Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Lunch Poetry @ Uppsala Missionskyrka (Thur, 27 Nov, 2008)

Tomorrow (Thursday) at lunch hour (12 noon) I will be hosted by a gathering of Uppsala poets who meet weekly at the Missionskyrka (Mission Church), located at the intersection of Dragarbrunnsgatan and St Olofsgatan. Bernt Jonsson will be reading Swedish translations of two of my poems, while I will read in English, as well as share with the audience some 'deep spiritual stuff' from Fela's oeuvre.

Lunch poetry with Tolu Ogunlesi

Images from Helsinki - Temppeliaukio Church / Temppeliaukion Kirkko (BIAFRA'S CHURCH)

Temppeliaukio Church is the ‘stone church’ (it was hewn out of solid rock) in Helsinki on whose wall the word B-I-A-F-R-A was graffitied (during its construction in the late 1960s) by young Finns trying to draw the world’s attention to the horrendous starvation that characterised the Nigerian Civil War (more famously known as the Biafra War).

NB. The close-up shots of rock below (3rd and 4th photos from the top) show where the slogans of BIAFRA were spray-painted.

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

Monday, 24 November 2008

Images from Oslo - Opera House

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

In Helsinki Times...

Helsinki Times is the first weekly English language newspaper in Finland. My article - A VISIT TO FINLAND - appears in the latest edition, in the "EXPAT VIEW" column. It's online here

I was in Helsinki in late October for the 2008 Helsinki Book Fair

A debt to Uppsala...

As I prepare to leave (these days I somehow manage to start every sentence of mine with that phrase), I think I ought to give something back to Uppsala for all generous love it has given to me, and for the sun and snow it has so selfishly withheld.

Perhaps I will have to return to Lagos first, to put enough distance betwixt myself and this lovely city that has been home for 3 months, before I can attempt to embark on any such creative 'philanthropy'...

While I muse over what Uppsala has meant to me, and while I pray desperately that I shall not have to pay for overweight luggage at the airport when I leave in a little over a week from now, I will share a poem... my gift to Paris after a (forced) 24 hour sojourn there in February 2005...

* 'forced' because Paris was not meant to host me... I was there only to catch a connecting flight to Lagos. I ended up missing the flight, ended up having to spend a night...


You look at one another with
measured smiles, pursed lips
or Absolute Hesitations

and speak with your eyes
above the din of your skins
in conversations of many frequencies.

there's the disappointment
that comes when French falls
through the teeth of a kinsman

and you think –
another nigger down.
And there's the Enlightenment

of discovering
that not every black man is
from the country

you left behind.
you glance at one another
in rituals of Suspicion

wondering who's legal
and who smells
of impending deportation

Paris is the City
where you speak the slowest,
like a stammerer,

to avoid tangling your tongue.
the City where
you find your way

around the fastest
despite their speaking
in tongues.

Tolu Ogunlesi (c) 2006

Originally published in Sentinel Poetry #49 (4th Anniversary Issue), here

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Things Fall Apart @ 50 in Uppsala, Sweden

The Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala invites you to a discussion on

Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a milestone in African literature, and the 50 years’ anniversary since its publication has been the topic of many conferences and seminars. Now the turn has come to Uppsala. Both Africa and African literature has undergone many changes since 1958, but this book still hangs on as the classic number one. It has been translated to 50 languages, for thousands and thousands of African school children it has been prescribed reading, it has not once been out of print. We will discuss such questions as why is this book about the meeting between the Igbo people and the colonisers still a classic? What did the book mean for the African novel? What does it mean today for writers and readers in Nigeria? Why has it not yet been translated to Igbo?

These and other questions will be discussed by Stefan Helgesson, literature scholar and literature critic, and Tolu Ogunlesi, a young Nigerian writer, presently ending his 3-month grant as African guest writer at the Nordic Africa Institute.
The event is part of the series “The Writers’ Africa”.

Venue: The Nordic Africa Institute (Library), Kungsgatan 38, Uppsala
Date and time: Thursday 20 November 2008, 18.00-20.00. (Note the library is open until 18.00, welcome to browse!)

Mai PalmbergCoordinator for the ”Cultural Images in and of Africa” research programme
Nordic Africa Institute

Images from Oslo - Viking Ship Museum

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Op-Ed - We Must Set Forth At Midnight

My article We Must Set Forth At Midnight (title borrowed from Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka's memoir, YOU MUST SET FORTH AT DAWN appears in The Guardian (Nigeria) - Sunday November 16 - here.

* Apologies for the dodgy formatting (creative line breaks) of the piece - 'website devil' it must be...

Notes from Uppsala [8] - Counting Down

Published in The Guardian (Lagos) Life Magazine (Sunday, November 16, 2008)


My days in Uppsala are slowly grinding to an end (slightly faster however than the wheels of justice). There are many things I’ll miss about this University Town of about 200,000 residents.
The only thing I’ll be fortunate to miss (very narrowly) will be the worst of winter. It has snowed once, one Friday evening, a few weeks ago. Perhaps it will snow again before I leave. But the dark days are here, nightfall at 4pm, which has not been as disorienting as I’d assumed it’s be. The mind always gets fooled of course, but there is always the clock to give my sense of chronological balance a helpful jolt.
I’ll miss the forty-minute train ride to and from Stockholm for sightseeing – a lot of my time in Stockholm is actually spent no farther than the Central Station, wandering through the intimidating array of magazines stocked at Pressbyran or browsing through paperbacks at the Pocket Shop.
“Sweden is a lovely place with a strong work/life balance culture”
That’s from an email someone sent to me on learning that I was in Sweden.
Many companies (multinationals especially) in Nigeria like to go on and on in a nebulous manner about “work-life balance.” They need to come over to Sweden to see that “work-life balance” is a “life”, not a discussion topic; an “end” and not merely a means to an end.
Alas, three months here will not be enough to convert me to the “Lunch at Noon, Dinner at 5pm” religion.
I don’t look forward very much to returning to the crazy traffic, the noisy generators, the utter impossibility of anonymity (the kind that I have so nicely settled into here). But go back I will, to the life I know best, the one I have spent the longest experiencing.
In the two weeks or so I have my work cut out. Shopping. And more shopping. Or perhaps it will merely be window-shopping.
I have two readings in my last week, one at a gathering of Uppsala poets who meet once a week at the Mission Church, the other at the English Bookstore in Uppsala.
And then there is a last bout of sightseeing to be done.
Tentative plans: A boat trip to the Swedish archipelago, a visit to Swedish furniture giant IKEA, and then to Uppsala’s museums.
Perhaps a night club outing (hoping to God that the songs are in English!). But I know that, on the premise of Newton’s fourth Law of Motion – “White Men Can’t Dance” – I’ll feel far more comfortable flailing my arms and twisting my ankles in a Swedish club than in a Nigerian one.
There will be the list of regrets (hopefully not “highway long”) – I’d have loved to travel more around Sweden, away from the Big Cities and University Cities, to get a feel of rural Swedish Life.
I haven’t yet had a taste of Glögg and aquavit, traditional Swedish liquor.
I had hoped to visit a Volvo factory, but that doesn’t look likely any more.
I keep forgetting that I have been meaning to rent a bike.
The much dreamed about photo-shoot with the Swedish Royal Family doesn’t look too feasible anymore.
I will miss the Chinese Garden, where I spend the occasional afternoon tucking into an inexpensive (by Nigerian standards) buffet, musing on the fact that Chinese restaurants in Lagos are typically elitist establishments, meant as markers and maintainers of class in a society where people like to entrench separateness between themselves and other people on the basis of the expenses they make.
The anonymity is for me the most appealing thing. But it is a strange form of anonymity, a felt (internalised) anonymity – on the basis of skin color alone it is the farthest thing from anonymity; nothing stands out more than the color black in a world of white skins and pristine snow – but unless you are an illegal immigrant there is a feeling that in this strange land no one knows you, there is no one to offer unsolicited advice, no obligatory aso-ebis to buy.
Uppsala I assume is one of those few places left on the face of the earth where a Nigerian can still feel fairly anonymous. You try that in London!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Images from Oslo [2]

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008

All images (c) Tolu Ogunlesi, 2008