Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Things are Changing at the Gym

I guess it's true that the only constant thing in life is change. After about a month of not going to my beloved gym at Eko Hotel, I decided to go today. I'd been wanting to go for a while, but something or the other kept popping up.

When I say that I love this gym, I guess that's a pretty accurate statement. It's the first gym that I've belonged to here in Lagos. It might not be the prettiest or tushest gym around (infact, it's always been very, very far from that), but it has what you need and it's small and cosy. You also get to know the people who work there as well as your fellow gymmers.

However, I guess some things are changing - luckily, not the ambience. It's still as warm an environment as ever. But when I stepped in, I noticed that the old threadbare carpet had been stripped away to reveal a newly-tiled, sparkling clean floor.

- Wow! This place looks really different! You guys are really doing it up! It looks niiiiice.

- Yes, oh! And this is nothing. By the time we have finished, you won't even recognise this place. It's going to look sooopa.

- And then your prices will go up.

- Never!

The new professional finish of the reception did not prepare me for the upgrade of the ladies' changing room. The former changing room was highly utilitarian with nothing provided that you could do without. This was pretty much everything except for the lockers to store your stuff while you worked out (and I think we were all grateful that they even provided that).

While the changing room used to be dark and very bathroomy-looking (okay, it actually was just a large bathroom with parts sectioned off for changing), now it looked freshly-painted, sunny and very clean. There are now so many corners sectioned off with bright yellow curtains, that after I stepped in, I was disorientated for a few seconds.

Where am I?

A lady stood nearby putting away her things in one of the lockers, which had also been moved.

- Wow! This place looks so different. I almost don't know where I am. They really did a lot of work on it.

She sniffed.

Not really! They just moved the lockers, that's all.

Well, alrighty then! But Ms. Ore happens to think they've done a lot, especially for a gym that didn't appear willing to spend any money to make itself look nice (okay, I'm talking about the gym like it's a person). Hmmmm, I wonder if they are under new management?

Anyway, I look forward to the day they start to replace the older-than-life machines and we patrons will be able to stop saying "Yes, I go to the gym at Eko Hotel. No, not the nice one. The crappy one at the back."

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Anthony Fatayi Williams Foundation

I attended a seminar organised by the Anthony Fatayi-Williams (AFW) Foundation on Saturday. The foundation was set-up by Mrs. Marie Fatayi-Williams after her son Anthony was killed in the July 2005 bombings in London.

The mission of the foundation is to "seek alternatives to war, terror and violence; to encourage and support the creation of effective centres for social actions for peace in the global human family."

I was curious to know more about the foundation and toodled off to Terrakulture where Saturday's seminar was being held. First off, I was pleasantly surprised by the large turn-out of young people. Why do I still think that Nigerian youths are overall an apathetic lot? There were secondary school and university students in attendance. There were also corp members from the Eti-Osa branch of the NYSC. Indeed, I ran into one of the women who works in the LGA office. She hugged me and chastised me for not coming to visit them since I passed out.

I spotted my friend who had invited me and settled down to listen to the discussions. Being environmental Saturday, I knew that the event (billed to start at 10AM) would begin late, but even then I missed a good part of the talks. I arrived just in time for snacks (my perfect sense of timing has not failed me yet!) and then a talk by Mary Halpine, incoming president of the World Youth Alliance, who were partnering on this seminar (I think) with the AFW Foundation. Mary spoke about her desire for world peace, I think ..... (okay, my memory is not the best, just so you all know). Mrs. Fatayi-Williams introduced the Lagos State Commisioner for Youth & Sports (I think ..... this is really bad, I know). He gave quite a good talk on what Lagos State is doing to uplift its youths (rehabilitation of area boys and building of 11 new youth centres, among some other things) and how much they respect the work that the AFWF is doing. And how they loved and respected it so much that they are donating a huge amount of money and one of their youth centers to the AFWF. I really hope that they do, because that would be a wonderful haven for many young people who don't have safe places for recreation.

One of the audience members challenged the Commissioner to tell him where these youth centres were, because he did not know of a single one. The Commish gladly obliged and a couple of the university students knew about two of them, so I guess they really do exist.

After lunch, there were break-out sessions, where participants were asked to discuss one of three issues: conflict in the Niger-Delta; Christian-Muslim flighting; and civil unrest during elections, and to prepare a 2-minute statement that they could present at Senate or the House of Assembly. Some of the groups were able to present their ideas coherently and succintly, while others were not and waffled on unnecessarily over unimportant points, leaving no time for the meat of their statements. It was a good exercise and I think the youths got a lot out of it. Being a bit of waffler myself (especially when I really need to make an important point), the importance of learning to making short and sharp statements was not lost on me.

I really enjoyed the workshop (at least the part I was there for). Crowne Troupe put on a beautiful dance performance about how everyone of us can make a difference in society - and that, I think, nicely encapsulates the message of the seminar.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Boston Again

I recently watched The Departed. Actually I saw it twice. No, not because I thought that it was that good, though I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I saw it the first time with my brother, sister and some friends. I saw it the second time with another friend, because he and his friends really wanted to see it and I didn't mind seeing it again. I also wanted to catch the beginning, which I missed the first time around.

Well, as Sod's law would have it, not only did I still miss the start of the film, but I got into the movie hall later into the film than I did the first time.

Well, The Departed is set in Boston as the people who have seen the film know. It's so wierd how you can live somewhere for so long and all the time dream of being somewhere else (in my case, I wanted to be in NYC, California, infact anywhere but frigid Boston). Now, when I see Boston on the screen, I'm instantly filled with an incomprehensible feeling of nostalgia. Well, maybe it's not totally hard to understand ..... I did have some wonderful times there - a lot of wonderful times actually. And Boston is absolutely gorgeous in the summer (that was my standard line to people who had never visited or made the mistake of visiting in the thick of a winter nor'easter).

Hmmm, now as I'm writing this, I'm really overcome with a need to go back to Boston. I'm sure this feeling will pass.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

When Does a Miss Become a Ms?

I realised that since I moved back home, I am no longer referred to as "Miss." I am now a Ms. For a while, I held out and continued to sign my letters with Miss. However, I have (unconsciously) started to get on that Ms. train. Even when people don't know how old I am, they still address me as Mizz. I know that some women do not enjoy being referred to as Ms. I am not sure what other people's reasons are, but for me, Mizz has always carried with it connotations of grim and determined spinsterhood. Maybe it's the way people say it, but many of the Mizzes I know are anything but grim.

Hmmm, questions to mull over....

Rooting for the Underdog

Jennifer Hudson wins a Golden GlobeI just heard that Jennifer Hudson has been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Dreamgirls. While I am yet to see this film, I have no doubt that she is fantastic in it, least of all because everybody says so. I was a big fan of hers on American Idol and was maddened by Simon Cowell telling her that she was too big and her presence too strong to make it as an American Idol (I'm paraphrasing here). Well, shows how much he knows! Ms. Hudson has moved on to bigger and better things. Who remembers who won AI that season anyway. Oh, wait, it was Fantasia Barrino who I also liked and voted for repeatedly in the final. Okay, moving on ........

Anyway, back to Jennifer, I want to watch Dreamgirls just to see her performance.

See the full list of Oscar nominees.

When Technology Fails

Or perhaps that should be, when people with the technology fail.

I blogged about my dear iPod dying on me a few weeks ago. Well, I'm happy to report that is has been brought back to life by the wonderful people at Superior Equipment. I dropped it there, thinking that it would probably have to be replaced. I got a call a few hours after I had left that I could come and pick it up. What??? I thought. Okay, I had not tried to reset it or tried troubleshooting. I did that the first time around and this time, I just could not be bothered.

Well, I picked my iPod up on Saturday from their Civic Centre shop only to find it truly was working. I don't know what they did, but I'm very glad that I don't have to bother uploading all my songs and video to a new iPod.

Then, last week my phone slipped out of my bag into some water. The minute it hit the water it went off. I hurriedly fished it out and wiped it down. I tried to switch on the phone but it didn't come on, so I decided it was best to let ir dry. My sister managed to slide the back open to get our the battery and SIM. I let these dry before trying the SIM in my old phone. Luckily, the SIM worked in my old phone and I had lots of numbers stored on it. Unluckily for me, however, most of the numbers I had gotten over the last 7 or 8 months were stored on the phone itself and, yes, I don't have these backed up anywhere. On this realisation, I just about went into some kind of shock. I wondered how I would live without these very important numbers. Surprisingly though, barely a day later, I found myself surviving extremely well, thank you very much! We think we are so hooked onto certain things and will absolutely die when we don't have them (figuratively speaking, of course!) and we surprise ourselves by our ability to forget very easily.

Anyway, after months about entertaining fleeting thoughts of backing up my computer and then actually getting 'round to do it with CDs (of all things!!) and then running out of CDs, because I have just too many files to be effectively backed up by this system, I finally went out and bought an external hard drive. I decided that I had to do it on Saturday, by hook or by crook.
It has 300GB, far more than I probably need but it cost virtually the same as the 160GB so it didn't even make sense on any level to buy the smaller drive.

I spent the early hours of Sunday morning formatting the drive and backing up. Now I am a very happy (and secured) girly.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Uganda Pictures 2

Bujagali Falls

Bujagali Falls

Bujagali Falls, Jinja

The Bujagali Falls did not have a steep fall like the Niagara or Victoria Falls (neither of which I have seen personally), but it was incredibly beautiful. Save for a few other people, it was just us and nature when we first arrived. However, within 20 minutes, buses filled with students and other tourists pulled up and suddenly we were no longer alone. It didn't rob from the beauty of the place.

There are boys who make their living by sliding down the falls lying on jerry cans. It looked so dangerous, but one of them mentioned to one my colleagues that they only get hurt when the water level is low.

Uganda Pictures

Shaded road on the drive to the Bujagali Falls
Photo: Shaded road on the drive to the Bujagali Falls

This is my favourite picture of all. Funny how you can take over a 100 photos, but only really love one. This was on the way to the Bujagali Falls in the Jinja district.

View of hills on the way to Jinja
Photo: View of hills on the way to Jinja

Billboard at Source of the Nile
Photo: Billboard at the source of the River Nile, Jinja District

We went here after the Bujagali Falls. It was serene, especially after the noise and activity of the Falls.

We had the best fried fish and chips at a shack of a restaurant here. Tilapia is a very popular fish in Uganda (or perhaps the cheapest) and ubiquitous on restaurant selections and the meals at the Speke Resort & Conference Center, where I stayed. I had Tilapia in almost every variation you can think of: fried Tilapia, boiled Tilapia, roasted Tilapia, baked Tilapia, broiled Tilapia. We all got so tired of it, so when I saw that it constituted one half of the menu at the River Nile shack, I sighed with exasperation but I had to hand it to the cook, it was excellent.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Leaving Uganda

I've had a brilliant time here, but it's time to leave. My flight leaves Entebbe at 5.10AM, which means a 3.10AM check-in, which means I have to leave the hotel by 2AM. I was taken aback when I saw the itinerary, because I don't think I have ever taken such an early flight. Well, of course it means that with my late night ways I won't be going to sleep. Thank goodness the internet is finally up (back on the day I leave, like I predicted).

When I first got to Entebbe, one of the airport officials, on hearing that I was Nigerian, told me how much he loved Nigerian home videos. He appeared to be a fan of Genevieve Nnaji's.

Since then, I have discovered just how much Nollywood affects foreigners' perceptions of Nigeria, further tainting our already rather burnished image. My workshop colleagues told me how scared they are of visiting Nigeria in case someone does juju on them. I laughed like crazy, until I realised how serious they were.

Person after person (Kenyans, Ugandans, Zimbabweans, Ghanians) told me how all the Nigerian movies they have seen are about witchcraft or prominently feature witchcraft. I mentioned that there were other types of films, albeit few in comparison. No one had seen any of these.

My Ugandan colleague told me how many people hail each other with Igwe. A couple told me about a film they had seen where a man was trapped by a woman in a bottle and how they didn't want anyone trapping them in a bottle for looking at them in the wrong way (this was a joke, I presumed).

The Hollywood machinery has a strong influence on how the rest of the world views the United States and I am realising what a similar effect Nollywood has. Thankfully, Nigerian film-makers appear to be dealing with a greater variety of topics and production and acting quality is gradually on the rise.

Monday, January 15, 2007

In Uganda

I’m in Munyonyo, Uganda at the moment for a workshop. I was hoping that I would have Internet access in my room and blog, or at least, check my blog everyday but the access in my block has been down since I got here (and it will probably go back up the day I leave).

The workshop has been really interesting so far and focused on building ICT-enabled networks in Africa. Networks could refer to coalitions of organisations all working to achieve shared goals e.g. networks of agricultural or environmental protection organisations. This workshop of course is related to my ICT4D interest and I have to say that I have learnt so much from it, especially in terms of refining my own goals. It has been rewarding to listen to experiences of fellow Africans all working in many different aspects of development. Yes, I worked in an NGO in Boston but the realities of implementing projects in the United States and on the African continent are very different. I have also had the opportunity to meet fellow blogger Gbenga Sesan whose reputation in the ICT4D area - particularly in the Nigerian and African context - precedes him. Talking with him about the work he has been involved with over the years has been an inspiration that if you follow your passions and are vigilant to look out for opportunities along the way, they will surely lead you to some great and unexpected things.

Being here has, in many ways, felt like being in school. We attend various sessions for most of the day, go back to our rooms to rest for a while or type-up notes from the day’s workshops, have dinner in groups and go out dancing all night. I haven’t been dancing all night in a long, long while so I’m severely out of practice. On Saturday night, we went to Ange Noir and about 2.30 AM, I was ready to call it a night. The only thing was that my companions were only getting started. I sat down for a while and by 3.30, got a fresh burst of energy. However, by 4 AM, when my friends were finally ready to leave, I could not have been more glad. I cannot hang like I used to.

On this trip, I have been introduced to the world of the professional conference attendee. They move from one conference to another; one country to another and very often from one continent to another. They know each other fairly well, since they meet at least a few times a year. It sounds like a fun world, with lots of free trips and first-class accommodation. And let’s not mention the interesting people you meet and the bracing feeling of continuous learning and flexing those cerebral intellectual muscles (and let’s face it, many us get intellectually lazy after university). I likes, I likes but perhaps without the back-to-back traveling (I’ll take only 65% of that).

It’s my first trip to Eastern Africa and the parts of Uganda, I’ve seen (from Entebbe to Munyonyo, from Munyonyo to Jinja, and going through Kampala) remind me of parts of Abeokuta – rather provincial with narrow single-lane roads.

On Saturday, I visited the Bujagali Falls and the source of the River Nile. I’ll post pics later.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Reads

I attended a reading of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's book Half of a Yellow Sun.

Friday's reading was held at Quintessence. I wondered where we would all sit. The store is filled with books, arts and crafts. I found out soon enough. In the inner room, where most of the paintings and woodwork are displayed, is where we sat. Stools had been arranged around and in-between the merchandise. In many cases, we were actually sitting on the merchandise (beautifully carved stools).

Chimamanda read from the beginning of the book - to my great relief. I was worried that she would read from somewhere near the end or from the second half of the book that I had not gotten to yet. It's always such an interesting experience to have an author read aloud the words that he or she has written. Sometimes it makes you interpret a particular passage in a different way from how you saw it when you read.

It is always so fascinating to discover the variety of perspectives on a single book. 'Yellow Sun was no exception and in the Q&A session and discussion that followed, we realised how so many aspects of the book were subject to interpretation. You'd have one reader saying "I saw it like this ......" and others shaking their heads in vigorous disagreement. "No, not at all! I thought what was happening was this ....".

Chimamanda was sharp, funny and insightful, I thought. She was also very warm. I commented that it was obvious that she had done a lot of research for the book and wondered how she managed to convert so much research into something so readable. She replied that there was so much she had that wanted to use, but had to throw out. Ultimately, the characters had to drive the story and not the research drive the story and that meant many, many re-writes. The book took 4 years to write and she doesn't think she will be working on any more historical fiction.

Afterwards, we talked about hair (but, of course). We both have natural hair and I had just done mine into kinky twists. We talked about the types of reaction we get from hairdressers, who express anything ranging from dismay to disgust and utter bewilderment at our decision to wear our hair natural.

"But, Aunty, why you no wan pam ya hair?"

Like natural hair isn't what we were born with? Why should it be so difficult to understand a decision to stay that way?

Back to Chimamanda, the book has been a great read so far (Yes, still reading it. I'm not a slow reader usually. Just so many things to do lately.) And the reading was loads of fun. If you have read the book or even if you haven't - but like Chimamanda's work, or are interested in the Biafran War, or just want to discover a new writing talent - then I urge you to go if you can.

iPod Goes Kaput - Again!!

Some of you might remember that a while ago, I moaned about my iPod going kaput. Well, guess what this new one has gone and done? It's freaking died out on me. I'm hoping that if I leave it for a while, it will magically start to work again. However, I have to say that the prognosis is not too hopeful.

When I press the round button in the middle, the screen flickers to life for a split-second but then quickly goes gray. Half the screen is grey and the other half black. Doesn't look good, at all!

The good thing is that I have a warranty and so I should be able to get a free replacement. But what a pain in the you-know-where! I have to get to the Apple-licensed store, which is really out of my way and then I have to upload all my songs again. Then, there'll always be the thought somewhere in the recesses of my mind urging me not to get too attached to the new one just in case it also dies out on me. The first one barely lasted 3 months; this one has tried, I suppose - I've had it for about 6 months.

It's funny. While I'm tempted not to bother with iPods in the future if the new one also stops working, having an iPod has also changed the way I listen to music. Now I have access to all my albums at once. It has also changed the way I think about my music. Since iTunes alllows you to create playlists (well, a sophisticated and faster version of the mix-tapes we used to make back in the day), it has also changed the way I organise my music. Where I would normally group my music by artiste, now I tend to create playlists around moods or genres or what I plan on using the music for e.g. Work Out.

Okay, I will get a replacement (it's free, afterall), but if anything happens to that one I might have to seriously think about other brands.

New African News Portal - African Path

I received an email about African Path - a portal of African-centered news delivered in an engaging and interactive way.

Self-described as "an engaging mix of breaking news in Africa, blogs, thoughtful discussion and an international community calendar. African Path is geared towards connecting Africans across the world in informed dialogue that leads to progress and growth on the continent."

You can participate as a citizen journalist. To do so, you have to submit a copy of your resume (the Contact Us page gives more info about the many ways to get involved).

I'm still exploring the site, but it is good to see more forums like this that present information and news that is relevant to Africans, and yet gives us an opportunity to contribute and provide feedback in such a direct manner.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I Will Miss You ...

... traffic-free Lagos. For the last week Lagos has been a ghost of its normal self. Of course, last Monday was Christmas Day and almost a week and a half's holiday followed. Tuesday (Dec 26) was Boxing Day. This Monday was New Year's Day, followed by two days of public holiday in celebration of the end of Hajj. Many people have travelled back to their home towns for the holidays. The true Lagosians and the for-all-intents-and-purposes-Lagosians have remained and many I'm sure are collapsed on their living room sofas and floors taking in as much rest as possible before the madness of work and normal Lagos traffic resumes.

I am so not looking forward to this. I have enjoyed flying down the roads, unhampered by other cars and the interminable Lagos go-slow. At least, it's good to know that I can look forward to another week and a half of sane driving in about a year's time.

The Right to Give

I heard yesterday about Oprah Winfrey's South African-based Leadership Academy for Girls. It is a secondary school for girls who have showed exceptional promise. The school, which opened yesterday with 152 students will eventually have 450 girls in classes 7 to 12 (South African equivalent of JSS 1 to SSS 3).

About $40 million has gone into this leadership academy and along with the chorus of kudos have been the critical voices that have asked why Oprah would choose to spend so much in a country that she isn't even a citizen of - especially when there is vast room for improvement in the US public school system.

Well, firstly and most importantly it is her money to do with as she pleases. I realised a long time ago that any philanthropic effort - no matter how well meaning or carefully thought-out - will be subject to some degree of scrutiny and criticism: Why do it like this? Why not like that? What is the point of this project? Wouldn't the money better be spent by doing A, B or C? This effort is just a drop in the sea of what's required. The problem is too big and complex and your solution is too small and simplistic.

Having worked in a non-profit, I certainly have some experience of this. Imagine defending your work at a conference to a sceptical audience who feel like they have seen your project in a variety of similar reincarnations already. Well, luckily for me, it wasn't quite so bad - the gender and technology field was rather more nurturing than that. Most projects were seen as a good thing - bringing attention to an important research area; adding to the body of work; and reaching out to young women and girls - and thus welcomed. A project had to be really, really bad (and I mean, badly thought out, poorly implemented and with highly questionable motives) to be on the receiving end of a barrage of disparaging feedback.

In general, a lot of the criticism that we did receive turned out to be a good thing as it helped us to refine our work. But then, we trusted and respected our critics.

In general though, some critisicm will be valid and some will just be sour grapes and bad belle. You just have to be able to discern between the two. I doubt very much that Oprah will lose any sleep over what her detractors will say. And I feel that's a good thing. Use whatever feedback you can and lose the rest.

News Story: PR News Wire; Reuters

Blogger Question

I can sometimes get really hung-on on tiny details. One thing that has really bothered me about Blogger (and I mean, really, really, really bothered me) is that the Archives are listed in chronological order i.e. from oldest to newest month. And that really bugs me. Argh!!! I know it sounds incredibly anal, but I think archives should be listed in reverse-chronological order, from newest to oldest.

Does anyone have any idea how to make this happen? I've pored over the template looking for a way - though that was the old version of Blogger. Maybe the new Blogger can do it? Anyone?

Where Do You Want to Go This Year?

I want to do a lot of travelling this year. A lot more than I did last year. Having a full-time job can kind of get in the way of this though, unless your job is travelling (pilot, flight attendant, erm .. bus driver, etc) or your job requires that you work from a variety of destinations (two of my friends come to mind: U has racked up thousands of air miles, travelling to Asia, Australia, Europe and all over the US. He gets to stay in really nice hotels too; K's consulting job takes him across Africa. I'm sure he could start writing travel guides by now).

One place I've always wanted to visit is Zanzibar. I can't remember when my fascination with this country started (I have a feeling it's something I read by William Dalrymple). Well, however it started, Zanzibar still conjures up images of a mysterious, rather sleepy island that time forgot. My ears prick up whenever I catch a mention of Zanzibar (this admittedly is not very often). I can't wait to visit and see for real what it's like.

Somewhere else I want to visit is northern Nigeria. Now, I have no real excuses for not yet satisfying this curiousity. I mean, it's not like I have to travel far to get there or go through the headache of getting a visa. I guess it's just a lack of planning and effort on my part. This year I promise to use my public holidays and time off in a more useful way. I guess that's a resolution.