Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Things Fall Apart

It was early afternoon, about 10 minutes left until the lunchtime bell was due to go off and I didn’t think I could survive any longer. The only thing keeping my eyelids from drooping was the queer rumbling that appeared to be emanating from my stomach. I looked around the classroom and everyone seemed to be in a similar state. We had English Literature, but I had long finished my essay on Lady Macbeth and was just waiting fir everyone else to catch up. Mr Akyea looked and noticed the pallor that had fallen over the class. He asked us all to stop what we were doing and decided to read a bit for us. He opened the book in front of him and began to read:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

I snapped to attention instantly and looked straight at him. In that moment, I felt a jolt of recognition and I know he did too, because as the lunchtime bell sounded, he requested that I remain behind. I walked up to his desk, wondering what he was going to say. He asked how I felt when he read that portion of the William Butler Yeats poem quoted in the frontpiece of Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’. I wanted to answer him honestly but could not for fear of ridicule. Sensing my hesitation, he responded for me; “You felt complete awe, and a shiver went down your spine”. I looked up in surprise, and nodded mutely.
He told me that I reminded him very much of his youth, that he had also developed a great love of literature and oration at an early age, and that he always recognised that spark the minute he saw it in someone else.

13 years down the line, I am re-reading ‘Things Fall Apart’ for the millionth time, and as always when I turn to the first page, I can hear his voice booming as clear as if he were standing right next to me. I savour the words as though I speaking along with him and they take on such profound beauty that I am almost moved to tears. As I read the novel, I frequently turn back to the frontpiece and roll those words around my tongue. For some reason, doing this lends the story a new urgency, as though I have not already devoured it a thousand times.

I am passionate about reading, I always have been. I already knew that when I walked into Mr. Akyea’s class 13 years ago. What I learned from him however, was that the passion is there to be nurtured. Savoured as though it were something precious and wallowed in to utmost. That was the first time that I truly learned about passion in a Nigerian classroom. It was not to be the last time, but it was definitely the first and it played a significant role in shaping me into who I am today. Everybody has that one teacher who completely changed their life, I have several but the one I think of the most often is Mr. Akyea. The reason for this is that he was not a saint, nor was he someone you put on a pedestal and idolised. He was just real, and it was this honesty without hiding behind the traditional barriers of adults always being right and children always being wrong that made the literary exploration we undertook in his classes such a rare treat. Nigerian children could do with a few more Mr. Akyeas today.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

On friendship

I wonder if there is a formula for friendship, some hidden algorithm that causes everything to fall into place. Is that reading too much into what is possibly a chemical reaction? Why do we hit it off with some people but not with others? Why do we think we have hit it off with others but later come to find out that this is not the case?

Is it a cultural issue? Do different cultures define friendship via different parameters? I ask because in the 3 years that I have lived in New York, I have made and abandoned more friendships than I did in the 7 previous years living in London. This is quite an alarming attrition rate for someone who considers herself a reasonable judge of character. This disturbing trend forced me to question whether I was the one with the issues, however having since resolved the problem by editing my friendship roster I am forced to concede that it is not that simple.

Examining the 3 years in retrospect, I have come to believe that my cultural theory just might carry more weight than I had initially realised. I have come to believe that the African definition of friendship differs greatly from the European or American concept. I am well aware that this is a massive generalisation, and I am sure that there must be exceptions to the rule...but based on my daily observations, Africans have different expectations from a friendship than our European or American counterparts. I have had several serial "really close friends" in the last few years, people with whom I achieved a level of closeness that I assumed signalled a strong bond. I have never been so wrong in my life! What is disturbing about the dissolution of these friendships is that they have not exploded in passionate rage over an insurmountable disagreement, they have simply withered and died.

The most recent example has been dying slowly for over a year now, but came to a screeching halt recently when I recognised how unhealthy it was. I had a friend who I was really close to, and we bonded when we were both not so happy. Oddly enough however, the happier I got and the better things were going for me, the more distant she became. I found it quite hard to believe that any kind of close friend could have that attitude, but the evidence is irrefutable and I am forced to put the final nail in that coffin.

This is a problem for me however, as I have no intention of deciding how close to get to people based on ethnicity. It is a problem that I have no solution to, any ideas?

Thursday, November 09, 2006


I've been meaning to get round to posting for a few days now, but somehow or the other it just hasn't happened. After my whistle-stop tour of the UK, I came back to NYC..popped over to Philly for a few days and now am back in New York so I can finally take the time to exhale....and post!

The developments over the last few weeks have been coming thick and fast, Madge & David, Rumsfeld & Gates, Duke & Presidency etc. With so much of great importance to discuss and so little time, I have decided to focus my efforts on what is clearly THE most important recent news item....... Britney and K-Fed are no more!!

I wonder if the fact that Whitney Houston also recently chose to divest herself of her dead weight factored into Britney's decision at all. The circumstances do appear to be remarkably similar and perhaps noting the good reception enjoyed by Whitney, Britney was persuaded to go for it........ There is something to be said for having remarkably similar names!! Then again, maybe some savvy PA noted that this years midterm elections were bound to consume the airwaves here in the US and so perhaps it would be wisest to wait until that day, to reveal the news. Either way...comgrats!