The Young and Disenchanted

I haven’t written on this blog for a long time, mainly because the past few months have been ridiculously hectic: finishing an epic thesis, graduating from college, driving/setting off fireworks across the United States… you know, those standard coming-of-age traditions necessary for a recent graduate trying to figure out who they are/what they want to do with their lives/how to pay the rent without having to resort to eating Ramen every night. These past few months have been full of so many events, thoughts and conversations that have shifted my perspective on life – as, indeed, have the 4 years I spent at college in New York City – and I feel incredibly grateful, terrified and excited for my past as well as this next stage of my life.

With all of that in mind, I think it’s time for me to be on to the next – and by that I mean that this will be my last post on the Young and Disenchanted. While I’ll still be writing, this blog is a snapshot of the person I was a year ago: curious, cynical, college-age. I’m absolutely still curious and a touch cynical, but part of shaping my post-college identity requires a break with the past and a chance to rediscover passions I’ve left latent, or to find new ones all together. I feel decidedly less disenchanted than I used to be… And while I’m still fascinated by many of the same questions I addressed on this blog, particularly those of a more global/universal nature, I’m ready to be rid of all the bullshit emo-ness of university life that came with them (and also to stop cursing as much). I’ll be writing on a new blog that’ll be driven by my loves (Africa, books, politics, music and photography) and which will be hopefully a little more polished and definitely updated more regularly.

Looking over the trajectory of my posts, I’m actually pretty amazed at how much I’ve grown and I’m excited for this next new chapter of my life and all of the fuckery, love and wonderful souls it will undoubtedly contain.

Signing off,

Miss Young and Disenchanted

P.S. I saw Ms Badu in concert last week and she KILLED it. The title is from one of my favourite songs of hers (and which she also performed).

It’s that time in April when jaded and exhausted college seniors are slowly beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The sun is (generally) shining, we’re more or less certain of our future plans (more the latter than the former, to be fair) and there are tons of activities planned for the next month or so intended to strengthen our bonds of friendship and fill us with nostalgia for our days as wide-eyed and optimistic freshmen drunk off the joy of living in New York City (and by that, I mean drunk off free Natty Light at frat parties). On this list which defines the life of a graduating senior, the “future plans” segment has become more and more prominent in conversations on my campus. It’s kind of like the “What were your SAT scores/what are you majoring in” of our first year (ugh, I HATED those questions). Suddenly folks you haven’t spoken to since a couple of awkward encounters during sophomore year in a dorm elevator are curious about what you’ve been doing for the past four years and how you plan to apply the skills you have supposedly gained in the “real world.” Now, being the disenchanted young woman that I am, I tend to view these questions when fielded by anyone I don’t consider a close friend avec – how do you say? – le side-eye. My cynicism seems somewhat justified by a recent document I was made privy to in which, essentially, my classmates entered information about their post-graduation contact details, summer plans, starting salary, potential spousal requirements… you know, the standard things one frets about in the “real world.” Personally, I believe that if you want to know what I’m doing after graduation, we should be good enough friends that I’ve been telling you about my plans in person since last summer, not entering these myriad details into a form as a means of keeping in touch. Perhaps I’m just being idealistic, but this somewhat depersonalised approach makes me uncomfortable.

This is not to say that such an activity is entirely driven by base motives: if one has a large social circle, perhaps it’s easier to have everyone’s information in one easily-accessible place as opposed to struggling with lingering memories of half-forgotten conversations a year later. However, I think more people are concerned with the “networking” aspect of such an enterprise – knowing where your classmates will be working may help you to make connections and plan your ascent up the corporate ladder accordingly. I’m sure anyone reading this must be thinking: “Um, no shit, Sherlock – what the fuck else did you think you were going to college for?” Well, pardon me for my unconventional thought, but I had hoped that I would leave college with an expanded mind and drive to change the world. I guess I fucked up… which is why I don’t have a job with Merrill Lynch. Epic fail.

Or so it would seem. You see, there is an underlying assumption on this dear campus of mine that pretty much everyone wants to follow the same path to fame and glory: that all of us would like a penthouse in Manhattan, a red Ferrari (personally I prefer a black Mustang) and a name – you know, that recognition amongst an elite group of people that you are the unequivocal shit, an outlier, da best (shout out to Drake). After all, this is what the American dream was built on (although back in the day, this was probably closer to a townhouse in Chicago, a tricked-out horse and buggy and a shiny plaque at the Episcopalian church down the road with your surname on it). However, mes petits chou-fleurs, not all of us had the good fortune to be born and raised in this wonderful country known as the USA. Some of us who are attending college here were raised in the hot and sweaty tropics, deep in the heart of darkness, as far away from the shining citadel as you can get. Where I come from, it is a precious few of us who have the luxury of being individuals in the sense that your personal success reflects back on you and you alone. Oh, no – if I am successful (which the meaning of my name promises me I shall be), it is a success for my family, my village, my tribe and each and every Nigerian boy and girl who hopes to one day go to America and also become a success. In the words of Lagbaja, it’s always “we before me.” Sure I can go ahead and get that Mustang, but I had better make sure my mother isn’t struggling through the streets of Lagos in a broken-down Kia before I drive off the lot. Before I do well for my own sake, I have to be aware of the duties that I have to fulfil to those who came before me and those who will come after (i.e. the ungrateful brats adorable offspring I shall one day give birth to).  Of course I want to be successful, but where I come from one’s individual achievements aren’t just about you and how you compare to others: it’s also about improving the conditions of those who aren’t as fortunate as you are and helping those who helped you get where you are, no matter how indirectly.

Now I realise that this is somewhat tangential to my original train of thought, but one thing that has struck me in my four years of college is the extent to which the mantra of “American exceptionalism” has shaped the atmosphere on my campus. There’s a certain “we’re the shit (up in this bitch)” swagger that I guess I’m supposed to adopt because of the fact that I’m going to hold a diploma with this university’s name on it and because I got the chance to rub shoulders and share dining hall meals with the future leaders of tomorrow (or some other such eulogistic language that may be bestowed on us at graduation). And that’s wonderful – after all, this is the country that brought us the car, modern democracy and the atomic bomb. All my country has apparently done is introduced the term “419” into popular lexicon. However, I worry that all of this individualism is breeding – again, what words to pick? – self-obsessed twat-heads who only see other people as stepping-stones to a bigger house and a brand new iPad. This is not to say that all Americans in any way, shape or form are all like this, or that my country is full of people who care about each other and who want to lead us down a path of peace, prosperity and progress – there’s a whole rack of military thieves who disprove that claim time and time again. But even they hook up their brother’s child, their grandmother’s maid and their old school buddy in the name of family and community. And those connections are, for me, far more important than the ones that make me money. It is important to me that I remain humble about my achievements and take nothing for granted because, in the end, I’m not that special, and there is so much in the world that is bigger than me and my egotistical existence.

The depiction of rural Sudanese life in Tayeb Salih’s novel Season of Migration to the North always underlines this for me: despite the foreign education that the narrator receives and the turmoil that the Western world has brought him, the caravan of life continues to go on regardless of his angsty musings. I guess it’s a matter of perspective, but as long as I’m able to build meaningful relationships with the people who are taking this ride with me, I’m actually pretty okay with being average i.e. realising that I’ll never be the CEO of a company (although I will not be telling my parents that those are not my future plans – trust and believe). The people I admire the most are always the ones that are seemingly simple, who don’t treasure outward appearances but rather possess the kind of self-knowledge that would make even this last stressful semester of college easy to bear, and who recognise that it’s not the job you have or the money you make that determine your real legacy.

P.S. I was originally going to go with Erykah for this post, but then this Mya joint randomly popped into my head… damn, memories. Shout out to Sisqo.

Yellow Fever

It happened again, you fell asleep on the wheel. You wake up to the sounds of cars honking around you, people passing by a shouting expletives and throwing finger signs and speaking in a language you dont understand, totally drenched in sweat, you look like you just took a swim in the lagoon. Sounds of the newest Dbanj song are blaring from your car radio. You look around quickly, say a word of apology to the passers-by, start you ignition and move your car forward. But alas, you only moved about 2 feet. Goddamn it, your air conditioning is not working, you are stuck in a traffic jam and you have to keep your windows down and enjoy the loud noise that surrounds you.

You look over at the danfo (small public transport buses) and you see a young lady, you would eye flirt but you are just way too pissed to work your mojo right now. On any other day, a sweat drenched lady with her shirt half buttoned down would be quite exciting to any heterosexual male. You look more closely at her and you see she is wearing a look on her face akin to someone about to take a crap, so not sexy. She looks squeezed like a sardine in the vehicle sticking her face out the window for a gasp of fresh air.

The young lady in question sits in the packed danfo, a slave to the sweat. She unbuttons the top two buttons of her shirt and looks at the window and notices a man in a car looking intently at her. She shrugs, whatever tickles his fancy, I m gonna try and get some air so she sticks her face out of the window. The guy sitting next to her has been basically copping a field the whole ride but she cant complain, 5 people are sitting in a row meant for 3, her thighs are so together they almost look like they are one piece. Behind her, an elderly lady continues to preach. She is shouting amidst the noise and in the traffic, she has been talking for the last 2 hours they have been in traffic telling the crowded bus to repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. The young lady almost has a good mind to tell her to shut up but she knows that the rest of the bus will tell her to keep quiet and ask her if she got not respect. So she sighs and continues to look outside.

Two motorcycles/scooters/okada manoeuvre past in between vehicles as they often do in such choked up traffic. One hits the other and it falls down with the passenger on it who hurts his knee. The man driving the okada and his passenger stand up and grab the man who hit them as he tries to make a quick escape on his okada. Its amazing how they just yank him and the motorcycle moves on hitting a car. They proceed to hold him by his shirt and keep yelling at him. In the meanwhile, the owner of the car that got hit comes out and joins in what soon becomes a brawl. The other people in the vehicles watch on as this further complicates the traffic situation that was at least moving an inch at a time. Eventually the man, whose car got hit, gets back in his car, no insurance exchanged or nothing. He is satisfied to have vented some of his frustration by hitting the okada man in the eye. The okada man and his passenger, who were hit, get back on their okada and continue to wade through the traffic congestion.

In the midst of this mayhem, you would be missing something not to mention the men and women who manage to sell their wares in the midst of this traffic in the hot sun. From the man selling sausage rolls, cold drinks and candy to the man who sells paintings, rat poison and cane chairs. The traffic jam is like a supermarket, visa and mastercard accepted although I doubt you will get it back if you decide to give them your credit card.

The traffic picture isn’t complete without the white couple in the jeep behind you. Their windows are wound up, they have their air conditioning working and they are being driven by a chauffeur and I kid you not they seem to be drinking white wine or champagne in the back.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a snapshot of what traffic in Lagos, Nigeria can be and is actually based on some of my experiences commuting in the city. Hell hath no fury like a traffic jam in lagos, stuck in a vehicle with no air conditioning. I think I ll take freezing cold Siberia for a $100.

The title of the blogpost is from AC/DC, as an 80s baby I love me some 80s classic rock. It your boy!

I haven’t written in an incredibly long time because I’ve dedicated all the words my brain has held over the past 2 months to my senior thesis which, hamd’Allah, is FINALLY done. Even so, it may take me a little while to get back to producing my usual epically long treatises on Africa and love and all that goodness. So I’m easing back into the groove with something simple: music. I went to see the Fela musical for the second time yesterday, and it gave my soul some sorely-needed comfort. For those of you who don’t know, Fela Anikulapo Kuti is one of the greatest musicians to come out of the African continent (and by that I mean of all time, Naija for life!!!!) and there is now a Broadway show dedicated to his life. I have an incredibly deep emotional attachment to Fela and his music: apart from the fact that he fought for social justice in my home country of Nigeria, I grew up listening to his hits “Zombie,” “Yellow Fever” and “Gentleman.” Both my parents are huge fans of Fela, and I can only imagine what it must have been like for them as young people dealing with the repression of successive military dictatorships and the legacy of colonialism and its distorting effects on Nigerian society. Hearing his music takes me far away from the stress of New York and being a senior in college and puts me back in Surulere with the Lagos heat warming my back and the smell of roast corn in the air. And, most importantly: he made jawns to shake your nyash to (ugh, typing that out, I see what my sister means – that IS a gross word, but it’s also the most apt one to describe Fela’s vibe).

Besides the point: his music, along with that of musicians ranging from the Roots to Faithless have gotten me through some pretty tough times (and transformed some regular ones into incredible memories). And as it’s been a minute since I did a list of 10, here’s one of the songs that are making me smile, dance and feel right now:

  1. “Migraine Skank” – Gracious K: I’ll actually be writing a piece on UK Funky for Idaya this week, so it’s pretty perfect that a dear friend from England recently put me on to this tune.
  2. “Rude Boy” – Rihanna: Sigh. I’m not meant to like this track at all, but that beat is infectious and it sounds like the summer I’m craving right now (New York, this cloudiness is not a good look – can we get back to 90 degrees? Kthanksbye).
  3. “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” – Fela Kuti: This song’s lyrics get me kind of emotional, but those afrobeat drums make me dance without fail.
  4. “Face in a Crowd” – Kosheen: This brings back memories of modern dance performances during secondary school… SUCH good times.
  5. “The Blast” – Reflection Eternal: Brooklyn in the springtime, Talib and Hi-Tek… need I say more?
  6. “Honey” – Erykah Badu: I haven’t had time to listen to all of her new album, but I love “Window Seat” and “Jump in the Air”… I may dedicate this weekend to reacquainting myself with Ms Badu. This track’s off her last album and always cheers me up.
  7. “Lady” – D’Angelo: Those lips. That voice. That laidback jazz vibe. Enough said.
  8. “Acapella” – Kelis: I’ve loved Kelis since “Caught Out There” and even though I’m still devastated that she and Nas are no longer together, this dedication to her son is infectious (and the end of the video is SO cute!)
  9. “Go Deep” – Janet Jackson: I saw Janet on her Velvet Rope tour, which solidified the massive crush I have on her (alongside the rest of my family). I love the understated sexiness of this track.
  10. “My Sweetie” – Wale: I love this Bunny Mack sample SO so much – and Wale laced the track perfectly. I’m sure Fela would approve.

P.S. Had to go with some classic Gaga for the title… this track DEFINITELY gets me dancing every time I hear it.

Today I have my first interview for a potential post-grad job. I’m excited, a little scared – and a little thrown off cos it’s with an insurance firm (not usually the industry you see English/Poli Sci majors with a penchant for photography and obscene language going in to). I’m pulling out the power suit my sister gave me, the pearl earrings so I look extra classy with it… and of course, a pair of red pumps to represent the Red Pump Project, a media campaign that seeks to raise awareness about the impact HIV/AIDS have on women and girls.

I recently read a BBC article that said that HIV has become the number one cause of death and disease among women of reproductive age around the world. As a person who fits into this category, and especially as a sub-Saharan woman (in my part of the world 60% of people with HIV are women) who has personally seen the sorrow HIV/AIDS can cause, this fact has particular resonance with me.  Even more harrowing is the fact that 70% of women worldwide have been coerced into having unprotected sex. Grim as these statistics may be, it is important that we focus not on how women have been made victims, but how we can empower and educate one another and tackle this disease head-on, as well as the ignorance and stigmas that are attached to it. Building alliances, spreading the word… whatever small way each of us can help is in no way negligible. Many small acts combined together make for a force to be reckoned with.

I hope one day that the world will be free of HIV/AIDS . Even if I never see that in my lifetime, I hope that the work of organisations such as the Red Pump Project and the amazingly passionate people behind it will push that vision through. Check out their website here for more info: http://www.theredpumpproject.com/

K, time to get ready for my interview. Wish me and my red pumps luck!

In the past couple of years, I have become increasingly aware of a tense conversation emerging on my campus around February between African and African-American students. This conversation deals with the question of “blackness” and how it relates to identity, and becomes even more fraught during Black Heritage Month. It usually plays out in a meeting attended by members of the African Students Association, Black Students Organisation and Caribbean Student Association (the three biggest black groups on our campus), where two factions stand on opposite side of the issue: the (for lack of a better word) FOBs who don’t necessarily identify with the word black as it is used in the American context, and the Americans who do. I belong to the former group, and as a result have heard everything from “You’re running away from your blackness” to “Maybe the ASA shouldn’t participate in BHM if you guys don’t think you’re black.” Le sigh. Instead of cussing out a motherfucker the people who misunderstand why I feel the way I do about the word black, I’m going to take a minute out to explain my relationship with it and maybe shed some light on the way some people of African descent feel about the concept of race and how it plays into their identity – or at least, this woman’s perspective on the subject.

From what I have observed while studying in the USA for the past 3 and a half years and from talking to African-Americans, the word black here is a highly loaded and politicised term. Not only does it refer to a particular phenotype, but it also speaks to a specific cultural, political and historical identity that has evolved alongside the United States itself and in many ways is shaped by its representation of a numerical minority asserting itself against a hostile majority. It has been a stigma, a badge of pride and is almost always at the forefront of conversations about self- identity.  While I understand and appreciate that, I am not an American and I did not grow up in the same social context most of my fellow students, which means that the word black carries totally different connotations for me.

Nigeria’s population is pretty much 100% black. This means that growing up, race was clearly not at the forefront of my identity formation because everyone – more or less – looked like me. I didn’t go to a primary school where I was the only black kid. There was no need to section out a month dedicated to the achievements of our race. There was no celebration of our first black president because as long as we have been an independent country, they’ve all been black (although I wouldn’t describe the military dictators as “presidents,” per se). This is not to say that I wasn’t aware of the fact that I was black – it just wasn’t that important. Growing up I would never have used the word to describe myself – it was usually applied to people with that extra-midnight-dark-chocolate skin tone (I, being lighter-skinned by virtue of a random Scottish great-grandfather, was called “yellow” or “oyinbo” which is a term in pidgin for “foreigner”). No one in my immediate family would be called “black” as the term is generally understood in Nigeria – as the shade of your skin tone rather than as a denotation of your race or political identity. Other things were more important to my understanding of who I was: my ethnic group (Isoko), the state from which my family originated (Delta), the city I grew up in (Lagos). My parents never failed to remind me that I was an Isoko girl, a point that was reinforced every time I digwe’d for my grandmother when she came to visit. I think this same grandmother best illustrates how differently race is applied in the Nigerian context: she is half Caucasian (and honestly kind of looks like an old white lady), but ask her what she is and she will resolutely reply that she is an Agbor woman. I understand that in the USA ethnicity and race are often used interchangeably but, as my grandmother’s case shows, at least some Nigerians separate these two concepts and, because of our particular social and political dynamics, generally place more emphasis on the former.

Fela said once that he did not know he was African until he left Africa. This quote more than anything explains my relationship with the word black. When my family moved to England, I suddenly became black because I was in a minority and that was the easiest way to mark me out. At that stage of my life, it was never a huge deal – most people accepted it when I said I was Nigerian and used that term instead. I do remember once having to fill out a census form and searching for the “Other” space where I could write “Isoko – Nigerian” instead of ticking the “Black/Afro-Caribbean” box – not because I had a problem with that label, but because I felt phony identifying with a group that had a totally different story to mine. After all, I wasn’t descended from people who had migrated to Britain in the 1960s from Jamaica. Still, I was becoming increasingly aware of a separation between how I saw myself and how people outside Nigeria saw me.

Moving to the USA only further emphasised this disconnect. When I tell people that I don’t necessarily identify with the word black, I get everything from bemused looks, to side-eyes, to hurt glances from African-Americans who think that I’m disowning them and their connection to Africa. Let me categorically state that I do NOT, in any way, shape or form, reject the fact that I am black. My kinky hair and name with more vowels than consonants proclaim that before I even open up my mouth. And I love it. However, I refuse to hang my entire self-identity on my race. Even though it’s important, I shouldn’t have to subjugate other aspects of myself to my race, whether it’s on the basis of being from a third world country, or my love of jazz or the significance I place on being from the African continent. I don’t want to limit the ways in which I form coalitions with other people by always privileging the colour of my skin or my facial features over these things. I understand that in the reality of the United States race is an important tool for alliance building, but in the reality that I grew up in and for the most part still exist in, that simply isn’t the case. Even more problematic for me is this notion that black = Africa. If that is the case, then where does that leave the people of Berber, Arab and South Asian descent who are Africans like me? As a friend astutely said, race is a social construct that was used for many years as a tool of oppression – and, some may argue, is still being used in a similar vein today. I can’t help but be cautious about choosing an aspect of my identity that can be manipulated for sinister purposes – not to say that my ethnic identity cannot be similarly exploited, as is often the case back home, but I am talking specifically about my experiences living in the USA.

Maybe if I end up living here for an extended period of time, my race will begin to be a bigger deal for me than it is now. For right now I’ll say this: growing up black for me was a radically different experience than for those who grew up in the USA. Our different understandings of and relationships with the word black should not lead to contention, but rather to an expansion of our cross-cultural conversations. Black isn’t a monolithic concept – let’s eke out the many shades and hues during this grey ass month of February.

P.S. Gotta love a chill ass Common joint

I have another blog that I’m a collaborator on – a group of Columbia University students started up a magazine that focuses on African issues from a global perspective. We cover everything from politics and economics to music and literature. Check it out here: http://idayamagazine.blogspot.com/ – I’ll have a new post on here over the weekend :)

P.S. Just cos…

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