Sunday, September 11, 2016

Six Ways to Find Your Passion

Photo: Shayera Dark
For some, identifying their passion is a walk in the park. They don’t need the help of a guardian counselor to point them to the rainbow’s end because they already know where it is. This category of people know what drives them—an awareness they discovered in utero or accidentally stumbled upon early on in life. Either way, they’ve been spared the trouble of having to find where their heart lies.

The rest of us, however, are stuck with hours of self-reflection, countless meetings with a career coach and general cluelessness. The very question: ‘what are you passionate about?’ elicits the same level of dread as having one’s tooth pulled without anesthesia, because society expects us to know what it is.

If you fall in the latter category, fear not, kiddo, for these six commandments have got you covered.

Thou shall quit your job
Staying on a job you hate and griping about how much you hate isn’t going to lead to a light bulb moment. Trust me, it won’t. But quitting will. Transitioning from employed to unemployed will likely make finding your passion more urgent… and, yes, uncomfortable considering the scary economy and unemployment statistics. But with the new extra time, you can channel your energy into discovering the gritty stuff you’re made of by following the next commandment.

Thou shall experiment
Breaking out of a routine is one way to find your passion. Grab at new opportunities wherever you find them. This could mean helping a colleague complete a task at work, volunteering in the accounting department in your local church, or watching a play, even if it’s not your thing. You’d be surprised at what tickles your interest, and in return your passion could be unlocked.

Thou shall ask questions
Self-reflection and asking questions offer illuminating insightWhat would you be doing with your time if you were filthy rich with no worries in the world? What would you do if failure wasn’t an option or didn’t give a damn about social approval? What are willing to suffer for or readily do for free for the next six months with a smile on your face?

Be truthful with your answers (even those you think might cause your friends and family to give you the stink eye), then write them all down, evaluating each candidly. 

Pay attention to what you enjoy talking about, your favorite novels, songs and movies. How do you spend your days off? A common theme should connect them all. If so, find a way of incorporating it into your current job or converting it into a business.

For example, if you love travelling (both physically and through art), you could start a culture blog featuring photography, book reviews and travel articles—and possibly make money from it.

Photo: Shayera Dark

Thou shall consult other human beings
No (wo)man is born an island, and that’s why you need to reach out to those living out their passion for help. Search the web for articles about how they found their passion. Read memoirs of successful business people and those you admire for inspiration. Ask a mentor, co-workers or friends who are likely to support you to highlight your best qualities or talents, and use the information to clue you in on what makes you tick.

Thou shall take a trip down memory lane
As a kid, what were the things you did for hours on end that never grew tiring or boring? What classes were a delight before momma and dada forced you to become a doctor, lawyer or an engineer? Your passion may lie in those lousy poems you wrote in junior secondary that no one read, the games you enjoyed playing, or in that book with dog-eared pages and a cracked spine. Making a list of all the things that brought you joy at age 7 would help resurrect forgotten passions to life.

And if all fails…

Thou shall write an obit 
That's right, an obituary. No, I dont wish death upon you. For a minute or two, drop your superstitions and write what you would like it to read. Not only would you be amazed at the things you come up with, the exercise will take you a step closer to the things youre enthusiastic about.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Finding Exemplary Leaders

Diogenes the Cynic
Photo: Wikicommons/Tony F
Leaders inspire exemplary behavior. We look to them to guide us in the face of uncertainty and see them as unifiers in times of discord. Leaders are visionaries who demonstrate tact, poise and levelheadedness under pressure, check their egos, and look beyond their interests for the greater common good.

In more ways than one, Barack Obama has displayed leadership qualities.

In the course of his presidency, President Obama has reacted with grace to provocations ranging from false assertions regarding his place of birth to Congressman Joe Wilson’s infamous ‘You lie’ interjection at his first State of the Union address. He put behind him the criticisms his one-time rivals Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton leveled at him during the presidential debates, offering them high profile positions in his administration. And where disasters have struck, he has been quick to show concern and offer support to affected Americans regardless of creed or party affiliation—like he did with New Jersey Republican governor Chris Christie. Both men shared a much publicized friendly hug when Obama visited the state in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. In his eight years in office, Obama has consistently shown, through his actions and words that he is the president of all Americans, not just of blue states, Christians or Blacks.

By contrast, President Buhari’s conduct since becoming president has been unsurprisingly parochial. Unsurprising, because in 2012, he spoke ominously of bloodshed if the presidential elections weren’t transparent, and having won in 2015, unabashedly asserted that states where he got the least votes shouldn’t expect to benefit from his presidency. Such remarks befit a thin-skinned egoist not a president.

Recently, in keeping with his warped thinking, Buhari shifted responsibility to his party members, asking those ‘friendly’ with Niger-Delta militants to beg them to stop bombing pipelines, as if the Niger-Delta were an autonomous region beyond his jurisdiction. One wonders if his uninterest and unwillingness to visit or engage in talks with the Niger-Delta is rooted in the fact that the region voted overwhelmingly for his rival and then incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan. If it is, then he’s got the wrong job. As every good leader knows, listening is the first step in bridge building.

President Buhari’s parochialism has also revealed itself in his loud silence on the vicious attacks wrought by cattle herdsmen on several villages. He remained mum on the issue, until recently, neither condemning them nor sympathizing with bereaved Nigerians. Yet, he’s been quick to offer condolences to France et al in the wake of terror attacks. Perhaps it is his stake in the cattle business that informed his reticence. Either way, through his actions or lack thereof, he has communicated to Nigerians that his interests precedes those of the country. That the change he promised during his campaign was going to be business as usual, where Nigeria’s needs take a back seat to the president’s, as typified by Buhari’s trip to the UK to treat an ear infection, an ear infection for Pete’s sake, amid an economic downturn.

At a time Nigerians are being told to tighten their belts in preparation for a tumultuous ride, the president deemed it fit to spend taxpayer’s money on medical treatment abroad. Lest we forget, the Aso Rock Clinic with a budget of 3.87 billion naira (which costs more than all 16 federal teaching hospitals) caters to the president, vice president, their families and staff. Why couldn’t he take a stroll down there and save Nigeria some cash? Or are Nigerian doctors not up to the task of treating the president?

Granted, the expertise of Nigerian-trained doctors is somewhat questionable, but that’s a corollary the endless stream of vacuous and uninspiring leaders Nigeria has had since independence.

Incidentally, the president, by virtue of his office, could raise the profile of tourist’s attractions across Nigeria and boost the economy if he forwent vacationing abroad. Ever wondered why American presidents favor staycations? Because taxpayer’s dollars are put to work on America soil.

Contrary to what Nigerian leaders claim, they’re not interested in serving our fatherland with love and strength and faith. Otherwise, the missing Chibok girls would have been rescued ages ago, divide-and rule stratagems won’t be employed to win elections and looters of public funds won’t be rewarded with ministerial positions and the like. 

With that in mind, it would take more than prayers and a lamp to find leaders who can save Nigeria. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

When Revenge 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.