Book Review: A Bit of Difference by Sefi Atta

I read about this book in a Newspaper and the way in which it was described drew me in. I recall, it was said to be a book about exploring the differences in culture between the Nigerian protagonist and those she comes into contact with within her Western environment. I bought the book with an expectation of something Americanh-ish. I think part of my problem is that I have been spoilt by Chimananda, and now expect all African writers to sound like her.

Well, Atta does not sound anything like Adichie, and that in and of itself is not a criticism of Atta. I’ll start with some positives.  I like that the main character’s name is not introduced until she is addressed by another character and we learn her name is Deola. Up until that point she is only referred to as “she”.

Deola is in her late 30s, single. This information is provided to the reader, but other aspects of her character, who she really is, remained somewhat of a mystery. She works for an international charity in London, but visits “home” which is Lagos for her late father’s memorial. Some of her thoughts and dilemmas seem more typically associated with an adolescent. I can understand this is some way, because in some West African culture, a woman has not truly become a woman until she is married with children. Yet I found it hard to connect her thoughts and feeling to that of a woman of her age and stage in life. Deola clearly has dissatisfaction with her life in London, but the reason for this is not made entirely clear.

What is clear is Deola’s love hate relationship with religion, and Christianity in particular. Now this touched a nerve with me because of the sweeping generalisations made about the Faith. Again though, I have understanding as to why “African Christianity” is criticised because I know from experience how distorted it is from the Christianity of the bible. Religion is certainly a theme in this novel, but I was not expecting it to be tackled in a way that could be seen scornful and disrespectful.

In terms of some of the other themes explored, I found myself asking at one point, is this a book about HIV and Aids? A bit like the MTV series “Shuga” based in Nigeria, (where almost every character either had HIV, or was about to catch it), was the thinking that, seeing as this is going to have a mostly African audience, I’d better do my best to educate them about the importance of being tested for HIV, seeing as most Africans are dying of Aids?

Perhaps not the biggest let down, another thing I found disappointing was that I could in no way relate to Deola and her privileged background. I had waited to find a novel that was based between Nigeria and London, and having finally found it, I couldn’t connect with Deola as I shared very few of her experiences. I did not go to an expensive fee paying boarding school and I do not have any friends who were educated at Harrow, for a start.

Fatally, the book included too many scenes that did not move the story forward, and an ending that leaves the reader hanging. Not hanging from a cliff as such, as that would suggest an exciting ending. More like hanging from a set of monkey bars.  I kept returning to the blurb to remind myself of what the story was supposed to be about. A love story? Deola’s love interest, hotel owner Wale, does not feature enough for it to be described as a love story.

With no lucid understanding of where the story is going, what is driving the main character, and what message the writer is trying to give, a Bit of Difference, was a bit of a flop for me.

Music of another decade

longlori:

This sort of applies to me too, but with different music

Originally posted on write meg!:

I don’t know when I stopped listening to music.

It’s not that I don’t catch a random tune on the radio or keep up with modern hits — peripherally, at least. I mean, I know “Blank Space” and such. I’m not hopelessly out of touch.

Just mostly.

When I was commuting to college, the two-hour drive daily on the Beltway was a medley of Hanson, John Mayer, Maroon 5, The Killers, Coldplay. Circa 2006, coed Meg was pretty hip. My first iPod came as a Christmas present in 2004, and that little pink Mini accompanied me everywhere. I can still remember the long walks across campus with Death Cab for Cutie for company. It was a little lonely back then, I’ll admit — but peaceful, too.

Pink iPod

After graduation, my two-hour commute became a 10-minute back-and-forth to the office. I’ve been fortunate to live and work close to home for the…

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How to Be More Beautiful in 2015

I just thought I would share some beauty tips for the year ahead. These are things that I really hope to do more of myself! Here goes:

  1. Smile more. Even if you don’t really feel like it, you will probably make yourself feel better and make other people around you feel better too.
  2. Do something kind every day. If you make it an aim to do at least one kind thing, you’ll have less time to worry about negative things in life.
  3. See the best in people. We all know nobody is perfect, but what if instead of focusing on what we don’t like about a person, we focused on the good things about that person?
  4. Think of yourself less. Being humble does not mean thinking less of yourself, it means thinking of yourself less. Think more about of other people, what they might be going through, what support they might need, etc
  5. Be content. Stop looking at what other people have, and wishing you had it (perhaps stop looking so much at Instagram? I’m speaking to myself here). The grass always appears to be greener on the other side, but just water your own grass if you want it to grow.
  6. Be thankful. The quickest way out of a bad/sad mood is to count your blessings. Stop and think about all the things you are thankful for.
  7. Start living… As opposed to performing a series of acts for the sole purpose of documenting your actions on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube etc to garner “likes” and comments of approval and adoration.

Was this list not what you were expecting? Sorry if you came here looking for make up brand endorsements, or a tutorial on how to draw on eyebrows. It’s just that we seem to be so obsessed with outward beauty, as though that is all that matters. Being beautiful has very little to do with what lipstick you wear, but everything to do with character. I just hope this year more young women will being to realise that, and break free from the tentacles of mass media merchandising machines.

Happy New Year?

The reason for the question mark in my title is, hasn’t January 2015 just been a little bit depressing? I do not mean to sound negative here, but I really do hope things improve from here on out. The following (in no particular order) are a list of reasons why in my opinion, this year so far has not been so “happy”:

  • It is very cold, windy and rainy.
  • Trains everywhere seem to be running an appalling service, constantly running late, and are extremely over packed. Oh and fares have gone up too.
  • I’m fatter than usual following Christmas 2014. Usually after Christmas, I go up just one dress size, but this year it’s two.
  • Hospitals everywhere cannot cope with the number of patients being admitted. I’m scared that should I need urgent medical attention, an ambulance may reach me by January 2016.
  • The general election has not happened yet, and David Cameron is still the prime minister.
  • Over 2000 people, according to Amnesty figures, were massacred in Nigeria. As bad as that is, the tragedy was made worse by the lack of media coverage it received.
  • It’s 2015 and instead of there being greater understanding of different cultures etc, racism, it appears, is more acceptable than ever under the guises of “an honest debate about immigration”, “promoting British/Western values” and “the freedom/right to offend”.
  • Black lives still don’t matter
  • The rich continue to get richer, and the poor get poorer
  • Celebrity Big Brother has returned again. (When will this trash die?)
  • I can’t even comfort eat away some of my woes because I now have to be on a stupid diet

Despite all of these things, I live in hope. Not every year can be entirely wonderful, and anyway, this is just the beginning. After all at this time last year I was unaware that I was going to be proposed to a few days later, and then married by the end of the year (more about that later).

The best comfort really, is to continue to remind myself that this life is temporary, and to think of things eternal.

The Death of Michael Brown: Who is to Blame?

When the story first broke, of an unarmed black teenager shot by a white police officer, it was tempting to immediately take to social media to vent outrage. But something told me to hold back and wait until all of the facts came out. Since then, CCTV footage of Brown appearing to rob a convenience store, stealing a packet of Cigarillos has been released, there have been conflicting witness accounts, and now we have the decision from the Grand Jury, having reviewed the evidence that Darren Wilson, the officer responsible for the killing, will not face charges.

 

This decision has set the internet (and in the literal sense, Ferguson) ablaze and having read various blogs, and commentaries, I feel like I can finally piece my thoughts together to throw in my opinion, worth little as it is.

 

There is a clear dividing line when it comes to views about Brown’s death. There are those who believe that Brown was a violent thug, and Wilson was the hero who put a stop to his tyranny, and those who argue that Brown was unarmed, and therefore should not have been shot at and killed. The latter feel that, the only reason he was killed is because he was black, and in America, black lives do not matter. It seems to me that there is some truth in both opinions. But it seems that not many people are willing to accept that. Not those who have immediately started burning down buildings and looting in Ferguson, nor those who sit comfortably behind their computer screens hastily posting insensitive comments suggesting that Brown deserved to die.

 

I should mention a third camp. Those who are sympathetic to the anger that surrounds Brown’s death, but question why there is not the same anger expressed when a black person is killed by another black person. There are problems I have with each of these views.

 

To those saying that Michael Brown was a violent thug who deserved to die, I say this: when one views the CCTV footage, it is hard to argue otherwise. But a person is often more than one thing – he was also a high school graduate for example. Furthermore, it’s important to put things into perspective. His violence, as far as I’m aware, did not involve killing anybody. To say Brown deserved to die because he was violent, sends out a message that any kind of unlawful or undesirable behaviour is punishable by death, administered by the gun of whichever law enforcement officer happens to feel threatened by person who has misbehaved. The last time I checked the death penalty in the America is the most serious of punishments, only meted out to cold blooded murderers. Had Brown had the chance to live, who knows whether he would have changed his ways, and developed the more positive aspects of his character.

 

A key feature of the argument above, is that colour played no part in Brown’s death nor in the police and media response. It’s difficult for me to accept that. Many black men in America speak of how they are perceived by whites as being threatening, in situations where they are innocently going about their business. At the point Brown received the fatal bullets, he was already wounded from the earlier scuffle, and had run away from Wilson. Some witnesses say he was surrendering. But did Wilson nevertheless perceive Brown as a threat because he was black?

 

Was the media colour blind in its reporting? Why was the CCTV footage released, when it later transpired that the robbery was unconnected to the shooting?  The Huffington Post have an interesting article called “When the media treats white suspects and killers better than black victims”( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/14/media-black-victims_n_5673291.html), which makes the point better than I can. To put it gently, it is quite naïve to say that colour has nothing to do with Brown’s death and its aftermath.

 

To those that say Brown was unarmed and therefore should not have been killed, I admit I have much less to say. I largely agree with that, but find that there tends to be a blindness to the anger connected with this view. Too much of a blind eye is turned to Brown’s violence and thuggery. It has to be asked, why did Brown not simply hop on to the sidewalk when asked? According to Wilson’s first account (which later conveniently changed), he did not even know about the convenience store robbery, and just wanted Brown to stop walking in the middle of the road. And though some part of Wilson’s account seem incredible, it’s probably true that Brown gave him some attitude. Again, why?

 

Brown good and bad

Turning to the third argument, which I find particularly irksome, why are people not angry when a black person dies at the hand of another black person? This is my answer: that is simply beside the point. Firstly, it does not sit well with me to suggest that people should only get angry when somebody of their colour dies or is killed. Secondly, the real issue here it seems, is anger against the system. Wilson was not just a white man. He was a police officer. An officer charged with the duty of protecting citizens, yet he killed one. Imagine if there was no anger about this situation? We’re talking about holding a powerful institution accountable for the way it treats black citizens. It is just too simplistic to say “oh but black people get killed by blacks all the time”.

 

When a black person kills another black, they usually end up in prison. How many times in such a situation, do you hear of a cover up? Does it ever appear that the system tries to protect the black murderer from facing justice? Not that I have ever seen. But it does sort of look like system is trying to protect Darren Wilson. Even Piers Morgan has written a piece (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2849133/PIERS-MORGAN-farce-Ferguson-Darren-Wilson-6ft-4in-210lb-five-year-old-history.html) about the holes in the investigation into Brown’s death, and even though I thought I already knew all there was to know about the case, the new information I learned, I found disturbing.

 

So back to my question; who is to blame? I still do not have a straight answer. I can’t say it’s all Brown’s fault, as appalling as his behaviour was, we are all sinners, but by the grace of God, not all of us get gunned down and left dead in the street for hours. In this fallen world there remain many injustices. Perhaps it is too much to ask that at the very least, Darren Wilson be taken to trial, his actions put under scrutiny, so it can be properly decided whether he is truly free of blame.

Flop of the Month: Busaba Eatai Store Street

Busaba Eatai seemed like an excellent choice for my meet up with my university friends for an overdue catch up recently. I remember going to the branch near Selfridges some years ago, and enjoying the red curry dish with whatever meat it came with. I recalled that the food comes out relatively quickly, and the place tends to have a buzzing atmosphere… Surely one can’t go wrong. Wrong.

Despite it being a Friday evening, there was no queue to get inside the Store Street Branch. That perhaps should have been clue. At The branch near Selfridges, I remembered having to wait about half an hour for a table. A number of factors could bear responsibility for that to be fair. But the experience that followed makes me think blaming the restaurant, is being entirely fair.

Once seated, the four of us (who had miraculously arrived all within half an hour of each other) were approached by the manager.

“Can we order please?”

“No!” He barked. Awkward pause. Then he burst out laughing. Oh it was supposed to be a JOKE. Funny.

Then turning to my friend who was the first to arrive he said “You can order as you were here first, but not the rest if you”.

Another awkward silence. Then more crazy laughter from him, and wearied expressions from us. Once the jokes were over we got to ordering some drinks. Within a minute a confused looking waiter brought a tray of glasses of water. That was quick, I thought. Before realising that we hadn’t actually ordered any tap water. Well still not bad, perhaps he was anticipating our needs; it was very hot inside and we were already parched. We then waited a while for the drinks we did actually order, during which time every other minute, the same confused waiter approached our table with a different drink that we had not ordered.

“You order this?”

 

The poor guy clearly could not speak very good English at all. He looked so terrified it was hard to not to feel for him. But then it did start to become a little comical when he would appear with another tray, the same question mark written all over of his face, and we would stop mid conversation to tell him the drinks do not belong to us.

When it came to ordering the food, one of my friends and I opted to share a plate of chicken stir fry. When a small plate of what looked like fried chicken wings with a tablespoon sized heap of plain vermicilli noodles was set in front of us, we were a little confused. This wasn’t the chicken stir fry we had ordered. Wrong again, yes it was, we were told by the manager. I was just hungry by this point and generously offered to eat the whole thing. Perhaps I should I tasted it first. It tasted like it had been drenched in vinegar, it was so sour. Nevertheless, hunger will make you do strange things (such as eat it all anyway).

From what I could see from the other orders, the portions were fairly small, and did not look very appetising. It is highly unusual for me to not be enticed by what is on someone else’s plate when eating out, but I must say, this was a first.

Halfway through our evening we were asked to move. Okay fair enough, a bigger group needed the table, and we were being moved to a quieter more private section. No complaints made there. We were then served by a different waitress who also had very poor English. We asked for a jug of tap water. She brought a glass. We repeated our request for a jug, but were met with a confusing message along the lines of her needing to ask the manager. We never saw her again. How I wished we had cherished more the water we didn’t actually order, brought to us earlier by the confused waiter.

Despite the challenges of the evening, we had an enjoyable catch up, but when it came time to pay the bill, it did not feel right, after all that has described above, to pay service charge. We explained this to yet another waitress who did not speak English well, and after the 5th attempt of trying to explain, the manager was summoned by the waitress.

Although we had not wished to pay service charge, by each paying a little more than was on the bill, it turned out we had effectively paid most of the service charge already. That meant that there was actually only £2 outstanding. It seemed trivial now, but we had to stick to our guns out of principle. Still I had my wallet ready in a very English, wanting to avoid further confrontation manner. Then the manager arrived.

 

“You don’t want to pay service charge?” he asked indignant.

 

“No” (a bit sheepishly)

 

“Fine! It’s only £2 anyway!” he snapped, snatching up the bill and trouncing off.

*That moment when you’re glad that you stuck to your guns*

 

And that was that. Busaba Eatai Store Street congratulations for making me utter the words that I rarely utter: “I am never coming here again”.

My Hair Evolution: Routines and Techniques

The natural hair journey is certainly one of learning! Over the past 3 or 4 years since I stopped wearing my hair straightened by heat ALL the time, I have had to learn how to manage, maintain and style my curly mane.
As I said in my first post about natural hair, I have made many mistakes along the way! I hope this post will be useful especially for other thinned haired ladies like myself, in things you MAY want to avoid. Of course no to heads of hair are the same so do play around a bit to see what works for you. First I’ll detail the evolution of the techniques/processes I’ve used on my hair, and in the next post I’ll talk more specifically about the products.

Washing routine 
In the beginning… I would just wash my hair without putting it into sections first. I would try and just keep my head either facing down of leaning right back so that all my hair fell the same direction. That was my only precaution against tangles. Of course this led to extreme knotting and breakage. Then I stumbled across YouTube, and in particular the naptural85 channel, where Whitney taught me about dividing my hair into chunky twist sections before washing. This was a MASSIVE help in reducing tangling.

Then… I added a few other things in such as a hot oil treatment before washing, and then after washing, a deep conditioner followed by twisting my hair in readiness for the twist out hairstyle to be worn the next day. Basically the whole routine would take me the whole day! I could not live that way, and I was beginning to hate my natural hair for taking up so much of my time. So I started to wash my hair in large sections and where possible, cut down on deep conditioning time.

Now… I clarify and wash my hair whilst it is in my new favourite styling option; mini twists! I also condition my hair whilst still in mini-twists, wash out the conditioner and then when the hair is still wet, redo each twist one at a time, adding a little leave-in conditioner and half a drop of oil to each mini section. But more on that below.

 

Detangling

In the beginning… this did not even feature in my vocabulary! It brings a picture to mind of when your head phones get into a knot and you have to carefully unwind them, and tease the straps apart to remove the tangle. What I would do with my hair, was far from that! Initially I would simply rake a comb through my hair, in fact, it was the afro pik attachment to a hair dryer that I would use while blowing it out and getting it ready for the straighteners (flat iron for you American ladies). I would pick out the knots that had been ripped from my hair from between the prongs of the comb, and then stare helplessly at my now even thinner hair, in the mirror.

 

Then… I started to use my fingers more and more to try and detangle knots in my hair and afterwards use a comb followed by a Denman brush when I became too frustrated/tired/lazy to continue finger detangling. I would only do this when my hair was wet though. And I quickly learned the importance of using a conditioner “with SLIP”. However tiredness and laziness would often get the better of me and I would find myself reaching for the Denman far too quickly.

 

Now... I do about 90% finger detangling. Because I’m trying out doing mini twists repeatedly, I found that by using the method described above after washing, I can easily finger detangle each section before I twist it to remove any shed hair. Another benefit is hardly any knots form, except the ones formed by shed hair becoming tangled.

 

Styling routine

In the beginning… as I mentioned earlier, I was straightening/flat ironing my hair all the time. I wasn’t even using a heat protectant! It was only when my hair became excessively thin that I thought that something had to give.

Then… that’s when I decided to wear my hair curly. It was wonderfully liberating, and I quickly became addicted to the likes of Naptural85 and the Care For Your Hair blog to educate me on how to maintain and style my hair in its curly state. I quickly noticed the difference in texture with the hair near my roots, and the ends of my hair. I now know that this is what’s called heat damage. The roots were curly, but the ends stayed straight and limp. The more I experimented with styles the more I realised I did not like the limp ends. So I took the plunge and chopped them all off. This was about 4 years ago. That would make me 4 years heat free right? Wrong! Soon after, I itched to see how long my hair had gotten, and succumbed to the heat again. This time I told myself it would be different, as I had learned to use a good heat protectant. But sadly I ended up with severe heat damage again, which I am still in the process of growing out (I last used heat on my hair in February 2013).

Now... I am heat free. I’m not saying all thinned haired ladies should be heat free, but that’s kind of what I’m saying. Or at least turn the temperature down! Don’t you use less heat when ironing delicate fabric? Your hair is even more delicate! So what do I do? I’ve had twist outs, braid outs, wash and gos (which I don’t do anymore because they give me crazy single strands knots), and I am now settled with my mini twists. As you may be able to tell, I can’t get enough of my mini-twists. The style is so versatile, it allows me to exercise and sweat buckets without changing much in appearance, it takes about two minutes to style in the morning, and two minutes to put into 4 chunky braids for night time (which is great for keeping the twists stretched). The only downside is installing the mini-twists takes TIME. Go back and read what I have to do at the end of my wash routine – I have to literally set aside a day to this. But when I used to install my own box braids, it would take me two days, and cost me far more breakage (and around £5.00 for the Expressions). But with mini twists, the time is worth it!

This is what my heat damage looks like. Sad

This is what my heat damage looks like. Sad

 

Trimming

In the beginning… I never had a problem with this as I think I am addicted to cutting my hair. Perhaps the reality is that I have made so many hair mistakes, that I always had a reason to cut my hair and start again.

 

Then… I thought I would regulate how often I “trim” (if cutting off two inches a time falls under that category) my hair, and decided to do it only 4 times a year.

Now… I constantly trim my hair because I am trying to get rid of all the heat damage. Once that is done, I suspect I will trim as and when I need to, which in my opinion, is the best way to do it.

 

Useful links:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9Zl_UOLc2F5Aq45G6DxEaQ

http://www.cfyh.co.uk/

https://adressrehearsal.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/10-things-you-ought-to-know-before-you-decide-to-go-natural/

 

 

Follow me on Twitter @adressrehearsal