The Young and Disenchanted

Archive for the ‘College Life’ Category

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.

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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’m 100% certain that my boy Rational Chaos is going to call me out for my “softness” in writing about this, but I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. Ugh. I feel disgusted with myself just typing that out. I kid – love is a beautiful thing. It’s also a complicated, messy painful affair that can leave you hurt, angry and disillusioned. Seeing love fail is a big part of why I considered myself to be disenchanted when I started this blog. That’s what a few years of college will do to you – I’ve seen so many relationships blossom with hope only to fall apart, like a cheap shoe after too many miles of New York pavement.  I’ve written before about how the “dating” system I’ve observed in college is completely nonsensical to me – this whole “hooking up” and “talking” business before going on an actual date is a bizarre inversion of how the rest of the world sees relationships. And more than that, the way that men and women talk about and relate to one another leaves me even more bemused. I’ve heard guys refer to women in terms of their bodies, their faces and how many positions they want to take them in, but rarely have I heard a man on my campus talk about how much they enjoy talking to a girl about politics, or how cute she looks when they say something dumb and she looks embarrassed for them or even something as simple as how beautiful she looks dressed up for an event. I don’t know if it’s the cynical atmosphere of the city or the age, how they interacted with women growing up or just plain old sexism – what I do know is that it’s fucking problematic.

Of course, not all men are this way. And there are, of course, plenty of women who discuss men (and themselves!) in similarly objectifying terms. And not male/female relations are about sex – there are many people on my campus who are in happy, well-rounded relationships.  I think what bothers me is that sex always seems to be so up-in-your-face whenever people think about relationships. It’s like my girl said to me:  “When it gets cold, people start looking for alternate ways to keep warm.” But apparently, not much else. The only real criterion for hopping into bed with someone seems to be a basic sexual attraction. Don’t get me wrong – sex is great. People should get it in as much as possible – in fact, I personally believe that if all of the disgruntled people in this world just got a quality session in the bed, we could solve global warming, the Iraq war and establish a global socialist utopia (just make it consensual, k?).  But when that’s all I’m supposed to think about when I’m attracted to a guy – if he’s just supposed to see me as ass, boobs and vagina – I have to pause and start rethinking some things.

A lot of people think that this sexual “looseness” and general fuckery can be traced back to the feminist movements of the 1960s: female sexual liberation supposedly made women believe that they could not only act like men, they could fuck like them too – which snowballed into men taking advantage of the exponential increase in available ass, thereby reducing its value and cheapening the relationships between men and women. Now obviously this is a gross oversimplification, as well as a romanticisation of the past, but there may be an element of truth in this. Do not get me wrong: me + women’s lib = love. That particular element of civil rights movements is the reason why I’m sitting in this godforsaken library at my university studiously ignoring my essays, instead of preparing dinner for my three kids and husband after spending the day cleaning the house and buying groceries (again, I kid). But damn, why does EVERYTHING have to be about sex?? And this bullshit about us being “equals” – an excuse for multiple sexual partners and “free love”? I AM NOT WITH IT.

Breathe.

I guess, when it boils down to it, I’m an old fashioned girl. I like dates. I like that tension of not being kissed when you expect it to happen. I love realising that I like someone despite the fact that the most intimate we’ve been is sitting next to each other at a meeting. And I hate that being at college means that the odds of finding a guy who feels the same way are slim-to-none.

But I’m an optimist. For one of my classes this semester, I read a novel called “The Home and the World” which was written by Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian intellectual and literary figure of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. It’s about a love triangle, Indian nationalism and colonial rule, amongst other things (I won’t spoil it for y’all). I was in the middle of re-reading it to write a paper when I was stopped by this line right at the beginning – it’s from the main female character, Bimila: “My husband used to say, that man and wife are equal in love because of their equal claim on each other. I never argued the point with him, but my heart said that devotion never stands in the way of true equality; it only raises the level of the ground of meeting.” Now, this may not seem to have a lot to do with what I was just writing about, but let me explain. Bimila is living in Bengal, India in the early 20th century – not a spot where the women’s liberation movement had quite taken off. She lives in purdah (seclusion), meaning that she spends her days within the confines of her home. 21st century American college life is probably the polar opposite of her existence. But putting this aside, I was most struck by the way she sees herself as a woman in relation to her husband. She isn’t “submissive” in the traditional sense, nor is she sexualised or objectified by her husband who is determined that she emerge from purdah and enjoy the “real” world and all it has to offer. She loves him – not only because of his qualities and because of the way that he treats her as an equal, but also because she can express her love to him through being a woman, in a non-sexual manner. And he reciprocates the feeling from a similar standpoint. In the context I’m living in, that notion is a breath of fresh air. Love should be a well-rounded thing. Sex is important, but so is being able to talk to someone about big and small matters, doing little things for them like making them a meal, being able to sit quietly with each other and not need to say a word, or be concerned about what they’re thinking because in the end, nothing really matters at all. And on the side of men – never underestimate the power of complimenting a girl, meaning it, and expecting nothing (especially nothing sexual) in return.  Or of not texting her only after midnight. Or of surprising her with dessert, just because.

I haven’t figured out all of this relationship stuff yet. I am, however, realising more what I understand to be love and what I don’t. This is just a small articulation of the beauty I consider that thing to be – a mint-filled garden in the middle of a city of concrete: seemingly out of place, but all the more lovely for it.

P.S. In musical terms, this Erykah Badu song best articulates the way I feel about love and shit.

To my strong, beautiful black brothers:

A few months ago, I met up with a few of my ignorant favourite African male friends for dinner, and our conversation wound its way from Kelis’ “golddigging” ways and Kenyan music to an ever-contentious subject: interracial dating. All except for one of them expressed the following sentiment: “I don’t see anything wrong with an African man dating a non-African woman, but I don’t like it when I see an African woman walking with a man who isn’t black.” Now I have heard countless claims about the saltiness of the average black woman and her feelings about seeing one of “OUR men” holding hands with a Becky, but the black man who takes a black woman dating a Dale personally  is a new phenomenon for me. Puzzled, I asked to clarify: “So, you guys see nothing wrong with a black man dating outside of his race, but you do see a problem with a black woman doing so?” Their response? “Yes.”

Now, my dear black brothers: you know that I love you more than anything else in this world except chocolate. Y’all raised me, taught me, love me and challenge me to do better all day, every day. But PAUSE: really though? You somehow think you’re justified in restricting my dating choices because you feel threatened? You know you’re fucked up for that. And that will lead to you someone getting cut.

 I asked a fellow Nigerian this question straight up and he simply shrugged and said, “I know it’s wrong, but life isn’t fair.” To him, it is a serious affront to black male pride to see a black woman walking with a man of a different race. But black female pride? Psssh. Irrelevant. I got the same sense of a lack of regard for black women’s feelings on the part of black men again when talking to a couple (again, Nigerian) male friends of mine. One of them was explaining that he broke up with his last girlfriend because he was tired of being in a long-distance relationship. Upon hearing this, the other one remarked, “Oh yeah I feel you – you know men have needs.” Again, PAUSE. Because women don’t??? What in the hell is going on, my African men?

Now, I understand that our life experiences may be very different. Many of you were raised in homes where your father’s word was bond, as the man of the house. Many of you grew up with women who allowed men to get away with some trifling ass behaviour because if society condoned it, who were they to argue back? And many of you are now enjoying life in the first world as students and workers with all of these golden opportunities open to you, including the option of dating outside of your race. And you know what? I’m totally cool with that being the context in which you came up and your embracing of that developed world freedom. Actually, just the last part. The first part is hella fucked up, did not fly when I was growing up and will NOT fly in my house when I’m married. But besides the point: I too, have had the opportunity to move abroad and be educated at an American university and meet people from all different backgrounds. And maybe back home you can feel like society gives you one up on me. But this is the land of the motherfucking free: I too, can date whomever, whenever and however I please. You have no kind of right or obligation to dictate to me who can take me out to dinner. You cannot get annoyed when you see me walking with Ahmed, Ravi or Lee Kwok. And you absolutely cannot expect me to treat you one way, yet treat me in a completely different manner.

Regarding my actual stance towards the phenomenon known as “the swirl”: the only real qualification I have regarding the men I date is that they feel me on that minority/third world/AK-47 toting militant tip. It’s not that I don’t find “Western” men attractive – it’s just when you start zoning out as I talk about pidgin English/oil money/my mother’s propensity to randomly cuss people out which I have definitely inherited, it’s pretty unlikely that it’s going to work out between us. Plus what if he makes some awkward comment about my “exotic” name or going on safari? This is why I love y’all, my African men – I know you feel me on that fresh banga soup with starch on the side, on my Wafi craze and my third-world politics. So how are you gonna get mad at me for wanting to be with someone I can relate to on that cous cous/Indian nationalism/tropical heat joint? As much as I love you guys, you’re not always checking for me. There’ve been too many times you’ve told me, “Oh, you’re so beautiful” yet left me hanging waiting for the “Do you want to have dinner sometime?” There’ve been too many times you’ve just wanted me for my body and none of the other wonders I have to offer. There’ve been too many times when you’ve straight up broken my heart and left me crushed. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up on you – but it does mean I want to diversify my bonds and shit, same as you. I’m not holding you back from dating whichever Hannah, Arusha or Ming Su you want to be with, so why won’t you let me be?

Signed,

A loving but heated confused African woman

P.S. Title is from the flyest girl group of all time, En Vogue. 15 years later and they’re still fabulous.  Free your minds fellas, free your minds.

I came to the realisation that nothing lasts forever early in my young and disenchanted life. When I was eight, my dad casually dropped the fact that we were moving from Nigeria to the UK into conversation while we were on a family vacation. Aside from the massive culture shock I suffered moving from Africa to Europe, I also lost all of the friends that I’d made at my primary school (oh Corona V.I…). This, by the way, was back in the 90s, way before Facebook and Skype. The only way we could have kept in contact was through letter or phone, but the crappy Nigerian mail system and my parents’ iron grip on any means of communication (I can’t be mad, them international calls are hella expensive) pretty much wrote that off. Of course, I made friends at my new school, but I couldn’t help but remember the ones that I’d left behind in Nigeria – Ada, Ezinne, even Ugochi who threatened to fuck me up that one time ‘cos I called him stupid. I don’t remember feeling particularly cut up about the abrupt ending to those friendships – I guess maybe at that age, your emotional bounce-back muscles are pretty flexible. If only shit stayed the same when you get older…

I’ve lost a couple friends along the way through less outwardly dramatic ways than moving to another country. There are the twins from my secondary school who suddenly stopped speaking to me one day, which for some strange reason didn’t bother me much (may have been that I’d made one too many Coming to America jokes about their Jherri curl juice – no jokes, they had Jherri curls). There’s the girl with whom shit stays awkward ‘cos we share the same friends, but we’re no longer on the same page. And, of course, there are the men.

The end of a platonic friendship is always pretty bad, but a romantic relationship is always the worst. I mean, think about it: getting romantically involved with someone generally involves putting yourself in a vulnerable position emotionally. There’s all kinds of corny text messaging, hand-holding (bleugh) and heart-to-hearts that have you believing you and this other person might really have a connection. As much as I want to convince myself that I’m immune to this relationship stuff, I have to admit I’ve had my moments when I crave that happy coupled-up feeling. The last time I had this feeling, it didn’t last long. The guy involved, well… let’s just say he caught me at a time when I was feeling particularly vulnerable. If I’d been my usual cool-calculated-and-perfectly-aligned self, maybe I wouldn’t have found myself agreeing to enter a relationship with someone I had previously just been acquaintances with. I soon realised that I needed to take a step back: me and the dude didn’t really know each other well enough for my commitment-shy self to be a quality girlfriend. And that’s where the problems began. I should probably explain that at this point, I wasn’t trying to end the relationship, but rather to slow things down and get my bearings. I didn’t think either of us knew each other well enough to place the label of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” on each other. Apparently that was equivalent to me saying that I wasn’t interested, and warranted being ignored in public and, I suppose, being “technically” being cheated on. What annoyed me was that every time I tried to bring up the situation, this dude would insist that he wanted to be with me, but then I wouldn’t hear from him for weeks on end. And yes, I could have called, but he was the one who had initiated the relationship – I thought it only right that he ask my ass on a motherfucking date, especially as I had put in work to let him know I was more than willing to give us a shot.

If there’s one thing I learned about myself from this experience, it’s that I truly appreciate the value of honesty. I think too few people have the balls to say what they really feel in a relationship situation. If, for example, you’re not really into a person you should let them know early on, rather than lie to both them and yourself in an attempt to avoid an awkward situation. For fuck’s sake, LIFE is a big ball of awkward situations. At some point you’ll inevitably end up being walked in on while on the toilet, say something dumb on the internet or have to end a relationship with someone. It sucks when you have to be the “bad guy” (or the one hit with a faceful of eau de poo), but you just have to (wo)man up, take two and talk it out. In the situation I described, I ended up being the one who had to take the initiative to clarify where we stood with each other time and time again. Like Amy, I wanted to say “YOU should be stronger than me.” Shame, instead he was longer than frozen turkey.

In the end we decided that we would be “friends” – a little tricky to do if you’re not friends before things get complicated, but I got tired of talking after a while. I think the reason why I got so wound up about the situation to begin with is of my compulsion to never leave end loose. Maybe it’s a result of my nomadic existence, but I hate not being able to draw a line under something and be assured that it won’t pop up again in the future to bug me. If a relationship ends, I want it to be more or less permanently so. Those friendships that ended with my moving to England are the perfect example of that – it’s sad that I lost my childhood friends that way, but we all knew the deal, accepted it and moved on with our lives. Of course, there are certain relationships you can’t ever really get go of, the ones that change you fundamentally, the ones where your heart still skips a beat when you see their name somewhere, or their number on your caller-ID. This wasn’t one of them. My point is: I think when two people (or at least one) realise that whatever drew them together in the beginning has evaporated into thin air, it may be time to just let it go, and that the ending process should be as quick and painless as possible.

Or maybe that’s never possible unless you move to inner Mongolia. Let me know.

P.S. Title’s courtesy of the legendary Roots crew (who I’m seeing for the 4th time in concert next week :)).

I’ve written before on this blog about the group of Bolivian/Jewish/Asian/Texan guys with whom I have spent most of my time at college so far. That was six months ago. Looking back, I realise that I saw far less of them than I wanted to, for a mix of reasons, the main one being a particular extra-curricular activity that pretty much took over my life.

I was the cultural chair (read: cook) of my university’s African Student Association, meaning that a good proportion of my time was dedicated to feeding and arguing with a group of people of African descent. Monday nights I would roll up to our meeting place with armfuls of food and drink, curse out “these damn Africans who always expect to be fed like I’m their mother” and proceed to spend the next 4 hours joking with, getting mad at and making up again with my African peoples, in particular the men. I hate to admit that my life got too full to sustain as a rich a friendship as I wanted with my various groups of friends, but I realise that my increasing cultural and political awareness as an African made me gravitate towards people who shared my experiences and that I didn’t have to explain myself to. I could speak pidgin to them, or make some crack about Ghanaians and I knew they would get it. I didn’t have to apologise or feel awkward about the fact that I’m not an American, and that certain cultural contexts that are unique to the USA are lost on me. I don’t want to get too bogged down in the couldawouldashoulda of the first half of this year, so instead I’ll focus on why I decided to write this entry on the black men in my life.

A week ago, as I caught the 2 train back uptown after work, I noticed a young black dude get on the train at the same stop as me. He was pushing a stroller with one little girl in it, and holding the hand of another. I couldn’t help but smile at the adorableness of this man and his toddler-age daughters. He looked kinda harassed (the older girl was rocking a shirt that said “Big Sister AKA The Diva” so I guess the kids could have been a handful that day) but, damn. Something about the way he held onto their hands so tightly and made sure they didn’t get pushed around by the adults getting on and off the train touched me. It was right after Father’s Day too, and so it got me to thinking about my own father. My dad is kind of a G (as my friend A. would say, a Dominican-looking G). My first memory of him is of his being super tall, and having a big, big afro. Now I’m almost the same height as him and he gets his hair cut every week like clockwork, but he still seems like the coolest man ever to me. He loves Dr Dre, so much so that he bought the first Snoop Dogg album and let me and my sisters bump to it (I was about 5 at the time), but he’ll listen to Meatloaf too. The soccer team he supports? – “anyone but Man Utd,” and he always cheers for Arsenal (my team). He has the most amazing memory and I refuse to play Scrabble against him because the one time I challenged him, he whooped my arse something fierce. He rarely ever yells, and as long as you explain your motives for doing something he’s more than willing to listen and be supportive. He’s not always perfect, of course. There’ve been plenty of times where he’s made me incredibly mad and upset. But he doesn’t bear grudges, and he’s so gentle I feel dumb staying angry at him.

I read somewhere that a woman’s relationship with her father determines the way she relates with other men in her life. I guess the fact that I see my dad as my boy more than anything else is why my friendships with men are so important to me. I’m proud of him because he is a successful African man who’s worked extremely hard for everything he’s achieved in life, and who is remarkably grounded and humble. I’m thankful that I have such a bomb-ass dad. And I’m thankful that when he’s not around, I have a motley crew of other wonderful black men around me who understand where I’m coming from like he does, who keep me focused and challenge me to be better at all times.

I’m grateful for RationalChaos, my partner-in-ignorance, who always has something to say (usually something politically incorrect) to make me feel better. I’m grateful for my favourite DJ, who’s also an amazing listener. I’m grateful for the one I recently discovered is pretty much the same person as I am; just he’s from Jamaica and a dude – seriously, the extent to which we can finish each other’s sentences is disturbing. I’m grateful for the ones who have opened up new intellectual worlds for me, and with whom I have intense debates that expand my horizons and keep me asking questions. I’m even grateful for the one who broke my heart, because somehow we still manage to connect to one another and lose ourselves in our present, not linger over our past. Again, these men aren’t perfect. Sometimes they take the fact that I like cooking for granted, like I’m obliged to feed their asses. Sometimes they’re not honest with me, and I have to be the one who’s stronger than them, the issue-resolver and tension-ender. Sometimes they refer to me as “thuggish and unladylike” because I don’t like holding hands and shit. It’s okay though – I’ll happily take the good with the bad. From the bad ones I’ve learned when to know enough is enough, to know when someone is taking advantage of me and what level of bullshit I’m willing to tolerate before I request that they “call Tyrone.” With the good ones, I’ve been blessed with beautiful friendships I hope will last a lifetime – or at least as long as I keep cooking and they keep mixing tropical rum drinks. My brothers, I’m here for you, forever true.

P.S. The title’s from Angie Stone’s “Brotha.” Dang, I wonder where Angie’s at…

Sleep is for chumps 

So I m up at 6am in the morning on a Saturday morning, wondering why in hells name am I hearing moaning from the next door. Maybe not why am I hearing this but more like how. I got my music on, listening to some Jason Mraz “I m yours.” Yet the groaning and moaning coming from the next door pierces through the sound coming from my $50 speakers. That’s what you get for not getting BOSE speakers. Now I shall move to talking about pipes (code word for sex). I am proud of the plumber next door; I figure he is fixing the sink pretty well. Using his wrench, he seems to be twisting it harder and harder. Yet the sink seems to be gushing and making a weeping sound. The analogy of sex to plumbing always cracks me up. You are talking to one Negro that can never hate on the player so I shall stop talking about some other Negro getting some and focus on why the hell I am up this late.

Before I came to college, I slept pretty regular hours. Maybe I lie a bit but I can hardly remember ever seeing the sunrise. The latest hours I can remember were like maybe 2am or even 3am. Those ‘late’ hours mostly involved watching late night TV because during the regular hours TV was on news courtesy of my father or TBN (gospel channel) courtesy of my mother, both of which in my younger days I didn’t care for. Actually I still don’t care much for watching the news, I rather read it online or hear a dude with a British accent deliver the news on BBC because my ass is so colonized. My late hours in my teens include my first experience of pornographic material. In my case, it must have been when I was 13 or 14 years old. I actually stumbled upon it. If you have lived in English-speaking Africa in the last decade you have heard of DSTV. Our South African Satellite Company that provides western TV to Africa for some cheddar in expenditure. Anyway their movie channel progressively got more adult on Saturday nights eventually culminating in soft-core porn. The thing is I almost got caught several times by my light-sleeping father but alas I was too legit to quit. Got my hand on the ‘alt’ button and switched it to CNN with the quickness and acted like I was sleeping, simply genius. Of course, kids or people of hyper conservative leaning, I am not advocating porn I actually have a point. The reason I remember this is that that watching soft core porn on a weekend at 13 included me hearing some moaning and now 8 years later sitting in my room typing this also has me hearing moans except I am not seeing any ‘titties’ now. It amazes me how things remain parallel after so many years.

I can’t blame my insomnia completely on college. I could see the signs at an early age. I don’t want anyone to misconstrue my sleeplessness for hard work or dedication. Hell to the No. Some of the best sleep I have is the day before an exam. In the beginning AKA freshman year, I was introduced to red bull. I walked into a seven eleven and asked my Indian brother behind the counter for something to keep me awake. I felt like I was going to fall apart. Homeboy pointed me to a gray can with some blue on it and I had of course seen the commercials that said it gave wings. The red bull called to me and was much more enticing than a naked Angelina Jolie beckoning to me. All it took was a sip and I felt like a super human. My life was never going to be the same. I felt like an evangelical that had just accepted Mr Jesus (Hey-sus) into my life. Eventually, I acquired the ability to stay awake without the caffeine or red bull. Now as I speak to you, I have the ability to stay awake till 6am without the use of any substances. I have become quite the nocturnal creature. I always joke with people when they ask why they haven’t seen me around that I am like Batman, I only come out at night and in the day time I am so fast like Bruce Wayne in his Lamborghini.

Why do I enjoy this? I think a part of me has always been in love with solitude. Growing up as an only child I had more time to my thoughts than other people. Late at night when other humans are sleeping is the time I like to sit down and plot how I can take over the world, just kidding. I gather my thoughts together and potential things to think about include ex girlfriends who seem to be planning evil against lil ol me, my general lack of trust of people and accompanying paranoia, my money making schemes, ‘love’ (think it’s a bunch of hooey) interests and all things young and disenchanted people think about. Another reason is that sometimes staying awake is the only way to run away from my dreams and nightmares. Dreams scare me as well. Sometimes dreams reveal things that you aren’t ready to deal with. Some of these Things are seemingly good such as new relationships and potential ones that are exciting your subconscious. I detest dreaming about women/girls in a romantic way. It confuses my life. Some might call this me trying to run away from my emotions. When you dream about kissing a girl you thought you weren’t romantically interested in, it creates problems when you see her the next day. Sometimes the fear of rejection could make a dream turn into a nightmare. No one likes nightmares; yes I do state the obvious. Like having a dream I met the devil and his name was Christoff and he was blonde with a black trench coat and smoking a cigarette. Don’t ask me about these things ask my subconscious.

lovely song by Jason Mraz, I m yours. Soothes my soul.

link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7Z2EvsOhFw

Why do you stay awake? I’d love to hear from you.