Saturday, February 25, 2017

Touring Rwanda in 24 Hours

King's traditional palace, Butare
Photo: Shayera Dark
The East African country of Rwanda truly lives up to its ‘Land of a thousand hills’ nickname. Enveloping Kigali, the nation’s capital, and beyond, are verdant, terraced hills standing, in juxtaposition with clear, blue skies, as proof of nature’s ethereal beauty. The general rule that nature invariably yields to human settlement and urban development doesn’t seem to hold true in Rwanda. On the hills and between them, concrete and nature co-exist like commensals with no apparent sign of a struggle.

One striking characteristic of Kigali is its spotless streets and roads. Public bins are present on street corners, and thanks to the 2008 ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags, gutters flow unobstructed. What’s more, the mandatory sanitation exercise, Umuganda, on the last Saturday of every month, has no doubt helped Kigali claim its spot as Africa’s cleanest city.   

Another distinguishing feature of the city is the absence of mammoth traffic jams common in large cities across Africa, making touring the city in a taxi or on one of the ubiquitous motorbikes a breeze.

As a relatively small country, Rwanda’s areas of interest are in close proximity to each other. So if you have less than 24 hours on your hands, why not take advantage and visit these places. Read more here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Teju Cole's Every Day is for the Thief Resonates 10 Years On

Photo: Shayera Dark
“The window was one of many, the town was one. It was the only one, the one I left behind,” reads the epigraph in Teju Cole’s debut novel Every Day is for the Thief. Written like a travel diary, the story pieces together the unnamed narrator’s perception of Lagos after a long absence. A major character in the book, the city’s idiosyncratic traits are critiqued—and by extension those of Nigeria, too.

The novel opens in the Nigerian Consulate in New York, where the Nigerian-American narrator is applying for a passport. There, he quickly discovers that without the ‘expedition fee’ of fifty-five dollars passport processing takes four weeks instead of one as stated on the website. With his trip to Nigeria three weeks away, the narrator grudgingly pays the extra fee, a bribe, on the advice of another applicant.

Like Lagos, the consulate is a microcosm of Nigeria, a country notorious for corruption. And by registering the venality of consulate staff and the reluctant, if not, casual acceptance of graft by applicants, Cole captures the normalisation of corruption by the Nigerian psyche, even on foreign soil where it is uncommon and subtle. As the narrator observes on his arrival to Lagos: “For many Nigerians, the giving and receiving of bribes, tips, extortion money or alms—the categories are fluid—is not thought of in moral terms. It is seen either as a mild irritant or as an opportunity. It is a way of getting things done, neither more or less than what money is there for.” Read more here.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

About that #IStandWithNigeria Anti-Government Protest

Tuface aka 2Baba
Photo: 2Baba Idibia/Facebook
January, a financially sober month for most Nigerians thanks to Christmas spending, ended with a dire warning: Tighten your purse strings more. The naira took another massive tumble in the forex market, exchanging for 500 to a dollar at the parallel market, down from 485 naira in December 2016 and 270 naira in December 2015.

Crude oil sales make up 75 percent of Nigeria’s revenue, so when global prices plunged to 36 dollars a barrel in 2015, Nigerians held their collective breath. They watched inflation rise and their savings dwindle. They watched businesses shut their doors and uncles, friends and mothers lose their jobs. They also watched feckless lawmakers in the National Assembly propose millions of naira in lifetime pensions for themselves and merely grumbled as their president travelled to the UK to treat an ear infection at taxpayers’ expense.

In the two years since the start of the recession, Nigerians did nothing but register their displeasure on social media until earlier this week when Nigerian megastar and crooner Tuface announced he was done watching.  Read more here.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Ode to the Eternal Hustle

Rush Hour in Yaba, Lagos.
Photo: Shayera Dark
Lagos, a cauldron simmering with nascent hopes and trampled dreams is not for the faint-hearted.

Boys and girls, no matter their station in life, are slicker than your average.

Strangers are in abundance, camaraderie is scarce, familiarity unwelcome.

Yet, every day thousands make their way here.

They will join the eternal hustle, all with the intention of sneaking up on Lady Luck.

Some will find her. Most won't.

For the favoured ones, a smorgasbord of possibilities and bounties awaits them.

And the unfortunate ones? Read more here.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Mother Nature Doesn't Owe Us a Thing

Mother Nature in Pink, Blue, White and Green. Lac Rose, Senegal
Photo: Shayera Dark
In 2014, Conservation International, an environmental organisation focused on combating climate change, launched the Nature is Speaking Initiative, an admonition from the environment to humans to quit their deleterious activities or face the consequences of their actions.

The second of the seven Nature is Speaking videos released on YouTube featured Mother Nature in the voice of Julia Roberts. In an indifferent tone, she casually reminded humans she has existed for "over four and a half billion years, twenty-two thousand five hundred times longer than you", so doesn't need them to survive. She went on to add, "whether you regard or disregard me doesn't really matter to me [because] one way or the other your actions will determine your fate not mine."

While the campaign carried a weighted urgency, it's hard to say it swayed climate-change deniers--assuming they watched the videos or compelled errant governments to reconsider their climate policies. Read more here.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Nairobi: A Tourist's Observation

Photo: Shayera Dark
I arrived in Nairobi not knowing what to expect. Sure, I knew from research that it was going to be chillier than Lagos and had taken appropriate measures to keep warm. I also learned that Nairobi is the ancestral land of the Maasai and that Swahili, Kenya’s unifying language—which means ‘the coast’ in Arabic—is an enduring legacy of the trading relationship that existed between Arabs and the Swahili people of the African Great Lakes region.
My research had also turned up the word Nairobbery, the jocular nickname residents bestowed on the capital city at a time muggings were pervasive. For some, such a discovery would have warranted a change in itinerary, but not me. Read more here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Book Review: Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Under the Udala Trees

Under the Udala Trees, Chinelo Okparanta’s debut literary novel, set in South-Eastern Nigeria during and after the civil war, explores themes of same-sex love, religious bigotry, betrayal and abandonment through the eyes of Ijeoma, the young, star-crossed female protagonist.  

In the second year of the war, Ijeoma’s father dies in an air raid, leaving his wife, Adaora, to raise their preteen daughter alone with little means. Despondent and determined to shed all reminders of her husband, Adaora relocates from Ojoto to her late parents’ house in Aba but not before dropping Ijeoma off with the grammar school teacher, an old friend of her father’s living in Nnewi. She explains to Ijeoma the arrangement is temporary, promising to send for her as soon as possible. Read more here.