Tanning the Mattress

Photo ©: niakc10 - Fotolia.com
Photo ©: niakc10 – Fotolia.com

The minute he woke with a start, Dike felt a sense that something was wrong. He had wet the bed in his sleep. He did not wake up to the usual gentle shake from his mother, he woke up to the wetness underneath him which felt both familiar and strange at the same time. He had not wet his bed consistently in six months and his mother believed that he had stopped. As quickly as he could, he changed from his clothes and put the wet clothes under his bed. He pulled up his mattress and balanced it against the wooden door seperating his room from the noise in the corridor. Then he pulled out several blankets from the box which his mother kept under the bed and opened them up. Dike worked quickly, glancing at the door every few seconds.

The blankets lay thinly on the bed frame; a makeshift mattress. He touched a spot. While it felt flat; like the one in the sick bay at the Grammar school, it did not smell like antiseptic and vitamin pills. It smelt of camphor and ammonia, the smells from the days when he could not drink water at dinner lest he wet his bed.

It was lucky that he had become a teenager who insisted on privacy only recently. His mother did not bother him most mornings. Dike just wished the clouds away.

Now in his class, it felt like the entire school knew the secret of the mattress which he put in the sun before the walk to school, a mattress which he was keen on returning before his mother saw it at sunset. When the bell indicated the end of classes, he ran ahead of his mother and his classmates, urging himself to go faster, wishing he could band together with his feet. His blue plastic sandals beat out a rhythm on the earth, raising orange dust as he fled the thick cloud which rose and chased him down the path.

Word Count: 333

Written for this week’s Trifextra Writing Challenge:

“…to gather together : unite
Remember:
Your response must be between 33 and 333 words.
You must use the 3rd definition of the given word in your post.
The word itself needs to be included in your response.
You may not use a variation of the word; it needs to be exactly as stated above.
This week’s word is band.”

Picture Writing Challenge: The Processions on Ticsley Road

Everything was a blur Source: Anne Chia Photography
Everything was a blur
Source: Anne Chia Photography

Helena called me one morning last week in panic. Her voice was low and slow. She sounded like someone who knew her fate. She sounded like she did two years ago before the first procession down Ticsley Road. I heard her words and fear rose in my soul, not fear of what she said, but fear of what I would do. Two years ago when she called and spoke this way, I was with mother in the hospice, holding her hand. I grabbed mother’s black prayer beads and began to work my way through them, an act to hold the spirits at bay. But that morning last week was different; mother’s procession down Ticsley Road had lit a liquid fire in my soul. Perhaps it was the way Helena lingered by phase one of Ticsley Road, dropping a rose stem on the tiny tombstone, or maybe it was the arrogance and temerity with which Okey showed up, standing by her and rubbing her shoulders. What meant an act of love to others was to me, an act of defiance and shamelessness.

I rode my bicylce to Asata, my mind a red blur of anger cycling through the busy streets, past the oranges, the mounds of groundnuts and the rusty yellow buses going in the same direction as me. My phone was ringing; a familiar piece starting from the bottom of my anger and rising to a crescendo of what I could not control. I climbed up those stairs, breathing for all those trips to Ticsley, I barely noticed the neighbours standing around, making feeble attempts at opening the door. But when I heaved my weight against the door, I had help.

It was a shabby one bedroom flat, smelling heavily of alcohol, resignation and tears. It was not Helena I saw, no. It was the face of pain and helplessness, a purple and red mess, clutching onto Okey’s legs, muttering gibberish as he kicked her over and over again by the kitchen door, somehow missing the mound below her chest. My heart broke and the devil took over. The bile rose in me as I took the pestle resting inside a mortar under the kitchen table. I may have hit him over and over, I am not so sure. But I heard the neighbours and I heard Helena, a sea of unrecognisable voices, roaring in my ear.

There was another procession on Ticsley Road today. There was a barbeque at our flat after the procession. I poured myself a large one as I watched the marinated beef spit into the fire I made, a fire which no longer burns in my soul.



Picture writing challenge

“The ONLY “rule” is that you use the picture to make the story (or poem (yes yes ill allow poetry:)), That’s it. I know that there are a good few writers amongst you and I think that I would be really interested on other angles. You don’t even have to do a story as such, it could be a thought, a memory or a feeling that you get from it, basically anything involving words.”

Surviving a Sandstorm

Dike ran down the road. His blue plastic sandals beat out a rhythm on the earth, raising orange-brown dust as he fled the thick red cloud rising up and chasing him down the path.

Sandstorm Source: ellecidadventures
Sandstorm
Source: ellecidadventures

Word Count: 33

Written for this week’s Trifextra Writing Challenge:

“… give us a thirty-three word piece that has a color in it. Use the color to describe anything you like, or use anything you like to describe your color, but keep it creative and keep it short.”

Economic Partnership Agreements: Is Europe Under-developing Africa?

In 2004, I was in Lome Togo for a few months to work on my french and while there, I was introduced to an agreement between the European Union (EU) and African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) countries. The Lome Convention Agreement is also known as “Everything But Arms” (EBA), a process introduced by the European Union under which all imports to the EU from the Least Developed Countries are duty free and quota free, with the exception of armaments. The EBA had been the basis of ACP-EU cooperation for a period of time. It does have some stiff clauses and conditions which may be difficult to meet. Whether or not the the EBA entered into actually provides growth in terms of an increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for ACP is the question for another day. The rule of origin put in place by the EU makes it difficult, so that the import from the developing countries is not full of impact as the capacity to begin and finish the production of apparels and other products do not apply. If things were different and ACPs had the capacity, they may have progressed tremendously in the export of bananas, sugar and rice. Unfortunately, many ACP countries import these products themselves and do not have the capacity to produce enough to feed itself.

Cassava Tubers Source: www.thenetworks.co.za
Cassava Tubers
Source: http://www.thenetworks.co.za

However, a few years after the new millennium, the Cotonu negotiations and agreement replaced the Lome Agreement. This was geared towards a more reciprocal agreement which would give the ACP and EU an equal opportunity to negotiate and enjoy mutually beneficial trade agreements that were in consonance with the World Trade Organisation’s regulations. The biggest outcome of the Cotonu Agreement is the introduction of a series of negotiations which will lead to the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA). The EPA basically provides for the EU and ACP to have equal rights to import and export duty free and is being negotiated in blocks; South African Development Community (SADC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and so forth. These blocks have been requested to conduct their negotiations themselves and thus it has turned into a regional affair, as the ACP is much too large for one single negotiation anyway.

Groundnut Sellers at a local Maraba Market Source:nairaland.com
Groundnut Sellers at a local Maraba Market
Source:nairaland.com

The WTO is regulating this as much as it could, although invariably, the WTO is made up of and funded by the countries with the highest GDP in the world. It reminds me of the voting on the Securuity Council of the UN before the invasion of Iraq by the US. But I digress. In negotiating the EPAs, I have followed the ECOWAS story very closely and I have struggled to find the light at the end of this tunnel. The countries that constitute the ECOWAS are all really small countries in the throes of famine and post-war reconstruction; Togo, Cote’d’Voire, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, and many more. Granted, there are a few relatively stable nations among them, or nations who could potentially be wealthy, had the mismanagement and corruption of governments not ruined their capacity for growth. Agriculture in the EU is already heavily subsidized. Imagine that all sorts of products and produce from the EU which may include fruit, chicken, fish,toothpick, soaps, flood the markets in the ECOWAS? The local markets and economy do not stand a chance.

Tailor Zaki Baushe Source: cartercentre.org
Tailor Zaki Baushe
Source: cartercentre.org

Let’s paint a picture here. My tailor charges $80 to make a lovely dress for me which I can wear to work or to a nice event. I was in the UK a few weeks ago, and it cost me half of that amount to buy a lovely dress which I wore to a wedding in London, and I saw dresses for a fourth of that price. The labour and the scale of production of these conglomerates in the EU (although loads of these factories have been moved to Asia) are so massive that they can churn out these dresses at a tenth of my tailor’s price. Imagine that the local market is flooded with those clothes duty free, the local market will completely die. My tailor Nnanna does not stand a chance if the EPA happens. Right now, he is not rich by any means; $100 per dress and all. He barely manages to get by, no thanks to the very high cost of production and business here as well as a tough business environment and lack of infrastructure. One of my dad’s oldest friends owns a poultry. He raises chickens and sells them to supermarkets in the small town where I grew up. He sells one large chicken between $10-$20, which can then be cut into small pieces for a family to use for one week, and he barely breaks even. Imagine that the market is opened and cartons of frozen chicken are allowed in (it is already happening, although they are being smuggled), and sold at a fourth of that price. How can anybody local compete?

Locally Produced Snack (Nkatie Peanuts) Source: nairaland.com
Locally Produced Snack (Nkatie Peanuts)
Source: nairaland.com

In theory, trade defense provisions will need to be negotiated, anti-dumping rules, and safeguard measures will be put in place in the negotiation of the EPA to encourage fair trade as well as the development of the world’s poorest countries. I worry though, that the EPA if signed, could destroy the economies of ECOWAS countries which are only just seeing the beginnings of a flutter before the flourish. The first deadline given to for 2008 has come and gone, it tells me that a lot of people are asking questions. These economies are being forced to liberalise to fast and too quickly and this could potentially pose a downhill turn to decades of baby steps taken towards development. A lot of these countries are very dependent on aid and cannot be liberalising their economies at this point. Why are they not refusing to negotiate? The countries voiced their objections, but the EU is not listening and the ACP cannot opt out completely because these trade talks are tied to aid and lending. It is my sincere hope that these issues continue to be flagged. A bad economy equals very poor standard of living for a people which equals non-existent human capacity development. If EPA is signed with economies that are not ready for competition with the almighty EU, the world will be worse off for it. Think about the influx of immigrants into the EU; legal and illegal, think about the drug problems, crime and potential sectarian and ethnic clashes that result from lack of opportunities and livelihoods.

Kano groundnut pyramid Source: superstock.com
Kano groundnut pyramid
Source: superstock.com

It is my hope that EPA is delayed by decades upon decades, while these economies are provided a fighting chance to improve themselves and gather momentum to compete with one another first, before being thrown in to compete with some G8+ nations.

Visiting Istanbul Turkey: Sights and Sounds

Nothing prepared my sister and I for the absolute delight that was Istanbul. Granted, we were not too happy at the airport, having flown in at 12 noon local time, and tossed up and down a very lengthy airport because nobody seemed to know where we could pay for and get visas stamped on our passport. We were grumpy, hungry and tired, having been up from 2am to pack and prepare for the drive to London Heathrow airport to catch an early flight. Eventually, we joined a very long line of Iraqis and got our visas in all of one hour. I suppose this does not apply to all countries of the world, there appeared to be a fast-track line for certain countries with certain types of agreements with Turkey; the United States of America and some European countries come to mind.

The Blue Mosque

We knew it would be an interesting trip when four immigration police officers left their desks and came to chat with my sister and I as we sat waiting for the visas to be processed (the second round of waiting after the standing in the queues). I did not see this sort of desertion of duty post in the UK or anywhere else to be honest, and there we were, being told all the lovely places to visit, and how lovely we were, by these really good looking men in police uniform with guns and handcuffs hanging low on their hips. We perked up considerably. You see, in Istanbul, it is quite a novelty to be black as the city is not diverse in that sense. The men were incredibly charming; we were greeted and welcomed everywhere, our bags were carried for us, doors were opened, meals paid for, it was quite flattering, for the first two days. Then it became irritating.

The Blue Skies by Hagia Sofia
The Blue Skies by Hagia Sofia

“Hi Chocolate girls, where are you from?” My sister and I were shocked. Never in our lives had we been addressed in that way. But you move on, because it is such a stunning city, and you are on holiday. Nothing else mattered. Plus to be honest, I don’t think it came from a place where it was intended to make us uncomfortable. So if you are a “chocolate girl” travelling to Istanbul soon, be prepared!

If you plan to go to Istanbul anytime soon, here’s what a great time you could have. We loved it.

1. We got a confidence boost from all the smiles and attention we were getting from all the men. Be careful though, don’t get sucked in, this is just a novelty, keep your wits about you.

2. Stay in Sultanahmet, it is the old city and most of the historical sites are around it, you can walk everywhere. The streets are quite charming, narrow cobbled streets with houses in rows, and balconies. The driving can be crazy though so be careful.

3. Stay in Basileus, a love bed and breakfast place, http://www.basileushotel.com, what a lovely place. The breakfast was amazing and the staff were really friendly and happy to help. There’s turkish coffee and apple tea in the evenings downstairs, the cookies and cakes were amazing. Our room had a balcony and view looking out at an old building from the 15th centrury. They also offer a complementary airport pick-up.

4. Try the fish sandwich in Eminonu, just by the water. Remember to ask for extra spicy if you like it hot. You sit there and eat looking out to the water, with the cool breeze of the evening settling on your skin.

5. Take the ferry to Khadikoy and visit the Bazaar there; everything is death cheap and what a colourful market.

6. Visit the Grand Bazaar and try the dried fruits, turkish delight (traditional sweets), and other keepsakes from Turkey. The storekeepers are fantastic and are very quick to offer you apple tea or turkish coffee. What a huge market. Remember to haggle, or you may end up buying things inflated by 200%.

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7. Visit the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. These sites are so old, that they reminded me of my humanity and the miracle that is our existence. That all these wars were fought, and empires fell, and these monuments remained made me feel so small, but in a very heartwarming way. They are all so beautiful, but remember to wear a flowing dress or trousers and take a scarf to cover your head and shoulders respectfully before you go in. Otherwise, the mosque staff will provide you with a blue shawl which a billion people have used.There is also an Archeological museum and Topkapi palace not far from Hagia Sofia. You will need a pass to go into the last three. Only the mosques are free to view, and there are quite a number of them.

8. Take the bosphorous dinner cruise. It costs about 35 Euros I think. When you are travelling on the water at night, the views of the city are amazing, the palaces (and there are several in Istanbul) are all lit up, there is a stunning bridge which I saw over sunset. You also get to enjoy the henna ceremony. It’s all very romantic as well, something to enjoy with that special someone I think.

9. Listen to the 4am call to prayer. I know. My sister thought I was crazy, but the call to prayer in Istanbul is quite different from the calls that I have heard before. The call which I heard from my hotel room was quite moving, the intoner sang from his heart, he had a lilt to his baritone, and I just sat up and listened. My sister did not have the same experience, but I was moved by his singing. I know what the words mean, although they are always sang in Arabic, and I really have no connection since I am not muslim. But a heartfelt chant is a heartfelt chant. Anywhere.

10. Watch the whirling dervishes, at Hodjapasha Cultural Center. The centre itself is full of history, a 550 year old turkish bath place converted into a cultural centre. At 70 turkish lira per person, the show was expensive but worth it. Very colourful and the acoustics was wonderful. I learnt that a Dervish is a Muslim religious man who is undergoing an apprenticeship of learning the profession that will bestow him with eternal livelihood. So the whirling is one method, which is used by the Sufis to get closer to Allah.

11. Visit Taksim. I was worried about the protesting which I thought was ongoing but by the time we ventured into Taksim, the square was full of tourists and people just having a good time. I have never seen skies more blue! The sun was out, people were having drinks, the food was amazing, lots of flat bread and wraps. We went to lovely club where we danced to loads of Turkish and American music, had a few drinks. It was a blast.

12. Istanbul has dozens of restaurants. Too many. It’s always nice and warm, and in the evening, the breeze comes in from the shores, so dress up and find a lovely place to eat. Remember to do the dinner cruise.

13. Finally, do not leave Istanbul without getting a traditional ottoman Hamam. The one next to Hagia Sofia is very good, the package is lovely and the soaps and creams used felt quite luxurious. It costs about 90 Euros. Take all the time you need after the hamam and the massage and just chill. Lie back, and read, or just doze lightly. It feels great. I got it on the day I left Istanbul and I thought it was an excellent parting gift to myself.

One week isn’t enough though, there is so much to be seen. You can pay for most things in dollars, euros or turkish lira. There’s a ferry, a tram system, a metro, and taxis. If you stay in Sultanahmet, you will most likely not need any of these (ok, maybe the ferry for the experience and the taxi for airport). Oh, and my map reading skills are much improved now 🙂

All photos are mine.

Love Never Gets Old: Funmi and Ifeanyi Obi

I went to good old England for a bit in June with my sister. It was the John the Baptist to our trip to Istanbul (more on that soon enough). We went to the UK chiefly to be a part of my brother’s wedding to a wonderful lady. You see, Ifeanyi is not my biological brother, but we grew up together and he’s my family really and vice-versa. What a wedding! What a couple! I cannot wait for the children; seeing as she is a Doctor and he is a chartered Accountant, they will be a brilliant lot. Yes, where I am from, we bug the couple for children from the wedding day, we do not care whether they are ready or not. We are ready!

Anyi and Funmi

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_MG_2320

He told me almost immediately after a few dates with Funmi, a stunning combination of beauty and brains. I was so happy for Ifeanyi, because if anyone deserves to be happy, it is him. He actively searched for someone to share his life with, kissed a few frogs along the way and voila, his princess appeared! She had been right under his nose all this while too. Six weeks after their first date, they packed up and went to the US for their first holiday together. After those 2 weeks, he knew! Of course he was hopelessly in love, and was ready to propose, he just needed the right time. For six months, there were no fights, no arguements! Then he jinxed it by talking about it, and the fights came; although they said it only made them stronger and more aware of how they felt about each other. I believe it was less than one year into the relationship, he bought a ring and sent me the link. Ifeanyi had it all planned out, quite the romantic. He made dinner, she arrived (believing they were just going out for the night) and he popped the question! She said yes, and the rest they say is history. I met Funmi for the first time over Christmas last year, and apart from how stunning she was, I also noticed what a warm spirit she possessed.

The hot groomsmen
The hot groomsmen
Anyi and Funmi
Anyi and Funmi
Couple's first dance
Couple’s first dance

It was a beautiful church ceremony, Funmi stepped into the church; a vision in a beautiful wedding dress that fit her like a glove. London in the last couple of days before June 29th was quite wet and miserable, but on the 29th, it was nice and warm, the sun was out. I did not need a jacket, that’s how I measured the degrees there 🙂
We travelled on to Hertfordshire for the reception. The wedding planner had done a fantastic job, the tables were all laid out, the hall beautifully accented in the colours of the day. There was a names/sitting board outside by the doors to the garden where all the guests stood around in little groups and the waiters passed out glasses of wine and Hors d’oeuvre. I found my name and checked out the names I was sitting next to, not bad! The photos were done, and we went into the reception. I sat with some familiar faces from university as my sister, my +1, had ditched me after church (full story on another day). We had rice, plantain, prawn, beef, chicken, some amazing chocolate cake, it was a feast. They had their first dance, the speeches were done and all took the floor! It was so much merrymaking! I had to drag myself off the dance floor and leave for London as we had a flight to catch to Istanbul at 6am the next morning. The party went on till 2am. What a blast!

The lovely bridesmaids
The lovely bridesmaids
Wedding party
Wedding party
Dance Dance Dance
Dance Dance Dance

Here’s wishing the lovely couple the very best in life. Nothing but the best will do xx