The Gospel According To Lesley: Talking About Beauty II

Last month I wrote about some of the stuff I’ve done over the years in the name of ‘beauty’ and promised to fill you in after I think about it some more.

For many many years I tried to prove that I was just as hardy as the Natives. Because the natives always told me I was soft because I was half white. They said we are not strong like them. So I used to run around under the sun at noon and otherwise look very hardy during the hottest time of the day and all day till the sun went down. We got up and went to bed with the sun.

Sun Hustle by David Osagie, Digital Artist

They were right. I was wrong. I am not as hardy as the natives. All that running around in the sun just over heated me and made me sick. So nowadays I follow oyibo advice – I stay out of the sun. My friends tease me because I use these uber cute and kitschy sun umbrellas and hats if I’m even 2 minutes in the sun.

I avoid  being outside between 10am and 5pm. If I could get away with it I would only come out between 7pm and 7am but they might call me a vampire. The natives are very superstitious. They go to bed early. There will be no one to do business with at that time of the night anyway. The ones that stay awake may not make good business partners.

Nigeria proves the stereotype that only bad  things happen at night.

I used to eat a lot of garlic. I still eat garlic but not so much. My ayurveda diagnosis does not recommend it. I eat just enough to prove I am not a vampire and to keep real vampires at bay. Beware the ones that go “Hmm. You eat garlic.”  Like its an accusation of witch craft.

The most common age related damage I seen on Nigerian women is sun damage.  Even in the ones that are not so yellow.  We live almost at the equator, with only gods knows what type of environmental ozone and atmospheric damage making us super vulnerable to the worst of the sun’s radiation.

SPF just doesn’t cut it for me. It also made me sweat too profusely so I dont use it. I just don’t go out during the hottest part of the day. Oyibo is deceiving you to buy sunscreen. The smart oyibo’s are the ones in Spain and Greece. The ones that close all business and take siesta during the hottest part of the day. Americans like to  suffer. Always busy. You understand why Nigerians of the Igbo extraction like them so well? By the way you can read a short history of the tan here.

I don’t want or need a tan. Nor do I need to worship the sun. I’m pretty sure it will rise tomorrow, that I’ll have roughly the same number of hours of sunshine and that I will get some living in Abuja. Imagine what it must be like where they have 24 hours of night or 24 hours of day for a season?

Dark Side by David Osagie, Digital Artist

The changing lengths of  the days in London, Moscow and St. Pete’s freaked me out good enough. After four months of cold short days cooped up indoors I almost rushed out to worship the sun too.

Around here we tend to worship the rain storms, thunder, lightning, the earth that yields food, water, rivers, oceans, creeks and springs. My skin loves the rainy season when the air is heavy with moisture. In Nigeria we have real rain storms. The rain in England is civilised. You can walk for hours and not get wet. In Naija you are soaked within seconds by just one gust.

Avoid the heat too. In the absence of air-conditioning in the village I found that generous applications of nzu, a chalk like mud from the river beds, when left to dry on the skin, would cool the body and leave the skin wonderfully moisturised. I would lounge on a mat under the mango tree in white chalk and a wrapper reading or listening to music on the radio. Of course the natives thought I was crazy. What do they know. Suffer head people. Running around in the sun. Perspiring. Smelling funky.

Avoid the sun joor. Apu na anwu.

Chao bella




Now That You Are Finally The Oga Madam At the Top

A few years ago you finally realized you weren’t cut out to be an entrepreneur after your umpteenth venture crashed and you went bankrupt again.  So you dusted off your certificates, updated your CV with exaggerated achievements and applied for a real job like your mama and everybody else had been telling you to do since you graduated. After all middle age was approaching and you still didn’t have a house, a retirement fund or health insurance

After a few months and numerous soul crushing rejections by people that failed to see your brilliant genius you eventually landed a lower level job than you felt you deserved in an industry whose philosophy you don’t even respect but hey, it was a paying job. You couldn’t continue living on the dwindling good will of family and friends anymore.

You doggedly endured the soul numbing life of a worker bee, you never called in sick, you came to work on time, worked late, answered all your emails, attended boring departmental  meetings, sucked up to the boss and generally kept your nose clean. Once in a while you even managed to impress the boss and the board. Finally five years later, just when you were giving up your hard work is rewarded and you are promoted to a senior management position and become an oga madam at the top.

Google Images
Google Images

Well done.  You’ve been validated, your knowledge, your genius, your skill has been noticed and you are finally given the position you deserved in the first place. You can now boast to family and friends about your responsibilities and preen in the trust that has been placed in you. All those nay sayers that called you a good for nothing ditherer when you were being an artist will have to swallow their words and respect you. After all this is a credible organization you work for not some hick town one man show.

Well now that you are an oga madam at the top and no longer a lowly worker bee, I’m here to tell you how to live the rest of your life because I just love to give unsolicited advice. You see you cannot continue to live like you did before , when you came home after everyone has had their dinner and ate your reheated portion hunched over your laptop dealing with late emails and ignoring your SO who was trying to tell you about his day.

Google Images
Google Images

You can relax now and ask your new PA to deal with the emails and have a proper conversation with the people at home like you used once upon a time when you first met. You can wake up at 5am in the morning as usual and make guilt free love to your SO and discuss the kids, the mortgage, your plans for the day or whatever it is you want to discuss after sex early in the morning instead of jumping out of bed and heading for the laptop to check what email came in overnight.

There is no competition in the office to see who does more work after office hours. You don’t get paid over time and you work for an organization that can’t fire you anyway without a lengthy and complicated due process so unless you have fucked up pretty badly they won’t. Relax and enjoy your new position, enjoy your renewed love life and the loving companionship you have denied yourself all these years.

Picture: Forbes Magazine
Picture: Forbes Magazine

You can go to the office late once in a while, you can even skip that boring meeting, you now have a pool of eager young things at your beck and call waiting to climb the corporate ladder just like you did that you can delegate to attend and speak on your behalf.  They may not get it right every time but they need to learn and you need to learn to delegate. That’s what leaders do you know. You can finally close early and go for a candle lit dinner with your SO or take him for a long leisurely lunch  and now you can afford to.

Just think of all the other good things that you can afford now that you have become oga madam at the top with the new salary that goes with it. You can afford to go on a cruise for two or a vacation to the Bahamas or to buy a two-seater sports convertible.   I guess you could also decide to move into a bigger flat or get a bigger mortgage or you could decide to send junior to that new expensive British curriculum boarding school.  But hey, what’s the fun in that?

Your little flat is comfy, easy to care for, and in a great location and junior is already in a an expensive day school, and these things already swallowed your little salary before anyway leaving you with little for leisure, romance, hobbies or R&R.  Now you have become oga madam at the top thank your personal ‘chi’ and the Universe and enjoy it. It was not given to you only to take on more responsibilities than you had before. It was given to you so you could enjoy more life too.

Google Images
Google Images

Don’t deceive yourself that you will enjoy the world and all the things you missing out on right now when you are retired. You will be living on a pension, you will be old and tired and you may not have the energy mental or physical to start a new business or hustle for extra income. Hustle and start- ups are for the young and able.  And don’t deceive yourself into thinking that the children need an expensive education to succeed or that they will be grateful.  Children nowadays are very unreliable.

If your reason for the continuing the grind at the office to the exclusion of a life is anxiety that your enemies are waiting for you to slip up then the appropriate place to put your energy is prayer and fasting or frequent visits to the babalawo, depending on your beliefs. No matter how good you are if your enemies want to get you they will, your hard work will not save you. Even Forbes magazine says so. And if the boss doesn’t like you, you will never get ahead, as any woman who has been a victim of sexual harassment can tell you.

Photo: Forbes
Photo: Forbes

It won’t matter that you are the only one that submits projects on time,  that you always exceed your targets, that you regularly save the office money by exposing fraud, double invoicing and inflated contracts, that you come in early and are the last one to leave at the end of the day.  If you got enemies and the boss is one of them you will be tolerated only for a season before the hammer comes down on you at the first opportunity and you will loss the job and any chances for a good reference.

You got this job because you worked hard and paid your dues already.  Relax, expand your life with a healthy work life balance and be a good management role model. Make the trip to the top seem worth it to the rest of slogging womanhood.

Encounters Between Cultures – Why Nigerians Should Visit Russia More Often

Moscow will appeal to Nigerians that are used to chaos and freedom, and who are mostly confused and uncomfortable in over regulated England.  Nigeria is one of the freest countries in the world you see, it’s a the laissez faire anarchists wet dream. This may not be a popular opinion especially among Nigeria’s twitterazi that want to see stronger government regulation of everything including the dog but once you can accept corruption and insecurity as the high price of freedom you will learn to appreciate it.

Russia may not be a bastion of freedom but it certainly feels less regulated than England. There’s litter and broken glass on the streets. Cleaners come out once a day (except in Kremlin Square). In England the cleaners are out round the clock and they pick up your litter before it hits the ground. You must try not to feel irritated with the cleaners hovering at your elbow at every turn, giving you dirty looks as if daring you to throw that candy wrapper on the ground.  That’s their job description. They don’t just sit around and empty the trash cans; they are really the litter police.

Lenin and Putin hanging out in the Red Square
Lenin and Putin hanging out in the Red Square Photo: Lesley Agams

On street corners in Moscow they keep it simple. They just have traffic lights that say stop or go for cars and people and tell you how many seconds you have to stop or to go for. In England you can spend up to 15 minutes reading all the signs on every street corner and you’ll still not be sure if it’s okay to move, in which direction and for how many yards before you have to stop and wait for the next set of instructions. The English can’t seem to do anything without very specific and detailed instructions.

It’s worse if you are driving. There are double yellow lines, single yellow lines, jagged white lines, straight white lines and double white lines and notices that tell you what time you can park, on which day, how fast you can go, where you can go and the fines for not following the rules.  You have to go to a special school to qualify for a driving license; it’s not just about moving a car and the written driving tests are tougher than Bar exams. In Moscow your Nigerian driving skills will be more than sufficient and there are only the normal lines you know on the roads.

If you do pass the test and are granted an English driving license you will actually have to obey the traffic rules. There are traffic cameras that record everything and six months after you’ve committed an offence and long after you’ve forgotten the details you will receive an official ticket with Her Majesty’s seal on it for a £100 fine and a £50 penalty because it arrived while you were on vacation and you missed the first payment deadline. If you chose to ignore this like you would in Nigeria Her majesty’s servants will suspend your license.

Moscow's amazing metro architecture will make your commute more enjoyable. Photo: Lesley Agams
Moscow’s amazing metro architecture will make your commute more enjoyable. the London Underground is like a dungeon in comparison Photo: Lesley Agams

In England every bicyclist and skater wears a helmet, a reflective vest, knee pads and elbow protectors.  It’s totally uncool.  Anybody who is cool would rather have their brains splattered all over the side walk in a bright red mess than wear so much safety gear.  You can be cool in Moscow. Bicyclists, roller bladers and skate boarders young and old, whiz around at high speed with no helmets or vests or pads. Besides as a Nigerian you know it’s all in God’s hands anyway, unless you didn’t say your prayers this morning you have nothing to worry about.

This English paranoia can be quite infectious. After watching a dozen public safety announcements on road safety the image of a car or train appearing out of nowhere and squashing  you will be seared into your brain and pop up every time you want to cross the street or a railway. You may find yourself obsessively looking left and right two dozen times before scurrying across even on a narrow empty country lane. In Moscow the streets are as wide as the River Niger and the drivers are as fiendish as Abuja drivers, if you have just come from England it will take you a while before you can cross with the same nonchalance as the Muscovites or the death defying confidence of an Abujan.

Photo: Moscow In Your Pocket

In England there are CCTV cameras everywhere; streets, train and bus stations, shops, offices.  Stand in a door way and you’ll likely see a sign saying ‘Smile you’re on CCTV’, look up and there, the ubiquitous camera. You may feel you are on some sort of Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ reality show,  and feel compelled to look your best every time you leave your house unless your house is also monitored  by CCTV or online ‘nanny cams’ as they are called in which case its best foot forward all the time. This does not stop crime but if you are mugged and killed you can die with the assurance that the criminal will be caught. In Moscow I’m told, like in Abuja, most CCTV cameras don’t work.

Meanwhile most of the Russian police are completely bribe-able just like the police in Nigeria. This makes a possible encounter with them seem less of a game changing event.  As a visitor in England you may be super self-conscious of doing anything that may lead to an encounter with the police for fear of deportation or at the very least a mention in the cross departmental database that will make immigrations services deny you re-entry on your next visit. No such fears in Moscow just have a fistful of dollars ready or some serious mafia connections and you will be fine.

There are security bars on all downstairs windows in Moscow unlike England where they don’t even have netting to keep out the summer insects. This will give you the necessary peace of mind to fall asleep with the windows open at night, a necessity since most homes do not have air-conditioning and get quite stuffy on hot summer nights.  After years of living behind bars and nets and air-conditioned isolation in Nigeria, in England you may be unable to fall  asleep because you are freaking out that something is about to crawl in through the window, be it man or beast.

Stalin is very very bored with Lenin
Stalin is very very bored with Lenin Photo: Lesley Agams

The Russians are loud, not as loud as the Nigerians (no one is as loud as Nigerians) but certainly louder than the English. In England you will be shushed on the street coming home from the pub at 11pm, if you turn up the volume of your car stereo too high you  will get dirty looks from the natives and you will only hear the sweet roar of souped up car engines on a race track. In Moscow at 2am you will hear drunks shouting, music blaring, drag racing, fire crackers and even a gunshot or two through the open window of your 14th floor apartment, perfect white noise for a good nights slumber.  If you forgot to your recording of night church vigils and early morning call to prayers in Nigeria, record Moscow night sounds when you’re going back to England.

You will also find that cigarettes and alcohol are as cheap in Moscow as they are back home in Nigeria. You can buy a whole roll of Marlboros for less than the price of a pack in England and a long night at the pub will not squelch one week’s budget. The fact that you maybe in England (or Moscow) does not mean that your financial circumstances have improved even though all your friends in Nigeria may think otherwise, so  you will still need cheap tobacco and cheap alcohol to lighten the drudgery of your daily hustle.

It may not be home but you sure will feel more at home than in England. Enjoy.

What (Not) to Do When Your Business Start Up Falters & You’re On the Verge of Bankrupcy

So you decided to brave the waters of entrepreneurship. It all happened before you were quite ready to take the leap but sometimes a push or a shove is just what you need anyway. Times are never ideal. Maybe you were just being opportunistic. Doesn’t matter. You started a small business instead of re-entering the job market. You can taste, smell, see and feel that this is a million dollar idea/innovation/model.

Your savings will almost never be enough no matter how tight you planned it, how frugal you are or how creative you get. There’s economic inflation, stagnation, recession and depression going on in Nigeria. And the unexpected will surely happen, the one thing you didn’t foresee. Like a death or prolonged illness. You will pay cash. Do not feel complacent because you have a few thousand quid in your account.

While you’re building your client/customer base remember you will have a high default rate especially if your in a service industry (like law). Don’t depend on the account books that say you’ve got NGN1 million in receivables for the month. Customers and clients will not pay for a variety of reasons.

Even tough you’re still building your professional brand and reputation resist the urge to under value yourself. Set your price and stick to it or offer standard discounts. Identify your target market. I will be tough breaking into it. Have a strategy. Your strategy will fail Re tool it often.

Do not panic when the digits in your bank balance start to shrink and your statement turns red. Do not panic when your landlord serves you quit notice and you’re about to become homeless. Do not panic when they throw your lovingly acquired art deco belongings into the street. Do not panic when they ring the auction bell and you lose the family heirlooms. Do not panic when they repossess your car.

Don’t ask your family or friends for money. They’ll resent not being able to help. You’ve put them on the spot. Exposed their own weaknesses. They’ll retaliate by lecturing you on your chosen lifestyle which their risk averse nature envied but could not emulate. There’ll be lots of I told you so’s. They’ll insist on a post mortem. You don’t need that. Its not a funeral.

Don’t dump on family and friends for the same reason. They got their own shit going on even if they’ve been pretending its all honky dorey. They don’t want to hear you whine about yours. Forget what the Bible says no one wants Misery for company. We all want Joy. All the time. And your Misery does not need company either. That would be Misery squared. Kill yourself already!

Buckle up and face the music. You made the choices. Face the consequences like a Man. With courage. With determination. With steely resolve. With a stiff upper lip. You will power through this challenge like all the others. There’s no other choice. Is there? Focus on the course until successful. You’ll be reaping the rewards soon enough. Focus on that.

I read stories of successful entrepreneurs. They all speak of the early challenges building their business. The reduced income. The relinquishing of their financial privileges. Losing homes, country club membership, cars and material possessions while they pursue the Dream. Some lost families. I know every entrepreneur that went through it didn’t succeed but all the successful ones went through it.

Some of course were privileged to have a safety net. A trust fund, a rich family or husband or boyfriend or sugar daddy or big TV network that paid their bills while they struggled. Others had a cheer leader at least. Someone who believed in them and egged them on. A mother, a wife, a girlfriend, a mistress.

Yeah. I did that deliberately. We expect men to pay the bills and women to be cheerleaders. Right? Even I’m caught in the tired cliche. Where are the male cheerleaders? And the women that pay the bills? (They all seem to be gay! Or not quite straight. Talk about gender bending.)

Don’t lose focus of your objective. The storms of life may happen all around you but you must keep your eye on the prize and keep on walking towards it. Think of it as a quest. An adventure. You’re the hero (read heroine as a appropriate). You must slay the dragon. Overcome you fears. Because maybe that’s all it is really. A fear of failing. Or maybe a fear of flying.

While the hurricane rages enter the eye of the storm and ignore it. You must be single minded in pursuing your purpose. Don’t let anything distract you. Avoid all people that only have advice on how you should live your life. You only need people that can offer advice and encouragement on how to build your business right now. The others just mess with your mind. Don’t get sucked into a pity party.

Ignore the well meaning but mean minded third cousin that tells you its time to move back to the ghetto. No good will come of it. Downsizing maybe on the cards but don’t downgrade. Big difference. If you downgrade you’ll feel so sorry for yourself you’ll be paralysed or suicidal or even homicidal. Remember this is Naija. Even the ghetto here is more ghetto. It aint nothing like Soweto.

Do not move in with family or friends under any circumstances. Go stay in a hotel if you have to. If you can’t afford a room park in their lot. Sleep in the car. Use the gym or pool in the morning then groom and shower there. Squatting with family or friends is a sure fire way of discovering that even family or friends are only so friendly and accommodating. Guests like fish start to smell after 3 days.

Do not desperately hound the few paying clients you do have. We all have the capacity to sniff out desperation and we are all wired to either take advantage of it or to secretly gloat at others misfortune. Don’t make the mistake of telling anyone your hard luck story. Guaranteed to kill you. Outsource debt recovery. You need your energy to drum up new business. Don’t let debtors frustrate you.

Stay the course. You’ve done the planning, the mapping, the execution. Go with the flow. Plans rarely proceed exactly as drawn up and maps don’t always take you exactly the route you drew. Sometimes you detour, out of necessity, sometimes because something new caught your eye. You’re an explorer and opportunist, so of course you must explore it. Go and explore!

Resist the urging of your well meaning friend that says he can get a couple hundred million from that governor or that minister if only you can write a proposal and lend your registered company to launder the loot. Resist the urging of family that tell you to chase that appointment as PA or SA or SSA. Government money is government money. Making returns is par for the government course. You’ll be able to boast in your successful old age that your fortune is not tainted.

As a matter of fact the less family and friends know about what’s going on with you the better. Get a mentor. Otherwise seek and follow your own counsel. Go where your business instincts lead you. Remain independent and free to make your own choices. Make your own mistakes. There is no right or wrong. Just what works and what doesn’t and the same thing doesn’t work for different people. Know yourself and to thine own self be true.

Remember to eat well and to have regular good sex. When you’re hungry you get cranky if you don’t feed your hunger. Same thing when you’re horny you get cranky. Feed your hunger. You don’t need additional avoidable crankiness. Now is also a good time to start yoga if you’re into that sort of thing. You could also start something else. Like horse back riding. Or bowling.

Do not stop hanging out. People is where you get your energy, your inspiration and your motivation. Just stop hanging out with the wrong people. The ones that don’t energize, inspire or motivate you, The jaded pessimistic malcontents that only see an oncoming train, whose response to life is ‘deep cover’ paranoia. Or worse. Resignation!

Also avoid the overly cautious ones that look at you with pity sure you’re about to fail because they can’t envisage themselves coping with the uncertainty or even succeeding. They’ll poison your mind with their doubts and fears and ifs, buts and maybe’s.

Count your blessings and your social capital everyday. Remember what you do have. Use it wisely. If prayer helps you, pray but don’t expect manna from heaven so to speak. Miracles happen naturally, not super-naturally. You can’t reap a harvest if you don’t plant and tend the seeds.

I guess since I’m a woman and my target audience are women I should also add you resist the friends that advice you to find a rich powerful man to support you and all your projects. Power, sex and money make for a mine field. Some women have the talent and the aptitude for it. Some don’t. Know yourself no be crime.

Last but not least always always remember, this too shall pass. Its only for a season. Keep walking. And keep smiling. It ain’t over till the fat lady sings. Don’t ever give up!

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