Travel in Africa – From The Archives

NOTES FROM GHANA – June 10, 2008

Having had a day to decompress and a day to catch up on dull routine office matters I can sit back and reflect on the past few days. Ahhhh…what a life! What a rat race. Rushing from pillar to post as my old folks back home would say.

First of all I am moving to Ghana as soon as possible. They took the pill, and now it all seems possible in Ghana in a way it does not in Nigeria. There is a confidence in the air; the desperation of Naija, that hard hungry prowling menacing edge, is absent.

I never could define it before.

There are about 23 million people in Ghana, we last elected a fellow there in 1995, that was 13 years ago, by Ashoka’s formula there should be about 20-26 social entrepreneurs at different stages of their life cycles just waiting for me to find them.

When I got to Ashoka fellow L’s house on my first day the power was out in her neighborhood. She kept on apologizing and saying ‘This sort of thing does not happen here; they tell us if there is going to be an outage’. Turns out there was a breakdown. No body in the neigborhood had a generator. They quickly ran out of candles at the local stores.

There was no lock on my bedroom door, not even a door handle actually. Now that was freaky. I know I sometimes I forget to lock my door at night but to not even be able to close it! And the gates didn’t have padlocks and the door opened to the outside. Eventually I shrugged and went to bed, this is Ghana I guess. Since I’m writing this now I didn’t get attacked by robbers or pyschos.

On the drive to Lucia’s office in the morninng I couldn’t help but notice Guaranty Trust Bank ‘s billboards everywhere, they were the largest on the streets, offering 4 types of VISA credit cards. I bank with them in Naija. I’m still trying to activate my MASTERCARD debit card almost 6 months later.

They even offered a students credit card. I remember some customer service clones at my Naija branch takling down to a teenage student that came to open an account. They were totally unhelpful, I think they sent her away. I remember telling Maya about it.

I find it a bit disturbing to see 21st century Nigerian bank workers, they tend to look like a witches at a murder inc convention or vultures at a feast maybe. Their painted on faces and their conservative uniforms inspire pity not confidence. At least when I worked ever so briefly for a bank we still expressed some individuality of personality and style.

I had scheduled 4 two hour interviews; one called to reschedule for Saturday morning. The first 2 went great then my hostess took me home and over fed me. Yes that’s right she held a gun to my head and made me clean my plate. Thankfully I had an extra 2 hours before my next interview. I took a power nap in her very comfortable armchair.

Site visit on Saturday took me into the market, where ‘the people’ are. The crowds were overwhelming but valiantly I waded through the press of humanity to get to the drug store where I would be shown this great new idea in action. People kept on dumping into me or me into them, I slung my laptop bag in front of me and marveled that no where else in Africa have I felt so comfortable lugging around a laptop.

I didn’t read a local newspaper till the last day, I’m not sure why, Lucia had them delivered at breakfast every morning but on Sunday after a long brisk walk and a cold shower I took one to read. The Daily Mirror had frontline stories of female gospel singers and their marriage troubles.

I was astounded reading the stories, they were woman friendly! They did not condemn these women for not enduring abuse and unhappiness! They did not say or imply that these were selfish women undeserving of heaven and the fruits of wedded bliss that endureth. A father was actually quoted as saying he was happy his daughters marriage was over.

I brought the paper back as a souvenir even though I used it to wrap the ‘black pepper’ sauce that Lucia had made for me. (Delicious!) Framing it might be extreme; one of our candidates this year that is creating exclusive communication platfroms for women to discuss politics and current affairs from their prespective starting in Ghana.

I remember my total frustration when I lived in south east Nigeria and wrote for a local newspaper. I wanted to write articles to inspire and sensitize women. The publisher/editor wanted me to cover the worst and best dressed at social events. I had one regular reader that I know of (she told me she looked forward to my column). She was a professor at the local university.

Another candidate (this time a Nigerian) is using humor in popular lingo, slang and even pidgin English to inform the people about thier legal rights. A lot of them don’t know that …your landlord can’t kick you out on the street without due process or that you can’t be arrested or searched without a warrant or that they can’t sack you becuase you are HIV positive.

Perhaps these candidates can collaborate. Perhaps I can inspire and sensitize in a style accessible to the many. Perhaps we can all acknowldege in deed and word that the majority in the developing world do not hold college or university degrees without treating them like simpletons. Perhaps we can change the world. As a matter of fact, YES WE CAN!

Accra, Ghana (Photographer: Unknown)

What I Learnt At Brighton Pride 2014



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




An English Summer

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















Look Back the Way Which You Have Come


With my niece in Moscow Sept 2013
Selfie with my niece in Moscow Sept 2013

I’m still in a nostalgic and reflective mood. I think about the future I want. I think about going back to Nigeria. I think about my year abroad. I go through the souvenirs I squirrelled away this past year. Leaves from Moscow painstakingly dried in between the pages of my aunt’s big fat encyclopaedia. Match books and match boxes from hotels and restaurant in Moscow and St. Pete’s. Post cards from touristy land marks littered across the Sussex country side.


A pebble from Salisbury cathedral, a stone from one-thousand year old St. Martins in Westmeston, paper book marks from libraries and summer book fairs, my mother’s old frying pan, set of lead crystal goblets purchased at a farmers market in Ditchling. Coasters from quaint English pubs with names like The Bull, The White Horse and The Lone Hare & Rabbit. Pine cones. Old pictures to fill the gaps in my family album. Lots of new pictures. I feel very rich indeed.


I go through the memories and the experiences and I feel even richer.


How I walked the wind-blown South Downs and enjoyed the freedom of living without bars on the windows and doors. Cooking with new vegetables whose names I never heard of before – like kolhrabi, salsify and who knew there is such a thing as blue potatoes? I ate a lot of lamb, and salmon and scones filled with strawberry jam and cream. I ate a lot of cheesecake, and black bread, and KFC chicken. I ate lots and lots of blueberries, and I drank lots and lots of ale and Cherry Coke. And I gained 10 kilograms!


I went to Stonehenge for the summer solstice and danced all night on the sacred stone till the sun came up with my epiphany. I met some really cool people there. I visited broken down castles and forts in Sussex and heard echoes of lives past. I sang Christmas carols with the natives (I mean locals) at the village pub, volunteered to help the homeless. I enjoyed going out and blending in instead of sticking out like a sore thumb on a white man.


In Moscow I plugged into my matrix and visited my mother’s grave so many times she asked me to stay with the living for a while. But I went and visited Peter the Greats palace on the Ural seas, hung out for a bit in his back yard and had lunch with the ghosts that prowl Petergof instead.  My horoscope says I should live in the city of my birth for good health, long life and vitality. I will think about it.


I’ve also completed the first draft of the historical family saga I am writing. I visited lots of libraries, read lots of books about 19th century Igbo land. I even read an original 1829 account of an expedition to the Niger. I copied strange old school English names off tomb stones in ancient church cemeteries to populate my story with authenticity.


Not bad.

Selfie -January 5, 2014 

Encounters Between Cultures – Oyibo in Africa VI

The other side of cooking for a multitude was eating like a multitude. An African feast is the closest thing to an all-you-can-eat buffet that you can find in rural Africa. Each person that came for a feast was just another mouth and stomach. The idea was to eat so much collectively that afterwards you and your kin could brag that the hosts were open handed and cooked so much that you and the rest of the guests couldn’t finish the food or to yap that they were stingy and did not cook enough. Everyone expected to take a doggy bag home, women came with big bags. Mine was the biggest, I actually had dogs, and most of the time the food was only fit for dogs anyway, delicately flavored with eau de perspiration.

Sharing the food to the collective generated a lot of commotion, the eldest got food before the youngest and if you let someone younger than you take food or drink before you, you would quickly lose respect so you had to make a big fuss if such a gross breach of protocol occurred. The age of co-wives was determined by date of marriage not date of birth.  Sometimes I gave my share to one of my co-wives, one in particular who was big, bad and mean. This ensured her allegiance and if anyone attacked me in the village (including the Three Witches) she would immediately leap to defend my skinny ass for which I am eternally grateful. My evolutionary reaction is flight not fight, I’m complete chicken shit when it comes to getting violently physical.

The size of the food box used to bring food to your group and the amount of drinks you got is a measure of your status and respect so if someone thought that what they received as a group was not commensurate to their status there were very vocal complaints, threats and no consumption until more was provided. If no more was forth coming the group would quietly eat what they got and then yap the hosts for the next year or so at every given opportunity. “Humph, there’s Beatrice trying to look important. Don’t mind her, do you know that when we went for her daughter’s wedding last year she couldn’t even feed us.”

My efforts at staying slim were mostly scorned. I used to get seriously berated for not eating enough! “Eat more girl you have to help us finish all the food.” Fat was good because it meant your husband provided well. Such logic survived the fact that one of the fattest wives in my kin group was married to one of my poorest ‘husbands’. They had six or seven children, I stopped counting. My attempts to talk to them about the virtues of contraception were dismissed with a casual “That is oyibo thing”. Children are an investment; you can never tell what they will be tomorrow. Nowadays they spend most their time moaning about how nobody wants to help send their children to school.

Feasting in Igbo Nigeria Copyright Lesley Agams
Feasting in Igbo Nigeria Copyright Lesley Agams

Encounters Between Cultures – Oyibo in Africa V

Another unique aspect of food culture in Igbo-Nigeria are the attitudes and conventions around large scale feasts. There are only feasts in Igbo-Nigeria, nothing like inviting ten for dinner that is an oyibo thing practiced only by the elite as part of their elitism. In the village a normal meal is usually for ten or even twenty depending on the size of your household.  The Igbo-Nigerian believes that anything worth celebrating deserves a feast and whether you invite them or not the whole village will come so plan to cook for several hundreds. A catering nightmare you might think, well the Igbo-Nigerian solved the problem long ago; communal gang labor.

I never quite understood all those people in Africa and in the West that romanticize communal life. It’s not as much fun as it sounds unless you are a child. Among other things it means that you have to get up at the crack of dawn, when you might just rather be sleeping, every time there is an event in your lineage that requires large scale cooking.  All married women of the lineage are required to attend. Mind you never the daughters of the lineage, they sit around on their fat asses waiting for you to finish cooking and serve them the best parts of the meat.

You might think this is good community relations and they’ll help you when you need to feed a multitude. You’re wrong, the amount of acrimony and conflict these cookouts generate is not worth whatever advantage the sociologists think come from communal living (not to mention the amount of sweat that streams straight into the food). As a matter of fact these enforced mass cookouts are a strain on human relations, a definite diplomatic failure. The same people in the village presently hyping the virtues of the traditional communal lifestyle hire caterers to cook their feasts as soon as they have enough money to behave like a ‘Big Man’.

I avoided being conscripted into these forced labor cookouts as tactfully as possible and  if I did go I behaved like I was completely incompetent, the oyibo that couldn’t peel an onion. It always worked. Before long some sucker would invariably come along, shoo me away and take over the chore assigned to me.  After a while sitting around doing nothing I’d be told I could go home. Did I mind? Of course not! I did not find it necessary to socialize with vulgar village women. Associating with them was an ordeal. They did not shave, they did not use deodorant or perfume, I was not always certain that they used soap.

And what could I possibly discuss with them? The arrival of the newest variety of disease resistant cassava cuttings? The proper way to balance ten pounds on my head on a 10 kilometer journey? How to make the Husband happy or how to wean a baby? How could an unwashed, smelly, hairy, illiterate village woman possibly give me advice about my husband or my baby? I was completely superficial. However my co-wives (because that is what they were called) enjoyed doing my chores because I would give whoever did my chores my small portion of the bar soap, snuff, white powder or meat we invariably shared after wards.

Abacha Ncha from
Abacha Ncha usually served at all Igbo-Nigerian feasts (from

Encounters Between Cultures – Oyibo in Africa IV

If you live with your husband’s relatives in the family compound in the village they’ll try to take the best parts of the meat in whatever you are cooking. Should you attempt to stop them they will retort saying their ‘brother’ owns you, the pot and the soup. In order to preserve the integrity of your soup pot you must be able to fight with them and win. To avoid the indignity of getting your ass whipped or if you are not ready to engage in daily war fare, physical or verbal,  you either resign yourself to cooking for twenty or cook so badly no one wants to eat your food. Do not bother to complain to your husband, he is helpless to do anything other than make ineffectual noises. Matter of fact most Igbo-Nigerian men secretly desire strong wives to battle their relatives and keep them out of the soup pot.

Moving far away from the in-laws to town will not solve the problem.  They will come looking for your trouble. Under Igbo-Nigerian tribal laws not cooking for any one of your ‘husbands’ if they took it upon themselves to visit you is enough grounds for divorce. It is very important to know which of the myriad of relatives merited your retiring immediately to the kitchen to slaughter the fattest chicken you owned (if you owned such a thing) and prepare pounded yam and soup from scratch and those that could be served yesterday’s leftovers. Such knowledge could be the difference between ‘I am married’ and ‘I was married’. Village meetings have been summoned as a consequence.

“Okoro can you imagine! I went to my grandfathers’ brothers’ cousins sons house uninvited in the middle of the week and his wife who was leaving for work refused to make pounded yam and oha soup from scratch for me saying she was late for work. She sent her house girl to give me 2 slices of bread and an egg with tea. Please we must call a village meeting immediately and send her back to her father. What kind of wife is that!”

Being extremely lazy and self centered when most of my in-laws come I rarely remember to ask them about their families and events in the village much less if they are hungry. This is the height of bad manners. But then I really don’t care if they think I’m bad mannered. I moved out of the village to get away from them. Coming to my house uninvited with enough luggage for a month is bad manners where I come from and since I’m not complaining neither should they. Asking them to go is out of the question though, even your husband will draw the line there, they could ostracize him for that. The thought is tempting.

However, there are a few of the in laws  who are very dear to me (did I mention there are hundreds of in laws and husbands?). When they arrive I immediately order pizza and beer, they enjoy the oyibo food and treatment and quickly return to te village to share the news with the others.

‘Our wife Chinwe doesn’t joke with me o. As soon as I arrive she gives me beer and she only gives me oyibo food.l She knows I don’t have time for your local food when I visit her.’

Oha Soup from
Oha Soup and pounded yam from