Monday, 28 April 2014

Keeping Up With 'Dates'

Ever been on a date before? Yea! Many, many times I hear you guys say. Did it all work? Many went sour, I know.  But did you give up? No, you don’t give up. You keep on. You try again and again, till you win. Here, I want to propose a date to you. It’s not like the ones you’ve had before; not the romantic engagement with some licentious, promiscuous, cheap ladies; it is a valuable, purposeful and far enriching romance with a ‘special’ fruit. But you need to keep up with this date. You need to be faithful…and then you will definitely gain. It is the Date palm fruit! How much do you know about this elegantly charming fruit? I’ll tell you more. Come…

Dates are fruits of the date palm, a tree mainly grown in the dry arid regions. It is native to Africa (mainly North Africa) and western Asia. Here, it is most popular and common in the northern part of the country. We call it Debino. Remember? Dates can be eaten fresh or dried. Though used as ingredient in sweets, cakes and other recipes, it offers several nutritional benefits. Dates are considered an ‘incredible’ fruit. Generally, fruits are recognized as having essential features which medical scholars describe as ‘great boon’ for good health. But there are fruits with greater difference, quality and efficacy, and date is one.
 An “almost perfect food,” researchers at the Department of Health and Human Services in London calls it. This is based on its nutritional content and health benefits; and if you are fond of dates, it is almost certain you are a witness to that claim.

The London researchers noted the mineral content of dates to be a minimum of 15, with the highest concentration in potassium, magnesium, selenium and calcium. Potassium is needed by the body to help fight high blood pressure which can lead to heart disease, and to assist in kidney function. One cup of chopped dates, research shows contains 964 mg of potassium. So, it is easy to see how dates can help control your blood pressure and enhance kidney function. Just think. How many have died or are still locked in the dungeon of these terrible body dysfunction – the heart and kidney disease? And then imaging how many lives would be saved if we keep up with “dates.”

According to a research at a Colorado State University, “the way this works is that as the amount of potassium in the body increases, it encourages the excretion of sodium, thus lowering blood pressure.” Selenium, being a vital nutrient in dates, is also known to help fight cancer and build the immune system.
The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry report that dates are an excellent source of antioxidants, primarily carotenoids; they are believed to be a rich source of fibre, which is needed for the elimination of toxins from the body. 
Incidentally, there is wide anxiety that dates consumption raises blood sugar level. But studies have shown this to be erroneous. Of truth, dates are high in sugar, but experts observe that they are natural sugar, which make dates an excellent sweet treat, and this has earned it the right to be called “nature’s candy.” Hmmm!  A Nutrition Journal in 2011 says sugar contained in date is actually a ‘low-glycemic index food’ and do not raise blood sugar levels. So, feel free!

Besides, the fact that dates are termed laxative food is no exaggeration as they are highly beneficial to people suffering from constipation. Also, for intestinal disorder, dates have proven an incredible source of relief. Continuous intake of dates helps check growth of pathological organisms, and thus help rise in the friendly bacteria in the intestine.

Still more, dates are equally helpful in maintaining a healthy heart condition, curing abdominal cancer as well as controlling diarrhea. And if you are sexually weak, it is good news to know that dates are essentially beneficial for improving sexual stamina in the human body. See? Why not keep a date with the ‘dates’…and live well.

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Bond And Beautiful

 A writer’s Pain and gain. 
(For Jude Dibia and Chika Unigwe...and all who love beautiful stories)

Although I came across the information about The Bold and Beautiful Youth Literary Forum by what seemed like a stroke of chance, yet I do not think that my eventual participation was an accident. April 2011. The event has come and gone and everyone spoke well of it. We searched for words to express how we felt. It was a spectacular experience. We have our reasons to believe this, for it was a matter of impact and everyone felt it. It was indeed bold and beautiful.
 This story is not particularly about The Bold And Beautiful Foundation, my co-participants at the forum or the liberal facilitators. It is about me. But because the event was not and could not have been without them, they are unavoidably part of my story. I can say they make my story. 
 I thank The Bold and Beautiful Foundation for giving me a fabulous experience. I wish to say that her steps were not just bold and beautiful. It was both encouraging and inspiring. We lauded the event, holding our heads high for it made us bold, beautiful and proud.
The first day was an open seminar. It was indeed a date and I looked forward to it with sheer optimism. The team of facilitator seemed unmistakably outstanding considering the personality and literary standing of Jude Dibia, Chika Unigwe, Dike Chukwumerije and a host of others. I had never heard of Tyrone Terrence, Ishaya Bako, M.K Asante, Peter Moutray, Nicola Philips and the young Amy-Rose Townsend. So it was an opportunity and pleasure to meet them. My interest was more on Jude, Chika and Dike. I have heard so much of them. I wanted to meet them, to know them and perhaps shake their busy hands. They have lived in my mind for so long; I have carried them in the secret place of my heart with enduring hope and patience. Now the opportunity is here, to tell Jude how much I loved the ‘Unbridled’. That I cherished most of his stories especially his entry story for the Common Wealth Short Story Competition in 2010, ‘Somewhere’ which was one of the highly commended. I have not gotten my hands around ‘The Black Bird’, but here I can meet the author.  I could hear my heart say, almost in a whisper – Patient! Anwna ngwo na nkwuocha n’abia! I heed.
I wanted to tell Chika that I have only seen the Black sisters Street on the internet and how much I wish to hold and flip the pages. I wanted to see, the poetry magic of Dike Chukwumerije. Today is here. I am waiting.
There are faces: bold, beautiful, black, white moving about, sipping tea or coffee momentarily, shaking hands, talking, laughing, and making acquaintances. Chika is not here today. The workshop starts tomorrow
 Tuesday, April 16th, 2011. The workshop begins today. Borno room of the Transcorp Hilton is on floor 02. There is an inscription on the left side of the door: Jude Dibia/Chika Unigwe, Narrative Writing. This is where I belong, certainly. I held the handle gently pushed it open. The room is simple and modest, blue chairs lined behind long tables drawn in rectangular form. There are few faces: Reward, Pamshak, Victoria, Blessing, Festus…. For me the workshop had two faces: moments of pleasure and disappointment.  First, the stories that we read was fun and enriching. We laughed and clapped and marveled at the ingenuity of the writers, the facilitators. Their stories generated curiosity and sensation. Chika’s ‘Growing my Hair Again’ blew our minds; the manner and style she weaved her way through the story, painting a most vivid picture and fully developed characters. Bee akwa! Bee akwa! We would say and laugh and laugh. Epic story!  Jude’s ‘The Last Pill’ took words away from our mouths when he asked “how did you find the story?” At first I felt like asking him why he had to take us round and round about. The theme of the story when revealed was a big surprise. It became interesting when it ended and everyone worried why it had to end. But it had to. It did. Awesome!
Now, this is the part I didn’t find funny. The writing exercise was designed to be a mind-sharpener.  Nevertheless, it was the part which I did not enjoy. Maybe because Beti, my partner, gave me a starting line that was hard for me to make anything sensible out of or because I could not just do it. It was saddening. But it was my fault. As a writer I should be able to create a story where none existed. I am the painter. I own the paint and the brush; I could mix the paint, bend the brush and create a desired picture. I guess that was the idea of the exercise. But I failed. Oh, no. It was just a sign - an indication that I needed to do better, not that I failed. And this is the big lesson: that I did not fail, that I cannot fail; that I can be better, bold and even beautiful.
Yes. It should embarrass me, maybe. But I am not. Now, I lay in my bed, calling back on those memories – how I stood in the middle of everyone, just like everyone did in turn, reading out that off-the-cuff, over-rhapsodized and grammatically flawed piece. I laugh. I laugh not because it is funny, but because I remember how the convoluted story made everyone laugh. But that was it. People thought less of me, I know. People who since had become my friends. It deadened my spirit and dissipated the enthusiasm which had earlier enveloped me. It was even more demeaning when Eghosa had to take my story from me to read it out more carefully. He had to do it, maybe because people could not make any sense out of what I read. I know I have this bad way of fast-reading and most of my sentences were grammatically erroneous. These are imperfections, I know, but I am working on myself. I pull my bedcover over my face. I clench my eyes tightly and my hands covered my face, as if to close the doors of my mind. But it is regrettably open to this taunting memory. Water dripped from the openings between my fingers. My pillow is wet.
I remember that day, when Helon held my hand, and said, in a solemn voice, as if to breathe power into me, “…writing is a lonely profession. You need to create time, when you draw from hidden treasures.” I wipe my face and pull a paper and a pen. I began to write. There is always a story to tell, like my experience at The Bold and Beautiful Literary Forum. This time I do not care if the story is bad. “Feel free to write a bad story Chris.” This is what Madeliene Thien, the Asian-Canadian author once told me. I have decided to write, to tell this story, to free my heart and ease my pain.
Yes. This is the idea, the way out. It feels good to tell stories. It helps you loosen up. It makes you let go. Now, I do not remember that forlorn face of mine that I fought hard to conceal. I no longer think humiliating of Eghosa’s action when he read my own story for me; the faces that I saw laughing when they heard “biting off chest” phrase in my piece are now laughing, I can imagine, not to ridicule me but to make me laugh too. It is funny how things turn out. There is a streak of smile on my face. I laugh out. I laugh because I know that I can, at least, dream of telling a beautiful story, like Jude wrote The Last Pill in the stroke of a night; because I know that I can at least dream of outclassing Chinua Achebe, the same way Festus dream of outwitting JK Rawlins. I am happy because I know that this is life, that the trick is never to give up. The journey has just begun!
I have found my voice out of my pain. There are no pains in my heart anymore; it is only gain that remains. There are so many tales from The Bold and Beautiful Foundation Literary Forum. Tomorrow I will write about Festus’ go-getting dream of surpassing JK Rawlins; about Jude’s uniquely cool attitude and of Unigwe’s inspiring personality.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014


(In memory of my late ‘sweet’ mum)

When my mother died, people said, ‘…your mother has gone to fight for you…’ I heard much of this amid tears. Today, I still hear the voices reverberating. I believe!
While the remains of my mother was being lowered into the grave and everybody (family members) had moved closer to the tomb,  I remained on my seat right at the front where they made for the family members. I was not still shouting down heaven and asking God “why?” I was just there, like a doll placed on that plastic chair. I did not move or speak, until two people held my hands and said something almost in a whisper, “bia ka iwunyere mama aja.” Reality had dawned. Mama was already in the grave. It was time to pay my last respect. It is traditional. A man scooped deep-brown sand with the shovel and handed to me. “Ngwa…,” he said. With my hands shaky, I let the sand drop on mama’s coffin three times before tears clouded my face, and again those two hands led me away back to my seat. “Ozugo! Ozugo!! eh, it’s ok,” I heard their voices almost uniformly, echoing in my head.
So while mama was being covered, I considered what could have killed my strong, ‘sweet’ mother. Then, I remembered an article my friend, Izuchukwu Okeke wrote about Chinua Achebe when the world literary icon died. I remembered particularly the title – “Like Achebe, All Things Will Die.” This is not in any way to compare my late mother with the late literary ace. It just reminds me that death awaits all men. Even though the death of my mother was like a kick in the teeth, I never had the presumption that some person was responsible. But people have made several suggestive statements in that line. If truly someone killed my mother, let it be. What can I say, but to borrow from my friend and say that like my mother, all men will die.
When I was still a kid, I use to hear my father say that one does not have preference among his children. He said children were equal in the eyes of their parents. But all that, I found as I grew, were lies. Somehow parents get to love one child more that the other(s). It is not an unconscious disposition. It is a disposition attracted by the child. But the parent is wise and tries not to show, yet it shows anyway. I saw all these from my mother. I do cannot say she had more affection to me than my other siblings, but I know she was explicitly particular about me. And that is why I can say I miss her more. I see my brother offer a cheap smile. He doesn’t believe me. See? Everyone thinks he’s the one who’s loved most. Yet I know mama had something particular about me.
 It is no longer news. My mother is dead, a melancholic reality it is. The shock of my mother’s passing has remained with me. You do not understand, I know. Perhaps because you still have your mother alive, and for that I can pardon your naivety. Or as a Christian you would say “weep not like them that have no hope…” But my spirituality and Christianity has not taken away my human nature, and that is why I still cry. Of truth, just as the love of a mother is incomparable, so is the pain of her death. No death is as painful as a mother’s. If perchance yours is gone too and you do not feel the same way I do, it may be that you did not have my type of mother.
 My mother was a gift to us. She gave us everything she ever could, and more. I do not come from the kind of family you may call well-to-do. But mama made us to understand that life itself is transient; that we could become anything we want in spite of original background. The weight of her struggle to make our lives better was increasingly much on her. And the consequences did not hesitate: first it was the knee joint problem - arthritis, then the eye and…  Mama was a strong woman. So while we struggled medically to ensure she was not brought down by any of these ailments, she showed a lot of will and doggedness. It was almost her middle name. And that is why I couldn’t believe it when they told me it was two days cough that killed my ‘sweet’ mother. I didn’t think anything could kill mama, until God calls her. But mama, like all men was a pawn of fate. How cruel could death be! How spiteful! How vindictive! But just then as I cried, a friend reminded me of one of Job’s encounter with God in the Bible where God asked him – “…do you have any right to be angry…?” Truly, like Job, I do not have any right to be angry. As it is said, God giveth and He taketh. Blessed be His name forever.
I am not yet immune from tears and anguish from mama’s passing since the news stormed me like a thunderbolt. Like everyone, I know that death doesn’t need our permission when it comes neither does it knock on our door to announce its coming. But I didn’t think that mama would die without seeing my face again, without telling some things - those things the dying whisper the ‘beloved’ – or without even saying “goodbye.” But that was it. Mama was transferred to a better world without a word to her ‘beloved’. December 21st, 2013. It was to be a remarkable day. I was travelling home to celebrate Christmas with mama. It had always been joyful and fun. But all that did not happen again. The hope and joy of seeing mama was cruelly punctured while I was still on my way. I was still at Lokoja when the news came: “…Ik, as I speak to you now, mama is dead…” That was it. Mama was gone. My sweet mother is no more. Rest in peace mama! (subs).
My mother died a pure sacrifice, confirming more of her love for us. And like I wrote in the funeral oration “…She Died for Us.” This is what I know, and I believe it. I returned to Abuja today with the voices still echoing – “onwu mama ga ewetere unu iheoma, mama g’anuru unu ogu, she will fight for you.” I still here them and I believe it – mama has paid the price. Thank you mama, Adieu!

The Case to Tame Dame

I read Babs Ajayi’s article– “The Grabby lives of the Jonathans: Lesson from Cherrie Blair.” Babs wrote all the way from Quebec, Canada. Ideas have a multiplicity function. Bab’s idea of the article came (according to him) after he read Mrs. Cherrie Blair’s autobiography, and mine came from reading his revealing article. Our goal is the same: to raise our voices, crying, screaming, perhaps the Jonathans would hear and learn. Babs Ajayi’s article was a window into the life of former British First Lady as revealed in her autobiography “Speaking for Myself.” He talked about how things were and is done in the seat of power in UK. He also recommended the book for the Jonathans. But I am concerned about the place of Mrs. Dame Patience in President Jonathan’s administration. I hope she read Mr. Bab’s article too. Because she would be, am sure, unnecessarily too busy to read Cherrie Blair’s book.
Seeing Mrs. Jonathan’s assumed position in her husband’s government inspires myriad questions. And I wonder if she is only the president’s wife, the vice president or perhaps a special adviser of some sort. She has assumed a more pivotal role in her husband’s government than in the family as a wife. The last time I checked, there is no constitutional provision for the office of the first lady, yet she is keenly and deeply immersed in governance… and we all fold our hands and watch, like helpless orphans.  According to Babs, Cherrie Blair’s book presented the side of British government that is “rigid and extremely careful with money,” succinctly stipulating “who spends the money and how it is spent.” But again, my effort is greatly challenged by the book’s expression of the system as a “long-held tradition” which clearly defines the role of friends and family members of the prime minister. I am concerned because our tradition is a funny practice; anything goes for whoever comes in to power. The till is overly open for whoever the president considers ‘good enough’ or a ‘friend.’ Cast your mind back, Turai Yar’adua was considered to be ruling from the background especially when her husband- president was incapacitated by bad health. Today, Dame Patience is perceptibly a political ‘masquerade’, recognized by Nigerian government as against the constitution and people of Nigeria. Such is the tradition here. If you are lucky enough to be the wife of a president or governor (first lady), then you are a governor or president of your own sort. Funny practice! Think about it, how many official (including medicals) trips has the first lady made since 2011when her husband became president of Nigeria? Who sponsors those trips? It is the tax payer’s money! If you consider the position of Cherrie Blair as first lady and that of Dame Patience you will be sorry for Nigeria; a country where 1 out of 3 children of school age are out of school, where over 120,000,000 people are still in darkness in twenty-first century. The problems with Nigeria abound. In functional democratic countries there is limit to what you can do even as the president. The constitution is not just a set of rules that people use to leverage easy-life; it is a law, it is meant to guide us including people in authority. So, if the constitution does not recognize the office of the first lady why then does the country spend tax payer’s money on her concerns; paying her coteries of aids, sponsoring her politically frivolous expeditions? Unfortunately, even as I write, the first lady is brazenly busy justifying her supposed position and office, saying it is “inseparable” from the presidency. Certainly, this is not democracy. It must be something else, for democracy is rule of law.
 The Nigeria’s first lady has been in the news for some time now after she made N4b proposition in February through the Federal Capital Territory to the National Assembly for the construction of the African First Ladies Peace Mission house in Abuja. The proposal had since raised dust even in public domain. Thanks to the National Assembly who was quick to quash the unpopular proposal saying it was “irrational to commit scarce resources to less important project.” Well done. But again I ask - is the Federal Republic of Nigeria responsible for the welfare of the First Ladies Mission? How did this proposal get into the budget of the FCT? For Christ sake, Nigeria is not obliged to build any house for the women group. I am thinking about what N4b will do for Nigeria: if properly invested in agriculture, for instance, the gain would be amazing - jobs, food…. But Dame has no mind that thinks that way. She rather prefers the status of ‘Father Christmas,’ sharing money and material things to persons and groups. It is nice to be generous and philanthropic, but we are talking about a Nigeria project. The N5m she recently lavished on the law students at Bwari caused serious rift among the students. Mrs. Jonathan has to be checked.
Like Babs noted in his piece, Mrs. Blair was constantly reminded by the British government that she was “just” the prime minister’s wife,” that she was to be seen and not to be heard.” So, basically Mrs. Blair had no business with the government. But Dame has become a co-ruler with her husband. Through Bab’s work I understand that Cherrie Blair was a tenant, precisely at No.11 Downing Street. She never lived in the government house, even as the prime minister’s wife; she was also a top barrister and kept her job throughout her husband’s reign. But what do we have here in comparison: Mrs. Jonathan was a civil servant in Bayelsa but hurried to Aso Rock soon as her husband became president; and since then have lived and continued to live at the expense of the Nigerian people. My case is simple: to tame Mrs. Dame Patience Jonathan for the good of the nation. God bless Nigeria!