Thursday, June 27, 2013

Embassies and the Urge to Pee

You have this wanting-to-pee feeling when you go to embassies. It is still a hypothesis, because you have only been to three embassies. You say three in your mind because the Ugandan Embassy felt like an NGO office, or one of those ministry headquarters that you imagine not many people go to, like the Ministry of Water Resources, not an embassy.

You wonder if it is the air conditioners. The first time you entered the Austrian Embassy the thought crossed your mind, as goose pimples popped up all over your arms, that perhaps the cold waiting room was to remind people that ‘our country is cold, do you really need to go?’ You entertained the crazy thought long enough to make you scan the ceiling for cameras that were watching people who shivered too much or complained about it being too cold so as to deny them visas. You stopped yourself, felt ashamed and looked around to make sure no one was watching you looking round the room.

The fact that there are no restrooms out in the waiting areas makes it even worse. The South African embassy reminds you of apartheid. Saying this out loud might be politically incorrect, so you don’t tell anyone. The fact that the people are unfriendly makes you remember the prisons in the South African apartheid struggle movie, Sarafina. It reminds you of the interrogation rooms where they tortured young students. This was the first embassy you ever went to. That day you felt so cold, you put your hands between your thighs and grit your teeth. You have never admitted it, but the fact that you didn’t even get the visa further taints that experience and all you can think of when someone mentions South Africa, is goose pimples, wanting to pee, and apartheid.

From what you hear, people in embassies and visa sections all over the world are not nice people. You wonder if they do a meanness test before they allow people work in visa sections.

You find it fascinating watching people at embassies. The measured, grateful smiles, the silence, the exaggerated, faux politeness, the anticipation, the gasps when someone collects his passport, people’s eyes trying to bore through to see if the person leaving got a visa or not. You do not like the microphones they use at the Austrian Embassy and how you need to shout out your business for everyone to hear. Or how the slim, bespectacled, stern guy with one bad finger changes quickly from being brusque to smiling a smile that you could have sworn was not possible for that stern face. The last time you went, a tall man you guessed was from the East from his accent tried to argue with the stern visa officer about a document that was fake.

“You are very lucky,” the visa officer said, “the Consul was in a good mood. Normally we would have denied your visa because of this fake document.”

The man tried to explain why he had fake insurance papers. And all the while people sighed and shook their heads. You put your head down—you couldn’t bear the sight of this man, who looked and sounded more and more like a criminal the more he explained. In the end he received his passport.

“Three months?” he complained.

“Whatever! You should be lucky. Very lucky. We could have denied your visa.”

You looked away again. You counted the number of people until your turn and wondered if you could hold the pee until that time.

You are not sure if it was the urge to pee, but you felt like pulling the walls down, rummaging through the documents on the other side, snatching your passport and finding some corner in the room to pee. You felt like screaming, “fuck borders!” You hated the guy with the fake documents, people like him make it harder and harder to trust Nigerians. Then you calmed down, realizing that the more upset you got, the greater you felt the urge to pee.

In your room, you look at the three visas in your passport. And all you can think of is: wanting to pee.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


You really want to hear the punch line of Ralph's long joke. But three beers weigh down on your bladder. You wonder whose bright idea it was to put the bathroom down in Australia. He is looking at you now as he tells the joke; now that you are supporting yourself on your chair, preparing to get up. It will be rude to just go now, so you wait for him to turn his attention to someone else. You smile even though you have stopped listening to him. Suddenly his girlfriend gets up to go to the bathroom. You relax. You will hold this until she returns.

You have made the mistake of taking one more sip from the damn Star bottle. The one evil sip sends you running across the field to the bathroom. They laugh, all three of your friends.

You manage to get out your penis just in time. As you wet the toilet seat, you do not care; there was no time to aim before letting go. Running has made you a bit dizzy, tipsier. As you walk out into the darkness just past the wild lemon grass you almost bump into her, Ralph's girlfriend. You both laugh. You both say it at the same time: 'I think I am high.' She in English, you in Hausa. You giggle and high-five. As both your hands come down, they do not disengage. At first it feels like she is the one holding on, but you realise you are also doing it. Holding on. Your heart pounds; you realize what is happening, quickly. Then without words you both step back into the darkness behind the lemon grass and it starts to happen- the locking of lips that you know is nothing but trouble. Your hands reach for her breasts. You knead, at first too roughly, then gently. She doesn't stop you. You do not stop. Drunken footsteps approach and she pulls away, just as your fingers have found her nipples, beneath her blouse. 'Wait two minutes,' she says and walks away.

You are glad that they are all getting drunker and can’t notice your discomfort. You try not to look at her but when you do, she is laughing deliriously and rubbing the back of her boyfriend’s head. She too has stopped drinking. The erection you now have, her laughter which you now notice rings out in a way that is exaggerated and false, her boyfriend's drunken chatter and swearing, make you angry.

As you all say goodbye, leaving the beer garden, you look into her eyes, asking with yours: what the hell was that?. She smiles back but she says nothing with her eyes. Just a nice-to-hang-out-and-goodbye kind of smile. A that-really-amazing-stolen-kiss/grope-means-nothing-to-me kind of smile. You get it; it cuts you, deep.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


You have always had an intense fear of losing your mind. Of waking up without the memory of moments lived, shared, wasted and being in a world different from the one you know, from the one that knows you. It doesn’t help to that a few weeks to your exams in your first year in University someone you didn’t know called you to say they had found your favorite aunt who was in the same Law Faculty as you were, her bloated mass bent over, sweeping the streets outside the largest female hostel, whispering to herself. This was not the first exam she would be missing. It had happened before, before you got admitted into this University. And now that you think of it, the signs had been there more than 10 years before - the excessive sweeping, the laughing and talking to herself, the getting lost in her own quiet world- when she still spoke with her eyes, when she still laughed, when you still laughed together, before her eyes showed a place you could not reach. 

Your relationship started in the two bedroom low cost house your dad rented from your mother’s uncle in Kaduna. Your dad, mum and sister shared one room and your aunt, together with you and your younger brother shared the other. She was seven years older than you and lived mostly in fear of your mother who like her father knew only angry confrontation as a way to communicate. Quite often mum’s long arms would stretch out into a slap or a series of slaps. Your mother was her de facto mother, their mother having died when she was only a baby; your mum being the eldest daughter raised her under the heavy hand of their father. 

Many times when your aunt sat down to tell you stories, you could tell that she was censoring, wondering what she could or could not share with this precocious child who spoke sometimes like he was twice his age. Sometimes, right in the middle of a conversation she would drift, her pupils dilating, a smile appearing on her face and then a giggle. You would have to call out her name two or three times or shake her vigorously to get her to finish what she was saying. 

Once she told you about an Ijeoma who was bullying her in school. It worried her and for weeks she could think of nothing else but this other girl who was popular and feared. You don’t know what you were thinking but you found yourself- barely 12 at the time- becoming her advisor. In spite of the age difference you were quite close because you were the only person she could really share anything with.

It is now 11 years since your mother dragged her out of the campus in a rented taxi; since your aunt last attempted to be normal again. You are attending a funeral.  Your aunt is seated on one of the rented white plastic chairs right outside under the canopy. She is bloated like she has been since she slipped permanently into this world that no one knows. He dark face has too much talcum powder- dark  like she someone who spends hours every day trudging under the unforgiving afternoon sun. You walk over to say hello. You can feel the nervous eyes of your other relatives following you, asking if you know what you are doing, if you know that she is ‘not well’, if you remember. But you are determined.

“Aunty, good afternoon” you say, almost whispering, bending to be at the same level as her face.

“Ehen, how are you?” she says with her characteristic lost gaze. 

And you lie and say, fine. Fine, because that is the only way to end the conversation. The only way to hide the quiver in your voice. The only way not to cry. 

You walk away thinking, this is the answer we had been giving ourselves- we all kept telling ourselves everything was fine until we found her sweeping, whispering away, giggling in the streets.
You think of how everyone assumes everyone is ‘fine’. How there isn’t any visible social plan for dealing with persons suffering mental health issues. How families bear the total burden of understanding, and managing mental health. How 'managing' mental health means anything from denial to totally isolating the person. How there are hardly any therapists available even in this glitzy capital city. And how really, no one seems to care.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Stories and Tragedies

You are thinking of stories. Your special moments' quota for the week is exhausted. There is nothing ethereal, or scandalous, or epiphanic in the news, in your life, in the streets. Nothing spicy from eavesdropping on strangers, no special insight into their lives. Your neighbors are all behaving this week. And you desperately need a story for your deadline.
Even the weather isn’t inspiring. There aren’t ‘rays of the sun glistening through the mist’, no ‘shimmering lights’, nothing to make that gripping opening paragraph that you sometimes extend too long because you really have nothing concrete to write about. So you step out to buy a razor blade from the shack across the street from your house. For your toe nails that won’t be cut by your small nail cutter. 

Malam Haruna is away in some market, getting little cartons of milk, cigarettes, sweets in funny looking wrappers and cheap, too-sweet bread that is too heavy on some days and has more hollow spaces than dough on others. You ask his younger brother, who has the same type of tribal marks as he does, if he has razor blades. He always has a bewildered look on his face, like a stray puppy that has been cornered by screaming kids. He searches and searches. You are not exasperated like you usually are when you are in a hurry and he can’t find what you want. You just wait.

A guy you recognize as one of the motorcyclists around your area in Lugbe screams as he approaches the shop: ‘A bani Goodluck.’ Give me Goodluck.
‘What did you say?’ you ask, giggling.
‘Goodluck.’ He replies and with a hangdog expression adds, ‘magani ne.’ It is a drug.

You collect your razor blades and ask him to show you the pack when he receives it. It is Tramadol, a highly addictive prescription opioid, used for severe pain. It causes feelings of euphoria and well-being, a mild high that lasts for a few hours depending on dosage. You know this because you almost got addicted last year when the doctor prescribed it for the pain in your broken leg. 

You remember feeling guilty about lying to the doctor when he asked if your pain was still severe. It was there alright, but nowhere near the severity you implied by the vigorous nodding of your head when the doctor asked. On your way to the pharmacy, your body trembled at the thought of the feeling you were about to have. You stopped to check for your prescription again because the last time that you forgot it, no one agreed to sell the drug to you. 

You knew Tramadol well by now- it made you feel so good the first time, you had to google this crazy drug- you knew how it worked; the increase in the levels of serotonin in your brain, the relaxation, the blocking of the transmission of pain signals to your brain, the euphoria, the feeling that nothing in the world matters, that nothing can hurt you. 

You remember your bag of pills sitting by your old-fashioned steel bed on a small raffia stool, right under the bedside lamp, illuminated, so you could watch the pack, high, and marvel at the wonders of Tramadol Hydrochloride. You remember waiting, playing a game to see if you could tell the exact moment when the drug kicked in. 

You remember taking more than two 50mg pills because you convinced yourself the pain in your ankle was too much to bear and you floated in a hot balloon and your girlfriend suddenly became a fiend who hated your guts, to whom you needed to send a text message:  ‘I have had enough of this relationship.’ Your Tramadol induced thoughts rationalized:  I don’t need her. I don’t need her. She drinks too much. She loves her job more than she loves me. She is not even Nigerian. ..

You give the man back the pack of drugs. Perhaps this is a story, you think. 

As you sit to write, you think, the fact that drugs like Tramadol are sold so openly in Abuja, is not a story. It is a tragedy. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013


*Because I Care #17

Ok let me just say this. I love sex scandals. I love studying them. And here is what I found. All the great leaders have them. If your leader isn’t having sex, then be scared, because he is doing something unthinkably sinister behind closed doors. All that pent up tension can’t produce anything good. Look at Clinton, arguably one of the best American Presidents in recent history after JFK. He made interns kneel before him. I don’t know what exactly for, but I hear that is something sexual in America. Look at Gandhi, great Gandhi, cohabiting with a girl in the name of marriage at the age of 13. Today, that would be a scandal. Add the likelihood of juvenile sex occurring, and you have a sex scandal. I would have added an example among great Chinese leaders, but it is a notorious fact that the Chinese are secretive about everything. No one can tell if or when a Chinese person is having sex. 

I have been thinking about Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, our able CBN Governor. I cannot help but admire any man who is still virile at 51. I mean, after reading the brilliant exposé on Premium Times one gets the clear impression that CBN is sprawling with Sanusi’s ‘girlfriends and mistresses’. Now unless being a mistress or girlfriend means serving tea, typing memos, or tying bow ties, Sanusi’s alleged shenanigans is a feat of unimaginable proportions. I have read that Premium Times story several times with a pencil and ruler. And I just need to ask Sanusi a few very serious questions. 

Sanusi, the opening paragraph of the story said you, the CBN governor were ‘badly in need of a kiss’, ‘grabbed [your] mobile phone’ and typed out a message: “Maybe you should come kiss me before board meeting tomorrow,” and then ‘squeezed the send button’. 

Questions arising from this include: Why would you allow your craving for a kiss make you violently ‘grab’ a phone - your official phone, bought with tax payers money? Why not just pick it up, calmly, instead of being reckless with public property? And do you have to ‘squeeze’ the send button? Does it add value to your text message if you squeeze it- will squeezing it make the text go faster? 

The Premium Times piece goes ahead to say that you Sanusi, in reply to a flattering text about your astonishing ‘performance’ from your alleged lover, Dr. Yaro, texted back: ‘Alhamdulillahi. Love you.’ Now, it is not the fact that you had sex that is my problem. Why bring God in a matter that was purely your own doing? The decent thing to have said in such a situation would have been, ‘I aim to please, Hajiya. Love you.’ That you did not say this makes me suspect that you are not a man that takes responsibility for his actions. Which is why, as brilliant a banker as you may be, I am afraid to hire people like you when I become President

One last question though. What did you call Dr. Yaro in those nice hotel rooms that Premium Times spied out? Did you call her Maryam? Doctor? Mrs? Hajiya? Or did you just whisper, baby? Because Premium Times left out this detail and I think the term of endearment you used while having a nice time will be important when the history of Nigeria is written. I use the term ‘used’ because I assume that this scandal has ruined any chances of that sweet liaison continuing. Accept my sincere sympathies. 

Recently, after our ‘Democracy Day’ celebrations, someone suggested we put up a monument to those who fought for this democracy. The person suggested many names. As president I am sure what to do. I will erect a 100 foot monument. A concrete Viagra pill. Smack in the centre of the Federal Capital Territory as a reminder of who (or what) the real hero of our democracy is. Because we did not get democracy from any struggle or insurgency. NADECO and all those others just screamed. What a thousand activists could not do, Viagra did for us. Which is why I hope Sanusi’s exploits come naturally without the need for any enhancements. It will be sad to lose one of the best bankers we have in this country to a little, exciting pill. 

All of this is why- and I will repeat what I said when I first declared that I was running for president- I will not marry. I will have sex (because the success of this country will depend on my sanity) but no, I will not marry. If Sanusi was not married, and Dr. Yaro was not married it would not have been a big deal that they were having carnal knowledge of each other. Like I said, as president, I will be like Sarkozy when he was president of France- have one steamy hot girlfriend who comes to the villa on weekends with a nice, open sports car, designer glasses and the wind in her hair. That way, no enemies of progress will cast aspersions on my person. 

Ps. So the United States through its ‘Reward for Justice’ program have offered 7million dollars for anyone who provides information leading to the capture of Abubakar Shekau, current head of Jama’atu Ahl as-Sunnah il-Da’awati wal-Jihad. My only problem is, the picture of Shekau they used is blurry and dark. Even I could have found a better one online or from one of his very many clear videos. Just saying.

Ps. 2. So, what’s up with Atiku? Me, I get confused when I want to write about him. Is he a member of the PDP or not? I think he should make up his mind, if not for anything, for the sake of people like us, who need to talk about him. 

Ps. 3. Finally, my rent is due. My landlord sent a letter coldly reminding me of the fact that he had the power to render me homeless. God will treat his matter appropriately, and judge all those who haven’t paid me for my work.