Monthly Archives: August 2012

In the wind: A short story

Nduka watched the fingers of smoke curl towards the ceiling. He stretched his hand out to the side without looking and tapped, once, twice on the butt of his cigarette. He inhaled again.

“I wish you wouldn’t smoke,” said Buti.

“Sorry, babe. I can’t not smoke. I need to get my strength back. You almost killed me.”

“Smoking is not the way to ‘get your strength back’. If anything it’s going to make you lose your breath even more,” Buti slid out from under the sheets and tiptoed over to the window. Thrusting a hand between the curtains, she pushed the window open. Nduka put his hands to his ears. “And that,” she continued, “Was a double negative.”

“Yes, madam. Why are you hiding yourself like that?” he asked as Buti slipped back under the covers. “I’m sure everyone in this compound heard you. Even that little boy downstairs you said was spying on you when you dressed up.”

Buti twirled a lock of her weave around an index finger. “Do you think so?” She looked at the stump  – all that was left of the tree outside her bedroom window after the landlord had taken care of her ‘little problem’.

“Yes.”

“God.”

“You said that too.”
Continue reading In the wind: A short story

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In defence of (my) Igboness

This blog is NOT about a hatred of Igbo people and things, especially Igbo men.

I do not hate being Igbo.

As a child I didn’t necessarily know I was Igbo. Yes, I spoke the language and I soaked in the culture as if I was a sponge, but when you grow up with everyone singling you out as ‘Nke a muru na obodo oyibo’ (the one that was born abroad) and making it out to be something special, you start to feel you are – somehow – above being Igbo. It’s not something you think about with a conscious mind. You don’t sit for hours pondering your uniqueness. It’s something that thrives in the warmth of admiration but has nothing really to do with who you are. Much like being able to grow your hair past your shoulders or being a lighter shade of black.

I was black. To a large extent, I was white – colourless even; the books I read, the music I listened to, the voice of my subconscious: white, white, white. (If you were born into the middle class and upwards before the mid-90s you understand what I mean. Let’s not get bogged down.)

It took moving abroad to make me appreciate all the things I took for granted growing up; unique forms of expression, smells, sounds. It was like my I-chromosome had been activated. This didn’t happen immediately – nor consciously, at first. It’s true that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. If you let people, they will define you. In my case, many tried.

Yet there is no one definition of Igboness – how can there be?  (I am aware of the irony because the blog seems to hold up a certain type of Igbo as the norm.) I took exception to condensing my life to its purest igbo droplet.  Did this mean I could no longer (unashamedly) enjoy 80s Brit pop? Motorcycles? Spanish culture? Rollerderby? Travel? Trdelnik? World literature? Did this mean I could no longer admire or date anyone not from ‘our side’?  Does discovering other sides to myself make me any less ‘Igbo’?

I don’t think so.

If anything, it has helped to appreciate being Igbo more. I no longer take language for granted, ‘Oh it will always be there’, because it is constantly changing, evolving. More than half the words my maternal grandmother spoke when I was more interested in charging around than listening no longer exist. The paradigms of beauty have shifted so that my dark-skinned paternal grandmother whose teeth were sharpened into points to offset her cheekbones might no longer be considered stunning.

I stopped caring where I was born years ago and considered where I was raised. I know that the English fox is crafty but that the Igbo tortoise is craftier. I know that an Akpu tree is not the same as a cassava plant although they both share the same name. I know what to do with a ripe head of Ukwa even if it is a bloody tough job. Burning tyres will always remind me of New Year as opposed to lynching. I cannot hear ‘Kom Kom’ without being transported to ndi uzu oka. I am from Oba of the nine villages, and my village Ezelle is the youngest, responsible for keeping Idemmili in priests. I can forgive you if there is no ojii when I come to your house, but if you sweep my house at night you are my enemy. Why are you sweeping away my wealth?

I belong.

I do not hate Igbo people. I can take the mickey out of my brothers and sisters, out of my culture because it is mine. I can see our flaws and I can laugh at our mistakes. This does not mean I do not appreciate the beauty of who we are.

After all, you do not throw your baby away just because it has bitten you on the breast.

I spy with my little eye, a menwich!

I can’t believe I ever thought twins were a little weird (might be the whole twin-killing Igbo thing. Maybe) but these guys have totally changed my mind.

Boom!

image

You are looking at my fantasy (that’s Hubs in the middle, after his interview with the duo).

(((Titter, Titter)))

OK, to be honest, it might just be the dimples really.

The video of the interview is here

P.S: I didn’t think all twins were weird. Only identical ones. Ha! But no more obviously.

The Hero Series: ‘What makes you know you’re Igbo’ and other matters.

Number of times searched – 1

Listen my dear, I do not understand this question.

When you’re Igbo you just know. In fact the first rule of knowing that you’re Igbo is to wonder if you are. Our culture does not favour everyone and if you’re feeling the pinch of it in a particular area of your life, the fact that you cannot escape is probably causing you to fantasise that maybe…just maybe…you might not be Igbo? Ha! Tough luck! You are.

If I am not an eight-year-old lying asleep on my mother’s couch, waiting for my Uncle Israel to pick me up for a two-week holiday at his house (Long story. More on this later) then you don’t get to have an alternate reality either. This is your life. Suck it up.

If you are adopted or something and are simply wondering if you could be Igbo, I think I can help. And don’t worry, if the majority of these symptoms have not manifested, they will. In time. As with all medical advice, having one or more means you are definitely Igbotically inclined.

FEMALES

  • You have to resist the urge to blind, maim or even eviscerate your suitors: This means you like them. In fact, the more you like them, the more likely they are to end up dead. It will be sad if they die, yes, but your honour and Maidenhead will be intact.

****Of course we cannot disregard cases of rape and ‘forceful loving’ from centuries of cultural ‘Stop-it-I-like-its’. In those days however, there was a code of which both males and females, young and old were aware. There were signs that women gave if they were genuinely interested and merely testing your mettle to see if you would be a strong husband –  if you genuinely wanted her  as opposed to just anyone in her peer group. I would like to say there was no rape but it is likely that the consequences were more severe. Unlike today, rape could be punishable by death. But – and I say this as someone who has been on the receiving end of many a persistent bugger convinced he is being tested – there is a need for the language of courtship to change. If women are still reading from the scroll of courtship and men aren’t, there is a problem. 

  • You are relentless in your pursuit of degrees/independence: You mustn’t blame yourself if you are still stuck on your 10th postgraduate programme long after your mates have finished theirs. It’s a genetic condition. Do you know the science of evolution? Well, you are programmed to behave like that because in the not-too-distant past, your ancestresses married one man and had to look after themselves and their children with whatever they sold, sowed or bartered. The only thing they got from the men apart from social standing  (and if your man was an akologheli like my Awka brethren would say, not even that) were yams and seed yams. You get where I’m going with this. Still…
  • Marriage matters to you. Deeply. And so…
  • In spite of your independence, you don’t want to appear too independent/smart. I know, I know. It’s annoying isn’t it? You have all the answers and you’re forced to hold your tongue while the men lumber around making all the mistakes and generally wrecking everything. You know how to hold a car distributor together with the under-wire of your bra and you have to watch your man fiddling with stuff under the bonnet and muttering “I think it’s the manifold.” And this, after refusing to call the mechanic twiddling his thumbs across the road. Stuff like that.
  • You find yourself: Sitting down to cook (who was the imbecile that came up with standing up to cook anyway?), saving the best pieces of meat/fish for whatever man is closest during meal times, even if they are strangers. And if no man is available? Well, no wonder your freezer is full. Get  a man ASAP. In fact, even a male dog has a penis and is more deserving than you are. Get one.
  • You may have an innate hierarchical system: Men first, then male children, women and girls. The Marrieds over singles. This will determine how you treat them all the time. Contrary to the UN’s idiotic beliefs, all fingers are not created equal. You may also hate yourself for this, seeing as you’re educated and all. Don’t be silly. The minute you surrender to your Igboness, this internal conflict will be resolved. You’ll accept your place. Which is…
  • A little above a child’s: Your man, whether temporary or permanent, has the right to discipline you as he sees fit. 50 Shades of Grey is your template. You can’t understand these people who hate it so much.

It might sound like your existence is dire; you have all of the responsibilities but none of the benefits but that isn’t always true. I’d say it’s split 80/20 but that is true in the rest of the world. The difference is that we’re Igbo. We are more honest about things than everyone else is.  Keep your head down and do your duty. That is your reward for living.

But if you feel a bit blue, consider this: Amadioha is so merciful that he has given us a silver lining. Most of the men your age will probably be dead twice over before you even dream about popping your clogs.

May be the odds be ever in your favour!

Love,

Hx

Defeated by penis

I’ve been speaking to Tot in his mother tongue since he was a few weeks old.

So far, God has blessed this particular hustle because he understands Igbo quite well.

  1. He knows all the imperatives; Sit down, Stand up, Stay still, Shut up, Come here, Move back.
  2. The different types of foods; Plantains, Yams, Potatoes,Fish, Meat, Eggs.
  3. Objects in day-to-day life; Tree, Flower, Chair, Book – and will bring you whichever story you ask for, –  Nappy, Wipes, Potty.
  4. And of course, parts of the body; hands. Head, Eyes, Nose, Mouth.

I cannot teach him ‘Penis’.

***

I’m not sure when I learned what penis was in Igbo, but I am sure it was in hush-hush conditions which is de rigueur for sharing all kinds of pseudo-sexual information. Before this, it was a thing that one pretended didn’t exist after they sat on their daddy’s lap, felt a bulge, poked it with an inquisitive forefinger and got told off in the sternest way possible so that one was sure daddy didn’t like them any more.

After I learned the word, everything changed. One minute I was minding my business, the next there was the word blazing a path through my consciousness, laying waste to the virgin forest of my mind. It’s still a post apocalyptic wasteland. ‘Penis’ as it turns out, is a gateway word.

Everything started making sense, even if I didn’t know the rudiments of thingsIn between studies and play I wondered about boys and girls and penis, penis, penis. I saw the word floating in the air above me, shimmering in heat waves, crawling like ants on my skin. Why was no one as restless as I was? Couldn’t they feel penis in the air?

It was if I was being tested. One morning, the driver was sent on an errand and decided he would drop my sister and I in school earlier than normal. She went off to her classroom and I to mine. I turned to the left in the shared, rectangular classroom, dropped my bag on one of the back benches and wondered what to do before everyone else arrived.

There it was, in black and white on the opposite wall/board belonging to Primary 2D in Igbo: Okechukwu has a penis’.

I looked around the empty classroom, walked to both doorways before approaching the board. My eyes were not lying. It was still there. Okechukwu has a penis. Why was it there? Who wrote it? To what end? Of course he would have a penis, Okechukwu being a boy’s name; but which one was it? Did I know him? Was he showing people his penis? When? Where?

I walked the length of the board/wall and back, studying the letters. It was as if someone had written it in a hurry. Why was I still reading it, I knew what it said already? I closed my eyes and the words appeared in white against my eyelids. Was I going to hell?

I heard footfalls outside and hurried back to my part of the double classroom. The two boys who came in were not in my class. They were two of the kids who trekked up the hill from Nibo/Nise every morning.  They sat down, rubbing at their feet with leaves to get rid of the dust. I couldn’t take the silence much longer.

“Are you in 2D?” I asked. One of them nodded. The other one kept scrubbing. “You people are going to get flogged today for writing that on your board.”

“Writing what? We didn’t do anything.” I knew they didn’t. I had a few of the Nibo/Nise kids in my class too. They could barely write.

“Well, somebody did. You had better clean it before your teacher gets here.”

“What is she saying?” the silent one asked. He turned to the board covered in squiggles. “There is nothing on the board. It’s just jaga-jaga.”

“There,” I stood up pointing. “Can’t you see?”

“No, no I can’t,” said the first. “Stop sighing and show us what you mean.”

“See? Here.” I traced the letters hidden under the squiggles with a finger.

“I see something there, but I can’t…I can’t…” The first boy squinted. “What does it say?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“I can’t see it properly. Just tell us.”

“Ok,” My heart was beating on the back of my tongue. “It says ‘Okechukwu nwere amu’.”

“What?” Silent-boy jumped up. “Where? Read it again.”

Okechukwu nwere amu.” The boys clapped each other on the back, and jumped around. They looked at me as if I was the funniest, most intelligent person in the world. I felt ten feet tall. I said it! I said the word. I eyed the boys. They had better not tell anyone.

The next person to enter the classroom had a scapular and small cross on brown strings around her neck. She went straight to her place on one of the front benches and sat down. The boys huddled giggling and nodding. “Uju,” did you see what someone wrote on our board?” asked the first boy. Uju looked up. She left her seat and stood by the board. Then she bent down, picked up the rag used for the purpose and wiped the board clean. The boys stopped sniggering. Uju sat down and opened her books.

My face and neck were on fire.

***

My son knows other parts of the body too: Knees, fingers, toes, tongue, teeth. He can hear the tonal difference between ears (nti) and cheek (nti). But I still cannot tell him the Igbo word for penis.

So, I have settled on ‘Mammiri’ – ‘Urine’ –  as a substitute. I think it is appropriate since that is what I need Tot to learn how to do in a potty right now.

As for the other thing, I am sure he will pick it up school, in the hush-hush way pseudo-sexual matters are revealed.