Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The barge and pipes on the River Wouri

Some months ago, some Chinese and Cameroonian engineers and technicians started building something along the Douala Bassa bank of the River Wouri. It was difficult to see what they were building because it was enclosed behind a ceiling board blockade. But it was evident that there were many frames of gigantic metal poles of various shapes and sizes involved. As usual, rumours started flying about what it was. They unanimously fell on one conclusion –the second bridge over the River Wouri was in progress. So as I crossed the bridge everyday in taxis, I kept scrutinizing the building of the thing through the holes of the ceiling board blockade but couldn’t really make out what it was. I wasn’t too sure of the bridge story either –there’s been talk of a second bridge over the Wouri for over twenty years yet nothing’s been done. Was it finally the long awaited bridge that would solve Douala’s perennial traffic jam problem!
The thing kept getting taller and taller and quite evident to me that it wasn’t a bridge. It was more of a metal frame tower. So one day, as I was returning from work with my colleague, Franklin, he told me it was actually a ship and pointed at it from an angle that I could see more clearly than before. The ship story made some sense because the thing was now in the form of a small unfinished ship but it didn’t make any sense to me why they would build a ship in the Wouri. He told me, the Chinese had decided to rent a ship at “Base Naval” for their work but they had been taxed a lot of money, hundreds of millions per month, so they decided to construct theirs. The assembled thing wasn’t as big as a ship, it was more of a small boat or ferry. And after about three days, I saw it sailing slowly in the middle of the Wouri so I could analyze it perfectly.
It’s in fact shaped exactly like a ferry. With a wide base made of brownish metal and an inscription at its outer edge which reads, “Camwater.” A little ‘house’ is equally built on its deck. There were many men with helmets and boots walking and working on it. At one end, I saw many helical metal frame spirals with so many cords that went up and were attached to a loooong pole with so many metal frames, the same way masts are attached on the ships with ropes in the sailor movies. The pole is shaped exactly like an MTN antenna. At the tip of the pole are three flags, that of Cameroon, China and a white one which I cannot identify the country. At the middle of the pole, is attached a big circular metal object shaped like a cannon. My friend Maliva told me the whole thing is called a barge not a boat nor ferry. I had never heard of the word before.
Then I realized one day that, there were four big concentric pipes sticking closely out of the surface of the Wouri (at right angles to each other) at the Douala Bassa end. The next time I passed across the bridge, there were four other pipes sticking out river inwards near the others. And as days passed, the pipes kept appearing, sticking out of the water surface in fours, at right angles to one another, in a straight line across the Wouri and very equidistant. The barge also kept going inwards, inwards, inwards towards the Bonaberi end just like the big concentric pipes too. I was wondering how those workers were doing it. A few days ago, as I went across the bridge, I was only half lucky to see the barge in action. It was near a set of four pipes, adjacent to it precisely and the antenna like pole was directly over it. Then the canon came down rolling on the side of the pole and collided with one of the pipes making a deafening sound “pooong,” the canon went back up and came down, hitting hard on the pipe again, “pooong,” up, down, “Poooong” and as the car drove on, there were successive sounds of poooong. I’ve never been lucky to see how the barge inserts those fat pipes into the deep river (that’s why I said earlier that I’m only half lucky.) Hope I will catch the scene soon enough.
The pipes which are to be inserted are all placed behind the ceiling board blockade. A roof has been built over them and reinforced with blue tarpaulin but there are no walls around. Beside the roofed pipes ‘house’ is a yellow caterpillar bulldozer. And the pipes, Jeeez!, they’re extremely huge! So huge to the extend that three full grown humans can go through them simultaneously. There’s also been a lot of talk about what the pipe building and the whole project is all about. Many have said it’s a new pipe born water project. I’ve heard so many stories about the project that I don’t know which one is the truth. Truly, I don’t know. The only issue that can make issues clear now is the passing away of time.

How I earned my copy of “We need new names” by NoViolet Bulawayo

“I will marry when I want” because “The beautyful ones are not yet born.” That’s a creative weave of the titles of two fiction books by the popular Kenyan writer, Ngugi Wa Thiongo and Ghana’s Ayi Kwei Armah. One day in the month of June 2013, big sister Noviolet Bulawayo put up a creative title wax of 2013 fiction books on her facebook wall. I’ve forgotten exactly what it was but it was something like this, “We need new names like Americannah, like Happiness, like Water and Ghana must go.” Her facebook friends started posting their waxes in the comments thread, about eight of them. But Noviolet wasn’t really impressed with their waxes and posted under the comments, “I’m still waiting for the one that will make me send that person a copy of “Names.” (her debut novel.) I nodded and marveled at the rain of creative waxes that followed her comment. But she didn’t post anything again, probably implying that she wasn’t still impressed. I didn’t post any creative wax that day, (though I’m very good at such things.) I went home and thought hard but no wonderful idea came to my mind. Then the next morning, I woke up and inspiration struck me. I picked up my pen. Slowly, steadily, I made my own weave by assembling these works,
“We need new names” Noviolet Bulawayo’s debut novel, “Happiness, like Water” Chinelo Okparanta’s debut collection of short stories, “Under the Udara Trees” Chinelo Okparanta’s forthcoming novel. “Americannah” Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s third novel, “Wahala” Chinelo Okparanta’s ’s short story, “The Hired man” Aminatta Forna’s third novel, “Ghana must go” Taiye Selasi’s debut novel. “Shadows” Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s novella, “There was a country” Chinua Achebe’s last book, a memoir which he published in 2012. “Bombay’s Republic” Rotimi Babatunde’s 2012 Caine prize winning short story, “One day I will write about this place” Binyavanga Wainaina’s debut novel.
“We need new names” like NoViolet Bulawayo and Chinelo Okparanta who now feels “Happiness, like Water” because of her 2013 Caine prize nomination. It has triggered her younger ones in Port Harcourt to go celebrating “Under the Udara trees.” Maybe when she visits Nigeria soon to bask in her literary glory, some will start calling her, “Americannah” and she’ll unleash “Wahala” on them for it’s considered a derogatory word.
At the Caine Prize, they’ve hired a new Vice chairman. “The Hired man” is Ben Okri of “The famished road.” There was no Ghanaian Caine prize nominee this year so “Ghana must go” and hide in the “Shadows,” and Nigeria must come and win it back to back due to their unprecedented four nominee invasion. But in 2012, “There was a country” called “Bombay’s Republic,” and I swear to God, “One day I will write about this place.”
I loved what I’d come up with and posted it on NoViolet’s wall when I next surfed the internet. Only her reply now, reply, reply, reply, please God let her be impressed with this one!!! The next day, I checked and she had posted this comment beneath my post,
“You’ve just earned yourself a copy of “Names” little bro, you tried!”
“Yes, yes, Eureka!” (But she had earlier promised me a copy of the book. My weave just endorsed and enforced it.) I had also sent the weave to Chinelo Okparanta, since she was loaded in it. She clicked “like” on my post on Noviolet’s wall and next replied my message,
“Very clever use of titles, I like it very much." Such thumbs up from two great African writers with Caine prize appeal really encourages me to keep going!

Monday, July 15, 2013

NoViolet’s Hair

It’s tidy, dark, well groomed, repels every single comb, thus it is shaggy,like that of the reggae artist Shaggy or a teenage version of Bob Marley. Is she going to grow it to level like Bob’s progeny, Damian Marley? I would love to see her rearrange it to the hot 2001 style of Craig David. Maybe she will sustain it at the level of Fugees singer/rapper Lauryn Hill. I’m musing how mentoress grooms it, everyday she caresses the hair hills like Chipo caresses her small pregnant stomach, applying special ointments to make it shiny, glittery and hilly, standing singly, all over the place like dotted trees across the almost semi arid Savannah of northern Cameroon. But the reality as I studied in Biology, is that, with age, oxygen bubbles are going to enter into the hair follicles and the hair hills will become grayish even whitish like lather from washing with detergent which is so soapish. Shall we still relish the hair? Not at all, at that time it will really be rubbish and she would tell the story, “Now my hair is finished, it even looks fetish but when I was a young woman, the world not only devoured my writing but also looked upon my hair with much relish as if I were a rare fish or a Swedish or Polish. Every time I did polish it, then it could win the award for the most versatile female writer hairstyle because it was really very stylish.

Condoning with poaching

The other day, while working on a local flight to Lagos, I witnessed two sacs-full of pangolin meat (protected and endangered species) being seized from two Chinese by the customs. And it’s not the first time such a thing is happening. In fact, a majority of such butchered endangered species get seized and even boarded here every day. And it happens with the complicity of Cameroonian middlemen. Asians come here and pay for the poaching of our endangered animals (bush meat, tusks, ivory etc) and rare wood and we let them do it. They kill an elephant, use an engine saw and saw off its tusk as if they’re sawing wood and abandon the carcass to rot there. (I really feel sorry for elephants and especially rhinos because they are moving with millions of dollars on their heads.)

Our national animal is the lion, our resident president is even nicknamed “lion man”. Our football team is called “the indomitable lions” (even though these days anybody whips them and we now call them Domitable lions. Anyway, let me jump into that.) In the seventies, we used to have a thriving population of lions at Waza Park in northern Cameroon. In 2013, Waza park has no single lion, they’ve all vanished because of poaching, zero conservation efforts and zero government effort to stop poaching. They only seize dried meat (when the animal killing has already been done!) Stop the poachers instead! I really admire the Kenyans and South Africans where wild life conservation is concerned. And when Cameroon has to play football they start showing us TV images of majestic lions with big manes when they’re none left in the country. And start screaming commentaries when Eto’o scores winning goals, “Allez les lions…les lions ont marqué, les lions ont gagné.” Nonsense.

Celebrities I’ve seen at the Douala International Airport

I met Samuel Eto’o travelling to Europe on Air France and the whole of South Africa’s Bafana Bafana football team while at the door of the South African Airways aircraft. I’ve seen P-Square twice travelling with their band, a whole battalion of pidgin speaking Igbo boys. The first time I saw them, they were travelling with the singer, Flavour whom I later saw travelling with singer, Iyanya. I met makossa artist Petit Pays travelling to Yaounde on Camair-co. I also met the singer Chidinma and Cameroonian guitarist, Richard Bona. I took a photo with Richard Bona. Also, the lovely Stella Damasus Aboderin. She arrived almost late at the airport and was supposed to travel to Lagos on Air Nigeria. But that day, the flight had been overbooked and she was left behind because the passenger list was already too full. In disappointment, she made a dozen phone calls until the moment I left. I’ve seen the hoarse voiced actor, Alex Osaifor at the arrival hall. I took a pic with another actor, legendary Nollywood man, Kanayo O'Kanayo. While working on the ramp one day, I stumbled onto CAF president Issa Hayatou boarding an Air Nigeria plane. Speaker of the house of national asembly Cavaye Yegue Djibrill also flew on another Air Nigeria flight I was working on.