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“Easy Motion Tourist” by Leye Adenle

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.

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We should all be Storytellers

Depending on the mindset or interest of the reader, the idea presented by the bulk of this article could be considered already so archaic that there hardly could be anything done to effect any change about it. However, I don’t by any means buy that.
There is a perennial debate on the use of language in the Nigerian classrooms. I do not want to dwell too much on this but i will quickly like to ask both sides of the divide a few questions. Since we don’t have basic texts translated into our own languages, how do we compete globally if we decide to relegate the English language? Also, what is the hope of our core cultures and traditions if children are only proficient in English language?
There are writers who write in their native language, a good example being the prominent Kenyan writer—Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. I remember reading a comment of Achebe in one of his interviews. He made a submission that the difference between himself and Ngugi as writers was the fact that while Ngugi believes it has to be writing in English or one’s native language, He (Achebe) believed one could decide to write in both. Achebe mixed both English and his native language, Igbo in a very fascinating manner. He appropriated the use of English language so well that the reader could sometimes be lost in between the lines with a feel of reading in the Igbo language.
For Achebe, I think English language is a weapon he had to master so as to achieve his dreams of telling African stories in his own unique way. There was no other way.
I am with Achebe on this one. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, but a fine balance between the languages as one so desires. The children can learn both.
We find ourselves in an age in which globalization is driven by Science and Technology. English language is the fuel that drives this vehicle. This is a reality we must face.
In the past, there was the emergence of a crop of literary icons from Africa; such as Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe, Amos Tutuola, Wole Soyinka, Jomo Kenyatta and some others, who decided to challenge a certain tradition of the British writers writing about a mythical Africa. These African writers rose up to tell their own stories with the aim of creating a balance, at the very least or going head to head with the European writers for our right to write our own stories. Achebe spoke extensively about this in his apt and engaging book titled “Home and Exile”. To draw some excerpts from the book;

This was said about Africans by Elspeth Huxley in his book white man’s country; Perhaps it may be, as some doctors have suggested, that his brain is different: that it has a shorter growing period and possesses less well formed, less cunningly arranged cells than that of the Europeans-in other words, that there is a fundamental disparity between the capabilities of his brain and ours.

As mentioned by Achebe in his book, a British writer, Mr. Pedler wrote, “When Europeans talk of Africans buying a wife”. This particular one by Pedler lacks veracity and is also misleading. We don’t buy wives and the hypocrisy in that statement is loud and clear.
The aforementioned excerpts are statements made decades ago, so you can imagine my amusement when I got to America less than 3 yrs ago and found that certain condescending questions about Africa still thrived.
To mention a few examples; my Chinese friend said he thought Africa was just a country in a bush with no roads. A Caucasian asked me where I learned how to use computers or the one who was stupefied on hearing there are “African writers”. A black American once asked me if I learned how to speak good English in America.
In the eyes of some of those who ask these questions, one can see the spectacular naivety masquerading as innocence. In some others, one can see the feigned innocence laced with bigotry so thick. It seems to me that this singular stories written of Africa by the old British griots built a mansion of false and misguided impressions in the minds of people outside Africa and these impressions are being passed to subsequent generations.
Some would argue that my claims are banal or obsolete or I am being too sensitive, but we need to ask ourselves if these issues have become really obsolete. Should we really not bother about these “banal” topics? Is it that the Achebes and the Tutuolas didn’t do enough? Why am I still being asked such condescending questions Achebe was asked in 1967? These men could only do so much, what about us?
Should we continue to blame the iniquitous British colony and western media for painting Africa in any light they see fit?
This is the 21st century, the age of a beast called the internet. The beast that allows one to go on a trip to anywhere in the world without moving an inch physically. Why are we not telling our own stories to the world? This is our job and we can’t leave it to “the others”. Writing is not the only weapon that can be used to achieve the results I/we desire. The African musical industry and the Nollywood have also done incredible jobs in telling African stories but their efforts alone are clearly insufficient to propagate the accuracy of our stories to all parts of the world.
While I quite agree you can only do so much, people will believe what they want to believe. Yet, I believe playing a part by telling these stories will go a long way in sowing a seed of truth even in the most obstinate of outsiders.
If I, in all the glory of my demureness, with but a few years in the west under my belt often come face to face with these experiences, I wonder how many times Africans abroad are being asked laughable questions about Africa on a daily basis.
A friend of mine, a fellow Yoruba man, the other day told an American that the Yoruba language is a dialect, I had to stop him right there, scowled at him and quickly corrected him, that Yoruba is a language and not a dialect. Many a time, this is how we create false impressions in the minds of highly impressionable people. How can you properly and accurately tell a story you know nothing about?
One of my favorite African proverbs goes thus; “until Lions learn to speak, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunters”. In this article-‘the secret to a promising future’, I talked about the importance of having an identity, of knowing who you are and where you are coming from, the importance of telling your own story.
Shame tries to keep us mum, but we need to rise above shame and tell our stories. We can’t afford to leave it to “the others”, else, we should be ready to embrace the damaging distortions to our stories as well as the labels we face every day.
Continue to Rest in Peace Chinua Achebe – The master storyteller