in Onikan, where the festival was being held around 5pm. I assumed that it would be over but decided to risk it anyway. There were still quite a few stands anyway. Booksellers, publishers, artists all displayed their wares. A panel discussion on 20 years after Africa's (first?) Nobel win was wrapping up. I'm sure it was a good discussion. Looking through the program, I saw that I had missed quite a lot of interesting sessions. Well, there's always next year.

I bought a locally-produced how-to VCD on baking and icing cakes. I don't know when on earth I will ever get around to watching it. Let's just hope that it's not money thrown down the drain. I bought a story book for my friend's daughter, because I don't think she has any Nigerian books (and we can't have her growing up thinking that only Caucasian children exist in books now, can we?).

After that, I went to look at the Positive Faces exhibition on at Terrakulture. It is a collection of photographs of HIV positive Nigerians, which will be on display until the 21st of September. There is still so much stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and so to see people (many of them young) who consented to have their pictures taken for this exhibition was amazing. Many of them now work in the area of HIV/AIDS advocacy and education and there were photographs showing some of them at work in their various communities. One young man in the collection said something along the lines of not feeling any stigma from people, because he doesn't let himself feel any stigma and because he feels quite positive about his life. It's such a lesson for anyone, I feel. Life is never going to be perfect, but our attitudes determine how we will deal with life's ups and downs, and in turn affects how people will view us. So, if you live your life boldly with little intention of setting-out to please other people, people will more or less accept your choices (yes, they may gossip and snipe but they will soon enough move on to someone else who seems more vulnerable and eager to please).

Back to the exhibition, it's nice to see art that isn't just pretty to look at but which also makes you think about a different aspect of life.


Again, it’s late at night (1.49AM, so technically it’s the wee hours of the morning) and I am still up. What happened to my ardent vow to be asleep by 11PM?

I really wanted to finish reading Communion: The Female Search for Love by bell hooks. I usually don't have time to read during the week and it seems that the time before I sleep is when I get most of my reading done these days, so I took the opportunity.

Communion has been an interesting book. I don’t think I read much about love – at least not much that critically examines women’s quest for love, in a very different way from the fluffy way that many women’s magazines do (though, admittedly, some women’s mags do some good write-ups too). The book has made me think about my ideas of love. It’s funny how when you are young you instinctively know what you want out of life. You know your likes and your dislikes. You may not be able to properly articulate why you feel the way you do, but still many of those feelings run deep.

I have always known that I wanted a partnership in which my significant other and I work together in harmony (I think that’s the best way to sum it up). That ideal never really changed as I grew older. It has only been recently, moving back home, that I have started to wonder if I am unrealistic in my expectations. The general consensus here seems to be that the woman will always do more. Accept it and move on. This acceptance will, at least, spur you on to find ways to cope with it i.e. hire nannies and house-helps, take on a less demanding job or be prepared not to work for a few years, etc.

To me, these are really not good enough because they don’t address the real issue, which is the underlying assumption that women should do more.

bell hooks says that It is a mark of the failure of feminist thinking to change the dominant patriarchal notion that in every relationship there is a dominant and a submissive party. It seemed that for a while, many feminists advocated a turning of the tables, so that women ruled the roosts over men. In many parts of Africa, that would be incredibly hard work and, to me, totally unnecessary. Working together in partnership should be the ideal that we strive for rather than a hierarchy with one person at the top and the other at the bottom.

Mutuality, like love itself, must come through work. Wise women know that the happiest, most fulfilling committed partnerships … are those in which mutuality is the core value, in which the spiritual growth and development of each individual matters.

Mutuality is a great word, by the way.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Old Versus New

Over the last few months, I have read a few articles about Japan's succession debate. Should the law be changed to allow a female ascend to the throne? To many people, I'm sure, the fact that we are still debating whether a woman is as qualified to lead as a man would be quite ludicrous especially in this day and age. To people who are from or who live in societies with strong, conservative cultures, this will be nothing new. We are used to hearing any variation of that old chestnut: Well, that's the tradition, or Tradition says that you have to ....... and tradition is tradition, or Tradition cannot be changed.

The older of the princes in the Royal Family, Crown Prince Naruhito, and his wife Princess Masako have one daughter. The younger Prince Akishino and his wife Princess Kiko, until the birth of their son this week, had two daughters. The problem according to conservatives is what would have happened had the Emperor passed away and neither of his sons left make heirs. In all this, I felt especially bad for the Princesses Masako and Kiko, that they should go through such mental anguish for something that is largely out of your hands. Princess Masako, it has been reported, has been particularly affected by this custom, as well as the rigidity of Imperial Household.

Of course, not all women who live in countries where traditional customs are still strongly upheld are subject to this kind of treatment (it would be too simplistic to say that). However, in these kinds of societies, there is usually a very strong pull between the old and the new; the traditional way of doing things versus a more modern outlook. In Nigeria, though women are legally entitled to attend school and to work, many still have to balance these with the traditional roles of parenting and managing a household. Nigeria is a country in flux, and as such, there will always be friction between how things used to be and the direction that modernity (aka the Western world) dictates that things move (examples being more equitable distribution of parenting and house-work, as well as of work opportunities).

Okay, an off-topic addendum here: I have to say that sometimes I tire of writing about the same topics - fond as I am of talking about women and women's development issues. I wonder how it is that academics and activists do not develop 'cause fatigue'. Academics have to keep up their research of their speciality area and activists have to keep their cause in the spotlight order to push for change. Then when change starts to happen they have to keep reminding people of the issues, lest they forget and things slide back to the old status quo. I feel that if you are not introducing a new spin on a topic, then maybe it's best to let things rest for a while. But at the same time, talking about issues sometimes helps you discover and develop new viewpoints.

The Downward Spiral

Maybe I am just being unnecessarily pessimistic, but it seems that many things that start of promisingly in Nigeria eventually go south.

Take driving in Abuja, for instance. When I have visited in the past, I always marvelled about how sane the driving is - especially compared to Lagos. And it still is! But getting from point A to B in Abuja is increasingly becoming a heart-stopping experience. I've heard it attributed to the multitude of road works going on at the moment, which diverts the traffic to illogical and life-threatening routes. I was in ABJ this week and on our way to the Old Secretariat, some road construction led us to cut across a busy expressway and sail into oncoming traffic. Or maybe we just had a driver who loved to live on the edge. Either way, I can no longer shake my head at Lagos traffic and think "Well, all Nigerian drivers are not totally crazy. There are other parts of Nigeria, like Abuja, where people actually practice safe driving."

I still love being in Abuja though and when there I can feel myself immediately floating into a much calmer space.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Smallness of Lagos

Lagos is one of those places where it seems that everybody knows everyone else or at least they potentially know everybody through someone else they know. This is great if you want to immerse yourself in the social swing of things fairly quickly. It is not so great if you want to have some semblance of privacy. I cannot recount the number of times that it has turned out that I already know(ish) someone who I thought I was meeting for the first time. Or it turns out that I know their brother or sister or best friend or classmate. Then we start to connect the dots.

- OK, then you must have been at [so-and-so]'s Christmas party?

- Ah, yes oh! So that means that you must also know [insert name].

- Yes! Yes! I do! How do you know them?

- Hah!!! We have known each other for years. We practically grew up together. We are family friends!

Which brings me to that ubiquitous descriptor - "family friends." Anyone who you were forced to befriend as a child by dint of the fact that their parents knew your parents and you occasionally exchanged visits is termed a "family friend." Sometimes, if the relationship goes a bit deeper than that, then you can become "cousins."

I remember introducing an actual cousin of mine to a Ghanian friend back when I lived in England. He later asked me if the guy was really my cousin. Puzzled, I replied "Yes, of course."

"Well you never know with you Nigerians", he mused. "Everyone is your cousin."

But, back to this 2 degrees of separation between Lagos folks. It means that you really can't get away with anything. Any ill-advised thing that you do, say or wear will forever be remembered by someone somewhere, who will know your cousin's brother's friend's classmate's family friend.