Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Short review of the novel, "The Famished Road" by Ben Okri

I’ve completed Ben Okri’s ‘fat’ 500 page Booker prize winning novel, “The Famished Road.” If Achebe is the king of proverbs then I think Ben Okri is the king of riddles. He writes a sort of riddle like prose. Most of his sentences read like they need some deciphering/decoding. And he does it from the very beginning…“In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry.” You’re like “how can a river become a road? How can it be hungry?” Then my mind went to the beginning of John’s gospel. “In the beginning the word already existed; the word was with God and the word was God.” I’m wondering if he was inspired by that! And his wonderful evocation of a spirit child’s infancy is full of witty words. “Life is full of riddles that only the dead can answer…There are many riddles of the dead that only the living can answer…There are mysterious forces everywhere we are living in a world of riddles…The road gave them a message for me…Hunger drove them from their kingdom and now the road is their only palace…The night was a messenger…Grow wherever life puts you down. 

Ben Okri’s creativity is very lush and intense too. You’ll find all these in the book. Someone upside down with legs on his head and running…a woman who gave birth to a big white egg…a land where nothing cast a shadow…a leopard with glass teeth…rats with yellow diamond teeth…an old man with golden hooves feet…a stout muscular tree with no leaves…a cat jumped right through me…plants that dream…a beggar with the head of a turtle…fishes swam in the black lights of the bar…a bird with a man’s hairy legs…antelope with the face of a chaste woman…a woman with the feet of a lioness…fishes with heads of birds…someone with blue blood like ink…the main character, Azaro meeting his double in another world…foetus baby with a little beard and another foetus with fully formed teeth..extinct birds stood near Dad’s boots. Whoa, a lot of creativity. Excellent work, Mr. Okri, I learnt a lot from your narrative technique. So now is onto the next book, onto the next one.

Remembering Marc Vivien Foe (Adieu Marco)

Today is June 26th 2013, exactly ten years since one of Cameroon’s best ever midfielders, the giant, Marc Vivien Foe died in a manner that traumatized us all. In 2003, Cameroon was on fire during the Confederations Cup. In the first game, we defeated World Cup defending champions, Brazil with a thunderbolt Samuel Eto’o shot from midfield that completely lobed over one of the best goalkeepers then, Dida. We sealed our qualification in the second game by defeating a no nonsense Turkey that had emerged third in the 2002 World Cup. After a draw with USA, we played against Columbia in the semi final on June 26th. Before halftime, we were leading 1-0 as usual. Then in the 71st minute of the game, Marc Vivien Foe walked slowly and tumbled onto the ground without contact from any Columbian player. His eyeballs rolled to the back of his sockets such that his eyes went completely white. It was a horrifying sight. He was rushed out for treatment but that completely distorted the psyche of our players to the point that, they couldn’t play at all and resorted to defending when minutes before the fall, they had been terrorizing Columbia’s defense. Luckily, Columbia didn’t score and we won the game. But immediately it ended, the news broke that Foe was dead!!! Seven doctors couldn’t resuscitate him. They said it was heart attack but as usual many Cameroonians blamed it on witchcraft. I still remember the female CRTV journalist reading the news cast in tears. We were all shocked. Someone who had been actively running all over the midfield and delivering amazing passes just minutes ago! Archille Emana couldn’t even conclude his interview. He just stopped talking and went dumb. We played a goalless final against France for ninety minutes. But the young Eto’o had a wonderful game and made a fool of the French defenders especially Marcel Desailly, twice seeping the ball through his feet (nzoloh) even though he didn’t score. Then in extra time, Thiery Henry scored an offside goal which was endorsed by the referee and the French won by thievery. We lost Marco and lost the trophy due to France’s thievery. Ever since Marco died and left that midfield we have not won anything for ten years. Meanwhile when he was there, he marshaled our midfield and we won two Africa Cup of Nations back to back, in 2000 and 2002. Marco rest in peace. I wish all these our cartoon lions copy your example but sadly they have not. “Marco, they di mess bad.” Tanzania, Cape Verde, Libya and Togo now beat us 2-0, 3-0 and we don’t even qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations anymore.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The very bizarre dancer

A few days ago, I went to an eating spot at Entrée Ecole Pilote to take lunch. As I sat down, I heard a familiar voice call my name. I checked out the person. It was my colleague and friend, Frankline alias Glissement Yobi Yobi. I moved over to his table. He was sitting with one of his friends. We both ordered two plates of achu. Yobi’s friend was already half way into his meal. When it was served, we began eating with gusto. A slim young man in slippers then walked in with a few pirated CD’s, with the album covers all in black and white and displayed his wares to us. I wasn’t interested at all and went on with my achu eating after telling him I preferred hip hop music instead. Yobi Yobi asked him what kind of music it was. “un nouveau style de Makossa, a new style of makossa.” “Na who sing am?” Yobi added. “Na me.” I turned and looked at the guy. He didn’t look like an artist even to the slightest degree. He looked like any ordinary guy on the street. I counted the black and white fake CD’s on his right hand-four. Wonderful, I thought. He started explaining his musical brand, which made absolutely no sense to any of us. The woman who sold food told him to dance to the tune of his makossa music, for better illustration. He only went on explaining his new sound. Again, the food seller told him to dance but he kept on, determined to make us comprehend his incomprehensible music. For the third time, the food seller challenged him to dance to his music. “Dance the music noh! You dong talk about the music we dong hear. Dance am, make we see.” We all couldn’t quite understand why she was insisting on the dancing.
The boy suddenly gyrated and unleashed a style. I didn’t see any of the dancing at first, because he was doing it adjacent to me. I only noticed that Yobi Yobi had frozen with a ball of fufu near his mouth and was staring at the young man in a stooping position and in wild bemusement. I turned around and looked at the young man who now was really…“should I call it dancing?” He was doing some frantic movements, twirling his left leg and right arm but in a manner as if he had no bone (still explaining his brand of music whole heartedly in a loud voice.) The ‘dancing’ was something in between human shivering/a rain soaked bird shuffling its feathers/slow motion Juju dancing/a blind man dancing, all of that combined into one slim human; no coordination, no attempt at makossa execution, no dancing charm, no swagger, no nothing. It was the strangest, most comical and most horrible dancing I’ve ever witnessed.
Imagine the worst dancing you’ve ever seen. This our guy was a little more than your worst. We first stared at him in action for about 30 seconds with Yobi Yobi’s mouth and mine still hanging open before unanimously exploding into wild laughter. But the guy kept dancing and explaining his music! By this time I was already shedding tears. Yobi’s friend stood up, held a chair tight so that he wouldn’t choke and collapse with laughter before Yobi Yobi finally said in difficulty, “Boy, stop, stop, stop. Em, Mami, you still hold my change noh! Gi yi five hundred.” It was only when the money was handed to him that he stopped dancing. (when man dong see side way yi 500 go komot for di Douala! Yi go pursue am, whether wunna laugh yi.) Our ‘artist’ extended his right hand to give Yobi Yobi the CD but my man declined quickly, saying, “No boy, take am, take am go, no bother” “But the music fine,” the artist protested. “No, take am go, no worry.”
The dancer left and we resumed laughing again. Then Yobi’s friend, got up and tried to imitate the guy with his worst style but Yobi Yobi told him, “You di even over dance fine.” And we laughed again. After we calmed down, we got back to our meal. Yobi Yobi suddenly threw in another comment. “Boy, time way that man start dance my heart cut!” We exploded again. By now, I had shed tears to my shirt. He still chipped in, “If you go play that kind man yi CD, you go move am quick quick, go back for road start find yi for beat’am.” The food seller added, “you sure say the CD go even play self?” This time I warned Yobi Yobi to stop throwing jokes because I was certainly going to choke. I reminded him that there was pepper in the achu. The woman who sold food told us he usually came there with his four CDs. Yobi’s friend added, “Ah okay, na why that way, you bi di insist say make yi dance eh!” “Yes noh, so that I go laugh. Someday yi bi dong cam dance that yi thing for here, people laugh sutay, kosh yi sutaaay but yi di only dance and explain yi music.” We laughed again. “Oh boy, See how man dong laugh for njoh!”

Saturday, June 8, 2013

My encounter with Bafana Bafana

Some days ago, while working on a South African Airways flight, i was at the door of the aircraft when it was opened and the hostess told me South Africa's national football team Bafana Bafana would be disembarking for a visit in Cameroon. I saw them alight one by one but didn't know most of them because they were new players. But i recognised some older ones from the 2010 worldcup; goalkeeper Khune, Bonghani Khumalo and Bernard Parker. There was one guy i had not seen yet and really wanted to meet. The dread locked man who had scored the thundershot left foot volley, the first goal of the 2010 world cup that almost tore Mexico's net. And he stepped out last. I said slowly, "Shabalala." He turned to me, smiled, extended his right hand and said, "Hey man, how are you?" I shook it,"I'm cool" "Nice to meet you man" he added and ran off. The incident reminded me of the day when I walked straight into Samuel Eto'o in front of the Air France VIP lounge during one old Swiss flight.

Letter to Chinelo Okparanta

07/06/13. Dear Chinelo, its with a lot of joy that I’m writing to tell you that I received HLW yesterday. Four days ago, I had been so worried it had gone missing because it took too long when I called the head office and they told me “nothing yet.” Today, while working on a Kenya airways flight, I got a call from the company accountant, Alin. Well, you can guess what she said right (I know you understand French) “bonjour Nkiacha,” “oui Alin bonjour,” “votre courier la est arrivé eh!” “Ah bon eh, grand merci, je veux passer la bas apres le vol.” “okay, je t’attends alors” I was distracted till the flight ended! I first passed by the bank to collect our delayed salary and jet planed to the office. The envelope was presented to me. I tore it open and stared at the front cover admiring and later reading those 2 short reviews. (coincidentally, I heard about Mohsin Hamid for my first time just last Sunday when I was listening to the BBC’s world book club and he was the guest talking about The Reluctant Fundamentalist!) I opened the first page and saw, wow “For Nkiacha: many thanks for reading! Signature, date” my heart jumped for joy like John the Baptist in Elisabeth’s womb-My first book sent to me by the author herself!!! I brought it to my nose, oui, and loved the fresh smell of the new pages. I counted the stories -10 of them (196 pages-it’s a very brief one for me) and kept admiring it for 5 minutes. I left with my new book and my little salary. Like the rapper Ice Cube sang in 1994, “It was a good day.” Let me now say bc of our friendship, I now want you to win that Caine, lol! I devoured all of “On Ohaeto street” last night and made notes despite being tired. I will read the others carefully, write my review of each story and send to you. Once again, thank you very much.
NB: Please don’t bother about people misinterpreting and negatively criticizing “America.” It means you are going to be very famous. Want to know why I said so? please have a look at this…. In 1990, the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa addresses a different aspect of the writing life: fame. He recounts something Pablo Neruda once told him: “An article at the time—I can’t remember what it was about—had upset and irritated me because it insulted me and told lies about me. I showed it to Neruda. In the middle of his birthday party, he prophesied: ‘You are becoming famous. I want you to know what awaits you: the more famous you are, the more you will be attacked like this. For every praise, there will be two or three insults. I myself have a chest full of all the insults, villainies, and infamies a man is capable of withstanding. I wasn’t spared a single one: thief, pervert, traitor, thug, cuckold, everything! If you become famous, you will have to go through that.’ Neruda told the truth; his prognosis came absolutely true. I not only have a chest, but several suitcases full of articles that contain every insult known to man.” Mario Vargas Lhosa….when Nkiacha Atemnkeng switched on CNN in 2011, he heard a newscast that Lhosa had won the Nobel prize for Literature
Hmmm. Good to know what you have awaiting you, lol. Bye bye dear.

Caine Prize thoughts

I just finished reading and rereading all the five 2013 Caine Prize nominated stories. Wow, the writers all blew me away with the first-rate quality of their writing. It was a wonderful literary feast for the written word hungry like me. Hmmm, I feel sorry for those Caine prize judges! Picking a winner will be the most difficult job for them. I started with Chinelo Okparanta’s beautiful Lesbianism/oil spill story, “America,” and I was like, “She’ll win it.” Then Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s “The Whispering Trees” left me breathless and at the same level with Chinelo’s “America.” Next, I read Tope Folarin’s church set, “Miracle” and the blind prophet made me think of T.B Joshua. Elnathan John’s “Bayan Layi” about political tension and looting in northern Nigeria was cool but I think I enjoyed Pede Hollist’s “Foreign Aid” even more. So which is my favourite? Em, Abubakar, em, Chinelo. I’m rooting for both of them at once. I’ll combine their names, I’m rooting for Chinelo Abubakar, lol, closely followed by Pede Hollist. But no matter who wins, a Caine Prize nomination itself is a very big victory. So, kudos to all of them for a job well done!