Thursday, 30 April 2009

Images brought with love from Northern Nigeria

Market Scene

Street scene at sunset

Entrance gate to the Palace of the Emir of Kano

Entrance gate to the Palace of the Emir of Zaria

Reception room of Palace of the Emir of Kano

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Garuba 2

It was late. The remains of our supper had been cleared away by that woman. All three of us had stayed together in Garuba's room watching videos and talking generally, me about life in Lagos and the south and how what so far I'd seen of the north, seemed so very different from the south which I was used to; them about how they perceived southerners, and how people from the south seemed to be so much more westernised than they were. Abdulrahman in particular, was keen to show me how westernised I was in the way that I chose to dress and the hair product that I used. But all of this was quite good-natured and amiable and there was a lot of laughter and quite a few jokes. Garuba I was told, was an architect. I learned that he had only just completed his own one year of national youth service and had a few weeks previously, started in a job with a firm of architects established by some chap who having been granted a scholarship by the Bauchi State government, had trained in America and had recently returned. Garuba was still living at home with his parents, but he reckoned that he would move to his own place within a few months. There was a lot of talk about how much there was yet to be done in Bauchi, talk about contributing to the development of the state and Bauchi town in particular, especially in relation to municipal and city planning. Garuba seemed really enthusiastic about his profession and his job and I listened attentively, although I couldn't help admiring his fine angular jawline and the way his lips moved when he spoke. This man is absolutely gorgeous, I thought to myself.

Soon came the moment when that problem of the sleeping arrangements was to be considered. Garuba was our host, but Abdulrahman it was who had invited me here. It was obvious that both of them would have shared Garuba's huge double bed had I not been here. In the room, there was also a chaise lounge, upholstered in an expensive looking damask and I did not think it was customary for Garuba to have guests sleep on it. Anyway, there was a problem of working out where each of us would sleep and as is the custom in most of Africa, the guest is always in an honoured position. So I got first choice of the bed. Abdulrahman kindly deferred to his cousin and chose to lay on the chaise lounge, over which Garuba carefully draped a sheet. Which meant that Garuba and I would share this huge bed and as I climbed into it, I thought to myself that this day must be one of the most eventful I had yet seen.

It was a double bed, you know, with enough room for two adult people. I mean it was quite possible for both of us to have slept comfortably in that bed without once making body contact. But from the minute Garuba entered under the covers, it appeared that body contact with me was the only thing on his mind. Probably testing the waters, the first contact was tentative, watching for my reaction. I pretended that nothing had happened, but I didn't move away either. We stayed unmoving in the same position, our bodies touching just slightly, but we were so close to each other that it was impossible to pretend to be asleep. He moved in closer, such that the whole of his body from shoulder downwards was touching mine. And still I did not move. Actually, in truth I found this quite exciting, but I didn't feel relaxed enough to respond as I should have done. Then I must have fallen asleep, because when suddenly I came to, it was because Garuba's legs were entwined with mine. It felt nice and warm and lovely, but I also noticed that he was asleep. Careful not to wake him and without dislodging his legs, I twisted my torso so that my back was to him and then moved backwards so that my back touched his chest. By then he must have been half awake because at this point he put his left arm out around my midsection. In this position, I drifted off to sleep again. It had been a tiring day after all.

In the morning I woke up to find that I was alone in the room. Shortly afterwards Abdulrahman entered to say that his uncle had requested that he should accompany the driver on an errand down Tafawa Balewa Road, which he explained was in the opposite direction from the house, to the NYSC office. However, Garuba had agreed to take me to the NYSC place on his way to work. This sounded fine, but it was still early and I was sure the NYSC office would not be open for another couple of hours. I lingered in bed, wishing that I didn't have to go out at all this morning. But just then Garuba came in. He sat on the bed and shook my shoulder, obviously thinking that I was still asleep. Garuba said breakfast would soon arrive and that I should get dressed as he didn't want to be late for work. Quickly coming to my senses I made for the shower room and returned to find that Garuba was waiting for me so we could have breakfast together, which had already been laid out. He didn't leave the room as he had done the previous night, and that didn't bother me either. Perhaps, having slept all night in the same bed, there was no longer ice to be broken between us. It just seemed so natural putting on my clothes in his presence. I'd heard of the phrase "sexual tension" and I wondered if that is what this was. There was a feeling, some chemical electrical inexplicable thing... It was similar to what had happened when I had first met Moses sometime ago, but with Moses the attraction was strong and uncontrollable. With Garuba it was more subtle, but clearly there was the potential for this to be even more far-reaching than that with Moses. It seemed more sublime and I was in no doubt that the feeling was mutual. It was like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that fit together without any effort whatsoever from either of the two.

Garuba drove me in his brand new car to the NYSC place. He sat in the car waiting to see that I achieved some success with locating the exact room where my registration would take place. I found the desk of the person who would perform the registration, but was informed by the other person in the room that although Mrs Giwa had not arrived, she was expected within the hour. I could sit and wait, or alternatively I could go and come back. Go where? I wondered. I went back to the car to let Garuba know what the position was and he suggested that he would drive to his office and return in about an hour. My things were still in his room at home, and we would at some point later today need to make arrangements to move them to whichever accommodation I would be provided by the NYSC after my registration.

I waited in Mrs Giwa's office for about half an hour when she finally turned up, heavily pregnant. I started off the conversation with her in as polite a manner as I was capable of, but for some reason, or maybe she was just having a bad day, this woman was so irritable. I told her who I was and then she asked to see my NYSC call-up letter, which is the letter you are given informing you of your posting. I explained that the letter itself did not say that we were required to produce it when reporting for registration. I said I had seen the list on the notice board in the corridor of this building and that my name was on it. She became even more irascible and uncooperative. She insisted that without the call-up letter there was nothing she could do for me and that if I didn't have the letter with me I should leave her office immediately, because she had other things to do. I was despondent. I mean, I had travelled nearly 1000 kilometres only to be told to leave this woman's office. Tears of desperation came to my eyes and I didn't know what to do.

I walked out of the building, dazed, bewildered. When I heard a familiar voice shout my name. It was Garuba. He was sitting in his car parked across the road. I rushed to meet him and as I got into the car and slammed the front passenger door I burst into tears, uncontrollably. Garuba was puzzled. Between my tears I tried to explain to him what had happened and that this meant that I would have to go all the way back to Lagos to look for that letter wherever it was. He put his hand on my thigh and begged me to stop crying. He said he had told his boss that there was a small family matter he had to deal with and his boss had allowed him the day off. He asked me to look at the bright side. It meant that I wouldn't have to go and stay in some anonymous room somewhere in town by myself. I was with him and Abdulrahman and everything would be alright. Even if I had to return to Lagos for a short while, my things would be safe in his room. I looked at this man whom I met only last night and wondered if it was right for him to be offering me so much. I wiped my tears and looked at him again, that thing in his eyes. I really like this guy I thought. Garuba drove off. He didn't tell me where we were going until I asked ... "Somewhere nice", he said, then he moved his hand from the gear lever, held my hand and squeezed it. I looked at him. He was looking straight ahead at the road in front of us, but there was the hint of a smile on his lips...

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Blame it on the blog

With the amount of time that I've been spending surfing around the Internet nowadays, especially since I began this blog, I was starting to wonder how I ever manage to get any of my work done either at the office, or at home. I was scared for a little while this morning as I sat at my desk in the office, that there was a matter or two that needed to be attended to, which I had either forgotten to deal with, or which I had not been able to complete because just when I had started to do it, some idea suddenly popped up in my head and I had dropped everything and rushed off into cyberworld, looking for material to build up on the idea that entered my head.

I looked into my desktop diary with that lingering ominous feeling. Surely that task that I was supposed to have completed last Friday... But to my utter surprise and delight, I found that there was in fact nothing which I had not completed well in advance of its due completion time. What I then realised was that I was dealing with stuff at work briskly and getting them out of the way, in order to allow me even more time to browse the Internet, read the blogs of others, write my own blog and just generally revel in the wealth of information that is out there. Blogging has actually had a positive effect then, because not only is my work getting done more swiftly than it was before, but also, all that time that would have been spent unproductively worrying about my non-existent love life is put to good use. And I am a much happier person for it.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Bauchi Harmattan Sunrise

Its really the sun up there. This photo was taken on a particularly dusty morning somewhere east of Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State, Northern Nigeria.

The Harmattan is a dry and dusty West African trade wind. It blows south from the Sahara Desert into the Gulf of Guinea between the end of November and the middle of March. On its passage over the desert it picks up fine dust particles (between 0.5 and 10 micrometres). When the Harmattan blows hard, it can push dust and sand all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean and North America.

Sunday, 26 April 2009


The female voice on the tannoy announced that the flight to Jos was finally ready for boarding. This flight had been delayed for 4 hours already and it was to the relief of all the passengers on the flight that we were directed towards the Nigeria Airways aeroplane that was to take us on this journey from Lagos Murtala Mohammed Airport. I was excited, as the moment had finally come when I was leaving home, going to that far-off place that I had always dreamt of. I was going to northern Nigeria where I had never been, for my one year of compulsory national youth service. It is the requirement for every new graduate of higher institutions in Nigeria to join the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) for one year of service to the nation. And it is the practice for 'youth corpers' to be posted to parts of the country different from where they originate, or where they had gone to school, college or university, the idea being to introduce young people to other parts of the country to which they had never been, and which they would otherwise have no occasion to visit. I was posted to Bauchi State, a place I'd only read about in geography books and heard about on the news. I had recently turned 21 and I was leaving home. And I was bubbling with excitement. The nearest airport to Bauchi town was the one at Jos, about 120km away. The plan was that I would fly to Jos and then complete the journey by bush taxi.

The Jos Plateau is a very scenic part of the country. The landscape was all quite new to me, as I had never been in a highland area. I know now that the weather was pleasantly cool, sub tropical. But at that time I thought Jos was cold, having lived all my life until then in the coastal equatorial steamy heat of Lagos. And it was with a sense of wonder that I sat in the city taxi travelling from Jos Airport to Naraguta, across the city, where I would catch the bush taxi to Bauchi Town. By this time it was about sunset, the flight to Jos from Lagos had lasted for only slightly over an hour, but because the flight had departed late from Lagos, we had arrived in Jos much later than had been expected. The journey to Bauchi from Jos would last another hour, when I eventually got on the bush taxi that is. No matter, I thought, surely the NYSC must have an office open all night, in the event that corpers travelling from other parts of the country arrived at an odd hour. It was the responsibility of the NYSC office to register corpers on arrival, accommodate them and manage their posting to whatever job they were assigned. I knew nobody in Bauchi, indeed in the entire north of Nigeria. And I was counting on the fact that the NYSC office in Bauchi would be open this evening when I eventually arrived. At the moment, I was too filled with wonder and excitement to think too much about what would happen. Or maybe I was too scared to even consider that the office might not be open when I arrived this evening.

Soon I was dropped off at the Bauchi Road motor park, from where I was to catch my bush taxi. There was a row of several taxis, all going to Bauchi, but I could see that they were in sort of a queue, taking turns to depart. None could leave until the first one in the queue had departed, having first filled up with passengers. When I arrived at the motor park, the driver of the taxi at the front of the queue had taken my bags and placed them in the boot together with the luggage of the other passengers who were already sitting inside the taxi. There was only one other empty seat after mine, so I realised that I had a few minutes to spare before the taxi would leave while we waited for the last passenger to turn up. I was excited. This was a whole new atmosphere, where Hausa was the main language being spoken, of which I knew not a word. I went a few metres to a little shop and bought a coke to quench my thirst and as I walked back to the taxi, I heard someone behind me say "Excuse me..". It was nice to hear someone speak a language I understood, so I turned around and saw this tall young man dressed in traditional Hausa garb, a sky blue embroidered caftan with matching trousers, and that cap on his head that is so typical of northern Nigerians. This fellow introduced himself as Abdulrahman. He was a student at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria and was heading to Bauchi to visit with relatives. However, he had not done his sums properly and now found that he was a few Naira short and needed some assistance to pay the fare to Bauchi. I agreed to assist him, not that I had a lot myself, but I could see straight away that he was genuinely in need of help. He was decent, polite and I thought that this could easily me in his position, seeking the help of a stranger. And so together, we paid the driver Abdulrahman's fare and got into the taxi, both of us sitting side by side. And so it was that for this journey into the unknown, I had earned the company of a young man of about my age who was native to this place. I was alone no longer.

As expected, the journey to Bauchi took just over an hour. By the time we arrived it was aready dark. In the tropics, the transition from daylight to darkness is brief, almost sudden. Bauchi is not a large city. It is an old traditional Hausa settlement with an ancient city wall that surrounds the old city. However with modern development, the city had expanded outside the city wall. This was now a state capital and the road leading into the city was broad and brightly lit. And it didn't feel cold as in Jos. Abdulrahman had explained that shortly after we left Jos, we had descended from the Jos Plateau and that we were now on the vast Savannah, which covers almost the whole of northern Nigeria. On the way from Jos, I had told Abdulrahman who I was and explained why I was travelling to Bauchi. He said he knew where the NYSC office is located and that the taxi would drive past in front of it. He suggested that it might be a good idea if I let the driver know, so that he would stop there and I could get off. I agreed and then he said a few words in Hausa to the driver, who nodded. When we arrived at the NYSC office in Bauchi, it was already about 9pm. The street was brightly lit, as every major road seemed to be in this town. But the building! There was not a single light in sight. Not even an open window. Abdulrahman had pointed out the bulding to me and as he did so, he must have seen the shock on my face, because he immediately decided to get off the taxi with me. I was in Bauchi, with all my worldly possessions, late in the evening in front of a locked office building, with nowhere to go and no idea what to do next. I was thankful that Abdulrahman had decided to leave the taxi and stay with me, because the task of rescuing me from this predicament now fell upon him.

Abdulrahman told me that his uncle whom he had come to visit in Bauchi lived not very far away. He suggested that we could go to his uncle's house and stay there until the next morning, when I would return to this office and get myself registered. It was not as if I had any choice, so of course I welcomed the suggestion and so off we went, him helping me with my heavy bags. We got a taxi that took us to his uncle's house, a very nice house in a part of town which I assumed was where all the important people lived. On the way he told me that his uncle was the state commissioner for something or the other, sort of like a state government minister. The house was very nice, set in a beautiful arid garden. The northern part of Nigeria is an arid zone that lends itself to arid gardening, where plants of the Aloe and Euphorbia families dominate. There was an amazing specimen of that stately tree Aloe ferox. I marvelled at the immense good taste in which this front garden had been created and how lovely it looked in the floodlighting set strategically among the various cacti and succulents. Walking past the garden and the main house, Abdulrahman and I went straight to the back house, commonly referred to as the 'boys quarters'. This is usually accommodation provided for the servants who worked in the main house, but in this case Abdulrahman's cousin, his uncle's son, had laid claim to one of its rooms. It was into this room that that we entered after Abdulrahman had unlocked the door, and although it was not a large room, my first thought was that it contained too many items of furniture. It was apparent that its owner had gone to great lengths to prove to anyone who entered that he was not a servant in this place. Abdulrahman showed me around, the conveniences and such like and then left me and entered the main house to inform his relatives that he had arrived. I think he must have at the same time also told them that he had come with a visitor, because shortly afterwards he came back to the room accompanied by two younger teenage boys of about 13 and 14, who appeared eager to see who this person was, who had accompanied their cousin to their home. They were friendly and I felt very welcome. Abdulrahman said supper was on its way and in the meantime I could freshen up if I wished. Of course it had been a long and eventful day, so I welcomed the opportunity to take a shower and change my clothes. Abdulrahman went back inside his uncle's house with the two boys.

Coming back to the room after my shower with only a towel draped around my waist, I saw that the door was ajar and it was obvious that there was someone inside the room. I was a stranger in this place and didn't want to upset anyone, so I carefully knocked on the door and peeped inside to see who it was. There was someone inside the room, but not somebody I had met before. He had his back turned to the door and turned around just as I entered. He seemed surprised to see me. Well, obviously he didn't know who I was, or what I was doing here. "Hello", I said. "I arrived a short while ago with Abdulrahman". "Oh..?", was his reply. He smiled at me and for the first time I saw how very handsome this light skinned Fulani man was. I was naked under this towel that was wrapped around my waist and was embarrassed that he was seeing me for the first time like this, but I smiled back and extended my hand. He seemed to understand how I felt because after shaking hands, still smiling at each other, he left the room so I could get dressed. Not very long after that there was a knock on the door and Abdulrahman returned with the same man who had been here when I entered after my shower. Abdulrahman introduced him to me as his cousin, his uncle's son and his name was Garuba. Garuba and I shook hands again and I said that we had already met. There was something in Garuba's eyes, and gosh, he was so very handsome, you know, with those very fine facial features that is peculiar to the Fulani. Garuba was very well groomed, with a neatly trimmed moustache and perfectly manicured fingernails. A loud knock on the door, and a woman entered carrying a tray on which was set a huge meal of rice and peanut stew with beef. The aroma was heavenly. The tray was set down on the floor, and the woman, obviously one of the uncle's servants left as quickly as she had arrived without saying a word. She returned a few moments later with a pot of piping hot tea, which I was told is called chai, and some mugs, and then left again. No cutlery was provided, and as is the tradition among the people of the north, all three of us sat around this tray of rice and beef and ate with our hands directly from the tray. The food was delicious and Garuba was very pleasant. And he kept smiling at me.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Safari on Mars

Amazing stuff I've been following for the last five years, the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. I am one of the millions of awe-struck earthbound humans who marvel at the enormity of the achievement of these rovers and their exploration of Mars so far. Of the hundreds of engineers and scientists who cheered at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, on Jan. 3, 2004, none predicted the team would still be operating both rovers in 2009. It is to these scientists that one must give all the credit.
The sheer volume of science that the rovers have enabled is astonishing. To sit in a control room in California here on Earth and remotely drive a vehicle millions of miles away, on another planet, climbing hills, travelling over several kilometres, is the best job anyone could do. The rovers have covered greater distances than they were designed to do and have lived far longer than they were expected to. Its a bit sad that they are for eternity exiled to another planet and will never return home.
This is worth checking out too.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Happy Birthday Dear Djimon

Happy Birthday Djimon Hounsou! You're 45 today. This is wishing you many more birthdays to come and success beyond your wildest dreams, in your career and in your personal life too. Just to let you know that you have a huge fan here who thinks very highly of you. Best Wishes.

The Saxophonist 7

The Wednesday and the Thursday that passed before I was to see Moses again were the longest two days ever. But the pain of waiting was reduced by the fact that of necessity, I was confined for hours to that airy reading room near the amphitheatre of the science complex, one of my favorite places on the campus to sit and study. Very light and bright, with large windows providing views of the lagoon and offering a strategic view of Jaja Hall, a hall of residence for men. The sea breeze off the lagoon and the agreeable surroundings were supposed to help to focus my thoughts on my work, but every passing student was in my mind immediately compared to Moses. It always came back to Moses, whatever I did. There were many men in the vicinity and I've often wondered if I liked this place so much because the rooms of Jaja Hall had windows from floor to ceiling, such that it was quite possible to see right inside the rooms from where I was sitting. I did the best I could with revision and preparation for the exams. I desperately wanted to become free from studying and education generally, so that I could do all those things I'd always dreamed of. And the way out was to pass these exams, graduate and move somewhere far away from home and family. But there was this new complication in my life, my relationship with Moses. It was a distraction that I didn't need, but one which I had no control over.

Friday finally came and I arrived at the Shrine, careful not to arrive as early as I had done the last time I was here. Even before I turned into Pepple Street, I saw Moses standing at the corner looking in the direction from which I was approaching. He had seen me and it seemed to me that he was out there just to meet me. I was surprised, but I realised then that he must have been missing me too, perhaps almost as much as I had missed him. I thought to myself how unkind this world is, that denied us the joy of rushing towards each other and jumping into each other's arms. I loved Moses and I could see that he cared for me too. Smiling at each other from the moment we made eye contact, we came together, him walking towards me. I saw that he was being careful not to attract attention to us, so we just shook hands and walked side by side towards the Shrine. The gate was already open and he led me in, past those waiting in the queue and past that handsome bouncer who I kind of fancied the first time I came here. Moses nodded to the bouncer as we passed. It was a strange feeling I had whenever I was with Moses. It was a lovely warm feeling, the feeling of being where I am meant to be. Nothing seemed as important as being with him. I had never felt this way before, but I also knew that I never wanted to lose this feeling. The Shrine already had some people inside and it was a bit noisy. Moses and I went to a quiet corner and then he told me that Grace had left to see her parents this morning. There was excitement in his eyes and surely he too would have noticed the joy that was in mine. We agreed that we would meet at the corner where we had just met. I was to proceed there after the show and he would meet me when he finished what he had to do.

The show went on as usual. At break time we looked at each other knowingly, but made no move to do what we had done each time since the first day we met. I has happy. Here was Moses right before me. And he was mine, even if only for tonight. All thoughts about Jurisprudence, Equity and Trusts Law, psychology and all exams were banished from my mind. Tonight belonged to Moses and me and I was going to enjoy it. I was excited and danced as I loved to do to Fela's music. Eventually when the show ended, I went outside and waited for Moses. It was nearly an hour before he came out and even then, he wasn't alone as is often the case in this place. Still, I knew that I was leaving this place with the man I loved, so no amount of waiting was too much. Moses left his colleagues and came towards me. I moved further forward and turned the corner so that by the time he reached me, we would be out of sight of his colleagues. We immediately clasped hands and headed towards the Ikeja bus station, a typically rowdy and chaotic bus station even at this late hour and potentially dangerous at night, as is any other major bus station in Lagos. But I was with Moses and felt in no danger.

We boarded a taxi and headed towards Ogba where Moses had his home. Before now, I had tried not to think too much about what would happen this evening after the show and in particular, where we would go and what we would get up to. But this was unfolding right before me, even before I'd had the time to think about it. We were seated in the taxi, at the back. Our bodies were pressed against each other and Moses casually swung his arm around my shoulder. It felt to me as if he was asserting his claim over me. This man owned me and I absolutely loved it. Traffic was unusually light and we arrived at our destination after about 15 minutes of riding in the taxi. Moses paid the fare and led me through a locked gate which he opened and relocked. It was a block of four flats, typical of this part of town, two flats downstairs and two upstairs. Theirs was the one downstairs on the right side from the front as we walked up the path leading to the building. It was dark and I was unable to take in all of the surroundings, but I sensed that it was a reasonably decent neighbourhood. Moses opened the front door, let us into their flat and turned on a lamp that sat on a cabinet near the door. The sitting room was tastefully furnished, spartan, in exactly the style that appealed to me. There were two two-seat sofas against two of the walls, a furry rug at the centre of the room and a glass coffee table on the rug. This was a lovely home, a nest that Moses and Grace had created for themselves. I instantly felt like an intruder.

Later, Moses told me that he was puzzled by my reaction when I entered their flat for the first time and I tried to explain to him that I felt odd entering this place because it had the imprint of Grace all over it. It was his home, but it was hers too and I felt like an outsider, an interloper. Sensing this, Moses tried to make me relax. He knew that I enjoyed being physically close to him and he made sure never to be in a position where I couldn't just reach out and touch him. He poured some brandy, I guess to lighten the mood and I sat on one of the sofas. Moses put on some music, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Roy Ayers, Earl Klugh, Herbie Hancock, but the music was low and so was the lighting. He joined me on the sofa and we sat together just enjoying being together, luxuriating in this moment, alone and in private, not saying much. It was our first time like this and although I knew that he must be tired after the show, he seemed more concerned to see that I was relaxed and comfortable. On the sofa, he placed his arm around my shoulder again and pulled me close and then we kissed. This was the moment I had been waiting for all these days. I responded enthusiastically and from that moment on, what happened between Moses and me cannot be published here. Suffice it to say that this was the most exquisite night that I had ever lived through, although I flatly refused to be led into their bedroom. He fetched some pillows and we curled up together on cushions taken from the sofas and placed on the rug, and in each other's arms we slept intermittently, between bouts of gentle lovemaking. Moses made me very happy that night.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The Marvelous English Language

I happened to be in court this morning. It was one of those days when the court's list is long, the Crown Prosecution Service couldn't get their act together, investigating police officers were absent, the Judge was in a foul mood, almost as if he had a smash up with his wife earlier. I had rushed out of the house as usual, almost late and dashed into court breathing heavily, hoping that my client too was late. Court had already started sitting and the first accused in the dock was a black man, not unusual really. I was scanning the public gallery, checking to see if my client saw me rushing in, was relieved to find that he wasn't there when I heard the Judge ask the defendant if he spoke English. "Yes sir", came the reply. I noted that this defendant was representing himself. Apparently he had been arrested the previous night for a public order offence that involved a fracas with some other people in the street. The others had got away, but he was nabbed by the cops, spent the night enjoying the hospitality of the Metropolitan Police in one of their cells and here he was standing in the dock with his hands held behind him.

And so the charge was read to him and he was asked if he understood the charge. When he answered in the affirmative, he was then asked how he would plead. This man started to speak, but was halted by the clerk before he got very far. It was explained to him that all he needed to say was whether he accepted the charge or not, to which the defendant shook his head. This was recorded as a not-guilty plea. I was starting to enjoy this. Then the prosecutor spelt out the facts as had been recorded by the police. Mr defendant was then required to provide an explanation for why he was involved in a street fight the night before. This man launched into a potentially lengthy speech in quite unintelligible Jamaican patois. Watching the Judge's face I could see it contort from bewilderment at first, to confusion, then irritation and then downright frustration. This was a Judge who was sour to start with, and now this. I heard whimpers of suppressed laughter from around the courtroom. "I thought you said you spoke English?", the Judge shouted at the defendant. I was sure that this defendant was utterly convinced that the language he had spoken to the court was English. In the end, the case had to be put back for a few hours, so a Jamaican patois interpreter could be found.

A language cannot be English when it is not understandable to English speakers. When I first came to live in the UK many years ago, I realised that my knowledge of the English language surpassed that of many of those for whom English is a native tongue. I had difficulty understanding the speech of many of those working class Londoners with whom one had to associate in those early stages of life as an immigrant. And it was less to do with their accent and pronunciation, than it was to do with the actual grammatical construction of their spoken English. I am a sucker for languages and I love the English language. It is the language everybody wants to learn and I realise how fortunate those of us are who speak it. With English, you can get by in Athens, Amsterdam, Rio de Janeiro or Oslo. In Brazil in particular, it's even kind of cool when you can speak a few words of English. They call their own particular brand 'Brazlish', the vocabulary of which as far as I could tell, does not extend beyond the words "more or less", which seemed to be standard the answer to every question.

I like the way English is spoken by educated people, irrespective of the accent. I have a leaning towards the English that is spoken with the urban African accent, which is devoid of a second language influence. Like most Africans, I am multi-lingual. But English is my first language and I find that there are more and more non-English people for whom English is a first language. I don't mean people like Australians or Canadians or Americans who have no other language but English. I'm talking about Africans and Asians who have their own native languages, but prefer to communicate and even think in English. And because English has become a first language to people such as myself, we speak it in a manner that is uniquely African but not influenced by any particular African language.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

That blue car

I've just taken delivery of that car I've always wanted, you know, that blue one with the leather trim interior and the wood effect dashboard. I didn't manage to sort out the insurance before the week's end and against the best advice of my friend Albert, I went spinning around in it this afternoon. And boy, it is something!
I haven't owned a car for the better part of 10 years, mainly because I convinced myself that I didn't need one. And there was a hint of the desire to do my own small bit for the environment. But driving around this afternoon listening to loud Aswad on the stereo, even though the traffic was heavy in parts of town where Premiership football was just discharging its huge crowds of fans into the streets, I realised what I've been missing. Thoughts of standing all the way to my destination on a crowded London bus, or standing on a train station platform on a freezing cold and wet morning flashed through my mind and I shuddered. It was nice and warm and comfortable in the car and I've vowed never to go anywhere, unless I'm driving there in this beauty. Within the last hour, I must have looked out of my front window about 100 times already just to make sure she's still sitting where I left her when I came in. I'm going out again shortly...

Saturday, 18 April 2009

The Saxophonist 6

Tonight's show felt different from the others that I had seen. I felt restricted not only because I was seated at the Shrine, which in itself was strange enough, but there was a woman sitting right next to me whose presence was uncomfortable to say the least. I wondered if she thought anything of the fact that Moses had sat me beside her, but as far as I could tell she seemed completely unconcerned. We had exchanged greetings when she first arrived, but since then I might as well not have been there. I didn't mind being ignored, indeed I quite welcomed it. What was uncomfortable was that I could not enjoy watching Moses as I had hoped I would, there being a constant reminder sitting just inches from me that this man was unattainable in the way that I desired. Its not as if I didn't already know about her, or that I ever imagined that I could take Moses away from her. But I didn't need to have to be constantly reminded of who she was and what role she played in the life of this man with whom I was so hopelessly in love. Moses himself had not looked away from our direction all night and that was pleasing. But because of the lighting, it was hard to tell whether he was looking at her, or at me. For the first time I felt a bit jealous.

At break time I got up and made my way outside without once looking in Moses direction, perhaps to send the message that I wasn't entirely happy with the evening so far. Outside I made sure to stand conspicuously under the lights by the entrance. Moses would come after me if he cared anything for me. He must have noticed that I was acting rather strangely, I told myself. And sure enough, Moses did come out and because I saw him before he saw me, I saw that he was casting his eyes about until they settled on me, where I was standing pretending not to have noticed him. However, he wasn't alone and it was a few minutes before he managed to extricate himself from the group of people and then come towards me. There was a look of concern on his face and I felt sorry that I had upset him. But I needed to let him know that it was not comfortable sitting beside his wife. Moses seemed to understand immediately as he looked into my face, I didn't have to say a word. He came up so close to me that I could feel his breath on my face. I couldn't help myself and said "I'm sorry". Moses said nothing. He put his arm round my shoulders and steered me in the direction we had gone the last time we were together. I put my arm around his waist as we walked together. I didn't care anymore who saw us, or what anybody thought. In this place, he had more to guard against than I did, yet he had come after me and put his arm around me in the open, in full view of everyone. I must mean something to this man and the thought of it warmed my heart. We walked down the street and slowed. I turned to face Moses and put my other arm around his waist so that both my arms were wrapped around his midsection. I placed my face sideways against his chest and before I knew what I was saying, said "Moses, I love you.." Moses held me, right there in the middle of the street. He is so gentle, this man. I cannot bear the thought of living my life without you Moses, I thought to myself.

Moses then told me that Grace was due to travel upcountry to her parents' home somewhere in the hinterland. He said the visit although already planned, was not yet set for a specific date. He needed say no more, because we both understood what this meant. That we, Moses and I, would get the chance to be together, on our own and soon. How blissful this would be, I thought. I looked into Moses' eyes. This man loved me, I could tell. We held on to each other for as long as we dared, not saying much, just enjoying the moment, feeling the warmth from each other. Reluctantly, we let go, because it was sensible at this point for us to return to the club and see out the rest of the show. Much of the communication between us was of the kind that is not spoken. We seemed to know what the other was thinking without having to ask. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Moses. I had never felt this way about any person in my entire life.

And so we returned to the Shrine, but I did not go back to sit beside Grace. I went to my spot, on the left side of the stage, closer to where Moses was than was the seating area. I wanted Moses to know that although I was in love with him, I did not want to be a part of his marriage, or affect it in any way whatsoever. Ours was a homosexual love. It was different from what he had with Grace. And that was fine, as long as he kept her out of our relationship. My reasoning was that the part of Moses that was attracted to me and which reached out for me, was not a part that Grace could satisfy. He wanted me to fulfil that part of him, and I was there for him. I wanted Moses to have all of me, since there was no part of me which he could not fulfil. I loved him and I was going to prove it when we had the opportunity to be together. I returned to the campus that night excited, in anticipation of that day when Moses and I could have each other. But at the back of my mind was the exam that was due to start next Monday. I hoped that on Friday when I returned to the Shrine, Moses would have some good news.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Technology and me

I haven't blogged for a few days and it was almost as if something was missing, although I couldn't tell exactly what it was until I started typing this post. Nobody told me blogging is addictive, or that there are withdrawal symptoms. Anyway now that I know, I'll try to keep up with the posts.

I was thinking about a news report I saw on television sometime ago, about how some weird people were queueing in front of a store somewhere in London, where Apple's iPhone was to be launched the next day. I mean, this live report was sometime in the late evening on a cold windy night, when every sane person ought to have been sitting snugly on a sofa in front of the TV, or at least making their way home in order to do so. And there was this throng of wild haired men and women proudly announcing to the TV reporter that they were happy to brave the foul weather all night, just to be sure that they obtained the iPhone the very minute it became available in the UK the next morning when the store opened its doors. Thinking about this, I wondered what was so special about the iPhone that was to be sold on the first day. Was it perhaps different in some enhanced way to any other iPhone that would be sold the day after? What about those who would acquire the iPhone weeks or even months after its launch? Taking into account the pace of technology, perhaps its even sensible to wait a few weeks I thought.

I am fascinated by technology and the advances that we have witnessed within just a few decades. Its nothing short of amazing. Having said that, I personally have struggled to keep up with innovations, although when I do finally catch up, I've often wondered why I was so slow to realise how awesome this thing is in the first place, whatever it was that I was just catching up with. Lets start with mobile phones, or cell phones as some people say. For a long while I was entirely convinced that I did not need a mobile phone. What for? I would question myself. I already had a phone at home and another at work. Surely I didn't need a third phone. Who would want to contact me anyway when I was out and about? But when I looked around and saw that even school children carried mobile phone devices around, texting and the like, I started to feel like a visitor from another planet, or from a place in time somewhere in the past. Not until then did I realise how ancient my thinking must have seemed to those to whom I fervently argued that a mobile telephone was a completely unnecessary frivolity. Anyway, as I have often had to do, I caved in and acquired one.

It was pretty much the same with the Internet. Even this blog was started 5 years after everyone I know had started a blog. As a child sitting on the back seat of my parents' car, anytime the car stopped at a railway crossing, or whenever there was the possibility that we would be anywhere near a passing train, I clearly remember the panic that would take hold of me and how I would try to duck down underneath the driver's seat until the train passed. I feared machines and anything mechanical. I seem not to have outgrown this anxiety about machines and technological innovations generally. I despise pocket calculators, but I have to use one regardless. Thankfully today's computers are user-friendly, but apart from the basic word-processing, emails, blogging (now), music and videos, there isn't very much that I do with them. I like to draw with crayons and paint pictures with a brush. I love to read books that are made of paper and cardboard. I love writing with a pen and ink. Sitting in front of this computer screen is a necessary evil, the way I see it. I looked up the word "technophobia" in the dictionary and was surprised to find that such a word exists, defined as the "fear of or aversion to technology, especially computers and high technology". That finger is pointing directly at me. Yes I accept, I am officially a technophobe, because now Twitter is all the rage and I am breaking out in a cold sweat!
I know I've been rambling in this post, but I just needed to let that out somehow. It's even had a therapeutic effect, in that I've been able to share with this blog something that has lurked somewhere at the back of my mind for years and which I've been unable to talk to anyone about. And of course, I still haven't acquired that Apple iPhone, although I might just do so someday.

Monday, 13 April 2009


We are told that Easter Sunday is the day on which the resurrection of Jesus Christ is marked. If there is any other reason why this day is important in the Christian religion, then I suppose it is the fact that it marks the end of lent, the season of fasting and penitence that commenced 40 weekdays earlier on Ash Wednesday. In reality however, in modern times, just like Christmas the religious significance of this day is shunted aside and what Easter appears to have become for most of the Christian world is a holiday weekend, starting on the Friday before. Of course, there is the obligatory movie or two on television about the life of Christ, or some other similar biblical story, and then, at least in every country where I have happened to be when Easter came along, the compulsory live broadcast on Easter Sunday morning of that dreary Mass at the Basilica in Rome. While I cannot dispute that there are those who hold this day in reverence, what seems more apparent to me is that most people think of this weekend as a holiday. Bars, pubs and restaurants are packed full of people having a good time. On the Thursday before Good Friday, many people leave work early and because schools have broken up since the Friday before, airports, train stations and coach stations struggle to cope with the mad scurry out of town of those who wish to spend these precious few days of holiday someplace else. And of course since the railway companies have announced clearly that major engineering works are scheduled for the Easter weekend, you miss your train on Thursday at your peril. And then the roads. Early on Thursday morning, traffic reports on the radio warn that this day is traditionally the busiest day on the road network.

Why all this commotion, one wonders. Is it really because Jesus died? Did Jesus die and rise from the dead so we may gorge ourselves with food and ingest as much alcohol as we can? Where is the connection between Jesus resurrection and Easter eggs?

Saturday, 11 April 2009

The Saxophonist 5

It was the last week before the start of the end-of-semester exams. I had failed that awful compulsory psychology course two semesters running and I had to resit it this semester, again. And there were all the other final-year courses and that all-important Project, (as the dissertation was known at undergraduate level). I knew that I was behind with my coursework and that this week was going to be the only chance I would get to put myself back on top of my academic work. I had to put my head down and study; and study I did...whenever I could get Moses out of my mind. This was in the days before the Internet and when telephones were a luxury, the preserve of the affluent. There was no way of knowing where he was or what he was doing, or who he was with. And I just sat and thought and wondered about this man and the magic that had developed between the two of us. The university is located on the shore of the Lagos lagoon. The water is at the rear of the campus, such that the shoreline is far removed from the centre of campus life. At the lagoon front is an expansive grass lawn and just at the water's edge on the far side of the grass is a long quiet road along the shore, which leads to the Vice Chancellor's residence. Palm trees line the road and wooden benches similar to what you would find in a park are placed under the trees close to the water line. It was in this lovely place that I would spend long lonely hours, looking out over the water, wondering if Moses was thinking about me too. None of the people on campus who I called my friends knew I wasn't straight like they were. For them life was good, girls were aplenty. I didn't know anybody who wasn't straight. There was nobody I knew with whom I could share this thing I was feeling. This was a time in my life when being gay felt to me like a curse. There was nobody to talk to, but there was Moses...on my mind, always...

And so it was with much anticipation that I approached the Shrine on that Tuesday as I turned the corner into Pepple Street, the small side street where the Shrine is located. A group of men stood in front of the club entrance engaged in a conversation of sorts, one of them waving his arms about. In my eagerness to see Moses again I had arrived rather too early, because it was obvious as soon as I turned into the street that there were only few people about. I felt a bit awkward, but surprisingly among the group of men standing by the entrance was the man I was here to meet. We must have spotted each other at exactly the same moment, because the reason I'd noticed him was because his head made a sharp movement, the way one does when one suddenly notices something of interest from a distance. Our stares locked, before he turned away quickly and muttered something, perhaps an excuse to his colleagues from the band with whom he was standing. I slowed my pace and came almost to a standstill, not sure what to do. But Moses left his colleagues and came towards me, looking genuinely pleased to see me. He extended his hand, which I shook in the way I would any friend. Those in the group whose backs were turned to us, turned around to see who their colleague had left them to meet. But their curiosity quickly disappeared when they saw me, the nondescript unremarkable young man that I must have appeared to be.

It was awkward indeed. It was only dusk, quite early in the evening and Moses had things to do before the show started. He clearly hadn't expected to see me at this hour and I felt a bit guilty for being the cause of his discomfiture. I apologised to him for turning up this early and confessed that not seeing him had become unbearable. He looked at me in that way that makes you feel that he can see right into you and read all your thoughts. I knew he understood. It was annoying that I was not allowed to throw my arms around him right here and now, because this is what I would have loved to do; to feel the warmth of his body against mine, to be held once again by this man. We were standing in full view of everyone around us but there was no denying it, I was helplessly in love. Moses said he was expecting Grace to arrive any minute now. He had told me the last time we were together that there was always a seat reserved for her at the front, because he liked to see her while he was on stage so he would know she was safe. He asked me if I would like a seat in the front tonight, and of course I wasn't about to refuse the first thing ever offered to me by this man. Besides, the thought that he even wanted to have me constantly in his sights was exciting. So naturally I said yes. At least, I too would get an undisturbed view of the man I had come to the Shrine to see. I will take in as much of Moses as I can tonight, enough to allow me bury my head in my books until Friday when I will be back here again.

Leaving me, Moses rejoined his colleagues and shortly afterwards they all entered into building through the stage door. I wandered around for a while. It was too early to gain entrance to the club as the gate was still locked shut, so I moved further down the street and found a quiet spot. I sat on a bench by the roadside under a tree, a place which I assumed was a hangout for local residents, where ayo a traditional board game was played. From where I sat, I had a clear view of the Shrine and it was not long before a taxi pulled to a stop in front of the club. Two women alighted from it and I immediately recognised Grace. I couldn't help noticing how elegantly she carried herself, a true African beauty this woman and I could see why Moses had married her. Both women disappeared into the club through the stage door. As night fell, the street became noticeably busier as more and more people poured into the area. I realised that I ought to return to the entrance gate in order to claim my position in the queue as one who arrived early. The gate eventually opened and when I entered I went straight towards the front. I hadn't been there long when Moses emerged from backstage. He seemed preoccupied with something, walking around the stage then saying a few words to one of his colleagues and then to another. They were doing all those things that members of a band do with their instruments before a performance. I hoped I wasn't being a nuisance. Moses looked out across the hall where a few people were already milling about. He didn't notice me straight away so I made myself more noticeable by moving into his line of vision. Moses acknowledged me with a nod and then went back into the backstage area.

I went to one of the kiosks that was just opening and bought a drink. As I turned around to return to the front I saw Moses coming towards me. We smiled at each other and went together to the front where he showed me the seat that he'd reserved specifically for me. I was unused to the VIP treatment, indeed, such had never happened to me before and I wasn't sure what to make of it or how to react. Anyway I sat down, although all of the other seats were still empty. Turning around, I saw that the crowd was rapidly increasing in size behind the seating area and I wondered if anyone I knew from campus would see me sitting at the front like an honoured guest. It wasn't long before the seats around me were occupied by others, strange people quite unlike the sort of people I was used to seeing at the Shrine, those who jumped and danced wildly to the music when the band was playing. Well, I felt important and I was just adjusting myself to this new status when to my astonishment, Grace wafted past in front of me and sat down next to me. I wasn't sure if I was excited, or if I was horrified. She smiled at me, obviously remembering me from the last time. I greeted her politely, secretly hoping that this woman would not even conceive of the idea of striking up a conversation with me. Thankfully, she didn't and to my great relief the band emerged on stage just then and the show began. If only this woman knew what her husband and I were up to. In a way, I felt I was in a superior position because I was sure she knew nothing about the erotic relationship that her husband had with me, or about that side of her husband that craved the love of a man. I knew her man better than she did.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Is this a gay blog?

Is it? I'm not sure you know...I mean, when the blog was started it was the intention for it to be about my thoughts and for it to be a venue at which to express in the written word, the myriad of different emotions that I go through from day to day, from blog post to blog post. But reviewing the posts that have appeared on the pages of this blog since it was started roughly 5 weeks ago, what I see is a preponderance of posts relating to my sexual orientation. Well, I suppose thoughts about sex and sexual orientation occupy a greater portion of my mind than I had realised before. It seems so natural to talk about the things that you're thinking about, the things that matter to you doesn't it?

Actually, I am quite pleased that this blog provides the opportunity to say the things that I am saying, because there aren't too many places at which a gay African man gets to speak as freely as I am and have been able to do on here, and this can only be a good thing. But as to whether the blog is a gay blog, I'm still uncertain. I would prefer to see it as a blog that speaks out for me, a gay man, while at the same time affirming the liberation that I feel. To the majority of my fellow Africans who believe that homosexuality is anathema to our continent, listen up: It is you who by your fear and rejection of homosexuality have chosen to keep yourselves in bondage. I don't have a problem with being gay, so if you've got a problem with it, the problem is yours not mine. While you deal with your problem, I would like to get on with my life.