Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Toast to My Friend

Friendship is a Relationship Between Equals
Photo: Shayera
This post comprises paragraphs that were, for the sake of brevity, expunged from my recent entry, “When Was the Last Time You Did Something For the First Time?”, but after careful consideration, I decided to publish it as a stand-alone entry because I figured it was worth sharing.

On the morning of my friend’s wedding, as soon as I woke up, I scribbled my speech for fear of forgetting the last words that resonated in my dream. The words were: friendship is a relationship between equals. I have no idea why those words reverberated, but I’m glad they did because they became the building blocks of my speech.

Below is the speech I wrote, and although my toast wasn't an exact replica of the written words, it still bore the gist of it:

I first met Ekanem at University ten years ago. We had both arrived a month after freshmen had resumed, so we had a lot of school work to catch up on, especially with tests approaching.

Being aware of our predicament, we formed a sort of partnership; we became library rats. If you needed to find us after lectures, all you had to do was come to the library.

Fortunately for the both of us, this partnership quickly blossomed into a friendship since we shared commonalities and were also able to celebrate our differences. We were tolerant of each other’s opinions. We were respectful, loving, compassionate and empathetic to each other. And even when the ugly truth was spoken, it was tempered with love.

Friendship and marriage are similar; the same qualities that make a friendship work can be found in any successful marriage.

Having known Ekanem for a decade, I can vouch that she embodies the requisite qualities that are necessary for a long-lasting friendship and will be taking them with her into her marriage. I can also assume that she saw the same qualities in Mfon, or she wouldn't have agreed to marry him, so my wish is that he reciprocates them to her as she would him.

I’d like to end this toast with a quote: Friendship is a relationship between equals; anything else is suspect. Therefore, it is my hope and prayer that you two see yourselves as nothing more than equals in this holy union.

*Names have been changed for the sake of privacy.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

When Was The Last Time You Did Something For The First Time?

In the past few weeks, I've been having a bit of fun experimenting with a couple things for the first time, and I must admit they've made me feel more alive. For example, I decided to give the creaming method a try after years of using the rubbing-in method. The first banana cake I made employing the creaming method looked very promising that I resolved to bake cupcakes the following day. Needless to say, I was happy with the results as they came out looking, smelling and tasting heavenly.

What thrilled me about the newly tried baking method wasn't the outcome  of my baking, but the fact that I’d taken a risk, albeit an inconsequential one, by trying something different from my usual baking method. Stepping out of my comfort zone had brought a sliver of excitement with a sense of adventure.

This Easter holiday, I had the opportunity of travelling to Akwa-Ibom state for the first time for a traditional and white wedding. Even though I’m not a fan of weddings, I looked forward to the traditional one because, up until now, I’d only attended Igbo traditional weddings, so witnessing an Ibibio traditional wedding was of cultural interest to me. Attending the traditional wedding required my wearing the aso-ebi – which meant donning a yellow blouse and a grey wrapper.

Now, tying a wrapper is an undertaking that should be approached with a certain level of dexterity, otherwise one could quickly become a victim of a wardrobe malfunction. For someone who’d never tied one before, I was impressed I kept it in place like pro, despite my mom’s warning of the imminent wardrobe malfunction that would befall me for refusing to knot my wrapper twice behind.
I must admit though that prior to the wedding day, I didn't think I would be comfortable walking around with a wrapper tied round my waist, but I guess you’ll never know, until you've tried it, right?

Another thing I recently did for the first time was being a Maid of Honor and proposing a toast before 300 people. The former didn't faze me one bit, but the latter certainly made my heart skip a few beats. I had a hard time envisioning making the speech especially since the bride only mentioned it to me the night before her wedding.

As an introvert, I don’t like surprises; I don’t particularly care for spontaneity and I hate to be apprised of activities at the eleventh hour because I love being prepared. I’m terrible at adlibbing and certainly wouldn't have agreed to propose a toast if I’d been informed the morning of the wedding, or worse, at the reception.

Although speaking before an audience wasn't foreign to me as I had done so during class presentations and as a lay reader in church, this thing of a toast was a different kettle of fish since the audience I’d addressed in the past was never more than a hundred people. Moreover, there was always a lectern or some other piece of furniture to stand behind. But with this toast, I knew there wasn't going to be a prop - it was going to be just me and the mic.  

At the reception hall, I took my seat on stage next to the bride and groom, and tried not to look flustered. In a bid to distract myself, I desperately avoided looking at the wedding program, but that was futile since I already knew that the cutting of the cake was my cue to toast. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I was wishing it would never come to pass, but that wish never came true because a few minutes later I arose to make my speech.

Now, the MC wanted me to get off the dais, but much to my amazement, I told him I preferred to propose my toast on stage. I don’t know if I was having an Oprah moment, or if it was the fear of buckling under my wobbly knees that made me maintain my position; either way, I took the mic from the MC and began my toast

Surprisingly, what I realized during and after my speech is that I enjoyed feeding off the energy of the audience. If someone had told me I’d enjoy interacting with the audience before this event, I’d have told them they couldn't be more wrong. I suppose this goes to show that you should never underestimate yourself.

I’m of the opinion that the best way to experience life and to know oneself is to constantly take on risks. Taking a risk doesn't necessarily have to involve a rush of adrenalin or an illegal activity, but could simply mean being enterprising enough to try something new - like food. For instance, I’m seldom gung-ho about food and only salivate when the opportunity to eat something new arises. For me, eating food that’s foreign to my digestive tract is tantamount to embarking on an adventure – albeit a gastronomical one.

Life seems more interesting when we break the cocoons we've constructed for ourselves, or society has constructed for us, and dare ourselves with tiny doses of adventure every chance that we get - because to not do so is to punitively resign ourselves to Sisyphus’ fate. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Dissection of Aloe Blacc's 'The Man'

Aloe Blacc as Malcolm X
Photo: Vevo
These days it’s very rare to find music that raises my consciousness or is thought-provoking, but when I do find one, I listen to it over and over again until my ears beg me to stop. This is exactly what transpired last weekend when I happened upon Aloe Blacc’s song The Man on TV. The 70s vibe of the video and the hook of the song captivated me, and I've been dissecting it non-stop in my head and on YouTube ever since. Yes, the song and accompanying video are that good! You can watch it here and see for yourself.

On first listen, The Man sounds like it’s espousing conceitedness, but on second listen one can perceive that it is far deeper than the hook suggests. As a friend of mine pointed out, it’s a rallying cry for the dreamers bogged down in the trenches.
I agree it is that and much more as enumerated below.

[First verse]
“I believe every lie that I ever told
Paid for every heart that I ever stole
I played my cards and I didn't fold
Well it ain't that hard when you got soul (this is my world)
Somewhere I heard that life is a test
I been through the worst but I still give my best
God made my mold different from the rest
Then he broke that mold so I know I'm blessed (this is my world)”

In the first verse, there’s an acknowledgement of wrongs committed in the past, and the need to make amends for them - which shouldn't be difficult if the ego is suppressed (it ain’t that hard when you got soul). It is apparent that our world would benefit from this kind of attitude if apologies were uttered whenever hearts were broken. Furthermore, the verse urges us to put up a brave front, and give life our best shot regardless of the curveballs it throws at us. The last two lines of the verse are a celebration of our differences as individuals - we've all been blessed with unique gifts to perform different roles on earth, thus we should strive to fulfill our purpose for the betterment of all in the world.

“Stand up now and face the sun
Won’t hide my tail or turn and run
It's time to do what must be done
Be a king when kingdom comes”

In the bridge, he’s exhorting us to have the courage to stand up for our convictions. We should actively support the causes we believe in - not merely pay lip service - and be prepared to nail our colors to the mast when the situation demands it. In the video, this idea is depicted in several scenes from protesters demonstrating against the Vietnam War to the march that was organized by Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama to protest the obstruction of voter registration for African-Americans. Aloe Blacc also portrays the human rights activist Malcolm X and the boxer Mohammed Ali - who refused to be inducted into the US army as it was against his religious beliefs, even though that meant forfeiting his boxing license for three years. He is famously quoted as saying: “I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong”, when asked the reason for his aversion to being drafted for the Vietnam War.

“Well you can tell everybody
Yeah you can tell everybody
Go ahead and tell everybody
I'm the man, I'm the man, I'm the man”
The catchy hook can be interpreted as a proclamation of one’s self-worth to oneself and the world. We all have the right to say “I’m the man” because we’re worthy and we matter. We all have the right to be heard and respected as human beings. As Oprah remarked, “People want to be know: Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say matter?” Everyone wants to be validated. Everyone is worthy.

[Second verse]
“I got all the answers to your questions
I'll be the teacher you could be the lesson
I'll be the preacher you be the confession
I'll be the quick relief to all your stressing (this is my world)
It's a thin line between love and hate
Is you really real or is you really fake
I'm a soldier standing on my feet
No surrender and I won't retreat (this is my world)”

The second verse encourages us to take the time to listen to people’s concerns; to be a safe refuge for them and extend a helping hand to those in need. It also cautions against not being true to ourselves as failure to do so can easily turn people’s admiration for us (love) to contempt (hate) once the fabrication is uncovered.

Consider the preacher Jimmy Swaggart, who was caught with a prostitute, and lost a huge percentage of his congregation as a result of his sexual escapade. In effect, he was viewed as a fraud because his congregation couldn't reconcile his preaching with his actions.

The last lines of the verse advise that we not only practice what we preach, but also fight against oppression of any kind, because it’s our world and the onus is on us to make it habitable for all.
It’s remarkable how several important messages were squeezed into a four minute music video without making it somber or serious. I wish there were more songs and music videos out there that inspired people and made them think, or at least learn something new about themselves and/or the world at large.  

Music Video Trivia: The first scene is a tribute to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On album cover. It’s interesting to note that the album centered on injustices and social ills plaguing American in the 60s and 70s. The final scene pays homage to two African-American athletes (Tommie Smith and John Carlos) at the 1968 Olympics, who were expelled from the Games for giving the Black Power salute on the podium during their award ceremony.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Very Short Story: Ruminations In a Coffee Shop

Photo: BusinessWeek
She‘d handed in her resignation letter an hour earlier.

It had been five years that commenced beautifully before petering out into a bleak, uninteresting end. Five years at La Dolce Vita Publishing House had robbed her of her zest for life, and instigated her search to finding life's purpose. She'd been stuck in a rut for the past three years, and desperately needed to climb out of it, despite knowing how frightful she was of wading into uncharted waters. More than anything else, she knew had to quit her job or run the risk of never finding her raison d’être.

At this juncture, solitude was what she craved; she needed to sit alone and think.

Dark, pregnant clouds hung over her as she made her way to the cozy coffee shop not too far from her apartment. She walked briskly in a bid to get inside before the rain began.

As she took a seat, a morose-looking waiter swiftly appeared to take her order.

“Good day, Madam. May I take your order?”

“Good day. Um, I’d like an espresso with no milk or sugar, please.”

“OK, Madam, one espresso coming.”

“Thank you.”

As the waiter walked away, she wondered what story lurked behind his sad, dark eyes. Perhaps he was suffering the same plight as she. Perhaps he was just as disconnected from life as she was and searching for meaning.

She’d gotten her first job working as a temp at La Dolce Vita with the aim of determining a suitable career path, while gaining work experience and earning some money. Unfortunately, the career decision was never made, and so a year turned into three years, three years into four, and four years into five. It wasn't until the crippling ennui threatened to suck the life out of her that she called it quits.

The fear of not knowing the next step to take in her life had kept her from quitting her job, even when she knew she was losing herself and mind to it.

The waiter returned with her espresso flashing a perfunctory smile that she returned.

“What am I going to do with myself?” She pondered hopelessly.

She was in the least bit interested in publishing; neither did she consider herself a writer, even though she’d been featured as a guest columnist in several local dailies and magazines. Sure, she was intelligent and could write proficiently on a wide variety of subject matters when in the right frame of mind, but she didn't particularly consider these attributes talents. It’s not like she could perform brain surgery, or launch a spacecraft. In her view, there were many people just like her; hence there was nothing exceptional about her writing skills or her ability to make intelligent inferences. 

She took a sip of her coffee as she watched a couple walk into the coffee shop. They both looked satisfied and happy with life, like they’d discovered the end of the rainbow. She hated the sight of them instantly, and hated herself for feeling that way. 

Her emotions were the result of a bitter argument she'd had with her ex-boyfriend two days earlier. She’d ended her four year relationship with Nkosi after informing him that she needed a break from their relationship to get herself in order. Of course, he’d taken it the wrong way, and was quick to tell her how selfish and inconsiderate she was for opting out of their relationship without a hint.

“Without a hint?!” she’d laughed dryly.

The problem with Nkosi was that he still wore rose-tinted glasses while she’d taken hers off a long time ago. They had grown too comfortable to the point they were stagnating; at least she thought she was. She couldn't think of herself, by herself, for herself – it was always ‘we’.

“We have to go see such-and-such movie.”

“We need to visit the Arts and Crafts village.”

“We should go on a Safari.”

Most of the time she didn't want to partake in any of those ‘we’ activities, or if she did, she wanted to do them alone. 

She’d loved Nkosi once upon a time, but that love had steadily grown cold and distant. She longed for something new, something different - even though she couldn't quite articulate what it was.

A strong draft of cold air prompted another sip of her coffee.

Outside the rain had subsided, and rays of sunlight made the tiny puddles on the walkway glisten. Oddly, the reflection of light on the walkway injected a glimmer of hope into her drab thought pattern: “No matter how hard it rains, the sun will always prevail. It may be days or weeks before it beams, but the sun will always shine.”

She drank what was left of her coffee, left some change on the table, and walked out of the coffee shop with her newly found optimism determined to take a chance on her next major decision… without fear or regret.