Monday, September 26, 2016

Heathrow Airport Twitter Humour

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Promotional fares on Ethiopian Airlines

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

On winning Ethiopian Airlines' blogging award and choosing an African nation as a holiday destination

You receive a message from Monique Yemeli of Fabafriq magazine that you write for, that you have won the Ethiopian Airlines Award for most consistent blogger. You are happy after waiting for so long for the announcement. Your Fabafriq boss Adeline Sede had told you all during the 70th “birthday” hangout with ET that the prize is actually a two way ticket to any African country. So you head to the ET office in Bonanjo, the next Monday afternoon to meet the Area manager of ET Cameroon, Mr. Tesfaye Girma to talk about it. His assistant ushers you into boss’s ornate office. You greet him. Mr. Tesfaye looks up from his desk, peers at you through his reading glasses and responds to your greeting calmly.

He asks you what you want. You tell him you heard from Adeline Sede, that you won the ET best blogger award. He smiles and congratulates you. You say thank you. He asks you where you want to go. You halt and almost scratch your head. “Anywhere?” You ask, wondering. “Yes, just tell me where you want to go and we’ll issue your ticket.” You think about the 54 countries in Africa in an instant and you can’t decide. But you’ve always loved the Indian Ocean African island nations with their exquisite beaches and colourful waters, so you just instinctively say, “Seychelles?”

Mr. Tesfaye smiles again and asks, “You want to go to Seychelles?” “Yes”. He nods. “Seychelles is really nice and its visa free, so no problems trying to obtain a visa.” “Okay”. “But it’s a little expensive. So maybe you need to carry along your own food which you’ll eat. The food is quite different from the food here too.” Oops, when the country manager of ET, who is surely loaded, starts warning you that a country is expensive, maybe you need to think otherwise. “Do you have a family?” he asks. You think it’s a tricky question because he wants to know if you’ll travel with a “loved one(s)”.

Sure, you have a family that nurtured you. But you reason that, the word “family” means a wife and children along those aviation lines. You remember that ET had said, “the best blogger will win a ticket to an African country” and not “the best blogger and his family will win a…” You think of a witty answer to his question. “I’m not married but I have a girlfriend. No kids.” He tells you it’s best to travel the world when you’ve not had a family yet. And it’s not very cool when there is a wife and kids, and you take off, so now is the time to travel!

He asks if you have a passport. You tell him you have one and you even brought it. He laughs as if to say “this guy is serious about his travelling oh”. He photocopies your passport's biometric page and hands it back to you. You tell him you need to take a holiday and plan the trip. He tells you to take your time and choose a nation and travel dates. When you’re ready, they’ll issue your ticket. You tell him thanks and leave.

You remember that you had not discussed anything about accommodation with Mr. Tesfaye. Oops. You tell yourself you’ll ask him next time you’re there to get the ticket. You go to work and google up “top holiday destinations in Africa”. You see ocean options like your Seychelles, Maldives, Mauritius, Cape Verde and safari countries like Kenya, Namibia and Botswana. You discard the safari nations because you’re from a “forest country” and you’ve already visited the Kakum National Park in Ghana. You’ve seen lots of forests already. A lion or crocodile could even bite off your head in Botswana! No way. You relish the colourful pics of the Indian ocean nations, so you start checking immigration procedures from the Swissport Travel Information Manual (TIM).

Seychelles is visa free and you can obtain a visitor’s permit on arrival for a max stay of three months. But as you read the TIM further, you see a line that says you need to present 150 dollars a day for all the days you spend there to immigration, so 20 days equals 3000 dollars in cash, that's about 1.5 million francs. And it is just what you’ll declare to immigration, excluding food, accommodation, transportation –pricey boat rides among the different Seychellois islands of La Digue, Desroches, Praslin, Bird etc.

You shake your head no. You check other aforementioned island nations. and they seem pricey too. You express your worry to Adeline that your beloved Seychelles may be expensive. She just goes, “I’ve been there, it’s not a little expensive, it’s very expensive! Just one boat ride to 3 different islands cost 300 dollars! And the hotel bills are really high. Imagine a place where Prince William and Kate Middleton go to for holidays. Everybody there will hike up prices... But the place is really beautiful!" Your colleague Wasu, tells you its because it's so lovely, that's why it attracts so many people including really rich people and even celebrities.

She gives you a pep talk about going there as an eco-tourist and doing AIR BNP lodging. You look at her and just go, “Maybe I’ll only go there when I become a boss like you someday”. She laughs so hard. Next, she proposes beautiful Gambia. You shake your head no because you’ve read articles about its poor human rights record and that, it is the most difficult country in the world for journalists to work in and that, sometimes president Jammeh can be…weird! She proposes the archipelago of Zanzibar in Tanzania, saying it’s also really beautiful. You are already in refusal mode, so you also say no to that and you don't even know the reason why.

"Kenya? Great safari there. Botswana?” Hmmm, you're thinking about those lions eating you up all over again! Ok, you can easily travel to Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Zambia in the near future for writing stuff, literary festivals etc. “What about Ethiopia? Not just Addis. Kuriftu, Hawassa or another place?” You say, you've done two night stops in Addis, you don’t want to go there for this one again, somewhere completely new”. Simo Jandie proposes north Africa, Magrebian Sahara land. You say no because you don't like north Africa, although you know Tunisia is beautiful and prehistoric Egypt is legendary with its pyramids. Boss lady digresses to another discussion and you keep talking. You're still undecided.

You suddenly remember your dear cousin, Joseph Asong Anu who is a missionary and who’s studied and worked all over southern Africa. You ask his suggestion for an affordable beach country. He types back on Whatsapp, “Tanzania would be a good try. It is a regular destination for Nigerians, so I am sure Visa may not be a big deal. The touristic element there is simply awesome especially if you have a contact to show you around. Not to mention if you get a chance to hit Zanzibar…Life is evidently cheaper in Tanzania compared to several other countries in the region. Cape Town in South Africa could be considered but Visa could be an issue, plus in country expenses would obviously be higher.”

Okay, you'll grapple about Tanzania later. But South Africa! No! You recall how the lady at the SA high commission in Yaounde spoke to you harshly and abandoned you in 2014, when you wanted to apply for a South African transit visa, for only a two hour transit period in Jo'burg when you intended travelling to Mutare in Zimbabwe for a writers workshop. Mere transit visa! You imagine the procedure of getting a real SA visa this time and you shake your head no, once again.

On the contrary, Tanzania especially Zanzibar sounded like Aaliyah’s music to your ears after missionary Joe’s message. You wonder why you had rejected it when Adeline proposed it as you check the TIM again for more info. You read that you can obtain a visa on arrival for between 50-100 dollars. You google up Zanzibar pics online and they’re amazing. Persian empire feel, centuries old castles feel, diverse people feel, stunning beaches!

You tell your engineer friend who works for ET, Rahmet, the next day while you’re both working on the ramp and Rahmet informs you he’s been there. The visa cost him only 40 dollars. Oh! Cheap! You exclaim. He tells you the standard of living is like that of Cameroon. You nod. He tells you that it’s got so much iconic infrastructure and wonderful beaches. It sounds like what you’ve just read and seen online. You concur. And then you tell him, “My friend, I’ve finally made my choice. I’m going to Zanzibar!” “Oh, man, you will certainly enjoy it, congrats for your ET blogging award once again."

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Imbolo Mbue; Cameroon's new literary superstar, Africa's first million dollar novelist

Imbolo Mbue: Cameroon’s new literary superstar and Africa’s first million dollar novelist.

When I first heard that a US based writer from Cameroon, Imbolo Mbue, had signed a whooping book deal of one million dollars for her novel manuscript, “The Longings of Jende Jonga” (the title was later changed to “Behold The Dreamers”) at the German Book Fair in 2014 with the prestigious publisher Random House, I gasped, like an artsy tourist who had just seen the iconic Mona Lisa painting at the Louvre museum. One million dollars! Wait a minute let me convert that to Franc CFA. That’s five hundred and eighty million francs! And the Hollywood film rights by Sony Tristar pictures to the book have equally been signed. All that for a gorgeous debut novelist with swaggish natural Afro hair! How often does one hear of such lucrative book deals in the African Lit world? It is very rare. In fact, it has never happened. Even Chinua Achebe, Mongo Beti, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, NoViolet Bulawayo, Alain Mabanckou and Linus T Asong didn’t sign million dollar book deals. Only a few global winners of prestigious literary prizes have managed such an accomplishment even. So how did she do it?

For a first time novelist from the coastal resort city of Limbe in Cameroon, which is not as big as Nigeria or South Africa on the African Literary map, to sign such a mammoth book contract was quite an achievement two years ago and will always be. I tried to Google her since I’d never heard about her and found almost nothing. That made her book signing more stunning and to a certain extent, even mythical. She had no publishing history whether in print or online until the age of 32, which one could jump on and read as an aperitif for the upcoming novel barbecue. (or maybe the assessment of million dollar skills by those brainy Literatis). She had no blog and no personal profile on any social media platform. (I later learnt she has a phobia for social media). Dibussi Tande recounts a story in an article some months ago, that he couldn’t even find a single photo of her online. So who was this mythical Harper Lee like million dollar author from Cameroon called Imbolo Mbue? She was so unknown in the literary circles both in America and Africa that acclaimed writer, Jacqueline Woodson started her appraisal of Imbolo’s hitherto unknown talent thus, “Who is this Imbolo Mbue and where has she been hiding? Her writing is startlingly beautiful, thoughtful, and both timely and timeless.”

Let me return to my big question about Imbolo’s impressive book deal. “How did she do it?” Well, after pondering the answer to that question, I came to the conclusion that, she had surely taken some advice from Samuel Eto’o on how to sign million dollar contracts. Eto’o is the only Cameroonian capable of such financial gymnastics. Okay, jests aside, I’m sure it took Imbolo a lot of hard work, time and dedication, honing her craft immensely and mastering the rudiments of the realist fiction genre to the fine stylist that she currently is. Obviously, a smart literary agent who negotiated well for the novel and finally, some big hugs from lady luck. (Nobe say yi write pass Achebe, Mongo, Adichie and Mabanckou them). Imbolo started writing seriously by chance, sort of. She has said that even though she has been a lifelong reader, she had never considered writing until she read the brilliant novel, “Song of Solomon” by the acclaimed Nobel Prize winning American novelist, Toni Morrison. She loved the novel so much that she picked up her pen after she finished it, became a wordsmith and has never halted smoldering and chiseling out smoking hot words ever since.

Anxious readers and new Imbolo fans finally got a taste of her craftsmanship in her first published short story, “Emke” available for free online on the Threepenny Review. The story is set in America as is her just published debut novel. I think Imbolo will have written and will be writing a lot of immigrant literature. That will probably be bad news for us Cameroonians as we would love to read her Cameroon set stories and ponder on her musings of her motherland. Imbolo travelled to the US in 1998 when she was sixteen and studied there at Rutgers and Columbia University, (just like Chimamanda, Chinelo and NoViolet who also left for America as teenagers). So these questions will always linger in my mind. How will the diaspora influence Imbolo’s writing? Does she write “to get back to Africa“ like Tope Folarin once said on the BBC when he was asked why he writes? Or will her work reflect that state of flux between America and Africa like Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection “Interpreter of Maladies” fluctuates between America and india? Will she be the Cameroonian Lahiri? Or will she just be American? Look at what Jonathan Franzen writes of her. “Imbolo Mbue would be a formidable storyteller anywhere, in any language. It’s our good luck that she and her stories are American”. Have they poached her from us already? Hey, we, Cameroonians claim her first before you folks in America.

Her first published work is titled “Emke” and it is derived from the main character’s name. It is about an African man, probably Sierra Leonean who is extremely ill, in the writer’s words “a disease of the blood” in a US hospital. That should probably be leukemia. He suffers from nightmares but maintains hope “a frail optimism” and then finally dies. Weeh RIP Emke! The story is so real it comes alive on the page. It has the ability to evoke memories of your own deceased loved ones too. Imbolo knows about dying, rather she knows how to write about dying. Her imagery on the subject is so vivid that you dread your own dying day. “Oh God! Don’t let me die like Emke, don’t even let me die, no!” Komot there, see your head! We will all die. It’s like this Imbolo has died before and returned like Azaro, the abiku child in Ben Okri’s Booker prize winning novel, “The Famished Road” to tell us a story about dying but more from the realist fiction angle, unlike Azaro’s delve into his profound surrealist world. (Her style is so unlike Ben Okri’s though). Imbolo nevertheless flashes her readers with a trace of Okri’yish magical realism. After he had toweled off, he would tell us about the nightmares. In one, he was given a glass of blood by a hand without a body, and asked by a baby’s voice to drink it all in one sip. In another, he saw his head on a tray, laughing at him.

There are various themes in “Emke” -illness, healthcare, politics, treatment, death, burial etc. Imbolo’s characters though very few in this story, are well rounded. Her writing style is simple, clear and very concise. Her economy of words is remarkable, especially in this tale. It is such that I describe “Emke” as a “short-short story”. The piece is so terse. While you are in the grove with its pretty lines, it just stops and is simply over! Poet Mp Mbutoh writes about its brevity thus, “But perhaps its briefness makes it all the more memorable, just like an interrupted French kiss!” At just 1400 words it doesn’t even qualify for Caine Prize submission. Imbolo also writes in a way that is unique to her too. She is just her! On the issue of language however, I think she gears towards one of her idols a little, Toni Morrison, who is a language gymnast. Mama Morrison bends the thing like rubber and uses it beautifully to her advantage from any angle. Imbolo is another writer whose bearing is also towards the English language. There are neat, beautiful sentences and punch lines in many parts. Relish excerpts of her effortless writing…He knew that blood is the river of the body and with his being contaminated, his body might soon shrivel up and die like plants on a dried river bank… His disease sat between us, like an August forest fire, burning away. With every glance at him my heart enlarged, overcome at the beauty he was even in his state of ugliness… Emke lay frozen with a grin, wearing a suit he would never have chosen for himself, packed in an ice box for the five-legged journey.

On the negative side, I felt “Emke” was too predictable. I guessed the whole plot and it didn’t deviate from what I was imagining all through, so that element of surprise was missing for me. I wanted Imbolo to take me to some other place I wasn’t expecting. But the twists and turns weren’t there. Is it because the story was too short for that? Also, I didn’t quite agree with the political views of Imbolo’s character. Emke’s political utterances didn’t go down well with me. Read this...The talk about the future of Africa resting on the institution of exemplary democracies amused him. Such fancy Western ideologies will never take root among our people, he often said…Why this pessimistic? It can take root. Yes, many African countries have leadership problems and there have been many dismal failures but some nations have shown good democratic track records like Ghana, Tanzania and Botswana. Nigeria has discarded brutish military dictatorships for democratic civilian rule for sixteen years now. I admit even those good examples still have problems. But then, is America’s democracy perfect? Also, many western countries have practiced democracy for about 500 years while independent African nations have been practicing democracy for just over fifty years. So they are toddlers with the democracy and good governance ideologies. They’ll slowly get there. This other statement pricked me, What we need back at home isn’t some absurd imported idea of government but a chance to live in good health and govern ourselves as we see fit.
Seriously? Let me assume Emke was very ill when he made that statement.