Friday, 31 October 2008

Images from the Uppsala International Guitar Festival [16-19 October 2008]

Website here
[I didn't really attend the Festival, only found time to pop in on a Saturday morning to take a few photos...]

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

Images from The Helsinki Book Fair 2008

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Notes from Uppsala [6] - Question 18

As published in the Guardian Life magazine (Sunday, October 26, 2008)

Last week I stood before a class of Swedish High School Students (Rosendalsschool) to sing the Nigerian National Anthem. I was invited to come and speak about my writing, and about life in Nigeria to 2 classes (“juniors” and “seniors”) of about 60 students each. Which, if you ask me is the most difficult task in the whole world. Imagine trying to “explain” Nigeria – a country of more than two hundred ethnic groups, as many as five hundred languages / dialects and one hundred and forty million people – in about ONE hour. (Even my dear Lagos alone holds more people than the entire Sweden!)
But I had all the fun in the world. Pictures, they say, speak louder than words. So I showed some pictures I took months back in Lagos, just to give an idea of the city. But I was also eager to point out that it would be impossible to know a city only by seeing photos. If it were that easy, then there would be no need for anyone to travel.
True, images are very helpful. I have never been to America, but I am no stranger to America. In the images that Hollywood exports, in the music videos, in the American brands (fashion, magazines, fast food, automobiles, computer technology) that colonise business districts everywhere from Stockholm to Lagos Island, in the Presidential Debates that have found massive audiences around the world. I have come to know the Statue of Liberty, I have met Joe the Plumber and Joe Six Pack and Joe Biden; I know that the American Dream is simply a Star-Spangled version of The Universal Dream.
But I know that all of these second-hand images will pale into insignificance the day I step foot on the soil of God’s Own Country, and (as I put it in an essay for Farafina Magazine) “high-five the Statue of Liberty’s upraised torch-bearing arm.”
Which is the same with Nigeria. You may see images of RPG-wielding Niger delta militants on CNN, turn to the BBC to see an unflattering profile of Lagos’ iconic danfos, and then gorge on Wikipedia statistics that tell you how many Nigerians live below the poverty line or what Nigeria’s foreign reserves are; you may open the Financial Times to see a full-page advert by one of Nigeria’s Super Banks, or your email to see another “PLEASE HELP ME TO GET THIS FUND INTO YOUR ACCOUNT” message from “Ibrahim Sani Yakubu Obasanjo”; you may run into a band of Lagos-bound Nigerian woman at an airport in Nairobbery or Dubai, laden with mountains of duty-free shopping bags that MUST all find space in the overhead compartment of a perplexed plane; all of that notwithstanding, the real truth is this: Nothing, absolutely nothing, matches the experience of landing in person at Murtala Mohammed International Airport (or wherever else you come in through) and seeing Nigeria for yourself: breathing in the air, sweating the sweat, disintegrating slowly in the traffic jams, getting swept up in the gaily-dressed Saturday owambe crowd, getting lost in the crowded corridors of The Palms or the crowded (aboveground-)catacombs of Oyingbo or Ogbeogonogo or Kuto markets…
The senior class of Rosendals will be visiting Malawi later this year. Alas there is little that I told – or showed – them about Nigeria that will prepare them for Malawi. It will take far more than the ‘Africa’ they share in their names for Southern Africa and West Africa (or East and West) to become similar. The difference, as my childhood friend Fido Dido would say, is clear.
Right here in front of me as I write this is a book titled “Meanwhile, Back in Zambia”, a travelogue produced by the Swedish communications consultancy Global Reporting, after a visit by their staff to Zambia in 2006. One of the sections is a Frequently Asked Questions page, where they list the questions team members most regularly raised during the trip. They are all quite funny. Question 8: Can you eat the salad at restaurants?
This makes me laugh because it is something I can identify with; many are the Nigerians who have been forced to spend entire Sundays crouched on their toilet bowls after trying salad at an owambe the day before.
But the question that interested me the most was Question Number 18: Why do Zambians drive so slowly? It is a question I have had to ask myself before, not about Zambians though, but about Ugandans. I spent a few days in Kampala in 2005 and was shocked by how reluctant they were to use their car horns. Same with the Ghanaians. To one from a country where not even motorcycles are hesitant about borrowing truck (Mercedes Benz 911) horns, the Ugandans and Ghanaians seemed like a people trapped in a time warp (with the power switch turned to OFF).
The answer to Question 18 in “Meanwhile, Back in Zambia” is: "Neither the cars nor the drivers are in a condition to go any faster."
Hilarious stuff. But wrong.
They should come to Nigeria and see rattling, doorless danfos travelling on the 3rd Mainland Bridge at speeds that would make Formula 1 races look like slow motion.
Moral of the Story: It is not about the condition of the car or the driver. It is about the power of the human spirit.
Back to the Anthem. I remembered the words of the Nigerian National Anthem. I was so proud of myself. I even got a sitting ovation afterwards. And got so excited that I almost found myself doing a special rendition of “Nigeria We Hail Thee”. I stopped myself just in time…

Monday, 27 October 2008


At the moment I'm sailing back to Sweden (Stockholm) from Helsinki... on the Silja Line which runs a daily service between the two cities. We left Helsinki at 5pm (Finnish time).
I forgot - or refused - to get sea-sickness medicine (I was advised to), so here's hoping I won't succumb...
No, I won't.
I've got a cute little cabin (with toilet and bath) with a great view of a - wait for this - Life Boat.
Ain't I lucky? Just outside my window is one of the ship's boats. I feel safe...
It's a 17 hour ride on the stretch of sea that separates Sweden from Finland, arrival time is 9am Swedish Time tomorrow...

See you on the other side of the sea...

Saturday, 25 October 2008

My Interview (and poem) in the UNT (Upsala Nya Tidning)

My interview (along with a poem in Swedish translation) appears in the Saturday, October 25, 2008 edition of Uppsala's daily paper, the UNT. It's online, here

It's in Swedish, so don't beat yourself over the head if you can't read it. I can't myself :-)))
(Google does a horrible English translation, but I'll spare you that.

PS. This is however an incentive for you, dear non-Swedish speaking reader, to finally learn that Swedish you've been putting off for ages...

UNT homepage, here

Postcard from Helsinki [3] - Common Sense, Time and Other Stories

I'm blogging because I have decided to stop being foolish and start using my brain a little bit more. Therefore (i.e. in line with this new spirit), this afternoon I went shopping for a wireless USB adaptor for my wireless-less laptop. I got it, not very expensive too (at about 12 Euros), and it's working fine. Means I can browse from the hotel lobby (which is where the wireless connection is).
I wonder why it never occured to me before now to do it that way. In Copenhagen two weeks ago I was forced to use the hotel lobby computer (a Mac, which I had never used in my life, and which was so unfamiliar I felt like I was handling the controls of a spaceship) - yet there was wireless in the reception, and I had my laptop with me. But no wireless adaptor.
God knows what else I need to get to make my life easier (a credit card, an iPod, a private jet...)
Early tomorrow morning (Sun) the Finns are going to alter their Time. One hour backwards. All clocks must abide by this. This time machine business is getting annoying. Arriving Finland from Sweden on Friday, time changed (one hour forward). I left Stockholm at 1pm, on a one-hour flight (during which the hostess skipped me whilst serving refreshments simply because I had taken a quick nap! Why couldn't she wake me???), and landed in Helsinki at 3pm. Now I am being told that we will go back an hour again.
My solution - I'm not changing any Time. When their minds are made up about what they want the time to be they can let me know! My laptop still bears my Nigerian Time. My phone bears Swedish Time. My hotel room clock bears Finnish Time.

Time as an unsettling Trinity.

Tomorrow, Finnish Time will become Swedish Time.
Very soon, Swedish Time will also go under the knife. What it will emerge as I know not. Not yet.
Miracles still happen. My phone network, which refused to be useful to me in Copenhagen and Oslo ("emergency calls only"), has come alive in Helsinki. One moment I was cut off in a strange city, without internet access and a working mobile, the next moment I emerged (seamlessly) in the 'flat' world, a world where my passport does not matter, neither does my accent :-)
I am in touch. Again.
That includes Facebook! Damn it!

Postcard from Helsinki [2] - Helsinki Book Fair

This morning at 10.30 I was interviewed by Finnish editor and translator, Marianne Bargum, as part of the Helsinki Book Fair. The interview took place in 'Kirjakahvila' (The Book Cafe) within the Book Fair grounds.
I have been taking lessons in Finnish history since I arrived. It's all so colourful and varied that I want to learn more, and write about it. Finland appears to be caught between the devil and the deep blue sea - one is Russia, the other is Sweden :-) (Don't ask me which is which, I don't know), and both once fought a bloody battle over Finland.
Brief Summary: Finland used to be a part of Sweden. The Russians eyed it, and wanted it. Russia and Sweden fought over it. Russia won, and Finland became Russian territory, sometime in the early 1800s (apparently the Finns had greater autonomy under Russia than under 'brotherly' Sweden). The Russian revolution in 1917 freed Finland to emerge as a nation on its own.
(More details later)
The Helsinki Book Fair is smaller than Goteborg's, but is nonetheless an impressive event. As at yesterday (Fri) 17,000 people had attended, and it only started on Thursday.
Unlike the sprawling Goteborg Book Fair (the largest in Scandinavia), where I kept getting lost (my not very healthy sense of direction finally gave up the ghost, thanks to the cavernous exhibition grounds on at least 2 floors), and where there were a mindboggling number of concurrent events at any point in time, the Helsinki Book Fair seemed more manageable (speaking from the POV of a visitor). But from the book hunger evident in the visitors, no difference. People everywhere, reading, listening, stacking books up in their arms, paying for books, eating (plenty of that). You can't imagine how much I wish the Lagos International Book Fair would be that exciting.
(Note: The Population of Lagos (the City) alone would be roughly equal to that of Sweden PLUS Finland).
Heard there was an appearance by another Nigerian writer at the Fair yesterday.
The largest book store (Akateeminen Kirjakauppa) in the Nordic Region is in Helsinki. It was the first place I visited after my Hotel. I bought a collection of short stories by a well-known Finnish writer and visual artist, Rosa Liksom. Here's some info I got from WSOY's (Finnish publisher) website:

Rosa Liksom ranks among the most acclaimed and controversial writers of contemporary Finnish literature. Employing a pen name and shunning interviews, she launched her career in the mid-1980s by penning numerous collections of prose miniatures. The writing in such collections as Yhden yön pysäkki (1985;One-night Stands, 1990) and Unohdettu vartti (1986; The forgotten sentry) consists of only one or two short narratives; they resemble short stories from which either the beginning or end, and sometimes both - in other words, the unessential - has been cut.
I'm eager to read the book...
Better still, I'm OFF to read the book...

Postcard from Helsinki [1]

I arrived Finland’s airport at 3pm [Friday, 24th Oct] eager to see how the country would differentiate itself from its Scandinavian neighbours. As the plane landed what struck me first was that I seemed to be the only black person on the plane. Which is unusual, anytime I made such assumptions in the past I always found them short-lived.
These thoughts occupied my mind as I walked to the arrival lounge, dragging my bag along. All of a sudden I found myself sandwiched between two white men. In that instant I realised they were immigration officers. They guided me into their nearby office, where a big black bored dog lay on the floor.
Do you speak Finnish?
No. English.
One of them asked for my passport. I heard him say the word “Nigeria” aloud, as he walked into an inner office.
They wanted to know where I was coming from, what I was doing there.
I told them.
They wanted evidence that I was at the Nordic Africa Institute.
I gave them my collection of poems, and a sheet of paper with biographical information.
He smiled. “Poems?”
He gave them back to me and bade me goodbye.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Images from Oslo [1]

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Notes from Uppsala [5] - Money Changers Inc.

As published in the Guardian Life magazine (Sunday, October 19, 2008)

Interesting, isn’t it, how the Nigerian brain/soul/mind turns into one giant currency converter the moment it steps past the Murtala Mohammed International Airport or Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport or Aminu Kano Airport or even Seme Border. Last year I visited Ghana for the first time, and travelled by road, which meant that in one journey I ‘conquered’ at least three countries at once (and of course got my passport disfigured with endless stamping). At one of those seemingly endless border points where you have to leave the bus and cross the barrier on foot there were the ubiquitous traders and hawkers of everything from underwear to currency notes. What preoccupied my mind of course was
1. Finding out the current conversion rate between CFA Francs and Naira
2. Utilising that conversion rate from that moment on to weigh every purchasing consideration.
It’s the annoying thing about crossing borders. The Europeans have by and large gone to great lengths to mitigate that annoying scenario, with the adoption of the Euro by the European Common Markets. Norway has however stubbornly refused to join the European Union, and of the trio of Sweden, Denmark and Finland that are members, only Finland has adopted the Euro. Meaning that Norway, Denmark and Sweden stubbornly hold on to their Krone (plural: Kroner; NOK), Krone (plural Kroner; DKK) and Krona (plural: Kronor; SEK) respectively, and will not even accept one another’s currencies. Annoying stuff, if I must tell you.
Because of the ‘one-Scandinavia’ umbrella I unconsciously constructed for all these countries I travelled to Oslo (Norway) a few weeks ago without it occurring to me that I would have to change money in order to possess purchasing power in Norway. By the time I realised this I was already in Oslo, and it was night. I had to wait until morning to change money, and even then it was at a rip-off rate (Rule 1: Always endeavour to change money before you get to your destination country. Appendix 1: This Rule has yet to be verified, so it remains an opinion for now).
After my brief sojourn in Oslo, I returned to Uppsala, with a handful of Norwegian coins – useless in Sweden. No complaints. Then, last week the wind blew me to Copenhagen, Denmark. Once bitten, twice shy, they say. So before leaving Uppsala I had changed Swedish Kronor to Danish Kroner.
Note: I returned from Denmark with Kroner in cash and in coins. (I can change the cash back to SEK, but not the coins)
So, here I am, back again in Uppsala. In my possession I have Norwegian coins, Danish coins and notes, and Swedish coins and notes (which of course form the useful currency to me at the moment). And then I have the Euro in coins and notes – product of a money-changing deed at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, on the day that I arrived in Europe (that seems an eternity ago, but it’s only been six weeks). I changed American dollars (which was the only foreign currency I left Nigeria with) into Euros, in order to be able to grab a meal at Schiphol and check my email at the airport café. I didn’t use up all the Euro.
So, in my possession: Kroner, Kroner, Euro, Kronor. And then of course the “Greenback”, also known and addressed as the United States Dollar (if you’ve never heard of the dollar then it means you haven’t listened to Osuofia’s hit song “I go chop your dollar”)
And last but certainly not the least – the Almighty Naira. In the spirit of nationalism and patriotism no Nigerian must allow himself of herself to be found anywhere in the world without the Naira. Never. It is our second passport. So that when they ask you – “In Nigeria, do you have lions?” or “Do you still live on trees?” you can laugh at them (the way God laughs at his enemies in Psalm 2 vs. 4) and say “Look at you ignoramus! In Nigeria we even spend REAL money!”
And then you whip out the naira notes and launch into a history lesson, using as a starting point the historical figures on the naira (Awo, Murtala, Zik, Aliyu Mai-Bornu, Clement Isong, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Alvan Ikoku). Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Babangida also on one of the naira notes, or have I been away from Nigeria that long?
And then you can move into an economics lesson from there, explaining to your audience/interrogators that unlike the Zimbabwean currency which as at July 2008 had a hundred billion dollar denomination (yes, a ZWD 100,000,000,000 note) – which on the day of release could only purchase 3 eggs i.e. one egg cost 35 billion ZWD – the Naira is a well-fed currency, with the highest denomination being only 1,000 Naira.
Back to the main point. At the moment I am a walking bureau de change. Before the end of October I’m due to visit Helsinki (Finland). That would have made currency number what? Thankfully they spend the Euro in Finland. But between now and then I have to sort out all my Kronor and Kroner(s). Everything is mixed up in my pockets and in my coin-calabashes. It is not a task I look forward to in any way. Every coin, every note has to be held up against a decent source of light to check if it is a “Nor” or a “Ner”.
I’m sure it was because of dabbling into things like this that Jesus Christ whipped the money-changers out of the Temple…

PS. I didn’t even talk about the tortuous mental process of having to constantly convert NOK, SEK and DKK into Naira, every time I come across a price tag
I call it W.W.N.D – What Would Naira Do!

(c) 2008 Tolu Ogunlesi

Friday, 17 October 2008

New Book (& Book Reading) - TO SAINT PATRICK by Eghosa Imasuen

Kachifo Limited, publishers of the Farafina Imprint, would like to invite you to a book reading and book signing session.

Eghosa Imasuen, author of To Saint Patrick will be reading at Bambuddha Restaurant/Lounge bar, 21 Karimu Kotun Street, Victoria Island, Lagos at 4pm on Saturday, October 18, 2008.

To Saint Patrick and other Farafina publications will be available at the venue. The first five people to arrive the venue will get free copies of the book!

Kachifo Limited, publishers of Farafina Books, Farafina Educational and Farafina Magazine, is proud to announce the release of their latest fictional novel: To Saint Patrick. The novel is a gripping and courageous debut from Eghosa Imasuen, one of the next generation of great Nigerian writers.

It's the year 2003 in an 'alternate Nigeria,' a prominent member of the NPN political party, veteran journalist Chief Johnson, has just been murdered. Two small time crooks are found with a bag full of his bloody clothes. They will take the fall to assuage the public, although some evidence suggests they may just be innocent... Is it politics as usual?

To Saint Patrick rewrites Nigerian political history, presenting the reader with a series of 'what ifs': what if Major-General Murtala Mohammed had survived the 1976 attempt on his life, and had run for a 2nd term?; What if Babangida was simply on the sidelines—an honourable gentleman?; What if our democracy was healthy?

A beautifully written tale of adventure, sci-fi, intrigue, and a dash of love, To Saint Patrick is a must read.

"To Saint Patrick is a novel that – on the strength of the originality of its premise alone, not to mention the beauty of the telling – has created a new class of Nigerian literature to which will belong all books bold enough to attempt to imaginatively stoke the controversial fire that is Nigerian history."

- Tolu Ogunlesi, Author, Listen to the Geckos Singing from a Balcony

To Saint Patrick is available in major bookstores, and from Farafina at 25 Boyle St, Onikan, or Its recommended retail price is N1000

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Images from Uppsala [1] - Rosendalsschool Grounds in October

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Writing Life - From the Archives

I am in Uppsala.
Thousands of miles away from Asaba, Nigeria, where what you are about to read was written.
And thousands of hours away from the time when it was written.

I was a participant in the British Council Literary Mentoring Project, Crossing Borders. My mentor was the British playwright, poet, short story writer, reviewer, broadcaster, theatre historian and musician Michelene Wandor, and my task was to submit six writing assignments (short fiction) over the course of nine months. Michelene encouraged me to document the writing process surrounding each of my assignments. This "commentary" was written to accompany Assignment 4.

Friday November 4 2005. 10:15pm

I’m in my room in the pharmacists’ lodge of the Okwe Government Hospital, Asaba, Delta State. I am trying to type out the portion of my Assignment 4 story that I wrote earlier today (around midday) while at work in the pharmacy, but my laptop is very very disagreeable tonight. It has crashed twice. My room is in a mess – the kind of mess I think only I am able to pull off.

On my bed are the following:
An undressed pillow
A torchlight
A black comb
A wristwatch angled like a like a bird – the straps are like the wings
A white towel
A roll of toilet paper
A jotting pad
A new tube of Close-up toothpaste
A Compaq laptop
A sleeveless top
A copy of Wasafiri
A black Bible
A digital camera
Four packs of Indomie noodles
A pile of clothes jumbled together
My elbow
Some plastic bags

Unable to find space on the bed are two identical purple buckets, a pair of black leather sandals, a pair of new rubber slippers (bathroom slippers), a pair of cloth boots, an unzipped traveling box filled with my clothes. I can see three books: I WAS WRONG by Jim Bakker, disgraced televangelist; THE TEMPLE OF MY FAMILIAR by Alice Walker, and IMMEDIATE FICTION – A Complete Writing Course by Jerry Cleaver.

What happened to Bakker in the late eighties is like the stuff of fiction. Here was a man who had dined with Ronald Reagan, George Bush Snr, had been aboard Air Force 1 with Jimmy Carter, and headed a multi-million dollar Christian Empire (Television Network, Holiday Resort etc); only to slip into adultery, and then be charged and jailed for financial fraud. His empire was stripped from him, and eventually collapsed, and his wife divorced him. The Temple he once owned and lorded over rapidly became “The Temple of My Unfamiliar”. His amazing accomplishments rapidly became Immediate Fiction – memories that teamed up with prison guards and tabloids to torment him.
But I’m aware that Bakker’s story can only be the stuff of autobiography. It seems too dramatic for fiction. I am apprehensive about this story I am writing. I need to pull it off – 3,000 words of it, and hope I do not end up in a dead end. I don’t want to have to say I WAS WRONG.

I have just finished this long overdue story. It is 6:05 pm, Saturday, November 5, 2005. I am sitting on my bed, typing onto my laptop. The music of Enya, the Irish singer is playing on my Media Player. The ballad playing as I write this is one I first grew familiar with on CNN, used as some kind of theme song.
Enya does all the voices on her tracks, no matter how many they are. She lays them on one after the other in a studio, so all those voices you hear are actually the same person. Isn’t that how writers too work? In the studios of their imaginations, laying voice upon voice, emotion upon emotion, building nuance upon nuance, blending character, and hoping to God everything comes out as one unified whole, with no rough edges, no off keys.
Writing is a lonely business, like a lot of Enya’s ballads. They seem to tug at the darkest emotions in you. Writing sometimes brings out the demons in you, and forces you to watch them taunt you on a (blank) page.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Images from Göteborg [2] - More than just a Book Fair

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

Friday, 10 October 2008

Notes from Uppsala [4]

Published in the Guardian Life magazine (Lagos), Sunday, Oct 05, 2008


A while ago on my Facebook page I put up a ‘status’ that read something like this: Tolu spent most of last week on trains and in hotel rooms. So what does that make him?
I guess that is one of the fringe benefits of being that thing they call a ‘writer’ –whatever it means in practical terms. The chance, occasionally, to sleep in train stations/carriages and airport lounges and strange hotel beds in stranger parts of the world. And usually the good part of this is that you don’t get to know how much those things cost, since you’re not the one paying.
For a few years now I’ve had this hobby: photographing hotel bedrooms and ‘conveniences’. It started at The Ambassadors’, a guesthouse in Ikoyi, Lagos, somewhere off Awolowo Road. It must have been my first hotel experience as a writer, and it came courtesy of the British Council. It was 2005, the Crossing Borders literary mentoring project had just kicked off its new phase, and we (participants) had gathered from across the country for the induction ceremony.
It also turned out to be my induction into the hotel room business. Learning unwritten rules and codes that make for a regret-free hotel stay. It’s where I learned that sometimes (depending on who you are) it could be suicidal to take a drink out of a hotel refrigerator, for the simple reason that the economics of hotel goods is not the same as that of supermarket, or streetside-kiosk goods.
Later that year I was in Kampala for a writing conference, also courtesy of the British Council. We stayed at the Sheraton. I returned with a poem, to which the lines below – which reveal a nagging anxiety – belong:

My biggest concerns were how not
To rake up thousands of shillings in needless bills.
Television-internet and dollar-denominated laundry.

“Hello, is that Reception? Kindly help
Me check my account. I fiddled
With the internet buttons on my remote control
And I'm not so sure anymore...”

A few weeks ago I was in Oslo, Norway, for a magazine launch. I went by train. All of seven hours in carriages or at train stations changing connections. The journey back was just as long, and a bit more psychologically tasking, perhaps because the novelty had sunk to an all-time low, and because I realised I was due for another round of train-travel the next day. As I sat in the Oslo – Hallsberg train I began to notice something. First it was a girl with a cat. She sat somewhere behind me, but I could glance at her (as often as I wanted) and see her cradling it. Moments later another girl came in, this time with a dog. A big brown dog. She promptly laid out a cloth on the seat next to her and the dog flopped onto it. Moments later, a third girl came in – with a dog, a visibly pampered, frail-looking white one. So there I was surrounded by two dogs and a cat. And then my eyes moved up to the panel at the top of the entrance into the carriage, and I saw the sign: the carriage was meant for animal owners. There had been no one to point that out to me when I was boarding.
The moment I discovered I could easily have moved to another carriage. But I thought, what-the-hell, sharing a cabin with a couple of admittedly clean and polite, well-behaved animals on a four-hour journey could not be that bad. So I stayed put. My only concern was this: there were a couple of other people in the carriage, but as far as my naked eyes could tell, they were not accompanied by any animals. I wondered why. Either they were JJCs like me who sat in blissful oblivion, (which was doubtful, they looked like regular travellers) or they were carrying the kind of animals that you can easily hide in a bag – like, uhm, pythons.
Life is about learning all those little conventions that make all journeys smoother. That there are animal cabins and non-animal cabins, smoking cabins and lounges and non-smoking ones. That two shops, side-by-side, could get away with selling the same goods at alarmingly different prices. That knowledge is key.
Without a doubt one of the most fascinating experiences for me has been learning about the sometimes-complicated mechanisms by which different hotel bathroom showers and toilets work. Which ones are pull, which ones are push, which ones twist, and which ones activate automatically once they sense a presence beneath them. And this goes for toilet flushing systems as well.
And of course, the room entry systems. Cards vs. old-fashioned keys. With the cards of course the moment you step out the door locks behind you. With the keys you might have to do the locking yourself. If you think keys are out you’re wrong. Try the charming City Hotel (with rooms that are petite in a cosy way, and have got wallpaper in them) in Göteborg. A trial will surely convince you.

(c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

Monday, 6 October 2008

God Bless America, and Nigerian Peacekeepers...

Scene: McDonald's
City: Uppsala
Time: Lunch (sometime between 4 and 5 I think)

Act 1:
I'm sitting with my colleague from the institute, tucking into my (by-now cliched) standard fare of half-a-doz chicken wings and fries and coke (and burgers that never taste like back home). The place is filled with giggling high-schoolers (so many young people in Uppsala!) - there's two sitting opposite us. And then a guy joins them, more like takes the seat near them, he's older-looking - and I hear him speak what sounds like English, which is rare 'cos everyone speaks Swedish (EVERYONE). From the looks of it I can't tell if he knows the girls or not. They exchange words, the girls keep giggling...

And then I ask him if he's Swedish.

No, he's not. He's American.

Guessed as much. He's got an American kinda confidence, teasing the girls endlessly and making faces.

Where are you from, he asks me.


Oh, Nigeria! Why did you guys lose the Nation’s Cup? I know, Nigeria likes saying: We want to allow other people to share in the glory? But hey, you’ve allowed Egypt to share in the glory like SIX times!

I laugh. Funny guy. He's new in Uppsala, 2 months old, only slighly older than me. He's - wait for this - doing 2 masters simultaneously at Uppsala Uni. He sighs, laments about how tough it is. Before Sweden he was in Liberia, working with the UN. (The 2 masters programmes he's here to do are in those fields that qualify you to work in Africa, y'know what I mean - aid, development bla bla.)

Shame on me. He's busy saving my continent while I sit in Uppsala trying to write the Great Nigerian Novel (FYI tentatively titled "A Moving Portrait of Obasanjo-era Nigeria")

I spend the rest of the time watching him and the girls (by now there are four girls) tease themselves.

The girls speak English (all young people in Swedish, and most old ones can speak English, only that they won't). One of them mentions that another sings (like) Oprah, I'm not quite sure if she meant "opera" or "Oprah", I think it's "Oprah".
The American says his girlfriend's also a singer, her name's Shakira. Yeah right, laughs one of the girls. Very American stuff.

Apparently one of the girls is of Spanish origin. He asks if she speaks Spanish. He says his high school GF was Spanish. It's difficult to know if he's teasing or not.
Another of the girls is of Turkish origin. He asks if she can count to 10 in Turkish. She starts, he stops her, saying she got '1' wrong. Then he recites, breathlessly, 1 - 10 in Turkish (I hope).

I confirm it is when immediately the Turkish girl also recites something that's identical with what he's just recited.

He says he worked for 2 years (or so) in Asia.

I just love Americans. They're so easy to categorise using a single 'line' - binary delineation (ie they can be divided cleanly into TWO according to so MANY criteria!):

1. Those who either have never held an American passport or only just got one in their forties or eighties (e.g fill-in-the-gap) or those for whom the world is their country, saving orphans in Rwanda tonight, and Tsunami victims in Laos tomorrow morning, and catching a front-seat at the NBA finals by evening. Restless, Conquering, Messianic, jolly...
2. Republicans OR Democrats...
3. Apples OR Microsofts...
4. Small-towners OR Washingtonians...
5. Joe Six Packs Married to Hockey Moms OR [need to ask Sarah Palin about this]
6. Drill, drill, drillers OR Drill, Baby, Drillers
7. For Obamans OR Anti Obamans

God Bless America men!

Last thing Mr. America tells me, as I stand up to leave:

"Did you know that in Liberia Nigerians are treated as God?"

Yeah, I say, ECOMOG...

And did you know that there is a village (in Liberia) full of half-Liberian half-Nigerian children…

Yeah, I laugh...

It's funny, really. Next to Americans, I love Nigerian Soldiers the most.
They went to Liberia as Deliverers and came back as Daddies!

Sunday, 5 October 2008


I'm off to Copenhagen, Denmark on Tuesday for a series of events:

1. A programme at Roskilde University. I will be discussing my writing, with particular emphasis on my story ‘To A Cartoonist’ [which deals with the Danish Cartoon crisis of 2006], written at the 2006 Caine Prize workshop in Kenya, and published in the Caine Anthology OBITUARY TANGO

There will also be discussions on contemporary Nigerian writing, as well as on Nollywood (we'll be watching and discussing a few Nollywood 'blockbusters')

2. The Nordic Africa Days Conference at the University of Copenhagen, theme of which is "Africa on the Move". I will be presenting a paper on The Language Question in African Literature: English versus Indigenous African Languages as part of the 'City Culture, New Culture, but whose Culture?' workshop.

Reviews of Obituary Tango can be found here and here (in Afrikaans)

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Images from Stockholm [3]

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008