Creative Nonfiction Call for Blog Nominations!

In the past, when Creative Nonfiction was seeking blog posts to reprint, people were kind enough to nominate their favorite(s). For that, CNF editors are very grateful and hope you’ll help direct them (again) to your favorite blog posts from 2010 (or, you know, if you wanted to post this info on your Twitter/Blog/Facebook page, they’d like that a whole lot, too).

The details: CNF is seeking narrative blog posts to reprint in their upcoming issue (Winter 2010).

They’re looking for: Vibrant new voices with interesting, true stories to tell. Narrative, narrative, narrative. Posts that can stand alone, 2000 words max, from 2010. Something from your own blog, from a friend’s blog, from a stranger’s blog.

The small print: CNF will contact individual bloggers before publication and pay a flat fee for one-time reprint rights. Deadline for nominations: Monday, September 27, 11:59 PM.

For more details and to nominate a blog post go here: http://www.creativenonfiction.org/blog_nomination.html.




UNILAG Memoirs: Notes from the Lagoon Front

By Gbenga Awomodu

The UNILAG Senate Building. Photo credit: Williams Ozowe

In a few weeks, I will say goodbye to the undergraduate years. Like it happened to me when leaving the primary school and even the secondary school, I have started to have a deep sense of nostalgia. Barely five years ago, we all wore our matriculation gowns and felt really cool about ourselves. We never really saw beyond that day… No one really knew what lay ahead. Today, I look back and see fantastic moments and bashed hopes, deferred dreams and hope renewed, up times and down times, good times and not-so-good times. I will miss a lot about UNILAG. The Lagos Varsity Christian Union has been my home away from home. If I were to write about my experiences in LVCU, it would take a whole book! Today, I share some of my experiences at the Lagoon Front Resort…

 

The University of Lagos is perhaps the only university in Africa bordered by a lagoon. The lagoon front is a major tourist attraction in the university community. It was given a serious face lift last year under the leadership of Prof. Tolu Odugbemi, the immediate past Vice Chancellor.

 

***

This Road links the Julius Berger Lecture Theatre to the Lagoon Front

Sometime in Year One (2006), some weeks to my second semester examinations, a senior I had known in the secondary school met me at the Lagoon Front under one of the numerous trees that dot the beautiful landscape. He greeted me in an unusually husky voice that was in tandem with his shabby appearance. After the basic introductory banters, he asked me for my department and course of study. “Hey, Chemical Engineering… that is good! Hope nobody has been disturbing you o?” He then went on to tell me tales of students in higher levels who took advantage of freshers like me who were naïve novices. Well, I was able to convince him I didn’t really need his help… I have never seen him since then!

 

***

The Lagos Third Mainland Bridge as viewed from the shores of the Lagoon Front

In mid-2008, a big volcano hit me badly. I had just checked one of my results, and what I saw made me simmer. It felt like someone had jabbed a dagger right into my heart! I had just seen the lowest score ever in my life!! How could I have scored this low; even though the lecturer had contributed a lot to this dismal and unacceptable result? My spirit was troubled and I hurried to the Lagoon Front, perhaps somewhere in the cool of the late afternoon, like the ebb tide, my soul could find some rest and my spirit some calm. I spilled out tongues I could not understand… I wrestled with God in my mind and spoke so fast I wonder how he still heard me. I must have spent about an hour in my groaning but when I left the Lagoon front, I had received some peace in my heart. But we humans hardly understand his ways. Despite the lecturer’s word to review our scripts, over a dozen of us had to write the course the following year… Still, I trust God, for he knows best and who am I to challenge him?

 

***

The Julius Berger Lecture Theatre

I have often visited this same Lagoon front to do my last minute revisions, moments before the commencement of exams. In these last two years, I have written most of my exams at the Julius Berger Lecture Theatre, a three-minute stroll away from the Lagoon Front. During the examination period, it is not rare to spot scores of students doing some last minute cramming and revision. While the ‘learning colleagues’ from the Faculty of Law who have strayed like lost sheep from their Law Library are trying to properly file the series of legal cases and definitions in the new cabinet they just acquired in the expiring semester – their brain memory space that is -, the young Engineers in the making are busy gnawing away at gigantic formulas and differential equations like sick fellas chewing bitter paracetamol pills. But some people come there not to read, but on romantic picnics. Remember, this is a tourist attraction, a relaxation spot even for people not members of the university community. Sometimes I wonder what the studious students think in their mind when they see twin lovers at different spots under the coconut trees tangled in hot embrace and telling themselves sweet nothings, while they are busy pacing the length and breadth of the shores, trying to stuff their brains with as much information as possible for their impending exams. How many of them can actually stand the repugnant smoke from the pipers, usually a group of guys who visit the Front to feed on marijuana and cigarette. Occasionally you see two mature lovers doing justice to one or two bottles of beer. In short, here you could make motley of friends!

 

***

UNILAG Lagoon Front Resort

Sometimes, I just visit the Lagoon front to experience the cool breeze, indulge in the relatively quiet ambience, and simply spend time all alone. How I love the inspiration that flows at times like this! Penultimate Sunday, after the LVCU service, I needed to compose a song for my local church so I took a quick trip to the Front. I frantically begged God to give me a song, and He did! In the less than forty minutes I got the first verse and chorus ready. (If I may add, I completed the song two days later, and the Youth Choir presented the song and came first last Friday. They now represent the Archdeaconry at the Diocesan level)…

 

***

Cuddling lovers @ the Lagoon Front

Last July, I took a stroll to the Lagoon front, my earpiece perfectly nailed into my ears, cool music seeping into my head. I love music. A lot! …I made an unusual decision, picking a quiet spot to the extreme left, near the wall that borders the Lagoon and the Guest Houses. For the first twenty minutes, I observed as the canoes brought in passengers from the other end of the Lagoon into UNILAG and loaded waiting passengers. The female canoe paddler reminded me of the popular saying, “What a man can do, a woman can do better.” She looked happy and contented in her made-in-Naija English jersey and pair of thigh hugging jean shorts; she steered the little boat with such ease and skill that her deft handling caught my rapt attention. I made a mental note there and then to return and get her picture (Lanre Shonoiki, my cool friend had to part with 100 box to take this shot sha. The female captain smiled as she squeezed the note into her tight pocket)… A few moments later, two young chaps approached me, a guy in a hearty gist with a beautiful girl. They held hands and were all smiles. In twenty seconds, they walked past me and stationed themselves right behind me. Though my plugs were still intact and the music was still on while I tried to manage inspiration to write a poem, the chirps of these two lovebirds reminded me of their continuous lurking presence at my back. Once or twice I had to look back, and there they were cuddling and stirring into each other’s face. I think the guy was trying something funny… Their giggles and the girl’s occasional silent screams punctuated those moments. Eventually, it was time to leave and I stood to exit. A few metres away, my curious mind turned my head backwards to discover something: the guy’s face was now buried in her face. He was teaching her how to kiss (or maybe it was the other way round). The poor girl must have been praying in her mind that I leave. I imagine how much I had delayed their action. Anyways, that was not totally new. It is not entirely strange to behold cuddling couples in the most creative and desperate positions, even in front of the Julius Berger Lecture Theatre in the cool of the evening, when the path is least traversed and nobody is really watching… They seem to be telling whoever cares to listen: this is our choice. If you like, stare. Really, what you do with your time is your choice. Ain’t it?

 

(c) Gbenga Awomodu, September 2010

Female paddler @ the UNILAG Lagoon Front. Photo credit: Lanre Shonoiki

Guest Post: A Perspective on Motivation by Lanre Shonoiki

By Lanre Shonoiki

2002… My little brother was about 10 years old when we saw Drumline, the American Movie, for the first time. He, like I, enjoyed the decent storyline, the lovely snare cadences and Devon’s final victory. It about ended there for me; for him, it didn’t. Psyched, Kunle began his quest to become a snare-drumming pro. Soon, he bought two straight canes and made a fine job of carving drumsticks out of them. And then… he went on rampage. Over the next nine months, the whole family had to wear ear plugs as he beat cracks into the bottoms of 6 of the 8 buckets that served the house, beat frays out of the surface of his leather school bag, joined his high school’s drumming band, developed a minor case of RSI* and mastered every Travis Barker demo he could download from the internet… or so he thought he did. The facts that the house suddenly enjoyed all-round quiet for a full week and our new Mr. Miles wore a grave look unbefitting someone on leave prompted me to press his best friend for answers. I learnt that Liz, his adolescent crush had given him her honest opinion about his yet poor drumming skills, two days before the school band left him out of the Independence Day March past. His nine-month career had ended… badly!

2006… Towards the end of my JAMB-enforced gap year, a craze for motivation swept over the Nigerian populace. I watched from a psychological distance as sweet-talking men made millions off desperate Nigerians who somehow connected guarantees of success in business with reading motivational books and listening to successful entrepreneurs.

What do you do with all the motivation?

In all fairness, the masses did get what they paid for; truckloads of motivation. But then, they missed out on the vital garnishes these motivators were either not so willing to share or just knew nothing about. A little vector mechanics, a pinch of statistics, a firm understanding of Darwin’s theories and a honest assessment of the Nigerian business environment would have put the motivatees in better shoes for trekking the long haul motivation was about to take them. I bet you’re wondering, “Vector Mechanics?” Sure! Direction was the greatest flaw in the whole motivation scam. The average Nigerian didn’t know what he wanted to do, what he could do and what the nation would let him do. So, he just accepted in good faith Mr. Kiyosaki’s perfect formula for success in business. Problem is, more often than not, his latent talents say otherwise and a conflict of directions is created. So, the opposing vectors cancel out and the rigid body called Mr. Somebody has barely moved an inch. But who’s to be blamed? Barely 200 years ago, Charles Darwin did a remix of Statistic’s all-time best-selling track We can’t all be successful and titled it The Theory of Natural Selection. He sold over a million copies in our Social Studies textbooks. Did we even listen? No? Okay, I’ll simplify. Almighty nature suggests that the much-coveted top of the pyramid is super-small; just enough crawl space for very few people… survival of the fittest. This coupled with the adverse Nigerian social structure, I doubt Donald Trump would have made it through high school if he had been raised in Bariga… You dig?

 

2010… For the past five years, I’ve watched a lot of us swat biannually in the direction of the 4.5 mark as funny grading systems and damnable study conditions snapped at our feet, pulling us down the GP ladder. Too early, too late or just at the right time, many of us gave up and settled in our comfort zones with exclamations like “I can’t kill myself” and “O boy! Na hose dem dey take suck this my GP o!” Funny? The hardest lessons are learnt that way. (WARNING: You are strongly advised to stop reading here if you’re not in your finals.) Lesson one: A number of us were never graduating 1st class even if we sold our souls to the devil in exchange. It’s not that we are lazy, retarded, under-motivated or anything of the sort. It’s just Darwin’s Natural Selection at work. And life is like that; it’s not what you work hardest at that you succeed in… It’s what you’re cut out for. We’re like trains; running on tracks that aren’t suited to us might slow us down and eventually derail us. Lesson two: Success is not a path function; it’s a state function. Earning good grades is not the only way. Your best bet is to find the path to the top, that best suits your talents with the least cost to your soul and body. Entertainment, sports, art, commerce, even motivational speaking; the options are plenty.  By the way, Kunle is in his second year in Medical school. For him, gunning for Ben Carson’s status would neither be a tall order nor a wrong call because I believe he has found his niche. Find yours and make all that motivation count.

 

*RSI: Repetitive Stress Injury: a painful condition affecting some people who overuse muscles as a result of regularly repeating an activity such as operating a keyboard… or incessant drumming in this case.

On Fake Beggars In Lagos

By Gbenga Awomodu

“When life knocks you down, you choose whether or not to get back up.” – Anonymous

Beggar

Photo Credit: gettyimages.com

Anyone living in Lagos must have encountered people who have made a career of begging for alms, usually in the name of God. Ubiquitous, they are an interesting mix. Some plead, others demand. Young and old, able-bodied and living-with-disabilities, male and female, crude and sophisticated, shabbily dressed and dolled-up, you find them almost everywhere. Often in the most interesting ways!

Take for instance my encounter with one of them. I was returning to school after a busy day on industrial attachment. Happy to be back after the stressful day, annoying traffic situation, and prolonged commute, I burst into the school gate and took a hurried walk along the right sidewalk. Then someone broke my flow, as if to ask for directions. “Uncle, E jo, mo wa sranded,” a beggar said to me, her pleading eyes fixed on my kind-looking, accommodating face. She was a middle aged woman and strapped to her back was a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. She was neatly dressed, like someone attending a party, and this was not our first encounter. She repeated the familiar chorus in Yoruba: “E jo sa, mo wa sranded ni sa.” She wanted me to part with a few Naira notes because she was stranded. Too bad! I will not be fooled by this woman, I told myself! She had better moved ‘office’ from the University of Lagos and environs! At least, I doled out some cash the first time we met.

This was not my first encounter with people who have chosen begging for alms as their primary source of livelihood – a career of sorts. I have met them (usually the same cohorts) countless times. These fake beggars (I wonder who the original beggars are) have developed various tactics over the years. I remember a man I have met at least twice on Idowu Taylor, a popular street on Victoria Island. The second time he accosted me, he didn’t recognize me and went ahead to repeat the same lines.. “…Please, brother I’m going to Okokomaiko, but I don’t have enough money… I just finished a job interview and I’m stranded…” As soon as he saw that I was not going to comply by doling out some cash, he murmured rudely and walked past me, leaving me to confirm his dubious motives.

It is our moral duty to help people who are weak, disadvantaged, hungry and suffer lack. But by dispensing alms as charity, we do not help them. We should help to educate and rehabilitate them. Our nation has been built on the dignity of labour. Our heroes past have laboured hard to hold the fabric of our country together in one piece. Industry makes us tick. Every day, millions of Nigerians wake up and toil for love, for family and for nation. Despite the harsh economic conditions prevalent, many still eke out a fairly decent living. We need to talk to the able-bodied men and women who refuse to work to earn a decent living – those who have refused to grow up. Granted, we all go through phases in life. There are times we have abundance of resources and there are times that many of us suffer serious lack, but we must resist the urge to embrace mediocrity and laziness and fight back up again. We should always strive to overcome such trying times and work hard out of poverty, lack and eternal dependence.

Our nation has survived because of industry and we all must never relent in the toil for a better nation. It starts with the individual. Then, together, we should build our nation. We have no excuse! Those who need a helping hand should not hesitate to ask; neither should they get too comfortable! Next time you see Mrs. Sranded, kindly tell her about people living with disabilities who are making brilliant efforts to make the best of their situation…those who are engaged in productive activities and are adding value to people’s lives. I once knew a crippled fellow who sold recharge cards on Adeyemo Alakija, a popular street on Victoria Island. Moving about with the support of his hands and a make-shift roller-skate, he has chosen to be positive and productive in life. I’d rather leave my change with this guy than dole out cash to dishonest, lazy bones. Why? He has truly realised the dignity of labour!

This piece was originally published on CP-Africa.com @ http://www.cp-africa.com/2010/07/30/fake-beggars-lagos-gbenga-awomodu/