Wednesday, 23 January 2008

The Yankee. The Doodle. The Dandy. Pt. 1

Having lived there for 13 years it is always bitter sweet to return to the US of A. I remember all the good times I had there, growing up, my first job (dishwasher), my first real girlfriend (by that I mean genuine not as in plastic vs. real), endless clubbing with my friends, marathon drives from Tennessee to Houston Texas just to party etc. But there were also the downs - lack of funds, lack of family , loneliness etc.

We arrive at Newark to be met by the now accepted unwelcome frowns from our friends at Homeland Security. Ever since 9/11 these guys have lost any sense of humour or politeness that they had. Iyawo having travelled six hours from Nigeria to get on the flight was less than impressed and had to be coerced into not giving too much attitude to the chap behind the counter who was examining us like bacteria in a petri dish. Oga what’s my own? My papers are correct and if you don’t want me in ya country I am very happy to go back to mine. I heard your economy was in distress and Iyawo and I are just here to do our bit to prop it up. If ya don’t want my help just let me know and I will carry my wahala back to Shoprite jare. He must have read my mind as he graciously let us in.

By now it was 1am in the morning so it was straight to the hotel in Manhattan for some R&R to prepare for the work ahead. Being on the 21st floor of a 46 floor hotel you cannot help but be impressed with this town. All around you are surrounded by enormous skyscrapers both Commercial and Residential. What must it be like to work or live on the 60th floor or 100th floor of a building? Does it sway in the wind? Do you get vertigo? What happens if the lift fails? These questions filled my mind all throughout the night along with visions of waffles and pancakes the size of spaceships.

New York is the only place where I can walk for miles without even thinking about it. It is always a joy to be able to throw on the trainers and just go regardless of the time. It is such a safe place now (Manhattan anyway) that we were often to be found heading for Starbucks at 4 am in the morning to satisfy my addiction for Chai Tea Latte and Iyawo’s coffee. In Naija I struggles to walk half a block to the supermarket down the road for fear of okadas, area boys, but most importantly loose pavements. I have this paranoia that one will collapse under me and I will end up in the gutter sucking on green slime and wee.

For the next few days we wandered the streets of Manhattan boosting the economy as we went. However, we were not alone. The place was crawling with Brits and Irish as you can imagine. The exchange rate is just too good and the flight from London only cost £260 return!! In between shopping trips to Jersey and all corners of Manhattan we managed to fit in some culture by going to see The Colour Purple starring Chaka Khan. It was a great show and even more impressive to me was getting the tickets for $25 each for front row seats when I had been expecting to pay upwards of $100!!

I also managed to fulfil my other pastime in life of watching films although all three turned out to be huge disappointments. When I lived in the US I would sometimes watch between 6-10 films over a weekend if I was not working. I would simply enter the cinema complex in the morning and go from film to film over the two days. Those were the days.

First we saw I Am Boring (I mean I Am Legend). I can only assume that Iyawo wanted to see this just so she could watch the 10 second shot of Will Smith doing chin ups half naked. I could have bought myself one of those six pack costumes and done the same for free but there you go. I mean what was the point of this film? The next day - to make up for it - she then dragged me to see another film whose name I cannot even remember ( I think psychologically I am trying to block out the fact that there went another two hours of my life I will never recover). It was somehow akin to the Blair witch project and involved some alien creature taking over Manhattan and this group of people who just happened to have been videoing a birthday party capturing it all on tape. What a yawn. It was meant to be a horror story and trust me it was - a horror.

Finally it was my turn. I had been reading and seeing reviews of the Daniel Day Lewis film “There will be blood” which intimated that it was film of the year, his best performance etc etc. Nearly three hours later we both came out of the cinema saying WTF was that? I mean what was the point? Am I missing something? My recommendation would be to wait for the video if you have to see it at all. Besides some comic moments it was dire. IMHO.

I cannot fail to mention the food. Oh my goodness. It really is difficult to describe American food portions until you experience it yourself. They are just enormous. We mistakenly ordered a standard pizza ( we should have taken the hint as the menu also offered the option of ordering by the slice) and we ended up leaving most of it in the hotel fridge despite doing our best to demolish it. I could only manage two and a half slices despite ravenous hunger (must have been all the walking) which goes to show you how big the thing was. We went to one diner where they were serving ham sandwiches where they might as well have taken a pig, cooked it and then stuck it whole between two slices of bread.! Conversely every other advert on the TV is selling you some product or other telling you how to lose weight. What about cutting down on the portions?

In the meantime I was keeping an eye on the elections on TV. What drama. All the posing, the advisors, the commentators, the candidates, the confused voters. Now this is entertainment. I will blog on US politics and TV next.

And finally I got my hands on the ultimate boy’s toy - an iPhone. And yes it is working in Nigeria. It also worked in the UK and cost me half the price of the UK version and I did not have to sign up for 18 months ripoff subscription. And yes it is a beauty and capped off the trip nicely. And how was your week?

Friday, 11 January 2008

Good ole blighty.

I arrive at the car rental desk to be greeted by a Polish lady who takes my booking and points me in the direction of the bus that will take me to the car park. The bus arrives and a burly Polish chap helps me with my cases and drives me to the park where another Polish chap, slightly younger, points out the bay where my car is parked. I head to the gate where an old wisened Polish chap checks my paperwork and sends me on my merry way.

I arrive at the hotel where the Polish girl in reception struggles to pronounce my name whilst I don't even attempt to pronounce hers. I did not realise it was possible to have so many Ks, Js and Cs in one name. The Polish concierge takes my bags to my room and seems genuinely happy with his tip. Feeling famished, I order room service where another Polish girl takes my order and the food is delivered by a slightly effeminate Polish boy. In the morning I make my way out of the room and stumble across the Polish cleaners who wish me a good day as I make my way to work.

God it's great to be back in London.

The MANAGEMENT (hence the picture)

Iyawo wakes me up from a restless slumber with the dreaded words no one wants to hear when they are several thousand miles away “ there is a leak coming from the wall outside the kitchen”. Those who know me know that minor irritations or house stuff like this is not my forte. (I sleep through potential armed robberies remember?) .

Immediately my mind springs into action despite lack of sleep ( I am currently in the hottest hotel in the western universe. Even with the window open I swelter through the night.). So you will please excuse the first question that springs out of my mouth. “Has it been raining?”. Silence. Duh. Of course if it had been raining the whole wall would be wet abi no be so? Look I said I was tired and half asleep when she rang and I am smart in other ways otherwise she would leave me.

We then went through a more sensible list of possibilities and ended up deciding that we needed to get the plumber in. Yesterday it was the gate that refused to open or close hence voiding the whole security thing (note to readers – I do not feel great to be abroad knowing that the only defence between my family and danger is MOE.) The day before that it was the generator.

This leads me on to the real subject of today’s blog. Daily life in Naija is hard oh (note to Anonymous – this is an observation rather than a complaint so down your pen jo). Day after day is filled with MANAGEMENT. Here is a short list of the things that you need to watch and manage just inside your house. There is a whole other list for outside:

Power surges which make your light bulbs go ping and sometimes set fire to your house.
Low current – which makes everything dull, drives your stabiliser wild and eventually fries your Plasma screen and melts all the ice cream in the fridge (screw the goat meat darling just save the Ben & Jerrys).
Generator issues – when you are using something that is built for casual use and backup almost on a constant basis you should expect problems. Every few days.
Diesel – to go and buy or get it delivered? If delivered how do you know the meeting is working? Who keeps an eye on the delivery? What if they just pump air into the tank? When it was empty the first time they came to fill it and it took 160 litres. I recently received a bill showing fillings of 185 and 190 litres. I wonder where they put the extra?
Water issues – ours comes out a lovely brown from the tap – if it comes at all. Lovely for the skin if you don’t mind the smell.
Aircons – it is so bloody hot they have to be left on all the time- end result constant service or replacement. Or swelter. Again great for the skin if you don’t mind the migraines.
Security – who is keeping an eye on things whilst the boys are asleep? Wait a minute, where are the boys?
Staff – I am sure that I left N10k on the dressing table but now there is only N9k or am I just going mad?
Driver – someone has moved this seat? Is he using the car for kabu kabu when he is on is own? Why is the petrol tank empty again?
Iyawo – why is she phoning me at 8am in London to tell me there is a leak in the house in Lagos?

It is damned exhausting keeping up I tell you. I have more mechanics, engineers and workmen on my phone list than friends. Day after day they arrive to fix this, sort that, replace this, manage manage that. With each visit Naira flows.

I remember the good old days in blighty of direct debits to pay for it all and comprehensive maintenance cover. British Gas ? It would appear the boiler is not working. Tomorrow?. My good man I fear that is not good enough. I am not prepared to let my children freeze. You will come today or else. Or else what? Or else I will have to wait till tomorrow innit?

When is someone going to start this in Naija.? We need it oh.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

And we are off....

As a blogger I generally tend to shy away from political commentary as there are so many who do it so much better. I learned very early in life that politics is a dirty game and you must be prepared to sacrifice all -even your life (RIP Benazir Bhutto). It is also not a game I understand too well as I still dwell in that plush estate called "naivity and ignorance" - head for VI, make a left and you can't miss it. However, there are some things that pierce my consciousness that just cannot be ignored as they refuse to let the mind settle and be at rest and here we are only in the third day of the new year. Damn these politicos.

First up - Mr Ribadu is sent on a course. As we all know by now the Chairman of the EFCC is being sent on a course just when the EFCC was making great srtrides in tracking down and arresting the thieves with benefits we call governors. It is whispered that this is all a plan to ensure that Mr Ibori (one of the said governors) does not have to face the ignomy of being tried for the looting of state funds. Mr Ribadu is felt to be unreasonable in his continued quest for justice and the recovery of stolen monies. After all most government ministries survive on PR without really having to do anything but he seems quite determined to actually do his job. This is totally unacceptable and goes against all the principles of the game. So he has to go.

Apparently a "cabal" got together in London to plot his downfall. Imagine the conversation:

This Ribadu sef na wa oh. What kind of man is this? We send am Ghana must go he no gree. We send am Gucci. Na lie. Louix Vuitton. Ditto. What are we going to do?

Can you imagine I spoke to one Governor that was just about to transfer $100m to his HSBC account and the man was actually shaking in his shoes? I mean what is the point of being Governor if you cannot freely make these sorts of decisions without worrying about this Ribadu man?

Maybe we should arrange an accident for him? Or set him up with one of those Ashewo girls. We just need him out of the way sha as he is really blocking progress. That man needs to be taught a lesson. Wait a minute. That's it. Teach him a lesson. We'll send him on a course.
Much popping a Cristal champagne follows.

The whole ridiculousness of this action seems to have bypassed the Presidency. I mean the man was just re-elected in April\May for another four year term. Why send him on a course now unless something huge is about to happen i.e - prosecution and maybe conviction of Ibori?

As always we await news from the President as to how he will handle this brewing crisis although I do not hold out much hope. I was discussing with some friends last night and it then occurred to us that since his swearing in we had not seen Yar Adua make any speeches on TV or radio (as far as I am aware). Which is rather worrying in itself.

And on to the second farce.

The daughter of ex-President Obasanjo flies to Austria under an assumed name, false passport and visa to sign a contract with an Austrian company under an assumed name from which she will benefit under her real name. At the signing ceremony photos are taken. She then returns to Nigeria safe in the knowledge that nobody will ever be able to connect her, or her father, to this contract . This woman is the daughter of the ex-President, she is a serving Senator. What are the chances of the Austrians stumbling across her photo in the papers and saying to themselves "mmm Hansel and Gretel, this looks very much like strange lady that signed our contract. Surely can't be two people with a face like that". She claims that it was not a fraudulent act. She is absolutely right. It was a criminal act.

The EFCC is investigating. Ribadu is going on a course. I am going back to my safe enclave where things make sense.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

A Century later....

This is one long post but please bear with me....

This is my hundredth post in bloggerland. I have subconsciously been saving it for today as I am very much into symmetry and I quite liked the thought of a hundredth post on the first day of the new year.

This post is all about reminiscing and gratitude for the long journey that the Almighty Allah has taken me on. Sometimes I say to myself Toks, you have not done badly for a boy from the backstreets of Lagos (or Bode Thomas). So where to start with giving thanks?

  • I have to start with Allah without whom nothing is possible.
  • I then thank my maternal grandparents whom I lived with for some time when I was growing up (this was during the phase when my mum thought I was getting out of hand and needed a change of environment - especially after the firecracker incident).
  • I thank my paternal grandmother who every day and every night would regale me with the family "rap" that served as a constant reminder of who I was\am. Omo olowon la, omo tatan bulu, omo olowon la ton shi lekun fole. This is the only part that I can remember and translates loosely to the son of a rich man, brave and strong, son of a man so rich he opens the door for robbers (of course this was in the day sof the gentlemen robbers!)
  • I thank my parents who have done their best for me through everything. They have never turned their back on me, I have never wanted for nought and I can never repay them a fraction of the blood , sweat and tears that they have shed on my well being and that of my siblings.
  • I thank my friends with whom I grew up on Bode Thomas. I especially remember my friend Igbo leg, so known because no matter where he was positioned during our regular games of football the ball would invariably end up in the bushes. At one point we even recruited younger members of the neighbourhood to keep vigilance in the bushes whenever he played just to ensure a swift return of the ball. That boy was a legend on the street and I wonder where he and so many others are now?
  • I thank Mrs Omolulu and Mrs Branco who nurtured me at Adrao International School.
  • I thank the boys of Igbobi college (UP IC) who were in my set and were my friends - the dearly departed Adefusikas, the Ibrus, the Majekodunmins and all the rest.
  • I thank all the friends that have guided my life through my 13 year sojourn in the US and my 20 year adventure in the Queen's realm (ps I was a just a child when I left Naija oh).
  • I thank Iyawo for bringing a different dimension, colour and perspective to my life. I mean I can now eat, mushrooms, sushi and lasagne without wanting to puke. I can actually visit a museum and get some enjoyment out of it. I can wear my white loafers and she will still stick with me (albeit from a distance).
  • I thank my wonderful kids for their love and understanding during the past hectic and mad two years. I thank them for the trust that they have put in me and only pray that I can give them twice the life that my parents gave me.
  • I thank Jeremy for turning me on to blogging and allowing me to have an outlet for all my musings and madness
  • Finally, I thank you all for sharing the ride (even you Anonymous). Here is to another year and another hundred posts.

To end (I did say that this was going to be long) I leave you with one of my favourite poems ever)- Desiderata. Enjoy. Happy New year.

-- written by Max Ehrmann in the 1920s

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
as far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.