Saturday, July 16, 2016

When Revenge Just Won't Do

In the Face of Adversity, Keep Building Bridges
Photo: Ryan McGuire
The latest shootings in the US are indicative that Obama’s presidency, contrary to what some believe, has done little for race relations. Police systematic targeting of blacks is nothing new. The only difference between then and now is the presence of video evidence and social media to disseminate the fact. Still, technology has not abated the killings, neither has it led to the prosecution of errant officers.

This inability to serve justice has left many in the black community feeling their lives matter less. The outrage and sense of helplessness was what resulted in the killing of five white policemen in Dallas by a black man, claiming just before he was killed by the police that he wanted to kill white cops.

But is retaliation the answer?

My piece in Ayiba Magazine explores that question. You can read it here

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Six Travel Companions You Should Avoid At All Cost

Lac Rose, Senegal
Photo: Shayera
There are a million ways a dream vacation can be ruined. Getting sick, having your money, or worse passport, stolen or a terrorist attack are some of a few examples that most people’s list, but how about a travel companion? Yes, your travel buddy can turn your highly anticipated holiday into a regrettable, unfulfilling experience and leave you smarting long after you’ve returned home, especially if it was your idea to invite them. If you’re skeptical about how a wrong pairing can steal the magic from your magical getaway, this post will convince you otherwise.

The Cyborg: This individual cannot be separated from their hand-held device. They are a couple on an eternal honeymoon, interested more in each other than in you or anything else of interest happening around them. Your questions to them would most likely be answered with an ‘Em, what did you say?’ or silence. If breath-taking experiences are better shared, the Cyborg will leave you feeling you’ve embarked on a solo trip because they have no opinion, or worse recollection, of the Mount Hombori caves you both visited earlier. With eyes permanently glued to their screen, what do you expect?

The Photo-obsessed: While taking pictures to document sights, tastes and sounds of a foreign is expected, it can easily devolve into a case of looking without seeing when overdone. If your friend is spends precious minutes every day photographing every ant, artifact and animal in sight as if they’re on a National Geographic assignment, make no mistake they’re not fully present in the moment as you. So why bother with such a person? And if you’re busy being nice, taking perfect pictures of your friend for their 80th Instagram shot in the last 48 hours, when you’d rather be exploring the sand dunes of the Kalahari, then you’re in trouble. How much was that flight ticket to Namibia again? Meanwhile, somebody better tell Uche with the camera some memories exist better in the head.

The Gourmand: Animating the palate with foreign flavors is one of the most integral aspects of travelling. But if your companion loves to stuff their face every five minutes, their habit may interfere with your plans if you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford to pay the transport fare to places of interest by yourself.

Case in point: Imagine your day tour of the Great Pyramid of Khufu is cut short because they’re hungry. And you guys ate a hearty meal, like what, two hours ago? Of course you want to object, but you swallow your anger. You swallow it whole even as it burns your throat, and acquiesce to your friend’s stomach because a solo ride back to the hotel will cost you more. Sated, you both decide to stroll through Khan el-Kahlili, and just as things are starting to get interesting, you hear a murmur, I’m hungry.

The Shopaholic: We all have that one friend who has a black belt in shopping. And if your idea of a good vacation is to shop till you drop, then by all means bring them along. But if you desire to soak in the local ambience, watch the fishermen in the soft glow of sunset cast their nets in the Indian Ocean, or stroll down the cobbled alleyways of Stone Town, then you’re in for a rude awakening. You will waste hours collecting material objects that are largely forgettable and whose novelty is sure to wear off, than saving relivable treasures.

Sunset in Zanzibar
Photo: Harvey Barrison
The Whiner: Among travel companions from hell, whiners take the biscuit. They are energy vampires who will suck the fun out of an adventure with their stream of complaints. ‘The hotel room is small.’ … ‘I’m tired of walking.’… ‘The shower isn’t powered.’ … ‘This chicken isn’t dry enough.’ … ‘I don’t like the weather.’ … ‘The air is drying my skin.’ …  ‘My feet are aching and so are my eyelashes.’ By the end of the first day, you’re drained by the whining, and all you want is for your five-day trip to Cote d’Ivoire to end so you can go home and rid yourself of the gadfly.

The Scaredy Cat: Scaredy cats don’t realize the inherent link between travel and risk. There’s the risk of getting lost, and the thrill of stumbling across a hidden historical gem barely touched by tourists along the way. There’s the risk of choking on roasted locusts and the pleasant surprise of discovering they gel with your palate. There’s the fear of being unable to communicate verbally or being misunderstood, yet the joy of sharing a laugh with the little boy who slowly threads your mangled Hausa before handing you the quantity of tiger nuts you requested.

Encountering uncertainties and seeking unknowns, but managing to enjoy every minute outside your comfort zone is the essence of travelling. Nothing is more uninspiring than studying a map so no wrong turns are taken or secluding oneself from the locals. Or sitting across the table from the Scaredy Cat, watching them eat only the same kind of food as you do back home.

One of the benefits of having an intrepid travel companion is that they can order an exotic dish. You can have a portion of their cachupa and they of your ndolé, and both of you get more bang for your buck.

Ndolé - Cameroon's National Dish
Photo: PRA

To be sure, the fear of contracting a stomach bug or upsetting a sensitive belly is valid. But that’s why you draw a line on certain foods. So, while drinking cow blood, eating live squid or fermented shark meat—oh, and anything that’s a primate or looks like a rat, even if it’s cooked—are off my list, I’m open to everything else... And if it doesn’t taste good, hey, it’s never that serious.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Beware the Lollipop of Mediocrity

One of the by-products of corruption in Nigeria is mediocrity, a trait so common it is as pervasive as generator fumes and potholes. Nigerians have learned to accept and expect shoddy services and products to the point anyone who dares highlight the obvious is quickly branded fussy or out-of-touch. Those struggling to rise above the muck of inferiority know going against the currents of mediocrity will eventually take its toll, and are aware they would have to grudgingly accept what’s on offer for the sake of their sanity and peace of mind. And so the cycle of mediocrity continues, fragrantly and unperturbed.

Nigerian private companies, government agencies, schools and the sole proprietor are all guilty of it, and customers often have no choice but to support and tolerate their second-rate products until a foreign alternative comes along. As is the case with breakfast cereals.

Scary childhood tales abound of the gustatory torture endured at the hands of our darling Made in Nigeria cornflakes. From broken teeth suffered from chomping down hard on an unexpected grain of corn to finding burnt flakes in a box, these were complaints no child ever associated with a Kellogg’s product. This was, and still is, why breakfast tables of middle-class Nigerians favored a box of Kellogg’s cornflakes over NASCO’s ‘quality’ cornflakes.

Still, that preference doesn’t make Nigerian breakfast cereal brands sleep less at night, because with 92 percent of Nigerians living on less than two dollars a day, Kellogg’s is but a dream and NASCO their reality. What’s more, when more than half of 180 million people are actively purchasing your product, there’s less inclination to improve on quality.

If corruption is the mother of mediocrity then laziness, a disease that afflicts quite a number of Nigerians, is its father. A typical Nigerian doesn’t want to work, but wants to get paid. But because no one will pay for no work, he goes through the motion of working. This is why those egregious Nollywood movies, where anyone with a camera (I refuse to insult directors) can string a couple of disjointed, unimaginative scenes together within a week and call it a film, exist. The filmmaker’s only motivation is money not the art of entertainment with directing, screenwriting, cinematography, wardrobe and plot being secondary considerations. And that’s a shame.

It’s a shame because Nigerians have demonstrated they can do better when they put their back into it. We used to in the 90s’ with TV series Checkmate and the early Nollywood movies like Glamour girls, which is why it’s baffling that in the twenty some years of Nollywood’s existence, a 2015 Nigerian movie can’t compete with one from the silent era? Our actors have refused to hone their craft and our special effects are worse than what pertains in a 1940 Hollywood movie.

Photo: Instagram
Mobile service providers in Nigeria charge exorbitantly but fall short of delivery as expected.
If Nollywood is serious about the business of film-making, it has Hollywood to serve as a template, which it can study and emulate and, dare I say, blaze its own trail.

But then again, just one look at our music industry will tell you we’re too lazy to even do that, or at least copy with some imagination. A majority of the Nigerian songs populating the airwaves is discordant sound aka noise. Little thought goes into song-writing and production. That’s why a Nigerian rapper can brazenly spit rhymes about fur coats and leather jackets in a country where it doesn’t snow, and think he’s going somewhere. It’s also the reason a musician/video director can lift whole scenes from a Beyoncé video and call it work.      

The curse of mediocrity has also ensnared Nigeria’s biggest online retailer. Though it has the juggernaut, Amazon, to thank for their existence, studying and translating Amazon’s operation in Nigeria has proved difficult. Personally, I have patronized both companies, and let’s just say that after being sold a malfunctioning laptop, paying for an undelivered item and having my money withheld for two months—despite several calls—I shan’t be buying anything from Nigeria’s biggest online retailer. Amazon, on the other hand, still has my patronage. 

Money, or rather the love of it, corrupts everything. After all, Apple, Facebook, Google are all valuable brands worth billions of dollars, and have remained extremely successful because they continue to invest heavily in research and innovation, key factors in the game of customer attraction and retention. Complacency and mediocrity are antithetical to their operations, as they should be for any going concern wishing to be taken seriously.

And this is what lawmakers, attempting to ram patriotism down the throats of Nigerians with the bill to enforce the procurement of Nigerian goods, are pretending not to understand. Nigerians are not shunning Made in Nigeria because they are made in Nigeria. Nigerians are shunning Made in Nigeria because they are inferior. It’s a fact lawmakers know, otherwise they wouldn’t be receiving medical treatment in Johns Hopkins and Mount Sinai Hospital as opposed to Nigerian hospitals.

             If we’re serious about being the Giant of Africa as we claim we are but aren’t, we have to learn to say no to laziness, no to the love of money and no to all that is mediocre. We have to learn to embrace blood, sweat and guts, and teach ourselves to take pride in the value hard work. For success is tastes sweeter when reminiscing about those long, arduous days spent toiling in the trenches.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Why Nudity and the Burka Don't Empower Women

Photo: Pinterest
The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides four definitions for the word empowerment: To give official authority or legal power to; to enable; to promote self-actualization or influence, and to give power to someone. And in the current debate surrounding the female body, empowerment has taken on another meaning: nudity, an association popularized by celebrities keen to strip down for a magazine spread.

In a Vanity Fair spread last year, Demi Lovato, who battled eating disorders in the past, admitted:  “[The nude photoshoot is] empowering and it shows other women you can get to a place where you can overcome obstacles of body image issues.”

Judging by the issues Demi has had with her body, it’s easy to see why a nude photoshoot was a courageous venture. But having to do so in a magazine to prove that she’s now at peace with her body reeks more of capitalism and narcissism than empowerment. Posting to her a personal website or on social media (if nudity is permitted) would have sufficed to share her message with fans, but of course that wouldn’t pay because nude photoshoots per se aren’t empowering. What is is the cold, hard cash magazines pay—cash that will be enable one purchase wants and indulge desires. Money in this case is the key that empowers.

Another celebrity who has made the association between nudity and empowerment is Kim Kardashian. On International Women’s Day, she shared a nude photo on her app along with a message peppered with ‘empowerment’. In it she says, “I am empowered by my body. I am empowered by my sexuality. I am empowered by feeling comfortable in my own skin. I am empowered by showing the world my flaws and not being afraid of what anyone is going to say about me.” She goes on to add, “[I hope] I can encourage the same empowerment for girls and women all over the world.”

Again, this an example of narcissism and capitalism dressed up as empowerment. Kim has made tremendous amount of money bearing her skin, so it’s now wonder she feels ‘empowered’ by her body. But like Demi, can she claim to be empowered if sex, or rather pandering to the male gaze, didn’t sell? And in any case, how does she suppose her nude photos will impact girls and women to realize they’re just as capable and deserving of the things men are afforded in all spheres of life? Unless she’s advocating that women use their bodies to attain financial freedom, and thus, empower themselves, her nude photos and empowerment speech ring hollow.

If bearing skin is the symbol of the empowered woman, then the opposite—covering up entirely—is that of the disempowered woman. Or so is the thinking in some quarters.

Recently, Laurence Rossignol, France's minister for the family, children and women’s rights, railed against designers and clothing stores like M&S and H&M offering products catered to Muslim women who cover their faces, heads and extremities. In her mind, they are irresponsible for “promoting the confinement of women’s bodies”. “What’s at stake,” she added, “is social control over women’s bodies.” 
Photo: Marks and Spencer

Already, in 2010, France banned the niqab, the full face veil, a move some criticized for encroaching on women’s rights.

Yet, what Bergé failed to consider or, in Rossignol’s case, to accept is that Muslim women’s sartorial tastes vary. And that just as YSL has the right to run fashion campaigns with scantily-clad women, so is it a Muslim woman’s prerogative to cover up as she pleases. Claiming that a fully-covered woman isn’t beautiful or that she’s confined because she wears a hijab or a burkini is to dismiss cultural and personal differences.

It may be hard to believe, but the idea of bearing skin doesn’t excite every woman. Just ask All Saints, a famous British pop girl band of the late 90s. In a recent BBC interview, they recounted being told to take off their tops for a performance so as to give the impression of nudity, a move that contrasted with the group’s cargo-pants-combat-boots style. When they balked, an ultimatum was issued: Lose the tops or forgo the performance. In the end, they compromised by lowering their tops to their armpits. Not exactly a liberating or ‘beautiful’ experience.

To be sure, there are Muslim women for whom the hijab is a symbol of patriarchy and repression. Still, while these women’s views must be respected, they’re are not representative of all Muslim women.

Burqas and nude photos are not a measure of empowerment or the lack thereof, as neither bestow legal authority or lead to self-actualization. Education. Access to finance. Wealth. Abortion rights. Day care centers for working mothers. These are factors that contribute to the true empowerment of girls and women. Girls who are educated are more likely to use birth control and plan their family size accordingly. Access to finance and day care centers free her from the shackles of poverty, a largely sexist phenomenon, and allow her realize her dreams respectively. Having more women in positions of authority will lead to a balanced world where sexist laws such as the pink tax will be repealed and more favorable ones like equal pay implemented.

In essence, if women were truly empowered, debates about whether they’re being bullied into veiling or exposing their skin will not exist, because then the choice will be truly theirs.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Shorts: Obioma

Raquel Lopez via Flick

Here's an excerpt from a short story I wrote published on the literary site Brittle Paper.

“It was an entrapment. They blackmailed me.”

It was 3 a.m. Dakar time. I was sitting up now in bed, my back against the wooden head-board, legs hidden under the cover. Sleep had long been replaced with shock then smoldering fury. The room was morosely dark, a perfect reflection of the feelings enveloping me. Why would the church blackmail one of its high-profile pastors? Would they go to such lengths to destroy a marriage?

Read the rest of the story here.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Poor Are Just As Guilty: A Look At Classism

When people think of classism, focus tends to be on the rich and middle classes, forgetting the poor are not exempt.

The link below is of the piece I wrote for Africa is a Country, which explores one of the ways the lower class exhibits classism.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Are You a Misogynist, a Subversive or a Feminist?

Isn’t it bizarre that in 2016 the world’s still struggling with how to treat half its population fairly? What with small pox having been eradicated, man landing on the moon and the internet connecting us to worlds previously unknown, shouldn’t achieving gender parity be a piece of cake?

Apparently not.

Covertly or overtly, on purpose or inadvertently, the man-at-the-helm is constantly reinforced in every facet of life as the default societal structure—from religion to toys to fairy tale princesses perpetually waiting to be rescued. With such toxic narratives being peddled as the norm from childhood through adulthood, it’s no wonder we’re a long way away from gender parity and patriarchy continues to win new recruits and enjoy support from its large fan base—misogynists and the subversives.

The Misogynists

Misogynists aka male chauvinists are men who believe a woman’s rightful place is beneath them. In their minds, women should not own property, work or be anything else but exist for them. They’re patriarchy’s fiercest proponents, and excoriate men and women who adopt non-traditional gender roles. In their warped world, it’s only natural for women to submit to male domination because they’re emotional and incapable of making informed decisions. To misogynists, women, by virtue of being women, are adults who never escaped childhood, and therefore must be chaperoned and guarded by grown-up males.

But say what you will about misogynists, their candid opinion on gender equality is laudable. After all, a battle is half won when the enemy is identified.

Patriarchy is an aberration.
Photo: Javier Zarracina/Vox

The Subversives

Their rank comprises of men and women who have internalized patriarchy as the de facto natural social structure to be upheld. They propagate gender tropes in their different incarnations: Pink is for girls and blue for boys, women are living appendages and make bossy leaders, and bread-winning is a man’s God-given, inalienable right, not realizing these are socially constructed notions—and thus illusive.

As their name suggests, subversives may go as far as to call themselves feminists—or even use the vague term ‘gender equalist’, to disguise their mission. But don’t be fooled. Their true intention is to maintain their social, economic and cultural edge over women, using invasive methods.

Consider Oscar, a senior manager at a financial firm. Oscar needs a finance manager to supervise a team of male accountants, so he puts out a job ad for the position. However, it’s only open to male candidates, because in Oscar’s mind a woman can’t handle a group of men. By barring women from applying, Oscar has tightened another screw on patriarchy. But of course, he thinks nothing of the discrimination nor it implications, at least not yet.

It’s Friday nights and Oscar hits the bar, where he picks up a woman for his entertainment. Note that Oscar never, ever seeks out women in his economic class since they have just as much financial clout as him, and are less likely to let him dictate to them. Instead, he settles for a less troublesome lass—one who pads his fragile ego and supports his distorted notions of gender.

Initially, everything goes well until she starts asking him to pay for phone credit, transportation, Brazilian weaves. A girl’s got to look good for her man, right?

Oscar for his part, stoically assumes the role of the macho man, the financial provider up until his padded wallet begins to lose its bulge. Then he turns poet, and starts waxing lyrical about gender equality, and how modern-day women should be financially independent.

Once again, don’t be fooled by the claptrap for Oscar’s thinking hinges on selfishness. He simply wants her to earn some money (never more than him, of course) so she doesn’t bother him. To Oscar, patriarchy becomes a dirty reality when it requires more from him.

Subversives are also quick to assume barriers no longer exist for women since Hilary Clinton is running for president and Angela Merkel is Chancellor, and parliament has a couple of women representatives. They consider having a female president, a male vice president, a male speaker of the house and a virtually male parliament a landslide achievement not an aberration.

Another pastime of subversives is to bemoan what they see as a disproportionate coverage of violence against women, while obsessively fishing for stories where men are victims of abuse to prove the focus on women’s right is unwarranted. They act as if protesting a girl’s right to education somehow negates the rights of a boy, and choose to ignore the fact that violence and discriminatory practices affect more females than males.

But in the real world, statistics matter.

It’s the reason lions are on endangered lists and buffaloes are not. It’s also the reason HIV/AIDS and cancer get more funding than rare disease like epidermodysplasia verruciformi. But that attention doesn’t imply scientists couldn’t care less about finding a cure for epidermodysplasia verruciformi. In the same vein, neither does spotlighting sexism against women diminish the problems men encounter.

The Feminists

In the fight for gender equality are feminists, who like the subversives, comprise of women and men. Feminist men are comfortable with feminism because they understand it doesn’t advocate matriarchy, but strives for a society where the sexes have equal opportunities to the social, economic and cultural goodies of life. They believe not in holding doors for women, or playing the role of supermen to damsels in distress, but in empowering women to hold doors and live an unrestrained life to the fullness of their abilities and talents.

Photo: Sarah Turbin/Vox
A woman’s ambition or blinding success doesn’t perturb the feminist man, who also has no reservations about cooking, changing diapers or being a stay-at-home dad. They’re unafraid to name patriarchy as the enemy and confront it head-on. The feminist man is aware his wife reserves the right to keep her maiden name, and considers it an honor if she takes his.

Feminists teach their sons to respect a woman’s opinions as they would a man’s, and their daughters to pay for their meals and diamonds. They don’t tell boys to man up when they cry, because tears are not a sign a weakness but a healthy human reaction. In a feminist world, boys play with Barbies and girls with trucks, girls climb trees and boys play hopscotch, and women are just as capable as men in coding.

We cannot claim we are serious about burying patriarchy for good, if we only recognize its existence when it turns on us. Fighting it every time in all its forms is the only way we can achieve parity. So ladies and gentlemen, where do you stand? Your reaction to the idea of a man moving into a house built by his wife is a tiny clue to where you stand in the fight for gender equality.