Sunday, 28 June 2009

Garuba 10

I got out of bed early the next morning. Garuba was still asleep and I didn't wish to wake him up so early. But I needed to put my things together in readiness for the move today to the new house, which I hoped would happen this morning, allowing me the rest of the day to settle into my new surroundings. Yesterday, Garuba had arranged for the bed we had bought to be delivered to the new house sometime today in the afternoon. But we had bought some other things too, like crockery and such like, which I was now packing into a couple of cardboard boxes that we had obtained from the back of a supermarket in town, the Lebanese proprietor of which was a client of Garuba's firm. As I packed the new things for my kitchen, I recalled how surprised Garuba had been when on our first weekend together at the sugar plantation in Numan, living on loaves of bread, tinned meat, fruit and bottled water, I let on that I really enjoyed cooking and that back at home I was known for my culinary ability. It is unusual he told me, for males to get involved in the kitchen. Such work is considered "women's work", were exactly the words Garuba used. When I explained that in my family my parents had made no such distinction and that domestic work was apportioned to each member of the household irrespective of gender, he had just stared at me in bewilderment.


Coming back from the shower I found Garuba sitting up in bed. He looked tired and I felt guilty for being the reason why. I mean we had been quite busy yesterday and all of our activity since the weekend began was because of me and my new house. I walked up to the bed and sat down next to him, running my hand through his chest hair. Garuba smiled a greeting and I moved myself closer to him, our faces only a few inches apart, smiling too. Garuba put his arm around my waist and pulled me to him. I was overwhelmed by the force of his strength and I must have swooned, because I surrendered immediately. Later, after a second shower and while getting dressed Garuba commented that I had been irresistible earlier, being freshly showered and all. My reply was that I thought he looked tired, but he had proved me wrong and that he really wasn't that tired after all.


We both knew that there were things to be done this morning. As usual we had breakfast and then loaded the various items into the boot of Garuba's car, including my bags that had been in his room since my first arrival in Bauchi nearly two weeks before. Garuba went inside the main house and he must have passed it on that I was finally leaving, because the two young boys who had come to see me when I'd first arrived all those days ago, came out with Garuba to bid me farewell. I never did meet any other members of his family, although on one of those nights when we were just lying in bed and quietly talking, Garuba had revealed to me that his father had several wives and that his own mother lived in another city, Katsina, and that she was separated from Garuba's father. Garuba himself was his father's first son and therefore held an important position in the family hierarchy.


On our arrival at the new house, I observed that curtains had been put up in the living room and the front bedroom, the windows of which faced the front. I noticed this because there had been no curtains on the windows the day before. I opened the padlocked gate with the keys I'd been given and Garuba drove the car into the compound. Unlocking and entering through the front door, I was careful to knock, so as to alert anyone inside of my arrival. Garuba stayed behind outside, opening the boot of the car and started to unload the things. As I entered the house I heard nothing at first, then as I went down the corridor heading for my own room, passing the door of the front bedroom which I was informed yesterday was Ukpong's room, I heard some rustling sounds. And the sounds were coming from the room, so I slowed. Then I heard heavy breathing, more than one person, as of two very excited people. I knew immediately what I'd heard, so I just carried on to my room tiptoeing now, careful not to disturb what was taking place behind that closed door of the front bedroom. After opening the door of my room, I tiptoed back to the front of the house and whispered to Garuba what I'd heard. Garuba seemed indifferent to what I'd said to him and although from then on he spoke in low tones, he said we had to continue with what we came here to do. So he hauled my heavy bag into the house while I trailed behind him carrying one of the boxes containing my kitchenware.


The living room was bare, containing not a stick of furniture. But in the kitchen was a small table and two chairs, aside from the gas cooker and the refrigerator supplied by the landlord. I saw that Ukpong had arranged her things on the top two shelves of the kitchen cupboard, obviously leaving the lower shelves for me. So while Garuba continued with shifting things from the car into my room, I thought he might want something to drink afterwards. I set about making us both a pot of tea, which we had bought when we went shopping together the day before. And it was at this table in the kitchen that Garuba and I sat sipping our tea, still talking in low tones when Abu, Ukpong's boyfriend who we had met the previous day at the estate agent's office walked into the kitchen. He only had a towel wrapped around his waist and was surprised to see us. He expressed shock in his loud, ebullient manner, saying that he hadn't realised that we had arrived at the house. Garuba tactfully suggested that we thought they might be resting, so we had tried to be as quiet as possible. I was still explaining that we were waiting for my bed to be delivered when Ukpong walked into the kitchen. She too was surprised. She was wearing a dressing gown and said she'd heard voices coming from the kitchen and wondered who it was.


Abu made coffee for Ukpong and himself, and all four of us remained in the kitchen chatting, Ukpong standing next to Abu who had by then put his arm around her waist. In reply to my question about what she did for a living, Ukpong said that she worked as a research assistant at the Bauchi office of a federal government agency. She used to be at the Jos office but had only just been transferred to Bauchi. Abu worked in the Registrar's office at the University of Jos. He made it quite clear that he intended to spend every single weekend with Ukpong in Bauchi. I saw this as my chance to mention that I intended for Garuba to have free rein and unhampered access to the house. In Nigeria, it is not common for same-sex relationships to be visible and out in the open. Therefore, most people don't know what a same-sex couple looks like and people are unlikely to recognise one even when its staring them in the face. If Ukpong had thought anything of what I'd just said about Garuba having free access to the house, she didn't show it. Instead the conversation switched to a housewarming party that Abu said Ukpong and himself were thinking about. To my surprise, Garuba liked the idea of a party and Ukpong agitatedly suggested that I could even invite other youth corpers that I knew. The only other youth corper that I had met so far was Femi, but I quite fancied the idea of inviting him to a party at my house. And so it was agreed that the next Saturday, Ukpong and I jointly would have this party.


I was still trying to work out why Garuba seemed so excited about the party when the doorbell rang. It was the delivery vehicle, my bed had arrived at last. Two delivery men under Garuba's direction carried the various parts of the bed into my room and Garuba insisted that the men assemble the bed before they left. While the bed was being assembled, Garuba and I put up the curtains we'd bought for the room's single window. It wasn't a large room, and the bed which was somewhat smaller than the one in Garuba's room, was a double bed nonetheless. It took up much of the space and it was lucky that the rooms in this house had built-in wardrobes. Ukpong and Abu had disappeared into Ukpong's room again, and after all that lifting and arranging of the last couple of hours, I was glad for the bed where I could lay down and relax. Garuba had been in the toilet when I climbed into the bed, and he found me lying in it when he returned to the room. He quietly shut and locked the door, pulled the curtains shut and joined me in the bed, taking off his shoes, his caftan and his cap. Lying down we embraced each other tightly, pressing our bodies together and kissed deeply. While still holding each other I pressed my face into his neck and the thought on my mind was that this must be what heaven feels like...

Friday, 26 June 2009

Oliver gets more

For my friend Tamaku who asked for more...

This sofa will not reveal its many secrets.

This is where all those countless millions are made.

The other window in the front room.

Where were you when you heard Michael Jackson died?

I was so struck last night when I heard the news. I was one of the first outside the US to hear of the news of Michael Jackson's death, since just as on that night when Princess Diana's death was announced, I was listening to the news on the BBC news channel as I tend to do late at night before going to bed. During the news itself, there was 'breaking news' to say that the King of Pop had been rushed to a hospital close to his rented mansion in Los Angeles, where he was found by paramedics to be "not breathing". CPR they said, was performed as they rushed him to hospital and live pictures were shown of crowds gathering outside the hospital. Then immediately after the news, came a 'special news report'. "In the last few minutes the respected LA Times and TMZ have confirmed that the star Michael Jackson has died." I couldn't believe how shocked I was, mainly because the news was so unexpected and the death so sudden. I sent text messages breaking the sad news to everyone I could think of in England, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Saudi Arabia, although in the three latter countries I knew my friends would already be asleep.

Uncannily, this death occurred on the same day we heard that Farrah Fawcett had lost her battle with cancer. I'm so sad this morning. Pity its one of those days when I must compose myself, get to work and deal with some very serious issues. Michael Jackson was due to play a series of 50 concerts starting at the O2 Arena in London this summer. I'm going to miss him so much...

Thursday, 25 June 2009

And she too



I listen to at least one Sade song everyday.

My kind of woman


Erykah Badu is one of those women who take my breath away..

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Amazing weather

Its that time of year when the weather is perfect, day after day of sunshine and clear blue sky. For those who live in a cold climate its almost as if the heat causes a hormone to be secreted in their brains that impels them to start stripping off their clothes in public. At about noonday when its break time for most, any strip of green grass in the City where many thousands come to work is covered with naked human flesh. I mean, really, men are taking off their ties and shirts and the women, good Lord! So much human flesh on display.

When I think about it, this heat and sunshine is the weather that we get in Africa from January to December. But we don't go taking off our clothes in public simply because its hot. Indeed, in Africa it is frowned upon and considered immodest when one exposes an inordinate amount of flesh. The reality though is that living in a cold, wet climate as in the UK, your mind becomes focused on the weather. Listening to the weather forecast on the radio becomes an important part of your daily morning routine and every conversation begins with a comment about the weather, which by the way has been absolutely magnificent recently.

However, there are still those who will complain..."gosh, its flippin' 'ot today...", fanning themselves with their hands in a mock portrayal of how hot it is. But if you check, you'll find that its these same people who during the cold weather will complain about how cold it is.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Just checking


I recently acquired a digital camera. Its been sitting in its box since I brought it home weeks ago. The thought of going through the manual, uploading the software etc., was daunting. Today I bit the bullet and opened the box. I did all that the instructions in the manual said, or at least I hope I did. You see, I am sadly very wanting in the technical department, but I needed to check that I could successfully take a photo with the camera, upload the photo to my computer and post it on the blog. Yippee! I did it! By the way, that's me peeking out of the mirror, lol.

At the top is the view from my desk. :)

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Garuba 9

Waking up the next morning I saw that Garuba was already showered. He was bare chested looking into the huge mirror on the inside of the open closet door, with his back turned to me. I realised that he must have tiptoed around the room since he got out of bed, trying not to disturb me. Watching him from where I lay in bed, an inexplicable warmth welled up inside of me, a warm feeling that was reaching out to him, a yearning to feel his hard warmth pressing against me, a longing to hear him breathing close to, no into my ear...I desired him with an intensity I had not known before.. And it was in response to this powerful feeling that I heard myself croak...."Garuba, please come, please.." Garuba turned around surprised, seeing that I was now awake. Clearly he had thought I was still asleep and the expression on his face was as if he thought he had disturbed me. While still lying down I held out my hand to him and in my early morning grogginess tried to reassure him by managing a small smile. Garuba smiled back and came to the bed. He sat down and I put my arms around his shoulders and gently pulled him down towards me, his firm hairy chest pressing down against me in the bed. "I really do love you, Garuba..." I heard myself whisper into his ear as I wrapped my arms around his neck. And then we both lost ourselves in the whirlwind of passion.


What a wonderful way to start a Saturday morning, I thought to myself afterwards..


After breakfast, we set out in search of accommodation for me. As we turned into the street Garuba said that this morning his father had hinted at some concern about how long I was staying at their house. He was tactful the way he put it to me, but I was smart enough to appreciate the fullness of his meaning. We were both in agreement that the problem with accommodation must be resolved today, so it was with a determination that we drove into town, to Yelwa Road and the office of Mahmoud an estate agent who Garuba knew. Mahmoud was very talkative and my first impression of him was not a good one. He had shifty eyes of the kind that normally would put me on guard. But I had to rely on the fact that Garuba thought he was the best estate agent in town. Yes, there was a place available, further down Yelwa Road, opposite the police station. In fact, Alhaji Yahaya the owner of the property was expected any minute at Mahmoud's office with the keys. A newly completed property, a three bedroom bungalow which the landlord was eager to let. Mahmoud went on to tell us that there was somebody else interested in it. However she wished to share the place if possible, since she was single and had no need for such a large house. The point was, would I consider a house share with her? It was a tough one because although the rent was right, I had never met this person with whom I was to share the house. That I was expected to make such a major decision on the spur of the moment seemed to me rather unfair. Garuba stepped in just then, my personal gladiator. The first thing surely, he insisted, is that I should be given a chance to view the house and if possible meet the potential housemate before I was required to make a decision. Mahmoud not wanting to lose potential business suggested that we should hold on while he tried to contact Alhaji Yahaya the landlord.


It wasn't very long before Alhaji Yahaya arrived in front of Mahmoud's office building in his shiny new Peugeot. With considerable effort he heaved his massive bulk out of the car and waddled into the front office where Garuba and I sat side by side. Speaking in that breathless manner of the terribly obese, Alhaji Yahaya apologised to Mahmoud who had by then come out of his inner office to greet him. After the introductions and Mahmoud's explanation that we were looking to view his property, it was decided that all four of us would go to the property for the viewing. Mahmoud would travel in Alhaji Yahaya's car, while we drove in Garuba's. As expected it was a nice house, well built, brand new and it smelt of paint. But it was not as large as Mahmoud had described it, although Garuba liked the fact that it had a high wall around it on three sides, and a chain link fence in front that was topped with barbed wire. He also noted that the house was directly across the road from the police station, which he thought was a good thing. Frankly, I couldn't understand Garuba's seeming fixation on security. The way I saw it, I as a person would be of little interest to anyone and I possessed no valuables worth mentioning. I was only a youth corper and for the next year or so I would be taking home about $200 each month. Just enough to live on, but not for much else.


We viewed inside the house. Of the three bedrooms only two were available for me to choose from. The front bedroom was already taken by the lady who was to be my housemate. I suspected that the front bedroom was the large one because the other two were tiny. Garuba picked the one further back from the front bedroom, its single window facing to the rear of the building and the small yard between the building itself and the brick wall that surrounded the property. The house came unfurnished, so there was basic furniture to be purchased. Garuba took me aside and quietly drummed it into me that I was unlikely to find a place better than this for the rent being offered. He said he'd seen that I wasn't enthusiastic, but that I should accept this place and see how it goes. There was always the option of moving elsewhere if after staying here for a while I found that I didn't like it. There was an earnestness to the way Garuba spoke to me about it, so by the time he'd finished talking I'd already made up my mind that this would be my new home, for the time being at least. As we left the house, Garuba informed Mahmoud that I would be taking the house and it was arranged for us to return to Mahmoud's office later in the day so that I would meet my new housemate.


We had some time to ourselves before the scheduled meeting at Mahmoud's office, so we drove to the Awalah Hotel and the outdoor seating area in the shade under those lovely acacia trees. Sipping a chilled fruity Chapman cocktail with Garuba sitting across from me, feeling the warm breeze on my face and the sound of the breeze as it blew through the branches above of us, I felt wonderful. I had found Garuba to be a man of few words. A man who spoke only when necessary and usually because he had something important to say to me. Most of the time he just stared and smiled as he was doing now, but I could see the softness in his eyes. This man loves me, I thought to myself. Even when we didn't say much to each other, just being together was enough..


We drove back to Mahmoud's office and arrived there shortly after noon. In the front room was seated a couple, a man and a woman, obviously southerners. Mahmoud came rushing out of his office and in his talkative manner introduced the couple. The lady was Ukpong and she would be my housemate. The man was Abu, her boyfriend. However, Abu wouldn't be staying at the house since he worked in Jos. I shook hands with Ukpong and introduced Garuba as a "close friend". I didn't like Ukpong. She looked fake and acted pretentious. When I mentioned this to Garuba later, he rebuked me sternly and told me never to jump to conclusions about people until I'd got to know them. He and Abu had had a fairly convivial chat, in Hausa of course, so I had understood not a word of what was spoken. But they smiled at each other and seemed to share a few jokes. I had been cold towards Ukpong. I didn't like that woman! I didn't take to her at all..


Anyway arrangements were concluded, the rent money was paid and the keys were handed over. Ukpong was to move in immediately, on the same day. Garuba and I knew that I needed a few items, including very importantly a bed, and stuff for the kitchen. So we decided that we would spend the rest of the afternoon doing the shopping that was necessary, which we did and then returned to his place in the evening, tired and hungry. It was to be my last night with Garuba in his room and we spent it quietly together, always being within reach of each other, maintaining body contact constantly...

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

On that 'Special Relationship'

Living in the UK one frequently hears about that 'special relationship' between the United Kingdom and the United States of America. It is constantly on the news and in political discussions of every nature and political hue. "Oh yes, our cousins across the water..." is often the way the Americans are described. Little wonder then that the British government under Mr Blair rushed to support America when the war in Iraq was touted at first by the GW Bush Administration some years ago. And it wasn't that surprising that a sizable force of British troops dashed to join their American counterparts in the now famous war against GW Bush's "Axis of Evil". This special relationship has, it seems to me, been taken for granted by many of those in authority in the UK, the assumption being that the Americans likewise consider the UK as their strongest and most important ally. Strongest ally perhaps, but most important? The British perhaps need to go back home and do some serious thinking about this.

Of course there was once upon a time when the British Empire was the greatest empire the world had ever seen. The Japanese fought the war in south east Asia in the fourth decade of the 20th Century, largely to wrestle control of as much territory as possible from the British and the French, the Dutch and the Americans. America sided with Britain in that war, but this was partially because the US recognised that Britain's ability to continue in her control of such an inordinately huge chunk of the world was doubtful, therefore America needed to be in a position where she could fill the gap left behind by a much weakened post-war Britain.

In defending their home islands the British fought a bitter war against the Germans, who had by then conquered much of Western Europe and cast their eyes eastwards in their quest for lebensraum. The Americans it was who came to the rescue of the British, much as they had done in the first war a few decades previously. The Americans were Britain's heroes, regardless that during the war, and on more than one occasion, America's Roosevelt attempted to deal directly and secretly with the USSR's Stalin without involving Churchill. It had always been clear to the Americans that two major powers would emerge at the end of the war, not three. But the British appear to have persisted, surprisingly even to this day, in the delusion that they are somehow still to be regarded as a major world power, when even the economic powerhouses of Asia have clearly overtaken the UK in the world-power stakes.

In more recent times President Reagan and Mrs Thatcher have looked good together in pictures and on TV. But it is not that surprising that the US did not consult the UK before invading the island of Grenada, a former British dependency and a member of the Comonwealth. In fact, Britain was not even informed at all beforehand. Again, President Reagan announced the "Star Wars" missile defence programme with no regard whatsoever to Britain's concerns that the plan would leave Western Europe vulnerable to attack by the USSR. Sure, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were like brothers, a fraternal relationship the continuation of which was attempted albeit less successfully with GW Bush. But did this relationship justify Mr Blair's determination to go to war in Iraq, a decision which was loudly opposed by millions of people in Britain? We hear that Gordon Brown has now announced an inquiry (to be held behind closed doors by the way), into the decision to go to that war. But is this not just a ruse designed by Mr Brown rather belatedly to distance himself from what is perhaps the most unpopular foreign policy decision made my any British government since the Suez crisis in the 1950s? Besides, it cannot be so easily forgotten that Mr Brown himself was at the material time Tony Blair's Chancellor for the Exchequer and that it was he who was therefore in almost complete control of the UK economy, such that this war adventure could never have happened without his full cooperation and support. Many discerning commentators seem to agree that this inquiry is merely an attempt to win back some desperately needed goodwill for Brown's Labour Party after the party's recent unprecedented slump in popularity.

A few days ago, UK media was agog with reports that the US government had concluded a secret deal with the authorities in Bermuda, by which the Bermudians agreed to accept four former Guantanamo detainees. Officially Bermuda continues to be a British Overseas Territory, but British authorities knew nothing of the deal until the four men, all ethnic Uighurs from western China, were already airborne, en route from Guantanamo to Bermuda, an island territory better known as a haven for tax exiles and gawping tourists, than former terrorism suspects. The alarm bells only sounded in London when Mr Ewart Brown, the Bermudian Premier, welcomed the men as "landed in Bermuda in the short term, provided with the opportunity to become naturalised citizens and thereafter afforded the right to travel and leave Bermuda, potentially settling elsewhere". The Bermudians have declared that the men are in the country as "guest workers". My guess is that Bermuda has done this in a bid to find favour with an Obama Administration that has made loud noises about tax havens and the need to curb their activities. The self-interest of the Bermudians has superseded their allegiance to Britain. Bermuda is a wealthy country whose wealth relies heavily on its status as a tax haven and the authorities there are anxious to stave off regulations. Moreover, while Britain remains the colonial master, (indeed Bermuda is Britain's oldest colony, having been a British possession since 1612), Bermuda's trade and economic ties with the US have become increasingly important.

Under the UK's Overseas Territories Act of 2002, citizens of Bermuda are restored with the full rights of British citizenship, including the right of abode in the United Kingdom. Bermuda has control over internal affairs, including immigration, but not over foreign affairs, defence or security matters. Britain believes that it is under this latter category that the case of these former terrorism suspects falls.

Britain is upset and has appeared in this matter to be scrambling to assert the last vestiges of its colonial authority. The Americans proceeded to conclude this deal with Bermuda after Britain had insisted that she would take no more former detainees from Guantanamo as part of the Obama Administration's effort to close the jail. This move by America is a wake-up call for anyone who still thinks that Britain has any significant influence on US foreign policy. What guides US foreign policy is national self-interest. Britain is a useful ally when needed, but what Britain thinks or wants is largely irrelevant. Methinks that we should be poised to see more in this trend from the Obama Administration, with which the government of Gordon Brown shares nothing like the personal and ideological partnership of governments of both countries in years gone by.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Chryseobacterium greenlandensis

Over the weekend I was reading about ancient bacteria discovered in ice taken from more than two miles beneath the surface in Greenland. The ice was obtained by drilling what are known as ice cores down through the ice. The ice in which the bacteria was found is thought to be about 120,000 years old and the really amazing aspect of this story is that the bacteria have now been revived in a laboratory, after having been buried for such a long time. Researchers have managed to isolate and grow the bacteria in the laboratory, where they have established thriving colonies of small, purple-brown microbes.

It is thought that the prospect now arises that similar primitive lifeforms may exist in other similarly extreme environments, even on other planets like Mars, or on a moon such as Europa one of the moons of the planet Jupiter, which is believed to be covered by ice and where the conditions beneath the ice are thought to be similar to the conditions in which these bacteria were found. The microbes' ability to survive the harsh environment of a Greenland glacier for such a long period of time suggests that extraterrestrial life forms (if they exist) could survive in equally extreme environments. The study has so far revived two kinds of bacteria, which have been formally named as Herminiimonas glaciei and Chryseobacterium greenlandensis. H. glaciei is about half the size of C. greenlandensis. To read more click here.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Garuba 8

We left Garuba's office and drove straight to his fiance's parents' house. It was against the custom for him to enter the house of his parents in-law-to-be so when we arrived Garuba went up to the gate and spoke to the mai guard who having sent the message inside the house, came back to the car to inform Garuba that she was on her way. It was not long before the side gate opened and a lady swept out from compound and swished towards us as we sat in the car. The area was brightly lit and I got a clear view of her. She was very beautiful indeed, all soft, plump and womanly, with the smile of a princess. And when she said words of greeting to Garuba in that manner of the prolonged greeting of northern Nigeria, I could tell that she had the voice of an angel too. Garuba introduced me as a friend and she beamed at me. Her name was Jumai. Garuba and Jumai chatted for a while speaking Hausa, she giggling a lot. I just sat quietly and tried to smile, trying to keep up with the mood. It would have been no longer than 15 minutes when Garuba rounded up the chat with her and we waved her goodbye.


That wasn't too bad, I thought. But as we drove away I was aware that Garuba was keenly gauging my reaction to this first meeting with Jumai. In truth I knew that together Garuba and I had something that was really special, and I knew that our relationship had developed despite his betrothal to Jumai. He had been open about this relationship with her from the outset and so although I knew that she would ultimately become a significant part of his life, I felt safe and secure. If getting married to her was expected of him, I could not oppose it. Indeed, it would please me to know that he was happy and I would be there for him always, whenever he needed me. Besides, we had known each other for barely a week and I wasn't keen to do or say anything to upset him. So rather than wait for him to ask what I thought of her, I surprised him by blurting out that I thought she was really beautiful and that they looked good together, both of them.


Garuba pulled the car to a stop at the side of the road. It was a quiet road. The houses in this area were large, set well back from the road with large gardens and grounds such that on both sides of the road what was visible were the expansive grounds and not much else. And now it was my turn to be surprised, because Garuba reached for my hand and when I looked at him I could see that he appeared to be more affected by what I'd just said to him than I realised. I reached for him and stroked his face wondering why he seemed so struck. I explained that I truly meant what I'd said about him and Jumai. And then Garuba started to speak. He told me of a previous relationship he had during his one year of national youth service in Imo State in south eastern Nigeria. In a quiet voice and while still holding my hand he revealed to me a part of his past he had said nothing about until then. He had met someone there in Owerri, Imo State while he was on his national youth service, a fellow youth corper with whom he had developed a love relationship. That person whose name he said was Lucien, had hurt him. He discovered that Lucien betrayed his trust by being unfaithful and that although Garuba had been nothing but sincere, kind and gentle towards him, (which for me wasn't hard to imagine), Lucien had been tyrannical, mean and harsh, constantly making unreasonable demands of Garuba. He had even become violent towards Garuba on occasion. Garuba said he was touched by my attitude towards his relationship with Jumai. He said that Lucien had forbidden him from any relationships with the opposite sex. As he spoke I was looking into his face. "Please don't leave me Anengiyefa.." he whispered to me, looking into my eyes. Well, apart from my tears that I recall welled up at this point, my recollection of what happened next is hazy. I know for sure that as we sat side by side in the front of the car we pulled ourselves together in a tight hug, as tight as the confines of the car interior would allow. Then after much caressing and touching and whispering of words of endearment for about half an hour, we managed to compose ourselves sufficiently and drove home. And as we did so I felt even closer to this man than I'd felt before, and it was starkly obvious the forefront position that I occupied in his mind.


Back at home we sat down to supper both of us alone in his room. The air beween us was different, more intense. Garuba was at his most protective, carrying on almost as if I was a child in need of supervision and protection, attending to my every need. I seriously wondered how he or I would cope when the time came for me to relocate to my own place. We agreed that the next day being Saturday, we would drive around town looking for a place for me. Garuba knew people he could talk to. He was concerned about security, he said. He didn't want me living in the centre of town. It was very passionate between the two of us that night. I went to sleep in Garuba's arms thinking how wonderful it would be if I never had to leave this room and move somewhere else. Garuba too held me tightly, as if this would be the last night of our undistured enjoyment of this secret love that we shared...

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Nigeria victims hail $15.5 million Shell payout

Agence France Presse : Victims of murder, torture and other abuses by Nigeria's former military government on Tuesday hailed a landmark out-of-court settlement with Royal Dutch Shell over its alleged complicity in the crimes. Shell agreed on Monday in New York to pay out 15.5 million dollars (10.7 million euros) to relatives of Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and others executed in 1995 in what plaintiffs said was a campaign of repression backed by the oil giant. The settlement brings to an end a long battle by the Nigerian victims and means that Shell avoids a potentially embarrassing court case while having to accept no actual wrongdoing.
Saro-Wiwa had led a non-violent campaign to protest environmental destruction and abuses against the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta before he was hanged along with other activists after his trial in a military court. "We welcome the 15.5 million dollars compensation for the illegal killings of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other eight Ogoni leaders," Bariara Kpalap, spokesman for the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), told AFP.
But Kpalap insisted Shell must still address the issue of environmental pollution and change the way it does business in the oil-rich Niger Delta, where farmers and fishermen are being driven off.
For details of the case and the settlement click here.

The end of an era

The death of President Omar Bongo in a Spanish hospital brings an era of African history to an end. Omar Bongo was so successful at the art of holding on to power that by the end of his life there was no one left in his country with enough authority to pronounce him dead. It took more than 24 hours for the death of the 73-year-old president of Gabon to be confirmed, during which time there were no less than three official denials. The final word eventually came from Gabon's prime minister Jean Eyeghe Ndong, who confirmed the president had died of a cardiac arrest in a Barcelona hospital. This was just hours after the same official had held a press conference at the clinic to say he had seen his president "alive and well".

"President Omar Bongo's greatest legacy is the political stability he was able to achieve and maintain throughout his time in office," said Tara O'Connor, managing director of
Africa Risk Consulting. "Unlike neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville and Cote d'Ivoire where the elite's resistance to democracy ultimately provoked civil war, President Bongo met the challenge and later artfully co-opted his opponents into high government office."

Albert Bernard Bongo was born in 1935, the 12th son of a farmer who died when he was seven years old. His official website boasts that "he didn't come into the world on a hospital bed, and he didn't have a cot or a nanny". In 1973, six years after taking over from Gabon's first post-independence leader, he converted to Islam, taking the name El Hadj Omar Bongo. By the time of his death, his name was Omar Bongo Ondimba, after he added a pre-colonial traditional name, reclaimed to underline his African credentials. There was very little that the man who wore platform shoes to disguise his short stature, (reportedly, he was only 4ft 11 tall), would not do to get an edge. And this played no small part in the fact that when he died, he was one of the richest men in the world.

Although no clear figure of his net worth has been confirmed, the scale of his plundered riches had begun to emerge, thanks to a court case in Gabon's former colonial master, France. Mr
Bongo was one of three African leaders accused this year of embezzlement by the French wing of corruption watchdog, Transparency International. Also under investigation are Republic of Congo leader Denis Sassou-Nguesso, a close ally and father-in-law of Mr Bongo, and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea. The trio have been accused of looting state coffers. Their extensive portfolio of French properties, worth many multiples of their stated official earnings, have been cited as evidence of corruption.

Throughout his four-decade stint in office which began with the death of his predecessor Leon M'ba in 1967 in a French hospital, former army officer Bongo displayed an acute understanding of the importance of relations with Paris. "Gabon without France is like a car with no driver. France without Gabon is like a car with no fuel," is how the former French air force lieutenant liked to describe the bond.

When French oil giant ELF was looking for a base of operations in the 1970s, Mr Bongo made sure it was Gabon to which they turned first. The Paris trial in 2003 of former Elf chairman
Loik Le Floch-Prigent revealed the extent of the corruption and shady dealings in the resultant oil boom where the company was allowed to operate as a "state within a state" in a manner that foreshadowed companies like Royal Dutch Shell in their later dealings with Nigeria. The Gabonese president shrugged off revelations of huge kickback payments to his personal accounts, dismissing them as a "French matter".

Prior to the current suit brought by Transparency International, a police investigation into French real estate owned by the president and his family uncovered 33 properties in Paris and on the French Riviera worth an estimated $190m. A decade ago, a US Senate probe into private banking operations at Citibank estimated that the president held $130m in personal accounts
and concluded that there could be "no doubt that these financial assets were sourced in the public finances of Gabon". In the two photos (courtesy of REUTERS), above left and below right, are two properties in France registered in the names of President Bongo and his son, part of a real estate portfolio said to top $190 m.

Through a shrewd disbursement of this vast wealth, collected from oil, the farmer's son maintained friendships with French politicians of every ideological hue that sustained him almost until the end. "He was a great figure of Africa," a "man who had influence", said French Defence Minister Herve Morin when told of his death. The special relationship had become strained, though, under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy whose government is considering dismantling its 1,000-strong army base in Libreville. The current frostiness was demonstrated by the ailing autocrat's decision to seek treatment last month in Barcelona, rather than a French hospital. Amid rumours that he had cancer, Gabon officials insisted he was having a "routine check-up". Even after his death, the country's prime minister insisted that Mr Bongo had died of a "cardiac arrest", making no mention of cancer.
In Libreville the capital city of Gabon, one of the favourite jokes was that the quickest way to become a millionaire was to set up an opposition party. The experience of Pierre Mamboundou, leader of the Union for the People of Gabon – who until recently was considered the president's main challenger is proof that it was more than a joke. Mr Mamboundou, the veteran of two bruising and ultimately unsuccessful presidential contests with Mr Bongo, enjoyed a reputation as an uncompromising free speaker prepared to go to jail for the strength of his convictions. Since 2006 he has gone politically quiet and has since revealed that Bongo offered to give him $21.5m for the development of his constituency.

If his case illustrates the carrot used by the farmer's son, then Joseph Rendjambe reveals the stick. The opposition leader died in mysterious circumstances in 1990, the very year the president finally bowed to pressure to scrap the one-party state and bring in multi-party democracy. Only there was no one to lead the opposition. Rendjambe's death sparked riots that rocked Gabon for weeks and presented a rare threat to the regime.
The reality of the Bongo years meant that while Gabon missed the worst of the instability that has affected much of sub-Saharan Africa, it also missed the opportunities to transform itself as a country with the same per capita wealth as Portugal could have done. A small elite were the closest that Gabon came to fostering a middle class and many in the rural areas remained untouched by the oil money. While the country has almost 900 miles of oil pipeline, it has less than 600 miles of paved roads.
The passing of one of Africa's more memorable "Big Men" caused confusion and fear in Libreville, where many shops and businesses have been closed since reports first emerged in the French media on Sunday night. For the vast majority of the nation's 1.4 million people, the diminutive farmer's son was the only president they had known, having been in charge for 41 years. "We closed the restaurant since the announcement," said one waiter. "People are scared."
(Culled from an article in The Independent newspaper)

Melancholy

Where did all the joy go? Where are the smiles, the good cheer? Where is the laughter? Its dull and grey today and I have responded with a mood to match the weather. What's the matter? I ask myself, but I have no answer. Oh sure, the usual problems. But everyone has those...and surely, I'm not worse-off than many...

Why then am I gloomy, sad, despondent, dejected dispirited, dismal, sorrowful, doleful, glum and downcast...? I wish I knew. To withdraw into a quiet place with only birdsong for company, to withdraw into myself, a quiet place where I do not have to smile and pretend to be happy. A quiet place inside of me, that is where I want to be....

Monday, 8 June 2009

What are those numbers?

At work I'm currently engaged in a very complex case that involves scrutinising accounting records for a series of organisations going back several years. Part of the task is to unravel very intricate accounting procedures and this is really getting to me. I never had it for numbers. Maths was always the lowest score on all of my report sheets from school. When I left school I thought I was done with maths, but now I know this was nothing more than wishful thinking. I've added up these figures multiple times, but each time I've come up with a different total. No, the calculator is functioning perfectly. The problem is with me! So I thought I should find out which part of my brain it is that is so crippled that it prevents me from coming up with the correct answer to any mathematical problem.

I looked here. And as far as I could tell, the dancing woman was rotating clockwise, which I am told suggests that I use the right side of my brain more. Now, going by what the right side of the brain is said to be responsible for, i.e.,

uses feeling

"big picture" oriented

imagination

rules

symbols and images

present and future

philosophy & religion

can "get it" (i.e. meaning)

believes

appreciates

spatial perception

knows object function

fantasy based

presents possibilities

impetuous

risk taking ,

it probably means that my ineptitude at mathematics is biological. Or is it? The functions of the left side of the brain I am told are:

use logic

detail oriented

facts rule

words and language

present and past

maths and science

can comprehend

knowing

acknowledges

order/pattern perception

knows object name

reality based

forms strategies

practical

safe

Well, since Maths falls into this category and critically, since I saw the dancer turning clockwise almost all of the time, I guess the right side of the brain it is for me. Although I'm told that most people would see her turning anti-clockwise.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Garuba 7

That night Garuba and I went to bed with the assurance in our hearts that we had established something really important between us. We clung to each other in bed and I couldn't help thinking that Garuba seemed so vulnerable, almost like a baby, as I stroked his back gently, lovingly and watched him drift off until his breathing was slow and steady and I knew that he was asleep. I carefully pulled the bed cover over him and snuggled close to him, careful not to wake him. My mind was busy. Since our arrival back in Garuba's place yesterday, both of us had said things to each other that we'd never said before. And the implication was that we had made promises to each other, promises which would undoubtedly have far-reaching consequences. I was happy, but there were thoughts at the back of my mind, a vague nagging feeling that I couldn't as yet decipher. Was I scared perhaps that at some point in the foreseeable future, this man with whom I had fallen so in love would be available to me no longer? Was my mind warning me to hold something back and not give everything to this relationship? That I was in love with this man was not in doubt. And he too had been nothing but kind and loving towards me. He made me feel so special, I felt loved and wanted. And I was happy, but...


I fell asleep not quite having decided what the feeling was that was at the back of my mind. But I needn't have worried, because soon something happened that would bring me back to these thoughts. The next day was Friday. Garuba asked if I would go to his office with him. I agreed to go into town with him, but then suggested that I would leave him while he worked and do some sightseeing of my own around town. I told him that it might be a good idea for me to seek out other youth corpers in Bauchi and acquaint myself with a few of them. He hesitated for a brief moment, but quickly composed himself again and accepted. In the mid-afternoon I would meet him at his office. I had spent the whole day at his office last Friday and I'd noticed that my presence there had affected him and his work. I explained that I didn't want a repeat of that and we both agreed that our relationship must not be allowed to affect our lives at work. So Garuba dropped me off on the Wunti Road, where I'd heard the NYSC lodgings were located. Garuba's office was only a short drive away.
The building was an ordinary rooming house of the kind to be found in most inner-city districts of any Nigerian city, where the occupants rent rooms and the facilities are shared. The front room was untidy, with the smell of stale tobacco smoke hanging in the air. There were empty bottles strewn about and the ashtrays were overflowing with cigarette butts and ash. The floor was crying out to be cleaned. And as I entered the building, I realised instantly how fortunate I was and I was grateful that I had Garuba's room to call home for the time being. There was a young man a little older than me and a young lady seated on an armchair, she on the seat and him on the arm of the chair, with his arm around her. They seemed to be engrossed in what they were saying as they spoke quietly to each other, smiling as they did so. They were the only people about, so I approached them and I coughed loudly as I reached them. I could tell immediately that like me, they were southerners. It was obvious to me that they were corpers too, as I said hello and introduced myself. The girl was friendly, but the man seemed to be irritated by my arrival at this very moment. I apologised for interrupting them, but explained that I was new in town and wished to meet fellow corpers. Nkechi the girl, offered her hand, introducing both of them. The man was Dayo. They were both corpers, both doctors. They were temporarily housed here, but were due to relocate to the staff accommodation of the hospital to which they were both posted, some government hospital in Bauchi town. Hearing that I had missed out on the NYSC accommodation, they hastened to assure me that I was better off staying elsewhere, since the NYSC accommodation wasn't that great. And that they were pleased they wouldn't be staying here for very long. I left them and wandered further inside the building.

Clearly, most of the
corpers living here had gone out to their various places of work, as the place seemed almost completely deserted. I was just turning around to make my way back to the entrance of the building when I heard a voice from behind me. Somebody was trying to catch my attention and when I turned around approaching me down the corridor was the figure of a man. I stopped and waited until he reached me. Standing before me was a good-looking young man of about my age. He seemed like the really friendly sort as he smiled and extended his hand in greeting. "Hi, I'm Femi", he said. I smiled back. "Anengiyefa", I said. I was used to people reacting to my name whenever they heard it for the first time and as I expected, he said "huh?". So I mouthed the name again slowly, telling him where the name is from and even the meaning of the name. Femi was really nice. He was dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt with "PUBLIC ENEMY" emblazoned on the front. There was no way I could miss those huge breast muscles straining against the t-shirt. And those biceps, gosh! Femi grabbed my hand in a firm handshake, strong, rough hands that I found mildly exciting. This was a real he-man, akin to the subject of many a dream of mine. Like me, Femi who was a graduate of Physics, was due to start work next Monday, teaching science to junior secondary school students here in town. We hit it off instantly and I told him everything that had happened and how I'd met Garuba and was now staying with him, although of course I said nothing about what was really going on between Garuba and me. By this time we were both in Femi's room on the first floor of the building.
I was right, I thought. The rooms at the NYSC hostel are almost as it was back at the university. He told me he had never lived on his own and that even while at the University of Ibadan, he stayed at home with his parents. He feared that he would have a problem living alone since he didn't know how to cook, to which I responded by saying that I love cooking and that I could help out whenever he needed help. He seemed surprised to hear me say this, but said nothing. Femi offered me a cold drink which he fetched from the communal kitchen and then we chatted at length about many things, student life, the north and what we thought about the place and its people. But never once did he mention girls, which I thought was unusual, since I could hardly envisage a conversation with such a good-looking, hot, red-blooded man as this, without the subject veering at some point to the opposite sex. Anyhow, he needed to open the window wider than it already was and since I was seated on a chair that was right by the window, he leaned across me and in the process pressed the hardness of his abdominal muscles against my body. Shamefacedly, I must confess that the overall effect on me was a weakening of the knees and a stirring in the loin, although I tried hard to remain straight-faced. Having met Femi, I knew deep down that I had met someone with whom I would share friendship throughout this one year of youth service. But it was time to make my way to Garuba's office as I could imagine how anxious he would already be. So Femi bid me goodbye after walking me down to the street. And the parting handshake, well I think perhaps it lingered for a few seconds longer than it should have, but then, maybe this was my imagination on overdrive.


The instant I saw Garuba in his office, I realised how blessed I was to be in love with him. The staff in the outer office had let me in, remembering me from the last time. And also, I think maybe Garuba had informed them I was expected, because they all welcomed me, smiling at me as if I was an old acquaintance. Garuba was concentrating on some sheets spread out on his desk, talking into the phone. If the word 'beautiful' can be used to describe a man, then this would be the appropriate term to describe this gorgeous man with whom I was now so enamoured. Garuba's face lit up when he looked up and saw me come in through the door. This morning he had asked me what he should wear to work. He had asked me to choose between a cream coloured caftan and a sharp dark suit. Having never seen him dressed in the Western style, naturally, I pointed to the suit. Gawd! He looks so handsome, I thought as I walked to him. While still on the phone he extended his other arm towards me and pulled me into his body, grazing my cheek with his lips. In return I kissed his cheek lightly, but wrestled myself from his grasp. I didn't want to interrupt what he was doing since he was obviously busy, so I went over to the arm chair and sat, crossing my legs. A few minutes later Garuba finished his conversation on the phone and came towards me. He stood in front of me, took both my hands and pulled me up so that we were standing facing each other. We hugged, tightly, when it suddenly dawned on us that anyone could walk into the room at any minute. We smiled knowingly into each other's eyes and releasing me Garuba went back to his desk, sat down and asked how my day had gone. Telling him about my visit to the NYSC hostel, I couldn't help feeling a bit guilty about what had happened when Femi had pressed his firm, hard body against me. Of course, I said nothing of this, but I told him that I met a nice guy and that I would like to go back, perhaps during the weekend, to see him again. Garuba said nothing, but went on to say that this evening he was expected at his fiance's house. He said he wanted me to meet her. I pursed my lips and fluttered my eyelids in mock indignation as if to say, "why would I want to meet this person who sooner or later, will take you away from me?", although the words never came out of my mouth. Seeing my reaction, Garuba smiled and then in that very frank and forthright manner of his and looking me straight in the eye, said that he would never allow anything to come between us. And then I remembered why I had fallen in love with him in the first place.