When I first read that Michelle Obama would be publishing a book, I started counting down to the publish date. I like Michelle Obama, but my interest in the book goes beyond my liking of her.
I came to America in 2013, and quite frankly, that was the first time I actually cared enough to want to know what Obama was made of, and how a man like him rose to arguably the highest office in the world. Before I started living in the US, American politics never really interested me. I did not know much more than the fact that in 2008, a black man called Barack Obama became the first black president in America and that got the attention of the whole world. My thinking at the time can best be summed up as “what is the big deal?”
Living in a racially homogeneous country at that time — Nigeria, racial difference was not something I gave much thought to. Blackness was not a problem that needed to be solved, it was not something I needed to be proud of or ashamed of. It was simply being human as far as I knew.
Things took a different turn when I got to America. I needed to be proud of my color. I needed to be aware that there’s black and there is the other. I became interested in Obama’s story and then proceeded to read his first published book; Dreams From my Father. It was an incredible experience for me; an epiphany that changed my life in ways I will forever be grateful for. The book awakened a curiosity within me that made me rage-search for any sort of story about Barack Obama’s father. I started scouring the internet for something close to an autobiography of him. Finally, I stumbled on “The other Barack” by Sally Jacobs. I did a review Here.
Having read “Becoming” by Michelle Obama, I am now satisfied because this book feels like the missing puzzle in the jigsaw story of the Obamas. My reaction the day I finished reading was “It is now complete”.
For me, I like books that make me feel. Books that drive me through a rollercoaster of emotions and this book did just that. It took me through a paroxysm of different emotions because of how familiar and relatable the stories are. I am always grateful to people who are brave enough to share their stories because of the hope their stories afford us. There is comfort in knowing that our experiences are not entirely unique and the demons we are fighting can be conquered.
The book was grouped into 3 sections:
Here, she took us through a rollercoaster ride of her childhood, taking us through the plains of Race, Family, and growth. This was my favorite section; the one devoid of Barack. She wrote about her parents, grandparents, and her extended family. She talked about her protective brother, Craig; her father who was simply a superhero; her mother who is simply her everything; her stern and tender great-aunt, Robbie who owned the house where she lived as a kid and also taught her how to play the piano; her grumpy grandfather, Dandy, who had to let go of the idea of going to college and instead trained as an electrician but couldn’t get a well-paying job as an electrician because the color of his skin made sure he couldn’t join the Union. The way she dovetailed these stories and the adroitness with which she told them was incredible.
In this section, she talked about how she met Barack and how they ended up getting married. The bonus in this section is the sneak peek into the early life of Barack Obama and that of his parents and grandparents. If you have read Dreams from my Father, you will already know some of those things and be able to fit things together. She talked about miscarriages, the challenges of marriage, and the balancing of both marriage and career. She also talked about the fulfillment — or the lack thereof — that comes from career choices. She talked about the strain Barack’s political ambition put on their marriage and how they had sought professional counseling to guide them through it.
This section was unsurprisingly political. She talked about her time as the FLOTUS. She talked about growing into the role and the how she was held to a different standard by the American press. She also had some words for DT.
My favorite line in the book surfaced very early (in the preface): “Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child — What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.”
It had never occurred to me that no one becomes one thing or that we become one thing and then we stop and become fulfilled. Life is an endless metamorphosis; an endless unraveling of who we are. I dreaded that question as a kid. I used to just answer with “I want to be an engineer” for the simple fact that my mathematics was quite good. Now, I am an adult and I am not just an engineer. I have never really thought of job fulfillment or the lack of it. For me, fulfillment is a luxury only the privileged can afford to think of. Only the privileged would dare attach fulfillment, meaning, or happiness to a job. For me, it is all about the paycheck — for now. I also know that privilege is relative because, in a lot of circles, I would be tagged as privileged.
Another message from this book — which pains me to admit — is that Michelle Obama is never going to run for office. Her genuine dislike for politics envelopes every page in this book. I had once predicted she would run for office but I no longer think so.
On the last page, she writes: “There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there is grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”
This is not a book that needs recommendation. The book sells itself; I mean, Michelle Obama is the author. If you have kids, I can’t help but emphasis that you really want them to read this book.
Anyone who knows me well enough knows I always scavenge for the latest Nigerian Literature books. My latest read is “Easy Motion Tourist” by Leye Adenle.
In this book, the author calls our attention to the lack of social justice and inequality crippling our society. He reminds us that prostitutes are humans and they also deserve our protection and respect. He challenges us to protect even the low income earners in our society and in an amazing style reminds us of the repercussions of ignoring our restless youths, the powerless and the voiceless in our society. He also brings back the debate on the regulation — or the lack of it — of prostitution in Nigeria. Should prostitution really be illegal?
The author addresses prostitution, police brutality, money ritual and corruption in Lagos, Nigeria.
The story was narrated through the voice of Guy, a half-baked British Journalist sent to Lagos to cover the upcoming elections. In the churning city of Lagos, Guy soon got caught up in its frenzy when he got picked up by the police as a witness to a gruesome murder case of a lady whose mutilated body was discarded just outside the bar where he had decided to hangout.
The protagonist, Amaka, is a fierce young lawyer and the only child of a Nigerian Ambassador. She devoted her life to protecting sex workers from abusers and ritualists in Lagos. To take one from the smorgasbord of Pa: There are feminists and there are feminists, Amaka is a double feminist. She has a database for the sex workers and their prospective customers which she had built over time. The prostitutes would text her the plate number of the car of a prospective customer and she would respond by letting them know if it was safe or not. Once they got there, they texted her other details that could be used to identify the clients. Amaka’s character is not patronizing; she is not perfect. Sometimes she is the angel who protects sex workers, take some off the streets and even send some to school. Other times, she resorted to blackmailing men who maltreated the working girls as a means of revenge. Amaka is gutsy; she raises a middle finger as she takes on the rich and powerful who try to harm sex workers in Lagos.
In her own words to Guy: “Prostitution is illegal in Nigeria so nobody watches out for these girls. They are molested, extorted, short-changed, raped, killed, you name it. What you saw, it has happened before. Not like that, not so openly, but at its worst that’s exactly what we try to prevent.”
There are lots of characters in this book. They were mostly all over the place but Leye masterfully interconnects them — albeit fleetingly in some cases. Each character feeding off others as they grow into their own uniqueness. Amazing stuff!! I thought there were some well coined monikers for some of the characters in the book that are worthy of a mention. To name some: Catch-fire, Go-slow, knockout, and the hot headed police officer, Sergeant Hot-temper. The author used the character of sergeant Hot-temper to highlight the brutality and recklessness of the Nigerian police. The impetuous police officer killed prisoners for the fun of it, with little or no accountability.
Leye also reminds us that the Nigeria Police force is structured to — primarily — protect the rich and powerful in Nigeria.
It is also important to point out that the title of the book was inspired by one of the songs of the king of Highlife, the late Guitarist, Fatai Rolling Dollar — “ Easy Motion Tourist” which was about a nocturnal misadventure.
“Easy Motion Tourist” is a deliberate book that awakens ones sensitivity and awareness.
Grab a copy, read and enjoy. I got mine on Amazon.
On Language and Nigerian Literature
NB: The target audience — to me — is very clear. The characters were not overly explained. Leye didn’t write like someone trying to prove his intelligence, he simply wrote. I thoroughly enjoyed it and not once did I roll my eyes because a Nigerian colloquial was overly explained for the benefit of the other. That was the only problem I had with Chigozie Obioma’s “The Fishermen”. Listen to Obioma describe Molue: A beat up squeaking yellow painted bus with a constant metallic rattle”. For what? Ordinary Molue? I understand the need to overly explain indigenous words for the benefit of the other; the reason may be economic and I don’t blame those who do it. I don’t blame those who feel the need to prove their intelligence too. We are all humans. I’m also guilty.
I gave my Chinese-American colleague Americanah to read and for the past one week, we have been talking about the book; she has a ton of questions. She totally loved the book. Here is what she told me about some of the Igbo words: “Olu, I came across some words that seemed to be Nigerian language, I had to google some of them to understand what they meant. Some of them are just expressions”. I was proud of her. That is a serious reader who gives a damn about the space she’s reading about not someone with a shocking sense of entitlement who thinks everything should be overly explained for them.
I’m from a lineage of hopeless romantic lots–in our own way of course. We walk the talk, ask my mother. You will find her on WhatsApp, blessing her contacts with daily Open Heaven devotionals. She doesn’t know about Instagram or twitter yet, when she does, una go hear am. I imagine her on Instagram; gleefully posting Pastor Adeboye’s picture every day, with each day’s daily devotion as the caption–unapologetically. I would probably unfollow her—quietly; she might not know. I love my mother.
You know, some of these things are genetic. It is what it is. I see a lot of my father in me, even more than I would like to admit. I suspect, that, for him, love is a duty. To be there when we need him, to put our needs ahead of his and nothing more. Not so much of affection is involved. Again, it is what it is.
Over the past few years, I’ve carefully examined my strengths and weaknesses, especially when it comes to relationships. What I bring into relationships, how I compare and contrast to those who came before me (this includes my father, grandfather and one of my uncles whom I have also had the honor to watch from close proximity). I see them in me; their individual strengths and weaknesses. My father is not one to call you to say sorry when he’s wrong or draw you close for a hug, he would rather strike a conversation he knows you are very keen on having or quickly fulfil a request that had been pending-mostly monetary of course, or he would give you money without you asking for it. I could tell that he was making efforts to make it up to me in his own way. In retrospect, it wasn’t always enough for me but as I grew up, I understood that that was his own way of showing love. It wasn’t perfect but it didn’t make his love for me any less. Growing up, I realized, that our parents aren’t perfect and they aren’t supposed to be. I have learned to not see them in the “exalted status” of parents, but as humans who also make mistakes.
Of course, this is not to say I know these important figures in my life like the palm of my hand, but to the best of my knowledge, I have watched and taken what I can from them. Their life—to an extent—showed me some of the signboards that displayed the twists and turns in life and I made sure I paid attention. What this has done for me is not to magically take away my weaknesses or amplify my strengths but it has definitely helped me to understand myself better and also given me a profound sense of awareness; and so I consciously fight every day to work on the weaknesses and retain the strengths. It is a journey; probably a life time journey, I don’t know.
The love of my life, sometimes, albeit halfheartedly, says to me: “I don’t even know what I’m doing with you”. Make no mistake, I am fully aware that I’m a piece of work. I take solace in the self-awareness of my own weaknesses and with love I am able to sometimes avoid these mistakes. I am by no means claiming that self-awareness has miraculously turned me into the fearless hunter in the forest of a thousand demons, who can wade through the arrows of life unscathed. Of course not. It has only given me the hope that every day brings a fresh chance for me to be better, and that all I can do is to try to be better rather than venture on a futile quest for the idyllic. Utopia is a farce.
It has taught me that—just like those before me are not perfect, I couldn’t be perfect no matter how hard I tried.
Sometimes, I find myself in some situations and think, how would daddy have reacted to this? How would my Uncle have reacted? Which one is best? What should I do? To be honest, it gets scary sometimes, almost to the point of paranoia.
This attitude is borne off my willingness to learn from those who came before me and my acknowledgement of how similar I am to them. The acknowledgement, that some of the demons I’m fighting are the ones they fought and conquered or the ones they are still trying to conquer or the ones that conquered them.
My biggest lesson so far has been to operate at the topmost echelon of consciousness and awareness with those around me, especially my loved ones.
Literature has also helped me a lot. It has helped me to see the imaginations of people that are different from me. It is interesting. Literature has helped me to reduce my biases, and also breached the gap between my strengths and weaknesses. Reading is good. I should read more. Books are powerful; they have the power to ferry one into other people’s minds; even the minds of dead people. I love Chinua Achebe’s mind, I’ve been there several times. Even though he is dead, his mind is alive. I walk in there anytime I want to. Books are beautiful.
I am thankful for the growth. I am thankful to those who came before me; who lived a transparent life that showed me some of the twists and turns in life and gave me their shoulders to stand on so I can see farther than I ought to.
God created you in his own image.
But in your quest for utopia,
You got robbed by Báyò. Olá. Emeka
What about Túndé?
The one who grinded your heart into molecules,
And fed the pieces to his demons of insecurities;
He ignored you like the Americans
Ignore the letter T!
Look at you now,
No, look at what is actually left of you
Nothing but a mimicry
Of what used to be.
Are you still a spitting replica of God’s image?
It is time to rise up and walk back
To the dawn of your days,
To recollect the you of your yesterday.
You were beautifully and wonderfully made.
My mother left me a message on WhatsApp on Thursday;
“Grandma is unconscious”.
I was at the office and I muttered “Blood of Jesus”
I rushed to google to ask her what unconscious meant, did you even know Google Grandma?
She is a know-it-all machine and I trust her, another wizardry from the white man.
She told me not to worry too much, “that you probably aren’t feeling any pain”.
Your heart was beating but your body wasn’t dancing to the beats,
Your body must have been very tired.
Maybe you just wanted to announce your own death;
To give those around you the opportunity to listen to the rhythm of your heartbeat before crossing to the other side.
How kind and considerate of you Grandma,
Although I’m not sure it helped much.
Wumi and I always spoke of your resilience,
You hung on for so long
Against all odds.
And we are proud of you.
I woke up to another message from my mum on Friday,
Saying: “She died”
I thought I had prepared myself for this message,
But it stung me and I felt very sad!
Suddenly, I remembered when I’d visit you at Oke-oniti
And I would run my hands through your fragile body.
You would say “Stop touching me if you won’t give me money”
And then smile and follow up with a word of prayer.
The thoughts of those smiles will forever be etched on my memories.
I have heard stories of your bravery, sacrifices and doggedness
From my Mother and Mummy Dolapo;
I walked in on them several times as they talk about you gleefully.
Everyone is proud of you;
You did well by your children.
We, your grandchildren are all doing well and progressing,
Your children have not tried to separate us.
The family is big and knitted together,
We all keep in touch with each other and
Celebrate some of our victories and pains together.
We will create a museum in our hearts,
And immortalize your triumphant stories.
We will tell them to our children and their children
And watch them with pride as they bask in the tales of your greatness.
You won’t be forgotten.
Even after writing all this,
I am still sad.
Maybe because some pains are our duty to keep.
But I’m sure it will get better,
Because even though the human side of us weep,
The spiritual side of us rejoices as we know this transition is worthy of a PRAISE.
Sùn re o Àdùké
Many moons ago,
I went to the market square,
Saw a beautiful goddess
And was left bereft of words
I then remembered what my father used to tell me
Metaphor is the horse of words;
And when a word is lost,
A metaphor is used to find it.”
When she was about to walk past me,
I quickly closed my eyes,
And knelt to pray.
And behold, she did not pass.
Today, we celebrate a year together.
I wrote this post on Saturday before I read the protest had been called off by Tuface himself. It is not my place to judge Tuface given that I am writing this post thousands of miles away from Nigeria. It is what it is. I believe that the protest is still going to happen but I’m not sure if it would be as effective. Today, I salute those who gave everything including their lives for our freedom, no be beans.
I am just a man who was lucky enough to be born into a middle-class Nigerian family somewhere in Osun-State, so I doubt if I would have been able to swing votes or any of that stuff during the 2015 presidential election; not even that of my siblings who were old enough to cast votes. However, one of my deepest personal regrets in the past few years has been my fencist position during the last election. My position during the 2015 election was more nuanced than those who outrightly supported Buhari and presented him as the best thing since sliced bread.
I was utterly disgusted with the ineptness of Jonathan’s administration like a lot of Nigerians that I did not consider a fact — now known — that we could have it worse and not necessarily better. I was faced with a conundrum of desperately wanting the Jonathan led administration to go and a Buhari I knew had nothing to offer Nigeria. I knew that the iniquitous APC leaders were just opportunists who were ready to do whatever it took to get into power — even if it meant merging and repackaging one of the old clueless relics from Nigeria’s past, wear a makeup for him and present him to Nigerians as a messiah. But my desperation for the former outweighed the latter and I kept quiet; I secretly wanted Buhari to nick the election. In hindsight, this decision of mine was vapid and immature and time has kicked my butts for it.
I am happy that Tuface Idibia will be marching on Monday and I wish more than anything that I could be there in Nigeria marching with him straight into the heart of the Nigerian Federal Government until they understand the hardship they have plagued the Nigerian masses with. I expect a huge turnout on Monday. Nigerians don’t need an expert to tell them they are hungry. My only fear Is that the uproar and the anger brewing up in the Nigerian youths would — on this day or — some other day turn into a paroxysm of rage that would be too late to curtail. I say this because I know that the orientation of the Nigerian Police force — just like the colonial days — is to protect the Government and the elites, and not the Nigerian masses.
So please, for those who will be marching on Monday, let us try and make it a peaceful and an effective protest. #ISTANDWITHNIGERIA
This is a threnody; one with a topic.
Nigeria has always been saddled with the litany of bad leaderships since 1960 and the middle-class has always been silent or at worst — they somehow justify the incompetence of the Nigerian government even when they should know better. The middle-class are either silent or making faint noises as long as they are able to pay their rents, eat three square meal, switch on their generators, and take a once-in-a year trip to Dubai. They have enjoyed their heaven until Buhari came with his half-baked policies which are now making sure that the numbers of middle-class are fast diminishing while being left in state of impecuniousness.
The Nigerian politicians built a system that favors them. A system where they strategically position themselves and their friends to attract wealth for themselves and their generations to come. If the policy doesn’t favor the rich, it dies while it’s still in its gestation period.
The middle-class are only vociferous when the government denies them of their ‘heaven’. When people are being killed in Southern Kaduna, they won’t say anything. When the blood-sucking-horse-climbing demons called herdsmen go on a killing rampage, you won’t hear anything from the Nigerian intellectuals and middle-class. If it doesn’t affect their finances or loved ones, they are fine. But the incompetency — a type that hasn’t been seen for some time now — of the recent occupant of Aso-rock has brought the hypocrisy of the Nigerian middle class to the fore.
Yesterday, a Nigerian military jet mistakenly dropped a bomb on one of the IDP camps in Borno; leaving some people dead and many injured, and the president is yet to visit them. It seems the president is allergic to domestic trips. Where is the outcry? The Nigerian middle-class do not care about the danger that comes with their silence, or the damage it leaves in its wake. When are we going to start valuing the life of a Nigerian?
One would think the middle-class and the intellectuals should be the voice of the poor but this is obviously not the case in Nigeria.
The Nigerian middle-class must wake up and lend a collective voice to every ill of the government; and not only when their master card is blocked and they cannot use it outside the country. It is time to stop cherry picking on issues. Every issue must matter; every life must matter.
And to those youths who write potboiler articles to justify the actions and inactions of the government, I hope the brown envelope is fat enough, you will answer to posterity. Those who dish out amphigories for the glory of clicks, I hope the traffic is worth it. And the town criers who get hired to cloak a blatant ineffective government with palliatives and give them a tap on the back, you will all get your reward.
I will end my rant here by taking one from the smorgasbord of Soyinka: The man dies in everyone who keeps quiet in the face of tyranny!
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.} Walt Whitman
Let it not be said that my God is a faux god.
Let it not be said that I was not broken.
Let it not be said that I stayed broken.
Let it not be said that I lost in the battle of love.
Let it not be said that I do not contradict myself.
Let it not be said that I am ONE—I am an entity.
Let it not be said that I am not a paradox.
Let it not be said that I am a perfect being.
Let it not be said that I did not fail.
Let it not be said that I never felt insecure.
Let it not be said that I never felt vulnerable and weak.
Let it not be said that I, Àlàní, who ate 20 wraps of pap and asked for more is not the son of my father.
Let it not be said that I kept quiet in the face of tyranny.
Let it not be said that I was cowered into silence by shame and her agents of backbiters.
Let it not be said that I’m ashamed of who I am.
For I am ME, and today I celebrate all of ME; the ME that was, the ME that is, and the ME that would be.