What Should We Be Afraid Of?

October 18, 2014

It was October 1998. Me, my bff and a male friend were walking home from our local joint around midnight. We went there every night after work to drink beer and shoot pool with the boys.

It was a short walk but we had to pass the Nigerian Security Minting and Printing office opposite NTA to get there.  In Abacha’s days they were always guarded by military and police.  Sometimes they would come out on the road and shake down passersby.

In the military days we always got stopped and asked for ID, I never gave anyone mine. I knew my rights, you know what I mean.  and I was loud and vocal in asserting them especially with the boys in uniform. Its a surprise I didn’t get shot. Or maybe it was the fact that I was a woman, and a yellow woman at that. More prudent friends restrained me if we neared a check point.

Anyway this night the boys in khaki stop us and ask for our ID. Our man friend flashes his, I question they’re right to ask for mine. My bff, wise and cautious, stands aside quietly observing. Eventually I win the shouting match and they disdainfully tell me ‘Go abeg, craze woman’.

So I shove off still cussing and still raking. Our male friend had disappeared. As we’re walking away my bff who had been standing near a couple of girls sitting on a rock by the road at the checkpoint tells me the girls told her they had been there for hours. And basically how lucky we were to be on our way. I don’t know what it was but I had this certainty that the khaki scum were planning to rape those girls or at least coerce them into sex as soon as they were alone.   I turned back.

The zombies at the check point were surprised to see me coming back. I walked right up to them and shouted at them that I came back for the two girls.  It all went from bad to worse rather quickly. One of the soldiers cocks his rifle and points it at me. I don’t skip a beat. I turn to my wise bff standing well away and looking rather shell shocked by now.

“Maya, if they shoot me tonight make sure you tell my father exactly what happened.”

Of course they didn’t shoot and my bff and I walked those two girls home. The girls told me the zombies had been trying to coerce them to go into their security hut and have sex.  They thanked us profusely. Couple weeks later we walked into the restaurant where they worked as waitresses. They didn’t let us pay for a thing.

Reckless? Fearless? Brave? I’m none of those. I’m just someone that stands up for myself and for others that need standing up for. I didn’t think of death, I was certain I was going to die. Someday, somehow. I just didn’t want to die like a chicken or like something cowering and afraid in a corner. When death comes I wanted to be ready to stare him in the eye and defy him. Dare him to make me scared. Because somewhere somehow I learnt never show to fear. Never to be afraid.

 

 

1978

Ihioma, Nigeria 1978

 

 

 

A Sterling Goat

September 30, 2014

 

Two British aid executives came to Nigeria for a program launch in Sokoto. They flew first class into Lagos, stayed at the Lagos Sheraton for two nights, entertaining and each of them consumed a bottle of high end cognac each night. After two days they flew business class to Abuja, stayed at the the Abuja Sheraton and then went by road the next day to Sokoto in shiny hired SUV’s. They took four hampers of food from the Abuja Sheraton with them because they had been told the food at the hotel in Sokoto would probably not appeal to them. When they got to Sokoto they went with all pomp and pageantry to deliver – now wait for this – 20 goats to 40 families. Or was it 40 goats to 20 families. I can’t remember which. I heard they paid £5000 for the goats.

 

Diseye Tantua a talented Nigerian artist has made the molue the subject of a series of  delightful 'African pop art' paintings.

Diseye Tantua a talented Nigerian artist has made the molue the subject of a series of delightful ‘African pop art’ paintings.

The Story Behind the Pictures

August 25, 2014

Let me tell the story of these picture.

I wanted a professional studio shot for my LinkedIn profile and other social media. Some thing that didn’t say ‘selfie’ or ‘office Christmas party’.  So while I was in England last year I decided to do just that. I had done a couple in Abuja a few years ago but they didn’t give me digital copies so they kinda got lost. Sad, they were quite nice.

So when I saw a deal on wowcher offering a full makeover studio experience  worth  well over £399 for £9 I rushed it of course.  The hook was perfect. For this price they do your hair and make up give you pretty much all you can drink champagne and take your picture in 5 different outfits (and dozens of poses) and give you one digital print. After the appropriately staid media shot below I got a bit adventurous.

linkedin profile pic

See – THAT’S what two and half hours of hair and makeup look like.

I’ve never spent more than 10 minutes in the morning on hair and makeup. Who had the time? I was a  single working  mother. Now that I have the time I lack the interest. I didn’t recognise myself after two and a half hours of hair and makeup.    It was an amazing experience. I recommend it.

After 3 glasses of champagne and 2 hours with the broodingly handsome Italian photographer called Sergio I had to chose my Top 10 shots out of over 400. As I flipped through the shots I just dey wonder -“Who be dis chick? Na me be dat?” Some of those shots only but ever gonna be seen on my bedroom wall o!

I don’t look like this everyday.  I can’t, I wouldn’t know how to but it was a rich experience and I enjoyed it. And its nice  to know I could look just as hot as Halle Berry and Jada Pinkett  if  I could devote 4-5 hours a day. And I would if I was getting paid  for it.  We women are socialised to feel so insecure about growing up. This shoot was just what my ageing self esteem needed to fight the media images of perfect size 0 women aged 14 – 22.

The only thing that’s changed since the photo shoot is that I wear lipstick now. Well, sometimes. I’m still 10 kg overweight. I’m still a size Large (horror!) and my hair more often looks like a bird nest than anything so sleek and groomed but just for a few hours I was George Eliot’s ‘Lucy Deane’ instead of ‘Maggie Tulliver’.

I’m sure I’ll look at these pictures in 10 and 20 and 30 years time and be just as amazed. And my grandchildren will probably gasp in wonder  and say “Babs! You used to be young!”.

ADR_1463-c copy

Yeah, those ARE fishnets

 

 

My Sister, Africa Man Go Jump You

August 23, 2014

They call me a feminist. Well feminist this…

If you like be a liberated progressive woman secure in your own self worth and so self confident you insist wearing short skirts is a human right. If you wear a short skirt or show cleavage, African man will jump you with the regularity of a rat jumping into cheese. Its how they’re wired.  They react to the sight of a short skirt or some cleavage like bulls react to the capote de brega.  They will charge with all the finesse of a pile driver.

He’s usually unapologetic about it too. He insists you’re dressing to attract and distract him. He argues that its sexual harassment.  “I’m flesh and blood now! What do you expect”. If you point out to them how ridiculous his reaction is considering less than a hundred years ago most of us still ran around naked (and presumably didn’t spend all day aroused) he might laugh and proudly tell you about a grand father or great uncle that had 100 wives. He is usually from Sapele or Lafia.

Do you remember  Zuma’s  defence to the 2009 rape of a younger female colleague?  He said her short skirt was a challenge a zulu warrior  like himself he could not  ignore.  That’s the African man talking right there.  It’s ‘invitation to treat’ or ‘provocation’ depending on who he’s trying to convince he’s innocent.  Every body else is guilty of course.

Because the same African Man doesn’t believe that a man and a woman who are not related can have an intimate relationship devoid of sex. He expects that all intimacy between a man and a woman will lead to sex.   If it doesn’t then someone must be gay. Or retarded. Or lying.  Or just a loser.

So whether you like it or not how you dress is about more than how you feel. I heard about a Nigerian woman that wore short figure hugging outfits to work. I think it made her feel sexy and powerful. She insisted it was her right and she was within organisational dress code regulations. She had filed more sexual harassment complaints than any of her other female colleagues.  Must have been exhausting.

I am not suggesting control of how women dress, or control of how men react to how women dress (no, you cannot have your cake and eat it).  I’m just informing sisters of what happens when you wear a short dress in Africa. If that’s what you intend to happen, that’s cool. If not be ready to fight for your honour and your rights.

 

What I Learnt At Brighton Pride 2014

August 22, 2014

DSC02740

 

I went to watch the Brighton Pride parade on August 2. Coming from Nigeria where homosexuality was recently criminalised and many homosexuals live furtive double lives, I really needed to witness gay people openly and proudly proclaiming their right to breath the same air.

I used to read about Pride events in the Newsweek and Time magazines my father bought every week when I was growing up in Umuaka.   I knew what the Bible said about homosexaulity and I knew what the school said about it but I also knew that discrimination was wrong and the Bible wasn’t always right.

I didn’t know any openly gay person back then but I did know that there was a whole lot of consensual same sex shagging going on among pre-teens and teens especially girls. I went to a convent school. The sisters said ‘kpokokpi’ was a sin. It did’t stop it from happening. I also heard rumours about a lot of non-consensual same sex going on especially at boys schools.

Then AIDS happened. Religious fundamentalists sold it to their followers as special retribution from God against homosexuals and later fornication when infection rates among women soared ahead of rates among gay men.  Many seemingly enlightened men and women expressed un-informed homophobic views so anachronistic I had to check the date and pinch myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming or time travelling.

Then in 2006 I met Oludare Odumuye while working at Ashoka, he was made an Ashoka fellow for his ground breaking work for gay rights in Nigeria.  We talked. We became great friends. I used to challenge him to organise a Pride event in Nigeria.  He always insisted the time wasn’t right.  Or that he couldn’t get the funding.

Have you ever heard of the Stonewall Riots? I never had. According to this first hand account  it was the inspiration for the first gay pride march in New York 1970.  This documentary tells the story.

Gay Nigerians and human rights activists act like the agitation for gay rights ended in the United States (where it started) and is a foregone conclusion every where else. No my gay brothers and sisters you have to fight and hit the street and some of you may even have to die. But hey, you are dying now at the hands of the gay bashers.  Being lynched even. And the mobs being led by the leaders you elected.

What I saw at Brighton Pride was community, business and government coming out to say we accept and respect diversity. It took a whole lot of work to get there.

Brighton 2014

Brighton 2014  – Copyright Lesley Agams

 

 

 

The Lovers

August 22, 2014

They sat on opposite ends of the room, two twisted bodies.  Twisted from many years of  many bad relationships that did not work, twisted into a protective ball, twisted in on themselves.

Guarding their pain, shielding their wounded hearts. Closed to feelings and emotions. Yet she wanted to tell him how much she loved him. Yet he longed to hear her say the words but they were closed and twisted.

She opened herself up hesitantly like a rose blossom opening itself to the sun.  Beyond the beauty and radiance of those soft petals all he saw was the memory of the thorns. And so he twisted himself into a tighter ball and roared like an old lion from his sanctuary for her to stay away, stay away.

The rose trembled in fear and withered before the furnace of his hostility. She retreated into a ball of safety, protecting her belly and her heart. And then she roared – in pain and frustration. And he retreated further into his pretzel.

He was a man. She was a child.

Francis Bacon - Man and Child

Francis Bacon – Man and Child 1963

 

 

An English Summer

July 25, 2014

Last year I observed and marvelled at British sun worship. That particular god must be very happy. I even witnessed one of their pagan solar ceremonies at Stonehenge.  This year I marvel at their complete unpreparedness for extreme hot weather. (Almost as bad as their admitted lack of preparedness for extreme cold weather during the coldest winter in London so far).  But what a human sacrifice – heartsickness, skin ageing and cancer.

No one has air-conditioning.  No one has ice in their freezer.  These English people sef.  They’re idea of cool down is sipping tepid Pimm’s’ in the garden. In the sun. And what is it with the Pimm’s anyway? I mean it tastes fine but whats the story behind it. Ask ‘What would you like to drink?’ and a chorus responds with childish eagerness “Pimm’s!” The solar nectar perhaps?

I saw some fit middle aged white dude looking very orange and sitting in the full sun in the garden of The Bull.  Ditchling. Population 2,400. A house here could easily set you back £1,000,000. The cars parked in front of the The Bull are usually Ferrari’s, Bentleys and Aston Martin’s.  Vintage. They don’t have air-conditioning at home.

Everyone is running around in as little clothing as possible.  It can get quite amusing.  If you glimpse a fully clothed figure closer inspection will reveal a female with brown skin already and obviously not in need of a tan or air on their skin for that matter.  I wrote a really bad poem last year asking if they were ashamed of their skin. I was just wondering. It didn’t win any awards.

In the tropics you avoid going outside or doing much when the sun is at its highest – usually between 11am and 5pm. By 6pm you can be sure the sun is waning and venture outside. No such luck in England. The sun comes out a 4am, its already hot by 8am and it doesn’t begin to wane till 9pm.  Vampires must hate summer.

The natives always plan all sorts of events for the summer. Brighton Pride Parade is in a few days.   There was a Naked Bike Ride last month. And there is a naturist beach nearby. What better way to overcome inhibitions about your body than to hang out with lots of other naked people. I might even finally get that all over even tan I been missing since I moved out of Lagos.  Eleko Beach used to be great for sun bathing.

Another summer observing the natives. Should be fascinating.

Copyright Lesley Agams

Copyright Lesley Agams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entrepreneurship – Sales or Return Agreements

June 30, 2014

2c767f8ba63a866e4d55e59cca764ee3

What are Sales or Return Agreements and when do they become useful for an entrepreneur?

 

In the present economy with limited credit SOR Agreements are a increasingly popular way for new suppliers, distributors and manufacturers to build a distribution network with established retail outlets. Sales or return (also called a consignment agreement) is a commercial arrangement by which a retailer pays only for goods sold, returning this that are unsold to the supplier.  The supplier is the seller and retains ownership of the goods till they are paid for in full and after a certain period takes back unsold goods.

 

While a SOR agreement might seem like a great way to move mechanise it is important to be aware of the risks and mitigate them accordingly. technically the supplier is providing credit for the buyer, at 30, 60, 90 days or more. The number of days that you are willing to provide credit depends on a number of things – the capacity of the retail outlet,  their reputation, the customer traffic and the terms and conditions (T&Cs) you agree with them. Always try to have a written agreement. A lot of trading in Nigeria is on the informal market where written agreements are rare, it is important nevertheless to have a written document or if you are using a verbal agreement clear terms and witnesses.

 

Terms and conditions should include clauses that cover what happens in the event of loss from theft, fire or bankruptcy.  Legally the retailer does not own the goods and they remain the responsibility of the supplier. Because the retailer does not own the goods and can return all unsold stock there is no great incentive to market your product. Try and negotiate display terms and if you will do any in store marketing (e.g. display cards, posters, stand etc) discuss with the retailer before hand and be sure they agree for you to bring in and display your marketing materials.

 

Also every important to get the retailer to agree to pay for any damaged goods. This is frequently neglected and goods are returned damaged or shabby and the supplier is unable to sell them elsewhere as new. One way to mitigate this risk is to deliver a limited quantity of goods for a shorter period of time and to visit the retail outlet frequently to assess the status.  You can read more about how to mitigate the risks of SOR agreements here.

 

 

Hell Is Being Stuck in A Nation Of Passive – Aggressive Malcontents

June 28, 2014

I’m tired of Nigerians that have nothing better to do than bellyache about everything. Criticism has become a national past time. We are a nation of dour faced malcontents.

 

“Nigerian ehn? See dem! How stupid is dat? Who gave dem driving licence sef? This country ehn?” says my very Nigerian friend disdainfully.

 

“Are we not Nigerians too?”

 

“I’m talking about the unwashed, ignorant, superstitious masses. You know, everybody else.”

 

‘Are we different from the them?’

 

“Why are you talking like dat? You’re a lawyer, you’re exposed, travelled, you see how its done in other countries.”

 

“So does that mean we are not Nigerians anymore?”

 

“Me, I’m an Afropolitan sha.”

 

“Ok. But no one taught them the the highway code. Their idea of driving is ‘move the car, keep moving’. Some dude was asked what he thought the broken white lines in the middle of the road meant. He said he thought the painters had run out of paint.”

 

“See. Its the governments fault. Nigerian leaders, ehn? They are so busy enriching themselves they don’t care what happens to the rest of us….”

 

He became one of the masses all of a sudden.

 

I tune out. This is getting tedious. Everywhere I go sooner or later the conversation veers towards all the things wrong with Nigeria and Nigerians.

 

“Nigerians are like this…Nigerians are like that….”

 

Try to start a business in Nigeria

 

“It won’t work here, you know we are different…”

 

Yeah we know you are different. We’re actually asking you to change you know.

 

When I’m driving in Nigeria – I just accept the fact that 99% of the other drivers probably never took a driving test or read a high way code and are prone to road rage. I put on my music and my sunglasses, say a prayer and drive carefully. I’m not about to spoil my day bitching about it and getting sick.

 

What would I rather talk about?

 

I’m obsessed with mechanising mass production of garri. Now that would be a revolution.  EVERYBODY in Nigeria eats garri. I’m obsessed with finding efficient distribution channels and harnessing informal markets. I’m obsessed with the human stories of Nigeria. I’m obsessed with justice.

 

Beyond a necessary analysis of the dynamics of a problem I don’t want to obsess on it. I want to obsess about solutions, case studies, best practices.  I want to talk more about the triumphs of Nigeria’s humanity less about its fuck ups. I’m imperfect too.

 

But scandal sells. Outrage reinforces the feeling of superiority.

 

“This is my opinion, the one I think everyone should have.” he tweets.

 

“Can you imagine! A man runs away from the scene of an explosion wearing a back pack and police shoot him because he ignored their shouts to stop. How stupid is that! How do they know he’s a terrorist? He could just be in shock.” She quips.

 

“Nice shot Nigerian police man!”  I think.

 

We’re all experts. We’re Nigeria.

 

Follow the Yellow Brick Road Photo Lesley Agams

Follow the Yellow Brick Road Photo Lesley Agams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fall of Bagdad!

June 18, 2014

I don’t need a movie! Its even got its own soundtrack on CNN.

The Arab Spring has been very frosty.

As I watch the news I can’t help wonder if this will be Nigeria soon. The parallels are striking.

I wonder if its good or bad. What does it say about a ‘nation’ when it must use force to hold itself together?

There will be death, pain and wailing in the land. As mothers cry. As wives cry. As children cry.

Are you ready for the tsunami? Are you afraid? Or ‘alarmed?

Are you perspiring? or sweating?

What will be will be. Brace yourself. Here it comes.

I feel the reverberations  under my feet

Is your house built on a rock or on sand? Where will you find yourself tomorrow when the sun comes up?

Buckle up, buckle up … the time has come for which you were born.

Bear witness

 

 

 

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,696 other followers